EGO & RELIGION
Each one of us thinks of our natural self as the body, mind and life we were born into. Yet, like human snowflakes, though we are formed of the same substance in identical atmospheric conditions, each one is different from the other. Some of us remember back to when we were toddlers and some may even remember being an infant, but few of us remembers anything prior to our births. Our entrance into the world is like emerging from a deep sleep at night. We slowly awaken to find ourselves in the natural world, but we have no memory of where we came from or who we are. Over time, our natural minds adapt to the world as we identify with the body, family, culture and life in which we live. With a sense of growing permanence, we think of our experience in life as “my conscious awareness,” however, most of us forget to consider the source or origin of “our” consciousness.
Today, in terms of consciousness, we have the ability to know of ourselves as individual, autonomous beings living among other self-conscious individuals. But this has not always been the case. Having first emerged during the Renaissance period, self-conscious awareness has continued to develop at an increasingly rapid pace only for about 500-600 years. Prior to this time, with the exception of a very small number of people, men and women rarely entertained thoughts of themselves in terms of their individual needs, ambitions, insights or desires as we do today. People of this time period were conscious, but not self-conscious; they were slowly awakening to individual self-consciousness which we call ego. To ensure survival, their thoughts were mainly focused on meeting their immediate needs or their duties to the family or tribe. They did not have the time, inclination or communication skills to trouble themselves with what lay beyond their environment. For example, throughout the recorded histories of Greece, Rome, China, the Middle East and Europe from before the time of Christ and until the time of the conquistadors, many people accepted as fact the idea that the world is flat. From art, literature and anthropology, we know our ancestors appeared to look like us, but we should remember that at the time, most people did not think of the world beyond their tribal or community territory, let alone, consider that they were on a living planet moving in space where concepts of individual freedom and self-fulfillment would someday emerge.
Consciousness is and has always been in an evolutionary state on this physical plane; in fact, it is our awakening awareness of consciousness that has guided humanity through the many phases of life experience. A unique characteristic about our realization of consciousness is that we can comprehend the lower states of consciousness we have been through, but not states higher than our own present conscious awareness. In other words, we can look back and understand primitive man, but we are unable to comprehend 4th dimensional reality. In his book, The Ever Present Origin, Jean Gebser explains humanities journey through the evolving consciousness structures which in cultural terms are referred to as the magical phase (one-dimensional), the mythical phase (two-dimensional), and presently, the mental phase (three-dimensional) of consciousness. In our present reality, we humans have arrived at the point of being "conscious that we are conscious" and can now look back and understand this evolutionary process.
Structures of consciousness began with the dawning of man. In the earliest stage of our appearance on Earth, humans lived like wild animals, suffering and surviving. This period of life was referred to as the magical phase of consciousness because all experience happened in one giant enclosed fishbowl. It was one-dimensional in the sense that primitive humans were unable to make a distinction between objects and forces. This instinctual level of consciousness is like the dog that hides under the bed when it hears thunder because it does not know the weather is a force separate from itself. In two-dimensional reality, the forces become animated and are seen as mythical beings in the minds of the beholder. In addition, the senses of early man were not as refined as they are today. Thus, one of our ancient ancestors might have seen a bush as a round, spiky blob rather than as limbs and leaves. In this phase of human experience, the world was only as large as the hunting territory and little or no thought was given as to what might lie beyond.
As life evolved, humanity moved into the mythical structure of consciousness. When modern thinkers read the stories of ancient Greece, China, Mesopotamia, and Africa, we are fascinated by their remarkably similar, bolt-hurling gods of thunder, wind and water. In the mythological phase, mankind began to distinguish between forces and objects and to perceive life as two-dimensional. The ancients gave these forces names and characteristics. The Book of Daniel reveals that the people of his time worshiped this elemental side of life. For example, the Babylonians considered metal to be a magical representation conjured from the earth, with gold being the most precious. They bowed down to these objects in pagan reverence, and it was confounding to King Nebuchadnezzar and the other rulers that the prophet Daniel worshiped an unseen God. The people of this period believed in stories and myths that were spawned by their adventures and life experiences as they attempted to understand and control their encounters with the different forces and elements of nature.
Although the “soup” of the fishbowl had separated into objects and forces with personalities, humanity still did not recognize individuality nor did it value human life as we do today. In the ancient world, individual life had no particular value in and of itself. By law, the Spartans left weak children to die on the hillside while many cultures of that day employed infanticide to honor the gods of thunder or simply to maintain sustainable population levels. In parts of the world, this is not an uncommon practice even today. Likewise, in many areas of the ancient world, women were considered to be of low status, just as they are today in many cultures. Also, slavery had no detractors because it had no critics; it was considered a normal practice employed in order to make ends meet. In light of the developing state of consciousness during this mythical time, it is quite wondrous that Christ was able to introduce some very radical concepts to the world. One such idea was that no human life had a value of greater or lesser worth than any other. Christ taught that God places infinite value on every human life. Such a concept of the preciousness and equal worth of every human being had never before been considered in the ancient world.
It is important to understand the structures of consciousness so we can put the teachings of Christ into a proper context. Although Christ made his appearance in the latter phase of mythical consciousness, it would be another 1500 years before humanity entered third dimensional reality, the domain of the ego-personality. When we stop for a moment and examine the lofty spiritual teachings of Christ and then consider the state of the people of the time, we can’t help but wonder why Christ was disseminating teachings to people who were not even self-conscious yet. With the exception of his apostles and some of his disciples, most people weren’t sure if Jesus Christ was completely crazy or just a mad prophet. This minor detail is often overlooked by scholars, but in reality, the teachings of Christ were not meant for these people; in fact, they were meant for the people of today. Perhaps, this is why humanity still struggles to properly understand the teachings of Jesus Christ. Although he lived in our past, his message is still higher than our present understanding and must be pursued with deep contemplation. Many great thinkers continue to consider the meaning of Christ's admonition to transmute our natural minds into spiritual. We forget that the people of the ancient world might have been asking, “What is a mind?”
Because humanity was firmly entrenched in the mythical consciousness, people had a very hard time understanding and recognizing the significance of Christ’s teaching. However, in the centuries following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, many speculative writings about Christ and his teachings appeared. Various groups of people wanted to understand the actions and teachings of Jesus, and for several centuries, many diverse Christian groups arose, evolved, and spread across the Roman Empire. Over time animosity developed between various belief systems which threatened to destroy order in the culture. Finally, in 325 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine 1 gathered the early church fathers and convened the Council of Nicea for the purpose of compiling, evaluating, editing, and unifying the many doctrines which had emerged. These writings ultimately gave to us the King James Version of the bible.
It is because of the Council of Nicea that within the King James Bible we find several very critical problems which resulted from the editing of Christ’s teachings. The first problem which altered the very essence of these teachings came from the underlying desire of the church fathers to convert the Emperor Constantine from paganism to Christianity and from his desire to prevent the Christian factions from splintering the empire. Together, they forged a unified body of doctrine which was intended to appeal to Christian and pagan alike. In order to do this, concessions were made resulting in the removal of all references regarding women, the treatment of animals, and the abstinence from drinking strong drink. By removing all references to women, these church fathers essentially made Christianity a patriarchal religious institution which is contrary to Christ's basic message of love and acceptance of all living beings.
The second problem was that as the people were prone to the mythical perspective of consciousness and failed to understand Christ’s teaching as a spiritual path or manual for transformation. The church fathers and their followers turned the life of Christ into a mythical story which was used to reinforce their doctrines. Through the centuries following the Council of Nicea, religion proceeded along this very course. That is, the church became a patriarchal institution whose main purpose was to maintain order by promoting a mythological story of Jesus Christ. Church fathers taught their followers to be faithful to the dogma and doctrines they ascribed to their version of this story and to worship Jesus Christ as a deity rather than to follow his simple directions for transmuting and spiritualizing our hearts and minds.
Rather than seeking the true and highest interpretation of Christ’s teachings to give to the people, the early church fathers set humanity on a course which placed the religious patriarchs in a clerical hierarchy while relegating the masses to the outer court. The institution of religion has continued to promote the notion that lay people must utilize the clerical hierarchy to intercede for them in order to properly commune with Christ. This is not what Christ intended! Christ tells his disciples, “One is your Master, all ye are brethren, and one is not greater than another in the place which I have given unto you; for ye have one Master, even Christ, who is over you and with you and in you, and there is no inequality among my twelve or their fellows. All are equally near unto me. Strive ye not therefore for the first place, for ye are all first because ye are the foundation stones and pillars of the Church built on the truth which is in me and in you, and the truth and the law shall ye establish for all, as shall be given unto you.” Christ speaks of his followers as the pillars, foundation, and body of his Church, not an institutionalized hierarchy of patriarchal clerics. To Jesus, his followers were the church. We can only speculate, but perhaps, if early humanity had been presented with the teachings of Christ as a way of life which taught the follower to be responsible for his or her actions, to love God, and to set aside self-interest so as to become free to love others rather than compete with them, our world today might be a very different place.
The Emerging Ego
In the Renaissance period, the printing press enabled the common man to discover the world through science, mathematics and philosophy. The ability to have access to the written word facilitated the formulation of concepts. Conceptualization about the world, how it works, and the individual’s relationship to it were the most significant factors in the rapid development of self-conscious reality. This free emergence of inquiry by the common man and woman was considered the historical beginning of the individual autonomous self.
Consciousness was now in the process of being molded and configured by newly emerging world views, most of which favored the scientific and philosophical perspectives of life. Aristotle’s philosophy and science dominated western thought for almost two thousand years after his death, up until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The medieval world which was based on Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology began to transform from being centered on the living, organic and spiritual world to an ever expanding universe that was perceived in terms of mechanization and time.
This change was accelerated by new discoveries in physics, astronomy and mathematics. Thus began a long period in which science dominated the world and systematically dissected it into parts. The newly emerging self-conscious reality was not immune to this dissection and was gradually and systematically separated from its spiritual and intuitive roots in favor of the rational and scientific perspective. This mechanistic perspective of life essentially locked humanity into the objective, scientific and external world view which exists today. It is this scientific, rational and objective view of the world that has placed the human self-conscious ego firmly in the external world. All of mankind, with few exceptions, has become completely alienated from, unfamiliar with, and highly suspicious of the internal spiritual universe.
For the last 400 or so years, this newly emerging ego-personality has been the primary instrument through which members of humanity have interacted with one another as individuals. In this unfolding process, America has found itself at the forefront of establishing the doctrines and environment for individual freedom; all are based on Christian principles which value human life. In this forward march, our humanity has explored, discovered and deciphered the 3rd dimensional universe from our individualistic perspective. But here is the catch – the ego-personality (the natural mind/self-image) can only decipher reality in the 3rd dimension and can only observe the interrelationship of objects and forces in time and space as they relate to the physical body. The ego-personality does not have the ability to comprehend 4th dimensional reality, that is, the spiritual mind.
Ego and Religion
In modern day religion, the pattern of worship is for people to attend their churches and to follow their clerical patriarchs’ guidance so as to fulfill their requirements to God. Most of the people do not feel compelled to engage in deep contemplation, but are simply faithful to Jesus Christ and obedient to the church dogma. These good Christian people have done their best to live as Christ has advocated and as they have been taught and reared. But, if we were to view Christ’s teachings differently, as a path of transformation, we see that he tells us to struggle and to think for ourselves and to change our lives so that we eliminate the weaknesses and errors of the ego. In this way, we begin to take responsibility for who we are as spiritual beings before God.
To explain this in a slightly different context, our ego-personalities attempt to understand the mythical story of Jesus Christ as presented to us through the institutions of religion, in the only way it knows, through its understanding of spatial reality. With the best of intentions, people attempt to be faithful and to conform to religious instruction, but what no one seems to realize is that everyone is still functioning in their ego-personality (natural mind). Under these circumstances, the best anyone can do is to change their mask or self-concept to conform to the example given to us by Jesus Christ and be more loving and giving. We humans are subject to the biological and psychological forces within our natural minds and physical bodies and the best we can do under these circumstances is to modify our behavior to emulate Jesus Christ. On the surface, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it’s just that it is still 3rd dimensional reality only with a new and cleaner mask. A new, cleaner, or praising mask is not what Christ meant by being born again.
For one thing, Jesus Christ does not want to be praised or worshiped, he wants to be followed. Egos want to be praised and worshiped which is why our society is so enthralled with fame, personalities and celebrity. We have created society and its institutions, including religion, in our own image. Egos want acknowledgment which is why people are constantly looking for attention, recognition, validation and praise; so they assume the same holds true for Jesus Christ, but this is not the case.
In the Western world, we totally accept the open expression of a person’s ego-personality, even in church. Throughout most of the Christian world, in one form or another, the clergy and their followers are all doing their best to “save” people by changing and sanitizing their ego-personalities. This is not meant as criticism for this well-intentioned process, but if the truth be known, this usually turns out to be nothing more than a “white-washing” of the social mask. Here’s the problem – when Christ said we must die and be reborn, he meant our ego-personality (natural mind) must die so we could reawaken or be reborn to our spiritual nature. For the ego to die, it must be humbled and take a “backseat” in our lives. It must cease to rule our thoughts, emotions and lives. This is the beginning of the transformational process that is required in order to rise above our human weaknesses and natural minds so we can reawaken the spiritual nature within.
We are told that in Adam all die, but in Christ shall all be made alive. If we were to consider the teachings of Christ as a stepping stone, a formula, or a set of instructions by which we transmute the natural mind (Adam) into the spiritual mind (Christ), Christians could truly transform the reality of this world. We would experience oneness in the world with those who are of the Christ light and love. We all would have a deep knowing that we are all one in Christ. No masks, no egos, no pretenses, no separateness, just a communion of oneness within the light of Christ. We would fully realize that we are one in God, one in Christ and one with each other. This is the spiritual reality Jesus Christ wants humanity to experience.
Christians, for centuries, have used the bible and its guidance in the way it was intended, that is, to modify the behavior so the person could emulate the example of Jesus Christ. Behavior modification, charity and good works have their reward, but they have their limits also. They still do not fulfill the numerous directives spoken of by Christ: to transmute the natural mind into the spiritual, to strive ye unto perfection, or to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. In order to accomplish such a metamorphosis, like the butterfly emerging from the cocoon, we must embrace the teachings of Christ as a system of transformation.
In order to truly live the selfless life advocated by Christ, an internal transformation is required which means we must each purify the body, subdue the ego-personality and stabilize the emotions. This takes consistent training and discipline to accomplish (see: Meditation). When progress has been made on this spiritual path, the body will feel peaceful and relaxed, the emotions will feel stable and pure, the mind can be quieted and the breathing regulated. Once this state of quietness is achieved, we blend the heart and mind; in other words, we teach the “heart to think and the mind to feel” and hold these in perfect equilibrium. In this state of balanced serenity, we can feel the presence of Christ’s light within us. This is the spiritual mind.
The teachings of Christ as a path of transformation form the stepping stone for this transition to the spiritual mind. Through understanding Christ, we may come to understand the difference between our present “world reality” and what it means “to be in Christ” in a knowing manner. Through contemplation, we come to realize that the present world reality is the realm of mammon, and we must work diligently to free ourselves from this dark world so we can step into the Christ light. There is a way to be in the world, but not of the world.
Christ revealed to humanity that the kingdom of Heaven is within and he said to seek first the kingdom of Heaven and to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. To fulfill these words, we must transmute our natural life into a spiritual life and find heaven within. Heaven within is the quiet serenity of equilibrium between the heart and mind. It is in this stillness that Christ communes with our soul giving us light in the form of insight, bringing love to the pure heart, peace to the serene mind, and guidance for the way ahead.