Session Three: The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You
What did Jesus actually teach? How often do you consider the teachings as a whole? Over familiarity with Jesus in our culture may get in the way of appreciating Jesus’ teaching. One Texas theologian remembers Sunday School teaching: Jesus is nice and he wants us to be nice too.
Bourgeault recommends the book: Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality, Jim Marion (Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads, 2000). Title is direct quote from St. Paul. The tendency to relate to Jesus through belief is characteristic of Western Christianity. But it was not necessarily the emphasis of the early church. Moreover, relating to Jesus through beliefs is not necessarily the only way for us today. The central challenge that Jesus offered was finding a new way of seeing the world and in “right practice.”
How do we put on the mind of Christ? Marion notices that Jesus repeatedly describes his teaching as the “kingdom of heaven.” It is a foundational idea. What is the kingdom of heaven? Biblical scholars have debated it for centuries. Not where you go when you die. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is at hand; it is within you. Not later, but “lighter.”
The kingdom is not an earthly, political utopia, either. Jesus specifically denied it in his day. He said the kingdom of heaven is not of this world.
Marion suggests that the kingdom of heaven is a code word for a state of consciousness, a new way of looking at the world with non-dual, or unitive, consciousness. Earmarks of non-dual consciousness are no separation between God and humans, or between humans and humans. All is one. Two core teachings.
Jesus describes a complete mutual indwelling: God in us, we are in God, we are in each other. I am the vine, you are the branches (The Gospel of John). Mutual abiding: whole and part live together in mutual, loving reciprocity.
No separation between human and human: Love your neighbor as yourself. We often hear it wrong. Not “as much as.” “As” means “the same.” Your neighbor is you. No competition between people who are in a sense “one.”
Jim Marion uses language pioneered by philosopher Ken Wilber: human beings live on a continuum of consciousness.
Jesus as a master of non-dual consciousness, calling people to that transformed consciousness. Kingdom of heaven is what you see when you see from that unitive consciousness and life lived from that consciousness.
Computer metaphors help us understand what this all means. We come into existence with a certain operating system but have the opportunity to “upgrade.” Our original operating system is a binary operating system. Built into the structure of our brain. Ability to stand outside ourselves with a self-reflective consciousness. Subject/object oriented. We experience ourselves as persons with distinct attributes, not like the other. We experience others as outside ourselves. We think in terms of discriminating differences between objects and people. We experience ourselves as distinct, unique persons, different from every other person. We experience others as outside ourselves. We think in dualities, good versus bad, up versus down, etc.
Each one of us is at the hub at the center of this perception of dualism. But it is a mirage, an illusion, per most wisdom traditions. There is no ego, separate from everything else. The perception of separation is a function of the binary operating system.
Jesus suggests that you can upgrade your operating system. Most people get stuck in the binary operating system. But we have the capacity to upgrade, it is also programmed, in latency, into us: the non-dual, unitive system. Bourgeault likes to call it the operating system of the heart. (In contrast, the binary system operates thru the brain.) Not separating, does not make distinctions.
Transformation of the mind means upgrading to heart awareness. Heart is not necessarily the emotional center. Heart is an organ of inner alignment, perception of the world as well as of the spirit. Heart picks up reality in a more profound way than does the brain.
Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski (Living Presence: A Sufi Guide to Mindfulness and the Essential Self, New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1992):
"We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using. In addition to the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes psychic and extrasensory abilities; intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative, and creative capabilities; and image-forming and symbolic capacities. Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification because they are operating best when they are in concert. They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection to the cosmic mind. This total mind we call 'heart.'”
The heart is an instrument that can pick of signals from all sorts of sources. Heart is super-rational; picks up all kinds of information. Wisdom traditions see the heart as an organ of spiritual alignment, like a GPS (God-Positioning System). Allows us to go beyond the obvious and to pick up on things unseen as well as what can be perceived by the senses.
Heart is not based on separation. It perceives by means of harmony. Heart awareness is “upgrade of the operating system.” Sees from a perspective of non-duality. No separation between God and Human; no separation between human and human. A whole new way of seeing and being.
A new way of seeing the teachings of Jesus and possibilities for the followers of Jesus. Metanoia, Greek word that “repentance” translates: Going into the larger mind, the “butterfly” mind. She attributes this insight to Marcus Borg.
Jesus calls us to see with the mind of the heart.
Centering prayer is an exercise in repentance, of going into the larger mind. Jesus is the master of repentance, that what allows us to go into the larger mind.
This transformation is illustrated by the parable in Matthew 20, the laborers in the vineyard, one of the hardest parables to understand. You cannot understand the parable if you hear it with binary mind; the owner seems to act unfairly. You must shift your operating system to a more unitive consciousness to see that the owner is acting out of a place of abundance; there is enough for everyone. It represents a whole new way of seeing.
A hint of what Jesus is up to; he is trying to “fry our mental sockets,” to show us a whole new way of being. Until this mind shift has taken place, it is impossible to live the gospel. Jesus was probably the first in the Near East to model this non-dual teaching. We live with hypocrisy and burnout because of the gap between our beliefs and the teaching of Jesus. Very few people have been able to live in the heart consciousness.
Jesus does give us a path and future sessions discuss this path.
Next session: The Path of Metanoia, looking at the Beatitudes, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the hard sayings of Jesus.