Thus, however many well-conceived and pleasant-sounding names are applied to this awareness,
In reality, those who maintain that these names do not refer to this present conscious awareness,
But to something else, above and beyond it,
Resemble someone who has already found an elephant, but is out looking for its tracks elsewhere.Bardo Thodol, Liberation Through Hearing in the Intermediate State, or The Tibetan Book of the Dead
The more I read sacred texts from other religions, cultures, and times, the more I see the loving work of the universe unfolding throughout all of humanity. Each, in their own way, points to the same universal truths. Love is happiness. Liberation can happen in the present moment. God (or whatever indescribable thing we give the name of God) is ever present with us. I love hearing the various ways other humans have put words to these things.
The quote I began with, from what westerners call The Tibetan Book of the Dead and what easterners call Liberation Through Hearing, is one of my favorites. No matter what names and language we put to these experiences, if we aren’t seeing what is always already here for us, we’re missing the largest part of our own existence. And if we’re running around seeking answers to our own questions, like hunting for elephant tracks, we’re overlooking the elephant already in the room… our own profound present conscious awareness that already knows, the healing rest our heart longs for.
The moments of our life are not expendable,
And the possible circumstances of death are beyond imagination.
If you do not achieve an undaunted confident security now,
What point is there in your being alive, O living creature?The Tibetan Book of the Dead
We pass through each moment only once. Each one is precious. If our understanding does not give us confident security in our grounded sense of being right here, right now, then what is even the point? When I first read that passage, it landed deeply for me. It brought me directly and pointedly to the present, and invited me to live there.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead’s origin story is similar to The Book of Mormon’s origin story. Ancient prophet writes important history and truths intended for future generations and buries them in the ground to be found later. Young boy finds said records, written in an unknown language, and translates them through the power of revelation. But in this story, it is Padmasambhava who plays the roles of Mormon and Moroni, and Joseph is played by Karma Lingpa. And it is set in the fourteenth century instead of the nineteenth.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.Ecclesiastes 1:9
For some, it might be annoying to think that something we once thought was special actually just seems to be one of the many ways human history works. For me, it’s comforting. I love Ecclesiastes and its reach into mysticism. I love the way it encourages us to take ourselves a little less seriously and enjoy each moment as it passes. I love seeing that what is happening right now has happened before and will happen again. It takes me from being a self-important player in a supposed story to an engaged witness of God’s observable and mysterious great work, something much larger than myself that invites me to belong. And that feels like liberation.
No longer do I worry about right or wrong and eternal consequences, because who am I to fully understand that? What I am asked to do is to be aware of what draws me, and the fulfilling and sustaining taste of the fruit it produces. I am being invited to have confident security now, to live a full life of present joy and rest. And this gospel, this good news, appears over and over again throughout human tradition.
Leaving Tibet, we travel southwest to India, and back in time to the second century BCE.
Krishna, what happens to the man
who, with faith but no self-control,
wanders from the path of yoga
before he becomes mature?
Hasn’t he lost both the here
and the hereafter? Doesn’t he,
rootless and insubstantial,
fade like a cloud in the sky?
This is the doubt that troubles me,
Krishna; I beg you, please
help me; for only you
can remove this doubt from my mind.
The Blessed Lord said:
Neither here nor hereafter,
Arjuna, is that man lost;
no one who does good work
will come to an evil end.Bhagavad Gita
No one is lost. Centuries before Jesus said it, Krishna said it. And before Krishna, Buddha. And before Buddha, David. And so on. This is the message of freedom the universe has always spoken to us. Liberated from guilt and shame we enter into the rest of the Lord and see ourselves as we truly are. The entire kingdom of God is within us and all around us. Right now, right here. Jesus comes again to us in this freedom. His Second Coming is always described as a great liberation.
His disciples asked,
“On which day will you
make yourself known to us?”
Lord Jesus replied,
“When you rid yourselves
of guilt and shame.”The Gospel of Thomas
I can’t think of better news than the way that points to freedom. In a life filled with absurdities that lead to ignorance, trauma, and illness, I can’t think of a better gift than the healing path of the gospel. On our last stop, for now, we’ll visit a woman who knew that healing well.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene was left out of the canon for a number of reasons, none of which are very good in my opinion. Her telling of her life with Jesus is beautiful, and offers an intimate look at the way the gospel of Christ can change everything.
I recommend reading the entire Gospel of Mary. There are a lot of really great nuggets, but I’ll start with Peter’s asking Mary to share with them something that she remembers, something they’ve never heard before. She tells them of a vision she had of Jesus. She told Jesus of the vision, and asked him where visions come from. He explained to her that visions come from the mind as it mediates between the soul and the body.
Having struggled with the voices in her head so often, this idea causes her to reflect on the power of her mind. Her inner dialogue becomes a back and forth between her mind which, in its sometimes confused mediation, seeks to accuse her and her soul which, imbued with the power of her true self, defends her. Her soul conquers the demons of darkness, desire, ignorance, fear of death, power of the flesh, foolish reason, and self-righteous pedantry.
These demons are the powers of anger and doubt, the voices that plague us all and are the root of our suffering. Jesus heals Mary, not by commanding she be clean, but by pointing her inward to her inner Christ and giving her soul a voice of liberation.
In one last desperate attempt to keep Mary bound in the chains of her own mind, her demons throw all of her past sins at her, seeking to bring her down with guilt and shame. Her soul, now stronger than ever, and enabled by Christ’s healing atonement, takes its stand.
My soul replied,
“What bound me is dead,
what enveloped me has been
vanquished; my desires are over
and ignorance is no more.
In this life I was freed from the
world and the chains of forgetfulness.
From now on I will rest
in the eternal now; for this age,
this aeon, and in stillness.”
Then Mary was silent, for this was the truth Jesus had revealed.The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
She was healed. Her demons were vanquished. She was free. And this led her to a perfect eternal now of peace. Living with her true self, wrapped in the love of God, Mary would never be the same. Nevermind that Peter didn’t believe her story, and that centuries later the church would ignore her testimony, I have felt the redemptive power of the gospel in defeating my own demons. Mary’s story is my story, present and ongoing. Jesus’ message is for me too.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.Isaiah 61:1
I have been witness to the miracle of love’s power to silence the accuser. This is the healing I have always been offered. This is the elephant. This is confident security. Liberation through hearing. The good news. And from now on I will rest.