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Crossing the Sea of Delusion
The Symbolism of the Gospels
Origen, the greatest early Christian exponent of the Holy Scriptures, insisted that the simplest-seeming statements of the Bible, even those that appeared the most obvious or mundane, had profound hidden meanings. In this commentary on the Gospels, Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri) of Light of the Spirit Monastery in Cedar Crest, New Mexico, mines this account from the life of Jesus to discover the wealth hidden therein.
The Symbolism of Water
“Jesus entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city. And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This [man] blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” (Matthew 9:1-8).
In esoteric symbology water usually represents the mind–that is, the psychic nature. It also can mean the entire expanse of relative existence. In this case both ideas apply. We presently stand on the shore of relative, material existence, enmeshed in the nets of our mind. If we would truly attain freedom, we must pass beyond our mind and beyond relative existence.
In Indian spiritual writings we often encounter the concept of crossing the ocean of delusion (samsara). Until we do, we are in bondage to ignorance, karma, birth, and death. On the other side we shall enter into the opposite state of total freedom in spirit. Obviously, then, crossing over the vast sea of mind and cosmos is neither a holiday jaunt nor something optional. It is a most serious endeavor which we must all take up in time. And the wise of all ages have told us that now is better than later “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2). For it is a matter of the life or death of consciousness.
The Meaning of the Ship
Jesus took the first step of the journey across the lake by entering into a ship. The ship symbolizes the means by which we journey from the unreal to the Real, from the darkness to the Light, from death to Immortality. The ship symbolizes more than one thing, and we should consider each of them.
First, the ship represents the carrying-over, transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the upward-moving current in which we must be “baptized.” It is this power which will carry us to the transcendent realm we call “the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18) which is our original home. Secondly, the ship represent the Lord Jesus Himself, for as He told the Apostles, He is the Way. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). It is through the most intimate union with Jesus that we are enabled to return back home to the Father. For we are all prodigal sons that must come to ourselves, awaken in the spirit, and by means of spiritual life and practice go back to the Father.
Meditation for Crossing Over the Sea of Samsara
Spiritual life, especially meditation, is the sacred ship which carries us to God. So we must enter the ship–immerse ourselves in spiritual practice and center every moment of our lives in the consciousness of “Christ.” It is very interesting that in the Greek text of the Gospels we are never told to merely believe in God, but rather to believe into Him. We must become part of Him, and thereby regain our status as conscious parts of the infinite Being. This is a great mystery, but it can be experienced by those who will.
Just entering the ship would have done Jesus no good. He had to pass over the waters in it. So we must have the correct perspective in relation to the world–both the outer world and the private world of our own lives and body-vehicles. They are all to be either passed over or through. That is, some things are to be completely disdained and avoided and others are to be used as instruments for our spiritual growth. But in time all are discarded as we grow beyond the need for them. Often we torment ourselves by trying to cope with what we should simply drop. As long as we hold on to the cat’s tail it will bite and scratch us. But if we let go it will stop. It is wise to analyze our lives and see what are the “cats” we need to let go, even actively throw away. It is not an easy matter, but the peace and joy it ultimately brings makes it truly worth the doing.
Other parts of our lives, especially our body and mind, we need to realize are but instruments that we are to master and use for our ascension into higher awareness. To allow them to control or determine our behavior to even the slightest degree is utter folly. This is not an easy lesson to learn, nor is the weaning of ourselves from addiction to their destructive ways. But we must if we would know peace and enter into life eternal. And having done so, we can enter into the consciousness of spirit, our true home. That is, we can like Jesus come into our own city, unto our own home. If we keep this perspective the foregoing discipline will be made much easier.
From eternity we were existing in the bosom, the depths of God. Having come forth, we have forgotten this truth and tried to make a home in this ever-changing world and in each body-vehicle into which we were born. The result was great suffering, struggle, and eventual death–death that was only the gateway to repetition of the same folly and misery. When will it end? Not here in this world, no, nor in the higher worlds. It will end only when we enter back into the heart of God. So we must arise and return to Him–now.
All this is indicated by the single opening sentence of this Gospel passage.
The next sentence says:
“And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”
The subject of our return to God and our restoration in Him is being continued.
We have to get to God; and anyone who has tried that on his own knows how hopeless and frustrating that attempt can be–in fact, must be. The truth is, on our own we cannot move a step toward God. For it is each one of us who is sick of the palsy–that is, spiritual paralysis–and lying in the bed of our corrupt and mortal body-mind complex. It is our identification with that “bed” that paralyzes us, cutting us off from perception of our true self, the inner Christ.
Jesus stated the matter quite simply when He told the apostles “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Without the intervention of both our inner Christ and the outer cosmic Christ (of Which Jesus was but a single–not the only–manifestation) we are completely helpless. As long as we lie in the bed of materiality and ignorance there is no hope of our moving an inch toward God or of lifting a hand to help ourselves. Fortunately, things do not remain that way always. In time holy helpers come to our aid. Saints and angels take pity on us, and when the third ingredient, our own effort, is added to the mix, we are enabled to arise and walk the path that leads Godward.
When Jesus told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven him, he was indicating that the illness was a result of sins–that is, negative karmas created in past lives by wrong thought and action. We, too, are stricken by the effects of past misdeeds, effects from which we must be freed, of which we must become healed. This truth must be accepted and not camouflaged with phony “positive thinking” or “affirmation.” Rather, it must be faced up to. But we need not be discouraged when we do, for Jesus also told the man: “Be of good cheer”–not because we hope in ourselves, but because we hope in the loving mercy of God–mercy that is imparted to us so freely. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Never should the aspirant to Christhood yield to the temptation of discouragement or depression. These are evil machinations of the satanic ego and must be turned away from. Notice, I do not say they are to be resisted–we should not give them such attention. Instead we should ignore them and fix our minds on God in Whom we can certainly hope and rejoice. We should acknowledge our imperfections, but our attention should be fixed on the perfection of Christ. We do this by meditating and calling on the Name of God. Saint Paul tells us: “Pray without ceasing. Rejoice evermore” (I Thessalonians 5:16,17). That is good advice.
Displeased at the Good
Those who followed Jesus around looking for faults were displeased with His telling the man that his sins were forgiven. But Jesus showed them that His words were not just empty sounds. He proved that the man really was set free from the bonds of sins by having him stand up and walk. And this is the intention of Jesus. He did not come into this world for something as small and shortsighted as merely keeping us from going to hell after death. No indeed. He came so we could arise and journey back to the Father. Heaven is not our goal; it is only a point on the road back to God. We shall surely go there, but we will pass beyond it, moving ever higher and higher until we transcend all such “places” and reunite with God. This return to God is meant by Jesus’ direction: “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”
Let us analyze that. We arise by awakening spiritually and actively working out our salvation. Without God we can do nothing, yet with God we must do much. Our effort is also needed. And the first step we take is the lifting up of our bed. Intangible philosophical abstractions are not for us. There must be practical demonstration of our inner status by the purification, mastery, and sanctification of our physical, astral, and causal bodies. Not only must our minds be lifted up and carried to God–our physical bodies must be lifted up as well. We must take all aspects of our being in hand and fulfil the injunction of Saint Paul: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be…ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1,2). The spiritual aspirant must ensure that in all things his intention is toward the revelation of God. Long has he wandered in and out of the houses of materiality of all sorts, in and out of the houses of birth and death, in and out of the houses of “me” and “mine.” And the only thing that he has carried away from those houses is the capacity for more wandering, bound by the fetters of ignorance and sin.
The Example of Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood dawdled on the way to her goal, idly picking flowers. From flower-picking she went on to conversation with the wolf. And eventually she ended up in his stomach. This supposed fairy story is really a parable of metaphysical wisdom from which we must learn the need for directly moving toward God. As Saint John Vianney used to tell people: “Go to God like a shot from a cannon.” Direct and rapid should be our efforts. Dilly-dallying is dangerous. On the way to our own house we should not waste time gawking at other houses, much less should we enter into them. The only house we should be intent on at all times is our own. That is, we must at all times have our hearts and minds fixed on God. If we do so, then it, too, can be said of us in the words of the Gospel: “And he arose, and departed to his house. And when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.”