The Self: Can’t Go Around It, Gotta Go Through It (1 John 2:15-17)

The author of 1 John has this to say:

Love neither the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of God is not in that person. For all that is in the world, the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of God, but is of the world.  And the world passes away, and the desires thereof. But the one who does the will of God abides forever. (2:15-17)

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Or the same-‘ol- same-‘ol. I read these verses at recent study group, with much eye rolling and many groans in response. Yes, sounds harsh and old fashioned. More of that “hate the flesh” stuff.

But think about it: How to express the spiritual truth that our egos—our everyday, mundane sense of self—is the barrier to a sense of wonder and gratitude, to an experience of the divine? Early Christians, as they fanned out across a world soaked in Greek dualism—a view of reality as separated between material and spirit—came down hard on the side of spirit. Yet, how else could the author of John have said it? He was in his culture, attempting to speak of the ineffable. 

A bit farther east, the author of the Tao Teh Ching said,

Body and mind embrace.

With attention to the breath,

We can become gentle;

With attention to thoughts

We can clear away flaws. (10)

This explicit non-dualism appeals to our contemporary minds. Yet, though the goal appears to be different, notice that the idea is similar to John’s, “For all that is in the world, the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of God, but is of the world.  And the world passes away, and the desires thereof.” Breathe—be gentle—pay attention—clear away the flaws. For both writers, the goal is to get through the ego stuff that gets in the way of an understanding of oneness.

The human situation is that from moment to moment, day to day, for what amounts to a lifetime, each of us feels those “intimations of immortality” that poet William Wordsworth talks about. We know there’s more, more that we can feel a part of, yet the desire for the little mores all around us—the desires of the senses and the fears of the flesh—distracts from the achievement of the big more.

How to go through the self to “break on through to the other side” is the question. For some religious traditions, this means examining the mind; for others, it means a reliance on the divine. In both, the essence of our work is going beyond our little selves to a place of connection and compassion for all.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says,

When you make the two one, you will come to be the Children of Humanity. Then, if you should say, “mountain, move away,” it will move. (#106)

Going beyond duality is a powerful step. It means, as the Dalai Lama points out, to make our religion compassion for all.

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