The meaning of sin

I have been thinking lately about the seven sins. Although I don’t believe everything I read in religious texts, I think the Bible has some value here. I tried debating the logic behind the seven sins, but finally came to the conclusion that, actually, the logic makes sense.

The first consideration for me was, why is a particular quality essentially ‘wrong’ or sinful? Is it because it’s harmful to society, to the government, or to ourselves? I came to the conclusion that, from a religious perspective, God represents love. So a quality is considered wrong if it goes against the impulse to love (one’s self, one’s neighbour, family, friends, society). Hate, envy, greed, anger, lust, pride, sloth – they all block out love. Love is the feeling of caring for another as selflessly as possible, and loving one’s self on a deep level rather than loving our egotistic fashionings (which are sure to change). The problem with love is – if love depends on the idea of an enduring self (something which will last forever) then what if there is NO enduring self at all? If the person you loved became a ‘sinner’, would you still love their ‘inner’ self, knowing that they were inherently ‘good’? If you can love one person like that, why not everyone? Buddhism says there is no enduring self, only flux and change. So, where does love fit into that?

I haven’t lost all hope yet. I do believe in an enduring self. That’s why we can feel compassion for almost anyone in the world, because we recognise another soul’s inherent energy as being from the same source as our own energy. And the reason why we become closer to some people more than others is to do with the varying experiences we have on earth, and the karmic relationships we have built. That’s why once certain experiences and karma change, our relationships tend to change too.

Going back to sin, if we see God as representing our original source, and if we see our essential nature as love, then it follows that we should avoid everything that blocks out feelings of love. This is in our best interest as well as in the interest of society at large. But I find it very unhelpful to focus on what we need to avoid, so instead I’ve made another list of what it is we need to embody…

Anger -(needs to change into)- Compassion

Envy – Admiration

Pride – Humility

Greed – Generosity

Lust –  Love

Sloth – Perseverance

Gluttony – Satisfaction

In our lifetimes, a certain number of errors are inevitable. No matter how hard we try, some of us cannot become saints right now. You will notice in your life that you made certain mistakes without realising, and other mistakes you tried to avoid but you were not able to control. If you make the same mistake again and again, then you are choosing to suffer again and again until you reach a greater understanding and eventually become strong enough to avoid making that mistake – like learning to balance on a bicycle. But along with the karmic inevitability we have predestined for ourselves, there is a small element of choice. In this small field of free expression, we are the creators – here, we choose to exercise the Seven Virtues.

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Faith overcomes fear

Living in this world can sometimes be a frightening experience. We need to trust the society we live in, the people around us, the government, the infrastructure, for so many things. We are an interdependent web where everyone’s actions affect everyone else. We need to trust things which are out of our control. As adults, we regain some control over events, but not total control. If we could control every little thing about our lives and our worlds, I am sure we would each made considerable changes: eliminate poverty, improve infrastructure, change political systems, prioritise the environment, and so on. In a world where everything is not ‘perfect’ and everything is not ‘in our control’, we can often question God’s purpose, or the divine plan. ‘Why does it have to be like this? If there is a God, why doesn’t he make it better?’

After thinking about this long and hard, there are two explanations that are beginning to make sense to me (in relation to God or Universal Consciousness or Source, whatever you like to call the divine influence). The first is the situation of free-will. Life forms are endowed with the freedom to make choices. That means that they are accountable for the results of those choices. That is karma and it is something which teaches us to become responsible, knowledgeful and learn the secrets of creation for ourselves. Eventually, we ourselves learn to be in sync with the divine plan, and let the divine force balance the world out through us.

The second explanation is to do with vision. Only the divine Source has knowledge of past, present and future (free-will can change the future and therefore even prophetic souls cannot make definite predictions). If we could make everything the way we wanted, we would choose whatever is best in the short-term, because our perspective is limited to short-term experiences and consequences. Once we let the divine work through us, things start working out for us, but with a view to long-term progress. That’s why Jesus said, ‘Thy will be done.’ He trusted God more than he trusted himself. He knew that God’s plan could cause him difficulty in the short-term, but in the long-term, there would be some benefit. What that benefit will be cannot always be understood at the time that we call on God, which is why we think God does not listen when we pray.

Faith is the act of accepting that we are not always in control, but that there is some divine force looking out for us if we call on it. Faith does not guarantee a pain-free life, it does not offer extra comfort or immunity from danger. Faith is simply love for the divine plan, which we cannot understand but which creates within us an inexplicable wonder. Faith is love for the ways of the divine, which we get glimpses of every now and then, if we pay attention. Faith allows us to become courageous and strong; it allows us to overcome our fears. Faith beckons the divine force to flow through us so that its will can be done.

Jesus and Mary Magdalen, by Khalil Gibran

The following is an excerpt from Khalil Gibran’s work, Jesus the Son of Man… It recounts the first meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalen, and it is written in the voice of Mary:

It was in the month of June when I saw Him for the first time. He was walking in the wheatfield when I passed by with my handmaidens, and He was alone. The rhythm of His steps was different from other men’s, and the movement of His body was like naught I had seen before. Men do not pace the earth in that manner. And even now I do not know whether He walked fast or slow. My handmaidens pointed their fingers at Him and spoke in shy whispers to one another. And I stayed my steps for a moment, and raised my hand to hail Him. But He did not turn His face, and He did not look at me. And I hated Him. I was swept back into myself, and I was as cold as if I had been in a snow-drift. And I shivered.

That night I beheld Him in my dreaming; and they told me afterward that I screamed in my sleep and was restless upon my bed.

It was in the month of August that I saw Him again, through my window. He was sitting in the shadow of the cypress tree across my garden, and He was still as if He had been carved out of stone, like the statues in Antioch and other cities of the North Country. And my slave, the Egyptian, came to me and said, “That man is here again. He is sitting there across your garden.” And I gazed at Him, and my soul quivered within me, for He was beautiful. His body was single and each part seemed to love every other part. Then I clothed myself with raiment of Damascus, and I left my house and walked towards Him.

Was it my aloneness, or was it His fragrance, that drew me to Him? Was it a hunger in my eyes that desired comeliness, or was it His beauty that sought the light of my eyes? Even now I do not know. I walked to Him with my scented garments and my golden sandals, the sandals the Roman captain had given me, even these sandals. And when I reached Him, I said, “Good-morrow to you.”

And He said, “Good-morrow to you, Miriam.” And He looked at me, and His night-eyes saw me as no man had seen me. And suddenly I was as if naked, and I was shy.

Yet He had only said, “Good-morrow to you.”

And then I said to Him, “Will you not come to my house?”

And He said, “Am I not already in your house?”

I did not know what He meant then, but I know now.

And I said, “Will you not have wine and bread with me?”

And He said, “Yes, Miriam, but not now.”

Not now, not now, He said. And the voice of the sea was in those two words, and the voice of the wind and the trees. And when He said them unto me, life spoke to death. For mind you, my friend, I was dead. I was a woman who had divorced her soul. I was living apart from this self which you now see. I belonged to all men, and to none. They called me harlot, and a woman possessed of seven devils. I was cursed, and I was envied. But when His dawn-eyes looked into my eyes all the stars of my night faded away, and I became Miriam, only Miriam, a woman lost to the earth she had known, and finding herself in new places.

And now again I said to Him, “Come into my house and share bread and wine with me.”

And He said, “Why do you bid me to be your guest?”

And I said, “I beg you to come into my house.” And it was all that was sod in me, and all that was sky in me calling unto Him.

Then He looked at me, and the noontide of His eyes was upon me, and He said, “You have many lovers, and yet I alone love you. Other men love themselves in your nearness. I love you in your self. Other men see a beauty in you that shall fade away sooner than their own years. But I see in you a beauty that shall not fade away, and in the autumn of your days that beauty shall not be afraid to gaze at itself in the mirror, and it shall not be offended. I alone love the unseen in you.”

Then He said in a low voice, “Go away now. If this cypress tree is yours and you would not have me sit in its shadow, I will walk my way.”

And I cried to Him and I said, “Master, come to my house. I have incense to burn for you, and a silver basin for your feet. You are a stranger and yet not a stranger. I entreat you, come to my house.”

Then He stood up and looked at me even as the seasons might look down upon the field, and He smiled. And He said again: “All men love you for themselves. I love you for yourself.”

And then He walked away.

But no other man ever walked the way He walked. Was it a breath born in my garden that moved to the east? Or was it a storm that would shake all things to their foundations?

I knew not, but on that day the sunset of His eyes slew the dragon in me, and I became a woman, I became Miriam, Miriam of Mijdel.

Who are you, REALLY?

Are you a man, woman, black, white, accountant, lawyer, wife, etc. etc.?

No. You are not any of those things, essentially. You’re just playing the part for a period of time.

Are you alone, isolated, separate from everyone else?

No. You affect everyone and everything that comes into contact with you. You affect the energy of this beautiful planet through your thoughts, words and actions.

It’s so hard to see this from our human eyes. Even though we spend each night sleeping, leaving the physical body at times whilst our souls explore the world beyond, we forget all of that and dismiss it in the morning. Some people travel out of body, or have a near-death experience, or they have deep telepathic insights, but we keep ignoring all these messages, dismissing them as hallucination or irrationality. What is more irrational is the way we humans are living on this earth right now. Just eating, sleeping, working, doing things mindlessly without any awareness or care. Is this the reason we came to this earth? To take a few breaths, go through the motions, and then just leave this place?

No. We came here to experience something amazing and something beautiful.

Is your life amazing right now? I don’t mean it in terms of what you do, I mean in terms of how you feel. We came here to feel something incredible, possible only on this Mother Earth. If we do not feel wonderful despite having everything, then we cannot blame anyone but ourselves. This means we have a choice to reconnect with our original vision and purpose: it’s a matter of free will.

The vital energy, the most powerful transforming energy which can change despair into bliss is love. Love is the energy which binds all of creation on the spiritual level. It starts from love for one’s self, goes out to touch the planet as love for every other creature (whatever phase of growth or ignorance a life form may be at, it has the potential to be great), and it becomes the nurturing energy of God which sustains the health of our planet, of Gaia.

If you feel out of touch with the rhythm of nature and the potential goodness of life, its unseen magical power to nurture you, heal you, sustain you, then read some accounts of near death experiences. It will remind you of something familiar seating in your soul. Visit this site.

Don’t lose the magic

We create reality on so many levels, but how can we know what is actually real? Are our thoughts, perceptions, feelings, intuitions actually real? If we can see something, taste it, smell it, touch it, hear it, does that mean it’s real? What if what we can see or hear cannot be seen or heard by others? Usually we define reality through collective perception, but what if the collective cannot perceive something which we perceive very strongly – are they blind or are we mad? We give validity to collective opinion, but is this correct?

I think that it is necessary to rely on the collective to define everyday reality because the collective is what keeps society going. But I think that this is something we need to do for convenience, not something which defines reality. I don’t believe in reality, or to put it another way, I believe in multiple realities. I believe that reality and illusion are not opposites, they are part of the same system which creates experiences. These experiences are relative and they come from personal perception. For instance, when we are children our parents look very big to us, but once we grow they look much smaller. Our perception changes according to our relative position. Sometimes we take collective reality so much for granted that we STOP QUESTIONING. We think ‘that’s just the way things are’. We lose the magic of being alive. We forget that reality is elusive and personal, not rigid and enforced. We lose our imagination, our freedom.

This is a very sad fact. Sometimes it takes a visionary to remind us of our magical life, to show us that we are capable of creating wonderful dreams and transforming them into everyday ‘reality’. Such visionaries have a versatile mind which can see beyond limited ways of understanding reality. They see beyond relative reality in order to search for something enduring, something ABSOLUTE, something which never changes. And sometimes, they find that absolute reality, and they spread the word about something wonderful which connects us all in a bond of enduring love.  But we take that message and often do not understand how to appreciate the wonder of it. We feel the power of God’s message in the messenger’s words, but we don’t know how to keep it alive in our everyday worlds, so we create a system for that message, we make a religion, we make a doctrine. In trying to solidify the message of God, we make it into something rigid, which is exactly what the messenger was trying to free us from. We create commandments and we say that the messenger gave us these ‘rules’ to follow. We become followers, when the messenger wanted us to be the leaders of our own wondrous reality. And that’s when the magic is lost.

Unconditional love

Unconditional love means to love someone regardless of their actions, words or behaviour. You love them no matter what. Usually we love people based on qualities they display or what they give us. We become strongly attached to people for various reasons and we call that love.

I think that saints (very deeply spiritual people who have come close to God) have the ability to see God in everyone. They can practise universal unconditional love. But for the ordinary human being, unconditional love is also possible. This type of unconditional love is not universally applied because we cannot see that deeply. It is a specific, contextualised love which comes from knowing a person through and through. We develop unconditional love for someone whom we feel very closely connected to.

It’s the way a mother feels towards her child. A couple may reach this place of unconditional love over time. This type of genuine, accepting, forgiving, embracing love is totally contrary to the illusionary romantic love we see in films. That kind of love is more about the ego, or what we want to get from another person. Unconditional love is selfless, but still strong and assertive. It reaches out to the other person. It has courage, stability and faith. Even if someone thinks that they are ‘unworthy’ of love for various things they have done, crimes they may have committed, through the eyes of unconditional love, that person has the ability to redeem themselves.

Taking a step back

Gautama Siddhartha was clearly an extremely intelligent man. But his intelligence came from an observation of very simple things, those very things that we take for granted or dismiss. How much do we recognise the fundamental facts upon which the Buddha based all of his teachings? The Buddha based his teachings on his observation of life, decay and death. He said that all of life is ‘dukkha’, which means restlessness (not really suffering, more fluctuation). He said that by being awake to this fact, a person can still their mind, detach from fluctuations, and reach a state of total freedom from karma (the state known as nirvana). After this, a person would be liberated from reincarnation (they would achieve moksha). He did not mention the role of God in all this, or how the universe came to be. He very wisely detached himself from metaphysical conjecture, explaining that the truth can only be felt, not logically understood or explained.

I often compare the teachings of great sages in order to find the common thread of meaning running through each of their philosophies. Jesus Christ spoke the scripture of love – ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ and, instead of the Old Testament’s ‘eye for an eye’, learn to ‘turn the other cheek’… In the Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjun to see all things as equal: pleasure, pain, life, death…

What is the common thread? The stories are very different, and the focus keeps shifting. But overall, it seems like they are all saying that we should take a step back from the drama of life and see how everything is actually linked. Everything that appears foreign, contradictory, separate, is all actually made from the same energy, like intricately woven tapestry. Your enemy is not your opposition, he is your brother; pain and pleasure are not separate, they are linked. The only way you can see this, know it and really feel it is if you take a step back. Look at the whole picture. When you are amidst chaos, go up onto the roof of a tall building and look down. You will see an interdependent web of life. Your perspective changes when you zoom out of the drama.

If you are reading this blog, then you are probably already aware of how interdependent we are, but clearly the world at large is not aware of this. Otherwise, we would not sabotage each other’s countries, beliefs, cultures. We get so wrapped up in our own drama that we begin to think only our experience is authentic or valid. But our experience is nothing without the contribution of countless others. How can we detach from ourselves enough to really appreciate the magnanimous beauty of life, of ‘interdependent arising’? We could try doing what Gandhi did… ‘Every night when I go to sleep, I die. And in the morning when I awake, I am reborn.’