I’ve never before posted this article, to the best of my knowledge.
Last revised: 23 November 2006
On the Language of Mystery
I said earlier that some religious teachers met a violent end; Jesus is only one example. For them to be able to discuss the mysteries in a manner explicable to those with ears to hear while going over the heads of the worldly-minded, the religious teachers of other days sometimes spoke in code.
In these essays, I’ll point to a few examples of that code and translate their encoded words back into plain and simple language, as best I can.
The Biblical code is a repository of metaphors, parables, and proverbs relating to profound realities.
For example, “the fire ever burning on the altar” usually means the immortal Self in the heart; (1) “the temple of God” is usually the human body that houses the Self; (2) “the garments” or “clothes” often represent the desires and thoughts in which a person is clothed that obscure the Self from our view; (3) “clouds” and “glory” often refer to the Holy Spirit, as do the phrases “Word of God,” “Amen,” “Wisdom,” etc. (See “The Divine Mother or Holy Spirit”.)
Sometimes these metaphors are used to make a difficult topic more easily understandable. Pseudo-Dionysius describes this work.
We … grasp these things in the best way we can, and as they come to us, wrapped in the sacred veils of that love toward humanity with which scripture and hierarchical traditions cover the truths of the mind with things derived from the realm of the senses.
“And so it is that the Transcendent is clothed in the terms of being, with shape and form on things which have neither, and numerous symbols are employed to convey the varied attributes of what is an imageless and supra-natural simplicity. (4)
More often, the code was used to couch profundities in a veil of mystery, as Jesus explained to his disciples.
The disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. …
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. (5)
It was not given to the worldly to understand the mysteries. Of them St. Paul says:
If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost [in worldliness]:
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not. (17)
Even the religious masters of Israel, like Nicodemus, were to be found among the ranks of the worldly. Here Nicodemus, having asked Jesus for the truth, cannot penetrate his seeming riddles.
Nicodemus said unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? …
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? …
If I have told you of earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (18)
All such metaphors as being born again, being redeemed, raised up, saved, sitting with Jesus in Paradise, or returning to the temple and going no more out are all synonyms for enlightenment [which we now know as Ascension], the realization of God the Father, which we’ve seen to be the purpose of life.
Jesus is telling Nicodemus that a man must be born again — that is, he must experience the death of the ego and the realization of the Self or Christ — before he can enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus’ own disciples sometimes had trouble with his sayings. But they were his sheep and he held out to them the promise that one day (the day of enlightenment) they would understand all.
These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father. (19)
My understanding is that Jesus has spoken until now in proverbs and parables in order to conduct a public ministry and yet reach only the ears of the spiritually ripe. The times in which he preached, as history showed, were intolerant.
But he promises that a day will soon come when he will show his disciples the Father plainly. This is the promised day or redemption or enlightenment. (See footnote 20 for an instance of the Master showing the ripe disciple the Father plainly.)
There is a poignant moment when Jesus tells his disciples a deep spiritual mystery in a single sentence. We have had occasion to examine that statement before. It is Jesus summarizing the spiritual parabola, the sacred arc, away from and back to God. He says: “I came forth from the Father, and I am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.” (21)
His disciples take Jesus literally and respond: “Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb.” (22) But Jesus has uttered a highly-compressed proverb, a kernel of truth, which appears to have escaped them. Such was the ignorance that surrounded the master that he chose to wrap his nuggets of wisdom in timeless but enigmatic parables and jewel-like proverbs even with his own disciples.
(To be concluded in Part 2, tomorrow.)
(1) “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.” Leviticus 6:13.
(2) I Corinthians 3:16.
(3) Genesis: 35:2; Exodus 19:10.
(4) Cohn Luibheid, trans., Pseudo-Dionysus, His Complete Works. New York and Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1989, 52. (Hereafter CWPD.)
(5) Matthew 13:10-11 and 13
(6) Matthew 7:6.
(7) I Corinthians 2:7-8.
(8) Colossians 1:26-7.
(9) CWPD, 149.
(10) Ibid., 58.
(11) Philostratus. The Life of Apollonius. trans. C.P. Jones. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.
(12) Annie Besant, Esoteric Christianity. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1953; c1901, 49. (Hereafter ESO.)
Cf. Paul in Romans 8:38 and Colossians 1:16-7.
(13) CWPD, 52.
(14) ESO, 51
(15) Proverbs 1:6.
(16) Matthew 7:6.
(17) II Corinthians 4:3.
(18) John 3:4 and 10.
(19) John 16:25.
(20) Paramahansa Ramakrishna offers a very interesting example of the the Master or Personal God showing the ripe aspirant the Father or Impersonal God plainly. He had a vision of Shiva (the Personal God) at the Banares burial grounds revealing Brahman (the Father, the Impersonal God) to the aspirant upon his death.
Said Siva to the aspirant: “‘This is My aspect with form, My embodiment in maya. I assume this form for the sake of the devotees. Now look. I am merging in the indivisible Satchidananda!’ Uttering these words, Siva withdraws His form and enables the dying person to see Brahman.” (GSR, 584.)
(21) John 16:28.
(22) John 16:29.