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The Transformational Path of Jesus

I know of no spiritual path which does not presume some kind of significant personal transformation will occur if followed and practiced. By transformation, I mean to experience a change in our understanding of what is real and discovering who and what we really are as humans in this universe. The language may be different, the steps in a different order, the emphasis slightly unique. But I have found there are far more similarities than there are differences between most of the well-known traditions. Their common goal is to learn how to live with a wide awake mind, an open heart and an absence of suffering. For many it also means cultivating the experience of joy.

I have explained in many places my understanding of Jesus’ idea of God’s Realm, or Kingdom, or Heaven, or Sacred Unity. This was not a place where one goes after death, but rather are descriptive words that refer to a state of mind. It is not a place but an experience of the Divine which is available to any of us in the here and now. And I believe Jesus laid out a path for us both by his teaching and his life which could lead one to a personal experience of this elevated state of mind. The Christian contemporaries refer to this as illumination brought on by kenosis or self-emptying. The Buddhist might call this enlightenment, kensho or satori, achieved by meditation and living the Eightfold Path. A Hindu might use the term, moksha, meaning freedom.

If we dig a little deeper, we can find some differences in these respective teachings intended to lead to transformation. I believe these differences may be more nuance than substance. For example, the Eastern teachers seem to put more emphasis on withdrawal, silence, and meditation. Jesus’ path seems to emphasize more engaging, reaching out, and risk-taking. While we do know that Jesus went off to pray frequently, it is not clear if he had an active meditation practice. It may simply have been assumed by his followers and even his culture at the time. My own presumption is that he did.

Let me be clear, I am referring here to the path and not the end goal. I am certain any Buddhist who is trying to live by the Nobel Eightfold Path is by nature engaging, reaching out and risking. What is common to all of these paths, in spite of their differences, is the assumption that if more people followed the path, they would become more awake to the suffering caused in large part by the inequality of social systems. If more people became awake to these inequities and lived with compassionate hearts, eventually the world would also be transformed. It is my sincere belief that Jesus, in spite of his difficult situation, believed there could be a new, transformed world order.

ProgressiveChristianity.org is frequently challenged by those who believe we do not address social justice issues often enough or some would suggest, not at all. It should be obvious to anyone who actually reads our material that we do address social injustice and social issues. However, it has always been my belief that if we take on these issues and conflicts without an open heart, without some kind of internal transformation, it is too easy to become angry, add to the conflict, and frankly be less effective. It is also a recipe for burnout.

In his book, The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg writes Christian life should be relational and transformational. According to Borg, there are really two transformations needed and they are “twins.” He suggests one is a personal and spiritual and the other is communal, social and political.

In other words, if we are going to be effective change-agents for a more compassionate and just world, we must come at this change with open minds and open hearts. We first need to work on our own internal transformations through our own intentional path. Only then can our effort to transform our society and our world have any long term impact. This is what the early followers of Yeshua, people of The Way, believed. This was and still is the path or Way of Yeshua.

Clearly Jesus told us if we want to experience Sacred Unity, or the Realm of God, we need to go where there is pain and try to alleviate the suffering. But we are challenged to do this with an open and compassionate heart. Our hearts and our eyes will be opened when we reach out and actually serve. One of reasons he suggests that we serve is to gain this awareness, to become awake to the fact that these are “God’s children.” Compassionate serving, even sacrifice is part of the path. You cannot serve with a compassionate heart without eventually seeing those whom you are serving as your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, or eventually as yourself, even when it is “the least of these” whom you have compassionately served. All boundaries are erased. The served and the server become one. The ultimate goal however is to break down divisions and separation and move to a new understanding of our interconnectedness and oneness.

Today some of the world’s issues seem so big, the needs so great, we can become frozen, often feeling helpless. We wonder if we can have any impact as an individual or even an organization. Much of this, I believe, is caused by “too much information.” With television, social media and satellites we have instant knowledge of suffering everywhere and anywhere in the world, in 3D and color. With few exceptions most thinking people in this country know the world does face a real, life ending, ecological disaster unless we make radical change in our behavior. What in the world can we do that would have any impact besides recycling and driving cars with better gas mileage?

On the other hand in part because of technical world and the social media we are also given the opportunity today to experience oneness or interconnectedness the world has never experienced before. Young people from over 25 countries go on our website every week. We have a whole generation of young adults who have grown up, in some ways, without geographic or language boundaries. They know what is going on in countries many of us never knew existed until recently. They travel with ease all over the world and communicate regularly with other young people in what we older folks might have referred to as a foreign country. Many of them no longer see ethnic or racial differences any more than we might notice someone with blond or red hair.

They are inheriting a very different world than it was only fifty years ago. But they are still human and will still have to overcome some of the weaknesses of the human condition in their attempt to forge their way. The survival of the human race may be dependent on their ability to move past the egoic mentality that has plagued our tiny planet for the last ten thousand years.

There must be a transformation in the world if the human race is going to survive. According to scientists we can now actually calculate a deadline for human life on our planet, and it is not that far out there. Many young people all over the world are aware of this as well. Take a look at the movies and television programs today that are about end-times and the final survivalists. What a strange way it must be to grow up with this idea as a major influence.

So the question I leave you with is what can we do? Are we part of the problem? Do we have wise teachers today to help these young people while we can? Do we offer a model or a path for both personal and world transformation?

I believe we do and it is time we started making this clearer.

Review & Commentary