Seeing Christ

In his book No Death, No Fear, Thich Nhat Hanh includes a beautiful meditation on Jesus Christ. In effect, he asks us where was Christ before Jesus was born? Where was Christ after Jesus was executed? Where is Christ now?

Jesus Christ is still manifesting in many thousands of ways. He is manifesting himself all around you . . . We need to be alert in order to recognize his manifestations. If you are not mindful or attentive, you will miss his manifestations . . . as a flower, as a drop of water, as a bird song or as a child playing in the grass (93-94).

We must be careful, he writes, not to miss these things.

Of course, Thich Nhat Hanh writes as a Buddhist. His teaching is grounded in Buddhist thought. But I find it interesting nonetheless. I find it helpful. There is a clarity to his insight that is practical and reassuring. Tara Singh used to say to his ACIM students, Tomorrow I will teach from the Koran and you will all leave.

The Truth is not hiding in this or that form of truth.

As I write – at this moment – I gaze out the window at the dogwood tree. It’s flowers are turning yellow and falling to the ground. The ones that remain tremble in the rainy breeze.

Am I looking at a tree or am I looking at Christ?

My answer – as a student of A Course in Miracles – is that it depends. If I am looking with Jesus, who sees beyond form and who does not render all things into this and that, better and worse, bigger and smaller, then I see Christ.

If I am looking with the ego – which seeks only confirmation of fracture and death – then I am seeing a tree whose leaves are dying in anticipation of the long dark and chilly days of winter.

In a sense, A Course in Miracles invites to take a further step than to merely perceive Christ in what is external. That is a beautiful experience – a holy and sacred experience indeed – but it is not, on its own, the experience of Oneness to which we are being gently led.

Seek not your Self in symbols. There can be no concept that can stand for what you are. What matters it which concept you accept while you perceive a self that interacts with evil, and reacts to wicked things? Your concept of yourself will remain still quite meaningless. And you will not perceive that you can interact but with yourself (T-31.V.15:1-5).

When I name the tree at which my physical eyes look – when I give it colors – when I attach its image to a season – and its season to a feeling – then I am dealing in concepts and images. Please see that there is no crime in this: it can be a very loving gesture. It can be very fruitful.

Yet if I can reach that stage – if I can even be willing to reach that stage – where I accept that I am merely looking at my own projections (and thus with my own self) than I am moving more deeply in the direction of Christ. Why? Because the external becomes nothing more than a screen upon which the mind plays out its guilt and fear. It is not there, save as I ask it to be.

There is no world apart from what you wish, and herein lies your ultimate release. Change your mind on what you want to see, and all the world must change accordingly. Ideas leave not their source (W-pI.132.5:1-3).

Christ is an idea. It did not begin and it does not end. Nor has it left its source. Gaze about and each image of beauty and sacredness that you perceive is but a shadow of the glorious Truth that you both have and are. We are called in this world merely to give ourselves to this simple idea: that freed of the ego’s concepts, and the drives and appetites those concepts beget, there is nothing but the Peace of Christ in fulsome radiance everywhere.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Pamela October 7, 2013, 1:53 pm

    Loved this blog, Sean. It reminded me of this section of the Lorica of St. Patrick

    …Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
    Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
    Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
    Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
    Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
    Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
    Christ in the eye that sees me,
    Christ in the ear that hears me.

    I arise today
    Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
    Through a belief in the Threeness,
    Through a confession of the Oneness
    Of the Creator of creation

    St. Patrick (ca. 377)

    • Sean Reagan October 7, 2013, 2:00 pm

      Saint Patrick! The saint whose face – and snake-battering sandals – were most familiar in my home growing up. Got to love an Irish saint! Though we tended to talk more about St. Francis.

      Yeah – that is an incredible prayer . . .

      Talk to you soon, Pamela!

      Sean

      • Pamela October 7, 2013, 2:52 pm

        Almost all of the priests at the rectory across the street from where I went to school were Irish; while my large Italian family once in a great while might have mentioned St. Francis (He was a great Italian Saint!), those priests always talked St. Patrick! 🙂

  • Eric October 8, 2013, 8:13 am

    Hi Sean,

    I’m running out the door, but your blog reminded me of this passage.

    All this beauty will rise to bless your sight as you look upon the world with forgiving eyes. For forgiveness literally transforms vision and lets you see the real world reaching quietly and gently across chaos and removing all illusions which had twisted your perception and fixed it on the past. The smallest leaf becomes a thing of wonder and a blade of grass a sign of God’s perfection. ~ACIM

    Eric: You know, in these 5 or 6 years I have been studying the course, I have had in my own experience and read the experiences of other students I which I have seen steps taken in the mind, so to speak.

    When I first began reading the course, I was completely immersed in the world, though something always seemed “off” about it.

    After I began studying the course, I could see my mind begin to negate the world. “The world is illusion, it is not real. The world is insane”, would be my thoughts, and I could see this more clearly wherever I looked. This ability to see this insanity and the illusion of people accepting it as reality became more prevalent. At this point in time, I became quite self absorbed. Activities I once enjoyed, did not hold any pleasure anymore.

    As time went on though, I began to see the miracles in the world more and more. Yes, I still saw/see insanity, but I also see miracles and acts of love in many places I did not see before.

    As the course tells us, “This world is full of miracles. They stand in shining silence next to every dream of pain and suffering, of sin and guilt. They are the dream’s alternative, the choice to be the dreamer rather than deny the active role in making up the dream. ~ACIM

    Eric: Instead of simply negating the world, I began to really accept that I am/we are the world. There is no world apart from me/us. Apart from me/us, there is no world.

    I wonder if this is not similar to the Zen saying about mountains.

    There is a world.
    The world is illusion.
    I am the world.

    • Sean Reagan October 8, 2013, 4:52 pm

      Well, I think A Course in Miracles is clear and consistent: the world is not real.

      Nobody has to agree with that, but I think it’s hard to argue that the Course doesn’t say it.

      The translation of the world from darkness to light – that lovely passage you quoted – is not a confirmation of the world’s reality, or a loop hole in non-duality, but an expression of what our experience will be (and is, from time to time) when we “loose the world from all we thought it was.” But that moment of beauty or clarity is still not Oneness. The Course is also clear that when we reach that space, God will take the final step.

      But my sense is that the Course is not aimed so much at that final step as it is removing those hindrances which prevent us – here and now – from perceiving a blade of grass as a sign of God’s perfection. To that end, I think acceptance of the world and our place in it is important – not because it is real but because we so clearly believe it is real. That has to be our starting point. My personal experience is that A Course in Miracles is most powerful and helpful precisely at that point.

      I also think that the way we experience that Truth (non-duality, Oneness, Heaven, etc) – as pure ACIM, as Buddhism, as Thomas Merton’s loving negation, or whatever – varies from person to person and cannot really be called wrong or right.

      Based on our previous conversations, I don’t think I am saying anything that you would disagree with – at least not profoundly. But maybe I am wrong?

      It is nice to hear from you, Eric – I was thinking about you the other day. I hope you’re well –

      Sean

  • Eric October 8, 2013, 9:00 pm

    Hi Sean,

    LOL, if I didn’t know better, it would seem that your reply (at least the beginning sentences) seemed a bit defensive.

    Just to clarify, I was not implying the world was real. Only that there was no world apart from I/we. As lesson 132 also says:

    Ideas leave not their source. This central theme is often stated in the text and must be borne in mind if you would understand the L e s s o n for today. It is not pride which tells you that you made the world you see and that it changes as you change your mind. But it is pride that argues you have come into a world quite separate from yourself, impervious to what you think, and quite apart from what you chance to think it is.

    Eric: Lesson 132 is one of my favorite lessons to read, although I find it unfortunate when it is often truncated to “There is no world!” Because, it can just become another thing to believe in, like God created the world in the Bible. But the lesson taken in it’s entirety, is a wonderful lesson to contemplate and I think in fact, even if an atheist really contemplated this lesson, they would see the truth in it.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I have seen course students say, “I know the world is an illusion, but……” The fact is, the person doesn’t know, they only believe from something they read, often the truncated statement of “There is no world!” Yet belief only takes one so far. Or the person says they’re not practicing their forgiveness lessons enough because they still see (with the body’s eyes) people or countries in conflict.

    Yet, even in psychology, perception is not what you see, but HOW you see. As the course tells us:

    The body’s eyes will continue to see differences, but the mind which has let itself be healed will no longer acknowledge them. ~ACIM

    If the body becomes for you a means which you give to the Holy Spirit to use on behalf of union of the Sonship, you will not see anything physical except as what it is. ~ACIM

    Eric: Which is why something like a blade of grass can become a thing of wonder. Is it ultimately real? No, but neither is forgiveness.

    The world is not real, because it is of perception and concepts. As it says in lesson 184:

    Think not you made the world. Illusions, yes! But what is true in earth and Heaven is beyond your naming. ~ACIM

    We look around, perceive, conceptualize/symbolize, name, and give meaning to everything, believing everything is separate from us.

    The course tells us that perception is a choice and not a fact, yet is also says:

    What the world is, is but a fact. You cannot choose what this should be. But you can choose how you would see it. Indeed, you must choose this. ~ACIM

    Eric: We loosen the world by not demanding what it should be, but HOW we see it.

    To revisit your the quote from your post I lesson 132

    Perhaps you think you did not make the world but came unwillingly to what was made already, hardly waiting for your thoughts to give it meaning. Yet in truth you found exactly what you looked for when you came. There is no world apart from what you wish, and herein lies your ultimate release. Change but your mind on what you want to see, and all the world must change accordingly. ~ACIM

    Eric: This passage may sound like you made the world, but in the previous passage it says:

    The world is nothing in itself. Your mind must give it meaning. And what you behold upon it are your wishes, acted out so you can look on them and think them real. ~ACIM

    Eric: The world is nothing in itself. You mind must give it meaning. But meanings come from memory, concepts, symbols, all ultimately illusion. Therefore, the world you/I see is ultimately an illusion.

    Without memory, concepts, symbols, the “I” to project onto the world, what is it?

    • Pamela October 9, 2013, 8:03 am

      Wow. Such a good discussion. Just want to add my two cents about the passage below.

      Perhaps you think you did not make the world but came unwillingly to what was made already, hardly waiting for your thoughts to give it meaning. Yet in truth you found exactly what you looked for when you came. There is no world apart from what you wish, and herein lies your ultimate release. Change but your mind on what you want to see, and all the world must change accordingly. ~ACIM

      Every time I read these lines I think of what is sometimes called “Young’s experiment” in physics. It was found, in this experiment, that if you shoot photons (each photon being a tiny quantum unit of light) at a plate that has two parallel slits cut into it, what that photon will do is entirely dependent on whether or not a conscicous mind is watching it. If it is being observed, then as expected, each little photon will do through one or the other of the slits. If is not being observed, each little photon will somehow be in two places at one time and go through both slits. This never fails and it never varies.

      To me, Young’s experiment can be no better proof that ‘the world’ is what we determine it to be and that we are filled, chock-full, and jam-packed with belief that something physical cannot be in two places at one time. When our belief is withdrawn from it, however, whatever that non-eternal idea of space and time, of energy and matter that may be, it can cheerfully be in two places at one time.

      The world (this dream of a Universe of universes that has a real beginning and a real end unlike all that God created) is fully capable of doing all sorts of things if we but change our belief – and, to me, this is the where the real impact of the lesson is to be found, namely in what the world can be and do IF we change our mind. Do we really want to remember and return our awareness totally back to God and Heaven; if so, we must start believing in a world that reminds us of God and Heaven, of its unconstrained nature, of its love, of its freedom from corruption, of its joy, of its abundance, of its total and complete and utter absence of threat and harm and pain and suffering. Knowing that there is no world is not half as important as knowing that the world is totally amenable to miracles. The world we see, as Jesus tells us in the workbook, can be loose “…from all things you ever thought it was by merely changing all the thoughts that gave it these appearances. The sick are healed as you let go all thoughts of sickness, and the dead arise when you let thoughts of life replace all thoughts you ever held of death.” Now that is the happy dream. In my opinion the desire for happy dreams is what Lesson 132 attempts to engender in us. It is a call to start dreaming in such a way that a blade of grass really and truly looks to us like nothing more than a sign of God’s perfection.

      • Sean Reagan October 11, 2013, 5:24 pm

        Hey Pamela . . . I love that sentence at the end: “It is a call to start dreaming in such a way that a blade of grass really and truly looks to us like nothing more than a sign of God’s perfection.” Yes yes yes . . . .

    • Sean Reagan October 11, 2013, 5:22 pm

      Thanks, Eric . . . well, I don’t think I was feeling defensive but on the other hand, I’m hardly above that sort of thing . . . 🙂

      No, mostly I was just unclear where you were going and was trying to be clear about where I was – or thought I was – you know?

      Your subsequent email helped clarify what you were saying, particularly the bit about where the I is once we surrender “memory, concepts, symbols.”

      I think we are arriving at more or less the same place, albeit through different words . . .

  • Eric October 8, 2013, 9:04 pm

    BTW, I don’t think accepting there is no world apart from you is the final step. The course is only a beginning, not an ending, as it says itself. And that it only seeks to help remove the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence and not teach the meaning of love, and as comprehensive in scope that it is, Truth cannot be reduced to any form.

  • Janet Acquilano October 8, 2013, 11:14 pm

    Hi Sean, I got more out of this one piece, than all of the others, which I still got something out of. Thanks again for your insight on and of the Course.

    • Sean Reagan October 11, 2013, 5:23 pm

      You’re welcome, Janet – glad it’s helpful! And glad that you’re here . . .

  • Janet Acquilano October 8, 2013, 11:21 pm

    I forgot to click the notify button. This so explains the world is illusion, and we are Creators of that illusion. Thanks again.

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