Question: I grew up Catholic and Lao Ra’s song, Jesus Made Me Bad reminds me of my teenage years– drinking, smoking, sex. I think I probably broke up a half dozen marriages during my senior year of high school. (laughter)
Despite not being formally part of the religion for a very long time, I still feel like I have this odd relationship with Jesus– like he’s some kind of measuring stick for my behavior. Why does this still happen?
Michael Richardson-Borne: It’s your conditioning, which happens to be a collective conditioning. If it’s not Jesus, it’s Mohammed. If it’s not Mohammad, it’s Buddha. If it’s not Buddha, it’s a celebrity or athlete of your penchant. But make no mistake about it, the majority of us are constantly comparing what we perceive as our separate self to other separate selves that are supposedly outside of us. This is what the mind does to make sense of the world– creating the illusion of separation.
Every religion, including the American celebrity-consumer complex, has its heroes & heroines who many aspire to be like. They’re the measuring sticks of what success looks like in any of a number of domains– morality, finances, popularity, talent, etc. Celebrity is a byproduct of our egoic obsession with comparing. Celebrity couldn’t exist without comparison, a form of separation– but notice that neither celebrity nor comparison could exist without the movement of non-separation. Separation is religion, non-separation is spirituality.
So, remember, religion and spirituality aren’t the same things. Religion is divisive, rooted in the separate self, mostly outwardly focused on a God that is outside of you, on morally comparing yourself to a historical person that is outside of you, comparing your religion to other religions that are outside of you, performing exoteric religious practices that are outwardly focused in hopes of receiving rewards that are outside of you. Spirituality, on the other hand, is the remembrance of non-separation, inwardly focused– until one sees that inside and outside are not two, a realization where comparison doesn’t exist.
There are also exemplars in each of the religious traditions, what are generally called the mystical sects, where people (usually monks or nuns) have gone inward and re-discovered non-separation. Aldous Huxley’s book The Perennial Philosophy does a great job cataloging excerpts from these men and women who broke free inside of the confines of a religious tradition. These people were brave enough to make the inward turn (though most, if not all, of them would eventually claim that this movement wasn’t theirs at all).
But you won’t see much of this kind of messaging highlighted in our religious texts. Why? Religious authorities wouldn’t trust these kinds of renegades to interpret the Bible and other religious doctrines. They preferred the “company men,” the zealot and ass-kisser monks, to handle this task for them. If anything, these sheep tightened the noose of company culture. In the name of stability and thwarting change, religion tried to codify something that is ever changing, an impossible task. One can’t turn a verb into a statue.
So, it’s these kinds of inflexible interpretations of Jesus that make you bad– that try to force you to repress who you really are and imagine certain consequences if you don’t. By constantly asking yourself “What would Jesus do?” your life is subtly being run by a bunch of sexually and psychologically repressed monks. You’re trusting people who never lived fully to understand the depths of your life. Stop. The entire world is your playground for awakening.
That said, it really depends on the story you have around Jesus because, ultimately, you’re comparing the story you have of yourself with the story you have of a historical figure. What you’re asking me about is purely a mental exercise. Ask yourself who or what is aware of these two stories you’re comparing and see what you find. What is aware of the mind? And is what’s aware separate from all that is?
Q: Before I answer that, if I may…
I view Jesus as a human being, just like me. How do you view him?
MR-B: Jesus was a rebel, an outlaw mystic. He wasn’t worried about comparing his story with the established story of Judaism in order to have a sense of who he was. Why? Because there was no self there to compare to his realization of non-separation.
Notice I said rebel, not revolutionary. Revolutionaries are externally focused. They’re merely reacting to an external story, much the same as what you’re doing with Jesus. They compare their personal story with another story they perceive is happening outside of them– and then through imagined autonomous action, they make an attempt to change the story to a version they think is better.
A rebel, on the other hand, is internally driven and if his or her meditation leads to external action, even revolution, it’s accepted as a movement of consciousness. But there is no doer.
True mystics are the only dangerous people on the planet. They are not reacting to an aspect of the game while being inside of the same game as everyone else. They are playing a different game entirely. Or, better said, they are being played by a different game. Jesus was a true mystic, awakened, a threat to the very idea of what it meant to be human.
But notice how rather than making the inward dive, you’re still asking questions about the story of Jesus that you compare your life to. Changing the story of Jesus that you hold will be like changing socks and hoping not to feel the rocks when you walk across the same gravel path. You don’t need different socks. You need shoes– or a different path.
Q: But, when it comes to Christianity, what does Jesus have to do with spiritual awakening?
MR-B: To begin with, I’d say to ask yourself who’s asking this question. Jesus has nothing to do with your awakening. The Buddhists have a well-known quote: “See the Buddha, kill the Buddha.” What this is pointing to is that Buddha’s path cannot be replicated for another person’s awakening. So, in your case, it’s “See Jesus, kill Jesus.” Trying to replicate his journey will be filled with misery, frustration, and confusion. Jesus knew that comparing yourself to anyone is a waste of time because there are no others. Remember this next time you catch yourself fantasizing about how perfect Jesus must have been– and remember that you, as a non-separate activity, are perfect as well.
If you need Jesus and the Bible in some way in order to explore the question “Who Am I?,” I’ll give you a couple of teachings from Jesus in the Gospels to ponder.
First, John 14:6. I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Second, John 10:30. I and the father are one.
Both of these quotes are Jesus pointing to non-separation.
Q: What do you mean when you say non-separation?
MR-B: Non-separation is the term I use for the unspeakable activity that you are.
A long while ago, I asked myself what the foundational assumption of humanity was. By asking this question, I discovered that all of our religions, governments, philosophies, languages, sciences etc. are built on the same assumption of a separate self. I began asking what would happen if we changed this primary assumption from separation to non-separation, even if it was just a mental concept when one first begins the shift.
By asking “Who Am I?” and following the concept of non-separation to its root, I woke up to what non-separation truly is– my true nature.
So, If I gave an answer to Ramana Maharshi’s question “Who am I?,” if I said anything, I’d say non-separation. Jesus would have said something similar, just in his own terms.