by Douglas Harding
No religious dogma that has meant great things to great numbers of people over the centuries is likely to be altogether false or absurd. Nor is it likely to be altogether true and workable for us now in its traditional form. The chances are that, as a vehicle of truth, it is breaking down -- or at least slowing down -- and that it needs not so much minor repairs on the one hand, nor scrapping on the other, as a thorough overhaul.
So the question to ask about such a dogma isn't 'Is it true?' but rather 'In what sense and at what level is it true and meaningful for us at this time?' The resulting answer could well prove very valuable indeed. Not a specious and popular new look superimposed on the same old creaking machinery but a profound penetration to its original and hidden design.
It may then be possible to see in that design more than the designers were fully conscious of, so that it and they are valued more highly than ever. And, for bonus, a further result could be the settlement of disputes that have torn the religious establishment apart for centuries.
Nor can we dodge such a radical overhauling on the plea that 'spiritual' truth, unlike 'scientific' and 'everday' truth, is sacrosanct. There is only one sort of truth -- the sort that sets men free. A doctrine ceases to make sense in religion when in every other field it is seen to be nonsense. It isn't true on Sunday if it's false the rest of the week.
Where the genuinely spiritual contradicts common sense (which of course it very often does), that is because it sees through socially conditioned nonsense to what really does make sense. For true spirituality is transparently honest, simple (and therefore difficult), accurate, and sharper than a razor.
These are bald assertions, but they can be illustrated. Take, for instance, the ancient and revered dogma of transubstantiation in the Eucharist, according to which the whole substance of the bread and the wine is changed into Jesus' flesh and blood, only the appearance of bread and wine remaining.
Well, what was the body of Jesus really like, not as seen by others but in his own first-hand experience? Let us consult him on this matter and take him at his word, since no one else is in a position to speak for him.
What he tells us all to do he surely did himself: becoming as a little child he saw, within himself, not a convoluted mass of anatomical plumbing but the Kingdom of Heaven. His Eye being single, his whole body also was full of Light, having no place dark.
Leaving aside theological specualation, let us suppose he meant just what he said, and that he spoke not metaphorically but literally, in terms that would be understood by little children. In that case, he saw his body as actually replaced by the Light that lights everyone that comes into the world.
This Light was what he really was, his interior secret, the true inside story that read so differently from the outside story or his appearance to others.
Which body, then, does he offer to the communicant in the Mass -- the seeming one or the real one, the outer human one (which would make the communicant a cannibal) or the inner divine one? Obviously the latter.
And the truly enlightened communicant accepts it as such, as the opaque matter of earth transubstantiated into the clear Light of Heaven. Nor can our enlightened communicant stop at that immensely important realisation. Taking the words of her or his Lord seriously, s/he sees that s/he, too, is all Light within.
Childlike, s/he notices, with thankful astonishment, that s/he too is furnished with a single Eye which takes in the Kingdom's boundless and immaculate brilliance. Indeed it is her or his own interior Light which alone enables her or him to receive from the officiating priest the true body of the Lord, so that the light entering the Light is not darkened and communion becomes (is revealed as) union.
What can all this mean to the honest and open-minded sceptic of today? It can make perfect sense -- proved he is really open to the evidence.
Speaking for myself, I find that the miracle of transubstantiation is re-enacted at every meal. Of course the bread there on my dining table has the ordinary appearance of bread, crust and crumb, and the wine glows red as wine should -- when viewed from this dining chair.
But when I put forth a hand to bring them to me, and they traverse the distance of a foot or so that separates us, they are mysteriously and marvellously transformed. I watch them grow, become blurred, lose form and texture and color, and then vanish altogether, not into a mouth and throat but into this immense and empty Maw.
Undone and 'spiritualised' by stages on their way to me, they are voided into the Void, visibly absorbed into the Clariy which is my true Nature.
If they are eaten and drunk, then this is a very different sort of eating and drinking from the strange gongs-on over there in the other dining chairs, where absolutely insipid foreign substances are being poked into toothed slits in people's faces.
Here, by contrast, edible and potable things are becoming unthinged and merging with the N0-thing that I am. All eating and drinking by the First Person as such (emphatically not by the third person as such) is a veritable Holy Communion whenever it is realized to be just that.
Thus the believing communicant isn't mistaken. The miracle of the Eucharist is neither a pious fraud nor a beautiful but dying myth.
The inermost story of the Lord at the Last Supper with his disciples in Jerusalem, of the present bread and wine on the altar, of the celebrant and of the communicant himself, is one and the same story. However different their date and circumstances, at heart they are one and the same. Here are facts that can be verified by anyone interested.
There is a place where Catholics with their transubstantiation, Lutherans with their consubstantiation, other Churches with their own variations on the theme, and even Humanists and Positivists with their science-inspired rejection of all religious dogmas, can come together without compromising their basic convictions, but rather clarifying and deepening them.
That place is this place, now, right where you are at this moment at no distance from youself.
Transubstantiation, the miraculous switch-over from appearance to Reality, from accident to Essence, from so many shades of darkness to the One Light, can never be observed from a distance, remembered, or anticipated. It doesn't happen elsewhere or elsewhen.
Out there, bodies put up a show, they keep up appearances, veil upon veil, but the veils cover one indivisible and Self-luminous Substance, all of it on show right now and right here, awaiting instant inspection.
This is that one Sight which it is imperative to see, and the one which, happily, can never be mis-seen. More happily still, it is quite obvious and natural and ordinary, as soon as it is attended to. See it, and this chapter will make good sense. Merely think or feel it, and the point is missed.
~ From: Look for Yourself, by Douglas E. Harding (Head Exchange Press, 1996.)
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