The Purpose of Life, Jesus & NDEs (Updated)
• Added link to The Three Faces of God (06/07/12)
THE PURPOSE OF LIFE, JESUS & NDES
• The Three Faces of God by David Sunfellow
The Purpose of Life, Jesus & NDEs (Updated)Jun 07
• Added link to The Three Faces of God (06/07/12)
• Added link to The Dark Side Of Buddism (06/07/12)
• Added link to Robert Perry: “Loving Personhood Or Liberation From Personhood?” (06/07/12)
The following essay was first posted on NHNE’s Near-Death Experience Network. Since it deals with topics that are of interest to many of us, I thought I would post it on Pulse — and invite your feedback as well…
THE PURPOSE OF LIFE, JESUS & NDES
By David Sunfellow
NHNE’s Near-Death Experience Network
October 30, 2011
As most of you know, this network is full of lively discussions pertaining to purpose of life issues. I thought I would jump into the fray with some thoughts on classic enlightenment experiences, Jesus, NDEs, and related topics. I wanted to start by quoting a post from William Joseph Bray that I felt established a nice baseline. William posted this succinct overview in a thread that Robert Perry started called “Attn: NDErs – Why do near-death experiences seem so real?”
Consciousness is misunderstood as a thing, which exists in this Universe. It does not. It cannot. It is impossible for consciousness to exist in this Universe for reasons I have continually described throughout this work. And I will not stop repeating it. What we actually experience is a small fraction of the focus of our awareness of our true selves, our perception; we exist not inside the confines of this Universe, not in some Heaven in the future, such as some time after physical death, but right now. You are not who or what you think you are. This tiny fraction of the focus of our awareness seems to be involved in some activity which is governed by at least but not limited to the following set of rules or conditions I list here because they are the ones which seem obvious to me:
• You exist seemingly separate from God.
• Space and time are real.
• The physical, carnal world is real.
• You have no immediate perception of your true infinite nature.
• Although you have near infinite knowledge and understanding, tangibly demonstrated by your ability to manipulate space, time, mass, energy, and the four known forces of nature at will, you are limited to a very finite set of rules and understanding and intellect suitable for the purpose of the game.
• You exist in a set of circumstances and surrounded by individuals and settings that support your role in the game.
• You are required to bury yourself in the role — the willful suspension of disbelief — as though it were real.
• The goal is not to find your way out of The Game; you are here for the multitude of things that are accomplished by being in The Game. The goal is to get to the next level of The Game.
William adds later in the same thread:
“My way of getting to the next level of the game is to do the work, have a positive impact on others. If the Kingdom of God is in me, no one who encounters me should walk away empty handed.”
Before I add my two cents to this discussion, let me admit that I tend to be a generalist — and I know that this is frustrating to folks who would like me to be more precise. I aspire to be more godlike in this department but am hampered by an average-sized brain, limited education, mediocre memory, insufficient time for scholarly research and study, and an interest in far too many topics to be an expert on any of them. So I paint with broad strokes. This, I think, is good for discerning general truths and trends, but not so good when it comes to fleshing out details. And since the devil, as we all know, is in the details, it is important we get those right too.
So what’s a generalist to do who is trying to deepen their understanding? What feels good to me is sharing with you, as clearly as I can, what’s on my mind — and then making room for you to add your voices to the choir. Maybe what I have to say makes sense to you and you can fill it out. Maybe it doesn’t and you want to challenge it. I welcome your thoughts, whatever they might be. I have no illusions that I/we are finally, once and for all, going to solve the great mysteries of life. But since the effort to understand such topics appears to help us grow, evolve, and deepen, I think it’s worthwhile to try.
To begin with, I would like to list a few things that I believe are true that, as far as I can tell, are not only NOT common knowledge, but also have the potential to upend some deeply engrained ways of viewing the spiritual path, spiritual experiences, and, ultimately, the purpose of life.
Here’s my list (keep in mind that I am speaking about dream world issues in the spirit of William’s post):
1. While The Ground of Being, The “I Am That I Am”, the primordial ocean of oneness that we all emerged from and continue to be immersed in is the foundation of life, it is not the state of conscious we should aspire to re-immerse ourselves in.
2. The purpose of life is not to leave this world by entering higher states of consciousness, but to get more fully immersed in the world and bring higher states of consciousness into the created universe.
3. I believe life, itself, has been carefully designed by a loving force so that we discover these truths and, step-by-step, come to understand and embody them. I see evidence of this in at least two places:
A. Those who attempt to leave the dream world by immersing themselves in various kinds of classic enlightenment experiences appear to be sent back to the dream. In the case of near-death experiences, NDErs are constantly being told that they have to go back to learn lessons, fulfill purposes, take care of others, and to fulfill other vital roles in the dream of life. While I’m not sure what happens to those that are allowed to stay on the other side of life, I suspect that some kind of reincarnation process takes over, and they are recycled into future and past lives to continue their work, and journey, in the dream.
B. Those who experience classic enlightenment experiences can end up over-identifying with their god nature, and because of this, see no need, or have no interest in becoming better, healthier, more grounded human beings. This, in turn, produces people who end up following the archetypal path of the fallen guru. In this archetype, the master who presents him or herself as the embodiment of perfection and enlightenment by day, is discovered to be engaged in various kinds of money, power, and sexual indiscretions behind-the-scenes. Some sources suggest that people can become so overly identified with the primordial oneness that they loose the desire, perhaps even the ability, to immerse themselves in the created universe. And this, in turn, is a sad and unfortunate because by checking out of the created universe, they forfeit it’s gift which, as I understand it, is to make us more whole, complete, fulfilled than we were in the beginning (don’t ask me how God can become more perfect because I don’t know).
You can find a series of remarkable quotes, from diverse sources, that support the statements I have made above in an NHNE Special Report I wrote in 1995 called “Discernment & The Spiritual Path”.
4. Finally, while classic enlightenment experiences lead one to believe that there is nothing new under the sun — that the Ground of Being is all there really is and It is eternal and unchanging — I’ve also come to believe that brand new experiences, on all levels, are actually unfolding as we (and the created universe) evolve. While this is plainly obvious on the physical level, I think it is also true on the spiritual level. Here’s one possible example:
PMH Atwater gave a talk at Virginia beach, Virginia a few years ago. In her talk, she mentioned that an NDE researcher somewhere had discovered that tribal peoples did not experience life reviews.
If this is true (and I haven’t been able to verify whether it is or not), it suggests that some aspects of the near-death experience may require certain kinds of development. We may have to move, for example, from a group-mind, or tribal level of consciousness into a more personal and individualized one before we begin to experience past life reviews.
It also implies that as we continue to evolve, so will the things we experience on the other side of life. Ever more powerful spiritual experiences, unavailable to previous generations of human beings, will emerge as we grow, evolve, deepen, expand.
Humans, clearly, did not always possess the ability to speak, to draw, to create complex cultures. We evolved these abilities, over long periods of time. Ditto for our culture. They did not pop up full blown. They developed, step-by-step over eons of trial and error. I suspect the same is true for our inner life and spiritual experiences. Which leads to a related thought: titanic, life-changing discoveries are being made all the time now that ancient cultures — and religious traditions — apparently knew nothing about.
Evolution, for example.
And the fact that human beings pack around shadow aspects of ourselves that can’t be shined away by meditation practices.
When you realize that all of today’s major spiritual traditions arose in primitive, isolated, illiterate, tribal cultures, this isn’t surprising. They are bound to have oceanic blind spots. So why have we held onto to them so tightly? Yes, they often contain eternal spiritual truths, and the truths they champion are essential and foundational, but how many of them incorporate the discoveries of our modern world? How many of them recognize that life is constantly changing and evolving, that new discoveries, including new spiritual experiences, are continuously emerging, and that spiritual understandings and practices need to adapt accordingly to be relevant — and survive?
My point here is that the discoveries being made in the modern world are not only revealing, often in technicolor, the weaknesses and shortcomings of former spiritual traditions, but also demand that we find new spiritual understandings and practices that can address the needs of people who are more aware, developed, and connected than former generations.
Now let me shine a little light on something I have noticed that I think is very interesting.
In recent decades/centuries there has been a migration of educated Western people to Eastern philosophies and practices, especially Buddhism. I think some of the reasons for this are that many Eastern traditions offer spiritual ideas and practices that tend to be older and more sophisticated than Western ones; that Buddhism, in particular, embraces science and encourages direct, personal experiences; and many Westerners are feeling the emptiness of lives that are dominated by rampant materialism.
But recently, the tide has apparently begun to turn, at least in the worlds I track. An increasing number of rational, highly-educated people that abandoned their childhood faith in a God-loving, miracle-working Jesus in favor of the more heady, impersonal, and mystical traditions of the East, have started to feel a longing in their souls. They’ve also started to see that Eastern teachers, masters, and philosophies, with all their beauty, have continent-sized holes.
So here’s what I think is happening and why I think it is important for us to be aware of it.
As humankind becomes increasingly conscious, I think we are going to realize that the path to happiness and fulfillment does not lie in immersing ourselves in classic enlightenment states, but, instead, with allowing God/Spirit/our Higher Selves to become incarnate in the dream world through us. As far as I can see, Jesus is the most fully embodied champion of this perspective. While a personal God apparently doesn’t exist for most Buddhists, including Buddhists like the Dalai Lama, for Jesus, God was exceedingly personal. He not only knew how many hairs we each have on our heads, but He is intimately aware of every aspect of our lives — and actively involved in loving us, guiding us, caring for us. I think this is one reason many Westerners are beginning to feel unfulfilled by Eastern philosophies and practices — because they long for a personal relationship with God. And they intuit relationships with other human beings is central to our existence; that human beings can’t really be happy — and healthy — living in a cave (literally or figuratively). We are not only meant to join with one another, but joining with one another is the path Spirit has chosen for Itself to get back Home through the created universe.
Jesus, of course, not only had a loving relationship with a personal God, but he also deeply loved other human beings and was profoundly concerned with how we treat one another. While there has been an effort to turn Jesus into a meditating, non-dual, satori-immersed Buddha, the core historical records we have about him do not support the view of him being a contemplative. Instead of isolating himself from the cares of the world, he apparently was actively engaged in a day-to-day struggle to transform the world he lived in into a reflection of the Kingdom of God he experienced so clearly, deeply, and personally. The path or spiritual practice that Jesus recommended was, significantly, Earth-bound and relationship-focused: love one another, especially those whom we regard as our enemies. (For an outstanding overview of what we’ve been able to learn from modern Jesus scholarship about Jesus and his message, read Robert Perry’s “Loving Our Enemies: The Core of Jesus’ Vision in the Sayings Gospel Q” – pdf)
I first heard about near-death experiences when I heard Dr. George Ritchie describe his amazing experience during a lecture he gave at the A.R.E. (Edgar Cayce’s organization) in Virginia Beach, Virginia. That was over 35 years ago. Jesus played a central role in Ritchie’s life-changing experience. Since Raymond Moody was inspired to pursue a career in near-death studies after his encounter with Ritchie’s story, I think it is fair to say that Jesus also played a central role in the birth of NDE studies. But here is what is really eye-opening: when you make a list of the core features of the near-death experience and compare it with the core features of Jesus and his life and message, you get parallels that are breathtaking. In my view, there is no other historical personage that has more in common with near-death experiences than Jesus.
Why is that? Did Jesus have a near-death experience? Is that where his wisdom, healing powers, possible miracle-working abilities, knowledge of the Kingdom of God, emphasis on loving others, ability to speak with authority, and heartfelt preoccupation with treating others, especially the poor and disenfranchised, as ourselves, come from?
And why does Jesus continue to pop up in human history, inspiring an endless stream of leaders to create new movements that have nudged this world, closer and closer, to the vision for humanity that Jesus championed?
One more point, and I’ll wrap this up.
I don’t think we can rely on ancient traditions, understandings, and experiences to teach us what we need to learn now. We require a new path to teach us about evolution, about becoming, about why we are in this dream world and how to make the most of it. I suspect that NDEs (and NDErs) are emerging in response to this need. It looks to me like Jesus and the small group of people who were inspired by him were some of the first champions of this impulse. After centuries of growing and maturing, this same impulse is now appearing in people all over the world, from different cultures and religious traditions, in the form of people who have been touched, healed, and transformed by NDEs. Other spiritually transformative experiences are also awakening people to this new impulse, but I think it is important to be clear that not all mystical and spiritual experiences are aligned with the impulse that Jesus embodied, or that classic NDEs promote. Many spiritual experiences, in fact, appear to be just the opposite: they encourage folks to move away from relationships and the created universe towards the primordial, formless bliss of our origins.
What do the rest of you think?
Do you agree that NDEs are remarkably aligned with Jesus and that together they are shining light on a new evoltuionary path? Do you see any dangers in over-identifying with classic enlightenment experiences? Do you think something else is happening?
I welcome your thoughts…
• The Three Faces of God by David Sunfellow
• The Dark Side of Buddhism
• Loving Personhood or Liberation From Personhood? by Robert Perry
• Discernment & The Spiritual Path by David Sunfellow
• Loving Our Enemies: The Core of Jesus’ Vision in the Sayings Gospel Q by Robert Perry (pdf)
• Evolutionary Enlightenment by Andrew Cohen (Book)
• Wikipedia on Sri Aurobindo
• The Future of the Body by Michael Murphy (Book)
• The Pathwork Guide Lectures of Eva Pierrakos by David Sunfellow
• Pulse on Jesus
• Pulse on Near-Death Experiences