A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?
— Robert Browning
We all know there are lots of opinions on the subjects of Heaven and Hell and we intend to have some fun in this article while at the same time dispelling a great many illusions. We begin with an Aramaic-speaking scholar Rocco Errico of the lingua–franca spoken in Jesus’ time. “The term Gayhana Dnoora, ‘hell-fire’ means ‘regret,’ and ‘mental torment.’ According to the Aramaic-speaking Church fathers of the 2nd to 5th centuries A. D., ‘hell-fire’ denoted torment of mind, not an inferno in which God burns people forever.”[i]
Errico continues by explaining how mistranslations around the concepts of Heaven and Hell can occur and that “our English word ‘hell’ is from the Anglo-Saxon hel, ‘a hidden place,’ and it is derived from helan, and means ‘to hide.’ In the New Testament times, gayhana was used idiomatically to indicate ‘regret,’ ‘remorse,’ ‘mental agony,’ or ‘mental suffering.’ The term ‘hell’ was understood in the East by the Aramaic-speaking early Church fathers, but it has been interpreted literally and misunderstood in the West.”[ii]
The Kingdom of God is within you.
— Luke xvii, 20 [iii]
Dr. Errico emphasizes that both language and culture must be taken into consideration if we are to understand what the word heaven meant 2000 years ago. “[Many] of the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus, understood that God is everywhere. Jesus instructed us, ‘When you pray, pray in this manner, Our Father who is in heaven.’ Heaven means ‘the universe’ or ‘everywhere.’ Jesus also said that God is Spirit, that is, everywhere. (See John 4:24) Easterners often say, ‘We are in heaven.’ Figuratively, ‘heaven’ also means a greater consciousness, i.e. one in which thoughts of lack and fear disappear.”[iv]
“In almost all religions the summum bonum [Heaven] can be attained only after death. But Nirvana can be realized in this very life; it is not necessary to wait until you die to ‘attain’ it.”[v] In other words both Buddha and Jesus taught the same “gospel” regarding Heaven but you would be hard-pressed to find many Christians or Buddhists who understand this fundamental principle of Simple Reality.
Errico being a student of Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, offers a more profound interpretation of New Testament language than is common. “According to the prophet from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, ‘heaven on earth’ comes through the realization and activation of God’s kingdom, or counsel, here and now.”[vi]
In Luke 17: 20-21, we find the phrase, “God’s counsel is present among you,” providing evidence for the Heaven on earth that is embodied in Simple Reality. Errico also clearly understands the reality of the Heaven found in P-A. “How does God counsel? What we call ‘God’ is nothing more than the spiritual presence of love, compassion, and peace. As we open ourselves to the spiritual forces in and around us, we soon discover we are not helpless creatures lost in a maze of confusion. Clarity and understanding spring up within us like a living well of water as our souls unite with our own spiritual energy.”[vii] The experience of this energy is the “feeling” that we all have in the present moment.
Jesus understood that the kingdom of heaven would require a paradigm shift. “He knew that an inner revolution of the heart and mind must take place for the kingdom to be established. [He] understood that the kingdom would not manifest instantaneously. So he composed several parables to illustrate the idea that the kingdom of heaven would come gradually, and only as the living word rooted itself in the hearts and minds of the people.”[viii] Jesus seemed to understand the importance of a process of reconditioning the mind. The Point of Power Practice is just such a process.
Jesus’ message, the Good News, was the Oneness of all of humanity within the present kingdom of Heaven. In The Gospel of Thomas we have, “The kingdom of the Father will not come by expectation. The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.”[ix] Joseph Campbell describes the Oneness of humanity in his unique way: “When Jesus says, ‘He who drinks from my mouth will become as I am and I shall be he,’ he’s talking from the point of view of that being of beings, which we call the Christ, who is the being of all of us. Anyone who brings into his life the message of the Word [of Oneness] is equivalent to Jesus.”[x]
Simple Reality is the experience that within a religious context would be called “heaven.” “This immediate presence of God as loving Father is what Jesus meant by the ‘kingdom.’ The notion of the kingdom of God (or in Matthew’s Gospel, the kingdom ‘of heaven’) simply spells out Jesus’ experience of the Father’s loving presence.”[xi] Or as Thích Nhất Hạnh puts it: “When I talk to Christians I say that the Kingdom of God is now or never. You are free, and then the kingdom is there for you. If you are not free, well, the kingdom does not exist.”[xii]
Michael Adam demonstrates our belief in repetition to help us recondition our P-B beliefs and shift our identities. “What the East has to tell us is all that can be told: We are sleepwalking in Eden and may awaken to it. This can come as a surprise until we recall that the same has been said among us. What else is the meaning of the kingdom of heaven being within us? And of Jesus saying according to Thomas, that the kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth, and men do not see it? What else could William Blake have meant by his assertion ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything will appear to man as it is, infinite?’ Dostoevsky said similarly: ‘Life is Paradise; we are all in Paradise, but we won’t see it; we don’t understand that life is Paradise, for we have only to understand it and all will be fulfilled in all its beauty.’”[xiii]
A profound understanding of the concept of Heaven requires that we transcend the beliefs, attitudes and values of P-B. In doing so we also transcend the fear-driven reactions that create our experience of suffering (Hell). The Point of Power Practice at the heart of our Self-transformation is called “right effort” in The Bhagavad Gita. “[The] wheels of the chariot are ‘Right Effort;’ the driver is DHAMMA, or truth. The chariot leads to Nirvana, the Kingdom of Heaven. The end of the journey is ‘The land which is free from fear.’”[xiv]
Another of our professors of theology and a student of the New Testament, Elaine Pagels, emphasizes the importance of self-knowledge in attaining an experience of the present moment and one’s True self. “According to The Gospel of Thomas, then, the kingdom of God symbolizes a state of transformed consciousness. One enters that kingdom when one attains self-knowledge. The Gospel of Thomas teaches that when one comes to know oneself, at the deepest level, one simultaneously comes to know god as the source of one’s being.”[xv]
The teaching of Jesus effectively finished the old illusion about the existence of Heaven. “Henceforth, according to the prophet of Galilee, the Father was not to be found in a distant heaven but was entirely identified with the cause of men and women. Jesus’ doctrine of the kingdom meant that God had become incarnate: He had poured himself out, had disappeared into mankind and could be found nowhere else but there.”[xvi] That is to say, nowhere else but here and NOW in the new narrative (P-A) that Jesus defined in the Gospel and that most of humanity has yet to accept.
And now we shift the focus to that “other” place. No doubt we take this whole idea of Hell too literally and too seriously. We turn to Hunter Thompson to lighten up. Hell is dystopian (an imaginary place of total misery and wretchedness) or for those who believe in the reality of P-B we could say that it is:
A viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix.
— Hunter Thompson
Professor Uta Ranke-Heinemann, the first woman professor of Catholic theology in Germany sums up the absurdity of the teaching of the mythical illusion of Hell. “With its teaching on Hell, the Church has stood Christ’s teaching on its head. It has turned his good news into bad news, turned a God of love into a God of cruelty. It’s also noteworthy that Paul, the earliest writer in the New Testament, while he uses terms such as death, rejection, and downfall to describe missing one’s definitive human vocation, does not speak of any Hell.”[xvii]
Since we use the teachings of Jesus, especially as expressed in The Course in Miracles, as a true expression of P-A it is important to understand how they came to be distorted by the P-B institution of the Church. Another scholar, Georg Baudler supports the findings of Ranke-Heinemann. “Hence it is of the highest importance that the images of Gehenna do not belong to Jesus’ poetic vocabulary. Scholars who have researched the parables are agreed that those images were subsequently inserted into the body of Jesus’ parables.”[xviii] We will have to learn, as both Thomas Jefferson and Ranke-Heinemann did, to distinguish those things in the New Testament that Jesus said, and those things attributed to him that he did not say. In other words, as expressed in the title of one of Ranke-Heinemann’s books, its time that we began Putting Away Childish Things.
“In many religions the ‘judgment of the soul’ is projected into the afterlife and conceived as a post-mortem experience, in which the individual is finally subject to total scrutiny and is made the object of the comprehensive knowledge of God. Depending on the outcome of this trial he will either be acquitted and sent to paradise or condemned and sentenced to hell. The image of the ‘Last Judgement’ can be understood psychologically as a projection into the afterlife of the ego’s encounter with the Self and the archetypal experience of being the known object of a transpersonal subject; it is an awesome experience, as the myths make clear, an experience that man has understandably tried to postpone as long as possible by transferring it to the afterlife.”[xix]
If I ascend into heaven, thou art there; if I descend into hell, behold, thou art there also.
— Psalm 139:8
Emmet Fox agrees that the illusion of Hell is related to the illusion of time. “Heaven is Eternity, but what we know here, we know only serially, in a sequence called ‘time,’ which never permits of our comprehending an experience in its entirety.”[xx] With that statement we will turn to our sages who deal more specifically with philosophy, the science of the mind (psychology), mythology and mysticism and what they have to say about Heaven and Hell.
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of the After-life to spell:
And after many days my Soul return’d
And said, “Behold, Myself am Heav’n and Hell.”
— From the Rubaiyat
— of Omar Khayyam Quatrain 71
“The world is just a hell and in it human beings are the tortured souls on the one hand, and the devil on the other.”[xxi] A philosopher attempting to make “sense” of life’s experience by intellectual analysis easily falls into the trap which swallowed Schopenhauer. Shackled within his mind, the philosopher often lives a life of slavery never getting off the plantation to get more than a glimpse of the wider world, the real world. The Irish tend to also have such an “entrapped” dark worldview as Beckett had Pozzo express in Waiting for Godot. “They give birth astride the grave.”[xxii] Indeed life in P-B can be a short tortuous life that can seem too long; that can seem like Hell. As always, the all-important word in this favorite sentence of ours is “seem.”
In his book Occidental Mythology, Joseph Campbell speaks of “the lost paradise of the innocence of fear.”[xxiii] If we combine this with Ken Wilber’s characterization of the loss of paradise as “falling into unconsciousness” then we see that P-B is based on the fear-driven illusion based on our separation from the inner wisdom that will always tell us that we are safe in the universe with nothing to fear.
Joseph Campbell points out that we have only to find ourselves on the therapist’s couch to visit hell. “Freud, in his epochal work The Interpretation of Dreams (published in 1900), which is based on insights derived from years devoted to the fantasies of neurotics, concentrates all attention upon those distorting personal anxieties and fixations of his patients were, in fact, the ‘sins’ (to use a theological term) that bound them to their hells, from which it was the aim of his compassionate science to release them.”[xxiv]
Once again, we affirm that fear is not only the source of human suffering but not surprisingly, the origin of the illusion of hell. The definition of hell in the words of Joseph Campbell is “the lost paradise of the innocence of fear.”[xxv]
Hell on earth, our personal suffering, has its origin in our identification with the body, mind and emotions, and with our insistence on pursuing the false-self survival strategy seeking the illusion of safety and security, sensation and pleasure and power and control. As Ken Wilber affirms, our problem is one of identity. “Of course, we tend to identify ourselves with these little individual subjects and objects—and that is exactly the problem! We identify the Seer with puny little things that can be seen. And that is the beginning of bondage and unfreedom. We are actually this vast expanse of Freedom, but we identify with unfree and unlimited objects and subjects, all of which can be seen, all of which suffer, and none of which is what we are.”[xxvi]
Let’s add Wilber’s description of Heaven while we are at it and we will not surprisingly find that it is in accord with our identity as pure energy or pure awareness in P-A. “Things arise in that awareness, they stay a bit and depart, they come and they go. They arise in space, they move in time. But the pure Witness does not come and go. It does not arise in space, it does not move in time. It is not an object out there, so it never enters the stream of time, of space, of birth, of death. It was never born, it will never die. Unborn, you can indeed gain liberation from the born and the created, from the suffering of space and time and objects, from the mechanism of terror inherent in those fragments, from the vale of tears.”[xxvii] This is the only Heaven worth knowing about and it is our natural state and the only true experience possible for us completely outside, prior to and beyond P-B. We can only delude ourselves that we are not experiencing Heaven and we do that with the distractions that we ourselves create in the all-too familiar bogus narrative that is our current worldview.
And now we return to Jesus in a resource where he is not obscured by the inauthenticity of the source or the ambiguity of metaphor, A Course in Miracles. “The emphasis of this course always remains the same—it is at this moment that complete salvation is offered you, and it is at this moment that you can accept it. Heaven is here. There is nowhere else. Heaven is now.”[xxviii]
“O my brothers, if you only knew the peace that will envelop you and hold you safe and pure and lovely in the Mind of God. There is no need for help to enter Heaven for you have never left.”[xxix]
Describing P-A in terms of P-B concepts and terminology can provide a point of connection between the two. An example would be Heaven dweller and Hell dweller. A Heaven dweller is one who lives in the present moment in response to whatever is happening. “I don’t mind what’s happening” is their mantra. For the Heaven dweller life is sweet and simple. “There is no need for help to enter Heaven for you have never left.”[xxx]
The Hell dweller lives in a state of constant craving and aversion, always in reaction to illusory affects and conditions. They live with the identity of being a victim experiencing helplessness, powerless to do anything to address what they understand to be an unsustainable way of living. For the Hell dweller life is complex and filled with constant suffering. “Heaven is here. There is nowhere else. Heaven is now. There is no other time.”[xxxi]
Herb Puryear in referring to the Edgar Cayce readings addresses the topic of heaven and hell. “[It] is clear from the readings that these refer primarily to states of consciousness. Heaven is an awareness of our oneness with the Father; thus we do not go to heaven, we grow to heaven, ‘for each soul grows to be the awareness within the temple of its own body. As we experience being away from the at-oneness, this state is called hell.’”[xxxii]
The Edgar Cayce reading 1183-1 called the experience of the energy of the present moment “vibrations” which we call “feeling” in Simple Reality. “For the vibrations should be from within, rather than from without!”[xxxiii] Long familiar with the Cayce readings, Gladys McGarey gets more specific: “He is talking about the attunement, at-one-ment, of the inner vibratory body which we all (have), which brings about a closer relationship to that from without.”[xxxiv] This universal energy available to all of us within the context of Simple Reality is that which tells us that we have found “heaven on earth.”
[i] Errico, Rocco A. Let There Be Light. Marina del Rey, California: Devorss & Company, 1985, pp. 24-25.
[ii] Ibid., pp. 25-26.
[iii] Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944, p. 565.
[iv] Errico, Rocco. “Heaven on Earth.” Science of Mind. November 1996, pp. 141-142.
[v] Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1959, p. 43.
[vi] Errico, “Heaven on Earth,” op. cit., p. 103.
[viii] Ibid., p. 97.
[ix] Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Bantam, 1988, p. 213.
[xi] Sheehan, Thomas. The First Coming. New York: Random House, 1986, p. 60.
[xii] Hạnh, Thích Nhất. Breathe! You Are Alive: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Berkeley, California: Parallax Press, 1996, p. 101.
[xiii] Adam, Michael. Wandering in Eden: Three Ways to the East Within Us. New York: Knopf, 1976, p. 7.
[xiv] Mascaro, Juan. The Bhagavad Gita. New York: Penguin, 1962, p. 22.
[xv] Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan. New York. Random House, 1995, p. 71.
[xvi] Sheehan, op. cit., p. 61.
[xvii] Ranke-Heinemann, Uta. Putting Away Childish Things. New York: Harper/Collins, 1994, pp. 239-247.
[xviii] Ibid., p. 239.
[xix] Edinger, Edward. The Creation of Consciousness: Jung’s Myth for Modern Man. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1984, p. 46.
[xx] Fox, Emmet. The Sermon on the Mount. New York: Harper, 1934, p. 37.
[xxi] O’Connell, Mark. “What a Raw Deal for the Poor Little Guy.” The New York Times. August 3, 2014, p. 44.
[xxiii] Campbell, Joseph. Occidental Mythology. New York: Viking, 1964, p. 92.
[xxiv] Campbell, Joseph. Creative Mythology. New York: Viking, 1968, p. 650.
[xxv] Campbell, Occidental Mythology, op. cit.
[xxvi] Wilber, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. Boston: Shambhala, 1996, p. 223.
[xxvii] Ibid., pp. 223-224.
[xxviii] A Course in Miracles © Volume Three: Manual For Teachers (Farmingdale, New York: Coleman Graphics), published in 1975, by the Foundation for Inner Peace, P.O. Box 598, Mill Valley, CA 94942-0598, www.acim.org and firstname.lastname@example.org. p. 58.
[xxix] Ibid., pp. 82-83.
[xxx] Ibid., p. 83.
[xxxi] Ibid., p. 58.
[xxxii] Puryear, Herbert B. The Edgar Cayce Primer. New York: Bantam, 1982, p. 215.
[xxxiii] McGarey, Gladys. “The Rhythm of the Rocking Chair.” Venture Inward. April-June 2010, p. 7.