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The Crown of Thorns


In the writings of High Christian Mysticism, images play a powerful role. They hover above the written page in stereoscopic relief, casting themselves on the back wall of our mind, intriguing us with their enigmatic simplicity. The images of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, or as a child talking with the elders of the Temple, stand as icons in our memory, symbolic images providing us the keys to hidden mysteries. They are clues attracting our inner vision into realms that defy intellectual manipulation. The brilliance, the sheer genius of their design is that the keys themselves hold the treasures they pretend to unlock. Jesus' crown of thorns is just such a key.

Before there were icons, there was life. Human beings awoke to the realities of the physical world, trying to overlay their comprehension of their Homeland, the world of Spirit, onto the cycles of Earth. Mind operated then as it does now according to the principles of expansion and contraction, cohesion and adhesion, using the will as its vehicle and the soul as its journal. The same light that illumined the interiors of Egyptian temples lights our inner vision today - the light of life. Is it any wonder that the images of one religion mirror those of others?

The Lotus and the Rose are tributaries of the same stream. Neither Jesus nor Buddha would disagree. Hinduism did not invent the Kundalini, and Christianity did not invent the cross. Chakras and sacraments are both vehicles for the same Great Being. Each religion calls it as it sees it, but all are looking at the same universal reality of Being in all of Its magnificent comings and goings. All paths lead to the same summit, and upon that summit all paths converge.

The Crown of Thorns
The image of Jesus’ crown of thorns represents the humble and rigorous restriction of mental activity, or as the Yoga sutra puts it, "…the intentional stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff." Man must set aside his opinions in order to allow the God Self, through the vehicle of the core energies of the spine, which Hinduism calls the kundalini, to transform his mind, and thus provide God with an earthly vehicle of expression.

The "crown" of thorns is a reversal of the world’s image of honor, an inversion of the luminous solar aspect normally depicted by a royal crown of gold. Whereas the royal crown denotes dominion over the world, the crown of thorns denotes dominion over oneself. This is an exact restatement of the Hindu principle of the "turning about of the Shakti" where the kundalini or serpent force is directed through the throat chakra rather than the solar plexus. This directs the will inward toward changing oneself rather than the outer world, opening one’s inner awareness.

The rays of the royal crown point outward to rule the world; the barbs of the crown of thorns point inward, so that the wearer can rule himself. This principle of reversal is further elaborated in the "Hanged Man" card of the Tarot series. Where the royal crown denotes worldly honors, the crown of thorns denotes the opposite – the castigation and denunciation of the subject by the world. This is the meaning of the statement "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth". He who conquers himself conquers much.

The crown of thorns is a shameful image, but the outer shame is eclipsed by the shame one feels for his own misdeeds which come glaringly to light when the conscious awareness is directed inward upon itself. Awareness, which is normally trained on the external, greatly agitates the ingrained habit and memory patterns of the subjective mind, causing them to rise to the surface of awareness in much the same way that the impurities within molten iron ore rise to the surface in a cauldron. The purpose of both is so that the "impurities" can be removed and the substance refined. "He is like a purifier's fire."

The image of the crown of thorns is irrefutably an image of suffering, a pictorial lesson in self-denial "unto death". Suffering and death are unnecessary in their literal, physical sense but are an unavoidable requirement for an ego encumbered with attachments while trying to embark on the spiritual path. This is beautifully stated in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Another, perhaps more subtle reference to this principle can be found in the Buddha’s statement that all life is sorrowful. Normally, this is interpreted on the physical level where life lives on life by killing to survive. On the spiritual level, where the symbols are interpreted subjectively, life, or the life principle within each individual, finds its fullest expression through the process of self-denial, forcing open the higher centers of awareness at the expense or "suffering" of the lower. A perfect analogy for this is the petroleum refinery where the most refined products are those that are distilled the longest, and therefor rise the highest in the distillation tower.The lesson here, put forth by Jesus and Buddha, is that the principle of self-denial, or renunciation, cannot be avoided in the process of spiritual awakening.

Having shown that suffering in the context of spiritual renunciation is necessary for inner development, it becomes necessary to explore the principle of vicarious atonement put forth by the Christian Churches. Literally, it is obvious that physical pain is not necessary on the spiritual path and can even be detrimental to spiritual growth. Extreme measures of bodily deprivation such as those practiced by certain Hindu sects and Christian penitents do not serve authentic spiritual awakening. Buddha taught the "middle path" in this regard, as did Jesus and Paul. The real act of penance is the inward act, focusing awareness inward upon itself and dealing with the inevitable reactions as they arise.

The Buddha was perhaps more explicit in his psychological approach to enlightenment than Jesus, at least the Western schools of religion view him this way, but Jesus was also quite clear that his own teachings were to be interpreted not only literally on the physical or social level, but on the subjective or spiritual level as well. To paraphrase Jesus, "I teach the masses by telling them stories; I teach my students by telling them what the stories mean."

Lifting Karma
One of the most outstanding messages of the New Testament is that "Jesus died for our sins." This is the unique Christian message which can only be understood in the context of the teachings of suffering that have gone before. Like Buddha, Jesus pushed the idea that restraining the body from sin is not enough to bring about union with God, but that one must transform one’s own mind and heart as well. Both are saying that we must BE the truth, and not merely practice it. Paul understood this principle when he said, "You are saved not by works but by faith."

Through his physical suffering and death, if we look through the eyes of the East, the only way that the vicarious atonement by Jesus makes sense is in terms of karma and the lifting of karma.

It is widely accepted in the East that a guru or true spiritual teacher can lift the karma of another person, literally take on the effects of another’s misdeeds and transmute them within his own body. This principle was further developed and advanced by Jesus when he taught his disciples the power of the Word, when he said "what you bind on earth is bound in heaven", etc. This is carried out in the Catholic Church through the sacrament of penance or "confession", where the priest acts as the intermediary between the supplicant and the "living guru" of Christ.

What differentiates Jesus from the other gurus is the claim that he accomplished this for the entire planet and all subsequent generations. From a cosmological point of view, this is extraordinary and, as far as we know, unprecedented. In light of this, it is easy to see why Christians emphasize the uniqueness of Jesus and even go so far as to call him the "only" son of God, whereas in the East, all are considered "sons of God", at least in potential.

Through this concept of vicarious atonement, Christians understand that by simply accepting the grace of Jesus Christ, their karma or sins can be lifted. The only thing that could prevent salvation would be to refuse to believe that this had already taken place through the action of Jesus. By not believing this, one can only believe that the karma for past deeds must be paid directly by the individual through the relentless machinations of the law of cause and effect.

The guru/priest (or the ascended guru/high priest in the case of Jesus) has the authority to remove karma through the power of the Word. Fundamentalist Christians go one step further by eliminating the need for an earthly intermediary, claiming direct access to Jesus. This is emphasized in their requirement of having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ". In many ways, this is a more advanced concept of atonement than that of the traditional Christian Churches, and is, in a sense, quite "New Age". This is more than a little ironic, given the open animosity between the two groups.

Christ Jesus
In the Esoteric Tradition, Jesus is the intermediary between humanity and the super-being Christ who is the actual Son of God. The doctrine of Jesus’ dual nature, being "fully man and fully God", stems from this teaching, as does Paul’s description of humanity as the "adopted" children of God through Christ Jesus.

Jesus acts as the divine "point of contact" through which the grace of God pours into the entire planet. This is big talk. And not only Jesus, but everyone, at least potentially, can be a divine conduit for God’s grace, according to the Esoteric Tradition. Here we can easily recognize the basic principles of Hinduism and Buddhism, out of which the bulk of New Age teachings have sprung.

The Revelation of John
Suffering, the alleviation of suffering, and the root causes of suffering seem to be the main thrust of Christian and Eastern teachings alike. The logical question presents itself now: what lies on the other side of suffering? What will life on Earth be like when the atonement has been achieved? What potentials and possibilities will be freed up when humanity moves from a predominantly compensatory spiritual mode, where the chief concern is correcting spiritual shortcomings, to an expressive mode where exploration and discovery are the dominant themes?

The Book of Revelation picks up where the New Testament leaves off by addressing those who no longer need to be convinced of the teachings of Jesus but who are now wholeheartedly trying to incorporate them into their lives. The apocalyptic tone of this text confirms and explicates the trials and tribulations encountered by any serious seeker on the spiritual path as he or she comes face to face with their own limitations. This is the advanced course of training for Christians in the New Age, and it prefigures a time of spiritual freedom to explore and discover the full range of human consciousness and spiritual power.

The New Theology
Ironically, the most progressive arenas where exploration and discovery are being pursued today are the secular arenas of science, education, and business. This is where consciousness is expanding most rapidly. Religion has dug in its heels in the most conservative ways by trying to defend and hang onto a literal interpretation of its own basic doctrines.

It seems that the only expression of freedom of thought lies in the secular arenas, while conventional religion is on the verge of falling apart by splitting its allegiances between faith and rationalism. This predicament is unnecessary and can be avoided by understanding the science that underlies the sacred symbols written into religious doctrines.

There is a new movement afoot spearheaded by scientists, religious scholars, and archaeologists that is attempting to make sense of traditional church doctrines by reconciling them with recent scientific discoveries, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the texts of Nag Hamadi. This would seem like a positive development, but the overall tone of this movement is materialistic. It ignores the deeper, mystical dimensions of the Biblical narrative, as though the Bible’s cryptic symbolism was nothing more than the quaint superstitions of a bygone era, instead of the sophisticated treatise on metaphysics that those who are capable of reading its symbolic language can so readily see.

This is damaging enough, but the new theorists also deny out of hand everything "miraculous", such as the resurrection and the ascension, siding entirely with modern science’s opinions about human capabilities. They do this with inexplicable confidence, since science is undergoing extremely radical shifts in its understanding of the nature of matter. There are big questions that have not been answered, questions that when they are answered could completely overturn our concepts of reality. And they will be answered, or as Jesus said, "All the mysteries shall be revealed." It would be prudent for the new theologians to wait a bit before passing final judgement, at least until the cutting edge of science figures out exactly what it has cut into.