The Paradox of the Journey
All major mystical traditions have recognized that there is a paradox at the heart of the journey of return to Origin.
The ‘Sublime Joke’ of the Journey
Knowing that we are looking for something we already have and are does not, of course, mean that the journey is unnecessary, only that there is a vast and sublime joke waiting to be discovered at its end.
There is a story that I was told by an old Greek Orthodox monk that describes this joke deliciously. I was twenty-five when I met him in a monastery in central Greece; he took me to his room and gave me thick black coffee and we talked of God. He said, ‘Have you heard the story of Stassinopolos Street?’ When I said I hadn’t, he threw up his hands in mock horror. ‘Then you still don’t know the meaning of life.’ And he began:
‘There was a poor young man who lived in a village in the Pelepponese who had a dream. In it he saw a courtyard with turquoise tiles with an old man sitting on a vast pile of treasure. The old man said to him, ‘All this treasure belongs to you. Come and get it! You’ll find me at 3 Stassinopolos Street in Salonika.’ When the poor young man woke up, he leapt for joy. ‘God is good! God has told me how I can become very rich! And in such a detailed way too!’
‘So he set out immediately for Salonika. Well – to cut a long story short – everything conceivable happened to him to stop him getting there for years. He was robbed, beaten, left for dead, kidnapped, sold into slavery for two decades on the Barbary Coast. As a middle-aged man, weary, disillusioned, he found himself in Salonika at last and decided, ‘What the hell, I’ll see if Stassinopolos Street really exists.’
‘Well, it did exist and there was a number 3. And, sure enough, when he entered through the door, he saw an old man sitting on a bench in the sunlight in a courtyard with turquoise tiles just like the old man in the dream. His heart leapt with joy.
‘The old man looked up at him and clapped his hands. ‘Oh, you have come at last! You are the man I saw in a dream I had many years ago! Many years ago I dreamed of a poor young man who lived in a village somewhere in the Peleponnese. He was sitting on his broken-down cot, and underneath his cot there was a gleaming pile of treasure. I meant to set out and see if I could find the man, but life intervened and I never did.’
‘All at once, the man who had been looking all his life for Stassinopolos Street understood; the treasure he had been hunting for so long was all the time within his own deepest self.’
The old monk wiped away tears of joy and held my hands in his.
‘My son,’ he whispered. ‘Please never forget this story.’
I remember asking him rudely, ‘Well, if the poor young man always had the treasure within him, why did he have to go on such a long, harsh, complex journey to find that out?’
The old monk laughed. ‘That is just how it is. You have to go through a million different experiences to discover what you already are. It is God’s joke.’
One serious explanation of this joke at the heart of the journey is, of course, that our essential self is hidden from us by what the Sufi mystics call ‘a hundred thousand veils of illusion.’ Placed in this dimension of time and space and matter, we forget who we are; we identify our essential nature with what surrounds us and with what our culture and society and parents and ordinary senses tell us about ourselves; a massive journey is then needed for us to ‘dis-identify’ with everything we have falsely learned about our selves so that we can experience, with the ‘hundred thousand veils’ burned away, the glory of our true identity.
This is one explanation, and it is true as far as it goes. The trouble with it, however, is that it subtly devalues the experience of being created at all and dismisses too easily the whole of human experience and creation itself as what the Hindu mystics have called maya, illusion. Why would the Divine have created us in the first place if the only meaning of our being created is to escape the ‘illusion’ of Creation, transcend all its particulars and events to enter into what is beyond it?
Seeds of the Divine
Perhaps the deepest and richest answer to this question – and it is an ‘answer’ that the Direct Path embraces in its difficulty and challenge – is that we are placed here as a seed of the Divine within time, space, and matter to unfold fully all our divine powers and ca pacities within them: We do this not to escape the ‘illusion’ of creation but to divinize not only ourselves but also reality from within it.
This explanation – that is at the heart of certain schools of Jewish, Sufi, and Christian mysticism, and which has inspired the work of great modern evolutionary mystics such as Teilhard de Chardin and the great Hindu sage Aurobindo – has the advantage of treating the whole journey of the Path not just as a marvelously witty joke – which it, of course, partly is – but also as an opportunity for the Divine through us to permeate, infuse, and transfigure its own creation.
What this version of the meaning of the journey makes of each of us is what Hildegard of Bingen calls ‘co-creators with God of a New World.’ We undertake the tremendous journey of return to Origin not to vanish into Origin or simply rest in its peace and glory but to be infused with its sacred passion and power and become so saturated with its energy and love that we can ‘reenter’ reality and become agents with and in God of a massive transformation of all the conditions of the Creation. In other words, we are created by the Divine to participate with it in its ‘plan’ of bringing the whole of the Creation consciously into the glory of its eternal being.
From The Direct Path, © 2011 by Andrew Harvey, published by Watkins.
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