You are created to Stand in the Middle of Relative and Ultimate Reality
The character for “man” in Chinese stands for the idea that humans connect heaven and earth. This same sort of placement of humans in the Gospel of Thomas occurs over and over again. It’s an incredibly rich concept, and if we broke it down to more modern language, we could say that humans are also made to connect relative and ultimate levels of reality.
So, what do these terms mean, “relative” and “ultimate”? Jesus was essentially using the term Kingdom of Heaven (which is a feminine noun in Aramaic by the way) for ultimate reality, and your sleep-walking mind caught up in bills, time, calendars, work, family and all the many ways you divide or ignore reality is what Jesus calls the Kosmos and Eastern religions would name Samsara or “the wheel of conditional suffer” or other such terms. The two are superimposed upon each other in a way—both always present, both always “reality” and your job is to be able to switch from one way of moving through your life to the other “lens” effortlessly, eventually getting to the point where you can hold both at once. My husband has contacts like that—one can see objects at a distance, the other can focus on objects close up and his brain actually can “choose” what it needs to see.
These concepts are important because, like Mike’s contacts, functioning in relative reality means you get your bills paid, hug your kids, and don’t run red lights. Having access to ultimate reality means you always have a healing context for your thoughts, feelings, behaviors and the like—part of you is timeless, vast, unending and eternal. It’s like having a fight with your friend, then walking outside and gazing up into a sky littered with stars and recalling the constellation chart saying “you are here” and our sun barely shows up on one little arm of our galaxy. One doesn’t negate the other—the pain of the argument is reality and so is the idea that the argument is held in a giant bowl of infinity where you can imagine millions of other arguments and make ups going on just on this planet alone. That moment of anger is also a possible moment when you can connect with all that ever was, is and will be.
Your senses can both help and hinder your development of holding both relative and ultimate reality—they can be your “evergreen” gates to the Kingdom of God or they can draw you ‘round with impressions and input that blur your ability to grasp the wider and deeper vision of life. Your mind has to learn to take in the information of the senses and then be aware enough to “see” or “hear” both. It’s why even in the Bible, Jesus kept insisting “those who ears, let them hear.”
Like the idea of the Eastern Guru, (a term that means “light bringer”) the Gospel of Thomas points out that you often begin to see glimpses of relative and ultimate reality in your spiritual teachers. They serve as your first models. It makes a great deal of sense that early Christians would call Jesus “the son of God” because, like when the Buddha was asked if he were a god, his disciples and followers caught the scent of ultimate reality in him. It was a rich metaphoric way to describe how it felt to be in his presence. The Gospel of Thomas not only brings this to your attention, it tells you that all beings can be like Jesus. We were all created to “stand” up into the world, holding both relative and ultimate reality—not just one person.
I will never fully be family—
he and his children by another woman
draw lines in the sand,
and while I might toe the grains,
give salt to salt,
they are not mine and
I am not theirs.
I see him in them--
50% of all marriages end in divorce—
100% of all lives end in death.
And so, I bear such little tragedies
nestle them with a light-hearted
in a much larger
Questions to Take You Deeper
1. Identify examples of relative and ultimate reality. When, if ever, do you first recall looking at life this way?
2. What other ramifications, “good” or “bad”, suggest themselves to you when you consider that reality has at least two levels?
3. Why do you think Jesus taught so much in nature and used so many agricultural, celebratory and intimate family gatherings for his parables and teaching moments? How do such environments help convey relative and ultimate reality?
4. Do you think naming ultimate reality “the Kingdom of Heaven” or the “Kingdom of God” “weights” one kind of reality over another? How do you get beyond this “either/or” language? In what way is a human teacher important in this work?
5. What ramifications does the practical understanding of relative and ultimate reality have for the dying process we must all face?
· L 11 twoness and oneness—holding both
· L 15 finding the source, unborn, the true Father
· L 17 intuitive mind, getting beyond dualistic mind (as guarded by the senses)
· L19 senses as the gateway (when used correctly, they are “evergreen”), living out of ultimate reality
· L 30 the unity beneath the varied individuals…early Trinitarian language
· L 43 holding relative and ultimate reality in our spiritual master, and later, in all of life
· L 49 the Source named as feminine and the beginning and ending (timeless) for those unified. Kingdom is not a realm or physical place
· L 50 The Kingdom is not what we expect to find.
· L 56 seeing only relative reality is seeing a corpse
· L 59 paying attention to the Source now means you can be conscious when you die.
· L 61 Salome and the bed—Yeshua bluntly tells her she alone must be filled with light—it cannot be given to her
· L 69 there is no “you” to be persecuted
· L 72 am I here to divide? Jesus asks
· L 75 only the single one enters the place of union
· L 77 split a piece of wood, I am there…
· L 87 getting beyond the relative reality of the body and living from the soul
· L 106 transform two into one, all things possible because you are all things
· L 108 mutuality of teacher and student
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