What is “the kingdom of heaven?” When we look at the physical heaven, we see it and yet we do not see it, because heaven, uranos, is not a substantial object we can “look at.” Rather, it is the vast space within which all things are contained.
Although the physical space of the universe can be measured (or so the scientists claim), in relation to us who walk the tiny planet earth it is virtually boundless. So “heaven” in the ultimate sense is the infinite expanse which contains all things. In plain words, “heaven” means Infinite Being: God. The kingdom of heaven is the state of being God. It is eternity, the abode of God, boundless consciousness, the nature of God. And it is God. Moreover, it embraces all that exists, for God is not just in every place, He is every place. God does not just own or rule everything, He is everything. The kingdom of heaven is the state of Divinity Itself.
The Lord Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21). Why did he do so if it is everywhere? Because within us at the core of our being, which is our true self, we and God are one. For we are not just in the image of God, we are vessels of God (II Corinthians 4:7). At the center of our being is God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There–and only there–can God be experienced in His quintessential Reality which is infinite. Therefore it is vain to hope that if we follow a few basic rules and keep the right attitudes we will “go to heaven forever when we die.”
If we are not established in the kingdom of heaven while living in this world, we will simply keep on returning here until we do become so established. Until then we must consciously apply ourselves to attain union with God and say with Emily Dickinson: “Instead of getting to heaven, at last–I am going all along!”
When we get to the center of our own existence we will find God, we will find the boundless kingdom of heaven.
How, then, shall we get there? The procedure is spoken of symbolically by Isaiah: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Isaiah 40:3-5).
Total reconstruction is necessary for the revelation of the glory of the Lord–a revelation that can take place only within the depths of our purified and restored being. The Beatitudes are the spiritual blueprints for our reconstruction and restoration.
The purpose of Greek
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This is a very poor translation of the original Greek. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the vernacular of Israel, but the Evangelists were inspired to write their Gospels in Greek because it was a language much richer in psychological and esoteric terminology. (Saint Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew, but Saint Luke translated it into Greek).
Oftentimes the Greek text tells us what the speakers meant rather than what they literally said. An example is the dialogue between Jesus and Saint Peter in the twenty-first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
Here Jesus keeps asking Saint Peter “lovest thou me”? In Aramaic, Jesus and Saint Peter used the same word for “love.” But in the Greek text Saint John has Jesus use the word agape which means love in its deepest and highest sense, and Saint Peter use the word filos, which only means affection or fondness. In this way Saint John shows that Jesus and Saint Peter had widely differing concepts of love. With Jesus, love was the supreme act of the spirit, but with Saint Peter it was merely strong emotional liking of someone. So when Jesus asked: “Do you love me?” Saint Peter was answering: “Yes, Lord, you know I really like you.” Eventually Jesus gives up and comes to Peter’s level, for at the end of the exchange John has him begin using filos, as well. Through Greek Saint John reveals that Saint Peter was not able to grasp the high ideal of love which Jesus held.
This is why we need to carefully analyze the meaning of the Greek wording of the Beatitudes (and the entire Gospels), for there the Evangelists have hidden esoteric knowledge under the veil of external words.
First, what is the meaning of makarios, which is translated “blessed”? Makarios literally means: “supremely fortunate, well off, blessed, and happy.” The key to understanding its level of meaning is the word “supremely.” To be makarios is to be blessed in the highest degree–that is, to possess God as our very own. The Sanskrit equivalent is paramartha, “the supreme [highest] attainment of good.” Therefore the righthand path, the Path of the Beatitudes, is the Path of Supreme Blessedness.
Destitute and helpless
And the first step is to be ptochoi to pneumati, which Kenneth Wuest in his The New Testament, An Expanded Translation renders: “the destitute and helpless in the realm of the spirit.” Now that does not sound very “blessed” to the ears of anybody, much less to those of affluent America. However, the qualifying words “in the spirit” can bring some reassurance to us. (But what about the Hermetic Principle: “As above, so below”? Might Saint Francis have been right in loving povery after all?.
Actually, this Beatitude is speaking of an attitude, of a practical view which we should hold regarding ourselves. But this attitude will in its fruition also be the impetus for spiritual activity.
To be destitute and helpless is to both possess nothing and to be unable to do anything. This sounds terrible, but before we reject this as a negative and unworthy ideal, we must realize that we are dealing with the world of the Absolute in which what is undesirable in the world of relative existence is often an expression of the highest good.
An important distinction
We must distinguish between nothing and No Thing. The failure to grasp this distinction has caused many to misunderstand the teaching of Buddhism regarding The Great Void, which is not pure Absence as many think, but is in actuality Pure Presence, the Totality of Being. Nothing and No Thing are literally poles apart, for “nothing” is just that: nothing, zero. But No Thing is the Source of All and is in essence Everything. Here in the world of relativity we are dragged along by things. Whether they be our minds, emotions, attachments, possessions, bodily needs, or the demands of others, whatever motivates us or stimulates us to keep on racing in the hamster wheel of conditioned existence is external to us–i.e., a thing.
The world of spirit
In the domain of spirit, to be destitute is actually to be divested of all things, to be self-existent and therefore self-sufficient, to rest in our true essence which, being potentially infinite, is also potentially all-encompassing. It is the Emptiness that is perfect Fulness. But that Fulness is unattainable as long as we possess–or are possessed by–a single mote. Therefore, those who are totally divested of all “things” whatsoever are truly blessed, for they may come to possess All.
To be “helpless” in the highest sense is to be in a state beyond all “doing” whatsoever. Divinity in Its pure essence is transcendent, utterly beyond all motion and change, the Eternal Witness. Within Itself it contains all the individualized consciousnesses for whose sake It has expanded or emanated Itself as all the spheres of relative existence. As long as those consciousnesses are involved in the evolutionary currents of those innumerable worlds, they experience change, which is contradictory to their essential nature which is unchanging. Their very presence in those worlds is a fundamental self-denial–just as it is for the Deity Who for that reason is pictured as the Cosmic Man crucified upon the Cross of Matter. (The crucifix is not just a depiction of the death of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a portrayal of both Man and Cosmos.)
In order to “do” anything, the consciousness must be both within a region of relativity and in possession of some faculty or adjunct alien to its nature by which it can act upon its environment. God–and the individual spirit–being beyond all relativity and in need of nothing, obviously “does” nothing. Since action is antithetical to its very nature, then a spirit that is perfectly and irrevocably established in its true being is “incapable” of “doing” anything.
God and the perfect spirit are, then, destitute and helpless in the blessed state known as “poor in spirit.” For theirs alone is the Kingdom of Heaven. Having no thing, they both have–and are one with–The All.
The practical side
To possess infinity! Those who truly grasp the inner meaning of this first Beatitude gladly set about divesting themselves of “things” and begin the blessed process of Unlearning so they may at last attain to Gnosis. Their lives must be increasingly simplified to reveal the essence of living. In their inner Silence they come to be Knowers of the Word. And all this they do through meditation and the Sacraments.
Read the next article in Gnosis of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes: Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.