Far from being a loosely consolidated collection of sayings, in the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus as a master teacher preparing his students for discipleship in accordance with the age-old tradition of Eastern gurus. First, he qualifies his students by testing their motive, then he tells them what he expects of them as their teacher, and then he gives them the spiritual rules of the brotherhood they are to live by.
Matt: 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Being poor in spirit, having no opinion about what we’re seeing, and having no investment in the outcome, keeps us quick on our feet and able to respond to changes as they occur. Adaptability is the hallmark of successful living, and the person who travels light can adapt the fastest.
At the level of charity, Jesus is talking about material possessions and money, but at the level of spiritual awakening, he is talking about possessions of the mind and our attachment to them.
Jesus states the first principle of spiritual seeking. Poor in spirit means in the spirit of poverty. It means, “I own nothing.” The candidate for discipleship must demonstrate that he or she is willing to give up everything, or “sell all that he hath,” in order to find God.
Not only do the material possessions have to go, but the props of personality have to go as well – things like one’s favorite wardrobe, hairstyle, preferences in diet, manner of speech, daily routines, and station in life. Just like boot camp in the military, anything and everything that is created by and for the personal ego is surrendered on the first day.
Sometimes, even one’s name is changed. The candidate is literally plucked from the world and given a new identity. Unlike the military, however, you can always leave if you change your mind. No legitimate Guru would ever try to keep a student who wanted to leave.
What Are Possessions?
Let’s examine these possessions from the ground up. Why is it necessary for the spiritual aspirant to give up his “stuff”? What is it about material possessions that would get in the way of our spiritual unfoldment?
First of all, we tend to pay closer attention to the things we own. Our personal possessions stand out in bold relief from the rest of the world. We tend to regard all other things by how they relate to our things. Students of the truth know that there is something fundamentally wrong with this way of seeing the world – this is one of the reasons why they submit to being students. Our possessions lock us in to a particular way of being in the world. Since we are trying to transcend or see past the limitations of the physical world, we have to let go of our possessions.
Just as we are hemmed in by physical possessions, our mental possessions hold us captive as well, only more so. What are mental possessions? They are our opinions. Opinions bias our vision and keep us from freely entertaining new ideas. To be poor in spirit is to lack bias – to see all things equally, giving no special importance to any one thing. A good detective notices everything – so does the good scientist. Just imagine how limited they would be if they were biased toward the familiar.
Likewise, if we value the things we think are good and shun the things we think are bad, we will not be able to see anything new. Who are we to judge, being the poor judges that we are? Something really great could be right under our nose, but if it didn’t fit in with our sense of right and wrong, we would miss it entirely.
The things that we are supposed to notice, the things that will support us in our life and give us the best opportunities to be healthy and happy, do not usually fall under the category of “our opinion.” If they did, life would be a lot easier. As human beings, seemingly by default, we want the very things that are not good for us.
Our opinions determine what we see. If we think that it’s better to be wealthy than poor, we will always be on the lookout for ways to get rich. If we think that loneliness is bad, we will continually seek the company of others. If recognition is important, we will look for ways to stand out from the crowd.
The Truth Must Be New
Our vision will only detect those things that will validate our opinions about “what is true.” Fortunately, we also have the opinion that truth is good. Like a Trojan horse, it gets around the ego’s defenses and opens a door for the truth to get in. As ideas of the truth start to emerge in us, they usually look unimportant and sometimes even irritating. “Where are the important clues,” we cry out, “…the ones I’m expecting to see?”
The whole point of “blessed are the poor” is that the next clue, the next level of truth, the door that will make everything else in the way of new knowledge and experience available to us is just that – NEW. But, if an idea is new, how are we going to recognize it? It’s not going to fit in with any of our preconceptions.
The message Jesus is conveying here is simple: “If you want to learn from me, you’re going to have to let go of your opinions – what you think you know.” Jesus is telling his disciples, “I’m not here to reinforce your ideas!” Saying “blessed are the poor in spirit” is just a polite way of saying, “Everything you think you know about God and reality is wrong!”
Nothing gets in the way of accurate evaluation more than predisposition of mind. We like things to be consistent with what we already know. If something doesn’t fit in with our preconceptions, we throw it out, sometimes without even looking at it.
Desires are possessions of the heart. The heart collects the “valuables” of the mind and forever seeks them to the exclusion of all else. “Where your treasure (valuables) are, there will your heart be also.” The mind compares things that we see with what we believe is valuable; if there’s a match, we immediately want the thing that we see.
The flip side of desire is fear. We are programmed to automatically avoid the things we fear, whether or not our fears are well-founded. We only have to think that they’re dangerous. If we’re wrong, if there is in fact nothing to be afraid of, then we miss out on the good that might be there for us. It might be the missing key to the fulfillment of all our dreams! We’ll never know as long as we think it’s fearful.
In the esoteric sense, “blessed are the poor in spirit” refers to our opinions. Unless the mind is empty, or as the Buddhists say, “beginner’s mind,” there is no room for the truth.
Jesus is making the first requirement of his students – leave your possessions at the door. Not only your physical possessions, but your mental ones as well, which includes everything that you think you know and understand. No master teacher would take a student who was interested in learning only that which would reinforce his opinions.
Jesus is politely saying, “I am your teacher, and I’m not interested in your opinions. Forget them!” Anyone who has ever studied under a bona fide master teacher has almost certainly heard this more than once: “If you think you already know the truth, what do you need me for?”
The spirit of poverty includes letting go of one’s “name”, which means renouncing all worldly ties, rights of inheritance, and claims to family honor. It means letting go of one’s habitual ways of speaking, eating, sleeping, dressing, and daily routines. It is leaving the world and all of its pursuits for the sake of pursuing God. The master teacher stands in the place of God, as far as the student is concerned, for the duration of the student’s training. The teacher says, “I AM the Way.”
In effect, the student becomes a penniless orphan. The teacher becomes his father, mother, and savior. If there is any reluctance on the part of the student to accept his teacher on this basis, he is disqualified from entering the school.
This is the first test, and it is the first law Jesus lays down to his disciples.