Apocalypse - Premonitions of Transformation
The world, as we know it, is coming to an end. The world as the center of the universe, the world divided from the heavens, the world bound by horizons in which love is reserved for the members of the in group: that is the world that is passing away. Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end.
The various manifestations of our crisis have not yet forced us to explore their underlying cause. When there is a disaster -- an oil spill, a bank crash, a nuclear accident, a crop failure, or an industrial tragedy -- we still treat it as an isolated event. We regret that it occurred and do our best to clear up the mess. Not recognizing the inner malaise that lies at the root of these disasters, we continue treating only the symptoms of the problem. We are like a doctor who lances a boil on a patients skin without stopping to consider what is causing it.
These symptoms will not suddenly go away. They will continue to become increasingly severe. We are reaping the consequences of many years of misguided thinking, of decisions made through self-centered and materialist value systems. Moreover, as we continue along our mistaken path we will probably find ourselves facing economic, environmental, and social catastrophes that make Chernobyl, Bhopal, and the Exxon Valdez seem tame. As the refrain goes: You aint seen nothing yet!
Perhaps we need these growing catastrophes. The disasters we have experienced to date have not alerted us to the underlying errors in our minds -- at least not enough of us to make much difference. Louder alarm bells will be necessary if we are to awaken from our slumbers. Indeed, our culture may have to be shaken at its roots before we come to our senses.
Prophecies of disaster are not new. Throughout history there have been dire warnings of the tragedies that would befall humanity, and even of the end of the world.
Various dates have been proposed for these ultimate catastrophes. Many thought the turn of the first millennium, a.d.1000, would be the end. The twelfth-century Cistercian abbot, Joachim of Fiore, thought the end would come in the year 1200, while others focused on similar dates. Hardly a century has turned without large numbers of people prophesying that the end was nigh. It is not therefore surprising to find many contemporary prophecies focusing around the year 2000.
Why then should we take current warnings any more seriously than previous ones? All earlier forecasts of doom have failed to materialize, what reason is there to suppose that current ones will be any different?
No reason. Except that this is the time when the global crisis has come upon us. Never before in human history have the dangers been so acute, nor the likelihood of catastrophe so real. Never before has the very survival of the planets biosystem been at stake. Danger seems to be coming from all sides at once. Suddenly there is very good reason to wonder whether we will make it much past the turn of the millennium.
If ever there was a justification for millennial fever it is now.
Many historical prophecies herald events that do bear a remarkable resemblance to the times we are passing through and the dangers we face. Take, for example, the centuries-old prophecy of the North American Hopi Indians. They foresaw the coming of the white man from the East; his inventions of carriages that need no horses; and his ability to travel along roads in the sky. One part of the Hopi prophecy seems to predict World War II; another matches well with the setting up of the United Nations; while others detail the death and destruction that the white man would bring, and his desecration of the land. There are also possible allusions to nuclear weapons -- a gourd of ashes that would fall from the sky, boiling the oceans and burning the land so that nothing would grow for many years. This would be the signal that the final stage was approaching. Man would travel to the moon, and build a city in the sky, but then go no further.
However, the Hopi prophecy also says that at the height of the white mans foolishness great wisdom returns, coming from the East. If he listens to this wisdom there will come a conscious transformation and rebirth of humanity; if not, there will follow the ending of all life. This last part is particularly worth noting. It does not foretell a fixed future, but a future in which we have choice -- and that choice involves a spiritual awakening.
This notion that wisdom will come from the East is also found in Tibetan Buddhism. In the eighth century Padmasambhava prophesied that when the iron bird flies in the sky and the horses run on wheels, the Dharma (the teaching) will move to the West.
The Judeo-Christian tradition contains several similar predictions. The Old Testament books of Samuel, Elijah, Amos, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkah, Isaiah, and Joel all foretell troubled times to come. The latter two, for example, both speak of the coming Day of the Lord when the land is laid desolate and the sky so darkened that neither Moon nor Sun can be seen. Could this be a description of a nuclear holocaust, or some environmental catastrophe?
In the New Testament we find Jesus on the Mount of Olives foretelling a time when there would be many wars famines, pestilence, and earthquakes. Such events would be the sign that this age was coming to a close. Of course, it is impossible to say whether he was referring to events two thousand years ahead, or to some other time, but his descriptions are certainly relevant. The frequency of occurence of earthquakes may not have increased in recent times is not clear; but their impact on densely populated urban areas is much greater. So too is the impact of war; napalm, land mines, anthrax and nuclear weapons inflict far more damage on communities and the environment than did bows and arrows, and spears. Famines hit with increasing severity; exacerbated by the population explosion and depletion of the soil. While the possibility of new pestilences strike fear deep into the heart of individuals and insurance companies alike.
These correlations are often seen as a sign that the Day of Judgment is indeed nigh. But we should also remember that when Jesus warned of future tribulation, and of religious persecution, false prophets, and impostors claiming to be the risen Christ, he was speaking not of the end of the world, but of the pains of birth. There would, he declared, be light on the other side.
The Revelation of St. John
These prophecies bear a close resemblance to the Apocalypse (the word means Revelation) of St. John. In this final book of the New Testament, John gives a detailed account of his vision and the events that would herald the final day of judgment. He tells of a scroll with seven seals representing the retributions that must come. The first four release the famous horsemen bringing war, famine, disease, and death. He saw seven angels with seven trumpets each foretelling disaster. Seven bowls are poured out: ugly and painful sores, lifeless seas, the shedding of blood, scorching by the sun, darkness, deserts, and an earthquake like never before. Again it is easy to see how these predictions appear to be coming true today .
Then comes the appearance of the Antichrist. This, says St. John, is the secular savior; he offers the hope of peace by claiming to be able to resolve the problems of the world. Not recognizing him for what he is, people rally to his call and his influence spreads into all nations.
The Antichrist's promises are, however, empty. Wars continue to proliferate, taking humanity to the brink of annihilation. Then in the final conflict -- the battle of Armageddon -- Christ returns and the Antichrist is finally defeated. Christ's kingdom reigns and the gospel spreads across the Earth.
Most spiritual scriptures have several levels of interpretation. There is the surface meaning, the literal everyday level of interpretation; and there are other deeper layers of meaning and spiritual metaphors. The revelations of St. John regarding the Antichrist are no exception.
As weve seen, we are all to some extent hypnotized by our prevailing culture into believing that our salvation lies in the material world, and in what we have or do. It is this that underlies much of our egocentricity and malignant behavior patterns. Yet, weve also seen that there remains an unhypnotized aspect of our selves, which knows that inner fulfillment does not depend on the world of the senses. This is our inner guide, waiting quietly to help us when we turn to it. It does not judge; it knows the real nature of unconditional love. It is the part of us that is fully in the present , and at perfect peace.
If the Revelation of St. John were to be considered metaphorically as well as literally, Christ would symbolize this inner source of wisdom. The dependent and conditioned mode of thought -- the ego-mind -- would then be symbolized by the Antichrist. This is the aspect of ourselves that stands against our inner knowing. It is anti -- that is opposed to -- the Christ within.
This mode of thinking does not wish to hear that our inner well-being is not at the mercy of the world around. Its role is to keep us bound to the material world, and to all the many things and experiences that we believe will bring fulfillment. It is the part of us that judges other people in terms of good or bad, friend or foe; that blames others for our own distress; that fears the world may not give us what we want. It is the ego-mind that is caught up in the past and future.
This error in our own minds is the secular savior that would have us believe that by looking to the material world we will find the perfect peace we seek. This false prophet cannot let us see that it is itself the error we must correct. Instead the ego-mind claims it is our true self and the supreme judge of what is right and wrong.
This is Satan in disguise, the prophet of material salvation that lives within us all. And its influence has indeed spread into all nations and into all our affairs.
Yet the promises of this secular savior are empty, just as in St. Johns revelation. However much wealth and worldly success we gather, true peace of mind remains as elusive as ever. Meanwhile, our consumption grows exponentially, along with ever-increasing pollution and environmental degradation, taking humanity to the brink of annihilation.
But now, as the writing on the wall accumulates, we are beginning to awaken to the real nature of the conflict we are fighting -- the final battle each of us must fight. It is the inner Armageddon, the battle between our ego-mind and our higher self. It is the conflict that each of us is fighting every day. The battle between judgment and letting go, between fear and love, between our cultural conditioning and our inner truth.
As the saying goes, We have met the enemy and the enemy is us. It is within each and every one of us. And so is the wisdom that can see us through. We are not facing each other on different sides of the battle. We are each on both sides, each facing ourselves.
The good news is that St. John foresees the battle of Armageddon being won by Christ -- suggesting that our higher knowing will eventually defeat the Antichrist within. Only then does Christ's kingdom reign. This we could interpret as a world freed from the dictates of our ego-mind, a world in which a liberated mind is the norm rather than the exception, a world in which love not fear is the prevailing emotion.
There will, at last, be peace on Earth -- the inner peace we have been seeking all along.