one of the many mountain caves around my retreat house
-a narrow door-
I walk along the desert trails and everywhere I look I can see them - those hundreds of little caves dotting the mountains overlooking the desert where I live. The opening to those caves is just a tiny little gap carved into the face of the mountain - barely enough space to squeeze through.
Day by day as I pass by the mountain caves with their narrow little entranceways, I am reminded of one of the most important (yet often obscure and ignored) wisdom teachings of Jesus:
Strive to enter through the narrow door (Luke 13:24)
Back in Jesus' day, cities were all enclosed by protective walls. There were two types of entranceways into the city. The majority of the people would enter through a big wide open gate - hordes of people walking into the city with their camels and beasts of burdens at their sides, weighed down with their things and possessions, everyone sort of mindlessly drifting through.
But there was also another entranceway into the city through a much smaller passageway - just a narrow little gap in the wall that a person could barely squeeze through. If you wanted to pass through the narrow door you would have to remove all your stuff from your camels, and leave it behind because the entranceway was too tiny for everything to fit through. When you entered through the narrow door, you came in unencumbered, not clinging to anything.
What a marvelous icon to illustrate Jesus' most fundamental teaching that, "If you want to find your true self, you have to die to your self-centered, bloated ego." You are able to find true peace by surrendering your self-centerdness and not clinging to anything. The entranceway to true peace (the entranceway to the "Kingdom of God") is a narrow door.
The teaching of the Buddha is remarkably parallel to Jesus. Although the Buddha doesn't talk about a "narrow door." He does show a pathway out of suffering into "enlightenment, " and the Buddha path is exactly the Jesus path.
The Buddha says:
With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism,
the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.
You cannot be liberated and enlightened if your ego dominates and you are weighed down by all your baggage in life. In order to be liberated, awakened and enlightened, you must surrender self importance and give up the constant cravings to accumulate possessions and ideas- then pass through the narrow door.
But it's a hard path to follow and a road less traveled. Most of my life I have been building up my ego- establishing my careers, gathering and storing all my possessions, collecting and filing all my ideas- my ideas about God, my ideas about myself and others, all those tried and true dogmas and rituals.
After all these years, it's hard to leave my ego and my cartons of stuff at the entranceway of the narrow door. I want to bring it all in with me, but it just doesn't fit through.
Jesus also taught that while everyone is called to enter though this narrow door, "many will not be able to do so."
It's far easier to drift along while traveling on the main passageway of life, big ego intact, all my stuff firmly secure on my camel- a lot harder to surrender it all.
Today I stand before the entranceway to one of those many mountain caves outside my retreat house. The entrance is wide open but indeed it is narrow, and what lies on the other side is also somewhat scary.
But I seek a greater liberation, a deeper peace, a more profound joy - I think I'll take the chance and strive to enter through.