Stranger in a Strange Land

We will continue, here, to mine the rich veins of wisdom woven into the parable of the Prodigal Son….

I will reproduce the parable here for those who aren’t fully familiar with it. It comes from Luke chapter 15, verses 11 – 32 of the King James Version,

11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:

12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.

26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.

27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.

28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.

29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:

30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.

32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

This parable is the product of a truly creative, highly enlightened mind for, in a few compact sentences potent in meaning, it summarises the entire history of the spiritual condition and state of Man while accounting for the proper place and authentic role of what is called “religion” in human affairs (but which is not what human beings have generally made of it over time). I would be so bold as to say that, if all the Biblical tradition were lost except this one parable, it would still be enough, for it is the root. And as long as the root is alive, the plant will regrow. Virtually everything else of wisdom in the recorded gospels — or the dharma — of Jesus is branch, leaf, and flower arising from this one root, and all refer back to this root, for it expresses what men distinguish as “divine truth”. If Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy conceived of God as “the power that makes men speak”, or the power that enthuses man to speak, this parable conforms to that conception.

And in a very real sense, you are this root. Therefore, the parable is well worth meditating upon. For it is about you, and is about all of us. By “all of us” I mean exactly what the Buddhists mean when the speak of “all sentient beings” — all creatures great and small.

From the one which is the Source come the two who are the sons. These “sons” are related spiritual principles which, in recognising themselves as “sons” and as related, fraternal, and brotherly spiritual principles emanating from a common root, conceive this Source as “Father”. “Father” does not exist until there are “sons” to call this Source “Father”. “Father” is analogy and metaphor for how the One becomes two. The two here are, however, Adam and Lucifer, or perhaps more properly the Adamic and the Luciferic spiritual principles. That the brother who remained behind while the Adamic went forth is actually Lucifer may come as something of a shock to many, but will become clearer in due course. But the Adamic principle is called “the younger son”, while the Luciferic is the elder son.

In verse 12, the younger son asks for his “portion”, and it is said that the Father “divided unto them his living”, that is, his “living” is his substance, which is the divine nature of the godhead and its properties and attributes, its energetic wealth and creative potentials, its own infinity and its own eternity, for this is its “living”. For all intents and purposes, this “Father” is what cultural philosopher Jean Gebser calls “the ever-present origin“, which is root and source as abiding presence. In this sense, to appreciate the parable properly one must absolutely overcome the temptation to think of it in literal terms of temporicity or as an historical fact. It is enacted daily. One must suspend the tendency to think in exclusive terms of past and future, or outside and inside.

Thus endowed, the younger son takes his leave of the Source and embarks upon a journey into a far away land. This is a psychic journey which is a “descent” in the sense of a separation or division, and which is customarily called “the fall of Adam” or fall from “a state of grace”. It is a journey into the realm of Physis, of course, but more to the point it is a psychic separation in which the soul principle becomes ensnared in the webwork — in the tapestry — of spacetime as embodied being, for this is the very meaning of the name “Adam”, which means “earth” or “soil”, and which is still echoed in our related words “human” and “humus” and “humility” and “humiliation”, and so on.

In this dream of existence in Physis, the soul principle awakes as the embodied being — the Adamic being. Having assumed a human form and shape, and draped itself in this attire, it now identifies with it completely and has become forgetful of itself and of its source and origin. It has, in effect, squandered its talents, energies, and creative potentialities in “riotous living” — in intoxication with sensation and the sensation of being embodied existence. It is somewhat like the drunk who can’t recall or remember what he did the night before while he was having such a good time. This trance-like state of self-intoxication is “the Selfhood”, as Blake called it, and is egoic being.

This condition is the condition of narcissism and is what is narrated in the great myth of Narcissus and Echo in which the consciousness of Narcissus becomes ensnared, trapped, and fatally imprisoned in his own images and projections. In other terms, this is the condition called “idolatry”, and idolatry is forgetfulness of who and what one truly is. This condition, the all-too-human condition in Nietzsche’s terms, is what is called here the “far country” and it is segregation or separation from the true self brought on by forgetfulness. This is what “lost soul” means.

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or
Geniuses calling them by the names and adorning them with the
properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations,
and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could percieve.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city &
country. placing it under its mental deity.
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of &
enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the
mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood.
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.

And at length they pronounced that the Gods had orderd such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast. — William Blake

The soul principle or vital core, itself, is not human. It clothes itself in this form but, in so doing, often confuses this form with itself as an actor might get lost in his imagined role or character (and frequently does). What William Blake calls “the Poetic Genius”, which is the true man, does not itself assume human form. It is what generates and sustains the human form or human mold and then acts in character. “Human” is a role we play, but in which we may become lost, which is the condition of narcissism or self-idolatry.

“Riotous living” is self-indulgence. It is squandering or abusing in an irresponsible, undisciplined, and destructively perverse or distorted way the energies, creativity, and talents with which the soul principle is endowed. This is the “famine” of the next line, “And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.” The mighty famine in the land is spiritual destitution and desolation, a sense of lack or unsatisfactory, unfulfilled existence. The ego-nature feels starved of sustaining vitality, and this is the “hunger” spoken of. The more forgetful becomes the ego-nature, the more existence is experienced as unsatisfactory, as depleted, desolate and miserable.

This is the condition Buddhism calls “dukkha” — which is malaise or suffering. The condition is brought on by delusion about the true nature of self, which delusion arises from forgetfulness, as afflicted Narcissus. One has become “a stranger in a strange land” with a sense of inadequacy, deficiency, alienation from or maladjustment to reality. This “famine” is the result of a separation of the human nature or egoic being from its true source.

Having squandered his “inheritance” and his birthright, which are his energies, the Prodigal Son affixes himself to another. He seeks to locate the sustaining source of his life outside himself. No longer self-sustaining, he becomes a dependent. He becomes unfree. He becomes enslaved to something that he now relies upon for his own spiritual sustenance, something external to himself. “And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.” This “citizen” could be anything, but it pertains to having fallen into a condition of unfreedom. The analogy is pertinent. To become a swineherd in those days, was to fall into the lowest point of social existence and state of debasement and humiliation. This, again, is a spiritual state — a state of quantification and gross materialism — in which the ego-nature has completely lost the map and the Ariadne’s thread leading out from the overpowering maze of its existence. It is maximum forgetfulness that is called “Cloud of Unknowing” or “samsara”. It is the state known as “Hell”.

This spiritual condition of debasement, deadness, and unfreedom of the Prodigal Son is exactly what is explored by Rene Guenon in his book The Reign of Quantity and in Gabriel Marcel’s Man Against Mass Society, as both are understandably concerned, in their different ways, with the fall into quantity and the quantification of the soul. It is also the spiritual condition of man as Nietzsche finds it in his opening pages of Thus Spake Zarathustra, when Zarathustra delivers his discourses on “what is man?” (and also, what is the cure for man). That “man is the sick animal,” as Nietzsche taught, is connected with the condition of dukkha as the Buddhists teach of it.

(This is the irony of Nietzsche, that his writings often follow the exact pattern and form of the Scriptures, for his “all-too-human” condition corresponds to this nadir, or lowest point, of the Prodigal Son’s existence in the parable. In fact, for Nietzsche man’s spiritual condition is even lower than the swineherd’s, “You have evolved from worm to man, but much within you is still worm”.)

But, behold! It is precisely at this lowest nadir and most debased point of existence — of complete crisis, exile, and estrangement; of dukkha — that the Prodigal Son, who is ego-nature, finally comes to himself. It is in duress that he comes to remembrance of who and what he is truly and from whence he arises. This is the enlightenment of the Adamic nature. This enlightenment is also revivification and resurrection, for he is as one raised again from the dead by remembrance. It corresponds to one of William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell, “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise”.

This is William Blake’s “Glad Day” in which Albion, the fallen Man, awakens to the totality of himself, for Albion is the Prodigal Son spoken of in the parable and who is the transcendent or self-realised nature,

Glad Day

Blake’s accompanying comment to this picture is “Albion rose from where he labourd at the Mill with Slaves / Giving himself for the Nations he danc’d the dance of Eternal Death”, which clearly equates him in his previous fallen state with the Prodigal Son.

This re-membrance as “enlightenment” (it bears repeating) is not what we typically call “memory”, which is merely reflection. True “re-membrance” is overcoming the condition of dis-memberment, as all true “recollection” is not recall, but a true coming to the totality of oneself as an integral whole. As long as the ego experiences itself as particular, separate, apart, segregate (and not integrate or “collected”) it exists as an outcast and in a state of dis-memberment, and thus tortured, fractured, divided, atomised. It is truly as homeless as the Prodigal Son is homeless, and feels itself as rootless. This condition of homelessness or rootlessness (which condition finds its echo in the word “deracinated”) is a spiritual and psychic one.

This was the pattern, too, of the life of Jesus, who lived and died as “the Son of Man” in his torn-to-pieceshood as the Prodigal Son, but resurrected as the “son of God”, the enlightened Christic principle, as the Prodigal homecoming. In some important ways, the entire life of Jesus was to serve as a living symbolisation of the journey of the Prodigal Son, who is Everyman and Everywoman. Jesus lived as he taught, but in ways far more profound than most people realise. For they do not see that the life of Jesus was intended as a living map of self-overcoming, a map for human beings of how one becomes what one is truly, and not as something to be worshipped and adored from afar! For that “afar” is the perpetuation of the state of estrangement — the “far country” itself.

The very word “religion” has the meaning “homecoming”, for Latin re-ligere (a word related to “intelligence”, too) means to “re-connect” or re-membering in the sense of return or refound (ligere is connected with “ligament”). It is not a matter of believing this or that dogma or principle, but of an actual practice or a journeying, a journeying within to the root source of oneself. For was it not said that “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you” and not outside? And that “the body is the temple of the living God”? Therefore religion, in its truest and most authentic sense, is the practice of coming to oneself, the overcoming of the dismembered state by a supreme act of re-membrance, for which the parable of the Prodigal Son serves as map.

He “came to himself” and ceased to remain a stranger in a strange land. His homecoming was indeed a “Glad Day” as Blake depicted it. But he also came home enriched by his adventures and experience in “the far country”. The elder son, however, was resentful of this, which begs the question: who IS this elder son who is the spirit of resentment? That is in the nature of the resentment ascribed to Lucifer, as his rebellious act.

Here, however, the parable ends rather abruptly. We will try to complete it in another post.

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13 responses to “Stranger in a Strange Land”

  1. tony says :

    An interesting analysis. But where does that leave those of us who don’t reach rock bottom to re-emerge on the surface? Those who face the constant struggle throughout life to re-connect, managing to catch a glimpse of the truth from time to time, but only to be dragged back down again before re-emerging to catch a further glimpse, in what appears to be an endless cycle.

    • Scott Preston says :

      We are at “rock bottom”. As Seth once put it, humourously, we are as dead now as we’re ever going to get.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Need to bear in mind, too, that the Prodigal Son is the soul principle, rather than the human being. The Prodigal Son is the soul principle that has become entangled with the human form, rather than the human form itself. This is also something Seth draws attention to in his dialogues, that he is not only addressing the human being, but the entity that “also reads through your eyes”. That’s an interesting remark. It’s not the human form, in other words, that is “the Prodigal Son”, but that inner “entity” that Seth is addressing by way of the human form. Blake’s reference to the soul “sleeping in beams of light” has the same significance. If “soul” is too problematic a word, though, Seth uses “energy personality essence”.

      On the “elder brother” in the parable. I’m not sure I’ll spend any time delving into that. That an “elder brother” is introduced in the parable is a peculiarity, as the parable would have worked just as well if there were only the one son rather than two. So, what does the parable hope to accomplish by introducing us to two sons, but then terminating so abruptly before explaining who or what the elder son is?

      That the elder son and brother is the Luciferic seems to be implied by his resentment of the favours bestowed by the father upon the younger son. He displays the attributes of resentment and jealousy that are traditionally ascribed to Lucifer as the cause of his downfall, and he is also indeed the elder in relation to the Adamic (who falls into darkness) while the Luciferic — the very word means “the light bearer”, so is associated with the principle of light while the Adamic is drawn to the earth.

  2. amothman33 says :

    Adam always returns to the Source.In every return throughout history Adam gains wider vision and more understanding. In this last return, nothing remain uncovered,that is why irruption everywhere and truth being speedily revealed.Happy he who will end his psychic journey safely with the help of the Unseen.

  3. LittleBigMan says :

    All those things that have kept me puzzled and bewildered, you write about and clarify and illuminate, Scott! This is quite magical!

    The first time I heard of the parable of “The Prodigal Son” was in a movie called “Equilibrium”, which I saw perhaps some 8 or 10 years ago. I remember I went to a computer after the movie and did a Google search on the phrase. I read through a few of the links that came up and I got the sense of this person who left home and then came back admitting to his father that he had made a mistake by being selfish and so on. Beyond this simple interpretation of it, I didn’t think any further.

    But your indepth and meaningful interpretation has helped me connect the parable to a rather difficult life lesson I have learned, which is, in life, one either creates problem for oneself, or if not that, problems are created for one by others – or maybe both.

    It seems to me mankind is at a point of infancy and immaturity when it continues to create problems for himself/herself. At maturity, and this is perhaps analogous to when the younger son returns to his father, it is the older brother (the “others” so to speak) that begins to bring unpleasantness to the setting. And this is truly the story of life itself as it unfolds throughout each of its reincarnational episodes. It’s either “I” who create problems for myself or those “others.” I have become mature if I have “become a man of knolwedge” — to use don Juan’s words — and know better to create problems for myself. But now, it’s others, like the older brother, that create problems for me. And if my memory serves me well, according to don Juan, a man of knowledge is one who “waits” for the next challenge. And as you say very succinctly in your own words:

    “It is enacted daily.”

    Because the older brother was born first, it may be a symbol of challenges and issues that have been prepared and awaiting in advance for the man of knowledge that is to become of the younger son one day. So, in having become a man of knowledge, the younger son is now ready to face these challenges that predate and pre-exist him.

    Also very interesting is that the younger brother who has returned to his father at the end of the parable says or does nothing in reaction to his brother’s jealousy and resentment. At least the parable intentionally omits any such reaction from the younger son. It seems to me the younger son could have done a great deal to allay his older brother’s resentment by saying kind things and doing kind things for him. But he does no such thing, perhaps, because he recognizes that this is his older brother’s challenge to reckon and come to terms with — just like he himself who had to do the same all those many years ago. It’s as if the older brother, by becoming jealous and resentful, has just begun his own journey to repentance and return to the father.

    The younger son, having become a man of knowledge, has “seen” the inevitability of the journey his older brother is about to undertake, and leaves him be. The father, on the other hand, is jubilant of his son’s return because he knows that one of his sons has finished that inevitable journey.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Assuming that the elder brother is indeed the Luciferic (for he displays all the attributes traditionally ascribed to Lucifer), the commonplace understanding of the Luciferic as having been a “rebel angel” who revelled in the flesh is completely contrary to the truth. In the wisdom traditions, anyway, the Lucifer’s “rebellion” was his obsession with spiritual purity. He was disgusted by the marriage of spirit and matter or flesh, and this was the Adamic — the younger brother or son. The Buddhists call this spirit “aversion”. Nietzsche called it “ressentiment”. Lucifer’s “sin” in, that sense, was the he doubted, that is, he doubted the wisdom of God. Lucifer was a purist and a perfectionist, and that’s why he refused to turn in to the celebration of the Prodigal Son’s return, for the Prodigal Son (the Adamic) had corrupted the spirit by entering into the life of the flesh. But this was not God’s view at all.

      In other words, the Luciferic mind is the mind of self-righteousness. And that’s not only exactly what the parable ascribes to the elder son, but is what Jesus spent a great deal of time denouncing in his public mission. Setting mind against body, setting spirit against matter, setting subject against object — in other words, the dualistic mind — this is Luciferic. Against this, Jesus taught “the body is the temple of the living God”.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        The “Luciferic mind” or the “mind of self-righteousness” or “the dualistic mind” pretty much describes my own mind before my introduction to the Seth material. You can see how the Seth material has set me free in more ways than one. The word “ressentiment” is such an appropriate word for describing the feelings of the elder brother toward the younger one. It is perhaps a perfect feature of a narcissistic species.

        • Scott Preston says :

          Your comments, LittleBigMan, are quite engaging, because you seem to be on an pretty intensive journey right now. And that’s interesting, because Jean Gebser once said that the “new consciousness” wouldn’t be so much an “expansion” (a spatial metaphor) as an “intensification” or what used to be called “quickening”. I think the “magic” you are presently experiencing may very well be this intensification.

  4. amothman33 says :

    It is a question of interpretation, the second son is a must in the parable, he represents the stultified soul ,that becomes routine and habitual, it lost its vigor and ever present will. God is concerned with vitality and action. Bearing witness to the truth in this disarrayed and lying world.

  5. LittleBigMan says :

    Thank you, Scott! Coming from you, Sir, that comment carries great weight.

    Your asessment of me being on an intensive journey is quite accurate. The purpose of this journey is simply to become a better and better listener of the messages that come to each of us from the universe. We are swimming in this infinite ocean of meaning that surrounds us, and I’m doing everything in my power not to get sucked in by the glitter and pressures of the narcissistic world. I have learned through life experiences and your own enlightening and illuminating articles that all things (even narcissism) are magical and that the magic of the narcissistic world is ‘false power’.

    I have here a good example of ‘real power’ of the universe speaking.

    Back in early fall of 2011, I was so struck by a series of saddening events that even sitting at a meeting I felt as if tears were about to flow from my eyes. Thankfully, as the great sadness remained in me, no tears came from my eyes and the meeting ended. As the attendees were engaged in conversation with each other and left the meeting room without paying any attention to me, I noticed an open window. It was a very nice day outside. So, instead of walking out of the meeting room along with everyone else, I found myself standing next to the open window while letting my mind sink deeper into my sadness. Only a few seconds after I stood right next to the open window, a small colorful bird sat on top of the tall branches of a series of flower bushes that were planted right outside the window and gave out a few beautifully sounding chirps for about 4 or 5 seconds before flying away. My face could’ve not been more than two feet away from the bird as it sang its short song. In fact, as soon as the bird sat there on the bush, I thought it was going to notice and get scared of me and fly away immediately. But it didn’t. Not before it gave out its magical song.

    The bird’s song was the perfect medicine for all the sadness that had heaped inside of me over some time. Whatever the bird’s song did to me, I will never know, but those few seconds of its song were enough to wash away all the sadness from inside of me. It was as if the bird said to me “Look at me! Don’t worry! Life goes on! Everything will be alright!”

    To this day I believe that the bird brought me that very special message that had its magical effect, and everytime I remember that moment, I use my thoughts to send thanks to the bird no matter where in the universe its consciousness continues to exist.

    Now, that’s, in my opinion, ‘real power’ that the universe has to offer to anyone willing to pay attention. I can assure you, there was no amount of money in the world that could have had the same effect on me. That ‘false power’ we call “money” could buy me more possessions but could not have permanently uprooted and cut the sadness from inside of me the way a few seconds of that bird’s song did. I cannot help but think about the enormous number of messages that are directed toward each of us that we may be missing out on because we are too busy looking away from the universe.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Good story. Tristan drank the dragon’s blood and came to understand the language of birds.

      • LittleBigMan says :

        I didn’t know drinking dragon’s blood could do that 🙂
        I shall read about “Tristan” to find out more 🙂

  6. srosesmith says :

    Yes! It’s all in this story, as you’ve shown, Scott. The soul principle/human being distinction is essential (as given by Blake and Seth). And I think you have it exactly : the elder brother, Luciferic mind : self-righteousness and ressentiment : the prison of self. Thank you again!

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