If we come into contact with people at large during each day, packed on to commuter trains, or standing in queues because of the delays of seasonal rushes and peak times, it is easy to become irritated or even enraged. We can be indignant and incredulous that people around us are behaving so badly, in such a self-centred way. We wonder why they cannot be like us, civilized, considerate, ‘normal.’ These dramatic differences we perceive distance us from humanity, isolate us inside the world we create in our heads with all its synthetic standards and bars to jump. We make judgments, and in so doing place ourselves above others and outside the field of love.
The medieval Cathars of Languedoc were so focused on their practice of faith out in the community that they could easily accept and have compassion for all the excesses and ‘fascist’ attitudes around them. They helped as many people as they could, and put themselves at risk of being discovered and captured while administering the Consolamentum so that people could be saved from damnation. Corruption and deception were a way of life in medieval Europe, and the friars and cardinals leading the interrogations against the Cathars were merciless, torturing and imprisoning at will, and other atrocities. Betrayal of the trust of the Perfecti was common too.
Some say that medieval European society was as bleak as today’s, but as the Perfecti believed that evil spirits could jump into other bodies – metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls or rebirth)- they could accept that people behaved badly, driven by their occupying spirits. Metempsychosis is one of the oldest beliefs in the history of humans in all parts of the world, Orient and Occident alike, and it is thought nowadays that it may be almost a natural or innate beliefs native to the human mind. As Christianity spread steadily across Europe, the eternal nature of the soul was a seminal belief retained by the Manichaeans and Cathars, and other gnostic sects, but the mainstream Catholic church rejected it as heretical. They put enormous defensive energy into eradicating such beliefs, and in a way maiming their own roots of Christianity in the process.
Cathars believed that Jesus was the manifestation of a pure spirit unbounded by matter. The God of the old testament was Satan, while the God of St John’s gospel in the new testament was the all-loving compassionate God. The human figure of Jesus was simply a messenger, an emanation of the true God, which could never be made manifest in the Devil’s world. Cathars thus attached no importance to the crucifixion and nativity due to their material nature. In this respect, they were indeed a highly spiritual and mystical sect.
My own upbringing was fairly strict, mainstream Christian, and although I felt deep reverence for the holy beings and saints, I was always rather scared of the suffering evoked by the crucifix and crown of thorns, the dark corners of musty churches, the negative emphasis on sin and guilt because Jesus died for humanity on the Cross. On the other hand, if I had had access to the faith of the Perfects, I would have aspired to become a Perfect and eventually to join the compassionate God in the celestial realms. Christian practices were too materialist for me, too dark, to oppressive, so I turned to Buddhism as an older teenager, which surprised my family and seemed to be a betrayal of the faith into which I was baptized.
When I encountered the Cathars of Languedoc, I was so thrilled to find a meaningful Christianity that was so similar in essence to Buddhism. Siddhartha, the privileged Prince who became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, was also perhaps only a messenger manifest as flesh and blood. After his death and Parinirvana at the age of 84 or so, after his final teachings of Nirvana which I devote myself to today, he shifted to the spiritual source, the Dharmakaya (see previous article at https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/dharma-kaya-the-body-of-truth/) and so in various emanations can eternally guide and protect those who take refuge in him. Engaged Buddhists connect themselves to the faultlessly transmitted Dharma Lineage, which stretches back to Shyakyamuni Buddha who became enlightened. Our commitment is beyond the narrow intellectual concepts of time and space, and we know that as we approach or turn back from Enlightenment, we will transmigrate into other realms, either higher or lower. In fact, most Buddhists practice specifically to break the perpetual cycle of rebirths so that we can return to the spiritual source.
Some scholars refer to the Cathars as ‘Western Buddhists.’ This is ironic as Buddhism is quite widely practiced in the west these days, and has, as in my case, superseded Christianity. This is not to say that the original teachings of the messenger or prophet Jesus are not superb, but with time and cultural distortion, and the tightening of the material grip on societies, they seem to have been outgrown. In contrast to the Christian, the approach Buddhists make to the spiritual world, the invisible world, with the correct protections and aspirations, is positive. There may be dark corners in our spirits, which need to be sluiced with the lights of virtue and merit, with purification, but our appreciation of karma, the injurious actions of our ancestors and of our own, motivates us to cleanse our negative karma. The Cathars too believed in karma necessarily because of rebirth, and worked to purify themselves during their human sojourn.
In 1244, after the Albigensian Crusade, which lasted 9 months and claimed the cities of Beziers, Narbonne, Carcassonne and Toulouse, the Cathars surrendered. That year, on March 16th, over 200 of them were brought down from the hilltop fortress Montsegur and thrown on to a huge pyre to be burned. On March 14th before they surrendered, they held a religious ceremony and made the prophecy that the ‘Church of Love’ as they referred to it would be proclaimed in 1986, 700 years later. Their own words on that occasion best describe their creed:
The Church of Love
It has no fabric, only understanding. It has no membership, save those who know that they belong. It has no rivals, because it is non competitive. It has no ambition; it seeks only to serve. It has no boundaries for nationalisms are unloving. It is not of itself because it seeks to enrich all groups and religions. It acknowledges all great teachers of all ages who have shown the truth of love. Those who participate, practice the truth of love in all their beings. There is no walk of life or nationality that is a barrier. Those who are, know. It seeks not to teach but be and, by being, enrich. It recognizes that the way we are may be the way of those around us because we are the way. It recognizes the whole planet as a Being of which we are part. It recognizes that the time has come for the supreme transmutation, the ultimate alchemic act for conscious change of the ego into a voluntary return to the whole. It does not proclaim itself with a loud voice but in the subtle realms of loving. It salutes all those in the past who blazed the path but have paid the price. It admits no hierarchy or structure, for no one is greater than the other. Its members shall know each other by their deeds and being, and by their eyes and by no other outward sign save the fraternal embrace. Each one will dedicate their life to the silent loving of their neighbor and environment and the planet, while carrying out their task however exalted or humble. It recognizes the supremacy of the great idea, which may only be accomplished if the human race practices the supremacy of love. It has no reward to offer here or in the hereafter save that ineffable joy of being and loving. Each shall seek to advance their cause of understanding, doing good by stealth and teaching by example. They shall hear their neighbor, their community and the Planet. They shall feel no fear, feel no shame, and their witness shall prevail over all odds. It has no secret, no Arcanum, no initiation save of the true understanding of the power of love and that, if we want it to be so, the world will change, but only if we change ourselves first.
Today, there are many Europeans, born in the 40s and 50s, who feel that they are the martyred Cathars of Languedoc reborn. They believe that they exist now as the result of a powerful commitment made at the end of a previous life to return to make a significant contribution towards the spiritual rehabilitation of this planet and its people. As mentioned in an earlier article, during my time living in Languedoc, I had many mystical dreams and feelings, which I could not ignore. I was born in the 50s and lived in Languedoc in the nineties at the commencement of the new era of Catharism!
Three years ago as a result of elevation and spiritual guidance as a Nirvana Buddhist, I received a strict chastisement from my spiritual superiors for neglecting and criticising my Christian origins. I was so shocked, immediately repenting with remorse. Now, a little more wisdom and research into the community of present-day Cathars, leads me to accept that perhaps I was critical of the Roman Church (the basis of modern Christianity) because it has distorted the original teachings of God. Now, I strongly believe my origins to be Cathar, and my affiliation, the Church of Love. This embracement of all original faiths was a huge realization handed to me by my compassionate Buddhist gurus and guides. My main mission nowadays as a Buddhist is to bring all original and true faiths into the stable light of harmony. The Buddha in his final teaching, the Mahaparinirvana sutra, said,
All rivers of faith flow into the great Ocean of Nirvana.