About a week ago, my Christian friend asked me for my interpretation of this verse from the Gospel of Matthew:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7: 7)
I was caught short. The verse is one of the difficult sayings of Jesus. It does not sound right. Can we really ask anything from God and our wish will be granted? It sounds too easy. Besides, there is an obvious danger — what if we ask for something inappropriate? Something that is not good for our spiritual growth? Something that is unethical and will hurt others? This seems wrong.
I wrote my book, The Zen Teachings of Jesus, in the Nineties. As I recall, I used to have a good interpretation. After all, I read many, many Bible commentaries. But now I have forgotten all of it. It has been decades. I have been studying Rumi recently. Today, I ran into this saying of his and it immediately rang a bell:
“We are one. Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.” (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī)
Bingo! This is perfect! This saying of Rumi helps me unify Jesus’s saying, Sufi teaching and Vedic teaching. More specifically, there is a Vedic teaching of “Thou art that.” It means there is a correspondence between the Atman and Brahman. Roughly speaking, the Atman is the individual soul (or self). The Brahman is the cosmic soul (or Self). Each sentient being has within him the divine spark, much like the same moon is reflected in every pond, lake, sea and dew drop. But the individual soul is not aware of this fact. Speaking metaphorically and poetically, the phenomenal world and the myriad things are the result of Brahman’s self-forgetting, hiding His consciousness in each individual soul as a cosmic game of hide-and-seek. It is Brahman’s self-forgetting that enables the divine play (lila) to go on, just like the individual players in a play have to forget about their true identities. On a deep level, however, all these apparent individuals derive their being from Brahman. They are, in essence, Brahman.
It is through this background understanding that we can properly interpret Rumi’s saying and Jesus’s teaching. I would rewrite Rumi’s saying in a slightly different manner: “We are one. Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from your Self.” I capitalize the last “Self” to emphasize that it is the cosmic self. Within our individual selves, we can find the cosmic self, much like the same fractal pattern can be found existing and replicating itself in different scales. Interestingly, Buddha also said something similar. He said:
... it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos.” There is an entire cosmos within us. (Rohitassa Sutta)
This gives an entirely new meaning to Jesus’s teaching of “Ask, and you will receive.” There is no need to seek outside. The entire universe is within you! The point is to turn inward. We can get confirmation from this other verse from Matthew where Jesus taught his disciples how to pray:
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6: 6)
With this, the case is closed.