Who is “the Devil”? A Mystical Interpretation

We often think that the “devil” is something or someone else, pointing fingers elsewhere, but what if we look within?

The “natural man” is an “enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19; cf. Romans 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14). The “devil” is also, obviously, an “enemy unto God” (Moroni 7:12). So which is the “enemy,” the “natural man” or the “devil”? Both? Or are they one and the same? What is the “natural man” or “carnal mind”?

Is it perhaps the ego, our constructed sense of being an independent separate self in the world, a discrete encapsulated freestanding self-contained being, the dualistic sense of being a subject over against all other objects and beings in reality? We think we are only this body-mind, right here, and everything else is an “other,” and not me.

What makes our subject separate from all other objects or subjects? What is the cause of this duality? What makes us a self-expressing self-made self-reliant being independent of the rest of reality? And might that individuality itself, our sense of being separate, even the very thought that I am a subject and all other things are separate objects apart from me, be the root cause of our being a “devil,” an “enemy to God”?

The “devil” may be us, our self, something which the ego likes to repeatedly scapegoat onto others, other entities, other people, other things, even the personification of “Satan.” The ego never likes to think it is itself the very problem it is trying to solve. Everything and everybody else is the problem, not me, not this self. It is those “others.” They are the problem. Sacrifice them, sacrifice animals, sacrifice Jesus, but don’t sacrifice me. I don’t like self-sacrifice. I don’t like self-transcendence. I don’t like the dissolution of the subject, which I see as me myself. I don’t want to bleed. I don’t want to die! This sense of being me wants to continue, wants to live forever, wants to continue being its separate self. But it seems God said upon humanity’s Fall, “you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

The Fall into the separate self was perhaps the very thing which alienated us from God’s Presence. It was a fall into separateness of ego, a fall into dualism, in the dualistic subject opposed to all other objects in Reality, of the independent sense of self and isolated will. It was perhaps simultaneously the construction of the veil which separates our minds from the consciousness of God, a consciousness which exists within our being, because it is our consciousness, but the veil of our subjective self obscures it, occludes it, hides it, blocks it from our awareness. It blocks awareness from being aware of itself, awareness.

The subject in our mind thinks it is separate from the object which it perceives, and yet, if we look at it closely we may realize that the subject and object are one in the act of perception. There is no separate subject perceiving an object, but the perception is one and the same in consciousness, both the perceiver and that which is perceived. A percept arises in consciousness, and that arising is both and at-once the perception and that which perceives it. We are both the seer and that which is seen, in the act of seeing. The seer is at-one with the seen, and this is nondual consciousness itself.

When we transcend the duality in our mind, when we overcome this subject-object split in consciousness, when we relax our mind enough to see through the veil of the ego, when we go beyond the subjective mind (metanoia), when that “separate self” is sacrificed upon the altar, then we may come to know the true “Self” in consciousness itself, and this is always and forever at-one in God, or the “Father,” which is the source and essence in all beings. In Christianity this is known as the “Christ.” In other traditions it may be known as the Buddha-nature at-one in the Dharmakaya, or the Atman at-one in Brahman, etc. Then, together with Jesus, we may truly say, “what you do unto these ‘others,’ you actually do unto me.”

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As Fr. Thomas Keating put it so well:

The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from God.


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