Ash Wednesday may seem a strange day to those in non-dual circles, as the "church" concentrates so much on sin. Sin seems a strange idea in a world where "everything is perfect", but the organized church sees sin as the "reason" or need for religion. In organized religion, the spiritual side of the "faith" is often made subservient to the moral side of the "faith". The church in the Lenten season becomes all about repentance and sacrifice, with the idea that "Christ died for our sins", and his death and resurrection is "responsible for our redemption."
Sacrifice is indeed an important part of understanding "our" place in all of this, but the repentance has to come from a real place of understanding, not simply an idea of our "sin". Sin is simply ignorance, not some laundry list of morality that varies from culture to culture, or person to person. We need to remember that The Christ, while on the cross, said; "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Forgive them their lack of understanding; their ignorance. As I have often said ofNisargadatta Maharaj, how he lived his life is as much, or more of the teaching than his words, which were, after al,l just words. This is also true of The Christ. His message, interpreted over centuries in words of different languages, becomes distorted. Rather than the message of removing ignorance and pointing to the always present moment of God's Love in action that The Christ, and all of us, are "incarnated" as, the message has become one of "fallen nature", and a need for a "redeemer". The Christ referred to God as "Our Father", not simply his alone. We are all sons of God, born for "holiness". The Christ's death on the cross is a demonstration of the kind of sacrifice necessary to claim "victory" over ignorance. Our life, as spirit (being), lives on, with or without the body. The sacrifice of The Christ tells us that we must be willing to let go of the body/mind and all it's attachments. We must sacrifice all we imagine ourselves to be, for all we are. But this is not done as an act of will. As stated above, this must come from a place of real understanding, realization, if you will.
This brings us back to Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday, the celebrant at the Mass places the ashes, often made from the burned palm crosses of last Palm Sunday, in the sign of the cross, on the foreheads of the communicants. This is done with the words; "...for dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return". This is really the key to Ash Wednesday. This statement; that we are but dust, and destined to return to dust, is very humbling if we see the truth in it. We are not sinners in some "moral" sense. We are in ignorance. Ignorance of our true nature. "Our" true nature, as individuals, isdust. We may intellectually understand that our True nature is the flow of Love, appearing as this, but until this is realized (made a wordless conviction), we must see the dust.
Ramana Maharshi's "awakening" came after a vision of his own death, and the conviction that he was not the body, and would not die with it. This is the message of Ash Wednesday. "...for dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return". This rite reminds us that our "human nature"; our individuality, is nothing more permanent than dust. We meditate on this throughout the Lenten season. This is the "preparation" we make for Easter; this realization of our nature as mortal, while living in a "swirl of immortality". We prepare and meditate on the sacrifice of The Christ, the cross, and the resurrection. We see the Christ Consciousness rise above the death of Jesus the man, to remain the ever present Absolute. It is by seeing ourselves as dying on the cross with Jesus, that allows us to understand that life does not die, only dust gets blown by the wind. It is our minds that must die. Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine Monk who lived in India, experienced a stroke, which he described as "a death of the mind". This opened a deepening sense of overwhelming Love that never left him.
Above I stated that repentance has to come from a real place of understanding, not simply some sense of "sin" and guilt. This understanding comes from an awareness of our "personal" nature, ourself, as impermanent. We are ashes. We are dust. We are mortal. Once we realize we are impermanent, the importance we hold ourselves in vanishes. In it's place is the conviction that, while we, as the small "s" self, are impermanent. what remains is the capital "S" Self, which is permanency itself. The imposition of the Ashes, and the subsequent meditation on it's significance reveals that we;impermanent phantom's, are a reflection, an appearance of the permanent, the universal. Sacrifice pride and become ashes, dust. Prepare to crucify the mind, so to be resurrected in the heart.