What’s the preferred form of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” or “… have mercy on us”? As you know, both forms are found in the tradition, and clearly both have their value. It depends in part on one’s intention: in saying “us” we’re praying not just for ourselves but for all men.

From the point of view of an operative gnosis, however, the plural has another, somewhat subtler meaning as well, serving to remind us that we are not to identify ourselves with our vices. Of course we do sin, and in our personal prayers and sacramental confession we’re obliged to admit this and to strive toward amending our lives. Nonetheless, the esoterist knows that what he truly is is Virtue, not sin. As I point out in my Advice to the Serious Seeker,

“Virtue consists essentially in fidelity to our fundamental being or theomorphic nature since there remains within every man a level of primordial perfection [this is the fitrah of traditional Islamic teaching] existing on an inward plane deeper than the level of the fall. Hence Virtue is not something which I do or acquire. Virtue is what I already am in my transpersonal depths” (63).

In its inward unity the real “I” is already perfect. We can come to realize this fact, however, only if we detach ourselves from the multiplicity of false selves, the demonic “legion” of the Scriptures, who wish to confuse and distract us. One asks for mercy on “us” because it is precisely as us that I sin.