Note to readers: The Christian Feast of Epiphany celebrates, in part, the visit of the Magi (Wise Men) to the Christ child. It takes place on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, and is sometimes called the Little Christmas. January 5 is known as Epiphany Eve and is the birthdate of Paramhansa Yogananda in 1893. Traditionally this marks, for many, the end of Christmas and the taking away of Christmas decorations! This becomes also for Ananda worldwide a natural endpoint to the sacred holiday season of Christmas.
Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the now famous and popular life story, “Autobiography of a Yogi,” lived and taught in America for most of his life beginning in 1920 at the age of twenty-seven. One of the many curious and interesting things he said was that the wise men of the gospel of Matthew were none other than the three Indian yogis (in a past life) who, in succession, were part of his personal lineage, training, and tradition. While there’s no objective way to substantiate that, this idea certainly has implications for who he, Yogananda, was and why he came to live in America.
Those people in the world identifying themselves as Christians are said to be 2.5 billion, almost one out of every three people. But the percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian is reported to be declining.
It would seem that if Christianity is to grow and thrive in America (and the West generally) as a viable religious tradition some kind of rescue is needed. Could it be that the wise men of East have come again to acknowledge, honor, and worship the Christ? Can Jesus too be “born again?”
Paramhansa Yogananda described his work in America as “The Second Coming of Christ.” Like Jesus, one might have thought that he, Yogananda, too would be condemned for blasphemy. What did he mean by this description?
How can we bring these ideas together? When Yogananda was asked point-blank by a young monk, Swami Kriyananda, “Were you Jesus Christ (in a prior life)?” Yogananda replied, “What difference would it make?” What a curious statement to make.
Where I am leading is to suggest that Paramhansa Yogananda came to resurrect the deeper meanings and teachings of Jesus Christ from their imprisonment in the confines of what he called “Churchianity.” It doesn’t matter who he was in a past life. I think that’s mostly the reason for his response. Part of what is making orthodox Christianity increasingly irrelevant and uninspired today is the narrowness of its claims and the rigidity of its rituals.
The very concept of reincarnation symbolizes the soul’s phoenix-like capacity to be “born again!” Again, it is not important whether one subscribes to reincarnation as a dogma. We see rebirth all around us: civilization being reborn into a new era, a new age symbolized outwardly by science and technology and in consciousness by a new acceptance and interest of diversity of cultures, religions, and history beyond one’s own. There’s hardly a point in listing the number of cultural beliefs, taboos, lifestyles, and attitudes that have changed (for “better or worse” according to one’s point of view) in just a few years or decades. In the lives of individuals, stories of recovery and new life abound. So why can’t Christianity be born again?
In juxtaposition to scientific beliefs of the age of planet Earth, the age of the universe, and the existence of billions of galaxies, core Christian dogmas seem weak and difficult to believe: could one human being on this mudball of a planet in a distant galaxy on the edge of space be the ‘ONLY” son of God? And he lived a mere thirty-three years on the edge of an empire that has long ago faded into dust? What about those billions of other religionists? Are they condemned to eternity for being born on the “wrong side of the tracks” of centuries and continents? Can the crucifixion of this one individual that took perhaps three hours be sufficient to “save the sins” of all humankind? And what about heaven and hell, places where, after death, our souls (later perhaps to be somehow reunited with our long-disintegrated bodies) live happily ever after or are burned alive not-so-happily-ever-after for an eternity?
The fact is that Jesus and his disciples initiated their own world-changing version of a religious rebirth in the context of Judaism during their lives. And yet, Jesus said that he came not to “destroy but to fulfill the law and prophets.” In Chapter 5 of the gospel of Matthew alone, Jesus made significant changes to the interpretation of the Ten Commandments and other laws at that time. Later, his disciples set aside the circumcision (the primary symbol of God’s covenant with the Jews), the Sabbath and countless lesser dietary laws. Then they declared that Gentiles could become followers of Jesus without being Jews! A new religion was born. And the intention behind its birth was to “fulfill” the Old Covenant not destroy it. Do you see the pattern here?
Jesus gave at least one example of why changes in letter of the law can be made when he modified the rules surrounding divorce. Jesus stated that the rules given to them by Moses were “for the hardness of your hearts.” By this, he meant that Moses knew that the Jews of his time were not ready for a more fair and refined view of the grounds for divorce.
Other examples in history include the birth of Buddhism. Buddha and his disciples were originally Hindus. They, like Jesus’ disciples, sowed the seeds for a new religion with a fresh understanding of basic, universal truths. Their core concepts are based on the teachings of India derived from the Vedas and other scriptures of ancient India. Like the Protestant revolt, however, Buddha urged seekers to abandon the abusive lock hold of the priestly class and take responsibility for their spiritual awakening.
And yet, the impact of the life of Jesus Christ cannot be denied. His short life changed world history. His teachings have inspired saints and sinners alike; have produced great works of art, music, literature, architecture, civilization, and worship. And these are the positive aspects. There are negative ones as well where some humans corrupted those same teachings for their own, misguided, ignorant or sinful reasons.
The stage is surely set for the return of the Wise Men. Is it no coincidence that the very first and most serious crisis in the history of the early Christian church was the Arian heresy which centered on the definition of the person or nature of Jesus Christ? This was then and remains today the crux of the question Jesus asked: “Whom do men say I AM?” The rebirth of Christianity will, I believe, center on a deeper understanding of what is meant by “Jesus being the only begotten son of God.”
Paramhansa Yogananda universalized the understanding and interpretation of the divinity of Jesus Christ. He often quoted the first chapter of St. John’s gospel, “As many as received him to them gave He the power to become the sons of God.” Yogananda taught that the difference between Jesus and the rest of us is not a matter of kind, but of degree. We have not yet realized our birthright as souls made in the image of God. The soul of Jesus inhabiting the body called Jesus had long ago (in a prior life) realized its eternal nature as ever-pure, immortal, and “one with the Father.” We, too, are called to the realization of this birthright. It has been said that we are “as old as God” because God has manifested us (and all creation) from “His” own nature. How else can God—who is pure Consciousness—create anything except as part of Himself?
While this is not the place to continue with creation theology and the existence of evil it is the place to note that this very understanding—endorsed by great saints within Christianity and in many other traditions—has the potential to reinvigorate devotion and appreciation of the Christian Way. Orthodox religionists may initially fear that this dilutes the importance and uniqueness of Jesus. Yet Jesus’ life, teachings, and omnipresent spirit have been proven and attested to down through the centuries and in modern times through the Christian and even non-Christian saints.
And why would such recognition of other Christs in history result in a dilution of the reverence one feels towards Jesus Christ? Does the sheer number of saints through the ages detract from their respective sanctity? Just as modern men and women accept and appreciate the diversity in races and cultures without denying or condemning their own, why should a Hindu devotee or Christian devotee feel slighted that another religion also claims that its founder has achieved Self-realization? Are we not all potential sons of God?
Humanity does not need, nor could possibly abide by, a “One World Religion.” History, culture and tradition, what to mention human nature, recoils from even the thought. Why can’t mature devotees recognize and validity of other faith traditions? Are we so insecure in our own faith that we are not able to abandon the slogan “My way or the highway?”
It is not that Christian teachings are wrong: Jesus did die for sins; we can experience heaven or hell; Jesus is a savior. But a new understanding—what Yogananda called a New Dispensation—is needed to revitalize and universalize the eternal teachings and spiritual power of Jesus Christ.
Once one considers that our planet alone has had a number of “saviors” or “Christs,” if you will, then other possibilities emerge. The man known as Jesus embodied the realization of God in his soul and in his human manifestation. So have others. “I am the Way, the Life, and Truth and no one comes to the Father except by Me” can now take on a powerful and universal new meaning.
The savior or living Christ is both an outer and human reality as a person and an inner reality as in the conscious presence of their divine nature. We too partake in this dual nature even at our level of awareness. We have a body and personality but we can also experience ourselves as the observer of our own thoughts and actions unaffected in our observation by the nature of the present tenor of our emotions and actions.
Jesus is the outer guru for innumerable souls just as Buddha (and other saviors) is for countless other souls. The statement, then, that “I am the Way…” applies to the guru, whether still in a human body or accessible because omnipresent in spirit. But the outer guru in human form comes to awaken the inner guru which is our invisible but omnipresent and eternal soul. Jesus as guru was the “first coming” of the son of God for his disciples while his “second coming” takes place in the awakening of the inner, soul-Christ in each disciple. This is what Jesus’ promise concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit after his departure symbolizes. The Holy Spirit is grace manifested in the consciousness and acts of the disciples and descends upon the soul through the work of the guru.
Each savior has a family of souls given by God. In the poignant “accounting” that Jesus gave at the Last Supper, he makes it clear that his disciples were given to him by God. The teaching in India is that from the beginning our soul’s creation, that savior who will forever stand ready to reach out to us (when we have made the choice to be helped) is already known.
Ditto for Buddha and others like Yogananda. Whether in the outer form of the embodied Christ as a guru or in the inner form as the Christ consciousness potential of the soul, the statement “I AM” applies progressively, that is, step-by-step in our spiritual evolution. Christian teachings thus, however unknowingly and limited to the person of Jesus, essentially reflect the teaching that to achieve God-realization the soul needs a God-realized guru.
Forgiving of sins means to dissolve or erase the karmic consequences of our sins. And what is sin? Ignorance: ignorance of our true Self. Our fall from grace takes place daily when we mistake the unreal for the real. Like the beautiful story of the Prodigal Son, we have the choice at any time and in every moment to turn away from the “foreign lands” of matter attachment and journey inward to our soul’s home in God.
It is the Christ—or the Christ or soul Consciousness—that baptizes and forgives us. First through the outer guru which awakens our souls (as described above), and then progressively as our soul ascends through effort and grace toward perfection. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, awaits us in the silence within. But we need outer instruction in the precepts of right living and in the techniques of God-communion (prayer and meditation) to purify our body and mind.
It is a teaching in India that a guru—not merely an ordinary spiritual teacher but a true savior—can take on the karma of a disciple. A savior (known in India as an avatar) can free untold numbers of souls who “receive him.” But just as a wise father would not pay off the debts of an errant child unless that child was repentant, so too the guru’s grace to release karma is not given randomly or without just cause. Since our true nature is that of a Christ, it is always the Christ consciousness first awakened by the outer guru and then nurtured by the Holy Spirit in the inner, soul guru, that dissolves the knots of past deeds. Jesus’ crucifixion showed how we must surrender the ego to the will of God while the resurrection of his body shows us the immortal and victorious nature of our soul. His pain and suffering are examples and to a modest degree, related largely to his taking onto himself the karma of his direct disciples. When it is said that Jesus redeemed the sins of the world its deepest meaning is that the Christ Consciousness, truly the “only” begotten of the Father, is what redeems the soul.
Admittedly, without the concept of reincarnation, this New Dispensation is not “fulfilled.” But just as Christian teachings adapted themselves to a one-life incarnation so these concepts could stand on their own, just as lamely as the Christian teachings, without the benefit of reincarnation. Christian theologians and saints perceived what became known as Purgatory, Limbo, and mortal and venial sins to account for the wide variety of human experience and consciousness in just one human life. It’s not that such stages on the astral plane do not exist so much as their interpretation is incomplete.
But that leads us to heaven and hell. I’ve often said you don’t need to die to experience heaven and hell. It is right here on earth and within us. We can be rich and famous, yet at the same time, miserably depressed. We can be a wanderer, penniless but ever-cheerful. When we are in “heaven” we think we have arrived; when we are in pain, it seems forever.
It is also true, however, that other traditions, including that of India, teach that there is an after-death realm that contains “many mansions” of “my Father’s house.” Here souls rest or reside awaiting their next incarnation. These more subtle realms range as far and wide as our minds are able and beyond. We go to “our own,” according to our soul’s misidentification and consciousness. But as the saying goes, “nothing is forever” (except God alone).
This is a short summary of the promise of the scriptures that is found in all true faith traditions. Increasingly in this new age, beliefs will wane in importance as personal experience grows. We have learned from science to test our hypotheses to see if they are real. Who we are in ourselves and how we behave is far more important than our “credo,” what we believe. Meditation is growing in popularity because it offers a tangible experience of consciousness without the burden of belief. What else is God than Pure Consciousness? What else is the soul but a reflection of God? “Be still and know that I AM God.”
The only begotten son of God is that soul that is fully awake to its own nature. This nature is hidden by the sheath of all material creation and forms but has the potential to awaken to its-Self in humankind. This is the promise of the scriptures and is found in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as in the lives of all awakened sons of God.
As Moses could only give to the Israelites what they could accept, it is also true that Jesus could not directly teach the dogma of reincarnation (known otherwise as the “transmigration of souls”). In addition, given the controversy that Jesus aroused during his life, he could hardly have taught the existence of other Christs in other lands and times. To have taught each of these dogmas would have sidelined his mission to the point of irrelevancy. Why is this?
Reincarnation. That reincarnation was discussed in Jesus’ time is illustrated at several points of the New Testament. Modern scholars concur. One example from Jesus’ own words that the concept was known can be seen when the three disciples with Jesus descended Mt. Tabor after the Transfiguration at which both Moses and Elias appeared. Their reported conversation goes something like this: “Elias has come already and they knew him not….Then the disciples understood that he spake of them of John the Baptist.” There are several other points in the Bible, New and Old, that can be cited.
More important reasons for Jesus to sidestep the dogma of reincarnation include that reincarnation and, indeed, belief in an after-life itself, was hotly debated among the Jews and probably of no interest in the Roman and Greek cultures of that time. This lack of awareness extended throughout the two thousand years of Christian history until recent contact with Eastern teachings. Teaching it would have only invited an incentive to postpone one’s redemption! Now with our vastly broadened view of the material universe (macro and micro), the prospect of endless future lives is already showing itself to be an incentive to seek God now and not later!
As to Jesus being the only savior of humankind, it was enough of a shock for Jesus to announce “I and my Father are One” and that “Before Abraham was, I AM.” In retrospect, Jesus was bringing to the Jews (and by extension, the West) the teaching that God incarnates in human form. This was already blasphemy and unheard of in the religions of his time. It was the immediate cause of his crucifixion! What good would it have done for Jesus to announce that there could be others like him? It would only have generated a frenzied search over the succeeding two thousand years! Confusion, heresy, and anti-Christs left and right would have been the result. It is only now, with the world becoming “one,” that this truth can be revealed. For, indeed, it is sorely needed “for the healing of the nations.”
Devotion to Jesus as the son of God has been the right teaching for the disciples of Christ during these last two thousand years. Until recent times, the definition of Jesus as the only son of God mattered very little. Only in the beginning (as previously cited) during the Arian heresy, did the question arise. Now, however, faced with the reality day-to-day of coexisting with other religions, each of which claims its founder or rishis, as co-redemptors must we confront the deeper meaning of “Who do men say I am?”
Blessings to all for a (happier?) New Year!
Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman
 Those yogis were Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and his own guru, Swami Sri Yutkeswar (See “Autobiography of a Yogi” for chapters on their respective lives.)
 Swami Kriyananda in his own life story, “The New Path,” reported several instances of individuals who in the general public assumed Yogananda was Jesus Christ reincarnated. I, too, had this same unexamined perception when I first became acquainted with Yogananda’s autobiography.
 https://reincarnate.life/how-many-people-in-the-world-believe-in-reincarnation/ 25% of Americans believe in reincarnation and nearly that same percentage of Christians do so also! Origen, one of the early Church “fathers,” wrote that reincarnation had been “taught since apostolic times.” It was removed from church dogma in 532 AD at a conference of Bishops without the presence of the Pope who boycotted the event.
 Matthew 19:8
 Buddha was not an atheist and nor is Buddhism atheistical as some claim. Buddha declined to speak of God to emphasize the here and now, the present moment and what we can and must do to grow spiritually.
 The gospels do not say there were three Wise Men: only three gifts were offered. Tradition suggest there were three men.
 Yogananda was not the only one to do so. The greatest Christian mystics all pointed to a universal Christ consciousness standing behind, so to speak, the person of Jesus the man. Meister Eckert, Thomas Acquinas, Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis and others all experienced the eternal Christhood of Jesus.
 Consider the 20th century lives of Padre Pio and Theresa Neumann, as just two examples. Both had on their bodies the wounds (the stigmata) of Jesus.
 If you read the Acts of the Apostles carefully you find that during the lives of the apostles they were left with the thought that Jesus would return to earth soon. That had to be toned down when it didn’t happen so quickly.
 John 17
 John 14:2
 Psalm 46:10
 Reading references include AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI by Paramhansa Yogananda; “Revelations of Christ” by Swami Kriyananda; SECOND COMING OF CHRIST by Paramahansa Yogananda; YOGA OF JESUS by Yogananda.
 Matthew 17:12-13
 “Autobiography of a Yogi,” Chapter 35: The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya (opening paragraphs)
 John 10:30 and John 8:48-59
 Revelations 22:2