Showing posts with label Judaism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Judaism. Show all posts

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Cosmic Drama: Part One (of Five) Jesus Christ – an oriental who changed the West

This is part one of a series of articles. It has its origins in a prior blog article entitled, "Who is Jesus Christ?" You may wish to read that first, though not absolutely necessary. This series attempts to describe the Trinity, or, how God can be omniscient, omnipresent, infinite, and immanent in creation at the same time. And, what significance this has for the reality we face as individuals. As the prior article on Jesus Christ noted, "Who Jesus is says a great deal about who we are." So, too, who God is addresses who we are.

The teachings of Jesus were to force a reevaluation of the fundamental teachings of Judaism. St. Paul is generally credited with the intellectual horsepower that set the stage for these changes. What was to become the teaching of the Trinity – the triune nature of God – arose in Christianity primarily to help bring a broader understanding of the Jewish teaching of the oneness of God. In the Judaism there is only one God but the separation of God from man is absolute. His messengers might be angels or prophets but God’s appearance on earth was rare and never in human form. God “appeared” to Moses as a burning bush that did not consume the bush and out of which came a voice. In some form that is unknown, God gave to Moses upon Mt. Sinai the stone tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments. But always God was “other” and all but inaccessible.

Jesus’ appearance on earth and his declaration that he was the “son of God” was naturally a shocking and blasphemous statement to the orthodox point of view. Moreover, as history and scholarship has repeatedly attested (and as the New Testament implies), the messiah was expected to be bring the Jews political freedom (from which would come the religious renaissance) in this world, a repetition of the role not unlike that of Moses who led the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to freedom in their new land and into a new covenant with God.

The assumption that God is wholly “other” and separate from creation is an easy and understandable one, for God’s presence in creation is well hidden, to say the least. The separateness of people, one from the other, plants and animals, night and day, male and female seems so obvious that why, too, wouldn’t God Himself be “other?” In Genesis, for example, we read that God simply says, effectively, “make it so” and it was. No one seems to have had much curiosity about exactly how He did it. A carpenter who makes a chair remains separate and apart from the chair. Isn’t that obvious? Why question it?

Obvious? Or, maybe not so obvious? Unlike the carpenter, God had place to go, no trees or hardware stores, from which to gather the materials of creation. Only now, in our age, with quantum physicists exploring the very nature of the creation of matter on its most element levels has the question (and the potential answer) been raised anew and piqued the interest of intelligent and thoughtful men and women everywhere. It is perhaps our newly acquired scientific consciousness that has provoked deeper inquiries into God’s methodology. Thus far, however, scientists seem to be stumped. They are standing before an abyss of emptiness devoid of discernible matter but latent with tremendous energy, out of which pops minute particles at seemingly random intervals only to vanish as quickly as they came. Like a scene out of the Trilogy, they stand as if before a door in a mountain unable to decipher the code that unlocks that door and leads to the inner sanctum of creation’s deepest mysteries.

A table and chairs may not reveal much about its maker but their very existence reveals the fact of a maker. A work of art, a new invention, a child conceived, and a new computer chip all appear from seemingly nowhere (the human mind and heart) but with great potential consequences, just as quarks and vibrating strings exist at the very edge of pure energy and no-thing-ness, out of which all things have come. While scientists tell us that energy is the underlying substrata of all matter, they have not nor probably ever will, discover the source and motive that underlies energy itself.

By contrast, rishis and masters, down through the ages, have suffered from no such limitation, for they have not merely tried to find the source of the atom but have become the atom using a kind of reverse engineering from the process by which God created the atom to begin with. The masters achieved Self-realization and oneness with the overarching Consciousness out of which all things in creation are born, live, and to which they are withdrawn. The teachings of metaphysicians aver that the creation is a manifestation of God’s consciousness “becoming” His creation. When the Jews intone daily their great mantra (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!”) little do they know that the concept “God is One” means God is one with the entire cosmos as well and at the same time Being other, separate and apart from it. Oneness surely includes infinity and infinity is presumably inclusive of everything and therefore big enough to be “both-and” so that God can be both separate from creation and at the same time the very essence and sustainer of creation itself. But how? This question we will pursue in the series of four more articles to come. But it provokes more questions that need addressing, also, such as:

If God became the creation, does this mean we are but puppets and our so-called “free-will” is an illusion? What, if any, is our responsibility for our actions? From whence comes suffering and evil? Is God good, evil, indifferent or something else? Stay tuned…….for the next four articles.

Aum, shanti, amen,
Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Who is Jesus Christ?

It is once again the Christmas season and while “Who is Jesus Christ” is a question one can ask at any time, it seems especially appropriate this time of year. Millions celebrate Christmas, whether religiously or only just socially. The life of the man who became known in history as Jesus Christ has influenced, nay, changed the course of the history of the western nations. His life has certainly affected every continent on this earth to some degree, better or worse, according to one’s point of view.

So, like, “Who is this guy?” Jesus himself asked his own disciples that question, according to the New Testament. Reading behind the lines of that report one can easily feel the disciples looking down and shuffling their feet nervously, fearing to get the wrong answer. Since Jesus actually asked “Who do men say I am?” some of the disciples felt to venture responses on the basis of what they had heard others say, rather than offering their own opinion. And their answers are revealing. One response is rather ignorant saying “John the Baptist!” I say “ignorant” because John was Jesus’ older cousin and had only recently been murdered by King Herod. So, even assuming one believes in reincarnation, that would have been well-nigh to impossible.

Others responded with the names of some of the Old Testament prophets (e.g., Jeremiah). Why this aspect of the dialogue (which reveals that reincarnation was widely accepted and that Jesus made no attempt to deny or correct it when given a perfect opportunity to do so) hasn’t been noticed by Christians is an example of precisely what Jesus himself was frequently quoted as warning his listeners that his deeper teachings were “for those who have ears to hear.” (I have read that scholars have discovered that the doctrine of reincarnation had been taught for the first several centuries of Christianity but was intentionally removed in the fourth century A.D. Prior to that, one of the early teachers of Christianity, Origen, confirmed that the doctrine had been taught since apostolic times. Jewish scholars, too, can attest to the long-standing debate regarding its validity.)

Returning to our topic, it was, famously, Peter (bar Jonah, the “Rock”) who declared the true nature of Jesus: “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” On other occasions, Jesus publicly declared “I and my father are one.” He alternated between referring to himself as “the son of man” (presumably a reference to his physical form and personality) and “the son of God” (presumably a reference to his divine nature). He further declared that “Before Abraham was, I AM.” By this shocking and seemingly blasphemous statement, he is saying that his spirit, being one with God, has, existed since all eternity, with God. But, now, just his soul? Or?

Now, let’s pause, after all, I am mostly just quoting Jesus himself. For that, you can read the New Testament yourself. Why, however, is this question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” a useful one to ask? Because the answer implies as much about whom you are as it does about Jesus.

Was Jesus Christ a special creation of God? Is he therefore unique and uniquely separate from the rest of humanity, despite his human form? Was he, then, like some spiritual alien? Did God Himself incarnate into the body of Jesus? (If so, who was minding the store for thirty-three years?)

When challenged by his self-styled tormentors, the scribes and the Pharisees (keepers of the Hebrew law), Jesus quoted back to them a phrase from their own scriptures (Jesus, mind you, was a Jew and he knew his Bible, too): “Do not your scriptures say, ‘Ye are gods’?” In reference to the many miracles Jesus is reported to have done, he told his disciples that they would do these and more, for he was soon to return to his father.

The beloved disciple, John, whose gospel stands apart from the other three evangelists for its impersonal presentation of the nature of Jesus, describes Jesus as the “Word made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” He states that the Word is God and is the co-creator of all things. Jesus is thus more than the human being whose life and teachings are described in the New Testament. But is he uniquely so? John the Evangelist goes on to write that “As many as received him to them give he the “power to become the sons of God.” 

Here then we see clearly and profoundly that Jesus was not uniquely different than you or I. It must be added, that to “receive him” must go beyond belonging to a church, being baptized with water or through mere intellectual or emotional assent. Whatever it is must be very powerful and life changing.
John is saying nothing less than we, too, are potentially sons of God as Jesus was “one with the Father.”

This teaching of our oneness with Jesus’ divine nature permeates the original teachings of Jesus in the early formative years of Christianity. The term “body of Christ” was used to describe both those who followed his teachings (and, in other contexts, all people) and to describe the sacrament of sharing bread and wine as symbols of the Christ presence in all creation and in all souls. That Churchianity later arose to make that an exclusive teaching is hardly a surprise given the exigencies and limits imposed upon it by history, culture, consciousness and circumstances.

The mystical saints of Christianity, however, attest in various ways to this universality, to this truly “catholic” teaching. St. Thomas Aquinas and later St. Theresa of Avila experienced the “formless Christ” as the eternal light that “lighteth all men” and which creates and sustains all things since the beginning of time. Their very experience of this formless Christ is testimony to its being our very essence (indeed, the essence of all creation!)

Now if you want to stop reading here, I’d forgive you. From where we, as westeners and Christians stand, we are not so shaken thus far in anything I’ve written (unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool believer). But from where Jesus stood, he was crucified for his unforgivable audacity in revealing himself as “the son of God.” 

We can’t fully appreciate how revolutionary this was, unless we are perhaps Jewish or Muslim.
Judaism (and later, Islam) represents a monotheistic tradition for which the appearance of a human being claiming to be God is the height of blasphemy. Insofar as the apostles were good “Jewish boys” they had an uphill climb to make. In the pagan cities of the Mediterranean, it was tough enough to sell a new religion based on the story of a poor Jew who died on a cross at the hands of the Romans and who was resurrected from the dead (not your usual, every day experience). But in some ways that line was easier with the pagans who believed in all sorts of things (after all Augustus was proclaimed a god, too!). But, for the boys back home in Judea, this was a tough sell. It’s hardly a surprise that Christianity ended up going its own way.

he idea that the Deity could incarnate as a human on earth required an entirely new understanding of creation and God’s role in it. This, in part, is what made Jesus’ teachings and message so revolutionary in its times. In fact, however, it is far more oriental in its message than we can possibly appreciate. I’m not about to write a book, so I won’t elaborate on that statement. Suffice to say that a broader understanding of divinity was needed. No longer would God be “wholly other” and outside human history except as He interjected himself through his messengers, the prophets. It was bad enough that Jesus took on the religious establishment of his time to expose their pusillanimity and hypocrisy in holding to the letter of the Mosaic law and not its spirit. 

But to declare the presence of God in human form would require the birth of a new religion that would change the world and, ironically, would, in fact, overthrow the Roman rule (which the Jews themselves yearned for). It would give birth to a new understanding of creation itself, though this was to take some time to formulate and articulate.

I will reserve a separate blog article on the teaching of the Trinity, for the triune nature of God has been taught in India since time immemorial and the fact that this teaching appears in early Christianity is no coincidence for its reflects this new and deeper understanding that Jesus came to initialize. But for now, during the Christmas season, let me say that we, too, are potential “Christs” and may only need to awaken, and then to perfect, this realization. It is on the basis of the recognition that we are all children of the One God that we can truly celebrate the Christmas spirit of giving and sharing.

Blessings to you this Christmas,
Nayaswami Hriman

The above is based upon and inspired by the teachings of the modern Yogi-Christ, Paramhansa Yogananda and the writings of Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple and founder of the worldwide work of the Ananda communities. For additional reading, see “Revelations of Christ,” by Swami Kriyananda, available from Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City, or the East West Bookshop nearest you.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why Celebrate Christmas?

Why Celebrate Christmas?
Who, Scrooge or worshipper alike, doesn’t bristle at the commercialization of Christmas? It is so easy and so common to want to chuck it all out the window and into the trash. On reflection, however, doesn’t that simply put the nail in the Christmas spirit’s coffin? Why invest in materialism by essentially agreeing that there’s nothing sacred about Christmas?

Instead, why not search for how to express that spirit in ways that are authentic to you? And, given the familial and communal nature of that spirit, why not share your celebration with others of like-mind?

It feels slightly silly to attempt to define the Christmas spirit, but our world is closing in on us and in America and in so many countries our lives at home, at work and in the shops and marts are shared with people of other faiths or of no faith. Not only therefore might Christians stop to consider what Christmas is all about but how can everyone find inspiration from its universal message.?

I suppose I ought to ask whether it has a universal message? Is the birth of Jesus Christ an event only of interest to Christians? Generally speaking, Christian teachings hold that Jesus Christ is the world’s only savior and belief in the redemptive power of his death on the cross and the glory of his resurrection thereafter are the hallmarks of Christian faith. But this blog article will end up being a book if I head off in earnest in that direction. So, instead, let me say that …

As a yogi and a follower of the teachings of India (especially as brought to the West in modern times by Paramhansa Yogananda), I am not alone in espousing the view that saints and saviors have come to this earth down through the ages in all faith traditions and that the greatest of these are all “sons of God” as was Jesus Christ. They come to remind us that we, too, are that, and that our lives in human bodies are given us that we too might become Self-realized in God as are the masters in every religion.

There is, however, another aspect of universality that millions recognize, even setting aside the specifics of the meaning of Jesus Christ’s incarnation on earth. The Christmas spirit is one of giving and sharing. Christmas is a celebration of the Golden Rule of life and of the kinship of life that all nations, races, people, and faiths share. That surely is worth affirming in this world of troubles, is it not?

Though I can’t give specifics, perhaps you, too, have seen movies or read stories of how during World War I and/or II, soldiers stopped fighting on Christmas Day and shared in some way across their battle lines. How many children stories exist with tales of how the humblest child or animal had a gift to offer the baby Jesus? In that little form we pay homage to the life we all share, for in that light we are One and we are children of our one, Father-Mother God.

Even atheists and agnostics can celebrate the humanity and harmony exemplified in the Golden Rule.
Candlelight symbolizes, inter alia, that at the darkest hour of life (winter solstice of the northern hemisphere) there remains this light of eternal life, like the seed buried and unseen in the winter ground but which bursts forth in the Spring. In celebrating light in its many forms (colored Christmas lights, candles and so on) we share a universal symbol of hope that the sunlight of vitality and healing will once again rise.

The spiritual interpretations of this light, of which Jesus was a human representative, include the teaching that this light is the light of the soul, as a reflection of the Infinite Light of God. This Light exists eternally behind the darkness of ignorance and materialism, and at the still center of all matter. This eternal Light is the promise of our immortality which has its Being in our souls, not in our physical bodies.

Let us therefore celebrate this Light which “shines in the darkness, though the darkness comprehended it not.” Let us celebrate our kinship with each other, with all creatures, and with all life. Let us affirm that we are children of the Infinite Light and that all distinctions of race, nation or faith are but constructs of the limits of the human intellect and but constrictions upon the natural love of the heart. “Hear O Israel, the Lord, the Lord our God, is ONE!

One week from today at the Ananda Meditation Temple in Bothell, Nayaswami Jamuna Snitkin presents a 3-hour workshop on this subject, “Why Celebrate Christmas.” Saturday, December 8, 9:30 a.m.
Look forward, too, to a series of blog articles inspired by the faiths of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Self-realization on the universal theme and celebration of Light.