Saturday, February 1, 2014

Who will win the Super Bowl? God knows. Reflections on the Super Bowl Battle of Life

Super Bowl Sunday, February 2, 2014:  Seattle SeaHawks against the Denver Broncos

The Divine Incarnation: the Avatara

Today we come to contemplate the great battle of life, between the people of the sea and the people of the mountains. The people of the sea are like hawks flying high and swooping low to snatch and harass their prey, the wild and bucking broncos who are of earth and mountains. The people of the sea are swift, flexible, and wise; the people of the mountain are hard, obstinate, and tough. Who will win?
Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita taught that we must take up arms and fight the battle of the Super Bowl of life. He taught that the owner of the game sent his son, the manager, as the brains behind the whole creation and that the son’s divine mother cheerleads and inspires the quarterback, God’s own prophet, to take the team to victory.

We live in an age of individualism. It’s every person for himself. All knowledge can found and accessed by anyone willing to make the effort. Social barriers, prejudices, glass ceilings: all impediments created by socially imposed rules have been dismantled or are under attack. Hierarchy, rulership, and leadership are looked upon with suspicion and disfavor. Cultures are in varying degrees embracing, fighting, or otherwise adapting to this new wave of consciousness that, so far as we know, has never occurred on a mass scale before in human history.

The freedom to do what we like and want is assumed and what we do is presumed to be our right until proven otherwise. That’s a revolution and a half, for sure.

And it isn’t wrong. But it can be misunderstood and abused, causing harm to oneself and others. It can foster selfishness, laziness, and narrow mindedness. Freedom can also inspire one to reach for the heights of one’s potential.

In former times, the imposition of social castes and taboos forced people to live within tight constraints of action and attitude. In this confinement, unnecessary desires and impulses were suppressed or redirected into the channels of one’s narrowly defined station in life. One could go deep into dharma or suffer greatly under the lash of adharma. The image of God projected in such times and out of such attitudes is not surprisingly one of King to his subjects; one of absolute ruler whose mandates were not questioned and were eternal and fixed. Religion in such circumstances is characterized by ritual, formal prayers, highly stylized music, and rigid forms of art. It is top-down and hierarchical. God as King delegates to others a portion of his absolute authority over his subjects. This is of course the priestly class who claimed sway even over kings and princes.

This rigidity of authority is fast crumbling and is rapidly being eroded by those in every walk of life as well as religion who want to take matters in their own hands. This is generally a positive step. The democratization of religion is called “spiritual but not religious.”

What we potentially lose in this new-found freedom to think and act for ourselves is the remembrance that “truth simply is.” Like the law of gravity, its existence does not depend upon our acknowledgement. It’s not just the laws of nature that exist outside our assent, but the moral laws that guide the unfoldment of our consciousness. After the twentieth century’s experimentation with the outside boundaries of behavior, we have seen a rise in conservatism which affirms traditional values.  Unfortunately with this affirmation has come all the trappings of hierarchy and dogma. Thus a great struggle is taking place in the world today: between earth and water, between rigidity and fluidity, between social rules and individual freedom.

The age of individualism is, however, unstoppable though its dark side of violence and selfishness will always result in a reactionary step backwards whenever the dark side threatens too greatly that status quo.

So we come, then, at last to today’s subject: Does God incarnate in human form?

Such a teaching has been with humanity as far back as one can determine. It is expressed literally but also indirectly, as in when God speaks to and through his human prophets. The teaching of God’s involvement in human history and human lives has always had a place in spirituality and religion.

Some religionists will say God “Himself” incarnates in human form. One obvious example would be the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God and that God, in creating the universe, manifests Himself as One in Three: the Trinity. Another would be the dogma that great prophets like Krishna are literal incarnations of the Hindu god, Vishnu, preserver of dharma and creation.

In the other direction we have Buddha and Mohammed being described only as human messengers. But in various sects of Buddhism we see the Buddha revered every bit as much as Jesus Christ or Krishna, even if the theology can get a little murky. Buddha, unlike Jesus or Krishna, made no overt claim of divinity. The thrust of the Buddha’s teaching is to emphasize self-effort, not dependency upon grace or higher powers.

But no matter how narrow or wide the slice of dogmatic pie may be, the intercession of God, divinity or truth into the affairs of human lives and history is an undeniable tenet of the world’s major religions and most of the lesser branches of spirituality.

Here at Ananda we are in the lineage that includes Krishna, Lord Rama, and many other great prophets of India. Our lineage includes Jesus Christ and a link-up between east and west. We sit squarely in the traditional teaching that God descends into human form. Well, perhaps not exactly that way!

Paramhansa Yogananda refined the teaching of the avatara (descent of God into human form) toward a middle path. He taught that the human incarnation of divinity occurs through an individual soul who, though many lives, has achieved Self-realization. In achieving the realization that he and all creation are but manifestations of the one and sole reality, God, such a one becomes a true “son” of the Infinite Spirit of God beyond all creation. In this distinction, a Jesus Christ, Buddha or Krishna is not a divinely created puppet who is almost non-human and more like an alien but is, instead, a soul like you and I. Not different in kind but in level of soul realization and Oneness with the Father.

On a sidebar, Yogananda also explained that the entire cosmos and creation is “avatara” in the sense that God didn’t make the universe like a carpenter who goes out to obtain building materials. God became the universe by vibrating His consciousness from its eternal rest in bliss. In doing so, he became triune because Bliss remains untouched (as God the Father) by creation; the vibration itself creates the illusion of separate objects and yet is God in vibration (as the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, the Aum, the Witness and the Word), while His intelligence and consciousness which remain immanent at the still heart and center of vibration constitute His reflection in creation as the “only-begotten son.”

This sidebar relates more to the cosmogony and cosmology of creation and isn’t directly related to the avatara as the savior and guru-preceptor.

But it relates in this way: we, as souls, as are as much “God” as the avatar and as the Trinity because nothing within or without creation is ever “wholly other.” All is God: God alone is the sole substance of reality.
But as a wave cannot claim to be the ocean, but can only claim to be a part of the ocean, so too neither the savior nor you or I, or any single and separate aspect of creation, can claim to “be God.” “He who says he is God, isn’t. He who says he isn’t, isn’t. He who knows, knows.”

And yet, Jesus did claim, as does Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, that he is “one with the Father.” When chastened for boasting, Jesus retorted that he knew of what he spoke but they did not. So, yes, claims are sometimes made by the avatar. And, unfortunately, so are such claims sometimes made by those who are not Self-realized.

The history of religion is as much about frauds and wanna bees as the real thing. Such is the human drama and the inherent illusionary nature of creation. When Jesus asked his disciples “Who do men say I am,” it was Peter who declared Jesus to be the “son of God.” Jesus remarked that Peter’s gnosis came not from outside himself but was erected on the “rock” of his soul intuition. It is through intuition, ultimately, that we know God: whether in human form or in the formless state of our own soul.

God cannot be proved. “Ishwar ashidhha.” And of course this is where religion and spirituality get sticky. But are the material sciences free from constant doubt and paradox? Hardly. Ultimately the verdict lies with each and every one of us to find our path and our way to the truth.

To ignore sources of wisdom in the name of going on alone or being free from false teachings and teachers is simply not possible for truth is One (though men call it by many names). Truth is something we open ourselves to. We don’t create it to suit our personality, biases, or temperament. Truth comes to us both from outside ourselves as scripture, teachers, life experience and, yes, in the form of the Godhead in human form.

Yet its ultimate reality is as much in ourselves as in every atom and in the form of the guru-preceptor.
We need to start where we are and do so with an attitude of listening, of openness, and freedom from personal bias, likes or dislikes. To receive truth we go step by step shedding every vestige of ego attachment or self-identity. In the end we receive the pearl of great price by offering the “human sacrifice” of body and personality into soul and soul into Infinity.  This is the deeper meaning of the many and varied forms of sacrifice: harvest, animals or human. We offer all matter, all lower forms of consciousness, all materiality back into the consciousness from which all things derive.

This is not a condemnation or denial of matter or form but a recognition of the only reality that is absolute, eternal and unchanging. Ever-existing, ever-self-aware, and ever in the bliss of Spirit — this describes our true Self as unique manifestations of God.

The existence of the avatar is the promise of our own immortality in God. If such a one did not exist, how could we possibly aspire to such a realization? To acknowledge divinity in such a form is to acknowledge our own potential.

The “first-coming” of the Christ divinity is thus in the human form of the avatar. The “second-coming” is the awakening of the Christ within ourselves which is sparked and nurtured by the spiritual teachings and consciousness of the living Christ in human form. There is no “third coming” in the sense that the creation itself ever becomes Self-realized. It may be dissolved wholly or in part by the forces of nature and the divine will, but only consciousness can become Self-realized because to be realized is an awakening of consciousness, not matter as matter.

It could be said that the first descent, or avatar, is the creation itself, but this gets confusing since the creation as creation is not, as such, Self-realized.

The Super Bowl of Life then is the cosmic battle of the forces of matter which are empowered to go outward and multiply versus the Spirit’s invitation to awaken and go within to find itself and reveal itself to the inquiring Mind. In Self-realization all paradox and duality and conflict are resolved in the One. But in the creation itself, the pendulum of the opposites means we will have Super Bowls onto eternity. As water is more fluid than earth, may the hawks of the sea prevail!

May the best team win!
Nayaswami Hriman