Friday, April 4, 2014

Easter Thoughts? And, why not?

I just finished a book on the spiritual life of Abraham Lincoln: "Lincoln's Battle with God" (Mansfield). The author describes how Lincoln, as a young man, questioned his Christian faith, made light of buffoon-like-ministers, decried sectarianism, dogmatism, and all the craziness that abounds in the name of religion. Lincoln openly and publicly cast doubt upon and scoffed at passages in the Bible. He wrote, but was wisely advised by friends not to publish, a tract essentially declaring himself a "scoffer." In his young adult years, his near-agnosticism and extreme use of reason haunted him, politically, all his life and beyond.

The narrative goes on, however, to trace Lincoln's "conversion" into a deep and abiding faith in God and love for the Bible. Nonetheless, he never joined any church and spoke but rarely of Jesus Christ. His widow, Mary Todd, however, claimed that seconds before her husband was shot by an assassin in Ford's Theater he was speaking to her about his desire, after retirement, to make a pilgrimage to Palestine, the land of our "Savior," as he put it.

Quotes from Lincoln's life are frustratingly at odds and often contradictory. But in this book old Abe is quoted as having remarked that no matter what doubts he might have in regard to the Bible, its clear spiritual authority and its overall positive and uplifting impact upon humanity simply makes it far easier and more reasonable to accept its sacred authority than to reject it. While the de facto thesis of the book, "Lincoln's Battle with God," was to show that Lincoln's faith evolved much further than this simple, tentative and reasoned conclusion, it nonetheless offers the example of a great and noble soul who, like many of our culture who go by the way reason and science, walked step-by-step from rejection toward the direction of a deeper understanding and acceptance of the Bible's true message.

After all, in our age of education, reason and scientific experimentation, and faced with the fractious and bickering and narrow mindedness of so many orthodox religionists, it is all to easy to dismiss the lot, throwing out "the baby with the bath water." Putting President Lincoln's example aside for a moment, let us move on to explore another perspective.

I have previously written about another book, "The Yugas," by authors Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz. Padma and I recently conducted a 6 week class on this book. "The Yugas" presents to us a view of history that is nothing less than revolutionary. In a larger sense, however, its view is also classically ancient, and it is simply this: we humans once, long ago, lived in a golden age of enlightenment. We lived in harmony with one another and all life and with our creator. We spoke the one universal language of intuition and had mastery over the forces of nature and consciousness. This view, shared by every ancient civilization, averred that our planet goes through a cycle of many thousands of years (aligned to the "precession of the equinox") that takes us through an ascending as well descending cycle of spiritual wisdom and material knowledge and power.

Thus, as an example of turning current opinions upside down, the appearance of literacy marked not an advance in culture but a decline: a decline because humanity could no longer retain knowledge without writing it down! (Sound, ahem, familiar?) The legend of the Tower of Babel also hints at the decline of intelligence and wisdom. From the perspective of the ancients, the so-called miracles of Jesus Christ, including his resurrection, are but hints of the powers of matter that are latently possible to enlightened humans and were in evidence in higher ages (while all too rare in the lower ages that include what we consider to be human history: roughly 2,000 BC - today).

Shifting now to another subject, a number of books have been written on the life Therese Neumann, a Bavarian mystic who lived through the Nazi era (she died in 1962) and bore on her body the five wounds of Jesus Christ. In addition, it was proven to the satisfaction of skeptical medical authorities that she did not eat food or drink water. She only partook of the Friday communion wafer. This was so for several decades of her life. Paramhansa Yogananda, whom I consider my spiritual preceptor, or guru, visited her in 1935. He attended one of her weekly trances in which she re-lived the experience of Jesus' passion and death. Yogananda said that these extraordinary manifestations were given her by grace so that she would be living proof that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was real. During the first half of the twentieth century Germany epitomized the questioning, materialistic, scientific mind, even among Christian theologians and ministers, many of whom declared their doubt or even denied as preposterous the miraculous aspects of Jesus' life such as his resurrection after the crucifixion.

Shifting our perspective yet again, turning the prism of wisdom round about: imagine the impact on a person from the Middle Ages who would come forward in time to encounter the ordinary day-to-day marvels of our world such as cell phones, computers, television, the internet, air and space travel, just to name a few. To such a person, our world would seem fantastical and rife with miraculous powers.

Down through the centuries of our known history, hints of our human potential have been revealed to "those with eyes to see," east and west, in the stories of saints performing miracles such as raising the dead, bi-locating, levitating, demonstrating telepathy, foresight and much more.

According to "The Yugas," humanity is on an ascending escalator of expanding awareness. It may take many thousands of years yet to reach the zenith of human consciousness, but the rapid pace of increased knowledge and power, physical stature and longevity, and overall awareness supports, the authors say, this view. Humanity is still not very far along this path toward enlightenment, and so there remains much ignorance which, when armed with modern weaponry and communication, has produced violence and suffering on a scale never before seen in recorded history. Thus for now there are some, principally those of orthodox faiths, who believe human faith and morals are on the decline, not the ascendant. But the long and ascending view says this is temporary and is the result of the transition from old and to new, with the stimulated energies of the ascendant quickening, as it were, the old attitudes, prejudices, and mores. The struggle between old and new is, in this view, the birth pangs of humanity's unfoldment toward a higher awareness.

Here then we have, albeit only by reason and inference, an avenue by which we might reexamine the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there did exist in the dim past a golden age (as all great civilizations bore witness and for which there is a rapidly growing body of evidence, otherwise and heretofore considered merely anomalous) in which "men were like gods," and, if considering the pace and form of modern technology, why would raising the dead be so completely out of the running of reason? If energy cannot be created or destroyed, why should life and consciousness not know continuity and rebirth?

We take almost for granted that someday, Star-Trek-like, we will teleport our bodies across vast expanses of time and space. So, why not consider, even but tentatively, the possibilities?

There is an exponential growth in the testimonies of past life memories and a growing and consistent body of testimony in regards to the near-death experiences. Evidence is growing that consciousness exists outside the brain.

Celebrate, then, the promise of immortality of consciousness, immutability of self-awareness and the freedom from suffering that can be achieved in an eternal and transcendent expansion of consciousness. Easter represents the promise of redemption: the superiority of consciousness over matter, of consciousness AS the heart of matter and the promise of freedom in God. We have lived since the beginning of time and creation. We need only to march forward buoyed by the example of great saints and masters, walking where they have walked: toward the Light. In this way we resurrect our soul's changeless bliss from the tomb of change, time, space, and matter.

Perhaps more angles from the prism of Easter's message to come!


Nayaswami Hriman