Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Do You Believe in Christmas? In Santa Claus?

My spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, was once asked whether he believed in Santa Claus! With a big smile, he said "YES, I DO!" He was not referring to facts; he was referring to truth. The fact of a "real" Santa Claus is far less important than the "truth" (power, and need for) love; for compassion; for acts of kindness and generosity (unsought, unexpected)! The truth embodied in Santa Claus is the essential goodness and gift of life, of love, and of acceptance. (Yet even Santa Claus recognizes those who are "naughty or nice.")

When we view images of the Holy Family at the birth of Jesus: in the lowly manger, the humble stable with the barn animals, with the earthy shepherds in worshipful attendance.......we may feel a sense of reverence, of quiet joy, comfort and fellow feeling. We don't need to analyze our theology for the image speaks for itself.

Even if no belief system surrounded the young child Jesus, the image and its message of purity, devotion, love, protection and reverence for the sacredness of life would be truth sufficient for its celebration.

Whatever may be the shortcomings of the way Christmas is celebrated, its message remains an affirmation of a deep truth and human need. This all people of goodwill can appreciate and affirm.

In the darkness of life's crises and struggles, we put aside petty differences and focus on the important things. This image, then, of huddling in the darkness to support one another and honor with reverence one another is another, though more subtle, message. This is a part of the Solstice message saying it is darkest before the dawn and if we remain steadfast in the faith of the goodness and meaning of life, of love, of sharing, then this will be the victory regardless of the "facts" of the outcome.

The Solstice message includes a reminder that no matter how dark it may be at the moment, the sunlight of hope and the promise of joy always returns.

Our humanist interpretations cannot, however, rob Christmas of its higher, divine meaning. Many modern-thinking people attempt to sanitize Christmas of not merely any sectarian message that might be proclaimed but of any divine message, too.

What is this divine message, as I term it? It's not merely the values message expressed by the scene: the father-protector of the family; the mother, pure and selfless, the child, innocent yet wise; the caring neighbors (shepherds); idealized domestic harmony, in other words, prescribed by true and universal spiritual values.

The deeper message is, more or less, the one ascribed to it by its own context: the scriptures. God takes human form for the upliftment, redemption and salvation of His children (those with eyes to see Him and ears to hear His voice, His message of goodwill and glad tidings).

The Christian view is that Jesus is the "only" Son of God, a direct incarnation of the Godhead. Hindus and others take the same view in respect to their saviors, such as Krishna. But at least in India they accept that God has taken many human forms, not just one, down through the ages.

The more nuanced view goes beyond some divinely-created pretend-to-be-human-puppet. As Paramhansa Yogananda taught it: Jesus is not different in kind from us. He, too, is a soul, like you and me, made in the image of God. Through countless lives, however, Jesus climbed the spiral staircase, so to speak, and has achieved (realized) his true and eternal sonship, and oneness with God, the Father Spirit beyond creation. St. John in the first chapter of his gospel says, "As many as received Him, gave He them the power to become the sons of God." Jesus is only different from most of us by degree of our realization of our soul, eclipsed as it is by our identification with our form, our body, our ego and personality, and with the input of matter through the five senses.

But I have written in an earlier blog about the theology, so to speak, of Sanaatan Dharma (the yogic philosophy) of Christmas.

It is a fact that the day before Christmas Eve four people died in America from tornadoes; it is a fact that policemen have caused the death of young black men, presumably unnecessarily and owing primarily to their race. But the truth can be greater than the facts: what if the deaths, now simply regrettable facts which we cannot reverse, trigger an outpouring of compassion, sympathy and changes in attitudes....all of which can have lasting benefits. Death may be the obvious ultimate sacrifice in human terms but "no one gets out of life alive." If by one's death some lasting good and change can be affected even in one, or a few, or what to say many others, is not this reality to be honored? Given the uncertainties and recurring injustices of life, is this not this a higher truth than the mere facts? And, what if, though we cannot corroborate it directly, the deaths of those unfortunate people mitigates some unseen past karma of their own with the result that they, too, are freed to some small or large degree of a burden they had carried? This is, at least, a hope and prayer for them.

So yes, let's believe in Santa Claus and let us honor the birth of Jesus as the birth of God in human form: not just in Jesus, but in ourselves as well, which, with effort and effort's attraction of divine grace, will bear the fruit of Self-realization "by steadfast meditation on Me."

A blessed Christmas on Christmas Eve, 2014,

Nayaswami Hriman