Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter : Who was Jesus? Who am I?

The grand story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is ripe with spiritual lessons for all times and for everyone. I would like to share some thoughts that, while lacking in interesting history, or great moral lessons, or deep philosophical or Vedantic insights, are more personal to daily life and applicable to most, if not all of us.

Let me start by saying that in my many years of studying and sharing the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda on the subject of the Bible, including the life and teachings of Jesus, I have found the story of Jesus' conversation with his close disciples asking them the question, "Who do men say I am" to be among the most fascinating and fruitful of contemplation.

I have long and often stated that the question of "Who is Jesus Christ?" is nothing less than the question "Who am I?" One of the first modern Indian gurus whose teachings captivated me (before I even had heard of Yogananda) was Ramana Maharshi who was famous for teaching the technique of self-inquiry: "Who am I?" We all know the counsel inscribed on the temple in Delphi, Greece, "Know Thyself!"

In my sixty-five years of life I have come gradually to see that the greatest challenge to happiness faced by most sincere and intelligent people, including devotees, is self-doubt. Comparing oneself to other like-minded, sincere, energetic, creative, talented and intelligent people is far more often a cause of discouragement than it is for inspiration or gratitude.

Yogananda said that inferiority complex is simply the opposite of superiority complex. Each is a side of the coin of ego. He defined "ego" as the "Soul (mis)identified with the body." So while I will focus more on self-doubt than braggadocio, understand that the latter is simply a smokescreen for the former (and vice versa).

Dwelling on what others (may) think of you, or what perhaps someone has said to you (in criticism), or how you were snubbed or ignored occupies far too great amount of time and angst to prove productive or useful introspectively. Such musings rarely prompt positive changes in one's life. Instead it is like nursing a wound or favoring an injured limb. It becomes a habit. We all know someone who takes this tact to the point of becoming paranoid but far from reaching that stage of delusion, most of us surely find nothing redeeming from the exercise.

On the other hand, just as physical pain is there to warn us to stop doing something injurious, so guilt exists to prod us to make changes in our life. How often, however, I have observed that those who dwell habitually on guilt fail to make any changes because they imagine that by dwelling morosely upon their guilt they have exorcised their need for further recompense.

Jesus' resurrection showed his power over death itself. Spiritual or psychological paralysis, if not spiritual death, can occur by our habitual indulgence in self-doubt, unworthiness, and temptation to give up.

Yet is "self=love" the answer? Should we actively bolster our self-esteem by self-praise or boasting? Obviously not. Yet it is true that we can't really and truly love another person (what to mention love God), until we love ourselves. By "love ourselves" I mean until we have some degree of self-acceptance and contentment (including inner strength and calm confidence or faith), our self-doubt will eat like a cancer on any balanced attempt to love another. I say 'balanced' in contrast to co-dependent love.

I have seen self-doubt gnaw at a devotee's faith until the devotee leaves the spiritual path all together.

The solution to what I call our "existential" unhappiness is, as always, "God alone." Let me explain.

First: by "existential" I mean, by way of example, a person who seemingly has everything that most people would desire but is not happy. You don't know why, but there it is. This person might even be clinically depressed. In any case, definitely unsatisfied: but for no obvious reason(s). This can be a general state of affairs or related to a specific aspect, talent, or gift that he has. Take a successful artist or businessman. Such has the makings of what most others in his field would want for themselves. Yet, even in his success, he remains discontent; unsure of himself; unhappy.

The saints and masters are the only ones who show us how to find true happiness. Success in no other human endeavor consistently yields the Holy Grail of human happiness.

"Naughty or good, Divine Mother, I am yours!" Paramhansa Yogananda once wrote. When we see ourselves, our combination of successes and failures, talents and shortcomings, as a tiny piece of the great cosmic wheel of life and all things that we do as our efforts to seek the Holy Grail, we can better forgive and accept ourselves as "doing the best we can."

We should try, indeed, to do the best we can. We have to be sincere in that. But having done so, we "offer it up" as my dear, now departed, mother would counsel her children long ago. Living in the presence of divinity in human form (our form; the guru's form; the form of all others), we find it easier to resurrect our soul's memory from the intensity of the marketplace of buyers and sellers, flatterers, sycophants, and self=styled enemies.

Swami Kriyananda, founder of the worldwide work of Ananda, and direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, was my teacher, too. In his counsels and in his writings, e.g., the book "Sadhu Beware," he speaks about dealing with the inevitable (or merely perceived) criticism that everyone receives. ("No good deed goes unpunished" is a modern saying.) Among other things, he counseled to ask oneself if the criticism is deserved. If so, try to change yourself for the better. If it is not, then let it go; forget it. Most people are wrong most of the time, anyway.

Swami Sri Yukteswar counseled his disciple Paramhansa Yogananda to say, "Maybe you're right." And, then leave at that so far as one's response to criticism goes.

Meditation is the most efficient and fastest way to resurrect our identification with our eternal, changeless and ever perfect soul and to gradually dissolve our identification with the body and personality. For in this world of praise one day and blame another there is no end to the cycle. After all, they crucified Jesus Christ, didn't they; and he was blameless! So you and I, far from blameless or perfect, are naturally ripe candidates for censure.

"I am a child of eternity. I am ageless; I am deathless. I am the changeless Spirit at the heart of all change."

Be thou then, too, the resurrected Christ consciousness of your soul. Even-minded and happy should be our guide and our banner of victory over the death-infected ego.

Happy Easter!

Swami Hrimananda