Rising up in Brooklyn, lengthy earlier than it was “Hipsterville,” I used to be conversant in three sorts of Jesus.
There was the one and solely begotten son of God, Savior of all Mankind, who was worshiped by most of the Irish and Italian Catholics within the neighborhood. And, among the many Jews, two various variations: the laudable, moral instructor—a pleasant Jewish boy, primarily, who met with a horrible destiny—and the Jesus they thought-about a creature of mythology, like Apollo or Zeus.
In my atheistic residence, the place faith was the opium of the individuals, Jesus was largely irrelevant, besides as a proponent of the “golden rule” and for the horrors that had been perpetrated in his identify by misguided followers.
Then got here the 60s, and I used to be launched to a unique Jesus, by means of India. Like hundreds of thousands of my contemporaries, my scorching pursuit of fact and private achievement led me to the religious legacy of the East. I learn the sacred texts of Hinduism and Buddhism, and trendy interpreters similar to Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, and Huston Smith. I used to be drawn to what was referred to as mysticism as a result of I discovered it, mockingly, far much less mysterious and much more rational than typical faith—and even some faculties of psychology.
I discovered a yoga class—not straightforward to do again then, consider it or not—and discovered to meditate. All through my explorations, I used to be stunned to seek out that Jesus was all the time referred to with nice respect, and typically with reverence. That have peaked once I learn Paramahansa Yogananda’s seminal memoir, Autobiography of a Yogi. In it—and much more so in different works, as I found later once I researched my biography of him—Yogananda treats the rabbi of Nazareth with such veneration that I couldn’t assist considering: What have I been lacking?
So, I learn the New Testomony. It blew my thoughts. As a result of my religious reference level was extra Hindu than Judeo-Christian, the Gospels got here off the web page just like the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita, not like churchy dogma. The primary character was a grasp instructor—a guru—who guided his disciples not simply to raised conduct however to union with the divine. His time period for the infinite Floor of Being was “Father,” however it was straightforward to evoke the language of the Vedic seers and substitute Brahman or Ishvara or the Self.
When he tells the gang on the Sermon on the Mount to not pray conspicuously just like the hypocrites, however to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” I noticed a guru directing his disciples to meditate in silence. This was a Jesus I might stay with: exalted in a means that befits somebody whose influence on historical past is unparalleled, however with out the singular cosmos-shaking agenda or the spiritual triumphalism that relegates nonbelievers to both irrelevance or damnation.
I quickly discovered that Hindus normally, and the gurus and yoga masters who got here to the West particularly, tended to see Jesus as a satguru (true instructor) and an enlightened yogi of the very best order. Some even afforded him the standing of avatar, putting him on the identical degree as Krishna and Rama within the pantheon of divine incarnations.
To them, the teachings of Christ, adopted correctly and deeply, is a respectable pathway to the unified consciousness that’s yoga’s true goal. That’s the reason, in lots of religious establishments with Indian roots, you will discover pictures of Jesus positioned alongside the Buddha and different saints and avatars. In Yogananda facilities, the truth is, a portrait of Jesus is on each altar, alongside considered one of Krishna, Yogananda himself, and the three commemorated gurus in his lineage.
This manner of seeing Jesus has been filtering into America’s bloodstream ever because the 19th Century when Henry David Thoreau equated Jesus and Buddha and referred to as himself a yogi. It gathered steam as a stately parade of gurus arrived on our shores, and it exploded after the Beatles’ 1968 sojourn in India. By now, that perspective has affected hundreds of thousands.
For an excellent many indignant or alienated Christians, it has been the important thing to reconnecting with their spiritual heritage on phrases they will stay with. Even individuals whose spiritual orientation is, for all sensible functions, Hindus have been inspired by their gurus to honor their Christian roots, typically by considering of Jesus as their ishta devata (most popular type of God). In that context, many prodigal little kids have discovered their means again to the Jesus they love by means of India. Equally, hundreds of Jews who studied Hinduism or Buddhism have come to see Jesus as an amazing mystical rabbi and a passionate reformer, not because the founding father of a hostile cult.
The picture of Jesus as a sage and sadhguru might not sit nicely with clerics for whom Christ can solely be the one true messiah and the good hinge of historical past. They should be glad that hundreds of thousands who may in any other case view this season as merely a respite from work, or as nothing however humbug, will as an alternative rejoice the birthday of a fantastic, holy man. That’s what I’ll be doing.
Every December it makes the season merrier, jollier, and brighter. That and The Drifters’ model of “White Christmas.”
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