Christmas, Bangkok Airport, Departures: Bags packed, got passport and ticket – taxi to the airport. Checked in, immigration, security and step through into the glitzy duty-free with people and music circulating. Compelling christmas carols with full orchestral backing and we are swept away to a tinsellated heaven realm. The next music track is a syncopated, off-beat, acoustic guitar melody support for: ‘… the ho-lee bible says, mary’s boy-child, jee-sus christ, was born on christ-mas daaay…’ Enter coffee shop area as we reach the main chorus at full volume: ‘Hark Now, Hear The Angels Sing…’ waiters have that look: the thrill has gone, dulled minds, christmas carol track loop playing in their dreams.
When I was a kid, I’d ask people about Jesus and didn’t ever get a satisfactory answer: ‘Jesus was the Son of God’. I accepted it, but didn’t understand. That’s how it was and maybe it’s why, in later life, I started to search for a real spiritual path. And eventually I became a Buddhist; all’s well that ends well. And it’s only recently I’ve been able to see links between the Jesus Teachings and Eastern religious experience (Advaita Vedanta) so that brings the Jesus story very much closer to me.
I open the laptop in the middle of: ‘… the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes…’, internet connection, Google, Wikipedia, I find Brahman/Atman and substitute the word ‘God’ for Brahman and Jesus for Atman then edit out all Advaita Vedānta references, now try that and see. “… away in a manger, no crib for a bed…” Flip through all kinds of pages then discover this very interesting paper about Neo-Vedantic Christology given by an Indian clergyman: Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz in 1994.
It’s a series of short contributions from members of the Ramakrishna Mission Order; including S. Radhakrishnan (President of India 1962-1967), and I find something here that is pretty critical but reflects the feeling about the Church I had in school days. And it’s reassuring to read about it now and know I was probably not alone in having the thoughts I did, back in those days:
‘Christianity considered the human person (Man), to be a sinner, a worm and that is why it could not understand the message of potential divinity implied in his (Jesus’) saying, ‘I and my father are one’. (Swami Vivekananda)
I’m reading about how Jesus’ pure religion of heart (was converted into) ‘Churchianity’. It goes on to talk about ‘renunciation’, interesting, I find I don’t feel comfortable with the word: ‘renunciation’ in this context, associations with guilt, Christian conditioning. I only recently rediscovered the meaning of it in the Buddhist sense: ‘renunciation’ means joyfully giving things up, letting-go. That helped me leave these old associations behind. It goes on to say:
‘The West has distorted the religion of renunciation and realization of Jesus into a ‘shop-keeping religion’ of luxury and intolerant superstitious doctrines.’ [Swami Vivekananda]
That was in 1994, we’d say rampant consumerism today. And I see it all around me here in the shopping area, Jesus as purchasing initiative. Where did it all go wrong? When I was a child, nobody really studied Jesus’ Teachings, it was the domain of the clergy. The general public, believing it on a superficial level just muddled along and no questions were asked. And it occurs to me that the Christian clergy today, vicars and priests, those who are thinking about this realistically, must have difficulty sleeping at night?
‘… the universal message of Jesus which comprises the ideas of the indwelling divinity, of divine grace, universal ethics and spiritual realization was distorted by the Christian Church through fettering it in cast-iron dogmas of innate vileness of human nature, ‘the scape-goat’ and ‘the atonement’, physical resurrection and the second advent, earthly kingdom and the imminence of the Day of Judgment which are purely tribal in their scope.’ [Swami Ranganathananda]
Well, that kind of remark would cause the cups and saucers to rattle a bit at the vicar’s tea party. Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz reassures us, towards the end of the paper:
‘Today, the lost universal message of Jesus can be regained with the help of Advaita Vedanta; the Christian dogmatic assertions no more need distort the meaning of the gospel.’
Interesting how the word ‘salvation’ has an odd heaviness about it – my Christian conditioning again. The dictionary says: preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss. I think it’s about having Wisdom. If you have Wisdom you won’t fall into the deep hole. If you do fall in, Wisdom will get you out. Trust in that. Swami Abhedananda points out that, from the Church point of view:
‘Salvation is the redemption from sin through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God. But Jesus did not teach the idea of vicarious atonement; what he taught was ‘
the kingdom of Heaven is within you’.
As I see it, Jesus is saying: Heaven is within you. Simple, and that’s all there is, we aspire towards that Truth. On the other hand, the Church is adding something extra, something manipulative about atonement. It’s easy to see it now and, I guess, it must have been something they just went along with in those days. Another thing is, you will have noticed I put a strikethrough in: ‘the kingdom’ so instead of: ‘the kingdom of Heaven” and we can just say “Heaven” instead. Here’s a very nice Advaita quote that I like a lot:
‘God is pure knowing itself. God is beyond everything that can be conceived or thought about. Words cannot describe it. God is beyond space and time. God is infinite Being, infinite Consciousness, and infinite Bliss.’
The Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz is saying the non-dual relation that Jesus had with God the Father is something all of us can have, ‘through the renunciation of the lower self.’ (giving up the illusion of ‘self’ emerging from the Five Khandas.) It means humans can become ‘God’-conscious. Each soul has this latent potential and ‘… the resources of God which were available to Jesus are open to everyone. Christ’s statement, “behold
the kingdom of God is within you” refers to the divinity within the human person.’ (my strikethrough) The important word here is ‘divinity’, Jesus was teaching the subjective realization of human divinity and therefore subject/object unity: ‘… “I and my Father are one’, ‘God is within you’ and in declaring himself as the son of God (Jesus is) inviting others to be sons of God too….” (Bhawani Sankar Chowdhury)
The Advaitist view is that the self of the human person (Atman) is ever united with the Supreme Self (Brahman); God always shines as our Inmost self and we can realize it here and now. Christians can understand this, Buddhists can too but Theravadins have a problem with the ‘anatta’ and ‘atman’ issue – if it were in the context of formless realms, maybe ….
The Christmas carol tracks have moved on to ‘Sti-ill, the night, Holee the night, Shepherds watched their flocks by night…’ I get up to leave, laptop in carry-on bag and head for the Gate. It’s a 12 hour flight to Zurich, hopefully I’ll get some sleep; economy class, not much legroom. Let’s see, conditioned experience, same old thing. Cold and snow at the other end. Goodbye everyone in this restaurant and this place, blessings and, ‘jingle bells, jingle bells …’ follows me all the way until I don’t notice it, it’s gone, and I’m on the way to the Departure lounge.
Original source: Rev. K. P. Aleaz Neo-Vedantic Christologies
[Link to related Post: Jesus and Advaita Vedanta]