Jesus and ‘Churchianity’ (1)

Bangkok airport

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]

Jesus and Advaita Vedanta

 I didn’t know about Advaita Vedānta when I was a child and only recently discovered there were people like Alan Watts (and others) writing about non-duality in the Christian context, [link to part of the Alan Watts’ essay: This Is It].  Now I’m convinced it is important to focus on the fact that there is something at the heart of Christianity. The uncomfortable feeling that’s followed me all these years – that somehow I missed the point of the Jesus Teaching – all this has gone when I think of the Advaitist aspect of the teaching. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle I just stumbled upon, coming from an Asian perspective, an inductive knowing and that’s how it works.

The reason I didn’t see it before is because the Western concept of God, having human attributes (similar to the Advaitist idea of Ishvara), contradicts the rational scientific view. Accepting something that’s scientifically impossible, just because it’s written down in the Bible, doesn’t make sense. It’s like a myth and that’s why Christianity never had any reality in the West. What’s needed is to take it all a bit further.

‘… when human beings think of Brahman, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit is projected upon the limited, finite human mind and appears as Ishvara. Therefore, the mind projects human attributes, such as personality, motherhood, and fatherhood on the Supreme Being. God (as in Brahman) is not thought to have such attributes in the true sense.’

In Western countries, people are wandering around without a map. There’s the shopping mall and that’s all. How to let go of the individual ‘self’ if everything in the system is aimed at getting you to hold on? Looking for the way out by browsing possibilities will take a lifetime. The distractions built-in to window shopping behaviour are designed to keep you ‘shopping’ and prevent you from finding the way out too easily. By the time you get there you’ll have forgotten what it was you were looking for.

‘The Advaita Teachings are pointers, offered at the level of the audience, so to some people Jesus would talk about “a mansion with many rooms” and to other people he would say: “(heaven) is within.” (And) without understanding Advaita and the way pointers are adjusted depending on the audience, (most) Christians haven’t a clue what Jesus was talking about ….’ [link to Advaita Vedanta page]

Those who didn’t fall into the shopping mall trap just took the belief ‘thing’ to pieces to see what it was made of. That’s how it was seen that there was/is no substantial “self” in the centre of consciousness. It’s an operating system that keeps all working parts in the state of  ‘oneness’. ‘We are, right at this moment, God itself, and we can rejoice in that – if we can break out of our individual identity….’ If someone had been able to explain it to me like this when I was a child, the challenge to find out what it could mean would have been enough motivation for a lifetime.

‘When you fully understand that which you are and cannot not be, there is nothing to do to be what you are.’ [Jac O’Keeffe]

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I wrote another post about this: ‘Jesus and Churchianity‘.

Note (i): There are two references in the Upanishads: aham brahmasmi (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 1,4,10), and tattvamasi (Chandogya Upanishad 6,8,7), the instruction of Svetakatu by his father – very much earlier than the Jesus teachings. The 8th Century development by Adi Shankara is something for a later post. [link to ‘Christian Consciousness and Advaita Experience‘] 


beyond belief

IMG_4118POSTCARD #131: Delhi: I received this photo of a plane journey on my phone from M, my 11-year-old Thai niece. She was on a night flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. All our devices are connected so I get her photos, downloaded images, screenshots, kiddie’s apps and have to subscribe to an increased GB storage plan due to these thousands of ‘cute’ digital items, increasing daily. I read in Google somewhere that the number of mobile phones exceeds the population of the world, due to users that own multiple devices. Let’s say there are trillions of images all around the planet… whatever, there’s just this sense of vastness. Like the stars seen through M’s downloaded pic of the plane window. More than that; a quick look at Google tells me there are 200 billion galaxies out there, a Universe filled with a septillion: 1024 planets –on ‘the short scale’ (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) and 1042 on ‘the long scale’.

Changing from the Macro to the Micro, each star that can be seen from the plane window out there looks like a micro particle – wiki tells me that ‘point-particles’ are zero-dimensional. So it doesn’t take long to start thinking about transparency, lightness, non-being:

You are boundless space.
You are nothing that you appear to be.
You are the fathomless ocean, forever flowing.
The waves do not affect you.
Nothing affects you, for there’s no you.
[Robert Adams]

(reblogged from: Known is a drop, Unknown is an ocean

It’s just that everything I’ve been taught as a child is the received perception that’s passed down through generations of those with the same mind/body organism as I have. Most of us hold on to creationist belief systems, “God” – the ‘Big Bang’. But what caused the big bang? What came before that? A lot of people I know spend most of their time in contemplation, one way or another  – meditation or focused thought, and seeking a way of living that allows for this because it’s possibly the most important thing you can do with your life.

Advaita Vedanta talks about Brahman being the cause, and the world is the effect. Without the cause, the effect is no longer there. What that means is the ‘World” is real when seen with Brahman but it’s false when seen without Brahman. So basically Brahman is the original cause and those of us who see without Brahman are seeing the World as an illusion. Sounds like the sky is blue, the grass is green because the human sensory system creates it like that, and there’s no way to prove this is ‘real.’ That’s how it seems to be, in a manner of speaking – the sense there’s something missing… Brahman/Pure Consciousness/Reality? Not seeking, just considering the question. I like what cabrogal says: ‘Pure consciousness has no object’ – this has become like a kind of koan for me.

The Buddha didn’t agree with the external, eternal creationist idea:

“As far as the suns and moons extend their courses and the regions of the sky shine in splendor, there is a thousandfold world system. In each single one of these there are a thousand suns, moons, Meru Mountains, four times a thousand continents and oceans, a thousand heavens of all stages of the realm of sense pleasure, a thousand Brahma worlds. As far as a thousandfold world system reaches in other words, [the universe], the Great God is the highest being. But even the Great God is subject to coming-to-be and ceasing-to-be.” (Anguttara-Nikaya X 29)

It’s like saying these are all concepts and true reality is not a concept – words cannot reach that far. I received another picture from M, her painting of a beehive, done after she got off the flight and back in school again. It’s a natural hive in the forest. When Jiab asked what the bee outside the hive was doing there, she gave it some thought and said it was counting the stars – a created answer, sort of an on-the-spur-of-the-moment thing…

IMG_2162

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Note: I Googled the title of this post after I’d set up the thing for publication and discovered in Amazon it’s the title of a book: ‘Beyond Belief’ by Elaine Pagels about the “secret” Gospel of Thomas. The idea that the Jesus Teachings were changed by Churchianity. Jesus was saying he was the son of God but we are all the sons and daughters of God, no difference. We can all be enlightened. I was wondering if anybody had read this book and should I order it from Amazon?