While reading the New Testament, it struck me that one of the first things Christ’s disciples did, after his passing, was to create communities.
I have a friend who’s an Episcopal priest. He has a degree from an elite university and he’s a devotee of our path, so I asked him if Jesus taught about cooperative communities.
He explained that the way he understood it is that the disciples believed the end of the world was coming. They had heard Jesus speak of the “second coming” and about the world passing away, and they imagined they should create havens where the disciples could gather and be safe.
I said, “I find it difficult to believe that these souls, who had the spiritual stature to be direct disciples of an avatar, would interpret Christ’s words in such a superficial way.”
Jesus wasn’t talking about the literal end of the world. The images he used suggest that the “world” he was referring to is the ego, which will end with the awakening of Christ Consciousness.
The return of the Christ Consciousness signifies our awakening to our soul nature, and the destruction of the ego. With the death of the little ego, our life as we’ve known it will end.
My friend said that these outward interpretations of Christ’s teachings weren’t set down in writing until several centuries after his passing. He said that the teachings of Jesus weren’t fully clarified until then.
I said, “Christ came with divine consciousness. Did it really take two centuries of theologians and church authorities to figure out what he meant?”
What happened is that it took the authorities two centuries to completely misinterpret Christ’s message. The truth is, it was probably misinterpreted the day after he proclaimed it.
Jesus knew this would happen. It’s why he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:9)
About fifteen years ago, I told a friend in a casual conversation that I felt something wouldn’t be good for her to do.
She completely misunderstood my meaning. She thought I meant that she wouldn’t be good at it. For fifteen years, we lived with this big misunderstanding, where she believed I felt she wasn’t competent. What I meant to say is that I felt it wouldn’t be a good thing for her spiritually.
The words were similar enough to create confusion: “good for you,” versus “good at it.”
It can be very dangerous to cling to our own interpretation of people’s words. It’s how the revealed teachings of the great masters get corrupted, as people put too literal an interpretation on them, without being aware of deeper meanings that may be subtly implied.
Take, for example, the way Swami Kriyananda defined the concept of grace. He said that grace is “the power to rise spiritually.”
Grace is the power that God gives us to rise into Him. It isn’t the notion that God will “grace us” with outward favors.
I remember the process that David and I went through to put a new carpet in our home. We invested tremendous energy in finding exactly the right color, which we had to order from a supplier on the East Coast.
Finally the carpet arrived. We had invested so much energy, and there it was at last – the new carpet! Hurrah! And what does it do? It lies there. It doesn’t tell us jokes. It does nothing to entertain us. It’s the most inert object in the world. And the entire superstitious myth that things have power to enliven our consciousness lay debunked at our feet.
At such times you’ve probably felt, as I often have, that you just want to throw everything away. I wouldn’t do it, but I find it terribly annoying how the myth can creep into our minds that something outside us will give us happiness.
In the ancient world, before the Jews rose to prominence, people fell into the custom of praying to various minor gods for worldly boons. They prayed to the god of war for victory, and to the god of prosperity for money. They imagined that these little statues of lesser gods would give them power and happiness.
Then the Jewish people came with the understanding that there was a single divine power. There were sages among them who knew the truth from their own experience.
The experience of the divine presence is the truth. The Jewish people understood this, and so they drew a great avatar called Moses. But then they began to paste their own narrow, outward interpretations onto his teachings.
What was needed was to turn people away from the folly of praying for worldly boons. So God sent Moses with a set of commandments that told people how they could have the experience of truth within themselves. The guidelines inscribed in the Ten Commandments were not the divine truth, but they suggested that if you follow these principles, they will help you have the experience of the divine.
The Ten Commandments help us understand how we can avoid falling into the superstition that external things will give us happiness.
Over time, the teachings of Moses once again devolved from the truth into an infatuation with outward and superficial things. The laws became an end, and a new avatar was needed to set religion back on its course. Christ came to help the world understand that our fulfillment doesn’t lie in rites and rules or material things, but in developing the power to receive God within ourselves.
Our receptivity is what enables us to rise. Our salvation doesn’t come by self-effort alone. We don’t rise by making the world just so, but by offering ourselves into the flow of God’s blissful magnetism and allowing it to change us. That’s the part we must play in our effort to receive divine grace.
That’s why John said, “But as many as received him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.”
Jesus faced tremendous opposition. In the end, the Jewish people wouldn’t accept him. Too many of them had used the teachings to get worldly power and prestige, and they weren’t about to give it up without a fight.
The real battle wasn’t between Jews and Christians, but between opposing viewpoints: the idea that religion can be defined by forms and rituals, and the truth that it’s an experience, and that the grace of God is all that matters.
“The end of the world” means the end of the world as we know it, and the rebirth that we experience when we embrace the new world that God wants to give us.
It’s that conflict, between the inward and outward interpretation of religion, that ended Jesus’ life. And it’s the conflict we face in our lives.
We hope that our lives will unfold in the ways we would like. We want people to be just so. We want our lives to unfold in a predictable, pleasant, and comfortable way. But arranging our lives just so will never give us the power we’re truly seeking.
You can follow all the rules – do your Kriyas properly and put your house in order. But Yogananda gave a very different perspective on the way to receive God’s grace.
He said, “many people will fall away from this path, but it wouldn’t have to happen if they would stay in tune.”
He even accepted people as disciples who couldn’t meditate well, and he told them he would meditate for them. There was a woman who lived at Mt. Washington and became God-realized, even though she could never meditate deeply. But she was in tune.
Attunement is the power to receive God’s grace. And that power depends on attitudes of the inner self. It’s not a question of getting yourself so perfectly organized that you can succeed. It’s a question of receiving that power to experience God.
Imagine that you’re the parent of a child who wants to be good in sports. Maybe your child isn’t talented. As a parent, you can only stand on the sideline and watch, because the child must learn to succeed by himself. But every part of the mother and father goes out with so much love and power, trying to help them.
The parents aren’t directly involved, but they aren’t passive. The parents on the sideline are cheering and applauding the child’s efforts. And when the game is over, they gather the child in their arms.
Our experiences are pale shadows of the divine play. Our little accomplishments are meant to help us build the qualities and strengths to achieve the only reward that matters: to transcend the ego and attune ourselves to the infinite bliss and love.
The divine is impersonal, but we can experience it in a personal way. This is why God assumes the form of Christ, Babaji, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, and Yogananda. In these outward forms, God expresses His love for us. In the presence of the saints we can feel the overwhelming love of God, if we open ourselves to receive it.
Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) He was letting them know that it’s what he would do. He was about to lay down his life for the salvation of the friends whom he loved. It wasn’t a passive act. He showed us that by giving up the little self, we can receive all of the dynamic energy and bliss that God wants to give us.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishna, “Tell me, Lord, what is the path to salvation? How can I become free?”
At this point, Krishna has described the rituals, rules, and laws of religion. But now, with passion, he says to Arjuna, “Nay, but once more take my last word, my utmost meaning have – precious thou art to me!”
Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that what a mother would say to her child? “Precious thou art to me, right well-beloved. Listen, I tell thee for thy comfort this.”
His instructions are simple: “Give me thy heart. Adore me. Serve me. Cling in faith and love and reverence to me. So shalt thou come to Me, I promise true, for thou art sweet to me.”
Aren’t those beautiful words? What would you do if God spoke those words to you? You would feel that you had everything you ever wanted. “Cling to me, come to me, have faith in me.” You would run to God’s arms without a moment’s hesitation. You would see that everything you were looking for is there.
Krishna says, “so thou art sweet to me. And let go those rites and duties.”
Let go all other considerations. Don’t let any least thing keep you from this. “Fly to Me alone. Make Me thy simple refuge. I will free thy soul from all its sins. Be of good cheer.”
In the Bible, Jesus tells us the same thing. He says to his disciples, “The world will hate you. The world will persecute you.” Yet he says this cheerfully. Because you are my disciple, because you have dared to separate yourself from the superstitions of the world, they will see that you are going to a place where they want to go but don’t have the courage. Rather than loving you, they will try to pull you back. They’ll hate you. They’ll despise you and try to persecute you.
It’s the strangest thing in the world, isn’t it? If you try to do the greatest good, you’ll be torn down, time after time. Such is the nature of this ridiculous planet on which we find ourselves. Nonetheless, Jesus says, “the world will persecute you. The world will hate you.” And then he adds, “but be of good cheer. for I have conquered this world.”
He’s telling us many things. He’s saying, “I am your divine Father. I am your divine Mother. I am your protector. What difference does it make what the world says to you – you have me. You have the power of the Infinite. You have my grace, which is the power to lift you, if you will but receive it.”
And how does Krishna tell us to receive? He doesn’t say, “By all these little rites and duties.” Because he isn’t talking only about rites and ceremonies; he’s talking about the attitude of the mind. And the divine attitude is not, “God can’t love me because I missed my meditation this morning. God can’t love me because I didn’t do my Kriyas today.”
It helps enormously to follow the directions that the masters give us, because this is one way we put ourselves in tune with them. It doesn’t help to ignore the rules. But nor do the rules bring us salvation. Nor does breaking the rules keep us from the Divine.
“Cling to me,” he says. “Precious thou art to me.”
Isn’t that a glorious message?
“Come to me, thou who art sweet to me. Put aside all other considerations, and I promise you, you will be one with me. Be of good cheer.”
(From Asha’s talk at Sunday service, February 15, 2004.)