A wonderful aspect of the Bible account of Christ’s entrance into the city of Jerusalem is that it’s a true story.
It isn’t a myth with deeply hidden symbolic meanings. Nor is it a story of strange gods living far above the plane of our human lives.
It’s not about Shiva, Ganesha, or Kali, whose stories may be highly instructive, but who aren’t real human beings. They’re larger-than-life mythical figures whose message for our humble lives may not always be obvious.
The New Testament tells the story of a real man, and of the very real men and women whose lives he touched.
I believe it’s very likely that many of us walked the streets of Jerusalem with Jesus. And the special power of the New Testament is that it takes us back to that experience, which is as much a part of our lives today as in that far-off time. And imbibing the inspiration of those events, we find that it renews our attunement with the Christ consciousness.
Jesus came in response to a loving call from souls who were yearning for a teaching that would make them free. But he also came as a Messiah to the Jewish people. And because the great majority of the Jewish people refused to accept him as their Messiah, his followers split off and became a new spiritual force. Because, as the Bible tells us, the old wineskin could not hold the new wine.
Before Jesus came, there were many signs and portents of his coming. For example, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would give birth to the Christ.
But Jesus had no personal motive for taking a human form. He had long since dissolved his human karma and realized his true identity as one with God. And he came as the pure light of God to help those who longed for a vision of their own soul’s divinity.
Paramhansa Yogananda repeatedly said that the power of Christ’s mission was that he was human, and that he had to live through all of the struggles that ordinary human beings must contend with. And it is his perfect humanity that draws us to him and endears him to our hearts.
When he put on a human body, it was basically a facade, in the sense that he was completely unidentified with that body, and wholly one with the Christ consciousness in everything.
But, in another sense, it wasn’t a facade at all, because he put his consciousness into that human form and subjected himself to its limitations – but with the difference that he lived his human role to perfection.
He came to show us how we, too, can fulfill our human duties without ever lowering our gaze from Infinity.
Yogananda said that the three wise men who attended Jesus’ birth were our masters, Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Sri Yukteswar.
And when Jesus reached a certain age, Yogananda tells us, he returned their visit. Master made the statement, for which a growing amount of objective evidence has been uncovered, that during Jesus’ lost years he traveled and studied in India and Tibet.
He went where the teachings of Self-realization were being kept alive, and it was there that he prepared for his mission.
The masters undertake a period of preparation before they begin to manifest their mission on the outward stage of the world. And it isn’t because they need to receive the teachings, but to set an example for us that we, too, must practice renunciation and concentration, and that we must go to the great ones and receive the teachings that will show us how to unite ourselves with the Christ consciousness.
During the missing years of Jesus’ life about which we find nothing written in the Bible, he traveled in India and Tibet. And Swami Kriyananda pointed out that the strongest evidence for this is that it’s entirely omitted from the Bible.
It strains the boundaries of credibility to imagine that Jesus’ whereabouts for roughly eighteen years were unknown. And when he returned to the Holy Land and re-connected with the family and friends he had left behind, it’s hardly conceivable that he didn’t tell them where he had been, and that he didn’t share with them something of what he had learned.
Swami said that what actually happened is that the church authorities who got together roughly three hundred years after Jesus lived and compiled the scripture that would become known as the New Testament actually had the nerve to take out the account of his missing years, but they didn’t have the temerity to insert an alternate story.
(For a discussion of these issues, see “The Missing Years of Jesus,” by Swami Kriyananda.)
A number of reports have surfaced in ancient documents that support the fact of Christ’s having traveled in India. But when the authorities got together two or three centuries later, they decided that inasmuch as they had declared him to be the only Son of God, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the faithful to be told that he had gone off to receive instruction from other teachers.
The true story clashed with their dogma, and rather than adjust the dogma, they simply adjusted the facts.
They were indulging the common human tendency to rationalize. If there’s an inconvenient fact, we’re tempted to replace it with an alternate story, or we’ll pretend that it didn’t happen. And because the Church fathers had the idea that Jesus was a unique and special creation of God, they decided that it would be disturbing to people’s faith to be told that Jesus had studied under other teachers. So they rationalized that because it shouldn’t be true, it must be a false account that someone had inserted in the record.
When Jesus returned from his sojourn with the masters in India and Tibet, there remained just three and a half years until the completion of his mission. And it was then that he began to express his teachings in their full force. He began to allow the divine power that was in him to flow out and inspire and uplift people’s hearts.
He had known, since his birth, how his life’s story would unfold. Because the masters are always aware of their life’s story in all its turnings.
In The New Path, Swami tells how, after Paramhansa Yogananda’s passing, the disciples were touched to realize in how many ways he had subtly hinted that he would soon be leaving them.
He dropped many hints, and it was amazing that none of them caught on. And Swami said it was because Master suppressed that thought in them, knowing that it would be impossible for them to carry on, if they knew that he would be leaving them in a matter of days or hours. And after his passing, they were touched to realize how he had been subtly telling them goodbye.
When Jesus returned from his travels, he began to preach to the multitudes, and he began to set in motion the forces that would fulfill the drama of his life. He began to challenge the priests and the authorities very openly. And it’s a well-established fact in religion that there will always be those who are in tune with the inner spirit of the master’s teachings, and those whose attunement is limited by their own narrow understanding. And this is the clash that Jesus began to provoke. He began to challenge the established authorities, chastising them for their their rigid beliefs and worldly focus, because it was what God had sent him to do. And he began to challenge his own followers to deepen their attunement with him.
He had been drawn by the prayers of souls who longed for a Messiah to come and instruct them. And now he began to give them the message that would set them free.
And it was inevitable that his message would be met by a counter-force of darkness. We need look no farther than our own little circle to see how this always happens in religion, when we consider how many times Ananda and Swami Kriyananda have been attacked by the forces of worldliness. But the positive side is that if the powers of this world are attacking you, it’s an absolutely sure sign that you’re doing God’s will.
It’s why Jesus said, “If you follow me, I promise that you will be persecuted.” But the good news is that although the world will reject you, you will find your true life in him.
Jesus said, “if you are my disciples, and if you act in my name, the world will hate you.” And it’s a jarringly blunt statement. But it’s how the story invariably unfolds. The satanic force that manifests as human ignorance will always cling fiercely to what it knows, in the face of the challenge of the God-realized masters.
So Christ begins to stir the pot. And if you’ve felt the power of his spirit in meditation, you’ll know that he was charged with a divine power to change the world. He came as a spiritual warriors, and he had to fight hard, and make a great sacrifice in order to make the light shine above the darkness, because he was living in the darkest age in the great cycle of human history.
(The cyclic ages are described in an engrossing book, The Yugas, by two Ananda authors.)
Jesus needed to establish his work in an unusually dramatic way, to enable the divine light shine out from the darkness. And as the power of the drama began to mount, we find him gathering his disciples, one by one. We see him walking by the Sea of Galilee, where he meets his destined disciples and tells them, “follow me.” And they immediately drop everything and follow, because they have felt the power of truth and divinity that radiated from him.
How many of you remember the moment when you were first drawn to the spiritual path?”
My story was particularly dramatic, in the sense that it happened in the instant that I first caught sight of Swami Kriyananda. When I saw him walking up the aisle to give a talk in a tent on the campus of Stanford University, I knew that I would be giving my whole life to the ray of the divine light that he represented, and that I could feel in him.
And whenever I read the Bible story of how the disciples immediately dropped everything to follow Jesus, I know for a certainty that it could happen exactly that way.
We live in the hope of finding something deep and true, and when we see it standing before us, our whole being is energized to move toward it.
As a young man, Paramhansa Yogananda started a school in Ranchi, India. While he was meditating on the school grounds one day, he had a vision of thousands of devotees who had pale skin. He thought, “They must be Americans.” He realized that they were disciples calling to him from America. And without hesitation, he resigned from the school that very day and began arranging to go to America.
In the last days of Master’s life, Swami asked him, “have you met all of the people you saw in that vision?”
Master said, “almost all. I’m just waiting for one or two more.” And in the last days of his life, those few came to him.
In the same way, Jesus began to gather those who were destined to help him complete his mission And to that end, he traveled through the land and spoke in many places. And when it was done, he knew that it was time to bring the drama to its conclusion.
Now, Jesus had declared himself king of the Jews, and the disciples could feel that he was their king in a spiritual sense, but the question on their minds was whether he would also become their king in an outward, political way.
Jesus said, “I have come to set you free.” And many of his followers naturally assumed that he would set them free from the rule of the Romans.
The people in authority, including the Roman rulers and the Jewish priests, were aware of the growing rumors about Jesus. They had watched his followers grow in number, and they had heard stories of the miracles he had performed, including the very open and public resurrection of Lazarus.
In the Bible, it’s said that as Palm Sunday approached, the priests were saying, “we’re going to have to get rid of this man Jesus.” And one of them added, “and Lazarus, too.”
It was the usual political scheming, because as long as Lazarus was around to remind the people of Jesus’ greatness, they wouldn’t forget him. So the authorities were conniving together and saying, “We’ve got to get rid of the evidence.”
It was the expected worldly response, and it reveals how the authorities were thinking of Jesus, and how the power of darkness was beginning to gather against him.
So the Passover came, and Jesus had hinted that it was the time when he would reveal himself as the Messiah. And the people’s minds were abuzz with all sorts of questions.
A great many people had gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. And what better time for Jesus to enter the city and declare himself their king?
The Bible tells us how they breathless with anticipation, and how they were speculating about the form his coming would take. “Do you think he’ll really come? I saw Lazarus risen, and he was truly dead. And do you think Jesus is really the Messiah?”
There’s a great deal of excitement in the air, and it was the natural human response to spin all sorts of speculations about these very unusual happenings. Meanwhile, the priests were growing increasingly nervous, saying that if anyone saw him, they should report him to the authorities. And the Romans were concerned because Jesus had declared that he would make himself known as the king of the Jews.
Jesus played his role to perfection, in the way that he alone knew that it was destined to play out. There was a widely known prophecy that the Messiah would enter the city on the back of a donkey. So Jesus came riding through the gates on a donkey. And there were two levels to the story. On the surface, there was a frenzy of activity and excitement, and it serves as a contrast to the more inward side of the story, which was exemplified by John, Jesus’ closest and most beloved disciple.
Throughout the master’s life, it was John who understood his mission most clearly, in a way that the other disciples could not, because his attunement with Jesus was much deeper.
In The New Path, Swami tells how, the day before Master left his body, a case of green coconuts arrived from a devotee in Florida. Swami describes how Master expressed great enthusiasm for the coconuts, and how it seemed eerily strange to Swamiji at the time. Master opened the package and cut open one of the coconuts and drank the milk. And then he said, “Oh, just these last little desires.” And Swami recalls how there was a strange aura around the incident, with Master showing so much enthusiasm. But when he looked in Master’s eyes, he saw that he was completely detached and very far away.
It was the last little artificial desire by which Master had held his consciousness in the body for the sake of the disciples. And Swami sensed that he wouldn’t be with them for very much longer.
And so we see Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, with his followers singing hosannahs and dancing as they came. And those whose idea of his mission was more outward were feeling that he would declare himself their king. And we can imagine John and Jesus sharing a knowing glance because they understood that it wasn’t going to work out the way that most of the people were expecting.
It’s an extraordinary story, and it’s also telling the story of our own experience of the spiritual path.
We enter the spiritual life with a great longing to be free of suffering and to find joy. Because if the world is working for us, we aren’t likely to want to leave it for something better.
I don’t mean that you must be miserable before you can enter the path. And it certainly wasn’t the case for me. When I became dedicated to this path, it troubled me a little that I hadn’t suffered. I actually said to Swamiji, “Sir, my life has been charmed. People have gone through so many difficult things, and I’ve been through almost nothing. I’ve just never suffered, yet I’ve always had a passion to get away from this world, and to find something that was true.”
Swami’s answer was so obvious: “You suffered in past lives, of course. You suffered enough.”
So it isn’t a question of our having to endure an agony of suffering before we can come on the path. But we must have a clear understanding that this world is never going to work for us, and a deep longing to find a better way.
And then we have to fight the battle of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The story is telling us that we need to discriminate between our dreams of worldly fulfillment, and the realization that what we’re seeking will only ever be found inwardly, in our hearts and souls, and in the deepest levels of our consciousness.
Jesus is subtly telling them, “If you want me to come as your king, to the acclaim of the multitudes, I could easily give you that fulfillment. But, be forewarned, for it would all disappear in the end.” And what made Jesus truly their king was the divine power by which he was able to overcome the darkness in them, and in those who opposed him.
What made him their king was his absolute oneness with God, which gave him the ability to change their lives completely, and to change the world for centuries to come.
His true power was expressed in the words of the Father: “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased. The way he shows is my way. All who would find the truth, walk where he leads.”
It’s the most powerful message the world has ever received. And it’s the message that the masters repeatedly come to share with us: that if you can develop the ability to remain unmoved by the acclaim or scorn of the multitudes, and never lower your gaze from me, but cling to the hem of my garment, the power of Spirit that is in me will lift you and introduce you to the Father.
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on April 4, 2004.)