Not long after I moved to the Bay Area, years ago, there was a rabbi from a nearby town who got in touch because he wanted to talk about certain spiritual questions that were troubling him.
He said that he was relatively new to the rabbinate, and that whenever he had to talk to the younger children and explain the essence of Judaism to them, he was embarrassed to realize that he didn’t really know what to say. He was a very nice and sincere young man, and he was somewhat hoping that I could help him understand what the essence of Judaism actually was.
I talked to him very frankly about the dilemma that Christians and Jews have created for themselves – because, really, they are both in the same position.
Jesus and Moses were born to bring the world a teaching that in India is called Sanaatan Dharma, which means “the Eternal Truth.” And, as I explained to the rabbi, both traditions have wandered from that original teaching.
Our discussion was rather complicated, and not too long after we talked, the young rabbi decided that he wanted to be a psychologist instead.
I like to think of Sanaatan Dharma as “that which is.” Because, when we come right down to it, truth isn’t a question of collecting our own little box of ideas about the spiritual life, but of understanding life itself, and understanding how it works regardless of the time or place in which we’re living.
The sages of ancient India began by asking the most fundamental questions about human existence, starting with, “What is it that all people are seeking?” And the answer that they arrived at, by observing the human scene with calm, detached objectivity, is that we are all seeking happiness and freedom from suffering.
This is Sanaatan Dharma in a nutshell. Of course, there are many subtle ramifications; for example, the fact that being born in one body is not the beginning of our existence, and that the death of that particular body isn’t the end.
Reincarnation is simply part of the ongoing process whereby our individual consciousness inhabits countless bodies in order to have experiences from which it can learn the lessons that will enable it to become free. And when one brief life has ended, we put down the body and go into the astral world for a “vacation from earthly life,” as Yogananda called it. The teaching of reincarnation tells us that every soul has the potential to expand its awareness over many lifetimes and find its freedom in God.
A woman in our congregation has a father who is a university professor. He likes to recall how, when his daughter was an infant, she and the cat were pretty much the same, but then his daughter gradually got bigger and better than the cat.
This is the working of the soul in us that is always pushing us to grow. And in the same manner that the little baby gradually becomes more aware than the cat, we go on refining our awareness through many incarnations.
Childhood is a wonderful symbol of the soul’s long journey. To the saints, we look scarcely more aware than the kitten, chasing little balls of wool and getting all excited about nothing, and furious when things aren’t going our way. And, all the while, the soul keeps pushing and pulling us until the streamlet of our consciousness finds its way back to the ocean of Spirit.
The soul finds its confinement increasingly unbearable, and through many lives it keeps nudging at our limitations until our individual consciousness can expand until it reaches the state of God-realization.
It’s why we have images on our altar of people who’ve lived many human lives just like ours, and who’ve expanded their awareness to embrace infinity. The pictures serve as a reminder of where we’re going.
All true spiritual paths are based on Sanaatan Dharma, because they all talk about our infinite potential. And not only do we have the potential to realize the infinite consciousness of God, but we are given the freedom to take as long as we want. But no matter how long we delay the process, we will all inevitably reach the goal.
Every true teaching is based on helping us realize that same high potential. However, if you take reincarnation out of the picture, the whole system falls apart.
Swami Kriyananda remarked on how we often refer to certain people as “saintly,” even though they may just have a slightly better attitude. At this point in your spiritual progress, can you really imagine your consciousness expanding to embrace infinity? It’s almost impossible to imagine what it’s like to be so completely transformed. And the reason people’s thinking is so limited is because it’s very difficult to contemplate how you could possibly extricate yourself from the web of karma that is keeping your consciousness bound to the tiny span of one life.
All that God is asking of us is that we keep following as He chooses to lead and guide and inspire us and pull us along, until we have the consciousness of the great avatars.
Jesus said some very inconvenient things. “That which I do, ye also shall do, and even greater things.” And it turns many traditional theologies on their heads.
The notion that I can be equal to a Christ or a Yogananda is beyond our comprehension. Yet it isn’t all that far away, relative to the eons we’ve spent moving slowly toward the goal. And the saints tell us that in the end we will find that our freedom was inevitable, because the treasure was ours already.
It’s the river’s nature to seek the ocean. And even if it clings to a rock or a tree, its own nature will keep pushing it forward.
I remember how, when I was ten, I would sit and talk with my father while he shaved in the morning. We had many conversations, and he was a very good friend. I remember one morning when his face was covered with shaving cream, and I said, “Daddy, why wasn’t Jesus really the Messiah?” And my poor father! We were not devout Jews, and we seldom went to temple. We were cultural Jews, and my father stumbled for an answer. I don’t think he’d ever given it a moment’s thought, but I wanted to give it very deep thought, and it finally dawned on me that my poor father had no idea.
He only knew that Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Messiah, or else a whole lot of his life’s premises would come crashing down. So he didn’t know what to say, and I changed the subject and never brought it up again.
If I had asked the rabbi who came to talk with me, I don’t think he’d have known, either. Because at some point in the distant past, the rabbis made a decision about who they thought Jesus was, and that decision became increasingly hardened down the centuries.
Christianity wasn’t suddenly invented. Christianity became a separate religion because nobody in the Jewish synagogues was interested in the new sect that Jesus had begun. Jesus and his followers were Jews, and it’s ironic that the Jews and Christians have been at each other’s throats for two millennia, when they were all Jews in the beginning, and Jesus came for the Jews, to give them a new dispensation.
He came because the Jews were the only people at the time who still had a remnant of Sanaatan Dharma in their teachings. And, even then, it was just a small segment of the Jews who truly understood. It was the Essenes, and not the established order.
The established order was led by a corrupt priesthood who weren’t Jews in the deepest sense. They were souls who were born to have the experience of exerting power over others. and to learn from it.
When Jesus died, the first thing the disciples did was to go around to the Jewish temples and try to tell them, “A new prophet has come, and this is his message.” But the corrupt priesthood said, “No way,” and pushed them out. And it was at that point that Paul decided, “If the people in my own community won’t listen to me, I’ll go out and find those who will.” And that’s how Christianity became something separate and apart. And then Judaism came to be defined by not accepting Jesus as the Messiah.
The Christians did exactly the same thing. The Christians and the Jews both decided that no one could realize God, and that it was blasphemy to claim that we can be one with Him.
It’s why Jesus was crucified, because he said, “I and my father are one.” The priests condemned it as heresy, which was punishable by death, and they convinced the Roman authorities that Jesus needed to be crucified because he had violated the fundamental premise of their religion.
The dogma was that no one could have that consciousness. And, of course, if no one even dares to aspire to it, what are we doing here? According to the corrupt priests, the whole point is to have power and money and to hold onto it. And because we are the ones with the keys to salvation, you must render unto us your tithes and your obedience to help us maintain our power.
And, of course, this is very far from the true teaching of Sanaatan Dharma. It’s simply human nature, which always ends up putting the masters in a box of its own making. It’s why Jesus came onto the scene, to take Truth out of the narrow box in which the Jews had confined it.
He knew that the new dispensation wasn’t for the authorities in the temple, and he was aware that they would kill him. But it wasn’t his mission to save them, because his teaching was for those with the heart to receive it.
My rabbi friend didn’t know what to tell the children about what they should do, and what Judaism is about. Just be nice, be ethical, and do righteous things. And it’s not as if traditional Judaism and Christianity have nothing to offer. They have a great deal to offer, but they don’t offer God-realization. Because, in their view, you just have to be good enough to try to be good. And the conundrum is that if you can’t always make it, you’ll be lost, and you won’t be saved.
Today we’re living in a similar period, where a corrupt political priesthood is running everything. And whether they are liberal, conservative, Democrat, or Republican, it really doesn’t matter, because they’re all just hungry for power and money, and they’re looking out for themselves. It can be a little frightening, when they’re using their power in ways we find reprehensible, if we don’t understand that we are pilgrims passing through this world, and that the consciousness we’re developing is all that matters.
At some point the Christians decided that Jesus was the only son of God, and that nobody would ever be like him. But Yogananda answered that claim with a higher wisdom, when he said that the key to understanding the New Testament lies the simple pronoun “I.”
What did Jesus mean when he spoke of himself as “I”? Did he mean his physical body and personality, or did he mean the infinite consciousness which he knew as his only reality?
Two hundred years after Jesus died, the church authorities got together and did their best to remove all references to reincarnation from the officially sanctioned Bible. But they missed a few of them, such as when Jesus asked his closest disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And they began naming a number of the prophets who had lived in the past, and they said that he was the reincarnation of one or another of them. And why would they have answered him in that way, unless it was what Jesus taught? It was Sanaatan Dharma – the way things are – and it was the teaching that the Essenes were following.
Jesus had spent countless incarnations gradually transforming his consciousness until he achieved perfection. And his promise to us is, “That which I do, you shall do also.” And, again, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
It was pure Sanaatan Dharma. And when he said “I,” he was referring to that seamless, infinite consciousness. But those who came later became confused about the teachings, because they were living in an age when the consciousness of mankind was limited to perceiving that matter was the ultimate reality. So they framed his teachings in a way that they could comprehend, and in order to make it fit with their understanding, they decided that Jesus had miraculously popped into this world, and that he was unique; that he had always been perfect, and that he died and went back to heaven, and that through his grace that’s how it will turn out for us.
But the trouble is that it leaves us with nothing to do, because we’re no longer responsible for our own salvation. We can try to be good, because at least that much is left to us, thank heaven, and it will give us a basis for some sort of moral code.
Joseph Campbell was a popular speaker on the lecture circuit some years ago. He would tell beautiful stories from traditional myths and scriptures, and point out how they were relevant to the world today. It was a wonderful contribution, which I hope is still alive and thriving.
Someone asked him, “What happens to a society when people lose touch with these wonderful stories and myths and allegorical ways of explaining higher truths?” And Joseph Campbell, who was in his later years, quietly turned and pointed out the window and said, “This.”
This is what happens when people are thinking, “If I can grab power and money for myself, why wouldn’t I, so long as I can get away with it?
Someone was telling me about a ten-year-old child who was being bullied at school in a terrible way. And when they went to talk to the principal and the teachers, they couldn’t do anything about it.
Everybody is so well-meaning, but the children in the present school culture are being raised for power and money and prestige and advanced placement and material rewards, and it’s all extremely competitive. And then the parents and teachers feel duty bound to come along and say, “Be nice.” But if the whole system is set up to tell them to be ruthlessly competitive, and they’re being offered big rewards for winning at any cost, why would they want to try to be nice?
There’s tremendous confusion, because they want their children to be decent and moral and nice, but there is no shared understanding of the way things are. We aren’t starting out from anywhere that makes sense, and we aren’t going anywhere that makes sense. And because the children are in the middle of it, they can instantly recognize that it’s pure hypocrisy when they’re told to be nice, even as they’re being rewarded for being ruthlessly competitive.
The parents and teachers don’t mean harm, but there is simply no understanding of life’s natural laws, and as a result they’re essentially rewarding the children for being villains. Because if you aren’t excellent, you’re going to be marginalized in the present culture, and the kids will behave accordingly.
We’re in very big trouble as a culture, but on the other hand we’re very fortunate not to be in trouble at all, because just behind all the trouble and turmoil the divine light is shining powerfully, and the masters are working to bring about a greater awareness of Sanaatan Dharma. And this is why you can read about Sanaatan Dharma in Autobiography of a Yogi and The New Path.
Jesus and Babaji together are deeply concerned about what’s going on, and together they’ve planned the salvation of the planet. It’s why there is such a powerful movement toward the light, simultaneous with the corrupt priesthood in politics and business and education.
The corrupt priesthood imagines that it has all the power, even though the corrupt people in Jesus’ time are barely a footnote in history. The only reason we remember them at all is that they tried to interfere with the Jesus’ divine mission. And now they are forgotten, but the power of Christ lives on, because it is the true power. His is the power that can say “That which I do, you shall do likewise, and even greater things.”
Don’t for a moment think that even the tiniest aspect of Jesus’ teachings is confined to a small window of time two thousand years ago, or that it is far removed from your own life. His truth defines our living reality today and always. The star of Bethlehem was no imaginary or astronomical event – it was the light of the spiritual eye. This is what the Bible is telling us to aspire to. And maybe the inner truths have been forgotten, but they are being restored.
We can find the living Christ within us. “If thine eye be single, thy body shall be filled with light.” This was Jesus’ promise. If we offer the power of the two physical eyes into the single light of Spirit, our whole body will be full of light, because that divine light created us, and it is who we are.
The early Christians began going forth and spreading the Good News, as they called it, even though Jesus had told them that if they chose the path of inner realization, it would put them at odds with the world. And in those days being at odds with the world had very serious consequences, including a probability of imprisonment and death.
It isn’t happening for us in the same way, and it probably won’t. But Jesus told them that it would be a problem for them, and that people wouldn’t like them, and that it would cause them lots of trouble in this world. But he consoled them, “Be of good cheer, for I have conquered the world.”
Think of Christ’s promise. “That which I do, you shall do also, and even greater things.” And, “Be of good cheer.” It doesn’t matter what it looks like all around us today. Be of good cheer, for I am the divine Spirit that dwells in all, and I have conquered the world.
When our two eyes become the one light of Spirit, the light of Christ, our consciousness will be nothing but light. Remember this wonderful promise.
God bless you.
(From Asha’s talk during Sunday service at Ananda Sangha in Palo Alto, California on December 17, 2017.)