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Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda)
does the concept of samadhi agree with Christian teachings? Most
church-goers, certainly, get no hint on Sunday mornings that the Bible promises
them anything like cosmic consciousness. The best they are encouraged to
hope for is eternity in heaven after death, in a body much like the one
they possess now.
No one, however, has a "corner" on Christ's teachings, or for that matter on any religion. The revelation that God gave to the world through Jesus Christ is the property of mankind, not of the churches alone.
The mass of Christian worshipers are often referred to as "the body of Christ." But in fact they are more like Christ's family. For a body is responsive to the brain, whereas few Christians are conscious enough of Christ's presence within them, or faithful enough to his teachings in the Bible, to give much thought to being responsive to him. A body, moreover, is coordinated by its brain, whereas Christians÷even those who want to obey Christ÷respond to his commandments by rushing off in hundreds of directions at once. Family, then, is certainly the apter metaphor. Even if family members revere their head, they respond to him variously according to their different temperaments and levels of understanding. A certain lack of coordination, which in a body might be a sign of functional disorder, is both natural and, to some extent, right in a family. At any rate it shows that its members have minds of their own.
The mass of Christians in the world are like the family of a great man, some of whose luster reflects on them by their association with him. But it is also notorious how many great men have been thoroughly mis understood by their relatives. To be the disciple of a great master gives one an incentive, certainly, to tune in to him, but it in no way guarantees such attunement. Jesus accused the Jews of misunderstanding Moses. He even chided his own close disciples for misunderstanding him. We must conclude, then, from his own statements that Christians have never had a proprietary claim on his full, or even his true, meaning. A disciple's understanding of his master's teachings depends on his own capacity for understanding, and not on his outward status as a member, or even as a leader, of any church.
Many times progress in human understanding has occurred when one civilization has been exposed to the different insights of another. Religion, today, stands at the threshold of such an opportunity. The energetic influx of teachings from the East has already had a strong impact on Western churches, making them rethink their position on several basic issues. Among other things, it has reminded them of dormant traditions of their own. The practice of meditation, for example, once a vital part of Christian observance÷particularly in the Eastern Church÷is being revived owing to the emphasis given it by teachers from India.
Nor has the influence of Oriental teachings on the churches been limited to reminders of forgotten Christian traditions: It has also shown many Biblical teachings in a wholly new light. For truth, like a diamond, is many-faceted. The teachings of Moses and Jesus Christ have been given certain emphases in the West, but other perfectly legitimate emphases are possible, and would reflect truths that have been cherished for centuries elsewhere in the world. Exposure to those unfamiliar traditions might prove enormously beneficial to Westerners who desire deeper insight into their own religious teachings.
A visitor once asked Paramhansa Yogananda, "You call your temples 'churches of all religions.' Why, then, do you place such special emphasis on Christianity?"
"It was the wish of Babaji that I do so," the Master replied. "He asked me to interpret the Christian Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, or Hindu Bible, and to show that their teachings are basically one. It was with this mission that I was sent to the West."
Many Westerners in this materialistic age doubt the truth of Christ's teachings. Indeed, many even doubt that he ever lived. Paramhansa Yogananda, by his example as much as by his teachings, turned agnostics into believing Christians again. For his mission wasn't to convert people to Hinduism, but to revitalize Christianity. What he taught, he said, was "the original Christianity of Christ."
One day in Boston, Massachusetts, he received a letter criticizing him for "sponsoring" Jesus in the West. "Don't you know that he never lived?" the writer demanded. "He was a myth invented to deceive people." The letter was left unsigned.
Yogananda prayed to be led to the writer. About a week later he visited the Boston Public Library. There, seeing a stranger seated on a bench under one of the windows, he went over and sat next to him.
"Why did you write me that letter?" he inquired.
The man started in amazement. "Wh-what do you mean? What letter?"
"The one in which you claimed that Jesus Christ was only a myth."
"But÷how on earth did you know I wrote that?"
"I have ways," the Master replied. "And I wanted you to know that the power by which I have found you enables me also to know for certain that Jesus Christ did live, and that he was all that the Bible claims. He was a true Christ."
Another time in Boston Yogananda received another remarkable corroboration of his experiences of the reality of Jesus Christ. In meditation he saw Krishna and Jesus walking together on a sea of golden light. To convince himself (as he put it), though more probably to convince skeptics, including sectarian believers who couldn't imagine Jesus and Krishna sharing the same wave, Yogananda asked for objective verification of his vision.
A divine voice replied, "The fragrance of a lotus will remain in the room."
"All that day," Yogananda told us, "a lotus aroma, unknown in the West, lingered on in the room. Many visited me that day. 'What is that wonderful fragrance?' they asked. I knew then I had received proof positive that what I had seen was true."
In St. Louis one day Master visited a Roman Catholic monastery. The abbot had been shown to him in meditation to be a great saint. The other monks were horrified to see this orange-robed "heathen" in their midst. But when the abbot arrived on the scene, he hastened over to Paramhansaji and embraced him lovingly. "Man of God," he cried, "I am happy you have come!"
The saints alone are the true custodians of religion. For only they draw their understanding from the direct experience of truth, and not from superficial reason or book learning. The true saints of one religion bow to the divinity manifest in the true saints of other religions. When Paramhansa Yogananda visited Therese Neumann, the great Catholic stigmatist in Bavaria, Germany, she sent word, "Though the bishop has asked me to see no one without his permission, I will receive the man of God from India."
Far from undermining the faith of Christians in their own Scriptures, Yogananda gave many of them renewed faith. One day a Catholic monk, inspired by an interview with him, begged in his prayers that he be vouchsafed a vision of Jesus. The next day he hurried to Yogananda, tears in his eyes. "Last night," he cried, "for the first time in my life, I saw Him!"
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man." By contrast, to hold any belief dogmatically is like saying, "This much I will have of truth, and no more." Dogmatism is the death of true understanding. Again and again throughout history it has stood in the way of progress, and even of common sense. Consider a few examples:
In 1728 potatoes were introduced into Scotland. The clergy declared them an outrage, unfit for Christian consumption, because no mention is made of them in the Bible. Again, when umbrellas were first invented, clergymen in many lands denounced them as the work of the Devil: for doesn't the Bible clearly state, "Your Father which is in heaven sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45)? Nor is bigotry a monopoly of the West; as Yogananda often remarked, "Ignorance, East and West, is fifty-fifty." In a pilgrim's guide to South Indian temples I discovered this little jewel of unreason: "Whosoever dares to spit on the temple grounds will be born for three successive incarnations as a tithiri bird." ("What," I asked an Indian friend of mine, "is a tithiri bird?" "Oh, a despicable creature," he replied vaguely.)
"Other sheep I have," Jesus said, "which are not of this fold" (John 10:16). Might it have been of devotees of those other great religions that he was speaking? We read in the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts: "God has no favorites, but in every nation he who reveres Him and acts righteously is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:34,35).
Christian fundamentalists, who insist that all authority rests in the Bible, quarrel endlessly over what the Bible really means. Luther and Zwingli, leaders of the Protestant Reformation, taught entirely on the basis of Scriptural, as opposed to Church, authority. Yet the two disagreed on basic Scriptural precepts. Their meeting at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, summoned to resolve these differences, resulted in a doctrinal clash between them. The meeting ended in failure.
It need surprise no one that the Bible means different things to different people. For is it not obvious that it cannot hold authority beyond a person's own ability to understand it? Jesus said, "Therefore I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand" (Matthew 13:13). Even after explaining his parable of the sower, he said, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (Matthew 13:43).
And what is it that determines one's ability to understand? Far more important than native intelligence is his actual, inner experience of divine truths. How else are they to be recognized? A certain American Indian in the Nineteenth Century, lacking experience with modern machinery, felt convinced that a steam locomotive was operated by a horse cleverly concealed where the boiler appeared to be. And many clergymen, lacking personal experience of God's love, are equally convinced that He is a God of wrath and vengeance. Jean Danielou, the French cardinal-theologian, wrote, "That which saves is not religious experience, but faith in the word of God." True faith, however, without some kind of experience, some kind of inner grace, simply is not possible. Reason alone cannot banish doubt. Only the breath of God's love in the soul can awaken true (as opposed to fanatical) faith in His word. The deeper the awareness÷that is to say, the deeper the experience÷of that love, the deeper the faith.
As St. Anselm put it: "Who does not experience will not know. For just as experiencing a thing far exceeds the mere hearing of it, so the knowledge of him who experiences is beyond the knowledge of him who hears."
The tendency of spiritually unaware theologians and ministers has been to take literally what was meant metaphorically, and to define Reality in terms of their own limited, human experience of life. Greatly needed in Christendom is a more mystical approach.
In Calcutta I once met a Christian missionary who had just visited the Holy Land. A few months previously I had visited Galilee myself, and felt blessed even now by the experience I had had of Christ's presence there. Imagining that in this blessing the missionary and I shared a common bond, I exclaimed, "Wasn't it wonderful! Jesus seemed so real I almost expected to see him come walking down out of the hills." The man stared at me a moment as though I were mad. Then he muttered, "It's a beautiful country. Wonderful history." Communion with Christ, obviously, had nothing to do with what he saw as his mission to India.
The Roman Catholics, in their long tradition, have experienced the problems that can arise from individual interpretations of the holy Scriptures. Their solution has been to insist that their Church be the final authority in such matters. Christ himself, they claim, gave it that authority when he said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). But their argument, though wisely motivated, is fatally flawed. For how do we know that Christ actually intended to delegate such authority to them? We have only their word for it, supported by their insistence that, having such authority, they must have interpreted Christ's meaning correctly. It is a perfect argument in a circle!
Paramhansa Yogananda's explanation of that same Bible passage was altogether different. Jesus, he said, was referring to the inner "church" of divine consciousness. He saw that he would be able to "build" this "church" in Peter, after his disciple recognized Jesus as the living Christ and thereby demonstrated that his spiritual life was founded on the bedrock of divine perception. Jesus' words÷here, as everywhere else÷had an individual, not an institutional, significance.
Yet in one important sense the Roman Catholic Church is perfectly right: Authority of some kind is very much needed in spiritual matters, lest the Scriptures be misinterpreted in such ways as to reinforce people's ignorance. It should, however, be the right kind of authority, and not the sort that the blind exert in leading the blind. The only valid authority on spiritual matters is true spiritual experience. For such experience we must look not to the commentaries of learned scholars and theologians, but to the saints. I repeat, therefore: The saints alone are the true custodians of religion.
"The words of the saints," wrote St. Gregory of Sinai, "never disagree, if they are carefully examined; all alike speak the truth, wisely changing their judgments on these subjects when necessary."
Because it is necessary for the same fundamental truths to be presented variously, according to the varying needs of the times, St. Simeon the New Theologian wrote, "A man who does not desire to link himself to the latest of the saints (in time), in all love and humility, owing to a certain distrust, will never be linked with the preceding saints, and will not be admitted to their succession even though he thinks he possesses all possible faith and love for God and for all His saints." Because all who know God drink from the same lake, to reject any expression of Him is to that extent to reject God Himself.
Yogananda once prayed to Jesus Christ for reassurance that he was interpreting his words in the Gospels correctly. Jesus appeared to him in a vision; the Holy Grail passed from his lips to Yogananda's. Jesus then, so Yogananda later told us, spoke these words of heavenly assurance: "The cup from which I drink, thou dost drink."
To return, then, to the question of Christian corroboration of the concept of samadhi, it is to the saints that we look first.
"The soul, when purified," wrote St. Catherine of Genoa, "abides entirely in God; its being is God."
"The soul must wholly lose all human knowledge and all human feelings," wrote St. John of the Cross, "in order to receive in fullness divine knowledge and divine feelings."
St. Catherine of Sienna stated that Christ had told her in a vision, "I am That I am; thou art that which is not." In other words, the little vortex of her ego had no abiding reality of its own.
St. Veronica Giuliani, the Seventeenth-Century Capuchin nun, concerning her experience of the supreme ecstasy of mystical union, wrote in her Diary that she had received a conviction, far deeper than any intellectual concept or belief, that "outside God nothing has any existence at all."
The great St. Teresa of Avila wrote that, in this state, "the soul is entirely transformed into the likeness of its Creator÷it seems more God than soul."
Blessed Henry Suso, describing the enlightened soul, wrote: "In such a person God is the very essence, the life, energy, and vital force. The man himself is a mere instrument, a medium of God."
St. Anselm wrote, "Not all of that joy shall enter into those who rejoice; but they who rejoice shall wholly enter into that joy."
Do not these quotations suggest persuasively that state of oneness with God which is known to Indian yogis as samadhi? There are Christian writers (Dom Denys Rutledge, for example, in his pretentious book In Search of a Yogi) who claim that to the Christian an absorption of the ego into God would be undesirable. But is this a Christian, or merely a perfectly normal, human reaction? Similar, in fact, is an objection one sometimes hears from worldly people to the joys of heaven: "How can heaven be all that wonderful, when it makes no provision for sex enjoyment?" (They forget that, as children, they lived without sex perfectly happily.) But what do such ego-centered writers make of Jesus' own words, "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:25)? Paul Tillich, the great Protestant theologian, writing from the more expanded vision of a wise man, stated, "Endless living in finitude would be hell. .╩.╩. This has nothing to do with Christianity." (76)
Let us see what Christian saints have said further on the subject of infinity as a definition of divine awareness.
Meister Eckhart, the great mystic, said of souls that are merged in God, "By grace they are God with God."
"I, who am infinite," wrote St. Catherine of Sienna, "seek infinite works÷that is, an infinite perfection of love."
St. Bernard wrote, "Just as a little drop of water mixed with a lot of wine seems entirely to lose its own identity, while it takes on the taste of wine and its color .╩.╩. so it will inevitably happen that in saints every human affection will then, in some ineffable manner, melt away from self and be entirely transfused into the will of God."
"A man who has attained the final degree of perfection," wrote St. Simeon the New Theologian, "is dead and yet not dead, but infinitely more alive in God. .╩.╩. He is inactive and at rest, as one who has come to the end of all action of his own. He is without thought, since he has become one with Him who is above all thought." How closely these words resemble Paramhansa Yogananda's description, in Autobiography of a Yogi, of his first glimpse of cosmic consciousness: "The flesh was as though dead, yet in my intense awareness I knew that never before had I been fully alive."
Of St. Simeon's experience of samadhi, his disciple, Nicetas Stathos, wrote: "Once, while offering up a pure prayer to God to be drawn into intimate converse with Him, he had a vision: Behold, the atmosphere began to shine through his soul, and though he was inside his cell, it seemed to him that he was lifted up high beyond its confines. It was then the first watch of the night. As this light from above began to shine like an aurora, the building and everything else disappeared, and he no longer believed himself to be in the house at all. Quite outside himself, as he gazed with his whole soul at this light that had appeared to him, it increased bit by bit, making the atmosphere more brilliant, and he felt himself taken, with his whole body, away from the things of earth."
Saints, keenly aware of how impossible it would be to describe the Indescribable, usually speak of it more or less vaguely. A few, however, have tried to suggest their experience in words.
"Divine darkness," wrote St. Dionysius, "is the unapproachable light in which God is professed to live."
And Basil the Great wrote, "Utterly inexpressible and indescribable is Divine beauty, blazing like lightning. .╩.╩. If we name the brightness of dawn, or the clearness of moonlight, or the brilliance of sunshine, none of it is worthy to be compared with the glory of True Light, and is farther removed therefrom than are the deepest night and the most terrible darkness from the clear light of midday."
The Bible, too, describes God in many passages as a great Light. The thirty-sixth Psalm states, "For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light."
St. Paul wrote, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Christ is spoken of in the Bible as "the only begotten son of God." Does this make us sons of God in a different sense from Jesus? Or has the term "the only begotten" a subtle, mystical meaning? On one side of this argument we have the judgment of orthodox theologians, but on the other that of great saints. Theologians, that is to say, contend that we are radically different from Jesus. But the great saints put it as a difference, rather, in the degree of Self-awareness. They say that we are sons by "adoption," as St. Paul put it, only until the Divine Life courses in our veins. But when that point is reached, to quote Meister Eckhart, "between the only begotten son and the soul there is no distinction."
"The disciple is not above his master," Jesus said, "but every one that is perfect shall be as his master" (Luke 6:40). And, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
"If we are [God's] children," St. Paul wrote, "we share His treasures, and all that Christ claims as his will belong to all of us as well!" (Romans 8:17) Later in the same chapter Paul speaks of Christ in relation to his followers as "the eldest of a family of many brothers."
In what way is Jesus Christ the "only begotten son of God"? Not as a man, certainly. Nor yet as a limited soul. The very word Christ is a title meaning "The Anointed of God." Christ is part of the infinite Trinity,(77) an aspect of God Himself. Jesus was called "the Christ" because his consciousness was identified with God's presence in all creation. The Christ is the " only begotten son" because Christ Consciousness is omnipresent. It is not personal at all in an egoic sense. "I move my hand," said Meister Eckhart, "and Christ moves, who is my hand."
"God," St. Paul wrote, "created all things by Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:9). How could God have created the vast universe, with its billions of galaxies, with the help of a single, infinitesimal ego? That kind of thinking was possible only in the days of our civilization's innocence, when people regarded God Himself as a bearded old Gentleman seated on a golden throne somewhere up in the sky.
"Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?" (John 10:34) Thus Jesus answered the Jews, when they accused him of blasphemy for telling them, "I and my Father are one." He didn't say, "My Father says so, and you'd better believe it or you'll go to hell!" He said, "You are that, too," and went on to explain that the only difference between them and him was that he had been "sanctified" by the Father, a fulfillment they had yet to achieve.
Jesus himself distinguished between his human self and the omnipresent Christ Consciousness with which he was inwardly identified. In both cases he used the pronoun "I," but the meaning differed according to his emphasis.(78) Speaking impersonally, he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). And again impersonally, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22). His reference here to the Son is to the Christ Consciousness with which his own consciousness was fully identified. But when someone addressed him as "Good Master," he replied, reflecting then that person's consciousness of him as a man, "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God" (Matthew 19:17).
in his over-arching spirit that Jesus could say, "Before Abraham was,
I am" (John 8:58). It was from a consciousness of omnipresence
that he said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). It was of his infinite
Self, not his physical body, that he spoke when he said, "Whoso eateth
my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life" (John 6:54). It
was to rebuke teachers who drew the devotion of their students to themselves,
instead of directing it to the Infinite Christ, that he said, "All
that ever came before me are thieves and robbers" (John 10:8). Had
he been referring to the prophets before him in time, as many imagine,
he would not have said also, "Think not that I am come to destroy the
law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matthew
That," say the Indian Scriptures. Christians who cannot imagine
a higher destiny than eternal confinement in a little body would do well
to meditate on the parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus likened to
the kingdom of heaven. The mustard seed, Jesus said, though tiny, grows
eventually to become a tree, "so that the birds of the air come and
lodge in its branches" (Matthew 13:32). Even so, the soul in communion
with the Lord expands to embrace the infinity of consciousness that is
And Christians who
imagine themselves inherently sinful, rather than sinning due to
delusion, would do well to meditate on the parable of the prodigal son,
whose true home was in God; and (if they aspire to heaven) on these
words of Jesus, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came
down from heaven" (John 3:13).
have a difficult time explaining the Second Coming as an objective event
in history in the light of these words of Jesus, "When you are persecuted
in one town, take refuge in another; I tell you this: before you have
gone through all the towns of Israel the Son of man will have come"
(Matthew 10:23). And again these words, when Jesus was discussing his
Second Coming: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not
pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34). And how
could "all the tribes of the earth see the Son of man coming in the
clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30)? There
would have to be millions of Christs on as many clouds for all the nations
to see him! But to great saints and yogis Christ's statements are perfectly
clear. He meant that, in clouds of divine vision, he would come again
into the souls of men anywhere, at any time, whose hearts were pure, receptive
to his grace.
As Jesus put it, "Blessed
are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
"Thou art That," say the Indian Scriptures. Christians who cannot imagine a higher destiny than eternal confinement in a little body would do well to meditate on the parable of the mustard seed, which Jesus likened to the kingdom of heaven. The mustard seed, Jesus said, though tiny, grows eventually to become a tree, "so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches" (Matthew 13:32). Even so, the soul in communion with the Lord expands to embrace the infinity of consciousness that is God.
And Christians who imagine themselves inherently sinful, rather than sinning due to delusion, would do well to meditate on the parable of the prodigal son, whose true home was in God; and (if they aspire to heaven) on these words of Jesus, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven" (John 3:13).
Sectarian Christians have a difficult time explaining the Second Coming as an objective event in history in the light of these words of Jesus, "When you are persecuted in one town, take refuge in another; I tell you this: before you have gone through all the towns of Israel the Son of man will have come" (Matthew 10:23). And again these words, when Jesus was discussing his Second Coming: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34). And how could "all the tribes of the earth see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30)? There would have to be millions of Christs on as many clouds for all the nations to see him! But to great saints and yogis Christ's statements are perfectly clear. He meant that, in clouds of divine vision, he would come again into the souls of men anywhere, at any time, whose hearts were pure, receptive to his grace.
As Jesus put it, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
From his lecture, "Symbols
of Eternal Life."
Paramhansa Yogananda explained
the Christian Trinity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in a cosmic
sense. God the Father, he said, is the Infinite Consciousness from which
all things were manifested. God's consciousness was one and undivided
("Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One"); apart
from that consciousness there was no substance out of which the universe
could have been made. The universe is His dream. To produce the dream,
the Creator had to set a portion of His consciousness into motion. You,
I, our earth, the sun and galaxies, our thoughts and inspirations, our
very longing to be one with Him again÷all are products of the vibrations
of His consciousness, separate manifestations of the vast primal
vibration of Aum, the Holy Ghost.
In the Hindu Scriptures, too, this pronoun is
frequently used to describe both the infinite consciousness of a master
and limited, ego-consciousness.