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Posts Tagged ‘Father Bede Griffith’

ONE WAY-MANY PAHTS

The Inclusive Way of Christ

                 John Martin Sahajananda

       gumersindo-meiriño-sahajananda  There are two important statements of Jesus which are the foundation of Christianity and which are also problematic to the inter-religious dialogue.  They are:

I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn.14.6.), and “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. He who believes in me will be saved and he who does not believe in me will be condemned” (Mk.16.15).The first statement has been interpreted to mean that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and everyone has to believe in him in order to be saved. The second statement is interpreted to mean that Christ has given the mission to his disciples that they have to proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The good news they need to proclaim is that Jesus Christ is the only way, the truth and the life; he is the only son of God and he is one with God. It is also an invitation to the non-Christians to accept this truth and convert themselves to Christ and become Christians.

This kind of interpretation is causing lot of conflict with other religions and also causes difficulties in inter-religious dialogue. If one holds this position real dialogue becomes impossible. Other religions would like Christians to say that all religions are equally valid ways to God. This means that Christ is a way to God and no the only way. Official Christian Churches have difficulties to accept this position. Catholics would like to say that there are seeds of truth in other religions but Christ is the fullness of truth. There is a ray of light in the other religions but Christ is the fullness of light. Their arguments have no rational basis but are based on belief. With this kind of attitude inter-religious dialogue and pluralism becomes a problem to the Christian belief. Some prefer to say that ‘my religion is true for me but I respect other religions’. Gandhi seems to have thought that all religions are imperfect and they need to learn form each other.

 

Hinduism seems to be much more open to religious pluralism. There are two important statements in Hindu scriptures which reveal this openness. The first one is the much quoted statement from the Rig Veda which says:  ekam sat vipra bahuthi vadanti, Truth (God) is one but sages describe it by many names.  The second statement is from the Bhagavat Gita, in which Sri Krishna says to Arjuna, ‘In whatever way people worship me in the same way I fulfil their desires (accept and bless them). O Arjuna, in every way people follow my path’ (Gita 4.11). The first statement gives possibility to the pluralistic expressions of God and the second statement gives possibility to the pluralistic ways to God.

Is it possible that a person like Jesus Christ who had such a profound experience of God can make statements which are so exclusive? Some think that he never made these statements. These statements are seen as expressions of the belief of the early Christian community. It is the contention of the author that Jesus certainly would have made these statements as they have universal, inclusive and liberating value.  If they look exclusive it is our interpretation that needs to be questioned and not the statements themselves. The urgent need of Christianity today is to reinterpret these two statements of Jesus in such way that they become universally valid, unifying, liberating and give a possibility for spiritual growth.  Any new interpretation of these statements should be based on the good news that Jesus proclaimed to the humanity.

 

The Good News of Jesus

                  Jesus began his ministry proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God saying ‘the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news (Mk 1.14-15) In the gospel of Matthew we have a short version: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt.3.2). There are many interpretations given to the expression ‘kingdom of God’. The expression ‘the kingdom of God’ used by Jesus is loaded with so many aspects that it is impossible to define it. It can only be described. Jesus himself did not define it but described it in so many ways. In general, it has two aspects: objective and subjective. Objectively it reveals the universal presence of God. It means that God is everywhere and the whole of creation and humanity are within God. The statement that ‘The kingdom of God is at hand’ means that God is everywhere and everything and everyone is in God. The word ‘repent’ is an invitation to realize this truth.  Subjectively it reveals the ultimate relationship of human beings with God. Human beings are ultimately one with God. Jesus said, ‘the Father and I are one’ (Jn.10.30). Kingdom of God is also an experience of the unconditional love of God, who radiates his love like sun both on the righteous and un-righteous. It is the experience of the radical love of God and the radical love of neighbour. ‘The Father and I are one’ is the experience of the radical love of God and ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do unto me’ is the expression of the radical love of neighbour.  It is also the experience of the new covenant in which God writes the Law in the hearts of human beings. When Jesus had the experience of God at his baptism, God said ‘you are my beloved son’ (Mk.1.11). It is writing the Law in the heart of Jesus. God did not reveal what he should do and shouldn’t do, but who he was. It is also the birth of a new human consciousness, a universal mind, in which a person can say ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. It is also the descending of the spirit of God which transforms our humanity and creation. It is the experience of new heaven and new earth. It is transcending our relationship with God as creatures and realizing ourselves as the sons and daughters of God. It is also freedom from the God of history, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and experiencing the God of eternity, I am who I am (Ex.3.14). Jesus said’ before Abraham was I am’ (Jn.8.58.)

Before Jesus proclaimed this good news he had to find it within his own life. What he realized within, he proclaimed to others. Jesus told to his disciples, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk.16.15). They have to proclaim the good news that God is everywhere and everyone, and everything is in God, and that humanity is ultimately one with God. This good news has to be proclaimed to the whole creation and not only to human beings. It means to proclaim to all creatures that they are the manifestations of God. It is proclaiming the dignity of human beings that they are greater than religions and they have the truth within themselves. It is also an invitation to human beings to realize this truth through repentance. Repentance is a process of inner purification through which human beings come to this truth, which is their true self. If they do not do that, then they live in ignorance and they live from false identity and waste whole life.

 

How did Jesus find the kingdom?

We can see four important moments in the life Jesus before his crucifixion and resurrection. The first moment was his birth as a human being to Mary, his physical mother. In that sense he was fully human being. The second moment was the day of his circumcision, on which he entered into the collective consciousness of Judaism. He became a Jew and he was a hundred percent Jew. As a Jew he might have said that Judaism was his way, his truth and his life, as he was in the womb of Judaism. He related with God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, his ancestors. In this stage religion is greater than human beings. The third moment was his baptismal experience in which he came out of the womb of religion (in a sense all religions) and entered the universal presence of God. In this experience he realized that God was everywhere, and everyone and everything was in God. He also inaugurated the new covenant in which God wrote the Law in his heart: ‘you are my beloved Son’ (Lk.3.21-22). Now Jesus’ consciousness is no longer confined to his religion but he became a universal person in which Jews and Gentiles (the whole of humanity) were united. Now he says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. When he was in Judaism, his religion was his way, truth and the life, but now he himself is the way, the truth and the life. In the first (old) covenant religion is the way, the truth and the life but in the new covenant human being, as a universal person, is the way, the truth and the life. The fourth moment was when he realized that the Father (God) and he were one. In this level God is the way, the truth and the life.  With this experience Jesus’ ascending journey came to an end. He felt the mission to communicate this good news to the humanity, particularly to his spiritual tradition, and invite people to enter this experience through repentance.

So Jesus began his life journey as an individual, and then entered the collective consciousness of Judaism, from there he moved into the universal consciousness (Son of God), and from there into the divine consciousness. This is the way that Jesus discovered the kingdom of God. The statement of Jesus ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’   belongs neither to the first level, nor to the second level, but to the third level. If Jesus makes this statement as an individual then Jesus, the individual, becomes  the way, the truth and the life and every one has to believe in Jesus, the individual, to be saved. If Jesus makes this statement as a Jew, in the collective consciousness, then Judaism becomes the way, the truth and the life and everyone is invited to become a Jew to be saved. Certainly Jesus was not making this statement as an individual or as a Jew. He was speaking from the universal consciousness. The universal consciousness is not an individual or religion, but embraces individuals and religions and transcends them. In this consciousness the way is within himself. He is initiating the new covenant.

This new covenant has two aspects: freedom from the past and freedom from the future. It is freedom from the past because Jesus does not follow any person or any belief from the past. If he follows anyone from the past or any belief from the past then that person or that belief becomes the way, the truth and the life, and he cannot say that he is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus even said ‘Before Abraham was I am’ and he also used the expression ‘I am”. This ‘I am’ is universal I am (not divine I AM).  This ‘I am’ also gives freedom to the future in the sense that it does not become a way to the future, but the future is for itself. Persons in the future can say like Jesus “I am the way, the truth and the life’. If they say that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, then the future is giving continuity to the past and then it is no longer living in the eternal present. To say ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ is to live in the eternal present, eternal now, in which a person becomes the vehicle of divine eternity and not of the past or the future. The virgin birth is the symbol of this birth of eternity which has no contact with the past, represented by Joseph. It is the experience of the indwelling presence of God (Emmanuel). It is also to live in the universal mind in which a person lives for all, for the whole creation, but not for himself/herself or for his collective consciousness. A person who lives for himself or herself needs a religion to guide him/her. A person who lives for all does not need a religion, a scripture, an authority. He himself/herself becomes the way, the truth and life. Jesus said. “It is written in your Law but I say unto you” (Mt.5.43-44). He had authority even on the sacred scriptures.india-sahajananda

 

Jesus also said, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me”. This means that no one can come to the experience which Jesus had, in which he could say ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ and ‘the Father and I are one’ unless they go through the same way through which Jesus arrived at it.  What was the way? It is a journey from individual consciousness to collective consciousness, from collective consciousness to universal consciousness, and from universal to divine consciousness. This is the way through which Jesus came to it and this is the way for every one.  .

 

The Way Jesus Proposed

Even though Jesus said that he was the way, the truth and the life, he also proposed a way through which people can enter the kingdom of God.  This way is one but Jesus described it through many ways:  the way of repentance, the way of rebirth, the way of becoming like little children, the way of losing oneself, the way of dying, the way of growing, the way of searching, and the way of grace. These are not exhaustive and one may find other expressions also.

 

The way of repentance: Jesus said: the kingdom of God is at hand, repent (Mk.1.14-15), or Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt.3.2). The way of repentance is the way of growth. If we take the journey of Jesus from the individual to the divine, repentance is part of this journey. If a person is in individual consciousness, repentance is to enter collective consciousness (religions). If a person is in collective consciousness repentance is to enter universal consciousness. If a person is in universal consciousness repentance is to enter divine consciousness. When Jesus used the word ‘repent’ he was inviting his listeners to grow beyond their collective consciousness and enter into the universal consciousness and from there to the divine.  His listeners were already in the collective consciousness of Judaism.  The baptismal experience of Jesus is a kind of repentance in the life of Jesus. It is the transition form the collective consciousness into the universal consciousness. Christian baptism is an entry into the collective consciousness. It is like the circumcision of Jesus though which he entered Jewish collective consciousness.  Repentance is not a one day business; it is a continuous growth in our relationship with God.

The way of rebirth:  Jesus told to Nicodemus: “Unless you are born again you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven”(Jn.3.3). Nicodemus thought he had to go back into the womb of his physical mother. It would have been impossible to do so. But Jesus was referring to the collective womb of his religion. Nicodemus was in the womb of his religion. He needed to come out of his religious womb and enter in the universal presence of God, where he can live in the eternal present. “The wind blows where it wills but you do not know from where it comes and you do not know where it goes, it is like this who is born of the spirit”(Jn.3.8), said Jesus. It is freedom from past and freedom from future. If a person is in an individual womb, he/she has to come out of it and enter the collective womb. If a person is in the collective womb he/she has to come out of it and enter the universal womb of God. If a person is in the universal womb he/she has to enter the unitary womb of God. In every level there is rebirth.Shiva_sahajananda

The Way of Becoming like Little Children:  Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children you can not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.18.3). This statement has to be understood in different levels. Jesus is not telling that everyone should become children physically, which is impossible. A person who is 35 years old cannot become 5 years old physically. A person who lives in a religious identity acquires the ages of that religion. If a person is in Christianity then that person’s age is 2010 years, even though that person may be 30 years physically, as Christianity began 2010 years ago. If person is a Hindu this person is more than 3500 years old, as Hinduism has its origin there. If a person is Buddhist then his/her age is 2500 years old as Buddhism began at that time. So in the religious level our age is identical with the age of that religion. Can we become children in that stage? It is not possible. The backward we go in time the older we become, and the forward we go in time the older we become.  If we come out of the womb of religion, which belongs to time, then we enter the universal presence of God. We enter the eternal now. In this stage a person is a just born child. There is a difference between a child physically and a child spiritually. Physical child is innocent and ignorant and spiritual child is innocent, because it is free form past and future, but also wise as it sees the limitations of past. One can go a little further and realize one’s unity with God and become an eternal child like God. God is ancient but he/she is also an eternal child.  So when Jesus invited people to become like little children, he was inviting them to realize their unity with God, which is the kingdom of God.Cristo yogui india (1)

The Way of Losing One’s Self:  Jesus said: “If you lose your self, you will gain it. If you gain your self you will lose it”(Mt.16.25). This losing and gaining has to be understood in different levels. If we are willing to lose or give up our individual self we will gain our collective self. If we are willing to lose our collective self we will gain our universal self. If we are willing to lose our universal self we will gain our divine self. It is by losing our lower self that we will gain our higher self. If we cling to our lower selves, the individual and collective, we will lose our higher self. So Jesus invited people to lose their lower selves in order to find that higher self, which is finding the kingdom of God.

The Way of Dying:  Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone but when it dies it gives a mighty harvest”(Jn12.24). This statement may have different interpretations. One way of interpreting is that it is by dying we move towards the kingdom of God. Again this dying may have many levels. A person who lives for himself/herself, dies for himself/herself. If a person dies to his/her individual living then he/she may live for his religious community. So if a person is living for his/her religion, then when this person dies he/she dies for his/her religion. If a person is willing to die for his religious identity then this person lives for all humanity. So when a person lives for all humanity this person death is also for all humanity. If a person is willing to die even to the universal identity then the person enters into God and lives like God. So the more we die, the more fruitful our life becomes. It is through continuous dying that we enter the kingdom of God. Jesus did not live only for himself or for his religion, but he lived for all, not only for the present people but also for the past people and the people of the future. It is for this reason that his death is for all. He is the saviour of the whole of humanity and creation. Only a person, who lives for all, dies for all.

The Way of Growth:  Jesus said: “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is a smallest all seeds. But when it grows it becomes so big that the birds of the air will come and make their nests in it”(Mt.13.31-32). The seed is the symbol of our limited and individual consciousness. Our individual consciousness has to grow into divine consciousness in which there is a place for all individuals and collective consciousnesses (religions), represented by the nests. The kingdom of God does not exclude any individual or religion, but transcends them and embraces them.  It also invites individuals and collective consciousnesses to grow into divine consciousness. It is by growing continuously from our limited boundaries into the space without boundaries that we enter the kingdom of God.

The Way of Seeking: Jesus said; “the kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of pearls. When he found a pearl of great value, he sold everything and bought that pearl (Mt.13.45). Here the merchant was a seeker. He was searching and in his search he found the precious pearl. Jesus also said, “first of all seek you the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all things will be given unto you.”(Mt.6.33). To become a seeker is a very important stage in our spiritual evolution.  It is not sufficient to remain as believers and followers; we must become the seeker of the kingdom. The precious pearl is our true self, our divine self. When we come across our true self, then we give up our finite self, the ego. The kingdom of God is the highest divine-human relationship. It is the experience of our unity with God and living from that unity in which a person says that it is no longer he/she that lives but God lives in him/her.

The Way of Grace:  Jesus said: ‘the kingdom of God is like a man who found treasure in the field. He buried it again, went home, sold everything and bought that field” (Mt.13.44). This man was doing his usual daily work in someone’s field. As a surprise he found the treasure. He was not expecting. Since the land does not belong to him and the treasure was more valuable than all his property, he joyfully sold everything and bought that field. The treasure in the field is the symbol of our true self, our divine self. The property he sold is the symbol of our finite self. When we find our true self we discover that our finite self is nothing in comparison to it. We give it up joyfully and hold to our true self. It is renouncing our ego and accepting our true self without a choice. This giving up can be described as positive renunciation. This discovery came to the person as a surprise, as grace. Of course our spiritual journey is completely a grace of God. God may lead us through specific ways, techniques, structures and religions but he is not bound by all these. His/her grace can manifest outside established structures and religions he has revealed. It can come even without being asked for it. It is the expression of the unconditional live of God.

There is only One Way to God: What we discover from the above explanation is that Jesus is proposing that there is only one way to God. It is to renounce our ego or to expand our ego. Both ‘renouncing’ and ‘expanding’ are one and the same. It is renouncing our individual ego for the sake of collective ego, renouncing collective ego for the sake of universal ego, and renouncing universal ego for the sake of divine ego. The more we renounce the more we expand. The word ‘renouncing’ has a negative connotation so it is better to use the word ‘expanding’. It is growing: a mustard seed growing into a tree. The purpose of every religion, every spiritual practice and every scripture is to help human beings to expand or renounce their ego. The danger comes only when people stop growing and confine themselves to their individual ways or collective ways. Then these religions and techniques, instead of helping people to be free from their egos, imprison them in their egos.

This ‘expanding of our ego’ also implies growing in our relationship with God. It is growing from creatures into sons and daughters of God, and from there finally realizing our unity with God.  In the individual identities and the collective identities we may have plurality of relationships with God. Each individual relates with God in a unique way and each spiritual tradition relates with God in a unique way. The declaration of Rig Veda that Truth(God) is one and sages call it by any namesand the Sri Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna, ‘In whatever way people worship me in the same way I fulfil their desires (accept and bless them)’ are very suitable to this level. But this level creates individual pluralism and collective or religious pluralism. It also creates divisions and conflict between different ways and religions. There is no permanent solution at this level for the unity of humankind. Inter-religious dialogue cannot achieve much. It becomes ineffective. It asks for tolerance, acceptance of the other and learning to coexist. In universal consciousness a person transcends all ways and means and experiences the indwelling presence of God. Here a person declares ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. In the biblical tradition it is the experience of the new covenant. Here a person transcends individual pluralism and collective or religious pluralism and discovers the essential unity of humanity. Here unity is not based on the spiritual practices or belief structures, which is artificial, but on our human nature. It is the discovery of the image and likeness of God, which is like a pure mirror and in which God reflects in his/her fullness. In discovering our essential nature all the boundaries disappear. A person can still grow further and discover essential unity with God and declare, ‘God and I are one’ or God alone is. Jesus said ‘The Father and I are one’.

 Even though Sri Krishna told Arjuna that ‘in whatever way people worship me in the same way I fulfil their desires (accept and bless them, he also told him ‘Abandon all spiritual paths (dharmas) and surrender to me; I will deliver you from all your sins (Gita. Ch.18 🙂 Abandoning all spiritual paths means abandoning our ego. It is our ego that needs spiritual paths and it is our ego that creates spiritual paths. In this surrender of the ego one discovers one’s original self and enters the universal presence of God where sin can never enter. But this surrender is possible only when a person realizes the limitations of all spiritual paths to free one from sins. Even though Rig Veda says that Truth or God is one but sages describe it in many ways, the Upanishads go one step further and declare ‘Aham Brahmaasmi,[1] I am Brahman or God andTat Tvam Asi,[2] you are Brahman or God. It is not only that Truth or God is one but also that human beings are ultimately one with that one Truth or God. It is going beyond individual pluralism and collective pluralism. This is the liberating message of the Upanishads. Only in that experience do we arrive at the final destiny of our spiritual journey, our ultimate rest, our ultimate fulfilment and our inner peace. It is only there that we find our infinite being, infinite consciousness, and infinite bliss:saccidananda.Cristo yogui india (4)

The Way of a Mountain: We can use two images to describe this spiritual evolution: a mountain and a tree. Many spiritual traditions have their temples built on the top of a hill or a mountain. They are the places of pilgrimage.  Our spiritual journey can be seen as a journey from the bottom of a mountain to the top of a mountain. As individuals we each begin our journey at the bottom of the hill at different starting points. As we move higher and higher we come closer and closer and our journey becomes collective.  As we move still higher we almost become one. Finally when we reach the top of the hill we realize our unity with God. So it is really a journey from individual identity to divine identity. As we climb higher and higher we are expanding our identity or consciousness. It is also a process of renouncing our lower forms of ego and growing into higher levels of ego. It is a journey from multiplicity into unity. In general there are  some shelters built on the way if pilgrims would like to take a rest for a while. These shelters are our belief structures, either individual or collective. There are our resting places but they are not permanent settlements. If we settle down in these temporary shelters, then we stop our spiritual journey or evolution. When Abraham was called by God to leave everything and go to the place which God would reveal to him, it is said that he was living in tents. A tent is a temporary shelter at the end of the day to take rest and then to be removed when a person starts the journey the next day. It is the same with our spiritual journey.  We may erect individual tents or collective tents on the mountain but we should not settle in them permanently. Our goal is to reach the top of the mountain.  What is consoling on this journey is that God or truth is there from the bottom of the mountain to the top of the mountain.  Everyone is on the path of God and no one is outside God.  This is what Sri Krishna meant when he told Arjuna,’in every way people follow my path’ (Gita. 4.11). But ultimately one has to go beyond all the paths, beyond ego. It is also a journey in humility. The more a person grows the more humble he/she becomes. Only in the individual level and the collective level there can be a sense of superiority or inferiority but in the universal level and the unitary level a person becomes very humble. It is because at these levels there are no others essentially but only functionally. Jesus said, ‘the Father and I are one” and then he washed the feet of his disciples, an act of great humility.

The Way of a Tree: Another image is a tree. A tree has leaves, branches, trunk and roots. Leaves represent our individual identities. Branches represent our collective identities. Trunk represents our universal identity, and roots represent our divine identity. At the level of leaves we have pluralistic relationships with God. We have individual pluralism. At the level of branches we have pluralistic belief structures. We have religious pluralism. At the level of the trunk we have essential unity of humanity. We transcend individual pluralism and religious pluralism. At the level of roots we have our unity with God. A tree represents the whole truth. It contains all levels of truth. In that sense no one is outside the tree, outside the truth. At the level of leaves truth is fragmented into individuals. At the level of branches it is fragmented into belief structures. At the level of the trunk it is the fragmentation of creator and creation. At the level of roots it is all embracing. We see one truth, one way and life. When Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ its deeper meaning could be that Jesus is the whole tree. He contains within him all levels of truth. He invites everyone to grow from the fragmented truth into the fullness of truth. It is a journey from many to one, from diversity to unity.

The Inclusive Way of Christ: The way of Jesus is not one way among many other ways to God. It is not the only waythat excludes all other ways to God but it is the way that includes or embraces all the other ways to God in a dynamic way. It includes all individual ways, leaves (individual pluralism) to God but invites them to recognize the need of the branches, collective ways. It includes all collective ways (religious pluralism) but invites them to recognize the need of universal way (trunk). The universal way is the end of individual ways and collective ways. Finally this way invites everyone to move beyond universal way into divine way where a person says: God is the only way, only truth and only life. This is the way of the tree. This way is not only ascending to unity but also descending back to diversity. It is not only reaching to the top of the mountain but also returning to the bottom of the mountain. It is not only going to the roots but also coming back to the leaves. It is not only vertical growth but also horizontal. It is growing into the radical love of God and the radical love of neighbour. As one grows higher into the love of God one also expands into the love of neighbour.

Christianity, so far, has interpreted Christ’s message in a very exclusive way. This interpretation does not do justice to Christ. It is the need of Christianity to day to discover the inclusive message of Christ and contribute for peace in the world.

In spanish in De Oriente a Occidente

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