Questions by various friends, and Answers by Swami Nirmalananda, abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram
What is your opinion of the book, The Dead Sea Scroll Deception by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh? This book brands Saint Paul as "the Liar" and appears to point out that Christianity as taught by Paul should be called "Paulianity." The contents of the scrolls have been suppressed by scholars since 1946–why?
It is absolutely true that Saint Paul had a major effect upon the history of Christianity. If he had not, Christianity would today be a small closed sect refusing to admit any but Jews among its numbers, holding the attitude that the only people upon the face of the earth capable of relating to God are the Jews–and only orthodox ones at that. If you read the Book of Acts, you will see that this was the attitude of some of the Apostles before Saint Paul effectively challenged their ignorance and bigotry. If Christianity was the type of sect I have just described, the "open" and "liberal" of the world would be sniffing at it in disdain. Yet they rage about Saint Paul, the very person who brought an open and understanding attitude into Christianity–attitudes which they pretend to hold.
One of the spiritual diseases of Protestantism is its Bibliolatry, its obsession with a book as the beginning and end of their supposed faith. The idea that human beings live out of books is ludicrous in the light of both history and simple good sense. Even those who reject the Protestant idolatry are infected with it, and those who are dissatisfied with Protestantism (which in their intellectual provincialism they think is the totality of Christianity) are continually hoping that one day a book will be discovered which will prove that popular Christianity is false, and that the original teachings of Christ and the Apostles were something utterly different–that is, something in complete conformity with their personal opinions.
They hope for a book that will "prove all"–exactly as the Christians they despise now claim the Bible does. (Fundamentalists of "enlightenment" are as obnoxious, oppressive, and ignorant as any other kind of fundamentalists.) But because hope does indeed spring eternal in the human breast, these frustrated and unhappy people continually make the claim that such a book–or books–do exist, but that they are being "suppressed" by those "in authority." A little objectivity would show that this is nothing more than angry paranoia. But it is not a particularly noted trait of human beings that they take a clear and objective look at anything.
Further, a little reflection will reveal that any "revolutionary" discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls, since they were written long before the advent of Christianity, could only be regarding Judaism! They have certainly filled out our understanding of the Essenes, but the Essenes were Jews, not Christians. (One ludicrous aspect of researchers has been to speculate whether or not "the teacher of righteousness" was Jesus–as though He were the only teacher of righteousness that ever arose in Israel, what to speak of the world.)
One very important thing has come from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and it has indeed been suppressed. The Eastern Orthodox Church (and the Roman Catholic Church before the 1950's) has adamantly held that the only accurate version of the Old Testament is that Greek translation known as the Septuagint which was made for Ptolemy of Egypt around 250 B.C. The Septuagint contains a great deal of material not to be found in the so-called "original Hebrew" text known as the Masoretic text, which is a product of mutilation by rabbis of the materialistic Sadduccean school who did not hesitate to remove elements that were not compatible with their interpretation of Judaism. (In this, they were like their latter-day counterparts, the Protestants, who proceeded to expunge entire books from the Bible and then began thumping on it and shouting that it was the infallible Word of God, every word of which they believed.)
The Septuagint text contains both entire books not to be found in the Masoretic text as well as extensive sections of some other books of the Bible. Most important are certain very explicit prophecies about the Messiah which were fulfilled in Jesus. The biblical texts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls are in exact agreement with the texts of the Septuagint. That is, they contain those parts which, not being found in the Masoretic text, were popularly considered to be "Christian interpolations." Furthermore, books that Jewish scholars declared were fabrications of the Christians since no copies could be found in Hebrew, were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Not only that, but the Dead Sea Scrolls have shown that even in the parts which the Masoretic text has in common with the Septuagint, the Septuagint is quite literally accurate and the Masoretic text is hopelessly corrupt. In other words, the true original Hebrew texts from which the Septuagint translation was made have perished and we have only an unreliable mock-up. This naturally upsets both Jews and Protestants, so they have suppressed these facts.
While we are on the subject of suppressions in Israel regarding Christianity, let me give you a most interesting example. When I was in college, the local Presbyterian minister who was young, "with it," and consequently very popular with those spiritually adrift, gave a series of Sunday afternoon talks on the Apostles' Creed for those who "could take it" and be open-minded enough to listen to views contradictory to traditional interpretation. Rather than an exposition of the Apostles' Creed, his talks were "debunkings" in which he proved that not a word of the Apostles' Creed was true! He also stepped aside from the Apostles' Creed to blast the Gospels in general. One thing he particularly harped on was the slaughter of the children (whom we call the Holy Innocents in Christian tradition) by Herod in his attempt to kill Jesus. As you will remember from the biblical account, all the children under two years of age were killed by his soldiers in the region of Bethlehem. How could such a thing have taken place, demanded the pastor rhetorically, and yet not a single historian had recorded it? When I pointed out to one of his unquestioning admirers that the Gospels were themselves history and that anyway historians of all ages have generally found themselves constrained to silence regarding the shenanigans of tyrants as long as either they or their descendants still sat on the throne, she was both unconvinced and displeased.
The minister had also said that there was no archeological evidence of such an event–but just what he expected could be found, I do not know. When as a novice I told one of my brother monks about this, he informed me that archeological evidence of the Holy Innocents had been discovered and–as is usual with corroborations of Eastern Christian teaching–been ignored by all but the Orthodox. A Greek Orthodox priest from the United States was supervising some construction in the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem. During some excavation for foundations, the workers broke into an immense underground cave which contained two remarkable things: the complete furnishings of a chapel and a great trench in which were discovered the skeletons of approximately 20,000 infants under the age of two years dating from the time of Christ's birth. Some bishops were also buried there, obviously to be near to those whom the Church has considered as the first martyrs for Christ. And the Orthodox Church has through the centuries held that there were 20,000 children slaughtered by Herod.
Now, what were the reactions of the "authorities" of Western Christianity? They simply tossed it off by saying that evidently because of the "legend" of the slaughter of the children just after the birth of Christ, Christians of the Roman Empire were accustomed to bring the bodies of their dead children under two years of age and bury them in Bethlehem. That such a thing could be possible in the days before embalming and rapid travel takes a great deal of "faith" (and determination) to accept.
What is "revolutionary"–and hidden–in Christianity is the esoteric tradition that is the spirit which gives life, as contrasted with the letter that kills so readily found in books.1 This cannot be suppressed by the ignorant, for they know not that it exists. Even if they hear of it they deny its existence and pass on, leaving it safe and untouched. It is this which changes Christianity from the tangled mess we see externally to the life-giving fount opened by Jesus, that open door2 that cannot be shut by the ignorant–though it is hidden beneath the debris they have heaped up and called Christianity. This is to be sought out by those who would be wise.
Do you think Jesus is God or the Son of God, or God the Father or God the Son?
God is ONE. Yet from the spiritual viewpoint we also perceive a Trinity within the Unity. God in His transcendental, unknowable, inconceivable aspect is the "Father." That is, He is unknowable and inconceivable and incommunicable to the limited human intellect. He can be known directly, without the intermediary of any internal or external faculty through a union of love, for the soul has originally come from Him (the "Bosom of the Father") and must return to Him. We receive our being from Him–indeed, we are a part of Him, as the wave is part of the ocean, yet cannot claim to be the ocean. God, immanent in creation as its manifester and guiding consciousness, is the "Son." God, the dynamic power which manifests as the great wave of intelligent energy we know as the universe or "matter" is the Mother, Holy Spirit. Yet, they are really One.
Jesus Christ was Adam, the first human being in this creation cycle. Having become one with God in His aspect as the "Son," He did not pass on into the Bosom of the Father, but came back to earth as an incarnation of the Son of God to repair the evil He had wrought as Adam.3 Yet, He Himself said: "I and my Father are one"4 and "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."5 This is because the distinctions are only in our eyes. The Unity alone is real.
So, in brief we would say: Jesus Christ is God. Or, more correctly: God is Jesus Christ. It is a mystery. We do not try to understand it, but rather strive to attain the same status He had. Then we will BE it, and will not need to understand it.
Is the incarnation of God, such as was expressed through Jesus, an event that is singular throughout all of history, i.e., an event that took place once only? Or is it possible that God will assume another incarnation, even need to assume another, at another point in history?
Ever since shaking off the ignorance of the false (and therefore blind) Churchianity into which I was born, I have looked back upon the insistence that Jesus Christ is the only incarnation of God as one of the more inexplicable points of that system of thought which, while proclaiming itself Christianity, is in actuality only "the light that is darkness."6 Satan–that is, delusion–is certainly transformed into an angel of light7 in the case of most pseudo-Christian churches.
Now let me get down off the soap box and answer your question!
In contrast to the dogmatizing of professional and amateur religionists, knowers of God assure us that there have been many incarnations of God upon the earth throughout the history of the human race. (What is more, incarnations of God occur in the higher worlds, as well.) And there shall be future divine incarnations as long as there is a human race. A person who feels that he cannot believe in an incarnation unless that incarnation is the one and only is like a man who cannot love his wife unless he is convinced she is the only female human being on the earth. Both views are madness.
Avatars (to use the Sanskrit term) do not come to earth for the vague purpose of somehow uplifting humanity and "saving" sinners. Rather, They come with the intention enunciated by Saint John the Beloved at the beginning of his Gospel: "To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God."8 That is, an incarnation of God manifests upon the earth for the purpose of establishing a repository of spiritual power which will outlast His physical "lifetime," and will bring salvation to future generations. Sometimes the avatar establishes a new religion upon the earth, and sometimes He regenerates a religion whose inner power has waned or even been lost. In the case of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, a storehouse of power–the Church–was established which was to be a haven for those adherents of the ancient mysteries of the Mediterranean world which had lost their deifying power. I use the word "deifying" because "salvation" is not having our sins forgiven or escaping a miserable afterlife in hell, but rather it is freedom–freedom from all ignorance, and therefore from all necessity of further birth-manifestations in this lowest of planes of existence and in all other higher planes of existence as well. That is, salvation is the return of the individual spirit into the bosom of the Father from whence it came, and within which it has existed eternally.
Since human beings are what they are, in time the spiritual power so brought to earth becomes dimmed, distorted, and (often) eventually lost. Therefore the Lord must come again to again establish "the power to become the sons of God" among men.
In the foregoing I have implied that God comes in a single form at a time–and that form a male form. Except in extremely rare instances, divine incarnation always takes place in a dual manifestation–that is, in both male and female forms. In the fourteenth century, in the controversy surrounding the Hesychast fathers of Mount Athos and their defender Saint Gregory Palamas, it was established as an irrevocable part of Eastern Christian theology that God, though one, has–from our standpoint at least–a dual nature: essence and energies. This teaching was not novel to Christianity, but had never before needed official expression and approbation. In Hinduism this duality is also to be found–that is, that God consists of two aspects, divine consciousness and divine creative power–Purusha and Prakriti. For this reason, also in Hinduism, every male deity representing the infinite guiding consciousness behind the universe also has a female consort (known as His Shakti, energy) Who represents the limitless field of conscious energy that is manifesting as the universe over which the Lord presides. Since the individual souls manifest and evolve within this great energy and are ultimately "born" out of it into the realm of pure consciousness, that energy field is called "Mother," as distinguished from the "Father" of pure consciousness. All creation is looked upon as both the Mother and Her evolutionary "womb."
In Christianity, this divine duality is manifested and symbolized through our Lord Jesus Christ and His Virgin Mother Mary. Usually the male incarnation marries His female counterpart, but because of Jesus' unique spiritual mission–as well as the symbology which was to unfold through His life-drama–the divine power (also known as the Holy Spirit) was first born on earth and became His Virgin Mother.9
Thus, there are virtually as many incarnations of God in female form as there in male form. (Although rare, sometimes there has been an incarnation in female form without the male counterpart.)
Since we are on the subject of divine incarnations, let me add that there are two distinct modes of divine incarnation.
The first–and most common–is the one in which the Supreme Consciousness manifests upon the earth in a body that is illusory–that is, it is not a body formed of dense matter but is itself a theophany (swarupa), formed of the Divine Consciousness, and is itself a revelation of God. That is, God is not inside that body, but God actually is that body. Therefore, whenever anyone sees the Incarnation they literally are beholding God. (The question as to whether they are seeing God with their two physical eyes or are actually having an internal, spiritual perception which seems to them external is to my way of thinking completely irrelevant.) As stated in the Bhagavad Gita, the Incarnation's "birth" on earth is a mere appearance only. Such an Incarnation really has neither a father nor a mother, though for the sake of relating to human beings there is that appearance, including gestation and birth. The "body" of such an incarnation bears several distinctive marks or traits by which it can be known as what it truly is.
The second type of Incarnation is quite different, though morally-spiritually the same. This form of Incarnation differs in two major points. Firstly, rather than being a direct "raying forth" or extension of the Absolute Consciousness into the world in an illusory manner, the Incarnation is an individualized spirit that has traversed the entire range of evolution and attained absolute oneness with the Supreme and thereby participates in and manifests the omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence of God. Of such a person it is rightly said: "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."10 In such a being humanity and divinity are manifested as one. In the other type of incarnation, there is no humanity whatsoever–not even a human body–but only divinity manifest in an inexplicable manner. This second type of divine incarnation is born into a truly material human body and has actual human ancestry. Whereas it is incorrect to speak of the first type of incarnation as human, it is improper to deny the humanity of this second mode of avatar.
Jesus Christ was this second type of incarnation. By the end of the third century the general consciousness of the Christian Church became dimmed to such a degree that the nature of Jesus Christ in His incarnation was incomprehensible. This gave rise to various erroneous definitions of His incarnate nature–definitions that would not even have been bothered with if Christians had not lost the direct communication with Christ that was the normal mode of Christian consciousness in the preceding generations. There were those who held that the birth and body of Jesus Christ were merely an illusion and that consequently He was incapable of experiencing any material sensations whatever, especially the sufferings upon the cross. This was the view of those known as Docetists, and is currently (erroneously) considered the "Gnostic" view. Later there were those that concluded that Jesus Christ was a great super-being created by God and sent into the world for the purpose of its salvation. This is known as the Arian view. Another view was that Jesus the Christ was a virtuous human being who was somehow overshadowed or possessed by God and used as a sacred medium or shaman for communication with humanity, and that divinity withdrew itself from the human Christ before His crucifixion. This is known as the Nestorian view. Things came back somewhat full circle to the Docetic possession in the teachings of a Greek monk named Eutyches, who taught that Jesus Christ was in no way human but only divine. The current "orthodoxy" among Eastern and Oriental Christians is the view that Jesus Christ was God Who assumed a human nature and thereby became as fully human as He was divine. However, since their (contemporary) understanding of both divinity and humanity is defective, this "orthodoxy" is of little practical meaning.
The true purpose of Divine Incarnation is to show us our own face–to awaken us to the fact that we are ourselves incarnate gods–and to impart the power to manifest that truth.
I myself began using Buddhist meditation to enhance my own spiritual life as a Christian. At first I was afraid that I was being heretical, but the balance and joy I have gained has made my life so rich, and the sutras as well as the Hindu Upanishads are incredibly poetic and they do not contradict the Bible. I am defending myself so I obviously still feel a residue of guilt. But I love these books and I really enjoy meditating.
Since Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within, no inner search, according to a valid tradition, can possibly be heretical. Also, we have all practiced many religions from life to life and it is only right to feel an affinity for some if not all of the non-Christian traditions. We sometimes take up practices from those religions because of this intuitive familiarity.
Certainly the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures do not contradict the Bible because Moses was an initiate of the Mysteries which originated in India, as was Jesus. Jesus quoted from the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, and Dhammapada in His teachings. Many verses that narrow-minded "Christians" like to quote (sometimes to prove that their religion alone is true!) are directly from these sources. Some of the Psalms and the prophetic books of the Old Testament contain parallels to passages from the Vedas. As Saint Augustine wrote: "The identical thing that we now call the Christian religion existed among the ancients and has not been lacking from the beginning of the human race until the coming of Christ in the flesh, from which moment on the true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christian."
There has been a lot of talk about the "Second Coming" of Christ. But according to my study (and my limited understanding) my opinion for the last few years has been that the coming of Christ is an event more on the subjective level. The more we grow spiritually and become renewed and transformed, the Spirit of Christ grows within us, transforming the individual from the inside out. It is almost a metabolic change until even the very cells of our physical body are "Christified." This event is what I perceive to be the coming of the Lord. We [ourselves] are the next coming of Christ. The evolution of the spirit and soul and body of humanity. Transforming us in the alchemists' sense from base lead or clay into gold, the divine nature of God. Is this a proper view? None of my friends agree with me.
Not only is your view "proper," it is one hundred percent correct, and your expression of it is really fine.
There are a some points I would like to expand on, however, that you might find meaningful.
The word translated "coming" is the Greek term parousia which means simply "presence," with the connotation of an advent. The first Coming of Christ was external and historical. But the sole purpose of that first Coming was to open the way that would in time lead to the true Second Parousia which is a completely individual mystical experience of our own Christhood.
The descriptions given in the Bible of the "resurrection" and "judgement" are symbolic indications of the final process of transformation when, as you have said, the alchemy becomes complete and the lead of earthly life becomes transmuted into the gold of higher life, the original Paradisiacal status of the human being. And beyond that there is much more to come as we pass "from glory to glory."
When Jesus was asked if there were few that were saved,11 He said that indeed it was few only who were saved. But by salvation Christ meant this divine transmutation. Moreover, He did not say that only a few would be saved, but that in each generation only a few attained to this condition, the others still being compelled to return through rebirth until they, too, became one of the "few saved" in a future generation.
Finally, it is true that Jesus Christ will come to earth again. But He will not drop out of the sky with a trumpet blast as the physically dead pop up out of the grave like toast as most "Christians" think. Rather, He will be born in Israel and this time be recognized as the Messiah.
A biblical passage which has long troubled me is that of the account of Jesus' casting of the devils into the swine, found in three of the Gospels. It troubles me on two accounts: One, I think that this and other such passages in the Bible seem to view animals as things and present a moral justification for the hideous cruelties practiced upon animals; and, two, a God Whose love extends to only one species–ours–is not the God I know outside the Bible. This really has been a source of minor torment to me–it seems like some sort of fatal flaw in the character of Jesus–this uncaring attitude toward the pigs. Please comment on this.
I will make some observations on this incident in the life of Jesus, but they can only be speculations, for they deal with a Person beyond my ability to gauge.
To exorcise evil spirits–that is, to expel them from a person or place–only to have them go somewhere else and perhaps work even worse things, is certainly not wise. All human beings have exorcistic powers that can be employed simply through their will. No special spiritual power is even required. Because of the weakened condition of human beings psychically as well as physically, this power is often not operative. Those with a little bit of spiritual or psychic power can indeed expel an evil entity, but their power stops at the mere expulsion. They have no control over where the entity will go and what it will then do. Great masters like Jesus, on the other hand, realize the need to safeguard the rest of the world, and therefore banish the exorcised spirits beyond the earth plane into that realm of chaos known as "the outer darkness." There the entities remain until, in the next cycle of creation, they will have a chance to normalize themselves and continue on their evolutionary journey. (That is, they are not banished to "hell" where they would be "punished" forever.)
The spirits knew that Jesus would not allow them to go where they pleased. Not wanting to be exiled into the outer darkness, they therefore begged Him to let them go into the pigs that were grazing there. Why did they ask this? Because entities often obsess animals and completely control their behavior. (They often pass into the bodies of those who eat the flesh of those animals, as well.) Thus they remain embodied–though in a non-human form–and continue to "live."
Why did Jesus allow them to go into the pigs? I will give my opinion, but it is only just that. First, by allowing the entities to pass into the pigs, Jesus demonstrated that demons are real entities and not just superstitious fantasies or states of mental disorder, and that they can and do possess animals and humans. The resulting behavior of the animals when the entities passed into them was a proof both that there were many entities expelled from the man, and also that those entities affected the behavior of those they possessed. In this way Jesus graphically demonstrated the truth of the existence of evil spirits and their capacity to possess.
But there is more to it. The Torah forbade the eating of swine's flesh, and the raising of them for food was a blatant defiance of the Law. Since Israel was a theocracy, we could even say that such activity was illegal. These animals were being raised only for slaughter–and slaughter in the most cruel way, often being skinned alive. To save the animals from this fate and at the same time to prove the reality of spirit possession, Jesus permitted this.
Why did the pigs drown themselves?
It is not easy for a soul to possess a body not specifically formed for its habitation. This is why obsession is more common than possession. No matter how intelligent an entity may be, when it intrudes itself into a body it rarely is able to maintain the body's normal bodily functions. This is one of the reasons possessing entities will possess and "dispossess" a human being, giving time for the legitimate soul to heal the damage caused by the invasion. In the New Testament we are told that people can become blind, deaf, or seized by muscular spasms when an entity is in possession. At the expulsion of the entity, the problem immediately leaves. Seizures similar to epilepsy are also manifestations of possession. That is, the legitimate soul is violently reacting inwardly and trying to itself cast out the invader. This conflict produces such spells. Sometimes these seizures are the reaction of the nervous and immune systems to the damage being caused by the intruder. Fevers can also be a response to possession.
Because the entities were obviously not able to control the central nervous system of the pigs, the animals became completely panicked and rushed into the water and drowned themselves. We must remember that pigs are highly intelligent creatures, and they may have known what they were doing. That is, they may have been deliberately drowning themselves to cast off the possession, just as some animals rush into water when they are infested with fleas or other such parasites. In fact, the pigs could have thought that they were experiencing such a physical infestation. However that may be, they were both freed from the possession and from the torturous death that was planned for them. And it is hoped that the swineherds took up a better profession.
A person like Jesus Who literally sacrificed His life for the unworthy and the ungrateful was never being cruel or thoughtless in any of His actions. There is of course no reason why we should not inquire into such a person's motivations, however evolved he may be, since those motives may actually teach us spiritual and psychic lessons.