A Western master yogi on the similarities between Jesus’s teachings and the traditions of yoga.
I was twelve years old, when I attended a Billy Graham rally with a hundred thousand other persons at the Los Angeles Coliseum. I was overwhelmed by its intensity, and when Billy Graham called upon us to come down to the stage and declare our commitment to Jesus Christ, I responded. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. And I began to dream of one day becoming a Christian missionary in Africa.
I was fifteen years old when I attended a "Human Encounter Session" at the local Y.M.C.A., a half mile down the road from Westchester Lutheran Church. For two full days, about sixty of my classmates from high school sat in a circle and shared our concerns about life. We talked and listened to one another for hours. A Y.M.C.A. counselor gently moderated the discussions, giving everyone an opportunity to share their heartfelt insights and questions. Near the end of the second day, the discussion died down. No one had anything more to say. We seemed to have collectively reached a place of rest. Suddenly, I had my first spiritual experience. I transcended my ordinary mental state and entered into a state of quiet ecstasy. I realized that there was only one Being in the room who was speaking earnestly through all of us, guiding us back to the realization of our true identity, beyond names and forms. This Being permeated everything, and was totally loving and benevolent. I was transfixed by the experience, and for days afterwards enjoyed an altered state of consciousness wherein I felt the oneness of everything. It was truer than anything that I had ever experienced before. Gradually, however, this state went away. It left me with a deep longing to find it again.
In the years that followed, I delved into various disciplines of meditation, eastern religions, and found my home in Yoga, without ever leaving the original teachings of Jesus. Yoga reflects what Jesus said in his parables, sayings and admonitions.
The parables and sayings of Jesus can be grouped under several important themes: reversing natural human inclinations, the Kingdom of Heaven, entering the Kingdom of Heaven, purity, on worry and being present, on aspiration, showing the path to others, God's unconditional love, and forgiveness of sins, and the karmic consequences of our actions. Many of the insights that I have had about them are informed by comparisons that I have made with the teachings of the Yoga Siddhas, who were contemporaries of Jesus, as well as with the Gospel of Thomas, discovered in the Sinai Desert in 1945. Most of the following quotations from the New Testament are taken a modern language translation from The Five Gospels, by Robert Funk and Roy Hoover.
Reversing Natural Human Inclinations:
"Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect," (Matthew 5.48 with parallel in Luke 6:36). One of the meanings of the word for a Yogic saint or Siddha is "one who has become perfect." Jesus challenged his listeners to perfect themselves, to overcome their lower human nature, and to become divine. Jesus, like the greatest of Yoga adepts, made his life his Yoga. He overcame all the ordinary limitations of the human existence to reveal his true nature, and more importantly, He admonished His listeners to do the same.
Jesus asks us to do the opposite of what human nature would ordinarily cause us to do. He said:
"Don't react violently against the one who is evil; when someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other as well. When someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let that person have your coat along with it. Further, when anyone conscripts you for one mile, go an extra mile." (Matthew 5:39-41, with parallels in Luke 6.29)
"Give to the one who begs from you; and don't turn away the one who tries to borrow from you." (Matthew 5:42, with parallels in Luke 6.29)
"Love your enemies." (Matthew 5.43 with parallel in Luke 6:27-28).
Because the commands are so extreme, even ridiculous when taken literally (we'd all soon be naked and impoverished if we followed them to the limit), they give us the kind of insight that we could only have by becoming aware of the ordinary tendencies of the ego. They demand responses which are just barely possible, so they push us to go to the edge of human nature, and beyond. The admonition to "love your enemies" is particularly memorable because it cuts against the social grain and constitutes a paradox: those who love their enemies have no enemies.
This is also the method of Yoga and Tantra. As Sri Aurobindo put it humorously, when urged by his comrades who were fighting for India's independence from the British Empire to resume his political struggle, he quickly replied that what was needed was "not a revolt against the British Government, which anyone could easily manage…(but) a revolt against the whole of universal Nature."
The "edge" of what the practitioner finds possible to do in a Yoga posture is the metaphor for the edges which we reach in our human experience, for example, whenever we feel anger, fear or depression. By learning to keep our balance and our awareness, keeping calm, listening, acting only after reflecting, rather than reacting, we extend what we are capable of doing, in effect stretching our human nature a little farther. Most of Yoga is doing the opposite of what our human nature would ordinarily cause us to do - remaining calm and content in the face of opposition or discord, sitting still, rather than moving, remaining awake when the eyes are closed, in meditation; allowing the breathing to slow to zero; training even the mind to become still, rather than to be restless.
The Kingdom of Heaven
The parable of the mustard seed expressed his vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.
"The followers said to Jesus, 'Tell us what heaven's kingdom is like.' He said to them, 'It is like a mustard seed. (It) is the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of heaven.'" (Gospel of Thomas Saying 20, with parallel verses in Mark 4.30-32, Luke 13.18-19, and Matthew 13. 31-32)
The metaphor of the mustard seed (proverbial for its smallness) is considered by scholars to be a good example of how Jesus considered God's domain to be: modest, common and pervasive, rather than imperial. They point out that the mighty cedar of Lebanon tree (Ezekial 17:22-23) and the apocalyptic tree of Daniel (Daniel 4:12, 20-22) were the traditional metaphors used to describe God's domain. Jesus' selection of the mustard tree pokes fun at established tradition in a comical way. It is also anti-social in that it endorses counter movements and ridicules established tradition.
The parable of the leaven in the flour also teaches us about the Kingdom of Heaven, and how reversing our human nature permits us to perceive it.
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven which a woman took and concealed in fifty pounds of flour until it was all leavened." (Matthew 13.33, parallels in Luke 13.20-21 and Thomas 96)
This one-sentence parable transmits the voice of Jesus as clearly as any ancient record can, in the judgment of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar. He uses three images in a way that would have been very surprising to His audience. "Hiding" leaven in flour is an unusual way to express the idea of mixing yeast and flour. It implies that God has deliberately concealed His Kingdom from us. The surprise increases when Jesus notes that there were "fifty pounds" of flour. In Genesis 18, three men, representatives of God, appear to Abraham and promise him and his wife that she will conceive a child soon, even though she is aged. For the occasion, Sarah is instructed to make cakes of fifty pounds of flour to give to the heavenly visitors. Fifty pounds of flour must be a suitable quantity to celebrate an epiphany (Greek - "the appearance; miraculous phenomenon"), a visible, though indirect manifestation of God. The third image is the use of leaven, regarded as a symbol of corruption by the Judeans. In the Passover celebration, bread was made without leaven. In a surprising reversal of the customary associations, the leaven here represents not what is corrupt and unholy, but the Kingdom of God. That God deliberately hides his Kingdom from us is one of the "five functions of the Lord," namely obscuration, according to Saiva Siddhanta (see below). It obliges us to seek Him, to overcome the delusion of the world.
In His Grace was I born;
In His Grace I grew up;
In His Grace I rested in death;
In His Grace I was in obfuscation;
In His Grace I tasted of ambrosial bliss;
In His Grace, Nandi (the Lord) entered.
(Thirumandiram, verse 1800)
Thomas 113 tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is already here, but that we do not see it:
"His disciples said to him, When will the Kingdom of Heaven come? He replied: It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, Look, here! or Look, there!' Rather, the Kingdom of Heaven is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it."
"They who do not see the Treasure that surpasses all,
But seek the treasures that perish,
If within their melting heart they seek inside
They will see the Treasure that dies not."
(Thirumandiram, verse 762)
On Entering into the Kingdom of Heaven
Today, we live in a country which enjoys unprecedented prosperity. Our church leaders encourage us to become prosperous. Televangelists ask us to give generously to their churches so that God will reward us here and now with material things. Is this consistent with the teachings of Jesus?
"For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." (Mark 10.25, with parallels in Matthew 19.24 and Luke 18.25)
Does this mean that becoming wealthy in this world will prevent us from entering Heaven in the next world? This saying is graphic and humorous and exhibits Jesus' use of hyperbole and exaggeration. It cannot be taken literally, which suggests that the whole discussion of the relation of wealth to God's Kingdom should be viewed circumspectly: does Jesus literally mean that everyone should embrace poverty as a way of life? Poverty and celibacy are aspects of the ascetic life that became popular in the Christian movement at an early date.
This aphorism is also part of a complex of wise sayings or aphorisms, known as the beatitudes, which describe how difficult it is for those with money to enter God's kingdom. The more material things one has, the greater the risk of becoming attached to them, and consequently missing "the Kingdom of Heaven."
"Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,
Blessed are the hungry, for you will feast,
Blessed are those who weep, for you will be comforted."
(Luke 6.21, with parallels in Thomas 54, 69.2, 58 and Matthew 5.3, 5.6)
"Blessed are you when people hate you, when they persecute you, and denounce you and scorn your name as evil, because of the son of man." (Luke 6.22-23, with parallels in Matthew 5.10-12, Thomas 68.1-2, 69.1)
Jesus had blessed the poor in the beatitudes, telling them that God's Kingdom belonged to them, so he probably believed that in simplicity, one was closer to the living Presence of the Lord. It reflects the view that attachment to material things prevents one from realizing the spiritual dimension. It is not the material things themselves that are problematic, but the desire and attachments for them, which cause us to lose sight of the Reality of God's Kingdom around us. It is the deluding tendency of the mind to fantasize, worry and become preoccupied with things, absorbed in them, rather than to live freely, identified as self-effulgent awareness, "in the light." He is also encouraging his listeners to go beyond the duality of poor-rich, hungry-not hungry, weeping-comforted, having-not having, in other words the disease of the mind, in which one ordinarily identifies with one body, mind and emotions. One must purify oneself of desires, in order to transcend the ego's perspective that "I am the body" and its attachment to the body's pleasures.
Saying that the poor are blessed, or in modern terms, "congratulating the poor without qualification is unexpected, to say the least, and even paradoxical, since congratulations were normally extended only to those who enjoyed prosperity, happiness, or power. The congratulations addressed to the weeping and the hungry are expressed in vivid and exaggerated language, which announces a dramatic transformation."
The pairs of opposites employed in these beatitudes also reminds one of the practice of Yoga, which is "opposite doing." Being still rather than moving, remaining silent rather than speaking, fasting, rather than feasting, cultivating pure consciousness in mental silence instead of permitting mental chatter. In so doing one is able to transcend the ordinary human consciousness, the perspective of the ego, and access the perspective of our soul, which is one of peace and unconditional joy, in short, beatitude.
The beatitudes (Latin - "perfect happiness") are paradoxical statements, which call for a deep reflection upon their meaning. Given Jesus' repeated assertions that the Kingdom of God is already present, the beatitudes are not a promise of a future reward in some heavenly afterlife, as is usually interpreted by those who believe Jesus was announcing the end of the world. Are they not, rather, a challenge to his listeners to transform their condition into a means of purification? It is a direct challenge to let go of the feeling, "I am suffering," "I am poor," "I am hungry," and to realize that "I am not the body," "I am not my emotions," "I am not my suffering" and "I am not my mind." "I am" is closer to the Truth. It is a challenge to be the Witness of your life, to be the Seer, not the Seen.
In the Yoga-Sutras, Patanjali tells us that "By austerity, impurities of the body and senses are destroyed and perfection gained." Yoga-sutra II.43 (Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas, page 109). Classical Yoga, as expounded by Patanjali tells us that we are dreaming with our eyes open, because we identify not with what we are, which is pure consciousness, but with what we are not, our dreams, the movements of the mind. This apparent and mistaken identification of the Self or Seer, with the manifestations of nature (the Seen) is the fundamental cause of human suffering and the fundamental problem of human consciousness. The Self is the pure, absolute subject, and is experienced as "I am." But in ordinary human consciousness, the Self has become an object: "myself", a personality, an ego ridden collection of thoughts, feelings and sensations which assumes the role of the subject. The habit of identifying with our thoughts, emotions, sensations, that is, egoism is the nearly universal disease of ordinary human consciousness. It is only by ceasing to identify with these, through the process of detachment and purification, that one can realize one's true identity: the Self. The Self and the Lord have one common element, consciousness, according to Patanjali and the Siddhas, and it is by the realization of our true Self, that we can also realize the Lord, and be in His Kingdom.
A Personal Experience of Entering the Kingdom of Heaven
In 1971, I was initiated into a powerful series of advanced yogic techniques, I lived an austere life in India and practiced what I had learned for one year. Alone, visited only by a servant who prepared my meals and cleaned, with no distractions (and no plumbing, and very little electricity) my aspirations to know God roared and soared. My call met with a response: a series of powerful meditation experiences, which filled me great peace and joy. Although nearly impossible to describe, because they did not involve "forms" or "visions," but the expansion of my consciousness itself, I can recall how immediate was the Presence of the Lord and even amidst the most mundane activities of daily life: in the bathing water I poured over my body standing at a well, in the simple, spicy vegetarian curry and rice cooked over a dung fire, while bumping along in a country bus to the nearby town to purchase the week's provisions, while bowing as I passed local temples, and reflected in the bright eyes of the local children who came to the ashram for Yoga classes and even in the sugar candy they were given to savor afterwards. I felt that I had entered, at times, a timeless realm, so great was the peace. The events were nothing out of the ordinary, but were beheld with the perspective of ever-renewing joy. God was everywhere in that simple life and the ensuing bliss was too.
"Listen to me, all of you, and try to understand! It's not what goes into a person from the outside that can defile; rather it's what comes out of the person that defiles". (Mark 7.14-15 with parallels in Matthew 15.10-11 and Thomas 14.5)
As a means of entering the Kingdom of God through purification, Jesus insists here on the true purity: inner purity, as distinct from the external rules emphasized by the Pharisees. Inner purity, of the heart, begins with discrimination against thoughts that defile: judgment, greed, lust, anger, hatred, desire. All of them cause suffering, not only for others, but for the person harboring them. Words and actions are preceded by thoughts, so one must develop awareness of the negative mental tendencies and detach from them as soon as they begin to manifest within us. In Yoga-sutra I.30, Patanjali lists nine obstacles to inner awareness: "disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sense indulgence or addiction, false perception, failure to reach firm ground (lack of patience and perseverance) and the failure to maintain ones equilibrium during the highs and lows of life." (Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddhas, page 39-40). Patanjali also takes a direct approach to such negative thoughts and tendencies: "When bound by negative thoughts, their opposite should be cultivated." (Yoga-sutra II.33) But Patanjali's main Yogic method was the cultivation of detachment towards them, letting go of identifying with the mental movements. The purifying process of Classical Yoga can be summarized in two acts of spiritual discipline: "Yoga is remembering Who Am I, and letting go of what I am not." Like the two wings of a bird, they lift one to Heaven.
On Worry, and Being Present
"That's why I tell you: Don't fret about your life - what you are going to eat and drink - or about your body - what you are going to wear. There is more to living than food and clothing, isn't there? Take a look at the birds of the sky: they don't plant or harvest, or gather into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are worth more than they, aren't you? Can any of you add one hour to life by fretting about it? Why worry about clothes? Notice how the wild lilies grow: they don't slave and they never spin. Yet let me tell you, even Solomon at the height of his glory was never decked out like one of them. If God dresses up the grass in the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into an oven, won't (God care) for you even more, you who don't take anything for granted? So, don't fret. Don't say, 'What am I going to eat?' or 'What am I going to drink' or "What am I going to wear?'" (Matthew 6.25-31, with parallels in Luke 12.22-31 and Thomas 36)
This is one of the most important things that Jesus said. It is also connected with his saying, "Blessed are the hungry" (Luke 6.21), petition for the day's bread (Mathew 6.11) and the certainty that those who ask will receive. (Luke 11:10) Drawing upon figures of speech from the everyday world, these figures challenge the common attitudes towards life. They are exaggerations: humans are not fed like birds and are not clothed like the grass of the field.
By encouraging his listeners to live in the present, Jesus was reminding them that it is only here, now, where they can find the Kingdom of God. By letting go of worries, and appreciating the present moment, one can develop the mystic vision of the eternal moment, the highest goodness. This echoes Patanjali's famous aphorisms: "Yoga is the cessation of identifying with the fluctuations arising within consciousness. The Seer abides in his own true form." (Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, pages 2-4). In the ordinary human mind, worries obscure the vision, so one fails to see the ever-present Being. All spiritual traditions, including Yoga and that to which Jesus belonged, taught the value of cultivating mental silence and equanimity. In doing so, we purify ourselves of the false identities of the ego.
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you. Rest assured: everyone who asks receives; everyone who seeks finds; and for the one who knocks it is opened. Who among you would hand a son a stone when it is bread he's asking for? Again, who would hand him a snake when it is fish he's asking for? Of course no one would! So if you, shiftless as you are, know how to give your children good gifts, isn't it much more likely that your Father in Heaven will give good things to those who ask him?" (Matthew 7.7-11)
Here, Jesus is not referring to the ordinary prayers, which are generally petition for things which our ego believes that it needs to be happy. Rather he is addressing what is referred to in Yogic literature as "aspiration." Sri Aurobindo defines aspiration as "a spiritual enthusiasm, the height and ardor of the soul's seeking." (The Practice of Integral Yoga, page 42) Aspiration is the call of the soul for the Lord Himself. Desire is the cry of the ego, for something it imagines that it needs to be happy. Aspiration is the opposite of desire. One is intensely aware of the limitations of the ego-bound existence, and one seeks to come out of its prison. One directs one's energies away from the ego-center. It first manifests as a thirst for spiritual knowledge, and later as a quiet, steady seeking of the Divine Itself. It is a spiritual enthusiasm of our soul towards perfection, unconditional love, truth and beauty. Grace is the response of the Lord to the soul's call. It reflects the widespread recognition that prayers are answered by a source of benevolence, independent of whether we are deserving or not. Unlike karma, grace does not depend upon whether we deserve reward or punishment. With grace, we receive what is uplifting and edifying for our soul, in response to its call, in the form of spiritual experiences, insights and realizations about the Truth and the Presence.
Aspiration in the practice of Yoga, may take the form of intensive austerities, known as tapas, with the purpose of surrendering one ego, and its desires and fears, to the Lord. And when this is done at a sacred place, for a prolonged period the intense spiritual energy within and without facilitates spiritual experiences and much grace. Tapas means literally, "to heat," or "straightening by fire," and it can be used as a voluntary self-challenge to overcome anything in one's nature, or as a penance to atone for past misdeeds, but in Yoga it is used primarily to cultivate the fire of aspiration: to surrender the ego's perspective and to realize God.
Yogis would recognize the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness as Yogic tapas. His great aspiration to surrender all desires, all temptations, to want only the Father, were all characteristic of what advanced Yogis do to purify themselves, and enter into a state of communion with the Lord.
From late 1972 to early 1973, I performed 48 days of tapas at the Brahmanoor Kali temple, Tamil Nadu, India. Every night at midnight I went there, made a small ceremony, and then sat in deep meditation for several hours. This very simple temple was located in a barren, desert like area. Although lacking in adornments, it had an intense spiritual energy. At night, many cobras came out of their holes and circulated around it. Surrendering my fear, in the darkness, engulfed in the temple's intense spiritual energy, my meditations became extraordinarily deep, and I often entered the breathless state of samadhi, using the advanced techniques which I had been initiated into in 1971. The effects of these nocturnal sessions carried over during the day. I remained in a state of transcendence, as the still, immutable Witness Self, in which everything was in me, and I was in everything. It was pure Grace. God was everywhere.
Showing the Path to Others
"Since when is the lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket or under the bed? It is put on the lamp stand, isn't it? After all there is nothing hidden except to be brought to the light, nor anything secreted away that won't be exposed." (Mark 4.21-22 with parallels in Luke 8.16; Matt. 5.15, Luke 11:33 and Thomas 33.2-3) The simplest form of this saying appears in Thomas 5.2, where it consists of a single line: "There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed." In all of these contexts, "light" is a metaphor for higher consciousness or insight. In the context of parable interpretation, this saying can only mean that the secrets of the parables are intended to be revealed. If so, it is puzzling why those secrets were hidden in the first place?
The appended aphorism about the need for the hidden to be brought to light and the explanation of why everything is in parables appears to be contradictory. The confusion undoubtedly is due to the attempt of early interpreters to reconcile two opposing themes in the Jesus tradition:
- Jesus taught in parables that were difficult to understand;
- Jesus insisted that his teachings were meant to shed light, to be understood, to be revealing. In imitation of Mark, Luke attempts to utilize these appended proverbs to explain this paradox.
This is similar to the deliberately obscure twilight language used by the Siddhas in their poetry. It is language which is intended to hide certain truths from non-initiates; it contains several layers of meaning, both at the level of ordinary experience and of transcendence. It is both suggestive and paradoxical. The language itself is mystical in nature, where the highest is clothed in the form of the lowest. The Siddhas made free use of typology, wordplay, paradox, repetition, and metaphor to convey to the listener the richness of the reality hidden in the visible terms and symbols. The true meaning of the expression is accessible only to the initiated. It is likely that the Siddha poems themselves functioned as an initiation. It is a language for preaching esoteric, mystical doctrines.
Sharing one's light, is similar to the concept of arrupadai ("showing the path to others") in the Siddha literature. This is expressed in Thirumular's famous aphorism: "May this world share the bliss that I have had." The social concern of the Siddhas included not only their physical well being, but sharing the wisdom and means to removing the sources of suffering.
The message of not hiding our light is not as straightforward as one might think. When to show it? How? To who? Who is ready to see it? In 1976, during a cross country pilgrimage with my Yoga teacher who was a siddha, I was given a memorable example of this problem. We stopped one night to camp near Pike's Peak. My teacher told us that he was going to go into the forest to do sadhana (meditation) alone, but that no one should follow him. This last statement greatly aroused my curiosity, and after much internal debate, I decided to follow him, keeping very quiet so as not to create any disturbance. Deep in the forest he sat down against a tree and entered a state of meditation. I hid behind another tree, about fifty feet away. His eyes were open; however they were turned up completely, revealing only the whites of his eyes, indicating a deep state. Then, to my surprise his body began to glow. The glow became so great that I could no longer distinguish his human form. There was only a ball of light where I had perceived his physical form. I rubbed my eyes and pinched myself to convince myself that I was not dreaming. The ball of light persisted for over thirty minutes. I was filled with joy perceiving it. Gradually the light grew dimmer, and I could again perceive his familiar form. His eyes closed, and then opened again and got up and began to walk back towards our camp. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted me crouching behind a tree. He gently scolded me, saying: "I said that no one should follow me."
Later, I asked him what he was doing, by stopping at various places and going into such states. He replied that he was "planting seeds;" that the spiritual energy, which he was leaving at each place would eventually stimulate the spiritual development of people in America. He remarked that the American Indians had left many such spiritual seeds, in special places, and that these would also bear fruit one day.
God's Unconditional Love
The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15. 11-32) is the longest parable spoken by Jesus and its message of God's unconditional love for all souls is, along with the presence of the Kingdom of God, the most important.
"Once there was this man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of my property that's coming to me.' So he divided his resources between them.
Not too many days later, the younger son got all his things together and left home for a faraway country, where he squandered property by living extravagantly. Just when he had spent it all, a serious famine swept through that country, and he began to do without. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him out to his farm to feed the pigs. He longed to satisfy his hunger with the carob pods, which the pigs usually ate; but no one offered him anything. Coming to his senses he said, 'Lots of my father's hired hands have more than enough to eat, while here I am dying of starvation!. I'll get up and go to my father and I'll say to him 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and affronted you; I don't deserve to be called a son of yours any longer; treat me like one of your hired hands' And he got up and returned to his father.
But the father said to his slaves, 'Quick! Bring out the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Fetch the fat calf and slaughter it; let's have a feast and celebrate, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and now is found.' And they started celebrating.
Now his elder son was out in the field; and as he got closer to the house, heard music and dancing. He called one of the servant-boys over and asked what was going on.
He said to him, 'Your brother has come home and your father has slaughtered the fat calf, because he has him back safe and sound.'
Bu he was angry and refused to go in. So his father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'See here, all these years I have slaved for you. I never once disobeyed any of your orders; yet you never once provided me with a kid goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours shows up, the one who has squandered your estate with prostitutes - for him you slaughter the fat calf.'
But (the father) said to him, 'My child, you are always at my side. Everything that's mine is yours. But we just had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost and now is found.'" (The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?, pages 356-357)
In this parable, Jesus is primarily addressing the righteous, represented by the older son. He tells us that they should not feel resentment towards those who have truly repented and returned, but receive them with open hearts, joy, love and forgiveness, as the father did. In a parable, as in a poem or a dream, the teller is all the images and characters. Christian teaching identifies Jesus with the father in the parable. But it is also true that he is the father, whose delicate, loving treatment of the older son calls for as much admiration as his unconditional acceptance of the younger son. And he is also the older son, whose grievances are stated harshly but fairly, and whom the parable treats with the tolerance and respect. We can recognize that Jesus, the storyteller, is the younger son at least as much as he is the father. When the son returns to the father, all his shame and sadness melt away in the presence of the father's joy. In a sense the son becomes the father. There is no difference between the love and joy of being forgiven and the love and joy of forgiving. The son and the father are one.
This same message of God's unconditional love for us is a central teaching of the Siddhas as well. The Siddhas taught that God loves us through all the stages of our lives, all our suffering, ups and downs and in all His Divine functions, according to Saiva Siddhanta, the philosophy of the Siddhas. Why? The Lord, known as pati (literally, "Lord"), the pasu (individual soul), and the pasas, (bonds of egoism, karma and maya - "illusion of the world appearance") are the three eternal realities. According to its earliest Siddha exponent, Thirumular, the greatest of saints and a contemporary of Jesus, the Lord has five functions: creation, preservation, destruction, obscuration and grace. These are His alone, and they distinguish Him from God-realized souls. Through them, souls gain the experience they need to find their way back to Godhead. What is the Lord's purpose in performing His several activities?" Some would say it is just a play. Play does not mean amusement. It means to be at ease; that God performs all these acts with ease, without undergoing any change. The purpose of the activities of the Lord is not for amusement, His activities are for His love of the souls. It is His grace that actuates His activities. The reason is to help the souls to be rid of the obstacles which keep them from the Kingdom of Heaven. "The act of creation is carried out by God to enable the souls, by giving them a body, etc., to work out their Karma; sustenance is to make the souls experience the fruit of their action; destruction is to give rest to the souls; obfuscation is to veil the nature of souls as cit (consciousness) and bring about indifference to fruits of actions, good and bad, by first making them engage in action; grace is the grant of release. All these activities are thus indicative of His Grace." (The Yoga of Siddha Tirumular, pages 62-63)
Jesus' parable of the prodigal son all reflects this purpose: the one son loses his way in the delusion of the world. It takes remembering whose son he is, to become freed from his delusion. The son experiences complete liberation from his suffering due to the unconditional love of his father.
Forgiveness of Sins and the Karmic Consequences of our Actions
Closely related to the theme of Jesus' teaching of unconditional love is the forgiveness of sins. The parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16.1-8) illustrates this:
"There was this rich man whose manager had been accused of squandering his master's property. He called him in and said, 'What's this I hear about you? Let's have an audit of your management, because your job is being terminated.'
Then the manager said to himself, 'What am I going to do? My master is firing me. I'm not strong enough to dig ditches and I'm ashamed to beg. I've got it! I know what I'll do so doors will open for me when I'm removed from management.'
So he called in each of his master's debtors. He said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'
He said, 'Five hundred gallons of olive oil.'
And he said to him, 'Here is your invoice; sit down right now and make it two hundred and fifty.'
Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?'
He said, 'A thousand bushels of wheat.'
He says to him, 'Here is your invoice; make it eight hundred.'
The master praised the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly."
This parable troubled its earliest Christian interpreters. The several sayings Luke has attached to it are attempts to moralize and soften it. (Luke 16.8b-13) The dishonest manager was forgiven by his master because he forgave, in part, the debts of others. Similarly, God forgives us when we forgive others. It echoes what was included in the Lord's Prayer, discussed above: "Forgive our debts to the extent we have forgiven those in debt to us." It is also consistent with the teaching of unconditional love in the parable of the prodigal son.
The Old Testament prophets and their followers, the Pharisees, emphasized a legal conception of our relationship with God. God makes laws. If you transgress those laws, God will judge and punish you. Jesus brought a new message: God loves you. And your sins against the law are forgiven when you recognize them and make amends. Rather than fearing Him, learn to love Him. He is at hand.
In this parable, notice that everyone was held to account, and were still required to pay the greater part of their debt. This reflects the metaphysical teaching about karma, that all actions, words and thoughts have consequences, but that there is a higher metaphysical law, that of grace, which can mitigate the consequences of karma, when we seek the Lord Himself. Bad karma, that which causes suffering, can be countered with good karma, that which forgives others for their transgressions against us or brings joy to others. Unlike karma, however, Grace is bestowed when we seek the Lord. This is consistent with the teachings of Jesus that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that if we seek Him, we will find him and His blessings. The parable teaches us that all of us are prone to make mistakes, but when we recognize that the consequences are always there, and that God loves us despite our errors, we are freed from our fear of the Lord, and learn to love Him without conditions, as He loves us.
The Siddha Thirumular's famous saying drives home the point that God (Siva) is love, and that when we truly realize what love is, we also realize God (Siva):
The ignorant prate that Love and Siva are two,
But none do know that Love alone is Siva
When men but know that Love and Siva are the same,
Love as Siva, they ever remained.
(Thirumandiram, verse 270)
The questions I had as a young Christian have been answered through the experiences I have had in practicing Yoga and in comparing the teachings of Jesus with those of the Yoga Siddhas. By reflecting on the sayings and parables of Jesus, everyone, can glimpse the Presence of the Divine, and by taking them to heart, one's path through life is greatly illumined. By making them a part of our spiritual discipline, we become disciples of Jesus.
This text was originally published at: https://www.babajiskriyayoga.net/english/articles/art32-wisdom-of-jesus-and-yoga-siddhas.htm. You can read an interview with Marshall Govindan here.