“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Mt3:17 Baptism
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Mt 17: 5 Transfiguration
“You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Mark 1: 11 Baptism
“This is my Son, the Beloved.” Mark 9: 8 Transfiguration
“You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Luke 4: 22 Baptism
“This is my Son, my Chosen,…” Luke 9:35 Transfiguration
We will pick up where we left off in the previous posting. But first we have to confront a bit of a difficulty in the Christian expression of this Awakening. Because the Jesus of history was a Jewish male, his “breakthrough,” his realization, his Awakening into that intimacy with the Ultimate Transcendent Mystery of Yahweh was spoken of in terms of the intimacy of “Father-Son” language. Where does that leave the other half of the human race—women? Again, the question does arise, how much do you privilege this language. Church doctrine does it so absolutely that it won’t even allow women to be priests, because in this view the priest is a “representation” of the historical Jesus. I won’t get into this argument, but as for the language of the Awakening, it is best viewed from the “other side” of the Paschal Mystery. In the Risen Christ there is no longer “Jew or Greek,” neither “male nor female.” Not in the sense that Jesus’s maleness somehow vanishes, but only that in the Resurrection it becomes transcended. Gender differences, ethnic differences, cultural differences, all recede into a kind of insignificance compared to the one Reality. This is the end of all dualities, an advaita that cuts across all human differences and “otherness.” So the paradigm, that which we look to as a “model” or pattern, is the Jesus of history, but the “realization,” our own actual Awakening is an awakening into the Risen Christ, who is beyond all historical limitations or definitions.
Feels like beating the proverbial dead horse, but I need to again point out that for too many Christians religion is a matter of “pleasing God,” “avoiding sin”—whatever that is, “keeping laws,” “doing good to get a reward”—like heaven, etc. But Jesus himself said, “Why do you call me good; only God is good.” A truly profound statement that just slips by in the Gospel. And Paul rails against a fundamental dependency on “doing good works.” And Luther was certainly right in criticizing a “religion of works,” but he misunderstood in a fundamental way what is meant by “sinfulness.” There is no “distance” between you and God—ever.
Now we come to another problem—not unrelated to the above stuff. Abhishiktananda focused on the Baptism pericopes in the Gospel as a central moment when Jesus breaks through to his experience of advaita with Yahweh. This became for Abhishiktananda, in his later years, the key event in the Gospels. With this new awareness of the Source of his life, Jesus engages the people and culture around him, and this makes him misunderstood by some, (mistakenly) admired by others, threatened by still others. It leads ultimately to an execution in which he remains faithful to that profound new sense of his identity—which was already tested in the pericope of the Temptation in the Wilderness. Interestingly enough, the Transfiguration account is a kind of continuation of this “You are My Son,” a confirmation of that original breakthrough into the advaita experience with his “Father.” But this time it is intimately tied to his oncoming death and the so-called Resurrection—the Paschal Mystery. How the advaita Awakening is tied to the Paschal Mystery is not easy to see or explain. Abhishiktananda does something that seems to break with Christian Tradition—he places the Baptism event at the center of his Awakening Christology and makes the Paschal Mystery seemingly a secondary thing, an outcome of that Awakening somehow. We will resist getting into the various Christological problems this entails!
One definite connection, however, is that once Jesus has his Awakening in the waters of the Jordan, he begins life with a new sense of identity that defies all labels, which others are eager to bestow on him. Jesus asks us why we want to carry the heavy burden of this ego-identity—in fact there are so many identities which encumber us and they are so burdensome and “heavy”—why not “awaken” and enter into his identity, which is in a real sense a no-identity, and this is a very light burden. The “kingdom” is merely life lived within this Awakening. (Incidentally the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes can also be best understood as life lived from deep within this Awakening.)
Awakening has to do with a profound upheaval of identity, an “atomic explosion” in the words of Abhishiktananda. No title, no label, no indicator, no human constructs, no language can render “who you are.” And so it is with Jesus. In the Temptation in the Wilderness right after his Baptism, Jesus faces the full power of false identities. Then various people try to put different labels on him, and he resists this with that mysterious and vague term, “son of Man.” The Son of Man must suffer and die he says, and then he enters definitively into a whole new identity and life, which is the Resurrection, which is not just another identity among the many others but properly speaking it is no-identity. So the Awakening begins for Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, but it is not definitive until his death and Resurrection. The importance of this death cannot be overstated. The Cross is the obliteration of all identities and all apparent ties and all seeming realities. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even the initial awakening of Jesus in the Jordan is now put to the test by seemingly being obliterated. Jesus totally surrendens to this seeming Nothingness. It is only then that he enters into that unspeakable realization which is called the Resurrection, which is totally beyond all formulations, all identities, all namarupa. And so it is with us also as we follow him. Ultimately our advaita is with a Nameless God, the Nameless One in whom we too become Nameless and so beyond all limitations, all boundaries, all contingencies, etc. The Church is YET to fully realize this even as it re-enacts and celebrates the events of the Paschal Mystery. For some in the Church who are still in the primitive realization of dualism and legalism, the death of Jesus is a kind of “guilt payment,” a making of satisfaction for the “sins” of others, etc. This means being trapped within the Hebraic-Greek namarupa of early Christianity; it is being trapped within a legalistic, monarchical, dualistic framework imposed on the experience of Jesus.
Now we come to the most profound part of Abhishiktananda’s Awakening Christology. Here he turns to and plants himself deep within the Gospel of John—which he at times almost calls a Christian Upanishad. The Gospel of John has a very different presentation of Jesus and his experience of “sonship.” In fact it does not have any pericope on the Baptism or the Transfiguration in the same sense as the Synoptic Gospels. That “blazing light” of the Christian version of advaita permeates the whole Gospel of John. The language of “sonship” is the very fabric of the work, and it reaches a crescendo in the final chapters of the Last Supper discourse. The Gospel is replete with names, titles and symbols designating Jesus: rabbi, teacher, messiah, king, prophet, “the Vine,” “the Light,” the Word,” “the door,” “the gate,” “the Bread,” etc. Ultimately in death, on Good Friday, Jesus becomes “nameless,” though a deeply ironic and devastating “King of the Jews” sign is hung on the Cross. The cross is the sign of the obliteration of all signs, all names, all titles. There is only one thing that passes through the eye of this needle, and the Gospel of John really makes it emphatic: John 8:58 “Before Abraham was, I am.” Abhishiktananda zeros in on this as an explicit claim of Advaita in Jesus. In this obvious reference of the “I AM WHO AM” of the Old Testament Yahweh, the utterly Transcendent utter Mystery who holds all in being, Jesus realizes his oneness with this Reality. His “I am” dwells within the Absolute “I AM” of the Divine Reality.
Now let us be clear about this: in Jesus this does not mean the expansion of the ego self into some infinite identity. On the contrary, Jesus always points toward the Cross and the passage through the Paschal Mystery. The Sufis speak of “extinction,” of “fana,” pertaining to that small i—the ego self. And so it is with all of us. We are invited in and through Jesus to enter into the Paschal Mystery and so into our real identity which is in an unspeakable union with I AM—our own little i surrenders to the Great I AM which is at the core of our being. This Awakening can begin at any time but it really culminates in our death. The Resurrection is another way of speaking of our real and ultimate identity in the non-duality of the Trinitarian Communion which is the root of our being and of everyone and everything else. At the Easter Vigil, the Church proclaims “Lumen Christi”—the Light of Christ is this light of non-duality in our hearts and the darkness which it enters and dispels is the “darkness” of separation, distance, duality, etc., etc. Within this Lumen Christi we begin to see who we really are, and so when we clean the floor it is also God cleaning the floor and when we do the dishes, it is also God doing the dishes, and so on. In and through the Paschal Mystery of Christ we transcend the Otherness of the Utterly Transcendent Other.
So let us conclude with some quotes from Abhishiktananda:
“Jesus is a person who has totally discovered, realized his mystery…His name is “I AM”…. Jesus is saviour by virtue of having realized his NAME. He has shown and has opened the way out of samsara, the phenomenal world, and has reached the guha, the padam, beyond the heavens…which is the mystery of the Father. In discovering the Father, he has not found an “Other”: “I and the Father are one.” In the only Spirit he has discovered his non-duality with Yahweh; it is the Spirit that is the link, the non-duality.”
From The Diary.
“Jesus did not cudgel his brains to make a philosophy about his advaita with God. He lived this non-duality with absolute intensity simply by gazing like a child at his ‘Abba.’ And he taught his people to live, simply but deeply, a life of loving union with their brothers—a union of mutual giving without limit. And in the absoluteness of their self giving to God and the neighbor, the non-dual Absolute is found and lived with far greater truth than in Vedantin speculations.”
From his letters.
“Jesus experienced such a closeness to God—probably the very same as is revealed in the advaitic experience—that he exploded the biblical idea of ‘Father’ and of ‘Son of God’ to the extent of calling God ‘Abba,’ i.e., the name which in Aramaic only the one who is ‘born from’ him can say to anyone. But the term ‘Son’ is only imagery, and I fear the theologians have treated this image too much as an absolute, to an extent that becomes simply mythical. In Johannine terms Jesus discovers that the I AM of Yahweh beonged to himself, or rather, putting it the other way round, it was in the brilliant light of his own I AM that he discovered the true meaning, total and unimagineable, of the name of Yahweh. To call God ‘Abba’ is an equivalent in Semitic terms of advaita, the fundamental experience. It seems that in his Baptism he had an overwhelming experience, he felt himself to be Son, not in a notional Greek fashion, but that he had a commission given by Yahweh to fulfil, and in this commission he felt his nearness to Yahweh…. It is the reduction of the mystery of Jesus to a Jewish or Greek concept that makes the dialogue of salvation with non-Christians so difficult. One culture has monopolized Jesus. He has been turned into an idea—it is easier than to let yourself be scorched by contact with him….”
From his letters.