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This page is copyright © 1999 Hermetic Fellowship.
Text copyright © 1999 Ross Taylor.
Posted at the Autumnal Equinox, 23 September, 1999 CE.
15 April 1999
by Ross Taylor
Bismillah, Erachman, Erahim
I would like to start with a meditation or Body Prayer based on the opening line of the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic. Aramaic, the language spoken by Meshiach Jeheshuah ben Miriam (Jesus Christ), is related to Hebrew and Arabic. It is highly allusional, meaning as much by connotation as by denotation. Our translations of the Gospels come from the Greek which is more rigid, like English. In addition, connotations tend to get lost in translations anyway. In the original Aramaic, the opening line is: "Abwoon d'bwashmaya". This first line is translated in the King James version as "Our Father, Who art in Heaven" but a better translation might be:
"O Birther, Father-Mother of the Cosmos, You create all that moves in light."
Let us begin to chant this phrase: Abwoon d'bwashmaya.
Now breathe the phrase slowly and deeply, breath in "Abwoon" and breath out "d'bwashmaya."
Continue this breathing of the line as you picture yourself outdoors in a meadow on the edge of a wood. Breathe in the air as it is coming to you from the grass, the trees, the other plants. Breathe out the air to the grass, the trees, the other plants. Picture this exchange of energy as golden streams coming to you from the plants and flowing from you to the plants. Continue to breathe the phrase as you return to the room here, exchanging energy with the other people here. Picture those links as golden streams. Expand your awareness of the streams to the wider world outside where you exchange energy in many forms, at work, at stores, wherever you go and whatever you do.
Who do they say I am?
In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus asks, "Who do people say that I am?" The disciples give several answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet, the Messiah. By now, 2000 years later, there are a lot more answers. People have killed each other over those answers, even over the finer details of those answers. So, to start with I am going to look briefly, in no particular order, at some of the answers to this question.
Projections, familiar and bizarre
It is interesting, but not surprising, that many of these answers are what psychologists call projections. They tell us more about the person answering the question than they do about Jesus. I am going to go through a lot of answers very briefly for now, but I will come back to some that are closer to my view, my particular projection.
This was popular in the Sixties among Christian and non-Christian hippies.
This is described in a book called the Passover Plot, and is probably close to how the Romans saw him.
Aryan Nations view
They claim that Jesus could not have been a Jew since Jews are bad. He was a Christian.
A book from the 1920s claims that Jesus was an Aryan magician, trained by the Aryan magicians of Egypt. The book is sure that the Great White Brotherhood is definitely White.
This view is popular with magicians and with at least one of those authors searching for the historical Jesus.
He died in Japan
This one comes from a very strange web site for a village in Northern Japan. They note that he was a different Jesus; he was the son of Mary, but was not Christ
While Jesus was alive, this was the way many people pictured Him, including the writers of the Gospels. Some Jews still see Him as one of a series of False Messiahs.
Prophet of the Koran
In Islam, Jesus was born of the virgin Mariam. He is recognized as one of the prophets, like Abraham, Moses and Mohammed. The Koran states that Jesus is definitely not the Son of God; and that the whole idea is obscene and blasphemous.
The Sufi Sadi Neil Douglas-Klotz describes him as a Middle Eastern mystic, very much like a Sufi.
Some Hindus have recognized Jesus as an Avatar of Vishnu, like Krishna.
The view that Jesus traveled to India to learn the mysteries that he taught appears to be particularly popular among Wetern teachers who base their teachings on Eastern Philosophy. (On the other hand the first two verses of the Gospel of Thomas are parallel to several verses in the Brhad-Aranyaka Upanishad.)
Some Mythological Models
The midrashic approach
Bishop Spong in Liberating the Gospels sees the stories written about Jesus as myths, not literal, but true. He claims, and I agree, that the whole issue of the literal truth or falsity of the Gospels is irrelevant. This is a Greek or Roman approach to the Jewish writings. The Gospels were written as attempts by Jesus's Jewish followers to express the reality of Him that they experienced, using references to the Hebrew Scriptures.
Bishop Spong shows how the Gospels were organized to fill a need for texts to be read in the synagogue each Sabbath, relating the life of Jesus to the standard Torah readings. He claims that some of the stories were made up by the Gospel's author in order to illustrate particular points. I suspect that the truth is more complex, with the author pulling together, editing, organizing and correcting the stories that had grown up around the person of Jesus. Later copyists probably also made some changes. The time from the founding of Wicca to the present is about the same length as the period from the Crucifixion to the last Gospel. Even in a more literate society with the printing press, look at all the stories that have grown up around Gardner and the origins of the various forms of neo-Paganism. A lot of them are far from factual, but they may still be true.
However, the main change I would make to Bishop Spong's approach would be to include references (conscious or not) to concepts in other religions as well.
Dying and reborn Divinity
Jesus is certainly not the first or the last God to die and be reborn. Dionysos, Lugh, Inanna and Persephone would be a few examples of Gods and Goddesses who have returned from the Land of the Dead. At least some of these would proabably have been familiar to Jesus and to His followers.
Son of a God
In polytheistic and pantheistic religions the Gods and Goddesses have lots of offspring. These offspring usually go through many trials and make various sacrifices to bring benefits to the world. These trials often include travelling to the Land of the Dead and returning, clearly parallel to Jesus' death, visit to hell, and resurrection. Aneas, son of Venus, would be one example of this. Sometimes, like Castor and Pollux, the Divine children are raised from the underworld into heaven, similar to the Ascension. In my talk on Mary, I pointed out the similarities between Mary and Semele.
Changes water into wine
The opening of water barrels to discover that they had been miraculously changed to wine was part of a very popular Dionysos cult in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Now I would like to work with a technique that comes from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It is called the Jesus Prayer or the Prayer of the Heart. The physical aspect of this prayer is quite powerful and many of the Orthodox writers seem reluctant to describe it, or recommend that it only be undertaken with a teacher.
Traditionally, the prayer used with this technique was the Kyrie Elieson, meaning "Lord have Mercy". Over the years, the wording of the prayer has developed into the form:
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner"
While the original meaning of the word "sinner" is "one who misses a target", the word has come to have so much guilt related baggage that I don't find it generally useful in prayers. I am going to simplify this prayer to its original essence, the name of Jesus. We will be chanting this in Hebrew: Jeheshua.
First, sit comfortably, in a position where you can look and chant into your heart center. Now, begin breathing slowly and deeply, in..., out..., in..., out...
Bring your spirit into your body, turning your eyes to your heart center, or, if that is not comfortable, closing them. Connect to your heart and focus on your passion for the Divine. Begin quietly chanting Jeheshua into your heart, breathing it into your heart, focussing that breath, that spirit, that name, into your heart. (Continue for a few minutes, then bring people back slowly.)
The Man Jesus
I think that Jesus was a real person and that the reality of who He was had a powerful impact on all who encountered Him. Some of this reality was describable in literal terms, some of it was not. I am going to look at the literal part first. In this I will wander perilously close to searching for the historical Jesus. Then, with no attempt at consistency, and probably little warning, I will return to a more midrashic approach.
Some interesting hints
There are interesting hints in the Canonical Gospels of who Jesus might literally have been. There are also clearer hints of how He was seen by others at the time.
In some of His healings and His other actions there are hints of the use of spells or magical formulas. He heals a speech impediment by putting his finger in a man's ear, touching his tongue, spitting and commanding "Be opened". He heals a blind man by spitting on his own hands and placing them on the man's eyes. The disciples are instructed to shake the dust off of their feet as they leave a village that has rejected them. These are all similar to spells of blessing or cursing that were used at that time.
The use of "true names" to command spirits or even Gods is a common magical practice. This magical power of names is also featured in Jesus's healing work. The healing of the Gerasene demoniacs is particulary interesting. One or two men were living in a graveyard, terrorizing travelers along a nearby road. When they saw Jesus, they immediately called him by name and by the titles "Son of Man" or "Son of God". Jesus gets the name of the demons, "Legion", as part of ordering them out. In other cases, Jesus does not allow the exorcised demons to speak, "because they knew him". This could refer to the potential for the demons to use His true name against Him. Jesus tells his disciples that they can heal using His name, and, at one point, the disciples complain that someone independent of them is casting out demons in Jesus' name. An interesting side note on the Gerasenes is that the Hindu saint, Sri Ramakrishna, performed a severe asceticism of meditating seated on a dead body in the cremation grounds. Were these Gerasene men Kali worshipers who decided to follow a new teacher?
Proof by denial
It is also possible to learn a lot from the method of proof by denial. If the Gospels repeatedly deny something about Jesus, it is a fairly safe assumption that someone was accusing Him of that very thing.
There was pretty clearly some irregularity about the conception and birth of Jesus. In the oldest account of His rejection by his native village, the villagers call Him "son of Mary". This is an insult, implying that His father is unknown. Morton Smith, the author of Jesus the Magician even speculates as to the name of a Roman soldier who was suspected of raping or seducing Mary. (The tradition of rape by a soldier also surfaces, independently, in Chicana traditions about Our Lady of Guadalupe, making her a patroness of abused women.)
The Gospels mention that Jesus was accused by the religious authorities and by his family of being insane or possessed by a demon. At that time (as now) magicians worked their magic by invoking spirits. If the magician was not careful the spirit could take control of them, causing insanity. Therefore, the accusations of being possessed of an unclean spirit can refer both to unusual behavior and to magical powers of healing or cursing.
In His reputation for bizarre behavior, Jesus is parallel to other religious founders. Buddha had to escape his palace to follow his spiritual path. Sabbatai Tzevi, a proclaimed Messiah in the 1600s, was famous for unusual behavior during his periods of "illumination". He would publically speak the forbidden name of God, change the dates of Holy Days and was once married to a Torah scroll. The Vedanta Divine Man Sri Ramakrishna, the Quaker founder,George Fox, and a host of others could also be given as examples.
In attacking His healing powers, the religious authorities specifically accuse Jesus of using demonic powers to cast out demons. It seems clear that they thought he was a magician. This charge is denied in the Gospels. Jesus claims no power besides that of his connection to the Divine and the faith or Divine connection of the person being healed. However, as discussed above, Him does act somewhat like a magician.
The canonical Gospels report that Jesus was in Egypt as an infant. This may be a "clarification" of rumors that He was trained as a magician in Egypt. According to the Gospels, the Magi were not present at the birth of Jesus, but some time later. Shortly after their visit, Jesus goes to Egypt. If this happened during His youth or early adulthood it could indicate that the Magi saw a potential in Jesus and sent Him to Egypt for magical training. The Gospel accounts make it clear that He was an exceptional child, able to teach the wisest Rabbis in the Great Temple of Jerusalem when He was only twelve.
Who He claims to be
It is also interesting to look at who Jesus claims to be. He refers to himself as the "Son of Man," a reference to a figure in the book of Daniel. Daniel had a vision where this person was brought to the Ancient of Days and given everlasting dominion over all people, nations and languages.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase "I am." At first look this does not seem very surprising; he is just saying who he is.
"I am the way the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me."
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower."
"I am the vine, you are the branches"
"Who do people say that I am?"
However, there are places where "I am" is used in an unusual way, where the verb tense or the emphasis is surprising:
"When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own ..."
"Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM."
These statements may help to understand what the other claims mean. "I AM" in Hebrew is Eheieh, the answer that Moses receives when he asks the burning bush for the name of God who is speaking to him. Therefore, the Gospel writer is identifying Jesus with the Divinity, with the aspect of Divinity which is existence itself. (Reread the quotes with the I AM emphasized.)
The God-Man Jesus
Now we turn to the Jesus who cannot be described literally. This is the Divine Jesus, the One who had such an effect on people that they could not explain it in mundane terms. No simple facts could express the reality of His impact. I shall give examples of some of the truths that are expresses in the accounts of His life.
Such a person is destined to His or Her role
Jesus was destined from birth to be a person of great impact and power. The Gospels show this by describing His miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, in a virgin who Herself had been miraculously conceived. His birth was attended by many marvels and was noted even as far away as Persia. As a child He was a great teacher. The Koran tells how the young Jesus created live birds out of clay. Other apocryphal childhood stories describe Him injuring people by means of curses and resurrecting a child. There was clearly no doubt in His followers of His undescribable inborn power.
When Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, His destiny was again shown. The Holy Spirit or Divine Breath descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from Heaven claimed Him as a beloved son. Even John, who had a large following of his own, was impressed by the presence of Jesus.
And such a person must achieve His or Her role
But this power could be used in many ways. In an experience similar to shamanic initiations, Jesus was confronted with several options of how he might misuse His powers. He could become rich in material things, symbolised by creating bread for Himself. He could become invulnerable to danger, symbolised by leaping from the top of the temple and being rescued by angels. He could achieve worldly power, symbolized by ruling over all the kingdoms of the world.
Jesus does not choose these options, but instead follows the will of the Divine, to serve others. This story also makes it clear that Jesus was not under the control of a demon because He had conquered the Chief Demon.
Jesus is a teacher on own authority
Jesus impressed people because He knew the scriptures and could win debates over their meaning. However, his real importance was that He didn't really need the scriptures. He taught using his own stories, on His own authority. He openly broke the religious laws. He healed people on the Sabbath. He let his disciples harvest grain on the Sabbath. He touched unclean lepers and a woman whose period would not stop, rendering her a perpetual outcast. He taught women, even Samaritan women. He prevented the stoning of an adulteress. Jesus made it clear that He had His own direct contact with the Divine and that it superceeded the scriptures.
In fact, Jesus goes farther and claims to be divine Himself. He is God's son, the manifestation of the Divine on Earth. If you have seen Him, you have seen God. What He does is the will of God. Such a claim is blasphemous in the extreme, unless of course, it is true. In this claim, Jesus is similar to the Sufi master al-Hallaj who open taught mystical doctrine and once claimed "I am Truth". For this blasphemy he was tortured to death.
He is a healer
Jesus was, of course, a great healer. He healed people by means of spells as I discussed above, but He could also heal people by a mere touch, a brush of His cloak or even at a distance. It is worth noting that Jesus does not claim this healing power for Himself. He tells people that it is their own faith in the Divine that has healed them. In cities such as His native Nazareth, where people do not have faith, few are healed. Nowadays we would say that Jesus empowers people to heal themselves.
He is Divine because He knows His Divinity
Now I will try to describe the indescribable. Jesus was Divine because He knew His own Divinity. In the Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad, it states:
"Whoever knows thus, 'I am Brahman', becomes this all."
"...what, pray, was it that Brahman knew by which he became all?
Brahman, indeed, was this in the beginning. It know itself only as 'I am Brahman.' Therefore it became all."
Jesus, knowing that He was God, became God. This knowledge of the self as God is a dangerous thing. If it is only a partial knowledge, containing a mere hair of separation of oneself from the All, disaster results. If Jesus had not overcome the temptations of the Adversary and had succumbed to a desire for wealth or power, His power and knowledge would have lead to disaster for himself or the world or both. It is the complete identification of the Divine-Man or Divine-Woman with the Universe and with everything and everyone in it that allows the level of power and compassion that Jesus and other Divine incarnations had. He acts for the All and in unison with the All. This gives Him the power of the All.
What is special about Jesus
Many points similar to others
I think that this same power has been present in people throughout human history: Lao Tzu, Buddha, Mary, Jesus, Mohammed, Sabbatai Tzevi, Sri Ramakrishna, and a host of others, known and unknown. Some traditions claim that there is one here at all times.
Incidentally, I don't know if they were all as perfect as their stories claim. It doesn't matter anyway.
The messages of these incarnated Gods and Goddesses are quite parallel. Almost every one has stated some form of the Golden Rule:
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
All stress detachment from the world, compassion, service of others. Most state or imply that you can open your own connection to become as Divine as they. However each one has their own emphasis, often coming from their particular historical setting. What is special about Jesus?
Born and lived in a colony
Jesus was born and lived in a colony on the edge of the Roman Empire. He was a member of a despised group that had managed to preserve its religious traditions through a number of exiles and conquests. His environment was impoverished, violent, and unstable. Today's closest parallel would be someplace like Indonesia or Columbia.
Jesus asks us to forgive. Contrary to some claims during the recent impeachment trial, Jesus does not even demand repentance. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." "Judge not, that you be not judged."
Jesus serves by healing others, by ceaselessly teaching, even when He is clearly tired and trying to get away. He also humbles himself to serve in menial ways such as washing the feet of His followers.
Jesus's message is sorrowful. The poor will always be with us. Few will find the path to the Divine. People will continue to do horrible things to each other, sometimes for material wealth, sometimes in the name of the Divine. Suffering in the service of the Divine is a blessing, at least your suffering has meaning. Finally, Jesus' ultimate act to save the world from its own self inflicted pain is to voluntarily undergo a horrible death. One can even see this as God dying to atone for the pain He has created in the world. The Gnostics were not the only ones to question the goodness of the Creator. It is certainly questioned in the Book of Job. In fact, Jewish tradition has a history of questioning their God and demanding an explanation for what has occurred. At least twice in medieval times, Jewish courts heard and judged lawsuits against God.
Ultimately though, I think that there is a further lesson from Jesus than any one of these. This lesson is not that different from the lessons of the Buddha, the Upanishads, the Sufi Masters, Lao Tzu. Like them, Jesus demands that His followers give up their most difficult attachments. In this demand, Jesus may be quiet and gentle, but He is unrelenting. The rich man was told to give up all his possessions. The man who had a funeral to go to was told to let the dead bury the dead. What ever is the strongest attachment that separates me from my own Divinity, whatever I hang on to as proof that my ego exists, whatever I cling to as my identity, that is what I will have to sacrifice.
And in line with this, if I am comfortable that I know Him, that I can describe Him, that I have found Him, then I have lost some part of Him, maybe the most important one.
I would like to close with the last line of the Lords Prayer, in Aramaic. We will recite this in the form of the Qabalistic Cross. First, of course, I have a corrected translation:
"For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen."
A better translation would be:
"From You is born all ruling will, the power and life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews."
(Here teach the words and motions, adding explanations.)
|"The Faces of Jesus" was previously published in two parts:
Sufi Messenger, May, 1999, Vol. 2, No. 5
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