From about February till May or June of 1972, I was living in a stone woodcutter’s hut in the Kumaon Hills of India. The view from my tramped earth verandah looked something like this:
Every morning, my two roommates, Naima and Ravi Das, and I walked down a winding dirt trail to the ashram on the banks of the river for darshan of Neem Karoli Baba. I often stopped along the way to bathe under a waterfall on the side of the path. Aside from picking small stones out of rice and dry lentils, my days were spent waiting for Maharaji to come out of his room and entertain us. He rarely if ever preached, so “entertain” is the right word.
I’m the guy with his hand on his hip at the back of the photo.
On March 30th, the day before Good Friday, Maharaji instructed us to go home and read the Bible. Although he told me on no uncertain terms that he was not my guru, I always did as he instructed, so from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, I stayed at my hut and read the New Testament from cover to cover. As I read, some passages seemed to shine like gold, while others were merely in black and white. Amongst those that seemed to be written in gold were the Beatitudes, especially these:
- Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
On Easter Sunday, I finished my reading. I set down my New Testament, but continued pondering one passage that still confused me. “Take, eat: this is my body,” Jesus said at the last supper as he broke bread for his disciples. What did he mean by that? Just as the sun touched the distant hills, a voice quietly whispered in my ear: “Take, eat, this is my body.” At the same time, all the energy of the universe began pouring into me. The experience was so intense, it terrified me. As a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, which came to me later, says:
If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One and I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds.
Robert Oppenheimer made those words famous in the Western world, but as far as I’m concerned, his comparing the “thousand suns” to the explosion of an atomic bomb is pathetic. For one thing, an atom bomb isn’t even the tiny flame of a cigarette lighter in comparison to a thousand suns. For another, an atom bomb is a tool of destruction. The energy I felt was that of pure love. The terror I felt was the terror of my ego, whose existence depends on separation from the purity of all-embracing love. Best to keep a safe distance from the sun and bask in its rays. Get too close and you’ll be vaporized.
From that moment to this, I’ve been living in limbo. My life has been far from exemplary, but the only thing that makes sense to me is love.
Why did Jesus single out the the poor, the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers as blessed? All you have to do is substitute their opposites to get the answer. Would it not be absurd for the incarnation of God to say:
- Blessed are the rich,
- Blessed are the powerful,
- Blessed are the merciless, and
- Blessed are the war mongers?
As spiritually absurd as it is, those are exactly the qualities our governments, corporations, financial institutions and even religions embrace and promote.
Who is Jesus?
Who is Jesus? I’m no more qualified to know for sure than anyone else (including those who say they do), but, like others, I have an “inner Jesus.” The life of my Jesus may have gone something like this . . . . .
Jesus’ mother, Mary, became pregnant, but the father didn’t want to take responsibility for the baby, so another man, Joseph, who had loved her from afar, offered to marry her. Mary felt loved for the first time in her life and gladly accepted.
Joe and Mary were so poor, they were homeless when Jesus was born. It wasn’t that Joe was lazy. In fact, he was hard working and conscientious, but there wasn’t much money in making plowshares for a living. Eventually, Joe was able to settle down and build a small house for his family. They were always dirt poor, but what Jesus remembered the most was that his was a loving family. His mother remained faithful to his father and his father never took his frustrations out on his wife or children.
When he came of age, Jesus left his family to make his own way in the world. As a poor Jew who spoke the crude language of Aramaic, he was socially ostracized. Neither the wealthy Jews of the city nor the Romans wanted to know him. He could have become a thief, but his family had brought him up well, teaching him the virtues of honesty and integrity.
Looking for answers to life’s big questions, he turned to some of the fringe gurus who had small followings in Jerusalem. One of them, John the Baptist, taught him some radical ideas that rang true to him. Not content with intellectual truths, Jesus decided to leave Jerusalem and fast and meditate in the desert until spiritual truth was revealed to him. He found a cave that was close enough to water to sustain his life while he fasted. Taking a gourd of water with him, he went deep into the cave and vowed not to come out until truth was revealed to him as it had been to John the Baptist. For several days, nothing happened and he was tempted to leave the cave and find something to eat. Resisting the temptation, the pangs of hunger diminished and in the total darkness of the cave, he started having visions. Some of the visions were horrific, reflecting the consequences of living a life of greed and corruption. Others were divine, making him feel bathed in oceans of bliss. Finally, a blinding light enveloped his being and Jesus knew the truth.
Returning to Jerusalem, Jesus started telling whoever would listen about his experiences. He also became a political activist, exposing the hypocrisy of the top echelons of the Jewish hierarchy and their Roman counterparts. On one occasion, he got so pissed off, he overturned money changer’s tables at a big temple. That and other acts of protest earned him some notoriety and a small following.
Jesus fell in love with one of his followers, a pretty girl named Mary Magdalene. Some of his other followers were scandalized by this. “She’s just a whore,” they told him. Big mistake. “Who are you calling a whore!” he said. “Are you or I or anyone else here perfect? Mary did what she had to do to survive. So what? I know what’s in her heart and that’s all that counts.”
For awhile, Jesus was considered a harmless nut case by the authorities, but as his popularity grew, they decided it would be best to keep tabs on him, so they sent a spy into his inner circle. Jesus knew full-well that Judas was a mole, but didn’t expose him. Judas reported back to the authorities regularly. Finally, when it looked like he posed a serious threat to both the Jewish hierarchy and the Romans, they decided he was a terrorist threat and had to be disposed of.
When Jesus was crucified, his followers couldn’t handle it. They consoled themselves by taking some of his words out of context and interpreting them literally. He was literally the one and only “Son of God” and would literally come back to save them. While they waited in vain for his return, some of them started writing down his words of wisdom. How many gospels were written, nobody knows, but at least two, the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomas were tossed out in favor of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, which are all pretty fundamentalist in nature.
I’m reasonably confident Jesus didn’t look like this
I’m sure you could have a field day picking apart my version of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Still, I’m confident I’m closer to the mark than Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly, who created a stir recently when she said, “Jesus was a white man.” Then there was the bumper sticker that said, “Immigrants: if English was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for you, too.” It’s way, way past time we took Jesus or any other religious figure and appropriated them for cultural, racial, or political ends. Here are some probable truths about Jesus to think about this season:
- Christmas isn’t Christmas. It’s the winter solstice. The Gregorian calendar wasn’t even invented when Jesus was born and no one is really sure of the real date of his birth. Like Easter and many other Christian myths, Christmas was ripped off from “pagan” religions.
- Jesus wasn’t white and didn’t speak English. He was brown, Jewish and spoke Aramaic, the language of the poor.
- The village Jesus grew up in didn’t have a Walmart. It bore a greater resemblance to the villages in Pakistan our drones strike every day. For that matter, Jesus bore a closer resemblance to the people our drones kill than he does to any of us of European descent.
- He’s not going to come down from heaven to save a bunch of fundamentalist Christian Americans and leave everyone else to fry.
- America hasn’t been blessed by Jesus with a bunch of useless stuff nobody really needs.
- If Jesus saw salvation anywhere, it was in the people we crucify every day: the poor, the meek, the peace loving and the merciful.
- IF JESUS WERE ALIVE AND PREACHING TODAY, HE WOULD BE UNDER SURVEILLANCE AND PROBABLY ON SOMEONE’S HIT LIST.
If you’re interested, I tell more of the story of the year I spent in India in My Guru Who isn’t My Guru.