Jesus and the Gurus
Points to remember when someone asserts New Age religion and "Christ- consciousness" are compatible with Jesus and biblical theism.I have a letter in front of me from a gentleman named Douglas from Escondido, California. He used to be a Protestant, but is now apparently part of an eastern religion. He sent me a copy of the Autobiography of a Yogi along with a very nice two-page letter in which he recounts occasions of resurrection in the book, written by Paramahansa Yogananda. There are two in particular: the resurrection of a Swami Yukteswar and the resurrection of Lahiri Mahasaya. The second died and was cremated, yet he allegedly appeared again the next morning to more than three different persons in different cities in India.
Douglas asks me this question: Can you admit the possibility of other resurrections besides Jesus’? He mentions he is not an expert in the Bible but his main supporting scripture is “with God all things are possible.” He also quotes, “Is it not written ye are gods; all of ye are children of the most high.” Both of these verses–and I’m not surprised he would quote them, not being a student of the Bible–are the particular verses used by New Agers because, when lifted from their text, they seem to support their theology.
Is Eastern Philosophy compatible with Biblical Theism?
Douglas also refers to a number of other places where it seems that there is between the teachings of the Paramahansa Yogananda of Self-Realization Fellowship, other eastern gurus, and Jesus Himself. So this is really about Jesus and the gurus, and eastern philosophy, and biblical theism. Are they compatible?
There are so many interesting things to respond to in this letter I don’t know where to begin or how long to take in each point, or even whether to cover each point. But let me just say that the basic tenor of the letter–which is very graciously written by the way–is that Jesus and the Eastern gurus were teaching basically the same thing, although eastern gurus spoke directly and clearly about it, and Jesus’ references were veiled. That’s why it’s not surprising that gurus know of resurrections just like Jesus did because both were really teaching the same thing.
Let me try to take these issues one by one.
When you try to equate an alleged resurrection by another human being with the resurrection of Jesus Christ there are at least four particular things you have to keep in mind. First is the attestation. Can we trust the testimony of the witnesses who say they saw a resurrection? A standard rule of thumb is: the greater the claim, the greater the proof needed to show the event actually took place. In the case of a resurrection, you’d have to have significant proof that such an event took place or else you are not obliged to believe it. What we have here is an account by Paramahansa Yogananda that there were two people who appeared alive to others after they had been dead.
One of the questions I think it’s reasonable to ask is: Can we trust the testimony of Paramahansa Yogananda? It’s not enough to say that he is a holy man, so he wouldn’t lie. I don’t know that he would or wouldn’t. I’m simply saying that these kinds of testimonies–especially those making extreme claims– have to be viewed with some suspicion and be considered false until proven true. Do we have good evidence the resurrection actually took place? Can we trust the testimony?
In Jesus’ case, there were many sightings. The sightings weren’t just by individuals; there were group sightings. The resurrection was proclaimed in the presence of hostile witnesses. There were a lot of people around who had means, motive and opportunity to disprove the resurrection if the evidence was against it.
You also have the historic impact of the resurrection. We have the transformed lives of the apostles. We have the birth of the Church.
All of these things amount to compelling evidence that a resurrection took place because there is nothing else that can explain all of the undisputed factors surrounding the resurrection account itself.
It’s very difficult to impeach the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, but what of this other account? That’s one question. I can’t answer that. And if I can’t answer that, then I can’t throw my weight of approval on this alleged resurrection. Unless you have unimpeachable witness accounts of the resurrection, then I think the claim of a Hindu resurrection on par with Jesus’ resurrection is seriously hindered.
There is a second issue, though, and it has to do with the bodily resurrection. Jesus rose bodily never to die again. There are two things here. One, Jesus didn’t die again like Lazarus. Lazarus was raised from the dead, but Lazarus’ resurrection was not like Jesus’ because Lazarus wasn’t raised to an immortal body. He was raised temporally in his old physical body with all of its limitations and then he died again. Jesus was raised in His glorified body never to die again.
That’s why it’s so important that the grave was empty; Jesus’ body was raised from the dead. He didn’t simply reappear in some spiritual form after He died. Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t merely a visitation of His spirit. The text specifically contradicts that option. It says the disciples thought they were seeing His spirit, but He said, no, touch my body. It was a manifestation of His resurrected body.
Remember, whenever anyone was resurrected in the Scriptures, the tomb was opened, the body itself was revivified–either temporally, as with Lazarus or Dorcas in the book of Acts, as in a resurrected physical body, or resurrected forever in an immortal resurrected body, as in the case of Jesus.
Now, here is the question: Where is Swami Yukteswar’s physical body? We may have a manifestation of some sort of spirit here, if the Swami appears to people after he has died. But my question is, where is the body? An appearance of his spirit–even if I were to grant such a thing were possible–is different than a resurrection like Jesus accomplished. The same with Lahiri Mahasaya. The fact that Mahasaya was cremated doesn’t obviate a resurrection, of course. It just makes it impossible to claim this alleged resurrection is the kind of resurrection described of Jesus in the Scriptures. There’s no way to know.
A third distinction is that Jesus raised Himself from the dead. Now, that’s pretty special, I think. That’s different. In John 2:19-21 Jesus said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days, I will raise it up.” John goes on to explain, “He was speaking of the temple of His body.”
So Jesus died and appeared according to the testimony of many unimpeachable witnesses, which gave birth to the church. That’s why His resurrection is an event known world-wide, even today, 2000 years later. You don’t have to read about it in the writings of an obscure Yogi. Jesus appeared in the same body He had before, that’s why the tomb was empty, but it was an immortal body, transformed. He rose by His own volition. He raised His own dead body from the grave. These are entirely and utterly distinctive, ladies and gentlemen. There is nothing like this anywhere else.
Douglas asks another question: Do you believe there could be other resurrections? My answer is yes, I believe there actually were other resurrections and there will be other resurrections. In the Scriptures we see people being raised from the dead, but these weren’t like Jesus’ resurrection. And in the future there will be raisings from the dead, but they still will not be like Jesus’ resurrection. In each case, there will be something different. The ones in the past were not permanent. The ones in the future will be permanent, but they will be done and accomplished by a third party, not by the deceased themselves. So, Jesus’ resurrection was utterly unique. First, it was attested to by unimpeachable evidence. Second, it was a true bodily resurrection, that’s why the tomb was empty. Third, Jesus self-consciously raised Himself from the dead. Those are qualities that I don’t see matched in any other alleged resurrection account–even by the good Swami Yogananda in his book, Autobiography of a Yogi .
What if all of those requirements were met? What if there was an unimpeachable testimony from the Hindu tradition of a bodily resurrection of an individual who raised himself from the dead? What then? Well, that brings us to a different kind of an issue. At best, what we would have are two contradictory world view claims that both seem to be supported by a remarkable resurrection–one from Jesus with a Jewish, theistic world view, the other from a Hindu with a pantheistic world view.
Douglas’s point is this: the fact that there could be resurrections in both traditions justifies the testimonies of both traditions. This means that both traditions are really saying the same thing about the nature of the world. That truth is this: The world is Hindu. In other words, the Hindu perception of ultimate reality is accurate, and the Bible and Jesus affirm this in an awkward, indirect kind of way.
Do all religions lead to God?
You see, there is a very misleading notion going around here by those who claim that all religions ultimately lead to God. They say that there is not one true religion, but that all religions are true. That is a misleading claim. The people who make those claims are often devotees of eastern religion, primarily Hinduism. What their claim actually means is that Hinduism is the only true religion and all other paths will ultimately lead to Hinduism. There is an exclusive claim here. Hinduism is true.
But I disagree. There is no complicity between the teachings of any Hindu and the teachings of Jesus Christ. There cannot be. They are diametrically opposed to each other. These views are not the same.
Jesus was a Jew. He was a theist. Hindus are pantheistic. These views can’t both be correct at the same time, folks; they are contradictory. Therefore, one must look at other features to justify or substantiate the respective religious claims other than a resurrection, if they both share a resurrection. If there are two bona-fide resurrections here, then a resurrection obviously can’t be enough to substantiate the broader religious claims.
I don’t think there are two bona-fide resurrections here. Jesus’ resurrection was unique. But even if there were, then we would have two miracles supporting two opposing points of view. They cancel each other out and you have to look at the details of the world view to determine who is right and who is wrong. Or maybe both of them are wrong. But they are certainly not both right. They can’t be.
There’s a much more fundamental issue here and one that’s too often overlooked in discussions like these. It’s the practice of straining through particular words in the Scriptures to find a way to reconcile the teaching of Jesus with, in this case, eastern religion. It’s kind of a microscopic look at the trees that causes you to ignore the forest.
It is always possible to look at individual things that are said and imagine that this plays into your favorite theology. People do that all the time. In this case the theology is eastern mysticism. You look at some particular thing that Jesus said like, “With God all things are possible,” or, “You are all sons of the most high,” or, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
It is also possible to take statements of Tommy Lasorda and divine some deep spiritual meaning, but I will guarantee you there’s no deep spiritual meaning in Tommy Lasorda’s comments about the Dodgers. You can’t just make a microscopic focus of the individual words or a sentence or two here or there. You really have to look at the body of work itself. You have to look at the broader context.
I want to tell you a secret in this regard. Jesus was not a Hindu. How do I know? I read His teachings. All of them. Jesus is not a Hindu. Period. Exclamation point. That doesn’t mean that Jesus was necessarily right. He could have been totally wrong, for the sake of argument. The point is, He was not a Hindu. He was a Jew. Jews had a very particular religion, a very peculiar religion. It stood in stark contrast to the religions of the people around them. There is no possible way to make the views of Jesus the Jewish rabbi conform to Hindu theology. The great body of His teaching does not make such a thing possible.
I appreciate that Douglas was willing to admit he doesn’t study the Bible very much. Had he, he wouldn’t make this kind of connection between Jesus and the gurus. Nothing could be more obvious in biblical teaching than that God is distinct from His creation. The whole relationship of Creator and creature, Judge and judged, Lawgiver and law obeyer, Master and servant, all depend on the fact that there is a genuine distinction between the first and the second.
But in the teachings of the Swamis there is no such distinction. As a matter of fact, our problem is that we think there’s a distinction when there isn’t. Therefore, if Jesus is teaching there is a distinction such that God is God and the creation is the creation, and the Swamis are teaching that God is the creation, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that they are talking about two different things. This is fundamental. This is not difficult. This is not hard. This is not meant to stretch your minds. It’s very simple. I am astounded that people can get this so confused.
As a matter of fact, in this nice letter that Douglas wrote me he says at the end, “I see nothing in this book that is contrary to a life in Christ subject to the will of the Father. Do you?” My answer is, “Yes, I do.” I know what a life in Christ subject to the will of the Father means. It’s not just an empty phrase. It has tremendous content to it. There are pages and pages, and volumes and volumes written within the covers of the Bible pertaining to that particular issue.
What does it mean to live in the will of the Father? The good Swami makes this comment, “A form of spiritual cowardice leads many worldly people to believe comfortably that only one man was the son of God. Christ was uniquely created, they reason, so how can I a mere mortal emulate Him?” He continues: “Paul wrote, ‘God created all things by Christ’ and when Jesus said ‘Before Abraham was, I Am.’ The sheer essence of the words is impersonality.”
I don’t get that, frankly. What the Swami is saying is that the essence of the words of Jesus and Paul here is the impersonality of ultimate being. Is he making that up? Read the verses yourselves. Is that in there? It takes a person to create, doesn’t it? It’s not an “imperson” that creates; it’s a person. Further, Jesus the man was uniquely created. How could that be missed by anyone who reads the words written about Him? Further, He is the Creator. We are the created. What could be more obvious from the Bible?
When one studies the Bible, they see there is no possible connection between the Jesus and the gurus. We are talking about completely different, conflicting, contradictory, mutually-exclusive theologies. Either Jesus is right or Paramahansa Yogananda is right, or they are both wrong, but they are certainly not both right. It doesn’t do any good to strain at these words and speculate on their relationship to Hindu theology when the whole broad scope of Jesus’ teachings makes such an interpretation absolutely bizarre.
This brings us to the issue of interpretation. The author of this letter goes on with an explanation of how Yogananda, founder of Self-realization Fellowship, explains difficult verses. The particular one in question is a verse generally understood, ironically, to separate Jesus from the great throng of other religious leaders who are offering a way of salvation. Jesus says, “I am the way, truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through me,” John 14:6.
That strikes me as pretty straight forward. That’s why the disciples, in reiterating this statement in Acts 4:12 say, “There is salvation in none other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Here’s the Yoga’s interpretation of that passage. “Theologians have misinterpreted Christ’s words in such passages as, ‘I am the way the truth and the life no man cometh unto the Father but by me.’ Jesus meant, never that He was the sole son of God, but that no man can attain to the unqualified Absolute, the transcendent Father beyond creation, until he has first manifested the ‘Son’ or activated Christ Consciousness within creation. Jesus, who had achieved entire oneness with that Christ Consciousness, identified himself with it in as much as his own ego had long since been dissolved.” ( Autobiography of a Yogi , p. 198, footnote; emphasis in the original)
Can you make any sense out of that? I can because I have read it before. Basically, Jesus had Christ-consciousness, and the only way to the Father is through Christ-consciousness, not through Jesus, that unique individual. According to the Swami, we misunderstood Jesus. The theologians misunderstood Jesus. The apostles who lived with Him misunderstood Jesus. The Swami does not.
Why quote Jesus at all?
Now here’s a question for you. Why quote Jesus at all? Why would anybody quote Jesus? It seems to me it’s because Jesus is the source of the valued information. He knows what He’s talking about. He’s a guy with some insight. He knows a few things about spiritual things, so let’s hear what He has to say and let’s heed what He has to say. If that’s the case, then it seems to me we should be very careful to find out what Jesus meant when He said particular things.
Do you notice how no attempt is made to justify the interpretation I just read of the Swami regarding Jesus’ comments in John 14:6? There is no mention of the context of the writings themselves. No attempt was made to justify the interpretation from the life of Jesus Himself and the broad scope of His teaching. Instead, we hear a lot of mumbo-jumbo about activating the Christ-consciousness within and attaining the unqualified absolute–which are phrases and terms that bear no resemblance to the teaching of Jesus, in this passage or any other.
To put it in a simpler way, why should I believe this interpretation is accurate? There is such a thing as an accurate interpretation. And if there is such a thing as an accurate interpretation, then there are inaccurate ones, too. When people talk, they mean something in particular. That’s why Jesus talked and taught. That means it is possible to misunderstand what His meaning is.
That is the question here. What is the meaning of Jesus? There is not a single word in the New Testament about the Christ-consciousness.
By the way, do you know what “Christ” means? It means Messiah. That’s what it means. That is what it has meant for 2000 years. Cristos is the Greek rendering of the Aramaic Meshiac or Hebrew, which is Messiah, Anointed One. The Christ, the Messiah, was always a particular person, an office held, not a consciousness attained. This is not “my interpretation.” Any other view just isn’t there. And if you want to make up some other definition of Christ, you must add something to it, you must read it in.
It’s like someone saying, “The idea that Jesus was male is just your interpretation. What about the place where he gave birth?” “What?” you say. “Where is that?” “Right here. Jesus said, ‘I came that they might have life and might have it more abundantly.’ See, He’s giving birth to children here so He’s a woman.”
Do you see how absurd that is? It’s not there in the words; you have to import the idea. Well, this is the same way. The Christ is the Messiah, the rescuer of Israel, the Person who held an office of anointed one. He isn’t an ordinary guy who achieved a level of spiritual attainment that He called Christ- consciousness that we all can achieve, too. Jesus was not a Hindu.
People who play the “just your interpretation” game really need a Bible that has blank pages, because if one’s interpretation has little to do with the words themselves, then the words themselves are not even necessary. In effect, people who play that game are writing their own Bible. The Bible itself becomes whatever your mere opinion says it says.