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I’ve been reading the Bible and there are more than a few terms I’m confused about. Is there a difference between the Son of Man and the Son of God? And I think circumcision is an allegory but I don’t understand. Could someone help me?
Every Self-realized master has the same state of consciousness and teaches the same essential truths. Sanaatan Dharma it is called in India -- Eternal Truth. Another definition that I particularly like is, That Which Is. Spiritual truth is the way we are made -- all of us, made by God in the same way.
Once a master takes a physical body and commits to a particular incarnation, he is limited, not in his own consciousness, but in the way he has to express that consciousness. He has to relate to the planetary age, the culture, the spiritual needs of the time, and the karma of his disciples.
There are always two forces at work in defining his mission: the mass consciousness of the planet and the individual Self-realization of those who are drawn to him.
The potential for individual Self-realization is always the same: infinite. Even in the lowest age, highly evolved souls incarnate, either to work out specific personal karmas or to uplift the planet at a time of need.
In a fascinating book called The Yugas (published by Crystal Clarity), you can read all about planetary ages. There are four different ages -- Yugas they are called -- that go in ascending and descending cycles over a period of 24,000 years. The lowest age, Kali, is the age of matter. The second age is Dwapara, the age of energy. The nadir of the 24,000 year cycle was 500 years after Jesus died. The beginning of Dwapara (which goes for 2400 years) was 1900. So we have just emerged from the age of matter are at the beginning of a rising age of energy.
Jesus lived at nearly the most unenlightened stage this planet goes through. Mass consciousness was very limited, and for several centuries afterward got worse.
When Jesus came he was an avatar, a God-realized divine messenger, specifically for the Jews. The irony of Jews feeling resentful of Christ and Christians feeling angry at Jews is that Jesus was a Jew, all his followers were Jews, Christianity itself was only a sect of Judaism until the apostle Paul decided to carry the message to the gentiles.
Paul did that because he didn’t find enough receptivity among Jews and was too filled with the Holy Spirit and the bliss of what Jesus had given him to keep it for himself. So he went where people would listen, which, as it happened, was the non-Jewish community. That’s how “Christianity” came to be a separate religion. Jesus never did it. It was Paul.
That’s a pretty brief summary of a big subject, but you get the picture.
Now we come to circumcision.
Circumcision itself has always seemed a rather confusing idea to me. God made the male in a certain why. Why would surgical intervention be required? The question of circumcision has little relevance to my daily life, though, so I live comfortably with my confusion.
Just out of curiosity I noodled on the internet around “symbolism of circumcision.” I found a number of articles, but none seemed consistent with the principles of Sanaatan Dharma as I have learned them from Swami Kriyananda. So what circumcision might symbolize philosophically, I don’t know. As for why it is discussed in the New Testament, I do have some thoughts, which I offer here for your consideration.
As you know, circumcision at that time was a Jewish practice. It was part of the covenant between God and the Jews, a way of marking their special relationship as the “chosen people.” Being the “chosen people” undoubtedly started as a purely spiritual principle, a way of attuning to God. It was Kali Yuga descending, however, and perhaps as the age became more physical so did the concept. Eventually the physical fact of circumcision became important in itself, and the consciousness it was intended to affirm nearly forgotten.
I grew up Jewish and being one of the “chosen people” was rarely offered as an incentive for humility or greater dedication to spiritual ideals. Mostly it was a cause for pride. I can’t imagine that Moses, or whoever came up with it originally, had that in mind!
In the Festival of Light, the ritual we repeat at Ananda every Sunday, Swami Kriyananda included these lines, speaking to the divine, “Your chosen people have always been those of every race and nation who with deep love choose Thee.” The congregation then recites together a prayer of commitment to choose God.
I believe this is the spirit in which that phrase was first given to the Jewish people. It gratifies me to repeat it now with this deeper understanding.
The Jewish religion began with Moses -- a true avatar -- as a true expression of Sanaatan Dharma. But as the Yugas declined, it declined. By the time of Jesus, Judaism had largely become a rigid, uncompassionate, legalistic system run by a corrupt priesthood.
Despite all the corruption, Judaism itself was still the most elevated religion around. It was a “true” religion, meaning it was the revelation of an avatar (Moses), an expression of Sanaatan Dharma. And even though the public face of Judaism had become corrupt, individuals and small groups of Jews kept the higher truths alive. It was the devotion of these Jews that attracted an avatar to rejuvenate their faith. That is the tradition of the Essenes, the community into which Jesus was born, many say, and from which his mission emanated.
What happened to Judaism between the time of Moses and the time of Jesus is not dissimilar to what has happened to Christianity from the time of Jesus to the coming of Paramhansa Yogananda. In India it is understood that over time the message of the great ones gets corrupted by individuals of lesser realization who bring the teaching down to a level that makes more sense to them. Sometimes they do it for selfish motive; sometimes it is well-meaning but ignorant.
When the apostle Paul began to carry the message of Jesus to the gentiles a controversy soon developed. Paul asserted that the salvation, i.e. spiritual realization, that Jesus taught was available to all “who received him,” to quote from the Gospel of John.
This interpretation was not universally agreed upon. Other of the apostles -- all of them, remember, including Paul were Jews -- felt that there was no salvation outside of Judaism. And even what Jesus offered was dependent on being a Jew.
Circumcision was the mark of being a Jew. It was not a gentile custom. A rather heated discussion ensued between Paul and his followers, and the other disciples and their followers, as to whether you could become a “Christian,” as they began to call themselves, without first becoming a Jew. If you were born a Jew, you were circumcised as an infant. If you converted as an adult, you had to be circumcised.
Circumcision itself is merely a physical thing. And it is only an option for the male half of the human race. So it really has nothing to do with Self-realization (or the lack of it). This is obvious to us now, but in the depths of Kali Yuga it wasn’t. So you see in the Bible a number of discussions about the relationship between circumcision and salvation.
Nowadays it all sounds ridiculous. It is natural to assume they must be talking symbolically about something relating to consciousness. But that is the Dwapara Yuga view. In Kali Yuga, they thought differently. Physical reality was the only reality. Consciousness, insofar as they understood the concept, was defined by physical facts: how you washed your hands, what prayers you said, whether or not you were circumcised. This was the definition of your covenant with God.
This, however, was the very misunderstanding Jesus came to reform! “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, consciousness comes first. The rules are there not as an end in themselves, but as a means to help us achieve right consciousness.
In the end, Paul won. Christianity became entirely distinct from Judaism, and, eventually, even antagonistic to it.
Circumcision gradually became an accepted medical practice and lost its “Jews only” character. Which makes the conversation in the Bible even more bewildering.
Which is why, in the tradition of India, they understand that every so often, a new avatar incarnates to bring the teachings back to the pure principles of Sanaatan Dharma. The new avatar communicates the same truth in a way the current Yuga can understand.
When Paramhansa Yogananda was asked if his message was a new religion, he replied, “No, it is a new expression.” It is a new perspective on a timeless truth, Sanaatan Dharma, That Which Is.
In the Bible, there are many examples drawn from every day life: tending sheep, harvesting wheat, petitioning a king, disciplining your servants, stoning a wrong-doer. To us these seem exotic and require study and interpretation. At the time, Jesus was talking the opposite of esoteric. He was using examples everyone could relate to.
Nowadays we aren’t sure what we would do if one of our sheep fell into a ditch on the Sabbath. Those listening to Jesus had first-hand experience.
Yogananda, by contrast, talks about airplanes, television, movies, telephones, atomic energy, electricity. Imagine how impossible those things would be for a contemporary of Jesus to understand. Similar to the way we feel about the wheat harvest and the sheep.
In this Yuga, Yogananda has been able to talk about energy and consciousness in an open way because we are in an ascending age of energy and these concepts make sense to almost everyone. Einstein’s revelation that matter is energy is universally accepted. Perhaps not understood, but nonetheless it is a familiar premise. In the time of Jesus, the idea that matter was anything except exactly what it appeared to be was, for the mass consciousness, simply absurd. Those of spiritual realization, of course, understood, but most did not.
In this age also, where time and space are being annihilated -- now by technology, in the future by the power of the mind -- we are able to relate to cultures on the other side of the globe, and communicate with them instantly. Part of Yogananda’s mission has been to show the essential unity between the teachings of East and West. In Kali Yuga, they didn’t know it was a globe, or that anyone lived on the other side of it. The idea of unity with culturally diverse beings was unimaginable.
Christianity, as many institutions express it now -- “Churchianity” Yogananda called it -- describes Jesus as a unique phenomenon. According to them, he is the beginning and the end of divine revelation. This is a rather limiting concept given the picture of the universe that science has now shown us. Among other reasons, this is why fundamental Christianity is fighting so hard to survive. It is being undermined on all sides by a more expansive view of reality.
Understand that what is being undermined is not the teachings of Jesus. He taught pure Sanaatan Dharma, like every Self-realized master before and after him. What is being undermined is the corruption of that teaching by those of lesser understanding.
A seminar-trained theologian of my acquaintance actually told me that the full teachings of Jesus were not present at the time of his crucifixion but “developed” over several centuries afterward. He is also a follower of this path so I was able to respond honestly.
“Are you telling me that Jesus, as a Self-realized master, had a limited understanding of his own teaching? That he required the help of priests and ministers who came after to express it for him?”
My friend had the humility to laugh at himself and the often institutionally based, self-serving logic in which he was trained.
Now for your question “Son of Man” vs. “Son of God.”
At the time, Jesus was not able to speak directly, except in private to his most advanced disciples, about the more subtle teachings he came to bring. In his general discourses, which is mostly what appears in the Bible, he had to speak indirectly, through parables, stories, and images that “those who had ears to hear” could interpret.
Yogananda could talk about the spirit beyond creation and the Christ consciousness reflected in creation, but Jesus had to speak of the Father and Son. More explicit explanations of consciousness would have been incomprehensible to most of his Kali Yuga listeners.
Jesus, like all avatars, fully incarnated as a human being. He had parents, a childhood, a physical body. That body had a birth, it aged, and then it died. Yes, he was able to resurrect it, but that was part of the difference between Jesus as the Son of Man and Jesus as the Son of God. The Son of Man was physical, subject to physical laws; the Son of God was not.
After Jesus died and Christianity began to build itself into what we see now, people felt a need to emphasize the unique nature even of his physical body. This gave rise to concepts such as Immaculate Conception, Virgin Birth, and being conceived by the Holy Ghost.
Yogananda mostly skirted these issues. When I asked Swamiji why he was not more direct on these points, Swamiji said it wasn’t timely. The ensuing controversy would have distracted from his real message. Yogananda did call his work, The Second Coming of Christ, but he never brought that idea to as fine a focus as he might have. When Swamiji asked him, for example, “Were you Jesus in a former life?” Yogananda replied, “What difference would it make?”
Much of the confusion people have in reading the Bible, and the chaos caused by sectarian interpretation, comes from a single word: “I.” What or Who was Jesus referring to when he spoke of himself as “I”?
Fundamental Christianity says, “He was speaking of that unique incarnation in a physical body that was called Jesus.” They emphatically declare also that he was the Son of God but are a little fuzzy on how that one physical body could be the only Son of God for all time, forever. But since they believe that Jesus is unique, they don’t have to make sense of a pattern. They can just declare it and leave it at that.
Self-realizationists reading the Bible with the expanded perspective of Sanaatan Dharma, know that there have been many avatars and all share the same infinite consciousness. The fact that there are others equal to Jesus, does not, for Self-realizationists, make him any less in the eyes of man or in the eyes of God. An avatar lives within one physical body, but that body does not define him.
When an avatar says “I” he is referring to the Christ consciousness, the divine spirit within him -- and within all of us. To explain his consciousness, Jesus said, “I and my Father are One.”
He also emphasized a point that has been effectively lost in modern Christianity: that all of us must rise to that same state of realization. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is Perfect.” “To all those who received Him, to them gave he the power to become the Sons of God.”
Jesus did live in a physical body, as a man among men, and when he wanted to emphasize that aspect of his mission, he called himself the Son of Man. When he wanted to speak of himself as the infinite consciousness, which expressed through that body but wasn’t defined by it, he called himself the Son of God.
As the Son of God he declared himself to be one with God. And for that he was crucified. For no man, according to the orthodox tradition of the time, can be God. Jesus never claimed that the Son of Man was God. He agreed, “No man can see God.” To see God we must transcend all physical limitations, which Jesus proved by his resurrection.
Even when contemplating the resurrection, remember that Jesus said, “That which I do, ye shall do, and greater things.”
Sometimes translators, unaware of the important difference between these two terms, have not used them correctly. But most of the time if you apply this understanding, you’ll see Jesus makes perfect sense.
[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]