Cambridge, MA. As indicated in my previous entry several days ago, I am offering you three entries this Holy Week, in meditation on the mysteries of the Last Supper, the death of Jesus, and the Resurrection. But not my own thoughts: rather, recognizing that we have so many resources within the Christian tradition for this meditation, I thought it wise to stop for a moment to hear how someone who is not a Christian understands these mysteries, and so I have turned to the great commentary on the Gospels by Paramahamsa Yogananda, whom I introduced in that first blog.
In Discourse 74, Yogananda comments in some detail on the accounts of Jesus’ passion and death, and it is impossible even to summarize his extensive reflections here. Small insights stand out along the way, such as the lovely meditation (borrowed by the editors from Autobiography of a Yogi) on what the silence of Jesus before Pilate meant. In essence, Jesus did not need to utter any words, since he expressed the truth fully, simply in his total conformity to reality: “Jesus, by every act and word of his life, proved that he knew the truth of his being — his source in God. Wholly identified with the omnipresent Christ Consciousness, he could say with simple finality: ‘Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.’” So nothing needed to be said. Yogananda additionally points to the silence of the Buddha, and also cites Psalm 46.10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” He also explains Jesus’ compassion toward the daughters of Jerusalem who had tried to comfort him: in saying “Weep for yourselves,” he is urging them to change their lives while there is time. Or, in another brief insight, Yogananda explains why the crucified Jesus calls his mother Mary “woman:" Jesus knew all the more clearly then that “God alone is Father, Mother, Beloved. Thus Jesus called his mother ‘woman’ — a God-created woman.”
He likewise comments in lovely detail on Jesus’ exchange with the good thief, to whom he promises paradise that very day. Paradise is the abode of bliss, which is real, and which Jesus offers to whoever will be crucified with him. Even on the cross, he could summon “the astral body of the thief into the blissful presence, the realized perception, of the Father.” Yogananda advises everyone who is “crucified by evil tendencies and miseries” to “pray to their Christ Consciousness within” for "the redemption of the soul from the physical world and its limitations into the greater freedom of consciousness of astral existence, and the eternal paradise of complete liberation in Spirit.”
And as for Jesus’ actual death on the cross: Even he could feel forsaken for a moment, since by “satanic temptation” he found “God slipping from his consciousness; in exceedingly great sorrow, he cried out his experience of forsakenness. Yet even in this moment, he still addresses God as “My Father,” as if he were torn between his personal knowledge of God and his sense that God was slipping away from him. It was only thereafter, when he again lifted his consciousness into Christ Consciousness and Cosmic Consciousness that “his suffering on the cross dissolved in the bliss of Spirit,” as he saw that his suffering would “awaken other souls in Spirit.”
And then, when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was declaring that his work was complete, that he was ready again to “withdraw his soul from the body and plunge it in Spirit.” By death, Jesus was withdrawing “not only his bodily consciousness and life force, but also his acquired Christ Consciousness, his omnipresence in creation, to merge in the Father’s Cosmic Consciousness beyond.”
Echoing an invitation extended by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita 7.14 that all should approach him for refuge, Jesus died surrendering his spirit into the hands of God, into the “vibrationless transcendent realm where the Creator Himself abides.” Concluding this section on the death of Jesus with some more complex reflection on the Cosmic Consciousness (the Father), the Christ Consciousness (Jesus), and the Cosmic Vibration (the Spirit), Yogananda suggests that by his ascent on the cross, Jesus was finding his way through all three stages of divine energy. His time in the tomb after death was simply a time of “ecstatic purification” that removed all remaining karma, so that Jesus would be able, at the Resurrection, “to merge his Christ Consciousness with the Cosmic Consciousness, or God the Father, the Absolute beyond all delusory relativities of vibratory manifestation.”
We are, indeed, in a realm somewhat removed from what we are likely to read or hear in Church on Good Friday. Even if we become more familiar with Yogananda’s exegetical vocabulary (explained over 1500 pages, after all), it may well be that we will still not recognize or welcome all that he says about Jesus’ passion and death. But the unfamiliarity and strangeness of his teaching are, I think, virtues: we can reflect on his words, bring them with us to Calvary — and then see Jesus again as we wish, but without the delusion that only we Christians have meditated on or found meaning in the crucified Jesus.
If all goes well, I will post one more entry in time for Easter, on Yogananda’s insights into the meaning of the Resurrection.