A Hindu View of Holy Thursday: Yogananda I

Cambridge, MA. In this Holy Week, we are of course invited to quiet ourselves down, pull back a bit, and reflect on the meaning of our lives, in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are fortunate to have an abundance of aids in this reflection, ranging from the Bible and the liturgies of the Triduum to myriad homilies, spiritual writings, works of music and art. What we are not used to doing is listening to how people of other faith traditions think about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hindus and Buddhists, Jews and Muslims, have been listening for centuries to what we Christians think of them and their faiths; rarely do we take time in a week like this to listen to their insights. Even if they see things differently than we do, and perhaps misunderstand parts of what we believe — as we have always tended, even with best intentions, to misunderstand the traditions of others — learning is still possible.

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    I would like to take a step in this direction with a small series of reflections for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, based on the reflections on the Gospels by Paramahamsa Yogananda (1893-1952). Founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and author of the famous Autobiography of a Yogi, lived a good part of his life in the West. During these years he studied the Gospels, and wrote The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurrection of the Christ within You (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 2004), a nearly 1600 page reflection on selected Gospel passages, published posthumously. For the three days, I will simply offer a summation of a few of his insights into the relevant texts.

     Holy Thursday: In commenting on Chapter 22 of the Gospel according to Luke in his 69th discourse, Yogananda reports on the Lucan basic account, making as always a number of small points along the way. For instance, he draws parallels with sacred meals hosted by Indian spiritual figures, and he also shows great discomfort with the idea that Jesus and his disciples drank wine, since this could diminish spiritual awareness). But two points stand out as I read the text.

     First, when Jesus says that his blood was to be shed “for many for the remission of sins,” Yogananda argues that this cannot mean that Jesus died for future sins, even thousands of years later. While he admits that Jesus could indeed absorb his disciples’ bad karma, he thinks an overly literal expectation that Jesus takes away sins encourages laziness and irresponsibility on the part of people who would do better to grow in their divine awareness. Rather, Jesus was putting forward “the extraordinary example of his sacrifice on the cross, through which he attained complete liberation in Cosmic Consciousness — freedom from the willingly accepted bonds of his mortal incarnation” as an example for his followers too to forsake any attachments that would slow their path to God-consciousness.

     Second, Yogananda is also uncomfortable with the idea that based on the Last Supper meal Christians come to think of themselves of eating the body of Christ. He insists that even with Jesus, the body should not be allowed to block the Spirit within. The flesh of Jesus is his Consciousness; his blood is his spiritual Cosmic Energy. To share this meal, then, is to learn to see Jesus “in his formless infinitude as one with the all-pervading Christ Consciousness and universal light of the Holy Ghost Cosmic Energy.” To make sense of this claim — perhaps realizing that this is not the way Christians see Jesus at the Last Supper — he points to the teaching of Thomas Aquinas on the “formless Christ” (a footnote alludes to Aquinas’ teaching on the infusion of God’s essence into our minds at the Beatific Vision) and Teresa of Avila on her vision of the formless Christ.   

     Finally, in his 70th discourse, commenting on Chapter 13 of the Gospel according to John, Yogananda stresses the spirit of service as physical and spiritual, and adds that what Jesus does reminds us of what the Father too had done: “Even the Heavenly Father serves impartially in silent humbleness: he has created the water in the well, and as the indwelling Spirit in the water and in every person, it is He who washes the feet of His children — even the egotistical and materialistic persons who never honor Him.”

     These brief comments just touch the surface of Yogananda’s lengthy reflections, and I encourage readers to take a look for themselves. But what to make of all this? As I admitted above, Yogananda does not read the Last Supper accounts as do most Christians, he looks for other values, and some of his conclusions are quite apart from the traditional teachings on the meaning of Holy Thursday. We might tend to think of his reading as Gnostic, or alien to the integral spirituality of the Bible. But we need not judge Yogananda as if he were simply a reincarnation of some ancient heretic, nor need we worry about refuting his readings — which were, I think, meant as a gift to the Christian community, not as a threat. We do well, instead, to read him (and a host of others who have commented on Jesus from outside our tradition) and see if his insights into “his” Jesus as radiant of divine consciousness can illumine our own ways of seeing Jesus — and one another — in this Holy Week. Can we actually glimpse this Divine Consciousness at play in the Holy Thursday liturgy? Please add your comments, indicating whether you find this to be possible or not.

     If all goes well, I will post more comments in the next several days, on Yogananda’s view of Good Friday and of Easter itself.

 

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8 years 6 months ago
As a former Catholic who embraced the Hindu Dharma (as well as the teachings of Yogananda) as an adult,I must applaud your willingness to investigate the doctrines of the Church through other lenses. By the way, out of 16 years of Catholic education, 4 of those were at the hands of the Jesuits. While I ''lost'' my faith, I never lost my respect for the spirit of intellectual inquiry that is the trademark of the Society of Jesus. Tonight Self Realization Fellowship chapters all over the world will contemplate the mystery behind the Last Supper. Tomorrow we will meditate in formation between noon and 3pm. On Sunday we, too, will rejoice in the Resurrection. While our understanding of the nature of Jesus differs greatly from Christian dogma, our love for him and his legacy is no less. Happy Easter!
8 years 6 months ago
I grew up in the Catholic tradition but have since embraced the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda,as my path to salvation. I admire your willingness to examine the teachings of Yogananda as presented in his landmark commentary on the New Testament, "The Second Coming of Christ". The followers of Self Realization Fellowship embrace the teahings of Christ as interpreted by Yogananda and I have to say that I have a much greater love for Christ and a much better understanding of the principles that guided his life than I ever had developed in my earlier exposure to his life, as informed by my Catholic upbringing. Yogananda has brought teachings to help people of all faiths to cultivate a deeper awareness of God's presence in their lives and to realize our own eternal nature as souls, children of the one true God.
8 years 6 months ago
Bravo for reflecting on the understanding of another enlightened soul other than just the ''men'' who wrote and interpreted the Bible. I have been close to the Catholic Church through family and friends for 40 years and a member of Self Realization Fellowship for an equal number.
8 years 6 months ago
Jai Guru Yogananda! We love you Yogananda and your sacred teachings of the Holy Christ vibrations. Jai Guru, Jai Christ, Victory to Thee! Visit Heart Offerings for handmade gifts by SRF devotees of Christ and Yogananda. Jai Guru! Enjoy!
8 years 6 months ago
The essence of the teachings of Christ and the teachings of Krishna are one... We love Christ. We love Krishna. We love Yogananda. Talor Stewart www.heartofferings.net Hand Made Goods By SRF Devotees
8 years 6 months ago
I too was in one of those Easter services where the focus was on Christ Jesus in wonderful deep silent, meditation. And I also was raised Catholic, sang in the choir, served mass and went to parochial school. But I also heard the stories of great saints. Those stories arrested my attention as they resonated with something authentic inside. They spared nothing to develop inner communion with the “peace that passes all understanding”, God’s wisdom for daily living and most of all, ways to open one’s heart to divine love. It has been said, that all religions employ some degree and forms of yoga (union), regardless of the cultural guise of each. In the case of Yogananda and those who employ the millennia tested methods he revived for modern mankind, union means lifting the veil that separates our individual eternal souls from our Heavenly Father in a systematic and predictable manner, with devotion to God and respect for all traditions. It seems to me that in many traditions there is the horizontal intellectual discussion of theology, often simply feeding men’s egos and there may or may not be the direct experience of the transcendent soul – ‘the kingdom within’ - which requires no discussion. That different spiritual perspectives reveal different layers of insight to scripture might be attributed to the source of those verses, Infinite God. Upon applying the spiritual practices of developing inner communion, might not be the result to develop deeper insight as one contacts the One so evident in the life of Jesus the Christ. Is it a surprise that a great saint from another, but authentic and ancient tradition have such insights. He revered, read of and spoke about those of his kind from the Catholic tradition frequently. Catholicism has been the part of the Christian tradition that has produced the most well known and many of the most genuine spiritual giants throughout the centuries, despite the frailties of the human side of the Church.
8 years 6 months ago
For decades I have been studying and practicing the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda. The spiritual insights he offers and the practical wisdom he conveys are both enlightening and enriching. He was able to expertly dive into the ocean of Spirit and accurately describe those subtle regions that only a few have been blessed to reach. His love for Christ transcended all boundaries of dogma and theology, and, like St. Francis, he possessed that rare devotional power to commune with Christ and transmit that divine contact to receptive souls. Yogananda was a man of great integrity and profound knowledge, hence uniquely capable of revealing the essence of Christ’s teachings. Happy Easter.
8 years 6 months ago
As a Roman Catholic Chaplain serving people of many approaches to the divine, I find your comments most enriching in kindness and good will. I find that by keeping my heart open to further understandings of the teachings of Our Lord, I am enriched and grateful. I hope you will continue to post your comments. In Christ.
8 years 6 months ago
I would suppose that not only Yogananda but anyone who reflects upon what they read in the Christian and Hebrew Scriptures will have feelings and thoughts within a certain context of their lived experience. The question is, what is the value to us of what they think and say; how can this help us - to know what individuals and cults think and how they use their conclusions? It is said the heresies helped define dogma; also, however, they lead many astray; and not only that, but when embeded into the larger political structure, they at times devastated the Church. So, we can gain by listening, but also we need to proclaim and to teach; and, to be attached to the Church and to it's opinion; without such there is just really just a chaos of sorts. On the other hand, sometimes looking at things from another angle can be interesting for sure and inspirational at best. My sense is, from what you have written, that Yogananda is quite a Platonist. Of course I recall St. Augustine thinking that perhaps Plato was taught by Moses or something of this sort. That was because Plato seemed to have grasped some truths of the Hebrews and Christians! And, didn't the thoughts of Plato travel round the planet?
8 years 6 months ago
Thank you for a thoughtful non-Christian view from a respected spiritual seeker. As you say, while some of his remarks seem odd or not at all resonant, this perspective helps me put into my own words the meaning of this day and action. I am remined of my wonderful dogmatic theology professor who sadly died too young, Rev. Donatus (Joe) Donino, OFM, who gave us an assignment as deacons to read "To A Dancing God" as a model, not of orthodoxy, but of a personal expression of faith based on some basic dogmatic concepts or values. Often it is the perspective from another tradition that surely deepens our own.
8 years 6 months ago
Thanks for this interesting post. I read Autobiography of a Yogi when I was a teen and I still have a fondness for it.
Jules Durette
3 years 10 months ago
Thanks for you're views of Holy Week from the readings of The Second Coming of Christ: The Resurection of Christ within You by Paramanhansa Yogananda. I have read these two books and I now understand the words of Christ with much more Love, insight, intuition and understanding. I am now so much more of a devoted, church going Catholic. I have started the Self Realization Fellowship Lessons and my walk with Jesus is up-liftingly enlightening. Keep up the good work. Peace be with you. Jules.
Esmeralda Clark
1 year 6 months ago
Dear Father Clooney, As I celebrate Lord Jesus Christ's resurrection I find this beautifully written piece. I thank you for bringing Guruji's view to the light. I was raised catholic and also am now following the path of Yogananda's teachings which resonate truth and love. I love that his teachings are open to all religions and are all inclusive. God bless you!

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