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The Promise of Immortality

The True Teaching of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita
by Swami Kriyananda (J. Donald Walters)



Chapter One: The Eternal “Word”: Key to Manifested Existence

The greatness of a scripture depends on the extent to which it addresses the grand issues with authority. The Holy Bible begins with the words: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” In the New Testament, the Gospel of St. John begins similarly: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1–3)

The grand issues concern the What, the How, and the Why of existence: What is reality? How did it come into being? How do we, or How should we, relate to it? And Why is awareness of our relationship important?

The Bhagavad Gita addresses these issues also, though in a different sequence. It begins with the question, Why?, addressing the human predicament before going on to the broader questions: What is the true nature of things? and, How did everything come into being? And then again it asks: What relationship have we to that reality? Chapter Seven states: “I make and unmake this universe. Apart from Me, O Arjuna, nothing exists. Like the beads of a necklace, all things are strung upon the thread of My consciousness; they are sustained by Me.”

God, the Infinite Spirit, is the sole reality. Creation is only a manifestation of His consciousness. The essence of our being is spiritual, not physical; in our souls we are a part of Him. Christian saints have sometimes used the term “spiritual marriage” to describe the soul’s union with God. The Indian scriptures express the same concept, though in different words; they call it, “Self-realization.” To know one’s own reality to its depths is, they say, to know God.

The emphasis in the greatest scriptures is on this supreme attainment. They describe the cosmic verities not merely to satisfy people’s curiosity, but to help them understand that union with God is their destiny. Indeed, those writings would not even be scripture, were not their fundamental teaching based on the insight that, underlying everything, is consciousness.

Herein lies the essential difference between scripture and science. Both fields are dedicated to knowing the truth. Astronomy, for example, explains facts of the universe endlessly. In its explanations, however, it doesn’t suggest a causative awareness. Science as a whole is dedicated to satisfying our curiosity about things. It helps us also in practical ways to live more comfortable lives. The knowledge and the material improvements it provides leave us adrift, however, in our need for practical understanding and wisdom. Though astronomers postulate how the universe was made, and what keeps it functioning; and though physicists ask What is the nature of matter? and How does that nature differ from its appearances? all the sciences ignore the most important question of all: What does it all mean? Science provides no answer. Indeed, apart from telling us that we must all do our best to survive, it robs people of their sense of meaning, and leaves them drifting like sailboats stripped of their sails. If science addressed those issues authoritatively, it too would be scripture. But of course it does not, and cannot, and is therefore committed to avoiding them altogether. To scientists, such matters cannot be investigated rationally, and are therefore useless even to think about; issues like these are outside their purview. An unwritten “Law of Science” is, to paraphrase the German philosopher Georg Hegel*: “All that is real is scientific. And all that is scientific is real.” Thus, whereas most scientists would not actually say it, their prevalent attitude is that there is no deep meaning in anything.

Modern education is science-based. Its teaching, formerly perhaps agnostic, is now fairly committed to atheism. Simple agnosticism might be fair enough, considering that most people don’t really know whether life has a higher purpose, and can only hope such a purpose exists. But education today denies that there is any such thing as ultimate verity. Young people, whose natural need is to believe in at least something, find their need discarded sneeringly and left in broken fragments about their feet–like the psychology professor who began his first class in every course by announcing, “If anyone here thinks he has a soul, I request him please to park it outside the room before he enters.” Is it any wonder that so many young people become cynical, violent, and destructive? St. James said, “Faith without works is dead.” Equally true would it be to say, “Works without faith are stillborn”!

Scripture differs from science in that it is not intellectual, rational, or speculative. Speculation is for philosophers, whose nomenclature derives from a combination of two Greek words: philos, love; and sophia, wisdom. Scripture transcends mere fondness for wisdom: It is the very expression of wisdom. True scripture is the fruit not of theorizing, but of direct inner experience achieved in deep communion with God. The message of scripture is not “dictated” from Above, as if trumpeted from clouds to a few solitary, and–some people might say–superstitious scribes. True scripture is, indeed, the noblest work of mankind. It is written by human beings out of their own deep spiritual insight.

The remarkable thing is that all who have achieved such insight have declared the same truths. No spiritual master has ever contradicted another, though most masters have not known more than a handful of others. Unlike modern scientists, in other words, those masters don’t owe their unanimity on fundamental issues to the “cross-pollination” of ideas.

It is interesting to note that physicists are beginning also, in increasing numbers, to speculate that the universe may actually be an idea in the mind of a cosmic creator. Their speculations, while intellectually stimulating, still give virtually no thought to the part human beings play in the cosmic drama, and offer no suggestion for our spiritual transformation. As Paramhansa Yogananda put it, “Science can only study the activity of the atom; it cannot, like the person of intuitive insight, become one in consciousness with the atom.”

Scriptural utterances on the grand issues have a concrete, not an abstract, purpose. They explain the part human beings play on the great stage of time and space. They show us the direction in which to channel our energies so as ultimately to achieve enlightenment.

The grand issues are central to the teachings of the Holy Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. Were they not, these would not be great scriptures. They might still, of course, in the case of the Bible, be revealing as history, which is the claim many modern scholars make for them. Those hoary records of biblical events, however, are not scriptural in the true sense–unless, indeed, they also represent great truths. Even Jesus Christ would not fit this high criterion had he lived merely a wonderful life on earth, shaken a few people with revolutionary ideas, died tragically on the cross, and thereafter inspired a devoted following. His greatness lay in the fact that, by his clarity, spiritual authority, and personal example he made eternal truths real and immediate for mankind.

Love is not great because Jesus loved. Jesus, rather, was great because he demonstrated so perfectly the quality of love. Humility is not great because Jesus was humble. Jesus, rather, was great because of the perfection of his humility. Jesus, again, was not great because he performed miracles: He was great because, in humility, he gave the credit for everything he did to a Higher Power–a power to which, he assured people, all human beings have access. It is a mistake, indeed, to narrow our understanding of humility by defining it as “Christian.”

Many Bible stories give no hint of being deep spiritual allegories. Without deeper meaning, they don’t belong in the same classification of greatness as the Bible’s truly profound teachings. To give equal credence to everything “the Good Book” says is to trivialize the very meaning of the word, scripture. Some of those stories may, despite their questionable spiritual merit, be history, since archaeologists, by careful study of them, have made a number of important discoveries. Moreover, even if those stories are historical, they may still be deep allegories, the meaning of which has yet to be discerned. Perhaps their meaning will be clarified someday, by people with the interest and the wisdom to probe deeply enough.

For in fact it is quite usual for scriptural stories to be allegorical. Famous examples include the parables of Jesus. The context in which the Bhagavad Gita appears is another case in point. This scripture is a brief episode in the longest epic in the world, the Mahabharata. This epic contains numerous stories that are every bit as strange as any to be found in the Bible. The only, or at least the most striking, difference between those two works is that underlying the Mahabharata is one continuous story, whereas the Bible is fragmented. The Mahabharata is at the same time a profound spiritual allegory. This fact was brought to light by Lahiri Mahasaya, a disciple, as we mentioned in the Introduction, of Babaji and the spiritual “grandfather,” or “grand” guru, of Paramhansa Yogananda.

Lahiri Mahasaya showed that the Mahabharata is a sweeping account of the soul’s descent into matter, and of the challenges it faces in retracing the way back to its source in Spirit. Taken as a whole, this epic, too, deserves to be considered a great scripture. So also does the Holy Bible, for the deep truths it teaches.

The Book of Genesis was explained by Paramhansa Yogananda. He showed it to be full of cosmic truths, relevant also to the human condition. Other portions of the Old Testament he cited as well, showing their deep meaning. Dr. M. W. Lewis, a prominent disciple of Yogananda’s as well as a profound student of the Bible, discovered other passages in the Old Testament that contain deep, indeed deeply yogic, meaning. For the rest of the Old Testament, and for some of the New–notably the Letters–such an in-depth study still remains to be made.

The Bhagavad Gita–the “Gita,” as Hindus lovingly refer to it–recounts a conversation between Krishna (representing God, or man’s highest Self) and Arjuna (representing the devotee, or aspirant toward divine union). Krishna, in brief but extraordinarily profound dissertations, explains cosmic truths, then relates them to human needs. The succinctness of his exposition is perhaps unique in all scripture. The New Testament by contrast presents its teaching more discursively through the life of Jesus Christ and his disciples, including in its account many deep teachings. Jesus frequently spoke in parables, which he may have explained later on to his disciples but which the Bible leaves, for the most part, as Jesus told them publicly.

Of the four Gospels, St. John’s is the most explicit about cosmic verities and man’s inner, spiritual life. His Gospel begins with the grand issues. St. Matthew, on the other hand, begins with the genealogy of Jesus; St. Mark, with an account of John the Baptist and his heralding of Jesus Christ’s mission on earth; St. Luke, with an account of the birth of Jesus and the miracles that presaged that event. St. John completes the picture by presenting us from the start with the spiritual significance of Christ’s birth: of his descent to earth from Infinity, and of his manifestation as a human being for the redemption of mankind.

The Bhagavad Gita, having little or no story to relate (that story is told in the Mahabharata), begins by describing the predicament faced by Arjuna, hero of the epic, as he and Krishna pass between two armies that are ranged against one another, ready for battle. Kurukshetra, the name of the battlefield, symbolizes human life, and the human body. On one side of this field are marshaled the forces of Good, whose warriors represent, so Lahiri Mahasaya explained, different spiritual qualities that are revealed in the Sanskrit roots of their names. On the other side are marshaled the forces of delusion, or Evil. On that side, the warriors–their names, again, having Sanskrit roots–represent human weaknesses.

Arjuna poses questions to Krishna that are personally meaningful to all devotees. His first concerns a universal dilemma: “Is it right for me to fight my human tendencies? They are part of my own self, after all! They define me as I am. By destroying them, unspiritual though they are, would I not be killing a part of my own self? Of what use to me, then, would victory itself be, if, by achieving it, I diminish myself?”

The decision to seek God seems, to the ego, a direct threat to its just and natural hegemony. Human beings fear to renounce their lower nature, thinking that, by doing so, they would deprive themselves of everything that is right and natural: their habits and desires; the personalities they have long nurtured, so lovingly; even their consciousness of themselves as individuals. It is difficult for the ego to understand that, by renouncing its personal attributes, the result to it will be not loss, but infinite gain! It is, indeed, the very fact that we cling to the ego that causes all our suffering.

Jesus Christ stated this truth cryptically in these words: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Krishna responds to Arjuna’s lament by describing the true nature of fulfillment. “Nothing is lost by realizing the Self,” he reassures his friend and disciple. “The same energy you have been devoting to your unspiritual qualities will simply be remanifested in higher ones. No ‘killing,’ and no suppression, are involved. Rather, your nature will simply be transformed, and you will know all the happiness and fulfillment you have ever craved.”

Such, in its entirety, is the “story” of the Bhagavad Gita. It forms the background for the profound teachings that follow.

In St. John’s Gospel, more than in the other three, the emphasis is on the inner, spiritual life. John describes Christ from the beginning as the universal Divinity, an infinite consciousness distinct from its expression in Jesus as a human being. Indeed, Yogananda declared that both Christ and Krishna have the same etymological root. Both men, in their human bodies, manifested Infinite Consciousness. Christ, and not Jesus, is the Son of God. Jesus the man lived for a few years in a little country. He himself, often, when referring to his humanity, used the expression, “the son of man.” But when speaking of himself in his infinite reality, he referred to himself as the son of God. Of that state he was able to say in all truth, “I and my Father are one”; and again, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The first sentences of John are particularly profound. What do those words mean, “In the beginning was the Word”? To what “Word” was he referring?

The expression is symbolic. When human beings communicate with one another, they express their thoughts through the medium of speech. Their words, as sound-vibrations, give expression to their ideas. The Word of God, similarly, is a vibratory manifestation of divine consciousness. That manifestation is the basic reality of the universe.

The Book of Genesis makes a statement similar in nature: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) Vibration produces sound; it also produces light.

What is vibration? It is repetitive movement in opposite directions from a state of potential rest at the center. As the tines of a tuning fork produce sound when they are struck, so, when a portion of Infinite Consciousness is set in motion, what results is vibration: the “Word,” the “Light.”

It would be absurd to imagine God as actually saying, “Let there be light!” He had no body, no vocal cords, tongue, and lips with which to utter words! In all creation, nothing exists except vibration. Even the rocks are insubstantial: Science has found that matter is only a particular vibration of energy. Were vibration to cease, matter would revert back to its essence, Spirit.

The Cosmic Vibration is inaudible to the human ear, but can be heard inwardly by the “ear” of intuition. People sometimes get a hint of it in places where there is complete silence. They may hear a soft hum, or a gentle murmur like the whisper of wind in the trees. The sound emerges from no discernible point in space, but seems rather to come from everywhere. Often, it is most easily audible in the right ear. Patanjali, a great master in ancient India, compared this sound to “oil flowing smoothly out of a barrel.” What is heard in quiet surroundings is not so much a spiritually uplifting experience as simply a whisper–like that of a waterfall from afar–of the mighty thunder of AUM perceived in deep meditation. To attune oneself to that sound, one must commune with it in the inner silence. Deep communion with AUM makes one conscious of the underlying reality of everything in existence, God.

God manifests directly through the Cosmic Sound. The “Word,” in its primordial manifestation, may be compared to the swells heaving on an ocean’s surface. When ripples develop on those swells, our awareness of an underlying calmness is slightly distorted; the calmness becomes less noticeable. As ripples grow and become waves, that deeper calmness becomes increasingly overlooked in the mounting excitement. In a gale, the focus of our minds may be entirely on saving our own lives!

And yet, considering the ocean as a whole, nothing is really happening. The over-all ocean level remains unchanged.

The Divine Spirit, like those ocean deeps, remains unaffected by the superficial vibrations of creation. The Book of Genesis states, “The earth was without form, and void: and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” God as Spirit is vibrationless, beyond form, absolute. Shankaracharya, a well-known master during ancient times in India, described the calm state of Spirit as satchidanandam (“existence-consciousness-bliss”), a definition that was amplified by Paramhansa Yogananda as: “ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.”

The Book of Genesis says, “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Movement is vibration, the “Word” of God. The scriptures describe this sound variously. The Book of Revelation calls it the “Amen.” In the Vedas it is called “AUM.” To the Zoroastrians it was “Ahunavar.” In Islam it is known as “Amin.”

St. John’s Gospel states that the “Word” of God not only proceeds from God: It is God. To return to our analogy: broad ocean swells suggest to the mind an underlying calmness. As small ripples of thought appear in our minds, however, they distract our attention from that calmness, which remains ever present in our depths of awareness. In meditation we can commune directly with the Cosmic Vibration as sound or light, or in one of its other aspects such as love, joy, or wisdom. At such times, the soul knows that it is in touch with God. In restlessness, however, our awareness of calmness diminishes. With increasing restlessness, all awareness of our deeper reality is lost.

When consciousness is calm, it is also benign, open to the needs and ideas of others, and loving to all. The more, however, our thoughts and emotions are disturbed and agitated, the more we find ourselves in the grip of emotions–sometimes passionate, sometimes even violent. In the upheaval of intense emotion, God, though never absent, is banished from human awareness altogether. Hatred, anger, and similar negative emotions seize us as their own. Such emotions are not, in themselves, evil: They simply warp our perception of reality and cause us to lose touch with that which all of us most desire in life: true peace, true love, true happiness. Therein lies the evil of those emotions: They obstruct attunement to our own deeper nature. The Bhagavad Gita poses the question rhetorically: “To one who is without peace, how is happiness possible?”

Without vibration, the universe would cease to exist. That which existed, WAS already; nor could anything have come into being except that which was. “And without him,” St. John says, “was not any thing made that was made.” The Divine Vibration itself is not responsible for the behavior of the waves. Once the creative impulse has been set into motion, it assumes a motive power of its own. Indeed, the “organization” of the universe might justifiably be termed the ultimate in decentralization! Divine vision, Paramhansa Yogananda said, is “center everywhere, circumference nowhere.”

The ocean analogy fails to clarify a fundamental truth, however. For an ocean is not conscious, as the “Word of God” is conscious. An ocean’s waves cannot agitate themselves; they are whipped up by outside forces, which also lack any specific will of their own to whip up the waves. The “ripples” of cosmic vibration, however, are self-aware, and self-generating. The universal influence to which they respond–the “wind,” let us say–is also conscious, for nothing exists, anywhere, except gradations of consciousness. The individual ripples, growing to become waves as their strength of movement increases, owe that movement to the “wind” only to the extent that they cooperate with it consciously.

Thus, there are two conscious activities: the “wind,” or power of maya, or delusion, itself; and the “ripples” of individual vibration. Cosmic delusion is first set into motion by the Spirit. This pristine power is the “Word,” or AUM. After that manifestation, every ripple has free will to cooperate with the outward-impelling “wind” of maya, or with the inward pull toward divine union with God.

The “Word” itself is not responsible for evil, but only for setting vibration into motion; it is responsible for the initial “wind” of creativity. That motion is, itself, benign. Had only ripples continued to exist, the universe would have remained harmonious, serene, and beautiful. All beings would have lived in harmony with God’s will. Of their own free will, however, they chose to excite themselves by responding to the wind of maya, allowing it to whip them to greater and greater excitement. Evil is the conscious impulse toward increasing motion and “outwardness.”

Imagine a conscious wave setting itself in rebellion against its own inherent reality, which is the calm ocean beneath it. Seeking its fulfillment in restlessness, it increases in size, affirming with ever greater fervor its own individuality.

Evil is individualized in the case of human beings, but it is also a universal, conscious force which suggests to them, like the wind to the waves: “Grow taller! Be proud! Be different from all others!” What makes that force evil is that it draws the mind away from that which all human beings truly want from life: happiness, above all, and peace of mind.

Evil has a magnetic attraction. Its roots grow, not in the individual mind, but in infinite consciousness. That universal impulse toward movement opposes the inward-drawing, magnetic attraction of divine love, reminding us ever silently that outward restlessness is not our true nature. Temptation draws us because it resonates with our subconscious tendency toward material involvement. In resonating with the subconscious, however, it increases its hold on us.

Fortunately, the attractive power of delusion affects us only to the extent that we open ourselves to it. By opening ourselves to its influence, we become agitated in spirit, proud, and increasingly self-absorbed. “From him who has not,” Jesus said, “shall be taken away even that which he has.”

The Bhagavad Gita also speaks of creation as a manifestation of God’s consciousness. In sleep, we dream. Similarly, the Infinite Consciousness, dreamlike, vibrates its thoughts of creation into the great void. Nothing in creation is real, except as dreams are real. All is a mere seeming. The chief difference between God’s dream and our own is that His is clear, for it is superconscious, whereas our own are vague, because they are subconscious. The cosmic dream has a certain coherence, moreover, that is lacking in subconsciousness.

Electrons–the “building blocks” of matter–are what create the dream-material universe, in accordance with the “blueprint” of what Yogananda called the Divine Architect. The divine presence resides deep beneath the surface of restless minds, dwelling forever at their center, and, indeed, at the center of every atom. The divine consciousness runs unnoticed through everything, like the thread passing through the beads of a necklace.

We find this truth hinted at in one of the primary commandments of Jesus: “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” Your neighbor is, in the highest sense, your very Self. For infinite consciousness is our deepest reality.

Modern physicists are beginning to discover the existence of subtle interactive ties in natural phenomena. An electron’s movement is simultaneously matched by movement elsewhere, in another electron, even though the two are distant from each other. Every thought we think has a subtle influence on our environment. Sensitive people, often, are aware that “thoughts” permeate an environment, and that a room full of people may contain a subtle mental “atmosphere.”

Since all life is one, the more sensitive we become to it, the more we find ourselves sustained by it, as sound is amplified by the sounding board of a musical instrument. A proud ego resembles in this sense a piano wire stretched tight but without the resonance of a piano underneath it. The more we isolate ourselves in ego-consciousness, the less power we have to accomplish anything worthwhile or meaningful in life. Successful people are attuned to a greater reality than their own. Unsuccessful people lack such attunement. People fail not so much because they lack strength, or talent, or intelligence, as because they are not attuned to life’s natural rhythms. It is these which produce the flow of abundance.

Is it not clear, then, why all the scriptures tell us to be kind, humble, and serviceful to others? Such attitudes are necessary if only because, by the openness and receptivity they engender in us, they help us to become more aware of all life. Nietzsche’s diatribes against humility were motivated by the delusion that every human being is an island unto himself. In fact, even islands are united by the landmass underneath them. True humility, therefore, is not self-abasement: It is self-honesty.

As we treat others, so–invariably–do we treat ourselves. For the energy we project to them is generated first in ourselves. Our thoughts and energy create a vortex, which draws to us whatever vibrations out of the great ocean of consciousness resound in sympathy with our own. “Thoughts,” Yogananda wrote in Autobiography of a Yogi , “are universally and not individually rooted.” Whatever vibrations we attract, and then project outward to others, have their first and greatest impact on ourselves: adversely, if our thoughts are unkind; beneficially, if they are generous.

The more aware we become of life’s underlying oneness, the closer we come to knowing God. Ultimately we arrive at that truth which was pronounced in the ancient Vedas: “Thou art that!” Jesus said it also: “Do not your scriptures say, Ye are gods?”

Our task, ordained for us by Divine Will itself, is to harmonize ourselves on deeper and deeper levels with our own inner divinity. As Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” To deepen our awareness, we must banish the delusion of ego which encourages desires and attachments. These in turn whip up the restless waves of likes and dislikes in the mind, and the emotion-driven currents of action and reaction.

The cosmic “Word” is no mere poetic abstraction. And the divine consciousness, permeating everything like the string that passes through a pearl necklace, is nearer to us than our most secret thoughts.

The Lord calls to us unceasingly, urging us to seek Him, the Changeless Spirit, beneath all the storms of life. Inner communion with Him is the highest teaching in every scripture. It is the truth that great masters have taken birth to declare to us who, struggling in delusion though we are, seek the way to enlightenment.

 

* Hegel wrote, “All that is real is rational. And all that is rational is real.”



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