Chapter 1: Major Disavantages
There is a major disadvantage to keeping spiritual authority confined in a hierarchy of prelates. The disadvantage is that institutional hierarchies are composed of human beings, most of whom have at least a few of the flaws common to mankind, among which must be counted pride, jealousy, personal prejudice, intolerance, vindictiveness, pettiness, and a tendency to be judgmental and unforgiving. Any one of these flaws is enough to obscure a persons perception of higher truths. Claims may be (and of course have been) made that Jesus Christ is guiding his Church to preserve it from serious error. The Roman Catholic Church carries this claim to the extent of insisting that, when the Pope (as the Churchs top primate) speaks ex cathedra, he is infallible. Other churches, though lacking historical precedence, insist to varying degrees on their own authority in matters of Christian Truth.
The greatest problem all the churches face is the simple fact that the majority of their leaders are only human beings, trapped in ego-centeredness (rather than souls that are free in God). They are therefore, and cannot but be, fallible. (Arrogance, I should add in clarification, is only one of the manifestations of ego-consciousness, which is a fundamental human reality.) What, then, is the ego? It is like a sliver of glass shining in the sunlight. It can reflect the sun of God, whose consciousness is the sole reality in existence, but the ego has no light of its own. Individuality is a universal illusion. It exists wherever creatures have developed sufficient clarity of awareness to reflect in themselves the light and consciousness of the infinite Self.
All living beings grow outward from a tiny center: from a seed, or from a first cell created by the union of sperm and ovum. Creatures grow outward from their own, individual centers. Consciousness of separate individuality is developed most highly in human beings. Attachment to ego is the root cause of every human delusion. Peoples notions of perfection cannot but be limited, therefore.
High position in a church does not infuse unenlightened ego-centered human beings out of the blue with divine or mystical insights. God can of course do anything, but the evidence of history shows that enlightenment comes only to individuals as a result of personal merit. The individual must first seek God personally, and be pure in heart. Enlightenment never comes to people in batches like college diplomas to a graduating class. Neither it must be stated also can belief in papal infallibility be viewed impartially as anything but wishful piety. (This dogma is a relatively new development in the Catholic Church, having been declared only in 1869 as, one suspects, an act of desperation to ward off theological challenges from the Protestants.)
All too often, what happens is that high position goes to a superiors head. An inflated sense of his own importance draws a thick veil of self-involvement over any ability he might have had to perceive reality, whether mundane or spiritual, clearly. Hence the saying, Pride goes before a fall.
How shall perfection be defined? In human beings, the root cause of imperfection is ego-centeredness; it conditions ones every perception. In smug self-esteem, and in peoples eagerness to be admired by others, they project personal ambition outward, and often assume that institutional promotion raises one automatically to exalted personal importance. Promotion, however, doesnt really change anyone inwardly. What happens all too often is that authority begets arrogance. In church hierarchies, arrogance is followed by ego-boosting attitudes like self-righteousness, insensitivity, irrational outbursts of rage, and indignation (self-defined as righteous) at the misbehavior and shortcomings of others.
Jesus Christ said, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matt. 5:48) Translators have not been able to imagine for human beings a state of absolute perfection. Often, therefore, they dilute the meaning of that counsel to fit a concept they consider more universally acceptable, because comprehensible. Translations have appeared with theological dilutions such as, Be ye therefore good, even as God is good.
The very idea that human nature can be improved suggests that Christ was teaching us to aspire to greater heights in ourselves, and to ever deeper awareness of Gods presence within us. Not all Christians are equally good, obviously. Some are better than others; some are worse; and some manage to be quite a lot worse. All this must be perfectly obvious to everyone.
A further step in this logical progression, however, is not so obvious, and is too seldom considered: namely, that goodness depends on inner standards, and above all on humility and purity of heart. These qualities are determined much less by outward behavior than by inner attitudes. They bear very little relationship, certainly, to a persons rank or position. God watches the heart is a saying that should be kept always in mind. Divine qualities are certainly not determined by the position one holds in a church. Promotion may come in recognition of personal virtues, but it is not in itself any assurance of such virtue, since superiors, being human, can err, and even if they show wisdom in one choice, that choice will never in any case bestow wisdom.
Indeed, promotion may also have unfortunate consequences. If the choice, in a church hierarchy, lies between a competent administrator and someone who, although saintly, lacks administrative competence, the selection will certainly go to him who is competent. Thus, clerical hierarchies become almost inevitably top-heavy, in time, with efficient but not particularly saintly administrators.
Administrative types are attracted to others of the same mentality: efficient, executive, interested more in how to get things done than in why they need to be done in the first place. Birds of a feather flock together. In religion, the administrative mentality tends toward efficiency, and may even frown on what it considers excessive concern with the lofty spiritual outlook. Administrative types always, therefore, favor others for promotion whom they themselves resemble: people also whom they personally like. If, moreover, a saintly candidate has all the skills required of a good administrator, and someone else is available whose nature is more closely akin to those making the appointment, then it wont matter if this alternate choice lacks saintliness. Indeed, it may help especially for him not to be saintly. (Who, after all, wants his own shortcoming to be exposed?) The bird of the same feather will almost certainly get the job.
If what I have stated is true and everyone knows it is true then it follows that decisions regarding spiritual matters should never be left primarily in the hands of high-ranking prelates. Still less, for that matter though for a different reason should they be left in the hands of merely intellectual theologians. Moreover (to conclude my catalogue of spiritual ineptitude), since intellectual learning is often a breeding ground for arrogance, such decisions should never be made by anyone for whom scholarship is his primary credential. The skill of the intellect at distorting reality is notorious. (That is why we have the saying, Even the Devil quotes scripture.) Indeed, the sharper the intellect, often, the more skillful a person is at distorting truth. As my Gurus guru Swami Sri Yukteswar put it, Keen intelligence is two-edged. It may be used constructively or destructively like a knife, either to cut the boil of ignorance, or to decapitate ones self. Intelligence is rightly guided only after the mind has acknowledged the inescapability of spiritual law.
Those persons alone are blessed with true spiritual insight who have lived their lives conscientiously by Truth, and who have done their best (as Christ said) to attain perfection in themselves.
According to the highest tradition in Christianity and the tradition exists as well, for that matter, in all true religions there do exist people who have actually attained the truths proclaimed in the Bible. Most of the same truths are, indeed, proclaimed in every great scripture. The people to whom I refer have communed inwardly with God; they have themselves become godly. Deep, inner experience of the Divine has raised them to the realization of God as the only Truth there is.
For the administrative type, which church hierarchies almost always attract, that divine reality is a distant consideration. Of more immediate and even overwhelming concern to them is how to meet their day-to-day exigencies. Thoughts of Eternity are, so to speak, put on a back burner. Sacred truths are left to take care of themselves!
In their own sphere of influence, church administrators function well enough. Few of them, however, are able at the same time to keep their hearts feelings focused on Eternal Truth.
The true custodians of religion, in other words, are the saints, who alone can speak with full spiritual authority. Whatever his outer position, a saints inner consciousness dwells on an exalted plane, which alone qualifies him to make important pronouncements on any deeply spiritual matter. Out of the vast variety in human nature, the saints are a class by themselves: They alone are the knowers of God.
In this sense it must be added, as a balance to my first criticism, that the Roman Catholic Church, alone among the vast variety of Christian churches, is in a position even today to transmit the true spirit of Jesus Christ. I say this not because the Roman Catholic is the oldest church, nor because the Pope is (as Catholics claim) the successor to St. Peter,* nor because of that purely man-made dogma, papal infallibility, but because the Catholic Church continues to uphold this highest spiritual tradition: mans ability to achieve direct, inner God-communion, and thereby to be supremely blessed and anointed by the Lord.
The Protestant churches on the whole deny this possibility. Even those churches which affirm it reduce its meaning to the lowest common denominator: They claim that everyone who professes belief in Jesus Christ is a saint already!
The Christian churches all insist that human perfectibility cannot in any case equal the absolute perfection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, they proclaim mans inherent sinfulness before God. Our destiny as souls, they say, is, after death, to suffer eternally in hellfire owing to the original sin committed by our first parents, Adam and Eve. Our only chance for redemption is, according to them, to accept Jesus Christ as our only personal Savior.
What have the saints had to say on this subject? Do they speak of mans natural sinfulness? Do they agree that man cannot possibly do anything to save himself? The saints, it must be pointed out to begin with, have decried the spiritually dampening effect of the concept that no man can hope for perfection. St. Teresa of Avila told her nuns that their duty was to strive to become saints. All the saints have said that divine grace is for everyone. Paraphrasing them, we may say that grace is like the sunlight on a building: It can enter only into those rooms which have their curtains drawn wide.
Are the saints themselves, then, perfect? This matter will be probed in some depth later on. The groundwork must first be laid, however, for an understanding of the true meaning of spiritual perfection. Let me, for now, emphasize this simple fact: A true saint is as far above the goodness that defines the ordinarily good Christian as is a skyscraper above the humble hut of a peasant. If one is charitable to all, does good works, and shuns vainglory, he deserves admiration as a human being. So long as he remains centered in his consciousness of egoic separateness, however, he should not be considered, in the highest sense of the word, a saint. For in his own eyes it is he himself who expresses charity, goodness, and all his other virtues. A true saint, by contrast, allows virtue to flow through him. He never sees himself as its source. Indeed, most if not all the virtues may be, and have been many times, expressed fully also in the lives of self-declared atheists. Christs message is much stricter. He told us to transcend ego-consciousness, that we see ourselves, simply, as instruments of God.
In striking corroboration of this statement, I remember one time when Yogananda was praised by someone for his humility. He answered with what might be called a conversation stopper: How can there be humility, he asked, when there is no consciousness of ego?
The criterion of what it means to be a good Christian has been diluted by what Yogananda called Churchianity. Nowadays, the usual criterion of a good Christian is someone who merely believes in Jesus Christ, and accepts him as his own personal Savior. A person may go regularly to church, be a good neighbor to others, help the needy, and be kind to all, but who tells him that he must also be conscious of his inner need to know God? Spiritual half-heartedness is what Jesus Christ meant when he said, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father, which is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21) In the preceding verse he said also, By their fruits ye shall know them.
Is belief in anything really enough? People once believed that the world is flat: Did mere belief make it so? Science has demonstrated convincingly that belief is no guarantee of the truth of anything. Because belief has been made the criterion of a good Christian, Christianity has been slowly sinking in popular esteem to the level of a third-rate power.
Belief is only the beginning of the search for knowledge. Belief is the hypothesis. It is needed to provide the incentive for verifying ones hopes and expectations. After hypothesis comes the process of testing. Proof, however, will come only after a hypothesis (in this case, a belief) has been fairly tested.
What actual proofs does religion offer? The promise the churches offer is the mere hope of a happy, carefree life in heaven after death. Is that a proof? It is only a pious expectation, which invites rather the question: How many have returned from heaven to report their actual arrival there?
Yogananda enjoyed telling a story hed read in a book about Billy Sunday, the American evangelist. Billy, after death, presented himself at the Pearly Gates. Knocking loudly, he demanded to be admitted.
Saint Peter appeared, heard Billys request, and leafed through the Book of Life. Im sorry, he announced, but your name isnt listed here.
But thats impossible! expostulated Billy Sunday indignantly. What about all those people I sent up here?
St. Peter studied the book once more, then replied, You may have sent them, but none have arrived.
Religious truths can indeed be tested and proved. The proof consists in the yardstick of experience. If this statement seems simplistic, please reflect a moment: What does it mean, to test a spiritual truth? It means to exclude rigidly from ones life every vestige of ego-motivation. It means, in time, to realize that God alone IS, and that He alone DOES everything. Anyone who makes this attempt seriously will soon discover in his seeking that the challenge he faces demands of him, in fact, a spirit of heroism!
Objective proof of the truth of Christs teachings lies in the impersonal love manifested by those of every religion who have transcended ego-awareness and have, consequently, learned to love all beings equally. Such persons seek nothing in return, and consider it no sacrifice to retain nothing for themselves. The definition of impersonal love is a love that is purely self-giving, that wants nothing for ones self, and that doesnt hold onto anything with attachment.
The alternative way of seeking proof, and the proof that is usually proposed, is through the syllogisms of logic: the analytical, scholarly method. Truth, however, is not up for election. The modern mind, educated as people are to trust the proofs of material science, inclines to view rational scholarship as more objective, and therefore more valid, than dogmatism. A great fuss, indeed, has been made in recent decades over lately discovered manuscripts that date back to early Christian times. Scholars claim that those documents provide fresh insight into the teachings of Jesus Christ and the origins of Christianity. They have actually announced, on the basis of some of those documents, that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived his crucifixion and went on to marry Mary Magdalene, the two of them producing a bloodline which continues to this day.
Jesus Christ himself, it must be noted, is quoted in the Bible as declaring, There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heavens sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. (Matt. 19:12) By these words, as well as by the well-known example of his life, Jesus made it clear that he was himself celibate. (Yogananda emphasized that Jesus did not mean, in this passage, that one should castrate himself for the kingdom of heavens sake.
(It would deprive you, he told his monk disciples, of the energy you need to find God.)
Once the authority of the Gospels is challenged on such fundamental points as these, Christianity itself might as well be thrown onto the rubbish heap or else the Holy Bible preserved in a museum display case of encrusted antiquities, gathering dust. In this case, the religion of our forefathers could not but cease to offer perfection as an ideal to which all can aspire despite what Jesus said, and would deserve rather to be tossed aside as bereft of any divine message. For Christs message must then be considered as containing nothing but pious platitudes.
Human nature tends to seek the easy way out. Faced with Jesus Christs doctrine to Love thy neighbor, one might find comfort in believing that he is still perfectly free to hate his neighbors neighbor with frigid fury. Again, faced with the two clear-cut alternatives: heaven or hell after death, he might think, Well, how could God, being good, condemn me to eternal hell for being if not perfect, at least moderately good? Gradually, by pursuing this line of reasoning, he might well end up asking himself (as, in fact, many do), Just how bad can I be and get away with it?
It has become usual for Christians, in their awareness of claims made by certain new Christian scholars that Jesus Christ was only human, to conclude that it is still possible to be a good Christian and have no spiritual aspirations at all. Alternatively and this has been claimed also it would be quite all right simply to dispense with Christianity and all that religious stuff altogether, and simply be a normal, decent, well intentioned human being. And what if self-interest remains a life priority? Well, cant that be said of almost everyone anyway? (And can so many people be wrong? Such may be the usual take on that point. It is opposed, however, by the voice of experience, which has repeatedly shown the following to be true: The majority is always wrong; the minority has at least a possibility of being right.)
I once asked my Guru about someone who was good, kind, honest, and truthful, but who had no interest in seeking God. His reply was surprising: The road to Hades is paved with good intentions.
The danger of intellectual scholars to religion is not merely theoretical. Surveys of present-day Christians show that a high percentage of them feel shaken in their faith by scholarly claims that challenge the very authenticity of the Gospels. Not a few such claims have been aired, without proper authentication, in works of pure fiction. Others have been made by scholars who, though serious, demonstrate a lamentable absence of spiritual insight. In both cases, the claims to authenticity are based on the supposed antiquity of their sources, supported by a skillful misuse of reasoning.
Mans highest faculty is not his intellect. All human beings possess the power, at least latently, of extrasensory perception. A person might know, quite unaccountably (when foreknowledge seems impossible), that something is going to take place, and it happens. Or he may know exactly how to respond fittingly to some unprecedented threat to his person or to his financial security. Again, he may be unaccountably aware of something that will happen in someone elses life, and not even be surprised when it occurs, later. Or again he may, without even a shred of evidence, see behind a persons fašade of respectability and recognize in him certain hidden, dishonest intentions.
I offer these examples as commonplace. Such insights are like rents in the veil which separates the majority of people from one another, and from subtler-than-material realities. Yogananda defined intuition, ultimately, as the souls power of knowing God.
Consciousness manifests on three levels: subconscious, conscious, and superconscious. Subconsciousness, the first level, depends on external influences to which it reacts instinctively. It is on this level that the lower animals function.
Man, according to a classical definition, is a rational animal. Yet man is, in fact, neither entirely rational nor entirely an animal. That definition is a marvel of clarity in the sense that it serves whoever uses it as a premise for pursuing numerous lines of reasoning. It doesnt take into consideration, however, mans irrational moods, his unpredictable whims, his deep-seated prejudices. It gives no recognition, moreover, to the human capacity for developing spiritual insight, and for rising above his animal nature altogether. The conscious mind functions through the intellect. It compares things, then analyzes the comparison to achieve a more complete understanding. Usually, understanding that is arrived at by the intellect depends on the perceptions of the senses. This dependence renders the intellect, where higher truth is concerned, more or less incompetent.
Superconsciousness is universally the highest level of cognition. At this level, man transcends his self-limiting human nature and becomes a child of God, forever free in his soul.
One benefit that man has derived from modern science is the realization, intellectually at least, that reality is not confined to what the five senses perceive. Indeed, matter is now known not to have any substance at all: it is a product of innumerable vibrations of energy. Science has greatly expanded our physical and mental horizons, too, with its probes into the vastness of space and into the intricacies of the microcosmic world.
One result of that expansion has been the speed of travel to very distant places. One can even observe scenes now from around the world, flashing instantaneously on his television screen. Almost everyone nowadays is aware of cultures and countries distant and very different from his own. All of us know that the people who live in far-off countries are not essentially different from ourselves or from our near neighbors.
We are also becoming ever more aware that many teachings of other religions are very similar to, and even identical in meaning with our own. Christian theologians, most of whom still cling determinedly to the dogma that Jesus Christ was superior to all others, try constantly to draw their readers attention to any dissimilarities they can ferret out between Christianity and other religions. The differences, however, are all fairly superficial. Yogananda described the hidden motivation behind such scholarly attempts as mischievous, for they misrepresent what they have determined to view as the opposition. Where such issues dont arise, it is notably true that human beings everywhere have basically the same needs: food, clothing, shelter, as well as the same basic emotional needs: love, kindness, emotional security, happiness.
People everywhere in the world have also (most deeply rooted of all) a spiritual dimension, which the great religions address more or less identically. No true religion has ever taught people to hate, or to tell lies, or to inflict pain and harm on others. All of them urge people to behave in ways that will expand their ego-identity by including the realities of others. Every religion, moreover, insists on the need for all men to love unselfishly, and to develop the virtues of truthfulness, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and all the rest. No religion, moreover, recommends the creed of materialists the world over: Me-firstism.
Nowadays, with increasing awareness that there may actually be a spiritual dimension in human life, it would surely show meanness of spirit to deprecate others efforts to rise spiritually, each according to his own capacity and beliefs. Any teaching that raises human consciousness for example, by kindness and unselfish love can only be good. Why then, in the zeal to convert him, harp on how wrong he is, or on how much he lacks a true teaching? Sympathetic interest in ways different from ones own is becoming increasingly widespread these days. People want to know how others eat, how they dress, how they define gracious living. Given this natural and increasingly universal curiosity, is it not right for people also to be interested in what other people think, in how they define happiness, and in how they approach God?
Dr. Radhakrishnan, who, when I visited him, was the vice president of India (he later became Indias president), said to me, A nation is known by those persons whom its people look upon as great. By that criterion, India is, and has earned the right to be, known as the most spiritual country on earth. For people elsewhere mostly define greatness by political, literary, or God help us! sports hero and movie star criteria. Indias principal standard, by contrast, has always been its spiritual giants: its saints.
I was once asked by a Christian missionary in India, What do you mean when you use the word, saint?
My reference, I replied, is to the Sanskrit word, sant, from which our word saint is derived. (Thus did I nip in the bud a blossoming theological challenge!)
The great figures in Indias past have always been men and women of Self-realization. Emperors, warriors, political leaders and other worldly figures in history, though admired and respected, have always been given a secondary status. Wisdom, moreover, has not been confused in India with scholarship or with intellectual brilliance. True wisdom is determined by a persons inner experience of God and by his consequent understanding of the true meaning of life. The great masters of that country have seldom been theologians or philosophers: in other words, men addicted to learning, each with his own carefully pondered theory on Meaning. Superconscious realization has given the wise of India keen intellects, but what most distinguishes them is their mental clarity. They live the high truths they preach. Superconscious experience has given them a uniform perception of what is and is not real. Their deep insights, based on direct experience, could never have come to people who had only keen intellects.
Declarations by the great masters in all religions, though not always exactly coinciding, have shown a remarkable unanimity with respect to the highest truths. Any differences, in other words, between the statements of a Self-realized saint in one religion and those of another saint in some other religion are due simply to differences of culture and environment and to peoples temporal needs.
So great, on the other hand, is their agreement concerning spiritual truths that when Christian missionaries first came to India, and encountered there a quite unanticipated corroboration of Christs teachings in the teachings of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (Indias favorite scripture), they decided that Krishnas teachings must have been borrowed from Jesus Christ. According to indigenous tradition in India, however, the Gita (as people fondly call it) is much older.
When you really get down to it, the only essential difference between Christianity and, let us say, Buddhism lies in the names of their founders. The differences in teaching can easily be explained by the different cultural exigencies encountered by those two great masters. Without what is claimed as the uniquely saving grace of their own masters, the teachings themselves are basically the same.
The following pages will offer Christian truths (eternal and universal) from a new point of view. This book will be completely orthodox in its adherence to Christianity, but its orthodoxy will not always correspond to what is taught by Christian sects. It will not always conform, in other words, to Churchianity.
I submit this humble effort, as I stated in the Introduction, in the hope of helping to reinstate Christianity on its fully deserved plateau as a foremost among the great religions of the world (though not as the only great religion). I am writing in the sincere conviction that what I have to say, which I learned from my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, is universally true. For truth is one and eternal. This book is a humble offering to you, the reader, of explanations given by Paramhansa Yogananda, who opened the teachings of Jesus Christ to the world. I write in the conviction that, though it may always be possible to imagine new facts, one can never create a new truth. Truth does, however, assume ever-new expressions, like the leaves of a tree which are generically all the same, though every leaf is unique and different from all its fellows. Even so, differing expressions of the timeless truth are only outer sheaths for the one and only, changeless and eternal Truth, which pervades the whole universe.