Destined to become a classic, The Promise of Immortality is the most complete commentary available on parallel passages from the Bible and India’s ancient scripture, The Bhagavad Gita. This groundbreaking book highlights the similarities between scriptures of two of the world’s greatest religions, bringing each vibrantly to life.
Kriyananda sheds light on many of the famous passages from both texts, showing their practical relevance for the modern day and their potential to bring about lasting spiritual transformation. His elucidation of the ancient texts inspires us with enlightening answers to vital spiritual questions, such as:
- Is everyone destined to become “Christlike”?
- Is it enough to do “good works”?
- What is the most powerful force in the universe?
- What is the true meaning of the “Golden Rule”?
- Are material desires spiritually harmful?
- What is the best way to read the scriptures?
- How do I find a true teacher?
Through answers to such questions, The Promise of Immortality will renew your faith and recharge your soul. It clarifies apparent differences in religious teachings to reveal timeless, unifying truths. Through this book Kriyananda makes a convincing case for the underlying unity of all religious faiths, and provides the possibility of an unprecedented era of cooperation among the world’s religions.
A ForeWord Book of the Year finalist.
Part I: The Eternal Christ
1. The Eternal "Word": Key to Manifested Existence
2. What Is the Source of Life?
3. Why Is the Light "Incomprehensible" to Darkness?
4. The Incarnation
5. "The Only Begotten"—Why?
6. Receptivity: the Key to Spiritual Development
7. Divine Grace vs. Divine Law
8. Can God Be Known?
Part II: The Instruments of Recognition
9. How to Study the Scriptures
10. Finding a True Teacher
11. How to Relate to a Master
12. Heaven Is Our Birthright!
13. Imperfection Is of the Ego—Perfection Is of the Soul
Part III: Son of Man: Son of God?
14. "Who Is This Son of Man?"
15. Resurrection, and the Meaning of Divine Tests
Part IV: The Soul’s Ascent
16. The Way Beckons
17. "Works" That Lead to Perfection
18. "Be Ye Therefore Perfect!"
One of the most urgent needs in the world today is for the major religions to be presented from a perspective of the truths they have in common, and not of the teachings which, their proponents insist, make them unique. Much energy has been directed through books and sermons toward demonstrating the superiority of one religion over all others: of Christianity, because it holds that Jesus Christ is the world’s Savior; of Islam, because it offers Mohammed to the faithful as the prophet of Allah; of Buddhism, because only those who follow the way of the Buddha can win release from the cycle of death and rebirth. These claims are mutually exclusive, and have discouraged many conscientious people from considering religion as even central to the needs of humanity. Indeed, so many people scoff at religion nowadays that civilization is beginning to resemble a ship that, on the point of crashing against the rocks (in civilization’s case, of global disaster), has lost its rudder.
There is, however, another aspect to religion: not divisive, but unitive. Indeed, there are numerous points on which all religions are agreed: the issue, for example, of what constitutes right action. No religion considers it a virtue to lie, or steal, or harm others. All religions, moreover, preach some variant of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Virtue is recommended in other areas besides religion, of course, if only as being socially desirable. In none of these areas, however, is guidance given for developing virtue, and in none of them is primary attention given to uplifting human consciousness.
For these reasons, religion deserves recognition as the very cornerstone of civilization. Without it, society would sink into a morass of cynicism, selfishness, matter-worship, and violence. Far from being “the opiate of the people,” as Karl Marx claimed, religion gives mankind the ultimate cure for its age-old addiction to “opiates” of all kinds: alcohol, drugs, money, sense-pleasure.
How sad it is, then, that religion has become one of the most neglected, not to say belittled, of human concerns! Such disdain would not exist had religion not undergone virtual mummification by the skilled application of unprovable dogmas, and been enclosed in the coffin of wooden sectarianism. Dogmas are not to blame for this evil, for they are simply definitions of beliefs. Dogmatism, however, is another matter altogether. Its narrow emphasis stifles intelligence. Sectarianism moreover, which quickly follows, alienates people from one another, stifles their sympathies, and encourages meanness of spirit with the presumed sanction of scripture.
Yet religion has the potential to unite all humanity in the highest ideals. When religion is lived rightly, it expands people’s sympathies and encourages them to embrace all, however different their customs and beliefs.
Nowadays, as the peoples of different cultures come into increasing contact with one another, those who identify truth with principles rather than with limited forms and definitions find it less than edifying to be told that one religion alone is true, and all others false. Blindly dogmatic statements have caused many to back off from religion altogether and to seek substitutes for religion in the sciences, or in politics, or in ecology.
For human nature needs some ideal toward which it can aspire. The search for perfection on earth proves, however, in the end, illusory. “Votaries” at those shrines find themselves left at last merely with arid hearts.
The chief purpose of religion is the upliftment of human consciousness. This inner transformation manifests spontaneously as virtue, for it makes people naturally kind, humble, and compassionate. Without inner upliftment, however, virtue itself becomes little but a pose practiced at convenience–or else ignored, equally at convenience.
It is urgently necessary in our time to promote understanding among the world’s religions. Religious leaders need to treat one another as colleagues, not as rival vendors in an outdoor market where people hawk their wares while shouting accusations of unfair competition at one another. Only by mutual appreciation for each other’s spiritual sincerity can people be inspired to pull themselves out of the morass of irreligion. Whether Jesus be the only Savior, or Mohammed, or Buddha, one may safely assume that those great teachers will be better pleased with even the so-called “heathen” if he is kind and considerate of others, and if he loves truth and God, than they will with their own followers who, though shouting dogmatic slogans, are cruel and demonstrate a willingness to deceive others in dealing with them.
Jesus Christ said, “Why say ye Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?” And when his disciples reprimanded a certain man for casting out devils in his name, Jesus reprimanded them, in turn, saying, “Forbid him not . . . for he that is not against us is with us.” (Mark 9:39,40)
Unity in spiritual matters is, for all these reasons, urgently needed today.
It was in furtherance of this ideal that a historic event occurred near the end of the Nineteenth Century, in the Indian Himalaya. A great spiritual master, Mahavatar Babaji, requested a spiritual “grandson” of his named Swami Sri Yukteswar–a disciple of his own foremost disciple–to write a book with the aim of explaining certain passages in the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, to demonstrate the essential unanimity of teaching in those scriptures. The purpose of this commission was to further people’s understanding of the universality of truth.
Swami Sri Yukteswar wrote his book in 1894, calling it Kaivalya Darsanam, or, in English, The Holy Science. The English edition is subtitled, “An Exposition of Final Truth” (which is the literal translation of its Bengali title). The Holy Science is still in print; it is published by Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles, California. The book contains fewer than a hundred pages: a small volume, considering its extraordinary depth. Indeed, much of what it contains is not easy to grasp by the average reader, who has to have new ideas spelled out for him so as to bridge the gap between them and his own usual understanding of things. It should be added, however, that The Holy Science was not such a bridge. It did, however, play a seminal role in the development of Babaji’s plan, which was to bring East and West together in a spirit of understanding and cooperation.
Sri Yukteswar passed on that ideal to his foremost disciple, Paramhansa Yogananda, who is widely known today through his spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi . The training this young disciple received was aimed at the dissemination of ancient insights in Western countries, and from the West on throughout the modern world.
Yogananda’s mission was not to Indianize the West, as a number of teachers from India have tried to do, but to uplift it spiritually within the context of its own culture. He reminded Jews and Christians alike of their deep roots in ancient meditative practices.
Meditation, Paramhansa Yogananda explained, exerts a positive influence on every aspect of one’s life. By inner calmness and concentration, one can be successful in anything he attempts. Modern men and women, adopting his teachings, soon found themselves more deeply aware of God’s guidance in their lives. They found also that they became better businessmen, musicians, carpenters, home-makers, scientists. Above all, they became happier, more fulfilled human beings. In the higher teachings of yoga they discovered a science that was rooted in provable truths, and not the vague mysticism that so often passes among Westerners for “Eastern wisdom.”
Yogananda sought practical ways of instilling the truth of his teachings in society at all levels. To fulfill this aim it would, he realized, be necessary for the entire social structure to be transformed. His vision therefore expanded beyond present horizons to include schools, spiritual communities, a “Yoga Institute,” an annual congress of religions to which he planned to invite “delegates from all lands.” He suggested guidelines for businessmen based on a spirit of service rather than on a desire for personal gain. He created businesses to support his projected communities, and saw them also as models to demonstrate the validity of the guidelines he proposed for businesses everywhere. He wrote music; sponsored concerts; proposed architecture as a means of giving outward definition to spiritual concepts. He even expressed creativity in several inventions, to show that creative expression is a valid aspect of the spiritual life and is not inimical to it.
It was not possible, of course, for all of his projects to bear fruit during his lifetime, extraordinarily productive though his life was. His vision went far into the future. The ideas he expressed, and the numerous ventures he proposed (some of which he actually attempted), were seeds of energy that he planted for future germination. As he himself put it, “I am sowing these ideas in the ether, in the spirit of God.”
One of his early ventures in America was to found a school for children based on the principles he’d already developed in a school for boys in Ranchi, India. America, however, was not ripe for this project, and he was obliged to abandon it for the time being. Nevertheless, he often spoke of the importance of education to the spread of his ideals. Indeed, as the child grows, so does the adult proclaim himself. First, however, as Yogananda confided to me personally, the parents would need to be converted to the truths he taught. Only then would they send their children to his schools.
Another of his efforts was the creation of small, non-monastic communities where spiritually minded men and women would share harmoniously in the quest for God, inspire one another, and offer examples to others of how people can guide their lives by high ideals. This concept harked back to the early communitarian experiments in America.
He was successful in founding several monasteries of the more traditional kind. Americans, however, were not yet ready to embrace his communitarian project. On countless occasions, nevertheless, having seen the great strain people endure under the stresses of modern life, Yogananda urged all who could do so to live dedicated lives together, when the time proved right, in simple, rustic surroundings.
Always, his central teaching was spiritual upliftment. For he emphasized that no earthly Eden can ever satisfy the soul’s hunger for divine fulfillment. He therefore emphasized the importance above all of meditation and inner communion. To this end he taught meditation techniques, especially those central to the ancient science of yoga.
In furtherance of his spiritual mission, Yogananda continued the task given by Babaji to Sri Yukteswar, to show the underlying oneness of the Holy Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. “I was sent to the West,” Yogananda explained, “to emphasize original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ, and original yoga as taught by Krishna.” A visitor once said in my presence, “You’ve called yours a ‘Church of All Religions.’ Why, then, do you confine yourself to explaining only Christianity and the teachings of Hinduism? Why not other religions as well?” The Master replied simply, “Because that was the wish of Babaji.”
Pondering his reply, I’ve come to realize that a detailed study of the world’s religions would provoke only intellectual interest, but would not inspire people to develop spiritual love and intuitive understanding. It may be also that Hinduism and Christianity are the two religions best suited by tradition to the practice of inner communion with God. Yogananda tried, at the same time, to show that the quest for divine truth is the essence of all religions.
In pursuance of this purpose, he wrote separate commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita and the Holy Bible. In his Bible commentaries he concentrated primarily on the teachings of Jesus Christ, though quoting extensively also from the Old Testament. He wrote commentaries in addition on the Books of Genesis and Revelation. The reason for treating the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita separately was that the first need was for an in-depth explanation of each scripture. Side-by-side comparisons of the two scriptures would have to come later.
The present book is an attempt to address that further need, though far from exhaustively. Originally this book was intended for week-by-week study over the course of one year. The more deeply I delved into the subject, however, the more evident it became to me that these scriptures, even taking them one passage at a time, are so deep that a whole lifetime would not suffice to plumb their depths. Thus, my hope is that this relatively little book (long of course, however, by modern standards) will provide not only food for the intellect, but inspiration for the soul.
Paramhansa Yogananda told me when I was twenty-three, “Your job will be writing and lecturing.” Other tasks have evolved indirectly out of that commission, for anything I wrote needed the validation of first-hand experience. In 1968 I founded a community, which I named Ananda Village, in fulfillment of his communitarian ideal. Shortly thereafter I also founded a school, where the children of community members, and others also, might be instructed in the principles developed by Yogananda in India. Later, with this experience for a basis, I wrote a book, Education for Life, to elaborate on his educational ideas and on our application of them.
When my guru told me that my job was writing, I expressed surprise. “Sir,” I exclaimed, “haven’t you already written all that needs to be said?”
The narrowness of my vision astonished him, in turn. “Don’t say that!” he replied. “Much more is needed.”
This book is one of many endeavors to carry out that commission. (I’ve written over seventy books so far, and composed over 400 works of music.) An earlier version of the present book was written for Sunday morning services at Ananda. The present work represents a considerable expansion of that earlier one.
I have done my best in these pages to refrain from offering any opinion of my own. Instead, it has been my aim to present in depth the teachings I received from my guru–through his written works, his public lectures, his informal talks with a few of us disciples, and his lengthy discussions with me personally. This book does, however, contain insights of my own–not, be it noted, my opinions–gained over a lifetime as his disciple. For it is the duty of the disciple to do more than repeat his guru’s words. Yogananda himself said that disciples cannot but filter their gurus’ teachings according to their own spiritual understanding.
In Autobiography of a Yogi Paramhansa Yogananda wrote concerning the life of Lahiri Mahasaya (the guru of Sri Yukteswar) that the great guru often said to his disciples: “I will guide your thoughts, that the right interpretation be uttered.” The account continued, “In this way, many of Lahiri Mahasaya’s perceptions came to be recorded, with voluminous commentaries, by various students.”* For many years now, I have prayed sincerely to my own guru, “May everything I say express only your insight.”
In all my books I have done my best to attune myself to his consciousness. The present book was, in the above sense, written through me, rather than by me. Many of the insights it contains had never occurred to me before. Often, indeed, thrilled by their clarity and simplicity, I have found myself exclaiming, “How true! And how beautiful!”
Everything in this book is consistent, moreover, with Paramhansa Yogananda’s actual words and writings. It is, I therefore repeat, not really my book. My own contribution has been to marshal thoughts that he expressed from time to time on these subjects, and to bring selected passages from the two scriptures together in such a way as to show that they parallel one another. My goal has been, in my own small way, to continue the commission originally given by Babaji to Swami Sri Yukteswar, which Sri Yukteswar then passed on to Paramhansa Yogananda, and which it will be others’ responsibility in future generations to continue sharing with the world.
I have not limited myself to my guru’s specific writings on these subjects (the reader may go to his books for that), but have drawn from and assembled countless memories of things he said, wrote elsewhere, and did that might give a fuller dimension to his published writings.
Such, indeed, is the duty of the sincere disciple: to present his guru’s teachings in such a way as to show them, as much as possible, in all their subtlety and variety. Thus, may they reach an ever-wider and more enlightened audience.
* Page 40 of the first edition reprint, available from Crystal Clarity Publishers.
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.”
This was the book at the other end of the bridge, of which the first end was Rays of the One Light and the bridge itself was Rays of the Same Light.
In The Promise of Immortality, I developed at length the seed thoughts I’d planted in the other two books, and wrote considerably more material besides. Everything in this book is based on the teachings and writings of Paramhansa Yogananda, as were the other two. In this book, however, I expanded what I’d read out of my own meditations on his teachings and writings.
What I’ve published so far can be considered a book in itself, but in fact it represents only the first half of the year, and the scripture passages I considered in the other two books for those six months. If time remains to me in this incarnation, I would like to write Volume Two,
which will comprise the passages for the second half of the year.
Each of these books would, I think, fulfill a special need, though I might decide at that point to drop Rays of the Same Light altogether.
"The Promise of Immortality takes us on a meticulously researched and lucidly explicated journey through two of humanity’s precious scriptures, the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. Swami Kriyananda shows us how the deep and profound truths within each wisdom tradition align beautifully with each other, and with our inborn creative gifts."
—Mary Manin Morrissey, author of Building Your Field of Dreams
"This insightful book plumbs the universal realms of spirituality through the common ground of two great traditions, Hindu and Christian, showing us how to achieve spiritual transformation. My own understanding of both Christ and Krishna has been greatly enhanced by reading it. [This book] helps us understand how to find our place in the universe, and how to live our lives."
—Lama Surya Das, author of Awakening to the Sacred
"Those who dip their consciousness into these pages will experience a spiritually renewing baptism and perceive the single message of the Gospel and the Bhagavad Gita: the purpose of life is the realization of God. The Promise of Immortality delivers on its promises!"
—Abbot George Burke, Light of Christ Monastery, author of An Eagle’s Flight
"A rare look at both Hindu and Christian traditions from one who has inner knowledge and experience in both. Great reading for an age in which institutionalized religion must give way to the individual’s inner spiritual search."
—Dr. David Frawley, author of Yoga and Ayurveda
"Kriyananda is a modern sage and a master storyteller who writes with exceptional charm and intelligence. In reading his works, you feel like you are listening to a wise, good friend.
"Paramhansa Yogananda wanted to bring East and West together by demonstrating the connection between the Holy Bible and The Bhagavad Gita, and Kriyananda’s book sets out to complete Yogananda’s unfinished ideal. During his lifetime, Yogananda wrote separate commentaries on each of these texts, but made it known that he hoped for a side-by-side comparison.
"Unfortunately, many people tend to believe in the superiority of their religion over any other . . . . The Promise of Immortality transcends the apparent differences in these two texts to reveal the timeless, universal truth inherent in both.
"While Kriyananda’s study speaks to an urgent need for understanding and compassion, his book also brings both the Bible and The Bhagavad Gita vibrantly to life. The Promise of Immortality is the most complete commentary available on the parallel passages in these two texts."
—Bodhi Tree Book Review
"Kriyananda is a modern sage. The Promise of Immortality is a masterpiece of wisdom that both enlightens and inspires."
—Justin Epstein, Minister, The Unity Center of New York, and host of the television show, Practical Spirituality
"With penetrating insight into both the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Kriyananda brilliantly illuminates the soul’s path to union with God through the full realization of Jesus’ words, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you!’"
—The Rev. Canon Charles B. Atcheson, Episcopal Priest
"In this new book Swami Kriyananda cogently explains why the yogic teachings of India have become so popular lately, and how those teachings are impacting our Western religions and culture. In the process, Kriyananda sheds new light on the true meaning of many famous Bible passages, offering a fresh and compelling argument for the continued relevance of true Christian teaching. He emphasizes the need to live wisely by one’s own experience of life and not by abstract theories or dogmas. He addresses such important and timely issues as how to understand the deeper teachings of the Bible; whether these teachings are compatible with yoga and Eastern religion; the impact the yogic teachings can have on our Western religions and culture; and how we can bridge the teachings of East and West."