Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Christ of India

[OCOY] At the time of Jesus of Nazareth there were two major currents or sects within Judaism: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees were extremely concerned with strict external observance of their interpretation of the Mosaic Law, ritual worship, and theology. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were very little concerned with any of these and tended toward a kind of genteel agnosticism. Today these two groups might be compared with the Orthodox and the Reformed branches of Judaism respectively.
There was also a third sect which both was and was not part of Judaism. They were the Essenes, whose very name means “the Outsiders.” (“Essene” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Chitsonim–“the outsiders.” Since Philo and other Jewish historians used “Essene” in writing about them, that has become the common usage.) Whether they chose this name for themselves or whether it was applied to them by the disdainful Pharisees and Sadducees is not known. But that they were incongruent (even incompatible) to the normal life of Israel at that time is certainly known.
Jesus of Nazareth was an Essene, as were most of his followers, including the twelve Apostles. When Jesus said “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), the word used in the Greek text of the Gospels is ecclesia, which literally means “the called out” or “the separated” in the sense of “the aliens.” It is not far-fetched, then, to wonder if the correct translation should not be: “I will establish My Essenes.” Many elements distinguished and even separated the Essenes from the rest of Israel.
Their claims about their very existence was certainly a controversial matter. For the Essenes averred that Moses had created them as a secret fraternity within Judaism, with Aaron and his descendants at their head. The prophet Jeremiah was a Master of the Essenes, and it was in his lifetime that they ceased to be a secret society and became a public entity. From that time many of the Essenes began living in communities. Isaiah and Saint John the Baptist were also Masters of the Essenes. Their purpose was to follow a totally esoteric religious philosophy and practice that was derived from the Egyptian Mysteries.
As the grandson of the Pharaoh, Moses had been an initiate of those mysteries and destined to ultimately become the head of the Egyptian religion. It was common in Egypt for the eldest son of the Pharaoh to inherit the throne, and the next eldest son to be made the head of the Egyptian religion. Although Moses was the only son of the Pharaoh’s daughter, he was adopted and his bloodline was not known. For this reason he could not be Pharaoh, but he could be put into the position usually given to the second son. The Egyptian Mysteries were themselves derived from the religion of India: Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Religion. Because of this the Essenes had always maintained some form of contact and interchange with India–a fact that galled their fellow Israelites. Regarding this, Alfred Edersheim, in his nineteenth century classic The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, wrote: “Their fundamental tendency was quite other than that of Pharisaism, and strongly tinged with Eastern elements.”
The reality of this contact with India is shown in the Zohar (2:188a-b), a compilation of ancient Jewish mystical traditions and the major text of the Jewish Kabbalah. It contains the following incident regarding the knowledge of an illumined rabbi concerning the religion of India and the Vedic religious rite known as the sandhya, which is an offering of prayers at dawn and sunset for enlightenment.
“Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Hiyya were walking on the road. While they were walking, night fell; they sat down. While they were sitting, morning began to shine; they rose and walked on. Rabbi Hiyya said, ‘See, the face of the East, how it shines! Now all the children of the East [in India], who dwell in the mountains of light [the Himalayas], are bowing down to this light, which shines on behalf of the sun before it comes forth, and they are worshipping it.…Now you might say: ‘This worship is in vain!’ but since ancient, primordial days they have discovered wisdom through it.”
Their contact and interchange with Indian religion–Brahminical practices in particular–were manifested in several ways among the Essenes:
1. They practiced strict non-violence.
2. They were absolute vegetarians and would not touch alcohol in any form. Nor would they eat any food cooked by a non-Essene. (Edersheim says: “Its adherents would have perished of hunger rather than join in the meals of the outside world.”)
3. They refused to wear anything of animal origin, such as leather or wool, usually making their clothes of linen.
4. They rejected animal sacrifice, insisting that the Torah had not originally ordered animal sacrifice, but that its text had been corrupted–in regard to that and many other practices as well. Their assertion was certainly corroborated by passages in the scriptures such as: “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?” (Psalms 50:13). “To what purpose [is] the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord:…I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats” (Isaiah 1:11). “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices” (Jeremiah 7:22). The quotation from Isaiah is particularly relevant since he was himself the Master of the Essenes.
It was the Essenes’ contention that the “animals” originally offered in sacrifice were symbolic effigies of animals that represented the particular failing or fault from which the offerer wished to be freed. Appollonius of Tyana taught this same thing in relation to the ancient Greek sacrifices, and urged a return to that form. Long before that, in India dough effigies were offered in “sacrifice.” (See page 42 of Ganesha, by Chitralekha Singh and Prem Nath, published by Crest Publishing House of New Delhi.) In the Essene practice, each person molded the effigies with his own hands, while praying and concentrating deeply on the traits he wished to have corrected, feeling that it was being transferred into the image. The effigies were made of five substances: powdered frankincense, flour, water, olive oil, and salt. When these had dried, they were taken to the tabernacle whose altar was a metal structure with a grating over the top and hot coals within. The effigies were laid upon this grating and burnt by the intense heat. As they burned, through the force of the heat the olive oil and frankincense liquefied and boiled or seeped upward. This fragrant liquid was called “the blood” of the sacrifice. It was this with which Moses consecrated the tabernacle, its equipment, and the priests (Exodus 24:6,8), not animal blood. And it was just such a “lamb” whose “blood” was sprinkled on the doorposts in Egypt (Exodus 12:7).
For the Passover observance, the Essenes would bake a lamb effigy using the same ingredients–except for the frankincense they would substitute honey and cinnamon. (Or, lacking honey, they would use a kind of raisin syrup.) This was the only paschal lamb acceptable to them–and therefore to Jesus and His Apostles.
Consequently, the Essenes refused to worship in Jerusalem, but maintained their own tent-tabernacle on Mount Carmel made according to the original directions given to Moses on Mount Sinai. They considered the Jerusalem temple unacceptable because it was a stone structure built according to Greco-Roman style rather than the simple and humble tabernacle form given to Moses–a form that symbolized both the physical and psychic makeup of the human being. Further, the Jerusalem temple was built by Herod who, completely subservient to Rome, disdained Judaism and practiced a kind of Roman agnostic piety. Because of this the temple was ritually unclean in their estimation. They placated the Jerusalem Temple priests by sending them large donations of money. On occasion they gave useful animals to the Temple in Jerusalem, but only with the condition that they would be allowed to live out their natural span of life.
5. They interpreted the Torah and other Hebrew scriptures in an almost exclusively spiritual, symbolic, and metaphysical manner, as did the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo. They also had esoteric writings of their own which they would not allow non-Essenes to see. But even more objectionable to the other Hebrews was their study and acceptance of “alien” scriptures–the holy books of other religions–so much so that an official condemnation was made of this practice. In light of this we can say that the Essenes were perhaps the first in recorded history to hold a universal, eclectic view of religion.
6. Celibacy was prized by them, being often observed even in marriage, and many of them led monastic lives of total renunciation.
7. They considered their male and female members–all of whom were literate–to be spiritual equals, and both sexes were prophets and teachers among them. This, too, was the practice in Hinduism at that time, women also wearing the sacred thread.
8. They denied the doctrine of the physical resurrection of the dead at the end of time, which was held by some Pharisees–who usually believed in reincarnation–and later became a tenet of Mediterranean Christianity.
9. They believed in reincarnation and the law of karma and the ultimate reunion of the soul with God. This is clearly indicated by the Apostles asking Jesus about a blind man: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2. See May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation?).
10. They believed that the sun was a divine manifestation, imparting spiritual powers to both body and mind. They faced the rising and setting sun and recited prayers of worship, refusing, upon rising in the morning, to speak a single word until the conclusion of those prayers. They did not consider the sun was a god, but a symbol of the One God of Light and Life. It was, though, felt that appropriate prayers directed toward the sun would evoke a divine response. (See Jesus’ words to the king of Kashmir as recorded in the Bhavishya Maha Purana that are given later on.)
11. They believed in both divination and the powers of prophecy.
12. They believed in the power of occult formulas, or mantras, as well as esoteric rituals, and practiced theurgy (spiritual “magic”) with them.
13. They believed in astrology, cast horoscopes, and made “magical” amulets of plants and gems according to astrological aspects. They also believed that angels had taught Moses the practice of herbalism.
14. They believed that miraculous cures were natural extensions of authentic spiritual life.
15. They would wear only white clothes as a sign that they worshipped God Who is Light and were clothed by Him in light. This so provoked the other Israelites that praying in white clothing was prohibited by the Pharisees and Sadducees, and laws were drafted accordingly. (The Mishnah begins with such a prohibition.) The disciples of Saint Thomas in India had a similar rule, only wearing white clothes in worship.
16. They observed the identical rules of purity (shaucha/shuddhi) as the Brahmins in India at that time, especially in the matter of bathing frequently.
17. They practiced the strictest adherence to truthfulness. (Travelers in past centuries cited the strict adherence to truth by the Brahmins of India as a great and admirable wonder.)
It should also be noted that most of these Brahminical practices were observed by Buddhists as well, so it is not out of place to consider that the Essenes–and Jesus and His disciples–possessed the qualities of both Hindu and Buddhist religion in “the West” at that time. Read More