In the history of mankind, there have been some individuals who have transcended the limits of average human intelligence and wisdom, who have seen beyond this world, who have seen the un-manifest world. All of them, after having seen the un-manifest world, brought back the same message, i.e., oneness. They also tried to give a formula to mankind to achieve this oneness.
I call these people the great wisdom teachers. Jesus, like Mohammad, like Buddha, like Lao Tzu, like Lord Krishna and a few others, was one of these teachers. We, because of our limited intelligence and perception, have never understood these teachers and whenever they have appeared amongst us, we have either tortured and killed them or manipulated their teachings to suit our vested interests or, as a sure way of getting rid of their revolutionary message, we have started worshipping them. When something or someone is worshipped, then there is no possibility of understanding that thing or that person; then we only worship, as a ritual, without really observing or trying to understand; this worship is also called blind faith. This blind faith eventually creates dead religions and this is what we see all around us. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and all other so-called religious people worship their Gods, holy books and / or prophets without trying to understand them. If anyone tries to open their eyes or to raise a question, he or she is removed from the picture or silenced forever.
In many countries, people do not even understand the language of their ‘holy book’. But they are taught from childhood to kiss the book and keep it at a high place in the house as a mark of respect. What are they ever going to understand about the book or about the teachings contained in it? Nothing. Understanding and realizing the truth is better than merely worshipping or respecting it.
But that’s how religion has been for centuries. And even if you understand the language, the church and the priests make sure that you never understand the true meaning. Otherwise, you may stop going to the Church. And that’s going to hurt their business. That’s what has happened with Christianity in the west.
Jesus was executed, believe it or not, for blasphemy and sedition. The Romans thought he was spreading political rebellion and the Jewish leadership apparently charged him with blasphemy. Jesus himself was born into a Jewish family. His friends and neighbours were all Jews. And they loved him. But we are told that the Jewish church, the priests and the religious bureaucracy could not accept his revolutionary message and that they felt threatened by his teachings. It is not certain if that was the case with the Jewish religious leaders. In any case, apparently he did get charged with blasphemy. And that is why I have named this post, ‘The Blasphemous Prophet’.
Lets take a closer look at what his core message was. And this core message will also explain why he was charged with sedition and blasphemy.
In the Book of John (New Testament), Chapter 14, we see these words:
Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.
The underlined words show the same concept of oneness which we talked about above. All great wisdom teachers, without exception, taught the same message. You, me and the whole wide world and God are one. This is what Jesus was teaching too. But this message was dangerous for the authorities. If everyone is God, then there is no need for the church or the priest or the government or other institutions.
No, it was unacceptable and dangerous. In fact, it was so dangerous that for centuries after killing him, they have continued to deliberately misinterpret him. It is much better for the authorities to propagate more docile messages, i.e., “turn the other cheek” (acceptance of power, might is right) and “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (pay your taxes).
For centuries now, Jesus’ teachings have been manipulated for mind-control games by the powers that be. The sheeple (we, the ordinary people, who can be herded like sheep) need to be controlled.
That is why the core message of oneness was pushed into the background and other messages were propagated.
Now, going back to Jesus, what was the formula he prescribed to achieve this oneness?
This brings us to the second most important message from Jesus. It is found in the Books of Matthew, Mark and Luke in the New Testament (which are also called the Synoptic Gospels). In Matthew, the exact words are as follows:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
Essentially, Jesus is giving a three step formula for discipleship: deny yourself, pick up your cross, follow me.
Lets dig deeper and go step by step into these words:
Whoever wants to be my disciple: Jesus is talking to his would-be disciples. And the words indicate that he is putting down clear conditions for discipleship. He knows it is not going to be easy and he knows that many people are going to at least think about it. He knows that if the conditions are too strict, people might get turned away. Bu he does not care. He is looking for true disciples, for people who are willing to pay a heavy price, people who are ready for the red pill. He is not bothered about the others, those who are not ready. For them, a time might come in future. He is not willing to accept half-heartedness. He is not willing to accept lukewarm efforts. He wants what we would call today ‘rockstar’ disciples, people who are ready for the work needed to be done.
Deny yourself: this is the crux, the core of the formula. If you look at Jesus’ own life as portrayed in the Bible (we don’t know if it is historical or not), he gave up a lot of things. he gave up his name (he used to call himself the ‘Son of Man’), his family, the family’s religion, he gave up living in the family’s house and travelled all over the region of modern-day Palestine. Finally, he gave up his life for the people whom he loved.
This is going to be the key thing for the disciple. Osho, the great modern day mystic and teacher used to say: religion / spirituality is not about searching for God, but about letting go of yourself.
This is exactly what Jesus is telling us: deny yourself. Let go of yourself. What does that mean?
Jesus and Osho were talking about the ego. What is the ego? It is the persona, the personality you wear all the time. It consists of your name, your physical appearance, your family, your friends, your religion, the ideas and concepts and theories in your mind about everything, your house, your clothes, your tangible and intangible property, your social status, your neighbourhood, your city, your country, etc., etc.
All this is what makes up your ‘I’ experience. It makes you you. And this is what Jesus is telling us to deny, to give up. In other words, Jesus is saying what other teachers called peeling away the layers of an onion. You are like an onion with lots of layers and you have to peel away these layers. Keep peeling away till there are no layers left, till there is nothing left to peel away. When there is nothing left, then, in that nothingness you come across the divine, the eternal, the Tao, The All, the One, Brahma, the Kingdom of Heaven, Allah, Bhagwan, nirvana, moksha or any other name you might want to use. All names are immaterial. What matters is to keep letting go of stuff that you hold on to, till there is nothing left.
Pick up your cross: this is the second part of the formula. What does it mean, pick up your cross?
The cross is a symbol. In Jesus’ time, the cross was used by Romans to publicly execute people in order to instil fear in the minds of people. Jesus is telling us to give up the fear. Give up the fear of death and be ready to die.
Be ready to die? Why? Well, death is a human concept. Human beings think that they die. In the spiritual world, there is no death. Yes, the physical body withers away. But we are not just the physical body. Each one of us is a packet of energy. A quantum of energy. This energy exists as an integrated individual and then, at the time of the so-called death, this energy gets dissipated and goes back to the source.
Jesus is not talking about this death. He is talking about the death of the ego. The ego is the temporary / temporal self. We all are one and we all come from the same source, but as soon as we develop the ego, we become separate individuals. The oneness disappears. When a child is born, it has no idea of the ego, no idea of being separate from the rest of the world. This is why Jesus said that if you want to go to the Kingdom of God, you will have to become like children.
So, picking up your cross means be ready for the death of the ego, for the disintegration of the persona, the mask that hides the real you. And it is connected to the first element, i.e., deny yourself. When you really start denying your ‘self’, you start dying. It is a process. The more you deny and the more you let go off, the more you die. The disciple needs to walk on this path of let-go till every bit of the personality, the persona, the mask, the ego is gone. And when the last bit is gone, the ego dies and when the ego dies, you regain your original self.
Follow me: Jesus was an amazing story teller. He is famous for teaching in parables. His audience was simple folks. They were mostly uneducated labourers, toiling away all day, with no hope of a better life. Jesus came and gave them hope. He told them that they belonged to the eternal, divine world. He told them that they were eternal, divine beings in their own right, but that under the influence of the ego they had forgotten their true nature. And his own life became the biggest parable for the disciple, i.e., letting go of the ego, dying and eventually attaining eternal life and entering the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven.
This, then, is the core message of the great teacher from Nazareth.
It is clear why he had to be executed. The real reason was that for the people who did not understand what Jesus was talking about the message was too revolutionary, too anarchic. No one wants a rebellion on their hands. And Jesus’ message sounded rebellious to them. If I am divine, if I am eternal, if I and God are one then to hell with everyone else and to hell with laws and subordination to authority.
To the politician, if I am talking about the “Kingdom” of heaven, it may appear as seditious, inciting rebellion.
To the church or the priest, if I tell you that you are divine and eternal and a son or daughter of God, it would definitely seem blasphemous.
Jesus came for the simple, poor folks on the streets and they understood him better than the political and religious elites. Jesus was talking in terms of parables and stories and the elites were taking him literally. He had to be killed, just like Socrates had to be executed (for questioning the fake truth of the time and for trying to liberate the minds of his students), just like Mansoor Al-Hallaj (who said, “I am the truth”) was tortured and executed. These are examples of people who grew beyond the power of the authorities. They lost the fear of authority, which is the point at which such people have to be eliminated, so that they don’t become an inspiration for others.
Whether Jesus existed or not, whether he was tried and executed for blasphemy and execution or not, these facts are not relevant to this post. I am not a historian and I am not presenting any historical propositions. What is relevant is Jesus’ message of oneness and his formula for achieving it. And these remain as relevant today, if not more, as they were two thousand years ago.
More to follow in later posts on the key messages coming from the Nazarene master!