Christmas: A Holy Day (III)
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at Dilkusha, Forest Hill, London on 16th December 1973
It is very profitable for anyone who is seriously concerned with living the religious life to enquire of himself what he is prepared to relinquish as unnecessary for living the holy life, and what he is prepared, as the world would call it, to suffer. If we look deeply into ourselves we will find that we are closefisted, not only with regard to possessions in physical terms, but also with regard to our feelings, our conceptions, ideas, ambitions, and so on. It has to be an extremely searching enquiry, otherwise it leads nowhere, for the simple reason that, if the enquiry is not truly searching to the extent of being searing to the soul, then the intellect is constantly putting forth specious arguments to explain away why we grasp all that we do grasp, why we hold onto it. As I have said dozens of times, the living of the holy life is not to be taken lightly, it cannot be. It is by no means an easy task, it is far and away the most difficult thing in the world to live the religious life in the truly religious sense. But there are these two questions: What can I relinquish (or to put in its positive form, to what extent can I be totally free of all grasping?), and what am I prepared, as the world would call it, to suffer for the sake of the religious life? You may wonder why I put in that little clause, “as the world would call it, to suffer.” For a very simple reason. Suffering as we know it ordinarily in our everyday life stems from selfness only, from the isolative self-misconception that we all suffer from. “I must not be hurt, inconvenienced, troubled, put into difficulties, undergo loss, find no reward for all the good I do.” And in this argument we always forget that there is no good that I do, or can do. There are those extraordinarily significant words of Jesus, “Why callest thou me good? There is no good but one, that is, God.” And God is the mysterious Unknown, the Inconceivable, the Ungraspable. And only that is good. If we make this sort of enquiry deeply within ourselves, particularly at this season, we shall be better able to appreciate what we will try and consider this afternoon.
We are approaching what the world calls a holiday. It is in fact not at all a holiday in the worldly sense but it is one of the supremely Holy Days of the year. All the religions of the world have their supremely Holy Days in the year. Of course, I am referring to Christmas, which occurs at the time of year in the northern hemisphere when the sun, (I am going to talk paradoxically), has reached its darkest point and turns away from it and is re-emerging into greater and greater light. Remember that the sun symbolizes the essential being within oneself. The deepest in you is represented by the sun. And this festivity (and it is truly a festivity) occurs when that darkest point has been passed, the shortest day is over and the longer and longer days begin to appear. What is this darkness into which the sun enters? If you like to put it another way, what is the significance of this steady diminution of the light during the autumn, reaching the darkest point, and then once again the augmentation and increase of that light? This darkness does not symbolize at all what we commonly feel about the dark, evil, ignorance, misery and so forth. This dark is that creative realm of the unknown which in its own inward peace is the source from which re-creation takes place, from which there is rejuvenation, recharging of all the batteries of life. This is the dark. We all know, all the world knows, that essential life processes take place in the dark. Our digestion, (we cannot see it, there is no light there) takes place in the dark. The growing of the foetus, until it is ready to come into what we call the light, takes place in the dark. And in our sleep we undergo in the dark that process of rest and peace and re-attunement with the truth and reality of all the energies of life and wake up refreshed, recharged for the work of the day. It is in this sense that we can most usefully understand this gradual entry of the sun into the dark, and then its re-emergence. If you take it in its very profound symbolism as far as realization is concerned for us as people who attempt to live the holy life, you can see that there comes the point in the holy life when you go through a mysterious darkness, the crossing of the abyss, as the mystics of the world have put it. But in that darkness a transmission of consciousness itself takes place and there is a re-emergence, re-enlightened. This is how the dark works.
Today some parts of the world at least are beginning to know something of the significance of darkness in terms of what they call the unconscious, the subconscious and so on. This is at the psychical level, but there are deeper and deeper levels. There is the psycho-spiritual aspect which is definitely involved with our own psyche as such. When one enters deeper and deeper into the inner deeps of consciousness, the limitations of the psyche are out and you are in the state of pure Mind, wherein also you go through the darkness. The people of the world mistake the mystical phrase “the Dark Night of the Soul” for that psychical darkness. That is not the Dark Night of the Soul at all. The Dark Night of the Soul takes place only when one has completely transcended all selfness, all I-hood, all isolative ego-consciousness. None of the people of the world who talk about going through the Dark Night of the Soul, with the exception of those few, know what they are talking about when they say, “I have been through my Dark Night.” He who has been through the Dark Night does not talk of it in that tone of voice, because his is (I will use the Biblical word) the victory over Death. It is something which marks the culmination of the arduous striving to come to full fruition by living the holy life.
This Christmas Day is the day which comes along very soon after the shortest day is over. It is the day which is traditionally associated with the birth of Jesus. You will find that all the great religions of the world have their traditional days marking the birth of the great Teacher from whom that religion stems. You find for instance in Buddhism the statement that Siddhattha Gotama, who became the Buddha, the Enlightened One, was born on the full moon day of Wesak, the first full moon of May, that his Enlightenment took place on the same day, and that his death took place on the same day. It requires an extraordinary stretching of our credulity to accept statements of that sort as literal facts. I don’t, and I am not interested at all whether they were literal facts or not. What is of interest is what they symbolize. That which they symbolize is the essence of wisdom and understanding which we have to realize.
This 25th of December is conventionally regarded as the day on which Jesus was born. Who was this person Jesus? It is stated in Christian teaching that he was immaculately conceived by his mother Mary, that the Archangel Gabriel made the Annunciation, during the spring before his birth, that he would be born, that his name should be Jesus. We use the name Jesus, the Hebrew name is YHShWH, spelt Yod Hay Sheen Vav Hay. The middle letter is Sheen which links up that which goes before, Yod Hay, with that which follows after, Vav Hay. But Yod Hay Vav Hay is Yahweh, Jehovah, the Lord God. The Sheen is that which links these two. These two aspects of the name Yod Hay Vav Hey, Yahweh, signify the Transcendent Creative Energy which by self-resistance produces self-limitation and thereby its own container. Therefore you have a contained and a container in manifestation at last. There is no manifestation possible if there were no container of the contained. If there were no form, there would be no emptiness. If there were no body, there would be no spirit.
Naturally the question will arise, “Why do you say this, because surely God, or the Supreme Energy, or whatever it is, is the beginning of all things, and from that proceeded all this?” Who talks of God? Who presents God? Who has presented God, or the Supreme Transcendent Creative Energy? Only you or I. It is men, people, human beings, who have projected the idea of God, because it lies within our human scope to grow in such a manner that we experience that which is altogether Transcendent. The Transcendent Energy, the Supreme Power is experienceable, and then, after the experiencing is over, which is totally beyond all thought and speech, then our ordinary sense-brain activity starts up again and we project an idea out of our minds called God, Nirvana, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Supreme Being, the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, Atman, etc. Every stated God, every conceived God, every conventionally worshipped God is your projection out of your mind, out of my mind. And that which is conventionally projected out of my mind bears the stamp of all my drawbacks, my follies, my ignorance, my absurdities, as well as what little light may have been vouchsafed me. So you see, I have to outgrow it, and the fulfilment of the holy life consists in that culminating point where the outgrowing has come to its very end, and then my conceived God has vanished. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” All the archetypal images are wiped out of the mind, and this after you have climbed the heights of selflessness and plumbed the depths of sinlessness. We have very little conception, very little idea, very little sense of what happens to us in the process of the living and the fulfilling of the holy life. So Yahweh is a projection. That projection out of the mind can be the result of all sorts of causes. It may be merely the result of fear. You are afraid, therefore you project out of your mind a Supreme Power to which you can pray, which you can placate, in order that it will help you and save you from sorrow and trouble and so forth.
This is the primitive stage of mankind. It can be a projection which comes into being because your aesthetic sense so responds to the marvel and the wonder and the beauty of life and nature, and also to the terrible, the tragic, the extraordinary, the awesome, that you project the idea of a Supreme God, or of a Supreme Power, or whatever it is. For various reasons you can make those projections. All those projections however are the shadow of a reality. Because I, the imperfect human, stand in the way of the light of reality, there is a shadow, and sometimes that shadow coincides with my projection, my mistaken, my twilit projection of the pure light which is Eternal God. This is how these things happen. If it was only that and there was no final manifestation, so to say, one could dismiss Transcendence, God, Brahman, Ultimate Reality, as a figment of the imagination or an expression of some sort of incompleteness, immaturity if you like, of the human mind, meaning the mind of the man as he is in the world, an ill man. But no. This thing comes to complete reality. The word reality is related to res, meaning a thing, and you know all the great mystics have taught that to deify means to re-ify. Spirit and matter, soul and body, are a One Reality, they are not separate things. The separation comes because I am aware in this mistaken way of existence. My mode of awareness of the Total Reality is imperfect, and therefore I bring about this disunity, “This is body, that is mind, that is soul, that is spirit, this is feeling, that is God,” and all the rest of it. I am the sinner, the one who sunders the unity. What happens when all this is past, all this tribulation of the soul, which is the profound meaning of the Buddhist dukkha, of the saṃṣara of Hindu teaching, of the vale of tears as we call it of Christian teaching? The end of it all is complete realization, and in that complete realization YHWH the concept is actually enfleshed in YHShWH the living man, in the living body itself, God in the body. This is the meaning of the birth of Jesus.
I am trying to consider this together with you in Christian terms because we are right near Christmas. And this is a festive occasion. Do you know that marvellous carol, “Ding dong merrily on high”? What is this merriment? What is this irrepressible joy, this delight, this bliss which lies at the heart of all things? It is the bliss which is the inseparable concomitant with Truth, with realization of Transcendence. This is the bliss. Consider how man the world over debauches himself with pleasure-making, when he should know the true happiness and merriment of Christmas Day, the joy which is utterly still and peaceful, because if the stillness and the peace disappear, that joy disappears and this disturbance of stupid, superficial, destructive pleasuring and pleasure-making takes its place. That joy is completely beyond what the senses can experience or convey. It is completely beyond all the little imaginings of the finest intellect, utterly beyond, and being beyond it is totally indescribable. None of the great teachers through the history of the world, (and there have been, not merely the six, seven, eight or ten after whom religions have been founded, but there have literally been thousands of Perfected Holy men in the history of the human race), not one of them has ever attempted to describe this bliss. They just use the word. We have no language, we have no dictionary for the realized spirit, the spirit enfleshed.
And this is that state of joy, and it is always associated with the fact that you are completely in rhythm with the creative pulse of the Universe, this life/other life, life/other life pulsation. Remember that life/other life are not two separates. They are inseparate in actual fact, comprised within the One Total Reality, but the mind and the poor brains of any individual find it quite impossible to express that adequately, simply because the individual, mind, words, they are all finite things. How will they contain the Infinite? And yet — marvel and mystery — this is the wonder, this is the supreme promise of redemption that no one can deny. It is only through the finite that the Infinite can manifest itself, that that which is Transcendent and Immortal will manifest through the mortal. So this is also cause for joy, and therefore we see that this Being, whose name is YHShWH, is the physical embodiment of YHWH, God Incarnate. You turn to Hinduism, Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Lord of the Universe himself, Bhagvān they call him. You turn to Buddhism, and the Buddha himself confirms the statement of his great disciples like Mahakaccāna and others, that he is the Dhamma become, he is the Truth, the Doctrine, the Law, the Teaching, he is Brahmā, the Ultimate Real. And the great Upaniṣadic sages have said without the least hesitation, “Aham brahma’smi”. In a sense it is a slightly unfortunate way of expressing it, because it means literally, “I am Brahman.” The reader always interprets “I” as the separate, self-conscious person, but this “I”, this “Aham” is the Totality, the unabandonable fact of Reality, which is the One Only, manifest in terms of multitudinous variety. And this is what people do not realize when they read the sacred scriptures. Hence all the trouble. Little intellects and petty egos set up philosophies and theologies which have played their part in dividing man from man, and setting him up against his brother. So we have this Truth embodied in all the religions.
Let us consider another aspect of the life of Jesus, the Baptism. He was baptised in the Jordan. Do remember that all the names in the ancient scriptures have their very specific meanings. What is the meaning of the name Jordan? It is the Parting of the Ways. Recall for a moment that passage in the 2nd Book of Kings where Elijah and Elisha go together. They first go through and past Gilgal. Gilgal means the Round, the Cycle. If you want to interpret it in Hindu-Buddhist terms you say the Round which is saṁsāra, the cycle of births and deaths. For heaven’s sake don’t go and plump for reincarnation straight away, because it is utter nonsense! The Upaniṣads taught quite clearly and unmistakably, (you look at the Śaṇdilya Upaniṣad as one example only and the Maitri Upaniṣad as another example) that saṁsāra means the fluctuations of the mind whilst you are alive. In those fluctuations of the mind your awareness is concentrated upon the beginning of a thing, its proceeding and its ending. Because your attention, your consciousness, is completely associated with it, the “I” consciousness is associated with it. Therefore I am born in the beginning of the thing, I proceed as the event goes on, and I die, and that is succeeded by the next such event. It goes through your daily life until the body finally dies, otherwise you would have to separate body and mind and this and that and the other, and you cannot do it. Have you ever seen a mind walking down the Strand? Have you ever met a body that was totally mindless? Then for heaven’s sake give up this idea of a persistence after the death of the body! That pattern contains the Totality simultaneously. The reincarnational picture is the picture of intelligence which is very immature still. This is the Round which goes on in your own consciousness, in your own mind from day to day, and this is saṁsāra. And as the Śaṇdilya Upaniṣad puts it, when the fluctuations of the mind cease, then the cycle of births and deaths, saṁsāra, has finished. The Maitri Upaniṣad says, quite openly and clearly, that saṁsāra is just one’s own thought, the cycle of births and deaths. It is just one’s own thought process going round and round.
So Gilgal means the Circle. Then Elijah and Elisha go on to Beth-el. Beth (Bayt) is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It means the Container, it means a house also. El of course is God, you have it in Elohim, and in innumerable Jewish terms which refer to God as such. Beth-el, the House of God. What is this House of God? Do you think they are referring to a synogogue? Remember that Elijah and Elisha both perform miracles akin to the miracles of Jesus, raising from the dead for instance. So they were not ordinary folk, they were extraordinary people, Perfected Holy Ones. They were going together in this journey. What is this journey? Remember that Elisha was picked by Elijah. They are entering into the deeps of meditation step by step. The House of God is the purified psyche, the trained, the tamed body. They were Yogis in the great and true sense of the word, as every one of the great teachers was. So they enter the inner realm of the mind which is the House of God. Then they pass on from there till they come to Jericho, and the name Jericho means the Place of Fragrance. If you look in the Kaushītaki Upaniṣad you will find precisely the same idea of this movement towards the Ultimate, towards Brahmā, till you come to the Realm of Fragrance, Jericho. Then they passed on from there till they came to the Jordan, and at the Jordan there is the Parting of the Ways. It was at the Jordan that Elijah was taken up in the Chariot of Fire. The name Elijah, El-i-jah, means God Himself, and the name El-i-sha, means God the Saviour. The line of the prophets was to come from Elijah on to Elisha. You remember the request which Elisha makes? Elijah turns to him and says, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee.” Elisha says, “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” You know what this “double portion” means? The Jewish father bequeaths twice as much to the eldest as to each of the other sons. Number one receives twice as much as each of those others who receives an equal share. You see the significance of that? Elisha is the most advanced disciple and he is the Son of the Prophet. When they talk about the Sons of the Prophets it means the advanced disciples. They are Sons of the Teacher. You find the same in Buddhism for instance. The Buddha declares that Sāriputta is the Son of his Mouth. You find in the Ṛg-Veda in the famous Puruṣa Sūkta that the great Brahmans (and remember that the original meaning of the word Brahman was simply this, one who had become one with Brahman, who had realized the Ultimate Truth) are said to be born of the Mouth of Brahmā. How little we understand scripture! How many are there who have even begun to understand, who are even in the twilit region of the Truths which scripture tries to present?
So, the Jordan is the Parting of the Ways. Elijah says, “Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so under thee.” When he is taken up, (this is of course all symbolical), that is to say when he has entered that supreme state of consciousness which is the cessation of all perception and feeling including the Transcendent vision, when he is taken up into that state, Elisha sees him and says, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” And Elijah’s mantle falls upon Elisha, at the Parting of the Ways, the River Jordan. The Baptism which takes place in the waters of the Jordan is the Baptism in the waters of Eternal Life, because when you are baptised at the Parting of the Ways, if you are the Holy One, the Prepared One, you come to your complete and ultimate fulfilment and fruition. You fulfil your divine destiny. So Jesus is baptised in the Jordan. And when he comes out of the Jordan, one of the things he says which is not in the ordinary canonical Gospels (this is one of the Agrapha or uncanonical writings), is, “My Mother the Holy Ghost.” He is referring to the Qabalistic teaching of the third Sephira, Binah, intelligence. The Qabalah presents man, the original man, the sinless man created by Elohim, created by God in his own image, as ten distinct emanations of the Divine Energy. They are separate but they are also all one, and there is the One in All and the All in One. The third Sephira is Binah, which is associated with the idea of the Mother. The second is Hokmah, wisdom, which is associated with the Father. The fascinating part of the story is this, that Abba, the Father, which is associated with the wisdom of God, by mere presence, wisdom, fecondates Binah, intelligence. But Binah holds within her the two duals, and that fecondation starts up the dual process, the interaction which produces the universe, the world. But that is also true of us biologically, with this difference that biologically a man actually has to have a marital relationship with the woman. But here in this Transcendent state there is just the influence of the holy presence, and the whole process of interaction of the duals takes place and the Universe starts, comes into being. Immaculate conception. Intelligence, remember, is fertilised by wisdom, is fecondated by wisdom in this particular way, by sheer presence, the influence of the Divine presence. So, Binah represents the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Christian Trinity, and it is the Holy Ghost which is the creative energy of the whole world process. The becoming process starts out from Binah, from the Holy Ghost. You have the same thing in the Hindu Trinity, Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva. It is Śiva, the third person of the Trinity, to whom is ascribed the producing, the maintaining and the winding up, the producing again, the maintaining and the winding up again, of the Universe. It is very interesting how that happens. You see how important it is really to go into the deeps of all the religions if you ever want to understand one satisfactorily. Having understood all sufficiently far and realized one in depth, then the whole thing becomes illuminated. Until then we are all groping in the dark.
When Jesus comes out of the Jordan, he says, “My Mother, the Holy Ghost.” He realizes therefore that now he is the destined one who will fulfil the will of the Father, wisdom, Hokmah. In all Christians, if they are real Christians, (and it is a bit difficult to find them!) the Christ-consciousness is born and comes to flower ultimately. But it cannot be born and come to flower as long as we are worldly wise, as long as we have not relinquished and not suffered the total loss of all our own worldliness. What a happy loss! What cause for joy, for merriment, that this thing of ill and sin and death and sorrow is lost, this worldliness! And when that happens, then the sixth Sephira, which is associated with the region of the heart, (this is all symbolic, all these associations with the different parts of the body, all the religions have this, like the cakras in Yoga, and so forth) this region, the sixth Sephira, is named Rahamim, which means compassion, and it is also named Tiphereth, which means beauty, justice, harmony. It is the realm of the Son of God and it is situated on the middle pillar of King Solomon’s Temple. King Solomon’s Temple is your own living body. Don’t look for it in Jerusalem or in Los Angeles! This middle pillar is from the brain, the head which is associated with Transcendence, right down the spine, the central portion of the body. This is the second step starting from the top, and this is the Son of God. It stands in that relationship. But the Son of Man comes to fulfilment at Tiphereth. He is perfect and pure Son of Man, and as perfect and pure Son of Man, he is in constant touch with the Supreme God. “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me.” “If this were not so, I would not tell you these things.” You see how wonderful and marvellous scriptural teaching is? And what it means for you and for me is that with the total disappearance of the “me”, the transformation takes place. The Son of Man comes to full flower here at Tiphereth. That means that all humanity has found flowering also, because there is nothing that I can do or achieve or see which is not the common property of all existence. There is nothing that any one of you can do or see or realize of Truth and Reality which is not common to all existence. This is the deep meaning, if you like, of giving your life as a ransom for the many. The principle of vicariousness which comes out very strongly in Mahayana Buddhism, (it does not come out in Theravada at all), is a reality in the Universe.
So the Son of God lives his life inspired by the Father God. (Since we are using the term Son, we will use the term Father also, as it is in Christianity). You know that the life of Jesus culminates in the Crucifixion. What is this Crucifixion? Let us look at its deep psycho-spiritual significance, and leave aside for a moment the literal part of the story. There comes another stage (and you will find the same sort of thing presented in different forms in the other great religions, Zarathushtrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, you will find it there also in their own ways, they are all there). This Crucifixion is the ascent from Tiphereth, which is the normal home of the fulfilled Son of Man, to his Father God, in other words completely out of the realm of the formed, the shaped, the manifested into the Immortal, the Formless, the Shapeless Ultimate Real, which has no dimensions, no measurement, which cannot be grasped but which is Reality. The Qabalah presents it very wonderfully, you cross an abyss from here to there. All the great mystics have talked of this abyss, whatever their particular faith may have been, the crossing of the abyss. I mentioned earlier the dissolution of all the archetypal forms and images which control your life from moment to moment without your knowing it. You come to the point when there is Enlightenment and you realize them and you know them. That is why for instance the great teachers are said to be the King of the Angels or the Lord of the Devas. The Buddha is said to be the Teacher of Devas and Men, and of course in the Hindu teachings you find the whole thing in extraordinary detail because of the very rich and fertile imagination of the Hindu people. All that disappears, it has to disappear. In other words all that is concerned with form, with limitation vanishes in consciousness whilst you are still awake and alive. And you are awake and alive in limitation and form and restriction and shape and particularity, and so forth. In other words, body as we ordinarily understand it is completely sacrificed, totally sacrificed. All conceptions, therefore, ideas, feelings, aspirations, beliefs, realizations, everything vanishes in consciousness, and the mind is totally emptied. It is that emptying which is the Dark Night, the final Dark Night of the Soul.
So you see the Crucifixion means the giving up, the relinquishment of everything that you hold onto as an anchor, as some sort of indication, as we have in Buddhism, a sign. It is the realm of the signless, it is the realm of the wishless. And to enter that is a superhuman task. And so that is the meaning of the Crucifixion. But remember, that whereas crucifixion as a physical fact in those days killed the person, Jesus is said to have given up the ghost, that the soldiers did not break his legs as they broke the legs of criminals. Did he physically die, assuming that the story of the physical Crucifixion of Jesus is a fact? I doubt it. But leave that aside. This is what I say and it doesn’t matter very much. The real Ascension is the movement from the realm of the Lordship of the Son of Man to the realm of the Divine, the Transcendent, the Utterly Beyond. This is the Ascension, and I always say quite positively, pace all theologians and all the belief of the entire Christian world for twenty centuries, that the Ascension precedes the Resurrection, it does not come after the Resurrection. They have misrepresented the whole thing. There is this complete dying to the limitations of manifestation, which means dying to the body. Although the body is the purified, perfected, divinized body now, there is this ascent to the supreme state. And you find in the Upaniṣadic teachings about entering the Turīya, the fourth state, as they call it, of consciousness. In Buddhism the Buddha talks of going right beyond the fourth Samāpatti, what is called the plane of neither perception nor non-perception, and entering the cessation of all perception and feeling, in which he says you touch Nirvana with the body. How can you touch the Untouchable, Unseeable, Unthinkable, the Formless, the Shapeless, that which is beyond time, space, causation, matter, everything? So you see there are profound significances here. And it is this which is the Ascension. But there has to come the return journey into body. The Holy One who fails to make the return journey somehow, whatever the reason may be, (I do not know what the reasons could be), if he fails to make it, the body dies. But if he makes it he is once again back in the body, and the body rises up again and goes about in the world teaching, performing its duty as Redeemer, as Saviour, as Teacher, and so forth.
This is the Re-surrection, the Again Rising-Up. This takes place at Easter, the other supremely holy festival of Christendom.