And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice;
and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
In 2009, Dr. Deepak Chopra published The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore. He identified The First Jesus as the Historical Jesus, The Second Jesus as the Christ of the Church and The Third Jesus as the Master of Enlightenment.
Deepak’s insights were on spot, in that the deepest meaning of salvation is enlightenment, waking up to the true nature of things, that all there is, IS God, and that God IS Love. Through God’s Love, we can know God, and become a son or daughter of God.
Deepak realized that we could devise a narrative of Jesus going to India that is totally congruent with the New Testament accounts. He published Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment in tandem with The Third Jesus. Could it be that the Gospel most people believe today is essentially true, sufficient for salvation, and yet still incomplete?
I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist who took the Bible literally and would readily cite chapter and verse. Convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the unique Son of God, I gave little thought that He might have travelled in His early years. As a child, I came across a Mormon missionary who quoted the passage where Christ maintains that he has “other sheep.”
As I studied other religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, and befriended people from India, my perspective expanded. I came across the Hindu concept of an Avatar, or direct descent of God, as well as a Bodhisattva, or Buddha of Compassion. These beings deeply resonated with my own experience of Christ, and I began to wonder.
Can you take the Gospel accounts at face value and recognize the possibility that Jesus travelled to India? Without question. Most of Jesus’s youth is not portrayed in the Gospels, which were written 40 years after the Crucifixion. These narratives were not intended as biographies. The Gospel as a whole is a profoundly transformational message to all humanity, and can only be understood in that light. If one is honest in reviewing the narrative, it is clear that here Jesus is a stranger in a strange land, even when He walks about His own birthplace, knowing both the customs and the rituals. His own consciousness is beyond the scope of anyone He meets.
As a college student, I heard of Yogananda when I was learning hatha yoga at the University of California at Berkeley. At the time, there was a massive influx of swamis, yogis and lamas into the U.S. Yogananda’s masterpiece, The Autobiography of a Yogi was an all-time best seller that inspired millions to look to the East and actually moved thousands of Americans to travel to India in search of enlightenment, one of who was the co-founder of Apple, Inc. This was the only book Steve Jobs actually downloaded onto his iPad.
Yogananda was sent by his master, Yukteswar Giri, to impart his vision of the harmony of Hinduism and Christianity, specifically, the Bhagavad Gita and the Gospels. Yogananda regularly prayed and had a profound devotional relationship with Christ. In every service of Self-Realization Fellowship, Yogananda would read and explain both the Bible and the Gita.
It is amazing to think that Yogananda in his time was the equivalent of a rock star in the U.S., much like Maharishi. Unlike Maharishi, Yogananda gave most of his years to America, literally hanging out with Hollywood stars and prominent writers, such as Aldous Huxley. Not only did he inspire hundreds of thousands of Americans to bend their legs like pretzels, he also pulled together an American monastic community with as much commitment as any Catholic order.
Buddha virtually invented enlightenment as an institution. Before Him, many rishis in India had attained enlightenment, but only a few could receive the necessary guidance and instruction. You had to be the son of a Brahmin. No one else qualified. As a crown prince, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) changed all that. Anyone could become a Buddhist who agreed to be called a “Bhikkhu” or beggar, have his hair shaved and follow Him.
Buddhism became institutionalized under the Emperor Ashoka, who abandoned his military quests, took Buddhist vows and became a vegetarian. A couple hundred years before Christ, Ashoka sent missionaries throughout Asia, as well as into the Mediterranean. The Greeks had earlier invaded India, and thus all the lands touched by the Greeks were ripe for the Dharma, or teaching.
Around the birth of Christ, Buddhism underwent a profound shift, away from the idea of individual enlightenment, to enlightenment of large groups of people through the Mahayana or “Great Vehicle” tradition. The ideal became a Bodhisattva, one who, about to receive enlightenment, goes back to the community and brings everyone with him before he steps into Nirvana.
Israel, more than any other force, gave humanity the concept of One God, Creator of the Universe. It began in fact as a tribal religion that pertained only to the direct descendants of its founding father, Abraham. Initially, the Lord was seen as a jealous God demanding strict obedience, much like a Middle Eastern emperor, such as Hammurabi in Babylon or Pharaoh in Egypt.
In the time of the prophets, when both the nations of Israel and Judah fell to the Babylonians and their temple was ravished, a larger vision of God emerged. God was not just the first among many gods, but the Only True God. Israel was not exclusively favored by the Supreme Being, but by anyone who worshipped Him. Jewish people were to be “the Light among the Gentiles (Nations).”
Preceding Christ, Rabbis emerged, such as Hillel, who focused on ethics, and who de-emphasized meaningless ritual. Brotherly love was commended towards all who might reciprocate. Other people could convert to Judaism. As Jesus put it, “Love God with all your all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” By then, the Sermon on the Mount was within reach.
If you take the scriptures at face value, you are confronted with the possibility that people all over the world were awaiting the birth of Christ. Many were consciously looking for him as the Messiah, who would liberate us all. Of all the characters in the Christmas nativity plays, the Three Wise Men are often the most cherished. They came from the East as astrologers following the Star of Bethlehem, now thought to be the convergence of three planets around 5 B.C.E.
Why do they take a prominent place in the Gospels, triggering as they did the Murder of the Innocents in Bethlehem? Those Three Wise Men inspired King Herod to insane jealousy. Mary and Joseph, warned by a dream, fled to Egypt, which was under Greek influence, and which almost certainly had Buddhist missionaries.
Could it be that the Three Wise Men intended to apprentice Jesus of Nazareth in the mysteries of the East, which at that time was a mix of both Buddhism and Hinduism? Could Jesus have gone to receive training from these great masters, having been recognized in infancy as an Avatar or Bodhisattva?
After Jesus’s birth and flight to Egypt, celebrated the world over by Christmas, we read little about Jesus until His Bar Mitzvah, most likely at 13 years of age. Jesus goes with His parents to the temple in Jerusalem, where He dialogues with the priests and rabbis in a way that stuns them. Jesus gets so wrapped up that He spends several days in the temple. His parents leave Jerusalem earlier, thinking Jesus has gone on with the group, only to discover He was left behind. They reprimand Christ, and Jesus responds in a puzzled manner, “Didn’t you know I must be about my Father’s business?”
The Gospel tells us that Mary took this event to heart, and Jesus then submitted to His parents, “growing in wisdom and in stature.” We don’t hear about him again for 18 years or so, around the wedding at Cana and His Baptism in the River Jordan. What happened during these years? Did Christ go on to continue to be a good carpenter and master His craft? This is the standard account. But how, then, did Jesus become the Christ?
Another possibility, with substantial evidence all over Pakistan, Tibet and India, is that He was summoned by the wise men, and with His parents permission, accompanied their envoys to India. It is noteworthy that Jewish people and possibly some of the “ten lost tribes of Israel” were already in India. Given that Christ was on King Herod’s wanted list, it might make sense for Him to seek refuge in a foreign land to protect His life.
The true launch of Jesus’s ministry as a rabbi and prophet was when His first cousin, “John the Baptist”, baptized him in the River Jordan. The Baptizer was revered as a great apocalyptic prophet who warned of impending judgment. He anticipated the Messiah emerging who would bring lasting peace and justice to the world. In the river, “The heavens were opened,” and a Voice announced Jesus as His “beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased.”
Early theologians speculated that this was the moment that Jesus became the Christ, that the baptismal waters were an anointing of His role as the Lord of Love. It becomes increasingly apparent as the narrative continues that Christ is building a kingdom “not of this world.” The Kingdom of Heaven is above all, a state of mind, or a transformation in consciousness.
The Gospel of John reveals Jesus as the “Logos” of God, the ultimate message from God to humanity, as the supreme embodiment of divine Love. This Gospel account maintains that Jesus has the ability to awaken the divinity of anyone who simply realizes Who He is. This is the most popular form of yoga, Bhakti Yoga, or the yoga of devotion to God and loving service to people. As we worship God in a form that speaks to us, we become a son or daughter of God.
The crowning accomplishment of Jesus’s public teaching starts out with the profoundly ironic beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus goes on to depict a higher way of being than humanity had ever seen. These are the principles of His Kingdom, a state of being nothing less than divine.
Jesus pushes the envelope by introducing a vision of a global society infused with unconditional love, which shines like the sun upon “the just and the unjust” alike. He takes it to an extreme: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Only the Bodhisattva tradition would even touch on this kind of love. The Bodhisattva vow goes, “Though the flames of hell are infinite, I vow to extinguish every one of them.”
Could it be that Christ’s consciousness was infused as much with the Wisdom of the East as the Judaic prophetic tradition? In any event, Jesus is demonstrating Himself to be an Avatar or Bodhisattva, a spiritual genius of a different order than the world has ever seen. You might even think of Him here as the Second Buddha, enlightenment through the heart, not the head. The Mahayana tradition was awaiting Him. Why couldn’t the second wave of enlightenment come from Jewish people?
The greatest theologians have long pondered why Christ, the Perfect Man, had to die on the cross. The most common interpretation is that He died for our sins so that we should not experience eternal spiritual death. Jesus rose from the dead to demonstrate that it has no power over those who have received the gift of eternal life.
If you closely study the accounts, it is clear that Jesus consciously chose to die, that He pushed the priests and Pharisees to the brink. While it is clear from His night in the Garden of Gethsemane that a part of Him would do anything not to go to the cross, He surrendered to the Higher Will to fulfill His destiny.
An alternative Orthodox perspective sees Jesus going to the cross as the ultimate demonstration of love. He had to demonstrate once and for all what it was like to love your enemies. Confronting the mocking Pharisees, He raised His head and asked, “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
You can combine these views with the perspective that Jesus, as Avatar of Avatars, deliberately took upon Himself the collective karma of all humanity, and released us from any and all bondage. If like me, you believe in miracles (I have seen enough of the miraculous to be convinced), then the resurrection account is not to be dismissed. Incidentally, great spiritual masters the world over have done truly astonishing things. Just study comparative religion, starting with Baba Ram Dass’s The Miracle of Love.
After Christ’s resurrection, He is recorded to have appeared to His apostles and disciples over a period of 40 days before His ascension into Heaven. Jesus could materialize and dematerialize right before his disciples’ eyes. He would break bread with them, eat broiled fish, invite them to touch Him and even breathe on Him. They earnestly gazed upon the nail prints in His hands and feet, as well as the spear mark in his side.
If you accept modern masters, such as India’s Sai Baba, the idea that one can appear at more than one place at a time, or jump continents just through thought alone is not impossible. Such a feat doesn’t defy quantum mechanics. Teleportation need not be limited to Star Trek. If Jesus was resurrected, and He was a supreme yogi, why couldn’t he go meet His “other sheep” in distant lands? He need not hang out solely in Palestine.
In the account where Jesus ascends into the skies, we need not be stumped by a Newtonian view of the Universe, where it would take him millions of years to even reach the center of the galaxy. He could very well have gone into a whole other dimension. Contemporary string theory admits of 11 dimensions. Also, the theory of parallel universes or multiple worlds is held by any number of responsible physicists, not simply wacked-out comic book fans.
In truth, we don’t know for sure that Jesus went to India to attain ultimate enlightenment. As an Avatar, He was awoken from birth. We know beyond any reasonable historical doubt that He lived and died in Palestine in the first century. He is regarded as the Greatest Man Who Ever Lived. With sufficient faith, the evidence for His resurrection is compelling.
If Jesus actually did go to India, it would explain a lot---all those silent years, the strange resonance with the teachings of Krishna and Buddha. It would make it increasingly clear that Jesus is not just for Christians, but for all the world. All the avatars, bodhisattvas and Messiahs belong, not to an exclusive set of people, but to all humanity forever.
If Christianity is to live up to its potential as suggested in the Sermon on the Mount, it must go universal, both with regard to salvation, as well as to our divinity. Christ didn’t die for us because we were miserable, filthy worms. He died for us because we were infinitely precious in His sight. He died to wake us up to our own divinity.
As we partake of the Love of Christ, we begin to realize what it is all about. This love is invincible. The apostles used it to transform the Roman Empire. With it, Gandhi brought down the British Empire. We, in our day, can share it on a planetary scale. Then we can say that we have found God. For God IS love.