The mythologist, Joseph Campbell, after studying the religions of the world and their folklore, discovered that only one story was being told – The Hero’s Journey. Basically it is this: a young seeker of truth leaves the safety of the known and ventures into the unknown, against the warnings of his elders and sometimes in transgression of the law. Through numerous acts of heroic self-sacrifice, he obtains certain knowledge and experiences and brings them back for the benefit and development of his people. More often than not, the hero is born of a virgin, killed by the authorities, and rises from the dead. His dead body becomes food for the salvation of his people, and his blood, let into the earth, vivifies all of nature. Incidences of this story are almost too numerous to count, and most of them occur before the time of Jesus.
This approach is called the mythic interpretation of the Bible. Along with the historical approach, which takes everything in the Bible literally, it constitutes one of the two most popular methods for interpreting Holy Scripture. But, there is a third way. According to Annie Besant in her Esoteric Christianity, there is the mystical approach. In the mystical approach to Bible Interpretation, Jesus’ life is not merely a parallel to other world saviors and avatars, it describes the path that every human being must take in his or her spiritual evolution. In this form of interpretation, Jesus is you. Every step along the way is symbolic of what we must go through to escape sense-bound consciousness and realize the Christ within us.
In the mystical interpretation of the Bible in its cosmic dimension, Christ crucified on the cross is “Diety becoming enveloped in matter, the becoming incarnate of the Logos, the clothing of God in ‘flesh'” (Besant). In the dimension of human evolution, Jesus is the prepared candidate for spiritual initiation having gone through the baptism, the temptations, and the purification through trials so as to be a fitting vessel for God-consciousness. Jesus becomes the everyman and Mary the everywoman. The biblical accounts of the events of their lives, the characters they encounter, and the trials they must endure are the same events we must all experience, in fact do experience, whenever we set our foot on the spiritual path. And as we experience the “incarnation” in our own flesh, we recapitulate the cosmic drama of God taking on the “flesh” of matter.
Considered thus, the body of Jesus nailed to the cross becomes Spirit affixed to matter. No one on the spiritual path feels at home on the earth; all have the distinct feeling of being a “stranger in a strange land.” This is the basis for Buddha saying, “All life is suffering” – the limitations of matter are painful to Spirit. The crown of thorns placed in mockery on Jesus’ head at his trial represents the “turning about of the Shakti,” where the outward pointing nimbus of an earthly crown is turned inward, signifying rulership over oneself rather than a king’s rulership over his subjects, thus symbolizing control of one’s own thoughts – one of several prerequisites for spiritual initiation. The great Hindu sage Swami Vivekananda said, “He who conquers self conquers all,” and Jesus said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” John 16:33. The goal of the spiritual path is the transformation of consciousness from mundane to divine – the raising of the dead.
When we see that the Story of Jesus is the story of us on the spiritual path, and we learn to read the events of his life as the stages of development towards spiritual initiation, then we can read the Bible as it was intended to be read. The authors of the New Testament were Initiates of high caliber; they knew the steps along the Way, and they used the events of the life of their Teacher to illustrate the roadmap that we all use in our quest toward God-realization.