The idea of an indwelling God was a radical departure for the Middle Eastern religious mindset, but it was old hat in India. God, for the Hindus, was not a king in a kingdom, not a punishing and rewarding ruler, but the flame of the human heart, manifesting Itself as divine awareness, continually moving in and out of earthly life in a never-ending spiral of spiritual evolution. Spirit functioned in a cosmos ruled by impersonal law. God did not punish – one merely reaped the fruits of one’s own actions. Man was not innately sinful, but simply prone to error. It was ignorance, not inherent guilt, that kept us from seeing God. After all, error can be corrected, but guilt must be paid for with blood.
But whereas the Hindu Brahmins excluded the majority of the population from the mystery teachings by the caste system, and the early Jews with their exclusivity as the Chosen People of God, Jesus, and later Paul, would throw the doors wide open to the world, bringing the possibility of spiritual freedom to everyone. It was a populist movement of high spiritual origin, and its true meanings were left in plain view by the early Christians in their writings, so that those who came after could benefit from the movement’s momentum.
Who knows why the Third and Fourth Century Christian religion decided to disown the legacy of its forbears, and divorce itself from the Perennial Philosophy. It could have simply been to distinguish itself as something new, even though nothing that Jesus said was original; much of what he said can be found almost verbatim in the Vedas. Without this understanding, the Old and New Testaments read like half a text, a story with many of its chapters missing, a puzzle that has fomented nothing but debate and speculation for centuries, because the keys to its mysteries have been left out.
The Nature of Gurus and Their Students
Let us now overlay the traditions and methods of the East onto the mystical teachings of the West and see if there is something it can offer us in the way of understanding the teachings of Jesus Christ.
In the East, gurus are known as the Sons of God, and though they are not worshipped, they are given the utmost respect and reverence. Since there is no central authority in Hinduism, each guru holds the same position of spiritual power as popes do in the Roman Catholic Church, but his or her authority only applies to students, not to the spiritual community at large. Gurus can ordain priests who carry out the daily functions of worship and administration, just as priests do in the West. There are monks and nuns as well.
In order for men and women to become the students of a guru, they must prove that they have the right motive. They must have reached the point in their development where they no longer seek personal glory or power over others, but rather have a deep desire to be of service – to further the advancement of spiritual awareness in the world.
In the Western tradition, this is known as being called to the ministry. The guru himself, or herself, is one so called. Rather than use their abilities to permanently escape the sorrows of this world, they have chosen of their own free will to remain amongst humanity and to help it rise above its current condition. They take vows of service and are ordained into spiritual leadership. In order for their ordination to be valid, it must come through a recognized lineage, an unbroken succession of former gurus. Or, if it comes through direct revelation, it must be proved and accepted by his or her peers.
Once the student has proved the purity of his motive, he must take a vow of total obedience. If the guru is properly ordained, this is understood as total obedience to God, or one’s own divine Self, which the office of “guru” symbolizes. Because he or she holds this office by divine right, the words of the guru are considered to be absolute truth and are worthy of absolute obedience. In real life, the guru’s infallibility is only as good as his contact with the divine Self within, though often the sheer power of the student’s faith helps the guru to maintain that contact.
The best gurus are totally dedicated to the advancement of their students, even to the extent that the students eventually surpass them. It is because of this dedication that gurus are so demanding.
Not only must students have the right motive and be willing to submit to the guru in total obedience, they must also be willing to give up all worldly possessions and emotional attachments. These are no halfway measures. It is no wonder, as some have pointed out, that disciples tend to be either young or old – seldom do you find a person in the full career of midlife chucking it all to find God. The call seems to be best heard by those who are either filled with idealism or freed by wisdom.
Another prerequisite for students is the ability to stand up under peer pressure and criticism. They cannot be weak-willed or easily swayed by the opinions of others. The guru’s training methods are designed to move students out of everyday ego-consciousness, so that they can identify with the God-Self within. This is not an endeavor for the fainthearted! The ego does not give up easily. At the most critical point in the student’s training, there is great temptation to capitulate to the ego’s demands.
The temptations the student encounters will usually fall into three categories: lust, fear, and intellectual pride. Lust can manifest as the desire to fulfill any of the bodily appetites, such as comfort, food, and sex. Fear can be for one’s physical safety or the loss of continuity in one’s personal identity – the loss of a familiar sense of self. Intellectual pride manifests as a strong sense of right and wrong based solely on one’s opinions. Out of this comes the desire to control the lives of others, to be their “savior” and lawgiver. This is perhaps the most powerful temptation of all for a person who has attained some degree of understanding and moral strength. After all, who could be better for the job? “C’est moi!”
Entering the School – the Guru Screens His Prospective Students
Spiritually training a group of students requires a considerable investment of the guru’s time and energy, since the entire process can take decades. It is no wonder that the selection process is so arduous. It is better to shake out the unqualified right at the beginning than to find out too late that the candidate is unqualified. It would be harmful to push a person beyond his or her limits, burdening them with an overwhelming sense of failure for the rest of their life. This would neither be loving to the student nor conducive to the long-range goals of the guru. Every effort is made to give the unqualified student multiple opportunities at the outset to bow out gracefully, allowing the more qualified students to advance rapidly in their training.
Entering a school for religious training is serious business, and both the students and the Guru know it. The student will try to impress the Guru with his sincerity, and the Guru will test the student’s resolve. One might say that the first lesson the student receives is the difference between these two virtues. It is not enough to merely be sincere – one must also be qualified.The guru needs to find out as soon as possible if the student has reached the point in his or her life where they are ready to set foot on the spiritual path. To do this, a series of hurdles is erected at the door of the school. While this obstacle course may, in real life, take days, weeks, or months for the student to run, Jesus summarizes them quickly in the Sermon on the Mount.
We gain an insight into the personality of Jesus by the way he couches his phrases. Whether his obliqueness is out of respect for the intelligence of his audience, or whether he just wants to see if they can pick up on the subtlety of his words, is hard to say. In an age when people could live or die by a single word, perhaps this was the normal protocol. In our day and in our culture, we play fast and loose with our words. So, as we go through the Beatitudes, I will take the “velvet gloves” off of Jesus’ “iron fists”, rephrasing his sagacity with the directness of a drill sergeant.
Blessed Are They?
First, let me address the one phrase that comes at the very beginning, the one we tend to skip over, the words “blessed are they.” What does this mean? We say these words as if we know. They have such a hallowed tone to them. They evoke pictures of saints and nuns with their hands clasped marching up to the altar, surrounded by light and the sound of singing angels. In a circular kind of way, these words have defined themselves by the way they have been intoned from the pulpit for hundreds of years. “Blessed are they” confers instant sanctity and piety on whoever says it, especially a preacher. But, while it has become a verbal icon, it has lost its meaning.
This is where an understanding of the relationship between an Eastern Guru and his disciples can help us. A blessing is a real thing. It is a movement of power from one person to another. If the person giving the blessing is a clear channel to God, then the blessing is effectively from God. If the person giving the blessing has “fallen from grace,” but is authorized to give it by virtue of his or her office, then the form or ritual of the blessing can itself act as the channel, depending in either case on the degree of receptivity of the person receiving the blessing.
Blessings are usually, but not always, conferred by some form of laying on of hands. In the normal course of events, a priest or Guru will place his hands on the student’s head and speak, either verbally or mentally, the words of the blessing, giving pattern to the spiritual energy as it enters the student’s body. Blessings can be of different kinds, as in the blessing of ordination as compared with the blessing of a meal, but always the energy is the same – the energy of the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, the Guru will slap the disciple on the back. This is an important blessing. Those who have received it say that this was their “ordination” into mastery, the point at which the guru creates another guru. It usually causes an intense light in the head and spine, a feeling of lightness in the body, and the ability to see beyond the range of normal vision. In all cases, this kind of blessing carries with it the formality of lineage, that unbroken line of succession between Guru and disciple spanning thousands of years.
By the time a person, male or female, advances to the stage of guru, they have built up an energetic pattern around them composed of the way they have administered blessings throughout their life. It exists as a net, a matrix of force that hangs about the head and shoulders of the Guru. It is imbued with the personality of his teacher, as well as all of the teachers before him, and it is also imbued with his own personality. This is called the guru’s mantle. Though it can be seen as I have described, it is also omnipresent, existing like radio waves in all places at once. It can act as a proxy for the Guru, enabling him to be continuously available to his students, no matter where they are or what time they need him. When the guru takes on a student, he forms a connection between that student and his mantle. This gives the guru a continuous channel through which he can communicate with the student on the spiritual level. This is the ultimate privilege that a guru can bestow on a student. It is the equivalent of giving birth. It is at this point that the guru becomes the student’s “father” and “mother”.
Jesus as Guru
This is the blessing that Jesus holds out to his prospective students as he prepares them for discipleship. By saying “blessed are they”, he is actually saying, “I will bless you if…”, which is to say, “I will extend my mantle to you, and you will be my student, if you do the following…” This is what the students listening to his Sermon need to hear. They need to know what the requirements are in order to fulfill them, and Jesus is spelling them out so that there can be no mistake. This is a rite of passage, where the student leaves the “world” and enters the monastery. He or she is leaving the matrix (mother or alma mater) of family and society and is becoming a child of God – God as manifested by and through the guru. The guru becomes the student’s savior, his direct channel to the Divine.