Friday 8 June 2018

Drawn into the Orbit of the New Buddha - 3

यतो धर्म: ततो जय:

As generations pass in a new religious movement, stories of the continuing self-revelation of the Great Teacher accumulate in the collective mind of the movement, stories of people—who have never heard of the Teacher being awakened by him, people transformed by him before they even know a name for him, stories of devotees seeing him come for them on their deathbed, stories of visions, intercessions, revelations, and examples of realisation
mediated through the repetition of his name and dwelling on his form. And thus the ever-present, ever-living, ever-active, omnipresent, and universal aspect of the Great Teacher comes to the fore, not by disconnecting from the historical, but by seeing the historical in a much larger context: by seeing the historical as an expression of the universal.

As this happens, the historical becomes meta historical, the historical image becomes a mythic Image burned into the consciousness of humanity, the person becomes the Person in the heart of every being, the historical happenings take on cosmic significance, the words once spoken are no longer 'once spoken' but become the voice of the Eternal, revelations to the immediate disciples become revelations to all people for all time, a simple anecdote reveals endless, timeless wisdom. Let us take an example before we see what this has to do with Sister Nivedita.

When I was a brand new novice—less than three weeks after joining one of our American monasteries—we had the annual Christmas Eve celebration in the temple. There was a little singing, a reading, and then the swami, who was from India, spoke. As we were dispersing after the swami's talk, a devotee passed me and said with dismay, 'Well, the swami ruined Christmas for us once again!' After only three weeks in the monastery, I already knew this devotee as a dependable voice of negativity; and the swami had spoken well and sincerely; yet I immediately knew what the devotee meant, because I also had been disappointed in the swami's talk. Why?

The swami spoke to us about the Sermon on the Mount, about the nature of an Incarnation of God, and so on: all good, all beautiful, not a negative note. But none of that is Christmas to one brought up in a Christian home and society, as in those days almost everyone was in our Western centres, other than those from a Jewish home. Christmas is about the extraordinary holiness of a timeless moment when a child is born in the stable of a wayside inn, a child who is a window into the Infinite, a window opened by his birth for humanity for all time to come; it's about a holy young woman, his mother Mary, who knows this, and rocks him with the heart of a new mother and yet with the adoration of one who is beholding God; it's about the shepherds out in the field at night seeing a great star coming and standing over the nearby town, and looking in wonder as a host of angels come and address them about the great event that has just happened; it's about three wise men coming from afar and offering gifts to the newborn, recognising him to be Saviour of all.

Christmas for a Christian has nothing to do with the Sermon on the Mount and the later activities of Jesus. To one not brought up in a Christian home or society, on the other hand, the story of the Nativity is just that: a story, very simple, not very interesting, certainly nothing there to talk about: a star, a bunch of angels, and a baby; what is a poor swami supposed to do with that? Yet year after year, every year of every century, century after century for two thousand years, Christians still want to hear and dwell on the same story. Why?

To be continued.. -Swami Atmarupananda (PB Jan 2017)

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