Happy Birthday, Guru Jesus.

Via Philip Goldberg
on Dec 19, 2011
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Growing up in the 1950s, I was familiar with three kinds of Jesus.

There was the one-and-only begotten son of God, Savior of all Mankind, who was known to the Irish and Italian Catholics in the neighborhood. And, among the Jews, there were two versions: the laudable ethical teacher—a nice Jewish boy, essentially, who met with a terrible fate—and the Jesus that never existed, a creature of mythology, like Apollo or Zeus. In my atheistic home, where religion was the opium of the people, Jesus was largely irrelevant, except as a proponent of the Golden Rule and for the horrors that had been perpetrated in his name.

Then came the Sixties, and I was introduced to a different Jesus, by way of India. Like millions of my contemporaries, my hot pursuit of truth and personal fulfillment led me to spiritual legacy of the East.  I read the sacred texts of Hinduism and Buddhism, and modern interpreters such as Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts and Huston Smith.  I was drawn to what was called mysticism because I found it, ironically, non-mysterious and eminently rational. I found a yoga class—not easy to do back then, believe it or not—and learned to meditate.  Throughout my explorations, the name of Jesus kept coming up in a respectful context, a trend that peaked with Paramahansa Yogananda’s seminal memoir, Autobiography of a Yogi, which treats the rabbi of Nazareth with such reverence that I thought I must be missing something.

So I bought a New Testament, and it blew my mind.  Because my spiritual reference point was more Hindu than Judeo-Christian, the Gospels came off the page more like the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita than churchy dogma. The main character was a master teacher—a guru—who led his disciples not just to better behavior but to union with the divine.  His term for the Ground of Being was “Father,” but it was easy to evoke the language of the Vedic seers and substitute Brahman or the Self. When he tells the crowd at the Sermon on the Mount not to pray conspicuously like the hypocrites, but to “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” I saw a guru directing his disciples to meditate in silence. This was a Jesus I could live with: exalted in a way befits someone whose impact on history is unparalleled, but without the cosmos-shaking agenda or the triumphalism that relegates non-believers to either irrelevance or damnation.

I soon learned that Hindus in general, and the gurus and yoga masters who came to the West in particular, saw Jesus in much the same way, as a sadguru (true teacher) and an enlightened yogi of the highest order. Some afforded him the status of avatar, placing him on the same level as Krishna, Rama, and others in their pantheon of divine incarnations. To them, the teaching of Christ, followed properly, is a legitimate pathway to the unified awareness that is yoga’s true aim.  That is why, in many spiritual institutions with Indian roots, you will find images of Jesus alongside the masters of their own lineages.

This way of seeing Jesus has been filtering into America’s bloodstream ever since Thoreau equated Jesus and Buddha and called himself a yogi. It gathered steam as a stately parade of gurus arrived on our shores, and it exploded after the Beatles’ 1968 sojourn in India, and by now it has affected millions.  For a great many angry or alienated Christians, it has been the key to reconnecting with their religious heritage on terms they can live with.  Even those whose religious orientation is, for all practical purposes, Hindu have been encouraged by their gurus to honor their Christian roots, often by thinking of Jesus as their ishta devata (preferred form of God).  These prodigal sons and daughters may identify more with the transcendent mysticism of Meister Eckhart or John of the Cross or Thomas Merton than with mainstream Christianity, but they found their way back to the Jesus they love by way of India.  Similarly, thousands of Jews who studied Hinduism or Buddhism came to see Jesus as a mystical rabbi and a passionate reformer, not as the founder of a hostile cult.

The image of Jesus as a sage and sadguru may not sit well with clerics for whom Christ can only be the one true messiah and the great hinge of history. They ought to be glad that millions of people who might otherwise view this season as merely a respite from work, or as nothing but humbug, will instead celebrate it as a birthday bash for a great yogi.




About Philip Goldberg

Philip Goldberg is the author or coauthor of nineteen books, including “The Intuitive Edge," “Roadsigns: On the Spiritual Path,” and his latest work, "American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West.” Based in Los Angeles, he is an ordained interfaith minister, a public speaker and seminar leader, and the founder of Spiritual Wellness and Healing Associates. He also blogs regularly on the Huffington Post. Visit philipgoldberg.com or americanveda.com for more information.


10 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Guru Jesus.”

  1. Patrick says:

    As former roman catholic now considering myself hindu, I can attest that hindu are very respectful of Jesus and its teachings. Of course, it is not a replacement for the Bhagavad Gita but it is considered as valid. The gospels, without the interpretation of the church, are simple and do not elaborate on metaphysic, almost any religion can endorse it. However, it is hard to compare the simplicity of the gospels with the complexity and the deep knowledge contains in the Gita. And I do not mention other scriptures. Perhaps that humanity 2000 years ago was due to a more simple message, you know, the Kali yuga…age of darkness. It is true that some hindu consider Jesus as Vishnu avatar, but that is not the majority, I think that most think that Jesus as a saint, that it was guided by God but it was not God. There is also the debate about the "lost years" of Jesus, some speculate that Jesus visits India during these years to receive teachings from a guru. That opens all kinds of doors. We should not be disturbed by some tenets of vedic religion that is not present in christian religion, for one thing, the belief in reincarnation, for example, was very pervasive at the time of Jesus, and if I remember well, the first christians believes in that. Some verses of the gospels suggests reincarnation, but that beilef was declared as heritic later in time. I think what kill Jesus was the endorsement of the religion by Constantinus, that make the religion a state affair, and politics kills the intention. Hinduism may have been a state religion (Nepal until 2008) but there is no authority that define what to believe.

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  3. YesuDas says:

    I love this! Thank you for saying what needs so badly to be said!

  4. shiva says:

    Great post Philip. I was born and raised as Hindu and now live in the US. In the Hindu scriptures you will not find any reference against any other faith or religion. Unlike Christianity or Islam, hinduism is not based on the life of a single prophet or person. Hinduism is a religion which evolved over time with many people contributing to its development over thousands of years. Many people in the US do not understand this fact. I am not saying any particular religion is better than any other. As a practicing hindu I respect all regions, faiths, and athiesm. There is a saying in Rig Veda translated by some as 'truth is one buy wise call it by different names….'

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  6. Robin says:

    I am SO glad you wrote this article!! This is something I've been struggling to explain for a long time. Just because I embrace the ideals of Hinduism does not: 1) make me a satanist; 2) mean that I reject Jesus; or 3) mean that I am discrediting my Christian upbringing. Well written, well executed, and wonderfully explained.

  7. Tobo says:

    It would be factually accurate to say that no one actually knows the exact birthdate of Jesus, in fact the year of his birth is not even known.

    According to wikipedia
    "The precise day of Jesus' birth, which historians place between 7 and 2 BC, is unknown.[13] In the early-to-mid 4th century, the Western Christian Church first placed Christmas on December 25, a date later adopted also in the East.[14][15] Theories advanced to explain that choice include that it falls exactly nine months after the Christian celebration of the conception of Jesus,[16] or that it was selected to coincide with either the date of the Roman winter solstice[17] or of some ancient pagan winter festival.[16][18]"

  8. Becca Harvey says:

    Nice article Phil! Where you write, "The image of Jesus as a sage and sadguru may not sit well with clerics for whom Christ can only be the one true messiah and the great hinge of history.", it seems you might want to substitute the word "Christ" for the name "Jesus" in this instance. Jesus wasn't the only avatar who embodied the Christ consciousness. That said, to use the word Christ synonymously and exclusively with the name Jesus is the old school Christian cleric way 🙂

  9. Nick says:

    This was my experience exactly. I was raised in an irreligious family, and skeptical by nature. But when I got into mysticism and started studying with yogis, it was their referencing him all the time that helped me recconnect with my culture, really, for the first time! Thanks Phil Golberg for explaining the history of these religious trends so well!