I was raised by atheist parents who had no use for religion and thought the Bible was not much more useful for living a good and ethical life than a child’s book of magic tricks.
When, as a college student, I discovered the spiritual teachings of the East and set foot on a path of pragmatic mysticism and yogic disciplines, I left the knee-jerk atheism I’d inherited behind, but I retained a habitual distaste for conventional religion—that included a disdain for religious holidays, including Christmas.
I wasn’t exactly Scrooge-like; I did enjoy the seasonal esthetic, the ho ho ho, and the goodwill-to-all feeling in the air, but I had no interest in the storyline of God’s only child, savior of all mankind, died for our sins.
Then, as part of my ongoing spiritual education, I read Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. Among many other takeaways, I was gobsmacked by Yogananda’s reverence for Jesus Christ. Here was a bona fide Hindu guru, a world teacher of considerable stature, who expounded on Vedic philosophy and yogic methods, and he held up Jesus as a singular holy man, on a par with Buddha and Krishna.
Thinking I might be missing something, I read the New Testament for the first time. To me, it seemed like an Upanishad, with Jesus the guru raising the consciousness of his followers like the sages of the Himalayas. That was a Jesus I could relate to.
From that moment on, I’ve loved Christmas. I celebrate it as the birthday of a supreme teacher and I listen to the sublime music of the season, whether Bach’s Christmas Oratorio or the Drifters’ doo-wop “White Christmas” with joy and reverence.
Now, 50 years after that initial transformation, I’m celebrating another Christmas in that spirit, only this year I’m rereading Yogananda’s iconic memoir because the 75th anniversary of its publication is being celebrated and I’m teaching a course on the book and being interviewed a lot because I wrote a biography of him, The Life of Yogananda, that depicts aspects of his life that he didn’t write about himself.
So, as a Christmas gift to readers, I offer these excerpts from the many messages Yogananda delivered about the Christ Consciousness and the Christmas holy day during his three decades in America.
May they illuminate your life and make your season bright:
“My Christmas wish for you this year is twofold: that the consciousness of Christ be manifest in you through deep meditation, and that your exemplary actions will persuade others to abandon their evil or worldly ways and become spiritual.”
“Christ must be invited through devotional meditation into a cathedral of inner silence. The newborn Christ Consciousness must be awakened in the cradle of each heart. So instead of taking this coming Christmas as just an occasion for material happiness, make your own heart a cradle wherein Christ can be born.”
“Christ is within you, and you can realize this truth by using the ancient yoga techniques of meditation. There is no instrument other than deep meditation that can detect the presence of that almighty Grace within.”
“It would be a metaphysical error to say that Christ Consciousness was circumscribed by the body of Jesus. Christ Consciousness, being universal, could not have been thus limited; but it could vibrate or manifest in the body of Jesus.”
“True Christianity (the divine principles taught by Christ) should not be confused with some of the forms that cloak it. True Christianity is neither Oriental nor Occidental, nor is it the teaching of Jesus and his saints alone. Its eternal principles belong to every truth-seeking soul. Jesus the son of man lifted himself to the state of being a son of God. That is, he rose above ordinary human consciousness and entered the cosmic Christ Consciousness, the pure reflection of God present in all creation. When St. John said that ‘as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,’ he meant that anyone who could receive that Christ Consciousness, who could increase the capacity of his consciousness to hold that infinite ocean of truth, would become, as did Jesus, a son of God—one with the Father.”
“A form of spiritual cowardice leads many worldly people to believe comfortably that only one man was the Son of God. ‘Christ was uniquely created,’ they reason, ‘so how can I, a mere mortal, emulate Him?’ But all men have been divinely created, and must someday obey Christ’s command: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). ‘Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God’ (I John 3:1).”
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a safer, saner new year.