For many centuries Christianity has been the leading religion of the Western world. Looking at its dogmas — a far cry from the original teachings — and the wars waged and the persecutions inflicted in its name, we may sometimes wonder whether any faith at any time was so misinterpreted, or misused for selfish purposes. Yet countless generations lived and died by its tenets, which provided them with guidance for daily conduct, strength amid oppression, and comfort in distress. The ideal of the life of Christ inspired people of all ages to emulate him and love mankind likewise. While the mood of the epoch often was savage and primitive, Christianity can truly be said to have served as a restraining and moderating influence.
As time went on, the teachings, originally true to the known fragments of ancient wisdom, became more and more exotericized. Nevertheless, the mystic was ever able to intuit the inner meaning of the sacred scriptures; and to this very day, although the original texts were mistranslated, tampered with and filled with human errors, traces of the age-old verities can be recognized within the crippled letter — most easily perhaps in the New Testament.
That the belief in reimbodiment in one form or another was prevalent in the earliest centuries of the Christian era, is common knowledge, though very few keys to this effect are still to be found. When Jesus asks his disciples (Matt. 16): "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" they reply: "Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." Unless they believed in rebirth, how could they have thought Jesus to have been Elias, Jeremiah or any of the other prophets? Jesus' subsequent question as to what his own disciples said he was, and Peter's answer, point to yet another wisdom-teaching: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." In other words: a ray of the universal Logos is temporarily embodied in an eartlily vehicle, the type of incarnation the Brahmans call an Avatara.
Also the law of karma or retribution was known, as is evident from the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians (6:7): "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." And then again (Matt. 7:2), "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again."
References to the coming of the Kingdom of Christ, which have led scores of people to expect doomsday to arrive even within their lifetime, can also be read in a very different light. Many of the ancient traditions speak of a time to come in a far, far away future (or in theosophical terms at the end of the seventh major or root-race), when the inner Christ will be manifest in every human being, so that one truly can say that the Christos spirit will then reign on earth.
Religions of all ages have taught the existence of many realms or worlds of consciousness, unseen and imperceivable as far as our physical eyes are concerned. These were said to be inhabited by their own denizens, hierarchies of beings, completely analogous to our globe in this respect. Some are traversed by man after death and are sometimes called the various heavens and hells. Those, however, are not in any way to be conceived of as an abode of eternal bliss for the chosen or everlasting suffering for the doomed, for they are but fields or conditions of awareness through which peregrinating monads may pass and gain experience in the course of their evolution. It is these different spheres which are meant in John 14:2: "In my Father's house are many mansions."
After its perennial journey from the original source through the valleys of material experience, the human monad will return to this House of its Father. The path it must follow leads through the heart of every individual, ever more inward, for each of us is that path; or, as the Master phrased it, speaking of himself: "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Not only is man his own way, but in the core of him he is an embodiment of the truth and the life universal.
The disciples then ask Jesus to show them the Father, and he tells them that his Father, or the god within, and the ego which serves to express it, are completely interblended. Therefore, if they would know him, they would also know the workings of the inner god, for "I am in the Father, and the Father in me." Eventually this will be true for all mankind, for he who makes the connection with the inner Christos ' . . . the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do."
It is also of the Father within that Jesus speaks in what we know as the Lord's Prayer. Worn smooth with usage, its words are often repeated with little thought as to their meaning, but in essence it contains some deeply esoteric lines of conduct.
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name: this is a dialogue between our daily self and the divine aspect of our being. At our present state we are, only a faint shadow, whereas the Master Jesus truthfully could say he and his inner god were one.
Thy kingdom come: may ever more of the spiritual qualities of the inner god become manifest in ourselves.
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven: let there be complete fusion of the personal will with the divine will, which, in turn, is at one with the impersonal laws prevailing in the cosmos. For anyone truly wishing to serve humanity instead of living unto himself alone, the first prerequisite is to subordinate his own wishes and desires to the dictates of his higher dharma.
Give us this day our daily bread: no literal bread or even material necessities are asked for; but we can interpret this phrase in the sense of the higher self granting us the insight to read our daily karmic script, to recognize the demands life makes and the opportunities it offers that day. At the same time we hope for the strength and the wisdom to deal with our tasks and make use of the chances.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors: if we are willing to accept our fellowman as they are, feel forgiveness for what they do to us, have mercy on their weaknesses — so we can also live with ourselves and our own state of imperfection. This is an important moral guideline, for according to an old adage, we should not shun the cloak of the beggar for it may fall on our own shoulders. In other words, let us not take offense at evil deeds perpetrated by others, even if directed against ourselves, for by paying heed to such negative thought energies, we make room for them within our own constitution, and before long they will lodge there also.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: it might seem contradictory for the inner divinity, which is perfection, to lead the human ego into temptation. Yet in the ebb and flow of karma, which comes to the lower self by the decisions of his own higher aspects, there are vortices all along the line, and we can either let ourselves be sucked into them or not. Some ministers read this part of the prayer: let us not fall into the temptations you put before us, but give us the strength to resist.
In Matthew 6 is a remarkable, if somewhat cryptic passage:
"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness."
A translation of more recent date by James Moffatt is as follows:
"The eye is the lamp of the body, so, if your eye is generous the whole of your body will be illumined, but if your eye is selfish, the whole of your body will be darkened. And if your very light turns dark, then — what a darkness it is!"
On the surface there seems to be quite a difference in these two versions, but the Greek word haploos, rendered in the King James version as "single," also means "simple, uncompounded," hence, sound or perfect — while to be generous is to be free from selfishness, well-directed, or away from the self. By the same token, selfishness is imperfect or evil.
The arena where the struggle between good and bad takes place, where choices are made, is the human mind. If it is in alignment with the higher self, and therefore unselfishly inclined, the whole constitution of man will be illumined by his inner light. On the other hand, if the mind or intermediate part of man is turned away from his finer aspects and is completely self-centered, his whole being will reflect nothing but that inner darkness — and how great is that darkness, when he has cut himself off from his source of inspiration to better things.
None of the actual words the great Syrian sage uttered were ever committed to writing, and there is no factual information regarding his life to be found in any of the contemporary or later chronicles. We can only guess, therefore, what his mission at that particular era may actually have been. The ancient traditions tell us that Avataras or Saviors appear in our spheres at certain cyclic intervals, so that the Christ had to come because the time was there for him to manifest. Yet the cycle was a downward one, in which spirituality would almost certainly be waning and the more brutal side of human nature be prominent. Seen against that background, it may be assumed that the life and work of Christ can be considered as an effort to ring once more that primal keynote of compassion, by which mankind might live and at least retain if only a spark of the spiritual light in an epoch of darkness, soon to follow. Again and again Jesus points to that Father in Secret, innate in all and accessible to everyone. It must have been his hope that those who were aware of their divine origin would think and act in accordance with that knowledge. And it may be that, in spite of the mutilations his teachings suffered at the hands of man, this keynote of brotherly love, reverberating in human hearts through the centuries, has had a more profound influence on the era of its name than we can ever know.
(From Sunrise magazine, February 1974; copyright © 1974 Theosophical University Press)