Saturday, January 29, 2011

A King called Ram and a Messiah called Jesus – Part 2

Note: This is the concluding part of a two part series on the lives of Ram and Jesus
 Jesus Christ is undoubtedly the most well-known figure in history who left an indelible impact on the world at large in several respects ranging from spiritual to political to sociological. The faith initiated in his name has touched millions of people and governs the lives of several generations across the world. I discovered Jesus in school through the annual Christmas crib competitions and plays we used to put up. But it is now that I realize how little I knew of the real Jesus and his life. In fact large parts of Jesus’s life are shrouded in mystery. After his birth in the manger which is the most highlighted episode in his life other than his death and resurrection, Jesus seems to have disappeared, until his famous journey into Jerusalem on the donkey where he was anointed as the messiah and started preaching his beliefs and principles. Very little is known about where he grew up and what were the key influences he had in his life and I believe that this hampers our true understanding of the man and the faith he wanted to espouse. Several books ranging from ‘Holy Blood and Holy Grail’ to Da Vinci code have tried to delve into Jesus’s true story and his relationship with Mary Magdalene. These controversial books say that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and spouted a royal blood line that may still exist in this world, hidden and well preserved. A lot of research has gone into understanding the life of Jesus and just like with Ram, I don’t think he can be fully understood without delving into the life and politics of the era he existed in.
Jesus according to several texts may have been born in the 4th century BC in a time and civilization that was dominated by the powerful Romans. Several Roman emperors had strived to capture Jerusalem and the Jewish temple and make it a part of the Roman Empire and finally succeeded around the time of Jesus’s birth. A number of bloody wars resulted due to this and sprouted several resistance groups amongst the Jews who tried to get their independence and the temple back. It was against the backdrop of these bloody times that the baby Jesus was born. He was considered special even before his birth because he united two very powerful bloodlines of those times. His father belonged to the line of David or the Kings of the Jewish people and his mother to the line of Aaron priests who were second only to the Kings. It is because of this interesting mixture of bloodlines that Jesus was considered to be a messiah who had come to save the Jews and lead them into the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’.  If one reads the Old Testament carefully, one will realize that Jesus was not the first messiah whose coming was predicted by the ancient ancestors of the Jews. A few messiahs appeared even before Jesus as early as 2nd century BC but unfortunately, the rebellions that they started were mercilessly crushed and the messiahs executed before they could complete their mission in much the same way that Jesus was executed. But Jesus was special because he was the mixture of two precious bloodlines of the time and lot of hopes had been resurrected with his birth. He was also very powerful because the impact he had was so far reaching that Christianity as a religion took root almost 400 years after his death and apparent resurrection. Why is it that Jesus had such  a large impact even on posterity and continues to be such an influential figure even centuries after he ceased to exist on the face of this earth? What set him and his teachings apart from the earlier self-proclaimed ‘messiahs’? I have always felt that it was the freshness of thought and a deep rooted mystical spirituality that Jesus brought to a war ravaged time that set him apart and earned him so many followers. But these beliefs were so unique and so different from the thinking of those times, that it was not possible for Jesus to be growing up in or around Jerusalem and stay so untouched by the political turmoil which was evident from his teachings
If a particular section of historical records are to be believed, fearing the huge burden of expectation that may fall on their only son and as a means to forge a more peaceful life, Jesus’s parents fled to Egypt when he was still a baby. Egypt may seem like a strange choice to us today but in the 4th century BC, the Jews in Egypt were supposed to have constructed an exact replica of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem which offered a safe haven to all the Jews in Egypt. It was in to this relatively peaceful haven that Joseph and Mary brought Jesus. He seemed to have grown up amongst the temple priests of Egypt who were also torch bearers for several mystical spiritual practices of those times. While many reports show Jesus’s profession to be that of a carpenter, a more believable story is that Jesus was pushed into the study of spirituality and trained by the priests in several healing practices that aided his campaign later in Jerusalem. If one looks at a lot of things that Jesus spoke about, one will find strong evidence of a strange mysticism in his belief that good deeds in this life can help one transcend into heaven. Unfortunately, his parents could not shield him from the conflict in Jerusalem for long. A certain faction of the rebellious Jews found out about him and convinced him to come back to the real Jewish temple and take his place as the rightful Messiah of the Jews. It is important to again note the social context of life in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ re-entry into this historic city. The rebellious factions wanted a huge civil war to break out by instigating the Jews to not pay any of the taxes levied on them by the Romans. They thought that this money could help them fund their revolution and help them cut off the financial support that the Romans received from the Jews. Hence, it seems a little too convenient that Jesus’s dramatic entry into Jerusalem happened against the backdrop of such a critical event in history. If a section of the records are to be believed, Jesus was brought back at a time when the people needed a Messiah and the express task given to him was to convince the people not to pay the taxes. Words such as this coming from the anointed Messiah would be taken as words coming from God and would provide the wind under the sails of the fledgling rebellion.
However, what happened next was most unusual and interesting to understand. Once Jesus was accepted as the one who would lead the Jews into the Kingdom of Heaven, he was asked by the people in a public conference if the Jewish people should pay the taxes to Romans. It was Jesus’s answer to this question that showed his own rebellion that he was waging. His answer seemed to point to the fact that the taxes should be paid to the Romans, as it is not deeds like these that will help them gain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven but deeds that were far more spiritual and generous in nature. In a way this was an open declaration by Jesus to the rebels that he would not tow their line and that he had his own agenda and principles by which he would live. This probably paved the way to the eventual treachery that he suffered in the hands of his own followers that resulted in his death. But, this also displays the great strength of character that Jesus had and the vision for a peaceful life that he wanted the Jews to have in co-existence with the Romans. He was able to hold himself away from the politics of the time and espouse principles that he truly believed in. He wanted to establish the importance of kindness, generosity and empathy in a people and a time that had lost the meaning of this over centuries. He was ably supported in this cause by his followers and most importantly, Mary Magdalene who according to certain historical records, he may have married. But unfortunately in making Jesus divine, the importance of Mary Magdalene in his life was diluted to such an extent that most popular texts state that she may have been a prostitute that Jesus saved. If Jesus had lived longer and had the chance to finish everything that he wanted to do, may be the image of Mary Magdalene in specific and women in general as portrayed in several gospels may have been very different.
I stated earlier, that Jesus’s impact on the people was so powerful, even in his short life and it is this impact that won a lot of converts to his way of life. I say ‘way of life’ because Christianity before Constantine’s time was not so much a religion as much as a ‘way of life’. However, Constantine saw the divisive forces that were at play in the empire during his time and thought that a new faith that would bind people together was needed for the Empire to be more unified and manageable. He probably did what Jesus may have always wanted to do. He created a faith that mixed beautifully several beliefs and rituals of the Romans with the principles talked about by Jesus and created the initial form of Christianity. There are some texts which point that Constantine was not sure whether in the new religion, Jesus should get a divine status or not and he took this point to vote in the Roman council of ministers. The ministers supported the idea of divinity by a vote of 273 against 3 who were against it. This was probably the beginning of the delineation that happened between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. The Jesus of faith was the Son of God and divine in every respect, whereas the Jesus of History may have been a revolutionary who wanted to change the way of life of millions of people through his gentle beliefs and spirituality. But again, in the divification of Jesus, we probably lost the essence of what he wanted to preach and created rigid dogmas may not be relevant in the modern world. I wish Jesus had lived longer than his short 34 years and had recorded his thoughts and beliefs in a manner that could have stood the test of time, so we could truly understand what the Jesus of history wanted.
But whether it is Ram, Sita, Jesus or Mary, what stands out for me is that these were great figures, who lived by principles and beliefs that were unique and different in those times. They truly believed that these principles would lead to a happier, more contended and intensely spiritual life and held their lives up as an example of this. They did not believe in the rigid dogmas and rituals of those times and forged ahead to create something new and in the process built true faith in the lives of several generations. I am sure Ram and Jesus, wherever they are will be saddened by the mindless violence they see perpetrated in their names on issues like their birth and death places and which piece of land they considered the Kingdom of Heaven. It is time that we set aside our own rigidity which is based on popular gospels and books that may themselves have been twisted by the perspectives of the authors and try to understand the men behind these texts and their true teachings. Ram and Jesus stood for change and a new way of life in troubled and turbulent times. May be it is time that mankind took them seriously and realize that every generation and every period requires fresh thinking and principles that are relevant to those times. May be if each of us develop the empathy and virtue of Ram and the spirituality of Jesus, the earth will be a much happier planet to live on.

Important: The views expressed in this blog are personal and not meant to hurt or influence the sentiments of anyone

The Jesus Papers by Micheal Baigent
Holy Blood and Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln
The Fall of Jerusalem by Brandon
The Dead sea scrolls and the first Christians by Eisenman
Ram Charit Manas by Tulsidas
Ramayan by Kamban and Valmiki
In Search of Sita by Malashri Lal and Namita Gokhale

1 comment:

  1. Neeraja, I am so thrilled to observe that you bring up the creation of Christianity during Constantine's reign--400 years after Jesus. The huge role of Constantine in the creation, propagation and eventual conversion of thousands to Christianity is a little known fact to many.
    Also, here is one more take on the same/similar topic. I personally see many parallels in Gautama Buddha's life to that of Jesus. Both preached peace and both challenged many rigid forms of ritual worship and ritual practices of the predominant religions of their times. Although Mary Magdalene herself was not a prostitute, it is a well-documented fact that Jesus provided refuge to several prostitutes/other sinners of his time, and provided, for the lack of a better word, an 'out' to sinners who were otherwise already condemned to an after-life in hell by the Jewish religion. Buddha, in a way, also provided a similar 'out' to several prostitutes (Amrapali), murderers (Angulimala), even cannibals (Alavaka), who were condemned to rebirth according to Hindu laws of Karma. Also, an other similarity bet Jesus and Buddha is that both Jesus and Buddha accepted members deemed 'outcastes' by the predominant religions of their times. Several Shudras became arahants during Buddha's time, as did several Samaritans during Jesus' time. In fact, Jesus had a special place in his heart for the Samaritan people (Story of 'The Good Samaritan' comes to mind) who were considered second-class members of the society by the orthodox Jewish community of their times.
    Another parallel that I see between Buddha and Jesus is that their respective values/principles/way of life were actually propagated, like you so correctly noted, as a faith/religion hundreds of years after their passing away by emperors who saw the power of religion in the unification of their empires. In some ways, Emperor Ashoka was to Buddhism what Emperor Constantine was to Christianity, and Magadha was to Buddhism what Rome (Vatican) eventually became to Christianity. Emperor Ashoka became an arahant in the later years of his life, and Constantine a convert to Christianity on his deathbed. I find it extremely interesting that both these emperors lived a large part of their lives reflecting values in diametric opposition to the religions that they eventually helped propagate.
    I agree so much with you that men such as Jesus and Ram, and women such as Sita were true leaders of their times who reflected original thought and exhibited a deep sense of passion and commitment to moral values such as love, kindness, empathy and forgiveness.
    Your blog on Ram was outstanding and the one on Jesus is beyond outstanding!! I truly enjoyed reading both of these and am amazed by the versatility of your thought. Great job!!....and what's coming up next?:)

    P.S: 'Sneha'...:)...long story. Used to blog on one web-site in 2001/2002 as Sneha and had to add links to blogger, so maintained the same name for anonymity. Back then, we didn't have the option to make certain blogs public and certain private--it was an all or nothing situation as far as privacy was concerned. But all those blogs have long been deleted from this account, so maybe time has come to switch back to 'Anu Lakkaraju'...:)!