Jesus and His Religion (or the religion about Him) [2nd of 3 Parts] by Alan Watts

Now so therefore everybody who receives divine inspiration – and I'm using that in a very loose way – you could mean anything you like by "divine" – that's your option – but anybody who receives it will express it within the limits of what language he knows. And by language here I don't only mean English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Sanskrit. I mean language in the sense of what sort of terms are available to you; what kind of religion were you brought up with.
—Photograph by Eugenio Pastor



Now so therefore everybody who receives divine inspiration – and I'm using that in a very loose way – you could mean anything you like by "divine" – that's your option – but anybody who receives it will express it within the limits of what language he knows. And by language here I don't only mean English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Sanskrit. I mean language in the sense of what sort of terms are available to you; what kind of religion were you brought up with.

Now you see, if you were brought up in the Bible Belt – you came out of Arkansas somewhere – and that's all the religion you knew, and you had a mystical experience of the type where you suddenly discover that you are one with God, then you're liable to get up and say "I'm Jesus Christ!" And lots of people do. Well the culture that we live in just can't allow that. There is only one Jesus Christ. And so if you don't look like you're Jesus Christ coming back again – because it said in the scriptures that when He comes back there'll be no doubt about it: He'll appear in the Heavens with legions of angels, and you're not doing that; you're just old Joe Dokes we knew years ago. Well now you say you're Jesus Christ. Well, he says that when Jesus Christ said he was God nobody believed him and you don't believe again. You know you can't answer that argument. (laughter)

But you see, he says it that way because he is trying to express what happened to him in terms of the religious language which is circumscribed by the Holy Bible. He's never read the Upanishads. He's never read the Diamond Sutra. He's never read The Tibetan Book of the Dead or the I-Ching or the Lao-Tsu, and therefore there is no other way in which he can say this.

But if he had read the Upanishads he would have had no difficulty, and nor would the culture – the society in which he was talking – have any difficulty. Because it says in the Upanishads we are all incarnations of God. Only they don't mean by the word "God" – in fact they don't use that word; they use "Brahman" – they don't mean the same thing that a Hebrew meant by "God." Because the Brahman is not personal. Brahman is – we would say – supra-personal. Not impersonal, because that is a negation. But I would say supra-personal.

Brahman is not he or she, has no sex. Brahman is not the creator of the world – as something underneath and subject to Brahman – but the actor of the world, the player of all the parts, so that everyone is a mask (which is the meaning of the word "person") in which the Brahman plays a role. And like an absorbed actor the divine spirit gets so absorbed in playing the role as to become it, and to be bewitched. And this is all part of the game, hereto believing that I am that role. When you were babies you knew who you were. Psychoanalysts refer to that as the oceanic feeling. They don't really like it, but they admit that it exists. Where the baby cannot distinguish between the world and the way it acts upon the world. It's all one process. Which is of course the way things are.

But we learn very quickly because we are taught very quickly what is you and what is not-you, what is voluntary, what is involuntary, because you can be punished for the voluntary but not for the involuntary. And so we unlearn what we knew in the beginning. And in the course of life if we are fortunate we discover again what we really are, that each one of us is what would be called in Arabic or Hebrew "a son of God." And the word "son of" means "of the nature of" as when you call someone a "son of a bitch," or in Arabic you say "Ibn-kalb" which means "son of a dog," "Ibn al-Himar": "son of a donkey." So, "a son of Belial" means "an evil person." "Son of God" means "a divine person," a Human being who has realized union with God.

Now my assumption – and my opinion – is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Human being like Buddha, like Sri Rama Krishna, like Ramana Maharshi, etc., who early in life had a colossal experience of what we call "cosmic consciousness." Now you don't have to be any particular kind of religion to get this experience. It can hit anyone anytime, like falling in love. There are obviously a number of you in this building who've had it in greater or lesser degree. But it's found all over the world. And when it hits you, you know it. Sometimes it comes after long practice of meditations and spiritual discipline. Sometimes it comes for no reason that anybody can determine. We say it's the "Grace of God," that there comes this overwhelming conviction that you have mistaken your identity, that what you thought, what I thought was just old Alan Watts – who I know very well is just a big act and a show – but what I thought was, you know, "me!" – was only completely superficial, that I am an expression of an eternal something-or-other: "X," a name that can't be named, as the name of God was taboo among the Hebrews; "I am."; and that I suddenly understand why – exactly why – everything is the way it is. It's perfectly clear.

Furthermore I no longer feel any boundary between what I do and what happens to me. I feel that everything that's going on is my doing, just as my breathing is. Is your breathing voluntary or involuntary? Do you do it or does it happen to you? So you can feel it both ways. But you feel everything like breathing. And it isn't as if you had become a puppet. There is no longer any separate "you." There is just this great Happening going on. And if you have The Name in your background you will say "This happening is God," or "the Will of God," or "the Doing of God." Or if you don't have that word in your background you will say with the Chinese "it is the flowing of the Tao." Or if you're a Hindu you will say "it is the Maya of Brahman." "The Maya" means "the magical power," "the creative illusion," "the play."

So you can very well understand how people to whom this happens feel genuinely inspired. Because very often there goes along with it an extremely warm feeling. Because you see the Divine in everybody else's eyes. When Kabir, a great Hindu Muslim mystic, was a very old man he used to look around at people and say "To whom shall I preach?" Because he saw the Beloved in all eyes, and could see – sometimes I look into people's eyes, and I can look right down, and I can see that Beloved in the depths of those pools, and yet the expression on the face is saying "What, me?!" Ha ha ha ha, it's the funniest thing! But there is everybody, in his own peculiar way, playing out an essential part in this colossal cosmic drama. And it's so strange, but one can even feel it in people you thoroughly dislike.

So, let's suppose then that Jesus had such an experience. But you see, Jesus has a limitation that he doesn't know of any religion other than those of the immediate Near-East. He might know something about Egyptian religion, a little bit maybe about Greek religion, but mostly about Hebrew. There is no evidence whatsoever that he knew anything about India or China. And we – people who think that, you know, Jesus was God assume that he must have known because he would have been omniscient. No! Saint Paul makes it perfectly clear in the Epistle to the Phillipians that Jesus renounced his divine powers so as to be Man. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought not equality with God a thing to be hung onto, but humbled himself and made himself of no reputation and was found in fashion as a man and became obedient to death." Theologians call that "kenosis," which means "self-emptying."

So obviously an omnipotent and omniscient man would not really be a man. So even if you take the very orthodox Catholic doctrine of the nature of Christ, that he was both true God and true Man, you must say that for true God to be united with true Man, true God has to make a voluntary renunciation – for the time-being – of omniscience and omnipotence... and omnipresence for that matter. Now therefore if Jesus were to come right out and say "I am the son of God" that's like saying "I'm the boss's son," or "I AM the boss," and everybody immediately says that is blasphemy. That is subversion. That is trying to introduce Democracy into the Kingdom of Heaven. That is –– you are a usurper of the throne. No man has seen God.

Now, Jesus in his exoteric teaching – as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels – was pretty cagey about this. He didn't come right out there and say "I and the Father are one." Instead he identified himself with the Messiah described in the second part of the prophet Isaiah, "the suffering servant who was despised and rejected by men." And this man is the non-political Messiah, in other words. It was convenient to make that identification even though it would get him into trouble.

But to his elect disciples as recorded in Saint John, he came right out "Before Abraham was, I am." "I am the way, the truth, and the life." "I am the resurrection and the life." "I am the living bread that comes down from Heaven." "I and the Father are one, and he who has seen me has seen the Father." And there can be no mistaking that language.

So the Jews found out and they put him to death – or had him put to death – for blasphemy. This is no cause for any special antagonism toward the Jews. We would do exactly the same thing. It's always done. It happened to one of the great Sufi mystics in Persia who had the same experience. Now, what happened? The Apostles didn't quite get the point. They were awed by the miracles of Jesus. They worshipped him as people do worship gurus, and as you know to what lengths that can go if you've been around guru-land. And so the Christians said "Okay, okay: Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God but let it stop right there! Nobody else." So what happened was that Jesus was pedestalized. He was put in a position that was safely upstairs so that his troublesome experience of cosmic consciousness would not come and cause other people to be a nuisance. And those who have had this experience and expressed it during those times when the church had political power were almost invariably persecuted. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake. John Scotus Eriugena was excommunicated. Meister Eckhardt's theses were condemned. And so on, and so on. A few mystics got away with it because they used cautious language.


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