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Excerpt From “Quest for the Kingdom”

The Secret Teachings of Jesus in the Light of Yogic Mysticism

by John M. Newman, PhD

THESIS: Heaven for the Living

The historical Jesus was a mystic who succeeded in finding and living in what he called “God’s kingdom,” what the yogis call “Samadhi,” and what is commonly called “heaven.” The idea that the kingdom is available to the living was surprising to Jesus’ followers, who had always thought of it as a place they would go to after the death of their bodies. Few of his followers were able to comprehend the profound nature of this teaching. As a result, it was nearly lost as the narrative canonical gospels were written and rewritten several times in the three centuries following Jesus’ crucifixion.

The Path to the Kingdom

The first corollary hypothesis holds that Jesus taught his followers that finding the kingdom is a protracted struggle. Success is neither assured nor quick. He envisioned a specific sequence of activities in which each one leads to the next. These activities are hard work. They require the seeker to engage in unrelenting critical self-study, and to develop and hone defensive and offensive mental-spiritual skills. In this work I refer to this path as the Quest Template. After Jesus’ death, the duration and difficult nature of this path were not popular among the early Christian communities. As a result, his teaching about the path to the kingdom fell into disuse. In the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke all that remained was a meager and easily attainable portion of the original teaching. In some Christian communities the path’s most challenging tasks were eliminated and replaced with assurances of uncomplicated success.

The Disturbing Nature of the Quest

The second corollary hypothesis holds that Jesus taught his followers that the nature of what is found on the path to the kingdom is inherently disturbing. The seeker finds he has been deceived by his ego and cannot tell it apart from his spirit. He finds that his spiritual abode has become like the inside of a cup that has never been washed. He realizes that this neglect has left a breach through which his spiritual seed is slowly dissipating, like meal spilling out through a hole in a jar. His ignorance, self-deception, and neglect have rendered his intellect a slave to his ego, so much so that the words that come out of his mouth are no better than emanations fit for the outhouse—they defile his imperiled spirit. This disturbing state of affairs requires detachment, critical self-study, deep contemplation and meditative prayer and leads directly to an all-out war with the ego.

The Ego as Demon and the War of the Houses

The third corollary hypothesis of the present work is that Jesus did not think of demonic possession as his Jewish peers did in the traditional sense: demons controlled by an external supernatural force—Satan. Rather, Jesus understood this phenomenon in a manner similar to how we understand abnormal psychodynamic behavior today—as a dysfunctional ego. In yogic mysticism, the ego is referred to as the ahamkara—literally the “I-shape”—to which, as yoga master Iyengar explains, one’s memories, possessions, desires, experiences, attachments, achievements, opinions and prejudices “stick like barnacles to the hull of a ship… naturally it puts on weight and falls sick.”[1] We understand a wide variety of abnormal behavior as psychodynamic disorders, including passive/aggressive, obsessive, narcissistic, sadomasochistic, depressive, phobic, obsessive/compulsive, hysterical, associative and split or multiple personality disorders and other dysfunctional mental problems.

The Parallel Soteriology of the Historical Jesus and Archaic Yoga

I take the concept of salvation (soteriology) in the teachings of the historical Jesus to be the same as that of the original archaic system of yoga. In this work, I will take the position that the monotheistic yoga of the Bhagavad Gita and Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras is something close to the original form of yoga that goes back to the Indus Valley civilization five thousand years ago and perhaps beyond that. Further, I propose that the archaic form of yoga evolved and changed as the Brahmin authors of the Indian religious classics—in particular, the Vedas, Upanishads and the Mahabharata—used what they wanted from it, especially if the teachings spoke to their contemporary concerns and needs, just as, albeit not nearly to the same extent, the teachings of Jesus changed in the unfolding Christian tradition after his death.


The Gospel of Thomas

In August, 1945, mankind detonated the first nuclear bomb in the Nevada desert of North America. Yet an equally, perhaps more momentous event occurred just weeks later at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, where one of the largest single collections of the original teachings of Jesus, the Gospel of Thomas, was discovered. Several decades later, the fallout from these teachings began to reach a large number of scholars and the general public, and the “fire” of Jesus was once again “thrown onto the world” (72 Fire on Earth: Thomas 10:1).

The Great Debate Erupts

As Marcus Borg recounts, “The apocalyptic Jesus dominated Jesus scholarship for much of the twentieth century.” Marcus Borg’s 1972 doctoral dissertation challenged that view—of which he had, for many years, been a proponent himself.[2] At the time, Borg was in a distinct minority of scholars who put forth the case for a non-apocalyptic paradigm for Jesus, but by the ‘80s and ‘90s he would find himself with lots of company. One of the principal reasons why this happened was due to the enormous impact that the Gospel of Thomas had on that debate. What had been slowly simmering suddenly exploded. Modern scholars were surprised to find that, unlike other extracanonical texts, many of the parables and aphorisms in Thomas are also in the New Testament gospels. They were stunned by the extraordinary possibility that many of the parallel versions in Thomas could be both earlier and closer to what Jesus said than the versions in the New Testament gospels. Like throwing gas onto fire, this revelation accelerated the ongoing apocalyptic-non-apocalyptic Jesus debate.


Realigning Intellect With Spirit

For thousands of years mystics have sought the altered state of consciousness that exists in the infinity of discrete and juxtaposed present moments—those small intervals in between past memory and future expectation. In modern times, the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy have attempted to study and describe the nature of the mental activity that takes place in this state of consciousness. Freud described it this way:

Psychoanalysis cannot accept the view that consciousness is the essence of mental life, but is obliged to regard consciousness as one property of mental life, which may co-exist along with its other properties or may be absent… The term conscious is, to start with, a purely descriptive one, resting on a perception of the most direct and certain character. Experience shows, next, that a mental element (for instance, an idea) is not, as a rule, permanently conscious. On the contrary, a state of consciousness is characteristically very transitory; an idea that is conscious is no longer so a moment later... What the idea was in the interval we do not know.[3] [My italics]

Freud was searching for clues about latent repressed impressions and memory traces deriving from childhood oedipal sexual identifications with parents. I am less interested in oedipal identifications than the mental processes and ideas that exist in those intervals. I am particularly interested in Freud’s model for how the ego and the states of consciousness and unconsciousness function. I find that model surprisingly close to Jesus’ understanding of how the “demon” represses the spirit. Both of them understood the ego as the opposing force, and both of them understood that the technique of honing a person’s acuity of observation could overcome this opposing force. The objective of the technique that Freud called psychoanalysis is not unlike the technique that Jesus called marveling and the yogis call dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation).

Freud sought to use the technique of psychoanalysis to make it possible to see the unseen—to render conscious what is unconscious—to bring the Oedipal complex into view. Jesus sought to use meditative prayer and critical self-examination to bring God’s kingdom into view. The great chronicler of mythology Joseph Campbell became fascinated early in his research with the close parallel between yoga practice and the psychotic disorders that Freud sought to alleviate. Campbell explained it this way:

I had a rather elaborate discussion once with an important and highly respected psychiatrist on the subject of mysticism, yoga, and psychosis, and his point if I understand correctly was that the two are just about the same, that the yogi is somehow experiencing a psychotic breakup but is not drowned in this subconscious sea that swamps the ordinary psychotic. What we are describing when we describe psychosis and the yoga experience is the same sea, the same ocean, the same crises. The psychotic is drowning in these waters, while the yogi is swimming—and there is a difference between drowning and swimming.[4]

Jesus was an adept who often secluded himself to swim in these waters. He called it marveling—the practice of an altered mind-body state that eventually leads to the kingdom. He spoke of marveling not as an epiphany, but as a lengthy process of spiritual realignment. In that realignment, the seeker makes peace with the spirit and engages in spiritual combat with the ego. Success in this endeavor requires the seeker to learn how to center conscious awareness in the “house” of the spirit.


The Mysticism of Jesus and Yogic Mysticism

The teachings of the historical Jesus bear an uncanny resemblance to the mysticism of the yoga expounded in the Bhagavad Gita and Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras. In both of these mystical traditions, heaven lies inside you in the present moment and the main obstacle is also inside you: your ego. The five stages of Jesus’ original (Coptic) Quest Template are strikingly similar to the eight limbs of yoga. In both systems, the quest begins not with a sequence of actions but rather with the search for inner spiritual peace in the face of life’s adversities and the seeker’s disturbed state of consciousness. In both systems, as the quest lengthens as this search is lengthy and a part of one’s daily life and, sooner or later, the seeker happens unexpectedly onto the source of the problem: the ego and its flaws. In both systems, it is not until this realization has been fully embraced by the seeker that the true sequence of spiritual cultivation and spiritual combat begins. In both systems, the beginning of that sequence is to learn how to detach one’s conscious awareness from the ego. In the unfettered altered mind-body state of detachment (pratyahara), the mental powers of spirituality are developed and used to triumph in the conflict with the ego.

The literal simplicity of the five stages of Jesus’ template contrasts with the technical complexity of the eight limbs of Yoga. Yet in the nonliteral layers of Jesus’ sayings, we find the same wisdom that the yogis have perpetuated for more than six thousand years. In both systems, the concepts are the same: growing recognition of the “disturbances” of conscious awareness and a long struggle with the ego to overcome them. Most important, both systems emphasize access to God and heaven in the “present moment.” In both systems, the fundamental objective of withdrawal is to set aside the ego and to fix conscious awareness where the ego is absent—“hands tied” in the words of Jesus—in the “present moment.” Yoga requires surrender to God (the fifth niyama) as the journey progresses, and the reciprocity of this relationship is also described in the teachings of Jesus (40 Have and Receive).

Dr. John M. Newman has a Ph.D. in Far Eastern History and has been teaching at the University of Maryland Honors Program for twenty years, with current courses on The Historical Jesus, Counterterrorism, and America in the 1960s. He worked in intelligence analysis for the U.S. Army and the National Security Agency for 21 years. Dr. Newman has been consulted as an expert on textual records interpretation and document forensics by many news organizations, including PBS, the History Channel and NBC. Excerpt from Quest for the Kingdom: The Secret Teachings of Jesus in the Light of Yogic Mysticism © 2011 is printed with permission of John Newman. Available at www.QuestfortheKingdom.com , Amazon.com, and in bookstores.

[1] B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life (Rodale Press, 2005), pp. 119-120.

[2] Marcus Borg, “Jesus was not an Apocalyptic Prophet,” in Dale Allison, Marcus Borg, John Crossan, and Stephen Patterson, The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate (Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2001), pp. 31-32.

[3] Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id (Seattle: Pacific Publishing Studio, 2010; first published in 1923), pp. 2-3.

[4] Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2003), pp. 28-29.

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