I was asked what the yogic view of Christmas is. Firstly, Christmas is (like it or not), the remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ. Everything else (the tree, the gift-giving, the partying) was added later.
The yoga system does not mention what is thought of today as ‘religions’. But it recognized eternal and universal spiritual truth/principals, which may be reflected within religions to different degrees.
But there was a significant focus on transcendentalists, and it was understood that transcendentalists were transcendentalists for all.
Here are the Vedic verses I quoted:
Even a moment’s association with a pure devotee cannot be compared to being transferred to heavenly planets or even merging into the Brahman effulgence in complete liberation. For living entities who are destined to give up the body and die, association with pure devotees is the highest benediction. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 4.30.34
O my Lord! Transcendental poets and experts in spiritual science could not fully express their indebtedness to You, even if they were endowed with the prolonged lifetime of Brahmā, for You appear in two features—externally as the ācārya and internally as the Supersoul—to deliver the embodied living being by directing him how to come to You. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.29.6
Therefore, O completely sinless ones, I ask you to kindly tell me what the supreme good is. After all, even half a moment’s association with pure devotees within this world of birth and death is a priceless treasure for any man. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.2.30
One should know the ācārya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him, thinking him an ordinary man, for he is the representative of all the demigods. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.17.27
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth. – Bhagavad-gītā 4.34
Stability is also attained by contemplation upon a saintly yogi whose mind is free from material desires. – Yoga Sūtra 1.37
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So I made a few notes here. I mean when I was first asked to talk on the topic Christmas – A yogic perspective,” or a yogic view, kind of—Okay, so what exactly do you mean by Christmas? Christmas has come to mean different things to different people. But my referencing Christmas is purely from the perspective of it being the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
One of the amazing things that struck me when I first started studying these Vedic and yogic teachings, was how the teachings were presented from a completely non-sectarian perspective. And so people did not look at things in terms of external things, or the idea of religions. The idea of religions, as people think of it today, things were not considered, or conceived of, or understood in that same way in the Vedic times.
They understood that a transcendentalist, a genuine and powerful transcendentalist, is always a transcendentalist, and is a transcendentalist for all. There was an appreciation that different transcendentalists sometimes presented the higher spiritual, or transcendental, truths from different angles of vision, but in reality they were speaking of exactly the same higher principles, exactly the same higher truth. There was no concept of—like today people would think in terms of a Christian God, and a Hindu God, and a Muslim God. Such type of thinking and ideas would be kind of quite shocking to a follower of the Vedic principles, because such an idea or concept makes no sense whatsoever.
So they really looked at things from, or in terms of, a much bigger picture. They didn’t look at things with these so-called differences that people look at today. Like for instance, people tend to identify religions by the nature of the worship, in terms of the services and the rituals, and on that kind of basis, and the interior decoration of the places of worship and things like this. And that, from the Vedic perspective, is not even a consideration. The consideration was, What is your understanding or conception of the soul? What is your understanding or conception of God? What is the nature of the relationship between these two? What is the purpose of this world?
Within the Vedas they were already speaking about—well the Vedas are divided into three principal categories of teaching. There are teachings that are relevant for the people that are more considered in the mode of ignorance; there are teachings considered more relevant for people in the modes of passion; and teachings that are directed towards people that are more in the mode of goodness. And these teachings were quite often vastly different, and they involved different types of practices and undertakings; but there was this higher perspective or understanding—seeing how people were being gradually elevated to the topmost spiritual platform, that it was a progressive journey.
And the way in which people looked at things wasn’t just limited to people within India. There were exchanges going on with sages from all over the world. In the Bhagavata Purana, when it speaks about the passing of a great general, who was a saint and a great transcendentalist, that people had come from all over the world to witness this passing, and they speak specifically of some sages with disciples who had come from as far away as Europe. So the way in which they looked at things was much more broad.
In the case of Lord Jesus Christ, it was quite amazing to me when I heard my own spiritual masters speak about him, because they spoke about him and presented a type of appreciation that I had never been exposed to growing up as a Roman Catholic, as a child, and I was quite astounded.
Many of the great saintly teachers with Vedic or yogic backgrounds, they, for instance, accept that Lord Jesus Christ was what they call a saktyavesa avatar. An avatar means like an incarnation, would be the English equivalent—avatar actually means one who descends—and they have different categories and different types of incarnations of God. And one such category is when you have someone who is a living being, what’s called a jiva, jiva atma, who is granted special potency, or power, to do something that an ordinary human being could never do. And so they are considered as a category of incarnation of God, saktyavesa avatar. And Lord Jesus Christ was understood to be within this category of spiritual personalities, from the yogic perspective.
There was, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a question of, when they want to understand what somebody is teaching: What is the teaching of the nature of the soul? What is the teaching of the nature of God? What is the teaching of the nature of the relationship between the living beings and the Supreme Being? They looked at things in very broad, and universal, or transcendental–from a transcendental perspective. So what they considered was, What was the message of this individual? What is their message, and what was their life? How did they live? Was their speaking and their example in life, did it completely align? And based on this, there would be an interest or a lack of interest. If somebody was a transcendentalist, then they were offered all respects, and considered—it was considered that their speaking, their presence, their teachings were of value for anyone that was interested in the higher meaning of life. And so there was this great openness. They were extraordinarily pragmatic. When we look at the actual teaching of Lord Jesus Christ we will see—and at some point I would like to do a series on–I’ll probably call it, The Yoga of Jesus Christ. Yoga meaning union with God, with the Supreme. What was the nature of that union that he spoke of, or taught about?
Jesus Christ addressed the Supreme Person, the Supreme Being, the Supreme Soul, with a very intimate address, calling him Father. You will see in modern Christianity people refer to Jesus as being the son of God, and God as being his father. But Lord Jesus Christ, while he did speak that way, he also spoke that way of you and I. For instance, when he was asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray, he began that prayer with “Our Father.” So there was this wonderful intimacy that he introduced people to.
But there was this focus also that the highest spiritual connection with God was on the basis of the cultivation of the deepest possible mood of transcendental love. He declared this, which was an ancient teaching, to be the most important of his commandments, to love the Lord thy God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole soul or whole being. And that’s an amazing idea. And anybody that would promote such an idea would be considered to be wonderfully transcendentally situated.
Then he said, “My second commandment is like unto that.” It’s like that, not the same, but it’s like it. “To love thy neighbour, or thy brother, as thy very self.” Meaning—and I get really upset at how this gets so distorted nowadays, with all of this—ideas that are simply inventions. We have a natural and unfortunately selfish tendency to place ourself before all others.
And so, he was asking, if you could come to love others in this way that would be very pleasing to me. And so we know that this message was a top most transcendental message, even though it is very misunderstood. If you ask people today what does this mean? How do you come to fall so profoundly in love with this Supreme Person that your whole heart, not part of it, but your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole being is immersed in this relationship of love? And what is it like when somebody experiences this? How does it manifest to them? How does it manifest in their life? What is the nature of that experience? What is the process for coming to that platform? What do I need to do in order to achieve this? How will I know if I am approaching this destination?
I mean so many questions that we could ask, but unfortunately today most of the focus within modern Christianity is on the idea of salvation, which is actually, not really purely consistent with the doctrine of love. The doctrine of salvation is somewhat selfish, in that it is about me and my desire to be saved. “Save me.” Whereas the doctrine of love is when I am not thinking at all about what I am getting out of anything. I am only focused on, how do I become pleasing to this highest object of my love, my beloved. How do I please them.
So from the yogic point of view, anybody that was promoting such a message would be considered a top most transcendentalist. When a person became a, what is described in Sanskrit as mahabhagavata—mahabhagavata means a topmost transcendentalist, who is completely pure—and when a person following a yogic lifestyle encountered such a mahabhagavata, such a topmost transcendentalist, they would bow before them, on the ground, offering their prostrated obeisance, and they would seek to serve. They would seek to gain the favour. They would seek to gain the blessing of such a transcendentalist. A person on this topmost spiritual level, having even a moment’s association with them was considered the perfection of life. It didn’t matter whether a person became situated on that platform during their lifetime, or whether they, from their birth, they truly had descended from a spiritual place, and from their very birth displayed the characteristics of this mahabhagavata. It didn’t matter to a yogi.
A yogi saw them as being equally transcendental; and considered the birth of such a personality is so fortunate for the world, and so incredibly spiritual, that they would mark the day of birth of such a personality, as being a day to be celebrated with transcendental discussion, the offering of food, and feasting upon the remnants of that offered food, a celebration of the chanting of transcendental sounds and mantras. These were the ordinary and conventional activities undertaken by everyone to celebrate the auspicious appearance of such a personality.
And so while there is, of course, a general acceptance that Jesus Christ did not actually take birth on December 25th. (Is it? Christmas day?) Nonetheless it is the assigned day to celebrate his birth. And so a yogi would take that to be a highly auspicious and an exceedingly holy day, that they would hold most dear to them. There was no consideration, as I said before, of what religion they belong to, or what part of the world they appeared in. It was a question of their transcendental character and their transcendental teachings.
I have a few verses which I will share with you, that I think gives us some insight, or a peek into the thinking of the followers of the yogic traditions. So this first verse I’ll read is from the Bhagavata Purana and it states:
“Even a moment’s association with a pure devotee cannot be compared to being transferred to the heavenly planets or even merging into the Brahman effulgence in complete liberation. For living entities who are destined to give up the body and die, association with pure devotees is the highest benediction.”
I mean that’s so beautiful and so extraordinary. Then in another verse:
“O my Lord! Transcendental poets and experts in spiritual science could not fully express their indebtedness to You, even if they were endowed with the prolonged lifetime of Brahma, for You appear in two features—externally as the acharya and internally as the Supersoul, or Supreme Soul—to deliver the embodied living beings by directing him how to come to You.”
So here it is considered that you have two guides; the caitya guru, meaning the guru within, who is the Lord within our own heart, the Paramatma, Supreme Soul, whom if we are sensitive to we can hear and take instruction and direction from; but the external manifestation of this Lord, in the form of the acharya—this word acharya means the great spiritual teachers who teach by perfect example—and it describes that their only reason for being with us is “to deliver the embodied living beings by directing him how to come to You.”
This Lord Brahma that’s been mentioned is considered the actual creator of the universe in which we live, and his lifetime is said to be extraordinarily long—billions of years. And they said one “could not fully express their indebtedness to You, even if they were endowed with the prolonged life of Brahma.” The indebtedness that one expresses towards the great transcendentalists, who come to deliver the fallen living beings, that indebtedness is tremendous, and it is huge.
In another verse:
“Therefore, O completely sinless ones, I ask you to kindly tell me what the supreme good is. After all, even half a moment’s association with pure devotees within this world of birth and death is a priceless treasure for any man.”
A half a moment’s association with these mahabhagavatas, these pure devotees of the Lord, the great transcendentalists, is considered a priceless treasure.
In another part of the Bhagavata Purana the Supreme Lord instructs all people that:
“One should know the acharya as Myself and never disrespect him in any way. One should not envy him, thinking him an ordinary man, for he is a representative of all of the demigods.”
So, there’s this utmost reverence that was extended to transcendental personalities who were considered non-different—it’s not that they were God, but they were considered non-different from God; personalities who lived only for the purpose of trying to teach people their highest spiritual good, to seek actual spiritual liberation. There was a fundamental principle of how to deal with such saintly teachers. In the Bhagavad-gita, the 4th chapter, the 34th verse it states that one should:
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”
So there was this principle that all followers of the yogic lifestyle, the Vedic lifestyle, followed, which was to see themselves as a menial servant, and to render menial service to such topmost transcendentalists.
Even within the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, while he does not speak—because of the nature of that book, he doesn’t speak in a focused way about guru, there are teachings there about how one deals with a transcendentalist. And he was speaking about the need in the spiritual journey to have complete stability of mind, that where the mind cannot be in flux and moved by so many desires, and so many thoughts, and so many different hankerings, and emotions, and passions. The complete stability of the mind was foundational to a spiritual practice. And he talked about a number of different things that can be done to bring about this stability. And one of them in the 37th verse or sloka of the 1st pada, he states that:
“Stability is also attained by contemplation upon a saintly yogi whose mind is free from material desires.”
—that just by contemplation upon such a transcendentalist, can bring about the stability to the mind and make it much easier in one’s spiritual journey, in practice.
I saw this thing on the news here in New Zealand, about a new leader that was chosen for one of the political parties here. The guy was an executive of the Air New Zealand I think, if I remember, and has a professional background. But I heard people speaking disparagingly about him, “Oh, he’s religious.” And it was just like wow! so shocking, that society has become so degraded that if a person accepts or tries to follow religious principles, that that is—they’re considered somehow, there’s something wrong with them. They’re undesirable. They wouldn’t be a good leader. And it’s just like, what has happened to the world?
You will find that many of the people that are critical of Christianity, for instance, almost don’t know any real Christians. They’ve never encountered somebody that actually is endeavouring to follow the teachings and the principles of Jesus Christ. I mean everything that he spoke about was extraordinary, and so desirable. It would make people’s life infinitely better to adopt the advice and the principles that he put forward. Everybody’s life would become infinitely better, infinitely more happy. But people like to hold up a bad example here, or a bad example there, and say that that is an example of what Jesus taught, and it’s not, absolutely not.
So from the yogic perspective, the birthday of Lord Jesus Christ, which they would refer to, in the equivalent of like an appearance day, the day he appeared—because birth is understood to be a fallen condition that is forced upon individuals because of their previous karma, and because of the nature of their desires when they died, when they left their previous body, that death is something forced upon you—whereas a transcendentalist is understood to be not in that situation at all. And so they refer to this as an appearance, a day of the appearance of this personality. And for anybody that was a practicing yogi, an actual practicing yogi, they would reverentially and affectionately honour, remember and contemplate upon the teachings of this great transcendentalist, Jesus Christ, on this day, and it would be a day of spiritual celebration, a day of remembrance, reflection, of prayer, of meditation, of celebration, of singing these transcendental sounds, dancing in joy and feasting upon the remnants of food that was offered in great affection to such a spiritual personality.
So that is the yogic view of Christmas. Nothing like this, the Christmas trees, and Santa Claus, and the crass commercialism, and everybody just seeking material enjoyment. Jesus Christ taught that you should not put your mind on worldly things. And yet this is what this period has come to represent for many people, an utter absorption in that which is material. That is very sad and unfortunate.
So, thank you very much, and let us chant. I’ll do the Aum Hari Aum mantra. Maybe Haribol Nitai Gaur. And thank you very much for providing me this opportunity to speak to you through this year and we will continue early in the New Year. Haribol!