The Spirit of Christmas

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Christmas is a time to celebrate two things: one is the birth of Jesus and the other is the dawn of Christ consciousness. Jesus was a person and Christ consciousness was the spirit that descended. You are a person, you have a body, you are limited and restricted by the senses and the mind, but at the same time there is the life force, vitality and dynamism which physically or externally is recognized as spirit, and which in esoteric terminology is recognized as the Divine consciousness or Christ consciousness.

Just as there is a maturity or evolution of the physical body from birth to adulthood to old age to death, similarly there is an evolution of consciousness. This evolution of consciousness culminates as Christ consciousness. Christ consciousness is the consciousness that is in communion with the Divine nature, the consciousness that is united, not fractured. At present the consciousness is fractured, in the sense that we have no concept or awareness of what is happening on our unconscious level. We have a very basic understanding of the subconscious level and we have a partial understanding of the conscious level. So, our consciousness is fractured or broken.

Christ consciousness and the turiya state

However, there is another consciousness that is unified, which yogis have recognized as the turiya state. Turiya is the unified consciousness. The Christ consciousness of Christianity and the turiya consciousness of yoga are the same. This consciousness is the actual form of the spirit.

What is spirit anyway? What is the difference between spirit and consciousness? They are manifestations of the same force and energy. When the water in a lake is turbulent it loses clarity, but when the water becomes quiet you can see every reflection in it. So, the fractured consciousness is the turbulent water, where you are simply groping around without seeing anything clearly. The still waters, in which everything is reflected, is the turiya state or the Christ state.

Today we are made aware of two important events: the birth of Jesus, who was recognized as the son of Mary and Joseph, and the dawning of Christ consciousness, or the state of turiya, which is recognized as the concept of the son of God – Ishwara ansh jiva avinashi. The understanding of the son of God is stated in the Ramayana, it is stated in the Bhagavad Gita, it is stated in all the literature dealing with spiritual life. We have to connect with this unified spirit. People do it in different ways and forms. It is like saying, 'All roads lead to Rome' – roads is plural, not singular. The road is decided for everybody from their point of evolution in life.

Journey to the spirit

I am not speaking on Christian theology, I am explaining the spiritual dimensions of the spirit. The evolution of spirit is not a one time evolution, it is an ongoing journey. The journey only ends when we have reached our destination. One cannot experience consciousness to begin with, one can only experience the manifest side of consciousness, which is the mind. One has to work through the mind, one has to purify and transform the mind to have a vision of consciousness. Mind is the first barrier that has to be overcome. Until now we have not been able to realize the consciousness.

Although psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts speak of the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious, in reality these terms do not mean anything, because the conscious, subconscious and unconscious that they speak about is in relation to the conscious mind, the subconscious mind and the unconscious mind. So when we say, 'I am conscious', it does not mean anything; it is 'a flight of fancy'.

The term 'consciousness' relates to the knowledge and experience of the inner nature, swabhava. The term 'mind' relates to the aspect of consciousness which is interacting in creation. The greater manas, the greater chitta, the greater ahamkara (ego), the greater buddhi (intelligence) are parts of consciousness, just as the arms, legs and head are parts of the body and have no function in isolation. If you remove the head from the body, what will happen? If you remove the arms or legs from the body, what will happen? And if you remove the body from the body, what will happen? Although the parts are recognized independently, they do not have any independent function. Similarly, although the mind is recognized as an extension, as the manifest side of consciousness, we cannot perceive the real consciousness, the swabhava, the inner nature, until we have worked through the mind.

Discovering the link between consciousness and spirit

Therefore, in all the traditions of the past, the thinking that evolved was to see, to experience the relationship of the mind with the world and the expression of the mind in the world, and to transform this expression, this quality of mind, to realize the swabhava, the inner nature, the consciousness. Once consciousness is identified as the nature of creation, then the link is discovered. The essence is discovered within consciousness, and that essence is the divine essence.

There is a difference between the water in an ocean and the water in a river or lake. Ocean water has a different quality to river water, although both are H2O. In each location the quality of the H2O is different. Why are oceans salty? Where did the salt come from? Why aren't lakes and rivers salty? Why is there this difference when the other components of water are the same? If you can find the reason, you also have the answers to life.

The link between consciousness and spirit is recognized as the essence – H2O. The essence is there, but in association with different objects of creation – time, space and object – the perception of spirit and the perception of consciousness has changed. Only a few people in this world, through their efforts, have been able to realize the consciousness, and out of those few, some have experienced the Divine consciousness.

We belong to the first category of people who are struggling with the mind, struggling to transform its perceptions and expressions, struggling to find harmony or balance between the mind and the heart – buddhi and bhavana, logic and feeling. That is our level. Those people who have gone beyond the mind say that logic does not exist beyond the mind, only feeling exists. Consciousness is the realm of feelings, but not the feelings of joy, happiness, love, compassion and peace that you experience through your mind. The feeling of consciousness is of a different variety which cannot be explained or defined. The feelings which we express are an indication, a glimpse in miniature of the actual thing that we have to experience. Once that transformative, transcendental feeling is experienced, each and every cell and atom of the body becomes realized, each and every cell and atom of the body becomes light.

In spiritual life there comes a time when we have to call it a day, and we can only do so when we have reached our destination. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have many miles to go before I sleep.” This indicates the journey of spirit. From mind to consciousness to realization of the universal connection. This universal connection is the connection of Christ consciousness, the connection of the turiya state of being.

Sadhana to transform the mind

Christ lived two thousand years ago. Why do we still remember this day? Not because Christ was the founder of Christianity. Christianity was established in Rome, not in Bethlehem or Jerusalem. The founder of the organized Christian system was St Peter. The teaching of Christ, of Jesus, before the establishment of Christianity was very simple. If we are to express Christ's teaching in the language of today, we would say, “Live for others, to alleviate the suffering of others and to reconnect them with their source, God.” This would be Christ's teaching in a nutshell, and it is the most important one to transform the human mind.

Who lives for other people? Today we are so self-centred that we forget about the suffering of others; we are too caught up in our own conflicts and problems. To connect with God, the source, becomes a distant reality in our lives. But if we can conceive of a process to fulfil these three important mandates of Christ, we become true Christians in heart and in spirit; we become true yogis in heart and in spirit; we become true human beings in action and in thought.

This has to be the form of our sadhana in order to humanize ourselves. We call ourselves 'humans', but it is only a social label. In reality we are different. What are the qualities of a human being? What determines that we are human beings? Thinking is not a quality of a human being, thinking is a process of intellect, intelligence. Intellect does not define a human being because the same intellect, when used in the wrong manner, can make us satanic.

Spirit is beyond the mind

The thing that makes us really human is the knowledge of the connection, the invisible thread that exists connecting the individual and the transcendental, the Divine; the ability to see this link, this connection, in everything, in everyone else; and the destruction of the thought that “I am superior” or “I am inferior”, “I know more” or “I know less” – because these are all the plays of ego. If I feel superior, it is my ego playing with me. If I feel inferior, it is my ego playing with me. If I consider myself to be knowledgeable, it is my ego. If I consider myself to be foolish, it is my ego. Foolish in relation to what? Knowledgeable in relation to what? Is a Ph.D. degree an indication of your knowledge, just because you have crammed your head with many different ideas and concepts, some of which are very fulfilling and enriching and some of which are not so fulfilling and enriching?

Human experience is beyond ego. You have to understand this concept in terms of mind, consciousness and spirit. Intellect, knowledge and perception all relate to the dimension of mind. Your understanding of yourself, of who you are, relates to the dimension of mind. But the mind has to die for consciousness to take birth. Jesus had to die for Christ to emerge. Jesus died on the cross and after three days Christ emerged from the cave. It was that Christ who ascended to heaven. Jesus did not ascend to heaven, Christ ascended to heaven. So, the mind which relates to the world has to die and consciousness has to emerge. Therefore, no amount of wisdom, knowledge, intelligence or personal awareness is going to lead us to the experience of consciousness or spirit. Once you realize the spirit, then spirit is recognized as one.

Universal connection

Of the five elements in this world, there is one that connects each individual with another individual. That element is air. Who knows, maybe the air that we are breathing in at this moment is the same air exhaled by Christ two thousand years ago? Maybe it is the same air exhaled by Krishna five thousand years ago. It is this air which is connecting us together, globally. And just as in this dimension air is the connecting agent, in another higher dimension, spirit is the connecting agent.

We think of spirit as something unique to each one. Maybe it is just like our ability to breathe in. How we breathe is unique to each one of us, but air is universal. Similarly, our experience of spirit can be individual, but it is a universal connection. Therefore, the statement, “My Father and I are One”, meaning that the individual I and the universal spirit, the spirit which I am experiencing within me and the spirit which surrounds the entire manifest and unmanifest creation, are one, and the statement, Aham Brahmasmi, 'I am that universal spirit', are the statements of people who have had a vision of the spirit.

As part of our sadhana in life, we have to make an attempt, maybe not immediately but in the course of time, to transcend the mind. The mind is the force which limits our expressions, which restricts our participation in life in a homogeneous, integrated, evolving manner. It is because of this restriction, which is a bondage of maya, creation, the third dimensional force, that we are aware of ourselves as individuals. It is maya which makes us realize our uniqueness. But the same maya is like the covering over a light bulb.

The stories in the Bible are yogic and tantric concepts. The opening of the seven doors, the removal of the seven veils refers to the opening of the seven chakras. As each veil is removed, as each door is opened, greater light shines through. If you cover a 1000 watt halogen lamp with seven bed sheets, one after another, what intensity or luminosity of light will you see? In order to see the light as it is, you have to remove the coverings. The coverings or veils that have been referred to in the Bible refer to the chakras. You have to open the chakras and then in sahasrara you experience the pure light. This is only one example of the teachings given in the Bible. These examples indicate the process of tantra and the process of yoga.

Develop simplicity, innocence, clarity and compassion

Jesus was familiar with the processes of yoga and tantra. People are only slowly realizing the depth of the Christian teachings. They are bhakti, devotion, moral values, intermixed with yogic and tantric concepts in such a way that they represent the spiritual dimension of human transformation by following the path of devotion and the building up of human character. Jesus was familiar with the teachings of yoga and tantra. He taught yoga and tantra not in the form of asana, pranayama, yoga nidra and meditation, but as a method to know that the higher reality exists within.

Any teaching coveys two ideas: the aim which you have to follow and the process, the method you can adopt to reach the aim. If you speak of the aim without the process, it is philosophy. If you speak of the process without the aim, it is a system. But when you unite both it becomes sadhana, the transformative process. In the teachings of Christ we see the sadhana. But he spoke in a very simple language. In his time, people were not travelling around the world with university degrees and diplomas. People then were very innocent and simple. So, Christ spoke to them in their language and inspired them to develop simplicity, innocence, clarity of thought and compassion for others. In today's context, we need to understand these concepts in relation to our present situation in life. When we try to do this it is yoga, the process which leads to union.

My intention is not to talk about the history of Christianity, but to realize the spirit with which we need to connect in order to become true humans. Only then will our shortcomings, faults and sins be washed away. As long as we are not true humans, we shall have to carry the burden of the cross, and it is heavy. We have to become aware of our life and see how much luggage we are carrying with us – our insecurities, fears, complexes, inhibitions, desires, attachments and all the other expressions of the mind which matter to us, like hatred, anger, jealousy and frustration. All these things do matter to us, don't they? So, we are carrying a burden on our shoulders and it seems that pile keeps on increasing day by day. People say, “Christ died on the cross for our sins.” Yes, these are our sins. These are the sins against humanism. He died to make us aware that a determined effort has to be made to lift from our back the weight that we are carrying in our rucksack.

Prioritize your spiritual life

Tonight, when you go to the room, don't go to sleep, but reflect for ten or fifteen minutes and set priorities for your spiritual life. Just as you set priorities for your material life to fulfil your aspirations and desires, set priorities for your spiritual life. What do you wish to see in yourself? Don't think about the highest in life, it is not possible. Don't think of acquiring the sun, it is not possible. The nearer you come to the sun, the hotter it becomes until eventually you are burnt out, in such a way that no trace remains, even all the atoms of the body are consumed.

Set your priorities for your spiritual life. I won't give you any suggestions, you have to find out for yourselves. Each one of you should set a priority today which becomes not an impossible aim but an achievable aim. Don't even go into abstract concepts such as, “I'll be a good person.” Good in relation to what? Just as time is relative, good and bad are also relative. Think of something definite which you can aspire for, hope for and achieve in the course of your life. Remember to try and understand spirituality from a practical point of view, because real spiritual life alters the material.

You have to think about and reflect on the spiritual journey that you desire to embark upon, and that many of you think you have embarked upon, from a very down to earth perspective, without too many philosophical fantasies. Once you have decided, “OK, this is the first step in my spiritual life,” then you can lie down and go to sleep. If you want to connect with the spirit of Christmas, do this. For Christians it is Christmas time and for yogis it is turiya time.

Ganga Darshan, December 24, 1999