By Suma Varughese
Her Indian roots help Suma Varughese realize that the ultimate step towards integration lies in Vedanta—the philosophy that we are all part of the Divine, the Brahman, the Creator
Although a Christian, I have always been baffled by my religion’s central belief that Jesus Christ died to redeem mankind of its sins. Besides much of Christianity that challenged one’s reason, I thought this too was part of its general mystification. As a seeker, I was far too aware of the limitations created by conditioning (sin in New Age speak) and the hard work needed to eliminate them, to take seriously the claim that anyone’s death would absolve me of the task. Each had to work at his own salvation. I could see that the loving willingness with which Christ accepted his crucifixion must have eliminated a tremendous amount of negativity from the earth, for who could have remained unchanged by such greatness, courage and love? But to imagine that his death gave every Christian thereafter free pardon for all their acts, stretches the point too far, moving from the reasonable to the theological phantasm.
Yet, every Christian has found this the most potent of tenets. Christ’s sacrifice has been the cause of millions of conversions and even transformations. Alas, the vivifying power behind this concept escaped me. Of late, however, I have been reading that classic, The Varieties of Religious Experiences by William James. And I see the mystery anew. According to James, whose book traces the spiritual experiences of a number of mystics and lovers of God, the knowledge that Christ died for our sins frees the Christian to surrender to him.
James points out that most of us are hindered from experiencing altered states of consciousness. The mind doesn’t let go of the social construct, holding on to the consciousness of being, resisting absolute union. As spiritual masters have said, the seeking must stop at the penultimate stage for liberation to unfold. The miracle happens only when we give up and let go. James recounts the experiences of numerous seekers who drop the whole enterprise to suddenly find themselves in the ecstasy of union. The belief that you are already saved through Christ’s sacrifice helps in this surrender. This means there is really nothing for you to do! You start from the premise of already assured salvation so that no matter how severe your conditioning or how hard your journey, you never, in Christian terminology, fear hell and damnation. Your destination has already been reached.
All seekers are acquainted with the uncertainty of the path we tread, and how hard is the struggle to retain balance. Often, we fear remaining rooted to the spot, a hideous amalgam of God and beast, man and mouse. The belief that we are already what we are trying to be is a deeply consoling one, for it gives us the confidence to keep going. This is why most seekers only become committed when they have had a foretaste of a state of liberation. Having once known such joy and ecstasy, they have concrete proof of the existence and attainment of such states.
This concept of being saved by Christ’s death is akin to Vedanta’s assurance that we are and have always been part of the divine, and only ignorance veils that knowledge. It also adds a vitalizing essence to the being, so that, as the layers of our personality unfold, we are progressing towards goodness, and not, as Freud thought, into the bubbling cauldron of the dark unconscious. True, we must pass through that domain, for no crevice of ourselves must remain unpurified, but the journey ends in untrammeled goodness and not in destruction. What an almighty relief! I now have much more respect and clarity with the concept of being redeemed by Christ’s death. I can vibrate with its profundity. I still prefer the Vedantic way, for it is universal. But why deny non-Christians the privilege of being saved by Christ. Furthermore, no matter how comforting the thought of being saved by someone’s death may be, I would find it infinitely more comforting to know that my liberation is assured by the very virtue of being human. As a lover of freedom, this matters.
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