Quiet Karma adheres to the Indian tradition of honoring saints of all faiths and creeds. Jesus of Nazareth deserves this recognition. No other human being has made his influence more known in every corner of the world.
You don’t have to be a Christian to know that Jesus existed. Christmas is the day traditionally recognized as his birthday. And you don’t need to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday to be influenced by the season. It’s celebrated around the world, regardless of religion. We set aside our differences and acknowledge our desire for peace and brotherly love. This is the unique influence of a God-man, one yogis refer to as an avatāra.
What is an Avatāra?
To view the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth from a yogic point of view, it’s helpful to have knowledge of the Sanskrit term avatāra. Literally translated from Sanskrit, avatāra means “divine descent.” God has appeared in a human form for a specific purpose. That purpose is noted in the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna, the avatāra, instructs his disciple:
Whenever there is a decline of dharma (morality, righteousness, truth, virtue) and a rise of adharma (unrighteous action, lawlessness), I incarnate Myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment of dharma, I am born in every age. (Bhagavad Gita 4:7-8)
The most notable examples of avatāras in Eastern traditions are Krishna, as noted, and Rama, king and hero of the epic Ramayana. Gautama Buddha is considered an avatāra by yogis, as are many other illumined teachers. Yogis avoid controversies about whether an individual is a true avatāra. Rather, we prefer to focus on their teachings and applications to our lives.
Jesus as an Avatāra
Jesus’ story includes a unique beginning. He was born in a stable, among farm animals. Auspicious signs announced his birth. Many seekers visited the newborn child. Some were as lowly as shepherds, others as lofty as kings. News of Jesus’ birth even stirred the fear of evil king Herod.
Jesus grew up in a typical Jewish family. He was the eldest of many children and learned his father’s trade. However, Jesus showed unusual talents from a young age. He understood theological texts well beyond his years. At religious gatherings, his scriptural insights amazed local priests and wise men.
Like other avatāras, Jesus was born during a time of social strife. But he knew his purpose was not political reform.
Jesus’ Message of Love
From the yogic point of view, it’s Jesus’ influence as a teacher that’s most profound. He taught by his own example and used parables. The simplicity of his lessons appealed to the common people. His depth of understanding intrigued the scholars.
Jesus drew crowds of people from all walks of life. He was often challenged to debate with priests and learned men of the church. Once, during such a gathering, a teacher of religious law approached Jesus. He asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus answered: “The most important commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love Him with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
The Greatest Commandment and Yoga’s Teachings
Students of yoga recognize Jesus’ mandate, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” This edict correlates with the niyama, Ishvara Pranidharana. It means, “Cultivate a spirit of absolute self-surrender to God in whatever you do.”
Self-surrender isn’t meant to be a begrudging sacrifice. It means to willingly live according to the highest principles. Doing so, we acknowledge the One who made us, loves us, and provides for our welfare. It means to surrender to love. This rule isn’t merely one of discipline and practice—it’s also a state of recognition. In this state, we realize God’s presence in each person, place, and thing. Nothing exists in which the Divine is not present.
The Yoga Sūtras tell us that the result of pure love for the Divine is vision of Its form. “Vision,” however, doesn’t imply sight alone. It means living in the unbroken awareness of God’s presence and bliss. It means to know the peace of God in every situation, under all conditions. It’s a permanent experience of all-pervasive love.
A Simple Formula for Loving
To hear good words and agree with them is the beginning of living the spiritual path. Then we must take action—mentally and physically. To experience love requires committed devotion to that ideal. Following are a few simple activities that help us walk the path of love:
- Work to increase your ability to love. Begin and end each day with an affirmation. Affirm love for yourself, your family, your neighbors, and all citizens of the planet.
- Take an action of love each day. Perform a kind act without thought of return. Better yet, make your acts of kindness inconspicuous. Make an anonymous donation. Help a stranger. Pick up litter on the street. Spread your acts of love generously, like setting out breadcrumbs for birds.
- Erase hate. Why? Because hate destroys love. Hate and its cousins, bitterness, envy, and resentment, cannot bring peace to anyone. Hate grows like a cancer. It needs little encouragement to fill a receptive mind. In the empty corners of the mind, hate gains strength—and then pushes love out. Refuse to accept that anyone or anything is entirely bad. Look for an element of good, especially in someone you don’t like. When you see the virtue in another person, your own capacity to love grows.
- Ask for help. Sometimes it seems too difficult to love—at least on our own power. Jesus knew it wouldn’t always be easy. The commandment to love was given with a blessing—the grace, and the power to make it so. When we turn to our Higher Power, help is given.
Do We Need Another Avatāra?
Some people think it’s time for the arrival of another avatāra. Suffering and strife continue to plague our world. But do we really need another God-person to convince us of the obvious? Do we need someone to tell us how to behave and what to do?
Jesus of Nazareth might have been the most influential of all teachers. He, like others before and after him, has shown us the way to peace and happiness. We can make love a priority in our lives. It’s a choice. And we can start now.
As we reject hate, love moves in and fills our minds. Then love is free to shine like rays breaking through thick clouds.
Before you leave this page, stop and think, “Who do I find difficult to love?” Now, look for one element of goodness in that person. Make a vow to remember that quality each time you think of them. And watch how your capacity to love grows.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.