The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society
December 2000 Vol. 3 Issue 10
This time of year millions around the globe decorate trees and homes in celebration of the birth of their savior, a savior whose death on a wooden cross will also be memorialized come spring.
While his birth into earth life is celebrated with glitter and gold, his birth into spiritual life is today mourned and symbolized by the cross or crucifix. Early Christian crosses were decorated with flowers and wreaths like our modern Christmas trees, to commemorate the joys of eternal life. And it was not a human form that was first depicted on the cross, but that of a sheep; possibly a representation of Aries the ram, as the Arian age was just passing over to the Piscean. Not till hundreds of years later was Jesus, the lamb of God., portrayed on a wooden cross.
There are innumerable meanings of the cross: some say it's to remind us about a savior, some that it's a story about the death and rebirth of the sun, while others say it describes the coming to birth of the cosmos and consciousness.
In the beginning of H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, she tells of the coming to birth of the cosmos as a cross-story. First she depicts a circle of divine unity, a ground of infinite being that she calls Be-ness. Periodically this becomes active, which she illustrates as a circle with a central point. The minuscule dot is the potential for manifesting the entire universe of duality; it is the nucleus, the umbilicus issuing from the source of life. The ensuing birth of the universe through the center point is described in stages, as the horizontal diameter (Mother Nature) dynamized by the vertical diameter (spirit) forms a cross within the circle of Be-ness. Spirit unites with matter at the center point, and the limbs of the cross symbolize their differentiation and separation, creating a symbol both of unity and diversity. Thus, the cross within the circle symbolizes the story of the periodic birth of the universe, periodic because it eventually will be indrawn into the dot, then breathed back out to be born again.
On the human level, the crucifix may represent spirit falling into matter in the shape of humanity, as descent into form is a kind of death to spirit. Form restricts spirit (as well as focuses its action) as spirit enlivens form. Each of us is a breathing example of this mystery as our bodies form the shape of a cross, our hearts being the central dot. Like the point in the circle, the center of any cross is its heart, the place where deity lives. And just as the dot in the cross is a portal through which spirit and matter are born, our heart acts as a kind of doorway, a threshold into more subtle dimensions. In a sense, our inner divinity is crucified when we are born into the earth planes, as our material dimensions limit infinite expression -- to be freed again when we cross over into the spiritual planes. In the Christmas story we are told that the wise men brought myrrh to the baby Jesus. In those times myrrh was used to embalm the dead -- an odd gift unless read symbolically, that the birth of the human baby was a death to the inner spirit of Jesus, a form of death to divinity. Some say this was the real crucifixion.
The cross is a universal symbol, and the winter solstice is a timely moment to stop and reflect on it. As we prepare to decorate our Christmas trees we might remember those two trees in Eden, one of knowledge of good and evil, of twoness; one of eternal life. The unity represented by the tree of life is still waiting for us to discover. The tree we decorate and the cross we bear still root us in duality, but they suggest to us that the way to eternal life is through sacrificing or crucifying twoness to oneness. Our Christmas tree can also remind us of the world tree whose center, like the axis of the earth, extends upwards to the pole star and, like the cross, can be a ladder or pillar pointing towards the heavens, leading us home. -- Nancy Coker
The Sun-Christ lives in thee and thou livest in him. -- Bernard of Clairvaux
Monthly Discussion Group
"Theosophy and Christianity" is our subject. We will discuss such questions as: What is the relationship of Christianity to the perennial wisdom of mankind and to other religions? How have the teachings of the Bible and Christianity changed over time? Who was Jesus, and how is he related to other world teachers and saviors? What meaning does Christ have in our lives? What is the inner significance of symbols and holy days? Come and share your ideas!
Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge.
The topics for the monthly discussion group for the next few months are:
In the Christian gospels, the life, teachings, and death of a man named Jesus are described. For centuries searchers and theologians have asked: Did Jesus really exist? Who was he, and why did he come? How much of what is said of him in the Bible is fact and how much myth? Theosophical literature tries to answer some of these questions.
According to H. P. Blavatsky and G. de Purucker, Jesus really did exist. He was born in Syria, but perhaps 100 years before the time set by Christian scholars. As a youth he "followed all the esoteric teaching of his time." As he grew into manhood, he became an initiate at a Mystery school in Syria, where he learned esoteric subjects and strict discipline. The purpose of the initiation process that he went through is to allow a worthy pupil to achieve a self-conscious reunion with his inner god. This makes the initiate a better tool through which spiritual forces can work to help humanity. As Jesus reached maturity, he went through the final phase of initiation, in which he faced many trials, some of which are described in the New Testament as the temptations, the descent into Hell, etc. After Jesus passed this initiation, his teachings became truly esoteric.
The teachings of Jesus are not new; they are the same as those taught by other great masters, comprising the ancient wisdom religion that some today call theosophy. These teachings were not meant for the masses, but for Jesus' chosen circle of students and disciples. But one may notice that the teachings in the Christian gospels only vaguely resemble teachings in modern theosophical literature. Why? According to G. De Purucker, "within less than one hundred years after the disappearance of the avatara Jesus, the body of teachings that Jesus had left behind had degenerated. His disciples failed in practically every instance. They obscured and even changed the original teachings. They made them what they thought would be more simple and more easily understood" (Dialogues 2:213). Not only were Jesus' original teachings changed, but the narratives in the gospels describing his life are not necessarily accurate. The man described there is an idealized representation of any initiate, and around this figure were woven tales of the initiation process as then told in Syria. Jesus' virgin birth, his trials, crucifixion, and resurrection are an allegorical description of the initiation process in general, and do not necessarily represent a true narrative of his life.
Jesus was more than just a great seer or sage. He was an avatara, a Sanskrit word meaning "to pass down" or "to descend." An avatara is the manifestation of a god or divinity in the form of a human being. The avatara consists of three parts: "an inspiring divinity; a highly evolved intermediate nature or soul, which is loaned to him and is the channel of that inspiring divinity; and a pure clean physical body." The avatara is created when the human consciousness or soul of a very highly evolved human enters an unborn child, and the resultant being is then overshadowed by a divinity. The avatara thus created is only a temporary being who has no karma as an ordinary man does. It also does not die as we do. When its time on earth is done, it separates into its component parts: the atoms of the body dissipate, the intermediate nature returns to the one who loaned it, and the divine ray is withdrawn.
Teachers such as Jesus appear on a cyclical basis. One such cycle extends over 2160 years. This equals the length of time of the precession of the equinoxes (25,920 years) divided by the number of houses of the zodiac (12), and is the length of time the earth spends in any given sign of the zodiac. At the beginning and ending of each such "messianic" period, various cycles of civilization are running downwards spiritually and psychologically, and a special effort is needed to provide intellectual and spiritual help. It has been about 2160 years since Jesus' appearance, and we are just entering a new messianic cycle, the so-called age of Aquarius. Helena Blavatsky helped to open this cycle with her theosophical work.
Jesus was one of many avataras who have appeared on earth. But that in no way diminishes the magnitude of the sacrifice made by him to bring spiritual enlightenment to an ailing world. Though the gospels may not accurately reflect the details of the life of the man-avatara Jesus, the spirit of Christ's love of mankind is evident there, and his example of an unselfish and forgiving soul continues to inspire us.