THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN AND AHAM BRAHMASMI
The similarity between Christ’s teachings as seen in the Gospels and the YajurVeda Mahavakya are so striking that it is unsurprising to learn how the Brahmin Scholars in Tirunelveli responded to the 17th century Italian missionary Roberto Di Nobili. They listened carefully to the Good News he brought and said that they saw nothing new, startling or threatening in it. Their own scriptures said the same things and had said it some millennia before. Had their visitor heard? He had not.
Three hundred years later the great Jesuit scholar Raimon Panikkar [of half Indian, half Spanish descent] published a book titled The Unknown Christ of Hinduism (1981)
On this significant day, Easter Sunday, I beg readers to look at a single metaphor --- the image of hidden treasure --- as it appears in Jesus’ parable in the Gospel according to St. Matthew (13:44) and in the 65th verse of the 580-verse long Jewels of Knowledge Vivekachudamani by Adi Shankaracharya. We know of Buddhist and Hindu teachings reaching the Hebrew scholars of Egypt and the brisk exchanges between learned men of that time. Did Hindu teachings reach Christ as He prepared Himself for the purpose of His birth? German Protestant research has even tried to show that Jesus spent time in India during His 12th and 30th years. And since Christianity had gained a foothold on the West Coast of Kerala by the end of the first century is it not possible that Shankaracharya was attracted to this parable in the Gospel of Matthew? As one who retrieved the original teachings of Sanatana Dharma from the innumerable and strangling forest-growths of rituals it had sunk into, Shankaracharya’s mission has a parallel to Jesus Christ’s because what Jesus saw in Judaea where he opened his ministry, was a society cruelly controlled by dense set of religious laws in which the Living God seemed to have no place.
To turn to the metaphors, both of which speak of spiritual fullness as “buried treasure”. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (St Matt) The kingdom of God is of such tremendous value that one should be willing to give up/exchange all one has in order to gain it. And here is Ida Ansell (Ujjwala)’s record of her teacher Swami Turiyananda’s translation of the verse from Vivekachudamani made in the early 1900s. “A buried treasure is not uncovered by merely uttering ‘come forth’ You must follow the right directions, dig, remove the stones and earth from above it, and then make it your own. In the same way, the pure truth of the Atman, which is buried under Maya and its effects can be reached by meditation, contemplation and other spiritual disciplines” (verse 65)
Both metaphors promise a transformation in the life of the aspirant who seeks and works for this buried treasure. The richness of spiritual grace is attained by effort and concentration and a glad recognition and experience of it is more precious than everything else put together. Jesus gave the good news to one and all that the Kingdom of God laid within them. Similarly in Hinduism is the statement that “Hiranya-Nidhi”, the greatest source of peace and security is hidden within ourselves. Interestingly both called for the action of experiencing the great Reality and did not attach any importance to mere reading or mental storing of wisdom.
There is no contradiction between Jesus of Nazareth’s doctrine of the Kingdom of Heaven and the Mahavakya of the Upanishads, “Aham Brahmasmi” which Adi Shankara repeatedly echoed in his writings.
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