Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Two great Christian church leaders are declared to be Saints! Congratulations to the Catholics & Christians

Some notes, small extracts and my comments from/on http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/a-day-of-ancient-ceremony-to-create-two-modern-saints/2014/04/27/290f167f-c579-4694-885b-1f7c26d4d00e_story.html :

Pope Francis canonized John Paul II and John XXIII, both towering figures of the 20th century, as saints.

[Ravi: I completely support honouring leaders of the Roman Catholic Church of the 20th century for their service to the catholic church and spreading the life & teachings of the Divine Jesus Christ as captured in the New Testament. I did not know anything about John XXIII prior to this beatification news. But, of course, I had read a lot about John Paul II, whose long stint from 1978 to 2005 (third-longest in church history) and whose globe-trotting ways, made him a well known figure in India and the world. Whatever I had read and seen (on TV and print media photographs) of John Paul II, largely, was very positive. Personally I found his public statements to be largely benevolent, and I personally felt that he was a very likeable person.

However, it is the promotion of these leaders to saint status whereby they become divine icons of intercession between the devotee and God and which is, very importantly, recognized by the catholic church, that I find very interesting. Going by my understanding of the Roman Catholic Church procedure, miracles are needed to promote the missionary leader to saint status. No matter how likeable I found John Paul II I did not associate miraculous powers with him! I mean, I do not recall reading reports of miracles attributed to him in the media prior to his passing away.

After his passing away, many wanted him to be made a saint. That perhaps led to the church speeding up the beatification process. Later there were reports of miracles associated with somebody praying to him for divine intercession. Here is an extract about one such reported miracle from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatification_of_Pope_John_Paul_II, "In early 2006, it was reported that the Vatican was investigating a possible miracle associated with John Paul II. A French nun, confined to her bed by Parkinson's Disease or a neurological condition with similar symptoms which can go into remission, is reported to have experienced a "complete and lasting cure after members of her community prayed for the intercession of Pope John Paul II". The nun was later identified as Sister Marie Simon-Pierre.
Sister Marie Simon Pierre is a member of the Congregation of Little Sisters of Catholic Maternity Wards from Puyricard, near Aix-en-Provence. Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, 46, is working again, now in Paris at a maternity hospital run by her order. She met reporters 30 March 2006 in Aix-en-Provence, during a press conference with Archbishop of Aix Claude Feidt.
“I was sick and now I am cured,” she told reporters. “I am cured, but it is up to the church to say whether it was a miracle or not.”
It has been suggested, however, that Sister Marie Simon-Pierre did not have Parkinson's Disease as there is no easy way to accurately diagnose the disease short of medical autopsy. Sister Marie Simon-Pierre also suffered a relapse though the Episcopal Conference of France disputed that the relapse (which would have thrown the purportedly miraculous nature of the cure into doubt) was anything more than a rumor."

Ravi: I do not want to get into the issue of whether the above reported miracle is genuine or not. Having directly experienced paranormal power (but subjectively and so I cannot prove it to others) of one powerful near-contemporary mystic, I certainly believe that miracles, including healing miracles, are possible. However my view of how most of them happen is that it is the deep faith in divinity that the experiencer of the miracle has, that creates conditions suitable for the power of that faith to manifest into a miracle (please excuse usage of a somewhat rare word but I felt it be the appropriate word here, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/experiencer).

The persons/icons/images who/which may have been used by the miracle-experiencer as a channel for boosting his/her faith in divinity may act only as instruments. In this case the instrument of say an image of John Paul II may have been used by the reported miracle-experiencer to boost her faith but I will not go so far as to say that the spirit of John Paul II interceded with God on her behalf as she had prayed to John Paul II, and so caused a miracle to happen. I will say, if one assumes that the reported miracle is genuine, that God (who is present in the depth of her heart and so all-knowing) directly responded to her (perhaps intense) prayers to God whom she viewed/related to through the image of John Paul II, and made the miracle happen.

Many devout people desperately need believable, adorable and respected icons through which to connect to God. Perhaps John Paul II being made a saint fulfills that powerful need among the Catholics as he was a much loved and respected near-contemporary Catholic Church missionary and leader.]
...
Huge number of pilgrims arrived from Poland, over buses, flights and train, to celebrate John Paul II's elevation to sainthood.

[Ravi: Congratulations to the Polish Catholics and Christians for this great event.]
...
"Born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920, John Paul II is seen as the first truly global pope, a charismatic conservative known for stirring oration and staring down communism even as he stood firmly against birth control and divorce."

[Ravi: The first truly global pope! Hmm. So, prior to him, popes may not have been seen and heard so much on the global stage, especially by the laity. That, given the two millenniums history of the Roman Catholic Church, is a very noteworthy point. Staring down communism would have needed enormous guts when he was living in Poland under communist rule as the communists, I presume, would have been strongly opposed to the church (religion is opium of the masses and all that stuff of Karl Marx). I think the birth control opposition part may be quite unacceptable in today's world, and perhaps even the opposition to divorce (if the marriage just does not work).]
...
John XXIII is given the credit for sweeping reforms in the 1960s (Second Vatican Council) one of which was switching the Catholic Mass from Latin to the "common tongues of the faithful".

[Ravi: It changed to the common tongues of the faithful only in the 1960s!!! Hmm. But then Hindu Vedic rituals are still conducted largely, or should I say only, in Sanskrit even today.]
...
In 1981 John Paul II was shot at by a Turkish extremist in the abdomen but survived the assassination attempt. It is reported that John Paul II prayed for the shooter while he was in the ambulance and forgave him. He did not know then who the shooter was.

[Ravi: From whatever I remember reading of Pope John Paul II, I tend to believe the above account (of forgiveness). That's why he was so beloved a holy man not only among Catholics but also among some people from other faiths. It is not easy to be a true man of religion whatever be the religion. Perhaps it is one of the toughest callings in life. The moral and spiritual bar that has been set by great religious leaders of the past is very, very high.]

Friday, April 18, 2014

Views on some sections of the gospel of John

Last updated on 25th April 2014

This post uses the gospel of John from http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john.htm. For the scripture sections that are referred the associated link is provided. Ideally the reader should read the specified sections in the associated link and then the comment prefixed with my name, Ravi.

Scripture: John 2:1-11, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john2v1.htm

[Ravi: The above scripture sections seems to me to be a simple and straight forward account of perhaps the first well-publicized miracle of Jesus. Jesus was born and raised among simple Jewish peasant folk of Galilee and his followers seem to come mainly from simple peasant folk. They saw these miracles and were inspired to give up their professions and follow Jesus Christ, and then spoke about these miracles and finally wrote them down for posterity. Having had direct experience of some of the paranormal powers of Sri Sathya Sai Baba I find the above account (and later accounts of miracles) to be believable - there may be some inaccuracies in details but I think the essence of these miracle accounts in the gospel are truthful. But yes, some people may demand evidence and believe only if they have evidence - that is their view and their right. However, those who claim that such gospel accounts are an elaborate fraud or simply a piece of fiction, I think, are unable to have a broad view of human experience which includes the possibility of some very, very rare humans transcending ordinary human limitations and having paranormal/divine powers.]

Scripture: John 2:13-20, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john213.htm

[Ravi: My reading of this, as of now, is that Jesus gets appalled by the commercialization of the main centre of Jewish worship, the Jerusalem temple. His actions though of freeing the animals (who, I understand, were used for animal sacrifice in the temple) and overturning the money-changers tables would have been a serious challenge to the powerful temple establishment. Their demand of a sign from Jesus seems to be quite normal for those times and perhaps for today's times as well. Jesus' response seems to me to be too much for even human believers to accept literally. Perhaps powerful mystics sometimes say things that are very hard to understand from a literal point of view, and so hard to act upon.]

Scripture: John 3:1-7, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john3v1.htm

[Ravi: I find the above extract to be fascinating. The idea of a second spiritual birth (born-again) makes sense to me, having gone through some thing similar in my life. Further, even the Hindu holy thread-ceremony is supposed to be a (spiritual) re-birth. However I think that aspect of the Hindu holy thread ceremony seems to have got rather lost among many of today's Hindus. It is more of a traditional ritual which one goes through rather than a life-changing event where one re-orients one's life making spirituality/religion the primary part of one's life.

As I have been studying powerful contemporary preachers of various religions I find that many of the really powerful speakers have a born-again (spiritually) experience which transforms them and eventually leads them to become preachers or evangelists sharing their experiences and view of the spiritual/religious life with others.]

Scripture: John 3:16-21, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john316.htm

[Ravi: This is where the exclusivity of the gospel comes in. Believe in God's only son and you will be saved; Else you will be condemned. All I can say is that I do not accept this exclusivity of the gospel. There are other (prophet/avatar) sons (and daughters) of God who walked the earth besides Jesus Christ.]

Scripture: John 4:5-19, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john4v1.htm

[Ravi: The Samaritans were considered to be "below" the Jews. But Jesus, in this case, shows that he is above such petty racism/groupism/casteism. He demonstrates his paranormal knowledge about the woman's 'husbands' and convinces the woman about his divinity. Simple, yet very powerful, demonstration of paranormal knowledge that is very convincing for the peasants.]

Scripture: John 4:23-26, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john4v1.htm

[Ravi: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." - I think this would be in sync. with teachings of all the major religions of the world today, including Hinduism. The above extract also has Jesus declaring that he is the Messiah (Christ) (that has been mentioned in Jewish scripture - Old Testament, I understand).]

Scripture: John 4:39-41, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john4v1.htm

[Ravi: Word of mouth especially from beneficiaries/witnesses of paranormal knowledge/events was the main way the news of the divine personality spread. Today, it is both oral and written devotees' experiences that spreads the good news of contemporary/near-contemporary divine personalities.]

Scripture:  John 4:46-53, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john443.htm

[Ravi: In this gospel this is the first healing miracle of Jesus. Having heard and read about many such healing miracles of both Shirdi Sai Baba and Sathya Sai Baba, I can certainly consider the above account, in essence, to be truthful. And, it is these healing miracles that attract huge numbers of suffering to such divine personalities. Paranormal knowledge about another person's life and thoughts, materialization/material transformation like water to wine are quite amazing but healing miracles are a great wonder and have huge impact on people in general both in terms of the miraculous power of the divine personality and belief in that person as a divine being.]

Scripture:  John 5:2-16, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john5v1.htm

[Ravi: Powerful healing miracle of Jesus. This would have made him hugely famous and thereby earned the envy of the religious establishment.]

Scripture: John 5:19-20, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john517.htm

[Ravi: Verse/section 19 seems to me to be very similar to Shirdi Sai Baba's words except that Baba used to say Fakir instead of Father. I think these great super-powerful mystics have/had a consciousness where they "see" an immense vista of existence far beyond their own body and mind, and are able to work miracles through being in that consciousness. They perhaps use words like Father and Fakir for this universal consciousness that they are able to experience as being themselves, so that ordinary people can understand it more easily.]

Scripture: John 5:30, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john517.htm

[Ravi: This can be viewed as the "being just an instrument of the Lord" attitude/approach.]

Scripture: John 6:5-14, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john6v1.htm

[Ravi: This is the famous miracle of multiplication of five loaves and two fish to many times that to feed the five thousand. Healing and feeding miracles are the easiest for common people to understand and get awed by. Then they are ready to believe that the miracle-maker is a divine personality whose words should be heard and followed, if possible/feasible for them.]

Scripture: John 6:16-21, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john616.htm

[Ravi: I consider the miracles of Jesus walking on water and "immediately" 'transferring' the boat from the sea to the land they were going to, as possibly real events. For powerful divine personalities like Shirdi and Sathya Sai Babas such extraordinary feats were not unusual at all, and so I consider that these miracles of Jesus may be real.]

Scripture: John 6:26-29, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john622.htm

[Ravi: The great mystics view their miracles as relatively unimportant as compared to their teachings of the path to eternal life/deathlessness/self-realization. But without the miracles their teachings will not be given much value by the people! So the great mystics, prophets and avatars have to have both miraculous power and spiritual teachings, for them to be accepted by the people at large.]

Scripture: John 6:30-35, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john630.htm

[Ravi: The religious establishment of the day will staunchly oppose words like in sentence/verse 35. But then, in my view, these super-powerful mystics speak the truth - they have the capacity to take care of their devotees both materially and spiritually. That does not mean that their devotees do not suffer at all. Both Shirdi Sai Baba and Sathya Sai Baba used similar words - You look at me, I will look at you; Why fear when I am here. To the faithful these words are true, some times based on first-hand positive experiences from such faith and many times based on second-hand positive experiences from such faith. To those without faith these words don't make sense. I think that's the bottom line in such religious matters. It is not a rational thing at all; it is just a matter of faith.]

Scripture: John 6:41-42, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john641.htm

[Ravi: I think this is the toughest part of appreciating divine personalities. They take birth as humans and sometimes look and behave like a human but sometimes perform divine/paranormal acts and impart divine teachings. For (most of) the Galileans who had known Jesus' parents and perhaps had known Jesus as a boy, it was too much for them to accept Jesus as divine! I think it was somewhat similar for the young Sathya Sai Baba among his villagers who had seen him grow up in Puttaparthi.]

Scripture John 7:1-9, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+7%3A1-30&version=NLT [I am using this site instead of http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john7v1.htm as the latter omits some of the sentences/verses of this section.]

[Ravi: Super-powerful mystics like Jesus and the Sai Babas spoke the truth and did wonderful miracles. But that upset a lot of people. Truth-tellers have to be critical of the faults in society and that upsets the powerful and influential in society. They turn against the truth-tellers. Miraculous power and associated fame & following rouses the envy of the established priestly and religious elite as their followers may start deserting them and going to the miracle-maker. This anger and envy of some of the establishment even turns into murderous hatred as the above gospel sentences/verses tell us. Jesus himself is saying that (most of) the world hates him because of him faulting it for its evils.]

Scripture John 7:10-13, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+7%3A1-30&version=NLT

[Ravi: I find it utterly fascinating that the gospel itself records that some said Jesus was a good man but others said that he is a fraud who deceives people. Amazingly for me, it has been the same with the Sai Babas. People who do not have the imaginative capacity and/or vision to appreciate the miraculous powers of the Sai Babas chose to ignore the testimony of so many reliable witnesses about the miraculous powers of the Sai Babas, and decided that since the miraculous powers were not scientifically validated they must be fraud!!! (It would be fine if they said that since the miracles have not been scientifically validated they do not know for sure. But some people, including some leading scientists, do not stop there and 'declare' that all the reported miracles are fraud.) Hmm. Two millenniums after Jesus, human nature does not seem to have changed much when it comes to appreciation of miraculous power of super-powerful mystics.]

Scripture John 7:14-19, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+7%3A1-30&version=NLT

[Ravi: Fascinating section for me. I was drawn to Sri Sathya Sai Baba by his extraordinarily wise and knowledgeable interpretation of religious teachings in general, and some key Hindu scripture like Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, in particular. I was astounded to know that Sri Sathya Sai Baba had no formal training in Hindu scripture. Then how could he expound so wisely and brilliantly on the core teachings of Hindu scripture? That led me to accept the view that this knowledge was known to him prior to his birth as Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Fascinatingly, with Jesus it seems to have been somewhat similar. Jesus was not trained as a holy teacher. He was a peasant - I think I had read somewhere that he was illiterate, but I am not sure. Anyway, the key point is that he had not studied/was not trained in Jewish scripture. So how was he able to expound on Jewish scripture? Natural question among the knowledge about Jewish scripture people in the temple of Jerusalem. And what a seemingly simple but rock-solid answer, "My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me"! That differentiates the prophet/avatar from the scriptural expert, IMHO.]

Scripture John 7:25-30, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+7%3A1-30&version=NLT

[Ravi: People are completely baffled when they come to see the knowledge and power of super-powerful mystics like Jesus and the Sai Babas. They turn to scripture to see whether these mystics fit the description of future comings of Avatars/prophets in it. If there are some mismatches between what scripture says of the future comings of God/prophets and these super-powerful mystics they see & experience, they become reluctant to accept the latter as Avatar/prophet. How frustrating it would be to the avatars/prophets to convince people of their divinity! Jesus tries to dispel their doubts regarding scripture saying that the messiah will simply appear and as they know Jesus is from Nazareth so Jesus cannot be the messiah! I find these words of Jesus to be profound even if they seem to be simple, "Yes, you know me, and you know where I come from. But I’m not here on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you.". That's why these avatars/prophets are regarded as saviours. They come to a community, and draw people to them, to help them and save them (Hindu view: save them from leading adharmic/sinful lives which will cause them bad karma and so future suffering, and also provide a way for them to escape out of the bondage of samsara and attain freedom through Bhakti (path of devotion) and/or Jnana (path of spiritual knowledge)).]

--- To be continued ---

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Video on the gospel of John - some thoughts

Over the past few days I watched, in parts, The Visual Bible - Gospel of John, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emlHESNWFGI, 2 hr, 53 min, 12 sec. I found it to be a very engrossing and spiritually powerful account of the life and wonders of Jesus Christ. I thought I should put down my thoughts about the video right away, even though they will lack easy-to-refer info. Next, I plan to, on a part time basis, go through the text of the gospel of John, http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/john.htm, and provide my thoughts based on the text readings where I can also easily provide the text references (and extracts).

So here are my thoughts:

*) The divine/paranormal/miraculous powers of Jesus Christ are shown in a simple and matter of fact way.

*) The disbelief of many of the "learned" people - especially the Jewish priestly class in Jerusalem - slowly gives way to acceptance of such powers that Jesus has. I find it to be very interesting that the Jewish leaders tend to accept that Jesus has miraculous power. But those were pre-science days. They questioned those who were the beneficiary of such miracles, and their relatives and then accepted it as true (a person born blind who gets vision due to Jesus's intervention and his parents, are questioned). That then led the debate to whether Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and whether these miracles of Jesus are in keeping with Jewish faith and practice. [While I don't recall this video showing Jesus' detractors raising questions whether his powers were due to (black) magic, I recall that Reza Aslan's book, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, does mention it.]

*) Jesus is heavily critical of some of the Jerusalem Temple practices. Now this Temple was the seat of religious power among the Jews (in Judea, Galilee, Samaria etc. if I got that right) even if military control was under the Roman governor (and so, Roman empire). This challenge of Jesus to the temple authorities including the "finance" guys cannot be tolerated by the existing authorities. [He sets the sacrificial animals free and overturns the tables of the money-changers]. So they plot to have him crucified for rebellion against the Roman emperor - the Jewish Messiah is supposed to be the 'King' of the Jews and their argument is that by claiming to be the Jewish Messiah and so, Jewish King, Jesus is directly challenging the Roman emperor (a serious charge of sedition).

*) The apostles of Jesus are mainly drawn from simple folk. Jesus himself is from the simple peasant folk of Galilee. They see his miracles and believe. But they also get quickly into doubt. Jesus gets frustrated, at times, by the lack of belief in his divinity among his followers.

*) Jesus is viewed as a teacher (rabboni) by his followers. So, while the miracles are a vital part of his advent, his teaching is critical. He heals one person suffering from some terrible sickness but then warns him not to sin again as otherwise he would face such sickness again!

*) Jesus heavily emphasizes the teaching of loving one another, and has a wonderful community good outlook in his dealings with his flock and the people who come to see him. The multiplication of the bread and fish miracle, to me, shows his intense desire to make all the people who come to him happy. How can the hungry be happy? First and foremost, they must be fed - as simple as that. So he does that by an astonishing miracle of multiplication of food.

*) Jesus is deeply concerned about the well-being of his flock after he leaves them (including after his last post-resurrection interaction with the apostles). He is the shepherd and the followers are his sheep who need to be looked after. Peter seems to be given the main responsibility of looking after the flock (according to this gospel, if I got that correctly).

*) The first well-publicized miracle, if I recall correctly, is when Jesus turns water into wine, on the request of his mother to rescue a wedding party host family from embarrassment of the wine having run out.

*) Jesus knows the thoughts of the people around him and shows that he knows it on many occasions. He also says, if I recall correctly, that he is in his followers/disciples and that they are in him. [Perhaps Jesus was in the highly evolved state of consciousness where he identified himself with all around him and thus knew the thoughts of those around him.]

*) Jesus says that he chose his disciples/apostles and that they did not choose him! Very fascinatingly, Jesus knows that Judas Iscariot, who has the money bag responsibility in the flock, will betray him. But he also knows that this must happen and so lets it happen. [I think all kinds of people get drawn to spiritual masters including some chaps with pretty strong negative sides. The truly great thing about spiritual masters which clearly sets them apart from worldly powerful people is that they accept, at least some, negative persons into their community knowing that they will do them bodily (and mental) harm. A Hindu view of the matter may be that it is the Rinanubandha (the bond of karmic debt/relationship across past lives) that draws the spiritual masters' disciples and devotees to him/her, including the ones that eventually turn against the master. The spiritual master sees and knows this Rinanubandha and so accepts such people into his flock even if he/she knows that they will eventually harm him/her and his/her flock.]

*) The resurrection of Jesus is viewed (by this gospel, and perhaps all four canonical gospels) as a great spiritual triumph of Jesus over worldly power. Jesus mentions about this triumph and resurrection just before he is arrested but in an indirect way which the flock does not understand then, but after later events, the flock has a better understanding of Jesus' words.

*) Jesus says many times that he works his miracles through the power that his father gives him. He says that his father has sent him among people to show them the way to eternal life.

*) At times Jesus says that he and his father are one. That gets viewed as blasphemy by many of the public who want to stone him (to death perhaps as that seems to have been the punishment for a man claiming to be God in those times, and even today in some parts of the world).

*) I recall only a few instances in this gospel account where Jesus says that the way to the father is through him alone. My view is that these aspects of the gospel are given far, far more importance by some preachers/teachers of Christianity than they deserve.

--- end points about gospel video ---

I must say that I see a lot of parallel between this gospel account and the devotee experiences of Shirdi Sai Baba and Sathya Sai Baba. Perhaps the essential life and teachings of such super-powerful spiritual masters are the same. It is the following, especially after the physical passing away of the spiritual master, that tends to embellish the legacy with exclusive beliefs and practices that sometimes makes the following a new sect or sometimes even a new religion, instead of infusing faith in the essential/core beliefs and practices of established religions and sects (barring beliefs and practices that are hateful towards other religions and sects).

As an example of embellished legacy I think today's Shirdi Sai Baba temple-masjid practices seem to be predominantly Hindu. Perhaps that attracts larger crowds and that is why these practices have taken root. But, from my humble perspective, the essential Muslim/Sufi aspect of Shirdi Sai Baba where he is supposed to have said Allah Malik very frequently, has got covered up/hidden in the Hindu-type worship practices of the Shirdi Sai temple that we see now. However, the books, including those published by Shirdi Sai Sansthan (Trust), if I am not mistaken, do clearly mention about Shirdi Sai Baba's frequent utterances about Allah and the 'fakir' (Muslim (Sufi) ascetic literally but a reference to God/Allah in this case) whose will/wish he followed/obeyed (as an instrument of God) to work miracles just like Jesus said he followed his father's will/wish (as an instrument of God) to work miracles.