Previously published in “Touchstones,” Sunstone Magazine. March 2011. p 13
For some reason, I’m always on the end of a trend, so I had not read anything by Deepak Chopra until his 2008 book, The Third Jesus. As a lifelong Mormon, I’ve endured many Gospel Doctrine classes where time was spent speculating on how a few fish and a couple of loaves of bread could feed thousands or how water could be changed into wine. Accustomed to such tedium, I felt wonderfully liberated to read Chopra’s non-Christian take on the four Gospels—one that emphasizes message over miracles. Scriptures, like poetry, have layered nuances of meaning. Seeing the Gospels through Hindu eyes takes me beyond familiar LDS interpretation to discover new meanings relevant to my spiritual growth.
Like Mormons, Chopra believes the early Church changed the character of many of Jesus’s teachings, with many of the changes emphasizing “worship over self-transformation, prayer over meditation, and faith over inner-growth.”
As a Hindu, Deepak Chopra sees Jesus as an enlightened person, a person living in God-consciousness, rather than as a divine Savior. Chopra interprets Jesus’s statement, “I am the Light of the world” to mean he existed in a state of God-consciousness or total unity with God—a unity available to all. Likewise, Jesus’s claim, “the Kingdom of God is within you” is much like the Eastern idea of God residing within each person.
In support of this view, Chopra moves beyond the four Gospels of the Bible and includes quotations from the Gospel of Thomas, an early Christian text discovered at the Nag Hammadi site. Many verses from Thomas support the idea of the light of God residing within each person—a thought close to the Mormon belief about “light of Christ.”
Mormons tend to interpret the injunction, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” to mean keeping every commandment scrupulously. Chopra interprets that scripture as a call to substitute karma—the law that gives us back what we deserve—with grace. With unconditional love, God gives us better than we deserve. In Matthew, Christ tells us that God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Chopra believes Jesus is telling his followers to live on a higher plane—to extend grace and love as God loves.
Jesus’s advice to “resist not evil” is difficult to explain from a Christian viewpoint. Christianity is based on overcoming evil. Eastern religious philosophy, however, rejects this duality, seeing the universe as a whole, rather than as a conflict between good and evil. Chopra tells how evil has power over us only if we give it power. Furthermore, we cannot conquer evil, and struggling against it only intensifies its power. He believes that instead of trying to overcome evil, Jesus was telling us to rise above evil when it is manifest in others and to accept and deal constructively with our own negative tendencies.
When we Mormons fail to live up to Gospel standards, we often believe we’ve succumbed to evil—to the temptations of Satan. Chopra explains that regression in living up to our potential of God-consciousness is part of being human. I suspect that guilt, while it may motivate some people to improve their behavior, causes many more to give up on themselves and abandon religious influence in their lives.
Jesus speaks often of faith, a virtue less emphasized in Eastern religions. Christian religions, following Jesus’s example, emphasize faith as the key to meriting blessings. Chopra bridges the gap by suggesting that Jesus’s references to faith are best understood as referring to a higher state of God-consciousness where “faith in God becomes the same as faith in yourself.”
Luke 14:31-33 is one of Jesus’s less familiar parables. He tells of a king preparing for war. Finding he is outnumbered, the king sues for peace. Jesus then admonishes his followers that no one can become his disciple without giving up all he possesses.
Chopra takes this story in a completely new direction; however, and interprets the enemy in this story as death, with Jesus advocating that the wisest course is to make peace with death long before it calls for you. I think of my elderly aunt, blind and in dementia following a stroke, yet struggling to stay alive—afraid to fall asleep for fear she won’t awaken. I wish she could have reconciled herself to the inevitability of death rather than hoping to live until the Second Coming when people will be changed to an immortal state in the twinkling of an eye.
The point of reading the New Testament isn’t to prove or disprove the literalness of its content. The point is to find a message to help us better understand ourselves and our relationship to God. Chopra writes, “Spirit, like water, remains fresh only if it flows.” Scripture moves us only when we allow it to speak to us with new insights—and sometimes another person’s point of view stimulates these insights. Chopra has moved my image of Jesus from white-robed perfection to a human being. One I can relate to.