Basic Beliefs of Saint Thomas Christianity
An ancient Chinese text on the history of religions and their doctrines, known as The Glass Mirror, had this to say about Jesus and his teachings: “Yesu, the teacher and founder of the religion, was born miraculously.…His doctrines did not spread extensively, but survived only in Asia.” This the Saint Thomas Christians wholeheartedly believe: The true teachings of Jesus have survived only in India. How is this? Because the teachings of Jesus and the beliefs of Sanatana Dharma were identical, Jesus having studied them in India, and after returning to Israel taught them publicly.
Before embarking on an outline of the various beliefs held by Saint Thomas Christians, it should be made clear that the teachings of Saint Thomas Christianity are not a set of imposed dogmas, but rather a way of spiritual life. Saint Thomas Christians emphasize spiritual practice and the experience and knowledge gained from such practice rather than the intellectual concepts of theology and dogma. Naturally there is a broad framework within which the Saint Thomas Christians pursue their spiritual life, but theological details are left up to the individual. Obviously a person who does not believe in God and in the spiritual legacy of Jesus (see The Christ of India) and the Apostle Thomas (see The Apostle of India) would not become or remain a Saint Thomas Christian. Yet there are certain concepts which, when rightly understood as metaphysical rules of the spiritual road, facilitate the individual’s seeking. They need not be blindly believed, but it helps to accept them provisionally–that is, with an open mind and the understanding that in time the seeker will come to know for himself their truth and relevance.
The Three Eternal Things
Saint Thomas Christians believe that there are three eternal things: the transcendental God beyond creation, the immanent God (Ishwara) and the individual spirits within him, and the eternally cycling creation. And these Three Eternals are the real Father, Son(s), and Holy Spirit.
God is the ever-existent Spirit, the Absolute Consciousness That encompasses all things but is encompassed by none. Therefore God is totally beyond the reach of the human intellect and utterly indefinable or intellectually comprehensible. We can easily say what God is not–for anything we might say will not express him; but we cannot say a single word about what he is.
In Vedic religion, Sanatana Dharma, God is referred to as Brahman, the Absolute Being that is transcendent and beyond any qualities or conditionings whatsoever. However, with the inconsistency that is a marked trait of Eastern thinking, the ancient seers have given us a definition that enables us to get as much of a grasp of God as is possible for our minds. God is said to be Sat-Chit-Ananda: Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss.
God does not exist in the sense that things in relativity exist. Rather, he is existence itself. Or, more to the point, God is the very ground, the basis, of existence, in and through which all things exist. He is the ocean and all else are the waves. “He shining, all things shine,” says the Veda, and: “His shadow is immortality.” God can equally fittingly be called Reality itself.
God is Pure Consciousness, the very Principle of Consciousness itself. He is therefore omniscient–not in the sense of just knowing all things in the present moment, but in the sense of knowing all things whatsoever–past, present, and future–simultaneously. This is because God is outside of time and all things are present to him; nothing is past and nothing is future. God is the Eternal Now. Since all things are known to him, we can say that God is Conscious, as well.
“God is ever-new joy.” This was the definition of God given by the great Master, Paramhansa Yogananda. God is not joyful, he is joy itself. God, then, is ever-existent, infinitely-conscious bliss.
Satchidananda God is infinite, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent; beginningless and endless. Totally outside all things and yet within all things simultaneously. It is this latter statement that gives us a clue as to what we mean by the symbolic titles Father and Son. When we think of God as outside all things we say “Father,” and when we think of God as within all things we say “the Son.” This was not considered absurd in ancient India, for “the father is born in the son” was a current saying in reference to human beings.
It can further be said that when the consciousness of God is turned inward upon his innate status as Satchidananda, we say “the Father;” and when the consciousness of God is turned outward toward creation and all things we call that emanation or expansion of God “the Son.” In some Indian texts we find the expression Mahat Tattwa which means that the Son is the emanation-reflection of the Father within creation, or in the mirror of creation–primordial matter (mulaprakriti).
For anything–including God–to exist in a relative manner there must be a duality, a polarization into positive and negative. Thus, at the very moment of emanation That which has emanated becomes divided into Two: Son and Holy Spirit, the Son being the Divine Positive and the Holy Spirit being the Divine Negative, though both are the Negative to the Positive of God the Father.
Primordial Energy (Mulaprakriti or Mahashakti), the Holy Spirit
God as consciousness is the eternal witness, but he is also the eternal actor or creator. And this he accomplishes through his kriya shakti (power of action) known as prakriti the primordial power or energy, the Holy Breath, the Holy Spirit. This boundless field of vibrating energy is like an ocean which manifests in many waves. Whatever exists is made up of the endless variations of this primal energy. All that can be objectively experienced (and much that seems to be internally experienced, but is actually subtle objectivity) is formed of this divine energy. For Prakriti is not an unconscious or inert substance like a cosmic clay which God sculpts, but is God himself in the form of light, divine radiance.
We can think of it in this way: God by his very nature emits light, that this radiance ever streams forth from him eternally and boundlessly. And this light, “the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9), is itself conscious: for it is God. In the fourteenth century the great Greek theologian-mystic Saint Gregory Palamas wrote about how, without violating in any way his unity, God is both essence and energies in an incomprehensible way. Not that his energies are some kind of external or separate thing–rather it is an extension or expansion of God. Brahman, the Vedic word for God, comes from the root brih, which means “to expand,” so this very idea is implied in Vedic religion as well.
Duality (and Trinity) in the Oneness of God
God is sometimes spoken of as “the Cosmic Egg” in the sense that he is the seed or germ of all life. Specifically, he is called Hiranyagarbha, the Golden Egg, for he shines, sending forth the radiance (tejas) that is the Great Energy, Mahashakti. And this energy is not an agent or instrument of God, but is God. Thus God is both absolutely one and absolutely two. This state of things is referred to in a mantra that is recited daily by Hindus:
Purna means “total, full, complete,” which is what our English term “perfect” used to mean, rather than just “without fault.” In this verse, the word “complete” (purna) refers to God. Here, as best I can, is a translation into English:
This is the Complete; That is the Complete.
The Complete has come out of the Complete.
If we take the Complete away from the Complete,
Only the Complete remains.
Let us say it another way: the Absolute is the Totality; the Relative is the Totality. The Relative has emanated from the Absolute. Yet if we take away either of these and consider only the one or the other, we will find that each is the Totality; even more, we will discover that the Absolute is the Relative, and the Relative is the Absolute.
We can say it still another way: the Son is infinite God, the Father is infinite God. The Son has emanated from the Father. If we consider the Father alone, we will discover he is all there is of the Godhead, and is the Son as well. If we do the same with the Son, we will find that he is all there is of the Godhead, and is the Father. The same is true of the Holy Spirit, also.
It may tend to make our heads spin, but we have to realize that the unity and the duality (or trinity) are equally true, and that to ascribe either unity or duality (or trinity) to God exclusive of the other is to be mistaken. When we really know the Son, we know the Son is the Father, and when we really know the Father, we know the Father is the Son. When we really know the Holy Spirit we know she is the Father, the Son, and herself! To reject one is to reject the other(s), to accept one is to accept the other(s). For they are truly ONE.
Another point brought out by this is the impossibility of any actual conflict between the views of God as personal or impersonal, immanent or transcendent. The person who knows the impersonal knows that also is the personal. And those who know the personal, know that he and she are also the impersonal.
Back to Satchidananda
Satchidananda also indicates the triune nature of God (Reality). Sat refers to God the Father, the transcendent absolute. Chit refers to God the Son, who is conscious of both the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as all “things” within them, including the individual souls such as you and me. Ananda refers to the Holy Spirit, the Mother, the vibrating power of God, the whole range of relative existence within whose womb are contained those souls that are evolving unto the status of sons of God. Both the coming into and the departing from her realm are births given the souls by their true Mother, the Holy Spirit.
Om Tat Sat
Om Tat Sat is a mantric formula usually spoken at the end of some act as a dedication of that act to God. It, too, refers to the Trinity, but in a different order. Om is the indicator of cosmic vibration itself and so refers to the vibratory divine life that is the Holy Spirit. Tat–which means “that”–refers to the Son whom we can speak of and even perceive as an object. Sat is “the real” (or “the true”) that is existence itself, and consequently refers to the Father.
The Individual Souls (Jivas)
You and I are part of the Second Eternal. We are gods, exact images of the God, also consisting of three aspects that are a miniature Trinity. We, too, consist of consciousness and energy, and our consciousness is also divided into father and son. That is, we are resting in the awareness of our own purely spiritual being and at the same time we are aware of our own tejas-radiance that is an extension of our own self as vibratory energy (shakti). Just as God is clothed in the evolving universe of many levels–physical, astral, and causal–so we are clothed in the various energy levels that are usually called “bodies.”
As human beings we presently have five bodies (koshas): the annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, jnanamaya, and anandamaya koshas. The annamaya body is the physical body formed of atomic matter. The pranamaya body consists of neurological and biomagnetic energies and is the seat of the emotions. The manomaya body is the energy field that is the sensory or percepting mind. The jnanamaya body is the even subtler energy field that is the intellect (sometimes called the buddhi). The anandamaya body is the primal energy that manifests as the will. All of these have many more aspects than outlined here, and they all consist of many layers within themselves, very much like an onion. All are composed of our personal energy field and are pervaded by our objective consciousness that is the Son as distinguished from our subjective consciousness that is the Father.
In the upanishads it is stated that the human being is like a fruit tree in which two birds are sitting. One bird is eating the fruit of the tree while the other witnesses–and actually experiences–its eating. The tree and its fruit are our bodies; the bird that eats the fruit is the aspect of our consciousness that is involved in external experience; and the other bird is the silent witness aspect of our consciousness untouched by all phenomena–perceiving all but perceived by none but itself and God. This simile also can be applied to the archetypal Trinity.
It should be understood that God is conscious of creation, and we are conscious of our bodies and the creation with which they come into contact, because creation and our bodies are actually themselves consciousness–extensions of God and us. Although often appearing (acting) as inert and unconscious, the energy of which all things consist is intelligent consciousness. This is essential for our understanding of the who and the what of ourselves as well as our reactions to all things.
The souls and their energies exist eternally in God. Originally we were in the Bosom of the Father (John 1:18), within the very heart or depths of the infinite consciousness that is God. But, since we are image-reflections of that God whose very nature is action through the evolving creation, we, too, seek to evolve beyond our innate finite scope of consciousness in order to develop the capacity to experience infinite consciousness, the very consciousness of God. We cannot become God, but through the evolution of our various bodies we can develop the ability to share in the limitless being and consciousness that is the essential being of God. We can come to see with the eye of God, to hear with the ear of God, to think with the mind of God, and to know with the consciousness of God.
To accomplish this the individual soul comes out from the heart of God and enters into the creation, the dynamic life of the Holy Spirit. In this way it begins, through a series of rebirths, a seemingly infinite chain of manifestation-embodiments, evolving through increasingly complex forms to expand its innate capacity for experience, until it reaches the point where it can consciously re-enter the realm of God and participate fully in the divine omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. The soul thus becomes totally godlike, but in no way does it become God. It becomes one with God, but it does not become the same as God. A soul that has attained this state is rightly called a son of God. And if such a one returns to earth to help others to attain the same status he is an avatara who can say with the Lord Jesus: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
The Soul and Its Destiny
The nature of the soul is as much an incomprehensible mystery to the intellect as is the nature of God. This is because both are eternal–and therefore beyond the grasp of the temporal intellect–and both are one. The nature of that oneness is equally incomprehensible. Throughout the ages multitudes have pointlessly wrangled with one another over definitions of this oneness which by its very nature is indefinable.
It is the teaching of Saint Thomas Christianity that the existence of the individual spirit is rooted in God, the infinite Spirit, that God is himself the root of the individual spirit’s existence. Yet a distinction exists. God encompasses all individual spirits, but none encompass him. God and the individual spirit are not two, but one. Yet there is a distinction between them. The great Master Tung-Shan, founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism, wrote:
If you look for the truth outside yourself, it gets farther and farther away.
Today, walking alone, I meet him everywhere I step.
He is the same as me, yet I am not him.
Only if you understand it in this way will you merge with the way things are.
(Note how theistic this poem is despite the modern insistence that Zen is atheistic.)
As has been said, this status is simply incomprehensible. There is eternal unity and there is eternal diversity. Yet this diversity is not in any sense a duality. The individual spirits are absolutely and irrevocably inseparable from God. There is the beginningless and endless existence of God and all spirits. There is also the distinction-within-unity that is the present and eternal status of the individualized spirits in relation to God. There was never a time when the individualized spirits did not exist as individualized spirits, nor at any time in the future shall this mode of existence cease to be, as Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita (2:12). What shall cease to be is the limitation of consciousness when the individual spirits attain perfect unity with God in the sharing of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The true Gospel of Christ is the call to divine perfection, to the “knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). It is this “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), which impels the Saint Thomas Christian to affirm: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [mirror] the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2).
Simple as it is, Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s statement regarding the status of the sons of God is perhaps the best: “they consciously live and move freely and without limit within God.” This is supported by the following experience of Saint Ambrose of Optina, a Russian Orthodox saint of the last century.
“Suddenly I was in another world, quite unknown to me, never seen by me, never imagined by me. Around me there is bright, white light! Its transcendence is so pure and enticing that I am submerged, along with my perception, into limitless depths and cannot satisfy myself with my admiration for this realm, cannot completely fill myself with its lofty spirituality. Everything is so full of beauty all around. So endearing this life–so endless the way. I am being swept across this limitless, clear space. My sight is directed upwards, does not descend anymore, does not see anything earthly. The whole of the heavenly firmament has transformed itself before me into one general bright light, pleasing to the sight.
“But I do not see the sun. I can see only its endless shining and bright light. The whole space in which I glide without hindrance, without end, without fatigue, is filled with white, just as is its light and beautiful beings, transparent as a ray of the sun. And through them I am admiring this limitless world. The images of all these beings unknown to me are infinitely diverse and full of beauty.
“I also am white and bright as they are. Over me, as over them, there reigns eternal rest. Not a single thought of mine is any longer enticed by anything earthly, not a single beat of my heart is any longer moving with human cares or earthly passion. I am all peace and rapture. But I am still moving in this infinite light, which surrounds me without change. There is nothing else in the world except for the white, bright light and these equally radiant numberless beings. But all these beings do not resemble me, nor are similar to each other; they are all endlessly varied and compellingly attractive. Amidst them, I feel myself incredibly peaceful. They evoke in me neither fear, nor amazement, nor trepidation. All that we see here does not agitate us, does not amaze us. All of us here are as if we have belonged to each other for a long time, are used to each other and are not strangers at all. We do not ask questions, we do not speak to each other about anything. We all feel and understand that there is nothing novel for us here. All our questions are solved with one glance, which sees everything and everyone. There is no trace of the wars of passions in anyone. All move in different directions, opposite to each other, not feeling any limitation, any inequality, or envy, or sorrow, or sadness. One peace reigns in all the images of entities. One light is endless for all. Oneness of life is comprehensible to all.
“My rapture at all this superseded everything. I sank into this eternal rest. No longer was my spirit disturbed by anything. And I knew nothing else earthly. None of the tribulations of my heart came to mind, even for a minute. It seemed that everything that I had experienced before on earth never existed. Such was my feeling in this new radiant world of mine. And I was at peace and joyful and desired nothing better for myself. All my earthly thoughts concerning fleeting happiness in the world died in this beautiful life, new to me, and did not come back to life again. So it seemed to me at least, there, in that better world.
“But how I came back here–I do not recall. What transitory state it was, I do not know. I only felt that I was alive, but I did not remember the world in which I lived before on earth. This did not seem at all to be a dream. Actually, about earthly things I no longer had the least notion. I only felt that the present life is mine, and that I was not a stranger in it. In this state of spirit I forgot myself and immersed myself in this light-bearing eternity. And this timelessness lasted without end, without measure, without expectation, without sleep, in this eternal rest. Thus it seemed to me that there would not be any kind of change.”
For this is what is meant in the book of Job about that state “when the morning stars sing together, and all the sons of God shout for joy” (Job 38:7).
The Three are One
Before leaving this subject of the Three Eternals we should recall that from the standpoint of God these three are one in an incomprehensible manner, though from the standpoint of the individual soul these three are distinct from one another. The Ocean of God is one, but the waves of creation and the souls are many. The great non-dual philosopher Shankaracharya wrote: “O Lord, I belong to Thee, but Thou dost not belong to me. For the ocean can say ‘I am the wave,’ but the wave cannot say ‘I am the ocean.’” The Master Yogananda used to say that we can say “God has become me,” but we cannot say “I am God.” Accordingly, Saint Thomas Christians consider that the viewpoints of Advaita (Non-dualism), Vashistadvaita (Qualified Non-dualism), and Dwaita (Dualism) are all three true when taken together, but that when one or two of them is ignored or overemphasized error is the result. Furthermore, no one of the three is the right, best, or highest view. For ultimately all viewing vanishes into being.
This entire process of evolution that has been set forth above is possible only through the two laws of reincarnation and karma.
Although reincarnation is commonly represented in the West as being an exclusively Hindu or Buddhist belief, it is not. (See our publications May a Christian Believe in Reincarnation? and Esoteric Christian Insights Into Reincarnation.) Reincarnation is a tenet of orthodox Judaism, wherein it is called gilgul or ha’atakah, and was so at the time of Jesus.
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:1-3).
In this passage we learn that the Apostles of Jesus believed that a person’s situation in life is determined by his actions–in this case seemingly negative–committed before birth: that is, in a previous life. Although the man’s blindness was for the glory of God, the Lord said, “neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents,” implying that the man had certainly existed, and been capable of sinning, before the present birth in which he was blind.
Speaking to a crowd about John the Baptist, Jesus told them: “This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.…And if you will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come” (Matthew 11:10, 14). Later “His disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them,…I say to you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed.…Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:10, 12, 13).
The purpose of reincarnation is for us to grow and evolve spiritually until we return to the Godhead from whence we came. Each life is the result of the ones preceding it and is shaped accordingly–not in the sense of reward or punishment, but as precise mathematical reaction to our actions in those previous lives. We reap what we sowed in them through the exercise of our free wills. Though we may forget it, we are at all times masters of our destiny and not at all swept along blindly by karma–which is really our own creation.
Equally, if not more important, is the fact that every experience and action in our previous births produces a shaping of our personal energies which manifest mostly as the personality. These shapings, called samskaras, are likened to impressions made in wax or clay that momentarily impart a distinctive shape or character, yet are erased and overwritten with other impressions in an endless succession of changes. So karma and samskara are the two determinants of the quality and character of each reincarnation.
The Implication of Karma
The individual soul, being endowed with free, creative will according to the divine image, must also shoulder the responsibility for that will–the responsibility being in the form of the irrevocable law: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). The law is that we must receive back whatever we sow, not just some kind of reaction. This is reinforced by God’s own words when he told Noah: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6). Retribution must be in the form of experiencing exactly what we have done to others–no substitute. For the Lord Jesus was not just putting forth a social directive when he said: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). He was simply restating the Law that whatever you do to others will in turn be done to you. And since “he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap” (Galatians 6:8), reincarnation is an absolute necessity, to provide us the flesh in which to reap what we have sown. It would be appropriate for a Saint Thomas Christian to use the term “sowing and reaping,” but “karma” is much shorter.
As said in the first chapter, Saint Thomas Christians hold that the twin laws of karma and rebirth as understood in Hinduism are the fundamental truths about human existence, and without them no religious or personal philosophy can be either true or viable.
Who Was–And Is–Jesus?
In Vedic religion it is believed that the human race had more than one set of foreparents. It appears from the accounts given in Genesis that the inhabitants of the Mesopatamian and Mediterranean areas as well as those regions to their north were the descendants of Adam and Eve. These are the very people that, without exception, became Christians in the first centuries after Christ. The reason is evident: their profound ancestral link to Jesus. (See Robe of Light.)
The Nishmath Chaim (Fol. 152, col. 2), a book contemporary with Jesus and the Apostles which would have been studied by Saint Paul, says: “The sages of truth remark that Adam contains the initial letters of Adam, David, and Messiah; for after Adam sinned his soul passed into David, and the latter having also sinned, it passed into the Messiah.”
He who was Jesus of Nazareth was Adam. When Adam “fell,” he was in Paradise, the astral plane immediately above the physical creation. But the alteration in consciousness which resulted from his transgression rendered him unable to function in that subtle world, so he sank back down into the physical plane, through which he had already evolved before entering Paradise. In Genesis we read: “And for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (Genesis 4:21). Although many now take this to mean that they were given clothes as the cavemen are depicted wearing, Christians originally understood that the real meaning of this verse was that God created physical bodies–the human organism–for Adam and Eve to inhabit, and thus they continued in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth upon the earth.
The Old Testament is the account of Adam’s evolving to become the Christ. Adam evolved through life after life as Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elisha, and Isaiah. Ascending to and evolving beyond higher and higher worlds, at last he passed through the final barrier of the angelic (cherubic) planes and attained perfect union with the Father/Son aspect of God. From this point the soul normally passes into total union with the pure, transcendent Being of the Father, ending the evolutionary cycle, but it was not so for Adam. He was in debt: a debt owed to all of his descendants, one of such magnitude that it could only be paid by one of infinite consciousness–which Adam now was.
So Adam returned, of necessity, to our earth plane in his ninth earthly incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Messiah)–not only paying the debt, but showing and opening the Way to the Father for his children, many of whom were, through rebirth, by that time scattered throughout the earth.
When Jesus told his apostles to make disciples among all nations he was not meaning that the whole world was to be converted to Christianity, but that they should seek out those who in past lives had been his descendants and been negatively affected by the fall of Adam. He was referring to them when he had told them: “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold [of Israel]: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). He did not mean that the entire human race was to become Christian.
When Saint Paul speaks of Jesus as being the “second man [Adam]…from heaven” (I Corinthians 15:47). he speaks quite literally, and not figuratively. He also speaks literally about Adam paying his debt: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:21, 22. This subject is covered in greater detail in Robe of Light). Does this mean, then, that Jesus is only a man, and not the Son of God? No. Jesus positively is the Son of God. And so shall we all be Sons of God like him. But first he was a man–one of the foreparents of the human race, as we have said. Then he ascended to divinity, attaining perfect union with God.
The real good news (which is what “gospel” means) is that as Adam passed from fallen ignorance and sin unto perfect Divinity, so shall his disciples do the same through him. Jesus affirmed this when he told the Apostles: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Later, to his Beloved Apostle John, he said: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). As it was with Jesus, so shall it be with us. The passage from humanity to divinity–to Christhood–is the real essence of Saint Thomas Christian belief. The life of the Lord Jesus as given in the four Gospels is also a symbolic mystery drama showing how the soul of each person becomes a Christ–an anointed of the Lord.
Again, we are saying that Jesus the Christ was once a human being just like us, but is now in the status of Son of God, just as we shall be. Saint John wrote: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2). That is, when we “see” God (the Father) through union with him, we shall be perfectly transmuted into his image and likeness and thus truly become the sons of God, hearing the words: “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalms 2:7, Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, 5:5) in mystic vision. This is the very thing that happened to Adam/Jesus, which is why he is called “the first-fruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20).
What is Jesus to the Saint Thomas Christians?
Saint Thomas Christians worship only God, to Whom Jesus has pointed them. Therefore they love and revere him without reservation in the way that other sampradayas, such as those of Shankara, Ramanuja, and Madhavacharya, honor and even venerate their founder-acharyas. But they remember Saint Paul’s plain statement that Jesus is “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). That is, he is our Elder Brother. “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:11 ). Because we and Jesus are “all of one”–that is, of one nature as individual souls, we are his brethren. In India the eldest brother is given respect almost equal to the father of the household. Saint Thomas Christians therefore give supreme honor to Lord Jesus, but they do not mistake the son for the Father.
He himself has also told us that we are his friends (John 15:13, 14), and that “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15). For it is his intention that we should become exactly what he is. That this is possible, the Beloved Apostle makes clear when he says: “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.…He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous” (I John 2:6, 3:3, 7).
The Lord Jesus is to the Saint Thomas Christians brother, friend, teacher and guide. He teaches them not only through his recorded words, but through the omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence of God in which he now shares. This being true, Jesus is the Master of each Saint Thomas Christian. For Jesus is ever present with and within them as an ever-living Presence. Each Saint Thomas Christian is as fully a disciple of Jesus as was Saint Thomas. Hence Jesus is verily the Way, the Truth, and the Life of each Saint Thomas Christian in his journey back to the Father (John 14:6).
The Goal and the Way
Saint Thomas Christianity holds out only one goal to its initiates: the realization and manifestation of their innate Christhood. Jesus the Christ of Nazareth came to earth to reveal the Christhood which is the destiny of every person. It is our own personal Christhood that is our Savior, as Saint Paul said: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” But this inner Christ must be awakened and developed unto perfection. This is accomplished by the means of empowerment and spiritual enlightenment known as the sacraments, and especially by the practice of meditation.
In the opening of his Gospel, Saint John wrote: “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). “In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren” (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus became like us in all things, and through the sacraments and meditation we are empowered to “grow up into him in all things, ” (Ephesians 4:15), becoming like Saint Thomas his “twin” in all things. For that is what it means to be a “Saint Thomas Christian.” We become interpenetrated with the Christ Consciousness of Jesus and assimilate It into our own consciousness.
This accomplishes the following five things within the individual disciple:
- It frees him from negative psychic bonds.
- It deeply cleanses him from the negative energy patterns (“sins”) which have been stored up in his physical and psychic bodies from his past lives as well as the present one and that have hitherto obscured his spiritual vision.
- All of his bodies are infused with positive energies, attuning and enlivening them for his conscious spiritual growth.
- Every atom of his physical and psychic makeup is clothed in the divine creative Light that is the Holy Spirit, empowering them for the fullest degree of evolution.
- An entirely new dimension is added to his being in which he can begin to function in the higher worlds while yet on the earth plane.
Such a process is both a rebirth and a re-creation. “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matthew 13:33). Consciousness begins to pervade all the levels of our being to awaken our own consciousness and transmute us into Christs, which is exactly what being a Christian is all about. What is needed is for us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Matthew 13:33).
The Holy Eucharist is their usual form of external worship, but true worship is understood by the Saint Thomas Christians as a means of linking lower consciousness with higher consciousness, the human with the divine. In Greek it is proskuneo, and in Sanskrit, upasana. Upasana means “to draw near.” Proskuneo also means to draw near, but includes the idea of doing so with love. It is related to prosekho, which means to fix the awareness upon an object, to become conscious of something. From these three terms we gain an exact and pragmatic understanding of worship: the process of lovingly fixing our attention upon God and thereby being drawn closer into communication with him–not mere conversation or verbal exchange, but the communication to us of divine qualities and divine consciousness. In other words, true worship is an act which accomplishes an assimilation of higher consciousness. To rightly worship God is to become god–to bring about the union of our finite being with the infinite being in so perfect a unity that we can truthfully say with Jesus: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Consequently, the Saint Thomas Christians consider that meditation is the most appropriate and effective worship of God.
In the tradition of the Christian East the word commonly used for meditation is the Greek word Hesychia: the Silence. Though usually translated “the silence,” Hesychia also means “the stillness.” A perfect symbol of this is given in the book of Acts: “He commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38). To make the chariot of the mind stand still and descend into the stream of the inmost consciousness, to be baptized in the Silence, is to be baptized in Christ, in the Word, and to be truly Christed (Christened). “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27 ).
The aspiration to Christhood is truly marvelous. And as Saint John the Beloved Disciple tells us, “every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (I John 3:3), for only the cleansed and purified mirror reflects the Divine Visage. Therefore purification–continual purification–is necessary for those who aspire to regain their original purity of spirit, praying with Jesus: “O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5).
Purification takes many forms, but for the Saint Thomas Christian it is purification and refinement of the energies of his various levels of being–physical, astral, and causal–that is of major importance in his endeavor for spiritual transmutation. This being so, purification of the body is essential, especially through observance of personal morality–a life led according to the principles of moral purity.
Truth and Morality
Truth is the basis of the Saint Thomas Christian’s moral purity–truthfulness with himself and with others. For this reason he does his best to always speak and think the truth, as well as to live out the principles of truth in all aspects of his life. Honesty in all his dealings with others–especially in the making of his livelihood–is an extension of his commitment to truth. Application of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes–understood in both their exoteric and esoteric meanings–form the basis of his life in the material and spiritual realms. The Gnosis of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, contains full expositions of the esoteric nature of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.
Of even more importance are Ten Commandments of Yoga, the Five Abstentions (Yama) and the Five Observances (Niyama) mandated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. They are:
- ahimsa–non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
- satya–truthfulness, honesty
- asteya–non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
- aparigraha–non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
- shaucha–purity, cleanliness
- santosha–contentment, peacefulness
- tapas–austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
- swadhyaya–introspective self-study, spiritual study
- Ishwarapranidhana–offering of one’s life to God
“Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself” (Isaiah 55:2).
All levels of our personal being, from the physical body to the subtle energy levels known as the astral and causal bodies, are derived almost exclusively from food. Our spiritual quest is therefore greatly facilitated by wise eating–that is, by the diet that best supports the quest for conscious evolution and the attainment of the highest states of consciousness. That quest and attainment demand a degree of purification that can only be achieved through total abstinence from meat (including fish and eggs), alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs (legal or otherwise). Because of their darkening, deadening, and paralyzing psychic effects, these substances are known as the Four Soul Killers.
Abstinence from the Four Soul Killers is essential for the fundamental purification, stabilization, and strengthening of the outer and inner bodies–whose very substance is drawn from food. An aspirant to Christhood must break his addiction to those destructive things. And perpetual abstinence is necessary to maintain the transformative spiritual life. Since we are dealing with evolution which occurs neither by whim nor mere wish, but by precise laws, the need for such abstinence cannot be mitigated or abrogated.
- God not only created humans and animals, he decreed the diet for them. “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so” (Genesis 1:29, 30). From this we see that neither humans nor animals are natural flesh-eaters. To be so is to violate the divine pattern.
- The eating of meat directly opposes the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). God did not qualify his prohibition by adding the words: “human beings.” Killing is prohibited strictly “across the board.” The Hebrew word translated “kill” is tirtzach, which according to The Complete Hebrew/English Dictionary means: “any kind of killing whatsoever.”
- God himself has spoken on the severity of slaughtering cattle: “He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man” (Isaiah 66:3). No need for interpretation. It is quite clear: To kill a cow is as homicide in God’s eyes. Why? Because that cow is as real and viable a person as you and I, with just as much right to earth life for evolution as anyone else. And if we do not think that God values cattle with humans, consider his words to Jonah: “Should I not pity Ninevah, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11).
- “For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offense. It is good neither to eat meat or drink wine….” (Romans 14:20, 21).
- The oldest known version of the Gospels is in Aramaic, the actual language which Christ spoke. The text of Luke 21:34 in this version reads: “Now take care in your souls that you never make your hearts heavy by eating flesh and by drinking wine.”
In the early centuries of Christianity vegetarianism was the norm according to such authoritative persons as Saint Jerome, Papias, Tertullian, Saint Benedict, Saint Clement, Eusebius, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Cyprian, Saint Pantaenus, and Saint Basil the Great. Their words on the subject are found in Christian Vegetarianism and The Four Soul Killers. In a homily on the Gospel of Matthew, Saint John Chrysostom said: “Flesh meats and wine serve as materials for sensuality and are a source of danger, sorrow, and disease.” Saint Jerome, virtually quoting Saint Paul, wrote: “It is a good thing not to drink wine and not to eat flesh.” Saint Basil the Great wrote: “With sober living, well-being increases in the household, animals are in safety, there is no shedding of blood, nor putting animals to death.” The historian Hegesippus records that Saint James of Jerusalem “drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh.” Origen wrote: “I believe that animal sacrifices were invented by men to be a pretext for eating flesh.”
In point of fact, all the Saint Thomas Christian spiritual practices–particularly meditation–require a clarity and subtlety of perception that can only be obtained through scrupulous abstinence from meat, fish, eggs, nicotine, alcohol, and mind-affecting drugs. The pure and life-supporting elements of vegetables, grains, fruits, pure water, and juices constitute the diet of the Saint Thomas Christian. In this way he fosters his physical, mental, and spiritual health.
One of the most important effects of a pure diet is the ease and effectiveness the Saint Thomas Christian experiences in his practice of meditation and the other spiritual observances. For this reason–and not from prejudice or mere disciplinary stringency–strict dietary abstinence is one of the most valuable aspects of the Saint Thomas Christian’s life. Fortunately, the positive effects of a pure diet are soon perceived by him.
The most important part of the Saint Thomas Christian’s diet is his spiritual diet: the practice of meditation through which he expands his consciousness, receives ineffable enlivening within all the levels of his being, and enters into complete Communion with God–thus working mightily toward the revelation of his own Christhood.
(For the health aspect of vegetarianism, we recommend What’s Wrong With Eating Meat? by Vistara Parham (PCAP Publications, Corona, New York), and Diet For a New America by John Robbins (Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, New Hampshire).
Life in the Spirit
All these observances are beneficial to the Saint Thomas Christian in ways unrealized until they are put into practice. Then they are the wings on which he rises to his goal, opening for himself the pathways to higher consciousness. If the right seeds are sown now, in time we shall reap the harvest of everlasting life.
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).
- The Yoga of the Sacraments — An illuminating analysis of the Christian Sacraments from the Yogi’s perspective. By Abbot George Burke.
- Robe of Light — “Where am I?…How did I get here?” is more than a trite line from nineteenth century melodramas and novels. It is a query put forth by potential sages throughout the history of conscious mankind. When asked on a cosmic scale, it is bold indeed: What is this universe I keep finding myself in, and how did I get here? That is answered by esoteric Christian cosmology outlined in this article. By Abbot George Burke.
- The Gnosis of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes — The Ten Commandments give a complete picture of what is needed to extricate ourselves from the currents of the lefthand path and the Beatitudes show the means of entering the righthand path, the path of true blessedness. These articles give unique insights into these often misunderstood spiritual foundations. By Abbot George Burke.
- Religion for Awakening — A profound study in practical truth by F. W. Pigott, an esoteric Christian bishop within the Liberal Catholic Church in Great Britain who wrote in the first half of the twentieth century. This is an edited–and occasionally adapted–version, edited by Abbot George Burke.
- The Esoteric Christian Creed — Bishops Wedgwood and Leadbeater were adherents of the Non-dual (Advaita) philosophy of India as uncompromisingly taught by Madame Blavatsky, with whom Leadbeater lived for several years in India. This creed embodies that esoteric view.