Forms assumed by the Lord for his devotees
This is the evening of the third day after Friday, the day of the crucifixion, and it is the day when Christ made the first of a number of appearances to his disciples. They were not expecting anything of the sort – in fact when Mary Magdalene and others first reported what they had seen, the closest disciples did not believe them. Mary herself had not been expecting it; she talked to a man whom she thought must be the gardener. He must have been wearing the clothes of a gardener, and he would not have been wounded in hands and feet and side.
The two disciples whom Christ accompanied from Jerusalem seven miles to Emmaus, explaining how the sufferings of the Messiah had been predicted in the scriptures, felt their hearts on fire with what he said, but they did not recognise him. The Gospel says distinctly that he was in a different guise; he must have been wearing the clothes of a middle citizen. Only when he went into the inn with them at their insistence, and broke the bread, did they know who he was. Then they hastened back to Jerusalem, and found that he had appeared to Peter at the same time as he had been with them.
He repeatedly reproached them, with strong words, for their dullness and unbelieving hearts, because they had not had faith in the first reports about his rising. He added that blessed are they who have faith before they have the actual vision. Dr Shastri in the same way said how disappointed with themselves will be the emotional sceptics who do not throw off their pre-conceptions; he told his disciples to have faith and perform the practices, to confirm their faith by direct experience.
Christ resurrected insisted on eating something in front of them, to show that it had not been an illusion, but had the same reality as things of the world. After he disappeared they would have seen the food half eaten. In the same way when he appeared by the lake as they were fishing without catching anything, he told them where to cast their nets, which came up bursting with fish. This showed that the vision was not something created by their own minds, because it brought new knowledge not available to their minds.
These were not hallucinations, but forms assumed by the Lord for his devotees, as the Gita says. Shri Dada told the public: “The physical form of Rama is in Vaikuntha, but his vibrations are ever around and within us … you can have a vision of his materialised personality, anywhere and at any time, if your devotion to him is complete.” And he himself had such visions. On the same point, Shankara quotes the Yoga-Sutra as an authority: `From study of the scriptures and repetition of OM (svadhyaya), a meeting with the sought-after deity.’ The form is not necessarily a human one; when Christ appeared to Paul, it was as a light and a voice, and the Lord appeared to Arjuna as the whole universe.
The meaning of these appearances was not just to demonstrate the fact of survival after death. That had been done with the raising of Lazarus. He told his disciples that his purpose was glorification of God, and to Pilate he said that it was to bear witness to the truth. Pilate, as an upper class Roman, would have spent three years of his education in rhetoric, arguing just such points as truth, and whether absolute justice was compatible with wisdom or not. They were taught to argue both sides of the case with equal skill. When Jesus spoke of witnessing to the truth, it must have carried Pilate back to his student days, and saying casually `What is truth?’ he went out to tell the priests that he found no case against the prisoner.
By truth Christ did not mean anything like a proposition of rhetoric; he meant a new consciousness. In the meeting on Sunday evening when he appears to the disciples, the Gospel says that he breathed on them and said `Receive the Holy Spirit!’ St Paul hints that this breathing was like the breathing of the breath of life into the newly created Adam. Jesus had referred to this breathing of the holy spirit at the Last Supper, but in an apparently completely contradictory way:
`It is for your good that I am leaving you. If I do not go, your Helper will not come, whereas if I go, I will send him to you . . . When he comes, who is the spirit of truth, he will guide you into all the truth; he will not speak on his own authority but will tell only what he hears, and he will make known to you the things that are coming.’
`I will ask the Father and he will give you another to be your helper, who will be with you for ever-the spirit of truth.’
In these words, as in many places he makes a separation: the disciples, the Father, Christ himself, and the spirit of truth, whom he will ask the Father to send to the disciples.
But in almost the same passage he says, `You know that spirit of truth; because he abides with you, and is in you.’ As in many of Christ’s teachings, the hearers were expected to think and ponder, and finally search in the depths of their own experience for the answer. On the surface the riddle is: If the holy spirit abides with them and is in them already, why does he say `If I do not go, the holy spirit will not come to you’? Why does he have to ask the Father to send the holy spirit of truth, when it is already with them and in them?
The same contradiction appears in the Gita when it says for example “Fly unto the Lord for refuge with all thy being”, and in the next verse “The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings.” Shankara explains on the mental level:
`By Yoga the supreme Self, which is his own Self, is attained. For the Self, though one’s own, is not realised as the supreme by a consciousness borne off by defects like anger, and it is as though unattained by the people. Therefore let a man practise Yoga to attain it.’
The yogic interpretation of Christ’s words is that for the karma yogi, the disciple and the Lord are two; he worships the Lord as other than himself. `Have your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me, bow down to Me alone.’ Then as Krishna withdrew from the Gopis, the outer form of the Lord, which filled the whole universe, is withdrawn, and in that vacuum which remains, the Lord appears as the Self, the holy spirit of truth. `He who worships Him as another, does not (yet) know; as the Self alone he is to be worshipped.’
St Paul relies absolutely on the holy spirit, which he realised as Christ in him; not I, but Christ in me – I die daily in Christ. He never quotes Christ’s words directly from any of the Gospel traditions; Christ was speaking and acting through him freshly each day.
This was Christ’s appearance in glory. Casting aside all duality now, he said: `Father, the glory which thou gavest me I have given to them, that they may be one as we are one; I in them and thou in me, may they be perfectly one.’