The true identity of Jesus has been hotly debated over the years. Some people feel that he was the Son of God. Others feel that he was simply a man. A very few doubt that he ever existed. Who would know the truth?
My assertion here is that the person who would best know the truth is one of the same spiritual status as Jesus. My contention is that, in the Hindu faith, such a person would be called an avatar. The word means “descent of the Divine” or “Incarnation of God.”
Sri Krishna and Sri Rama were avatars. I consider Mata Amritanandamayi today an avatar. Avatars are alleged to be born in every age to save religion from falling into disrepair. A recent avatar was Sri Ramakrishna, who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century at the Temple of Dakshineswar in Calcutta and demonstrated incredible spiritual powers.
He achieved enlightenment by most of the major Hindu paths as well as the spiritual practices of other faiths such as Islam and Christianity.
At the end of his remarkable sadhana or discipline, he was able to confirm that all religions worshipped the same God. Thus by implication all offered a path to God. Here is one common way he taught that lesson:
“The Reality [behind all religions] is one and the same; the difference is in name and form. It is like water, called in different languages by different names, such as ‘jal,’ ‘pani,’ and so forth. There are three or four ghats on a lake. The Hindus, who drink water at one place, call it ‘jal.’ The Mussulmans at another place call it ‘Pani.’ And the English at a third place call it ‘water.’ All three denote one and the same thing, the difference being in the name only. In the same way, some address the Reality as ‘Allah,’ some as ‘God,’ some as ‘Brahman,’ some as ‘Kali,’ and others by such names as ‘Rama,’ ‘Durga,’ ‘Hari.’ (1)
Sri Ramakrishna acknowledged his identity as an avatar on a number of occasions, none more dramatic than his statement to his beloved Narendranath, later Swami Vivekananda, described here:
“A couple of days before Ramakrishna’s passing away, when the Master was in excruciating pain, a thought flashed across Narendra’s mind: ‘Well, now if you can declare that you are God, then only will I believe you are really God Himself.’ Immediately the Master looked up towards Narendra and said distinctly: ‘O my Naren, are you still not convinced? He who in the past was born as Rama and Krishna is now living in this very body as Ramakrishna.’” (2)
Here are two more instances in which Sri Ramakrishna acknowledged that he was a descent of God into form, an Incarnation of God or Avatar. In both instances he talks with “M” (Mahendranath Gupta), the recorder of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna:
And the second:
Since recognizing the divine nature of an Incarnation is not an easy task, “M” has achieved a significant level of awakening to be able to see Sri Ramakrishna’s true identity.
It is not easy to make a declaration of the kind that Sri Ramakrishna did, especially in India where scholars and sages exist who can test the validity of one’s allegation, as many did in his case. However he won over every one of his critics, so amazing were his spiritual capacities.
Jesus also declared that he was an Incarnation of God in the following passage: “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.” (5) Among spiritual leaders, none was more able than Sri Ramakrishna to confirm or deny the legitimacy of Jesus’s claim.
Sri Ramakrishna did not judge it on the basis of book learning. He himself merged with the Christ in the course of his spiritual practice. Therefore he had an intimate knowledge of Jesus denied to most of us. Here is the description of that event.
“The Master … had become acquainted with Sambhucharan Mallick, who used to read the Bible to him. Thus he came to know of the pure life of Jesus and the faith he had founded, and the desire to follow the Sadhanas of that path arose in his mind. Scarcely had that desire arisen in his mind when the Divine Mother fulfilled it in a marvellous way and blessed him. . …
“The Master used to say that he sat one day in [Mallick's] parlour and was looking intently at [a] picture [of Mary and her Son] and thinking of the extraordinary life of Jesus, when he felt that the picture came to life, and that effulgent rays of light, coming out from the body of the mother and the Child, entered into his heart and changed radically all the ideas of his mind!
“On finding that all the inborn Hindu impressions were disappearing into a secluded corner of his mind and that different ones were arising, he tried in various ways to control himself and prayed earnestly to the Divine Mother, ‘What strange changes art Thou bringing about in me, Mother?’
“But nothing availed. Rising with a great force, the waves of those impressions completely submerged the Hindu ideas in his mind. His love and devotion to the Devas and Devis vanished, and in their stead, a great faith in, and reverence for Jesus and his religion occupied his mind. … The waves of those ideas had a mastery over his mind in that manner for three days.
“At last, when the third day was about to close, the Master saw, while walking under the Panchavati [grove], that a marvellous god-man of very fair complexion was coming towards him, looking steadfastly at him. As soon as the Master saw that person, he knew that he was a foreigner. … His long eyes gave a wonderful beauty to his face….
“The Master was charmed to see the extraordinary divine expression of that handsome face, and wondered who he was. Very soon the person approached him, and thereupon from the depth of the Master’s pure heart came out with a ringing sound, the words, ‘Jesus the Christ! the great Yogi, the loving Son of God, one with the Father, who gave his heart’s blood and put up with endless tortures to deliver man from sorrow and misery.’
“Jesus, the god-man, then embraced the Master and disappeared into his body and the Master entered into ecstacy, lost normal consciousness and remained identified for some time with the omnipresent Brahman with attributes. Having attained the vision of Jesus thus, the Master became free from the slightest doubt about Christ’s having been an incarnation of God.” (6)
Sri Ramakrishna announced his conviction that Jesus was an avatar on a number of occasions, the most memorable of which was his declaration to an Indian Christian minister, Rev. Sannyal, described below.
On hearing this Sri Ramakrishna bowed his head to the ground and said: “I bow again and again at the feet of Jesus Christ.”
Surprised at such utterance, Rev. Sannyal said: “How is it, sir, that you bow at the feet of Christ? What do you think of Him?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Why, I look upon him as an Avatara.”
Rev. Sannyal: “Incarnation of God! Will you kindly explain what you mean by it? Is he one like Krishna and the others?”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes, exactly like that. An incarnation like our Rama and Krishna. Don’t you know there is a passage in the Bhagavata where it is said that the incarnations of Vishnu or the Supreme Being are innumerable?”
Rev. Sannyal: “Please explain further. I do not understand it quite.”
Sri Ramakrishna: “Just take the case of the ocean. It is a wide and almost infinite expanse of water. But owing to special causes, in special parts of this wide sea, the water becomes congealed into ice. When reduced to ice it can be easily manipulated and applied to special uses. An incarnation is something like that.
“Like that infinite expanse of water, there is the Infinite Power, immanent in matter and mind, but for some special purposes, in special regions, a portion of that Infinite Power, as it were, assumes a tangible shape in history, that is what you call a great man. But he is, properly speaking, a local manifestation of the all-pervading Divine Power; in other words, an incarnation of God. The greatness of great men is essentially the manifestation of Divine Energy.” (7)
One of the characteristics of an avatar is that he is able to bestow salvation on spiritual aspirants. Sometimes Sri Ramakrishna bestowed grace on Christians by giving them a vision of Jesus, as he did with Manindra Krishna Gupta, a Christian Indian.
“We asked the monk [Prabhudayal Mishra] to tell us the cause of his ecstacy. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘today I saw the one on whom I have meditated for so many years. I saw Lord Jesus in [Sri Ramakrishna].’” (8)
One of the mysteries that Sri Ramakrishna explained was that an avatar was not a single being. In his case, there existed within his body two persons: one was the devotee and the second was God. Here is the way the matter was put: “The Master sometimes said to his disciples that within ‘this’ (the body) were two persons: one, the devotee, and the other His Lord.” (9) The avatar is the totality of these existences.
In my opinion, between the devotee and God may come other figures who act as a kind of step-down transformer, channeling the energy of God into the human form. In this respect, I believe that Sananda was one level of step-down transformer who served the Lord in his avatarhood as Jesus.
No one is better positioned to judge the avatarhood of a spiritual figure than another avatar. I consider Sri Ramakrishna’s testimony to be the most credible we may possibly ever hear on the subject. On the basis of it I accept that Jesus was an Incarnation of God.
(1) Paramahansa Ramakrishna (PR) in Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1978; c1942, 134-5. (Hereafter GSR.)
(2) PR shortly before his death to Swami Vivekananda in GSR, 72.
(3) PR in Swami Chetananda, They Lived with God. Life Stories of Some Devotees of Sri Ramakrishna. St. Louis: Vedanta Society of St. Louis, 1989., 195. (Hereafter TLWG.)
(4) PR in GSR, 128.
(5) Jesus in John 8:23.
(6) Swami Saradananda, Sri Ramakrishna, the Great Master. Madras, Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2 vols, 1979-83, 338-9.
(7) PR in Swami Prabhavananda, First Meetings with Sri Ramakrishna. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1987, 106-7.
(8) Manindra Krishna Gupta in TLWG, 383.
(9) Swami Yogeshananda, The Visions of Sri Ramakrishna. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1980., 21-2.