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Monday, December 10, 2018

Sermon on the Mount – Three Points of View: Part 2

Lord’s Prayer

 A famous passage called The Lord’s Prayer starts with the words: “Our Father which art in Heaven”. This prayer is used by Christians in their personal prayers and church services daily. It has a simple message of piety and thankfulness for all the good things we have. It has also deep spiritual meaning – not just requesting personal favors and material goods but seeking Spiritual realization.

 “Our Father which art in Heaven” is addressed to the Divine as if we are requesting our worldly father. Heaven is not somewhere else because the Kingdom of God is within us. Brother Lawrence said: “We must make our heart a spiritual temple wherein to adore Him incessantly.  He is within us; seek Him not elsewhere.”

Swami Prabhavananda interprets the words “Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done……..” to mean that the Kingdom of God is here and now and the disciple asks for His guidance to carry out His will. It is  for realizing our own limitations and approaching the Divine with humility. Besides, unless one is spiritually illumined and has become one with Him, how can one know what His will is?

“Give us this day our daily bread” refers to the bread of Divine Grace and not in the simple meaning of bread to eat. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” is a pleading for His forgiveness for all our physical and mental actions. Hinduism and Buddhism will interpret the “debts” to mean our Karma, the accumulated consequences of our actions in this and prior births. Even without this concept of karma, we are responsible for the consequences of our actions. If we take that responsibility and do not blame others it will be easy for us to forgive others for their actions and the consequences. Only when we have this forgiveness in our hearts can we appreciate forgiveness from God.

“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil…………” is the next passage. In the Upanishad it says: “asato ma sat gamaya; tamaso ma jyotir gamaya; mrtyo ma amritam gamaya” meaning “O Lord, lead us from untruth to truth; from darkness to light; from death to immortality”.  It is an approach with humility to ask for help to resist temptations towards impermanent pleasures of the world. It is to ask help to go towards Light and away from darkness. It is to turn inwards towards the Kingdom of God and away from outward gaze of the senses.

The passages on forgiveness (Matthew 6:14,15) are well-known and make the essence of the teachings of Christ. He said to forgive “until seventy times seven”. He asks us to forgive those who hurt us physically and verbally. Not to react to violence with violence; but react with forgiveness, compassion and love. He asked his disciples to love even one’s enemy. These are the same teachings as those of Buddha and Hindu texts. Gandhi, Mandela and King showed us how.

This is followed by advice on practicing religion and spirituality sincerely, not just for others to see. When Jesus says “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” he is asking his disciples to develop discrimination and seek abiding bliss in the midst of fleeting worldly pleasures. He says: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven……”. This advice has been repeated by the wise in all traditions, all through history.

The remark that “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single…..” seems to suggest the need for one-pointed concentration and devotion. In other words, the advice is to let go of attachment to and pursuit of worldly pleasures of the senses and seek the Divine with single-minded focus, because “No man can serve two masters…………Ye cannot serve God and mammon” says Jesus.

In the next passage, Jesus advices his disciples not to worry about where the next food will come from, because He who made us will provide for us. Similar words can be heard in other tongues too as in Tamizh language “The one who planted the tree will water it too”. It is not practical. And it is also true that we have to make our efforts for His Grace to yield results. But, when one lives truly in a state of union with the Divine, live in the Kingdom of God within, questions such as “what will I eat? Where will I sleep?” seem to lose their weight and urgency. The advice is about maintaining poise in the midst of life’s uncertainties.

Besides, Jesus is not suggesting that we go starving, but says “ for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”.  In a similar passage in Gita, Krishna says: “…if a man will worship me, and meditate upon me with an undistracted mind, devoting every moment to me, I shall supply all his needs and protect his possessions from loss”. 

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”. This is a teaching on living in the present moment deeply involved in prayer and reflection, not worrying about the past and anxious about the future. This is same as the Buddhist tradition of being mindful of and in the present moment.

A famous poem in Sanskrit says:

“Yesterday is but a dream,
Tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”

In his advice “judge not, that ye be judged”, Jesus asks us to work on our own weaknesses and improve our virtues and not to judge others.  “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considereth not the beam that is in thine own eyes”.

The next advice on not to “give that which is holy unto the dogs and cast your pearls before swine” is also common in the teachings of other traditions. In the Vedic tradition, there is a passage in Gita in which Krishna says to Arjuna: “Do not tell this truth to anyone who has no devotion and self-control, who despises his teacher and does not believe in me”.  Mundaka Upanishad says that the knowledge of Brahman is to be given only to those who obey Dharma and who are pure in heart.

The famous passage in the Sermon which says “…….all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them…” is echoed in Maha Bharatha with almost the same words. This teaching is common in all traditions and religions.

After saying that the gate is wide and the way is broad for the path to destruction, Jesus continues with “….straight is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth into life, and few there be that find it”. In an identical passage in the Katha Upanishad: “Like the sharp edge of a razor, the sages say, is the path. Narrow it is, and difficult to tread”. This became the title of a book on the Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham.

Jesus closes his sermon by warning against following false prophets, which does not mean other religions. It means recognizing a realized soul as one who has studied the scriptures and who acts out of unbounded love for everything on earth and following what he preaches.

Finally, I like a simple summary of the Sermon on the Mount by Tolstoy (My Religion, page 87):

“Not to be angry and not to consider oneself better than others.

To avoid libertarianism, choose one woman, and remain faithful to her.

Do not bind yourselves with oaths and promises to the service of those who may constrain us to  commit acts of folly and wickedness.

Do not return evil for evil lest the evil rebound upon ourselves with redoubled force.

Do not consider men as foreigners because they dwell in another country and speak a different language”.

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