Please explain this statement “ Not only Jesus Christ, but also Ramachandra, Krishna, Gautama Buddha and others have been Incarnations of God on earth . . .While allowing for the differing traditions, rituals and beliefs of different peoples in different parts of the world, is it not reasonable to suppose that the teachings of Incarnations of God on earth would have a common purpose and present a common message to mankind ? However, it seems that while Gautama Buddha sought to provide humanity with a way of living through the “ noble eightfold path ” (and, incidentally, in the Oxford Student’s History of India Prof. Vincent Smith says of Buddha that “ without denying the existence of a Supreme Deity he ignored it ”)
Jesus Christ lay especial emphasis upon the coming of the Kingdom, the new heavens and new earth, the resurrection of the living and the dead, and immortality. While Gautama urged “ seeking after the Self” Jesus exhorted his followers to go and preach the “ Good News ” of the Kingdom.
If Buddha and Christ were both Incarnations of the same God, why does it seem to require all the ingenuity of certain learned men to attempt to reconcile their teachings ? If it is only those things which are common to the teachings of them both with which we should concern ourselves, why did they spend so much time giving other (and differing) teachings ?
Firstly, it is certainly reasonable to suppose that the: teachings of Incarnations of God on earth ‘ have a common purpose and present a common message to mankind’ .
A study of their lives and teachings confirms this most convincingly, as has been demonstrated in scholarly works such as The Essential Unity of all Religions by Professor Bhagavan Das and, perhaps better known to the public, The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley. Huxley writes at the beginning of his book that ‘ this teaching is expressed most succinctly in the Sanskrit formula Tat tvam asi (‘ That art thou ’) ; the Atman, or immanent eternal Self, is one with Brahman, the Absolute Principle of all existence ; and the last end of every human being is to discover the fact for himself, to find out Who he really is.
He quotes from Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Islamic and other sources to demonstrate that this is the essential message of the great ‘ Incarnations ’, and he also quotes from the mystics of various faiths who have heeded the message and reached the goal. An example is the affirmation of St. Catherine of Genoa : “ My Me is God, nor do I recognize any other Me except my God Himself.”
Secondly, it is not to be expected that, although their message is identical, the Incarnations of God will deliver it in precisely the same manner. To begin with, their own instruments of body and mind are dissimilar and will reflect the Truth differently, just as different prisms will reflect the same light in different ways. Then, for their teaching to be effective, we have to assume that influencing factors are the personal qualifications of their audience and the conventions of the times in which they lived. Schoolmasters adopt different methods to inculcate the same basic axioms, and moreover their teaching methods do not remain static over the years, but are revised and brought up to date.
It may often be as pointless to try to reconcile apparent discrepancies in the various explanations of the central truth that ‘ God and Self are one, the only Reality ’ as it would be to attempt to reconcile the different methods of maths masters teaching geometry.
An important point made by Shri Shankara and others is that the great spiritual teachers designedly repeat the central Truth again and again in different ways out of compassion for their hearers who are unable to assimilate it at first hearing or through a single simple presentation ; by so doing, the group of hearers as a whole, as well as minorities within the group with particular capacities, have a better chance of understanding and appreciating the Truth.
Thirdly, if it is accepted that the central teaching—the ‘ Perennial Philosophy ’ to use the phrase of Leibniz which Huxley has taken as the title of his book—is one and the same in the great religions, there is almost as wide a divergence on minor doctrinal points within Christianity or within Buddhism or within Islam and other religions as there is between any two of them. This may be attributed to the different personalities of the various interpreters and the differing audiences and circumstances in which their interpretations are given, with the important qualification that there can be no guarantee, as there is in the case of ‘ Incarnations of God ’, that such interpretations will spring from genuine inspiration and knowledge.
Fourthly, it is necessary to remember that no Incarnation of God left any written record of teaching, and that all records have come to us through the medium of other minds which may have added their own colour to the teachings.
According to Adhyatma Yoga, the Incarnations are all aspects of Vishnu, the sustaining principle in the universe, and they appear when evil is in the ascendant in order to restore order in the world. They are the ‘ words ’ of God, and just as words mean different things to different people, so the teachings of these Incarnations have been variously interpreted by mankind according to their needs down the ages. The ‘ life ’ in the various religions comes from those men and women who have established a living relationship with the one Lord, who have entered into the spirit of the religion and not merely obeyed the letter of the teaching.
The Yogi sees the varieties of religious experience in the same way as he views variety as a whole, as a challenge to his tolerance and as a test of his love. When he is identified with the essence of the Incarnation he has worshipped, he will know it to be one and the same as the essence of all Incarnations, all religions and all men, for he will have through love transcended the medium of differentiation (the human mind) and have realized with the poet Nazir :
He Himself is playing these many parts.
If thou art a lover,
Thou wilt detect the Beloved Whatever His disguise.