18 Dec '11
Posted in Blog by Eric Shaw
I was in Bangalore at the time of Krishna’s birthday last year. Called Krishnashtami, It’s a variable holiday, and it fell on August 21 in 2010.
By then, I’d been in town for four months and had established sweet friendships. A student invited me to her parent’s home for the
holiday, and it felt like Christmas. The house was festively decorated. There were heart-felt songs and feasting. “Krishna’s footsteps”– reminding me of Santa’s footsteps—were laid out in flowers and cut-out black silhouettes on a path from front door to altar.
Indian rituals are numerous and year-round. I often lost my Bangalore students for weeks to prepare for their religious festivals. Americans don’t have as many rituals, especially religious ones, but rituals and Savior figures around the world are alike, and it’s fun to note the overlap of Christ and Krishna, of Krishnashtami and Christmas.
Both Christ and Krishna were born at midnight and were raised by families of shepherds. Christ is called “The Good Shepherd” and Krishna’s two prime epithets are shepherd ones: “Gopala”—means cowherd, and “Govinda” means protector of cows.
Christ was born when there was snow all around–Krishna was born during monsoon—when rain is all around! Christ is often equated with God—he is, at different times, the son of God or God proper—“the Word made flesh.”
Krishna fills similar roles, too. He is an avatar of Vishnu—one of the two greatest Gods in the Hindu Pantheon (next to Shiva)—and Krishna is called Parameshvara, The One Lord, or Jagannatha, Lord of the World. He bears this status most conspicuously in the Bhagavad Gita—where his narration is the primary voice.
This brings us to Bibles and sacred texts. Krishna is the star of the Gita, which is also called India’s “Bible.” Like the New Testament, where Christ finds play, the Gita is the latest book (c. 200 CE!) within a canon of philosophical texts called the Prasthanatrayi, which is primary for India’s main philosophy called Advaita Vedanta–a non-dualist understanding.
The New Testament, which stars Christ, is the latest book in the key texts of the Christians. Its Gospels, Revelation, and Epistles (letters) build on the books of Law, Wisdom and Prophets that belong to the Old Testament.
What does Christmas mean to us? It is so many things. It is the Christian world’s translation of the pagan solstice and Saturnalia celebrations which looked to a time when the God Saturn reigned, before there was work, and bounty was everywhere. Like Christmas, candles were lit. Gifts were given.
From a Taoist point of view, Christmas happens when the world is at its most yin point—when the darkness is greatest—when the yang of the sun is farthest away.
In our mammalian bio-rhythms, it’s a time of hibernation.
For these reasons and others, it is kind of dream time, a time when we are more attuned to different worlds—both psychically and physically. This is a good time to settle down, rejuvenate, check-in, re-assess and plan. The next year is coming. The next cycle is dawning. Nature is giving us a time to prepare. Give during this time—as they did in the Saturnalia—to establish the rhythm of wealth in your life.
Jesus went down for 3 days after his death, and then “ascended to heaven.” After his resurrection, “he sat at the right hand of god,” and this is a metaphor for retreating, then gaining wisdom that participates in the righteous power of God’s action. God’s right hand is the active one. It serves action and justice—it speaks of correct power in the world.
This is what these dark days offer to us: a chance to go down, chances for stillness, chances to be reborn to greater action and knowing. “Christ-mas” is the mass of Christ, the great ritual of Christ’s big trick: he died, then lived again to become more active in his mission. His embodied self brought light to Israel; his spiritual self became the Light of the World. The “Christ Mass” is the energetic ritual that reduplicates this action for us at this time of year.
Of course, it is a rich time for connection in the social world. Our yin is open and we can meet people more deeply. There is the Saturnalia element. There is an opportunity for fun and connection and giving.
For a number of years, I did a 10-day silent retreat over these holidays. Nowadays, I try to set aside three days just to meditate, do yoga, and write visions. It is a useful practice for moving your life forward—and it is healthy for anchoring sanity!
These are “holidays,”–“holy days.” “Holy” etymologically means “whole” in the sense of being complete or healthy. These days are an interstice, an empty space between. We are between ending and beginning–it is called a “limnic” space. It is our personal limnic space, as well as society’s. The progress of time stops and reverses direction now. The days retreat to a nadir of length, then expand.
Something ends. Something is done. Something is complete. It is a powerful season.
The world will speed off again in new directions and we want to be able to hop on that bus with as little baggage as possible—we want to get settled so we’re ready to go.
Hence, we settle with our past—either through formal processes like journaling, meditating or having a sacred moment in church and/or by gift-giving and/or meeting with our past through family. In family we revisit our first relationships, our emotional baseline, and can calibrate our growth.
In this going down, what the Greeks called Katabasis, some people experience depression. That’s natural. We might attribute depression to failures to keep up with the Christmas push, and that can play its hand, but our Earthly cosmos is “going down” and we can either push against that or surrender to it. “Depression,”–going down–calls to us either way.
Keeping up is a fine option. If we surrender to quiet, we gain more wisdom and have wisdom to offer to others—in pushing against the quiet, we generate more energy and have energy to offer to others.
Christ went down at his death, preparing for his spiritual ministry, but he also “went down” early in his career when he fasted in the desert 40 days.
And Krishna? Krishna led an active life. Jesus was a spiritual “King of the Jews,” but Krishna was a worldly king with worldly responsibilities, and he taught that duty, action (karma) was key. In the Bhagavad Gita, he teaches us karma yoga combined with devotion (bhakti yoga).
Most meaningfully, Krishna asks that all the karma of all deeds be surrendered to him, and this is a main tenet of Christian theology, too. Both are strategies for freeing us from confusion and pain in the ego.
In Romans 3:21-6 we read,
For all alike have sinned, and are deprived of the divine splendor, and all are justified by God’s free grace alone, through his act of liberation in the person of Christ Jesus. For God designed him to the means of expiating sin by his sacrificial death, effective through faith. This justifies any one who puts their faith in Jesus.
In an echo of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, in Bhagavad Gita, 12:11, Krishna simply says ,
Take shelter in me.
Do not hanker after the fruits of Karma
The doctrines of both Christ and Krishna challenge the human attachment to ego. They help us let that go.
Paul, the author of this passage from the letter to the Romans, is not talking to your ego when he calls you a sinner. We tend to read this through our ego and say, “Hey! I’m no sinner! Why does Christianity want to make me a bad person?” Bu Paul is talking about your psyche, your conscious and subconscious. This is a very subtle technology. We all feel bad about ourselves—every one of us. We feel good, too—exuberant, happy, triumphal—but we all have a dark night of the soul, too. Give this to God! Paul says. Admit the bad part exists, and let Jesus handle it. Open your heart, and let that crap go!
Krishna says the same.
“Fruits” of karma are for your ego. Only the ego “hankers” after perfections that some lousy “fruits” can an offer. Why do you want to be perfect? Why do you try to attach your ego to all the good things that come to you? The bigger “fruit” is identification with your soul, which blooms in relation to the varied forms of God. “Take shelter in me,” Krishna says, just as Paul says “put your faith in Jesus.” Paul uses the word “justify”—which means to be substantiated, to be whole. Take shelter in the divinity of the avatar: Christ or Krishna. The avatar is your deepest self.
Admit the “beyond ego” divinity of the avatar so that you can admit your own.
Both Krishna and Christ wanted to free us from a routine of dry ritual. Jesus insulted the Jew’s orthodox traditions by working on the Sabbath, consorting with pariahs, and saying he was God’s son.
Krishna’s cult of devotion up-ended the orthodox order built around sacrificial ritual. This is represented in legend by the tale of Krishna insulting the ancient God Indra by telling the people of Vrindavan to stop sacrificing to him. Angered, Indra attacked, throwing lightning and rain down from heaven.
Krishna grabbed the hill of Govardhan and held it over the people to protect them. He grabbed a piece of the Earth.
We take refuge in the Earth.
We are of the Earth. Its cycles are greater than any social rituals. Christmas demands many rituals that have social meaning, which we know well, but the Earth’s wisdom is ever-fresh and greater even than tradition. The Earth, in its groundedness and darkness, will shelter you.
Its wisdom will lead you.
This message naturally emerges from the teaching of the Christ and Krishna during these holidays. Surrender this holiday season. Surrender to your deep, holy rhythm that affords opportunities for Katabasis—for going down, for abiding by the Earth’s wisdom, outside of anything you’ve done for Christmas previously. Sacrifice your small self for something greater.
Go down, this holiday season. Look at yourself. Meditate, journal, do yoga re-evaluate your life plan. Figure out again how love works, how relationship works again by exploring the cave of the soul.
Go down into yourself for 10 minutes, for for a day—for 3 days, or for 10.
Re-connect with your individual journey, with your genius, and prepare its new leg which begins January first.
Go down, and be born again.