The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism

Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, U.S.A.


Sample Excerpt

A Section from Chapter 12:

Jesus proclaimed aloud: "Whoever believes in me is actually believing not in me but in Him who sent me. And whoever sees me is seeing Him who sent me. As Light have I come into the world so that no one who believes in me need remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I am not the one to condemn him; for I did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words already has his judge, namely, the word that I have spoken--that is what will condemn him on the last day, because it was not on my own that I spoke. No, the Father who sent me has Himself commanded me what to say and how to speak, and I know that his commandment is Eternal Life. So when I speak, I speak just as the Father told me" (12:44-50).

As far as Jesus Christ is concerned, the right preparation consists in dying to one's self-will, and in denying oneself, so that one could obey the will of God. His yoga consists of this; and of this the cross is the supreme symbol. Whether or not it corresponds to any actual method of killing Jesus, the enormous psychological and spiritual significance of the cross cannot be exaggerated. Every moment, whenever one is present to it, one is at a crossing; at this point of crossing one chooses whether to remain in the horizontal plane of the world or to be yoked to the way of the Christ and follow the vertical axis of being.
The way of the cross consists in surrendering oneself completely to the will of God, and emptying oneself of one's self-importance. Jesus Christ himself sets an example of this, as we have seen many times already. He has become so transparent to the Ground of Being that anyone who sees him sees God. He has nothing of his own; he does not speak in his own name, or on his own authority. To use an analogy given in the Yoga Sutras, the mind and being of those who are truly liberated are like a perfectly polished clear diamond, without any blemish at all, so that the glory of God can be reflected as it is. The words and actions of the Father are transmitted then without any distortions introduced by the personal ego. Since their words are not their own, to hear them is to hear God; not to accept them is to reject God, who alone is the judge.
It is important to remember that Jesus was a crucifer before his arrest and trial, which eventually led to his death by crucifixion. The way of Christ is that of the cross. As he repeatedly told his disciples (see Matthew 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23, 14:27), no person is worthy and capable of being his disciple unless he takes up his own cross--not only as an idea but as a daily practice--and follows him. In the language of symbols, the only one appropriate to these realities, a fact not lost to the early Christians, crucifixion is the only just manner of death of the Crucifer. Naturally, he who is "the Light of the world" (John 8:12) must be born on the darkest day of the year, just as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8) should have been killed on the day appointed for sacrificing the paschal lamb. The actual historical facts follow from the mythic and symbolic necessity and truth of the Incarnation and the Crucifixion.
The way of the cross, like all authentic spiritual paths, demands human sacrifice. As the Gospel of Philip (II,3;63) says, "God is a man-eater. For this reason men are sacrificed to Him." When one is emptied of one’s own self, one can be filled with God and become one with the Source. Thus the end of a person is the end of the person. In the way of the cross, there is no place for egoistic ambitions and projects; as a Hasidic saying has it, “There is no room for God in him who is full of himself.”

The Last Two Sections in the book:

When they had eaten their meal, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." At which Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." A second time Jesus repeated the question, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you." "Tend my sheep," Jesus told him. A third time Jesus asked him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was hurt because he had asked a third time, "Do you love me?" So he said to him, "Lord, you know everything. You know well that I love you." "Feed my little lambs," Jesus said. "I tell you this in very truth: when you were a young man you fastened your belt and went about as you pleased; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands, and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will." (What he said indicated the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God.) After these words, Jesus said to him, "Follow me" (21:15-19).

The risen Christ needs Peter, and through him symbolically everyone else who would respond, to carry on his and his Father's work, and, of course, Peter needs the Christ to give significance to his existence. Christ knows this and comes to Peter where he is and appeals to his highest conscience. Peter also knows his need, but he is not completely self-possessed. In spite of himself he ends up forgetting his link with Christ, and his own real situation and need. Perhaps this is why he is addressed here after the manner of his human parentage, as 'Simon, son of John', rather than 'Peter', a name which Jesus had given him to mark an important realization on his part of his own nothingness.
Does he love Christ more than these? The Gospel writer is a subtle artist, and he leaves it teasingly ambiguous as to what 'these' refer to: Does Simon love Christ more than these things, such as the boat, the fish, the business? Does he love Christ more than he loves the others, the fellow disciples and friends? Does he love Christ more than the others do? Is Peter sure that there is nothing in the world--possessions, relatives, friends--which his heart values more than Christ? Is anybody sure? How could he know, how could any of us know, that we love Christ more than other people do, except in our own competitive fantasy of being more ardent than anyone else? There is hardly a person who would not hesitate before giving a confident answer to any of these questions. The choice between the crucified Christ on the one hand and acquisitiveness, need for approval and the wish to be more important than our fellow human beings on the other is not made without pause. The entire person is in question; whom would we choose: ourselves or Christ? The many wolves of the world prowl in the same space of the heart where the little lambs of Christ also play.
"Peter, Peter," Christ might have cried, "how long will you crucify me?"

In his trial by Satan (see Chapter 18), Peter had been alone, and he had been defeated, for he relied upon himself. Again, he is on trial, this time not by the Lucifer but by the Crucifer. Peter does not rely on his own knowledge of himself, which has been far from luminous in the past. He does not declare confidently that he loves Christ more than these; he surrenders his heart and soul to Christ, and lets himself be known by him and be judged accordingly, hoping that Christ will in fact find that Peter loves him. The self-willed and self-confident Simon has truly deepened. In an acknowledgment of Peter's insight that it is better to be known by Christ than to know oneself, he is charged by Christ to feed his sheep.
But Peter's trial is not over quite yet, nor is any other disciple's. Without reference to any of these things or persons, does Peter in fact love Christ? Peter again lets Christ be the seer of his heart. A third time again Christ asks the same question--in order to burn it on the soul of Peter, lest the demon of forgetfulness overtake him again. Peter is conscience stricken; he is hurt not because Christ does not trust him but because he realizes that Christ knows everything and he is afraid that he may be found wanting, and not worthy of the Holy Spirit breathed into him by Christ. However, as Peter dispossesses himself he is owned by Christ and made his very own. He is then charged by him to tend to his little lambs. The lamb of God, within ourselves as well as outside, is always weak and needs to be nourished, and protected from the wolf of the world, within ourselves as well as outside. Only in an extraordinary state of watchfulness, described as the rule of Immanuel in the new Jerusalem, can there be friendship between the wolf and the lamb (Isaiah 11:1-6; 65:17-25). Peter is summoned to that watchfulness, an awakening from sleep and forgetfulness. When Shiva performs his eternal dance of liberation, he steps on the head of Muyalaka, the demon of forgetfulness.
"If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34). Before Peter is anointed as a disciple of Christ, he is warned and called to drink the cup of suffering, and to endure the cross. When he was young, he could preen himself and do as he wished. As he matures internally and grows older, he will no longer be free to do what he wishes according to his self-will; he must submit himself to the will of another, for he will no more be his own man; he will be owned by Christ and by God. One who is born of the Spirit does not proclaim himself, for "this man has now become another and is neither himself nor his own" (Plotinus, Enneads 6.9.10). A spiritual son of Christ, he will be his brother, born of the same Father and Mother; he must engage in their work however much against his own will, and obey them even unto death, as did his master Jesus. Peter has to truly understand that in following the Christ he follows the cross, and that only the lamb can be the king and wear the crown.


Peter turned around at that, and noticed that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following (the one who had leaned against Jesus' chest during the supper and said, "Lord, which one will deliver you?") Seeing him Peter said, "Lord, what about him?" "If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to you?" Jesus replied, "Your work is to follow me." This is how the word got around among all the brothers that this disciple was not going to die. As a matter of fact, Jesus never told him that he was not going to die; all he said was: "If I will that he abide until I come, what is that to you?" (21:20-23).
It is this same disciple who is the witness to these things; it is he who wrote them down; and his testimony, we know, is true. There are still many other things that Jesus did. Yet, if they were written down in detail, I doubt there would be room enough in the entire world to hold the books to record them (21:24-25).

Peter follows Christ knowing that he must be crucified to the world, and the world to him. However, he is concerned about his friend, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and wants to know what will happen to him. Or, perhaps, he hopes that the beloved disciple will share some of the responsibility that Christ has asked him to undertake, for lurking behind his yes to Christ, there may still be a little no. But the work that the other disciple must do is not the same as what Peter must do. Each disciple has to discover their own particular way of serving God, which corresponds to their essential being and capacity. If necessary, the beloved disciple can remain, waiting until Christ comes and calls him for a specific task. Or, the beloved disciple, according to an inner calling, may remain contemplatively abiding in Christ until life's end. This is no concern of Peter; he must do what is demanded of him. Peter and the beloved disciple are very different from each other: among the male followers of Christ, Peter is to the beloved disciple what Martha is to Mary among the women--one of them is more inclined to doing and the other to seeing. But both are needed by Christ; furthermore, they both need each other. In addition, they need other fellow disciples and they need their own pupils in order to carry out the work of their common Father.
Having prepared others to continue the sacred work that must be done for the maintenance of the cosmos, inner as well as outer, Jesus can now let go of this responsibility which had bound him to the earth, and ascend higher to the Father. Sacred work is constantly needed, because the forces of destruction and misunderstanding are large and ever present. As is clear from the Gospel, even during Christ's own life, in his very presence, his sayings and teachings are often misheard and taken wrongly. Even his own close disciples are not free of such misunderstanding, not to speak of those who do not wish to receive the Light or those who oppose him. Distortion, misunderstanding and opposition to Truth are natural and to be expected; great insights are very difficult to maintain, and require a continual struggle with oneself. Spiritual blindness is the world; Christ needs to keep dying on the cross because we keep sleeping. "And they heard a voice from the heavens saying, 'Have you preached to those who sleep?' And a response was heard from the cross: 'Yes'" (Gospel of Peter 10).
Those who sleep and will not awaken, continually crucify the Christ. However, those who wish to wake up must struggle in the midst of this world of sleep; this is how they can participate in the suffering of Christ and lessen his sorrow. With the aid of the words of the sages and the scriptures, we may be brought to the original vibration of the Word; not original in the sense that it was actually--physically--articulated two thousand years ago, but that it was and is in reality from the Original Source, from the Beginning.
Death can overtake a person any moment, and in that sense the end of the world is always nigh. When one is aware of it, one is at the crossing, having to choose between Christ and the world, between the crown of thorns and the crown of power and possessions. It is fitting that the very last words of the risen Christ reported in the Gospel be underscored, for they are addressed not only to Peter but to all who would hear: "Your work is to follow me."

Each one of us must begin anew, perhaps again and again, if we wish to come to the deathless Beginning. Jesus Christ said, in a non-canonical saying found on some papyri discovered in Oxyrhynchus in Egypt at the end of the 19th century: "Let not him who seeks cease until he finds, and when he finds he shall be astonished. Astonished he shall reach the Kingdom, and having reached the Kingdom, he shall rest."

Excerpts from Reviews

The Catholic Theological Society of America held a Special Session on this book in their annual meeting in 2009.

“A Landmark in interfaith dialogue.” –Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions and many other books.

“Superb in every way! It catches the tone and spirit of St. John and his gospel’s profound coherence with other traditions, particularly the Hindu tradition in India and of course the Bhagavad Gita.” –Father Thomas Berry, co-author of The Universe Story and author of several other books.

"For the first time, a systematic study of the Gospel according to St. John is made by a non-Christian. Dr. Ravindra explores John's twenty-one chapters, one by one, with beautiful and incisive style... Ravindra's commentary is not an intellectual exercise but a heart pilgrimage. He warns us that the 'rational mind is always uneasy about the Spirit which displaces it from the centre of being...' The author shares with us his spiritual journey, using John's Gospel as the structure for his development. The basis of personal experience of the spirit within us is reminiscent of Pascal's Pensées, and, closer to us, Thomas Merton's reflections on Zen Buddhism... Stemming from this are larger, more universal truths; on an otherwise too-familiar text he brings us countless insights, which can only be gained from such a fresh perspective. Throughout the book these nuggets startle and delight... The Yoga of the Christ will be for many readers such a source of light, as the best insights of the Hindu tradition are integrated to better reveal the dynamic elasticity and immense spiritual wealth of John's Gospel."
-Jacques Goulet, Atlantic Provinces Book Review.

“Ravindra’s is a great book. It challenges the spirit. It calls for deep cogitation and prayerful reconsideration of eternal verities. The author has understood the cosmic significance of Christ as the universal Spirit, Truth and Love. Undoubtedly, the best commentary on the Fourth Gospel from an Indian point of view.” –Reviewed in The Hindu, Chennai, India, 1990.

Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith, the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University, wrote in a letter dated July 6, 1990: “…just to say that reading your Yoga [of the Christ] is not merely a delight, it also tended to make me weep. How is it, I wondered, paragraph by paragraph almost, that so many Christians fail to understand the Gospel of John when ‘an outsider ‘ can do it so much better? On second thoughts, however, I realized that that was grossly imperceptive of me… Of course, I have come to know—and by now should have not merely known, but viscerally realized and assumed—that insight, the ability to understand, is a function of the observer’s spiritual depth, not of his or her community membership. And therefore of course you would understand better.”

“Ravindra’s book remains a moving guide to this most deeply mystical of the canonical gospels and is excellent on several themes such as Christ as both crucifer and crucified, on the nature of evil and the role of Satan, on both Judas and Peter. All offered as insight into the theory and practice of our own transformation, its possibilities and difficulties.” –Scientific and Medical Network Review.

“The reflections of Ravi Ravindra will stimulate the initiated as well as the less informed. This book contributes, in a spirit of tolerance, to the enrichment of religions.”—Raimon Panikkar, author of Christophany and of The Hidden Christ of Hinduism and of many other books.

“A dazzlingly brilliant spiritual and cross-cultural study of the most mystical of the books of the Bible, the Gospel of John. Few will finish this book unchanged, either intellectually or spiritually.” -- Robert Ellwood, author of The Cross and the Grail and many other books.