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The Jesus of the New Age Movement


Part Two in a Two-part Series on New Age Christology


by Ron Rhodes



In her best-selling book, Out on a Limb, Shirley MacLaine recounts how a friend once said to her: "You know that nothing is recorded in the Bible about Christ from the time he was about twelve until he began to really teach at about thirty years old. Right?" "Yes," MacLaine replied, "I had heard about that and I just figured he didn't have much to say until he got older." "Well, no," her friend responded, "a lot of people think that those eighteen missing years were spent traveling in and around India and Tibet and Persia and the Near East....They say he became an adept yogi and mastered complete control over his body and the physical world around him....[he] tried to teach people that they could do the same things too if they got more in touch with their spiritual selves and their own potential power."[1]


Did Jesus travel to the East to study under gurus? Did He become "the Christ" as a result of what He learned and accomplished there? Are there mystical "gospels" that have been suppressed by the church, keeping us from knowing the real Jesus? In this article, we will look at these and other important questions related to the Jesus of the New Age movement. We begin by examining the claims of a controversial Russian writer.


Glossary of Key Terms


Caste. A term applied to the social groups in India which rank in a hierarchical order. The four primary castes -- from highest to lowest -- are: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (peasants), and Sudras (unskilled laborers).


Cosmic Christ. Variously defined, but always seen as divine. Many New Agers speak of him (it) as a universal, impersonal entity who -- among other things -- indwelt the body of the human Jesus for three years (from his baptism to his crucifixion).


Jains. Followers of Jainism. Jainism is a religious system of India that arose in the sixth century B.C. in protest against the ritualism of Hinduism and the authority of the Vedas. Jains are rigidly ascetic, believing in a strict control of wrong thought and action as a means of escaping from the transmigration of the soul (rebirth) that results from one's past actions (karma).


Monism. A metaphysical theory which sees all reality as a unified whole. Everything is seen as being composed of the same substance.


Sutras. Collections of aphorisms (or proverbs) which highlight the teachings of the Vedas and Upanishads (Indian scriptures).


Vedas. The oldest and most sacred scriptures of Hinduism. (The word veda means "sacred knowledge.")


Zoroastrians. Followers of Zoroastrianism, a Persian religion founded by Zoroaster (c. 628 B.C.-c. 551 B.C.). Zoroastrianism is an ethical religion which espouses an ongoing struggle between two primal spirits: Ahura Mazda (the good spirit), and Angra Mainyu (the evil spirit). Ahura Mazda will ultimately triumph.


Note: Additional technical terms used in this article are defined within the text.



THE LIFE OF SAINT ISSA


As the story goes, in 1887, Nicolas Notovitch -- a Russian war correspondent -- went on a journey through India. While en route to Leh, the capital of Ladakh (in Northern India along the Tibetan border), he heard a Tibetan lama (i.e., monk) in a monastery refer to a grand lama named Issa (the Tibetan form of "Jesus"). Notovitch inquired further, and discovered that a chronicle of the life of Issa existed with other sacred scrolls at the Convent of Himis (about 25 miles from Leh).


Notovitch visited this convent and was told by the chief lama that a scroll did in fact exist which provided details about the Prophet Issa. This holy man allegedly preached the same doctrines in Israel as he earlier did in India. The original scroll, the lama said, was written in the Pali language and later translated into Tibetan. The Convent of Himis possessed the Tibetan translation, while the original was said to be in the library of Lhassa (the traditional capital of Tibet).


Notovitch eventually persuaded the lama to read the scroll to him, and had it translated from Tibetan by an interpreter. According to Notovitch, the literal translation of the scroll was "disconnected and mingled with accounts of other contemporaneous events to which they bear no relation," and so he took the liberty to arrange "all the fragments concerning the life of Issa in chronological order and [took] pains to impress upon them the character of unity, in which they were absolutely lacking."[2] He went without sleep for many nights so he could order and remodel what he had heard.


From the scroll, Notovitch learned that "Jesus had wandered to India and to Tibet as a young man before he began his work in Palestine."[3] The beginning of Jesus' alleged journey is described in the scroll this way:

When Issa had attained the age of thirteen years, the epoch when an Israelite should take a wife, the house where his parents earned their living...began to be a place of meeting for rich and noble people, desirous of having for a son-in-law the young Issa, already famous for his edifying discourses in the name of the almighty. Then it was that Issa left the parental house in secret, departed from Jerusalem, and with the merchants set out towards Sind, with the object of perfecting himself in the Divine Word and of studying the laws of the great Buddhas.[4]


According to Notovitch, the scroll proceeds to explain how, after briefly visiting with the Jains, young Issa studied for six years among the Brahmins at Juggernaut, Rajagriha, Benares, and other Indian holy cities. The priests of Brahma "taught him to read and understand the Vedas, to cure by aid of prayer, to teach, to explain the holy scriptures to the people, and to drive out evil spirits from the bodies of men, restoring unto them their sanity."[5]


While there, the story continues, Issa sought to teach the scriptures to all the people of India -- including the lower castes. The Brahmins and Kshatriyas (higher castes) opposed him in this, and told him that the Sudras (a lower caste) were forbidden to read or even contemplate the Vedas. Issa denounced them severely for this.


Because of Issa's controversial teachings, a death plot was devised against him. But the Sudras warned him and he left Juggernaut, establishing himself in Gautamides (the birthplace of the Buddha Sakyamuni) where he studied the sacred writings of the Sutras. "Six years after, Issa, whom the Buddha had elected to spread his holy word, had become a perfect expositor of the sacred writings. Then he left Nepal and the Himalayan mountains, descended into the valley of Rajputana, and went towards the west, preaching to diverse peoples the supreme perfection of man."[6] Following this, we are told, Issa briefly visited Persia where he preached to the Zoroastrians. Then, at 29, he returned to Israel and began to preach all that he had learned.


According to Notovitch's "scroll," by the end of Issa's three-year ministry, Pilate had become so alarmed at his mushrooming popularity that he ordered one of his spies to accuse him falsely. Issa was then imprisoned and tortured by soldiers to force a confession which would permit his being executed. The Jewish priests tried to act in Issa's behalf, but to no avail. Issa was falsely accused and Pilate ordered the death sentence:

At sunset the sufferings of Issa came to an end. He lost consciousness, and the soul of this just man left his body to become absorbed in the Divinity...Meanwhile, Pilate became afraid of his action and gave the body of the saint to his parents, who buried it near the spot of his execution...Three days after, the governor sent his soldiers to carry away the body of Issa to bury it elsewhere, fearing otherwise a popular insurrection. The next day the crowd found the tomb open and empty. At once the rumor spread that the supreme Judge had sent his angels to carry away the mortal remains of the saint in whom dwelt on earth a part of the Divine Spirit.[7]


Following this, some merchants in Palestine allegedly traveled to India, came upon some people who had known Issa as a casual student of Sanskrit and Pali during his youth in India, and filled them in on Issa's demise at the hands of Pilate. And, as the story concludes, Life of Saint Issa written on a scroll -- author(s) unknown -- three or fo