“I am the light” and matters of “immanent” importance in Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity

Religions share many common features such as faith, hope and love, and many other features. For example, certain parts of the Bhagavad Gita, a core Hindu text, resonate well with other religions, as well as with all philosophies, even materialist ones. Here is a verse from the Gita: “One cannot remain without engaging in activity at any time, even for a moment; certainly all living entities are helplessly compelled to action by the qualities endowed by the material nature.” (Chapter 3, verse 5).

You don’t have to be religious to appreciate that living creatures can’t help it: they always have to be doing something. But the Gita is saying more than this. It is this frenzied compulsion to action that is the cause of much human misery. All religions agree on this. The first chapter of the King Solomon’s book “Ecclesiastes” (1:1-3) begins: 

The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, said Koheleth; vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has man in all his toil that he toils under the sun?”

(Koheleth is Hebrew for “gatherer”, “assembler”. Koheleth is the Hebrew name of the book of Ecclesiastes).

There are other verses in the Gita that resonate with the Bible. 

From the Gita: “But if a man will meditate on Me and Me alone, and will worship Me always and everywhere, I will take upon Myself the fulfilment of his aspiration, and I will safeguard whatsoever he shall attain. (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17). 

From the Bible: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me….. If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy might remain in you and your joy might be full” (John 15:4-11).

The Gita says: “I am the source of all; from Me everything flows,” and “Of all the creative Powers I am the Creator…” (Ch. 10, The Divine Manifestations). The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Gospel say similar things to the Gita. There is, however, much chalk in the Gita that clashes with the cheese of the Bible. One overarching difference is the nature of the divine being. Here is just one verse that shows the difference:

Know that among horses I am Pegasus, the heaven-born; among the lordly elephants I am the White one, and I am the Ruler among men.” (Ch. 10 “Divine Manifestations”). Who is this “I am”, this individual consciousness? It is my Self, THE Self, Ultimate Consciousness. The “divine manifestations” pervade everything; including the “Wondering Jew”: the story of one of the infinite manifestations of THE Self. (See my “Thomas Merton’s “I intend to become as good a Buddhist as I can”: All roads, including to Rome, lead Home.”

Thomas Merton

In the Gita, Krishna says he’s the light; and in the Gospel of John, Jesus says the same. Is the Hindu (or opponent of Christianity) justified, therefore, in arguing (based on this aforementioned similarity or other similarities between Hinduism and Christianity) that owing to the fact that Hinduism is much older than Christianity, Christianity must be a pastiche of Hinduism? Of course not. All beings who claim divine attributes claim similar attributes, because these attributes are common knowledge to homo religiosus. Besides, what is more natural that an aspirant god or God Himself should call himself “the light,” “the way,” “the life.” It is true that the Hebrew or Christian divine being would not, as the Hindu divine being does, say that he is the light of the moon and stars as well. Compare:

Psalm 36:9b – “In your light we see light.”

Jesus – “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Krishna – “I am the light in the sun and the moon, far, far beyond the darkness. I am the brilliancy in flame, the radiance in all that’s radiant, and the light of lights.”

Say that Krishna really did say this above (as recorded in the Bhagavad Gita) centuries before Jesus’ similar saying, the difference is that Jesus is talking metaphorically, namely, He is talking about spiritual light not physical light. Hindu divinity inhabits moon, stars, and elephants in a pantheistic way, that is, the divine spirit is not distinct from his creation. In Hinduism, “Lord Brahma is the first member of the Brahmanical triad, Vishnu being the second and Shiva, the third. Brahma is the god of creation and he is traditionally accepted as the Creator of the entire universe.…Man’s subtle body is responsible for the creation of his gross body and also the world that he experiences.”

In Judaism and Islam, God both transcends his creation (he created something out of nothing, ex nihilo, and is also immanent in creation in the sense that he sustains it as well(equivalent to the Hindu Shiva):

  Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?”
declares the LORD.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the LORD.

(Jeremiah, 23:24)

Let us now consider briefly the matter of “immanence” (God immersed in his creation) in the three relifgions of our discussio:

The Jew argues that the Christian God is unlike the Jewish God. In that regard, he quotes Numbers 23:19:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?

From “God is not a man,” or/and “God is not a son of man,” Jewish critics derive the following conclusion:

Major premise: God is not a man.

Minor premise: Jesus is a man/a son of man

Conclusion: Therefore Jesus is not God.

There is logic and there is truth. Logic has to do with how we think (reasoning), not with what we think (about truth/reality), where what deals with truth The conclusion to the above syllogism, therefore, is valid because if the major premise were true (we know that the minor premise is true, namely that Jesus was a man), then it logically follows that the conclusion must be valid, namely that Jesus is not God.

The second Jewish objection is that God does not lie. The Jew accuses the Christian of saying God lied to Jews when He said that His commandments to them were eternally binding (ex.: Ex. 31:17, Lev. 10:9, Deut. 5:29). The Jew argues that if Jesus “fulfilled” or “completed” the Law, God would had to have been lying “through His teeth (as another biting Jew – Frank – put it) when He wrote the Jewish Bible.”

God is not man” and “God does not lie” are, of course, two snippets from Numbers 23:19. Here is the unmutilated verse again:

God is not a man, that he should lie,

or a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Has he said, and will he not do it?

Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?

On several occasions, I’ve responded to my Jewish kith that the conjunction which connects 1. “God is not man,” to 2. “he should lie” in such away that all God is saying is that whereas man is (by nature) a liar, God is not. Numbers 23;19 has nothing to do with the nature of God’s being, namely, whether he has a divine or a human nature, or both. (Later, of course, the New Testament does describe Jesus as fully God and fully man). Therefore, it’s illegitimate to chop the verse into two chunks and present them as two separate arguments. (See my Raphael and Picasso pay attention: God is not a man that he should lie (Numbers 23:19) and Milking the teats off the text: the rabbinical interpretation of Numbers 23:19).

The grammar and the historical context make it clear that God is not trying to prove that He does not have a body, that no “part” of Him is matter. God is merely saying –  contra Judaeorum – that men (all men) and women (all women) lie and go back on their commitments, which is why human beings are not like God – why they need a Saviour. The New Testament reveals that the Saviour , the Son of God, took on flesh (John 1). THIS is where the Christian God differs from the Jewish God. What is important is that God incarnate is both fully God and fully man. Well, some may ask – and this is where Hinduism comes into the picture again – what’s the difference between the pantheistic Hindu divine being and the Christian divine being, for both are identified with their creation? Biblical theology teaches that Christ has two natures – human and divine – in one person. It is Christ’s human nature – his flesh – that is part of creation. This dual-nature doctrine is naturally preposterous to the Jew, the Muslim as well as many Christians. I leave this supernatural matter there for now.

19 thoughts on ““I am the light” and matters of “immanent” importance in Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity

  1. Raf, where to begin? To begin with your attempt to paint the bizarre string of precise narrative fact patterns between Hindu and Krishna worship being identical to Christianity merely because of a general likeness in all theological philosophies, or to begin with your assertion that “G-d is not a man” (Num. 23:19) might mean that Jesus, a man, is G-d. Hmm.

    • Anon

      I would think it rational to conclude that if someone, like you, doesn’t believe THAT Jesus was, there’s no point in discussing WHO he was.

      • It is hoped that by illuminating the statistically improbable high degree of commonality between “new testament” accounts of Jesus and other, earlier pagan deity narratives, you too can be prompted to more rigorously intellectually examine the evidence surrounding the question of Jesus’ existence.

        • The existence of Jesus is far more attested than Moses. The comparison between Christianity and pagan religions has to do with WHO Jesus is, not THAT he is. But you disagree. For me it is a waste of time to reinvent the wheel of Jesus’ existence. No doubt, you will continue to beat your humdrum on this issue. I don’t want to waste my time and that of the majority of readers of this blog with this boring issue.

          Now all one has to do is for you to accept that Jesus existed, and you’re on your way to being a Christian, for THAT seems to be your greatest objection to Christianity. I wish that this was the case of almost everyone else in cyberspace.

  2. If I may add another reason why from my personal point of view I am SURE Jesus existed and He was who He said He was, that his mother was a virgin, that He came from David’s lineage etc. is the simple fact that I trust the Pharisaic Temple’s priests to be very smart. One of his apostles was thrown from the Temple’s wall.

    James (son of Alphaeus);James (son of Alphaeus);
    Bible writer
    (? half brother of Jesus?) Jerusalem, Israel AD66 Homicide:
    thrown down from the Temple tower; not dead so clubbed to death with a fulle’s club at age 94
    On this site we have other information about what the tradition tells about the death of all his apostles.

    James, the brother of Jesus (not officially an apostle), was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He was thrown from the southeast pinnacle of the temple (over a hundred feet down) when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a club. This is thought to be the same pinnacle where Satan had taken Jesus during the temptation. http://www.gotquestions.org/apostles-die.html

    IF IN ANY WAY THE PRIESTS HAD ANY POSSIBILITY TO DISCREDIT THE DISCENDENDENCE OF CHRIST FROM DAVID’S LINEAGE, THE PERPETUAL VIRGINITY OF MARY, AND, MOST OF ALL, HIS EXISTENCE I AM SURE THEY WOULD HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT ANY RESERVATION, terminating all the possibilities for Christianity (anyway the apostles had a very tough time on this earth after His death) to grow in the Jewish religious bosom. It would have been easier thaN any other objections done after that time. After all the Priests had the power, the williness and the recorded facts.

  3. I am deeply thankful to the Pharisee Gamaliel. If there were any reason to consider Jesus, Peter and all the other falsifying the claims and the story they told He would have known. He was a saintly Man of deep faith and wisdom. Many others had made the claims to be the Messiah. Only one would be the real one. He knew what faith, false claims and law meant at his time more than any other.
    “The passage describes Gamaliel as presenting an argument against killing the apostles, reminding the Sanhedrin about previous revolts, which had been based on beliefs that individuals such as Theudas and Judas of Galilee were the prophesied messiah, and which had collapsed quickly after the deaths of those individuals. According to Acts, his authority with his contemporaries was so great that they accepted his advice, regardless of how unwelcome it was. Gamaliel’s concluding argument to them had been:
    “if it be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, ye will not be able to overthrow it; lest perhaps ye be found even to fight against God”.[18]

    The Romans were against the Jewish Christians for hundreds of years, even after Constantine. And the Romans, I can assure anyone of this, were much more ruthless and knowledgeable than any possible Priest in the Temple on all the ‘ how to know how’ to eradicate who and what they considered their enemies.

  4. The Romans in all the time of their empire were so knowledgeable about who the real enemies were for them and so far from believing in anything other than power that they persecuted only one faith, Christianity, showing tolerance for all the others. Julian, a very smart Emperor, after Constantine, was against Christianity not without good reasons.

  5. No Jew would deny that Gamaliel existed, yet many deny or question, which boils down to the same thing (Agnosticism is atheism in disguise) that Jesus, a contemporary of Gamaliel, existed. My fellow Jews believe in the existence of Jewish historical figures of the time of Jesus, but then they go and write off the central Christian historical figure of the time as a hysterical figure. Now who’s being hysterical? Go figure.

    • Aha! So is that your proof, Raf, that Jesus existed? Because he is placed by the “new testament” in the same period of history figures whose existence is not questioned lived? Since Jews have an historical record, and a tradition, that Gamliel lived, then it must follow that Jesus, about whom they have no such recollection, must also have been a true character since Christians say they both lived at the same time?

      Wow, that’s remarkable proof. Not credible, but remarkable.

      • What is obviously problematic with the “proof” you offer of Jesus’ existence–that other people who’s existence isn’t in doubt existed during the same time frame–is that it yields no evidential value to claims of Jesus’ existence. It attests only to other peoples’ existence.

        George Washington and the Headless Horseman are attested by the fictional narrative which is the sole attestation to the latter’s existence to have existed roughly during the same historical period. And while George Washington’s history is thoroughly substantiated with a rich assortment of anthropological proof and an oral tradition to boot, this does nothing to substantiate beliefs that the Headless Horseman actually rode. The mere allegation of their contemporariness in no way enhances the credibility of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, even though Washington’s existence is not doubted by anyone; everyone doubts the Headless Horseman’s existence.

        It is that you are attempting to prove that Jesus existed by leveraging George Washington, or, in this case, Gamliel, that is so troubling with your “evidence”. It is, to be more precise, an abject lack of evidence compounded by a remarkably flawed logic that we find so problematic with your argument.

        • So, the reason why you don’t believe in a headless (living) horseman is because someone who wrote about them told you that they were not real?

      • Our point of disagreement is not whether the Headless Horseman rode, and I’ll try to remember not to introduce illustrative parallels since I can see you’re keen to redirect our conversation to clearly tangential irrelevancies and away from the painful absence of a reasonable basis for concluding Jesus really existed.

        I know that you can see (but not concede) what I was saying.

  6. If I were born Jewish, observant or not, It would be much easier to become communist or very materialist and liberal and deny God altogether if I were not convinced of what I was taught or not taught as Jewish, even if to be Jewish meant at one point to be a religious being. Everything would be easier for me than to become Christian and even more difficult it would be to become Catholic. I am completely convinced about this.
    It is not at all unreasonable to want to stay Jewish rather than to become Christian. If we consider only unreasonable what doesn’t comply to any set of rules and parameters, being those mere political, ideological, traditionally and collectively accepted conventions or ‘laws’. As born Catholic, I could as well become Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim for my parents, my communities, even myself, because I would still be myself, even if I know the Emperor Julian would have argued that in my being Catholic I would still give to Caesar what was of Caesar. But he lost his war as did many German Emperors.
    But think about it, If Jesus valued more the good Samaritan than the bad Jewish of his time, today He would value even more the good Jewish than the bad Christian and there are more of them. I know that the Evangelist John has been quite strict on who was to be saved, stricter than the other Evangelists, and you are quite fond of Him. But remember that John
    was the most perfect and loved of the apostles and he was able to understand and receive more. Do you know what does this mean in term of true light? If as Jewish I would become Christian and most of all Catholic, I would not do it because I am afraid of Hell. I would have already become acquainted with Hell on earth. And you know that as a good Jewish, not even a religious one, I would still value this. Why then would I become Christian or worse Catholic? Extremely difficult question. It would only be because I want to surrender. Old/new Jerusalem is the old/new Rome. Would I do it? Very likely no. But you did it. And If I could take off my hat in reverence I would do it, but since I am a woman I couldn’t 🙂 Of course in your choice there is supposed to be great controversy, as in all the others.

  7. But then why would I want to surrender in the first place? Only if I could believe that Jesus could substitute my mother, father, friends, my husband becoming my father and my buddy and my lover and most of all only if I would believe He could become my new identity that I would lose in becoming Christian and not more Jewish. Butttt to be able to do this….well I would need to have already faith, a faith that only very few born Christians could account for. Anyway the world has not been quite just with Jesus either. Gamaliel would be proud of how difficult has been for Jesus to survive after his death and still be recognized as important by few in the west even today after positivism, freudianism, communism, fascism, nazism, materialism, capitalistic consumerism and also few bad Christian founders, pastors and bad Catholic fathers. And there are today Christian persecutions everywhere else other than in the western world. A persecution that is kept almost a secret. Who knows why.

    • Maria you ask, “But then why would I want to surrender in the first place?”

      You then say a few sentences later “well I would need to have already faith,…”

      I agree because Ephesians 2 says that God raises the dead (in spirit, that they are totally unable to choose faith) through his grace and bestows faith. Both grace and faith are pure gift.

      Ephesians 2
      Young’s Literal Translation

      Also you — being dead in the trespasses and the sins, in which once ye did walk according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience,

      among whom also we all did walk once in the desires of our flesh, doing the wishes of the flesh and of the thoughts, and were by nature children of wrath — as also the others, and God, being rich in kindness, because of His great love with which He loved us,
      even being dead in the trespasses, did make us to live together with the Christ, (by grace ye are having been saved,) and did raise [us] up together, and did seat [us] together in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, that He might show, in the ages that are coming, the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,
      for by grace ye are having been saved, through faith, and THIS (BOTH GRACE AND FAITH ) not of you — of God the gift, not of works (BECAUSE THE SINNER IS DEAD AND THEREFORE IS UNABLE TO DESIRE TO RESPOND), that no one may boast; for of Him we are workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God did before prepare, that in them we may walk.

  8. “The silence and indifference of Western elites to the beatings, looting, torture, jailing, enslavement, murder, and even crucifixion of increasingly vulnerable Christian communities further engages my every bone and instinct as a Jew. My grandparents and those who lived with them in the ghettos of Poland would well understand the meaning, and the certain effects, of such patronizing hostility.” Introduction – Their Blood Cries Out: The Untold Story of Persecution Again

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