Three Wise Men from the West
Brother John Martin
I would like to present the specific charisma of the ashram basing my reflections on the Christmas story, the spiritual tradition of India and the spiritual journey of the founders of Shantivanam, Fr.Jules Monchanin, Fr.Hernri Le Saux and Fr.Bede Griffiths. I have entitled this presentation “Three Wise Men from the West’. We all know that the three wise men who came from the east in search of the child Jesus, the Eternal Word. Now I want to share my thoughts with you about the three wise men, who came from the west to seek that Eternal Word.
Seek First the Kingdom of God
“First of all seek you the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all things will be added unto you’ (Cf. Mt.6.33) are the immortal words of Jesus to humanity. The primary purpose and the goal of our existence as human beings, as Christians, as Benedictines and as Camaldoese, are to seek the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. Jesus also has given us the way or the key, to find or enter this kingdom of God. It is the way of repentance, the way of rebirth and the way of becoming like a child. Jesus announced his message saying. “The Kingdom of God is at hand, Repent” (Mk. 1.15). He told Nicodemus, “Unless you are born again (or born from above or born of spirit) you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Cf Jn. 3.1 – 10). He told his disciples, “Unless you become like children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Mt.18.3). He prayed with gratitude when he said, “I thank you, father, for you have hidden these things from the learned and the intelligent and revealed them to the babes, yes father, it is thy will” (Mt. 11.25-26).
Three Archetypes: a Virgin, a Child and Wise Men
There are three archetypers that are connected to the Christmas event: the Virgin, the Child and the Wise men. The prophet Isaiah said, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmauel” which means “God is with us” (Cf.Mt. 1.23; Is.7.14). This Emmanuel will be the saviour of the world. These three archetypes which, though appear to be different, are essentially one.
Who is a virgin? Physically a virgin is one who had no sexual experience. She is innocent and ignorant; unconditioned by any experience. Psychologically and spiritually a virgin is one who blocks historical process of the God of memory and opens herself to the living reality of the God of Eternity. As long as we give continuity to the God of memory within our consciousness we are not virgins and thus we are unable to give birth to the God of Eternity. And who is a child? A child is one who is not conditioned by any experience. A newborn child has no name, no language, no religion and no culture. A newborn has an unconditioned mind, which is open to all possibilities. In this sense a child is also a virgin. As the child grows it is conditioned by his parents, society and culture. He is given a name, a language, a religion, and a culture. He loses his unconditioned mind. He loses his ‘virginity’. A child is innocent and ignorant. Jesus says that one has to become like a child. To become like a child means to free oneself from all the conditionings and realize ones original innocence and purity. The newborn child is innocent and ignorant; but a person who has become like a child though innocent is also wise.
Who is a wise person? A wise person is not one who has accumulated knowledge, nor is he who knows all the scriptures by heart, nor one who has written commentaries on the scriptures, but one who has realized the limitation of all knowledge and all scriptures and looks into the sky of eternity for wisdom to appear. A wise person is one who has reached the boundary or limit of his own religion and realizes the relativity of those boundaries. To know the relativity of one’s religious boundary is also to know the relativity of the boundaries of other religions because Truth has no boundaries.
A wise person has no boundaries to defend or to extend. He has no system of truth to propagate, but he only invites people to open themselves to the Truth that has no boundaries.
Apara Vidhya and Para Edhya (Inferior Wisdom and Superior Wisdom)
The Mundaka Upanishad (Part 1, ch. 1) speaks of two types of wisdom: apara Vidhya, inferior wisdom (we can call it knowledge) and para Vidhya, superior wisdom (which we can call Wisdom). To the first category belong all the four Vedas (revealed scriptures), all the system of philosophy and their associated subjects. The second is the direct experience of God through which the sages see God everywhere. The first is the indirect knowledge of God, and the second is the direct experience of God. The indirect is called inferior and the direct is called superior. (It is a very devastating definition for those who base their religion on the revealed scriptures only). In this sense a wise person is one, who after exploring the indirect knowledge of God or aporo yidhya, opens himself to the para Vidhya or the direct experience of God. In this sense wise persons are like virgins and children. Thus the nature of virginity, childlikeness and wisdom are one and the same.
Why dose God need a &gin, a Child, and mse Men? God, the Truth, has two aspects: the manifested, revealed and immanent; and the un-manifested, unknown and the transcendent. The revealed or manifested becomes the God of memory, the God of the past, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But the God who is un-manifested, unknown and transcendent is God “I am who I am”. God as “I am” always transcends our memory. God is like an ever-flowing river that will never run dry. The God of memory is like a pot of water taken fiom the river. When the God ofthe past is absolutized the door to the living God is closed and direct contact with him is lost. People are ever content with the pot of water brought from the river and unfortunately they forget the living river. Then the tradition, the non-virgin takes upon itself the task of giving continuity to memory. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, who was drawing water fiom the well of Jacob, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks the water I give him will not be thirsty. No, the water I give shall become a fountain within him leaping up to provide eternal life” (In. 4.13-14) The well of Jacob is the symbol of the God of memory, the God of tradition. Jesus himself drank fiom the well of Jacob, from the tradition of Jacob. But he found later the well within himself and he was no longer dependent on the well of Jacob and he was not inviting the Samaritan woman to stop drinking from the well of Jacob and to come to his well as this does not change her situation. It would have been a change only from one dependency to another form of dependency. Jesus was indicating to the Samaritan woman the spring that was hidden in her own heart. The message 4 of Jesus helped her to dig the well within herself and to f~ntdh e living water within so that she did not need to go to the wells of others, either of Jacob or Jesus.
The difficulty with the God of memory is that it creates division within humanity. The God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob divided humanity into Jews and Gentiles. He had boundaries to defend or extend. In Kena Upanishad (Cf. Part 2) it is said that he, who says that he knows God, does not know him. He, who says that he cannot know Him, also does not know Him. But he, who says that he knows God and yet he cannot say hc k~iows Him, knows Him. To know the God of memory, the God of scriptures and at the same time to be in a state of unknowing is the essence of being a virgin, a child and a wise person. It is for this reason God needed a virgin, a child and a wise person. who could stop the continuity of the God of memory and give birth to the God of eterniw who could unite humanity. The God of eternity does not abolish the God of memory but certainly fulfills our understanding of Him. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt.5.17.). Jesus could say, “Before Abraham was I am” (Jn.8.58). Because he transcended Abraham. Memory or tradition without contact with the living God becomes stagnant and irrelevant, and loses its vitality and symbolism. We are aware today how the symbols of Christian tradition have become irrelevant for the spiritual needs ofpresent generation.
Jesus is n Virgin, a Child and a Wse Man Jesus was born into a Jewish tradition. Judaism was his spiritual mother. It was his way, his truth and his life. He was nourished by the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob. He drank from the well of Jacob. But slowly he discovered the limitations of his tradition, which divided humanity into Jews and Gentiles, which barred people from entering the living waters, the living God. He heard the call of God, like Mary, to become a virgin, to become a child and a wise man, and to give birth to Eternal Wisdom. This brought him to the moment of repentance, ofrebirth, the moment of baptism, which was the turning point in his life. He came out of the womb of Judaism, out of the God of memory and gave birth to the God of Eternity.
He saw the &tar of Eternal Wisdom. Judaism was no longer the way, the truth and the *** life for him. The external way has given place to the internal way. He longer followed a way outside. He no longer had a religion to which he could belong. He no longer had a system of truth externally to believe. He no longer had a role-model or model of life to follow. He himself was the way, the truth and the life. He could say boldly, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. He entered the realm of originality and became an original person.
This statement of Jesus is the summit of his spiritual journey. A person who says, “I am the way, the truth and the life “will not ask others to follow him. He can only invite people to discover this potentiality for themselves and declare “I am the way, the truth and the life”. This eternal wisdom breaks down the walls of division and creates one God and one mankind. There are no longer the divisions of Jews and the Gentiles, male or female, Greeks or Barbarians, free or slave. There is only one God and only one mankind. God is the God of all. He has no boundaries.