An Asian Reading of the Gospel According to John
By Sebastian Painadath, S.J.
Sebastian Painadath, S.J. is founder-director of Sameeksha Center for Indian Spirituality at Kalady, Kerala, India. His courses and retreats are based on Indian spiritual classics. A resource person of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences for interreligious dialogue, he has publishedSonnengebet, Eine indische Form des Morgengebetes and Geist reisst Mauern nieder, Wie wir durch Dialog unseren Glauben vertiefen koennen. He also edited The Theological Writings of Sebastian Kappen, Vols. I and II, Delhi, 2001 and Solitude and Solidarity, Ashrams of Catholic Initiative, Delhi, 2003.
An Asian Reading?
Is an Asian reading of a Gospel possible? If the insinuation is that this is not possible, the inherent assumption is that there can be only one universally valid interpretation of the Gospel. But in the history of the Church there has been several schools of interpreting the New Testament texts. During the period of the Church Fathers (2nd-5th century) there were different schools of Biblical interpretation like the Alexandrian and the Antiochean schools in the Greek East, the Latin schools in the West, and the Syriac schools in the Near East. The Fathers of the Church developed modes of reading the Scriptures in correlation to their cultural milieu and in response to the needs of the local Church. In their sermons and treatises there is a rich variety of interpretations of the texts. This variety has been to a great extent lost in the course of the subsequent centuries. Dogmatic concerns could override Scriptural interpretation to such an extent that a creative reading of the Word of God was held in suspicion. During the last hundred years attempts have been made to develop a hermeneutic reading of the Scripture and an inculturated interpretation of the texts. As a result we have rich material of exegetical and hermeneutic studies evolving on the landscape of Biblical interpretation worldwide. On the whole the western re-search probes into the exegetical framework, the Latin American studies articulate the social-liberative relevance, and the Asian interpretations pursue an interreligious hermeneutics. With all these creative works the Church is rediscovering the pristine genius of the Church Fathers. Pluralism in the interpretation of Biblical texts is now an accepted method. The length and the breadth, the height and the depth of the mystery inherent in the Word of God cannot be exhausted by just one normative interpretation.
At every time and in every new situation we have to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. There is now a great openness in the Church for this listening to the Word. We are living in a period of kairos.
Hence the question is valid: is an Asian reading of the Gospel according to John possible? Let me first explain what I mean by Asian reading.
The Pursuit of Intuition
An Asian reading of a text would be constantly sensitive to the cultural ethos and religious psyche of Asians. The following elements seem to be vital in describing the Asian sensitivity: a holistic view of reality, a contemplative outlook on nature, an ascetical approach to life, a tolerant attitude to religions, and a pluralistic way of perceiving the Divine. On the whole Asian sages experience the divine, the cosmic, and the human realities not primarily as objects of analysis but as subjectsof experience. The perceiving subject enters into the perceived object and becomesone with it. Ultimately there is nothing that can be determined as the other, as a second reality, as something alien. Ekam sat reality is one; vipra bahudha vadanti, (Rig Veda, 1.164.46), those who perceive it speak of it in different ways. The asian psyche is very sensitive to the underlying unity of reality. Hence, in inter-personal relations the unifying divine presence is the inherent bond of love. The Indian form of greeting namasteh means the Divine in me greets the Divine in you. With things of nature too the Asian psyche resonates so much that one sees the entire reality as pervaded by the Divine (Isa Up. 1.1.) Asians respect the rich plurality of religions because we recognize the underlying unity of spirituality.
The Upanishadic1 sages in their mystical introspection speak of the twofold faculty of perception manah and buddhi:
Mind objectifies everything and analyses reality in its individuality and diversity. Buddhi enters into the depth of reality by uniting it with the perceiving subject. Mind operates within the subject-object polarity: I encounter the thou/it. Buddhi transcends this polarity: I and thou/it merge into a unity of transcendental consciousness. Through the mind one is driven to the fascinating diversity of things while the buddhi delves into the mystery of the unity of reality. Mind pursues the logic of reality; buddhi explores the mystique of reality. "How can he be known by whom all this is made known?" This is the constant search of the buddhi (Brihad. Up. 4.5.15). Mind speculates on the horizontal level, while buddhi contemplates reality in its abysmal depth dimension. Consequently, one acquires analytical knowledge and communicates information through the mind; in the buddhi one is graced with the intuitive knowledge that leads to transformation (Bh. Gita, 10:9-10). The mind-buddhi polarity may be understood in terms of the polarity betweenratio and intuitio, between mens and intellectus. Buddhi is referred to by Christian mystics through terms like sensus mysticus, scintilla animae, apex mentis, theinner eye, the third eye, and Seelenfünklein (Eckehart). Jesus spoke of it as theinner eye, the light within (Lk 11:34-36). In Gautama Siddhartha the inner light of buddhi shone forth and so he became the Buddha.
The Asian sages relentlessly seek the experience of this inner light. Tamaso ma jyothirgamaya, lead me from darkness to light– this is the prayer of the inner pilgrimage in the Upanishads. Once this inner light of the buddhi shines forth "one sees the Self in the self through the Self" (Bhag. Gita 6,20) , and further one sees the Self in all and everything in the Self (Brih Up. 1,4,10; Isa Up. 6-7; Mundak Up. 2.2.1; Bhag. Gita, 6:27). This is a deepening of awareness, an expansion of consciousness. What evolves out of this is a holistic vision of reality. The Divine is experienced as the ultimate subject of everything (Tait. Up. 3.1.1.). The entire reality evolves out of the divine ground of being. One can then taste and see the divine presence in every bit of reality ( Bhag, Gita, 7:7-10). The earth is the body of the Lord and the breath the life-energy of the Divine, the sun is the eye of the Divine and the waters are the abode of the Divine; the whole cosmos is permeated by the divine presence. One experiences oneself and the entire reality soaked in the Divine (Brih.Up. 3.7.3; Set.Up, 1.15-16; Mund. Up,2.2.2; Bhag. Gita, 18:61; 10:20; Ch.11.). This experience makes one deeply compassionate, as one feels a deep sense of oneness with all beings (Brih Up. 5.2; Tait.Up. 1.11; Bhag Gita, 12:13). This mystical worldview is something characteristic of Asian religions. This is vibrant in the life of the primal peoples (tribals) and articulated in the Scriptures of the Asian religions.
It is from this perspective that I would like to attempt here an Asian reading of the Gospel according to John.
The Self-awareness of Jesus
The basic question that an Asian sage asks is: who am I? (koaham). The genuine seeker is not satisfied with the answers he/she gets from the world of the senses, or through the reasoning mind. One probes into the deeper levels of consciousness, one enters upon an inner spiritual pilgrimage with a relentless quest for theBeyond. John the evangelist presents Jesus with this inner quest. (The question on the multiple authorship of the Gospel I leave open.) In the Gospel we encounter the contemplative Jesus. No other New Testament author seems to describe the inner mystical self-consciousness of Jesus so powerfully like John. Wasn’t John himself a mystic, and hence, so dear to Jesus? Perhaps no other person knew the inner life of Jesus so closely as John. In the deep moments of ecstasy (Transfiguration on Mount Tabor) and in the intense moments of agony (Gethsemane, Calvary) John was close to Jesus. As Jesus retired to the silence of the mountain or of the seashore he must have often taken John with him. Thebeloved disciple must have watched closely how the Master sank into the depth of contemplation. Hence, no one else could describe so powerfully how Jesus got into mystical communion with the Father.
In the Gospel according to John we find Jesus constantly going into the level of hisbuddhi with the question, who am I? And Jesus emerges with a powerful self-consciousness, with a clarity about his divine being and salvific mission. Three dimensions can be seen in the divine self-understanding of Jesus:
(i) The Father sent me. Jesus had an abiding sense of being sent by the Divine whom he called the Father (3:16, 5:36-38, 7:28-29, 10:36, 17:3). As Son, Jesus understood his mission as "doing the will of the Father" (4:35, 5:30, 6:38) and "completing the work of the Father" (4:34, 6:29, 9:3). In this experience there is a sense of distinction between the one who sends forth and the one who is sent. This is the dimension of interpersonal relationship.
(ii) I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Jesus knew that the Father who sent him is with him (8:16, 29; 16:32, 14:10), and in him as well (14:10, 17:21, 23). And Jesus experienced himself in the Father (14:10, 15:10, 17:21). This is an experience of mutual immanence, intense mutual compenetration (perichoresis). There is no Father without the Son, no Son without the Father. This is the dimension of intrapersonal relationship.
(iv) The Father and I are One. In the deepest divine consciousness Jesus could exclaim "The Father and I are one" (10:30, 17:11, 21,23). He felt that his being was totally transparent to the Divine and hence his words and works were fully the self-communication of the Divine. Jesus experienced his being as the outflow of the Divine presence. Hence he could say:
This is the experience of absolute unity between the Son and the Father. The unity in the depth of the Divine cannot be expressed in personalistic terms. It is the experience of the dimension of a transpersonal relationship.
These three dimensions of Jesus’s self-consciousness are not to be taken as three phases of growth or as three spheres of perception; rather, these could be understood as integral dimensions of his divine self-consciousness. The Indian sages speak of three dimensions of one’s self-awareness (atmabodha).
(i) I and the Divine are two. Here the emphasis is laid on the distinction. The human and the Divine are experienced as two realties. This is experience of duality (dwaita).
(ii) I am a particle of the Divine. Here the emphasis is on participation, on indwelling presence. The human is the abode of the Divine, particle of the Divine. This is the experience of qualified-nonduality (visishtadvaita).
(iii) I am one with the Divine. Here the emphasis is on unity, on One-ness. The human is one with the Divine. There is no reality second to the Divine (advaita).
All the three are integral dimensions of any genuine God experience, one cannot be isolated from the others. This Asian mystical triad is not a tool to interpret the experience of Jesus. In fact no mystical experience can be adequately interpreted from outside. However, the Asian experience helps us to understand the deeper dimensions of the self-awareness of Jesus. On the one hand Jesus experienced his mission of being sent by the Father, and on the other hand Jesus experiencedoneness with the Father. In his self-awareness there is an integration of both. Ultimately, this is the experience of total transparency of his human awareness to his divine consciousness, total union of his being-human with his being-Divine. The unfolding of the divine consciousness in the human awareness of Jesus may be seen as a process that involved suffering. "During his life on earth he offered up prayer and entreaty, with loud cries and with tears, to the one who had the power to save him from death and, winning a hearing by his reverence, he learnt obedience—Son though he was—through his sufferings" (Heb 5:7-8).
The Poetic Imagery
In the mystical Gospel according to John the inner experience of Jesus has been described in poetic symbols. Symbols are in fact more adequate to express mystical experience than concepts. Poetry is a better language of spirituality than dogma and philosophy. The fourth Gospel is rich in poetic images; most of them are archetypal symbols. Much of the classical Indian Scriptures is poetry. The poets and sages of Asia chanted hymns to the glory of the all pervading divine Presence. John’s Gospel is often looked upon as a Christopanishad, as a book of poetry and wisdom on Jesus Christ.
We shall examine here three poetic symbols which describe the divine self-awareness of Jesus:
(i) The Tree. Jesus spoke of himself as the Vinestock (15:5). No vinestock or stem of a tree stands by itself; it is supported and enlivened by the roots hidden in mother earth. "I draw life from the Father," Jesus said (6:57), pointing to the Father as the source of his being. "The Father who has life in himself has granted the Son also to have life in himself." (5:26) If this statement can be associated with the imagery of the tree, Jesus experienced the Father as the root of his being. In this sense Jesus could say that he "came forth from the Father" (8:42; 13:3), and that he was "sent forth by the Father" (7:29).
"From him I am" (par autou eimi, 7:29)— this is a clear statement about the consciousness of consubstantiality between the Father and the Son (homoousios). The root and the stem of a tree are consubstantial. They are one yet two; distinct, but not separate. What binds them is the constant flow of the vital sap, which is the symbol of the divine Spirit. Water of life has been a powerful symbol of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel (7:39). The Spirit flows from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father permeating the divine Life (perichoresis). Jesus experienced himself as the outgrowth of the divine stem (Son) that is born of the divine root (Father) and nourished by the divine sap (Spirit).
(ii) The Well. Jesus described himself as the well that offers the waters of divine life. To the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well Jesus said: "Whoever drinks that water will be thirsty again; but no one who drinks the water that I shall give him will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up for eternal life" (4:13-14). Here Jesus understands himself as the outflow of the divine well-springs. No well can exist without the hidden springs. If Jesus understood himself as the well, the Father is like the hidden springs. Hence he could claim: "I came forth from the Father" (8:14); "The Father who is the source of life has made the Son also the source of life" (5:26). What constitutes the springs and the well as water-sources is the flow of water, and this is the symbol of the Spirit. What comes forth from the hidden springs of the Father through the well, that the Son symbolizes, is the Holy Spirit (7:39). Hence, Jesus could invite all who are thirsty: "Come and drink from me!" (7:37). Jesus experienced himself as the outflow of the divine well (Son) that opens the hidden divine springs (Father) and communicates the divine waters (Spirit).
(iii) The Word. The fourth Gospel begins with the hymn of Logos. Jesus is described as the Word that is God: the Word of God, the Word with God ((1:15). Every word emerges out of the womb of silence. Jesus experienced himself as the articulation of the Word of the Father. In his atmabodha (enlightenment) Jesus said: "What I speak comes not from within myself, but from within the Father (12:49; 14:10, 24; 7:16). The Father is the true Self that speaks through the Son. The Father is the silence behind the Word that is born of it. "His voice you have never heard." (5:37)–This is how Jesus spoke of the Father in him. The words of Jesus came from within a deep sense of divine silence before the mystery of the Father. What fills the silence and the word is the meaning, the content, the truth. Hence, Jesus describes the Spirit as the Spirit of Truth: the Spirit that is Truth itself (14:17, 15:26). The Greek word for truth (aletheia) means opening, unfolding. It is the Spirit that unfolds the silence of the Father through the Word that the Son is. Hence, true entry to the presence of the Divine is through Truth: Worship the Father in Spirit and Truth (4:23-24). Jesus experienced himself as the expression of the divine Word (Son) that articulates the divine silence (Father) and communicates the divine Truth (Spirit.).
The Fathers of the Church developed these symbols of the Gospel in their reflections on the Trinity and used a language of poetry in their theology. "The Father is the hidden source and the root of the being of the Son" (Ambrose, ML. 16,642; Tertullian, Apol. 21, 11). "The Son comes out of the Father like the rays from the sun, like the river from the springs" (Hyppolitus, MG. 7,1173). "The Son is born from the source which is the Father" (Origen, John, 3,5). "The Son is born from the womb of the Father" (Ambrose, ML. 16, 642). Perhaps no one has brought out this symbolic language on the Trinity so powerfully like the lay theologian Tertullian:
"God has brought forth the Word like the root bringing forth the shoot, like the springs bringing forth the river, like the sun bringing forth the rays. All these expressions are in fact the outflow of the being from its respective source. The shoot is the son of the root, the river is the son of the springs, the rays are the son of the sun. Every source is the mother-base, and everything that is brought forth is born from this source This is much more applicable to the Word of God, Which has the name Son meaning being born from the source." (Adv. Praxeam, 4)
Three insights seem to emerge from this poetic language: (i) God as Trinity means that God is a living God, a self-outpouring God. God’s being is Self-communication; God is Love. (ii) The three in the triune God does not refer to three persons in the sense of our present day understanding of person as an individual with an independent center of freedom and will. Rather, the Trinity consists of a threefoldsubsisting relation. Within the inner-trinitarian perichoresis Father and Son and the Spirit are oriented to one another. They are essentially one yet distinct in three. (iii) Jesus experienced the Divine as the true subject of his being and works and words. He lived in the abiding consciousness that the Father-in-him spoke through him and the Spirit guided him entirely. The human consciousness of Jesus was fully transparent to the divine presence. The being and life of Jesus was then the outflow of the inner-trinitarian life into the world. Hence, the disciples could exclaim: "You are the Son of the living God." The first Christian community experienced in Jesus the face of God turned towards humanity.
The Father of Jesus is Mother
Jesus lived in the abiding consciousness of being the Son born of the Father: as Son. This is not the image of a patriarchal Father residing above, but that of a motherly Father abiding in him as the inner fountain continuously giving birth to Jesus’ being. The three symbols we have examined above are in fact symbols of motherliness. For the stem the root is the hidden mother-base; for the well the underground springs are like a generating source. The words are conceived in the womb of silence. The root, the well-springs, and the silence of thought are archetypal symbols of motherliness. These constantly give birth to the tree, the well, and the words respectively. The term Father in Jesus’ language has masculine overtones; but the term abba in Jesus’ experience has motherly undertones. And when we are sensitive to this motherly dimension of his divine consciousness we realize that Jesus was not in fact addressing a Father figure above him, but turning to the Mother within him. This is not just a question of shifting the gender language, but an invitation to dive into the mystical depth of the experience of Jesus.
In the Father a baby experiences the primal encounter with the thou, but in the mother it experiences the primal sense of the I. For the baby being breastfed the mother is the true self of its self, the I within the I. The vital sap flows from the body of the mother into the baby and gives it all that it needs. The baby experiences a deep oneness with the mother. It may say: the mother is in me, I am in the mother, the mother and I are one. This has been the language of Jesus in relation to his divine Father. Jesus experienced the Divine as his mother-base, as the source of his life, as the true subject of his being, and in this sense he named it the Father. And Jesus experienced himself as the expression of the motherly compassion of the Divine. Hence he could invite those who are thirsting for God-experience with the words: "Come and drink from me!" (7:38). Who can say this except a mother to her little baby? Just as the milk from the mother’s body becomes the vital sap for the child, the living water that one drinks from Christ becomes a "spring welling up to eternal life" in the believer (7:38, 4:14). In his self-awareness Jesus understood himself as the embodiment of the compassion of the Divine; the Hebrew word rechem means the many stilling breasts of God. In his words and dealings with the poor this compassion was clearly manifest.
The Divine as the compassionate Mother—this is an imagery that resonates well with the Asian religious psyche. All beings take birth from the Divine, all beings are nourished by the vital energies of the Divine and all return finally to the Divine base.
That from which these beings are born, that through which they live, and that into which they finally enter— that is Brahman (Tait. Up. 3.1.1.).
He who dwells within the earth (and everything), yet distinct from the earth, whom the earth does not know, whose body the earth is, who controls the earth from within—he is the divine Self, the inner controller (antaryami), the immortal One (Brih. Up. 3.7.3).
The presence of the divine Spirit in the universe is the vibrant presence of the motherly life-giving energies. It is like the flow of the vital sap in the tree (Chand. Up. 6.11.1), like oil in the sesame seed, like butter in milk, like current in the river (Swet.Up. 1,15-16), like salt in the sea-water (Brih. Up. 1.4.7).
This whole universe is pervaded by the divine Lord (Isa Up. 1.1).
Just as spokes are fixed on the axis of the wheel, so are all things fixed on the Divine (Brih. Up. 2.5.15).
This Asian experience of the universal immanence of the Divine throws light on the divine-consciousness of Jesus. Deep within him and all around him Jesus felt the vibrant presence of the divine motherly Father, the life-giving power of the divine Spirit. His consciousness was soaked in the Divine and hence, he understood himself as the Son, the healing and saving outflow of the Divine.
God as the Subject of Being
If Jesus experienced the Divine as Mother, it was the experience of the Divine as the true subject of his being. The term "subject" does not deny the human soul of Jesus, nor does it negate the inner-trinitarian distinction between the Father and the Son; rather, it upholds the life-giving relation of the Father to the Son. Jesus experienced the Father as the motherly source, and hence, as the whence of his being (yatah). As subject the Father is the source of all that the Son is; hence, God as subject in the divine consciousness of Jesus meant that he experienced the Divine as the ultimate source and abiding power of all that he did and said.
These and similar sayings which articulate the self-awareness of Jesus reveal the deep intimacy Jesus had with the divine Ground which he called the Father. In the intensity of this intimacy Jesus exclaimed: "The Father and I are One" (10:30). This oneness experience fills the final prayer that is found in chapter 17.
The Asian perception is one of deep mystical oneness. Overwhelmed by the universal immanence of the Divine the sages describe reality in terms of its ultimate unity. Even in the dwaita and visisthadvaita perceptions there is an undercurrent of an advaitic experience. One who intuits the ontic oneness can experience the Divine as the ultimate and all-embracing subject of reality. The most powerful expression of this experience is found in the aphorism: "I am Divine" (aham Brahmasmi, Brih Up. 1.4.10). This does not necessarily mean that the reality of the world is denied, rather it means the reality of anything finite is to be assessed in relation to the one infinite reality, the Brahman. The world has its existence only in relation to the Divine. As the ultimate subject of all, the Divine permeates everything finite and operates through everything.
The mind probes into the truth of reality and asks: "Impelled by whom does the mind dart forth? Directed by whom does life start on its way?
"Incited by whom is the word we speak? Who is the God who directs eye and ear?"
The sage from within his intuitive experience answers: "That which cannot be expressed by words, but that by which the word is expressed—this is Brahman, understand well, and not what is worshipped here as such. That which cannot be thought by the mind, But that by which the mind is thought—this is Brahman, understand well, and not what is worshipped here as such.
"The ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, the word of the word and the breath of the breath, the eye of the eye…this is Brahman."
This intuition is however not a definition of the Divine, for the sage knows well that the ultimate subject cannot be adequately the object of thought and worship:
There the eye does not reach, nor speech nor mind. We do not know or understand how this can be taught. It is other than the known and beyond the unknown (Kena Up. 1:1-9).
When the Divine is experienced as the ultimate subject of all, it is an affirmation of the unfathomable mystery of the Divine. Jesus lived out of an intense experience of the mystery of the Divine. Even in the deepest intimacy with the Father he could say: "The Father is greater than I" (14:28). The upanishadic insights on the Divine as unfathomable mystery and universal subject give some light to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth of the mystery of Christ.
The Divinization of the Human
We have been meditating on the inner experience of Jesus. What then is the experience that Jesus wanted to share with his disciples and with all of us who believe in him? If Jesus experienced the Father as the subject of his being, we are invited to experience the Divine as the subject of our being through Christ. Through his inner experience Jesus becomes for us the way and the door to enter this mystical dimension of the God experience. He shares with us the divine light and makes us partake in the divine life. The Spirit of Christ makes us have a share in the experience that Jesus had with the Father. This is most vividly expressed through the symbol of the tree. "I am the stem and you are the branches" (15:5). The one vital sap that flows from the root into the stem flows further up into the branches. Just as the stem is conjoined to the root, the branches are conjoined to the stem. Just as the stem evolves out of the root, the branches evolve out of the stem. Ultimately, there is no difference between the relationship of the stem with the root and the relationship of the branches with the stem. There is only one flow of the vital sap, one stream of the divine Spirit from the Father through the Son into us. Awakening to this Jesus said:
The preposition just as (kathos) expresses the deep oneness we have with the Divine through Christ. Jesus wanted to share with us the experience that he had: being sent by the Divine, being in the Divine, and being one with the Divine. We are thus invited to live in Christ. This is a call to a Christic consciousness in our spiritual life. If with Jesus we ask ourselves, who am I, (koaham), we come to the realization that we are sons/daughters of God, we are branches of the divine tree, flames of the divine fire, waves of the divine ocean. It is the realization that Paul had in an ecstatic moment: "I live, not I, Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). The Spirit of God manifested in Christ makes us realize that we are sons/daughters of God (Rom. 8:16). "Everyone who is joined to the Lord is one Spirit with him" (1Cor 6:17). Is not this transformation of consciousness meant by the demand of Jesus, "you have to be reborn in Spirit and water" (Jn 3:5)? This is also implied in the repeated use of the verb to know in the Gospel according to John. What one knows is not so much an object, but the deeper divine dimension of the subject itself. Through gnosis we are graced with an entry into the atmabodha (enlightenment) of Jesus.
This is the gnosis that makes us realize the divine dimension of our being. This is given as the grace of the present moment. Those who believe in Christ and know the divine insertion into him have already the eternal life (3:36, 5:24, 6:40). Christic consciousness is not something yet to come, but it unfolds within our hearts right now. Eternity is the divine depth dimension of the present moment (nunc aeternum). Jesus of the fourth Gospel constantly assures us of the transformation of our being into the divine life.
In the heritage of the Fathers of the Church and of the mystics there has been a valuable insight articulated through the expression theosis (divinization). Perhaps no one has said this so clearly as Augustine: "God became a human person, so that human may become God" (PL.38:1997). Irenaeus also spoke along the same line: "Through his immense love the Word of God became what we are, so that we may become perfectly what he is" (PG. 7:1120). For Origen faith meant an elevation of consciousness: "When our consciousness is completely purified and through contemplation elevated above the material realm, it will be divinized by God" (Comm. on Jn 32:27). "The Word became man, a human being so that we humans may become divine" (Athanasius, PG. 25:192). In the oriental tradition this insight has a significant place in theology. "Theosis means participation through grace in the nature of God" (John of Damascus, Exp. Fidei, 88:18). Through theosis we are "brought into the energy-field of the Divine" (Gregorios Palamas, Hesychasts).
"The one who knows the Divine becomes divine" (Brahmavid brahmaiva bhavati,)—this is a basic mystical insight that vibrates in the Upanishads. Jnana is not just knowledge of an objective reality; rather, it is an introspection into the divine depth dimension of the knowing subject. The sage (jnani) participates in the divine reality and realizes his oneness with the Divine. This wisdom through inner mystical union is something basic in Asian spirituality. Once the inner eye of the buddhi is opened a new consciousness unfolds. Everything is perceived in its ultimate depth of oneness. Prajnanam brahma, consciousness is divinized (Ait. Up. 3.1.3). Here the subject-object polarity is transcended. Jesus’ invitation to know him so as to abidein him and thus to become one with the Divine resonates well with the mystical sensitivity of the Asian sages. "May they all be one"—this prayer of Jesus resounds in the hearts of all seekers beyond the barriers of religions and cultures. In it the relentless human quest for union with the Divine is articulated and the divine assurance that we are called to a higher consciousness is offered.
1. The Upanishads are the mystical writings of the Indian sages, 900-400 BCE. The Scriptural passages are quoted from the Indian sources for the mere reason that the author is more acquainted with them.
• Summary-description of the process of the Asian Contemplative Retreat based on the Gospel according to John, given at EAPI in August 2003