Mr Joseph Vempeny
Posted on : 04/02/2008 06:57:33
Kingdom of God
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
“The kingdom of God is in the hearts of men.” Tolstoy.
What we learn from the Gospels, from the teachings of Jesus, is that the goal of a Christian is to attain the Kingdom of heaven. It seems synonymous with salvation. John the Baptist and Jesus began their teachings with similar words to the effect: “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Turn away from your old ways.” Many of the parables that Jesus used in his teachings are meant to explain the concept of the Kingdom of heaven. Sometimes this is referred to as the Kingdom of God.
What is this Kingdom and where is it? How and when can one attain this goal or place? The answers to these questions can be found at different levels of simplicity as, like many sublime themes the kingdom-concept also has different levels of understanding. The various views on these could be expressed in the following ways.
• The statement, “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” is to be understood as to mean that the end of the world is near. Therefore all should repent and be converted.
• When you die you ‘go’ up to heaven if you lead a good life. It is somewhere ‘up’ there where God rules as king.
• Heaven is the state of happiness, peace and contentment. It is not a particular ‘place’ in this universe or out of it. You have to earn it by your good deeds.
• Jesus shall come back very soon to rule over the whole world as king.
There can be many other ways, many better ways, of understanding the concept of the kingdom of heaven, of salvation, of Moksha, of liberation. There is an equal number, if not more, of ways of reaching this goal, and we all have been instructed in one or more of these since our childhood.
Heaven on Earth
When Jesus said that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, he should have meant that it is so in space and time, that it is here and now. He was asking us to make heaven on earth. He was teaching us how to enjoy happiness, joy and peace on earth. But is this possible? How can we build heaven on earth? I certainly feel that we can and that we must try. He had given us the instructions or guidelines for doing so. His teachings are full of these. I found the following most realistic, useful and practical.
True happiness is when you live “with malice towards none and charity for all.” If you are radiating love to all, if you do not envy or hate anyone or bear malice to anyone, then you really are in a state of happiness and peace, which is ‘heaven’. Heaven is happiness and peace. Here on earth you can enjoy happiness and peace if you live in a state of universal love. What is universal love? In one of my talks to the youth in Zambia I compared love to light and universal love to light without switches and shades. Love in the ordinary sense has shades of discrimination, shining only on the selected few, shades of clan, caste, race, colour and creed. Worse still, you switch it on and off as your moods direct you or as your selfish interests dictate. The universal love I have in mind should have no such shades or switches. Many people around us are very much unlikable and only few are ‘lovable’ characters. Even as you disapprove of and dislike what they do or how they behave, you must never once stop loving them. It is not enough not to hate. You cannot be indifferent to others even. “To love” is a positive command.
In the first letter of John we read, “God is love. He who lives in love lives in God and God in him”. This is what I understand by the term heaven – to live in God, with God living in you. A great Indian poet, Kumaranasan says something similar in one of his poems. The relevant verse may be translated like this “Even heaven do not excel ever present love – saswathasneham. ” This love that Asan has in mind, this Saswatha sneham is the light without shades and switches. Apostle John and the poet Asan tell us that you can and must create heaven on earth by abiding in love. The corollary is equally applicable. When you live in hatred, jealousy, indifference and selfishness you make hell for yourself. A very important point that we all must remember is that by this means we make heaven or hell not only for ourselves but for everyone around us as well. Only universal love can bring peace or joy or happiness. The great sage of China, Confucius (K’ung-fu-tzu) had the concept of ‘jen’ as the key to attaining happiness. According to an ancient commentary, “jen is to love men joyously and from the innermost of one’s heart.”
To be happy it is important that you do not bear malice to anyone. This means you should be prepared to forgive and forget. After teaching the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus made only one remark about the prayer. This was to point out that if you do not forgive others your father in heaven would not forgive you. We all need God’s forgiveness. Different cultures use different means to ask God for forgiveness. This, usually known as penance may be by mortification, fasting, almsgiving, confession or offering of sacrifices. But Jesus maintains that the best way to gain forgiveness from God is by forgiving others. This is another way of expressing one’s love. If you love someone, surely you will hold no grudge against him/her and you will forgive that person and forget the offence. When you let the light of your love shine at all times, on all people, without the switches of moods or shades of discrimination, when your heart is free of hatred, envy or malice, then you are experiencing heaven on earth.
Happiness is being satisfied with what you have. It does not at all matter how much you have. Our basic needs are very limited and the more you have the more problems and cause of unhappiness you shall have. As long as you yearn to have more than what you have, in terms of wealth or amenities or luxury, you will be unhappy. Most people are adept at making hell for them by greed. They feel they do not have enough. How much is enough? For most of us enough is a little more than what we have. Often we assume that our needs are to be determined on the basis of what our richer neighbours have. We never look down to see how lucky we are compared to those who are not as well off as ourselves. It does not matter whether you are rich or poor to be content or to be greedy. To be happy, one has to be content. Increase of wealth does not increase happiness. It may on the other hand increase the problems and tensions in life and add to one’s misery.
People tend to think of the soul or spirit as beginning its life after one’s death. They forget that the soul is a living entity and that it is “alive’ that it needs nourishment and growth. This is the essence of the concept of spiritual life. This is not meant for ascetics or those in monasteries or nunneries. Spiritual life is for everybody and is not meant for certain days or hours of the week either. It must not be divorced from everyday life.
Even if the spirit is alive, it is often imprisoned or under bondage. The soul is often compared to a bird that is at home while soaring high up in the skies or heavens. Attachments to the worldly matters, to wealth and power, are the bondages that prevent the spirit from taking off for its flight. These are the walls that imprison the soul. This is why Jesus advised us against ‘storing up treasures on earth’, for according to him “your heart will be where your treasures are”. Buddha also has something similar to say in this regard, “It is not life, wealth or power that enslave men,” he says, “It is cleaving to life, wealth and power”. Once you are free of such attachments you can experience heavenly happiness here on earth. Non-attachment does not mean renunciation. You can possess wealth, power or friendship as long as you are not tied down to them. You must learn to live in the world without being part of it. The idea of contentment and non-attachment is embodied in the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. And in this first declaration on the Sermon on the Mount he adds the reward for this mode of life, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. He hadn’t said anything about this reward being after one’s death. It is heaven on earth that he talks of. And those who make heaven on earth will enjoy heaven in the next life as well. In the same way we may assume that those who make, here on earth, hell for themselves and others are the candidates to fill the vacancies in hell.
One could also look at the invitation to be prepared for the kingdom of heaven as an invitation to a spiritual life. In this context the meaning of the term spiritual life must be properly understood. Spiritual life is the life of the spirit, of one’s soul. As we have seen earlier the human being is a being of spirit. The true self of a person is not just the body but the soul. Thus spiritual life must be considered as every day life of a person. Neither is it meant for a few individuals or groups of people either, nor is it to be apportioned for some particular hours of the day or particular days of the calendar. Does this mean that everyone must renounce the ordinary life of the world, lock themselves in cloisters and lead lives of renouncement and self-mortification? Not at all. That is not the spiritual life envisioned here. It is a life lived to the fullest where you enjoy happiness, peace and prosperity, the most sensible way to live. Such a life is not meant just for a few highly enlightened souls either. It is open to you and me, to every one of us. To start such a life you do not have to undergo intensive course or be disciplined by a guru. Leading a spiritual life is very simple. The following four cornerstones shall suffice to start building the edifice of your spiritual life, which can go to any heights as you wish. These corner stones are:
• An awareness that God is a being of spirit, present everywhere and thus always with you.
• Awareness that you are a being of spirit, created in the image and likeness of God, a child of God and hence a ‘very important person’.
• Awareness that every other human being is also a being of spirit, a child of God, hence your brother or sister and a ‘very important person’.
• Awareness that you have nothing to worry in this world once you put your absolute trust in God whom you should consider your father or mother
Dr. Ramaswamy Iyengar, director of Chinmaya International Foundation, once told me that to him “spiritual life is a life full of fun and laughter. One wonders why everyone does not accept or embrace this form of life. The problem, in my opinion, should be what I have elsewhere in this book mentioned, the problem of unbalanced evolution. Too much emphasis on material aspect of our life and total neglect of the spiritual aspect. In this connection I must reiterate that there is no shortage of religiosity in our world. There is plenty of that especially the type that makes people hate each other and unfortunately very little of what makes you love one another. In this context I would like to recall what Dr. Abdul Kalam, the President of India said on one occasion, “Religion must graduate to spirituality”.
Religions are generally very stipulative. You must do this and do that for the privilege of entering heaven. This is what you must do to ensure eternal life of bliss. So on goes the stipulations. The leaders of Christian churches have made rules and laws of what to do and not to do, often containing ideas Christ had never dreamt of. If you study some of these stipulations you would think that even 1 % of the people on earth will not reach heaven. But that cannot be true. God did not do so much for man to finally plunge him into eternal darkness.
• See God in others and treat every one with respect and love.
• According to your ability look after the needs of the poor.
• Stand firmly for truth and justice.
• Do good deeds without the desire for the fruit of your actions.
• The greatest happiness is when you make others happy. A smile can go a long way in making others happy. A kind word with a smile is worth much more than an expensive gift with a grouchy face.
To these you may add the golden rule, the common factor of all the masters – “Do unto others what you wish others to do unto you”. Make heaven for others; you will be in that heaven. Make hell for others; you will also be in hell.
The equivalent of the Christian concept of salvation or kingdom of heaven, in Hinduism is the concept of Moksha or liberation – liberation from the bondages of the perishable body, liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. This liberation or Moksha is complete only with the ultimate union with God. There are different paths (marga) or means (Yoga) of attaining this goal. These are the paths of action (karma), devotion (bhakthi), spiritual knowledge (jnana), and the great ascetic progress (raja).
Karma yoga, the path of action, involves a life of doing one’s duties and doing good to others without any desire for the result of the actions. Karma includes any physical or mental action devoid of selfish motives – of wealth, power, fame, even heaven – the only goal being the good that comes out of it results that are beneficial to others.
Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion, is the real genuine search after the Lord, a search beginning, continuing and ending in Love. Some of the many qualities expected of the bhakti yogi may be mentioned here for further clarification of this path. Continuous effort to restrain the mind from contemplating objects of enjoyment, fixing attention on the Lord, daily study of religious texts, service of humans and non-humans, worship of God, truthfulness and straightforwardness, and calm cheerfulness.
Jnana yoga and raja yoga are not for the average people. The first is for the philosophically minded while the latter is for the ascetic. In most of the languages of India, the word Jnana, literally meaning knowledge, is associated with the knowledge of God. The word jnani is used only in reference to a few people who, having relinquished all possessions or attachments live in constant union with the Absolute. The word ajnani meanwhile stands for those who do not believe in God. Jnanayoga is generally understood to involve renunciation or non-attachment. Does it mean that you renounce all interest in the world and people around you? I certainly do not think so. I remember reading somewhere or hearing somewhere the following words that will tell clearly what I have in mind. “Jnana yoga is not renunciation of karma but renunciation in karma”.
In Raja Yoga, the aspirant first prepares himself by the study of the scriptures, by selfless life of devotion and service and by common practices of spirituality. Then he begins meditation in the correct physical posture. This meditation leads the aspirant to the final goal of Samadhi, which is the greatest form of union with the Absolute.