Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sign of Jonah

During the last week two incidents happened which had a great connection. First, I was browsing some old images of my visit to Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, UK. and chanced upon the stained glass image of Jonah and the whale and second, I read the following passage in the Bible, purely by chance, and was struck by the coinsidence and the deep wisdom it conveys.

“For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.
The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here”.
………………… Luke 11:30-32

Those of you who are familiar with the Bible know the episode of Jonah and his unwillingness to carry the message of Yahweh to the people of Nineveh and how he was trying to escape this assignment and set sail in a ship which was threatened to be wrecked by a storm and he was thrown into the sea by the mariners when they came to know that Jonah had disobeyed his god and his god was angry. He was swallowed up by a whale and deposited on the shore near Nineveh after spending three days in the belly of the whale.

Many of us read the story as evident from the literal interpretation of the words and the meaning it conveys. The deeper understanding from a spiritual dimension is that Jonah after the initial reluctance, was involved in a stormy encounter in his own consciousness relating to the mission given by Yahweh, which was to make the people of Nineveh to turn away from sin to holiness. Sin here really means ignorance of one’s true nature and holiness means the wisdom of realizing one’s divine nature. The Three days in the belly of the whale is the descent of Jonah’s own soul into what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul”. It is only when one emerges out of darkness one is able to appreciate the value of light. The emerging out of the belly of the whale is enlightenment or satori.

This is the reason that Luke in his Gospel quotes Jesus words where His role is stated to be above one that was played by Jonah as a conveyer of highest level of wisdom. The queen from the south is the Queen Sheba, who sought the Wisdom of Solomon. The wisdom seekers of Nineveh and Queen Sheba received lesser wisdom which was not in the higher plane of self realization as the wisdom that Jesus was able to impart through His deeds and words.

Bhagavad-Gita is a classical enumeration of wisdom tradition as it reveals the wisdom seeking Arjuna being given the spiritual wisdom of self realization through various modes and the ultimate defeat of forces of ignorance or avidya in the battle of Kurukshetra, which many commentators like Adi Sankara call Dharmakshetra, abode or field of righteousness.

In every spiritual tradition great masters have appeared and continue to appear just as Krishna, Buddha or Jesus but we are blinded by the glamour of material well being and comfort and fail to see the sign of Jonah.

Love to you all


  1. The spiritual dimension of Jona's experience appeals to me than the literal interpretation of living inside the whale for three days.

    good one!