Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Born of the Spirit

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again’.” ……John 3:1-7

He from whom the pupil gathers the knowledge of his religious duties is called the teacher. Him he should never offend. For he causes the pupil to be born a second time by imparting to him sacred learning. The second birth is the best; the father and the mother produce the body only.
………..Apastamba Dharma Sutra 1.1

Today there are a number of new age traditions which are based on a ‘born again’ concept. But it is sad that the meaning of being ‘born again’ is consigned to some ritual confirmation and some sort of an exclusive membership. This is rampant in Christian traditions due to the reason of the passage quoted above from the Gospel of John. But being born a second time is not an exclusive in religious teaching to Christianity. Both the ‘Apastamba Dharma Sutra’, which was a composition of the Apastamba school in South India in 600 – 300 BCE, and the earlier writings ‘Manu Smriti’ or “Laws of Manu’, clearly talk about the need for a second birth. Though these writing and sayings clearly indicate the need for a renewal or new birth through the spirit, what does this really mean?

The words of Jesus are very emphatic on the nature of human existence. The birth of the flesh and the birth of the spirit are both essential part of the process human destiny. The ritual of baptism and anointing signifies both these births. Baptism is not a ritual of initiation into a membership or some cleansing of original sin. It is the reminder of the two births that is essential for every human being in the life process. In the early Christian tradition and in some denominations of Christian faith, adult baptism by immersion is practiced. This has a better imagery for one to realize what is being performed and its true significance. The best example is from the life of Jesus and his baptism in the hands of John the Baptist. The immersion and emergence from the water signifies the physical birth as witnessed in the breaking of the
amniotic fluid and emerging out of the womb. The laying of hands and anointing signifies the spiritual birth and the role of the god-parents is one of being the spiritual mentor or Guru.

The greater significance of the spiritual birth is emphasised in the Vedic writing as quoted above. When the ‘Laws of Manu’ states “In the eighth year after conception, one should perform the initiation (upanayana) of a Brahmin, in the eleventh year after conception of a Kshatriya, and in the twelfth that of a Vaishya. Thus has been described the rule for the initiation of the twice-born, which indicates a new birth, and sanctified.
Of him who gives natural birth and him who gives the knowledge of the Veda, the giver of the Veda is the more venerable father; for the birth for the sake of the Veda ensures eternal rewards both in this life and after death.”
……….. Laws of Manu 2.36, 68, 146

Original Varna or caste category was purely based on spiritual advancement of the individual. This is the reason for larger period of waiting for attaining mental maturity to understand the process of spiritual initiation.
It is said: -
Janmana Jayate Sudrah Karmana Jayate Dvijah - By birth one is a Sudra; by Karma (i.e., the investiture with the sacred thread. The three strands of the sacred thread has a Trinitarian symbolism for a life to be led in purity through thought, word and deed, of knowledge through the three Vedas and the oneness with the Trinitarian deity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) he becomes a Dvija. - Upanayana or thread ceremony is the second birth; hence, those invested with the sacred thread are called Dvijas (Dvija means born twice).

Let us in every moment of our life be reborn in the spirit through purity of thought, words and deed.

Love to you all