Pravrajika Baradaprana is a senior nun of the Vedanta Society of Southern California at Sarada Convent, Santa Barbara, California. She has contributed articles for various Vedanta journals. The article below is from a class given in the Vedanta Temple in Santa Barbara.
“These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full,” Christ said as recorded in the Gospel of St. John. “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.” The teachings of Christ are imbued with this feeling of joy and love for God and all humankind.
In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount opens with the Beatitudes, teachings which were given to the close disciples of Jesus. They contain the essence of spiritual life, applicable to followers of any faith.
When I was studying the Beatitudes for a class presentation, I found that the exact meaning in several of the verses was not clear to me. This led me to do some research, and I found several books which examined the Gospels in the perspective of the old traditions of the Aramaic language. Aramaic, like Sanskrit, is rich in many connotations of the same word.
As many of you know, Aramaic was the Semitic language used in Palestine during the Roman rule, and this was the language spoken by Jesus and his disciples. The New Testament was first translated from the Aramaic into Greek and later translated into English from the Greek rendition.
For this presentation I am using the translation of the Beatitudes from the King James Bible because of its beauty of language and the added value it has of mantra shakti. For hundreds of years, saints and worshippers of Christ have repeated these verses with great devotion and that has given them a special power.
I will first try to analyze the spiritual content of each Beatitude and then discuss some of the ways we can apply these principles in our daily lives.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Poor in spirit is a traditional Aramaic idiom which connotes humility. The root of the word for spirit means the soul, or the cosmic breath of life. One of the connotations of the Aramaic root of the word for poor is to devotedly hold on to something of great value in the sense that one would be poorer for the lack of it.
This conveys the idea that we should seek God with devotion and humility. The kingdom of heaven refers to the divinity within, for Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is within.
The spiritual aspirant should approach God and the spiritual teacher with humility and eagerness. The disciple’s mind needs to be receptive to the spiritual teachings in order for them to take root. This presupposes that certain preparations have already been made, such as acquiring truthfulness and purity of character.
Humility is a characteristic that we find in truly great persons in any field and it adds a charming dimension to their character. Perhaps they feel humble because they are aware that their inspiration comes from God. Humility does not mean to demean oneself in any way, but to be confident without egotism or pride.
How do we overcome egotism and pride? By identifying ourselves with God and having a feeling of unity with the whole universe. Those who are in tune with God do not push themselves forward, ahead of others.
We can work on our pride by trying to see the best qualities in others, sincerely giving them credit for all their achievements.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Taken at face value, those who mourn for the loss of a loved one and turn their minds toward God in prayer, shall be comforted.
In Aramaic the word mourn also connotes deep longing for something. Those who truly yearn for God with all their hearts shall be comforted. The word comforted in Aramaic has another connotation which means seeing the arrival or seeing the face of something one longs for. When there is a deep spiritual longing for God then his or her grace will be experienced.
On another level, this Beatitude suggests that one who turns to God in any kind of distress or unhappiness will receive comfort.
Most of us feel a lack of fulfillment in our lives, but we forget that the cause of this lack is forgetfulness of our true nature. We cut ourselves off from our connection with God, who is our true Self and the source of all happiness. We continually try to fill the void with transitory pleasures, objects or distractions. We may want to find God eventually, but not quite yet.
Because we falsely identify ourselves with our limited egos, we are unaware of the divine spirit which gives life to our body, mind and senses. Therefore we should always make an effort to feel this divine presence, not only at the times of meditation, but whenever we can during the day.
Ignorance of our true nature will be completely removed when we have the direct knowledge of God. This revelation will come when we have uninterrupted longing for God. Sri Ramakrishna said we must yearn for the Lord with a longing heart and we shall surely see him.
How do we acquire this longing for God? An easy way is through inner prayer. We can talk to the Lord or Mother who dwells within the heart and pray that we may have longing for God. One can pray for divine grace and for the vision of God. Intensity of prayer brings concentration of mind and then meditation follows naturally. When we truly want nothing but God, divine grace comes, and then like a magnet, God draws our mind to that higher consciousness.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are the meek is an Oriental proverb, which is still commonly used in Aramaic-speaking countries. A translation of the word meek from the Aramaic is “gentle,” one who is non-aggressive. The word also indicates one who has surrendered to God.
The Aramaic word for inherit can also mean “to receive from the universal source.” God provides for those who truly surrender to him.
To be meek does not mean to be wishy-washy, but to be gentle and non-aggressive from a position of wisdom and strength. Meekness implies a lack of egotism, and non-assertiveness—to be free from the sense of “I and mine.” We have to give up the idea that we can possess anybody or anything. Everyone and every thing belongs to God. This attitude can bring a great sense of freedom and contentment.
We may have possessions, but they do not possess us. We don’t acquire more than we need, and we are careful not to damage the earth and the atmosphere around us. This is all part of non-assertiveness. By surrendering our ego to God, by claiming nothing as our own, we gain everything. We inherit the earth, as it were.
A passage in the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali supports this idea: “The person who is confirmed in non-stealing becomes the master of all riches.” Non-stealing means giving up the idea that we can possess anything, for it all belongs to God. By giving up attachment we can enjoy our possessions without the worry that attachment brings. Non-assertiveness also implies being thoughtful of others and not being pushy or demanding. This quality is much appreciated, both in the workplace and in the family or group situation.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.
The hunger and thirst which Christ speaks of here is not only hunger for moral virtues, but a hunger and thirst for the knowledge of God. The greater our hunger, the greater will be our fulfillment.
Righteousness, which includes all of the moral virtues, is the basis for spiritual life. Qualities such as truthfulness, kindness, unselfishness, and integrity are the foundations of spirituality. We must be established in those qualities first before real spiritual progress can be made.
Most of us have not yet developed a real hunger and thirst for God. But even a slight interest in realizing God can be strengthened by spiritual disciplines until it grows into a real hunger for God. Regular practices—such as discrimination between the eternal and the transitory, meditation, selfless work and directing our love and prayers to God—are necessary in order to awaken this longing for God.
Often the blows we receive in life force us to go deeper into the meaning and purpose of life. We come to realize that everything we see or experience in the world is of a transitory nature and that God alone exists forever. We have heard that others have had the direct experience of God and so we also can have that experience.
When we can direct all of our thought and energy towards God-realization, the mind becomes one-pointed and filled with the righteousness that Christ speaks of. Then the vision of God is not far away.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
The Aramaic word for mercy connotes pity, love and compassion, radiating from the depths of the body. The root of the word mercy is associated with the womb, indicating a motherly feeling.
There is a verse in the Talmud which says, “Whoever has mercy on others will obtain mercy from God.” God is the mirror of the soul and we receive what we give. This follows the natural law of karma.
The merciful are kind-hearted, forgiving and sensitive to the feelings of others. We are naturally more attuned to the problems of those with whom we come in direct contact, but we should also feel for the miseries of people all over the world, for we are all united in God. In our meditations we can pray for the welfare of others and pray that none should suffer.
The spiritually evolved person is happy at the good fortune of others and genuinely sympathetic with their misfortunes. Envy, jealousy or dislike of people stems from our ego-sense that makes us feel separated from other beings. We cannot be jealous of anyone if we truly feel love for them. Every thought of hate we have towards someone brings a wave of hatred and evil into our own minds. This increases our bondage and ignorance of our true nature.
When negative thoughts arise in the mind we should become aware of them and try to analyze why we are reacting in this manner. Sometimes we can shame ourselves out of negative reactions or we can try to counteract the thought with the opposite thought. For instance, hatred can be counteracted by seeing the reality behind the object of hate. Instead of feeling jealous, we can substitute gladness for someone else’s good fortune and try to feel oneness with them. When we pray for someone and try to feel the presence of God in them, then it becomes easy to love.
When someone hurts us, we should learn to forgive as we would like to be forgiven when we inadvertently hurt someone else. If we want to receive the mercy of God, we must first cultivate mercy, love, and sympathy in our own hearts. Then we shall obtain mercy—the grace of God.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
This is probably the most important of the Beatitudes and certainly the most quoted in our tradition. Swami Vivekananda extolled this Beatitude saying: “This sentence alone would save mankind if all books and prophets were lost. This purity of heart will bring the vision of God.”
The word heart in Aramaic is “lebhon,” which connotes “the center from which life radiates.” The word for see means not only sight, but also has the connotation of “inner” vision or “sudden” insight. In Aramaic, the word see is more accurately translated in the present tense. Those who are pure in heart see God. The root of the word for God (Alaha) means the One and relates to the cosmic force that is everywhere, pervading the soul and every living being.
Purity of heart is the primary requirement for God-realization which is taught in every religion. What is purity and how is it attained? The pure mind has been compared to a crystal clear lake, with not even a ripple on it. The ripples in our minds are the desires, distractions and evil impressions from our past karmas.
An example has been given of threading a needle. If there is the slightest fiber sticking out, the thread will not go through the needle. In the same way, as long as there are distractions and desires in the mind, the mind will not become concentrated and ascend to a higher state of consciousness.
We have to work through our desires and past karmas to reach a point of evolution where the main desire in our life is to realize God. When all the necessary preparations have been made and the mind becomes completely absorbed in its object of meditation, through the grace of God the divine vision is revealed.
Ignorance of our true nature is the initial cause of the impurities in our minds. Instead of being aware of God, who dwells within and without, we see a concrete world which we take to be real. The mind is naturally outgoing—our senses seek the pleasant, while our ego asserts its “I-ness.”
We instinctively cling to this surface-consciousness, even though we know it is limited and often miserable. We don’t want to give it up because it is all that we know. It is said that even when the vision of God is about to be revealed, there is a momentary drawing back for fear of losing this surface life and consciousness.
Therefore it is important for us to discriminate between the eternal and the temporary things of life. The more we can think in this way, the less the mind and senses will be drawn outwards. We can train ourselves to think more and more of God—the Reality which gives life to everything else in the universe.
How can we purify our minds and hearts in order to see God? The impurities of the mind that we have acquired through many births can be replaced by pure and holy thoughts. The more we think of God, the purer our hearts will be; other desires and cravings will lose their hold on us. Then the heart becomes desireless and God is the uppermost thought in our mind; when this happens we can be sure that the vision of God is not far away.
The performance of selfless and dedicated work, without any attachment to the results, is an easy way to purify the heart. We all have to work and if it is done in the right spirit it helps to unwind our karma without creating new karmas. Unselfishness and loving kindness to all beings is a paramount way of purifying the heart.
Repeating the name of God is said to purify both the body and mind, and this can be done at any time or place throughout the day.
Purity is our basic nature. In our meditations we can affirm this innate purity and divinity. The more we think of purity, the purer we become.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
The Aramaic root of the word for peace, Shlama, calls up the image of planting and tilling the ground or of one who is committed to the act of sowing peace. It also connotes uniting all parties in peace. Shlama is related to the Hebrew word for peace, Shalom.
Christ wanted us to be peace loving, openhearted, kind and compassionate. Such people he called the children of God. Those who create peace within and without become integrated inside. When we create peace in our own hearts, we also send a vibration of peace for the whole world.
A beautiful passage in the Bhagavata says: “He in whose heart God has become manifest brings peace, and cheer, and delight wherever he goes.” This gentle quality of peace is evident in illumined souls who create an atmosphere of peace, joy and harmony which is tangibly felt by others.
When we think of God we feel peaceful within, and when we can sustain that feeling of peace, others around us will feel it at least to some extent. In our daily lives we can promote peace by making the effort to be harmonious with others and with our physical environment.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil
against you falsely for my sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Jesus presented in these verses a realistic picture of the society of his time, which was suspicious of a new prophet and would finally crucify him. He knew that the followers of such a prophet would be persecuted for holding to their beliefs. Therefore he assured his disciples that they would receive their reward in another realm, the kingdom of heaven.
We may not be faced with this kind of persecution today, but there are times when we may need to stand up for our beliefs—especially for defending the ideals of religious freedom, harmony, kindness and tolerance for diversity of race and ethnic cultures.
If people want to criticize us for any reason, they will criticize us no matter what we do or say. As long as we have done what we know to be right, we need not be concerned about other people's opinions.
When someone speaks ill of us, our natural reaction is to be offended and to retaliate. This is a reaction of the ego. When we react in this way we lose our balance and cut ourselves off from our connection with God. Criticism and unfair invective offer us an opportunity to discriminate, reaffirm our true nature, and pray for those who speak against us. Sometimes adversity has a positive effect, by forcing us to turn to the Reality for composure and understanding.
The kingdom of heaven lies within each one of us. The illumined soul has found that heaven within his or her own heart. Our reward will come when we reach that state of perfection when our minds always dwell in God. Then we will remain even-minded no matter what befalls us.
The people on our planet are not standing in a straight line,
Look closely. Everyone is really standing in a circle,
holding hands. Whatever you give to the person
standing next to you, it eventually comes back to you.
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