Including sex magic, the Aryan Race, and more-- we investigated: The True Story Behind "The Aquarian Gospel" Movie P.1.
In fact the film is not only based on Dowling’s Aquarian Gospel but also on, Nicholas Notovitch’s bestseller The Unknown Life of Christ. Not surprising both Notovitch and Dowling (aka Levi) ended up being very popular with the Theosophical Socity splintergroups, including also for example the former, I AM / Saint Germain Foundation and The Church Universal & Triumphant. The British Mail&Guardian, ads that the film producers have "delved deep into revisionist scholarship".
Due for release in 2009, the film sets out to be a fantasy action adventure, with the producers saying they are hoping for both commercial and spiritual gains. In our story Jesus was loyal to the untouchables [in India ] and he defended them with his life by saying that everyone could read the Vedas [Hindu holy books]," said William Sees Keenan, the producer. The director is Drew Heriot, who said that "I literally felt goose bumps when Will told me this story, and knew immediately it was my next project." The project will be shot in the US in a stylized high-definition format ala "300". Casting is under way and modern-day spiritual leaders are being sought for cameo roles as prominent historical and religious figures that Jesus encountered.
It is sometimes stated that Jesus visited India either during his "missing years," that is, roughly during the ages of twelve to thirty, a period of Jesus' life about which the New Testament is silent, or after his persecution, when he escaped death, or both.29
Though this claim was never asserted among the standard nineteenth- and twentieth-century Hindu interpreters of Christ I have summarized, it is often stated as fact today. In the words of one Christian theologian and longtime missionary to India, there exists a widespread popular belief that Jesus visited India in the so-called "hidden years" before he began his public ministry, and that he sat at the feet of some Hindu saint from whom he derived his teaching ...On the cross he did not die but merely swooned, and then set off for the East ... Implicit in this story is the claim that Christians have misunderstood Jesus. (Roger Hardham Hooker, Themes in Hinduism and Christianity, Frankfurt and New York: Peter Lang, 1989, 358-359.)
This assertion is repeated by such famous Hindu swamis as Ramakrishna and Paramahansa Yogananda.
It is difficult to trace back to its origins this story of Jesus' travels to India. But it is most likely that the 1894 publication of a Russian journalist, Nicholas Notovitch, called La vie inconnue de Jesus-Christ (discussed below) was instrumental in spreading this belief.
A different version on the Jesus in India theme is associated with the heterodox Islamic Ahmadiyya movement, with roots in Pakistan. The founder of the movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) in a book published in Urdu in 1899 (Masih Hindustan mein) and translated into English in 1938-1939 as Jesus in India suggested that Jesus escaped death on the cross, traveled to India and died a natural death in the city of Srinagar in Kashmir.
The Ahmadiyya legend has been incorporated into Western alternative discourses on Jesus, most notably by Holger Kersten, whose German book Jesus in Indien (1981) has been translated into English as Jesus Lived in India (1986). The main missing link between the South Asian and Western receptions of the Jesus in India legend is the fact thar the early German reports were largely based on interviews with Fida Hassnain, the author of A Search for the Historical Jesus.
Among the dubious source references that Fida Hassnain’s version relies are The Aquarian Gospel, Works of Szekely (re: "Essene Gospel of Peace," etc.) considered forgeries, and The Gospel of Bartholomew -- a work commonly found in Islamic bookstores and published by the Ahmadiyya Mission.
Although esoteric and occult thought like the one exemplified by among others Levi. Dowling’s Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ existed before already in Western history, yet it transformed and grew more popular in the 18th century. Writers from the circles of the Freemasons and Rosicrucian’s related many interesting ‘new’ stories about Jesus. In most 18th century cases this is connected with the idea, that the Jewish Essene community, to which Jesus himself allegedly belonged and where he was educated, was a mysterious esoteric order. Jesus became a great master who could teach humans to find the inner light or, in other words, to come to full self-realization. Stated in a different way, the human being has a spark of eternity within himself (sometimes alternately called “The light of the Christ” or “the Christ within you”) and human beings have to strive to become more and more unified with the light within themselves, with the divine inside them. Jesus is considered one of the greatest masters or teachers. These ideas are growing increasingly stronger and it is Madame Blavatsky who, in the latter part of the 19th century, played an important role in this. Since her publications appeared, the number of authors publishing works in this line has been steadily increasing. But there are many variations and differences within this tradition. A good example is A Course in Miracles, a book allegedly dictated to Helen Shucman by Jesus in the latter part of the 20th century. This book is quite different from most esoteric views of Jesus and instead is strongly influenced by "New Thought" and "Positive Thinking."
Esotericism has had a great influence on Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. But Brown connects his notion of Esoteric-Gnosticism with the “religion of the sacred feminine” mentioned above. Within esoteric-Alchemy, the most important aspect is the unification of the male with the female and Brown/Brown's characters takes/take this very literally through the ritual coitus of man and woman.
Thus we see that a new tradition about Jesus has formed and is growing more and more popular. This, also includes a bestseller at the time, The Life of the Holy Issa, published in 1894 by Notovitch. As we have seen above, it is a small booklet, which Notovitch claims to have discovered in a Buddhist monastery in Kashmir and which describes how Jesus travelled to the east after his twelfth birthday and spent a long time travelling about in the north of India . Jesus wandered there, just as he did later in Palestine, offering support to the poor and running into conflict with the priests, preaching the One God over against the polytheism of India , and then leaving the Indian subcontinent because of the opposition of the priests. He went back to Palestine, arriving there when he was thirty years old. Notovitch visited Kashmir, and was an informer for Prince Vladimir Dolgorouki who had allowed Duleep Singh planning a revolt in the Punjab, to enter Russia initially entertained by H.P. Blavatsky’s publisher M. Katkov (This has been covered in an extensive 1998 German article)
The notion that Jesus had travelled to India remained inspiring. As a result, new stories about Jesus in India arose. In 1899 the book Jesus in India was published by the Muslim Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement. But his story was different from Notoviych's. In his version Jesus travelled to Kashmir with his mother Mary after his crucifixion which he had survived. Other writers combined the two stories. Thus, again and again new stories arise. The esoteric Levi Dowling, who wrote his The Aquarian Gospel in 1908 elaborated on Notovitch extensively. The Russian painter Roerich writes about this period of Jesus' life and claims that he found many traces of it during his journeys in Asia. And so on.
Interest in the idea of Jesus in India has recently picked up considerably because of two books that were published about 25 years ago: first, there was the The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet, the leader of the esoteric movement The Summit Lighthouse (while we above already introduced it with “Church Universal and Triumphant” in this 2e link you can read its complete story), and, second, the German writer Holger Kersten's Jesus lebte in Indien. At the same time, important Hindu gurus like Sathya Sai Baba and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh related information about Jesus' stay in India . Since that time it has become more and more popular. So, here a new tradition has arisen that is rooted very much in the West and is considered to be actual historical fact, an important supplement to what we can read in the New Testament.
To add up the above so far, there thus are two distinct classes of narratives about Jesus' travels in India . The first set of tales involves an early sojourn between the age of twelve, corresponding with the last canonical mention of the young Nazarene's life before his ministry in Palestine, and thirty, when his ministry began. The purpose of this visit was to acquire esoteric knowledge. The second set of tales has Jesus survive the crucifixion and then journey to India, where he lives until he passes on at a ripe old age. These two kinds of narratives are not normally presented in combination. The present discussion will focus on the first tradition, which is more developed as well as more widely accepted. The second tradition will be dealt with briefly because of its connection with the first.
As we have seen in the above link the idea that Jesus studied in India began--an important fact in context of this 'new' $20m movie--in 1894 when the Russian Nicolas Notovitch published La vie inconnue du Jesus Christ (later translated as The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, 1907). The bulk of this work recounts a trip Notovitch made to Kashmir in 1887. While there, he hears of a Buddhist monastery possessing ancient texts that include an account of Jesus' visit to India as a young man. He subsequently travels to Leh in Ladakh, where he visits Hemis Monastery, at which, through an interpreter, he transcribes the most significant sections of two large books containing the story of Issa (as Jesus is called in India). This translated text is subsequently incorporated into his Unknown Life, under the title The Life of Saint Issa.
After telling the story of Israel leading up to Jesus' childhood, Notovitch's transcription relates how Jesus left home at the age of thirteen because he did not wish to marry. He first journeys to northwest India , where he encounters Jains. He then moves to the east coast of India at Juggernath, where "[Brahmin priests] taught him to read and understand the Vedas, to cure by aid of prayer, to teach, to explain the holy scriptures to the people, and to drive out evil spirits from the bodies of men, testoring unto theim the-ic sanity" (The Life of Saint Issa 5:4, in Notovitch 1907). He remains in eastern India for six years, visiting holy places like Benares , preaching the doctrine of the one true God against local superstitions and the doctrine of equality against the caste system. Despite the fact that he is supposedly learning much from his Hindu mentors, in his sermons he emphatically denies the authority of the Vedas and the reality of the chief divinities of the classical Hindu pantheon. Making enemies of the Hindu priests, who decide to have him murdered, he escapes to the Himalayas , where he studies the Pali sutras with Buddhists for another six years. Not one to give up old habits, however, he spends his spare time preaching against superstition, once again angering his mentors. Beyond condemning idolatry, Jesus preaches against the doctrine of reincarnation and condemns the practice of miracle working. Afterwards he visits Persia , where he enters into conflict with Zoroastrians. Finally he leaves and returns to Palestine . The story then continues on to relate the familiar events of Jesus' biblical ministry and the Passion, although retold so as to present a story strikingly at odds with the canonical narrative.
Notovitch's book was an instant hit in Europe . Despite immediately being attacked as a forgery, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ prompted other writers to seek, and even to claim they had found, the same document at Hemis Monastery. The earliest of these supporting claims was made by Swami Abhedananda, a member of the Ramakrishna movement, who knew the prominent scholar Max MWIer. In 1922, he went to Hernis Monastery, where he is said to have read the same book Notovitch transcribed in 1887.
Abhedananda subsequently published certain sections of it in his Bengali book, Kashrair 0 Tibbate (In Kashmir and Tibet, 1929). In 1984, these sections, along with certain parts of Abhedananda's Bengali work, were translated and appeared in Elizabeth Clare Prophet's The Lost Years of Jesus. The relevant passages reflect the same basic document, with the exception that Abhedananda deleted the anti-Hindu tone found in The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ and made Issa's theology more congruent with Advaita Vedanta philosophy.
Later another Russian, Nicholas Roerich, also sought out the text at Hemis, but did not find the Notovitch manuscript. Nevertheless, he eventually authored and co-authored a number of books in which he cited passages he claimed were taken from other, unnamed sources dealing with Issa's trip to India. Many of these, however, appear to have been taken directly from Notovitch. He also made reference to a number of legends about Jesus that were widespread in that part of India.
In addition to The Unknown Life or Jesus Christ, Roerich also appears to have been influenced by Levi Dowling's The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, an early twentieth-century "esoteric gospel" in which Jesus is portrayed as studying in Asia as well as in a number of Western mystery schools. Though the latter author's account of Jesus' India visit was clearly indebted to Notovitch, Dowling, unlike the others, claimed to have copied the Aquarian Gospel directly from the Akashic Records (a familiar concept in occult lore)-a purely spiritual record of events on earth that, according to Dowling, he accessed via clairvoyance-rather than from physical manuscripts secreted away in isolated monasteries.
How plausible is this tradition? The central difficulty with this story is, of course, that the manuscript, if it ever existed, was never accessible to more than a few outsiders. Furthermore, the current status of these hypothetical texts is that they were supposedly moved to another monastery further into Tibet , where they were apparently seized and presumably destroyed by the Chinese.
With respect to the actual story related in the text, there are simply too many improbabilities for Notovitch's original narrative to be literally true. However, even if we allow for the possibility that Notovitch embellished his narrative to make it more engaging, the manuscript cannot fail to strike even sympathetic readers as spurious. Many items of historical information are anachronistic; others are simply false. For example, the Juggernath temple in eastern India , which appears to have been Jesus' destination after he left the Jains, was built over a thousand years following Jesus' death. One should also note that the designation "Issa" for Jesus comes from the Qu'ran, composed some six centuries after Jesus' time. Other incorrect items of data include the assertion that the Buddhists are monotheists, "worshiping the one and sublime Brahma" (Notovitch 1907, VI:2).
More importantly, the narrative fails to support the very thesis it sets out to demonstrate, namely, that Jesus received his training among the masters of the East. Particularly in Notovitch's version of the story, Jesus does little but attack Indian beliefs and practices, denouncing Hinduism and Buddhism as false and idolatrous. In short, we are forced to conclude not only that the hypothetical manuscript supposedly examined by Notovitch does not tell us anything about the historical Jesus, but, further, that The Life of Saint Issa must have been written by someone from the West, almost certainly by the author of The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ himself. Before attempting to understand Notovitch's forgery and the motives of subsequent, unconnected individuals who bore false witness to the existence of The Life of Saint Issa, we should briefly examine what might be called the older Jesus-in-India tradition.
Around the end of the nineteenth century, a somewhat different narrative about Jesus in India emerged. Although there are different versions, they all tell the story of how Jesus survived the crucifixion and subsequently moved to India . In one version, Jesus becomes famous in India under the name Yuz-Assaf. Eventually, Jesus settles in Srinagar in Kashmir and dies at 120 years of age. This story of Jesus apparently originated in an 1899 book by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Masih Hindustan Mein (later published in English under the title Jesus in India ). Ahmad relates how he came across a grave on Khan Yar Street in Srinagar , described as a prophet's grave. When he finds that this prophet was named Yuz-Assaf, Ahmad leaps to the conclusion that this must be Jesus' grave. Following his discovery, he infers a number of other things, such as that the Kashmiri people are part of the ten lost tribes who Jesus sought out in his old age. He also discovers Mary's grave not far away. Ahmad seems to have been the first person to claim to have found Jesus' grave in Srinagar.
What is relevant in these claims for the younger Jesus-in-India tradition is that Notovitch, who passed through Srinagar during his 1887 trip, never mentions anything about the later Jesus-in India tradition. This indicates that, far from being an ancient legend, the story of Jesus' life and burial in Kashmir originated after Notovitch's time. And in the same way that narratives about Jesus' old age and death in India started with Ahmad, narratives about Jesus traveling to India as a young man began with Notovitch. Not only is there no hint of such a trip in any of the documents that have survived from the early Christian era, but, down through the centuries, no one ever seriously proposed a connection between India and Jesus prior to Notovitch.
Though we can safely conclude that The Life of Saint Issa is a forgery, we should remember that the history of religion contains innumerable examples of such forged documents-including examples from such mainstream religions as Christianity and Buddhism-before we judge Notovitch too harshly. Many of the principal scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism, for instance, claim to have been authored by the historical Buddha, despite the fact that they did not appear until many centuries after his death.
It is also generally accepted that some of the epistles supposedly authored by Paul were simply forged. In both of these cases, the respective authors' strategy was to draw on the prestige of a great religious figure to legitimate particular doctrines and associated practices. In The Gnostic Gospels, for example, Elaine Pagels notes that a number of the pseudo-Pauline letters pick up on and amplify the antifeminist tenor of Paul's own views, presumably to legitimate the repression of uppity women in their congregations; for example, I Timothy 2:11-12: "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent". An extension of this strategy is to forge a narrative in which an authoritative figure is reported as advocating a particular ideology.
In addition to associating documents with important people either as authors or as spokespersons-texts are also forged that claim to be very ancient. The goal of both approaches is to legitimate whatever ideas are being propagated by the document. Appealing to a pure, uncorrupted, original truth that antedates current religions is frequently employed by founders of new religions. The attractiveness of this strategy is based on a deep pattern in the human psyche that tends to regard ancient origins as particularly sacred. This pattern and its implications for religion have been exhaustively explored by historians of religion such as Mircea Eliade.
Gerald Gardner, the founder of the relatively recent (mid twentieth century) religion of Neopagan Witchcraft (commonly referred to as the "Craft" by insiders), is a useful example of someone who forged a number of important documents that he later claimed to be very old. For example, in the context of an argument over how a witch "coven" should be run and how witches should comport themselves in public, Gardner devised a set of "Craft Laws" that legitimated his personal ideas on these matters. Rather than crediting authorship to himself, he composed the document in archaic, King James-style English and claimed that the laws were very ancient. These Craft Laws became one of the founding documents of the Neopagan movement. For our present discussion, what is significant about this incident is that Gardner felt no need to name a particular person as the author of his forgery; merely ascribing ancient origins was enough to legitimate it. In both of these cases, we are probably safe in inferring that the unknown author of I Timothy as well as Gerald Gardner believed in the truth of most if not all of the ideas they were expressing, but felt a need to support their position with an appeal to a greater authority.
Notovitch drew on both of these sources of legitimacy-an authoritative historical figure (Jesus) and ancient origins. Assuming Notovitch put his own views in the mouth of Jesus, it appears that he accepted some form of Deism. From Jesus' non virgin birth to his non-resurrection to his message of moralism, anti-priestcraft, and anti-miracle-working, The Life of Saint Issa expresses a thoroughly Deist theology. There are, however, a few unique twists. The majority of chapter 12 (12:9-21), for example, is devoted to extolling the nobility of women in their roles as wives and mothers, and encouraging men to support and protect the opposite sex; for example, "Respect woman, for she is the mother of the universe, and all the truth of divine creation lies in her. She is the basis of all that is good and beautiful, as she is also the germ of life and death. On her depends the whole existence of man, for she is his natural and moral support" (12: 10-11). Also, in a complete reversal from the canonical story, Pilate is intent on executing Jesus, while the priests and elders of Israel defend him. When Jesus is finally brought before Pilate and tried, the priests and elders changing places with the canonical Pilate-even wash their hands of the matter, saying, "We are innocent of the death of this just man" (13:25). This reassignment of guilt is interesting because it corresponds with the consensus of modern scholarship, which is that Roman authorities, not Jewish authorities, were responsible for the execution of Jesus.
Though we know too little about Notovitch's life to be able to say what motivated him to devote so much space (relatively speaking) to a discourse in praise of women, we do know enough about his background to be able to surmise why he rewrote the trial of Jesus. Though at least nominally a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Notovitch's background was Jewish, strongly suggesting a very personal motive for turning the ancient Romans into "Christ killers," rather than blaming the Jewish people. Also, given the passion with which Notovitch's Jesus expresses himself, we are probably justified in inferring that, for the most part at least, Notovitch truly believed in the ideas contained in the text of his fabrication true lies, if you will.
That being said,
however, we should not completely factor out the role played by pecuniary
motives. Notovitch was a professional writer. He
undoubtedly expected that The Unknown Lire or Jesus Christ would sell well, if
not become an international bestseller: "At least eight editions were
published in France in 1894 [the year it first appeared], and three separate
English translations appeared in the United States. Another English translation
was published in London the following year. It was also translated into German,
Spanish, Swedish, and Italian". Thus although Notovitch
probably hoped to popularize the views expressed in The Unknown Lire orlesus Christ, he was also consciously engaged in the construction
of a forgery from which he anticipated financial rewards.
The strongest objection that can be raised against the charge that The Life or Saint Issa was a forgery is that other witnesses claimed either to have seen the manuscript or to have recovered similar documents that resembled The Life of Saint Issa. Swami Abhedananda made the former claim; Nicolas Roerich made the latter. These men, otherwise viewed as honorable, however, had their own reasons for perpetuating Notovitch's bogus story. Their motives can best be inferred from the modifications and additions they made to Notovitch's text.
As noted earlier, Abhedananda reproduced somewhat modified passages from The Life of Saint Issa in his 1929 Bengali work, In Kashmir and Tibet . The differences are revealing: Notovitch's Issa is "taught" by the Brahmins (5:4), and, some time later, he warns the people that they should "Listen not to the Vedas, for their truth is counterfeit" (5:26). In sharp contrast, Abhedananda's Issa becomes a "disciple" of the Brahmins, eventually "reading, learning and expounding the Vedas" (5:4). The Swami is also more charitable toward the jams. Notovitch's Issa rejects their invitation to stay with them because they represent a false religion, "[T] he devotees of the god Jaine prayed him to dwell among them. But he left the erring worshippers of Jaine and went to Juggernaut" (5:2-3). Abhedananda's Issa, however, turns down their invitation from a desire to remain out of the public spotlight: "And they asked him to stay in their temples. But he did not accept their invitation, because he did not want any attention from others at that time" (5:3). These are not minor differences that can be summarily dismissed. Abhedananda's Jesus is simply not Notovitch's iconoclastic prophet, railing against the perversities of the heathen. Rather, as Ramakrishna (the founder of the Swami's movement) taught, Abbedananda's Jesus was a Hindu avatar.
There are three principal ways of accounting for this discrepancy. First, there was a text at Hemis Monastery that Notovitch recorded correctly but which Abhedananda changed to suit his own views. Second, there was a text that Abhedananda recorded correctly but which Notovitch changed to suit his own views. Or third, there never was a real book at Hemis, but Abhedananda played along with forgery-albeit with some profound modifications of Notovitch's text-for his own purposes. If we take the third option as the most likely one, what might the Swami's motives have been?
For all of Abhedananda's life, the British ruled South Asia and treated Indians as second-class citizens. Furthermore, though English administrators were ambivalent about Western missionary activity in the subcontinent, few regarded indigenous religious traditions as anything more than barbaric superstitions. But what if the founder of the conquerors' own faith had spent the larger part of his life in the Indian subcontinent, studying at the feet of Hindu and Buddhist sages? Perhaps Jesus himself even preached some form of Indian wisdom after his return to Palestine , though most traces of such teachings disappeared or were destroyed by the early church. The appeal of this idea to a subject people would be tremendous. If true, it would imply that Indian civilization is the foundation for Western civilization-or, at least, the foundation of the Western religious tradition.
Abhedananda's initial interest in the story of Jesus' Indian sojourn probably derived from this attraction. After examining a copy of The Unknown Lire of Jesus Christ, however, the Swami would have been appalled by many of the teachings of Notovitch's Jesus. At that point (to grant him the benefit of the doubt), maybe Abhedananda concluded the story was real, but that Notovitch had reinterpreted it according to Western prejudices. The Swami would then have gone to Hemis in search of the original manuscript, only to find that it was missing or to encounter monks denying it was ever there. Disappointed, perhaps Abhedananda then decided to go back over The Lire of Saint Issa and rewrite it to conform to his preconception of what the original manuscript must have said, according his notion of Jesus as a Hindu-style avatar. (It should be noted that the section of the Swami's travelogue translated for Prophet's The Lost Years of Jesus relates that he did see the original from which Notovitch's book was transcribed. This particular section was, however, written in the third person, indicating that it had been added to the 1954 second edition by a later editor over a decade after Abhedananda's death.)
Being aware of the standards of Western scholarship, however, the Swami would have been reluctant to present his discovery in English to a Western audience. Knowing that there was no real text on the shelves of the Hemis Monastery library (or doubting that such a text existed), and knowing further that the monks themselves would deny the manuscript's existence, Abhedananda would have been aware that any claim of discovering the original Notovitch text would embroil him in the same controversies that greeted the initial publication of The Unknown Lire oriesus Christ in 1894. (The Swami was, as noted earlier, an acquaintance of the noted scholar Max Miffler, who wrote an article (1894) condemning The Lire of Saint Issa as a fraud.) The Swami therefore, with regret, decided to restrict the publication of his rewritten passages from The Life of Saint Issa to a Bengali book that would be unlikely to attract the attention of Western critics.
Had Abhedananda found a real text at Hemis containing the ideas expressed in his In Kashmir and Tibet , he would certainly have broadcast his findings to the widest possible audience, both scholarly and popular, for the reasons mentioned above. That he did not is strong evidence that the Swami never, in fact, laid eyes on such a manuscript. At the same time, Abhedananda's "re-forging" of The Lire of Saint Issa falls into the category of a "true lie"-a falsified document expressing what the author felt were profound truths.
Nicholas Roerich, another man viewed as honorable, also entered into complicity with the Notovitch legend, but stopped short of claiming to have seen the original manuscript at Hernis Monastery. Instead, he, first, mentions the story of the earlier Russian traveler who transcribed the story of Jesus; second, recounts local legends about Issa's visit; third, implies that the monks know the details of Issa's Indian travels but keep them secret; and, fourth, provides quotations from other (unnamed) sources and documents that repeat-and often paraphrase-The Life or Saint Issa. This set of strategies allowed Roerich to confirm Notovitch's basic story while simultaneously avoiding the criticism that might have been evoked had he claimed to have actually seen texts on Jesus' Indian sojourn in the library at Hemis.
Like Abhedananda's Issa, Roerich's Issa is less antagonistic to Hindu and Buddhist religiosity than Notovitch's Issa. Specifically, although Roerich's Jesus attacks idolatry and the caste system, he does not condemn Jains, Hindus, or Buddhists as following "counterfeit" traditions. Unsurprisingly, the Jesus one encounters in Roerich's writings is closer to the theosophical view of Jesus (Roerich's own religious persuasion) than to either Notovitch's Deist or Abhedananda's Vedantist Jesus.
Interestingly, in the book Altai-Himalaya (1929), Roerich also paraphrases passages from The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, passages which, he claims, were taken from "Another source-historically less established- [that] speaks also about the life of Jesus in Tibet ." This other source is never named, for obvious reasons. The Aquarian Gospel is a broad-ranging work, only a portion of which is devoted to Jesus' alleged studies in South Asia . The India and Tibet sections of The Aquarian Gospel are, however, directly inspired by The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, although, as I have already noted, Levi Dowling was not guilty of actual plagiarism. Like Notovitch's Issa, Dowling's Jesus travels to eastern India , preaches against the caste system and idolatry, and then moves on to the Himalayas . To cite a few relevant passages from The Aquarian Gospel, "And Jesus was accepted as a pupil in the temple Jagannath ; and here learned the Vedas and the Manic laws. The Brahmic masters wondered at the clear conceptions of the child, and often were amazed when he explained to them the meaning of the laws" (Dowling 1916, 21:19-20). Here one can see the direct influence of Notovitch's story, but not his wording. In only a very few short lines does one find Notovitch's language reflected in Dowling's text. Notovitch, for instance, has Jesus say, "Worship not the idols, for they hear you not" (5:26). Dowling is obviously working from this same passage when his Aquarian Jesus similarly asserts, "Tear down your idols; they can hear you not" (26:21).
Roerich's use of Dowling is less sophisticated than Dowling's use of Notovitch. For example, the Aquarian Jesus becomes interested in traveling to Buddhist Lhasa (an anachronism, as Buddhism did not become established in Tibet until the seventh century) where he meets the Chinese sage Ming-tse: "In Lassa of Tibet there was a master's temple, rich in manuscripts of ancient lore. The Indian sage had read these manuscripts, and he revealed to Jesus many of the secret lessons they contained; but Jesus wished to read them for himself. Now, Meng-ste, greatest sage of all the farther East, was in this temple of Tibet " (36:1-3). Roerich's clumsy paraphrase is lifted directly from The Aquarian Gospel: "Near Lhassa was a temple of teaching, with a wealth of manuscripts. Jesus wanted to acquaint himself with them. Ming-ste, a great sage of all the East, was in this temple" . In addition to supplying his narrative with details taken from a source other than Notovitch, Roerich was likely attracted to Dowling's work because the Aquarian Jesus was far more compatible with his own theosophical beliefs. Reincarnation, for instance, is one of the core tenets of Theosophy. For this reason, Roerich neglects to cite The Life of Saint Issa where Notovitch's Issa says, "Never would [God] so humiliate his child as to transmigrate his soul" (6:11). Instead, he is more attracted to Jesus' discourse on reincarnation in The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, where he comments on the source of singing talent:
From whence this talent and this power? In one short life they could not gain such grace of voice, such knowledge of the laws of harmony and tone. Men call them prodigies. There are no prodigies. All things result from natural law. These people are not young. A thousand years would not suffice to give them such divine expressiveness, and such purity of voice and touch. Ten thousand years ago these people mastered harmony. In days of old they trod the busy thoroughfares of life, and caught the melody of birds, and played on harps of perfect form. And they have come again to learn still other lessons from the varied notes of manifests. (37:11-15)
Once again, Roerich simply paraphrases Dowling's passage, attributing it to the same unnamed source as the story of Jesus' trip to Tibet : "Said Jesus of skilled singers: 'Whence is their talent and their power? For in one short life they could not possibly accumulate a quality of voice and the knowledge of harmony and of tone. Are these miracles? No, because all things take place as a result of natural law. Many thousands of years ago these people already molded their harmonies and their harmonies. And they come again to learn still more from varied manifestations"'. While it is easy to see what Roerich did, it is less clear why he did it. Perhaps, to extend him the same benefit of the doubt we gave Abhedananda, Roerich traveled to South Asia sincerely expecting to find ancient manuscripts not only confirming Jesus' Indian sojourn, but also containing a record of Jesus' "real" teachings which would confirm Roerich's own theosophical views. Instead, all he encountered were a few legends scattered about here and there.
Disappointed in his quest, perhaps he became convinced that the documents he sought really existed, but that the Buddhist monks had misplaced them or were hiding them from outsiders. He suggests that he believes the latter when he describes how each "silent" lama at Leh "knows much" about the stories he "secretly and cautiously" guards. He may also have convinced himself of the ultimate reality of the Hemis manuscript because of the prevalence of the legend among the ordinary people: "In what possible way could a recent forgery penetrate into the consciousness of the whole East?". In any event, we can infer that Roerich eventually decided to work up a story about the Jesus whom he is certain must have visited India, and who must have taught esoteric truths.
Rather than rewrite the tale from scratch, however, Roerich made liberal use of The Life of Saint Issa and The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps he felt that these two narratives were both somehow real, or at least based on real documents. After reading Roerich, one gets the impression that he believed Notovitch had actually seen a real manuscript, but inferred that his fellow Russian inserted his own prejudices into The Life of Saint Issa. Thus, like Swami Abhedananda, Roerich would have felt comfortable editing Notovitch's work so as to present only the passages free of Notovitch's "additions." Roerich also apparently believed that Dowling, another esotericist like himself, had really accessed the Akashic Records and had presented an accurate account of Jesus' life. He thus felt he could paraphrase details of Jesus' Indian travels from the Aquarian Gospel because he "knew" Dowling's narrative was true. Thus while Roerich's sense of honor prevented him from actually forging new documents from scratch, he gave in to the temptation to fudge the facts in order to spread the truth.
But why, we might ask at this point, was confirming Jesus' India trip so important that a man of Roerich's stature would fall victim to the "true lies" syndrome? In terms of our earlier discussion, it appears that Roerich was attracted to the possibility of legitimating his occult beliefs at the expense of traditional Christianity: "But who can fail to recognize that many of the so-called 'Apocrypha' are far more basically true than many official documents?". In this passage, it is not hard to realize that the "official documents" being referred to are Christian scriptures. Roerich, in other words, is asserting that the Jesus he found in India is the real Jesus and that the biblical account of Jesus' life and teachings is flawed. Although understated, the above statement captures the central premise of Roerich's entire edifice and provides the key to understanding his motive.
As we have seen, the story of Jesus in India is rather like a psychologist's inkblot test, in that each successive promoter of the tale anticipated discovering his own religious beliefs reflected in Jesus' teachings. When he failed to do so, he either supplied the missing components or edited pre-existing texts to fit his preconception of what Jesus must have said and done. Each successive person who perpetuated the Issa tradition was attracted to the legend for the same reason-the Indian Jesus could be deployed to legitimate their own brand of spirituality as well as to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant Christian tradition.
This same attraction explains why so many Indian gurus, New Age teachers, and the like have adopted and propagated the legend, though sometimes they modify it further. In the final section of Elizabeth Clare Prophet's The Lost Teachings of Jesus, for instance, Prophet asserts that the "texts and legends" (e.g., Notovitch, Abhedananda, Roerich, and others) examined in her book indicate that Jesus "prayed, meditated, practiced yoga, studied and taught". None of these texts, however, mention either meditation or yoga. Rather, it seems Prophet has simply inferred that Jesus must have practiced these spiritual techniques, based on her own preconception of what Jesus was like.
However we would say that the larger significance of this particular subject is that the history of religions contains innumerable examples of forged scriptures-including documents in the scriptural canons of major world religions like Christianity and Buddhism. This legitimating strategy is thus a concrete example of how the study of contemporary new religions potentially sheds light on our understanding of traditional religions, if only because such an approach compels us to view familiar phenomena against the backdrop of unfamiliar comparisons.
Another tradition that can perhaps be considered to be secondary, it is important enough to be mentioned here. It concerns the idea that Jesus already prophesied that Muhammad would appear as an important prophet, much greater that himself. We can find this idea in The Gospel of Barnabas. It is a quite large work and contains many new and unknown facts about the life of Jesus that are not found elsewhere. It is striking that Jesus is quoted many times as saying that a much more important mediator, Muhammad, would appear after him, much greater than he is himself. The propaganda about this gospel claims that it is much older than the four gospels of the New Testament and that it was been written by Barnabas, a companion of Paul. Someone who lived so close to the origins of Christianity cannot be other than a true insider who knows much more than other people.
It will not come as a surprise when I say that the case for this gospel is not as tight as sketched above. Experts in this field have shown that it was written about 1600 by a Spanish Jew who had converted to Islam. His book, The Gospel of Barnabas, remained quite inconspicuous for a long time. Nobody showed much interest – its content appeared too strange and bizarre to be credible. At a certain point somebody discovered this manuscript written in Italian and translated it into English. But even that did not make it very well known. In 1908, however, its translation into Arabic turned it into a big success, becoming very popular among Muslims. For here it was clearly written that Jesus had spoken of Muhammad and this was found in a manuscript that was appeared to be much older than the classical gospels. So it must be true!
A new tradition about Jesus has thus arisen within Islam. Critical comments on this gospel are rejected by Muslims. Encounters between Muslims and Christians regularly fail, because the Muslims hold that Barnabas is the true gospel and the biblical gospels are forgeries, and that Christians should heed this older gospel. Thus, here we have a new tradition about Jesus, which is still growing within Islam.
In fact all of the traditions we mentioned above are very popular today; people find them appealing and they have great authority, in many cases more authority than the stories in the Bible. The question is: Why have these traditions become so authoritative? And: Why do people believe these new traditions and reject the Christian tradition about Jesus? Or: Why do people accept these stories, which are historically unreliable, and why do they do not accept the information provided by the Christian tradition, which is much more reliable?
1. A point that plays an important role is that the Bible is very brief with respect to its information about Jesus, as I already mentioned. We know almost nothing about his youth or his family; we do not know anything about the period of his life between the ages of twelve and thirty; we do not know if Jesus was educated nor do we know anything about his specific relations with certain people. Thus, there is so much more information that seems to be missing and many people see this lack of information as negative. The orthodox believer will say that such things are unimportant, since all we need to know can be found in the scriptures. But, as a rule, people want to know more. We can see this already early on, in the first centuries when the infancy gospels began appearing. We can see it in the writings and stories of many individuals and groups who want to fill the gap of Jesus' “lost years” with his education in India and Egypt . People want to know more and, when some new information is allegedly found, people will readily believe it.
2. Connected with this aspect is the fact that the New Testament is in a certain way very one-sided. People feel not only that some facts about Jesus are missing but certain aspects as well. The most striking in recent years is the idea that the New Testament is very one-sided with respect to women. On the one hand, the Gospel is much more positive about women than other manuscripts from that period, but, on the other, it is very brief on the subject of women. It is no surprise that for example Starbird's book has become very popular and it is no accident that the story of Mary Magdalene has become a matter of great interest today. Nor is it is coincidental that Brown's The Da Vinci Code puts so much stress on “the religion of the sacred feminine.” Such books and movements correct a certain one-sidedness and people look upon Jesus as a someone who was much more diverse than the Christian tradition presents him.
3. Another important element is that people no longer believe in the message of the Gospel and the church. It is a growing conviction that the church is only one interpretation of Jesus. The conviction that Jesus died on the cross for our sins is very one-sided, according to many people. There must be other interpretations that are more amenable to the human spirit. It is no accident that Gnosticism has gained in popularity in recent decades. Was Jesus not actually a great teacher of wisdom? We can find this in The Gospel of Thomas, which, according to many people, is even older than the gospels of the New Testament. This also is the reason we can find so much interest in the earliest history of Christianity, a Christianity that is much more colorful than is generally known.
Also, people are studying specific texts of the New Testament again, for they are discovering that many texts have always been read from the perspective of the official church. In this respect, the recent discoveries of manuscripts is very important: the Dead Sea Scrolls contain a great deal of interesting information on Jewish thought and beliefs around the beginning of our era; the Nag Hammadi manuscripts present an almost unknown aspect of Christianity, Christian Gnosticism, and the recent discovery of The Gospel of Judas made clear to many people that the history of Jesus may have been entirely different. In short, people no longer view Jesus as the church or Christian doctrine has presented him but want to be open-minded to what really happened. Nevertheless, this view is not as open-minded as claimed, for it is ruled by the conviction that this new view is, in fact, the true one and much better than that of the church.
4. In these discussions the notion that there is some major conspiracy taking place is very important. People believe that the church has consciously falsified and modified the scriptures and made clear choices concerning the origin and determination of the canon. The Da Vinci Code is a good example. Various characters state many times that the Vatican has manipulated the scriptures and has forbidden or destroyed certain manuscripts. “Constantine 's Bible” is mentioned, i.e. the idea that the emperor Constantine made a conscious choice about which books could belong to the New Testament and which not. When this choice was made, all other books and manuscripts were eliminated from the Bible and absolutely forbidden. Brown's novel includes the theory that Jesus as the Son of God is also a construction, initiated by Paul and also used by Constantine. In short, according to Brown/Brown's characters, the church was far too manipulative in this matter and made a caricature of what Jesus said and did. Since then, the church has always fought against heretics and those who questioned doctrine or who wanted to think differently about Jesus. Thus, it is now said that The Gospel of Judas was forbidden by the church; the church excluded it from the canon. We, therefore, can find several conspiracy theories. When I lecture in the Netherlands on The Da Vinci Code, there is always someone who remarks reproachfully: “they” did not tell us the truth; “they” deceived us all these centuries; “they” have concealed the reality of Jesus. Although conspiracy theories can always be falsified, nevertheless many people believe in them profoundly.
5. Another important issue has to do with the authority people give to certain phenomena. I mean the following. When, through channeling, some specific information is given by a “higher being” and certainly if it is claimed that it is Jesus himself who is speaking, people almost automatically believe this is true. For a voice coming from the transcendental realm is always trustworthy: the beings from this transcendental realm do not lie or cheat – they tell the ultimate truth. This information from the other world is better and higher than the usual information that can be found, for instance, in the Bible. When, for instance, Jesus tells what really happened on the cross, this is much more trustworthy than what is written in the gospels. This direct information from Jesus is much better than the old and familiar information in the New Testament. People truly believe it. I have met many people who are absolutely convinced of the reliability of the content of their channeling experience, for that truth is the best truth of all. We can see this in the interest in The Course in Miracles. This book is interesting not only because its content or quality is good but also because of the conviction that it is Jesus himself who is speaking and indicating what his message in fact had been. This conviction that it is Jesus himself who is dictating the book is what makes it so fascinating to many people. Of course, it is possible to question this idea. For instance, there is the problem that the many highly authoritative channellings are mutually contradictory, but nevertheless people believe the voices from heaven without any difficulty. At last we now have the real, ultimate truth!
6. There is a more general comment to be made. In his Turning East Harvey Cox speaks of “modern greed” and the need to experience new things continually. It is an essential part of our culture to look for new things and new experiences; everything you can try you should try. Cox points to the fact that in his time (the 1970s) people really did try all kinds of religions and all kinds of spirituality. You have to experience it. So you go to a guru who can teach you many things you never had known about and you do things you had never before heard of. The regular and traditional paths are no longer interesting – they are part of the past and have nothing more to offer. In New Age circles the church and Christian doctrine are consistently viewed negatively: they are part of the Old Age and are bland, petrified, immobile and rigid. It is asserted with all certainty that the church and the Christian doctrine will vanish and be succeeded by the religion of the New Age. The consequence of this need for experience is that we can regularly see new forms of believing arising. In the 1970s the East was very popular, but in the 1980s it was New Age that attracted the most attention and now Gnosticism is the most popular form of religiosity. And it is this tendency of our time that makes The Gospel of Judas so popular (although almost nobody has read it, and those who have do not understand it).
7. A very important shift in our modern culture is that from rationalism to experience. Until the 1970s religion in the Western world was very rationalistic and intellectualistic. It was important what exactly someone believed. One did not need to experience the things one believed; it was necessary only to accept the doctrines or creeds as they were presented. In the 1960s this began to change, first within the hippie movement and later on strongly within New Age. Experience is growing in importance. It is the things we experience, rather than those we simply believe, that are true and important. What exactly do you believe? was the question that was formerly posed. Now we ask: What and how do you experience this? Or, as a girl in the Bhagwan movement told us once: I can speak only about the things I have experienced and not about other things. This is also the case in the Christian religion: believers do not want dogmas, they do not want rules or creeds; all they want is to experience in themselves what the truth is. It is no coincidence that in this modern period the Pentecostal movement and the evangelical movement are very popular. In these groups one has to experience the Holy Spirit or that God is living in one's heart. One does not have to speak about conversion, but one does have to explain how it felt to be converted and how it affected one. The experience is normative. This is also the case in the already mentioned interest in Gnosticism. For that is the most important thing: that one experience the divine spark or the eternal kernel within oneself, that one realize the unity with the divine, that one experience enlightenment and find ultimate self-realization. We can find this Gnostic experience also very clearly in The Da Vinci Code. As was already mentioned, this experience has to be a complete experience: in mind, in heart, in soul and in body. Thus, this new religion of experience is much more fascinating than traditional Western Christianity.
8. The last point we have to mention is the individualism of our Western culture or, perhaps better, the still growing independence and maturity of modern human beings. They no longer wish to be bound by the church or dogma or doctrine or the priest: everyone chooses her own particular religion. In line with a postmodern attitude, people are going to the religious supermarket and putting together their own particular spiritual religion, a religion that is strictly personal, comprised of the elements that they themselves prefer. Nobody can impose rules on another, only the person concerned can do that. Someone in the Netherlands one spoke of “solo-religiosity”: we make our own individual religions, just as we like. It has nothing to do anymore with community or solidarity but only with one's most personal wishes and choices. There are some constant elements to be found within this solo-religionist package: the centrality of experience, the need to work at self-realization, the importance of reincarnation, meditation, the search for the divine within oneself, the necessity of certain alternative forms of healing, the invocation of the “divine energy” (or whatever name one wishes to give it), etc. Here a dash of The Da Vinci Code is also included. The actual composition of this package will change in the course of time and mutate into yet another form. But the fact of solo-religiosity is here to stay and will not disappear: we are living in a time of very individualistic religion.