Baptism and Self-Knowledge
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)
John and Jesus had to develop self-knowledge in order to fulfill their purpose in the world. Otherwise John or Jesus would be unconsciously undermined by their personality and ego. For John, who had a tendency to become overly interested in the lives of those he loved, the ascetic life was a necessary part of his work to overcome his ego attachments to people and relationships. The ritual of baptism, cleansing by water and repentance, was a way of allowing those seeking spiritual wholeness to work out their own commitment to spiritual life. He would then send them on their journey after the renewal they found in this ritual cleansing. It should be understood that the purification was both physical and spiritual—physical in the sense that there was healing, and spiritual in the sense that there was renewed purpose and a renewed relationship with the divine.
Jesus needed a more social life to fulfill his purpose. By submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus became one with the people, a member of the group seeking to make themselves pure for God. They were familiar with his presence and they knew his purity and commitment from seeing him in relationship to the people around him. Trust was established among them. Word spread in a natural manner because many people knew of Jesus before his ministry began. Strangers were not easily accepted in that place and time, especially strangers who held a different understanding of God and authority. Many people feared those in authority and would have deserted Jesus quickly if he had not shown himself to be a reliable and familiar companion. In those times, just as today, persons who pursued a holy life were seen as strange or unusual. Jesus had a natural ability to express his commitment to God without seeming strange, unusual, falsely pious, or arrogant.
Jesus had an inner response to anyone he considered to be spiritually mature and knowledgeable. Among the devout and sincere practitioners, rumors would spread, especially if a teacher was thought to have special power or authority. Jesus studied with many teachers—male and female—and he also studied the people around him to learn about human nature, to understand the psychology of spiritual beings, though at that time much of what we understand today as psychological maturity was described or understood then as wisdom. He sought out those who demonstrated their wisdom through the way they lived. By seeking truth he came to understand his own relationship to the truth and his desire to bear witness to the truth was developed. This led him on many journeys and he worked his way along travel routes as a man of labor. His wisdom and integrity kept him from harm and his natural respect for others prevented the kind of misunderstanding that could end a life so quickly in that time.
Jesus did travel to Egypt, but not as an infant in a family fleeing the wrath of Herod. Rather, he traveled to learn and hear of the culture of those who came from the west. Later he traveled east, across the land of the old Babylonian and Greek empires, to the sub-continent of India where he encountered many different monastic traditions and the teachers who were the disciples of truth and light. He learned of many healing practices and the spirituality found in self-knowledge. Jesus, through his travels, came to understand in profound ways how those with the wrong intention could deceive or manipulate those seeking spiritual wisdom. The idealistic, searching person, with their focus on God and truth, often overlooked the human deception and manipulation around them.
All of this was before Jesus became the Christ, anointed by divine laws through his suffering and perseverance, before he was able to express the relationship between the inner condition of a person and God. The unfolding of the inner person occurred in his dreams of temptation after his baptism by John, and this led to his higher conscious understanding of the inner person.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone. (John 2:23-25)
We usually depend on “knowing” someone before we give our trust. Sometimes a letter of reference, a diploma, a job title, some work experience that can be verified, experience that is public knowledge, or the personal appearance of the person will tell us what we want to know about the person when we meet them for the first time. All of these ways of knowing someone provide an introduction and contain enough good will that we give someone a chance to prove the fullness of their ability. Soon we have a history of their work, their presence, their knowledge, and their maturity. We assume we know enough once our information reaches a critical mass. These things give us an unformed or unspoken sense of the person that we accept, and this sense of the person, in our minds, tells us what we can come to expect from the person. If their behavior is different that what we expect, we can feel betrayed or surprised, and they become unreliable to us because they do not meet our expectations. And this is the key word—expectation—because these expectations are not something given to us by the other person; they are something that we have unconsciously constructed inside of ourselves. In effect, we have constructed an image of the other person and we compare this constructed image to the person as they live out their life before us.
Beneath all of this information is something else that we often fail to understand or even question, yet this is the key to a faster and more reliable way to understand and get to the point of knowing oneself and then knowing another person. This way is through the process of understanding our own values, the places where we invest our time and effort, and the direction in which we pursue our purpose. Jesus understood other human beings because he understood his own inner process and the ways that these processes and values became manifest in actions and the places where human beings placed value. He did not need anyone to testify, or give a reference, to understand other human beings. This understanding reflected his inner development and an understanding of how human beings construct reality. Jesus understood the ways in which the things we believe can become manifest in our lives, the evidence of our state of being. This is a long time in process before it becomes manifest, so much so, that we may change our words and ideas, while at the same time dealing with the karma of these “past” values. Those who encounter this process often have the feeling or thoughts that are expressed as “why am I still dealing with this?” or “I thought I was past this.” These thoughts and feelings are a clue to something that needs to be understood according to the three levels of karma discussed earlier.
Jesus was dealing primarily with Stage Three Karma in the stories that were handed down about his public ministry. The quote above (John 2:23-25), which follows the cleansing of the temple (John 2:13-22), helps us to see the context in the life of Jesus. “Many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing” refers to his inner condition. To believe in his name means to believe in the process occurring in him and represents an unconscious understanding on the part of those observing him. The physical manifestation present—the overturning of the tables, the scattering of the money—caused those present to ask, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” They looked for an external representation—a sign—that was given according to their custom, their religion, or their law. But the sign was Jesus and his presence. He was the embodiment of the inner process that became visible so that others would question their prejudices and their values.
The greater, or the greatest value, was God, yet they valued the temple, the “market,” and this was the spirituality embodied within them. The construction of the temple, something forty-six years in process, represented the understanding of their religion—the external representation of their spirituality. This was something they believed in because they were so deeply bound to the material. Their understanding of the spiritual nature of space and time were limited to what they could construct outside of themselves, something they then could climb into because their understanding of God was so constructed.