Most of us are familiar with the crucifixion story. According to the gospels, Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross ostensibly for claiming to be the king of the Jews. Indeed the Jewish religious authorities whom Jesus had rebuked for their hypocrisy were wary of the popularity of this charismatic figure and also aware that many of their own followers believed him to be the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ, who had come to save humanity and usher in a golden age of lasting peace and prosperity.
So with the help of the traitor Judas Iscariot, the Jewish leaders seized Christ and turned him over to the Romans who tried him for claiming to be king, which was tantamount to an act of rebellion against the emperor. However, Pontius Pilate, presiding over the accusations, believed in Jesus' innocence and therefore washed his hand of the affair. But the Jews wanted Jesus' blood and so he was convicted and sentenced to the appropriate punishment, which was the cross.
The Christian religion which developed after Jesus' death holds that he suffered and died for the sins of humanity, to redeem the original sin of Adam and Eve. In other words, Christ was crucified so that posterity might be saved. Jesus was aware of this divine plan and willingly submitted to it, yet shortly before expiring on the cross he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
It can be interpreted that Jesus felt abandoned by God and unjustly punished for a crime he did not commit. Scholars rationalize this statement by saying that Jesus' intention was not to complain to the Heavenly Father but to fix himself for all time in the role of innocent sufferer, or martyr, and in so doing set a noble example for saints succeeding him to follow. And indeed the Christian religion itself was founded on the blood of such innocent sufferers who died for their beliefs rather than save themselves through a betrayal of God.
I remember a time in my own personal history when I too felt forsaken. I was 22 at the time and midway through my final year as an undergraduate student at UCLA. I had just completed the winter quarter and, as a history major, earned straight As in 5 classes. I had studied harder than I ever had up till that point, and scored the top mark in each of my courses. I was even awarded a couple A plusses. And yet I did not feel content. Feeling lost and alone, I cried out to God to help me, to direct me, to grant me strength and understanding and, above all, connect me with the joy I knew at least in theory to be my true nature. I stared at a picture of the holy man Sai Baba, who my family regarded as the Lord on earth, and tearfully besought him to grant me some sign that he was listening to my prayers. But no answer was forthcoming. Like Christ, I felt forsaken.
A few months later I strode to a remote corner of my back yard and, removing from my neck the medallion Sai Baba had materialized for me as a boy, I cast it down the mountain side adjoining our house. The significance of my action, apart from being highly melodramatic - a fact which I can only excuse on the grounds that I was a huge fan of the movie Top Gun and the gesture was a replica of Maverick's famous tossing of his deceased best friend and wing man Goose's dog tags into the ocean as a symbol of being at peace with the loss and carrying Goose in his heart - my action, I say, was no retaliation against God for not seeming to answer my prayers. It was to relinquish the last vestige of my devotion to a God external to myself.
The sacred pendant, which till that moment I had faithfully worn for half my life, or 11 of my 22 years, had reminded me of my days as a Sai Baba devotee. It called to mind all the years of Sunday school, the devotional songs, Hindu deities, vegetarianism connected therewith. And, I must admit, there was also a twinge of superiority, a satisfaction in the belief that I was a member of a small group of the elect who alone had been granted knowledge of reality and guaranteed salvation. This is not unlike what the born-again Christian believes, and I secretly mocked them!
And so I recognized the vital importance of moving away from distinctions. Indeed I am neither above nor below anyone. And I simultaneously resolved to look within and trust my conscience to provide the answers to all of life's questions. In short, I would not look to some spiritual leader to help me navigate the treacherous waters of worldly life, but instead I would trust my own inner compass.
This gesture was a necessary step in spiritual development, and as such one I neither regret nor repent of, despite my father's disappointment that I could have so carelessly discarded Sai Baba's blessing. To please my father, I have hiked down that mountain at least once to see about retrieving the charm, but as I could have told you beforehand, it was not meant to be. And my action is not without precedent. Indeed the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, whose teachings my father himself introduced me to around the time of the action in question, had done a similar thing upon embarking on the life of renunciate. At the age of 16 he once and for all removed the sacred thread round his neck which indicated his noble descent. From that moment forward, the sage was a child of the universe and at one with all of creation.
Jesus too was setting an example for others to follow. If God is all, then God dwells within you. If, as theology urges, you recognize the transcendence and the immanence of the Divine, you must trust your spiritual nature to be your your teacher, guru, Savior and higher Self. Sai Baba himself said that for such a person, there is no need even to read the Bhagavad Gita, or the Hindu Bible. For in each heart, Krishna himself (a Christ-like figure in his own right) is seated as your own personal guide. All you have to do is give a little listen.