Exoteric Christianity and the Universal Spiritual Message of Jesus


Exoteric Christianity and the
Universal Spiritual Message of Jesus

an essay by

Sri Adi Da Samraj

(May 8, 1982)


The Message (or “Gospel”) of Jesus of Nazareth is the universal Teaching of ego-transcending love of the Spiritual and Transcendental Divine, to be practiced directly as well as in self-transcending love and tolerance of all living beings. The exoteric religionists who developed the system of beliefs that are now called “Christianity” transformed Jesus’ universal and non-sectarian Teaching of ego-transcendence into the “pharisaical” (or priestly and dogmatic) religion of ego-salvation through the ritual sacrifice of Jesus.

Perhaps the principal individual to give voice and concept to this new exoteric “faith” was Paul of Tarsus. On the basis of the ego-consoling religion summarized (and developed) by Paul (who did not respond positively to Jesus while Jesus was alive, and whose “Christian” thought was dictated by his own conventional and provincial Hellenism and Judaism). Christianity was transformed from the culture (or Spiritual practice) of self-sacrifice to the cult of vicarious salvation.

The two-sidedness of Christian ideas (representing the Spiritual Way of Jesus and the contrasting religious method represented by Paul, and others) is the basis for many internal conflicts and contradictions in the Christian tradition. It is Paul’s “method” (or the exoteric “technique” that he, among others, proposed) that made Christianity into a religion of worldly self-improvement, righteous cultism, and eternal self-glorification. But the Way of Jesus is the Way of all Great Masters: the Way of the sacrifice and transcendence of egoic self in the Divine.


The Christian “cult of vicarious salvation” was founded on the belief that creatures are inherently separated from God (or Happiness) and, therefore, cannot and even should not sacrifice (or transcend) themselves and, thereby, enter into Union (or Re-Union) with God (or Happiness). Even so, it was traditionally presumed that a sacrifice is necessary in order for such Union or Re-Union to take place. And on this basis it was presumed that a substitute sacrifice (by Jesus) had taken place. And belief that the substitute, vicarious, or priestly sacrifice of Jesus is forever sufficient to grant all other individuals, or selves, the ultimate Rewards of sacred sacrifice (which are Union or Re-Union with God, Happiness, and all Blessings) thus became the basis for the popular cult of Christian sectarian religion.

The problem with exoteric religion is that it only permits people to participate in a myth, and, therefore, the salvation it seeks is also only a myth (or a conventional belief). The ancient sacred society of the Jews was, like other societies of the ancient world (among the Semites, the Hindus, and so forth), founded on the idea and the sacred techniques of sacrifice as the necessary means whereby the community and every individual maintained relations with the Divine, received the Blessings of the Divine, and, ultimately, achieved Union (or Re-Union) with the Divine and the Divine Happiness.

There was no presumption that the sacred system of sacrifices (which included those to be performed in everyone’s name by priests as well as those to be performed by every individual in his or her own name) was either unnecessary or fruitless. On the contrary, it was presumed to be both necessary and fruitful that collective and personal sacrifices be performed. The method of ritual sacrifice was the sacred means for achieving all desires in this world and in the next.

After many centuries, the Jews of the time of Jesus were no longer a homogeneous and centralized social or cultural body. The ancient religion of sacrifices had grown corrupt and often too technical for anyone but a trained priest to understand and perform. And many different factions had arisen, each with its own dogmas of belief and ritual. This was the circumstance of religion in the time of Jesus, and it is the circumstance in the present time as well.

Jesus was a Spirit-oriented rather than merely a religion-oriented individual. He understood the Way to God in Spiritual, mystical, and personal terms rather than in general, dogmatic, and ritualistic terms. Therefore, he Taught the Way of sacrifice in Spiritual, mystical, and personal terms. He Taught that there is no inherent separation or obstruction between creatures (or living beings) and God. He Taught that God is the Living Spirit, in Whom all beings exist, and in Whom all beings must live.

He did not Teach that human beings need a mediator between themselves and God, nor that there should be or can be any substitute for every person’s own self-sacrifice as the means of Communing with God. He did not represent himself as a mediator (or substitute sacrifice), since he did not presume there is any inherent separation or obstruction between creatures (or living beings) and the Spiritual Divine. He only Taught a direct, non-ritualistic, Spiritual, mystical, and personal Way of sacrifice, which he thought represented and epitomized all of the ultimate Wisdom of the ancient Jews.

Paul of Tarsus was a conventional Jew, trained in the sectarian rabbinical system of his time. He was not Taught by Jesus (or the disciples of Jesus), nor does the point of view characteristically expressed in his letters represent the true (or specific) Teaching of Jesus. Paul came to feel that he (and mankind in general) was and is inherently separated from God and Happiness. And he felt there was no effective means for restoring himself (or anyone) to God or Happiness, since there was–it seemed to him–some kind of inherent obstruction in everyone that could not be transcended.

Then, as reported in his letters, Paul experienced a mystical phenomenon (which he associated with Jesus) that encouraged him to believe that the inherent obstruction and separation between creatures and God had been conquered, for everyone, by the death (or ritual blood-sacrifice) and resurrection of Jesus. And he spent the rest of his life proclaiming this religion–which is the faith or systematic belief in the effective power of Jesus’ self-sacrifice to bring everyone to eventual Union or Re-Union with God and Happiness. (In all of this, Paul was more of a Greek “gnostic” than a Jew.)

I must criticize this “Christian” (or even “Pauline”) religion (which was an invention of the original popular Christ-cult, whose “genius”, or most potent idea-maker, was Paul, not Jesus) because (1) it is not the religion or Way Taught by Jesus (but is only a mythological and priestly religion about Jesus), and (2) it is not a method that in fact and in Truth does what it proclaims to be able to do (that is, if the ego merely witnesses or believes in the self-sacrifice of another, it neither transcends itself nor Receives the Ultimate Results of the other’s sacrifice).

First of all, as I have already indicated, Jesus Taught a free personal Way of Spiritual self-sacrifice, or the Way of self-transcending love of God, and ultimate inherence in God (or the Inherently Spiritual and Transcendental Divine) expressed in daily life via self-transcending love, or tolerance and service, of all living beings. Jesus heartily proclaimed that all beings are inherently intimate with God (Whom he described as “our Father”).

He did not at all subscribe to the view that living beings are inherently evil or inherently separated from God. He described every living being as a child of One Father. And by that he did not mean that human beings should be childish (and so act in such a loveless and egoically “self-possessed” manner that they effectively separate themselves from God).

Rather, his idea of the Fatherhood of God was related to the conventions of Jewish laws of inheritance. He conceived of every human child as the direct inheritor (even through birth in his or her mother’s womb) of the blessings and status of all that a child is rightly to receive from his or her parents. And, in the case of a child of God, what is ultimately inherited is Blessing and Union and Happiness from, with, and in the Spiritual Presence of the Divine.

Jesus Taught that human beings are tending to separate themselves from the Spirit-Presence of the Divine. He described the Father as One Who is always ready and even seeking for intimate Re-Union with those who separate themselves from God. Therefore, Jesus did not at all subscribe to the view that human beings are inherently separated from God (and thus, even by virtue of the Will of God, inevitably going to death and hell, unless a voluntary mediator or substitute self-sacrificer can appear between them and God and so create Union). Indeed, the idea of a necessary mediator or ritual substitute is the most obvious and conventional kind of priest-talk, a kind of sinful (or “off the mark”) presumption, the kind that Jesus always criticized.

Jesus Taught that “sin” (or all that people do or think or believe or presume that separates them from God or obstructs their Union with God and Divine Happiness) is not inherent. He Taught that people can and should and must repent of (or renounce) sin (or the tendency to separate from God). He Taught that such repentance purifies people (as long as it is practiced as a continuous and real exercise, followed by changes of mind and action). And he Taught that such self-purification, rather than any participation or belief in ritual or substitute sacrifices, is the basic or foundation means for entering into Union or Re-Union with the Divine Spirit.

Now, repentance (or the renunciation of the tendency to separate from God) is basically a process of self-transcendence. Indeed, the egoic self (as contraction from God) is sin. And, therefore, the Way Taught by Jesus is the Way of repentance from sin, or the direct Way of self-transcendence.
Jesus Taught that once a person is established in self-understanding (which is the awareness of sin, or awareness of the action of separation from God), and once that self-understanding has become expressed as responsibility for sin, or free renunciation of the tendency to separate from the Living Spirit that is God, the Way in practice must become one of continuous self-transcendence in relation to God and all of the conventional relations of the manifested self. And he summarized that practice via the ancient Jewish summary of the Law, which is to love (or sacrifice or transcend the separate and separative self in every moment through the practice of self-surrender in relation to) God and neighbor.

The four “gospels” of the New Testament otherwise suggest that Jesus and his direct disciples also Taught “secret” practices of Union with the Divine Spirit. Those practices were given to those who had truly (and practically) responded to the Teaching about repentance and self-surrender, and they clearly represented ancient traditional mystical and psycho-physical techniques (primarily of the type that is typically promoted by esoteric schools of the fourth stage of life and the fifth stage of life). And, in any case, those “secret” or “inner circle” instructions were simply extensions of the basic public Teaching of Jesus, which was always a call to each individual to renounce egoic “self-possession” and constantly transcend the egoic self in Communion with the Spirit of God.

Whereas Jesus Taught a direct Way of Union with God, Paul (and the “Pauline” cult) proposed a religion about Jesus. Whereas Jesus Taught the Way of self-transcendence as the necessary means of Communing with God, Paul taught that “selves” cannot transcend themselves in God.

Paul taught a conventional religious path rounded on egoity rather than the transcendence of egoity. He taught that people should believe in the sacrifice of Jesus as a substitute for their own sacrifice. Of course, he spoke of repentance, but he saw it as a self-based gesture, not as itself a salvatory or self-transcending (or ego-transcending) process but only as a behavioral response to the myth of Jesus’ universally effective self-sacrifice.

For Paul, the separate self is incapable of direct Divine Communion, and so it can participate in the Divine only at a distance, or through belief. For Paul, God-Communion is a mediated event: Jesus participates in God-Communion, and all others, like those who observe a priest performing a ritual in their name, participate in God-Communion only sympathetically, indirectly, and, for now, only partially. Paul taught a religion in which people remain as egos, egoically “self-possessed”, but made hopeful (and, hopefully, more loving and benign) by what they believe about Jesus. Therefore, in Paul’s view, anyone’s actual and full entrance into God-Union must wait for a future Event (either in the universal righteous judgment and transformation of mankind at the “second coming” of Jesus, or in some other time or place or circumstance after death).


The Teaching and the Way of Jesus are such as can be seen to have many other examples or likenesses in the fourth and the fifth stage traditions of the Great Tradition of human religion and Spirituality. Therefore, the Teaching and the Way of Jesus are not unique–but they are simply an expression of true religion in the context of the fourth stage and the fifth stage of life. The Great Tradition as a whole (and not merely Christianity) is mankind’s common inheritance, and all must discover and practice the Way of Truth (rather than any divisive and exclusive sectarian approach that supports rather than directly transcends the limitations of egoity).

Jesus was a revolutionary Teacher. He instructed people within his native tradition, but he Taught them how to transcend themselves and their religious conventionality via a direct process of God-Communion. Thus, the Spiritual (or Spirit-based) Teaching of Jesus stands in utter contrast to the culturally fabricated religious views of Paul. Jesus would not at all have agreed that human beings are inherently sinful, “fallen”, or separated from God, or that they therefore need a mediator or a substitute for their own free action of repentance and Communion with God. Indeed, one of Jesus’ primary efforts was to criticize such conventional “pharisaical” or priestly views.

Jesus was committed to the view that every human being is inherently free to repent of egoic self and turn directly to God, Who is the Living Divine Spirit in Which all beings exist.
Jesus clearly felt that his role, as a Spirit-Realizer, was to criticize and purify the minds and institutions of his time, and to Awaken people to the Way of God-Communion.

He also served his intimates as a Spiritual Transmitter, or a Master with the unique Power to Awaken committed practitioners to the profound Awareness of the Divine Spirit. But Jesus was not otherwise disposed to be regarded or proclaimed as a cultic or priestly substitute for the self-transcending practice of others. Therefore, he apparently resisted the attempts of people around him to declare him to be the Messiah or to put him in a position of worldly or institutional responsibility.

And even if a case can be made for the presumption that Jesus somehow “played” with Messianic self-imagery, it was only after his death (or his presumed “disappearance” from the scene) that a Messianic cult began to develop around his person. Paul became the leading literary exponent of that cult, and, largely because of his “success”, Messianic (or exoteric) Christianity was not rounded on the Teaching of free God-Communion but on the conventional religion of ego-fulfillment via the traditional idea of outward (non-personal, or substitute) sacrifice.

Jesus proclaimed that sin, or separate and separative self, must and can be transcended via repentance, or self-understanding and a life-practice of total psycho-physical conversion from egoity to God-Communion. That life-practice involves basic features that are also to be found in many other schools of the Great Tradition.

Jesus’ Teachings are based on two primary disciplines. The first is the practice of self-transcendence in the context of all worldly relations, circumstances, and bodily functions, and the second is the practice of constant Remembrance of (or psycho-physical Communion with) the Divine Spirit. This combination of disciplines was proposed (by Jesus, and countless other fourth to fifth stage Spirit-Masters) as the Great Means, to be elaborated over time in terms of the fullest possible Spiritual and mystical practice, and to be fulfilled in the Realization of a totally Spiritual Vision of life, wherein there is Union (or Unity) with (or no fundamental separation from) and fundamental inherence in the Divine Spirit. And if this fourth to fifth stage Spiritual Way is truly fulfilled, then the lie of separation through sin is transcended in Truth (rather than as a presumed effect of the “mediation” of any substitute sacrifice).

As long as the ego is the basis of religion, there is no Re-Union with God. As Jesus Taught, there is no substitute for the individually initiated and personally practiced self-transcending love of God (or the Inherently Spiritual and Transcendental Divine Truth), and there is no true religion without self-transcending love, tolerance, and cooperation in relation to others.

I appeal to all Christians for a new understanding of Jesus. I appeal to all Christians as One Who took human birth into the religion of Christianity, and Who grew to suffer and transcend the burden of its faults. I appeal to all Christians to “consider” these criticisms and, by abandoning the conventional (or inappropriately “cultic”) attachment to the exoteric (or merely legendary and mythological) Jesus, to be restored to the Way of Communion with the Divine in the midst of the universal and free community of all those who surrender to the Living God.