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NEW YORK Who is Jesus? According to spiritual guru Deepak Chopra, there are three interpretations.
In his book "The Third Jesus," published this week, Chopra says there is a "sketchy historical figure," a second "abstract theological creation" and a third Jesus with the highest level of enlightenment -- what Chopra calls God-consciousness.
"I want to offer the possibility that Jesus was truly, as he proclaimed, a savior," Chopra wrote. "Not the savior, not the one and only Son of God. Rather Jesus embodied the highest level of enlightenment.
"He spent his brief adult life describing it, teaching it, and passing it on to future generations," he said. "Jesus intended to save the world by showing others the path to God-consciousness."
Chopra, author of more than 50 books and head of the spiritual group Alliance for a New Humanity, describes God-consciousness as "a metaphor for a shift in consciousness that makes Jesus's teachings totally real and vital."
He said he began searching for the third Jesus as a child attending a Catholic Irish missionary school in India after being fascinated by what he described at the "most interesting, romantic, passionate, spiritual story of all time."
"Yet I was struck by the fact that my friends, who were part of the Church, had been indoctrinated into a belief system where guilt was actually a virtue and I couldn't quite come to terms with that," Chopra told Reuters in an interview.
"I said to myself there must be a third Jesus, a state of consciousness that I can actually relate to, and I started to really study the New Testament and the Bible," he said.
EAST MEETS WEST
Chopra paints this third Jesus as one of both Eastern and Western spirituality.
"Leave aside the differences in the language of it -- they are all talking about the same thing," he said. "So I hope in the very least it will contribute to some healing of the rift in our collective soul, which is the cause of all the wars and all the problems we're having today."
Chopra said the Jesus created by the Catholic Church was confusing because although the religion had done a lot of good in the world, it had also taken part "in the Crusades, in witch hunts, in burning people on the stake, homophobia, depriving women of their rights, all kinds of things."
"The present day crisis in Christianity is it's bogged down in issues like -- what would Jesus do? They make pronouncements on things like abortion, women's rights, homophobia, stem cell research -- nothing to do with Christ," he said.
"It influences our politics, it influences our national policy, it influences whether we go to war or not in the name of God," he said. "It's inanity of the utmost extreme."
Chopra said he hoped readers would take away a practical way to understand the New Testament and understand that engaging in contemplative meditation can lead to positive change.
"Everything changes for the good," he said. "The way we think, the way we behave, the way we feel, the way we have our personal relationships, our social interactions, our environment all changes in an evolutionary direction because we have shifted in our own consciousness."
And that, he said "is precisely what is meant by the kingdom of heaven is within you."
(Editing by Bill Trott)