The Cosmic Cross

The Cosmic Cross, Shantivanam
Photo by Kevin Flynn

In Jesus in the Lotus: The Mystical Doorway between Christianity and Yogic Spirituality, Russill Paul describes this cross at Shantivanam – a Christian ashram / Benedictine Monastery in India, where Paul lived under the tutelage of Father Bede Griffiths.

At the end of the quote, I provide some of my own thoughts.

The Cosmic Cross:

Beyond the gopunam, inside the courtyard, is the cosmic cross. This unusual symbol, which resembles a Celtic cross, is unique to the monastery. It combines elements of both Christian and Hindu cosmology. The cross itself represents the crucifixion, of course, which in addition to its central significance for Christians has meaning for Hindus — the crucifixion of Jesus is a marvelous symbol of the surrender of the ego, which is at the heart of all Indian spirituality. Superimposed on the cross is a circle, which represents the wheel of samsara, the Hindu cycle of birth and death. The combination of the cross and the circle gives additional meaning to the resurrection: it symbolizes that Jesus broke through samsara, and that the “way” of the cross, meaning the way of accepting suffering that is actually the karma of others, is itself a Yoga. 

The way of the cross is a term used in Christian spirituality to point to the way of Jesus. Humility, forgiveness, and acceptance are some of the key traits of this way that he demonstrated, especially during the time of his trial under Pontius Pilate, which led to his crucifixion. All these traits are expressions of a deep level of surrender and submission to Divine will, or higher consciousness, that stem from being in love. For both Christian and Hindu, it is the surrender of the ego to higher consciousness that leads to both liberation and salvation, and this is why the “way” of Jesus can be classified as a legitimate Yoga. Liberation from the cycle of birth and death, moksha, is one of the chief goals of the Hindu religion and the centerpiece of the Yoga path. 

In the center of the cosmic cross is the mystical syllable Om, which represents the primal Word as well as the nature of the true Self — another area of common ground between the two traditions. The cosmic cross is intentionally placed between the entrance and the sitting area so that it can represent the transformative power of sacred knowledge: armed with the knowledge embodied in the cross — the knowledge that the Word of God penetrates the veil of illusion — you enter the sitting area of the temple to seek this Divine Word in all its fullness. (74-75)

Pen & ink drawing of the cosmic cross
Photo by Kevin Flynn

Paul’s main project here is to describe the common ground between Christianity and Hinduism via this cross. While I recognize that Yoga (the tradition) was codified within the Hindu tradition, I generally do not equate the two. Thus, I would have to do more studying of this passage to know how much of this I agree with as an integration of Christianity and yoga, per se. Regardless, I do find Paul’s description of this cross fascinating.

I am intrigued, for instance, with the idea of Om and Logos possibly both referring to Jesus. I like the synergy here.

I love, too, the common ground of the surrendering of the ego to God.

I would add to Paul’s description that the resurrection of Jesus breaking samsara means that Jesus broke it for us all: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).

I just really love the synergy of this image. When I came across the description of it in Paul’s book this week, I had to share it. Hope it gave you food for thought too.

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