Deification of Prophets
Although many prophets explicitly denied that they were anything more than human during their lifetime, their followers elevated their status to rally the religious community around such individuals by collectively recognizing them as special and superior. However, their teachings should be for everyone, not hoarded exclusively by one group. They have left us plenty of evidence in their teachings to indicate that the truth is not the property of a few, but a shared quest of all humankind.
“So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’"
“The double nature of incarnation—simultaneously human and not human—can be traced back to the Upanishadic belief that our souls are all incarnations of the immortal brahman though our bodies are subject to the cycle of reincarnation.”
“Notwithstanding [the Buddha’s] own objectivity toward himself, there was constant pressure during his lifetime to turn him into a god. This he rebuffed categorically, insisting that he was a humanin every respect. He made no attempt to conceal his temptations and weaknesses—how difficult it had been to attain enlightenment, how narrow the margin by which he had won through, how fallible he still remained.”
“It can be said that [Chang Tzu] is in accord with the Author of the Tao, and soars to the highest heights. Indeed this is so, but he still continues to explore with us the changes and transformations that arise within all, and come from him. His teachings have never been fully appreciated, as they are difficult and subtle."
“With [Confucius’] death began his glorification. Among his disciples the move was immediate, and from them it spread steadily. What would have pleased him more was the attention given to his ideas. Until this century, every Chinese schoolchild for two thousand years raised his clasped hands each morning toward a table in the schoolroom that bore a plaque bearing Confucius’ name.”
“In short, religions that reach great stature have a tendency to rewrite their history in the process. They cast themselves as distinctive from the get-go, rather than as growing organically out of their milieu. They find an epoch-marking figure —a Moses, a Jesus, a Muhammad—and turn him into an epoch-making figure. They depict his message as contrasting sharply with a backdrop that, in fact, his message was infused with.”
“Weber recognized that, when prophets, saints, and reformers die, they leave their communities in a difficult position, which boils down to how to continue to transmit the electric charge of the charismatic leader’s original energy. With the death of the charismatic founder, one of the poles of the electric arc is gone. And, when one pole goes, the flashing arc flashes no more. There are many strategies that can be employed at this point. Here we might list six: (1) the interpreted dream or vision; (2) the institutional role or office; (3) the scriptural text; (4) the institution of religious law; (5)sacred architecture and art; (6) the relic.”
“[One] common way of connecting religion and morality is that some supernatural agents provide a model to follow. This is the paragon model in which saints or holy people are both different enough from common folk that they approach an ideal and close enough so their behavior can serve as a model. This is the way people conceive of individuals with supernatural qualities such as Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad or the many Christian and Muslim saints as well as the miracle-working rabbis of Judaism. The life of the Buddha gives a clear indication of the path to follow: renounce worldly attachment, display compassion, escape from the false appearance that is reality.”
“Shortly following his elevation to the throne, Huang Ti fell into a dream that lasted three entire months, during which time he learned the lesson of the control of the heart. After a second dream of comparable length, he returned with the power to teach the people. He instructed them in the control of the forces of nature in their own hearts[…]Before his death at the age of one hundred and eleven, the phoenix and the unicorn appeared in the gardens of the Empire, in attestation to the perfection of his reign."