Dvija (द्विज) means ‘twice born’ or ‘born again’. It is based on the idea that a person is first born physically and then later is born for a second time spiritually. This spiritual birth is traditionally symbolized to occur during the upanayana ceremony when putting on the sacred thread (yagyopavita, upavita or janeu). However, though the ancient Vedic (1500 – 600 BC) texts such as the Baudhāyana Grihyasutra discuss Upanayana, no ancient texts mention Dvija. Wikipedia states
Increasing mentions of it appear in Dharmasastras text of mid to late 1st-millennium CE texts. The presence of the word Dvija is a marker that the text is likely a medieval era Indian text
So though Dvija is a known concept today, it is relatively new. Where did Dvija come from?
Jesus and Dvija by Thomas
The earliest recorded teaching by anyone on Dvija is that of Jesus. John’s Gospel (written 50-100 CE) records a discussion led by Jesus about Dvija. It could very well be that Thomas, a disciple of Jesus who first came to India in 52 AD on the Malabar coast and then to Chennai as an eye-witness of Jesus’ life and teachings brought the concept of Dvija and introduced it into Indian thought and practice. Thomas’ arrival in India with Jesus’ teachings match the emergence of Dvija in Indian texts.
Jesus and Dvija through Prana
Jesus connected Dvija, not with Upanayana, but with Prana (प्राण), another ancient concept. Prana connotates breath, spirit, wind or life-force. One of the earliest references to Prana is in the 3,000-year-old Chandogya Upanishad, but many other Upanishads use the concept, including the Katha, Mundaka and Prasna Upanishads. Different texts give alternate specifics, but prana underlies all the yogic techniques seeking to master our breath/breathing, including pranayama and Ayurveda. Pranas are sometimes categorized by ayuras (wind) as prāṇa, apāna, uḍāna, samāna, and vyāna.
Here is Jesus’ conversation introducing Dvija. (underlined words mark Dvija or second birth references, while words in bold highlight prana, or wind,spirit)
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.John 3:1-21
Several concepts were raised in this conversation. First, Jesus affirmed the necessity of this second birth (‘You must be born again’). But there are no human agents in this birth. The first birth, that of ‘flesh giving birth to flesh’ and being ‘born of water’ comes from human agents and is under human control. But the second birth (Dvija) involves three Divine Agents: God, the Son of Man, and the Spirit (Prana). Let’s explore these
Jesus said that ‘God so loved the world…’ meaning that God loves all people … everyone living in the world … no one excluded. We may spend time reflecting on the extent of this love, but Jesus wants us to first recognize that this means God loves you (and me). God loves you greatly, no matter what your status, varna, religion, language, age, sex, wealth, education … As stated elsewhere:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39
God’s love for you (and me) does not remove the need for the second birth (“no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again”). Rather, the love of God for you moved Him to action
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son…
Bringing us to the second Divine Agent…
The Son of Man
‘Son of Man’ is Jesus’ reference to himself. What this term means we look at later. Here he is saying that the Son was sent by God. Then he gives the peculiar statement about being lifted up.
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted upJohn 3:14
This refers to the account in the Hebrew Vedas occurring about 1500 years beforehand in the time of Moses given here:
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.Numbers 21:4-9
Jesus explained his part in the Divine agency using this story. Think about what would have happened for the people bitten by the snakes.
When bitten by a poisonous snake venom enters the body. The normal treatment is to try to suck the venom out; bind the bitten limb tightly so that the blood will not flow and the venom will not spread from the bite; and reduce activity so that the lowered heartrate will not quickly pump the venom through the body.
When the serpents infected the Israelites they were told that to be cured that they had to look at the bronze serpent held up on a pole. You might visualize this as someone rolling out of his bed to look at the nearby raised bronze serpent and then being healed. But there were about 3 million people in the Israelite camp (they counted over 600 000 men of military age) – the size of a large modern city. Chances were high that those bitten were several kilometers away, and out of sight from, the bronze serpent pole. So those bitten by the snakes had to make a choice. They could take standard precautions involving binding the wound tightly and resting to restrict blood flow and spread of the venom. Or they would have to trust the remedy announced by Moses and walk several kilometers, raising the blood flow and spread of the venom, to look at the bronze serpent on the pole. It would be the trust or lack of trust in the word of Moses that would determine each person’s course of action.
Jesus was explaining that his being raised up on the cross give him the power to free us from bondage to sin and death, just like the bronze serpent freed the Israelites from the power of venomous death. However, just as the Israelites needed to trust in the remedy of the bronze serpent and look at the pole we also need to look at Jesus with eyes of trust, or faith. For that the third Divine Agent needs to work.
The Spirit – Prana
Consider Jesus’ statement about the Spirit
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.John 3:8
It is the same Greek word (pneuma ) for ‘wind’ as for ‘spirit’. The Spirit of God is like wind. No human has ever seen wind directly. You cannot see it. But the wind is everywhere around us. The wind is observable. You observe it through its effect on things. As the wind passes it rustles the leaves, blows hair, flaps the flag, stirs things. You cannot control the wind and direct it. The wind blows wherever it will blow. But we can lift up sails so that the wind’s energy moves us in sailboats. The lifted and harnessed sail is what allows the wind to move us along, imparting its energy to us. Without that raised sail the movement and energy of the wind, though it swirl all around us, does not benefit us.
It is the same with the Spirit. The Spirit moves where it will outside of our control. But as the Spirit moves you can allow it to affect you, to bring its life energy to you, to move you. It is the son of man, raised on the cross, which is like the raised serpent, or the sail raised in the wind. When we place our trust in the son of man raised on the cross this allows the Spirit to impart life to us. We then are born again – this second time of the Spirit. We then receive the life of the spirit – prana. The prana of the Spirit enables us to become dvija from our inside, not simply as an outer symbol as with upanayana.
Dwija – from Above
This is brought together in John’s Gospel summarized like this:
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.John 1:12-13
To become a child requires a birth, so to ‘become children of God’ is describing the second birth – dwija. Dwija can be symbolized through different rituals like upanayana but the true inner second birth is not ordained by ‘human decision’. A ritual, good as it is, can describe the birth, can remind us of the need for this birth, but it cannot bring it about. It is solely an inner work of God when we ‘receive him’ and ‘believe in his name’.
Light and darkness
People have harnessed the power of wind using sails for centuries, long before the physics of sailing was understood. Similarly, we can harness the Spirit for the second birth, even if we do not fully understand it with our minds. It is not the lack of understanding that will hinder us. Jesus taught rather that it can be our love of darkness (our evil deeds) that stops us from coming into the light of truth.
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.John3:19
It is our moral response rather than our intellectual understanding that blocks our second birth. We are admonished instead to come into the light
But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.John 3:21
We will see how a woman encountering Jesus for the first time had to choose to come into the light to receive his offer of living water.