I was just
sixteen when two events set the course of my life. I came to Dominican Catholic
Convent in San Rafael (California) and encountered Christianity for the first time. The same
year I also encountered Hinduism in the person of a Hindu monk, a Swami, who
was shortly to become my guru or teacher. A battle had begun, but I wasn't to
understand this for nearly twenty years.
At the convent I was taught the basic truths of
Christianity. Here lie the strength of the humble and a snare to the proud. St.
James wrote truly: God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the
humble (4:6). And how proud I was; I wouldn't accept original sin and I
wouldn't accept hell. And I had many, many arguments against them. One Sister
of great charity gave me the key when she said: "Pray for the gift of
faith." But already the Swami's training had taken hold, and I thought it
debasing to beg anyone, even God, for anything. But much later, I remembered
what she had said. Years later the seed of Christian faith that had been
planted in me emerged from an endless sea of despair.
In time the nature of the books that I brought
back to school with me, all in plain covered wrappers,
was discovered. Books like the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the
Vedantasara, the Ashtavakra Samhita... In part my secret was out,
but nothing much was said. No doubt the Sisters thought it would pass, as
indeed most of the intellectual conceits of young girls do. But one bold nun
told me the truth. It's a very unpopular truth and one that is rarely heard
today. She said that I would go to hell if I died in Hinduism after knowing the
truth of Christianity. Saint Peter put it this way: For by whom a man is
overcome, of the same also he is the slave. For if, flying from the pollutions
of the world, through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they
be again entangled in them and overcome, their latter state is become unto them
worse than the former. For it had been better for them not to have known the
way of justice, than after they have known it, to turn back from that holy
commandment which was delivered to them (2 Peter 2:19-21). How I
despised that Sister for her bigotry. But if she were alive today I would thank
her with all my heart. What she told me nagged, as truth will, and it was to
lead me finally to the fullness of Holy Orthodoxy.
The important thing that I got at the convent was
a measuring stick, and one day I would use it to discover Hinduism a fraud.
The situation has changed so much since I was in
school. What was an isolated case of Hinduism has developed into an epidemic.
Now one must have an intelligent understanding of Hindu dogmatics if one is to
prevent young Christians from committing spiritual suicide when they encounter
The appeal of Hinduism is full spectrum; there are
blandishments for every faculty and appeals to every weakness, but particularly
to pride. And being very proud, even at sixteen, it was to these that I first fell prey. Original sin, hell, and the problem of pain
troubled me. I'd never taken them seriously before I came to the convent. Then,
the Swami presented an "intellectually satisfying" alternative for
every uncomfortable Christian dogma. Hell was, after all, only a temporary
state of the soul brought on by our own bad karma (past actions) in this or in
a former life. And, of course, a finite cause couldn't have an infinite effect.
Original sin was marvelously transmuted into Original Divinity. This was my
birth right, and nothing I could ever do would abrogate this glorious end. I
was Divine. I was God: "the Infinite Dreamer, dreaming finite dreams."
As for the problem of pain, the Hindu philosophy
known as Vedanta has a really elegant philosophical system to take care of it.
In a nutshell, pain was maya or illusion. It had no real existence — and what's
more, the Advaitin could claim to prove it!
In another area, Hinduism appeals to the very
respectable error of assuming that man is perfectable: through education (in
their terms, the guru system) and through "evolution" (the constant
progressive development of man spiritually). An argument is also made from the
standpoint of cultural relativity; this has now assumed such respectability
that it's a veritable sin (with those who don't believe in sin) to challenge
relativity of any sort. What could be more reasonable, they say, than different
nations and peoples worshipping God differently? God, after all, is God, and
the variety in modes of worship make for a general religious
But perhaps the most generally compelling
attraction is pragmatism. The entire philosophical construct of Hinduism is
buttressed by the practical religious instructions given to the disciple by his
guru. With these practices the disciple is invited to verify the philosophy by
his own experience. Nothing has to be accepted on faith. And contrary to
popular notions, there aren't any mysteries — just a tremendous amount of
esoteric material — so there simply is no need for faith. You are told:
"Try it, and see if it works." This pragmatic approach is supremely
tempting to the Western mind. It appears so very "scientific." But
almost every student falls right into a kind of pragmatic fallacy: i.e., if the
practices work (and they do in fact work), he believes that the system is true,
and implicitly, that it is good — This, of course,
doesn't follow. All that can really be said is: if they work, then they work.
But missing this point, you can understand how a little psychic experience
gives the poor student a great deal of conviction.
This brings me to the last blandishment that I'll
mention, which is "spiritual experiences." These are psychic and/or
diabolic in origin. But who among the practitioners has any way of
distinguishing delusion from true spiritual experience? They have no measuring
stick. But don't think that what they see, hear, smell and touch in these
experiences are the result of simple mental aberration. They aren't. They are
what our Orthodox tradition calls prelest. It's an important word,
because it refers to the exact condition of a person having Hindu
"spiritual experiences." There is no precise equivalent to the term prelest
in the English lexicon. It covers the whole range of false spiritual
experiences: from simple illusion and beguilement to actual possession. In
every case the counterfeit is taken as genuine and the overall effect is an
accelerated growth of pride. A warm, comfortable sense of special importance
settles over the person in prelest, and this compensates for all his
austerities and pain.
In his first Epistle, Saint John warns the early Christians: Dearly beloved, believe
not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God... (4:1).
Saint Gregory of Sinai was careful to instruct his
monks on the dangers of these experiences: "All around, near to beginners
and the self-willed, the demons are wont to spread the nets of thoughts and
pernicious fantasies and prepare moats for their downfall..." A monk asked
him: "What is a man to do when the demon takes the form of an angel of
light?" The Saint replied: "In this case a man needs great power of
discernment to discriminate rightly between good and evil. So in your
heedlessness, do not be carried away too quickly by what you see, but be
weighty (not easy to move) and, carefully testing everything, accept the good
and reject the evil. Always you must test and examine, and only afterwards
believe. Know that the actions of grace are manifest, and the demon, in spite
of his transformations, cannot produce them: namely, meekness, friendliness,
humility, hatred of the world, cutting off passions and lust — which are the
effects of grace. Works of the demons are: arrogance, conceit, intimidation and
all evil. By such actions you will be able to discern whether the light shining
in your heart is of God or of satan. Lettuce looks
like mustard, and vinegar in color like wine; but when
you taste them the palate discerns and defines the difference between each. In
the same way the soul, if it has discernment, can discriminate by mental taste
the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the fantasies and illusions of satan."
The misguided or proud spiritual aspirant is most
vulnerable to prelest. And the success and durability of Hinduism
depends very largely on this false mysticism. How very appealing it is to drug
using young people, who have already been initiated into these kinds of
experiences. The last few years have seen the flowering and proliferating of
Swamis. They saw their opportunity for fame and wealth in this ready-made
market. And they took it.
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