A Hindu and a Christian Walk Into a Bar

In high school I had a history teacher who spent time in India teaching at a private school for children of diplomats. More than once he related funny stories of Christian missionaries enthusiastically received by would-be converts. Of course they believed in Jesus’ message! They would be thrilled to worship him! Then they set the statue of Jesus on the shelf next to Ganesha and Krishna.

When I read Autobiography of a Yogi I noted with interest mention of a book that supposedly illustrates absolute synchronicity between Christianity and Hinduism. Huh? This I had to read. It was written by Yogananda’s guru Yukteswar Giri.

I ordered The Holy Science from amazon and it promptly arrived on my doorstep. I cracked open the slim volume- read it cover to cover- read it cover to cover again- and it made absolutely no sense. It’s not that I disagreed with anything it claimed, because I couldn’t tell what it was claiming! No joke: this book might as well be written in Klingon. There is one semi-coherent passage about how humans, based on the length of their intestines, are meant to be fruitarians. But didn’t Jesus eat fish?

As it turns out Yogananda also wrote on the supposed synchronicity between Hinduism and Christianity. I ordered The Yoga of Jesus: Understanding the Hidden Teachings of the Gospels, read *it* cover to cover, and unlike The Holy Science it was coherently written. Paramhansa’s writing style is eminently accessible and adroit.

I thought I might give you the cliff notes of Yogananda’s theories, in case you’re curious, but don’t want to bother buying or reading the book.

The notion of “god incarnate” is a familiar one to Hinduism. In fact, according to Hinduism, there are any number of living saints walking the earth who essentially “channel” god and can act, teach, and be worshiped as divine entities. Mata Amritanandamayi (“Amma”) is a good example of this. So right off the bat we have a deep commonality between the two faiths. Of course Christians believe Jesus was the ONLY living incarnation of god, but this is a moot point for Yogananda.

The purpose of religion, according to Yogananda, is not to dictate morality, make a person righteous, nor to grant association with a particular group. Rather the point of religion is to expand one’s consciousness. He calls this “Christ consciousness-” what Jesus alludes to when he says “the kingdom of heaven is within you.” As to how one achieves expanded consciousness, Yogananda recommends meditation and yoga (the spiritual kind, not the exercise kind). While this may sound kooky, in the gospels Jesus does engage in a brand of meditation when he “withdraws” to the desert; the Hebrew term for this is hitbodedut and has its roots in Jewish mysticism.

Yogananda’s next assertion will sound even more far fetched to mainstream Christians. He is adamant Jesus’ “lost years” were spent studying with Hindu rishis (holy men) in the Himalayas.

A small detail in the gospels lends credence to the assertion: remember those “wise men from the east” who are “led by stars” to Jesus’ birthplace? Well east of Palestine is the Indian subcontinent. It is entirely plausible these men were in fact Hindu.

Yogananda further interprets “being born again” as a literal reference to reincarnation. One must be “born again” (and again, and again) to better calibrate one’s soul. In fact the end goal of Hinduism is to escape further incarnations by achieving “god consciousness” and merging back with the divine- remember how Jesus says “I and the father are one?” This is exactly what Yogananda is talking about. His term for it is “self-realization.”

As I have stated in previous posts, mystical Judaism holds a tenet of reincarnation, gilgul– literally “recycling” or “wheel.” When Jesus asks if a man is born blind because he sinned, or if his parents sinned, this implies a belief in reincarnation. Since a baby can’t sin, the sin could only have transpired in a previous life. According to Hinduism negative karma caused by sin can be “burned off” in subsequent incarnations, eventually refining the human soul to the point of perfection, i.e. god consciousness.

One of the more fascinating assertions in this book is that the seven seals of revelation are in fact the seven chakras. Chakras are the “seals” in the physical body wherein the soul can enter and exit. I have experienced this firsthand with my projections, and have otherwise felt chakras “light up” with a sort of burning energy. Sounds crazy, but I can (subjectively) attest to the reality of these portals on the human body.

I’ve only touched the surface here but if your interest is piqued I highly recommend the book- it is well written and sheds a compelling if bizarre light on christianity. There are other topics covered, for instance the concept of Satan is linked to maya– the illusion of the physical world- which doesn’t entirely make sense to me but perhaps I’m missing something.

In closing, has Yogananda revealed hidden truths here or is this the result of a wild culture clash between east and west? I suppose the answer depends on your beliefs. Hinduism describes existence as a game of hide and seek god plays against himself; he “hides” himself in creation and then must be discovered, kind of like easter eggs in a video game. The Sanskrit term for this is lila- “divine play.” If we as humans are emanations of god’s consciousness, then our “job” in life is to play the seeker in the game.

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The Other Side

This post requires two disclaimers: 1) I don’t expect anyone to believe me, and 2) I know it sounds crazy. I provide this information only because I know there are people out there with a keen interest in it, or who are simply curious.

Exactly 20 years ago I was a new mother with a young baby. My oldest was about 4 months old when this happened. He was a difficult baby and I was in a continuous state of exhaustion and sleep deprivation. One saturday my husband announced he needed to go to the drug store. I pleaded with him to take our baby son, so I could catch a much needed break.

I was asleep the moment the apartment door closed (we lived in a tiny one bedroom at the time).

Then something weird happened.

Even though I was dead asleep, I heard a roaring sound in my ears like tinfoil shaking, but much louder and sharper. This sound “woke up” my consciousness and I had full awareness of what was transpiring.

The roaring grew and now was accompanied by a distinct pressure at the back of my neck (this is the 6th chakra if anyone is interested- I did not know this at the time). This pressure built up as the roaring increased. The pressure built and built… it felt like a fist pushing my neck from the inside- then I was “out.”

I was staring at the roof of our apartment building. I was outside of my body.

At this point in my life I held a nascent, if fragile belief in god. I spent my teenage years as a loudmouthed atheist, but had read enough about near death experiences to immediately understand that my soul was- for whatever bizarre reason- out of my body.

Well, I thought to myself. If this is real I should be able to travel anywhere. Let me see my husband.

I felt a whoosh and was on the ceiling of the drugstore. There was my husband, there was my son in the stroller. My husband was browsing razors.

Okay… I thought to myself. If this is REALLY real, let me see my sister.

Another whoosh! And now I was above the rolling mountains of the Vermont-New Hampshire border. At that moment my astonishment turned to sheer terror and I snapped back in.

I was stunned. I had just experienced absolute (personal) proof of the human soul. It was real. Absolutely real. Since that day, even if my religious beliefs have faded or transformed, I always knew- even when I wished it were not true- the human soul irrefutably exists. It was a completely different experience from sleep paralysis, lucid dreaming and hallucinations (I have experienced all three- the hallucinations were from a raging fever). It was visceral and tactical- I physically FELT my soul push out of my body.

But this is only the beginning of the story. I continued to experience these strange projections (new agers call it astral projection, I simply called it “my soul leaving my body”) from time to time. I thought it was peculiar but didn’t pay it much mind, despite it being hard confirmation of the human soul (again, confirmation for me- I don’t expect others to believe me). Exactly a year ago, for reasons I still don’t understand, it began happening all the time. What was an occasional occurrence was now a near-nightly occurrence. Since october last year, the longest I’ve gone not projecting is two weeks, with the average rate of projection being three times a week, often more than once in one night. I have now projected well over a hundred times.

After a month of this I hit the internet, and for the first time in twenty years actually researched what was happening to me. New agers call it “astral projection,” native americans called it “spirit walking.” Hinduism has tomes of scripture about other dimensions and layers of bodies that encase the human soul. Most of what I found was instructional for people aspiring to astral project. Well I had no problem doing it, I just needed to know what to do once “out!”

Then I learned about retrievals. A retrieval is when a projected human soul (i.e. me) assists a “stuck” soul in moving on. I read that I should request “I would like to do a retrieval” when I project, and I would be brought to a stuck soul or soul shard in need of assistance. Most “stuck souls” don’t understand they are dead, or cannot accept it. For whatever reason they are unable to see the helpers (angels) trying to assist them. But they CAN see projected human souls, perhaps because we are still tied to this physical realm. And once they see us, they can usually see the angels/ helpers… and move on.

As for what “move on” means, I personally believe in reincarnation. I don’t know how exactly it happens- is it sequential?- our perception of time is linear but time may not in fact be linear. Perhaps all our incarnations are occurring simultaneously. Anyway, for all intents and purposes, let’s just say the successfully retrieved souls get “unstuck.”

Since october 2016 I have done countless retrievals during projections. I have also seen many parts of “the other side” ranging from heavenly… to flat out weird. And while I don’t expect anyone to believe me, if you are OPEN to believing, I can tell you with absolute conviction that the human soul is real and “the other side” is real.  When your loved ones die, the soul simply moves on and evolves elsewhere. They are not gone. And when you die, your soul will move on and evolve elsewhere. As I say to my agnostic daughter: like it or not, you’re stuck existing… eternally.

I can’t tell you which religion is right, what concept of god is accurate, nor even how you should live your life. I can only tell you what I have seen and experienced, that there is infinitely more to human existence than what we see around us. There may be reasons to fear death, but a terminal point is not one of them. As Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma) says: death is a period before the beginning of the next sentence.

 

Paramahansa Yogananda’s Excellent Adventure

When I related my daughter’s Koran shopping episode I noted that Barnes and Noble carries exactly zero books about Hinduism in its religion section. Being married to my husband, I know that not a single book at B&N is accidentally placed: exhaustive research is executed on buying habits of customers, and the potential profitability of each and every book. In fact, even how the books are laid out is thoroughly researched and deliberate. You know those tables scattered throughout the store? Publishers pay a premium to have their volumes displayed on them, as opposed to the shelves.

There are tons of new age, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist books– but nary a volume on Hinduism. Which is strange, because immigrant Hindus in the U.S. tend to be well educated and of the book buying capacity.

However, I do occasionally see one or two volumes published by the Self Realization Fellowship, which as far as I can tell is a quasi-Hindu organization devoted to bringing the “spirit” of Hinduism to a western audience. So it’s not exactly Hindu per se, but probably the closest you’re going to find at B&N.

One day earlier this year I bought one of those volumes: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, pictured below:

paramahansa-yogananda
ommmm…

I got the book home and my husband immediately asked: why did I bring Steve Job’s book home?

Huh? I had no clue what he was talking about.

As it turns out Autobiography of a Yogi was handed out at Mr. Job’s funeral per his request. The Self Realization Fellowship had to scramble to supply oodles of copies, and those who watched the scion interred walked away with a parting gift. Which I now happened to own as well.

The book is not what you think– or at least it wasn’t what I anticipated. I imagined a few hundred pages of Hindu apologetics, and while the volume does include that betimes, Mr. Yogananda’s chirpy, almost silly voice delivers a spellbinding tale that, like most truth, is stranger than fiction.

Way back in the 1930s Mr. Yogananda received a call from God to preach Hinduism, or quasi-Hinduism to the west. So he peregrinates to the States and not only was he well received here, but eventually, with a couple western disciples, embarked (in a model T Ford!) on an around-the-world journey to interview a variety of saints and gurus, including Mahatma Gandhi and stigmatic Therese Neumann.

While in audience of Ms. Neumann Mr. Yogananda uses his vulcan mind-meld powers (yes, he can read minds, but typically only does so with permission) to see if she’s a fake: she isn’t, and by entering her mind Mr. Yogananda witnessed the passion of Jesus Christ in excruciating detail, just as Ms. Neumann did during her stigmatic episodes. He concludes that Ms. Neumann was granted the gift of the stigmata so that Christians could have the veracity and suffering of Jesus Christ validated. (Even if you don’t feel like reading the whole book, reading that chapter alone is worth the effort and $12.50… not to mention the volume is available free online in pdf form.)

The book is not entirely autobiographical and does delve into Mr. Yogananda’s theological “unifying theories–” namely that there are no vital differences between Hinduism and Christianity. Of course, this will make your average believing Christian’s head explode, but he does offer salient points, or at the very least food for fodder. For instance there is evidence that early Christians held a tenet of reincarnation- as does mystical Judaism, from whence Christianity arose.  When Jesus heals the man born blind, he asks: did this man sin, or did his parents sin? Well a baby cannot sin, so where did this sin originate? Plausibly this is a reference to a previous incarnation, hearkening to the concept of karma. Furthermore the gospels imply that John the Baptist is the “recycled” (to use the hebrew term, gilgul) version of Elijah. In Matthew 11 Jesus says of John the Baptist, And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Mr. Yogananda’s theories on Christian-Hindu unity are complex and I can’t pretend to understand them fully. However, one his stranger postulations is that the Hindu concept of maya– illusion- is synonymous with the Christian notion of Satan. This will be a foreign concept to believing Christians, who view Satan as a personified fallen angel who tempts mankind toward evil deeds.

The book is an easy read and would be of interest to anyone with a yen for religion or history, as the era in which Mr. Yoganada travels prefaces World War II. Heck, it would be an interesting read even for people with an interest in Steve Jobs! So if you are looking for a book to page through by the pool, this one comes highly recommended.

No es lo que piensas

As I mentioned previously, my parents did not want a girl when I was born. This was before ultrasounds, so the news of my gender after 9 long months of anticipation must have been a guillotine through my parents’ hearts. I know my father well, and I can see his 1973 face in the hospital waiting room– devastation, anger, his serious face all the more serious behind his black-framed nerd glasses. He probably swore colorfully in German, lit a cigarette (he quit when I was 4), went for a long drive, then hit some adult beverages. Not necessarily in that order.

So there was exactly one person in the household happy to see me when I was carried through the doorway in a pink blanket bundle: my paternal grandmother, who lived with us. She was 63 years old at the time, gray hair still black at the nape of her neck, her complexion perpetually suntanned to bronze, fiendishly smart and impeccably neat. Whether she took pity on my circumstances, or whether it was just kismet, I don’t know, but we took to each other like a fish to water. We were inseparable through my childhood. If I had a nightmare I stole down to her room. For a period it was unclear to me that my parents were my parents; I thought she was my parent, and that my parents just happened to live there. She took care of me day to night, kept me company, told me she loved me, nicknamed me Tesora (“treasure”), and held my always cold feet when we watched TV together. We talked about everything from politics, to TV shows, to her life in Buenos Aires before she came to the states at the behest of my father.

She had a friend in Buenos Aires who was some years older. They made a pact, the two of them, that whoever died first would make every effort to return– in some form– to advise what awaited on the other side. Not unexpectedly her older friend died first; not long after she appeared to my grandmother in a dream and said simply: No es lo que piensas– It’s not what you think.”

So of course my grandmother and I made that same pact with each other. Whoever died first, and it would probably be, and it was, her, would make every effort to return to the other to illumine the afterlife.

My grandmother died a few weeks after my 23rd birthday. I was newly pregnant at the time and remember enduring the nausea through the preparation for her funeral; at the wake I touched her cold face and felt the earth swallow me up on the spot. When I stood by her grave I wanted to throw myself in alongside her. If I hadn’t been pregnant, I would have just curled up in a ball somewhere and slowly wasted away.

In the back of my mind I remembered our pact, and while she did occasionally appear in my dreams it was nothing spectacular or informative. In fact when I dreamed about her she seemed simply alive, as though she’d never died, and it wasn’t until I woke that I’d remember she was gone. But seven years after her death, not long after my fourth daughter was born, I had a vivid dream that left me shaken.

In the dream I stood outside our old house. My grandmother lay on the ground gravely ill, and she died before my eyes. Not only did she die but I watched her body decay. It all happened quickly, as though in time lapsed photography, and then seamlessly her bones transformed into a lovely pink baby which was, to my surprise, suddenly in my arms. I walked into the house holding the baby.

I woke from this dream wondering if it was finally the message from beyond I’d been promised. And what did it mean? Was it a message of reincarnation? If so, why couldn’t she just come out and tell me? Or send a hindu mystic to lecture me?

I try not to think about her much. On the one had I feel she’s still alive inside of me. On the other hand the acknowledgement of the loss, that I’ve gone 17 years without her, years stacked on years, is unfathomable. So I don’t fathom it. I don’t even talk about her to my children, though I tend to keep my entire life before them a closely guarded secret. It took 16 years for the story of Pi Guy to come out.

Hell

I sometimes wonder, if I end up in Hell, what will it be like?  Will it be a barren, fire-spotted wasteland like Searing Gorge in Warcraft, or will it be a relatively normal place of chatty intellectuals, like the Algonquin table?  There is a Jewish saying that heaven and hell are the same place– a Torah academy– and it’s either heaven or hell depending on who you are.  I usually imagine hell looking something like Manhattan– beauty and misery cemented together, megalith architecture staring down on condemned souls like faceless moai.  And with Manhattan being hell, the outer boroughs are its purgatories– gentler, if uglier, architecture; easier parking, and more affordable grocery prices.  We know Woody Allen will be in hell, since he screwed his stepdaughter, and more than a few Catholic priests (given the current state of affairs).  In fact there will probably be sufficient high ranking officials in Hell to establish a highly stable infrastructure, especially with Tesla and John Nash counted among the ranks.  Oscar Wilde too.

Or perhaps Hell will be as expected: a lonely place where souls are picked over by vultures and gnats, no one to talk to, no one to listen to, no water to drink even with our thirsting bodies decaying earthside.