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Some of you reading this paper are adherents and/or proponents of one of the three major Eastern religious traditions-Hinduism, Buddhism, or Taoism. So this month we’re launching a series on the same. The following piece was written especially for the Proclamation by Bob Pardon, founder and executive director of the New England Institute of Religious Research, and an AIIA Resource Associate. As always, we welcome reader response.
“Once embarked on this (spiritual) journey, we are advised to seek the guidance of those who have been there before and know it well: teachers, gurus, roshis, swamis…and adepts of every description. But with common sense set aside, how can we judge the credentials of our teachers? What criteria can we use to determine the suitability of this man or this woman to guide us along the path…?”
This is an open letter to my American friend Joe, and to all disciples of Hinduism. In thinking about your comment, Joe, that there are “many ways to God,” I would have to disagree. I would contend that we are really considering a whole different world-view. Forgive me for trying to condense any belief system in such a short letter as this, but I would want to bring to your attention some of the “pressure points” you must consider in your pursuit of truth.
As you know, the Vedas (Hindu Scripture, circa 1500-1200 B.C.) are considered to be divine in their origin. However, they present a worldview that is utterly opposed to a Biblical worldview, and both cannot be right at the same time. Let me summarize a few of the main tenets of a Hindu worldview. First, it asserts a Monistic Pantheism, that All is One and All is God. This leads to a God who is impersonal, unknowing, and unknowable. The Indian philosopher, Shankara (8th century), described this worldview as a seamless garment where absolutely everything is Brahman (God). The material universe may appear to exist but actually is only Maya (illusion).
“The problem, Joe, is that nobody can live as if such were the case.”
The problem, Joe, is that nobody can live as if such were the case. The material universe has a way of making its presence known in very “concrete” ways. As one contemporary Indian philosopher put it, “Even in India we look both ways before we cross the street, because we know it is either the bus or us.” Thus, on what authority could I ever accept a monistic pantheism; that all is impersonal God and nothing is real?
Having been doomed to live a life of illusion, how can I ever test the truth of such a proposition within that illusion? Second, if All is One and all is God, then ethics also are illusion (Maya). As Swami Vive-kananda (1863-1902) stated, “Really, good and evil are one and the same.” Theoretically, once you are “enlightened” you have transcended good and evil. All actions, even evil ones, are “enlightened” ones. Like Vivekananda, Charles Manson said, “If God is One, what is bad?” And then he ordered the pregnant Sharon Tate, and the LaBiancas, butchered.
“If God is One, what is bad?”
A Biblical worldview (the personal, creator God being separate from His creation) is far more testable, and consistent with reality (the world we live in). In Romans 2, the Apostle Paul states that this personal, moral God of creation, in creating man in His own image, placed a moral conscience within the heart of each human being. Thus, people intuitively “know” what is right and wrong. This can be demonstrated anthropologically by investigating human cultures down through time.
At the beginning of this letter, Joe, I quoted from your magazine, Yoga Journal. The editor really hits the nail on the head when he asks, “…how can we judge.. What criteria can we use to determine…?” In the larger context the real issue is one of truth. Which worldview (Christian vs. Hindu) is true, and how can that be demonstrated and tested? Christianity, being rooted in history, invites investigation. The God of the Old and New Testament says, “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). The Apostle Paul continually encouraged people to investigate the truth of Jesus Christ’s resurrection as an historical event, and not to just accept his word for it (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Personal experiences can be counterfeited, and belief systems that do not square with reality are ultimately unverifiable. Thus, you are left with having to trust somebody’s theory. But if Jesus is who He claimed to be, then His description of reality is the only correct one.