Columnists > Judgment Calls

Divine visitation

Hinduism comes to Chester Springs, Pa.

Issue: "President Bush?," Nov. 18, 2000

God came to Pennsylvania recently. Chester Springs, to be exact. He actually lives in southern India with his wife and family, having been born to a middle-class landowner in Madras, but was in our fair state to open his first spiritual center, there being an increasing number of Indian immigrants to the United States. I phoned for directions. Of course, I felt I should attend my own church first, so I missed the opening ceremonies. From what I've read, Mr. Bangaru Adigalaar (goddess Adhiparasakthi to you) would have no problem with that. I understand he's a nice guy and no sheep-stealer either, but tolerant of other religions and even encouraging you to stay in your own faith, unsaddled as he is by notions of the law of noncontradiction-you know, those notions that gave rise to modern science as we know it in the West. It's hard to figure what he has to offer me, though, if that's his attitude. If I want tolerance and permission to believe and do anything I please, I can just go down to the local liberal Christian church in town. To give some background, the guru's family first knew he was a special child when a cobra turned up in his crib and left the infant unharmed, and then the goddess herself appeared to Mr. Adigalaar's father in a dream and said, "I am coming in the form of a snake. He is my son, not yours." Which is a good story, but reminded me too much of Pharaoh's magicians (not to mention a certain unpleasant incident in Eden), and I just knew their trick snakes weren't coming from anyplace divine. I thought of the number 666, just always short of 7? Counterfeit. In any case, word has it that Mr. Adigalaar is not totally divine himself, at least according to a devotee interviewed in Plainsboro, N.J., though she was not forthcoming with details. And that is worrisome to me, since if I decide to sign on with this Incarnation who promises moksha (freedom) and then it turns out he snaps at his kids when he's tired like I do, then I'm in big trouble (2 Peter 2:19). I need more help than that. Personal is good, but not much use without Infinite. Even Personal is cheating, though, if you want to get nasty about this. From what I know about pure Hinduism, there is no person there-not in heaven above and not in your bathroom mirror. All that phenomenal stuff is illusion, and you are a dream of God, not a distinct creation. But it seems that nobody can pull off that mind trick indefinitely. Pristine Hinduism's call to dissolve the illusory experience of personality into the sea of Nirvana is not for the fainthearted. It's hard to live day after day in a world where chairs seem real and your mother seems real and love seems real and to keep insisting they're just maya. So Eastern religion fudges a bit, proliferates avatars. Even against the expressed wishes of their own teachers, the disciples worship Krishna and Gautama Buddha. Why? Because they cannot do without it. Because they're made that way. Like the Woody Allen joke goes- Psychiatrist: "Why do you keep believing in this imaginary chicken?"
Patient: "Because I need the eggs."
You have your choice, then, with the varieties of Hinduism: philosophical consistency but miles from reality, or close to reality but philosophical meltdown; straight up, unflinching Shankara monism, or the Bhakti strain that smuggles in personal deities viable for worship, devotion, and prayer; ideological untenability, or emotional untenability. Mr. Bangaru Adigalaar may meet a lot of bright young Indians during his stay here-doctors, scientists, dot-com stars; they're the most professionally successful immigrant ethnic group in America, I've read. Would someone please tell him that it didn't happen until the sleeping giant of Southeast Asia was liberated by a Christian worldview that unleashed all that talent on the world? Physicist Robert Oppenheimer openly admitted that only in the Christian milieu could modern science have arisen. It was Lao-tse, not Francis Bacon, who said, "If, when I am asleep I dream that I am a butterfly, how do I know when I am awake that I'm not a butterfly dreaming I am a man?" People who talk like that are not likely to turn around and make science. Beware the leaven of the East, Chester Springs. Tolerance enters like a lamb but goes out like a lion, swallowing up all other faiths. The only thing for it is to know your Bible well, and the personal and infinite God who is there. One poet wrote: "My previous discussions (on a possible synthesis between Hinduism and Christianity) did not take proper account of that whole aspect of Christianity which is uncompromising, ornery, militant, rigorous, imperious, and invincibly self-righteous." Never thought I'd quote Alan Watts for our side.

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Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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