The Gurus, the Young Man and Elder Paisios
(By Dionysios Farasiotis)
Reviewed by Emmanuel N. Stamatiou
The author of this book, a young man of profound spiritual yearning, spent a great deal of time thinking, reading and discussing Christian theology and Hinduism with friends at university. He eventually went to Mt Athos and spoke to several monks and in particular the saintly Elder Paisios who taught him the truth about Christianity and opened his eyes to the Orthodox faith.
However his curiosity and fascination for Hinduism was so great that it prevented the Word of God taking root in his heart and he decided to go to India and find out for himself whether the gurus were with God or the devil. He chose to give the same opportunity to the Hindu yogis that he had given to Elder Paisios to convince him of the true meaning of our existence and salvation.
In doing so, he foolishly placed himself in deadly spiritual danger. At the ashrams in India he became a disciple of various swamis and gurus and surrendered himself to luciferic delusions and non-Christian experiences such as yoga, hypnotism, witchcraft and the occult.
He achieved his spiritual goals, but this achievement was his spiritual death. Had it not been for the prayers of Elder Paisios on Mt Athos, he would not have been able to escape from the darkness into which he voluntarily descended. The supernatural powers that Satan gave him fuelled his pride and delighted him. However, through the ceaseless prayers of Elder Paisios which pulled down God’s grace, he saw through the trickery and deceit of the devil, abandoned the darkness and returned to his Christian faith.
In presenting this poignant, powerful memoir, the young author has actually composed an account of a soul encountering the great problem of contemporary interest and curiosity in Hindu “spirituality”, witchcraft and occult practice, which over the last 30 years has inundated most Western countries.
At first, I was reluctant to write a review on this book because I found it soul disturbing and its content had no instructional value or spiritual nourishment to practising Orthodox Christians. The books I usually choose to review are those written by the Holy Fathers of the Christian Orthodox Church who have been enlightened by the grace of the Holy Spirit to reveal the knowledge of God to those who repent and love Him. These books not only instruct the reader, but also fill his heart with the sweetness of Our Lord Jesus Christ and assist him in his spiritual struggle to achieve union with God which is the purpose of man’s existence.
However, on reflection, I was concerned at how easily young people can be deluded and tricked by the “cunning one”, the prince of deceit, into believing that he can fill their spiritual void. The problem is that they do not realise that they are giving up their immortal soul to Satan in exchange for “beautiful” experiences and supernatural powers.
Therefore, I decided, not only to write this book review, but to also go beyond the content of the book and to explain and expose the demonic characters of Hindu “spirituality” in the hope that whoever reads this treatise may be forewarned of the dangers of dabbling in Eastern religions which embrace witchcraft, black magic and the occult. This was necessary because the author failed to reveal the Hindu teachings and compare them with Christian beliefs. One cannot be expected to fully appreciate the dangers of Hinduism unless one is aware of the risks. The architect of these so called religions is Satan, whose sole aim is to lead all mankind away from Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, the Way and the Life and to bring about man’s spiritual death.
Throughout the Scriptures we see warnings about sorcery and false prophets. St Paul says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are – idolatry, sorcery….of which I told you beforehand. Those who practise such things will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven”. (Gal:5:19)
Also, Jesus says, “ Beware of false prophets who come to you in clothing of sheep, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matt:7:14:16)
St Seraphim Rose says, “False prophets are preaching an attenuated form of Christianity, a Christianity of comfortable compromise, Christianity without a Cross. This is the religion of the future, the universal religion of the antichrist, which will incorporate Christianity into its scheme unobtrusively, taking out the Cross of Christ – and thus every vehicle of our redemption.
The author tells us that the gurus enticed him into their deadly web of deceit at the ashrams by hypnotism, black magic and supernatural powers such as tremendous physical strength, movement of physical objects through mind control and overwhelming pride and self-importance. When he first saw Guru Babaji, who was considered a god, he says, “I was watching him come down the stairs. I shuddered with apprehension and broke into a cold sweat. I was taken back by his features, which were somehow not quite human. It was clear that his soul was hardly human at all. His eyes were charged with a terrifying intensity and power …..One of his yogis looked at me and said, ‘Take off your shoes and worship him.’ As he said that, his pupil became unnaturally large that it eclipsed his iris, which now seemed entirely black. I lost consciousness for an undetermined period of time. I was standing there but my mind and self-consciousness had been seized and taken somewhere else. I was not aware of my body or my thoughts, for a moment it was though I no longer existed.”
During his second encounter with Guru Babaji, he relates a far more disturbing experience. He says that he participated in Hindu worship of idols by following a ritual sacrifice as an offering to them. At the assembly he met a Dutch yogi who had been given tremendous powers by the guru. He says that, “When I touched him, I felt something come out of his body and enter my own – it was though a powerful force had engulfed me. I couldn’t understand what had happened to me or with what I had come into contact. I felt so energetic and powerful and I wasn’t afraid of anyone or anything. I felt consumed by an arrogant pride, by the feeling that I had everyone in my clutches and could utterly defeat them.”
Later on he says, “I saw Babaji in my sleep. He took me by the hand and taught me to fly. At the same time he taught me to sing a mantra (repetition of a magic formula) that translated, ‘I bow to Shiva ‘(god of destruction). The melody was enchanting and stuck in my mind for days.
He also mentions mystical experiences, seizures and magical revelations. He began to realize that there was something demonic about the swamis, gurus and yogis and feared that he had invited the devil into his heart and soul. Despite his fear, he enjoyed the power he received and tried to overcome thoughts of adverse consequences. “What’s so bad about having such tremendous strength and having authority over others? Nothing can resist me. Any woman I desire is mine for the taking. I’ll never be hard up for cash. There’s no knowledge I won’t be able to acquire.” However, the prayers of Elder Paisios on Mt Athos started to draw down God’s grace and the young man finally realised that Hinduism all seemed empty, vain and senseless, and began to question himself: “But where is love in all this? What’s the use of having everything if you don’t have love and truth. There is no truth in them.”
He made up his mind to leave the ashram and return to Greece. He denied the darkness through the spiritual intervention of Elder Paisios and re-visited the Elder who healed his spiritual wounds and saved him from eternal damnation. Had he accepted Hinduism, knowing the truth of Christianity, he would have surely been condemned to hell. “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of justice, than after they had known it, to turn back from the Holy Commandments.” (1Pet:2:19)
Having completed the book review, let us now examine why Hindu spirituality has taken hold of so many young people in today’s generation. The Scriptures say that we are living in a spiritually unbalanced age, when many Orthodox Christians find themselves, “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph:4:4) The knowledge of God and the mysteries of the Church are grace-giving and Orthodox Spirituality can be understood only by those who know it in experience within the Orthodox Church. The mysteries are revealed through purification and revelation.
So many young people today look for a comfortable alternative to Christian spirituality because the teachings of the Church on Original Sin, hell, repentance, the Sacraments, etc troubles them. To embrace Christianity one must be prepared to struggle to abandon one’s passions, keep God’s Commandments and change one’s life. The swamis present an intellectually satisfying alternative for every uncomfortable Christian dogma. For example, the main teachings of Hinduism are as follows:-
(1) Hinduism developed before Christianity between 1800-1000BC. It is both a religion and a way of life. It is described in the Vedas (ancient Hindu scriptures) and the Bhagavad Gita (18 chapter poem – a spiritual manual or “bible” of all Hindus)
The Gita opposes almost every important teachings of Christianity and seeks to subordinate the living Christ to modern man.
(2) Hindus worship idols because these images are the incarnations of their invisible gods. They acknowledge a “trinity”, consisting of Brahma (god of creation), Shiva (god of destruction) and Vishnu (god of preservation), all of which are formless deities. Brahman is the “Absolute” member of the divine reality, present everywhere and in everything.
God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus:20:3-5) This is idolatry.
(3) “Karma” – individuals create their own destinies. Hindus believe that all things are part of God, that souls are reincarnated at death, and through meditation and good karma, a person must strive to become united with the gods and achieve salvation. The goal is “moksha” – release from the cycle of reincarnation to become one with Brahman, the Absolute god. Moksha can be achieved through yoga and meditation.
Swami Vivekananda says – “that the only sin is not to believe in yourself and humanity as God himself. We Indians believe in self-worship. We are man-worshippers. Our god is man. The doctrine of mukti (salvation) consists of this – that man is to become divine by revealing the divine. The message of Vedanta (Hindu system of philosophy contained in the books of Vedic and Upanishads) rests on the fact that man is God. Vedanta declares the perfect freedom of every soul to be itself.”
Hinduism defies the nature of God, the nature of man and human existence. The appeal to today’s youth is unmistakeable. It denies all distinction between sacred and secular; they are only ways of expressing the single truth. And the sole purpose of religion is to provide for the needs of different temperaments, a god and a practice to suit everyone. In short, religion is, “doing your own thing”. Although Hindus believe that people are God but unaware of it, we know from 1Cor:4-6 that, “there is no other God but one……through whom all things and through whom we live.” And who calls man to become God by divine grace by love, humility and obedience to His Commandments.
(4) Jesus is a teacher, a guru, or an avatar (an incarnation of the invisible god Vishnu – god of preservation). Jesus is divine, true, but anyone of us can be divine.
St John the Evangelist says, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him, who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ, this is the true God and eternal life.” (1Jn:5:20) Man can become a “partaker of divine nature only by union with Christ through faith ( ie. we participate in God’s divine energy – not essence).
(5) Jesus’ death does not pay for anyone’s sins but His own. We are all responsible for paying for our own sins.
Christ is the suffering servant of all mankind. He sacrificed Himself for our sins and reconciled us with God. “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed.” (1Pet2:24).
(6) Through meditation and good karma, a person must strive to become united with the gods and thus achieve salvation.
St Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph2:8-9)
(7) The soul is reincarnated and a person may live many lives before achieving moksha (become one with god).
We know from Hebrews 9:27-28 that “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly await for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”
(8) Some of Hindu off-shoots, such as yoga and meditation, are innocent and beneficial for salvation.
St Paul says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Eph5:6)
Also, St Peter says, “beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked.” (2Pet3:17) That is, the danger of deception is high for everyone. The defence against deception is to stay connected to the true apostles and to their doctrines which encourage our growth in the knowledge of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Yoga is not simply a method of toning the body and improving one’s physical well-being. It is part of the Hindu tradition of using bodily postures as a form of worship. The word yoga means “to join” and a yogi is someone who uses bodily manipulations and breathing techniques to achieve union with the cosmic whole. There is no mention of repentance or change of mind or heart. The entire emphasis is upon control and technique. Another aspect of these practices is their self-centredness. They are focussed on the individual and their appeal is greatest amongst people who want to stand out for some special ability or secret spiritual knowledge that others are ignorant of. In other words, such spiritual practices generally pander to the proud. In the West, Eastern meditation practices are usually presented to the public in a sanitized fashion and gift-wrapped in quasi-scientific terms as proven methods of achieving mental focus or physical prowess and endurance. The religious dimension of such discipline is kept hidden or falsified.
(9) No particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others. All genuine religious paths are facets of God’s “pure love and light” and deserve tolerance. Hindus say, “What could be more reasonable 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 enrichment.”
Swami Vivekandas says that, “All religions are true but Vedanta is the ultimate truth. Differences are only a matter of “levels of truth”. Man is not travelling from error to truth, but climbing up the truth to truth, from truth that is lower to truth that is higher. If one religion is true, then all others also must be true. Thus the Hindu faith is yours as much as mine.”
What he is saying is that there is no conflict because everyone is right. Therefore every religion should not only tolerate but should also co-operate and assist each other in the common goal of salvation. The Orthodox Christians say this philosophy which is inspired by the intellect of evil men carrying out the words of their father, the son of perdition are misguided and an abomination to God. The true faith is Christianity. “I am the Truth, the Way and the Life”, Jesus said to His disciples. “No-one comes to the Father except through Me.” The Orthodox Christian Church is the “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. It is one, because all of its members believe the same truth; it is Holy because its founder is Christ Himself; it is Catholic because it is universal and has preserved the “wholeness of the faith of Christ through the centuries, and it is Apostolic because the Church has an unbroken historical connection with the early Apostolic Church founded by Christ. It is the religion of “true worship”. All other heretical sects have been established through the power of Satan in his attempts to destroy the Church. But his efforts are in vain. They are futile because Our Lord has assured us that, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. By His death on the Cross and Resurrection, Our Lord has defeated death and the devil. Satan no longer has any power and seeks to draw as many souls to him before the Final Judgment when he and his followers will be ‘cast into everlasting fire for all eternity’.
(10) The most compelling attraction to Hinduism is pragmatism. Religious instruction is given to the disciple by his guru. He is given a Sanskrit Mantra (personal magic formula contained in a poem) to repeat continuously and he is invited to verify the philosophy by his own experience. The point is that these supernatural practices, in fact, work.
The truth is that a mantra is normally an invocation to some Hindu deity or evil spirit. So somebody repeating the mantra is effectively calling upon or praying to a false god or deity (ie. they are practising idolatry).
The student may receive powers (“siddhis”) like reading minds, power to heal or destroy, move objects by mind control, foretell the future, etc – the whole gamut of deadly parlour tricks. But far worse than this, he invariably falls into a state of “prelest”, where he takes delusion for reality. He has “spiritual experiences” of unbound sweetness and peace. He has visions of deities and of light which are from Satan. A warm comfortable sense of special importance settles over the person in prelist and this compensates for all his austerities and pain. There are basically 2 forms of prelest –
(i) When a person strives for a high spiritual state or spiritual vision without having been purified of the passions and relying on his own judgment. To such a person the devil grants “great vision”.
(ii) Exalted religious feelings – that is, when the heart desires and strives for the enjoyment of holy and divine feelings while it is still completely unfit for them (ie. without first purification and repentance).
Carnal people enter into rapture from a delight and intoxication attained without difficulty, without self-renunciation, without repentance. He enters into communion with Satan and becomes infected with pride, hatred, arrogance, conceit and everything evil.
The misguided or proud spiritual aspirant is most vulnerable to prelest. And the success and durability of Hinduism depends largely on this false mysticism.
In today’s society young people find Hindu “spirituality” appealing. The last few years have seen the proliferation of swamis, yogis and gurus. They saw the opportunity for fame and wealth in a ready-made market. And they took it.
I wish to conclude the assessment of this book by saying that the psychic and physical powers exhibited by the Hindu yogis, swamis and gurus, from an Orthodox Christian perspective, are the result of demonic power. The powers are used for purposes of seducing followers or gaining disciples and for self-aggrandizement. I also want to emphasize that compared to the genuine gifts of the Holy Spirit and true miracles performed by Orthodox saints of our time, the powers of the gurus seems like cheap forms of charlatanism and display. No Orthodox Christian who receives the Holy Sacraments of the Church, who fasts and prays and puts his faith in Christ need fear demonic forces. They are completely powerless against genuine Christians. But, an Orthodox Christian who dabbles or experiments with the occult loses the grace of God. This is the danger that this book alerts us to.
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Pope Clement of Rome, Peter Archbishop of Alexandria - English LiturgySat Nov 24, 4:00 PM
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13th Sunday of Luke, Great Martyr Katherine - Matins & Divine LiturgySun Nov 25, 4:00 PM
Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos - English