In Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasins or Swindlers, Sita Ram Goel describes the Christian missionary strategists’ plan to infiltrate Hindu society and gain the confidence of the people: “Christianity has to drop its alien attire and get clothed in Hindu cultural forms. In short, Christianity has to be presented as an indigenous faith. Christian theology has to be conveyed through categories of Hindu philosophy; Christian worship has to be conducted in the manner and with the materials of Hindu puja. Christian sacraments have to sound like Hindu samskaras; Christian churches have to copy the architecture of Hindu temples; Christian hymns have to be set to Hindu music; Christian themes and personalities have to be presented in styles of Hindu painting; Christian missionaries have to dress and live like Hindu sannyasins; Christian mission stations have to look like Hindu Ashrams. And so on, the literature of Indigenisation goes into all aspects of Christian thought, organisation and activity and tries to discover how far and in what way they can be disguised in Hindu forms.”
The late Sita Ram Goel wrote this in 1988, and he would not be surprised to learn that Christian priests and monks in America have adopted these very tactics to attract a whole generation of American youth interested in Hindu spirituality, back to Christianity. The leader in this movement today is Abbot George Burke of Atma Jyoti Ashram in Cedar Crest, New Mexico. He is better known on the Internet as Swami Nirmalananda Giri.
Isha Jyoti to Atma Jyoti
Atma Jyoti Ashram was originally called Sri Isha (Jesus) Jyoti Sannyas Ashram and was located at Borrego Springs, California. Fr. George Burke is a Greek Orthodox Christian priest, and if reports are correct, most or all of the community of brothers attached to him are Christian priests.
On a visit to India, Fr. George met the Bengali saint Ananda Mai Ma. She is said to have instructed him to remain in the Christian religion and continue his Christian practices. This is not unusual advice from a Hindu guru. In spite of their enlightenment, most are grossly ignorant of Christianity’s ideology and imperial designs, its triumphant, sectarian prayers and bloody rituals. Hindu gurus advise their foreign followers to remain in the religion of their forefathers, not realising the negative consequences of their thoughtless words.
This kind of advice is irresponsible, especially when made to foreign seekers who take the guru’s instruction as divine word. Christianity is based on a false doctrine of vicarious salvation, and there is nothing in Hindu scripture or the ancient Rishi tradition to support the ill-conceived advice handed out to foreign seekers by Hindu teachers who do not want to take spiritual responsibility for their charges.
Ananda Mai’s alleged instruction suited Fr. George and his followers and they quoted her later as their authority to don the ochre robes of Hindu sannyasis and adopt the Sanskrit titles and names of Smartha Dasnami monks. The fact that Ananda Mai Ma was not an initiated Dasnami sannyasin and had no authority to give them ochre robes or Dasnami titles did not deter them in the impersonation drama.
They continued to perform the bloody sacrifice of the Christian Mass in secret, even as they presented themselves in public as simple, unaffiliated Hindu monks. It was the old fraud of Robert de Nobili and Henri Le Saux being repeated on an unsuspecting public, only this time it was an American and not an Indian public being duped by persuasive snake oil salesmen.
Om on Cross
At one point in their career, while still the Sri Isha Jyoti Sannyas community in Borrego Springs, they were caught out in their charade by none other than the Shaiva Siddhanta Church in Hawaii. The brothers did carpentry for a living, being followers of the Carpenter, and one of the items they produced for sale was a Roman cross with the sacred Hindu word-symbol ‘Om’ nailed to its cross bars. They sent a sample to Hinduism Today with the hope of attracting sales. They got instead a negative response and a return of the obscene article. Hindus, even modern American Hindu converts, are deeply offended by this kind of syncretism and do not understand the appeal it has for New Agers and gay Christian priests who flaunt it on their cassock fronts as a sign of their radical universalism.
Catholic writer S. Kulandaiswami said vis-à-vis Fr. Bede Griffiths and his bastardised Om-on-Cross iconography: “Ritual, rites, and ceremonies in Hinduism have not been changed to suit the whims of modern innovators. Griffiths, by superimposing the sacred word ‘Om’ on a Cross, imagines he has created a new spiritual phenomenon. On the contrary, he confuses and insults both Hinduism and Christianity. He fails to realise that by such acts he is neither enriching Christianity nor honouring Hinduism. One has to respect the unique rites and rituals of each religion, which placed in another context, will be meaningless and confusing.”
In a later debate published in the letters column of The Indian Express, Chennai, in 1989, The Hindu correspondent S Venkatachalam wrote: “It is highly outrageous and objectionable to compare … Hindu leaders and religious heads with the Christian missionary experimentalists like Bede Griffiths, Hans Staffner and the Christian missionary Fr. Henri Le Saux, the so-called Abhishiktananda. Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji, Ramana Maharshi and Paramacharya of Kanchi never resorted to such experimentation of a “cocktail religion” or “masala and kichidi religion” by mixing religious symbols, donning the dress of a Christian father or Muslim mullah, building church-like or mosque-like temples, fabricating Bible or Quran-like Hindu shlokas, or asserting that Rama or Krishna or Shiva is the only God and by accepting Him alone one can get salvation.”
The Sri Isha (Jesus) Jyoti Sannyas Ashram brothers did not succeed in pedalling their original handcrafted ‘Om-on-cross’ to the Hindus of Hawaii then, but in their new incarnation as sadhus of Atma Jyoti Ashram they have succeeded in getting advertising space in Hinduism Today and the sponsorship of Ramana Ashram in Tiruvannamalai. Yet they remain, so far as we know, Christian priests in orange robes with false Sanskrit names and titles, the usual New Age bells and beads added. They are quite a success in Christian duplicity, if not in true Hindu spirituality.
The sponsorship of Ramana Ashram and the publication of the Atma Jyoti Ashram brothers’ articles under assumed Hindu names in the Ramana Ashram journal Mountain Path is not really surprising. Sri Ramana Ashram is a family business headed by a hereditary trustee. The current president is the Advaita Vedanta paralogist VS Ramanan. The ashram was declared a non-Hindu institution in 1963.
Theosophists and Benedictines
Though Ramanan is the editor of Mountain Path as required by law, the de facto editor is the Australian theosophist Christopher Quilkey, a disciple of the anti-modernist French Sufi Rene Guenon. Quilkey is assisted by the American Catholic Benedictine monk Brother Michael.
Brother Michael divides his time between Shanti Vanam near Tiruchirappalli, the Benedictine hermitage of the notorious Christian missionary Fr. Bede Griffiths, and Ramana Ashram in Tiruvannamalai. He is a Catholic priest and will say, Mass whenever and wherever the Catholic spirit moves him, including Ramana Ashram and other places of Hindu pilgrimage and worship. His other duty is to vet articles sent to Mountain Path and forward them to Christopher Quilkey in Kodaikanal for acceptance and publication. Ramanan shows little or no interest in the articles selected for publication, and though the ashram follows Vedic Brahminical traditions and can afford to employ a professional, it is not able to find and keep a responsible and dedicated Hindu editor for its magazine.
Ramanan appears to be in a state of denial regarding Christians in his own ashram and missionaries in general. He writes, “There is no doubt that Christianity has, over centuries been a proselytising religion and some of the preachers had indulged in scurrilous propaganda against Hindu beliefs and mores. But there is nothing to worry. The worst is over and the Vedantic Truth is eternal and imperishable. I know a number of Christian priests who revere Hinduism and Vedanta. It is well known that Westerners are increasingly being drawn to Yoga and Vedanta which Swami Vivekananda called the ‘Religion of the Future.’”
Nothing to worry, eh? The worst is over, eh? Either Ramanan is a fool or he is in league with the Christian missionaries who publish in the ashram journal.
The first articles to appear in Mountain Path by an Atma Jyoti Ashram member were by a Catholic priest who resides in Tiruvannamalai and calls himself Swami Sadasivananda Giri. The articles were inoffensive enough, but because it was known to a number of sadhus and Ramana Ashram devotees that the author was in fact a Christian priest masquerading as a Hindu sannyasi, the matter was brought to the Ramana Ashram president’s attention with the request that Sadasivananda be identified by his real Christian name and titles to Mountain Path readers.
The letter was ignored, and when the April-June 2009 issue of Mountain Path appeared, it was discovered that not only did Swami Sadasivananda’s article appear without proper identification, but an article by Fr. George Burke, Greek Orthodox abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram, New Mexico, was also included under the name Swami Nirmalananda Giri. The request to identify Christian contributors to the journal was not only denied by the Ramana Ashram president Ramanan, but a strong message of contempt and scorn for Hindu sannyas traditions was given out by the Mountain Path editor and his dubious, uncommitted assistants.
Infiltration by Impersonation
The problem of Christian priests and missionaries masquerading as Hindu sannyasis is an old one in India. The impersonation drama was first carried out by Robert de Nobili in Madurai in the 17th century.
It was continued and made notorious by Fr. Bede Griffiths (aka Swami Dayananda) in the 20th century, though his collaborator, the French Benedictine monk Fr. Henri Le Saux, was without doubt the most successful Hindu sadhu impersonator. He is known to this day by his assumed Sanskrit name Swami Abhishiktananda, and had none other than the late Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh as a patron.
(to be concluded)