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Rishis – Holy persons or good singers with too much time on their hands?

A Hermit (Rishi), India, 11th century AD, pink_sandstone - Chazen Museum of Art

A Hermit (Rishi), India, 11th century AD, pink sandstone – Chazen Museum of Art

In Hinduism rishis are primal seers or sages mentioned in the Vedas.

The rishis belonged to an elite class of male and female holy persons said to have received the Vedas through revelation. They “heard” and then passed on the sacred Vedas in the form of hymns.

Through song and oral repetition the Vedas were transmitted to disciples for centuries until the verses were eventually written down.

For this reason pinpointing the age of the Vedas is problematic because (most likely) no one really knows when the Vedic revelations were received and orally composed.

Also, from a contemporary skeptics eye, no one really knows if the rishis just had good imaginations, were repeating cultural biases, or whether their songs came from God (or partly from God).

This may seem politically incorrect or indelicate to say, but it’s so common for people to level this kind of critique against Jewish and Christian scripture, it only seems fair and right that all sacred scripture should be met with the same kind of critical scrutiny.


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Revelation and revealed knowledge – Can we separate the wheat from the chaff?

Divine Revelation (album)

Divine Revelation (album) via Wikipedia

That was a revelation!

When we hear someone say this in daily life, we usually take it to mean that they are inspired, see an issue in a new light or learn something that deepens their understanding.

Revelation has become a secular term but the idea of ‘revealed knowledge’ is found in most spiritual traditions. In the religious sense, revelation has several different meanings.

One meaning points to knowledge disclosed or uncovered about God’s plan of Salvation or the Divine essence. This knowledge could influence the interpretation of observed events. And general revelation is differentiated from special revelation.

  • General revelation means that God’s existence and attributes can be partly understood through observation of God’s creation
  • Specific revelation points to the belief that individuals receive divine communications

In Catholicism revelation is a truth communicated to a person by God. Revealed knowledge initially bypasses but does not contradict the intellect and differs from inspiration. But after a revelation, a person may think about and be inspired by their otherworldly experience.

From a comparative study of mysticism it seems that revealed knowledge is usually misunderstood by mystics, themselves—at least, at the outset. Over time the true meaning may become more clear.

Mystics make mistakes because they tend to interpret revelation according to their limited, human perspectives. Again, revelations from God should eventually make more sense. But those not from God would eventually prove to be a sham, provided the persons assessing a revelation are mentally healthy.

This idea is linked to the notion of true and false prophets, as found in the New Testament:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them

That’s a lovely story and great for laying guilt trips on people if we don’t like what they’re doing or simply because we don’t like them in the first place! But in reality, it’s a bit problematic for us mere mortals.

Why?

Photo - Tim Evanson via Flickr

Photo – Tim Evanson via Flickr

Well, because some genuine prophets could appear ‘false’ if not enough time had passed to test a true revelation.² By the same token, some false prophets could be seen as ‘true’ by fanatics claiming that more time is needed to verify a false revelation.

One thing seems clear: This is not an easy area and many mistakes could be made by overly zealous, wish fulfilling individuals and groups. For those preferring to think for themselves, it’s sometimes hard to determine who’s misguided and who’s in tune with God.

¹ Matthew 15-20, New International Version, emphasis added.

² An example Christians often give here is http://biblehub.com/john/2-19.htm.


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Sri Ramakrishna – Hindu spiritual figure claiming to have practiced different religions

English: Ramakrishna Paramhansacommons:Image:R...

Ramakrishna (Photo: Wikipedia)

Sri Ramakrishna (1836-86) began life as an obscure, unschooled village boy, Gadhadhar Chatterji. His first major religoius experience came at age six.

Ramakrishna describes his first spiritual ecstasy…while walking along the paddy fields, a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of dark thunder clouds caught his vision. He reportedly became so absorbed by this scene that he lost outward consciousness and experienced indescribable joy in that state.¹

In the years to come, he became a prominent Hindu holy man, emphasizing unity among all religions.

Ramakrishna says he practiced all faiths and discovered that they all lead to the same spiritual place. Just how thoroughly, however, one can effectively rid oneself of one’s cultural and religious biases remains open to debate. My sense is that he viewed other religions through the lense of his own biases, even though he claims all thoughts of Hinduism vanished while, for instance, someone read the Bible to him or while he recited the name of Allah.²

To me his exploration of non-Hindu religions seems superficial and, perhaps, even delusional. He bases his analysis on visions had while practicing some of the outward measures of different religious faiths, including Chritianity. But for most mystically inclined Christians, religious visions only strenghthen and reassure. They are not the measure of faith. Faith is about putting your religion into practice, day in and day out. It’s about finding God through selfless serving, while sweeping the floor or maybe cleaning a toilet. It’s not about a brief and, I would suggest, questionable vision that comes after a few days of external practice. Anyone on drugs or with a hepped up brain can have that. Moreover, it is not about wanting to be exalted as a holy man that everyone should liken to God.³

This issue aside, biographers say Ramakrishna often fell into extended ecstatic raptures. These trances were extreme to the point that even Ramakrishna himself sometimes wondered if he’d gone mad. At such moments the Hindu Blessed Mother, Kali, apparently would appear in a mystical vision and console him with her graces.

English: This is a pencil sketch of the holy m...

Sketch of the holy mother Sri Sarada Devi (Photo: Wikipedia)

Before marrying Sri Devi, Ramakrishna prayed that Kali would “root out” all of her sexual tendencies. Not surprisingly, their marriage was never consummated. While this may seem strange to many who can’t see beyond our materialistic, techno-sexual culture, the two reportedly were united in a purely spiritual sense, making sexual union redundant, perhaps even distasteful. Considering she was much younger than him, this is surprising. But most Hindu accounts don’t talk too much about female sexuality, focussing on the male gurus’ ‘great victories’ over their male sexual urges.4

To help overcome his male sexual urges, Ramakrishna often dressed and behaved as a woman. Again, to me this seems quite crude, not in the sense that I am against cross-dressing (I’m not) but in the sense that it is such a materialistic, clunky approach. I would think that a deeply spiritual person, someone revered as holy, would be able to inwardly experience a “subtle body,” as the Hindus put it, of the opposite sex without having to go through all the laborious externals of cross-dressing.

The Gospel of Ramakrishna, based on the writings of his direct disciples, is widely available in the West. Essentially a wisdom book, it is full of pithy sayings and examples. In one analogy Ramakrishna notes, for instance, that bad tomatoes rot faster when bashed up and thrown into a garbage heap. This alludes to the idea that the soul may be purified of ungodly attitudes (bad tomatoes) through holy suffering (for more on this dynamic, see » Bhagavad Gita, Alchemy).

With regard to the idea of karma transfer, which for most people sounds alien and difficult to grasp, an Indian biographer writes that Ramakrishna:

had a vision of his subtle body…[with] a number of sores on the back. He was puzzled by the sight, but it was made clear…profane people had caused the sores on his body. They themselves had been purified, but they had left the suffering arising from their own sins with him.5

English: Photograph of Ramakrishna, taken on 1...

Photograph of Ramakrishna, taken on 10 December 1881 at the studio of The Bengal Photographers in Radhabazar, Calcutta, India. (Photo Wikipedia)

This illlustrates some core beliefs about the dynamics of Hindu mysticism. Similar but not identical beliefs can be found in Christian mysticism, In Catholicism souls closer to God suffer for the salvation of less pure souls (see » Faustina Kowalska). Further to this point, the worldly critique that “prayer does nothing” might, from the perspective of a bona fide saint, be seen as an unfortunate misunderstanding perpetuated by ignorance or sin.

Having said that, the idea that we can pick up bad vibes from other people is nothing new. And I think some religious people sensitive to this dynamic make a kind of grandiose career out of being “special” and “holy” when really, they are just sensitive—probably at least partly due to some physiological predisposition. The grandiosity, I think, comes from an underlying inferiority complex or from some other complication.

On the social level, Ramakrishna’s disciples founded the international charity organization known as the Ramakrishna Mission. And his most beloved disciple, Swami Vivekananda, became another pivotal Hindu religious figure.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramakrishna

² Ibid.

³ Non-Christians, of course, accuse Jesus of this. But it’s pretty clear that Jesus didn’t personally want to go on the cross, a symbol which has lasted through the centuries.

4 We also see this with Gandhi, who apparently in the platonic sense slept naked with his grand-neice and married women to overcome his sexual urges, which seems a little weird from a Western perspective. See >> http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ghandi-slept-grandniece-historian-tells-uk-government-1460499

5 Swami Tejasananda, A Short Life of Sri Ramakrishna, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama [Publication Department], 1990, p. 92. PDF (downloadable) version: https://advaitaashrama.org/downloads/A%20Short%20Life%20of%20Sri%20Ramakrishna.pdf, p. 105.

Related » Brahman, Contemplation, Hinduism, Mental Prayer, Spirit, Vocal Prayer


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Swami (or Yogi) Ramacharaka – Privileged mystic or just another person mistaking knowledge for belief?

William_Walker_Atkinson1

William Walker Atkinson (1862–1932) – derived from Wikipedia

Swami or Yogi Ramacharaka (true identity unknown) was a Hindu-influenced mystic philosopher.¹ He or she wrote extensively on astral planes where the self allegedly resides between different incarnations.

In his or her book Mystic Christianity Ramacharaka offers an imaginative, if not scholarly, interpretation of the Bible and the life of Christ. Most likely Ramacharaka had inner visions or experienced imaginal scenes about different Biblical figures. If so, the truthfulness of these interior perceptions seems impossible to prove or disprove.

Putting aside the remote possibility that this unorthodox thinker espoused absolute truth, I think it’s fair to say that, like so many religious thinkers, orthodox or not, Ramacharaka adapts scripture to fit with his or her personal and cultural biases.

The human tendency to select and interpret data runs throughout most of life. Not only are religious people prone to overgeneralizing their personal beliefs. We also see this in the sciences. But because science has impressed and stunned so many, we rarely hear sociological or philosophical critiques of science as we do of religion. Both science and religion, however, have efficacy and drawbacks.

Concerning questions about truth and knowledge, debates as to who’s ‘right’ are common. But it seems almost any truth claim – religious, philosophical or scientific – ultimately comes down to belief. Not everyone appreciates this view. For those hard-headed folk who can’t see past their own customs and habits, I refer you to the philosopher Hume’s critique of causality. I think any serious thinker should consider this at some point in their journey. Just because it’s old thinking doesn’t mean it’s bad or facile. We don’t say that about music and art, do we?

English: Ticket for

Ticket for “Chicago Day” at 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Photocopy by Jacobsteinafm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ Wikipedia says:

No record exists in India of a Yogi Ramacharaka, nor is there evidence in America of the immigration of a Baba Bharata. Furthermore, although Atkinson may have travelled to Chicago to visit the 1892 – 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where the authentic Indian yogi Swami Vivekananda attracted enthusiastic audiences, he is only known to have taken up residence in Chicago around 1900 and to have passed the Illinois Bar Examination in 1903.

See also http://users.telenet.be/ananda/ramach.htm


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Stigmata – signs of holiness or illness?

Francisco de Zurbarán - St Francis of Assisi R...

Francisco de Zurbarán – St Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata – WGA26078 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stigmata are physical marks of Christ‘s crucifixion miraculously received on a person’s hands and feet. At least, this is what those who receive stigmata usually believe. Modern critics have suggested that physical or, perhaps, mental illness may come into play in the production of stigmata.

The phenomenon is found mostly in Catholicism, although not all stigmata are authenticated by the Catholic Church. And about 80% of stigmatics are women.

As with any kind of religious, especially mystical, phenomenon, it is difficult to ascertain when someone is just sick or misguided vs. intensely spiritual. Sometimes, in my opinion, the two combine. Physical or mental sickness may be a way of purifying or humbling a seeker. The big question, however, is whether the person gets better and realizes they’re off kilter, or whether they just continue in their nuttiness.

There is no shame in someone admitting that they have made errors in trying to figure out their spiritual life.  It would be very surprising indeed, if a seeker did not make mistakes. We all make mistakes in life. Mistakes in investing, in relationships, in parenting. Why would it be any different with the inner life? In fact, those pursuing the inner life are especially prone to making mistakes because of its subtle and private character.

But to return to the topic at hand, this is not to say that stigmata are false. However, any account that blindly accepts stigmata without a thorough investigation is, in my view, suspect.

Phenomena similar to stigmata occur in non-Christian religions. But it would be wrong to say these are equivalent to Christian stigmata because the Trinitarian doctrine of Christianity, and many more of its features, are unique.

Related » St. Francis of Assisi


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The idea of the Seer

Thee High Priestess ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Blah (T.H.P.O.T.T.O.P.B.) by Suzanna / Comtesse de Wurzeltod

Thee High Priestess ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Blah (T.H.P.O.T.T.O.P.B.) by Suzanna / Comtesse de Wurzeltod

In the spiritual sense a seer is a person with an alleged gift of inner sight. He or she apparently “sees” the past and future, possibly across great distances and through different spiritual realms. At least, that’s one aspect of the seer.

Another aspect is found in some non-Christian spiritual figures like Da Free John, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Chinmoy and Paramahansa Yogananda. These individuals apparently receive other people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences, and say they use these abilities to assess their disciples’ degree of spiritual development—that is, to “know where they’re at,” spiritually speaking.

Mystical Hinduism, particularly the guru ideal, highlights the importance of the seer. And his or her abilities are often believed to contribute to spiritual wisdom. Sometimes the guru is described as a kind of heroic figure who has scaled the inner reaches. Other times, a more humble approach speaks to spiritual “gifts” instead of emphasizing the guru’s great “achievements.” The idea of the gift connotes the notion that God bestows paranormal abilities for some good reason, often unknown at the time of receiving. The idea of the achievement may pay lip service to this, but may exalt the seer as if they were equal to God, or God on Earth (e.g. an avatar).

English: Saint Faustina Polski: Św. Faustyna K...

Saint Faustina Polski: Św. Faustyna Kowalska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In traditional Catholicism the seer adheres to the rules and regulations of his or her religious order, as we find in monasticism. Spiritual abilities are entirely viewed as gifts or charisms from God and are usually played down out of humility. There is no desire to exalt oneself as a big holy person, this being an unsavory approach (which Jungians, incidentally, call inflation or self-aggrandizement).

In fact, in Catholicism, the true saint detests any kind of special attention because that would interfere with their spiritual development. This seems to represent a huge difference between the Catholic saint and some non-Catholic gurus, self-proclaimed prophets and so-called “spiritual leaders.”

Catholic seers apparently have the gift of “reading hearts,” which usually involves knowing and feeling another person’s thoughts, inclinations and overall spiritual condition. For some saints, coming into contact with another person not in a state of grace can be excruciatingly painful.¹

Some folks entertain the notion that a seer may possess unconventional abilities but question the source of these abilities, along with the ethical application in daily life.

Paramahansa Yogananda as depicted on the cover...

Paramahansa Yogananda as depicted on the cover of Autobiography of a Yogi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But not all are so accepting. Skeptics like James Randi remain unconvinced about everything paranormal, to include the notion of “seeing” at a distance.

In Greek myth Tiresias was a blind seer.

¹ See, for instance, Faustina Kowalska’s Divine Mercy Diary. Sri Ramakrishna and other Hindus tend to talk about this phenomenon within their own religious framework. So instead of the “transfer of sin” (Christianity), Hindu mystics speak of “karma transfer.” I find it interesting how similar experiential phenomena get fitted into very different religious theories. In my view, this partly due to the human element at work—Mankind, the theory maker.

Related Posts » Clairaudience, Clairsentience, Clairvoyance, Remote Viewing, Rishis, Psi, Psi Spies, Wisdom


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Spirit

spirit catcher: Rannie Turingan

spirit catcher by Rannie Turingan via Flickr

The idea of spirit contains several meanings. One definition of spirit points to an invisible incorporeal being, as compared to a ghost which allegedly is seen by a living person. But spirits, in this sense, can also been seen if they choose to manifest or if the seer is on the right wavelength, so to speak.

Spirit has several other meanings, such as an animating or vital force within life, the soul or some some kind of invisible force or presence that permeates the created universe (to include inanimate objects).

Spirit arguably becomes an ambiguous concept if viewed from a purely conceptual level. Many New Age thinkers, for instance, equate the notion of spirit with that of matter/energy. This is a dubious analog when we consider Rudolf Otto and C. G. Jung‘s treatment of the term numinosity and, moreover, the Christian understanding of The Holy Spirit. Otto, Jung and many mainstream Christians agree that there are different types of spirits, each with different types of numinosity.

It almost seems as if those who haven’t experienced any difference between their perception of matter/energy and spirit tend to automatically equate the two, just as one might equate any seemingly similar variables in the absence of any additional experiences that would complicate the picture.

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded...

The Holy Spirit depicted as a dove, surrounded by angels, by Giaquinto, 1750s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By way of analogy, if one had never tasted white wine they might look at its color, recognize it as a liquid and claim that white wine is equivalent to apple juice or perhaps urine. And so it is, many mystics say, with the experience of spirit. Those who know (i.e. with gnosis), they claim, realize that spirit’s character may vary significantly, not only because spirit is passing through psychological and cultural filters, but also because of the differences inherent to the type of spirit in question.

Partly because mystics and seers have written about of so many different types of spiritual experiences, we also have the notion of “pure and impure,” “holy and unholy,” “good and evil” spirits, along with their respective tendencies to influence human beings for good or ill.

This tremendous diversity as to the meaning of spirit is not only found in Christianity but within most world religions. But, again, some well-meaning but arguably naive individuals simplify this diversity by making unsupportable claims, as did Sri Ramakrishna, who claimed that all spiritual paths lead to the same kind of spiritual experience. This may have been Ramakrishna’s belief when dabbling in different religions from his master perspective of Hinduism but it certainly isn’t everyone’s.