SUDDENLY ROLLING FORWARD, ITS DEITY IS GREETED WITH DELIGHT AND JEERS
With his simple but politically provocative greeting of, “Sisters and Brothers of America,” the 30 year-old disciple of the illustrious Ramakrishna roused an immediate standing ovation. As Christopher Isherwood commented, the tan-skinned Swami’s racially uniting welcome “released one of those mysterious discharges of enthusiasm which seem to be due to an exactly right conjunction of subject, speaker and occasion.” Yet, in this post-Civil War era of Christian revivalism, Vivekananda’s “many paths, but One God” message relativized white Christianity more than many could bear while his pointed criticism of missionary conversions shocked those who had been devoutly engaged in “saving heathen souls.” While lecturing on an East/West universal religion that would foster a “new type of superior man “ the Swami joked, “I have emptied entire halls.” His message of social reform, influenced by both Vedanta and J. S. Mill, urged equal opportunity for men and women of all social classes and the realization that each Self (Atman) was God (Brahman). Through the sustained Vedantic gaze, knowledge of God becomes as close as the very consciousness by which you now read this page, and the Sanatana Dharma as alive as your every turn of thought, feeling, and action.
By 1899, Vivekananda had completed a second American tour and Vedanta Centers had been established throughout the country with more than 100 worldwide by the year 2000. Though he declined James’s invitation to a Harvard chair in Eastern Philosophy in order to pursue his activist agenda, his talks stimulated further academic interest in Indian Philosophy.
AND HIS VIBRATIONS BEGIN TO RIPPLE THROUGH THE LAND:
Thus began the procession of extraordinary Yogis to come to America, with the next prominent figure being the 27 year old Paramahansa Yogananda who arrived in 1920.
Described as a “Hindu Christ,” his early followers included Luther Burbank, George Eastman and Leopold Stokowski. Upon his death in 1952, the West encountered another inexplicable instance of Yogic power, even saintliness. In a notarized memo, the presiding mortuary director wrote, “No physical disintegration was visible in his body even twenty days after death.” Eleven years later, Yogi Govindananda Bharati would die in London at 137 years of age, raising other astonished eyebrows and moods of reverential awe. Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) went on to sell over 500,000 copies in eighteen languages, while some 800,000 members of his Self Realization Fellowship carry forth the ancient Kriya Yoga involving esoteric spinal meditations and a Christian/Advaita philosophy of universal consciousness and love.
The Euro-Buddhist and Yogic motifs of Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, Hesse’s Siddhartha , Joyce’s streaming, reincarnational Finnegan’s Wake, Watts’s The Wisdom of Insecurity, Kerouac’s On the Road, Salinger’s “Teddy,” Coltrane’s torturously world-embracing, India, and others held the edgey “now” beat of Sanatana Dharma from the 1940s into the mid 60s. Thereupon Euro-Hinduism received a literal chemical catalyst when Jagannatha entered the molecular realm in the guise of mind-expanding lsd. Just as Vedanta had said, in untold depths of consciousness itself is the Holy of Holies. As the implications of this discovery matured far beyond psychedelics, the dharma (world-reordering duties) of future Euro-Hindu generations was set. Via the inner peace of meditation and Gandhian nonviolent activism, end war and unite the postcolonial world into one multicultural family. Via nondual oneness with Nature, save the planet from ecological devastation and create inclusive economies and sustainable technologies, including holistic medicine as in the work of Deepak Chopra. Create a tapestry of world-fusion art-forms to celebrate the myriad aspects of consciousness. Embracing this dharma for the past forty years, Euro-Hinduism (and Euro-Buddhism) took root in America and the world.
The guide-extraordinaire for 1960s hippies becoming Euro-Hindus was ex-Harvard Professor Richard Alpert, a.k.a., Ram Dass. His book, Be Here Now (1971) served as their bible (selling some two million copies in 30 years) and describes perhaps the crystallizing moment in the shift from lsd to Aum. Seeking an explanation for the psychedelic mysticism, Alpert gives the Indian guru, Neem Karoli Baba three “hits” of lsd. “Ahhh, siddhis” (Yogically-empowered consciousness), the guru responded and “dropped” (swallowed) this mega-dose with no discernable change in his state. He was already “there,” telling Alpert that the Yoga of love, service and remembrance of God, not drugs, was the path.
Following this advise, Ram Dass created his Prison Ashram Project, carried forth by Bo Lozoff, that now brings Yoga to some 30,000 prisoners, the Seva Foundation, and his Dying Project that brings meditative compassion to hospice work while his American travelling companions, Krishna Dass and Bhagavan Dass spread the bhakti tradition of group chanting around the county. His first Hatha Yoga teacher, the unswervingly devout Baba Hari Dass settled in California in 1971 and founded Mt. Madonna [Yoga] Center, known for its orphanage service, authentic Tantric rituals and Broadwayesque musical performances of the Hindu myth, the Ramayana.
In 1965, while Ram Dass’s guru bhakti (love of his guru) was inspiring thousands to find their own, Jagannatha facilitated their search by causing the US government to remove its forty-one year old quota on Indian immigration. Within four years, Indian entrance to the US increased fivefold to 30,000. (By 2002, some 1.5 million Indians would be living in the US, adding other dimensions to Euro-Hinduism in America, including second generation Indians discovering their roots in American-led Yoga classes.)
Stirred by an initial association with the Beatles in the early 1960s and later convincing laboratory studies, nearly 5 million people learned a simple mantra meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi he called Transcendental Meditation (“TM”). The 600 published studies at over 200 universities (including at Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, and published in Lancet, Science, and the Journal of Crime and Justice), have focused on two areas: health or “stress reduction,” including the Vedic medical system of Ayurveda, and the “Maharishi Effect,” the power of group meditation (the square root of one percent of a local population) to lower crime and even induce world peace.
Thus, the Vedantic view that consciousness unites all entered schools, prisons, hospitals, and hundreds of corporate trainings via scores of TM projects. Having created numerous Maharishi International Universities, 1,200 centers worldwide, the Natural Law political party (in 85 countries) and a global television channel, Maharishi recently initiated a $100 million endowment to support some 4000 full-time meditators, ten percent of the requisite number needed to induce world peace via the Maharishi Effect.
Srila Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta arrived in the US nearly penny-less in 1965 to teach a classic, temple-focused Vedic lifestyle he called Krishna Consciousness. Publishing some 60 books, including many original translations and staging annual Jagannatha Festivals in cities world-wide, the Hare Krishnas taught that a Golden Age was immanent. After much internal struggle and a shadow-side of alleged abuses that emerged upon Prabhupada’s death in 1977, the group expanded to nearly 300 temples worldwide and some 100 gurus carrying on his work, including B. T. Krishnapada, the first African-American Swami.
In 1970, the American Swami Rudrananda (nee Albert Rudolph) brought the shaktipat Siddha (“energy transmitting, power-embodying”), Baba Muktananda to the US. In keeping with his title and drawing from the Pratyabhijnahrydam (The Secret of Self Recognition) of Kashmir Shaivism, Baba “awakened” tens of thousands of Westerners (including Werner Erhardt and Stan Grof) by touch or mantra into the charismatic path of Kundalini Yoga, what Pandit Gopi Krishna called, “the evolutionary spinal energy, the biological basis of all spirituality.” Within thirty years, some 200 Siddha Yoga Centers and five ashram communities were active in the US, now led by Baba’s female successor, (and after reports of her predecessor’s improprieties) Swami Chidvalasananda.
Bhagwan Rajneesh , a Jain professor-turned-guru, attempted, by far, the most radical modernization of Sanatana Dharma. Side-stepping Hatha Yoga as too rarified for these times, his eclectic “neo-tantra” surfed the 1960s-80s wave of sexual liberation, emotive therapies, and the psychedelically-inspired longing for instant God-consciousness. Cheered and jeered as saint and charlatan, his Rajneeshpuram, Oregon commune collapsed scandalously in the late 1980s under the weight of this impossible dream, shaking some 200,000 Rajneeshees, world-wide.