Atma Jyoti Ashram: Sannyasins or Swindlers?

published on June 15, 2009

 By  Swami Devananda Saraswati

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 ashramas. And so on, the literature of Indigenization goes into all aspects of Christian thought, organization and activity and tries to discover how far and in what way they can be disguised in Hindu forms.”

Sita Ram Goel wrote this in 1988, and he would not be surprised to learn that Christian priests and monks in America have adopted the very same 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.

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 one of his visits to India, Fr. George met with the Bengali saint Ananda Mai Ma. She instructed him to remain in the Christian religion and continue with his Christian practices. This is not unusual advice from a Hindu guru. In spite of their enlightenment, most of them are grossly ignorant of Christianity’s ideology and imperial designs, and of its triumphant, sectarian prayers and bloody rituals. They will advise their foreign followers to remain in the religion of their forefathers, not realizing the negative consequences of their thoughtless words.

This kind of advice is insincere and irresponsible, especially when it is 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.

However, Ananda Mai’s instruction suited Fr. George and his followers to a T, and they quoted her later as their authority to don the ochre cloth of Hindu sannyasis and adopt the Sanskrit titles and names of Smarta Dasanami monks. The fact that Ananda Mai Ma was not an initiated Dasanami sannyasi herself and had no authority to give her followers ochre cloth or Dasanami 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 again on an unsuspecting public, only this time it was an American not an Indian public that was being duped by the persuasive snake oil salesmen.

At one point in their career, while they were still the Sri Isha (=Jesus) Jyoti Sannyas community in Borrego Springs, they were caught out in their charade by non 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.

The Catholic writer S. Kulandaiswami has said vis-à-vis Fr. Bede Griffiths and his bastardized 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 realize 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 slokas, 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-Crosses to the Hindus of Hawaii then, but in their new incarnation as the sadhus of Atma Jyoti Ashram they have succeeded in getting advertising space in Hinduism Today and the sponsorship of Ramana Ashram in Tiruvannamalai. All this and more, 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 V.S. Ramanan. The ashram was declared a non-Hindu institution in 1961.

Though Ramanan is the editor of Mountain Path as required by law, the de facto editor is the Australian theosophist Christopher Quilkey. He is a disciple of the anti-modernist French Sufi Rene Guenon, and 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 for publication and forward them on to Christopher Quilkey in Kodaikanal for acceptance and publication. Ramanan shows little or no interest in the articles that are 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 proselytizing 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 Sadasivanand’s article appear without proper identification, but an article by Fr. George Burke, the Greek Orthodox abbot of Atma Jyoti Ashram in New Mexico, was also included under the name Swami Nirmalananda Giri. The request to identify the 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.

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 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 adopted Sanskrit name Swami Abhishiktananda, and had non other than the late Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh as a patron.

The new twist in the criminal impersonation of Hindu sadhus, is that Christian priests in the US are adopting Hindu names and dress in order to deceive and entrap America seekers   who have already rejected the false doctrines and superstitions of Christianity, in the hope of bringing them back to Jesus and the Church.

Missionary activity in India has peaked under the benevolent gaze of the Christian-Congress UPA regime of Sonia Gandhi. Andhra Pradesh is now said to be 30% Christian and growing, with Tamil Nadu following closely behind. Both states will soon rival Kerala with their Christian populations.  The real problem is not missionaries flashing American dollars or dressing up as sadhus in order to deceive unsuspecting villagers. Christians in India are doing what Christians have always done throughout history: they are subverting and subsuming the non-Christian cultures and societies that they are not able to conquer by force. The real problem is with Hindu leaders–political, social, cultural, and religious leaders. They are first of all in a state of denial, unwilling or unable to admit the Christian threat and the grave implications it has for Hindu civilization and society. Or, like the editors of the Ramana Ashram journal Mountain Path, they take the out-dated, irresponsible, and non-Vedic theosophical view that all religions are one and the same anyway, so what does it matter if a few million villagers become dollar Christians. Or, and this is especially true of Hindu religious leaders, they recognise the Christian threat but are not sufficiently equipped or knowledgeable to counter it. Unlike Christian priests who study Hindu scriptures and doctrines in depth for years, they have never read the Bible or studied the imperialist Christian ideologies that have be formulated out of the Bible story. They are helpless, and they are made even more helpless by their own superficially understood and secularised doctrines of an abstract, impersonal, and all-pervasive Brahman godhead.

Every popular religious teacher in India today espouses some form or other of Advaitic philosophy. Even the popular Chennai Christian newspaper Deccan Chronicle carries a weekly “spiritual” column of secularised Neo-Vedantic commentary called “Vedanta Rocks”. This demytholised Vedanta with its abstract terminology and concept of Oneness is the great love of the modern Indian secular sophist or Jesuit-trained Christian casuist. They can turn these Hindu concepts and ideals any which way they like and use them for any amoral purpose when they are taken out of their original Hindu religious context.

Most modern Indian religious teachers do take Advaita Vedanta out of its original Vedic religious context, and in so doing they give a potent weapon to the enemy with which to attack Hindu religion and undermine Hindu society and culture. Sita Ram Goel, in Catholic Ashrams, writes: “[T]he literature of Indigenisation provides ample proof that several Hindu philosophies are being actively considered by the mission strategists as conveyors of Christianity. The Advaita of Shankaracharya has been the hottest favourite so far. The Vishistadvaita of Ramanuja, the Bhakti of the Alvar saints and Vaishnava Acharyas, the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Vichara of Ramana Maharshi are not far behind.”

The medieval Acharyas and more recent teachers of Vedic spirituality like Ramana Maharishi, were able to know without difficulty the religious identity and affiliations of their disciples. They did not have to search out and verify their students’ political and religious backgrounds. This is no longer true today. Hindu society has become secularised in the cities and teachers are faced with multicultural audiences from different countries and traditions. It is therefore incumbent on all Hindu gurus in India and abroad, to put their philosophical teaching into its original religious context so that it cannot be distorted and abused by Hinduism’s scholarly Marxist and Christian enemies.

Apostle Paul and the Early Church Fathers conquered ancient Greece by forcibly secularising Greek society. They divided the unity of Greek religion and mythology from Greek philosophy and philosophic terminology. They then secularised and appropriated Greek philosophic terminology and took the Greek religious concept of an Unknown God for themselves. The religious vacuum that followed in Greek society was then filled in with the Jesus cult and other Christian superstitions. Indian bishops are perpetrating the same apostolic fraud today when they claim the Tamil Shaivite saint Tiruvalluvar was a disciple of the legendary St. Thomas. They then add to their cultural crime by claiming Tiruvalluvar’s “secular” ethical treatise Tirukkural as their own sectarian Christian book.

This is how ancient Greece became a Christian country, and it is how modern India is fast becoming a Christianised Hindu country. The difference is that in modern India, it is well-meaning and ill-informed Hindu spiritual teachers and ashram administrators who are assisting the Christian predators in the downfall and obliteration of Hindu religion and culture.

Perhaps we are mistaken; perhaps we have been misinformed about Atma Jyoti Ashram and its abbot Fr. George Burke. Perhaps he and his brother disciples have converted to Hinduism and gone through Vedic samskaras of purification and name change under the guidance of a Hindu priest. If that is the case, then let them produce their certificates of de-baptism and apostasy from the Chris
ian religion. And as they claim to be Smarta Dasanami sannyasins with Giri titles, let them produce their certificates of sannyasa from a recognised Dasanami mahamandaleshwar and math. They can post these important documents of religion on their website. We will then give them our blessing, for their good sense in religion and spiritual endeavour, and hold our peace.

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