Saturday 1 December 2018

30 years ago: Yogi Satchakrananda underwhelms Edmonton

On December 1, 1988, five days after witnessing a performance by disgraced televangelist Peter Popoff (these were interesting times), this blogger and fellow cultwatcher Chris Milner were among several dozen people who attended a lecture by one Yogi Satchakrananda at a New Age centre whose name I've forgotten--its initials were ARC--on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. Yogi Satchakrananda was a white American who ran a New Age community called Raj-Yoga Math and Retreat. According to a page archived from the now-defunct site Novelguide:

The Raj-Yoga Math and Retreat is a small monastic community formed in 1974 by Fr. Satchakrananda Bodhisattvaguru. Satchakrananda began the practice when he experienced the raising of the kundalini, an internal energy pictured in Hindu thought as a snake coiled and resting at the base of the spine that, upon awakening, rises to the crown chakra (psychic center at the top of the head). That event produced an awareness of Satchakrananda's divine heritage. Following that event, he spent a short time in a Trappist monastery, attended Western Washington University, then became coordinator for the Northwest Free University, where he taught yoga. in the early 1970s.

In 1973 Satchakrananda was "mystically" initiated as a yogi by the late Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963), the founder of the Divine Life Society, through a trilogy of "female Matas" at a retreat he attended on the Olympic (Washington) Peninsula. The following year, with a small group of men and women, he founded the math (monastery). In 1977, he was ordained a priest by Archbishop Herman Adrian Spruit of the Church of Antioch (see separate entry) and has attempted to use both Hindu and Christian traditions at the math. Spiritual disciplines include the regular celebrations of the mass, though the major practice offered is the Jaya Yoga Sadhana, consisting of the successive practice of japa (mantra) yoga, meditation, kriyas (cleansings), mudras, asanas (hatha yoga postures), and pranayam (disciplined breathing). Jaya yoga allows practitioners to become aware of their divine nature.

The math is located in the foothills of Mt. Baker overlooking the Nooksuck River near Deming, Washington. It accepts resident students for individual instruction, but offers a variety of retreats/ workshops for nonresidents. For those unable to travel to the math for instruction, Satchakrananda has put together a jaya yoga workshop packet.

Membership: The resident community at the math fluctuates between two and twelve. Several hundred individuals are associated with the math through an oblate order of men and women.
The yogi wore a robe and turban, but the sneakers that were clearly visible underneath gave him a greater resemblance to George Costanza than to a supposed holy man. I don't remember much of what Yogi Satchakrananda said, but it included the usual New Age mumbo-jumbo about how we create our own reality through means such as visualization. At one point a young man in the front row mentioned that a train crossing in front of his car had delayed his arrival, forcing him to adjust his thinking accordingly (or something like that), prompting Mr. Milner to wonder why the man didn't just create a better reality for himself by visualizing the train disappearing.

Yogi Satchakrananda said that he had had an experience years earlier (I think it was in 1967, but I could be wrong) which had caused his head to explode (which I thought might explain the turban). This was undoubtedly the rising of the kundalini referred to in the article above.

At one point he asked "You guys don't think I'm a cult, do you?," and oddly, he was looking right at the two of us.

To this blogger, the most interesting thing about the article above, which wasn't part of Yogi Satchakrananda's talk in Edmonton, is the yogi's advocacy of a mixture of Hinduism and ostensible Christianity. The bridge between these incompatible faiths is contemplative spirituality, in which mysticism--direct unmediated experience of the supernatural--takes precedence over the truth of the Bible and the instructions and warnings found therein. This is exactly what we're increasingly seeing in supposedly "evangelical" churches today. It seems as though Yogi Satchakrananda was considerably ahead of the curve on that. The reader will notice that while the Raj-Yoga Math and Retreat attempted to combine Hindu and Christian methods, the goal was strictly Hindu: realization of one's divine nature.

Yogi Satchakrananda's books include the following:

Coming and Going, The Mother's Drama. Deming, WA: Raj-Yoga Math & Retreat, 1975.

Letters to Satchakrananda. Deming, WA: Raj-Yoga Math & Retreat, 1977.

To Create No Freedom. Deming, WA: Raj-Yoga Math & Retreat, 1983.

Thomas Merton's Dharma. Deming, WA: Raj-Yoga Math & Retreat, 1986.

The perceptive reader will note the book about Thomas Merton--a Roman Catholic Trappist monk who's so beloved by practitioners of contemplative spirituality. The 50th anniversary of Rev. Merton's death--of accidental electrocution at a Buddhist retreat in Thailand--will be coming up on December 10, 2018.

As Dave Hunt and others have observed, I can't have much of a divine nature if I don't automatically realize it, and have to take a course from someone in order to discover it. The Bible refutes our divine nature in passages such as Romans 3:10-23. Salvation is achieved not by getting in touch with our allegedly divine nature, but by putting our trust in the one true God and the work done on the cross by the one mediator He has provided:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. I Timothy 2:5

For an excellent book on the subject, I recommend Rabindranath R. Maharaj's autobiography Death of a Guru (1977), which was republished under the title Escape Into the Light in 1984. He was born in Trinidad, came from a long line of Brahmin priests and trained as a yogi, but as a young man in the early 1960s, came to know Jesus Christ as his saviour, and has been a great contender for the Christian faith ever since.

This blogger has been unable to find anything recent on Raj-Yoga Math and Retreat or Yogi Satchakrananda; as to his current whereabouts or even whether he's still alive--we're not sure.

For good information on contemplative spirituality, I especially recommend Lighthouse Trails Research Project and Herescope.

1 comment:

  1. Last I heard he is running Fire and Ice Hermitage in Iceland.