Several religious emphases originating in the East have in recent times exercised
an increasing influence worldwide. These include...
New Age religion
This is not an organisation or formal set of teachings, but a loose collection of
views about life and the universe that have become increasingly
popular in the West since the 1960s. Some of these views can be traced back to Eastern
religions, brought to the West particularly since around 1970.
New Agers are disillusioned with life and culture as it is and believe we stand at
the threshold of a new age where all differences of religion, culture and politics
will gradually disappear, to be replaced by a worldwide spirit of unity and love.
Meanwhile, all religions—and even non-religious philosophy—lead eventually to God.
But New Age teaching is superior to them all and, if embraced, will help reach the
goal more quickly.
As part of this process, humanity is now moving out of the Age of Pisces (2000 years
long and the period of Christianity) and into the Age of Aquarius. While this is
happening, 'power points' exist at places like Glastonbury and Iona where individuals
can make contact with a higher energy. New Agers believe that these energies are
strongest at times like equinoxes, solstices and the full moon, and meditation is
the key to tapping into them.
Nature is to be given great respect because God is in everything, and everything
is God—the view known as pantheism. God is thus not a person, just power. Jesus was
just a man, but a Master in that he was the first to recognise the God-ness within
him, as we all can now do.
Because human beings are not sinners, there is no need for a Saviour or any act of
atonement. We need to become aware of our divinity by developing our psychic powers
or 'higher consciousness'. Means to this end include hypnotism, meditation, martial
arts, drugs, yoga and occult practices.
Most New Agers believe in reincarnation, though not in the sense of punishment. Each
reincarnation is a step along the pathway to awareness of one's own divinity. The
time will come when the whole of humanity embraces this way of life and all people
will live in harmony with each other and with the world around them.
This movement, properly called The International Society for Krishna Consciousness,
began in 1965 when a 70-year-old Indian 'holy man' arrived in New York to propound
the teachings of his Hindu guru. The arrival was A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Young people quickly responded—many of them disillusioned with life and addicted
to drugs—and the movement spread rapidly in both America and Europe. Prabhupada died
in 1977 and leadership of the movement was taken on by an international group of
Devotees of the cult wear saffron robes and shave their heads. They live in idol-filled
'temples', following an austere regime, beginning with rising in the small hours
for chanting, worship and the study of the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad Gita. Their
diet is vegetarian, with no tea, coffee or alcohol allowed. During the day they spend
up to eight hours asking the public for donations before returning to their temples
for further study, worship and housework.
According to this religion, which is Hindu in basis, Krishna (or Vishnu) is the highest
deity, remote and inaccessible, and beyond good and evil. He calls upon humans simply
to surrender to him. Christ was a pure devotee of Krishna, sent to earth from another
planet whose inhabitants pitied the people of earth.
The world is an illusion, as is man's body, and as are good and evil. Our problem
is that we have become preoccupied with temporal things and forgotten Krishna. Salvation
lies is dealing with that problem. This is done through chanting the divine name—Hare
Krishna—aided by a string of beads and repudiating the material world. Devotees thus
seek to attain 'Krishna consciousness'. A 'Spiritual Master' is provided to help
A widespread movement, TM owes its current success to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, born
in India in 1918. This guru came to London with the aim of popularising in the West
some of the Hindu meditation techniques of his native land. He met with little success
until 1967, when the Beatles became his disciples. He later returned to India feeling
that his mission had failed, but came back to Europe with a new plan for the worldwide
development of the group. Since then the movement has grown steadily.
TM is marketed in the West chiefly as a system of non-religious meditation techniques
with a scientific basis. The group have worked hard to try and provide scientific
proof that the techniques reduce stress and bring inner peace. But it remains essentially
religious, using Hindu mantras (phrases to be repeated), leaning on the Hindu holy
book the Bhagavad Gita and speaking of making a conscious connection with the fact
that we are truly divine-and the initiation ceremony invokes Hindu gods.
With such a background, TM is pantheistic. There is no personal God; instead, God
and creation are the same thing. Jesus is no more than one of the world's great teachers,
whose death was unnecessary. Salvation lies in self-realisation: becoming aware of
one's deity. Right and wrong do not exist.
The purpose of life is to become bliss-conscious, that is, totally absorbed in the
divine. This way, the devotee can escape the cycle of reincarnation and enter the
eternal liberation known as nirvana.
For many in the West, Yoga is simply a form of exercise aimed at enhancing both fitness
and relaxation. They accord it no religious significance and it probably does them
no harm. But in the East it is a deeply religious activity, and those who practise
Yoga in the West should take care, because it is easy to cross the line into non-Christian
religion without realising it.
Yoga finds expression in both Hinduism and Buddhism. It is a complete way of life
designed to achieve 'union' (the meaning of 'Yoga') with the divine consciousness.
This is achieved through up to eight yogic practices. Of these, Hatha Yoga is the
one that uses bodily control to help achieve it, and it is this that lies behind
the Yoga exercises common in the West.
Yoga is a pantheistic religion, believing God to be everything and everything to
be God. Jesus was just a good teacher but not a Saviour. Salvation lies in enlightenment
in this life and escaping from the ties of the material world at death. But several
reincarnations may be necessary before true freedom is realised.