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Ruth Burgess’ Story
Ashram Devotee for Over 30 Years Finds the Way, the Truth and the Life

My Testimony – from Yogini to Christian

Before telling my story in detail, I will share a brief chronological outline of my life as a yoga devotee.

–I first began to practise yoga in 1975, when I was seventeen, as a school elective. I was interested in both the physical fitness and mental relaxation benefits of yoga.
–Around 1980, I started becoming regular in my practise, having “discovered” a local ashram (spiritual hermitage) in my hometown.
–In 1981 I undertook training and gained yoga teaching qualifications.
–In 1983 I was initiated as a Karma Sannyasin (‘householder’ swami); and from 1984-7 I lived and worked full-time in an ashram, becoming the director of a local branch ashram in 1986.
–I met my husband and left the ashram in 1987.
–We returned to the ashram in 2000 and were initiated as Poorna Sannyasins (‘full’ swamis).
–My primary role then was as a lecturer, course developer and coordinator for the ashram academy’s Yoga Teacher Training Diploma Course (a government recognised, accredited course).
–During this period, I lectured in Europe, the USA, China and New Zealand.
–We left the ashram for the final time at the end of 2014.
–I finished teaching yoga in 2015, a total period of 35 years.

My Early Years

This is a long story—spanning more than half my life, and therefore, what I have written is certainly an abbreviated version.

I began to question the meaning of my existence from about the age of six. This was initiated by the shock of my grandmother’s death and my realisation that I will die and so will those I love. My mother said that when she took me to primary school shortly after and I saw the children happily playing on the swings, I asked her if I will ever be happy again: an existential crisis at age six. My religious background was mixed. My mother taught me some Christian basics and I attended church regularly. My father, a psychiatrist, was philosophical in outlook and was attracted to Eastern thought and Buddhism in particular. I remember him giving me books to read on these topics from the age of eleven.

So, I grew up with an influence from two worldviews: Christianity from my mother and Buddhism from my father. I went through a period in my early teens when I was very attracted to Jesus and I remember singing hymns to Him in the privacy of my room. I attended Presbyterian Bible classes for a while and enjoyed discussing the Scriptures. At the same time, I felt an affinity with Buddhism, and I didn’t think about the significance of choosing between the two. This may have been because I went to a Quaker school which was very liberal theologically, and as I recall we were exposed to guest speakers from many different faiths. I really did believe at that time that all religions were fundamentally the same and all religions ultimately led to the same destination. This demonstrates a fallacy of which I have only recently become aware. All religions are not the same even if there are some shared truths. In fact, at best, all religions are only superficially similar.

As Ravi Zacharias writes:

You hear it a thousand times and more growing up in the East – “We all come through different routes and end up in the same place,” but I say to you, God is not a place or an experience or a feeling. Pluralistic cultures are beguiled by the cosmetically courteous idea that sincerity or privilege of birth is all that counts, and truth is subject to the beholder. In no other disciplines of life can one be so naïve as to claim an inherited belief or insistent belief as the sole determiner of truth. Why then do we make the catastrophic error of thinking that all religions are right and that it does not matter whether the claims they make are objectively true? All religions are not the same. All religions do not point to God. All religions do not say that all religions are the same. At the heart of every religion is an uncompromising commitment to a particular way of defining who God is or is not and accordingly, of defining life’s purpose. [1]

In my later teens I started reading more widely, including existentialist writers – however, it was the philosophies from the East which I was most drawn to. At the age of seventeen, I enrolled in my first yoga class, a school elective. I enjoyed it, and the experience stayed with me. I remember thinking that the peaceful composure the teacher portrayed (whether it was real or not) was what I was seeking.

However, I didn’t think much more about yoga for a few years, and then in my early twenties, I sought out what I believed to be authentic yoga classes, taught by a swami in a local ashram. I was twenty-two and soon to become enmeshed in all things ‘New Age.’ [2]

Why did I seek out yoga? It appealed as an integrated system for the health and well being of both body and mind. As a young woman, I enjoyed the feeling of stretching my body to its limits, however, I was also anxious and needed techniques to help me deal with this. Yoga – at least initially – gave me the tools for attaining a degree of relaxation and mental control. At that time, it was not a spiritual practice for me – so my introduction to yoga was simply about feeling better. I suspect most people seek out yoga for this reason and are relatively oblivious to the spiritual dimensions of the practice. This is an important point, because many people have what I would describe as a ‘honeymoon’ period with yoga and feel certain benefits, but in my personal view those initial benefits do not ultimately satisfy.

Back to the story. I thought I had found the answers to many of my existential questions as I explored the philosophy and practices of yoga further. I quite literally became addicted to yoga! I started going to early morning classes most days of the week, as well as chanting (kirtan) in the evenings, and attending discourses (satsang) from visiting swamis. The swami who was the director of the ashram I attended was a gifted musician from whom I learned the art of kirtan. Over time, I became an adept myself, culminating in the production of two kirtan CD’s many years later.

I came away for the most part feeling relaxed and energised as a result of attending yoga classes, except for some occasions when I had some very unsettling, even alarming experiences. For example, when relaxing or meditating, at times I felt as if I was spinning or that my body was expanding or floating, or having the experience of bodily paralysis. On the psychological level: being acutely sensitive to everything and everyone around me, becoming more introverted, feelings of disconnection with the world, and a feeling of vulnerability, a lack of trust in myself and in my mind. However, none of these experiences deterred me, although they should have been red flags.[3]

One of my favourite books was Autobiography of a Yogi, written by Paramahansa Yogananda (an early Hindu evangelist to America). I read it three times over a couple of years when first becoming involved. It is lauded as “one of the 100 best spiritual books of the twentieth century,” regarded as a classic of religious literature and has sold several million copies since going to print. I was persuaded by reading this book that the path of yoga shared many similarities with Christianity, as corresponding concepts reinforced by scriptural passages were cleverly interwoven throughout – passages which I now view as scripture taken out of context.[4] Therefore, at the time, I felt reassured in my pursuit of yoga and came to view Jesus as simply one of many prophets to grace the earth. I believed I was on a valid path to know God.

The Decision to Become a Teacher

I decided when listening to Swamiji that I wanted to become a yoga teacher. This was the path I had been looking for. So, I went to stay at the main headquarters in Australia and undertook one of the first teacher training courses run by this organisation in Australia. I was twenty-three. It was run as an intensive over one month and gave me the skills to teach beginners’ classes. A rigorous training experience, consisting of early mornings (up at 4 am), cold showers, no carpet on the floor for our practices, nine-hour days of lectures and classes, with karma yoga in between, and finishing off with satsang in the evenings. It was an immersion in an authentic, traditional and austere style of training. We were not in Bali – or any other 5 star destination. We were not in comfort; we had the bare essentials with us. There were no smart phones (yet to be invented), no TVs, no radios, and no newspapers. There was very little socialising, as we had to observe silence at meal times and at night, and we were served up basic, rather tasteless vegan food. Without the normal distractions, and with this very disciplined training, we were pushed to our limits both physically and psychologically. This was no 21st century ‘feel good’ yoga teacher training resort. At the time, I valued and appreciated this experience: seeing the merit in the challenge and in the time for inner reflection.

To contextualise this period, it was the generation when many in the West were turning to yoga and Eastern thought. This movement actually began much earlier, in 1893, when Swami Vivekananda introduced the Hindu faith at the World Congress on Religions in Chicago. He espoused the essential unity of all things and beings – that is, Indian pantheism. It was a tactic which appealed to the syncretists, as it implied that all approaches to God were acceptable and equally truthful.[5] This was followed almost a century later by the Hippie movement of the 60s and 70s, which led many to sojourn to India, and then later again by a wave of Indian gurus reciprocating by coming to the West.

Although I was not following the traditional and more conservative path my family would have endorsed, I was instead following an emerging trend – that of the ‘alternatives.’ Even though I considered myself to be something of a rebel – my rebellion was not unique at all, but rather a conformity to the mood of the times. I was indeed a product of the times: not just in my pursuit of Eastern thought but also in my lack of respect for societal mores, associated with the Hippie movement. When looking back there was not much about my life that couldn’t be explained by my involvement in this counterculture.

The Britannica describes the Hippie culture as one which advocated love and nonviolence with one of the most popular catch-cries being “make love, not war”; it was a culture which reacted to the restrictions of middle-class society by promoting openness and tolerance. Hippies practiced open sexual relationships and found spiritual guidance outside the Judeo-Christian tradition, particularly in Eastern religions. They used ‘mind expanding’ drugs and justified this as a practice for expanding the consciousness.[6] All of this describes a framework of thinking which persisted for me over many years, and about which I have since felt a deep shame.

Ashram Austerity

Following the teacher training, I took Karma Sannyasa[7] initiation and became a swami. Consequently, I stayed at this ashram for three years – living the yogic lifestyle and contributing to teaching and other ashram duties as allocated. An aspect of this initiation was that I was given a new name and a new identity. We were to submit to our ‘guru’[8] in what practices we did (our sadhana), what jobs were allocated to us, where we were posted to teach, what we ate, what we wore – in fact in almost every dimension of our lives. As a swami, I was expected to renounce possessions, shave my head, and wear robes – and this is what I did (as you can see by the picture below), and I walked through the streets of Sydney in this garb. It is hard to convey what this was like, but as my belief was so strong and my dedication so total, it seemed natural to me. All of this was considered a necessary part of being a sincere disciple, and was in part a training for reducing our egoic desires and simplifying our lives. For me the lure of spiritual enlightenment[9] and freedom from the bondage of birth and death (liberation from continual reincarnation) was enough to motivate me.

While living in this community, there were many positives in my life. However, alongside there was also much austerity, even what some would call deprivation. However, I believed I was privileged to be on this path and so was prepared to undergo the necessary trials. I worked incredibly hard, performing karma yoga – considered a path to enlightenment.[10] The hard work took many forms – for example spending days, weeks, or months (without weekend leisure time) working in the flower garden or the extensive veggie patch, cooking in the wood fired kitchen (starting at 4 am), performing various administration duties, or teaching. I will mention just a couple of examples to illustrate this : the first job I was given when I arrived at the ashram was to weed the entire grounds and so that’s all I did for many weeks. Later, for a couple of years, I taught up to twenty classes per week, which was exhausting. Another time, we had a very physically rigorous morning sadhana which included 108 rounds of surya namaskara (salute to the sun), thirty minutes of various pranayamas plus maha bandha, followed by an hour of Om chanting meditation. Clearly my life was extreme.

Why was such ‘hard work’ recommended in the ashram? Apart from the fact that we believed we were eliminating our karmas and purifying ourselves by offering our work selflessly and for the greater good, we were also told that ‘hard work’ was necessary to positively direct or channel the energy stimulated by the yoga practices. There is a truth in this of course, as yoga practices are powerful, and the likelihood of becoming unbalanced, if practising yoga as intensively as we did, is almost certain. I can attest to this by my own experiences and those of others I have known. So, perhaps I need to explain a little more.

The Dark Side of Yoga

Yoga is not just exercises (asanas), controlled breathing (pranayama), relaxation (yoga nidra), or meditation. This is a westernised view of what yoga is, and these are the tools only. All these various facets, and all the practices contained within the various branches of yoga (hatha, jnana, karma, bhakti, mantra, laya, raja, kriya), are designed to ‘awaken and expand the consciousness’ leading to the ultimate goal of yoga, which is described as the merging or union of the human spirit with ‘the divine.’ This means the individual soul (atma) becomes one with what the yogis call “absolute reality” (Brahman). The result is the realization of ‘divine consciousness’ through a loss of identity of one’s individual consciousness (the non-dual experience or advaita: a metaphor being the drop becoming the ocean). This expansion of consciousness occurs via the awakening of an alleged spiritual energy called the kundalini or ‘serpent power.’ According to the yogis, this ‘supernatural force’ resides in the body and lies dormant until aroused through yogic practice.

Here I would like to draw a distinction between the manifestations of kundalini energy and the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the Bible is there a warning about the risks involved in receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the fruits are clearly beneficial for all. On the other hand, warnings abound concerning the awakening of the kundalini energy in all the yogic texts that treat of this topic.

A quote from the book Kundalini Tantra illustrates this:

The awakening … can bring some mind exploding experiences … you can smell pleasant and unpleasant odours, you will hear shrieks and screams as if the ghosts are crying, and there is the feeling of heat, creeping sensations and pain in different parts of the body. You may … manifest symptoms of some common disease or some baffling illness … [or have] the experience of depression or loneliness … you may feel that you are not part of this physical body, you are someone else … you also experience prophetic vision but your visions may not be clear and you only foresee bad things … [there will] generally be an aversion to work and [one] cannot apply oneself to anything.[11]

This is not an exhaustive list; there is a veritable litany of symptoms which are said to be associated with the kundalini energy, and these may result in reducing one’s ability to function and participate in society. So, in summary, the hard work which we were directed to do was in many respects to help “ground us” and positively channel this energy.

In stark contrast, the Apostle Paul describes the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, “There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”

The fruit of the Spirit is described in Galatians 5:22-23 as ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Furthermore, in Romans 12:6-8, other spiritual gifts are described by Paul as qualities such as faith, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leadership, and showing mercy.

Note that these gifts are for the common good, for sharing with others – not for ‘self-realisation’ or any other self-oriented end. Every gift described above was active in the Apostolic era, and many believers claim they are still active now. It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore this subject, but regardless of one’s position, it remains obvious that the practices of yoga, in contrast to biblical teachings, can lead to some potentially unsafe experiences. All of these contrasts help to explain the dark underbelly which began to reveal itself in the ashram. I didn’t realise it until many years later, but I was living in what I would now describe as a cult, something which has been confirmed by my wide research on this topic.[12]

Towards the end of this three-year period at the ashram there were rumours of abuses being perpetrated by Swamiji (eventually verified in a Royal Commission years later). Perhaps surprisingly, the rumours were not the reason I left, but rather I had met the man who would become my husband, and committed relationships were not sanctioned in the ashram. True to form – as a cult – and hidden from the general public’s awareness, sexual liaisons were permitted in the ashram and even, at times, orchestrated by Swamiji, providing they didn’t become serious.[13] One is sadly much wiser in hindsight, so I can clearly see now how many ethical standards were turned upside down and how these behaviours became normative in that cloistered environment.

Leaving to Marry / Returning to Teach

Since we decided to commit and to get married, we left the ashram and for the next twelve years experienced a relatively stable period. However, even though I was no longer living in the ashram, my dedication to yoga and to my perceived path did not waver. I continued to teach yoga in the community, and we made a life together – but in the background, I still desired to dedicate myself to pursuing God 100% and in that sense, my life felt compromised. I made decisions, such as not to have children, that have had a lasting impact on my life because I foresaw that one day I might return to that lifestyle.

Thus, in the year 2000, under a new regime and with fresh inspiration (the swami in the centre of the furor in Australia had by that time died) my husband and I returned to the Australian ashram and spent the next fifteen years there. We worked full time on creating a government accredited yoga teaching diploma and were, at least initially, happily and fruitfully engaged in that work.

The ashram had changed over those intervening years, being less outwardly strict and more ‘consumer friendly.’ There had been a conscious shift in focus to attract the general population, as the way we lived the ashram life in the 80s was certainly not going to appeal to most. In addition, the ashram had morphed into an Academy and had lost much of its original ashram identity. It became a popular weekend retreat centre for those seeking an escape from their city lives, as well as a recognised and accredited yoga teacher training centre, and as such, we were conducting up to 120 courses per year. Yoga was no longer a fringe activity in the West, and in fact, had become a multi-billion-dollar business. Yoga is now Australia’s fastest growing fitness activity with one in ten Australians actively practising it. It is our preferred cardio, strength, and flexibility exercise, with a figure of 2.18 million participants in 2017. In the US, the statistics are equally as impressive. According to a 2016 Yoga Journal report, 36.7 million people practise yoga in the US (a jump of 50% from 2012). The yoga market is now worth $16bn in the US and $80bn globally. These statistics are probably conservative. Some have stated that 300 million people practise yoga worldwide. I recall my teacher saying that yoga would become a worldwide culture – which seems to have come to pass.

However, towards the end of this fifteen-year period I began to feel increasingly unhappy and oppressed. On reflection, this is rather ironic, because I was in a relatively empowered position. In addition, I began to look more closely at the behaviour of the long-term swamis around me (myself included – as I was certainly not without sin and, therefore, cannot in truth cast stones) and it was altogether disheartening and discouraging. Here, I had enough Christian knowledge to reflect on Matthew 7: 15-17: “Beware of false prophets … you will know them by their fruits … every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

After All the Years—Disillusioned

After all the years of yoga and more than half a lifetime of effort – I was disillusioned.

Questions arose. What had I learned? Had I really been transformed? Had any of those around me? I could not honestly say that after pursuing the yogic path with dedication for thirty-five years that I had achieved any lasting sense of peace. Yes there were some positive experiences, and yes, I felt that I had contributed wholeheartedly to a movement I believed in, but no – the promises of a greater mastery of self and of an increasing capacity to sustain equanimity and inner peace were fleeting at best. Paul speaks of the peace available to those who are in Christ in his letter to the Philippians; he describes it as “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” (4:6-7). I now realise that I had never experienced this depth of peace whilst practising yoga.

Additionally, I had no notion of where I stood on any supposed continuum of enlightenment – or whether enlightenment was even an objective and measurable state – nor did I know whether I was living my final lifetime or one of thousands to come![14] There were no measures of spiritual ‘progress’ and more disturbingly no-one to ask. Theoretically, our spiritual life and destiny were now inextricably linked to our guru’s guidance and grace, but how to consult a guru living in India was another matter? And even when I did visit India (three times) it was impossible to have any private instruction from him. Of course, on one level, I knew that even to ask these questions was missing the point – it just demonstrated one’s egoic and grasping nature! One was tasked to renounce all desires as a sannyasin. But, herein lies a profound irony: very few would embrace the dedication and discipline of ashram life unless they were desiring something.

The result of my increasing disillusionment was that I began to seriously contemplate leaving the ashram. At that stage my husband didn’t want to leave, so I felt trapped. And so, at fifty years old, I opted to go to university – partly for respite from the ashram and partly to prepare me if I ever was able to leave. I gained permission to study, and I chose nursing. As a full-time student for the next three years I was still serving the ashram on a part time basis. Nursing was indeed a fortuitous choice, even though it presented multiple challenges, as I had a skill which I was able to use much sooner than I had foreseen. Two years after qualifying, we were on our way to a new life.

The Final Straw

The final straw and the turning point for my husband, were the revelations that came to light in 2014, via the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. My husband’s reaction was decisive: we could no longer serve the institution. So, at the end of 2014 we packed our bags, left the ashram and headed back to my hometown. I arrived to spend a few months with my father before he died. It was a season of profound grief. I was grieving my father, the death of my belief system, and the end of the purpose and career I had dedicated most of my life to ( I was a highly skilled yoga and meditation teacher and had lectured overseas on behalf of the organisation).

I felt that nursing wasn’t a true fit for me, but it helped with our financial situation which was dire indeed. Having spent most of our lives working voluntarily in the ashram, with the supplement of a very basic stipend, we had barely been able to save. So here we were, in effect, ashram refugees. Due to this trauma and rupture in our lives, we have both experienced some significant health issues. My husband recently underwent a complex open-heart surgery of eight hours duration and I have been experiencing a type of PTSD.[15] However despite this, we are resilient.

Even though the experiences of the ashram and the revelations of 2014 shattered my faith in ‘gurus’ and in Eastern spirituality, I still had faith in God – this had not changed since childhood. I now know that my belief that all religions are the same was one of the greatest deceptions of my life. It really needs to be reinforced here that truth by definition is not relative or subjective – it is absolute and exclusive. I know it is not culturally acceptable to hold such views in our pluralistic society, but Jesus did not say that He is one of several alternatives, nor one of many truths! He claimed in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”—an exclusive claim indeed!

Reconnecting to My Spiritual Purpose

It took me two years of being in survival mode, before I realised that I needed to re-connect to my spiritual purpose. During that two-year period I tried to teach yoga again, but could not – not only were the possible avenues for teaching closed to me every time I tried, but something had been extinguished which I needed to acknowledge. I read many books and listened to many testimonies and discovered that I was not unique in my departure from the ‘New Age’ and Eastern spirituality; there has been, in the last decade or so, many who have left such religions, philosophies and practices behind.

As part of my healing process, I then commenced a conscious cleansing of my past – I burnt my dhotis, my malas, and various letters from India as well as previously treasured photographs, and I threw out any occult objects from the house (statues of deities and so on). I felt the need to purge my life of all the practices and artefacts that are contrary to biblical teachings.[16] I am now convinced that Christians should not practise yoga. God’s Word clearly prohibits one engaging with idols, false religions, or the occult:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said …“Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (2 Corinthians 6: 14-17)

Having cut these ties, I knew I needed to continue with my purpose: the quest to walk with God had never departed. So, I contemplated for a while where that might take me, and decided to attend a local church, as my childhood memories were very positive. It may sound cliched, but at this time there were many seeming coincidences which confirmed my Christian walk.

I have attended a number of different denominations over the last two years in an effort to find my new spiritual home. On the way, I have experienced Christianity in several forms and manifestations, including contemplative and mystical Christianity, as well as the Charismatic movement. I believe I have now found a church I am comfortable with, and this came about when I reached the point of wanting to be baptised. Actually it was more than a desire, I felt compelled to do it and asked the church leaders from two different denominations to do so – but on account of having had an infant baptism I was turned down. I understand that many of us have been baptised as infants, but in my understanding there is no biblical basis for this – I wanted a “Believer’s Baptism,” both to obey the Scriptures and as a sign of commitment to my new beginning. I also felt a great need for a deep spiritual cleansing and healing.

The Dawning of My Understanding

My conversion to Christianity has been a process. There was no singular revelatory moment, no thundering voice from the heavens, but rather a gradual dawning of understanding, supported by a steady flow of grace. Truth has been unveiled to me as I have committed myself to regular study of God’s Word. I have been determined to study the Bible diligently – as I am not willing to be deceived again – and have consequently spent many hours poring over the scriptures. In this process, numerous things that didn’t make sense about my life, now do – there have been some wonderful epiphanies! I have also found a new direction, have enrolled in a post graduate course in Divinity, and am about to engage in a clinical pastoral education (CPE) course.

I have approached my Christian walk with faith – having moved beyond the fear of falling into deception again – and having been reassured by God’s promises. A sincere believer should never fear separation from God’s love, as Paul stated in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Where did this faith come from? I believe it is a gift.[17] I don’t deserve this gift, I know on my own, I am a sinner.[18] Conversion to Christianity involves this recognition of our fallen nature. This is without doubt a countercultural concept, as we are conditioned to think well of ourselves, be self-reliant, self-promoting, and ‘wise in our own eyes’. As the Bible states in Proverbs 3:5-8 we are well advised to shift this paradigm:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.

It was only when I converted and saw myself through the light of God’s holiness, that I recognised my sins against Him. Thankfully, now I also realise that all who are saved are “called to be saints”—which means: those who are sanctified, cleansed from the defilement of sin and set apart for God’s purposes (1 Corinthians 1:2). We are actually given this status in God’s Word–not just an elite few, but all believers, through the power of Jesus’ blood.

There is so much I am still learning as a new believer, but I am grateful every day; and the joy of life is returning. Despite the trials and brokenness of recent years, I can honestly say that I am beginning to experience the ‘soul rest’ promised by Jesus for those who come to Him. Our Lord said these heart-healing words:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

And so, I did.

Afterword

I have written this testimony for one purpose: as a warning to those who may have been seduced by the seemingly benign nature of these philosophies, religions and practices which are so pervasive in our society and are being so eagerly consumed. It may ‘feel good,’ but don’t be deceived – yoga is not just exercise, breathing, or relaxation, it is primarily a “spiritual” practice, and cannot be divorced from its Eastern roots. There are many alternative exercises one can choose, and many alternative ways to relax – if you were to ask me, I would advise you to stay away from engaging in yoga altogether.

The advice I would give is to always “test the spirits,” which means to test any ideology, claim or practice against the Word of God (the Bible). We are called to be discerning when it comes to our spiritual path, and not to rely on our subjective experiences or emotions. There are many ‘false prophets’ in this world who lead sincere people astray. I was sincere, yet led astray, and I hope and pray that you will not be similarly deceived.

As it is written:

1 John 4:1-4
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Colossians 2:8 – 10
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 

2 Corinthians 11:13-15
For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

How is Christianity Unique?

As mentioned, right at the beginning of my testimony, all religions are not the same, nor do they lead to the same outcome. While Christianity shares some spiritual ideas with other religions, it makes claims that are truly unique.

The core beliefs are stated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:

I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you … you are saved if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Jesus was unique. Of all the world’s religious leaders, He was the only one whose specific mission was salvific. Jesus came to offer us salvation through His atoning death on the cross. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus’ words: “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). And further, the Apostle John writes:

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).

As Christians, we believe that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, was resurrected, and offers salvation to all who are able to recognise and acknowledge their sins, repent of their sins, and receive Him in faith.

Unlike other religions, true Christianity is defined more by a personal relationship than by religious practices. The goal of a Christian is to cultivate a close walk with God, a God we can relate to as we are made in His image. Christians do not believe in a God who is an impersonal force, but rather one God existing in three Persons: namely, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (known as the Trinity).[19] The Trinity is quite a difficult concept to grasp, and it’s important to realise that there are not three Gods, but rather three coexistent, co-eternal Persons who are one God.

The relationship with God the Father is made possible because of the work of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comforts, counsels and empowers Christians. This differs from the concept that Hindus and many New Agers hold of an inherent “divine spark” that we all possess regardless of how we live, but rather the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God who comes to dwell in us only when we have turned to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

Contrasting Hinduism with Christianity

Hinduism is hard to define in simple terms, as the term encompasses a very diverse system of beliefs – but whichever way you look at it on nearly every count it differs from biblical Christianity. Hinduism (and the New Age – much of which is derived from Hinduism) view mankind as inherently divine: all we need do is to realize this divinity. As previously discussed, the goal of the Hindu or Yogi is the realization of “divine consciousness” through a loss of identity of one’s individual consciousness; thus achieving “self-realization” and liberation in the process. Until this occurs however, the individual will be repeatedly reincarnated. Thus, liberation is achieved through great vigilance and self-effort, and in accordance with the law of cause and effect, or karma. What one did in the past affects what happens in the future, past and present lives included.

There is no concept of original sin in Hinduism, rather sin is seen as an aspect of duality, its opposite being virtue. As beings evolve, according to Hindu thought, the consequences of past actions can be corrected and removed through self-effort (works) and devotional practices. The difficulty here is that this may take many, many lifetimes; in fact, according to Vedic literature the soul may be forced to take any of 8.4 million types of bodies (lower species’ life forms) as per one’s activities and state of consciousness. Fortunately, the concept of reincarnation is not supported biblically which should be of great comfort to anyone who considers this deeply. It also convicts us to use our time in this one precious life wisely indeed.

We were created to have a relationship with God, but we are prevented from doing so in our natural state because our sinful nature separates us from a holy and righteous God: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus Christ came to restore that relationship. He was an historically validated person, who walked this earth both as God and as man (fully God, yet fully man) teaching, ministering, demonstrating his deity, and ultimately dying on the cross to pay our sin debt and to restore our broken relationship. This is the Good News, and this is the Gospel!

Sin and death have existed in our world since the rebellious response of the first humans to God’s Law in the Garden of Eden. We believe that in order to be saved from the fate we deserve, and to instead gain eternal life we must place our faith entirely in the finished work of Jesus Christ:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Jesus died in our place and paid the price of our sins. Through His resurrection, he conquered sin and death for all those who believe. There is nothing more to be done, because Christ has done all the work! When He was on the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), meaning that the work of redemption was completed.

Thus, while many religions require that a person performs “works” in order to “earn” salvation, we understand that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. We can never be “good enough” to please a thrice Holy God on our own: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6).

Salvation through faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, is freedom from our old nature and freedom to pursue a right relationship with God. As it is written in 2 Corinthians 17-19:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

As long as we dwell here on earth, we will be engaged in a constant struggle with our own sin and with the rulers, authorities and “powers of this dark world,” but we can be victorious by studying and applying God’s Word in our lives and by submitting to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our daily circumstances (Ephesians 6:12).

I hope that this explanation of the uniqueness of Christianity at the very least sparks an interest in you to find out more. There are many resources available and I have included some of these at the end of this testimony which have been helpful to me.

In Christ, Ruth.

If you would like to get in touch with Ruth, her email address is: rueburgess@gmail.com / She would love to hear from you and she would love to share with you the peace that she has found in Jesus. 

Glossary

Atma/n – individual soul, spirit
Bhakti yoga – the yoga of devotion
Brahman – absolute reality; ‘ever expanding consciousness’
Dharma – the natural role we have to play in life; ethical law
Dhoti – traditional unstitched cloth
Guru – literally: one who dispels the darkness of ignorance
Hatha yoga – yoga of attaining physical and mental purity, and channelling of the pranas in the body (this refers to the concept of yogic physiology)
Jnana yoga – the yoga of knowledge and wisdom through investigation of abstract or speculative ideas
Karma Sannyasa – a formal initiation into a path in life which seeks the ideals of yoga whilst remaining in mainstream society
Karma yoga – yoga of action; action performed with meditative awareness; yoga of dynamic meditation
Kirtan – devotional chanting of mantra to music – normally directed to the Hindu deities
Kundalini – ‘serpent power’; spiritual energy; evolutionary potential
Kriya yoga – the practices of kundalini yoga
Laya yoga – yoga of conscious dissolution of individuality
Mantra yoga – the path of liberation of mind through sound vibration
Maha bandha – psychic lock which concentrates the flow of energy in the body at one point
Mala – strands of beads used for meditation
Maya – illusion, partial understanding, wrong or false notions about self-identity
Moksha – liberation, freedom
Om (Aum) – the primordial sound; a mantra
Prana – vital energy; inherent vital force pervading every dimension of matter
Pranayama – often called breathing practices, but literally the expansion of the range of vital energy
Raja yoga – yoga of awakening the psychic awareness and faculties through meditation
Sadhana – spiritual practice
Sannyasa – renunciation, dedication
Sannyasin – a renunciate
Satsang – a gathering in which the ideals and principles of truth are discussed
Surya namaskara – ‘salute to the sun’: a series of 12 asanas
Swami – master of the ‘Self’
Yoga – union, connection, uniting the human spirit with the Divine – there are as many definitions of yoga as there are forms of yoga; but etymologically the word means ‘to attach, join, harness or yoke’ and is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj

References

Saraswati, Swami Niranjanananda. Yoga Darshan. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust, 2002
Saraswati, Swami Satyananda. Kundalini Tantra. Bihar, India: Bihar School of Yoga, 1996
Zacharias, R.K. Jesus Among Other Gods. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 2000.
Zacharias, R.K., and N. Geisler. Who Made God? and Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003.

Extra Resources

For more testimonies – there are many available, but these have been helpful to me:

Mike Shreve, former Kundalini Yoga teacher at https://youtu.be/lzt9n13AfHs
Steve Bancarz , former New Age practitioner on Yoga https://youtu.be/dFr6G8VwYKo
Caryl Matrisciana, former New Age practitioner: Yoga Uncoiled https://youtu.be/A5DUqQq3dJ8
Michael Graham, former Siddha Yogi practitioner at https://youtu.be/AO56CHZVxKQ
Rahil Patel, former Hindu Priest at https://youtu.be/yz3kLwUNZrY

Other resources which expound the differences between ‘New Age’ thought and Christianity.

Dr Peter Jones on Paganism in Today’s Culture https://youtu.be/0C5caA2Q13Q

Prof John Lennox on What Makes Christianity Unique? https://www.zachariastrust.org/what-makes-christianity-different-from-other-religions

Marcia Montenegro who was heavily involved in the ‘New Age’ for many years has written extensively on this and other related topics:

Marcia Montenegro Article: Yoga from Hippies to Hip http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_YogaHippies1.html

Marcia Montenegro Article: Yoga: Yokes, Snakes, Gods
http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_Yoga.html

Marcia Montenegro Article: Christian Yoga: An Oxymoron?
http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_ChristianYoga.html

Marcia Montenegro Article: Eastern Roots of the New Age
http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_EasternRoots.html

[1] Ravi K. Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 2000), 6-7
[2] Marcia Montenegro summarises New Age as an umbrella term for several philosophies and beliefs including Gnosticism, Eastern Spirituality and New Thought, the term often overlapping with Occultism and Neo-Paganism. She states there is a common thread of beliefs within the New Age including: all is energy; spirit is superior to matter; God is impersonal or both personal and impersonal; there are no absolutes; Jesus was an enlightened teacher; Jesus was a man who reached Christ Consciousness (or God Consciousness); the “inner Jesus” is the real Jesus, vs. the historical Jesus; man’s nature is innately divine; logic and rational thinking are barriers to spiritual truth; truth is subjective and mostly based on experience; you attract that which you project, think, or feel; you need a change in consciousness; and reincarnation (see www.christiananswersforthenewage.org for more)
[3] Some of the potential dangers of yoga practices are discussed later in this testimony as well as in the interviews by Steven Bancarz listed at the end.
[4] Interesting facts: #1 So often in my wide reading of yogic texts, yoga practices and aims have been compared with the teachings of the Bible, and in particular Jesus’ teachings, but I see no evidence when reading the Bible of biblical teachings being compared with that of the yogis, or of any yoga practices at all. #2 In the same vein, Scripture is quoted and always out of context: lacking proper exegesis. #3 Recent estimates are that over five billion copies of the Bible have been sold.
[5] Ravi Zacharias & Norman Geisler, Who Made God?: and Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2003) 155-156
[6] For more on the hippie subculture see https://www.britannica.com/topic/hippie
[7] Karma Sannyasa – a formal initiation into a path in life which seeks the ideals of yoga whilst remaining in mainstream society. 16 years later I took a further initiation called Poorna Sannyasa or the complete renunciation of ‘worldly’ life.
[8] As Mary Garden perceptively writes ‘the guru-disciple relationship is probably the most authoritarian of all in its demands for total surrender and obedience. Hence it can also be the most destructive. And far from achieving the freedom and enlightenment that … [we] sought … we experienced mental imprisonment and confusion. We were seduced by yogis and swamis telling us what we wanted to hear: that we were special and that they were God incarnate. Our need was our downfall.’ http://www.cifs.org.au/TheTroubleWithGurus.pdf
[9] Enlightenment in Eastern thought is described variously as nirvana, moksha, emancipation, self-realization, salvation and liberation – the yogis call it samadhi
[10] Karma yoga – yoga of action; action performed with meditative awareness. In our ashram Karma yoga consisted of many hours of hard work often under difficult circumstances. We were told stories of ‘great yogis’ such as Milarepa who in order to purify himself from the negative karma he had accumulated, underwent an extremely hard apprenticeship. Among other trials, he had to build towers out of rocks to his guru’s specifications with his bare hands, only to be ordered to tear them down again. Note: I believed at this time that my salvation was dependent on hard work (works) and sacrifice – which I now recognise is in direct opposition to the Biblical truth, as stated in Ephesians 8-9 ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. ‘
[11] Saraswati, Swami Satyananda, Kundalini Tantra (Bihar, India: Bihar School of Yoga, 1996), 80.
[12] I have read widely on this topic. A cult uses specific methods to control its members – Steven Hassan who has researched and written extensively on this topic developed the BITE Model to describe the specific methods that cults use to recruit and maintain control over people. “BITE” stands for Behaviour, Information, Thought, and Emotional control. See https://freedomofmind.com/bite-model/ for further information.
[13] See Behaviour Control (https://freedomofmind.com/bite-model/) many of these methods were employed in the ashram
[14] I now believe that Hebrews 9:27-28 speaks the truth in the author’s description of it being appointed for mortals to die once only – a great relief since according to the theory of reincarnation there is no guarantee of a human birth next time around.
[15] Some useful information about Religious Trauma Syndrome: https://www.babcp.com/review/RTS-Its-Time-to-Recognize-it.asp
[16] Although it will sound far-fetched to some, I am convinced that occult practices were used to manipulate people, this I have gleaned from the testimonies of fellow swamis. Passages in Deuteronomy 13 and 18 are very clear on these things. Deut. 13:1-13:3 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deu 18:9-12 Let no one be found among you … who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD.
[17] Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
[18] Romans 3:10-24 As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.’ Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
[19] See https://www.gotquestions.org/Trinity-Bible.html for more explanation of the concept of the Trinity.

Leave a reply

6 comments
  • Wonderful testimony! Rich with the goodness of God. Praise Him for your deliverance out of the darkness of deception and into the true light, your Yeshua! May God bless you abundantly!

    • Thanks Tara, I think there are many parallels with your story as we have now discussed by email. It is an incredible act of Grace after so many years in deception and I am immeasurably thankful. Praise the Lord indeed !

  • This is a wonderful and uplifting story of your spiritual life from being a Yogi to trusting Christ! Thanks for your honest account and for pointing the way to the real Jesus and real Light. The scriptures used were on point and give evidence to the truth.

    • Thanks Marcia, for your positive words and your encouragement. You have been a guide and friend to me for the last couple of years and have taught me much about discernment in spiritual matters. I have referenced your website in my article and hope others who are or have been in the “new age” will visit it and learn from it, as it is a truly valuable resource. Love and blessings, Ruth

  • I have a friend who has travelled to India to spend a week or more at ashrams. He meditates 6 hours a day. The last conversation we had about spiritual things did not go well. We are on two divergent paths. I pray often for his soul and am anguished about his eternal destination. Don’t know what the next step should be.

    • Hi Jim, thanks for your response. You can minister to your friend and pray for him. And please share my story. I understand how hard witnessing can be, but we are called to do this with love and sensitivity. In the end we are saved by God’s Grace – and the instrument God has chosen is the Gospel, which needs to be heard. I hope that helps, and I am happy to respond more personally if you care to email me. In Christ, Ruth.

Written by Mike Shreve