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Guruism - a Hindu countermission - Johannes Aagaard

At the beginning of this century, Hinduism and the Old Oriental religions were considered to be dying. They had had their time, and the new Western civilization with its religion, Christianity, was replacing it. The more conservative Christians considered this take-over as a simple rejection of the old religions while the liberal Christians wanted to see this development as a crowning of the aspirations within the old religions. Both were mistaken.

The traditional religions are coming to life today. A large number of missionaries from the East are working in the West, and one can no longer consider the disciples of these missions as unimportant fringe-groups. They now represent a lasting and important influence on the Western mindset.

But who are they? and where do they come from?

In this presentation we shall make an attempt to see the various gurus as parts of one general pattern and as expressions of a factual hindu-countermission, the aim of which is to gain outside India what was lost inside India.

In his book "A Search in Secret India" (1934) Paul Brunton relates a conversation with an Indian yogi disciple:

"The latter asks me earnestly, 'Do you see such things among the Yogis in England?' I try to restrain a smile. 'There are no Yogis in that country', I answer."

Things have changed considerably since then. There are most certainly yogis in England today - as well as elsewhere in the world which used to be called "the Christian world". In fact, they are all over the world now.


In January 1979 Indian newspapers reported that the second "World Congress on Hinduism" took place in Allahabad. Between 40,000 and 50,000 delegates from allover the world attended. The congress which lasted for two or three weeks was headed by four chairmen, the four shankaracharyas who lead the large order of swamis, and its honorary president was Dalai Lama. One newspaper reported that a speaker at the congress had said something to the effect of:

"Our mission in the West bas been crowned with a fantastic success. Hinduism is new becoming the decisive World religion and the end of Christianity has come near. Within another generation there will be only two religions in the world, Islam and Hinduism."

This prophecy at any rate proves the confidence which is given to Hinduism by the many gurus and their missionary efforts allover the world.

However, the fact that they are expanding allover the world has hardly registered with many people, partly because most of the gurus live quiet lives, and partly because many Christians try to cope with the fact of the gurus by forgetting about it. And when one tries to ignore, ignorance helps. Consequently knowledge about gurus is not popular knowledge in the churches. A surprising lack of factual information is found about the large number of gurus now operating in the world. Not least, people engaged in Christian missions participate in this ignorance. But even persons who are related to those who have joined a guru will often not know the name of the guru, not to mention his ideology or characteristics.


The main part of the gurus come from India or countries close to India. It is often argued, however, that these gurus are quite different from the real hindu-gurus, and that they represent a western phenomenon, created by the capitalist system of Europe and North America with only superficial relations to the Hindu-, Buddhist- or Sikh-background. While it is certainly true that they are influenced by the western system, which is now influential in the whole world, the important dimension of these guru- movements is not their western outlook, but their Indian substance. But what is this substance? Are they modernizers, neo-Hindus and neo-Buddhists who are bringing the synthesis of religious insights to the whole world?

Often the gurus are seen and described as neo-Hindus, but this label covers very different and exclusive movements. Some of them were and are modernist, beginning with Ram Mohun Royand culminating with India's former president prof. Radhakrishnan. These modernists tried to purify Hinduism from all "superstitions". They rejected "idol-worship" and many old habits. They wanted to promote the rights of women. They tried to make Hinduism modern in order to open up for reforms within India, introduced from the western cultures.

There is, however, in neo-Hinduism another mainstream. It is revanchist and is opposed to the modernist trend. Its leaders may appear to be modern Hindus, but they in fact are oldtimers who want to oppose Christianity by a return to traditional Hinduism. The revanchists affirmed what the reformers called "superstitions". And their representatives among the modern gurus do the same. Idol-worship for instance was not only affirmed by Ramakrishna, but also today by the Hare Krishna movement and by most of the tantric gurus. The chosen deity (the ishta-devata) is an essential part of the guru-ideology as are the yantras (images) connected with these cults and the mantras (names of gods) used in their worship of "idols".

While the reformists or modernists answered the challenge from the Christian missions by reforming Hinduism, the revanchists answered with a counterattack, sending their own missions to the Christian countries. And in doing so they obviosly did not propagate reformed Hinduism (or Buddhism or Sikhism) but the "old time religion".

Two famous Hindu-missionaries, Vivekananda and Yogananda, both came to the west in order to participate in religious congresses held by liberal Christians. Vivekananda came in 1893 to the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, and Yogananda came to Boston in 1920 in order to speak to an International Congress of Religious Liberals, arranged first of all by the Unitarians. It was assumed without much reflexion that they were also liberals. They most certainly were not. They were disciples of gurus, deeply rooted in the tradition of medieval India.


"Hinduism is not the sort of religious tradition which sends out missionaries and established outposts. It is not organized for that sort or thing", declares Mark Juergensmeyer in "Understanding the New Religions".

This statement is representative of a number of similar opinions, expressed by even scholars of Hinduism. It is, however, a mistaken statement, and for several reasons. First of all there is no such thing as "Hinduism". And if someone insists that "Hinduism" exists as a sort of very loose generalization of religiosity in India then the same person must at the same time admit that "Hinduism" in this sense is not organized at all. But within Hindu cultures

and Hindu traditions there are in fact bodies organized for missionary outreach. Most notable among them is the Order of Shankaracharya. This order is not only organized for mission, it came in to being as a counter-mission which is aimed at and has to a large extent succeeded in pushing Buddhism out of India.

Vivekananda and Yogananda were - as indicated by their names - both anandas, i.e. monks or swamis belonging to this order of the ochre robe, the order of the great swans of Indian traditions, the paramahamsahas.

"Every swami belongs to the monastic order that has been honoured in India from the time immemorial. Reorganized in its present form centuries ago (probably about one thousand years ago) it has since been headed by an unbroken line of venerable teachers. Many monks, perhaps a million, make up the "Swami order"."

Source: Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahamsa Yogananda, 1971 p. 229f.

The order is subdivided in ten "dasanamis", and all swamis indicate by their names to what section they belong. The whole order is ruled from a number of maths (monasteries) of which four are the most important, each headed by a living shankaracharya, of which the one from the Southern math is the first among equals.

The order is today practically unknown to outsiders, and even in India only few people know about its size and importance. Still it is one of the most powerful forces in the world. The majority of the present gurus are related to this order and work as its missionaries. They are certainly not operating on their own, but are a part of a large missionary program.

The order of the ochre robe was created for India, but in fact it spread the "saving knowledge" in many countries outside India. This spreading has now become a matter of policy, even if strong parties within the swami-order want to concentrate on the national activities. Other and more influential parties have seen the necessity of winning the whole world for the Hindu way of life, not least in order that this way may survive if the Indian area should turn communist. The political argument is important for many of the missionizing gurus who are nearly all politically conservative.

How the order is operative and how decisions are made is beyond the scope of this presentation, but suffice it to say that hundreds of thousands of monks and lay people, connected with the order convene every fourth year for the large Kumbah Melas at the banks of Ganges. During these events the leaders meet and discuss and plan together. Every twelfth year these Kumbah Melas gather even more people - endless masses of devotees.

An important parallel to the Hindu order is found in the Tibetan order of lamas or rinpoches. It is also subdivided in four main branches, each headed by a living master. Also this order is organizing missions to the whole world, not least to the Western world and is organizing its alternative world-centres or headquarters behind the military shield of NATO, in case the substitute centers which the Tibetan Buddhists have created outside Tibet after the Communist take-over are also lost.

In the following representation we are not including these missions, but they should not be forgotten, for they represent already a very substantial part of the Eastern reality in the Western world.


Just a few words about the various titles, used to characterize the gurus:

Those of the gurus who are monks are called swamis or saddhus. They are all formally initiated into one of the branches of the order or into one of its off-shoots. Most of these swamis or saddhus are yogis, i.e. teachers of yoga. But not all yogis are swamis. Some are characterized as rishis or maharishis, e.e. great rishis, indicating that they are seers and saintly persons.

The term guru is often translated as teacher, but that is certainly too vague. The term guru means one who brings light, and that is taken to mean a divine reality. "Guru and God is one" this confession is common in all the many movements.

Consequently no word from Christian tradition can be used to translate the word guru. It is uniquely connected with the Hindu- and Buddhist traditions.

Gurus are found in some of the oldest texts of Hinduism, but the notion of the divine guru is much younger and is a result of tantric influence. There is ample evidence to show that Shankaracharya himself and even more his followers are influenced strongly by tantric traditions and practiced Kundalini-yoga, and the following presentation of the many gurus will prove that they are still today to a large extent influenced by tantra. It is therefore necessary to explain in some detail what the tantric reality is.


The importance of tantra is evaluated very differently. On the one hand tantra is considered a fringe group:

"Very little Tantrism survived in contemporary India ... In practice there is little left, except in remote parts".

On the other hand tantra is seen as the decisive power in India:

"Present day Hinduism is almost entirely based or tantra... Hindus are unknowingly closer to practicing tantra than they think or even dream".

Very little tantra... almost entirely based on tantra. The reason for this varied evaluation of the influence of tantra, is to be found in the fact that tantra on the one hand has been restricted to underground and esoteric groups, on the other hand penetrated into Hinduism at large under the cover of orthodox religion. Nearly all books on "Hinduism" underestimate the reality of tantra, and most gurus explicitly deny their own tantric roots.

One thing is sure, tantra is not very old, it is a medieval phenomenon, even if it has roots further back. The first written records are from about the year 800 after Christ, while oral tradition may take us back to old fertility rites, which are, however, not tantric in the meaning tantra has today. Being the roots of tantra, they are not tantra more than Old Testament temple sacrifices are Christianity.

Tantra appears within Buddhism and Hinduism at the same time, and it is impossible to decide clearly if Hindu tantrism is prior to Buddhist tantra or vice versa. Maybe the two phenomena have developed at the same time mutually influencing one another.

The difference between brahmanical and tantric Hinduism is fundamentally found in the attitude to the world and the relation of the senses to the world, expressed first of all in sexual relations, whereby life is experienced most sharply.

Brahmanical Hinduism is very restrictive and negative to the world of the senses in general and to sexual realities in particular. You have to get rid of the sense-contact with the world and its phenomena in order to reach real knowledge and real liberation. Tantric Hinduism seems to follow the same line of thought. Tantrics are normally quite orthodox in their appearance, but their understanding is different. They in fact use life against life, use first of all sexual pleasures as the fuel to start the flight out of the phenomenological world. Sexuality which is the strongest bond in life can also be used as the strongest weapon against life.

Sexuality in tantrism has developed into a sexual mysticism or sexual occultism, whereby the male semen is taken to be the life-force in nuce. The way to handle this semen is at the centre of tantra. This life-force is to be used as the motor of meditation and as the raw material for the transformation from humanity to divinity, from morality to immortality, from both rebirth and re-death to the great liberation, Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Moksha, Nirvana or what is called "the final solution" whereby both life and death reaches an end.

It is agreed by all the various tantric schools that tantra deals with divinity in the body. The body is the temple of the divine and the world is the stage of divine powers. The task is to get at these divine powers - the siddhis - and the great and primitive tantric masters were called the siddhas - and still are. One of the most grotesque of these siddhi-masters was Goraknath, who is considered the father of hatha-yoga, hatha-yoga being the technique or instrumental side of tantra. Goraknath hated and feared women and death at the same time, and built up his sadhana as an attempt to escape both. Goraknath's spiritual father was called Matsyendranath or Minanath or Lui-pa (among the Tibetan Buddhists). These natha-siddhas may well have been the first to take up the tantric practices. While Matsyendranath is normally considered a Buddhist, Goraknath is considered a Hindu.

Matsyendranath who gave rise to the Sahaja-movement (probably) both within Hinduism and Buddhism seems to have represented an attitude to sexual realities quite different from Goraknath's attitude, accepting sexuality as the most direct way to divine bliss. The hatha-yogic texts are often bewildering:

on the one hand by clearly ascetic attitudes to sexual realities and on the other hand by quite radical sexual practices, incorporating sacral intercourse. This is, however, to be understood from the presupposition that sexual intercourse normally is a waste of semen while it taken into tantric context - aim at conserving and transforming the semen into the nectar of immortality.


Within the last generation sexual permissiveness both in East and West has brought tantra from its underground existence to the forefront. Even the sexeo-religious practices which used to take place in secret places and hidden away from the official religious leaders are now performed in semi-public arrangements, still however reserved for the disciples of the tantric gurus.

And many books about tantra have been published, especially in the Western world, but also in India. We know more than previous generations about the tantric reality, first of all because each new guru who wants to sell well at the international market has to publish more secrets. Still not everything is known, and the translations of the hatha-yogic tantric prescriptions still omit parts of the Sanskrit text because they consider it obscene.

Among the many tantric subdivisions the emphasis is normally put on the difference between right-hand and left-hand tantra, or between, white, red, and black tantra. These distinctions mean that the white or right-hand tantrics read the tantric instructions to be symbolic and take them to be metaphorical, while the left-hand or red tantrics take the instructions literally and in fact engage in sexeo-religious rites. The black tantra is taken to mean black magic, by which the powers are used for evil purposes.

It can, however, be argued that these distinctions are not really alternative but represent different levels of development in such a way that the spiritual interpretations are preparatory for the later literal interpretations, in which the spiritual and the bodily dimensions fuse and go together in an undifferentiated unity. The real difference between various traditions would then be that some introduce the literal meanings sooner than others. But most probably some of the tantric movements in fact never introduce the sexeo-religious rituals, but stay at the allegorical level, not least because the bad consequences of the factual rituals in the past have proved dangerous.

The final and liberating ritual of tantra is the maituna, in which the real transfiguration of the sexual force is expected to take place. It consists of a very complicated ritual with many mantras and yantras and mudras and positions. And during the ritual marijuana is normally taken, meat is eaten, wine is drunk and males and females are paired in various coitus-positions. Normally it is maintained that it should all happen without emission or ejaculation of semen, but in some cases this prohibition is not followed.

The knowledge about the Maituna ritual is not least coming to the public through the many books on tantric art, and Ajit Mookerjee, who has taken tantra-exhibitions to nearly all major cities in the Western world and to many other parts of the world too, has also actively propagated the use of the ritual in tantric circles.

The result achieved in the maituna ritual is obviously of an orgasmic nature. The sort of orgasm achieved, however, may be quite different from normal orgasm because of the different physiological and mental techniques used, as shall be explained in the following article.

Note: The Maituna-ritual seems to have various forms. The ritual is described for instance by

Mircea Eliade: Yoga, Immortality and Freedom, 1977 p. 259ff,

Agehananda Bharati: The Tantric Tradition, 1975, p. 228ff. These two masterpieces are "musts" for all who want to understand the matters dealt with in this article.

Omar Garrison in his Tantra, the Yoga of Sex, 1964 p. 54ff gives a modernized and popularized version of the ritual. Considerably better but still on the popular line is

Ajit Mookeriee's The Tantric Way, Art, Science, Ritual, 1977.