Response to CRI Critique of SRF

            We know nothing about how to think about the reality in which we live and the nature of God when we are born into this world. Our family and our culture train us by the accumulated knowledge that has been assimilated into the particular environment in which we live. We generally find ourselves in a system where we pay people, who are clergy, to tell us about the universe in which we live. By necessity our religious teachers are sincere and wish to pass on the heritage of religious tradition to the best of their understanding and ability.

            In time we may become dissatisfied with the explanations that we have been handed and wonder "What are we paying these people for?" 

          It is said that one is drawn to the teacher that one deserves. Not necessarily the best or highest truth is given to the seeker. It is based on the quality of the seeking. In a similar fashion we find people, in general, follow all kinds of different teachings based upon their basic temperament and even based upon one’s already hardened prejudices. The Bible says,
            "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd,"  Exodus 23:2 (NIV)

            And yet this is done all the time in the name of religion. Misrepresentation of another's religion often goes hand in hand with the competitive search for an audience.
            When we talk about the nature of religion and of man’s relationship with God, we sometimes go to the very heart of what people think about their own salvation and their own personal walk with God. To discount or shed doubt on a person’s concept of his (or her) salvation can unquestionably violate the individual’s sense of integrity as a child of God. Normally, in casual conversations and in the normal course of my relationships with people, I never talk about such subjects lest my understanding of salvation cause unnecessary harm to another individual's solid faith in their own way.

            However, such considerations are not part and parcel of a certain section of Christianity. So, I will make a fumbling attempt to answer some of the charges that are characteristically brought against those of Christian background who attempt to bring the practice of Kriya Yoga or meditation into their spiritual life.

            The following is a 1979 analysis of Self-Realization Fellowship by a writer for Christian Research Institute (CRI), founded by Dr. Walter Martin. You can learn more about CRI by visiting the Religious Movements Page. I will interject my comments into the body of the CRI report (purple text) and hopefully answer or even correct some of its conclusions:

Here is the beginning of the CRI critique of SRF:
  Self-Realization Fellowship was founded by Swami Paramahansa
Yogananda and was brought to America in l920. International
headquarters for SRF is in Los Angeles on Mt. Washington.
Yogananda was a Hindu Yogi and mystic of the early twentieth
century. He emphasized that union with God is the chief end of
man. By submitting to the necessary Hindu training, he earned the
title of "Swami", and through his teachings gained a following in
the United States, where he as aided by the enthusiastic support
of horticulturist Luther Burbank.
        His followers are convinced that he as a Prem-Avatar; that
is, an incarnation of the love of God. Yogananda was a devout,
well educated, personable man, who was acquainted with many
dignitaries in his native India, including Mahatma Gandhi.
The basic tenets of SRF are summarized as follows: (1) They
hold pantheism, (the belief that ultimately, God is the only
reality: everything is a part of God, and all things find their
true identity in God) as a primary supposition in their view of
things. (2) They teach that the basic ills of man's spirit, soul,
and body may be overcome by becoming one with the "cosmic
consciousness"; i.e., by realizing that one's true self is not
his finite, temporal ego, but that one eternal Self that exists
within each of us. (3) They believe that this goal may be reached
through disciplined observance of certain practices. These
include physical yoga (hatha and kriya), with an emphasis on
breathing excercises, meditation (preferably upon God rather than
a word or object), living a good, moral life and abstaining from
all vices, restricting one's diet to health foods, and reading
holy writings, such as the BIBLE, the BHAGAVAD GITA (Hinduism's
most popular Scriptures), and Yogananda's AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A
YOGI. (4) They emphasize the unity of all religions, teaching
that Hinduism and Christianity, as they were originally taught,
are in perfect harmony. (5) They laud Jesus as a great prophet,
and quote the Bible profusely.

        Correction:     Jesus Christ is considered by SRF members an avatar, a divine incarnation. One who attains union with Spirit and then returns to earth to help mankind is called an avatar. See Swami Yukteswar's The Holy Science.

To continue:
       (6) They consider mystical
experiences important as a means of realizing one's union with
God. Yogananda's life was replete with supernatural signs and
miracles, according to his autobiography. The faithful are
encouraged that when they reach a certain point of spiritual
growth they too will experience contact with the spiritual world
in such manifestations as trances, or visions of departed
masters. (7) They also hold the classical Hindu doctrine of
     Although SRF's attempts to promote unity between Hinduism
and Christianity appear commendable, such a goal can only be
realized by subtly glossing over significant, irreconcilable
differences between the two. The end result finds Hinduism
unscathed by the transaction, while Christianity becomes stripped
of its essential and distinguishing characteristics. The
characters and terminology of Christianity are retained, but
their historic meaning and significance are traded for the
esoteric pantheism of Hindu theology.
     Let's examine some of the reasons why Christianity, in its
original form, can not be harmonized with Hinduism, or any other
     The God of the Bible is distinctly an infinite, personal
Being, whose essence is Spirit. (2 Chronicles 6:18.  Jeremiah
10:10. Exodus 3:14,15. John 4:24.) He created the world out of
nothing, not out of Himself. (Genesis 1:1. The Hebrew word for
"create" is "bara", which indicates something coming out of
nothing). Thus the universe essentially is not God, although His
infinite Spirit is present in all parts of it. God created man as
an entity distinct from Himself, to exist into eternity as a
finite reflection of His own image; spiritual, personal, and
moral. (Genesis 1:26,27, Psalms 94:9, Numbers 23:19, 1
Corinthians 2:11, 1 Peter 1:16.). His purpose for creating man
was so that He and man might experience a personal, intimate
fellowship for all eternity (John 17:3, 1 Cor. 1:9, 1 John 1:3).
The Christian goal of union with God is not to lose one's
identity through absorption into the Divine Self. Man does not
need to be freed from his own personal, finite identity; it is a
gift from God, created in His image. For the Christian, to be
united with God is to enter into a unity of will and devotion
with that distinct Person who is the Absolute. Earthly marriage
speaks to us of this union in that two persons become intimately
united without losing their individual indentities. Self
realization then is realizing one's own dignified identity as a
being created in God's own image, and going on from there by
faith in Christ to become a child of God (Jn. 1:12), in order to
find our ultimate fulfillment; eternal fellowship with God. It is
not realizing that our true Self is God, for such thinking is the
very thing that has always led man away from the true God
(Genesis 3:4,5, Isaiah 47:8-10, Ezekiel 28:2).

            Yogananda does not teach that we are God. This is a common boogy-man that is often used. In one of his audio tapes, Paramahansa Yogananda says it is a curious thing that so many people in the West claim to be gods. The drop or the wave in the ocean cannot say it is the entire ocean. The wave can say the ocean has become me, but not that I have become the ocean. Of course this is why Jesus was persecuted by the Pharisees when He said, "I and my Father are One", they did not understand. "How could this be?" asked the Pharisees.
            In the same way do modern pharisees look at the practitioners of kriya yoga and the science of self-transformation. The SRF goal is not to become a God, unmindful of moral law as illustrated by the verses sited above. But, it is to come in harmony with God’s will for the spiritual aspirant. How can this be done without seeking the Lord’s face?
            Does one say, "Oh, I am a Christian. So I better not do anything that might make me better, or more holy, or closer to God."?  What a terrible strait-jacket this theology becomes.
            What ever became of "have the mind of Christ"? Is there no such thing as higher consciousness? Why do we listen to good and elevating music and read good books and literature? It is because we know that these things bring our thinking higher and bring us to a closer understanding of God’s goodness. Are we merely to become "slobs for Christ"? I don't think so.

To continue:     This brings us to the question of how one reaches this union
with God. SRF's approach will only lead one into contact with
fallen spirits posing as God, or departed masters: it can never
lead one into contact with the true God.

        This statement seems to be totally unsupported and based only upon conjecture and bigotry.

To continue:
                    This failure is due to
an ignorance of the true nature and cause of man's separation
from God. Man is not separated from God because he is ignorant of
his true union, as SRF affirms. Man is separated from God because
he is guilty of breaking the moral laws which God established in
the universe for the good of His creation.

            Isn’t the breaking of moral laws caused by ignorance of man’s true nature? Did not Jesus say, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do"?

To continue:     This disobedience originated with Adam, and has spread
throughout the entire human race (Romans 5:12).

                The story of Adam is one of obvious fallen consciousness. This theme is mirrored in the Mahabharata tale from which the Bhagavad Gita is small part. King Soul, in union with God, is tempted by a "game of dice" to become involved in the material world and thus become ensnared in its separation and forgetfulness of the Divine state. See page xl in the introduction of Paramahansa Yogananda's commentary of The Bhagavad Gita: God Talks With Arjuna.

To continue: According to the
Bible, even the most moral, disciplined man is still a sinner
(Romans 3:23), and thus incapable of reaching God through his own
efforts, for God will not overlook his sin, or its just penalty.

            Guilt and shame are always a good way to control people. And perhaps this judgmental type of thinking should, in this age, finally be abandoned.

To continue: With man incapable of bridging the gap, it was up to God to do
something about it, which He did by sending His Son, in the form
of a man, sinless, to pay man's penalty through his sacrificial
death. For those who recognize that through their own efforts
they can not please God, and are willing to accept that through
Christ's finished work in the cross all that was necessary for
their salvation was done, God, in response to their faith, will
reinstate them into union with Himself.

                Apparently, Christians never make any effort. But, of course, they do. Even CRI recommends exercise of will and good judgment to improve one's life. Yogananda has called the Bible's Ten Commandments, "The Guidelines to a Happy Life." For it is in a balanced life that one is able to soar in spirit to the abode of God's presence. No unbalanced person will perceive God simply by counting on the completed work of Christ. With a moral background, one can then proceed further by practice of correct meditation posture, control of one's life force through Kriya Yoga, and interiorization of the mind, where Zion truly is located. Through Kriya practice, one eventually arrives at the breathless state where there indeed is no striving; only the support of God. This is the only true Sabbath, resting even from bodily restlessness. "Be still, and know that I am God"    Psalms 46:10 (KJV)

To continue: This true form of
enlightenment brings one into awareness of a living, loving,
personal God who transcends the universe, not an impersonal
cosmic consciousness who is the universe.

            Who says that cosmic consciousness is impersonal? Paramahansa Yogananda has always taught that God is both personal and impersonal. "He is the nearest of the near, the dearest of the dear." Are they confusing the SRF teachings with something else? Or is this argument merely convenient?

To continue: Such experience as
cosmic consciousness is counterfeit and dangerous, because of the
demonic element, and even more, because of the eternal loss such
deception can lead one to.

            Where is this statement supported by scripture?

To continue: Hindus would be better off totally
rejecting Christianity than trying to unify it with Hinduism.

            In the book, "Science of Religion", Paramahansa Yogananda states that there is no way that religious custom and practice will be universalized. And perhaps that is the real problem here. Yogananda taught from a non-dual point of view, where the only important thing is the universal experience of happiness, or better described as bliss, through God-union that is shared by great saints of all religions. His synthesis of customs that are adopted by Self-Realization Fellowship are not meant to be a form practiced by all religious peoples of the world. It is a particular church where meditation is the main "activity."

To continue: Jesus Himself made it all too clear. "JESUS SAID TO HIM; "I AM
THROUGH ME." (John 14:6).

    The quote from John 14:16 seems exclusive for the following reasons:

    (1) It is taken out of context by which it makes a wrong impression.

What does "cometh unto the Father" really mean?
Is it a future promise that comes to one immediately upon death for having professed Jesus Christ as Savior?
Is this a claim of exclusivity by Jesus?

A few verses later, Jesus makes this statement:
John 14:10
"...the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." (KJV)

By following with this context, Jesus Christ is saying that it is the Father who is saying "I am the way, the truth..."

This takes away from the exclusive claims of sectarians, because the same Father-God has been speaking through prophets and saints throughout human history.

This takes nothing away from the Divinity of Jesus Christ unless exclusivity is the only religious experience one can attest to.

        (2) A lack of understanding of the Master-disciple relationship in much of the Christian tradition leads one to grossly misinterpret the intention and meaning of John 14:6. In that sacred relationship, the disciple does justifiably look upon his own Spiritual Master as the perfect and exclusive channel, path and mentor to introduce the said disciple to God. So the Master is the way, the truth and the life for their disciples in all mystical traditions. Three thousand years before Jesus, Lord Krishna also asserts in the Holy Bhagavad Gita that he is the way and the truth also.

    (3) It is historically very evident, that in all mystical traditions associated with many great religions there have been many individuals who have found salvation/self-realization through their respective Spiritual Masters [Gurus]. And claims to their being only one way or channel to the divine reality is based solely on arrogance and ignorance. For such an attitude of exclusivity is never part of a true spiritual master's behavior or consciousness. But rather one of perfect humility.

    (4) The normal Christian interpretation of this verse is also erroneously based upon such misconceptions as to what the term "the only begotten son of God"  is as well. There is a mistaken application of personal identity here, whereas the real reference is that of a universal principle.

    I believe that "coming to the Father" is a present reality and experience that can only come in deep and profound meditation. Coming unto the Father ought to mean speaking to God face to face and not just in imagination or fancy. And not by standing on scripture alone. I have known of too many who rely upon the raw free grace of Christ while in reality the spiritual life shown seems to be another form of atheism. By counting on salvation through proxy, one sometimes ignores the call for profound relationship with the immortal presence of God and one often pursues merely materialistic goals.

(Jn. 10:7-11) If they want to consider Jesus a prophet, then to
be consistent with the definition of the term "prophet", they
must acknowledge that the words He spoke were the true words of

            Once again, Jesus is considered by SRF members as an Avatar, "God Descended Into Flesh." His words have been appropriated here to justify narrow sectarianism as the essential thrust of his teaching. I think this is a travesty. And as my friend, Alberta Fiorella, once said, "This is how wars start!"

To continue:      These are only two of many passages in the New Testament
that demonstrate the exclusiveness of Christianity. We must
recognize that Christianity springs directly from Judaism,

            It is most likely wrong to limit God's manifestation to only one people in time. God is not so provincial. Indeed the Biblical figure of Melchizedek, "king of Salem, priest of the most high God", was neither Judaic or Christian. See Genesis14:18, Psalms 110:4, Hebrews 5:6, 5:10,  6:20, 7:1, 7:10, 7:11, 7:15, 7:17, 7:21.

To continue: and in the Hebrew Scriptures one truth is continually hammered home:
HEAVENS." Psalms 96:5). The personal God who, for the ultimate
benefit of the entire human race, revealed Himself in a unique
way to the nation Israel, is sharply distinguished from the gods
of the other nations, including the gods that were and still are
worshipped in India.

            I am convinced that the idols of the Old Testament are representative of the outer carnal and material desires that keep one from the inner realm of God perception. This outer realm of "idols" is worshipped by Christian, Hindu, Jew, and Moslem alike until it is discovered that "the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:21(KJV)
            Critics of Hinduism proudly point out the multifarious "gods" of India. This is a complete misreading of India. God is infinite in his aspects. He cannot be fully contained in any one "form" or aspect. All forms are merely representations of the one God that is universal. God in his aspect of "love" is without form. God in his aspect as Jesus is with form. This is widely understood by almost every Hindu, but conveniently ignored by critics. Even Christians call God by many names; Jehovah Rapha, Jehoveh Jireh, Jehovah Nissi, the Rose of Sharon, Lamb of God, El-Shadai, the Rock, Yahweh, Redeemer, Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
            Idol worship is clearly not defined in the Bible as "yoga". You can not find yoga in any Bible concordance.
(See the Yoga of Spirit-Filled Christianity.) CRI's interpretation of the Bible is designed to suit sectarian goals and to fend off a true teaching and revelation of Jesus on how one can live a more spiritual life. Does one want to merely go through life shouting "Jesus!", or "Buddha!", or "Krishna!" without having any inner relationship with God? I am afraid that this childish or adolescent approach to God is all too common.
            What is important is that each spiritual person should have a concept of God that he or she can love. It need not be a cookie-cutter idea of God that is spelled out by a theological expert or church elders. One size indeed does not fit all. One must go to that place where he or she is alone with God. No one need intrude in that space. There we can "seek him out in secret now." No robbers or thieves or inquisators need apply.

To continue:      Rather than teaching reincarnation, the Bible tells us that
it is appointed unto all men to die once, and afterwards to be
judged (Hebrews 9:27).

            It can be said that one of the central stories of the Bible is one of reincarnation. Please see chapter 35 of
Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda, for complete Biblical references. Here are a few:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD:
Malichi 4:5 (KJV)

 But I say unto you, That Elias (Elijah) is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
Matthew 17:12-13 (KJV)
            For more on this subject go to this site on Christian Reincarnation.

To continue: It would be easy and tempting for a member
of SRF to simply close his eyes to the exclusive claims of Jesus
Christ. Many seek to appease their consciences by giving honor to
Christ, and yet they refuse to make the absolute surrender to
Jesus alone that He so clearly demands (Matthew  10:32-39).

           I dare say, that I have not seen a more devoted or surrendered group of disciples of Jesus Christ than my fellow kriyabans (practitioners of Kriya Yoga) in Self-Realization Fellowship. I have been to Evangelical and Charismatic Christian churches and there are many fine people there. But one must have more than a faith and a conviction. One must have a profound experience with God in the deep quiet of meditation where one is alone with God. Those who do not practice deep stillness are missing something. Assertions of superior theology are not the answer to this missing element.

To continue: Truly, it is acknowledged everywhere, even among Hindus, that no
man in history has deserved more honor than Jesus Christ. Yet, if
one truly honors Christ, the wisdom of giving serious
consideration to the things He said, in the context in which He
spoke them, should be self-evident. To take His words out of
context, and attempt to conform them to a foreign theology, is to
risk facing the above mentioned judgment unprepared.

           Again, we have a threat from an un-loving God. Surely this concept of God comes to us from the Dark Ages.
Prepared by Elliot Miller, Research Consultant.
Copyright l979 by Christian Research Institute, Inc.

           In a July 18, 1999, radio broadcast, a local church ministry interviewed a Christian missionary who had just returned from Russia. The missionary talked of being unwelcome in Russia, because of the influence of the established Russian Orthodox Church.
            Upon his return to the U.S. he noted how many U.S. churches have compromised their beliefs. The radio pastor asked for examples of how the American Church has compromised. And these are his examples:
1. Churches are supporting national health care.
2. Churches are supporting gun control.

            I realized that this was a very different man from myself. Many years in the past, I was accused of worshipping a "different Jesus." And I am somewhat comforted by that thought today.
            Before following anyone's teachings or line of thought using scripture, ask yourself, "Does this person experience bliss? Is this person looking toward the bliss of God within? Or is he concerned with what everyone else thinks and believes? Can this person sit still for even a minute and actually commune with God?"
             If not, disregard any theology of fear and turn toward those you would like to emulate.

Doug Couch
August 15, 1999

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