In India today, the image of Christ as a yogi is not used by Christians to honor the teachings of Yoga. Jesus as a yogi is a new form of conversion propaganda employed by those who do not follow Yoga at all, but use the story to subvert a deeper questioning of their motives and the biases of their theologies. – Dr David Frawley
The Jesus in India Story
In the nineteenth century, Hindu gurus and Western mystics, while examining teachings of the Gospels about non-violence and turning the other cheek, came to the conclusion that Jesus must have been a yogi who visited India.
The Ahmadiyya movement: a new nineteenth century sect of Islam centered in Kashmir, added much to the idea. They claimed their founder, Mirza Gulam Ahmad, was in fact Jesus reborn to fulfill the prophecies of Islam. Ahmadiyyas taught that Jesus survived his ordeal on the cross and went to Kashmir where he was later buried.
Stories of Jesus in India became popular, with claims of secret teachings found in ancient monasteries confirming this, though no such documents seem to have ever been verified.
There are certainly mystical teachings in early Christianity, particularly in unorthodox and syncretic Gnostic sects, that have Vedantic and Buddhist affinities. But these can be found in all the literature of the Greco-Roman era with its many combinations of mystical teachings from Greece, Egypt, Persia and India. The entire Greco-Roman world was exposed to teachings from India through an extensive mercantile trade and travel.
Apollonius of Tyana, who also lived in the first century CE, was a miracle working mystic like Jesus, famous for having travelled to India to study with its great gurus. Some scholars claim that the Jesus and Apollonius stories were at times confused. Even the great Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus in the third century CE made an abortive effort to travel to India, indicating that the mystical journey to India was a common theme of the Greco-Roman world. This means that a yogic influence existed in the mix of contemporary teachings that Christianity came out of.
Compounding the issue is the ongoing debate about the historicity of Jesus. The Jesus story that mainstream Christianity accepts of the four Gospels was not finalized and made authoritative until the fourth century. Yet these gospels do not agree as to the timing of the birth of Jesus. Actual historical records of the Christians of the first century are limited and questionable.
Modern scholarship does not accept the Jesus in India story, though it does accept that mystics like Apollonius traveled to India. No major Western scholars, religious or not, place Jesus in India during any period of his life.
To date, no major sect of Christianity outside of India, including the Catholic Church, regards the Jesus as a yogi story as more than fantasy or heresy. However, Christian groups in India do circulate the Jesus as yogi story to aid their efforts to convert Hindus.
In India today, the image of Christ as a yogi is not used by Christians to honor the teachings of Yoga. Jesus as a yogi is a new form of conversion propaganda employed by those who do not follow Yoga at all, but use the story to subvert a deeper questioning of their motives and the biases of their theologies.
Missionaries tell uninformed Hindus that Jesus was a yogi or the avatar Kalki (a ploy Muslim missionaries use for Mohammed). But they do not direct people to honor Yoga teachings or Yoga gurus as well. Rather they say that since Christ was a great yogi, you can gain everything spiritually by converting to Christianity and do not need the rest of Yoga. They quote Hindu gurus praising Jesus but do not praise these gurus or their teachings in turn. Some Christian priests in India formally study Yoga or Vedanta, not to follow these teachings, but to aid in communication for converting Hindus, using Hindu concepts for their advantage, like Jesus as a yogi.
If Christians want to honor the image of Christ as a yogi, let them first use it in Rome or in any other major Christian country or church! Otherwise it is dishonest. Let them honor Yoga, not simply Jesus, and the Hindu background of the Yoga tradition.
The Christ as yogi image is combined with an entire range of missionary subterfuges. Missionaries take Hindu bhajans to deities like Rama, Krishna or Shiva and substitute the name of Jesus. A Christian form of Bharat Natyam has been invented, with traditional Hindu dance forms as offerings to Jesus. Hindu pillars or stambhas are placed in front of churches in South India as if these were types of Hindu temples. Churches perform aratis to Jesus rather than the usual Christian rituals. Mother Mary is made to resemble Hindu Goddesses in her depictions. Such practices are used to draw people away from their Hindu roots and make them receptive to conversion.
Rather than affording a greater respect for Hindu and Buddhist teachings, the Jesus as a yogi story is sadly becoming one of the main conversion ploys in the country.
We must be very clear about this fact: Regardless of whether Jesus was a yogi (which remains debatable) the exclusion and conversion based theology and practices of Christianity must be understood along with their consequences. The idea of only One True God, church, savior, or scripture, a single life for the soul, with sin and salvation to heaven and hell are contrary to Yoga philosophy, which aims at Self-realization, a state of unitary awareness beyond body and mind, time and space.
Unfortunately, when one exposes Christian conversion efforts today, some Hindus rush to the defense of the church under the response that Jesus was a yogi! They forget to note that whether Jesus was a yogi, the churches do not honor or represent the tradition of Yoga. If it is Yoga that people want to learn, it will not happen in the churches or by the priests, but by true Yoga gurus in the traditions of Sanatana Dharma, which remain abundantly available today. – Swarajya, 24 May 2016
» Dr David Frawley is a Vedacharya and includes in his unusual wide scope of studies Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta and Vedic astrology, as well as the ancient teachings of the oldest Rigveda. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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