Religion in the New Age

and Other Essays for the Spiritual Seeker
by Swami Kriyananda

In these pages I aim to show how a spiritual mission, regardless of its name and tenets, can be made to relate to the needs of all humanity.

Paramhansa Yogananda prophesied that some day the purpose of all religions would be accepted as being one and the same: Self-realization. Included in that understanding would be a sense of the non-sectarian fellowship of all truth seekers. His own mission, as he stated it, was above all to teach "the original teachings of Jesus Christ, and the original yoga teachings of Krishna." He stated, further, that he had come to unite all  religions in an understanding of their sublime and high purpose. His mission, to show the underlying oneness of two great religions particularly, may therefore be seen as symbolic also, being meant to demonstrate the underlying oneness of all religions, for humanity everywhere seeks the same eventual fulfillment: bliss in God. Self-realization—the realization of God as the indwelling, blissful Self of all beings—is then, in the broadest sense, the true goal of all religions, and is also the deepest desire in every human heart.

The great master in his teachings also drew to a focus countless truths that have been expressed diversely through the ages. He showed that the highest wisdom has always contained the same essential truths, the first of which is that all men are rays of the one Divine Light, and the second, that man’s ultimate destiny is, of his own free will, to merge back into that Light.

For this reason, in my book Revelations of Christ, Proclaimed by Paramhansa Yogananda, I proposed that this highest truth be called "Sanaatan Dharma, the Eternal Religion," for in all the universe this cannot fail to be one, supreme truth: union with God, the fundamental reality of all existence.

Yogananda presented a way of life that was unitive—one that would make spiritually relevant every aspect of human life: business and the art of self-support generally; marriage; education; the fine arts; self-expansion through service to others; and the supreme art of how to live happily in this body.

Finally, he proposed a lifestyle designed to enable people everywhere to incorporate their varied pursuits into a harmonious, God-centered existence. Through the years that he taught in the West, he urged his audiences to adopt this lifestyle by gathering together and forming what he called "world-brotherhood colonies." I was blessed by him to be able to found the first Ananda World-Brotherhood community, in 1968, on what are today some 1,000 acres of land near Nevada City, California. At present there are seven functioning examples of this ideal, all bearing the name, Ananda, in various parts of the world. The sheer breadth of the Master’s vision, and its practical relevance to the needs of our age, demonstrate that he was, in the fullest sense of the expression, a World Teacher, and not the guru only of a particular group of disciples. In fact, he’d been sent to be the wayshower for a new age, and the savior for "many millions," as he put it, who would tune into the divine ray he had brought. For mankind now stands at the dawn of new awakening into a globally heightened, spiritual awareness.

Swami Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, stated in his book The Holy Science that the whole of mankind has arrived, scripturally speaking, at a new age. The earth entered this age in the year 1900, after an interim, or bridge (sandhya), of 200 years during which time the new rays gradually increased in strength. The ancient teachings of India gave this age the name, Dwapara Yuga.

The first of four yugas, Kali (the dark) Yuga, was an age when most people perceived everything in narrowly fixed and material terms. Men needed inner as well as outer forms. Outwardly, they thought more easily of solid objects than of seemingly insubstantial gasses and air; and inwardly, they felt more comfortable with carefully formulated dogmas and fixed ideas than they would have been with abstractions like relativity, let us say, or subtle distinctions of conscious and subconscious. Organizationally, they were comfortable with firm structures, preferring everything to be established and in its own place. They believed the universe to be cozily geocentric. God, to them, was a bearded old man seated "somewhere up there" on an eternal throne of judgment. The conception of the earth as flat made it easier, of course, to visualize heaven as literally high up in the sky above them.

Dwapara Yuga has already brought greater fluidity to people’s consciousness. This is an age, above all, of energy-awareness. Many people, aware of something new stirring around them, and a new awareness within them, welcome it exuberantly as though it were bestowing on them unbridled license to indulge to excess in everything they like.

In the fine arts (painting, sculpture, and music), traditional forms have been cast aside in favor of the grotesque, the trivial, and the blasphemous. In children’s education, experimentation has brought more confusion than enlightenment. The same may be said of people's understanding of morality, and of correct social behavior.

Thus the term, "New Age," is also viewed with anxiety by "old fogies" who still adhere to old traditions. In fact, what we are witnessing is a struggle between old ways—which once seemed "carved in stone"—and a new, more flexible spirit that is striving to find its own clear self-expression.

This struggle between the old and the new, though still somewhat amorphous, is in evidence everywhere. We see it also in religion: in the struggle between those who cling to traditions of the past and those who reject all tradition as antiquated. To the religious traditionalist, the mere hint of a new age “sets his teeth grinding.”

For Moslems, the cornerstone of whose religion is the saying, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet," no other way is acceptable.

For Christians, time itself is measured from the birth year of Jesus Christ. Fundamentalists especially are convinced that the world is fast approaching the “end times” supposedly predicted in the Bible, and associated with the Second Coming of Christ. Among Moslems also, there are some who believe that something approximating those "end times" is fast approaching.

Naturally, a world view in which mankind, after centuries of relative darkness, is postulated as being poised and ready to soar up into new realities is fiercely rejected by anyone who believes that the past two thousand years virtually defined the term, "Christian enlightenment."

Much of the present antagonism on the part of orthodoxy toward the "new age" is due, I think, to the arrogance of some who have embraced it mainly for its novelty. For “new age,” as a concept, appeals especially to the young, whose tendency in any case is to reject the old. Many scientists, too, have arrogated to themselves the role of "heralds of a new wisdom," basing their claim not on any suggestion of being, themselves, better human beings, nor on any but the thinnest hope that their discoveries will someday produce such human beings, but on the simple fact that a few scientists (the very few real pioneers) have discovered unexpected facts about the universe.

Writers on philosophy since Einstein have had a heyday with the theory that morality, far from being absolute ("all things are relative"), may even, with a little manipulation, be discarded altogether.

"Avant-garde" artists of all kinds, again, having milked the "new age" concept for every ounce of its shock value, offer nothing to replace the rubble created by their iconoclasm, which still litters the countryside.

And self-styled trendsetters, finally, have no clear notion as to where, why, or how to direct people’s attention. They offer only trivia—or, worse still—blasphemy in place of the worthwhile and the meaningful. Indeed, I personally have reached the conclusion that anyone who follows the dictates of "style" reveals himself as someone lacking taste of his own.

The public, quite naturally, is bewildered. Nor is it surprising that many people today gaze back for comfort to past traditions which, to them, are at least recognizable. The relativity of time which Einstein claimed has not, after all, thrown anyone’s clocks out of kilter. Scientific discoveries have altered no fundamental human reality. Works of art may titillate or outrage a few people, but the meaninglessness they suggest neither inspires anyone nor offers any hope of new insights to come. Indeed, the most that the dogma, "art for art's sake," can ever accomplish is to inspire a certain smugness on the part of those who accept it, and who consider themselves favored with insights that are unavailable to the "canaille."

What is most notable about the times we live in is that, in every field of endeavor, human perceptions are expanding, and new windows opening onto the vastness and subtlety of the universe. The need is growing in human hearts everywhere to make sense of these insights. We cannot simply reject them. Nor can we merely embrace them in the exuberant manner of adolescents, welcoming them for their shock value. We must assess them, and do our best to understand what implications they have for human life.

We must accept first, of course, the simple fact that these new waves of insight are, in fact, unprecedented. We must also transcend any fear we may harbor that eternal values are being threatened. Indeed, Truth cannot be a house divided. Self-proclaimed "wisdom," moreover, that is rooted in neither Truth nor tradition, is almost always mere superstition.

In this essay I propose to explain at some length what Sri Yukteswar said and meant about the new age, and his reasons for claiming that we have entered it already. I will present facts in support of his statement, which he himself could not have presented back in 1894, when he wrote his book, for the simple reason that science had not yet made the discoveries that were to justify his claims.

The first part of this essay will present the general basis for Sri Yukteswar's predictions, and will explain at some length what is implied by the term, “new age.” The last part will focus more specifically on Paramhansa Yogananda’s mission in this age.

One of the results of the new awareness of energy that is flooding our planet is that people are being challenged to assume more personal responsibility for their lives. In a sense, certainly, religious organizations may continue to obstruct the spread of true, inward religion. I shall also show, however, how religious organizations also can prove beneficial and expansive to this new awareness, in the spirit of Dwapara Yuga, and how Paramhansa Yogananda himself set the tone for this new type of religious organization.

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