Review: Jesus in the Lotus

russillpaulcoverRussill Paul, Jesus in the Lotus: The Mystical Doorway Between Christianity and Yogic Spirituality. Novato: New World Library, 2009.

Reviewed by Bill Williams

Russill Paul argues persuasively that Christianity and Hinduism each has something valuable to offer the other, despite centuries of misunderstanding and mistrust.

A native of India, Paul now resides in Texas. He was raised Roman Catholic, and at age nineteen decided to become a Catholic monk and yogi under the guidance of Bede Griffith, a widely admired Benedictine monk and mystic who founded a Hindu-Christian ashram in India.

Paul posits that all religious and spiritual traditions have a mystical core that seeks to connect humans “directly with the Divine presence and the vast mystery of the cosmos.”

Although Christianity is the world’s largest religion, with more than two billion adherents, many Christians today are looking to the East, particularly to Yoga, an offshoot of Hinduism, for spiritual fulfillment, Paul says. Living with Bede Griffiths for several years proved to be a profound, life-changing experience for Paul, who immersed himself in Christian and Hindu studies and meditated for long periods. Intense spiritual encounters, including an out-of-body experience, were mixed with dark nights of the soul. At one point Paul sat in a lotus position and pleaded with God to reveal himself, using “every psychological trick in the book to convince God that I wanted to see him, face-to-face, just once.”

The next day he was overwhelmed by a powerful flow of energy. He could barely speak, and hardly slept or ate for weeks. Slowly, he resumed meditation and Yoga practice, but it was months before he returned to a normal routine. “Something had shifted deep within me,” he writes, “and I continued to feel the effects, like the aftermath of a psychic earthquake or tsunami.” Paul is better at recounting this intense experience than in telling us what it means. Did he interpret the energy field to be God speaking to him? He does not say, other than offering a vague acknowledgement of connecting with “a beingness that was definitely not human.”

The author eventually decided he was not cut out to be a monk. He decided to marry and move to America, where he leads workshops and conducts three-week pilgrimages to the Indian ashram where he lived with Bede Griffiths, who died in 1993. The ashram houses a distinctive sculpture of four life-sized figures of Jesus sitting in meditative postures inside a lotus flower, an important Hindu symbol—hence the book’s title.

Paul describes the similar mystical cores of Christianity and Hinduism, as well as their differences. He offers pointed criticisms of each tradition and argues that each can learn from the other.

He says that God’s command to Adam to be fruitful and multiply and to fill and subdue the earth has led to the destruction of natural resources and intolerance toward indigenous spiritual practices. Negative concepts such as the anti-Christ, the devil, eternal punishment, and sinfulness offend many people, non-Christians and Christians alike. “The language of Christianity,” Paul writes, “is often divisive and unhealthy, having been formulated from a position of superiority and prejudice toward other traditions.”

Conversely, Paul often is struck by the anti-Christian prejudice he encounters as he travels and meets other Yoga practitioners.

Each religion must look deeper at what the other has to offer, Paul says. Eastern traditions can learn from Christians about the importance of loving one’s neighbors, while Christians can benefit from the yogic practice of deep concentration as a way to draw closer to God.

Paul offers a balanced approach regarding mysticism vs. traditional religion. “On the one hand,” he writes, “many today feel a desperate need to connect with the Divine essence that exists independently of religious and spiritual traditions. On the other hand, we cannot do away with established religion. Religious traditions, as forms, really do matter.”

Paul is a sharp critic of Western materialism, which is based on the joy of having possessions, contrasted with yogic spirituality, which emphasizes the simple joy of being. Even when Indians are starving or living in poverty, they “have an unmistakable joy in their sense of being that is conspicuously absent in the West.”

Ancient Indian yogis and Christian mystics had much in common. Both “rebelled against institutional religion and sought a direct personal experience of the Divine.”

Paul praises the work of Wayne Teasdale, an American-born lay Catholic monk and Hindu practitioner who preached that religions could remain distinctive while celebrating their common eternal truths. Before his untimely death in 2004, Teasdale wrote several books, including The Mystic Heart: Finding a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions.

The accessible wisdom of Jesus in the Lotus is similar to that found in The Mystic Heart. One comes away from this new book believing that Paul is a worthy successor to Bede Griffiths and Wayne Teasdale—two mystics who had such a lasting influence on him.


About the Author

20 Responses to Review: Jesus in the Lotus

  1. Actually, Christianity is about closing the door of mysticism that was the Kabbalah of Judaism. The whole Christian doctrine is based upon salvation through grace alone, rejecting the concept of any sort of spiritual attainment through the mystical systems.

    There was already a mystical yogic system in the Jewish cult.
    Apostle Paul, the founder of Christianity, rejected the Kabbalah and any such mystical traditions and fabricated Christianity based upon the sentiment of salvation through redemption by Christ.

    Christianity is based upon the wholesale rejection of mystical, yogic elements of religion. The attempt to bridge Christianity with yogic or mystical elements is in fact heresy to the original principle of Christian salvation.

    Christianity is a farce. It always has been.
    Krishna doesn’t teach that we should try and homogenize different religious traditions to come up with a very nice compromise to satisfy the mind, but he teaches that all these sentimental religions should be abandoned wholesale and surrender unto him.

    Another book of hodgepodge sentimental religious ideas is unnecessary and uncalled for.

    Like most authors, the book was written for the principle purpose of generation sales and profits for the author.
    To treat it like some valuable, useful treatise on religious harmony is misguided and misleading.

    • Like most authors, the book was written for the principle purpose of generation sales and profits for the author.
      To treat it like some valuable, useful treatise on religious harmony is misguided and misleading.

      You have weighed in on not only the contents of a book you have not read but the motive of its author as well, and I don’t think this helps your argument, which may have some merit. I wonder if the author deals with this argument in the book.

      • I don’t need to read a book based upon a concept I fundamentally disagree with.
        I don’t agree with the attempt to somehow blend Christianity with the yoga systems of the Hindus.

        Yoga actually has some merit.
        Christianity is simply creating a long line at the slaughterhouse.

        Christianity flatters itself by pretending to be a yoga system.
        It is not.
        It is simply blind faith fanaticism and has no actual scientific yogic basis.

    • From the article:

      Conversely, Paul often is struck by the anti-Christian prejudice he encounters as he travels and meets other Yoga practitioners.

      You are highly critical of “salvation” Christianity and point out that this is the influence of the apostle Paul, but this makes me think that you must be aware of the argument that Paul’s is only one version of Christianity, the one that took root and became state-sponsored. There are many other versions of early Christianity and other gospels which are much more open to the mystical. Though not personally super interested in the study of inter-faith similarities, I think that some basic knowledge of other traditions can help us avoid prejudiced attitudes which deter people from being open to ours. Painting with a broad brush does not do justice to any spiritual path. The mystical elements of any tradition are always eclipsed by the popular, funded, megachurch versions of the faith.

  2. “Ancient Indian yogis and Christian mystics had much in common. Both “rebelled against institutional religion and sought a direct personal experience of the Divine.””

    Hmm… I am not aware of the yogi rebellion…

    “Negative concepts such as the anti-Christ, the devil, eternal punishment, and sinfulness offend many people, non-Christians and Christians alike. “The language of Christianity,” Paul writes, “is often divisive and unhealthy, having been formulated from a position of superiority and prejudice toward other traditions.”
    Conversely, Paul often is struck by the anti-Christian prejudice he encounters as he travels and meets other Yoga practitioners.”

    The so called ‘anti-Christian prejudice’ is IMO merely a reaction to the above listed negative concepts Christianity adopted and pushes on it’s members.

    • I think you are correct Kula-pavana. Evangelization has led to conflict and negative sentiments, particularly when such efforts seek to demonize any other conception other than the one being pushed as ‘the only way’. I think historically this hasn’t been a problem in hinduism because it is very inclusive and allows for many different conceptions.

  3. In my experience the more Christianity becomes esoteric the more it becomes Hindu.

    • It does seem that the esoteric sides of the great traditions tends toward a version of reality that is quite similar to Advaita Vedanta. Is that what you mean here?

      • Yes, something like that. You get Christian reincarnation, ahimsa, meditation, etc. And usually an advaitin-like absolute.

        • The point is that even if the Christian system of Paul was flawed, sometimes there would appear people like Saint Francis of Assisi. My heart melts and I sob at my selfishness just by hearing his story every time. So there is a chance that even if a person may not be exposed to the highest knowledge, he can surpass people with that knowledge in many other ways.

  4. “Paul offers a balanced approach regarding mysticism vs. traditional religion. “On the one hand,” he writes, “many today feel a desperate need to connect with the Divine essence that exists independently of religious and spiritual traditions. On the other hand, we cannot do away with established religion. Religious traditions, as forms, really do matter.””

    I find this to be a refreshing statement, more on account of its rarity (at least in progressive spiritual circles) than its profundity. Although we can catalog the deficiencies of pretty much any religious institution, the pursuit of essential spirituality is not a spectator sport, nor something that one should (or even can) pursue alone. Thus some place exists for organizations and societies, and the guidance such entities provide. The trick of course is to find a place where the ecstatic mystical experience at the core of the tradition is institutionalized only or just enough such that it is accessible and pursue-able by the neophyte. If the institution morphs into something different and becomes distant from the essential spirituality it first sought to propagate, then there is a problem. Arguably this has happened to nearly all strands of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Krishna Consciousness, etc.

    • The trick of course is to find a place where the ecstatic mystical experience at the core of the tradition is institutionalized only or just enough such that it is accessible and pursue-able by the neophyte.

      The place within Catholocism is at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. All the angels and saints and the world wide community join in the perfect mystic prayer for themselves and all souls.

      Even though many, or even one could say most, don’t fully enter into the mystical experience – it is nonetheless available for everyone. For that Truth we give thanks which is Eucharist.

  5. Well said Gopala, in particular this:

    The trick of course is to find a place where the ecstatic mystical experience at the core of the tradition is institutionalized only or just enough such that it is accessible and pursue-able by the neophyte.

    The traditional Indian way of a person with some mystical insight having an asrama with a few students has stood the test of time for good reason. While not an absolute necessity, the close association with one’s guide that such a situation involves affords the practitioner advantages that no other situation can. Large organizations that spring up around a single person’s insight can become problematic due to the fact that often members do not have much direct contact with their teacher and so have a harder time accessing her or his insight. Yet at the same time structure is required to support the practice of beginners. And so we end up once again at the need for guru-parampara, the dynamic representation of the ecstatic mystical experience who can offer structure while ensuring that we don’t misidentify the form with the essence.

  6. I think the Christianity is greatly overvalued among the devotees. I suspect that if Sankaracarya was a Christian mystic he would have had a huge following among Western Vaishnavas… 😉

    The point is that our path is so much closer to just about any Eastern path which we so villify every day while singing the praises of Christianity and other Abrahamic religions.

    • I as a practitioner of GV have learned to respect people from all traditions and have regard for mystics of all Eastern paths, even if their goal is not the same as me. In fact, I know for sure that many of the people on those paths are much further ahead in spiritual progress than me. That does not prevent me from appreciating St Francis of Assisi. Even Bertrand Russell, who had not criticized everybody from Plato to Augustine and Kant, could not help, but sing peans from St Francis in his philosophy book.

      Certainly I really like some insights from people from other eastern traditions and I have learned a lot from them. We are students forever: that is what my Guru Maharaja has taught me.

  7. This seems an interesting book, and it does indeed point to a real issue: that is, most religious traditions chronically undervalue each other. I think I may have to read this book, though, to see if the book actually gives concrete suggestions.

    We can already see in this thread that Eastern Philosophical systems can often see Christianity as some kind of macabre belief system leading to nowhere, whilst for years Christianity has seen the whole of the East as a vast nihilistic system leading to nowhere… don’t the two views of each other seem similar though?

    That’s part of the problem, though: due to conflicting paradigms, it is often hard to collaborate on any other level but practical. And, the two belief systems often vehemently rule it out: Popes would denounce Hinduism as pagan (as it may seem to them), and Sadhus condemn Christianity as inflexible, etc., etc.

    Citta Hari gives a good example, though, of small groups of students around a teacher. This is a common motif in Hinduism, but also in, say, Buddhism: I can see it being of practical application in monastic situations, yet whilst I recognise its true benefit, I don’t see how it could be applied elsewhere. I suppose it’s something that must be discovered outside of an institutional context, e.g. just as Christian Saints may have had their Confessors, etc., they may have gone elsewhere for spiritual succour.

    I still wonder, though, what Paul proposes Hinduism can learn from Christianity (asides from “Eastern traditions can learn from Christians about the importance of loving one’s neighbors” – which is social justice and charity, when reduced to basic concepts, and already extant in Eastern systems), and vice-a-versa. From the review, I’m worried the old chestnut against institutionalism.

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