The Gourmets Of Vomit Series No. 1:
Christopher Snedden — In The Ashram

Lucio Mascarenhas.
Orthopapism II/Michaelinum | Index of Articles

Why do Westerners with little knowledge of Indian Society or Hinduism submerge themselves in Indian ashrams? Here is one Westerner's experience.
In my multicultural Melbourne workplace, a number of we Aussies, all of us born here, have formed an unofficial organisation with the acronym 'ITA' This affectionately stands for 'In the Ashram.' This refers to our various and previous involvements with Indian ashrams - no serving ashramite is currently a 'member' of ITA. These include Mahatma Gandhi's, Hare Krishna, Satyananda, a Buddhist group and the Brahma Kumaris.

'My' ashram - we are all very possessive of 'our' former organisation - was the Brahma Kumaris (the Daughters of Brahma, or BKs), a group led by Indian women (sisters). Men (brothers) do play roles - indeed the founder (Dada Lekhraj, later Brahma Baba) was a man - but the upper echelons comprise women. Possibly once a misogynist, Brahma Baba did this consciously to promote womanhood in India.

Now based in Mt. Abu, Rajasthan, the BKs began in Hyderabad, Sind, and moved to Mt. Abu in the early 1950s. The organisation arrived in Australia in the late 1970s when a Gujarati sister established a small centre in Sydney.

My involvement with the BKs goes back to 1981. As a student striving to remember Russian grammar and vocabulary, I thought some meditation might help my muddled Western mind. Although I didn't realise it until I actually joined the BKs, I had also been searching for something, chiefly God. At the time, I also was very concerned about the superpowers' ability to destroy us all - even remote Australians - through global nuclear war.

My initial pull to the BKs was not karmic, but financial. Unlike many of their rival organisations, particularly Transcendental Meditation, the BKs' courses in meditation were free, an important factor for a (relatively) poor and struggling student. After completing a seven-day course, I discovered that I liked this small, intimate and trail-blazing group's fellowship, open -eyed Raja Yoga meditation and philosophy.

Their concept that I was an atma (soul) made me immortal. Their views that God was a benevolent, approachable, incorporeal paramatma (Supreme Soul) made that entity more attractive than my (probably misunderstood) Christian concept of God as a bearded figure in Heaven. The clincher was their explanation of karma and the cycle of time: I, the soul, could survive the inevitable destruction of this old, Iron-Aged world and go to the Golden Age, provided that I purified myself spiritually and performed the right actions.

Inspired by this gyan (knowledge), I immediately jumped on the flame. That is, I became a Brahma Kumar (son of Brahma) and changed my life radically.

For the next nine years, I got up early each morning (3.25 a.m.) dressed myself in a white kurta-pyjama and a cream shawl and meditated in silence. I did not imbibe any alcohol or take any drugs of addiction and ate vegetarian food (without onion or garlic) only prepared, much to the horror of my mother, by fellow BKs able to ensure its physical and spiritual goodness. I practised celibacy and obeyed the senior sister in Australia (although she would probably dispute this claim).

Let me assure you, these were all extremely unusual practices for a young Aussie male supposed to be red-blooded, fiercely egalitarian and anti-authoritarian, and engaged in pursuits such as sport, barbecues and beer drinking (not necessarily in that order).

I had become an Australian Hindu. The philosophies inspiring me were pure Hinduism; the lifestyle I was practising was brahmacharya; the Supreme Soul with whom I sought union was called Shiva. He oversaw a trimurti (triad) comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Shankar. (Even though ostensibly a Hindu, to my chagrin, I was not allowed into Varanasi's Vishwanath temple because I was not born in India).

Indeed for my nine years as a BK, my whole life revolved around India. During this time, my work involved analysing South Asian, mainly Indian, affairs. I used to make a pilgrimage annually to the beautiful Rajasthani hill station of Mt. Abu to get my spiritual 'fix' and listen to the trance messenger who kept us in touch with Brahma Baba. I ran a centre for many years and lived with fellow ashramites, some of whom were actually Indians. (While I felt Indian and almost certainly was an Indian in a previous incarnation, we Westerners were called 'double foreigners': we were foreign both to this world and to Bharat).

So, where did I loose the plot and go off the rails? That is, why did I leave the Brahma Kumaris and, to quote Jawaharlal Nehru, revert, 'not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially' to many of my old ways?

Because it took me as long to deprogram myself from the experience as it took me to programme myself with it, it's only in the last few years that I've been able to understand why I left the ashram. Some BKs would say that it was my role, my fortune, my karma. Otherw would say that I am merely in a lapsed state until circumstances inspire me to re-commit. I say that I left because I had got as far as I could at that time with that organisation.

My 'weakness' was that I needed other experiences, expertise and stimulation to help me advance along my own spiritual journey. This is not to say that I wasted my time being a Brahma Kumar. I didn't. It was a wonderful and mostly enjoyable experience: it broadened my understanding of religion and spirituality; it introduced my to meditation and to India, both of which I am still very involved with; it allowed me to forge some strong friendships, including with some people who are still members of 'my' ashram.

The greatest thing of all is that my time with the BKs imbued in me an ongoing love for God and humanity. While we individuals may feel separate, particularly in faraway Australia, we are all in this world together. Regardless of belief or creed, we are all souls trying to make our way to the top of our own particular spiritual mountain.

May your journey be inspiring!
My comments:

The Caste System or Varna Ashrama (Colour System) is the warp and woof of the Hindu religion. No one can be a Hindu except that he belongs to one or the other caste. This is essential for the Upanayana Samskara, the rite or 'sacrament' that initiates one into the Sanatana Dharma, the Orthodox Faith, i.e. Hinduism. The officiating priest needs to be convinced about the prospective initiatee's caste, and that his father was also initiated, or he must not perform the ceremony. Again, only members of the three upper castes, the Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas can undergo this ceremony, thus becoming the privileged Dvija the twice-born. The Shudras, the fourth caste, are also accounted as Hindus, but are not entitled to have this ceremony performed for them, wear the Jenua or 'Sacred Thread' that is the mark of the twice-born, and either worship in the temples or learn the scriptures and their exegeses, at the risk of being severely maltreated and abused, and even lynched, as the Hindu scriptures command.

The ancient king of Kosala, Rama, who is the main protagonist of the epic, the Ramayana, and who had his capital in Ayodhya, near modern Faizabad, U.P., was informed by the Brahmins that a Shudra, Tsambuk, had the temerity to take to asceticism. In accordance with the teachings of the Hindu scriptures, see here, Rama appeared at the scene, and without conversing or 'dialoging' with Tsambuk, (which would only have polluted him, anyway), shot an arrow at him and murdered him.

There is a virtual 'fifth' caste - the Mlechha, or Mlechhas, in plural. These are all those who are foreigners, those who have abandoned the Hindu religion by embracing the Danavik (Demonic) Buddhist or Jain religions, or the later entrants, Christianity and Islam, as also the 'lapsees' - Hindus who have neglected or missed the initiatory Upanayana Samskara for one or more generation, as had happened with the family of Shivaji Bhosale, the founder of the Maratha empire.

Both Shudras and Mlechhas are Achut - Polluting and Untouchable, whose mere presence, leave alone touch, pollutes. This Pollution is only lost by washing in the waters of the Ganga, or some particular other river which have the same attributes as the Ganga.

There is a rite for repairing this loss of caste, or of adding a person to a caste, or changing a person's caste position, and this is what was done in Shivaji's case. However, his step brother and his descendants, the Rajas of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu, south India, did not go throught this process, as a result of which they are accounted as Shudras to this day!

The reason why I am pointing this out is to clarify that Snedden was not forbidden entry to the Kashi Vishwanath temple because he was a foreigner, but because he was a Mlechha; lower even than the Shudra, and as such his presence in the temple would pollute it!

I have this article, a clipped news article, that should illustrate the point: "The God Ayyappa Unhappy With Chief Priest" - unhappy because the priest visited and participated in an inter-religious prayer session with Christians, thus making himself unclean. Another interesting article is "Growing Up With Bada Din." There are other illustrative articles that I will add later.

The south Indian singer, Yesudas, (Servant of Jesus), originally a Christian, but a 'convert' to Hinduism, and famous for his hymns to Ayyappa, etc., has not been allowed to worship the idol of Ayyappa, as the caste Hindus have been allowed, because he is a Christian by birth, and not because he is a foreigner!

Hinduism has been galvanised into making converts as a retaliatory measure against Christian proselytisation. However, the converts to Hinduism are largely not properly converts, because they have not been intiated into the religion.
Lucio Mascarenhas.
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