Jesus the Guru


Meditation would take my soul, according to a few friends from my Christian college fellowship. They said that interacting with religious icons could let demons and dark forces into my body if I opened myself up spiritually. Who knew how one spiritual encounter could change me?

But when my journalism class traveled halfway around the world to connect with our spirituality in an Indian ashram, I honestly did not believe that meditation would be dangerous. People went to yoga all the time without needing an exorcism afterward. Half of the class, including myself, chose to go to Ananda Meditation Center in the hills of Pune, in western India.

The ashram did not seem suspicious either. We would spend most of the day meditating. I looked forward to this experience. My spiritual well-being would be fine. My commitment to religious doctrine was a different matter.

I wanted to experience everything the temple had to offer, but memories of Christian teachings made me shy away from full participation. I hid among my classmates and managed to avoid many of the gurus—except for one.

A young pony-tailed Indian man named Sherju singled me out during lunch. I had managed to avoid conversation with mouthloads of food when his watch caught my eye. It was shiny and bronze-gold colored with engraved details. I gazed for several minutes but the time never changed. The watch looked broken. So I tried to get a closer look. But the monks ushered me to my first meditation class before I could solve the mystery.

I had lost my glasses while traveling so I could not see anything clearly. The details were hard to discern without a lens to put things in perspective, and I had the same trouble with theology. My friends and pastors had constructed my views on Christianity. They would use evangelizing buzzwords to communicate ideas, and I relied on their beliefs to help me make sense of the world around me. But I always wanted to know the truth for myself. I would wrestle with these ideas, and my time at the ashram only intensified that process.

I felt uneasy when I first entered the temple, a hut made from mosquito netting and metal sheets with a shrine of images and candles lining an altar at the front. An image of Jesus stood in the center along with a floating blue figure who, I later discovered, was the Hindu god Krishna. One of the gurus said that Jesus was one of their gurus. God sent Jesus to the West and Krishna to the East so they could share the same teachings to the world.

My insides reeled. Putting Jesus and Krishna in the same painting insinuated that they were kindred figures—even equals. Bible study lessons said this depiction of Jesus was wrong! Do not put other gods before me! Do not worship idols! Verses poured into my head and pushed out any remaining feelings of openness. Krishna should not be worshipped. Jesus did not belong on the same level as Krishna. This place went against what I knew to be true.

I put my guard up and resolved to resist the spiritual experience throughout the rest of my stay. I sat silently while the class chanted to the Divine Mother. I prayed when we were supposed to empty our minds. I did not want to give myself over to anything that did not line up with my religious teachings.

I ran into Sherju the next day at lunch. He tried to open a discussion on meditation, but I focused on his watch instead. I could not really tell without my glasses, but it looked as if the hands were now moving. Did the watch actually work? I could not really trust my eyes. Something inside me just knew it worked.

And the feeling of assurance in the unknown drew me towards Christianity. I had not become Christian for rules: I joined because I felt a spiritual connection.

My mother died from an aneurysm during my sophomore year of college. I really believed my life had ended as well. I remember staring at a wall in the lobby outside her hospital room when I heard a small voice speak somewhere inside my body and comfort me. Although I felt dumbstruck, I instinctively recognized it. I never heard from God before, but somehow I knew that was the source of the voice.

This singular experience convinced me to make a concentrated effort to explore Christianity. I wanted to reconnect with my desire to know God, instead of stringently following all the rules.

So on the morning of the third day at the ashram, I woke before sunrise to meditate with the monks. They sat in meditation for over an hour. No stretching. No sound. Just serious meditation.

I walked up the hill in my pajamas and entered the temple. The cold morning air swept through the gauzy walls. A dozen cloaked figures sat stoically on the floor. Most of the monks wrapped themselves in blankets to keep warm. I grabbed a blanket and joined them. This time, I stopped my religious teachings from overwhelming my thoughts and let the experience wash over me.

My mind went blank. I could not form a thought. The biblical chatter in my mind ceased. A few moments passed and I could not summon anything my friends had said about dark forces. Every sermon and Bible passage seemed too distant to recall.

And this scared me. My entire paradigm of religion emptied itself out with each passing breath, leaving me open and alone. There was no small voice to guide me. Nothing seemed to matter. Nothing at all. The rules and standards of Christianity no longer defined my religious experience. This was the danger my friends had warned me about. Yet I did not feel any demonic force overwhelm my body. What I felt was peace.

Jerome Campbell is a journalist/writer based in Los Angeles. He has freelanced for The Huffington Post, Global Post, South Africa Broadcasting Company, and more. Follow him at @jeromercampbell.