Hinduism in Modern Era: Spiritual Masters of the Recent Period (Continued)

In 1875, Russian mystic Madam Blavatsky founded a new movement, the Theosophical Society, in New York. Within two years, the society had moved to Chennai (Madras) in India, where it flourished under the patronage of social reformer and theosophist Annie Besant (1847–1933). It was through the Theosophical Society that many Hindu philosophical ideas became popular in the West, influencing such literary figures as Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood. The society is still active today in India and many Western countries, projecting the ancient philosophy of India along with other mystical and spiritual teachings, although in a non-religious manner. The interest of Westerners in Hindu philosophy also stemmed from their genuine hunger to seek the truth beyond the narrow limits of an organized religion.73 The propagation of neo-Vedanta philosophy in a vibrant manner, without any suggestion of conversion into Hinduism, by Swami Vivekananda opened floodgates for this inclination. There has been an unabated wave of interest in Hindu spiritual philosophy since then. It has taken many forms and directions, which is completely consistent with the diversity and freedom of Hindu thought.

Westerners have taken many of the top positions in various sects. Jean Klein and Andrew Cohen, who were disciples of Sri Ramana Maharishi, have become spiritual gurus and draw large crowds when they speak. Dr. Julian Johnson, a Protestant preacher, took Sawan Singh as his guru and later was instrumental in the development of Radhasoami Satsang in the West. After the death of Sri Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada, multiple Western disciples became heads of the Hare Krishna sect. The Self-Realization Fellowship, likewise, has a Westerner, Brother Chidananda, as its chief. So, too, is the case with the Saiva Siddhanta sect at the Hawaii Hindu monastery. Some of Westerners have adopted Hinduism formally, while others have not changed their original faith. This type of voluntary interest in faith other than one’s own is simply unprecedented in human history. Only time will reveal the final impact of this unusual phenomenon.

 

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Pujay Morari Bapu, Pujay Sudhenshu Mahraj, Pujay Satyanarayan Goenkaji, Jagat Guru Kirpal Ji Mahraj, Sringeri Shankaracharya Sri Bharati Tirtha Swami, Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math Swami Swaroopananda, Swami Avadeshanand Giri, Mata Amritanadamayi “Amma”, Swami Chidananda Saraswati (Muniji), Swami Baba Ramdevji Mahraj, Goswami Mridul Shastri, Pujay Rameshbhai Oza, Pujay Satpal Mahraj, Sadhvi Didi Ritambharaji, Ananadmurti Guru Maa, Pujya Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji, Satchidananda Swami (Gujarat), Paramahamsa Nithyananada, Narayan Sai Baba, Swami Agnesh, Swami Parmananda, Pujay Deepakbhai Desai, Bhagwan Lakshmi Narayan, Swami Mukundananda, Pujay Devkinandan Thakur Ji, Acharya Ishan Shivanandan, Shri Pulak sagar Ji, Shri Kirtibhai Ji, Swami Sukhbodhananda, Pujay Shrirya Bharti, Pujay Gopal Mani Ji Mahraj, Sadhu Kailash Manu, Shri Giri Bapu,  Sri valingendra Swamiji, Sri Chidananda Swamiji of Mysore, Sri Rudramuni Swamiji, of Tiptur, Dr. Sri Balagangadharanatha Mahaswamiji, Sri Shivarathri Mahaswmi of Suttur Math, Vrunda Sakhi and many others.

 

Hindu philosophy has continued to attract and influence many in the Western world in different ways. Some have formally adopted and converted into Hinduism while others have taken Hindu teachings as a way of life, but remained in their original faith. In fact, Hindu Gurus have never insisted on conversion as a precondition for teaching anyone. Some leading spiritual organizations now have Westerners as their heads. Some of these organizations identify themselves as completely Hindu whereas others offer philosophical teachings based on Hinduism combined with the traditions of other faiths, without any official affiliation to Hindu religion. These religious establishments which are not aligned solely to Hinduism or any other faith appear to be getting quite popular, enlisting followers of diverse religions. They concentrate and focus on spiritual teachings, freely quoting various Hindu gods and saints along with those of other creeds. These organizations do not regard themselves as non-religious either; they uphold religion as most important, but opt to remain free from any strict allegiance. This is a new development in religious development across the world, and more so in countries like US with varied population. Only time will reveal the full impact of this arrangement in the future. It may probably have a significant effect on Hinduism in different ways. These organizations have their own codes of administration and management; their worship modalities may also be quite different from the conventional Hindu temples. Many Hindus who regularly attend these new religious centers suggest and request for changes in the conventional Hindu places of worship accordingly. This process of evolution involves acceptance and adoption of what is useful and beneficial, and dropping what may be undesirable and harmful.

 

The present age has brought many challenges too. Many are moving liberally toward the Western style, and yet others are keen to stay conservative and orthodox. Although physical violence remains absent, there is undoubtedly a significant inter-play of words, arguments, and discussions going on, with each side advocating and glorifying their own system and practice. By and large, the situation is peaceful and calm. In Hindu society, an individual may choose very freely his or her method of worship, and pray at any place of one’s choice; to a large extent this arrangement is working quite amicably.

In recent times, there has been an influx of Hindu Gurus, both in India, and in many foreign countries. These Gurus usually draw huge crowds, and are seriously involved both in their spiritual pursuits as well as often in social and charitable undertakings. Their influence and inspiration play a big part in shaping the lifestyles of many. Undoubtedly, most Swamis and Gurus are rendering yeomen service by their selfless dedication to the noble cause. But like in any other sphere of public service, there are few, who get swayed into wrong direction. By their very nature of “spiritual status”, they become even more infamous and ill-reputed.