Weekly Word resumes again after a summer break, during which I was involved in YWAM leadership events in Korea and India. Travel in that most populated region of the world offered perspectives on Europe I plan to share over the following weeks.
Back in 1968, the Beatles’ much publicised trip to India to learn Transcendental Meditation from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi popularised a form of ‘spiritual’ tourism along the so-called Hippie Trail stretching from Amsterdam to Delhi.
This trail died after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, yet spiritual tourism continues today in new, more sophisticated, forms.
On my recent visit to India, I heard of movements, ashrams and spiritual centres catering to thousands of European and other western visitors.
One such movement is The Art of Living Foundation, formed by former Maharishi disciple, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. With headquarters in Bangalore, India, it boasts of centres in more than 145 nations, and holds spiritual seminars in multinational and governmental circles, including the EU.
Another is the Oneness University headed by Sri Amma Bhagavan. A Oneness Temple under construction in Chittoor is said to lie on the convergence point of the world’s energy lines. A YouTube video message shows numbers of westerners among the crowds enthralled by the guru’s message that the end of suffering and the liberation of the human mind is near. A new generation of human beings is imminent, whose consciousness will be raised to high levels resulting in unconditional love, the birth of joy and oneness, and the birth of a new age.
Such ideas belong to streams of Hinduism appealing to Europeans in ways that Islam never does. These concepts don’t just remain ‘where they belong’ in India. They are seeping into Europe’s spiritual vacuum in multiple ways largely unnoticed or ignored by Christian leadership.
Did you know, for example, that today the same Maharishi coordinates his worldwide TM movement from a former Franciscan monastery in Limburg in southern Holland? The Maharishi has renamed the county of Roerdalen the ‘Global Country of World Peace’. He even issues his own money there, in cooperation with the Fortis Bank (1 raam = 10 euros)
Another conduit for Hindu and Buddhist ideas is a popular Dutch publication, Happinez Magazine (a clever name coined by Inez the editor), recently voted as ‘magazine of the year’. This glossy publication shrewdly feeds the appetite shared by many post-Christian westerners today for a mixture of spirituality, sensuality and materialism.
Recent articles featured ‘seven days at the Oneness University’, the biography of Sri Ramana Maharshi, ‘one of the greatest gurus of India’, and ‘opening your body through yoga’. Pages of advertisements reveal how many wellness centres, courses and travel vacations for ‘body, mind and spirit’ are available for spiritual seekers.
The question all this poses for us should be: how can we equip ourselves to respond to such widespread spiritual hunger?
Frankly, this is not a question I hear being asked very often. While much attention is given to the challenge of Islam in Europe today, very little thought seems to be given to the far more pervasive and appealing forms of eastern spirituality.
Where are the ministries specifically attempting to address this spiritual hunger? On the continent of Europe, I know of literally only a handful of such ministries!
Thankfully in Britain, churches and organisations are developing many creative initiatives to engage with today’s spiritual age. One leading practioner is Steve Hollinghurst, co-editor of an excellent workbook for local churches called ‘Equipping your church in a spiritual age’. (See www.ciasa.org.uk)
Steve will be one of the speakers at this year’s Evangelism in a New Age consultation, an initiative of the Hope for Europe evangelism network, and this year co-sponsored by Connect Europe. This, the third annual consultation, will be held in Basel, Switzerland, October 28-November 1.
While once an important Reformation city (where for example Calvin’s Institutes were first published), today’s Basel is home of one of the world´s largest annual ‘body, soul, mind’ healing fairs, the Psi-Tagen, held in November each year.
The consultation will be held in the Chrischona Conference Centre, an idyllic setting overlooking the city from 500 metres.
For further information and registration, visit www.hfe.org/newsandevents/events.php.
If you are already involved in this sort of ministry, then this is an event where you will be encouraged by meeting others engaged in similar work.
If you are not yet responding to the spiritual hunger evidenced all around us in Europe today, then shouldn’t you be joining us in Basel?