From Yoga Swami to Christian!
Finding the Path to Inner Peace
By Ruth Burgess
This testimony is only the briefest of versions of my years of involvement and dedication to yoga and "the new age"; and how eventually I was delivered from this by our God.
LISTEN TO RUTH! Ruth Burgess will give her powerful testimony at the Luminous Festival in Hobart, 6-8pm Wed 23 June.
The road to enlightenment
I first began practising yoga at school and within a few years this took me on a path of total commitment and to living the life of a Swami (a Hindu ascetic). This involved thousands of hours of teaching and practice, including representing my organization internationally as a teacher. I left the ashram (yoga hermitage) for the final time at the end of 2014, and I finished teaching yoga in 2015, a total unbroken period of 35 years.
In my youth I was exposed to, and interested in, world religions and philosophies. My mother was a Christian, with whom I attended church regularly for a few years. My father, a psychiatrist, was more philosophical in outlook and was attracted to Eastern thought. In addition, my Quaker school was very liberal theologically in its approach.
Because of this varied spiritual diet, I believed that all religions were essentially the same and led to the same destination - knowledge of God. This is a fallacy of which I have only recently become aware. When you study comparative religions systematically you realise, of course, that all religions are by no means the same, even if there are some shared ideas. In fact, at best, all religions are only superficially similar.
Where it all began
At the age of 17 I enrolled in my first yoga class, and I remember thinking that the inner peace the teacher portrayed was what I was seeking. Later, in my early twenties, I sought out what I believed to be authentic yoga classes taught by a Swami. I was 22, and soon to become enmeshed in all things "New Age."
Yoga at this time appealed primarily as an integrated system for the wellbeing of both body and mind. I enjoyed the feeling of stretching my body and I also needed techniques to help me deal with a level of anxiety. Yoga - at least initially - gave me the tools I needed. In the beginning, yoga's primary attraction was not spiritual - it was simply about feeling better. I suspect many people seek out yoga for this reason, and are relatively oblivious to the spiritual dimensions of the practice. I now feel the spiritual roots cannot be divorced from the practice.
And so, it wasn't long before the "spiritual" side of yoga began to exert an influence on me, and yoga became the passion and focus of my life. I thought it was the answer to my existential questions, and I pursued it to the point of being initiated as a Swami. At the age of 25 I took on a commitment to a spiritual path with absolute sincerity, and a belief that it would be lifelong.
My life underwent a radical change.
I became a resident of an ashram. I had a new name and a new identity. I submitted to my guru (a guru is considered an enlightened being) in my spiritual practices and duties, and in every dimension of my life. As a Swami, I was expected to renounce possessions, shave my head, and wear robes - and this is what I did. All of this was considered a necessary part of being a sincere disciple, and a training for reducing egoic desires. And for me, the lure of so-called spiritual enlightenment and liberation from continual reincarnation was enough motivation.
Pictured: Ruth in 1986 teaching yoga in Sydney
Finding true peace
After half a lifetime on this path, however, I became increasingly aware of the darker side of yoga. I came to understand, through experience, the dangers of occult practices and that the unseen spiritual dimension of our world is very real. As the apostle Paul writes: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph 6:12).
Having reached a point of profound disillusionment and the loss of my faith, I left the ashram at the end of 2014. I arrived back in Tasmania to spend a few months with my father before he died. It was a season of overwhelming grief. I was grieving my father, the death of my belief system, and the end of the purpose and career I had dedicated most of my life to.
Two years later and following a process of deconstructing and reconstructing my life, I once again began the search for spiritual peace. Remembering my experiences in church, I started attending church again (43 years after my last day in church!). This led me to a point of gradual and certain conviction: I knew with every fibre of my being and in a way that I had never known before, that Jesus was my Lord and Saviour and that in Him I had at last found the peace I so desired.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)
Because of a compelling desire to be cleansed of my past and to receive baptism - I was ultimately led to the Hobart Baptist Church; where I thank God every day for my new Christian family.
Next steps for you
FIND OUT MORE: Full version of Ruth's testimony >>>
WATCH VIDEO: Rabi Maharaja on Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga >>>
READ ARTICLE: The Spirituality of Yoga >>>
ATTEND LUMINOUS: Register to hear Ruth in person, 6-8pm Wed 23 June, Hobart >>>
Ruth Burgess is a Registered Nurse and Diabetes Educator, studying Apologetics with NGIM. She lives in South Hobart with husband David, and is the primary carer for her elderly mother. At present, she is in the process of becoming a member at Hobart Baptist Church.
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