And He said to them, ‘Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?’ (Thus He declared all foods clean). MARKk 7:18-19
PART 1: INTRODUCING THE MESSAGE
Does eating pepper or a slice of turkey make me less spiritual? Why, to this day, does the Loma Linda University student cafeteria not have black pepper available for its patrons? Will eating bread warm from the oven ruin my health, blocking my communication with God? Does it glorify God if I live in a catsup-free zone?
These questions sound contrived for effect, but they arise from real practices of generations of Seventh-day Adventists.What lies behind them? Let’s explore some of the reasons that Adventists eat the way they do.
“Health” would likely be the top reason many Adventists would give to the outside world to explain the culture of Adventist eating. In fact, the following example is only one of many Adventist stories I remember in which an Adventist would show a non-Adventist a piece of meat under a microscope, thus eliciting exclamations of horror at the “nasty, wriggling little worms” that were making their abode there. Convinced and converted, the non-Adventist would thenceforth refuse to eat unclean meat.
In her book Valley of Decision, Leola Woodruff created a conversation in which she asked a “convinced non-Adventist” if she wasn’t eating the pork at a meal they shared because she didn’t like the way it was prepared.
“Oh, it’s cooked fine, but I have never eaten pork since I saw it under the microscope in the laboratory,” she answered.
“What does it look like?” I asked.
“Well,” she answered, “seeing how you asked for it, I’ll tell you that it sometimes is crawling with worms and parasites.”1
Adventist publications have promoted many arguments besides avoiding worms for adhering to the religion’s health message. The following examples are only representative of Adventism’s growing opus of diet instructions.
What we learned
We learned, for example, that John the Baptist was a forerunner of Christ’s first coming, and he was a vegetarian; likewise the remnant church, as the forerunner of His second coming, should follow John’s example. (Adventists are taught that the grasshoppers [locusts] that John ate were really beans from carob pods.)
Further, we understood that 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 teaches that we must adopt healthy eating habits because our bodies are the temple of God. Of course, the context of this verse is sexual immorality in the Corinthian church, not the giving of advice on the choice between turkey and Tofurky (a vegetarian turkey substitute).
Meat, we were taught, is essentially flavored by waste products. “And did you ever eat a steak from which all the blood has been drained? I assure you that you’d never want another! It is the blood that gives meat its flavor. And that blood is carrying the waste products of the animal. Not a happy thought, is it?”2
We also learned that we would have a more successful life by adopting certain eating habits because flesh foods cloud the intellect. Look at Daniel, for example. He adopted a life-long vegetarian lifestyle and became so wise. We need to be as daring as Daniel was when he refused the king’s provision of meat and wine. Of course, as Adventists we didn’t really pay much attention to Daniel 10:2 and 3 in which Daniel indicates his normal practice was to eat meat and to drink wine.
“Tea acts as a stimulant and, to a certain extent, produces intoxication.”3 H-m-m, can I get a DUI driving home from a tea party?
Using pickles, spices, pepper, catsup, and mustard will “poison the blood” and “excite the nerves”. “The inflamed condition of the drunkard’s stomach is often pictured as illustrating the effect of alcoholic liquors. A similarly inflamed condition is produced by the use of irritating condiments. Soon ordinary food does not satisfy the appetite. The system feels a want, a craving, for something more.”4
Central to our Adventist health message was the conviction that an unhealthy body and brain makes it difficult or virtually impossible for the Holy Spirit to communicate with us: “The brain nerves which communicate with the entire system are the only medium through which Heaven can communicate to man and affect his inmost life.”5
Let’s face it, the Adventist belief that humans do not possess a spirit puts a lot of pressure on them to have really healthy bodies and brains! If God’s Spirit cannot “bear witness” with their spirits (Romans 8:16), then all they have left are their neurons. Adventist physician William Dysinger wrote, “The brain’s highest function, however, is to be the dwelling place, through His Spirit, of Jesus Himself. Within the highest center of the brain is a mysterious place in which Christ desires to dwell. Although it cannot be pinpointed anatomically, it is a physical place where Jesus stands and knocks, waiting for us to invite Him in. When accepted and invited in, He is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”6
“The devil very successfully uses many tools to dull the higher brain powers, thus making humans less able to hear the voice of God.”7
Even the Adult Sabbath School Study Guide has emphasized the physical medium of perceiving the Holy Spirit: “Our bodies are the vehicles for our brains, and it is through our brain that the Holy Spirit communicates with us. If we wish to have communion with God, we must take care of our bodies and brains.”8
In July, 2014, General Conference president Ted Wilson preached a “Sabbath sermon closing a weeklong health conference in Geneva, Switzerland, and he expressed disappointment that some people liken the church’s emphasis on a plant-based diet to fanaticism,” reported Adventist News Network. Wilson said, “‘Nancy and I have been vegetarians all of our lives’… ‘That doesn’t mean I’m any closer to the kingdom of God than the person who is eating meat,’ he said. ‘It simply means that I am trying to follow God’s health laws so that the frontal lobes and the delicate nerve endings can receive the impressions of the Holy Spirit in a wonderful way.’”9
All of this Adventist emphasis on vegetarianism for the sake of proper communion with God is the legacy of Ellen G. White (EGW):
“The brain nerves which communicate with the entire system are the only medium through which Heaven can communicate to man and affect his inmost life.”10
“God cannot let His Holy Spirit rest upon those who, while they know they should eat for health, persist in a course that will enfeeble mind and body.”11
To be sure, our minds are renewed (Rom. 12:2) when we are born again and submitted to Jesus and His word. He changes our thinking. Spiritual things, however, are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14-15). The Holy Spirit testifies truth to our spirits (Rom. 8:16).
This idea that poor nutrition—or that any kind of body or brain damage—can affect us spiritually makes me wonder if God deserts starving Christian prisoners or mentally and physically handicapped persons. If our bodies are enfeebled and imperfect as per the above quotes, does that problem also block the Holy Spirit?12
In spite of obvious evidence to the contrary, Ellen White has much more to say about the dangers of eating meat. For example, she states that consuming meat (and especially pork) will give one cancer and maybe even leprosy.13 Moreover, she said that the Adventist church will be “shaken” and purified before the second coming; one of the categories of people to be shaken out are those that fail to control their appetites.14 “God demands,” she said, “that the appetites be cleansed, and that self-denial be practiced in regard to those things that are not good. This is a work that will have to be done before His people can stand before Him a perfected people.”15
Cindy Tutsch, Adventist author and associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, explains to teens, “In other words, if we’re really serious about this idea of being part of the Latter Rain and then living victoriously through the time of trouble, we had better make some pretty drastic lifestyle changes....And yes, I have found through bitter experience that what I eat affects me spiritually, my discernment and my ability to work effectively for Jesus.”16
In other words, Adventism teaches that if we want to have good health, be spiritually sensitive, and live longer, we must give up flesh foods. In fact, EGW teaches that after the flood, God “permitted that long-lived race to eat animal food to shorten their sinful lives. Shortly after the flood the race began to rapidly decrease in size, and in length of years.”17 Therefore, we must go “back to Eden” and eat as Adam and Eve. The Adamites of seventeenth century England taught this and more.18
EGW even twists Jesus’ wilderness temptation into an example showing us, by fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, how to overcome our indulged appetites. Indulging appetite, she explains, was what got Adam and Eve into trouble in the first place: “If the indulgence of appetite was so strong upon the race that, in order to break its power, the divine Son of God, in behalf of man, was required to fast nearly six weeks, what work is before the Christian in order that he may overcome even as Christ overcame!”19
EGW further says, “Adam fell by the indulgence of appetite. In order to impress upon man his obligations to obey the law of God, Christ began His work of redemption by reforming the physical habits of man. The declension in virtue and the degeneracy of the race are chiefly attributable to the indulgence of appetite.”20
The real reason for Adventist vegetarianism
Avoiding disease and premature death in order to perceive the Holy Spirit seem to be noble, even trendy reasons for enforcing the Adventist health message. Nevertheless, Adventist prophet EGW originally delivered these bans for a different reason. The following quotes reveal her fixation on using diet to control desires and passions:
“The blood becomes fevered, the animal propensities are aroused, while the moral and intellectual powers are weakened and become servants to the baser passions.”21
“Men and women, by indulging the appetite in eating rich and highly seasoned foods, especially flesh-meats, with rich gravies, and by using stimulating drinks, as tea and coffee, create unnatural appetites. The system becomes fevered, the organs of digestion become injured, the mental faculties are beclouded, while the baser passions are excited and predominate over the nobler faculties.”22
“The indulgence of the appetite in first eating food highly seasoned, created a morbid appetite, and prepared the way for every kind of indulgence, until health and intellect were sacrificed to lust.”23
“Food prepared with condiments and spices inflames the stomach, corrupts the blood, and paves the way for stronger stimulants. It induces nervous debility, impatience and lack of self-control. Tobacco and the wine cup follow.”24
“Meat should not be placed before our children. Its influence is to excite and strengthen the lower passions, and has a tendency to deaden the moral powers....The less feverish the diet, the more easily can the passions be controlled.”25
Through the years many Adventist medical professionals have promoted EGW’s dietary counsels to their patients and in their publications. The following quote by authors Dr. and Mrs. Rosenvold illustrates this fact: “Certainly the stronger spices such as pepper, ginger, mustard, nutmeg, curry, vinegar and other commonly used condiments deserve no place at all in a healthful dietary. We are amazed how many S.D.A. Christians will have catsup on their tables. Why should we dishonor God with these health-destroying practices?”26
Ellen White ahead of her time?
Adventists often boast that Ellen White was “ahead of her time” with her counsels on health. Importantly, however, she did not originate many of her ideas. In fact, in her day, “animal propensities/passions” and “baser passions” referred to the sex drive, and in the Victorian period it was commonly believed that meat stimulated carnal desire. Moreover, Seventh-day Adventist practices became a significant force in popularizing these ideas. The following quotations illustrate this fact.
Joan Jacobs Brumberg writes, “No food (other than alcohol) caused Victorian women and girls greater moral anxiety than meat. The flesh of animals was considered a heat-producing food that stimulated production of blood and fat as well as passion. Doctors and patients shared a common conception of meat as a food that stimulated sexual development and activity....Meat eating in excess was linked to adolescent insanity and nymphomania.”27
“As an appetite for meat signified to Victorian sensibilities a desire for carnality in general, and for sex in particular, vegetarianism came to signify chastity and sexual purity. Accordingly, both of these significations became polarized by gender. Perhaps no American did more to extend this false binary’s reach into the 20th century than Kellogg whose Battle Creek Sanitarium endorsed the vegetarian dietary practices of the 7th day (sic) Adventists and ‘cured’ patients of their carnality by excluding ‘meat and spicy foods for the supposed aphrodisiacal qualities.’”28
The belief that spices and meat should not be eaten is not obsolete among Adventists. One of the local Adventist churches near us in Yucaipa, California, invited the public to a lecture within the last year on “The Danger of Spices” (although I’m quite sure they didn’t mention “animal passions” to the unsuspecting attendees!).
PART 2: ELLEN WHITE AND THE NEW AGE
It’s one thing to look at Ellen White’s writings as a unique opus and to wrestle with whether or not they are inspired when compared with Scripture. When they are viewed in the larger context of literature advocating vegetarianism, however, their true nature becomes clear; they fit neatly into a genre of work produced by New Age spiritual teachers instructing devotees to clear their minds and calm their spirits through diet. Notice the similarities between the following quotes from EGW and New Age teachers.
Ntabara (Mark) Rollosson, a student of the famous Hindu guru Sri Chinmoy, says, “As we consume meat, meat carries the aggressive nature of the animal, and we are trying to evolve beyond that animal nature. Fruits and vegetables have a more mild quality to them. So vegetarianism helps you have a clearer meditation, because the agitation from the meat manifests in agitated thoughts as you try to clear the mind.”29
EGW: “I was instructed that the use of flesh meat has a tendency to animalize the nature, and to rob men and women of the love and sympathy they should feel for every one.”30
Carlos Santana, a musician and one-time disciple of Guru Sri Chinmov, says, “I don’t eat meat because meat brings out negative qualities such as fear, anger, anxiety, aggressiveness, etc. Vegetables peacefully offer themselves to the earth when ripe, thus allowing a sublime and peaceful thought-consciousness.”31
EGW: “A diet of flesh meat tends to develop animalism. A development of animalism lessens spirituality, rendering the mind incapable of understanding truth.”32
Gabriel Cousens is, among many other things, a senior Essene teacher, a yogi who has apparently reached “innate perfection”, a spiritual nutrition expert, a rabbi, a family therapist, a diplomat of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine, a fasting guru, and the founder and director of The Tree of Life Foundation and Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia, Arizona. He writes, “Flesh food (meat, fish, and poultry) increases the animal frequency in the body and it brings into operation more animal-like tendencies such as vibrations of anger, lust, fear, aggressiveness and murderous impulses. The energy of the flesh food diet adds to the impurities of the mind and the nervous system.”33
EGW: “By the use of flesh meats the animal nature is strengthened and the spiritual nature weakened.34
EGW: “Your family have partaken largely of flesh meats, and the animal propensities have been strengthened, while the intellectual have been weakened. We are composed of what we eat, and if we subsist largely upon the flesh of dead animals, we shall partake of their nature.”35
Madame Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891)
Madame Helena Blavatsky (right) was a contemporary of Ellen White. She was an occultist and medium, and she co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875 and described Theosophy as “the synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy” that was reviving the “Ancient Wisdom” which underlay all religions. In her book Key to Theosophy, she writes: “We go a step further, and prove that when the flesh of animals is assimilated by man as food, it imparts to him, physiologically, some of the characteristics of the animal it came from. Moreover, occult science teaches and proves this to its students by ocular demonstration, showing also that this ‘coarsening’ or ‘animalising’ effect on man is greatest from the flesh of larger animals, less from birds, still less from fish and other cold-blooded animals, and least of all when he eats vegetables only.”36
EGW: “But we do say that flesh meat is not right for God’s people. It animalizes human beings.”37
EGW: “Oh, if every one could discern these matters as they have been presented to me, those who are now so careless, so indifferent in regard to their character building; those who plead for indulgence in a flesh meat diet, would never open their lips in justification of an appetite for the flesh of dead animals. Such a diet contaminates the blood in their veins, and stimulates the lower animal passions. It enfeebles keen perception and vigor of thought to the understanding of God and the truth, and a knowledge of themselves.”38
A.M. Patel, who after becoming “enlightened” was known as Dada Bhagwan (in Hindi, “dada” means “daddy”, and “Bhagwan” means “Lord”), writes, “Non-vegetarian food is sthool (gross, heavy, coarse), and does not allow the development of one’s spiritual intellect. If you want to progress spiritually, you must eat vegetarian food, which is light and does not create intoxication.”39
EGW: “There are those who ought to be awake to the danger of meat eating, who are still eating the flesh of animals, thus endangering the physical, mental, and spiritual health.”40
On the “Original Christianity, Original Yoga” website, Atma Jyoti Ashram says, “…the process of liberation is a matter of purifying and transmuting the mind. Since the mind is formed of the subtle energies of that which we eat, we can realize that diet is one of the most crucial aspects of the spiritual aspirant’s regimen, for it will determine the quality and effectiveness of his meditation experience.... Diet, then, can be a major determinant of our success or failure in spiritual life.”41
Some facts about the history of vegetarianism
“And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant’” (Gen. 9:1-3).
“Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?’ (Thus He declared all foods clean)” (Mk. 7:18-19).
As I have been researching the theme of “animal passions” and the spiritual implications of vegetarianism and eating, it has become abundantly clear that this idea has been around since ancient times and is usually linked with paganism, the occult, mysticism, the Eastern religions, reincarnation, yoga, and the new age. It especially focuses on the idea of “purification” to obtain a higher spirituality by purging the human body and by asceticism so that the soul might unite with, or be acceptable to, the gods.
“The psychic self cannot be yoked to a sick and dying animal but must be purified and so become independent of the human animal,” writes Colin Spencer in his 1995 book Heretic’s Feast.42 It’s interesting that the yogic scriptures teach practitioners to avoid tea, coffee and spices, which are called rajasic, and are said to arouse animal passions.43
Vegetarianism as a moral concept “made its first impact on history in India and Greece at around the same time, 500 BC, within the lifetimes of both Buddha and Pythagoras. It was linked with two other ideas; the wider of the two forbade all killing and hence opposed murder, strife and war, while at the heart of the philosophy was a belief in metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls—more popularly thought of as reincarnation. Yet this moral concept can be traced back further; from Buddha to Hinduism and the Rig-Veda, the Indus civilization perhaps, and then to Mesopotamia and Egypt, while the Pythagorean school owed much to the Orphic religion, the Eleusinian Mysteries and the cult of Dionysus, which again, can be traced back to Egypt.”44
How interesting that certain priests in Egypt did not eat meat! Porphyry, in the 3rd century A.D., observed that Egyptians and Phoenicians would rather become cannibals than consume beef.45
The roots of Hinduism, yoga, the transmigration of souls, and the sacred cow are seen in the more than 1,000 ancient Indian hymns (Vedas) and in later classical Indian literature. The Ramayana, an allegory, focuses on the principals of yogic living, and the Mahabharata describes “the struggle of every human soul to overcome the animal passions and enable the triumph of the divine qualities of our innate, higher nature.”46
“The thirst for mystical self-revelation by a process of detachment from fleshly pursuits, a process which leads logically and inevitably to a modest vegetarian diet, appears to be in the very soil of the Indian subcontinent, sown there from the earliest times.”47
The man who became Buddha was first a Hindu. The thread of non-meat eating runs through Hinduism and its variations, through Buddhism and its variations, and on to Jainism. The tradition of vegetarianism at the heart of these pagan religions was practiced for the purification of the body and the suppression of “animal passions” and desires—the same reasons EGW used to argue that Seventh-day Adventists should not eat meat. In contrast, neither the Old nor the New Testaments ever teach self-purification through diet and ascetic living.
Pythagoras not just a math genius
It’s also good to be aware of the man Pythagoras as more than just someone we learned about in math class, and a short overview of his life will provide an interesting insight into the pagan root of vegetarianism. He was born on the island of Samos, near present day Turkey, around 580 BC, and as a young man, he became a student of Pherekydes who was one of the Sophai, or Seven Wise Men, who taught him about reincarnation. After the death of this teacher, Pythagoras became a pupil of Thales who believed that “all inanimate matter was divine consciousness.”48 Thales, also one of the Sophai, taught Pythagoras mathematical concepts that he had learned in Babylon and encouraged him to go to Egypt to study.
Pythagoras did go to Egypt, but he was captured in 525 BC when Persia invaded Egypt, and he was taken to Babylon. He did not remain a prisoner, however, and was able to study under the Chaldeans, learning sacred purification rites, one of which was giving up meat. Since Pythagoras believed that a person could be reborn endlessly, coming back as any kind of living creature, he taught his students that they dare not kill and eat animals—they might be eating their deceased cousins or fathers! Animals and humans were seen as equals, and transmigration of the soul was at the root of the Pythagorean diet. “This concept, so basic to Pythagoras, emerges clearly again in Vedic Hinduism…”49
In about 532 BC, Pythagoras emigrated to Croton in what is now Italy and established a school there. The inner circle in this school reflected Pythagoras’ influence; they believed that “eating meat not only would block the ability to prophesy through dreams but also desensitize awareness of the psyche, making, as it were, brutes of us all.”50
The common theme of being more animalistic if animals are eaten is seen in much of EGW’s writing. In addition, her counsels advising that meat clouds the mind were not original with her. Leaving Pythagoras and skipping ahead to the legacy of Plutarch (born 46 AD) , a Greek writer and historian, we find an interesting claim in light of EGW’s writings: “meat-eating clouds the mind and dulls the intellect…”51 In fact, in the 1840s, the Pythagorean diet first began to be called by the term “vegetarian”.52
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) who was a Swedish scientist but also a Christian mystic, received a vision in 1744 that he was to reform Christianity. He was then able to freely visit angels and demons, and he taught that the last judgment had already occurred. He saw meat-eating as a great evil and representative of the fall of man. A disciple of Swedenborg’s, William Cowherd, who was minister of a Swedenborgian congregation in the 1790s, preached that “flesh tended to inflame the passions and to sensualize the many and consequently to impede the reception in the soul of heavenly love and wisdom.”53 Does that sound at all familiar?
William Cowherd influenced the Reverend William Metcalf, who eventually came with a group to America and converted Sylvester Graham (from whom EGW “borrowed” heavily—see Ron Numbers’ Prophetess of Health) in 1830 and later Bronson Alcott, father of author Louisa May Alcott. The health plans of these men were spartan—cold baths early in the morning, raw food, and hard mattresses.
Another interesting detail in the history of vegetarianism occurred in 1821. A vegetarian cookbook was published by Mrs. Joseph Brotherton, a member of the Society of Bible Christians. She could not reconcile the fact that Christ ate fish, so she re-interpreted that word to mean “watermelon” or “lotus plant”!54
There are so many other vegetarian groups and famous vegetarians in the long history of vegetarianism that no one article can contain them all. But Adolf Hitler bears mentioning. He gave up meat entirely after his niece shot herself following a terrible argument with him. He became vegetarian “to purge himself of the psychological association that flesh had” with her corpse.55 He also believed in the relation between vegetarianism and purification.
Hitler closest to Adventist health reform
In his 1942 diary, Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, wrote that “He [Hitler] believes more than ever that meat-eating is harmful to humanity.”56 Heinrich Himmler, the General Plenipotentiary for the administration of the Third Reich, believed in vegetarianism, and Rudolf Hess, Deputy Führer to Hitler, was a strict vegetarian—indeed, many other Nazis either believed in the concept or practiced it.
“Hitler’s vegetarianism proved the fallibility, without any shadow of doubt, of one claim which vegetarians had boldly made since ancient times: that if eating meat led to aggression, the converse was also true, and vegetarians were therefore peace-loving, gentle people.”57
I must share a jaw-dropping quote:
“As Robert Proctor showed in his ground-breaking book The Nazi War on Cancer, some medical professionals at the time claimed that eating meat, especially in excess, caused cancer, and that vegetable-eating peoples like the Indians were free from the disease. Accordingly, Nazis instructed Germans to adopt more natural diets based on wholesome roots, fruits and cereals, and legally obliged bakers to sell wholemeal bread—the patriotic food of the great German peasant. Failure to comply with the ordinances instructing the nation to clean up their diet and make themselves fit, slim and healthy resulted in persecution. Anyone who fattened themselves on excessive quantities of meat and fat, the Nazis insisted, ‘robs other racial comrades of these foods; he is a debauchee and a traitor to his land and his country.’ These policies attracted some improbable support from German Theosophists [the founder of Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky taught, like EGW, that man had mated with animals prior to the flood], George Bernard Shaw and from the Seventh Day (sic) Adventists, who rejoiced in an August 1933 circular that the nation was now being run by Hitler ‘who has his office from the hand of God, and who knows himself to be responsible to Him. As an anti-alcoholic, non-smoker, and vegetarian, he is closer to our own view of health reform than anybody else.’”58
As we look at the long and varied history of vegetarianism, we see that it was originally rooted in ancient pagan religions and was practiced for the purpose of personal purification, morality, and spiritual perception. These original purposes have remained at the heart of vegetarian practices and teaching even into modern times and are so powerful that Adventists endorsed Hitler as being given his office “from the hand of God”, rejoicing because he was closer to their own health reform than anyone else.
PART 3: HEALTH, YOGA, AND THE OCCULT
What does yoga have to do with vegetarianism and Ellen White’s claims about it? Again, one can’t research the subject of “spiritual eating” without finding overwhelming numbers of references to the ancient mysticism that formed Hinduism and yoga—the seedbed of vegetarianism. Thus, at their inceptions, yoga and vegetarian “spiritual eating” are inextricably linked.
The concepts of Hinduism and the religions that grew out of it are diverse and complicated. Yoga is rooted in Eastern mysticism that is thousands of years old and springs from the ancient Hindu scriptures. There are millions of Hindu gods and goddesses with multiple incarnations and multiple names. Related to these many gods are many forms of yoga, and there are many teachers/gurus teaching these different forms. Hindus believe that everything from a bedbug to a human has its own divinity. Consequently, the greeting that most yoga classes teach students (namaste) means: “The God/Goddess Spirit within me recognizes and honors the God/Goddess Spirit within you.”59
“The word yoga derives from a loose translation of a Sanskrit term meaning to yoke or to unite” and is defined as “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the [divine] self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.”60 Yoga is also given a second definition reflecting the prevalent Western concept of it which says it’s basically exercise and strengthening.61
Really, though, no matter how you dress it up in health and exercise clothes or give the postures Biblical names, yoga remains Hindu to the core. “Although many in the West regard yoga simply as a discipline which strengthens the body and provides relaxation and a quiet mind, in the context of Hinduism it is the means by which a person strives for salvation.”62 As Caryl Matrisciano, a former practitioner of yoga, says in her excellent DVD Yoga Uncoiled: “In Hindu teaching, Hinduism and yoga cannot be separated.”
“Although yoga is now a household word, many people don’t know exactly what it is. Far more than physical exercise, yoga can transform you, even if it’s not your intention when you step on that mat.”63
“Yoga is that state of Absolute Peace wherein there is neither imagination nor thought. Yoga is control of mind and its modifications. Yoga teaches us how to control the modifications of the mind and attain liberation. It teaches us how to transmute the unregenerate nature and attain the state of Divinity. It is the complete suppression of the tendency of the mind to transform itself into objects, thoughts, etc. Yoga kills all sorts of pain, misery and tribulation. It gives you freedom from the round of births and deaths, with its concomitant evils of disease, old age, etc., and bestows upon you all the Divine Powers and final liberation through super-intuitional knowledge.”64
The above quote demands some reaction. It is not possible for any person to “transmute” his “unregenerate” nature and “attain the state of Divinity”. Paul quotes the Old Testament in Romans 3:9-18 and reminds us that there is no one who is righteous, who understands or seeks God, or who does good. The only way our unregenerate natures can be changed is through repentance and belief in the Lord Jesus. Then we pass from death to life (Jn. 5:24) and are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Eph. 1:13-14). The Father Himself then transfers us out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His Beloved Son (Col. 1:13). Our unregenerate natures remain unregenerate no matter what we do; God makes us alive and counts us righteous when we believe, and then we are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).
B.K.S. Iyengar, (famous Hindu author/teacher who once made the cover of Time magazine) writes: “The yogi does not look heavenward to find God for he knows that He is within, being known as the antaratma (the Inner Self). He feels the kingdom of God within and without and finds that heaven lies in himself.”65
Nischala Joy Devi, a yoga expert and teacher, says that the secret of yoga “that brings endless power is knowing that we are divine beings.”66
The end goal of yoga is basically to unite one’s “divine self” to the supreme, impersonal god force called Brahman. Controlling the body through breathing exercises (pranayama) and postures (asana) are two of the disciplines which help the practitioner of yoga work toward this union. Most postures honor Hindu deities or their manifestations as certain animals or objects in nature. (There is even a startling posture called the “corpse pose”.)
Being faithful to practice the various yogic disciplines results in enlightenment, self-realization, and liberation from endless cycles of death and rebirth (reincarnation) caused by past deeds (karma). The details of how this liberation is accomplished is complex and occult. Yoga teaches that we have three bodies: the physical (“food sheath”), the astral, and the causel. I couldn’t make up the description of the astral body if I tried, so will quote a partial description from the book Yoga: Mind and Body:
“Every living being has an astral body. This is connected to the physical body by a subtle thread along which vital currents pass. When this cord is cut, the astral body departs and the body dies. It is composed of 3 layers: A. Pranic sheath: More subtle than the food sheath but similar in form, it is often spoken of as the etheric double. It is made up of 72,000 nadis, or astral tubes, through which prana, or vital energy, flows.” 67
The astral body is also made up of a “mental sheath” and an “intellectual sheath”.
These nadis are important because the areas where they intersect are called “chakras”. According to Hindu teaching, there are 88,000 chakra sites, but the seven most important go up the spine, from the sacrum to the crown of the head, and each is represented by its own color. Chakra symbols are always drawn as round shapes as the word itself means “wheel”.
Kundalini is the mainstay of yoga
As the yoga disciplines (poses, breathing, meditation, purification, good deeds, correct eating, and more) are faithfully practiced, the kundalini spirit which lies dormant at the base of the spine can be awakened. Chris Lawson, in his excellent booklet Yoga and Christianity—Are They Compatible? quotes Hans-Ulrich Rieker, an authority on the occult: “Kundalini [is] the mainstay of all yoga practices.”68
The kundalini spirit/energy, which yoga teaches is within each of us, is always represented by a coiled serpent; it has to be one of the most frightening and dangerous aspects of yoga. As the person “clears” his chakras, the serpent is able to slither up the spine by means of an “astral tube or nadi”. With the serpent, the divine mother Shakti (the feminine latent energy at the base of spine), also rises up the spine, “giving an experience of union and liberation, re-enacting the sexual union of Shiva, [the major (hermaphrodite) Hindu deity and the third god in the Hindu trinity], and Shakti”.69
A regular contributor to the Yoga Journal magazine, Sally Kempton, says this of Shakti:
“True yogic transformation actually depends on your ability to find, feel, and harvest this subtle inner power. Not only that, the shakti that you kindle in your yoga practice can spill over and enliven every part of your life. What we don’t often realize is possible is dialogue. Words themselves are aspects of shakti, which is one reason why using a mantra can create such powerful results in your practice. But direct conversation is just as important.... Because the shakti is innately intelligent, she responds to suggestions and even to requests...Dialoguing with your shakti can take many forms. For instance, if there’s a question you need answered, you can bring the question into your heart and ask the shakti to give you an answer.
“Then you might pick up your pen and write whatever comes, letting your words flow spontaneously, as expressions of shakti. Or you can ask the question and then become attentive to the ways that answers come to you as you go about your daily life.”70
The yoga practitioner’s interaction with Shakti sounds very much like that of people who ask God what He wants to say, wait for “inspiration”, and write down what they think they hear.
George Feuerstein further explains kundalini, the serpent power that unites with Shakti: “Above all, the practitioner must never forget that the kundalini is goddess energy. In other words, it is inherently divine; only because of this is it capable of guiding him or her to enlightenment....Because of the divine nature of the kundalini, it can, strictly speaking, be neither coerced or controlled.”71
Kundalini can’t be controlled, but it certainly can control the practitioner. You may watch actual videos of Hindu devotees online: jerking, twitching, laughing/yelling uncontrollably, shaking, feeling as if they are burning, and so forth. A Hindu “spiritual master” Sri Chinmoy describes into what a person who has awakened this “serpent power” has tapped: “He has brought to the fore the hidden powers, the occult powers, within himself.”72
He further states:
“Here in the West [he taught in America for 43 years] there are many who feel that the powers of kundalini yoga are nothing but rank superstition. I wish to say that those who cherish this idea are totally mistaken. Even the genuine spiritual Masters have examined kundalini yoga and found in their own experiences the undeniable authenticity of its hidden occult powers.”73
Hindu swamis/gurus often issue warnings to the practitioner in regard to the possible dangers of waking up this serpent power. Descriptions of pain when the serpent enters this spinal “tube” have been documented.74
When this kundalini spirit reaches the crown, the “divine self” of the practitioner unites/yokes with the supreme Hindu neuter impersonal god consciousness, and the person is thus “enlightened” or “awakened” and is free from the misery of endless death and rebirth.75
Ellen White and yoga
Why are we paying so much attention to the mechanics of yoga in an article on Ellen White and the health message?
The answer is this: EGW’s health counsels echoed the beliefs and practices of yoga in significant ways. In fact, her health counsels resembled yoga far more than they reflected biblical teaching.
Pranayama is the yogic use of breathing techniques to control the prana, or vital force, the energy in the astral body, and to move it through the nadis (tubes).76 Remember that the places in the astral body where the most tubes intersect are considered to be concentrated centers of prana, or vital force (think of them as multiple freeway overpasses) and are named “chakras”, which means “wheel” in Sanskrit.77 The practitioner can control this “vital energy/force” by meditation and yoga to facilitate the upward movement of the coiled kundalini serpent.
“Breath is seen as the outward manifestation of prana, the vital force or energy that flows through the physical body but is actually in the astral body. By exercising control over breathing, you can learn to control the subtle energies within the body, and ultimately gain full control over the mind.”78
I took notice of all these mentions of “vital force” because EGW used those words many times in her writings:
“God endowed man with so great vital force that he has withstood the accumulation of disease brought upon the race in consequence of perverted habits, and has continued for 6,000 years.... If Adam, at his creation, had not been endowed with 20 times as much vital force as men now have, the race, with their present habits of living in violation of natural law, would have become extinct.... Man came from the hand of his Creator perfect and beautiful in form, and so filled with vital force that it was more than a thousand years before his corrupt appetite and passions, and general violations of physical law, were sensibly felt upon the race.”79
“But if the vital force is too rapidly exhausted, the nervous system borrows power for present use from its resources of strength...”80
Leaves From the Tree of Life is a current vegetarian cookbook written by two Adventist women, and it says: “Each person has been endowed with a measure of constitutional force, some with more, some with less. Very much depends on parents. Their physical condition, appetites and their mental and moral tendencies, are, to a greater degree reproduced in their children. Much can be done to preserve the vital force received. The vital force can be recklessly exhausted, or carefully preserved.”81
This book, which is published by an Adventist book publisher that also supplies educational services and materials for teachers, has Ellen White quotes throughout it. Interestingly enough, this book, along with other Adventist cookbooks and lifestyle manuals, is on the recommended reading list published on the website of the Hindu Temple of greater Cincinnati!
The above quotes mirror this message found in a book by a Hindu mystic: “Proper breathing exercises relax the whole body, strengthen the nervous system and conserve the vital force.”82 The term “vital force” is used six times on the page from which this statement was quoted.
Vital force is also a crucial factor in theosophical spirituality:
“This vital force or cosmic electric energy is inherently and throughout guided, automatically to us humans, by the mind and will of the cosmic entities from which it flows in emanational series—each unit in such series being what we call this, that, or some other force of nature.”83
In fact, EGW’s vital force was not a concept she received from God but was common in the nineteenth century. It was the force which controlled one’s life and had to be guarded and conserved. Ron Numbers commented on the fact that Ellen White’s “vital force” was a concept she learned from the practitioners of “vitalistic physiology” of her day:
“Ellen White’s sexual attitudes, as even her publishers recognized, were far from unique. In fact they rested squarely on the popular vitalistic physiology of Broussais that Sylvester Graham had been preaching since the early1830s. Puzzled by the organic processes that sustained life, the vitalists had invented a mysterious ‘vital force’ (or energy) that supposedly interacted with inanimate matter to produce the vital functions of the body.’ Even Elder John Loughborough defined it, calling vital force ‘that power placed in the human body, at its birth, which will enable the body, under favorable circumstances, to live to a certain age.’ To illustrate the concept of vital force, nineteenth century authors frequently compared it to capital in a bank account, gradually depleted over the years by repeated withdrawal.”84
Sylvester Graham taught that, “Like rich foods and drink, sex sapped man of his vital energy and caused physical and mental impairment.”85
Sexual activities deplete vital force
Remember that Graham had been influenced by eighteenth-century mystic Swedenborg and in turn influenced EGW. White, then, counseled her Adventist flock against expending their vital force by gratifying their animal passions either within marriage or in “secret habits”:
In An Appeal To Mothers, EGW wrote, “The practice of secret habits [masturbation] surely destroys the vital forces of the system....None can live when their vital energies are used up. They must die.”86
After EGW warned mothers about their children, she went on to put the fear of God into married couples:
“They have united themselves in marriage to the object of their choice, and therefore reason that marriage sanctifies the indulgence of the baser passions. Even men and women professing godliness give loose rein to their lustful passions, and have no thought that God holds them accountable for the expenditure of vital energy, which weakens their hold on life and enervates the entire system”.87
“It is not pure, holy love which leads the wife to gratify the animal propensities of her husband at the expense of health and life. If she possesses true love and wisdom, she will seek to divert his mind from the gratification of lustful passions to high and spiritual themes by dwelling upon interesting spiritual subjects.”88
Ellen White never defined exactly what constituted “excessive” regarding the frequency of sex in marriage, but, since she copied so freely from the various health reformers of her time, it would be reasonable to assume that she probably agreed with them on this subject, too. Sylvester Graham considered more than once a month to be excessive.89
Because the concept of an exhaustible “vital force” was common among the health practitioners of EGW’s day, one might dismiss the similarity of wording her writings shared with that of occult and new age writers. After all, how can her concern with preserving strength and health be related to yoga and pagan practices?
Even Adventists today admit that she was wrong in her teachings about masturbation and marital relations, and her book A Solemn Appeal has long been out of print. Nevertheless, her writings and beliefs about this subject exactly mirror that of Hindu-yogi teachings in her day, and generations of Adventists have lived with guilt and fear over God’s gift of marriage. The following is an excerpt from a book from the Yogi Publication Society in 1905:
“The Yogis possess great knowledge regarding the use and abuse of the reproductive principle in both sexes. Some hints of this esoteric knowledge have filtered out and have been used by Western writers on the subject, and much good has been accomplished in this way. In this little book we cannot do more than touch upon the subject, and omitting all except a bare mention of theory, we will give a practical breathing exercise whereby the student will be enabled to transmute the reproductive energy into vitality for the entire system, instead of dissipating and wasting it in lustful indulgences in or out of the marriage relations. The reproductive energy is creative energy, and may be taken up by the system and transmuted into strength and vitality, thus serving the purpose of regeneration instead of generation. If the young men of the Western world understood these underlying principles they would be saved much misery and unhappiness in after years, and would be stronger mentally, morally and physically.
“This transmutation of the reproductive energy gives great vitality to those practicing it. They will be filled with great vital force, which will radiate from them and will manifest in what has been called personal magnetism…. The greatest amount of vital force is concentrated in the smallest area.”90
One cannot escape the conclusion that EGW’s counsels on the preservation of vital force and the suppression of animal passions through ascetic practices and vegetarianism are the same teachings espoused by practitioners of Eastern meditation, yoga, the new age, Hinduism, and the occult. Significantly, these ideas are never taught in Scripture. In fact, Paul gives quite the opposite message concerning sex within marriage:
“The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:3-5).
Elllen White given green cord by spirit guide
We cannot conclude this article without a look at one of Ellen White’s strangest visions. In the book Early Writings Ellen White recounts a dream/vision she had around 1842 when she felt that the Spirit of the Lord had left her, and she thought she was “doomed”. She was 15 years old and had been too afraid to pray in public.91
Interestingly, Fawn Brodie writes in Spectrum magazine, “Importantly, it was her mother who attributed Ellen’s initial ‘fainting spell’, when she tried to pray in public for the first time, to ‘the wondrous power of God.’ Thus, the crippled child was supported in her pathology and singled out for greatness.”92
Ellen says that in her dream/vision, she was sitting in “abject despair and agony” when a person “of beautiful form and countenance” opened the door, inquiring if she wanted to see Jesus. After being told to bring with her all her possessions, she followed this “guide” as he led her up a “steep and frail stairway” where others, who of course fell off before reaching the door at the top of the stairs, were also ascending. The guide then opened the door, and she went in to visit Jesus, where she was at first afraid, then fell prostrate and while “lying helpless” had a vision of heaven. After a while, her strength returned, her “guide” opened the door, and they both left. Before she went back down the stairs, her guide handed her a coiled-up green cord with instructions to place it over her heart and keep it there, taking it away from her “bosom” to straighten it out whenever she wanted to see Jesus again. She then happily went back down the rickety stairs without her guide.93
Remembering that each chakra in Hinduism has a color, just guess what color the heart chakra is? That’s right—it is green.
While doing research for this article I found a most interesting book published in 1874 by a man who had gone through the “Great Disappointment”. It is a history of that time period and describes the aftermath of failed date-setting. A Miss Harmon (Ellen White’s maiden name) is first mentioned as confirming the “shut door” theory with her visions, and the author recounts that she “traveled from town to town, where she was strangely exercised in body and mind, usually talking in assemblies until nature was exhausted and then falling to the floor, unless caught by some one sitting near (we remember catching her twice to save her from falling upon the floor), remaining a considerable time in the mesmeric state, and afterwards, perhaps not until another meeting, she would relate the wonders which she claimed had been shown her in spirit…”94
The author, Mr. Wellcome, describes her condemnation of those Millerites who had admitted that they were wrong about the date-setting and the despair of these same people when Ellen claimed she “saw” that their names had been blotted out of the Book of Life.95 Later Mr. Wellcome describes her as “a native of Portland (Maine), and a wonderful fanatic and trance medium, as was supposed by those not under her influence...In her testimony in meetings she would speak with great vehemence and rapidity until falling down...We saw her at Poland, Portland, Topsham, and Brunswick during the beginning of this career.”96 Each time the author heard her she would confirm that God had shown her the loss of salvation for those Millerites who had admitted they had been in error about date-setting for Christ’s return. He describes her both as a “devout young medium”97 and being in a “clairvoyant state.”98
What shall we say?
The Adventist health message, which Adventists internally call the “right arm of the gospel”, is the organization’s primary public relations and proselytizing tool. If one looks closely at this message, however, it becomes clear that it is not a message taught in the Bible.
The Bible never suggests that the indwelling Holy Spirit resides in the neurons of our frontal lobes. It does say, though, that we are born dead in sin, by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3), and when we believe, we pass from death to life (Jn. 5:24). Moreover, Romans 8:16 says that the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God when we believe in the Lord Jesus. This new birth does make it possible for us to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind(s)” (Rom. 12:2), and as the Holy Spirit applies God’s word to our lives, we are convicted of truth and reality. We learn to submit to Him and to trust Him in deeper ways.
The Adventist prophetess whose writings have defined Adventist theology claimed visions from God—yet those visions often did not teach nor support biblical truth. Instead, they taught practices and beliefs that were and still are taught by practitioners of paganism, Eastern religions, and the new age.
Vegetarianism and ascetic self-deprivation have no effect on our flesh; they do nothing to subdue our desires. Paul says,
“If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23).
Instead of worshipping “lord Krishna” and getting in touch with occult kundalini serpent powers, we Christians worship the Lord Jesus who has crushed the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Instead of yoking with an occult “god force”, we want to take Christ’s yoke upon us (Matt. 11:29). Instead of our bodies and the universe being run on prana or vital force, we need to remember this: “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and He holds all things together (Col. 1: 17). Instead of focusing on ourselves for divinity, we remember that the word says our hearts are desperately wicked and look, not inward, but outward to our Savior. Instead of “purifying” ourselves with food choices, we remember that Christ has told us that nothing we eat makes us unclean (Mk. 7:17-23). Instead of the idea that we have control over God, we remember that He is all-powerful, and no food that we eat or any physical or mental impairment we may have is able to block Him from us!
Finally, we need to decide whether or not what we have been taught in the past really came from God.†
Copyright 2015 Life Assurance Ministries, Inc., Camp Verde, Arizona, USA. All rights reserved. Revised May 20, 2015. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
S P R I N G • 2 0 1 5
VOLUME 16, ISSUE 1
Cheryl Granger spent all of her school years in Adventist schools and graduated from Loma Linda University with a B.S. in occupational therapy. A life-long, sincere believer in Ellen White (EGW), Cheryl eventually read and studied the book of Hebrews and found it contradicted the investigative judgment (IJ). She had been taught to “stand alone on the Word of God”, so she ran with her IJ anxiety to the good news of the biblical gospel, wondering how a prophetess of God did not know what Hebrews said. Cheryl and her husband Woody have five children and nine grandchildren between them, and they have found great joy in working with Life Assurance Ministries and Former Adventist Fellowship, getting the good news of the gospel to all who are hungry for it.