I was 27 years old, and what I remember is that everyone in my monastic community, except my younger Indian monk-friend, Kabir, believed that saints could get stigmata–manifest the wounds of Christ crucified on their bodies. My other monk-friend, Brahmachari Jake, who worked in the ashram gardens and an ex-Catholic like me, snickered and said, “Don’t you know that a true saint has the power to work out on their own body the ailments of others?” My brother monk, Kabir, replied in a irritated voice, “Jake, stigmata only happens to Catholics, not to Hindus or yogis”.
Kabir’s comment provoked my wonder. Why don’t Hindus or yogis get the stigmata?
That evening after meditation, I grabbed off my bookshelf a dog-eared, marked-up copy of Autobiography of a Yogi and turned to Chapter 39 Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist. I read about Parmahanasa Yogananda’s his visit in 1935 with Neumann. Apparently every Friday, since 1926, she experienced the stigmata: blood oozed from wounds on her head, breast, hands, and feet. Her younger brother Ferdinand, told Yogananda that Therese had the power, through prayer, of working out on her own body the ailments of others.1
I read dozens of biographies (mostly hagiographies) of bleeding, stigmatic saints. My “research” convinced me stigmata was a miraculous sign of a true saint. (The Mt. Washington Monks’ Library contained dozens books on Catholic saints, stigmatists St. Francis, Padre Pio, Therese Neumann, and Catherine of Siena–all Catholics. My monastic order, it seemed, was as much Catholic as Hindu).
As a former Catholic-sinner, I’d “progressed” to newer-age notions of Hindu-karma. [Read my post From Christian-Catholic to Hindu-Yogic God].
In Hindu-Yoga tradition, a guru-saint takes on the karma (disease or sins) of her disciples to speed the devotee’s spiritual evolution. The guru willingly takes on the burden of another soul’s karma out of her compassion and desire to spiritually liberate the disciple.
Last week while listening to a radio show I was reminded of the banter above with Kabir and of the Christian-Hindu-Yoga rationalizations in the ashram for why a perfected, divine master would get physically sick.
Why don’t Hindus get the stigmata? Probably religiously interpreted states of consciousness are culturally driven. Christian saints may get the wounds of crucified Christ on their body. Whereas, Hindu tradition holds that yogi Siddhas (liberated, divine humans) are able to enter the bodies of others. Christians may receive into their own body the stigmatic body of Christ. Whereas, Hindu-Siddhas take possession of other beings bodies. Both, yogi Siddhas and Catholic stigmatists only get sick to heal others and to liberate a devoted flock of followers.
In East and in West, religious interpretations of normal and abnormal phenomenon can be down-right strange.
1 Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist, Chapter 39, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda