My question is motivated a recent realization of a concrete example.
In Tibetan Buddhism there is a spiritual practice known as Tummo. According to Wikipedia:
Tummo is also a tantric practice for inner heat, developed around the concept of the female deity. It is found in the Six Dharmas of Naropa, Lamdre, Kalachakra. and Anuyoga teachings of Vajrayana. The purpose of tummo is to gain control over body processes during the completion stage of 'highest yoga tantra' (Anuttarayoga Tantra) or Anuyoga.
Inner heat (gtum mo, skt. \chandali, literally meaning "fierce, hot or savage woman") practice is the foundation for the rest of the six dharmas and is the first of the six dharmas. This practice works with the subtle body (also known as the vajra-body) system of channels (nadis), winds (lung, vayu), drops (bindus) and chakras. Through inner heat, the vital winds are caused to enter into the central channel (avadhuti), causing the four blisses or joys which is then unified with the wisdom that understands emptiness.
This practice is a kind of pranayama, that generally involves sitting with a straight back, visualizing the channels, holding the breath deep in the abdomen for extended periods (called "vase breath", kumbhaka), then applying visualization of a fiery short stroke AH syllable on the navel. This practice leads the vitals winds into the central channel, where they are said to melt the drops (bindus, which are tiny spheres of subtle energy) causing great bliss. This powerful bliss experience "is said to constitute a similitude of the actual bliss experienced in spiritual awakening (byang chub, bodhi)."
According to Glenn Mullin, tantric scriptures state that the tantric bliss experienced in this practice is "a hundred times more intense than ordinary sexual orgasm, [and] gives rise to a special state of consciousness." This ecstatic state of mind is then used to contemplate emptiness. This "ecstasy conjoined with (the wisdom of) emptiness" is what is referred to as Mahamudra ('Great Seal').
Tilopa's verses of the six dharmas briefly outlines the practice as follows:
The yogic body, a collection of energy channels, coarse and subtle, possessing the energy fields, is to be brought under control. The method begins with the physical exercises. The vital airs [i.e., energies] are drawn in, filled, retained and dissolved. There are the two side channels, the central channel avadhuti, and the four chakras. Flames rise from the chandali fire at the navel. A stream of nectar drips down from the syllable HAM at the crown, invoking the four joys. There are four results, like that similar to the cause, and six exercises that expand them.
Notice the emphasized sentence: A stream of nectar drips down from the syllable HAM at the crown, invoking the four joys. I couldn't help but notice a striking similarity between this description and the way some Christians describe the ecstatic experience of "the anointing of the Holy Spirit" being poured over their heads. Below some examples:
[blog post extract]
Now I know some people reading this may not have experienced one of those beautifully sweet times when the Holy Spirit broods over worship. He’s light permeating the darkest recesses of your soul, warm oil anointing your head, and love overflowing your heart. No words fully describe the naked encounter of your person with the person of the Holy Spirit.
[comment by one of the readers]
Dan, Thank you for all you have written here. I teach Bible students, and have been sharing some written testimonies with them of moments when the anointing or presence of the Holy Spirit has been experienced by believers as like warm oil or honey falling on the head physically. So I am engaged with your phrase “warm oil anointing your head”. May I ask: Are you saying you have felt the Holy Spirit as if like oil poured physically on your head? Do you know others who speak this way about feeling the Holy Spirit as if He can sometimes be physically felt like warm oil? It would help me in my work to learn more about what you write here. Best, Steve Miller, Canterbury, UK
(source) (blog post + comments)
[...] and I felt the anointing, I felt like warm oil that just went from my head all the way down to my body, all the way down my legs, it was just like warm oil, and all of a sudden I had waves and waves of pure joy just bubbling out of me [...]
(source) (video + timestamp)
[...] as soon as I said it I got the most amazing feeling [...] it was like someone pouring oil or warm honey from the top of my head and it just sort of slowly moved down my body, and as it was going down I just felt the warmth, just pure love, pure joy, pure peace. I'd never felt it [...]
(source) (video + timestamp)
[...] when I felt that sun on the back of my head it was nothing but joy, [...] and I felt the oil all over the top of my head and going down my neck and my shoulders, and I literally remember taking my hand and, like, feeling, like making sure ... it literally felt like there was physical oil on me, that's how it felt, so warm, and it was like it was pouring all over the top of my head, and I kid you guys not, in my whole 31 years of life, I never experienced anything like that. And, I just get emotional thinking about it [...]
(source) (video + timestamp)
How do Christians view and explain these similarities?
I see some possibilities:
- Tibetan Buddhism's interpretation is right, and Christians who have reported the "anointing" experience were unknowingly tapping into their subtle body (also known as the vajra-body) system of channels (nadis), winds (lung, vayu), drops (bindus) and chakras.
- Christianity's interpretation is right, and Tibetan Buddhists have been unknowingly experiencing the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
- Both interpretations are wrong, and there is a common neurophysiological explanation for these similar experiences across different religions.
- Some other explanation.
Of course, one could generalize this discussion to any other spiritual experiences that are similarly described across different religions (experiences of joy, love, etc.)
- How do Christians discern genuine spiritual experiences from hallucinations?
- How do Christians approach the evangelization of individuals who have had profound spiritual experiences in other religions?
- What would Christians sympathetic to Holy Spirit 'speaking in tongues' today say about such a practice going on in non-Christian religions?