My younger sister, Pelly, has terminal cancer. She lost her faith in Mormonism following a mission where she heard several contacts relate their search for God. These good people had investigated many churches, prayed, and were miraculously guided to the right church. The problem for Pelly was—the church to which these sincere people were led and which gave them peace wasn’t the one she represented. A bad marriage finished her faith in our family religion.
Now that she is facing death, Pelly seeks belief in some kind of afterlife. She has sought solace with Catholic nuns, from Tibetan chants, and through Zen meditation. Pelly calls to discuss religious philosophy. She trusts me not to try to talk her into our childhood faith. I have no answers, but I’m open to any theory that provides comfort.
Because she’s interested in the possibility of reincarnation, I sent Pelly a copy of a book I’d just started reading, The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. She called a few days after receiving her book. She’d read the entire 400 pages. I agreed with my sister that reincarnation sounds more fair than Mormonism— having multiple lifetimes in which to work out our salvation rather than one strike, you’re out for the rest of eternity.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t have kept reading the book if my sister hadn’t wanted to discuss it with me. Yogananda strikes me as a bit self-absorbed—a characteristic I find in the writings of most charismatic religious leaders, including Joseph Smith. Since I’m turned off by Fast & Testimony meeting accounts of miraculous finding of car keys following prayer, I was not enthralled with Yogananda’s accounts of Hindu gurus who materialize and disappear at will—or predict future events with 100% accuracy.
As I read, I found several Hindu beliefs similar to the teachings of Joseph Smith: the Divine Mother, an ancient pure language, and avatars who transcend death and remain on earth to bring about eternal purposes. The subordination of wives to husbands is an off-putting similarity.
I’m sure the meditation and slow breathing techniques taught in this book will help Pelly feet better, but they will likely not cure her disease—just as Mormon priesthood blessings do not always cure disease and save lives. I don’t know how far Pelly will go into Hinduism, but the idea of being reborn after this life gives her peace. Since she can’t believe in a heaven where she will keep her own identity, the idea of at least keeping karma, the effects of the good she has accomplished in this life, helps her accept its near end.