Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889 – c. 1929) was born in Northern India and converted to Christianity in his teens. He sought a distinctly Indian expression of his faith, refusing to adopt a culturally “Western” form of Christianity. He led an itinerant life of voluntary poverty—“sadhu” is a Hindu term for ascetic holy man. He spoke widely in Europe, the Orient, and the U.S. Singh also made frequent trips to Tibet, a closed Buddhist society hostile to Christianity, and it was during one of these that he disappeared, never to be seen again. The passage below was recorded in the 1920s, but the sadhu’s warnings concerning the dangers of materialism on Christianity in the West are still remarkably relevant.
What homesickness I had in Europe! I felt like a bird in a cage. The whole atmosphere was heavy for me. . . . It was not the physical atmosphere that oppressed me, but the spiritual atmosphere.
. . . India is more and more seeking the Master’s truth. The West is in danger of becoming more and more indifferent. And yet the West owes so many of its blessings to Christianity. At one time the ostrich could fly, but because the ostrich stopped using its wings, it became unable to fly. So are the people of Europe and America—they do not appreciate the faith of their forebears and are fast losing it.
The West is like Judas Iscariot, who ate with Yesu, only to later deny him. The West ought to fear the fate of Judas, lest it hang itself on the tree of learning. You have so many privileges. We in the East have to give up many things when we become Christians. For you, it is not so. Therefore be careful that you don’t lose your only chance for eternal happiness. I am reminded of the hunter who was pursued by a tiger. He had no fear because his hut was nearby and he was sure he had the key in his pocket. On reaching it, however, the key was gone, and although there was only the thickness of the door between him and safety, he was lost.
Once, when I was in the Himalayas I was sitting on the bank of a river; I drew out of the river a beautiful, hard, round stone and smashed it. The inside was quite dry. The stone had been lying a long time in the water, but the water had not penetrated the stone. It is just like that with the “Christian” people of the West. They have for centuries been surrounded by Christianity, entirely steeped in its blessings, but the Master’s truth has not penetrated them. . . . Materialism and intellectualism have made their hearts hard. So I am not surprised that many people in the West do not understand what Christianity really is.
. . . In America, for example, one sees a good deal of Christianity, but it does not address the spiritual needs of the people. Just as salty seawater cannot quench thirst, much of American religion cannot satisfy a spiritually thirsty person because it is saturated with materialism.
The Master’s words, “Come unto me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest,” are true as regards the East, but I think that for America, he would say, “Come unto me all who are heavy gold-laden and I will give you rest.”
. . . Although America is a “Christian” nation and there are many sincere Christians in America, the majority of the people there have no faith. There, where it is so easy to have religion, where religion is offered on every side and no one is persecuted for their [sic] beliefs, life should be peaceful. Instead, there is a mad rush and hustle and bustle after money and comfort and pleasure. In India, many Christians suffer bitter persecution but continue to find happiness in their new faith. Because it is so easy to have faith in America, people do not appreciate what a comfort there is in faith.1
1 Sundar Singh, Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sundar Singh, ed. Kim Comer (Farmington, PA: Plough Publishing House, 2000), 182-185.