University student practices alternative faith

BY CALIN POTAMI
FAITH EDITOR

The Oneness Movement is a meditation-based faith tradition which began in India in the 1980s. To graduate student Gloria Elizondo, it acts as a way to experience life to its fullest.
“It is faith, but not religion,” she said. “It’s a spiritual way to get close to whatever you believe in.”
Sri Amma Bhagavan, the name given to the couple who started the movement, created “oneness” as a way to turn people away from suffering and toward happiness by encouraging them to participate in the “Divine,” or whatever deity one believes in. It is loosely based in the Hindu tradition, but focuses on rejecting the structure of organized religion to develop a personalized relationship with spirituality. For Elizondo, this meant asking questions.
“My family is Catholic,” Elizondo said, “but I needed freedom to live, to ask and to discover. [Oneness] teaches you to accept yourself – your past, future, body, emotions and suffering. The only rule is don’t hurt yourself or others.”
The concept of “deeksha” plays a significant role in Oneness. This term refers to energy that comes directly from a divine source but flows through believers. Meditation guides share deeksha by laying hands upon the heads of followers and asking the Divine to send deeksha through them. When one grows closer to the Divine, deeksha increases within him or her.
Elizondo leads three different 15-person meditation groups in her community. The sessions take around two hours and participants sit on the floor surrounded by incense and candles. Sometimes they recite mantras which “connect the mind to the soul,” or they sing and listen to spiritual music. The meditation leader then speaks about a specific topic, such as anxiety, acceptance, relationships or God’s identity. Groups may also engage in other activities, such as writing or drawing.
She became interested in this movement after embarking upon a spiritual cruise to India with her aunt. The cruise offered several classes on meditation and spirituality, and initially Elizondo, who was an atheist at the time, thought it was strange. However, by the second week, the movement’s emphasis on living in the present and enjoying life had her interest.
“I realized that this was the thing I had been looking for,” she said.
The movement focuses on feeling and appreciating the constant presence of God – or any greater power – in every experience, even if it is painful.
“It’s about how to control your mind instead of letting your mind control you,” she said. “If you want to live, you need to experience everything.”
Elizondo says that the mission of Oneness, like any faith tradition, is to bring followers closer to the Divine. The movement encourages people build a personal relationship with their gods.
“Give him a name, talk to him, hold his hand, dance with him,” she said.
Elizondo says that since she has adopted this mindset, her perception has changed.
“I feel more connected to the present now … I’m here, and that’s what matters,” she said. Now, every class brings “a new great experience.”
“To see is to be set free,” Elizondo said.

Contact the writer:
calin.potami@scranton.edu

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