I wonder why spiritual masters occasionally contradict one another. I don’t mean ambiguous teachings that can be understood in several ways, but obvious contradictions that seemingly can’t be reconciled. E.g. some Christian mystics agree there is an eternal hell. They say they saw it and were told by Jesus (in person) that hell will last forever. I know Yogananda and many oriental masters would not believe in the eternity of hell. How can one know which teaching is the right one?
Yes, it can be confusing when saintly people contradict one another. We need to keep in mind, however, that not all saintly people who make these statements have attained the highest level of wisdom. Until one has reached that level, misunderstanding is possible.
Those who are widely acknowledged to have attained the highest — for example, Buddha, Jesus, and Krishna — do not disagree with one another (although their followers often do). They do, however, emphasize different aspects of Truth, according to the needs of the people whom they were teaching. One great teacher might not even have mentioned an aspect that another one emphasized strongly. But they do not contradict one another.
Of course, most of us cannot know which teacher has attained the highest and which has not. Don’t worry about it; the important thing is to know what path is yours. Other paths will be different in some ways, perhaps even contradictory to your path. But if you follow your path loyally, the spiritual magnetism that you generate will draw God’s grace to take you forward in the way that you need to go.
I recall the story of a student who confronted a prominent spiritual teacher after that teacher’s class, saying, “You said _______. That’s not what my guru said.” I’ve always loved the teacher’s reply: “When you have committed to a guru and you’re hearing something that contradicts what your guru tells you, do this:” — and he smiled as he covered both his ears with his hands.
In short, find your own path, follow it with full energy, and leave the rest to God and Guru.