Why would a multiple decade Christian become a resolute Hindu? I mean, why not after decades, just stay in my birth religion? A fear on some level that maybe it is true? That maybe Christianity is the only path to God and if I don’t follow exactly what The Bible says, I will burn in Hell forever. Or perhaps passive acceptance, as in I know there is something more but just where is it?
Growing up in the Bible Belt, Christianity was the be all and end all of religion. Society in general was designed around biblical principles. Stores were not opened on Sunday. Maybe a pharmacist would be on call in case of emergencies and one could usually find an open gas station, but commerce as we know it today in capitalist America was, non-existent.
The small town where I lived typified much of America during the time. With one of my parents a stanch Baptist, who was herself reared by her minister grandparents, and the other a Methodist but who clearly did not bound himself by religious dogma, they had agreed before my birth that regarding “church matters”, mom would take charge.
Actually Mom had a comparatively easy job since all of society as we knew it was structured around the laws of ancient Judea from whence came The Bible. The entire social fabric could in one way or another be traced back to that book. From slavery (supported by many verses in the Christian Bible) to the long hours we were required to sit in church every Sunday, to the length of our hair. Most of the people in our small southern town took the bible literally and as having been divinely inspired and that meant it was not to be questioned. To do so was akin to blasphemy.
When I attended Catholic school, I was told by the nuns that the Roman Catholic church was the one true church founded by Christ Jesus. Being a seeker before the days of Google and finger-tip information, I researched that statement within the bounds of availability, The World Book Encyclopedia. According to that reference the nuns were correct. I there upon decided that if this is what Christ founded then why aren’t we all Catholic? I mean Christ being the only way to God, it only made sense. For years afterwards I followed Catholicism.
What made sense to me was Purgatory. Those who die in the state of mortal sin go to Hell. Those in the state of venial sin go to Purgatory, do penance and eventually get redeemed into Heaven. It made more sense than the “absolute” way of the evangelical protestants. Additionally, the aspect of various saints who had performed miracles and could be called upon to intercede on our behalf for God’s assistance in special matters made it even more reasonable that this was if not the truth, then pretty close.
There was also Mother Mary who could be called upon to intercede if our own prayers needed some “boosting”. I am convinced beyond doubt that there were occasions where were it not for her assistance I would have not made it through certain situations. Of course the protestants called this blasphemy and said we were praying to Mary and the saints which isn’t true but the misinformation has gone on for centuries and I suppose it will continue.At mass, I loved watching the priest at the alter as he offered up the host which became God as he said his invocations. The host, when he raised it above his head, lifting it to Heaven was bread and came down as God. I loved the ritual of the mass. You could sense something mystical happening. In the protestant church one basically sat for several hours each Sunday and got “scolded” for previous sins and admonished against those not yet committed. In all fairness however there were also many teaching sessions and praise and thanksgiving for all God’s blessings.
Although Catholicism was close to what I longed for, there was still something felt missing. I couldn’t pin point it but my spirit discerned a lacking. The mass itself was fulfilling but once over it seemed to just leave nothing else.
Throughout my various periods of seeking, and in trying to bring Catholicism “alive”, I built a home alter, posted pictures of saints and some of Jesus performing miracles, yet something was wanting. I still felt spiritually incomplete. It seemed that a connection to God was always just out of reach. This was exacerbated by the sense of emptiness I felt as I tried to bring the alter to life. I prayed at it, meditated did rosary’s and novenas, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t connecting to God, or at least no more than when I prayed elsewhere.
Eventually, to satisfy my curiosity about an age old practice that I felt offered more than meets the western eye, I enrolled in a yoga class. As the season progressed, I yearned to learn more about the spiritual aspects of this practice in which I was now indulging. I love yoga and I have to laugh at my total ignorance regarding its origins. The more I researched, the more I encountered information about Hinduism. I then realized with a resounding “DUH” that yoga came from Hinduism – India! I began reading everything I could find on every aspect of Hinduism. The
more I learned, the more I longed to know. I saw how yoga postures or asanas were just the very surface of what yoga actually is and how it leads one eventually to self-realization, God realization and even, probably over several lifetimes, moksha.
I had actually started meditating years prior after reading the book Metaphysical Meditations by Paramahansa Yogananda. That was my first experience with feeling that I had actually transcended the here and now. I felt the very presence of a higher power and knew it was drawing me closer to something spiritual; of what, I was not sure but I got an intense feeling of closeness to God. For a while, I attended a New Age Self-realization Church, Ananda. Although they taught meditation, yoga, as in (all aspects) and other dharma still, there too, something was wanting…. The experience did draw me closer to what I sought though and I found myself really enjoying the teaching aspects. I am very grateful for the great introduction to dharma I learned from them.
After a retreat at their center in CA. I returned home with an awareness that my life long innate convictions were those espoused in Hinduism.
I completely believed in reincarnation and on some deep level had done so before I even knew what it was called. As for karma, I fully trusted that too, and was surprised to know that there were so many kinds. Karma is lightly touched upon in Christianity when Jesus said: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7 KJV). By the time in life I got to this aspect of discovery, I had long sinc
e realized that Christianity was a fine religion on a basic level, but Eastern religions in general and Hinduism in particular really went so much deeper, to a depth that enveloped me. For instance I wondered even as a child how could someone reap all of their sowings if they died before hand. Hinduism answers that with the theory of reincarnation and the three kinds of karma. It also explains group, national and family karma, and that with which we are most familiar, individual.
While on retreat one of the intentions I put forth was discernment to know my path. As I processed the information that had been presented to me, I realized that I needed one more aspect in order to feel that I was really “at home” spiritually. I would discover that with my first visit to a Hindu temple.
I went into Shiva Durga Temple in Sunnyvale, CA not knowing at all what to expect. I had heard rumors that westerners were not encouraged to visit or that worse, we would be asked to leave upon entry. It was a Saturday, I was headed home after a Baptist church picnic when I decided to visit. It is a small temple and I certainly didn’t want to be conspicuous but I couldn’t make myself invisible. So, after bowing before the Gods and positioning myself comfortably to meditate I was suddenly engulfed in a most uplifting and joyful tranquility. It was a peace that I could not recall ever having before. Meditation did not come easily for I was too mesmerized by my surroundings to concentrate. The image of Lord Shiva seemed to be calling me. I had been to some wonderful sustangs before with a Vishnu group (JKYog). I was familiar with Lords Krishna, Vishnu and Shiva. I had also been reading the Bhagavad-Gita. So I was not a complete stranger to all aspects of temple protocol.
I wanted to laugh because I actually felt rapturous. Instead, I allowed my intellect to take over and decided that this was all my imagination and I should just leave and return another time when mind was more rational. I had yet to learn the deeper meanings of such words as darshan or sakti which I absorbed from Lord Shiva that day.
A few days later I revisited the temple with full expectations of feeling nothing other than the sensation of simply being in another physical location. It happened again, the spiritual euphoria. Then with several subsequent visits I began to accept that the Shiva Sakti pervaded that temple and I was blessed to be allowed to receive it. I began seeking God and God found me.