I was born into a Brahman family a few decades ago, one of the most orthodox castes of Hinduism in India. My parents and grandparents, who adhered to high moral standards, raised me during my childhood. As the first grandson born to my loving grandparents, I was their favorite and had the privilege of visiting several sacred Hindu places and participating in rituals with them. My grandparents followed a strictly orthodox lifestyle. They worshipped gods, fasted, recited slokas (Sanskrit poems) every day by the family altar, visited the Hindu temple, and performed temple rituals every week.
My parents were also religious and always used good reasoning to expose why rituals were performed before performing them. Because of this, I performed rituals with more zeal. When I had no clue why certain things were done, I convinced myself they were done for good reasons.
As Hindus, we believed in several gods, and our ultimate objective was to realize unification with “Para-Brahma,” the godhead. Hinduism subscribes to several ways to reach this objective, which fall under four broad categories: Rajah Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Guyana Yoga. Rajah Yoga covers all mental exercises, like meditation, contemplation, chanting, and Hata Yoga (the exercise Yoga). Bakthi is the devotion to either concepts or idols. Karma Yoga teaches one to focus on the duties of one’s life. And Guyana Yoga prescribes to knowledge.
None of these methods opposed each other. They simply were the many ways one could choose to reach his final objective. Depending on the way one chooses, his final destination is either Moksha, Samathi, Brahman, Mukti, self realization, pure consciousness, etc. Thus, Hinduism is both pluralistic and pantheistic. As I entered my teens, my brother and I had to participate in “Upanayanam,” a ceremony that started the second phase of life: bachelorhood. Every Brahman male had to go through this ceremony before marriage. This phase of life was to be dedicated to godly pursuits. We were taught to follow several ritualistic practices to aid us. We performed ritual chanting and special breathing exercises, recited secret mantras hundreds of times, and worshipped the sun god every day in the morning and evening as a part of a worship called “Sandya Vandanam.” We performed rituals before and after eating, wore sacred marks on our foreheads, and wore a sacred thread. My entire life-style changed considerably in order to keep up with the rituals. In spite of the monotony, the life-style was fascinating, because I felt I was on the road to self-realization. This continued for about four years.
Slowly, my life leveled out, but, still, I had not attained “Brahman” (the universal godhead/Spirit). Living in India, I observed others who had experienced Upanayanam several years before I did, such as my father, grandfather, uncles, temple priests, and other Brahmans. To my surprise, they were in no way closer than I was to the state of self-realization, which we were all supposed to attain. This discouraged me. But instead of giving up, I became more serious about my pursuit, because I believed that Brahman did exist. Perhaps the problem was with the method that I adopted or perhaps I was not steadfast enough. For some reason, about two years after my Upanayanam, the rituals, the underlying purpose behind them, and my eagerness to reach self-realization thrust me into a spiritual pilgrimage. I seriously searched for the answer in achieving Brahman.
For years, I pursued the methods I learned, without compromising common sense. But when I finally looked at myself, I found only deep emptiness! (Ending my life at that point seemed the greatest suggestion my rational mind could think of.) But a terrifying dream about death changed my thinking overnight. I didn’t want to die, I wanted to live. I felt if I had to live, I must have a purpose. And if there was a purpose for my life, I wanted to find it. I believed that when I reached the state of complete self-realization, I would live out the answer, and my living would reflect my purpose in life.
Being the sole authority of my life, I granted myself an entire lifetime to discover its purpose. This time I decided to be sincere in my efforts and use common sense in this pursuit. I was willing to be open to other options. I applied one principle to this quest: I should put more effort into it. After all, it only seemed logical that if I wanted something, I must work for it. If what I wanted was worth a lot, it would require proportional effort.
I did not isolate myself from my family and friends during this process. I helped others when I chose to and often went out of my way. I respected my parents and other elders when they didn’t interfere with my, admittedly, childish objectives. I was not a bad person in my own eyes. Even if I did bad things, the good always seemed to more than compensate for the bad. This made me feel good about myself. Several people thought that I was a wonderful person, and this mattered to me a lot. I wanted to be liked by everyone to dull the blows of the terrible inner emptiness. Though I felt noble by serving others, it did not fill my inner loneliness. Nonetheless, for the next few years, I spent several dedicated hours each day towards understanding the purpose of my life.
My family was closely knit; my uncles and grandparents played a major role in several family matters. The issue that concerned them most was my education. In order to help me focus on my high school studies in Madras, India, my uncle decided to enroll me in a transcendental meditation class. After a few weeks, I experienced several seemingly good effects: I slept for only two to three hours a day and felt fresh throughout the day; my pulse rate went down to the fifties; I seemed to have more energy, and I was able to spend more time studying. While I liked the effects, the emptiness I felt inside remained the same. I hoped that the emptiness would disappear after some time, but instead, the meditation started unraveling its side effects: vibrations in my body and restlessness.
I was aware that some people who practiced transcendental meditation wound up losing their sanity. I knew I had to stop right away. There were other ways to self-realization; so I switched to simplified Kundalini Yoga (SKY), which seemingly had the answers. I also took up martial arts class after being impressed by the peaceful looking masters in the movies. It seemed they knew the purpose of life. I was serious about both SKY and martial arts and received my black belt and also took a course to teach SKY.
My typical morning would begin at 3:00 A.M. For the next four to five hours I would meditate, perform Yoga, work out briefly, then go to martial arts class. This was my routine 5 to 6 days a week for almost 4 years. But to my sadness and surprise, I was not closer to filling the emptiness inside me. Nevertheless, I still believed I was on the right track, so I kept going. I even taught my parents some yoga and meditation. I wanted them to be able to reach “Para-Brahma” if I happened to get there. I withheld my latest methods from my parents until I was convinced the methods would do no harm, then I would pass them on. I never mentioned to my family my internal quest. They simply observed me involved in yoga, meditation, and martial arts and probably assumed that these were a part of growing up. I wish now that I had told them about my internal struggle.
Being rooted in Indian (or Hindu) methods, trying to look for the solution in Christianity was totally out of the question. I thought many Christians were hypocrites who conveniently changed their belief system to accommodate anything they wanted to do. In fact, a lot of my friends perceived Christians in India as people without conscience, mostly because of the British rule in India. While the British ruled India for 200 years, we did not hear a single good story about the Christian faith.
In 1991, I moved to Chicago to pursue a master’s program in computer science at Northern Illinois University (NIU). I was 21 years old, and I brought my spiritual emptiness along. By this time, I was accustomed to failures in my pilgrimage and was almost convinced I could spend a few more years in my spiritual quest and it would have got me nowhere. But not quite. I decided to turn to the Vedas, the ancient Hindu scriptures for answers. I remember my mother had said to me that our family was to follow the Rig Veda, so I found some books in a library that explained the Rig Vedas. They made no sense to me. One particular book, however, was deep and fascinating and supposedly simplified the Vedas. The author elaborated on the fundamental concepts of Hinduism. Yet, he never answered my deepest question.
So, I turned to science for my answer. I became interested in some of the best sellers on quantum theory, written by an Indian doctor. The author elaborated the seeming truths of the universe from a Hindu perspective. His books caught my attention, and I spent several months reading them. He even used his experience from transcendental meditation to explain several concepts. I thought I had missed out on these teachings during my meditation days. Nevertheless, I was terrified by the recollection of the side effects of transcendental meditation and never wanted to try it again. The author claimed he enabled cancer patients to respond well to chemotherapy by removing their guilt from their minds. He established the connection between mind, body, and the presence of intelligence in every cell of the body. There were many more things he claimed to be true.
The only thing I really learned from his books was that guilt would catch up with us someday, somehow before we died. This is simply the law of Karma. I knew I had done at least a few things wrong in my life. But whenever they bothered me, I just shut them out. On the other hand, I thought, “What if there are no absolute standards for right and wrong? Or what if I could rationalize my guilt by blaming my wrongdoing on my circumstances, my childhood, peer pressure, or on something else? Then I need not be guilty of anything.” It seemed like a great idea but never seemed to work. I believed there must be some absolute standard somewhere. But even so, guilt was not the major issue in my life then. Self-realization was!
Since I could not find any answer to convince me of the truth, I sometimes challenged my friends with the question, “What is the purpose of your life?” It struck some like a lightning bolt. Some gave answers, but usually, I quickly discounted them as false. I was surprised that nobody gave an answer that made me even consider his or her reason. Deep inside I longed to reach the end of my quest.
It was in 1991 when I happened to meet Sophia. She was a Christian from India. We worked together in the computer lab at NIU and became good friends in a short time. Sometimes, during casual conversation, our difference in religious beliefs surfaced. Once I asked her my favorite question, “What is the purpose of your life?”. “To glorify God,” she replied, sincerely and casually, as if it was so simple. I was astonished! My ego was so big, I ignored her answer and asked more questions to cover up my surprise.
That day, deep inside me, I felt a heavy jolt. What Sophia said seemed plausible. Maybe there really was a God, external to me, who knew everything, including my emptiness and the reason why I exist. But I was so caught up with self-realization, I had no concept of an external God, separate from me. To glorify this God would mean to live a life worthy of the reason I exist. I thought, “Is it possible it’s so simple I’ve missed it?” I had heard a few noble answers to my question “What is the purpose of your life?”, such as “to help others,” “to serve my family,” “to become rich and give to the poor,” and a few others. But I knew deep within me that even when I did such acts of kindness, the motive was to demonstrate to others that I was good, so I could feel good about myself. Thus, my sacrificial services were selfish.
A multitude of questions and thoughts welled up within me. How could a simple religion like Christianity with one God so easily explain everything, while Hinduism, the ancient religion with several million gods, several schools of thought, several ways, and several rituals, obscure things? If Hinduism had the answer, how could I have missed it after so much effort? And what about the millions of other Hindus?
Sophia’s answer to my question “What is the purpose of life?” was not unique, because Hindu temple priests in India would have given the same answer. They would have said their purpose was to glorify God too. But what they meant was vastly different: their gods were idols. The temple priests cleaned, decorated, and even put their gods to sleep.
I also washed idols, sang to them, and recited several prayers to them when I was a little child. They were like material objects to which I gave glorified purposes and even life. To me these idols were statues, and my mind decided what I chose to do for them. What troubled me now the most was that if there was a God, glorifying this God could very well be the purpose of my life. And this meant that I should know this true God.
I fully understood what Sophia said. She meant her purpose in life was to glorify Jesus Christ. I had read some history books and knew Jesus was a man, like any of the thousands of saints in India. In India, there are several gurus who claim that they are god or claim to have contact with god or that they can show you the way to self-realization. I even have the official certificate to teach Kundalini Yoga. I assumed that Christ was like one of the gurus. Having been stumped by Sophia’s answer, I wanted to prove to myself Christianity was false by proving Jesus Christ was just another good person whom people deified. There are people in India who worship noble kings as gods. I was convinced that this was the case with Jesus also. I thought maybe better Bible translations enabled Christians to know their religious teachings. But the same information was available to me too, so I set out to prove Christ was a gimmick (just like the fake Indian gurus) by investigating Christian practices.
I attended a few church services and tried to stump the pastors with tricky philosophical questions. If they couldn’t answer me right away I never bothered to give them another chance. Of course, I never knew the answers to my own questions nor felt obliged to find any. I asked questions like, “Buddhism says desire is the cause of all evil — if you follow this teaching and have no desires, why do you need the commandments?” I was just throwing rocks at Christianity. But in spite of that, I learned a few Christian facts like, Christ was brutally killed on a cross, Christ claimed that He died for the sins of humanity, He supposedly came back to life in 3 days, and He was kind and loving.
Sophia invited me to a Christian retreat where an Indian pastor took time to explain a major difference between various religions and Christianity. He said that in all religions, man makes the effort to go to God, while in Christianity, God comes to where we are. I thought to myself, “WOW!!” This caught my attention. How I wish this was true! After 12 years of search, I now heard that the omnipresent God was right by me. Even before I could start to imagine this possibility, my family, culture, tradition, and heritage flashed before me. How could I even think of believing this? I hated Christianity. My parents and several others I knew in India had similar opinions. In spite of the fact that I felt his explanation could be true, I chose to deny the possibility. I stopped asking tricky questions. I was afraid I might find the answer in Christianity.
A few weeks passed and still, I could not ignore the fact that Christianity might have held the answer for me. The truth was, I was too scared to find out because of the cultural taboo. But, I reasoned, “If this God existed, He would resolve all my problems. He could take care of the consequences of my quest. If I ever find this God, the True God, I will never have to worry about the cultural consequences.” Even after thinking through this, I did not remove my guard completely. I made a final attempt to find fault with the Bible. Someone had given me a copy of the New Testament. Of course, I would never have bought one.
After reading the first chapter from the book of John, I understood Jesus was the Word of God, God’s expression. Chapter two talked about Jesus’ miracles, so I figured He was not an ordinary man. In Chapter three, Jesus talked about being born again — this was truly fascinating! The concept of reincarnation as I understood it was not a physical birth and death but a mental one. When Jesus said we had to be born again, it made a lot of sense to me. I knew he was telling me about a new life — like starting a new resolution on New Year’s Day, except this time for real, with a brand new nature of Jesus!
I realized that I would have to submit to Christ and forfeit self-realization for Christ-realization. This, I reasoned, was a great exchange. The Bible also mentioned that “God so loved the world He sent His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” When I read Chapter four, where Jesus talked to the woman at the well and told her if she drank His water, streams of living water would flow from within her, so that she wouldn’t have to keep traveling to the well, it all clicked! I was running around trying to fill my emptiness, and Christ was saying He would not only fill it, but fill it in such a way that it would overflow. So if I accepted Christ’s help, I need not seek other things to fill my emptiness. This was the solution I was looking for.
I began to see the big picture. I was incomplete because of my own nature. This incompleteness was the emptiness I felt. For so many years I tried several methods to fill up this incompleteness, but none worked. If I had died this way, I know for sure I never would have been with God. But God in His love sent Christ to fill up my emptiness and make me complete. Christ suffered the ultimate consequence: death and separation from God. In doing so, Christ paid the penalty I was supposed to pay. But, after dying, He came back to life in three days. He passed through death, the termination of our physical existence. God showed what would happen to those who are made complete by accepting Christ’s death as a ransom for their own.
This made perfect sense. Even death cannot keep me from being with God by choosing this Way. Previously, I thought that only at death one would know his destiny. But by this Way, Christ has shown salvation is readily available. I can enjoy salvation while I am still alive today. But what would I have to do to receive this?
Jesus claimed that just by believing in Him, this is possible. The ransom has been paid in full for all humanity. The Way has been paved for everyone to pass through death. Since God is omnipresent, He knows my thought process, He is very near. All I had to do was take one step of faith. I felt as if Christ was waiting on me, to just take this step. In the silence of my heart, with all sincerity, I said, “I believe in You Jesus, as You have revealed.”
This happened early in the morning on March 5, 1994. Words cannot express what happened at that moment. My emptiness was gone, just as if it never existed. I felt a deep sense of cleansing, great peace, and satisfaction. I knew this was what I was looking for, for 12 years. Christ never promised wonderful experiences and feelings at the time anyone accepts Him. But that does not negate the authenticity of Jesus’ promise. Some of my friends felt nothing when they took this step of faith. Yet there is only one Christ, one Way, one faith, and one result: salvation.
Now, after looking into the Bible and who Christ is, I am convinced this is what the many different ways in Hinduism have been trying to achieve. We had prayers like, “Lead me from falsehood to Truth,” “Lead me from Darkness to Light,” “Lead me from Death to Immortality.” I recited this every day in school for many years. Christ fulfilled these prayers when He said “I am the Truth, I am the Light of this world, I am the Life and Resurrection, and I am The Way.” I plead with all my Hindu brothers and sisters to take an openhearted look at Christ. The different ways available in Hinduism are an attempt to reach God by self-effort, but, fortunately, God requires no effort from us. By faith in Jesus Christ alone, God grants salvation.
More than two years have passed since I came to Christ. An additional blessing walked in my life through Sophia, my wife. We got married one year after I came to Christ. Now having known Christ, our hearts go out to all those who have not come to know Him the way He ought to be known. Christ fills our spiritual emptiness by giving the Holy Spirit when we believe in Him. Only the Holy Spirit can satisfy this longing.
Christ lovingly warned that He is the ONLY way to the Truth, but wide is the way to destruction. With such profound statements, Christ is clarifying His uniqueness. Many philosophers and gurus of this age are unable to discount Christ, and so try to include Him in their ways. No one can suggest that their way is right without negating The Way through Christ. Either Christ is not The Way and a liar, or all other ways lead to destruction. No other possibilities exist. Some claim Christ was a good teacher, an excellent philosopher, or a scientist. This totally degrades the Son of God to a mere man. Christ was crucified because He proclaimed His status – The Son of God. The so-called great men show us some ways that they themselves follow, but Christ showed The Way and became the means by which we become children of God. He became the Gospel, He Himself is The Way to God.
My thanks goes to Christ, my Master, for saving a wretch like me.