Note to readers: I respect all religions and love all people. This post is my personal experience I wanted to share with you, not a topic I’ll be writing about regularly.
I grew up a Hindu, visiting temples regularly, praying at home daily and attending my two weekly Hinduism-based religious classes, called Bala Vihar, on Friday nights and Sunday mornings.
Like many Indians in the U.S., I remember attending pujas and kirtans at homes of friends and family. The devotional singing and fellowship included chanting, prayer and always food – plenty of delicious, homemade Indian food.
The earliest memories I have of Jesus involved my parents attending Christmas Eve Mass when I was a kid.
No, we weren’t Christian, but my parents’ attempts to receive blessings from all divine entities led them to pay tribute to Jesus annually.
They had grown up attending Catholic schools and didn’t feel out of place in a church.
I also wasn’t surprised when we went to relatives’ homes and saw depictions of Jesus on the cross or the Virgin Mary in their prayer rooms.
No one in our family ever questioned or expressed anything critical about Christianity – except me.
Believe it or not, writing Vishnu’s Virtues while growing up (ha ha, yes, this has been around a lot longer than you think, as I wrote it for a family newsletter), I was the one who questioned Christianity more than anyone else.
(What do you mean, “Who has a family newsletter?” That isn’t normal??)
Some of my articles for the family newsletter questioned the evangelical practices of Christians and the over-zealousness of Christian missionaries.
Other than that, I had no beef with Christianity.
And I recall this particular verse from the Bible, which stood out for me as a teenager after I read it in a news magazine:
“For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Matthew 16:26 (King James version)
I reflected upon that quote from time to time as I began college in San Diego. While in college, I found the Hindu temple more inconvenient to reach than the local Self Realization Fellowship (SRF), which Paramahansa Yogananda had founded. I became acquainted with SRF when I read Yogananda’s spiritual and inspirational memoir, Autobiography of a Yogi.
The spiritual book about Yogananda’s life, plus the proximity of the SRF temple, led me to attend weekly sessions there in Encinitas. I became more interested in spirituality during this time because I found the university experience a struggle. I think that being away from most of my family for the first time and not fitting into a university filled with science-oriented, competitive students pushed me to seek meaning and fulfillment elsewhere.
I attended services once a week at SRF, where I regularly saw images of several gurus at the devotional alter. Not only did I see photos of Yogananda and his spiritual masters, I also saw that of the Hindu Lord Krishna – and, yes, even Jesus.
Throughout the years, I practiced SRF meditations and followed weekly at-home study lessons, but never felt a real connection to SRF. For three years, I tried to meditate, focus on the third eye and take up Kriya yoga-inspired teachings, but ultimately moved on from SRF.
Later, while married, I attended temples occasionally and prayed at home in my own makeshift prayer room. And because I enjoyed the music and worship so much, I created my own tradition of attending Christmas Eve Mass.
My journey to Jesus
Fast forward a few years to when my marriage started falling apart. I, like many millions of Americans, tuned in to Joel Osteen’s Sunday sermons.
I’m a tiny bit embarrassed to admit that Joel Osteen was the person who inspired my journey to Christianity, but I think his Christianity-light approach and heavy focus on practical application of spiritual principles in everyday life is why I tuned in.
I watched him religiously for a year after my separation, relying on his messages of hope and redemption more than his message of Jesus.
Joel Osteen didn’t necessarily lead me to Jesus but he did incite curiosity in me. He mentioned Bible passages that I looked up and became familiar with.
A few months after my divorce, I decided to travel and visit friends who had moved to Costa Rica. After a relaxing month visiting, seeing the country and enjoying the most scrumptious organic vegetarian food, I decided to brush up on the mediocre Spanish I had learned over the years.
I was hoping to study in Ecuador, but found this idea logistically difficult, as I would have to cross the Panama Canal. Instead I opted for Nicaragua, which was north of me. I did some research and picked the city of Granada, where I would attend a few weeks of Spanish school.
I had no idea what Nicaragua held for me but once I reached the capital city of Granada, I felt right at home. I fell in love instantly with this devout town that preserved much of its history and contained some of the most magnificent Catholic churches I had ever seen. I recall at least six churches that I had to walk by daily to get from my host family’s home to Spanish class.
Every day, I would stop into a different church to pray. Yes, it may have been unusual for a non-Catholic to drop into a Catholic church and pray, but, once again, with my Hindu upbringing (i.e., all religions are the same and all paths lead to one truth), I didn’t hesitate to do so.
I found out about the noon Masses, which started right after classes ended for the day. Later, I found an evening Mass that gave me another excuse to roam the town. For a good six weeks, this is how I spent my days: Spanish classes and then Mass twice a day.
I loved the churches because they had such a sacred vibe. And I felt that I could take solace in the Virgin Mary, who appeared in every church in town. At that point in my life, I found the Virgin Mother to be healing, compassionate and interested in all my prayers.
I prayed to Mary, I prayed to Jesus and I often tried to pray whatever prayers the Spanish-speaking clergy were reciting. I was lost among the advanced Spanish that the congregation spoke at Sunday morning Masses but was enamored with the Nicaraguan people and the amount of devotion I saw at the churches there. The people’s faith and devotion inspired me to show up more often and pray ever more deeply.
I was in Nicaragua and visiting churches during the most painful and confusing time in my life. I was ill-prepared to deal with the changes I was facing and I felt my life was spiraling out of control.
My pain and sorrow brought me to the church’s pews.
I prayed to end the suffering and pain. I prayed for healing and I prayed for understanding. I prayed for direction, forgiveness and compassion.
My Nicaraguan Catholic church experience led me back to California, where I was open to attending church services. When I moved to Southern California, a friend, who I will be forever grateful to, invited me to his non-Catholic church service at the Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills.
I started attending regular Wednesday evening worship and Sunday morning sermons. I loved the music worship and the celebration of Jesus in the church. I ate up the weekly sermons and the powerful message of love, forgiveness and salvation.
I read more about Jesus and his life story. His simple life and his bold call to surrender our lives to Him inspired me. Many of the lessons in the Bible about love, humility and forgiveness resonated deeply. I saw how much Jesus suffered as he tried to spread the word of God and the way in which he paid the ultimate price for others – with his life.
In Christ, I saw that I could start anew. I could give up the life I had been living: a life that was spiritually void and in which human frailties and shortcomings abounded. A life filled with mistakes, confusion and worldly pursuits. A life spinning out of control, without much direction or purpose.
The Bible became my solace and comfort.
The Psalms changed my life.
Every word of the Psalms, like Psalm 23, jumped off the page and blanketed me with hope and newfound peace.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23, 1-4)
While the word of God was convicting me and Jesus was blessing me, I wasn’t so hot on some of the political issues that the church was in the news for. When the pastors spoke of the sin of homosexuality or the sin of abortion, I shuddered.
These teachings contradict my personal views toward equality and women’s freedom.
In spite of these teachings, I continued attending church for some time, and also found myself, by simple circumstance, living with a Christian housemate who had weekly devotional meetings at his home.
You get the picture here: church twice a week and fellowship on Friday evenings in my living room!
The first home fellowship I attended was the most significant and life-changing one for me.
I didn’t have to walk very far, as I attended the meeting in our living room.
I wolfed down the delicious food and the soulful devotional music that the worshippers enjoyed after our meal. The shared group readings of Bible passages were also uplifting.
I felt great as the service ended and reflected that, here it was, my birthday, May 2013, and I was celebrating it with uplifting fellowship and praise of God.
Toward the end of the evening things became slightly uncomfortable – and my life changed.
As we finished the final reading and were about to call it a night, one of the attendees who had just met me asked openly if I had accepted Jesus into my life.
Imagine a joyful and noisy room halting to pin-drop silence as all eyes focused on me.
I had about 0.2 seconds to think about this question, which I had no answer to. I thought about it for a quick half second, weighed the pros and cons of my answers, reflected upon the wonderful food I’d eaten and the lovely evening I had enjoyed and went with – “yes”!
“Yes, I had accepted Jesus into my life.”
“I had?” I asked myself moments later.
Over the next few days, I reflected upon my proclamation. Had I accepted Jesus simply because of a vegetable stir-fry, chocolate cake and an evening of devotional music?
Had I sold my soul to Christ for a little food and fellowship?
And that’s what led to the next 10 days of my life, when the most joyous feelings slowly overcame me. I was excited about something, and felt like getting out of bed regularly and jumping up and down. (I literally did that several times in the week that followed.) I saw the good in everyone, felt happy all the time and thought the world was miraculous.
I’m not a heavy drinker and I don’t use drugs (no matter what you think!), so I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I began to tune in more acutely to that feeling. After church a few days later, and after consulting a friend with whom I was reading The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, I came to the conclusion that, Holy Christ, I was a believer.
The Holy Spirit had seeped into my life and I had, in fact, accepted Christ. It began, I concluded, after I publicly accepted Jesus.
Throughout the next year, I continued attending church, reading the Bible daily and praying regularly. The idea of being a Christian seemed normal and fitting to me, although I had no idea how I would explain it to anyone who knew me.
Outside of my small circle of friends, I hadn’t told many people that I had become a Christian, and definitely did not talk about it here on the blog.
I find it a little ironic that one of the reasons I started blogging was to share spiritual truths and examine spiritual matters, but more from an Eastern perspective and philosophy.
I was on a spiritual journey to myself and wanted to share the discoveries I was making about that journey. What was the difference between the different kinds of Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita? What did enlightenment or nirvana mean? What was presence and mindfulness all about?
Instead, here’s where I am today: a Christian.
Exactly one year after my first experience with the Holy Spirit, I experienced it again before my trip to visit family in 2014. I felt the spiritual vibrancy and joy of the Holy Spirit for another 10-day period, which led me to speak to a pastor so that I could make sure I was okay and shouldn’t get checked out (mentally, I mean).
I felt it was a confirmation from God that I was, in fact, on the right path and that what had happened a year earlier was no fluke or wild flight of imagination.
To top things off and really take the plunge, this happened in October 2014, as I marked my journey to Christianity.
Yes, I was baptized in holy water a small swimming pool at church. I accepted Jesus and publicly declared my inward faith.
How do I feel about the whole experience?
I feel like all of this happened without me really wanting it to happen.
I didn’t set out to become a Christian and I’m probably just as surprised to tell this story as anyone who’s reading it.
Maybe I was seeking Jesus for comfort and faith, but I sure wasn’t seeking Christianity.
Also, I’m not sure how this whole thing will go over with my Hindu family. It’s a devout Hindu family that has started temples in Malaysia. My grandfather led efforts to build the only temple in town more than 50 years ago. Ten years back, my dad built the second one in the town I was born in.
And I’m not sure how the Bible will fit into my political and social beliefs. I’ve not had any major change of heart about equality for all people or women’s freedom. My personal beliefs remain contrary to church doctrine and the Bible.
I don’t know the answer to these questions.
All I know is that I’ve accepted Christ into my life and felt a profound transformation.
I know that I had to share this story with you because I want to be completely honest and transparent with you.
This blog talks a lot about overcoming adversity and making comebacks in life. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t tell you a big part of what changed my life and helped me get centered again. I wanted to share with you what helped carry me through my most difficult time.
“One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints.
Other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life
When I was suffering from anguish, sorrow, or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord, “You promised me, Lord,
That if I followed you, you would walk with me always.
But I noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
There have only been one set of prints in the sand.
Why, when I have needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied,
“The times when you have seen only one set of footprints
Is when I carried you.”
Thank you for reading, your friendship, support and understanding.