I grew up in New York City as a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith, where I was taught that our religion was the only true religion, and was also called “The Truth.” As an adolescent/young teen, I went out in “field service” and to the Kingdom Hall even when my parents and other siblings were inactive. We were taught that 1975 was going to be the end of the world as we knew it. Of course, 1975 passed in relatively uneventful fashion, and here we are 45 years later, still here.
In 1976, at the age of 19, I met my first girlfriend, who was a member of the Rosicrucian Order and engaged in the actual act of literal animal sacrifices. Although I never personally attended services with her (I just couldn’t bring myself to do it), she would tell me about them when she returned home. It sounded pretty gruesome, but using scripture to validate her beliefs, at least I understood why she believed the way she did.
I met my current wife two years later. At the time I met her, she was a member of the Holiness Church, and through her I was introduced to the Holiness, Pentecostal and Baptist faiths. I attended services with her (reluctantly, as first) and usually came home from those services with an interest in studying the things the minister taught that morning. I spent much time in the Bible during that time, and with the passing of time, I began to understand and accept the beliefs of the Baptist/Holiness/Pentecostal method of worship. My wife was completely anti-Jehovah’s Witnesses, and as a young man whose “nose was opened” (so to speak), it wasn’t that difficult to abandon the Jehovah’s Witnesses faith. But because I was raised in the faith, and now having studied from the point of view of the religions I had become associated with through my wife, I slowly began to understand why they believed as they did.
In the beginning everything seemed to make sense, but as I continued studying the Bible, questions began to arise that I couldn’t find any answers to. The phrase “ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9) stood out for me. I thought back to my childhood days, and I remember being glad that I was raised in the “only true religion,” and didn’t really have to go through that asking/seeking crap. I was already there.
As I reflected on that scripture from my new point of view, all of a sudden, questions arose. “Why do I need to search for anything? Doesn’t the Bible mean what it says?” “Isn’t it all about just believing in Christ and you are saved?” “What does ask and seek mean?” I then began to reflect on all that I had been taught from birth and had a pretty difficult time putting all of the pieces together. Having cultivated an exceptional ability to memorize and retain scriptures, I had many scriptures in my head that seemed to contradict one another, and I started to become very confused about a lot of things.
In 1996, I began teaching in the Baptist Church under Pastor James Harris of Faith Community Baptist Church in Wheaton, MD. Although I was never formally ordained, I enjoyed teaching, and was very proud of my ability to quote scriptures. I remember thinking that there probably wasn’t a minister out there could out-scripture-quote me. It was ego at its finest!
Then came that fateful day in July 1997. It was a normal Wednesday night Bible study, but at the end of that night’s study would come the event that would completely reshape my life from a spiritual perspective. Pastor Harris offered his personal thoughts on sin; thoughts that I took exception to. We spent the last half-hour or so of that Bible study in a spirited debate on the subject of sin.
I had apparently made my points so well that a couple of senior members of the Diaconate approached me after Bible study and encouraged me, telling me that they thought I was right, but that I still had to respect the Pastor and remember that he is still a human being and thus is subject to being wrong, even though he is the Pastor.
Of course, that further inflated my ego. I felt validated when I left church that evening. However, over the next few weeks I couldn’t sleep. The debate was having an enormous effect on me and forced me to review everything I had ever believed about religion and God. My religious background now included the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baptist, Holiness and Pentecostal Churches, and exposure to the Rosicrucian Order. That’s a LOT of experience, and although there was a time when it all made sense, now it was coming to the point where NONE of it made any sense anymore. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? How can I ever know?
The following two weeks found me in a state of extreme depression.
Then came that day in August that would change my life forever.
I got on my face before God, as I understood Him at that time, and I uttered these words (which I remember as if it were yesterday):
“Father, I’m really ready to give up all this thing we call religion. I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, then I was exposed to the Rosicrucian cult (which I called it at that time). Then, through [my wife], I was introduced to the Baptist/Holiness/Pentecostal way of worship. At one time it all made sense, but now none of it makes any sense anymore. I’m really ready to give all this up.”
And then I uttered these words, which still ring in my head on an almost daily basis, till this day still completely blown away by where this prayer came from at that time, almost 17 years ago:
“Father, if you’re real, and I believe you are, and if you’re omniscient, and I believe you are, then I don’t think I need man to teach me about you. I believe you are capable of doing that yourself. I’m willing to know the truth, even if it flies in the face of everything I’ve ever been taught about you.”
I got up from that prayer feeling completely energized and invigorated. I had no idea why I felt that way at the time because nothing of a tangible nature occurred during that prayer. Following that prayer, I had a two-week period where I was literally on a cloud. Spirit seemed to be validating that prayer for me at every turn. I would see a sign on the train, or see a billboard that had a message seemingly just for me, or I would be reading and something would just jump out at me. I very often fasted (no food or water) for three days at a time back then, and if I remember correctly, a three-day fast ensued after that point and I was on quite a cloud — a spiritual high like you wouldn’t believe.
That Saturday morning I was sitting and just meditating on all that was going on with me, and after about 15 minutes, I realized that I was staring at the plastic bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Almond Soap that was on my toiletries shelf in my bathroom. I just picked it up, not knowing anything that was on it. To my utter amazement, there were all kinds of spiritual sayings on this soap bottle. I remember being inspired by all of them, but one in particular stood out and seemed to validate the entire prayer I had prayed a few days before. It said “flee from the crowd and dwell with truthfulness.”
I was absolutely blown away!
That was the confirmation that I needed to go forward, and I would need every bit of the inspiration I received during that two-week period, because during the ensuing year I thought I was literally losing my mind. I embarked on a path that I was always told Satan was waiting at the end of, waiting to chew me up and spit me out.
Nevertheless, I decided I wanted to know what everyone believed, and why they believed it. I started out with Swami Chinmayananda’s book “Meditation and Life.” I have no idea why I chose that book to start with, but as I began to read it a certain fear and panic crept into my being. I had always been taught to stay away from the kind of information that book espoused. Do I read it? Do I throw it away? What will happen to me if I read it? I feared the worst.
I decided that I had to read it. I prayed hard at that time. I said, “Lord, you said seek and you shall find, and I am seeking. If I die, I die (and I did think I was going to be destroyed for giving Satan a foothold), but I have to know.” I found the courage to read it. It took quite some time for the information contained in the book to actually sink in, because of the reservations I had even as I was reading it. That book was my introduction to meditation, a subject that prior to that time I had only heard of, and with quite negative connotations.
At the end of that period (it was now close to the Fall of 1998), it suddenly dawned on me, and I was amazed. “I’m not dead!” I was waiting for all hell to break loose and it didn’t happen. Instead, I had more peace at the end of that period than I ever expected to have, and it fueled my desire to move forward with my searching.
I decided at that time that I would see if I could find a local center that taught the principles espoused in Swami Chinmayananda’s book. To my utter amazement, I found that there was a Chinmayananda Center less than 20 minutes from where I lived. But during my search I also found another center, called the Vedanta Center of Greater Washington, D.C., less than five minutes from the Chinmayananda Center. For some reason, I decided to contact the Vedanta Center and was invited to come in for a visit, which I did.
I never did make it to the Chinmayananda Center. I was so impressed by the Vedanta Center that I decided to join and started attending Sunday meditation and worship services, and Wednesday night meditation and Bhagavad Gita study. I started meditating regularly during that time. At first it was very strange observing Indian worship, and because I didn’t understand the language, I couldn’t relate to some of the services, except to the extent that it just felt really good. But the studies were in English, so all was good. I felt at that time that I had found something real and very special. In April 2002 I was “initiated” into spiritual life by Swami Swahananda, senior Swami of the Vedanta Center of Southern California.
I worshiped with those Indian brothers and sisters for eight years, from 1998 until I moved from Maryland to Virginia Beach in 2006. Over the course of the next two years, I lost touch with the Vedanta Center, as local life in Virginia Beach took over. However, during this time I began to be intrigued by an idea that I came up with as a result of my Bhagavad Gita studies.
The Bhagavad Gita, one of the scriptures of the Hindi people, is a very interesting book. In the beginning, Arjuna, a deciple of Krsna (God), is told he must fight to take back his kingdom. Arjuna is eager to do this, that is until he learns who it is he must fight — all his relatives (grandfathers, uncles, etc.). His heart sinks and he refuses to fight.
There are many Hindu sects that believe the literal rendition of the Bhagavad Gita, as most Christians do the Holy Bible. However, the Vedantic form of worship extracts the spiritual implications from the text.
In 2007, I had a “SEE” (a significant emotional event). What if the Bible is written the same way the Bhagavad Gita is? What if it was never meant to be taken literally, but is all spiritual?
This idea started small enough, but over time built up a head of steam until I was so completely dominated by that concept that I decided to embark on my own study. I absolutely knew that I could not depend on another human being to help me with this, because I knew of no one that taught the Bible in this way, so I undertook the study, relying only on “God” for assistance, piggybacking off of my thought back in 1997 that I didn’t think I needed man to teach me about God, but that God would be able to do that himself.
One of the first scriptures I found when I began this study was 1 Cor. 2:14:
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
This seemed to validate my thought that the Bible is a book to be spiritually discerned, not naturally, or literally, discerned. Whenever I had questions, I sought no human being for answers (please get this). I was meditating for up to an hour and a half at a time, twice a day, at some points during this period, and it seemed that answers were coming at warp speed. Layers of understanding were unfolding during this time, and I was so completely stunned and amazed at what I was learning, I believe my wife thought I was going crazy. The neighbors for miles down the road could probably hear my screams of excitement as truths began unfolding that till this day blows my mind.
All of this validated my understanding that if God is real, and if he is omniscient, then I shouldn’t need man to teach me about God, but he should be able to teach me himself.
It is what I have learned since 2007 that I bring to you. My hope is that the information I present to you makes sense, and that it drives you to do what I have done, which is to trust the Christ within you, and cease trusting in man, or anything else OUTSIDE of you (what the scriptures refer to as “outer darkness”). The light is on the inside. This inner light makes you an extraordinarily powerful being — more powerful than you can ever know.
And thus began a work that continues to this day.