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My Spiritual Journey
from In Search of the True Light
Monumental moments are significant
turning points in our lives. For the remainder of our days we can look back to
these ‘moments’—decisions, events, experiences—and feel their worth and
their warmth all over again. It’s as if a monument is erected in our souls
that we can visit to have our vision and zeal renewed.
According to Buddhist tradition, Siddhartha Gautama
encountered such a ‘monumental moment’ around the age of twenty-nine. Modern
thinkers might even term it a ‘personal paradigm shift’ (a private
transformation in life-style and beliefs that effected a societal change).
Though sheltered all his life within the confines of a royal palace, he dared to
venture into the ‘outside world.’ According to legend, it was then that
Siddhartha viewed what has since been titled the "Four Sights"—a
sick man, an old man, a corpse and an ascetic.
No longer could he remain spiritually asleep on a bed of
princely ease. Having witnessed the suffering that abounds in this world, he was
shaken, jarred from a self-serving mentality. The resulting desperation to find
answers became, as author William Burrough’s puts it, "the raw material
of drastic change."
The palace protégé made a radically unorthodox decision.
Walking away from the opulent surroundings to which he had grown accustomed, he
turned instead down the narrow path of renunciation. Hoping to transcend the
natural world, he subjected himself to intense ascetic disciplines. Then after a
number of years, while meditating under the Bodhi tree, he claimed to receive an
experience of Ultimate Reality. At that point, according to those who subscribe
to his philosophy, he became the "Buddha," the "Awakened
One," the "Enlightened One."
Even if we do not subscribe to Buddha’s conclusions, most
of us can definitely relate to him—for we can isolate certain heart-touching
incidents as defining moments in our lives. A near-death experience in my
freshman year of college proved to be a ‘pivotal point’ for me.
That almost-tragic night, I had the distinct impression that
my soul was actually leaving my body and passing into a very frightening and
dark void. I felt totally unprepared. I have heard it said that those who desire
to die well, must first learn to live well. I certainly had not been living
well, so I wasn’t ready to die well either.
There was nothing pleasant about my encounter with this
ever-present stalker of the human race. Yet it proved to be extremely
beneficial. What looked like nothing more than a negative experience became a
positive one, because I emerged with a new set of values. My former life was no
longer attractive or fulfilling to me. Quite the contrary, it seemed
overwhelmingly senseless, selfish and vain. The pursuit of pleasure left my
heart empty. Temporal goals that had been all-consuming seemed frustratingly
Earn a college degree? Pursue a career? Become financially
secure? For what—if ultimately a grave was waiting somewhere in my future?
That inward voice kept probing and prodding with admonitions similar to the one
given to Horatio, in the Shakespearean play, "Hamlet": "There
are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Like a blind man I stumbled through the darkness, grasping
for something of substance. I was desperate to go beyond my self-imposed
boundaries and desperate for lasting answers. Once again, this sense of
desperateness became "the raw material of drastic change."
Religion took on a renewed importance. I was raised a Roman
Catholic. Until my early teens I was very devoted, but the idea that
Christianity was the only way to God, to the exclusion of all other religions,
just seemed too narrow-minded, too unreasonable. Besides, I decided I could no
longer embrace something just because it was part of my cultural or family ‘belief
system.’ I purposed to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and start from a pure and
unbiased beginning point.
Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth
living." I resolved that beliefs left unexamined might not be worth much
either…at least, to me personally. Intending to explore various religions of
the world with an open mind, I set out on a quest for "True Light."
Even though I recognized I was studying the revelations, theories and opinions
of others, my primary goal was to experience God for myself. I had faith that
something somewhere would prove to be my connection with Ultimate Reality.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words well describemy mindset
at that time:
Earth’s crammed with heaven;
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
‘Blackberries’ held no interest for me any longer. I was
willing to ‘take off my shoes’ and look at things differently. I was
definitely searching for my ‘burning bush.’ All of this was definitely
progress in the right direction. Little did I anticipate the unique turns my
life would take before reaching this goal. The first main milestone in the road
An Encounter With Far Eastern Religions
I began reading a lot of literature on Far Eastern religions
and related subjects. The new phraseology filled up my mind: yoga, astral
projection, mantras, chakras, the third eye, Nirvana, God-consciousness—all of
these things sounded very intriguing and appealing.
Then in the fall of 1969 I went to hear Yogi Bhajan: a guru
from India who claimed he came to North America to help the ‘flower child,’
‘peace’ generation find their way spiritually. He taught us about yoga (a
word literally meaning ‘to be yoked,’ the inference being that the goal of
the devotee is to be ‘yoked with God.’) He explained that this ‘union’
could be achieved through various means, especially prolonged meditation. With
his full beard, long black hair and intense dark eyes, this teacher of Far
Eastern mysticism was somewhat imposing and quite convincing.
However, it was much more than the mystique surrounding this
tall, muscular, turban-clad Sikh that attracted me. It was more than the evident
passion he displayed concerning his beliefs. It was more than just the stimulus
of a new approach to spirituality. It was the promise that I could actually
experience God and penetrate the supernatural realm for myself. This drew me to
Yogi Bhajan’s words and to the system of yogic discipline he was propagating (Kundalini
Yoga, also called the ‘yoga of awareness’).
Attaining my ‘higher Self’ soon became the primary focus
of my day-to-day existence. In between and after college classes, I used every
available hour to pursue the goal of ‘reaching enlightenment.’
The Hindu Bhakti poet, Surdas, warned, "Without devotion
to God, you will make yourself into a stale crumb to be eaten by the tiger of
Time." Appalled at the thought of becoming a ‘stale crumb,’ the
following spring, I made the decision to use my time more wisely. Along with
another college friend, I quit school to ‘escape the jaws of the tiger.’
Packing up my belongings, I left the campus of Florida State
University in Tallahassee, Florida, to help start an ashram in Daytona Beach (a
commune where yoga devotees live together to more effectively practice their
religious disciplines). Every day involved hours of meditation and Mantra Yoga
(the chanting of certain Hindu words and phrases, called mantras, designed to
carry a person to higher levels of consciousness). We also set aside time for
the study of Hatha Yoga. This centered on physical exercises (asanas) and
breathing exercises (pranayama), both of which were aimed toward opening
up something called chakras (supposed spiritual centers of energy in the
Our daily routine also included what could be termed Jnana
Yoga (the study of sacred texts and other religious writings). Central to our
attention were the Bhagavad-Gita, the Vedas (ancient Hindu Scriptures) and the
writings of mystics and teachers like Edgar Cayce, Helena Blavatsky and
Yogananda. Then, of course, there was participation in yoga classes several
nights a week. Every waking hour and every activity, even bathing and eating
meals, was controlled by a prearranged discipline. We were motivated by the
supreme goal of all ashram devotees—our souls (atman) blending into
oneness with the Oversoul (Brahman). We were totally committed to the
Peculiar things began happening to me: a sense of peace and
detachment from the world, what seemed to be occasional out-of-body excursions
into some kind of higher realm, vivid spiritual dreams. The suffocating control
of the natural realm seemed to be easing its grip. A kind of spiritual
adrenaline surged through me daily—the prospect that I was wrenching myself
free from what my teachers called maya, the illusion of this present
world. I felt encouraged that transcendent love would prevail for me—that I,
in an Adam-like sense, would one day awake out of spiritual sleep to find myself
gazing into the face of my Maker. What could be better?
So I pursued. I followed hard after God, until every waking
moment was pulsating with the heartbeat of a sacred quest. Nothing can express
the cry of my heart at that time better than the following quote from the
"Sayings of Shri Ramakrishna":
If you fill an earthen vessel with water and set it
apart upon a shelf, the water in it will dry up in a few days; but if you
place the same vessel immersed in water, it will remain filled as long as
it is kept there. Even so is the case of your love for the Lord God…if
you keep your heart immersed always in the ocean of divine love, your
heart is sure to remain ever full to overflowing with the water of the
"Full to overflowing"…To be full:
that spoke of my own spiritual needs being met. With every passing hour, I
yearned for such a state of intimate communion with God. But to overflow:
that spoke of satisfying the thirst of others for spiritual truth. Though my
chief, initial desire was to be full myself, day by day I began sensing
even greater concern for the parched state of others. I needed to overflow.
I concluded that such an unselfish state of existence was, and will always be—the
high calling. I could no longer ignore the plight of a human race draped in
spiritual ignorance. So after conferring with those in leadership, I left the
ashram to go to another city and start teaching classes myself.
Feeling strongly compelled, I moved to the thriving city of
Tampa, Florida. Four universities in that area (the University of South Florida,
the University of Tampa, Florida Presbyterian and New College) opened their
doors, allowing me to use their facilities for extra-curricular classes. Several
hundred students began attending. It was fulfilling. Touching other hearts with
my ‘touched heart,’ changing other lives with my changed life—this was the
continuation of a cycle, the evolution of true spirituality. Desiring to devote
themselves more completely, a number of my students requested that I rent a
suitable facility and form a small ashram. Gladly, I complied.
One night, during that time, I experienced what some have
termed ‘white light.’ I had the distinct impression that my soul exited my
body and was drawn into a very intense and timeless radiance. Though now I have
a different interpretation of what really happened to me, at the time, I felt I
was passing into the highest state of meditation. More assured than ever that I
was truly on my ‘path,’ I intensified my efforts.
Then it happened! Very abruptly…very unexpectedly…a
divine appointment interrupted what had become a predictable pattern of life. I
wasn’t even seeking for a new direction, but God knew my heart. He knew my
love for him and my sincerity of purpose. So he intervened for me by
orchestrating some very significant events that brought about…
A Dramatic Change
Several key happenings took place within a few weeks that
caused the most important ‘turning point’ in my life. First, the Tampa
Tribune newspaper published a half-page interview with me. The reporter
questioned me concerning my beliefs as a teacher of Kundalini Yoga and reported
all that I was doing in the Tampa area. I was thankful for the exposure, certain
that this free publicity would increase the attendance in my classes.
Little did I know that it would also alert a local
Christian prayer group to begin praying for me.
A member of the prayer group cut the article out of the
paper, pinned it to their prayer board and assigned someone to fast and pray for
me every day until my conversion took place. During this same period, I received
a letter from my college friend who left school at the same time I did, for the
same reason. The content of Larry’s letter was quite a surprise. It described
an abrupt change that had just taken place in his life. Though he had been
devoted to Far Eastern religions and certain yoga disciplines, something had
radically transformed his whole approach to the things of God. Larry explained
how he had received a blessed, supernatural experience with Jesus called being
Larry also claimed this experience was different than any
experience acquired through yoga and that it validated Jesus’ claim of being
the only way to salvation. Larry’s words were emphatic, "Mike, you’ll
never find ultimate peace through yoga and meditation. You have to go through
the cross. You have to be born again. Jesus is the way to eternal life."
I wrote my college comrade back, explaining how happy I
was that he had found ‘the path of Christianity’ to be right for him.
However, I stated unequivocally that the claims of Christianity were too
exclusive for me. My beliefs encompassed all the religions of the world. All
were different ‘paths’ to the same God: this was my firm conviction.
Strangely, though, I could not get Larry’s letter off of my mind. His
words kept echoing inside of me, even though their logic escaped me.
After several weeks, I decided I needed to deal with this
issue. Dismissing Christianity without fully exploring its claims would be
unfair—unfair to me and unfair to the One who claimed to be the Savior of
the world. I realized I had never really given Jesus an opportunity to prove
himself. So I concluded, "If he really was who he claimed to be, and if
I don’t test his teachings, I might miss the very thing I’ve been
searching for…Besides, if Jesus allowed himself to be crucified for the
salvation of the human race, I owe it to him to at least open my heart to
the possibility of his claims being true." So one morning, though it
involved an inward struggle, instead of following my usual yoga routine, I
Dedicate One Day To The Lord Jesus Christ!
I got up, as usual, about 3:15 A.M. That was our normal
time of rising in the ashram. Beginning at 3:30, we would spend about an
hour doing various postures and breathing exercises. Then from 4:30 to 6:30
we would sit cross-legged and motionless, in what is called the ‘lotus
position,’ doing various kinds of meditation. Usually we practiced Mantra
Yoga. That pivotal morning, though, I decided to break away from the
Purposefully, I went into a room by myself and sat down.
Though it seemed spiritually incorrect, I prayerfully dedicated the entire
day to this One Larry claimed was the only "Mediator between God and
men." (1 Timothy 2:5) Several times I confessed, "Lord
Jesus, I commit this day to you. I believe, if you are real and if you are
the Savior of the world, you will show me today." Then I began reading
the Bible, spending most of my time immersed in the Gospel of John and the
book of the Revelation. I was especially stirred by this latter book, with
its powerful, prophetic imagery, especially those verses foretelling that
final conflict between the forces of good and evil at a battleground in
Israel called Armageddon (the valley of Megiddo).
As I read, I kept praying. Even though I was fully
expecting some kind of powerful, supernatural visitation (a vision, an
audible voice) initially, it didn’t happen that way. For about ten hours
that day I persisted, reading the Bible and seeking after the Lord Jesus.
Then, right when I was about to give up and dismiss the claims of Christ,
God intervened…and I arrived at my…
Moment Of Destiny!
Kent Sullivan was a senior at the University of South
Florida. He was an accomplished student, but his educational pursuits had
not brought him the answers to life or the peace of mind he desired. A few
months before, he had been studying Far Eastern mysticism. Specifically, he
was following the teachings of Yogananda, a well-known Indian guru who
authored a popular book called, The Autobiography of a Yogi.
Abruptly, though, Kent had switched from Kriya Yoga to Christianity.
Though I had never met Kent personally, I was well aware
of his unexpected ‘conversion.’ It was the ‘talk of the town’ among
those involved in yoga and meditation. All of us were wondering, "How
could he do it? He was recognized as one of the most advanced students of
yoga in the Tampa area. How could he get involved with people who teach that
Jesus is the only path to salvation?" Not only were we stunned over
Kent’s ‘departure from the faith,’ our assessment was that he had
opted for a lesser path. I mused, "How could anyone who understands the
concept of ‘all religions being one’ ever depart from it? What changed
his mind?" Of course, as I pondered these things, I had no idea that….
Kent belonged to the very prayer group that was
praying for me.
That divinely appointed day Kent decided to wash his
dirty clothes. He had a free hour between classes. It was a perfect time to
take care of a boring, but necessary task. With an armful of clothes up to
his chin, he got about halfway through the door of the laundromat, when the
Spirit of God stopped him. He heard that still, small voice in his spirit
say, "Don’t go in there. I have something else for you to do. Get
back in the van and drive where I lead you." It all seemed impractical
and illogical. Besides, being a new Christian, Kent was not used to having
his plans interrupted by the Holy Spirit. He submitted to God’s design,
though, thinking it quite peculiar that for some reason God did not want him
to wash his laundry. Of course, he had no idea that about two miles away…
The yoga teacher who had been the object of his
prayers for several weeks was hitchhiking, trying to catch a ride to
the University of South Florida.
Even though I had spent the day focusing on the claims of
Christianity, I was on my way that afternoon to conduct one of my yoga
classes. (Because I had renounced ownership of all unnecessary material
possessions, I usually had to walk or hitchhike everywhere.) While standing
on the side of the road, I was still praying that if Jesus was ‘the Way,’
he would somehow reveal himself.
As Kent drove, the Spirit of God impressed him to make
several definite turns, eventually leading him down a road directly behind
Busch Gardens. He was still wondering why he was doing all of this when he
noticed a unique-looking, young man ‘thumbing’ for a ride. With long,
curly, brown hair, a long beard and loose-fitting Indian-style clothing, I
definitely looked the part of a Western devotee to Far Eastern religions.
Kent never picked up hitchhikers, but felt strangely ‘led’ to pull over.
As I opened the door and stepped in the van, my heart started racing in my
Taped to the ceiling of Kent’s van was a large
picture of Jesus.
I knew this was no mere coincidence; I knew this was my
answer. My mind and heart felt charged with anticipation. After a few
minutes of silence, Kent blurted out, "Friend, can I ask you a
question?" Without hesitation, I responded, "Yes!" He
immediately asked, "Have you ever experienced Jesus coming into your
heart?" I quickly answered, "No, but when can I? I’ve been
praying about the experience all day long."
Kent’s face broke into a look of surprise. He certainly
did not expect me to respond so quickly. He offered, "You can come to
our prayer meeting tonight." I replied, "I don’t want to wait
for a prayer meeting. I’ve been praying all day. If this is a valid
approach to God, I want to experience Jesus right now." Thrilled over
my eagerness, Kent pulled out of the traffic into the first parking lot he
could find. After turning the engine off, he invited me to sit with him on
the floor of the van. Pulling the curtains behind the front seats so we
would have privacy, he began carefully explaining the way of salvation.
Then, right when I was on the verge of em-bracing the Christian approach to
salvation, my own intellect became….
A Very Difficult Stumbling Block!
A compelling thought gripped my mind. If I was going to
be sincere during this time of prayer, I had to first deal with some
disturbing doctrinal issues. One by one, I brought up traditional biblical
concepts that were very perplexing to me. With each question or comment Kent
would calmly reassure me with the words, "Don’t worry about that.
JUST TRY JESUS!" As I pinpointed certain Far Eastern beliefs I felt I
could never give up, Kent kept emphasizing, "Don’t concern yourself
with those things, JUST TRY JESUS!"
Being a former student of yoga himself, Kent understood
my apprehension. He could relate to the protectiveness I felt toward my
belief system. He showed tremendous wisdom. He knew that if we got involved
in some deep discussion over doctrine, I might turn my heart away from the
experience of Jesus altogether. So he kept emphasizing the essential thing.
Repeating Jesus’ words, he explained, "Except a man be born again, he
cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3 KJV)
Kent understood something I am very convinced of now. It
takes a spiritual rebirth before anyone can see or comprehend the
mysteries of God’s kingdom. Because Jesus is "the truth," once
he comes into a person’s heart, he sets in motion a process of lead-ing
that person, by the Holy Spirit, into all truth. (See John 14:6.)
So the most important thing is for seekers to first experience the reality
of Jesus’ personal presence. Then they can far more easily sort out all
the related truths that surround this central theme of true Christianity.
Kent finally persuaded me. His logic was strong enough to
nudge me into the unknown. Besides, I was so hungry to know God; temporarily
setting my intellect aside wasn’t too much to ask. Just repeating a single
petition seemed much too simple—but again, I was willing to try. We bowed
our heads and this newfound friend led me in a prayer for salvation:
"Lord Jesus, come
into my heart. Wash me in your blood. Forgive me of my sins. Give me
eternal life. Fill me with your presence and your love. I acknowledge
that you died for the sins of the world and that you arose from the
dead. I accept you now as Lord of my life."
I felt a warm sensation in the deepest part of my heart.
Something different was taking place, much different than anything I had
ever experienced. As a child I attended mass regularly at various Catholic
churches. I served for years as an altar boy and attended parochial school.
The nuns and priests who influenced me during that formative stage of my
life inspired me with their humility, sincerity and commitment. But still,
in all those years—filled with meaningful Christian traditions and
ceremonies—I had never received such a real encounter with God.
Paul, the apostle, called this experience "the
washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit." (Titus
3:5) Though I still had many questions stirring in my heart, the inner
‘knowing’ that I had finally been restored to a right relationship with
God filled me up. I was confident that if I died, I would spend eternity in
heaven. The indescribable peace of God settled like fresh dew on my soul. I
was changed…and I knew it.
Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh, writes, "If we
touch the Holy Spirit, we touch God, not as a concept, but as a living
This was definitely my mindset as a yoga teacher and I still believe it to
this day. However, I now understand that experiencing something ‘supernatural’
may or may not indicate an actual experience of God. I sincerely thought
(just as Thich Nhat Hanh surely must) that I was experiencing the
"living reality" of the Holy Spirit during my yogic disciplines,
but after being born again, I viewed this experiential knowledge from a
whole new perspective.
For several days following this life-changing experience,
I announced to all my students that I had finally encountered this
"living reality." I confessed that I had been wrong in my previous
assessment of Ultimate Reality, that I never encountered the true Spirit of
God until I went through Jesus, and that consequently, all of my yoga
classes would be cancelled. Though such an abrupt change was shocking to my
students, many trusted my newfound insights and enthusiastically accepted
Jesus as Lord of their lives.
As always, my passion was to
share my experience with others, which I did very vigorously. Having
struggled so hard to find my Creator, once I found him, it was imperative
to declare this essential revelation to every openhearted person I met. I
closed the ashram and moved to a different location. Many hours were spent
studying the Bible and praying. It was another pivotal point for me
personally, a season of radical transition, a very important time of
learning to discern the difference between incorrect and correct doctrine.
As Plato once said, "God is truth and light his shadow." Because
the God of heaven was finally overshadowing me with his personal and
gracious influence, the light of truth began to shine more and more with
every passing day.
In India, large crowds gather to hear the
biblical point of view (such as the meetings pictured here--meetings I conducted
in Sivikasi and Bangalore). Hindu people tend to be very gentle, very loving and
very hungry for spiritual realities. Many come to the Lord Jesus, especially
when they realize that I once embraced a worldview very similar to theirs.
1 The World’s Great Religions (New
York: Time Incorporated, 1957) p. 38.
2 Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (New
York, New York: Riverhead Books, 1995) p. xvi.