Mike Shreve was a teacher of yoga at four
universities. (The portrait above was drawn by one of his students in
1970.) Then a spiritual rebirth brought him into a real relationship
with God and drastically changed his heart, his life and his belief
system. Read his story here.
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The Great Suprise
A former Tibetan BuddhistNow thirty eight years
of age, I was a Tibetan Buddhist monk for fourteen years. It had been a
long hard and sometimes interesting road which began for my parents way
back in Tibet.
My father was a nomad from Amdo Tibet and he
earned his living by carrying salt on horseback from the salt mines
into the city. My mother and he met on one of his journeys to Lhasa and
married. Soon after, much to their shock, they found out that mother
was expecting twins. A high Buddhism lama prophesied that one of the
twins was an incarnation of a big-name lama. Of course my parents felt
very privileged, although they knew, because of this prophecy, that
this brother would spend the rest of his life as a monk in a monastery.
1959, fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet, they tramped over the
Himalayas to Nepal where they worked as weavers in a carpet factory.
The family grew with the birth of and two sisters. Before I was born my
twin brothers were sent back to Tibet, one of them to join a monastery
because he was supposed to be a reincarnated lama. But in 1981 we
received the news that they were both tragically killed during a period
of unrest with the Chinese. Later my father died and my sisters went to
the US from where they supported me and my mother for some years.
the age of five I was sent to begin training as a monk in a
Tibetan monastery in South India. This had been my father’s wish, since
we Tibetans believed that our children, if sent to be monks, will look
after their parent’s spiritual well being after their death. I became
very home sick in the monastery and never returned home. In those days
telephones were rare and I was too young to travel by myself. Life in
the monastery was tough with a very disciplined daily routine of
scriptural memory training, chants and meditation which involved the
use of mantras, inviting the entrance of spirit guides and the doing
puja to the Oracle—the worship of Palden Lhamo, the same god as the
Indian god Kali except with a different form. Although this life was
hard I had some very good experiences too. My main teacher, Tenzing
Sherap, was very kind to me treating me like his own child. He took
care of my education and living expenses.
This Serah monastery,
as it was called, was started by the Dalai Lama, housing about five
thousand monks (today, perhaps ten thousand). It is the biggest of
three Tibetan monasteries in South India.
During our daily
routine we also spent time learning musical instruments and performing
special ceremonial rites in others homes, teaching the Buddhist way and
doctrines. I particularly trained to play the ceremonial trumpet and
years later became the Dalai Lama’s leading trumpet player. The Dalai
Lama was my guru. In this role I was all dressed up in an ornate and
colorful shining costume wearing a huge yellow hat. On one occasion he
blessed me with the words, “You are the best trumpet player; do well.”
also spent much time in meditation and study of scripture, wisdom and
knowledge and learning how to debate on these subjects since my master
teacher wanted me to become an officiating priest conducting ceremonies
and rituals. I faithfully tried to discipline myself by fasting and
meditation, but I struggled with temptations. Many times in
meditations, when we were required to empty ourselves and invite
spirits in, I struggled like so many other monks, and was unable to do
After all these years I started to grow discontent with my
monastic life and made many plans to run away. Besides, to do so could
bring severe penalties. (Unknown to Westerners, the price of leaving
can be violent reprisal). However, in the meantime time my teacher
became very ill and I gladly took care of all his needs.
to speak English was part of my general monastic studies. Our English
teacher was a Westerner, who would write things about a person called
Jesus on the blackboard and we would go away and study the English of
it. Slowly, slowly I started to become curious about the story of Jesus
and his teachings. I discussed it with my monk friends and we decided
to ask the teacher more about the story. Lots of questions were asked
and the teacher seemed a little afraid to answer directly. Two days
later he answered. You guys need real salvation, alive salvation, not
dead salvation. My monk friends and I were shocked asking why are you
saying dead salvation. He said, “Where you are standing now is in
darkness. You are not in the light. I’m scared to tell you this because
I’m not allowed to teach this. But what can I do? The Holy Spirit is
pressing me to speak it?” We got a little confused. “Who is the Holy
Spirit we asked?” we asked. He started to get excited. We didn’t mind.
We just wanted him to speak directly. Finally he told all about Jesus
Christ. There were five of us in the group. We had no reaction. We
remained calm. But in my mind I was reminded of the thought, ‘this
monastic life is hell.’
We all then received a New Testament
from the teacher and took them to our cells. He told us to read and try
and understand. All the while we were supposed to be reading the
Buddhist scriptures, instead we read the New Testament. It seemed to
all of us a big love-voice. We began reading it aloud together, very
loud and very fast, Buddhist scripture style, so the other monks
wouldn’t notice. We did this several times, but one day our cell group
teacher came to our cells and checked our books and he found the
Bibles. He read a bit and found it was about Jesus and got very angry.
He started scolding us. “Where did you get this?” “Who gave it to you?”
We were afraid to tell our English teacher’s name. So we lied. We told
him we got it from some Indian people. He told us that if we read this
we will go to hell. If you read this you will not have a life. This
Christianity is lower than our religion and does not reach to heaven.
If in Christianity you die you will not have a re-incarnated life to
return to. We just kept quiet and listened. They confiscated the Bibles
and burned them, and gave us the punishment of being deprived of food
for a day and given three pages of scriptures to memorize by ten
o’clock next morning. It was just too difficult. None of us could make
it. So the teacher remained angry saying, “Never bring books like this
to your cell.”(Incidentally, sometimes we and other monks were beaten
with ropes of tightly strung beads for failing in our disciplines, even
with some ending up in hospital. I sometimes wondered where the
compassion was—(not for Tibetan version).
We were all really
very afraid and went to our English teacher’s home and told him we were
punished for reading your book. “Wow,” he said. “don’t be discouraged.”
Then he said, “I really want to pray for you.” Suddenly we got shocked,
“what kind of prayer is this?’(In Buddhism, prayer is just reciting our
scripture, and doesn’t have a personal element). He said, “You
won’t understand when I pray. I will make it simple. Would you follow
after me. Let’s close our eyes together,” and we started praying in the
Tibetan language, the Lord’s prayer from the biography of Jesus by
Matthew his disciple. We repeated each line with him. Finally he
declared, that ‘everything should be done according to God’s will’ and
then said “OK, everybody say, Amen.” “Amen, what does that mean?” we
asked? “It is so,” he said.
All this felt like some sort of an
‘out’ to us since we had been feeling like prisoners in the monastery.
We wanted to be free. We told him that we didn’t want to be part of
this life full of rules and regulations, besides no one ever seemed to
attain anything. He said, “I don’t want to tell you to leave;
it’s up to you; a time will come when the Lord will speak to you?” We
were surprised, and asked, “How will that happen?’He said, my God, the
creator God is a perfect God and he will definitely speak to your mind,
don’t worry. I hope you can hear, but you may not understand why you
may need to leave this monastery. After you leave you will remember all
that I have told you.
One year passed. Then the Tibetan New Year
came. The weather was becoming hotter and our restlessness grew. Then
one day my friend said, “We will leave the monastery now.” In the
meanwhile our other friends had been posted to other monasteries on
assignments, and we had forgotten all that the English teacher had told
us. Thinking again for a moment, I asked him, “Why would we want to
leave?” He said, “We want freedom and a life free of tight
regulations—my life will become like rotten meat here—useless; I want
to see the world.” “Me too, I want to come.” So we both left one
afternoon, secretly at 3pm with only 3,600 Rupees ($80) between us. And
later wrote to the Abbot saying that we would never return again.
Finally we made it to Katmandu Nepal. There I met my mother and two sisters for the first time in fourteen years.
knowing what to do with our newly won freedom we joined the India Army
as did many Tibetans. We left the army after two years finding too much
regimentation as we had experienced in the monastery.
while I drifted, not knowing what to do with my life. I wanted to make
money and I got involved in some crooked schemes. I began to drink and
party and through this I lost everything. All this took a terrible toll
on my health and I ended up with terminal stage-three tuberculosis, the
doctor telling me I was going to die and that I should pray. Through
all this I was naturally guilt ridden (the Buddhist teaching on
refraining from sin was heavily emphasized). Seeing what was happening
to me I became so afraid and started visiting temples and offering
prayers to ease my conscience.
I finally went home to my mother
and she was disgusted to see what I had become. At this point I went
into a deep depression. I was trying to do the right thing but never
could, while at this time also remembering that the Jesus followers had
always been praying for my wellbeing.
During this very low time
in my life a Tibetan follower gave me a Bible in my own language. I was
reminded. There was a lot of pain in me as I had been deeply into a
corrupt world. Now this Bible began fascinating me. The more I read it
the more I liked it, because it was showing me a way to peace and love
and giving me encouragement.
Now one day a Christian friend,
Karma, invited me to a church attended by about sixty people. When I
went, I felt strangely comfortable there, even if some to the practices
were funny to me. As I began to pray, it seemed so right to pray to
Jesus Christ. And many Christians prayed for me. My friend, Karma,
prayed that Jesus would reveal himself to me. Then that night I had a
vivid dream/vision of being chased by many monks with knives, and as I
was running, a huge mountain appeared in front of me and I was unable
to climb over it. Just then a great eagle appeared, swooped down and
carried me away to safety, to a peaceful valley filled with fruit trees
to satisfy all my hunger. The next morning I awoke filled with
the conviction that the eagle was, or represented, the person of Jesus
who saved me in this bad situation. Now I believed.
From then on
I began to attend church regularly and learned more and more about the
Bible—the truth of God and his saving grace.I then went to
North India to attend a discipleship training school for six months
which was a wonderful experience that deepened my walk with Christ. It
was during this training in 1993 that I fully surrendered my whole life
to Christ, placing myself in his hands for his promise of renewal and
salvation. I was then baptized as a mark of my commitment to the new
life he had given me.
Following this I went to Hyderabad in
South India for yet further discipleship training. It was here that I
received a miraculous healing of the severe case of tuberculosis that
was threatening my life. And at this time I spent a lot of time sharing
the good news among Tibetans in North India— Christ’s capacity to
transform a person’s life. Christ used me powerfully on many occasions.
I then faced much persecution as a Christian from my own people. My
family does not know Christ so they no longer accept me or my way of
thinking or living.
After my time in Northern India I went to
Nepal again, this time to share the love, knowledge and wisdom of
Christ with others. It was here that I met and married my wife Pelyang
in Katmandu in 2003. Following our marriage we felt called to go to
Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, to share the good message of Christ’s
salvation to my people.
When we arrived there, we hadn’t a
single friend, but soon God started bringing people to us. As our
circle grew we decided to open a small restaurant to serve tea and the
‘Jesus film,’ popular for portraying the life and teachings of Christ.
So on Christmas Eve of 2004 we rented a room and invited two hundred
people to come and learn about the true meaning of Christmas. God moved
powerfully that evening and forty five people acknowledged Jesus Christ
as their personal savior. We rejoiced greatly over this and right away
began teaching them from the Bible
and teaching the significance
of baptism. Ten Christ followers were then baptized in the spring of
the New Year. Things were going very well and people were growing in
their faith and walk with God.
But one morning in June, the
police visited our restaurant and took us in for questioning. We were
strictly told that it was illegal to teach the gospel (meaning: good
news) of Jesus Christ in Tibet. My wife and I were put in separate
rooms for four days of rigorous interrogation. They finally let us go
on the one condition that we reveal the names and whereabouts of all
the other believers. To spare our friends we gave wrong names and wrong
addresses. We knew we had to flee Tibet. So we went to China and stayed
there for three months, all the while receiving news from our friends
back in Lhasa. By 2005 we were back in Katmandu.
back in Nepal we have continued to pray for the safety and well being
of our believer friends in Tibet. They continue to face persecution
mainly from fellow Tibetans. But now I can see that God is really
working among the Tibetans. He has always been protecting us during
difficult times. Our prayer is that someday we will be able to return
In the meantime we share with our fellow Tibetan
refugee brothers and sisters about the new life we have found in
Christ, and we continue to see the wonderful work of God in their lives
back I am so grateful for receiving this new life from Christ. It gives
me clear direction meaning and purpose and his daily blessings surround
me. He declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” And the
thousands that believe it and follow him can testify to the renewal of
life that he brings, my many friends among them. He brings salvation by
grace and not by arduous disciplines that don’t seem to work.
I am looking forward to meeting another Buddhist Bhutanese monk to whom
Jesus appeared in a vision and said, “I will give you salvation.” He
now, like me follows Jesus, in newness of life as we move among our
people sharing the good news.