From Dog Bite to Sanyas to Cigarettes - Story of the Evolution of my Relegion

My first serious tryst with religion began at the age of 10, when I was bitten by a dog or thought I was bitten (dog's jaws brushed close to my ankle and later I discovered a scar on that spot, which may or may not be attributed to dog bite). I somehow managed to hide the fact from my parents. But within a month I began to get scared and started fearing I may get rabies and started researching the library about this disease. The research only served to worry me more. In order to save myself, I bargained with God that “Please save my life and I shall never hide anything from my parents”. But I did not keep up the promise and then fearing God would punish me began to inflict voluntary punishments upon myself such as denying myself the pleasure of playing football and other such self denials and also sometime inflicting injuries upon myself. Thus my initial conception of God was that of a heartless dispenser of justice, who does not spare the wrong doer. But I viewed him as someone with whom you can bargain and trade God's justice for self inflicted punishments. Thus I began to deny myself various things, denials which at times I would violate to atone for which I had to take on even more self denials.

Thus by the time I was 13, I had denied myself almost everything. I could not play football, I could not collect stamps, I could not talk to or even accidentally touch girls, I could not swear – the list can go on and on. These denials made me look eccentric and began to isolate me from my peers and the attitude towards girls not only made me a kind of laughing stock but for many years to follow stood as a barrier to healthy interactions with members of the opposite gender.

But as I was heading to 15, I began to feel the insufficiency of my current concept of religion. Also important questions such as what happens after death and the purpose of human existence had began to appear in the periphery of my mind. At that age of 15, I temporarily sorted the issue by deciding to drop all my self-imposed punishments and submitting to the mercy of a much more benevolent God, described in the New Testament and accepting Christ as my savior and living by the Christian moral code set in the bible and my parent’s basic moral code. So for outside appearances I was a Hindu, but at heart I had converted to Christianity. I used to read the New Testament regularly. Incidentally my new school was also a Christian school. I was highly influenced by the saintly character of the school principle who was a Catholic monk. So I was at peace with myself for the next 2 years.

As I neared the completion of my 17th year, an obsession to get into IIT had gripped my mind. As the exam drew near, the obsession crowded everything else out. At last the D-Day arrived. Much to my chagrin I performed so poorly that I was sure I could not make it to this elite institute of my dreams. I was a living copse for the next 2 days. On the third day, flipping through the pages of the newspaper, I suddenly came across a headline 'IIT JEE canceled’. I could not believe my eyes. Now my belief in God was vindicated. I believed the exam had been canceled for my sake and next time I was going to make it and so it happened and thus I landed up at IIT at the age of 18. The first term at IIT was fully occupied in settling down. There were so many new things. It was also the first time I was staying away from home. I was still on the top of a cloud, hardly believing I had made it into IIT, one of the only 2 to have done it from my school, where I was not even in the top 10 ranks in my class.

By the time second term came, the charm had faded. I realized IIT, in spite of having some of the best professors and students, was not what I had dreamed it to be. Also with the obsession to get into IIT fulfilled and no alternate obsession to fill my mind, I experienced a void. At this juncture once again thoughts about life after death and purpose of life surfaced. The simplistic philosophy of the New Testament no longer sufficed to satisfy me. I needed something richer. That’s when Swami Vivekananda came into my life. Just the year I joined some of the senior students had formed a group to study his philosophy. Slowly I began to be drawn to the group. I got acquainted with lot of senior students with state of mind similar to mine in search of answers to the big questions in life. They started taking me regularly to the Ramakrishna Mutt nearby. I was also introduced to the rich literature of Hindu philosophy - Bhagwat Gita, Yoga Vasishta, the complete works of Swami Vivekananda, Life of Swami Vivekananda, The Great Master (life of Sri Ramakrishna), and the gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. I took initiation at the Ramakrishna Mutt (In principle it is similar to the Upanayanam done in Brahmin families with the differences being it is given to both men and women, irrespective of caste, creed and color, a different mantra, no external trappings such as threads and most importantly it is administered by the highly spiritual president of R K Mutt and not by some local priest who does not even know to say his mantras properly). With that I started meditation. I also used to interact often with spiritual people at the Mutt and in my college, and used to listen often to the Ramkrishna Aratrikam composed by Swami Vivekananda. It seemed as if I had attained ultimate peace of mind.

But the story did not end there. This new found religious zeal began to affect my day to day life. I had stopped paying attention to my studies and my grades had started heading downhill. In an effort to keep only holy company, I began to categorize more and more people as unholy and avoid their company. People who smoked, those who drunk, those who swore, those who watched porn and talked about sex - all were evil people and had to be avoided. As in any other group of young adults, 80-90% fell in one or the other of these categories. This meant I could interact with only 10% of the people. I probably knew only 10% of the students, which left something like 1% of the students – my 4 friends. Thus with no interest in academics and nil social life, any further continuation of the current life was impossible. So I decided to join the Ramakrishna Mutt as a monk. I wrote to the president of the order and got the permission when I was in my third year of engineering. But the monks told me that they want people who can keep up their commitments. So I had to keep up my commitment of finishing my degree. Moreover the order did service work and so they needed qualified people to serve the community better. So I had 1 year to go and a vacation in between. I tried to avoid going home that vacation by getting an internship. But those days, internships were rare at IITs and so I did not get one. So I had to go home. However when I saw my parents, my heart melted and I did not want to leave them and go. Moreover further thought showed me that I was not becoming a monk for the right reasons. It seemed more like escapism than true renunciation. So I decided to continue a regular life
By then it was too late to write GRE and go abroad. So I took the first job that came to campus – one of India’s leading IT companies. This was time for another shift. Through my association with Vivekananda literature I had become an Advaitist. I had begun to believe that God is nothing but the universal soul that exists in each one of us and every other living being. So by meditating I had tried to remain connected to the soul of the universe.  But I realized in spite of all external trappings of a spiritual person, I was not able to maintain concentration for meditation for more than 6-7 minutes. So pure Raja Yoga was not my method. Also I felt if whole world was God, then why would certain words and certain actions alone be spiritual. Every action we do can be spiritual. Also I realized I had become proud and was considering myself superior while considering all the other people who smoked, drank etc. inferior. So I had become proud and judgmental, which are worse faults than smoking and drinking. So at the time of leaving college in 2001, I wanted to give up the holier than thou attitude and live like all other people and learn to relate to them. As part of learning to relate to people, I developed the habit of smoking and drinking. I found that brought me closer to people. Unless I indulged in those so called vices, I would not let go of the prejudices against people indulging in them.

So that began a new journey in my life. It's been over a decade. I have had lot of interesting experiences over this time. But I will leave that story to another time.


Sumit Kumar said...

gud dissco
i am looking forward to ur article on drinks and girls

zorba said...

great ,
really interesting ,

wish u great awareness in ur journey


smiley said...

wat a pleasure to read this post!!!
keep posting :)
Swami Vivekananda's philosophy is d philosophy of pragmatism ..even i m a huge fan of his philosophy :)
P.S:i think dat d yoga dat u hav mentioned in d post is known as gyana yoga..correct me if i am wrong:)

The Fool said...

@zorba, smiley - Thanks for your reponse

@sumit - Maybe I will

Vishnu said...

Goes to show how little I really knew about you. The only philosophy for me is to live in the present. I am glad to have discovered your blog. Great Stuff, keep it coming.

smiley said...

hey fool!
so when are u posting abt those experiences which made u quit drinking n smoking? :)

The Fool said...

@smiley - All in good time

trappedintpv said...

For some, every action in life is linked to spiritual evolution. You are one of them.

Am curious to know what you thought of the Ram Chandra mission?

Abinaya said...

i found one more soul whch s similar to mine...nw u r a monk or not?

Dr Nash said...

Good to read.
What year did you crack IIT?
Nash singh

dvirada said...

Your journey down the lane of spirituality/philosophy is strangely similar to mine hitherto. Quite interesting to know that.

Even I had umpteen number of self imposed restrictions which would look as paranoia to others.

Should definetely exchange notes with you ASAP:)

The Fool said...

Really Interesting.

kajak said... dude..,nice to know this story...we have some similarities,.. especially believe in god having hand in cancelling IITjee 2007 first time..and then ofcourse, holier than thou attitude.. and loosing it.. staying away from women etc. thanx to IITM's mostly men population....only thing is that i have generally been social all the time..

The Fool said...

Thanks kajak. Been such a long time. IIT seems like eons back.

vivek.gahatyari said...

A major barrier for a student of Hindu Philosophy is that he has to rely on interpretations.. rest my experiences have been ditto ..

The Fool said...

@ Vivek - True. I beleive what you mean is the language barrier. A serious student however should invest time in learning Sanskrit to overcome the same. I must admit I have not had the fortitude to undertake this ardous task. But it by no means is impossible.

vivek.gahatyari said...

Absolutely, it’s not impossible to learn Sanskrit. Infact I am in the process of learning it myself. However, I came across some very interesting facts about the language.
Sanskrit was a language that was spoken and not written. Over a period of time the script was invented for documentation. This was done as it was becoming extremely difficult to pass on the scriptures vocally, which we already know are volumes together. The difficulty was not only in the size, it was mainly because the entire emphasis was on preserving the sounds and hence the meanings (both were not easy to learn and comprehend). They had devised ways to memorize all the scriptures and it was very important to maintain the sounds i.e. pronunciation of words, in the original form. This was achieved using various techniques. Now I am not a pro in this language yet, but what I figure after reading many references about the language is that the script does not do complete justice to the language as it fails to preserve the sounds. Also the scriptures have been written in, what we call Vedic Sanskrit, which is very different from the Sanskrit that we read and learn today. Infact there was a renowned Grammarian by the name of Panini who's rules are considered pillars of Sanskrit Grammar since ages, and the language had changed substantially by his time as well.

These facts, ofcourse, bring to light that language is a barrier for today's student.

Another barrier that I intended to highlight, which is more of what "interpretation" inclined to in my earlier post, was the capacity to understand the core Hindu concepts through Poetic texts, which the Vedas are (I am not too sure if Upanishads were poetic too).

An example should help explain what I mean. From your posts, I gather you believe in Advait-Vedanta (Me too). Which means you would very well understand the concept of "Brahman", and also understand that, from the Advait-Vendatic perspective, the realization of "Brahman" is the ultimate aim of every line and word in the scriptures.

Despite this, the Gayatri mantra has been interpreted in different ways by many Advaits. There is no way I would know if you have observed this or not, but it is very important while establishing our beliefs in the Advait philosophy.

The reason I highlight this point, especially with Gayatri Mantra, is because:
1. Gayatri Mantra has been considered as the most important of all Mantras in the scriptures. Even in the Bhagvad Gita, Krishna refers to it in a very special way.
2. Gayatri mantra comes from the Vedas.

So even if I learn Sanskrit and intend to learn about hindu philosophy from the available texts by renowned or un-renowned philosophers, it would not mean that it helps in understanding the pure essence of our scriptures in totality. :) That does not mean it doesn't help at all. It would certainly bring one closer to the essence.

Sanskrit, I must say, is an amazing language though, extremely efficient.

Richa Singh said...

I have met and read plenty of weird people but trust me this one does rank a notch higher than the rest. I can quite relate to a lot of religion concepts. I have also believed (and still believe) in self denials and of course then become very superstitious. I have also done a lot of meditation and things around it (still do). Your writing honestly have left me quite impressed! Lovely read :)


The Fool said...

Thanks, Richa. Of course I am weird. Why else would I call myself TF, eh?

Religion is a very personal evolution that varies from person to person.

Pankti Mehta said... be honest, after reading this I am speechless. Still scratching my head what to say. But one thing's for sure: until now, I had had people telling me I am one weird person but now I think I will tell those people to meet you. Maybe then they get off my back :D

The Fool said...

Well Pankti - Everyone is weird in their own way. Isn't that what individuality all about? Some hide it, some flaunt it openly. That is the difference.

Pankti Mehta said...

Yes, but the degrees of those weirdness varies. Some people are extremely weird and some are normally weird. And even when a person doesn't flaunt his/her weirdness, it doesn't mean that he/she is never recognized. The only difference is when you flaunt it, you save others time, and when u hide it, others will take more time to understand u. :D

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