Monday, October 09, 2006

They were raised with the belief that Christianity alone contained the truth

In high school, I got every book I could find on Buddhism and began meditating, but the attention of a teenage boy is a fickle thing at best and my meditations remained sporadic for years. Despite my vacillating interest in meditation, I developed a deepening interest in Indian philosophy. I read Shankara, Aurobindo, the Upanishads, the “Manu Shmriti,” the “Bhagavad Gita” and several others.
I soon discovered “Autobiography of a Yogi,” by Paramahansa Yogananda. Yogananda articulated what I had been seeking my entire life without ever knowing it. I had been seeking God! This realization was so profoundly liberating that I soon accepted Yogananda as my guru and began practicing kriya yoga meditation — an ancient meditation technique of pranayama, or life-force control, used to elevate consciousness to higher plains of energy and perception. I spent the next couple of years attending a local temple and inevitably joined an ashram, a monastic community in California — a defining experience in my life because I was able to renounce the distractions that occupy our lives and focus on meditating to attain enlightenment. At the ashram we studied the teachings of our guru Yogananda, did group meditation and lead a balanced life of work and individual contemplation in an environment free of distractions and worldly entanglements.
Half the people I knew thought I had joined a cult and the other half thought I had retreated from reality into some kind of “New Age Fruitopia.” I remember the endless conversations with concerned friends, trying to inform me that I was giving up my future, pursuing a useless and fictitious goal. They could not understand why I would choose a life of renunciation because their own cultural conditioning blinded them to any perspective other than the narrow ideology that achieving material goals and attaining financial success was the highest goal of life. But I had never been interested in money and living for it seemed the sheerest folly to me.
I became the victim of attempts to convert me to Christianity by friends, work associates and fellow college students. The Christians that I knew could not accept my spiritual path because they were raised with the belief that Christianity alone contained the truth. They said I was being beguiled by the devil. Far from compelling me to convert, this dogmatic rhetoric only strengthened my commitment to my path and deepened my compassion for them, since they were attacking what they did not understand out of baseless fears.
How could I explain to my critics that I was like a man crawling through a desert that had finally found an oasis in the teachings of Raja Yoga? I knew I was heading in a good direction because meditation and the practice of my guru’s teachings made me calmer, happier and more loving than I ever had been. As a result of the positive effects meditation had on my life, many of my harshest critics eventually did open their minds. They have since shown a greater tolerance for Eastern religions, and some have even begun exploring Asian philosophy and meditation for themselves.
I have since left the ashram and have returned to college to pursue a degree in religious studies. I want to teach Eastern religions in order to increase understanding and tolerance within American culture. I feel profoundly grateful for the blessing of finding the shelter of a true guru, and I wish to share that blessing with others, not by convincing them to practice what I do, but by helping them to explore their own intellectual and spiritual frontiers. Where this exploration will lead them is not for me to decide. I can only walk my path with compassion, ready to be of service to everyone I meet regardless of their views or prejudices.

Matthew Horton has studied Eastern philosophy for many years, even living for three years in an ashram. He is applying to graduate school with the goal of teaching Asian religion and philosophy. Matthew is also working on a novel and a book of poetry. He regularly practices yoga meditation at his home in Chandler, Ariz. SHARE YOUR EAST WEST STORYWrite us at editor@eastwestmagazine.com

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