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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why I Became a Hindu / a Krshn Bhakt By Stephen Knapp

Why I Became a Hindu / a Krshn Bhakt
By Stephen Knapp
When I go to India one of the most common questions I get is why did
I become a Hindu, or what attracted me so much to India and its
culture. Many people wonder why, if I'm born in the opulence and
decadence of the West, would I be so interested in India? Why would I
be so fascinated by their ancient Vedic tradition? Wouldn't I already
have everything I would want, everything I need? Maybe not. Maybe the
American dream is not all it's cracked up to be, at least not without
a higher level of spirituality for balance and completeness. Maybe
Western religion also does not give all we need. So, let me provide a
little insight into why I took up the Dharmic path.

Now this is about "why" I became a follower of Sanatan-dharm, not
"how" I became a Dharmist, which is a longer story. But this does
include a little of how it happened.

Back when I was a teenager, I felt like I did not fit into this world
and thought ill of the premise that the whole purpose of life seemed
to be based on the idea that you have to get an education to learn a
skill so you could find a career that should last the rest of your
life, even if you don't know what you want to do. So, I was cynical
toward everyone because of that, and would have fun playing the
subtle game of tearing apart anyone's paltry purpose for their
existence. In that process, I would find that most people also had
little reason for what they were doing. They just went along with the
crowd because it seemed right, or because their parents wanted them
to do something. Of course, it was amusing to my friends to make
these kinds of jokes at others' expense, but I was just irritated for
being pushed into a world with social patterns and expectations that
didn't make sense to me.

In my mid-teens I became a musician. Music was the only thing I
liked. It saved my life. I learned how to play guitar and specialized
in bass guitar, and became quite good at it. So, I spent time hanging
out with other musicians, artists, and hippies of the area, and
though we would express ourselves in various ways, we would still get
serious at times and sit down and wonder what was our real purpose in
this life and where we really fit into this world. Then, in my late
teenage years, I had to set my guitar down for a while and do some
considerable research into the various philosophies and spiritual
paths of the world to find some solid answers for the real purpose of

Having grown up as a Christian, which was typical of most people in
America, I decided to seriously look into it. I studied the Bible,
not only in Sunday school and Church, but privately I read the Bible
from cover to cover. It took me a year to do that, so I was fairly
determined, but I did it. This was simply to see what was really
contained in its pages. I knew of few other people, especially of my
age, who had read the Bible from cover to cover. But I had more
questions than it could answer. So, I had to keep searching for the
spiritual knowledge I wanted to know, because if you look deeply into
the Bible, it mostly covers moralistic principles, what to do or not
do. These, of course, are necessary for any religious path, but it is
only the beginning. I wanted to know more about spiritual knowledge
and the process to increase my spiritual perception. The fact of the
matter is that most religions start with faith and end with faith,
without any real spiritual experiences or realizations in between.
There is often nothing to take you to a deeper level of self-
perception, but merely the same beliefs in concepts that remain
outside your own encounters, and often times with no encouragement
from the church authorities to reach that higher level of
consciousness. So, I obviously had to look elsewhere for the
information I needed.

Now is that being difficult? I don't think so. I was just asking the
kind of questions that any inquisitive and decent human being would
ask. But if you look, what does the Bible say about God, even in
simple matters such as what is His form, what does He look like?
Other than mentioning that He appeared as a burning bush or a dove,
etc., it does not say much. It also says he is a jealous and angry
God. But why would God be angry and jealous, and of who? He already
owns everything, and everyone is under His control, so what is the
problem? Or is it actually a matter of humanity merely projecting
their own weaknesses on their conception of God? Then the conception
of God that is presented is not really God at all, but merely
mankind's idea of what God must be, based on their own weaknesses and
imagination. Well, this was not what I wanted to learn.

Furthermore, what does the Bible really say about the soul, about our
spiritual nature, about our spiritual relationship with God and each
other, or even about heaven and hell, or things like that?
Furthermore, it was completely absent of any description of the soul.
Thus, it really does not say all that much regarding higher spiritual
knowledge, which means there are numerous questions left unanswered.
This also means that we have to rely mostly on faith that we are
doing what is necessary to reach heaven. After all, this is one of
the goals of Christianity. Everyone has hopes of going to heaven. In
this way, it offers a very elementary level of spiritual knowledge
based on the idea that you have to do whatever the church tells you
if you expect to have any relationship with God. Without that, you
may face excommunication, which is synonymous with going to hell.
Sorry folks, but that is not enough for me, or any sensible person
for that matter.

However, another problem is that the church took out most references
to the topics of karm and reincarnation, which I later found out in
my research had been a part of a political ploy to keep people in
line with the demands of the church. Without such obedience, they
would not be good Christians, and, thus, have no standing in the eyes
of God, or so they say. So, you cannot expect to get the whole
spiritual truth out of such books when these kinds of things are done
to them.

So, where do we go to find the answers? Therefore, I also studied
Judaism, Egyptology, magic, witchcraft, I Ching, palmistry, Tarot,
Voodoo, Zen Buddhism, mysticism, Yog, and many other esoteric topics.
I even read most of the Koran. However, as anyone who reads the Koran
will see, in comparison with other scriptures, it is not a book which
focuses much on theology or spiritual doctrine. It does not dwell on
describing our eternal spiritual identity, the characteristics of the
soul, or the spiritual nature of God. In fact, it provides a harsh
view of God when compared to other religious texts like the Vedic
literature. It presents God, Allah, as a God who gives out much
punishment with little or no mercy for those fallen ones who do not
follow the Islamic path, even though verses within it say how
merciful He is. But this is mercy mostly showed to those who are
already followers of Islam or who convert to Islam, while apostates
deserve to be killed. But, again, is this really God, or only mankind
projecting their own characteristics and demands into their concept
of God?

In this way, it became obvious to me that all religions are not the
same. They definitely take you to different levels of understanding.
The Bible and Koran, for example, deal mostly with moralistic
principles, which are, of course, necessary if a person is to begin
any spiritual process. However, books of the western religions
consist mostly of rules, or dos and don'ts with the promise that if
you follow all of them properly, you will go to heaven. Otherwise,
you go to hell with no second chance. In the conventional
monotheistic religions, it's like you are walking a tightrope just to
make sure you do not make the mistakes that will take you to hell,
what to speak of trying to make any genuine spiritual advancement.
But anyone who is spiritually experienced and knowledgeable knows
that you cannot go to heaven by faith alone. It just does not work
that way. The only way you can go to a higher dimension is by
changing your consciousness to a higher level of perception and
activity, and doing it right here in this life. And I found few
genuine spiritual paths that provided the means or the processes by
which you could do that.

Thus, I had to continue looking for the answers I needed for a higher
understanding and for things to make sense to me, including the
purpose of life. But fear-based religions, those that promise hell
and punishment if not followed, were not for me. I did not want the
fear of going to hell as the main motivation for accepting a
particular spiritual path, or a dogma that everyone was supposed to
accept in order to go to heaven, or to maintain an approved
connection with an institution or church to keep from being
excommunicated and, thus, going to eternal damnation. This did not
seem logical to me. I wanted a path that could give me a natural and
progressive way to attain a clear perception of the spiritual
dimension, not dogma or fear-based indoctrination or blind faith. In
all my research, I finally read the Bhagavad-gita, which was like the
final piece of the puzzle that I had been putting together from all
of my philosophical and spiritual investigation. I could see that all
of the spiritual paths were connected. Through the knowledge they
offer, they can bring a person to different levels of consciousness,
some higher and some lower. But the Bhagavad-gita gave me exactly
what I needed, which was a big boost in spiritual understanding, and
I knew I needed more. So, I went on to read the Upanishads, Vedant
Sutras, Yog Sutras, and other texts including the Puranas. These all
gave me profound insights into the purpose of life, and, finally, let
me know that this world is not my real home anyway. It is not like I
have to find a permanent place here, or an occupation that has to
last forever, like I was being taught in school at the time, and
which was expected of me by my parents. I was a spiritual being and
only a passing tourist on this planet as I moved forward, preparing
for higher realms.

As I studied the Eastern texts, it became clear that we all have a
connection with God regardless of what our religion is, or whether we
have a connection with a religious institution or church. All we have
to do is reawaken that relationship. And the Vedic system gives you
many tools to choose from to help you do that, such as gurus and
teachers, sacred texts, temples for worship and learning, systems of
yoga, and processes of development. Nothing is forced on you.

In the Vedic process, you choose your own speed at which you advance,
your own methods that work best for you, the level of understanding
and the spiritual texts you want to use. You decide whatever lessons
you need to learn in order to proceed. And whatever advancement you
make is never lost.

It's not a question of having a dogma forced on you. It is a matter
of proceeding at the rate that works best for you so that your
spiritual progress unfolds naturally, not artificially or
superficially. The Vedic system expects you to have your own
spiritual awakenings and experiences when you are ready for them or
developed enough.

I did not want to merely read about the spiritual dimension, and what
it must be like. I wanted to see it. I did not want to merely read
about the Supreme Being, which is more than you can get in most
Western religions anyway. Most of them have no idea about His
appearance, characteristics, how He acts, jokes with His devotees, or
displays His pastimes and love towards them. But I wanted direct
evidence and realizations, a connection to fill my soul, and to
complete my purpose in life. I did not get that from anything else,
whether it was material pursuits or Western religions. They all
remained too shallow for me. I must admit that even parts of Hinduism
were more like intellectual exercises or pursuits until I came to the
teachings of Lord Krshn, especially in Bhagavad-gita and then in the
Bhagavata Purana. These provided deep teachings that awakened a
higher awareness of life and the spiritual nature of us all.

I also did not try to learn this spiritual knowledge through an
academic pursuit. Most academics have never experienced whatever
spiritual culture they teach anyway, or may even teach outright wrong
information about it. Armchair philosophers often lack the necessary
direct insight and awareness to qualify for teaching others. It is
known amongst all Eastern mystics that anyone, regardless of
qualifications, academic or otherwise, who does not engage in the
spiritual practices described in the Vedic texts, cannot actually
enter into understanding the depths of the Vedic spiritual science,
nor acquire the realizations that should accompany it. So, rather
than pursuing my research in an academic atmosphere at a university,
I directly engaged in the spiritual disciplines that have been
recommended for hundreds of years. Thus, in time, I studied the Vedic
knowledge and spiritual practice under the guidance of a spiritual

After several years of serious independent study, I earnestly took to
the Dharmic process of yoga and became a steady follower of it. This
was because it gives a person the means or the system to spiritualize
one's consciousness, and, thus, actually begin to have insights into
perceiving the spiritual dimension. It does not merely prescribe
faith that such a thing exists, but it gives you the descriptions of
it and the process by which you can have your own spiritual
experiences. The point is that the more spiritual you become, the
more you can perceive that which is spiritual. This is the key. Thus,
the spiritual dimension no longer remains a mystery, or merely
something you study or learn about, but it becomes a reality,
something to experience. And that makes all the difference. Thus, I
imbibed the teachings within the Vedic texts and that of Lord Krshn
and took up the path of yoga, especially bhakti-yoga or devotional
yoga and became a Krshn bhakta. Thereafter, I lived in an ashram to
practice, study, and be trained in the Vedic teachings and learn the
way of regulated spiritual life, sadhana, along with temple rituals,
puja, and so forth until I became initiated into the Brahma-Gaudiya
sampradaya under the auspices of Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Prabhupada, and was given the name of Shri Nandanandana dasa. Several
months later I was brahminically initiated as well.

One of the reasons why I became a Krshn bhakta is that He is the God
of unconditional love, which is something that everyone is looking
for, and He also instructed in the Bhagavad-gita to stand up and
protect Sanatan-dharm for the benefit of others. At the battle of
Kuruksetra, Arjun wanted to leave the battlefield and go to the
forest and meditate, but Lord Krshn said no. It was best to do one's
duty and stand up to protect Dharm, not only for oneself but for all
others as well. By working for the benefit of others in such a way,
one simultaneously helps oneself. You get a little of the credit, or
punya, for whatever advancement others make because of your
endeavors. And now this is one of my main activities, not only
pursuing my own practice of Sanatan-dharm, but helping to preserve,
protect, and promote or explain Vedic culture so others can
understand, utilize and benefit from it.

If we look at the library of Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita,
Upanishads, Mahabharat, or Vishnu Purana, or especially the Bhagavata
Purana, they all explain various aspects of the nature of God, what
our spiritual identity is, what is this universe, where we came from
and where we are going based on whatever our actions are, and what
are the pastimes, characteristics, attributes, and nature of the
Supreme Being. How else are we supposed to learn this knowledge, and
where else can it be found in such a complete fashion? I have studied
all of the world religions and no other texts or scripture offers
such a depth of spiritual information. That is why I have concluded
that the Vedic philosophy is the last bastion of deep spiritual truth
and knowledge. Nothing offers what it does. Vedic culture,
essentially, takes up where the Western religions leave off.

That is why I never went back to the Western religions, though I may
respect all paths and still study portions of them for comparative
reasons. But what is the point of going back to something less
profound, less expansive, less spiritual, less dynamic than what we
have in the Dharmic tradition and philosophy as found in India? To do
so makes no sense. Though raised in the West with its Christian
beliefs and its modern facilities, many of us Westerners look toward
the East, especially India, for our inspiration and spirituality. We
are rejecting some of the very aspects of the Western religions that
some of the present day Indians are accepting when they convert to
them. This means that possibly they have not looked into them as
deeply as we have, at least when it comes to seeking the deeper
aspects of spiritual knowledge, beyond moral principles. They also
may not be looking at the bloody history they have left in their
trails through the past. Horrible crimes against humanity have been
committed in the name of these religions, mostly in order to control
such people and make them convert, not by their spiritual purity, but
by political force whether they wanted to or not.

In this way, Vedic culture, Sanatan-dharm, by giving me this
spiritual knowledge, saved my life, more than music did. It gave me
the insights I needed to understand the purpose of life, what I was
doing here, where I came from, where I'm going based on my actions in
this life, and how to acquire the highest levels of spiritual
perception. It gave me the means to keep going in this world. For me,
without those things, my life remained incomplete and void of real
meaning. It meant that I had little purpose to continue living. Why
bother with something that made little sense to me? And materialistic
life was just that, something that made no sense.

However, anyone who grasps the big picture of things, meaning to
understand that our existence spans many lifetimes, will know that
this is not my first life as a follower of Sanatan-dharm. I was
obviously an Indian devotee in India in a previous life. I'm only
taking up where I left off from before. And I will continue to follow
Sanatan-dharm, as well as work to preserve, protect, and promote it
for the benefit of others until the day I die. And I invite others to
join me on this great path.

The thing is that I was not born into Vedic culture in this life. I
did not learn about it because my parents or grandparents followed
it, like most Indians do. I was born in a small Midwestern town in
America where there was no hint of any Vedic tradition. So, I had to
search for it and fight to attain it. That is why I do not take it
for granted at all. And no one is going to take it away from me now
that I've found it.

I know what my life was like when I did not have it, and it has made
such a difference in my life compared to when all I had was the
elementary form of religion that I started with. I learned the
benefits of the Dharmic path and how it can relate to my life, and
the many improvements of understanding it has given me.

So, as a typical American, when we find something good, positive, and
advantageous, we want to share it with others. Our enthusiasm makes
us want others to take a look at it and see what they think because
they might like it as well. And I've seen what it has done for others
with its deep spiritual knowledge, peace, insights into our purpose
in life, and how to increase our own spiritual perception, over and
above mere faith and hope. This is why I have gone on to write
various books on the many aspects of Vedic culture, so others can
learn about it, use it in their life, and benefit from it. I
especially try to write in a way to make the lofty and sophisticated
Vedic philosophy understandable for the regular layman. But
amazingly, even though I started out writing for Westerners, many
Indian Hindus have also appreciated what I do and have expressed how
they have gathered much from my own learning, research, realizations,
and experiences about which I have written. This enthuses me to
continue the work I do to help preserve, protect, and promote the
Vedic knowledge and its traditions. Its timeless wisdom and spiritual
knowledge still serves an important purpose.

However, as things stand today, we may think that the battle of
Kurukshetr was just a story in the Mahabharat, a scene for the
Bhagavad-gita in which Lord Krshn told Arjun that it was foolish for
him to want to go off to the forest to meditate when his duty was to
stand and fight. But fight for what? To fight for Sanatan-dharm and
our freedom to pursue the spiritual Dharmic path. Thus, we should all
follow in the footsteps of Arjun in this way, under the direction of
Lord Krshn to do our parts to take a stand to help protect Vedic
culture. In this way, I have worked with a wide number of
organizations, both within India and outside, and numerous
individuals who have similar ideas for doing this.

It is not our time to be timid about standing up for our rights to
follow the Dharm. It is not time to be afraid to come together and
work to preserve our culture from those forces, whether they be
different religions, non-Hindu politicians, Marxists, or secularists
who still wish to destroy it or see its demise. We should be on the
forefront to work with each other to maintain our spiritual
traditions. We should be on the forefront to create a spiritual
revolution in India through the promotion of Vedic spiritual
knowledge, and allowing all other interested people to participate in
it without restriction. If we can do this, we could change India in
18 days, which was the same length of time as the Battle of
Kuruksetra. Vedic culture is, as I call it, the last bastion of deep
spiritual truth. We must all do our part to preserve and protect it,
and make sure that India remains the homeland of a dynamic and
thriving Vedic tradition.

Why am I so enthused and determined about this? It is because my life
has been so much blessed because of it. I cannot imagine what my life
would have been without it. I love this Vedic culture. I love India.
I love Sanatan-dharm, and I think everyone should take a serious look
at it.

Bharata Mata ki jai! Jai Hind! Sanatan-dharm ki jai! Hari Om, and Jai
Shri Krshn!

Other reasons why a person should seriously take a look at Vedic
culture can be found in my E-book "Why Be a Hindu: The Advantages of
the Vedic Path."

End of forwarded message from Stephen Knapp

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