Eighteen months ago, I embarked on a journey of faith. This journey has taken me to places and people I never dreamed of meeting. I never thought I would be a member and servant of the Hindu community at Princeton. I never thought I’d spend all my free time at a Hindu temple not far from the Episcopal church I had attended as a child. And I never thought that Dharmic teachings and teachers would give me the inspiration to reshape my life around the concepts of love, compassion, strength, understanding, insight, mindfulness, and devotion.
It was a chance meeting with one such teacher that set me on this path. In the summer of 2010, a friend invited me to a program on the annual tour of Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, a Hindu guru with a wide global following. I spent the entire day at the program, marveling at the sights, sounds, smells, and sense of it all. I had never been in a Hindu setting before. But I found everything wonderful. Most of all, the atmosphere of love, respect, service, and devotion set my heart at peace and my mind to wonderment. Meeting Ammaji and receiving her darshan (her blessing) was a great blessing, because it opened my heart from dry philosophy to love, and made me begin to consider the possibility that in all my logic, philosophy, and scientific knowledge I could perhaps find a place for God.
Later that summer, I set out for a three-week solo hike of the Long Trail. The LT, as it’s called among backpackers, runs the length of Vermont, about 275 miles. I didn’t know how long it would take me, or what challenges I would encounter, but I had a mission. This trip would be my coming-of-age, between high school and college. It would be my vision quest. And it was: at some point in the trip I threw away my book of Nietzsche to devote my attention to my little pamphlet of sayings of the Buddha. Throughout high school, I had reveled in the mental tangles of Plato, Aristotle, Mill, and Nietzsche. I was attracted to Nietzsche’s emphasis on the personal responsibility of rising above the lower impulses and of domination of the intellect, and his cynical view of the man’s nature as weak and unintelligent. But after a few years of studying yoga and meditation, after the experience of meeting Ammaji, and after spending so many days alone in the woods, I could no longer accept his view. I turned to the words of the Buddha: The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.
In a Nietzschean world, fear of what will come and fear of failure is what controls man. In a Buddhist world, fear is causeless. And one year later, fear to me meant an opportunity to take shelter of the names of God.
Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear. (Bhagavad-Gita 18.66)
This summer, on another three-week adventure, I experienced everything that the high-mountain glaciers of Alaska have to offer: steep peak ascents, crevasse exploration, snowstorms, the deep loneliness and anxiety of utter isolation, and, yes, sledding. There were several moments of deep anxiety and real fear. In those moments, all I could do was chant the names of God. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
In those moments, all I had was faith. I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t know what would happen to me or my eleven comrades. I couldn’t cling to my own personal endeavor, as I’m so used to doing down in the Lower 48 as a supposed self-motivated, intelligent, capable young person.
Since meeting Ammaji, I’ve studied the teachings of yoga and of the Dharmic traditions with all my heart. Over the course of my freshman year, as I read Bhagavad-Gita, Yoga Sutras, and Qur’an, as I studied and practiced diligently in my yoga teacher training, as I spent time with Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist friends, and as I began to visit Hindu temples in New York, I realized that Hinduism was my faith home. By the end of the year, I realized that I had found a real home in the traditions, faith, practice, and community of the Bhakti Center, a Vaisnav temple in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I am proud to call that my community, and I am proud to call Princeton my home.