Ever since I was a little girl, I have been asking myself, “Why do we exist?”
I love philosophizing. As a kid, this was one of my favorite activities whenever I had an idle moment.
The constant search for a meaningful answer to this question first led me to the Bible, which was readily available as soon as I entered secondary school. In fact, it was a mandatory subject, taught by Irish Catholic nuns who ran the school. Every morning I had to chant the “Lord’s Prayer” and “Hail Mary” with the whole class. I also had to go through some unfamiliar chanting, singing and kneeling rituals at weekly masses in the school hall. Very soon I was discontented with what I saw as a kind of religious hypocrisy. Some of my classmates who were baptized as Catholics would engage in despicable or unrighteous behavior in my eyes.
But I liked the messages in the Bible, as least some of those from the stories of Jesus, like when he healed the sick, fed the poor and stood up for the downtrodden ones. “There must be more to this,” I thought. So I followed a classmate to a different type of church, a Protestant one, with Baptist as denomination. Well, it was a bit less formal and people seemed to be engulfed in a sort of “goodness trance.” But I was still unsatisfied. Certain things just didn’t make sense to me.
Then I got swept into an organization that was considered by many a cult, Jehovah’s Witnesses. I subscribed to many of their beliefs, such as not celebrating birthdays and refusing to practice religious rituals like saying my morning prayers at school. Despite my fervent, I remained a passive member, which meant that I did not go out and “preach.” Still, I felt very self-righteous and different from everybody else around me. But my parents, being atheists at the time, were very much against my involvement in religious activities, especially in a cultist organization like this one. They even threatened to disown me if I continued. Seeing my father’s wrath and not wanting to become an orphan, I eventually gave in.
I did not give up my search for the truth though. When I was attending college in America, I made friends with some girls in my dorm. They were evangelical Christians. They invited me to a Christian fellowship and I was suddenly surrounded by super friendly people who spoke English slowly and clearly enough for me to follow. My host family also took me to an inter-denominational church, where I eventually “committed” to be a Christian. Being in such a friendly and safe community appealed to me a great deal and eased my awkward feeling of living in a foreign place where people did not understand where my country was located and why my hair “got so dark.”
Fast forward…. I never became a full-blown Christian, although the label or the lose concept of being a “committed one” actually made me remain a virgin throughout the five years I lived with my ex-boyfriend! Anyway, no regrets there, as our relationship was a dark chapter in my life. As I blossomed into my womanhood, it became clearer and clearer that the Christian values that I knew conveniently dove-tailed with the conservative Chinese traditions that I grew up with. Both of these value systems felt like a straitjacket, choking me almost to death.
In my quest to be a “good person,” I lost my sense of freedom and joy for life. “How can this be?”
Then one day I came across the name Maharishi Mahesh Yogi during my research at work. I was writing an article about Sthapatya-ved and how that transformed a sick building into one in which people thrive and became healthy. Little did I realize that this name would resurface when I met my future husband in Marseille during a back-packing trip. He asked me if I had heard of this man and told me that he practiced transcendental meditation taught by Maharishi.
This name and the meditation technique remained in the back of my mind until one day I read about them in Conversations with God by Neales Donald Walsh. In the appendix of his very first book, he wrote that TM, which is transcendental meditation in short, successfully reduced the criminality in Washington D.C. and created a peace effect in society.
Being an idealist, I was immediately attracted to the idea. I had been testing the water with meditation before, but failed to appreciate its benefits because I was trying to focus my mind on my breath, or the image of a candle, which I found impossible for any length of time longer than 20 seconds!
So I looked up the TM Center in New York, where I was living then, and went to their introductory lecture. I was so impressed by what I heard—all the benefits that TM promises—and they all turned out to be true. I will write about the benefits in another post but it suffices to say that I am extremely happy that I “stumbled upon” this spiritual practice. It is such a simple technique. Anybody, even a child, can learn it and reap great benefits in their daily lives. As I enjoyed the new-found calmness and clarity in my head, I gasped at the positive, guilt-free feeling that spirituality could actually give me. From then on, there was no looking back.
TM is not the be-all-and-end-all stop of my spiritual journey. In fact, it kicked started an exciting journey ahead.
A couple of years ago, I started to get really interested in Vedic literature and picked up a book called The Secret Teachings of the Vedas by Stephen Knapp. In the book he explored the concept of religion. He wrote that the word “religion” comes from the Latin word “religio,” which means to bring back or to bind. Similarly, the Sanskrit word “yoga” means to connect with or to unite—with the Supreme. Meditation is part of the practice of yoga, which unfortunately has been reduced to a form of stretching exercise due to the corruption of its meaning in the West.
Anyway, it is a delight to know that the goal of religion and yoga are the same. Somehow, human beings have for thousands of years allowed ignorance, faulty interpretation, greediness and blind rituals to overshadow our true spiritual longing for the devine union. But I believe that through gaining Vedic knowledge and practicing the purest form of meditation that allows us to experience transcendental consciousness, we will achieve self-realization and enlightenment.