One of my favorite quotes sums up the focus of my life for over four decades:
“Religion alive…calls the soul to the highest adventure it can undertake.”[i]
This is speaking of far more than ceremonies, rituals, traditions and doctrines; “religion alive” is true spirituality: something that surpasses the intellect, transcends the natural realm, and propels the seeker into an awareness of supernatural reality. So I wholeheartedly agree. The most exciting, most fulfilling, most intense adventure of my life has been the pursuit of absolute truth and a real, dynamic relationship with God. A lot of different roads bore my footprints before I turned down an ancient trail, often overlooked, that led to the True Light—but the Spirit of God did lead me, and for this I am eternally grateful.
It’s easy now to look back and see the primary turning points: the songs, books, insights, experiences, relationships, and new ideas that triggered profound changes in my belief system and my behavior. At times, when I thought I was thinking ‘independently,’ I was simply caught up by some megatrend—with millions of others who thought they too were thinking ‘independently.’ Then there were supernatural influences: times when God Himself intervened in my life, and times when dark, malevolent beings made a play for my soul. Sometimes these turning points were positive and powerful; at other times, they were negative and painful.
However, they are all monumental moments. When I look back, I feel their significance all over again. It’s as if pillar-like monuments have been erected in the depth of my being that I can revisit from time to time—until fresh, heartfelt worship ascends, like burning incense, toward the One who knew the end from the beginning and gave me grace, in advance, to complete the journey.
According to the Buddhist tradition, a young man named Siddhartha Gautama encountered this kind of ‘monumental moment’ around the age of 29. Modern writers might call it a ‘paradigm shift’ (a personal transformation that dramatically changed his worldview). Though sheltered all his life within the confines of a royal palace, Siddhartha dared to venture into the outside world. According to legend, it was during this excursion that he viewed the “Four Sights”—a sick man, an old man, a corpse, and an ascetic.
No longer could he remain spiritually asleep on a bed of princely ease. Having witnessed firsthand the suffering of this world, he was jarred from a self-serving mentality. The resulting desperation to find answers became, as author William Burroughs puts it, “the raw material of drastic change.”[ii]
The sheltered palace protégé made an unorthodox decision. Walking away from the opulent surroundings to which he’d grown accustomed, instead, he turned down the narrow and seldom-walked path of renunciation. Hoping to transcend the natural world, he subjected himself to intense ascetic disciplines. After many years of seeking, while meditating under the Bodhi Tree, he claimed an experience of Ultimate Reality he called Nirvana. As a result, to those who subscribe to his philosophy, he became the “Buddha” (the “awakened one”).
Buddha’s conclusion and my revelation vary drastically in some areas, but I still deeply respect the passion for truth he displayed and the compelling, spiritual thirst that sent him on such an amazing quest.
A near-death experience in my freshman year of college proved to be the pivotal point for me. That almost-tragic night, I had the distinct impression that my soul was leaving my body and passing into a very ominous, pulsating darkness. I felt totally unprepared. It’s been said that those who desire to die well must first learn to live well. I certainly had not been living well, so I wasn’t ready to die well, either.
My near-fatal brush with this ever-present stalker of the human race actually helped me. A negative experience actually became a positive one, because I emerged with a new set of values. My former life no longer possessed an attractive aura. In my mind, the gyrating, sensory-pounding, party-going ‘music’ of college life slowed down and decreased in volume, until it became a still picture: static, silent, and unappealing. As if suspended in time, I looked around and saw only empty and confused faces, even among those who claimed to be the most educated and informed.
I’d been a rock musician in my latter high school years, but the alcohol, the drugs, the absence of moral boundaries took its toll, and that kind of lifestyle no longer looked very ‘rock-solid.’ Spiritual quicksand was slowly pulling me under and I knew it was just a matter of time before I succumbed. When I entered Florida State University, I strongly considered majoring in oceanography, but after my near-death encounter, I painfully realized—“I could spend my entire life searching out the depths of the ocean and never discover the depth of my own being.” So it all appeared frustratingly unimportant.
An inward voice kept probing and prodding with admonitions similar to the one given to Horatio, in the Shakespearean play, Hamlet:
“There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”[iii]
In an effort to break out of the boundaries of ‘normalcy’—imposed by friends, by society, and by my own mind—I started exploring nearly every new philosophy or belief system that crossed my path. A longing for lasting answers drove me to become somewhat of a recluse. Once again, an inward sense of desperation became “the raw material of drastic change.”
After years of being somewhat insensitive, I turned my gaze once again toward religion, more importantly, toward spirituality. I was raised a Roman Catholic. Until my early teens I was very devoted, but the idea that one religion was the only way to God, to the exclusion of all others, just seemed too narrow-minded, too unreasonable. Besides, I decided I could no longer embrace something just because it was part of my cultural or family belief system. I purposed to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and start from a pure and unbiased beginning point.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”[iv] I resolved that beliefs left unexamined might not be worth much either. Intending to explore various religions of the world with an open mind, I embarked on a quest for the “True Light.” Even though I recognized I was studying the theories, opinions and supposed ‘revelations’ of others, my primary goal was to experience God for myself. I had faith that something somewhere would prove to be my connecting link with Ultimate Reality.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words well describe my inner stance at that time:
Earth’s crammed with heaven;
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.[v]
Blackberries held no interest for me any longer. I was willing to ‘take off my shoes’ and look at things differently. I was definitely searching for my ‘burning bush.’ All of this was definitely progress in the right direction. Little did I anticipate the unique turns my life would take before reaching my goal. The first main milestone in the road was…
An Encounter with Eastern Religions
I began reading a lot of literature that opened the door to new philosophies, metaphysical ideas and Far Eastern religions. Over a period of months I visited a wide spectrum of written works, like Ayn Rand and her philosophy of “Objectivism” (Atlas Shrugged), Herman Hess (Siddhartha), Levi Dowling (The Aquarian Gospel), Meher Baba (God Speaks), Helena Blavatsky (The Secret Doctrine), and books by various gurus and out-of-the-box thinkers. New phraseology filled up my mind, words like: reincarnation, karma, yoga, astral projection, soul travel, mantras, chakras, the third eye, nirvana, Ascended Masters, self-realization and God-consciousness. All of these concepts exploded in me with a fiery fervor to know more.
I joined an Edgar Cayce meditation group in Orlando, Florida. It was very easy to adapt to their approach because they used “The Lord’s Prayer” as a basis for meditation. I had uttered this prayer thousands of times as a Catholic. Because it was already deeply rooted in my psyche, it was a perfect, nonintrusive means of transitioning into a new worldview. No ‘red flags’ were raised. I quickly embraced the subtle changes in meanings assigned to various words or phrases. Of course, the line-by-line interpretations of the prayer were no longer promoting a Biblical perspective, but a metaphysical one. Not abruptly, but slowly and consistently, my outlook on spirituality was changing. The tension Edgar Cayce felt between the new ‘prophetic’ insights he received during hypnosis sessions, as opposed to his long held Biblical beliefs, intrigued me. Why did he struggle for years trying to reconcile the two views? Now I understand.
In the fall of 1969, I went to hear Yogi Bhajan, a guru from India who claimed he came to North America to help the ‘flower child,’ ‘peace’ generation find their way spiritually. He taught us about yoga (a word meaning yoked, implying that the devotee is yoked with God). The emphasis was not on obtaining a ‘relationship’ with God, but rather, on attaining a ‘realization’ of our inherent oneness with God (actually, an understanding that we are God). God was referred to as “the Great Computer” into which the right mechanical mantra must be ‘inserted’ in order to bring forth the desired results. That clearly threw the responsibility on seekers to use the right esoteric methods in order to successfully ascend to higher realms of consciousness.
With his full beard, long black hair, and intense dark eyes, this teacher of Far Eastern mysticism was somewhat imposing and quite convincing. However, it was much more than the mystique surrounding this tall, turban-clad Sikh that attracted followers. It was more than the passion he seemed to display concerning his beliefs. It was more than just the stimulus of a new approach to spirituality. It was the promise that we could personally penetrate the supernatural realm and experience Ultimate Reality ourselves. This drew me to Yogi Bhajan’s words and to the spiritual discipline he was propagating (Kundalini Yoga, also known as “The Yoga of Awareness”).
Escaping “the Jaws of the Tiger”
Attaining my ‘higher self’ became the primary focus of my day-to-day existence. In between and after college classes, I used every available hour to pursue the goal of ‘reaching enlightenment.’ The Hindu Bhakti poet, Surdas, warned:
“Without devotion to God, you will make yourself into a stale crumb to be eaten by the tiger of Time.”
Appalled at the thought of becoming a stale crumb, the following spring, I decided to use my time more wisely, quitting school to escape the ‘jaws of the tiger.’
Packing up my belongings, I left Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, to help start an ashram in Daytona Beach (a commune where yoga devotees live together to more effectively practice their disciplines). Every day involved many hours of meditation and Mantra Yoga (the chanting of certain Hindu words and phrases designed to carry a person to higher levels of awareness). We also devoted ourselves to the study of Hatha Yoga. This centered on physical exercises (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama), both of which were aimed at opening supposed invisible, spiritual ‘energy centers’ in the body called chakras.
Our daily routine included the study of various religious writings, like the Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedas (ancient Hindu Scriptures). Then, of course, there was participation in yoga classes several times a week. Every waking hour and every activity, even bathing and eating meals, was controlled by a prearranged discipline. We were motivated by the supreme goal of all ashram devotees—our souls (atman) blending into oneness with the Oversoul (Brahman). We were totally committed to the process.
Peculiar and pleasant things began happening to me: a deep sense of peace, occasional out-of-body excursions into the ‘astral realm,’ vivid spiritual dreams. The suffocating control of the natural realm seemed to be easing its grip and the ‘veil’ of flesh-consciousness, lifting. A kind of spiritual adrenaline surged through me daily—the prospect that I was being wrenched free from what my teachers called maya, the illusion of this present world. I felt encouraged that transcendent love would prevail for me—that I, in an Adam-like sense, would one day awake out of spiritual sleep to find myself gazing into the face of my Maker. What could be better?
So I followed hard after God, until every waking moment was pulsating with the heartbeat of a sacred quest. Nothing can express the evolution of my heart at that point better than the following quote from the “Sayings of Shri Ramakrishna”:
“If you fill an earthen vessel with water and set it apart upon a shelf, the water in it will dry up in a few days; but if you place the same vessel immersed in water, it will remain filled as long as it is kept there. Even so is the case of your love for the Lord God…if you keep your heart immersed always in the ocean of divine love, your heart is sure to remain ever full to overflowing with the water of the divine love.”[vi]
“Full to overflowing”—to be full: that spoke of satisfying my own spiritual need of attaining higher levels of consciousness. But to overflow: that spoke of satisfying the thirst of others for spiritual truth. Though my initial desire in the ashram was to be full myself, day by day I began sensing even greater concern for the parched state of others. I needed to overflow. It would be far more unselfish to focus on helping other seekers, than just seeking my own betterment. Surely, that was ‘the higher calling.’ These thoughts kept surfacing. I could no longer ignore the plight of a human race draped in spiritual ignorance. I needed to more vigorously help the dawning of a ‘New Age’ (the astrological “Age of Aquarius”: a time of enlightenment and peace embracing this planet). So I decided to branch out and start teaching classes on my own.
Feeling strongly compelled (now I know why), I moved to the thriving city of Tampa, Florida. Four universities in that area (University of South Florida, University of Tampa, Florida Presbyterian, and New College) opened their doors, allowing me to use their facilities for extracurricular classes. Several hundred students began attending. It was amazing. Changing other lives with my changed life—that was a meaningful contribution to humankind, the continuation of a cycle, the evolution of true spirituality. A number of my students, desiring to devote themselves more completely, requested that I rent a suitable facility and start an ashram. Gladly, I complied.
One night during that time, I experienced what I felt was a major, spiritual breakthrough: absorption into ‘white light.’ I had the distinct impression that my soul exited my body and was drawn into a very intense and timeless radiance. Though now I have a different interpretation of what really happened during the phenomenon, it seemed I was passing into the highest state of meditation. More assured than ever that I was truly on my path, I intensified my efforts. I had to abide there continuously, in a state of constant illumination.
Then something unexpected happened! A divine appointment interrupted what had become a predictable pattern of life. I wasn’t even seeking for new direction, but God knew my heart. He knew my love for Him and my sincerity of purpose. So He intervened by orchestrating some very noteworthy events that brought about…
A Dramatic Change
Several key happenings took place within a few weeks that caused the most important turning point in my life. First, the Tampa Tribune newspaper published a half-page interview with me. The reporter questioned me concerning my beliefs as a teacher of Kundalini Yoga and reported what I was doing in the Tampa area. I was thankful for the exposure, certain this free publicity would increase the attendance in my classes.
Little did I know that it would also alert a local Christian prayer group to begin praying for me.
They cut the article out of the paper, pinned it to their prayer board, alerted their 24-hour prayer chain, and assigned someone to fast and pray for me every hour of every day until my conversion took place. Several weeks later, I received a letter from a college friend who had also left school to study under a different guru. The content of Larry’s letter was quite a surprise. It described an abrupt change that had just taken place in his life. Though he had been devoted to yoga and meditation, something had radically transformed his whole approach to the things of God. Larry excitedly shared how he had walked into a church and heard an audible voice say, “Jesus is the ONLY WAY!” At the same time, the Holy Spirit fell on him and he claimed he was “born again” (John 3:3).
At first, I assumed this was just a synonymous Christian term for what the Hindus called Samadhi or fellow New Age seekers called Christ consciousness. But Larry insisted that this was different. The Far Eastern/New Age view I embraced maintained that a latent “spark of divinity” exists within all human beings that must be ‘awakened’ to achieve God-consciousness (a supposed flash of revelation that we are God). However, the Biblical view explains that, because of our corrupted state, God is separate from us, and that spiritual rebirth comes only when we are washed clean from our sin in the blood of Jesus. Then the Spirit of God enters into our hearts from without. At that point, we are brought into true oneness with God. Larry’s words were emphatic, “Mike, you’ll never find ultimate peace through yoga and meditation. You have to go through the cross. You have to be spiritually reborn. Jesus is the way to eternal life.”
I wrote my college friend back, explaining that I was happy he’d found the path of Christianity to be right for him. However, I also confided that some of Christianity’s claims seemed illogical to me, and that it was far too exclusive—making it a “lesser path,” an immature religious mindset. “All religions are different paths to the same God,” I countered. Strangely, though, I could not get Larry’s letter off my mind. His words kept echoing inside of me, even though their logic escaped me.
After a couple of weeks, I decided I needed to deal with this issue. Dismissing Christianity without fully exploring its claims would be unfair—unfair to me and unfair to the One who claimed to be the Savior of the world. I realized I had never really given Jesus an opportunity to prove Himself. So I concluded, “If He really was who He claimed to be, and if I don’t test His teachings, I might miss the very thing I’ve been searching for. Besides, if Jesus allowed Himself to be crucified for the salvation of the human race, I owe it to Him to at least open my heart to the possibility of His claims being true.” So one morning, though it involved quite an inward struggle, instead of following my usual yoga routine, I decided to…
Dedicate One Day to the Lord Jesus!
I got up about 3:15 a.m. That was our normal time of rising in the ashram. Beginning at 3:30, we would spend about an hour doing various postures and breathing exercises. Then from 4:30 to 6:30 we would sit cross-legged and motionless, in what is called the “lotus position,” doing various kinds of meditation. Usually we practiced Mantra Yoga. That pivotal morning, though, I decided to break away from the ordinary.
Purposefully, I went into a room by myself and sat down. Though it seemed spiritually incorrect, I prayerfully dedicated the entire day to this One Larry claimed was the only “Mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5). Several times I confessed:
“Lord Jesus, I commit this day to You. I believe, if You’re real and if You’re the Savior of the world, You will show me today.”
Then I began reading the Bible, spending most of my time immersed in the Gospel of John and the book of the Revelation. I was especially stirred by the latter, with its powerful, prophetic visions, especially those verses foretelling that final conflict between the forces of good and evil at a battleground in Israel called Armageddon.
As I read, I kept praying. Even though I was fully expecting some kind of powerful, supernatural visitation (a vision, an audible voice) initially, it didn’t happen that way. For about eight hours that day I continued seeking the Lord Jesus. Then, right when I was about to give up and dismiss the claims that He was the “Messiah,” God intervened, and I arrived at my…
Moment of Destiny!
Kent Sullivan was a senior at the University of South Florida. He was an accomplished student, but his educational pursuits had not brought him the lasting answers or peace of mind he desired. A few months before, he had been following the teachings of Yogananda, a well-known Indian guru who authored a widely read book called, The Autobiography of a Yogi. Abruptly, though, Kent had switched from Kriya Yoga to Christianity.
Though I’d never met Kent personally, I was well aware of his unexpected ‘conversion.’ It was the ‘talk of the town’ among those involved in yoga and meditation. Many of us were wondering, “How could he do it? He was recognized as one of the most advanced students of yoga in the Tampa area. How could he opt for the idea that Jesus is the only path to salvation?” “How could anyone who understands the concept of all religions being one ever depart from it?” Of course, as I pondered these things, I had no idea that….
Kent belonged to the very prayer group that was praying for me.
That divinely appointed day, Kent decided to wash his dirty clothes. He had a free hour in between classes. It was a perfect time to take care of a boring, yet necessary task. Carrying an armful of clothes, he got about halfway through the door of the laundromat when the Spirit of God spoke to his spirit saying, “Don’t go in there. I have something else for you to do. Get back in your van and drive where I lead you.” It seemed impractical and illogical. Besides, being a new Christian, Kent was not used to having his plans interrupted by the Holy Spirit. He submitted to God’s design, though, thinking it quite peculiar. Of course, he had no idea that about two miles away…
The yoga teacher who had been the object of his prayers for several weeks was hitchhiking, trying to catch a ride to the University of South Florida.
Even though I had spent the majority of the day focusing on the claims of Christianity, I was on my way that afternoon to conduct one of my yoga classes. (Because I’d renounced ownership of all unnecessary material possessions, I usually had to walk or hitchhike everywhere.) While standing on the side of the road, I was still praying that if Jesus was “the Way,” He would reveal Himself.
As Kent drove, the Spirit of God impressed him to make several definite turns, eventually leading him down a road behind Busch Gardens. He was still wondering why he was doing this when he noticed me, ‘thumbing’ for a ride. With long, curly, brown hair, a long beard and loose-fitting Indian-style clothing, I definitely looked the part of a Western devotee to Far Eastern religions. Kent did not recognize who I was, and he never picked up hitchhikers, but felt curiously ‘led’ to pull over. As I opened the door, my heart started racing in my chest, because…
Taped to the ceiling of Kent’s van was a large picture of Jesus.
I knew this was no mere coincidence; it was a God-incidence. My mind was charged with anticipation. After a few moments of silence, Kent blurted out, “Friend, can I ask you a question?” Without hesitation, I responded, “Yes!” He immediately asked, “Have you ever experienced Jesus coming into your heart?” I answered, “No, but when can I? I’ve been praying about the experience all day long.”
Kent’s face broke into a look of surprise. He didn’t expect me to respond so quickly. He offered, “You can come to our prayer meeting tonight.” I replied, “I don’t want to wait for a prayer meeting; I’ve been praying all day. If this is a valid approach to God, I want to experience Jesus right now.” Thrilled over my eagerness, Kent pulled out of the traffic into the first parking lot he could find. With the van idling, we sat on the floor in back. Carefully, he took me step-by-step through Scripture, explaining the true, Biblical path to God. Then, right when I was on the verge of embracing the Christian approach, my own intellect became…
A Very Difficult Stumbling Block
A compelling thought gripped my mind. If I was going to be sincere during this time of prayer, I had to first deal with some disturbing doctrinal issues. One by one, I brought up traditional Biblical concepts that were very perplexing or unacceptable to me. With each question or comment Kent would calmly reassure me with the words, “Don’t worry about that. JUST TRY JESUS!” As I pinpointed certain Far Eastern or New Age beliefs I felt I could never give up (like reincarnation), Kent kept emphasizing:
“Don’t concern yourself with those things, JUST TRY JESUS!”
Being a former student of yoga himself, Kent understood my apprehension. He could relate to the protectiveness I felt toward my belief system. He showed tremendous wisdom. He knew that if we got involved in some deep discussion over doctrine, I might turn my heart away from the experience of Jesus altogether. So he kept emphasizing the essential thing: that if I would confess Jesus as Lord of my life and invite Him into my heart, His indwelling presence would establish me in a position of sonship and oneness with the Father (see Ephesians 3:17, Galatians 4:6).
Kent understood something I am very convinced of now. It takes a spiritual rebirth before anyone can truly comprehend the mysteries of God’s kingdom. Because Jesus is “the truth,” once He comes into a person’s heart, He sets in motion a process of leading that person, by the Holy Spirit, into all truth (see John 14:6). So the most important thing is for seekers to first experience the reality of Jesus’ personal presence. Then they can far more easily sort out all the related truths that surround this central theme of true Christianity.
Kent finally persuaded me. His logic was strong enough to nudge me into the unknown. Besides, I was so hungry to know God; temporarily setting my intellect aside wasn’t too much to ask. Just repeating a single petition seemed far too simple—but again, I was willing to try. We bowed our heads together and I prayed:
“Lord Jesus, come into my heart. I repent of all my sins. Forgive me. Wash me in Your blood. By faith, I receive Your gift of eternal life. Fill me with Your presence and Your love. I acknowledge that You died for the sins of the world and that You arose from the dead. I accept You now as Lord of my life.”
I felt a warm sensation in the deepest part of my heart. It wasn’t an overpowering supernatural sensation (that came later), but I knew something dramatic was transpiring, different than anything I’d ever experienced before. In my younger years, I served as an altar boy in various Catholic churches and attended parochial school. The nuns and priests inspired me with their humility, sincerity and commitment. But still, during that period of deep ‘religious’ devotion—filled with traditions and ceremonies—I’d never received such a real encounter with God.
Paul, the apostle, called this experience “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Though I still had many questions, the inner ‘knowing’ that I had finally been restored to a right relationship with my Everlasting Father filled me up. I was confident that if I died, I would spend eternity in heaven. The peace of God settled like fresh dew on my soul. I was changed—and I knew it.
Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers, “If we touch the Holy Spirit, we touch God, not as a concept, but as a living reality.”[vii] This was definitely my mindset as a yoga teacher, and I believe it even more intensely today. However, I now understand that experiencing something ‘supernatural’ may or may not constitute an actual experience of God. I sincerely thought (similar to Thich Nhat Hanh) that I was experiencing the ‘living reality’ of the Holy Spirit during my yogic disciplines, but after being born again, I realized that was not the case. There is no comparison between a mere impersonal life force and the personal, loving Presence of the heavenly Father.
For several days following, I announced to my students that I’d finally encountered this ‘living reality.’ I confessed that I had been wrong in my previous assessment of Ultimate Reality, that I never encountered the true Spirit of God until I went through Jesus, and that consequently, all of my yoga classes would be canceled. Though such an abrupt change was quite shocking to my students, many trusted my insights and enthusiastically opened their hearts to Jesus as well.
I closed the ashram and moved to a Christian mission among the poor migrant workers in Central Florida. In the next few months, many hours were spent studying the Bible and praying—often all night long. It was a season of welcome and wonderful transition, a very important time of learning to discern the difference between incorrect and correct doctrine. As Plato once said, “God is truth, and light his shadow.”[viii] Because the God of heaven was finally overshadowing me with His personal and gracious influence, the light of truth began to shine more and more with every passing day.
FOR A MORE COMPLETE COMPARISON OF THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS VERSUS EASTERN RELIGIONS AND NEW AGE SPIRITUALITY, GO TO: www.thetruelight.net and download the FREE booklet: THE HIGHEST ADVENTURE: ENCOUNTERING GOD.
A special thanks to www.thetruelight.net for permission to republish Mike Shreve’s article and testimony!
For more information on Mike and his ministry check out: www.shreveministries.org