I was known at the time as Brahmachari Scott. For 14 years, I was ordained a monk of Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order, a religious organization founded in the U.S. in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda, the acclaimed Yogi who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi and was the first Indian-Swami to permanently make his home in the West.
Mom raised me Roman Catholic. I attended weekly Catechism classes and masses. By age 16, I rejected church doctrine as nonsensical. I stopped attending and believing, became indifferent towards organized religion. What I had been taught to believe about the supernatural as a Catholic ‒ about God, Jesus, and the saints ‒ only slept for a few years. Then later my beliefs were dramatically reawakened when I discovered Eastern religion and meditation.
At age 19, in college and at a party, a buddy’s Uncle introduced me to Autobiography of a Yogi. The Autobiography captivated me. I devoted myself as a student, meditated twice daily, and regularly attended Self-Realization Fellowship temple services. The endless spiritual answers, meditation experiences, and like-minded religious friends were comforting.
I quit college, sold my auto detail business to a friend, and left home for good without telling family. I went to live as a renunciant at the Hidden Valley Ashram Center near San Diego.
Behind cloister walls were hundreds of monastics who vowed celibacy, simplicity, loyalty, and obedience. Everyday, for at least four hours, the monks performed sacred rituals of prayer and silent meditation. But monks didn’t just sit all-day chanting, praying, and navel-gazing.
Monastery routine consisted of meditation, classes, recreation, 9-to-5 jobs: ministering to a worldwide religious congregation at the Self-Realization Fellowship churches, temples, meditation centers and groups, and spiritual retreats. Each monk received $40 per month cash allowance, room and board, paid medical care, and all-you-could-eat lacto-ovo-vegetarian buffet.
For reasons that are as complicated as life gets, I realized 14 years in that I really didn’t belong in a monastery. In the most important ways, my journey unfolded, or unraveled, when I fell back into the world.
To say that I renounced my quest for truth by leaving the Self-Realization Order would be incorrect. Ironically, reliable “realization” came as I questioned and thought deeply about what I was taught by traditions and religious authorities.
Transitioning from the monastery and back into the world took years. Day-by-day, I met new people, challenged old ideas, built a career, and went back to university to complete bachelors and masters degrees.
Only family and close friends knew that I was an ordained monk in a Hindu-Swami Order. It wasn’t until I read an article in Scientific American magazine, and admitted to myself “I’m atheist” ‒ a skeptic of all supernatural claims ‒ when I began to come out to others that my 14 years as a meditating monk lead me to atheism and skepticism.
Beliefs in supernatural entities adds layers of complexity that isn’t necessary. The world makes more sense as it is without postulating that there’s some divine being who is somehow in charge of things.
I’ve never regretted nor looked back after leaving the monastery ‒ renouncing my religious life. Down-to-earth, practical pursuits are enough to fill me with wonder: things such as cycling on backcountry roads, engaging in discourse on ethics or business, or volunteering to help community with friends, like those in my local Atheists United and Humanist Association.
Writing helps me to process my past experiences and to clarify my thinking. At my blog, I explore the extraordinary beliefs and practices of meditators, mystics, and yogis. I welcome contrary viewpoints. That is how I learn and revise. Please feel free to let me know your views on the above topics.