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Natarajan Ashokan 

 Phoenix, Arizona

I came to the USA at the age of 34 and am married and have a family. I come from a family of religious faith, but I could not say that I was religious in my younger days. I was very much influenced by my grandfather during the first 16 years of my life. During my childhood, my grandfather had told me countless stories from the Hindu mythology, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and life-stories of 63 Nayanmars among them. I would not say that my grandfather was overtly religious either. After the morning ablutions, I always had to offer him the sacred ash which he would apply to his forehead with great reverence uttering the names of Lord Siva and Muruga. Earlier he had composed a poetry booklet in Tamil on Lord Muruga, praising His virtues.

 

I have always had a deep love for India and enormous respect for her heritage. Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi have always inspired me. Having studied in Christian-mission schools in India for 11 years, I have had good exposure to the Bible and its teachings. I have gone to Churches to pray during my early childhood and have great love for Jesus and His teachings. But deep inside I have always known that I am a Hindu, and my religion has many wonderful concepts in it. At the same time in my ignorance, I have always had this one question nagging my heart: why is that the Hinduism with its long history and rich heritage did not have a sacred book like the Bible or the Koran?

 

That was when, at the age of 37 Sri Krishna came to me. Someone had given me a copy of Shrimad Bhagavat Gita. First, I read it with just curiosity. Quickly I realized that was the book I had been waiting to read for over 25 years. I was surprised that I did not read this book earlier in my life. I have read it many times since then. Then I read about Sri Krishna and His life-stories and subsequently Shrimad Bhagavatam. Some of the concepts that I had read in these books were difficult to understand for me. I used to think about the teachings in these books often but still did not get a clearer picture in my mind about my religion.

 

That was when, at the age of 47, I was introduced to Sri Ramakrishna by a friend. With him and my family, I attended a lecture given in a friend’s house in Phoenix, Arizona in 2005 by Swami Sarvadevananda. I liked what I heard and then started attending similar lectures given by other swamis. That was when I bought my first copy of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and I immediately got hooked to it. Even though I had known Swami Vivekananda for many years, I did not know much about Sri Ramakrishna until then. As I was reading the Gospel, many of my unanswered questions got answered one by one, my mind became clearer, and I began to appreciate the true majesty of Sanathana dharma. I started attending lectures given by Swami Sarvadevananda and Swami Atmarupananda regularly. These two swamis greatly contributed to my understanding of Vedanta and removed many of my doubts.  To say that I was thrilled does not do justice to my true feelings.

 

I am a man of science and have great faith in it and in its methods. Soon I realized that Vedanta and science are not two different disciplines, and both are enquiries after Truth. The Truth being one, at least in my mind, I think that while the science seeks the truth outside in the material world, the Vedanta seeks the same inside. Rig Veda says: what is that one thing which by knowing we know everything else in the universe. What a statement to make 5000 years ago! I am proud to be a Vedantist.

 

The Vedanta, being an eternal truth, is as applicable to our daily life today as it was 5000 years ago. I believe the root cause of all our perceived problems in this world today is ignorance. The Vedanta is the light that removes the ignorance. It makes us understand that we, the householders are all prodigal.