By Shiva Gardener

I grew up in a typical Indian family in a small village in the proximity of Mumbai. A shrine in house where daily ritual worship is performed, the community temple of Lord Sri Krishna, and the celebrations of major Hindu festivals, was the religion of my childhood, teenage, and years beyond. Celebrations, fasting, food, fun, new clothes, were the major highlights of these events. Visits to religious places distant and nearby, were taken as a combination of pilgrimage and adventure.

The concept of Guru Diksha or spiritual initiation was introduced to me by my parents, both of whom were initiated by Shanti Ma – Bhakta of Lord Vitthal, and at one point my grandmother had asked me whether I would like to be initiated by her as well. Some religious impetus came from watching the TV series on Ramayana, Mahabharata, Shri Krishna, stories of Saints. There were also some self-efforts in terms of devotions, readings of Gita and scriptures, prayers and vespers, these being partly driven by devotion and partly by what Swami Vivekananda terms as formative aspects of religion.

The life of challenges and free choices in a big city was awaiting me. I was putting myself into situations of adolescent life, encountering new people and new attitudes, the Mumbai frame of mind. Between the fun and struggles, I got introduced to Dream Theater, a progressive metal group and the works of Ayn Rand, these two would strongly influence my ideals and perspectives.

Next is coming to the land of opportunities and trying to make it here (in the US). And while trying to make it here, my elder brother introduced me to the Vedanta and Swamis of the Ramakrishna Order.  Over the next couple of years I would visit Vedanta societies in Toronto, Providence, Boston infrequently, while slowly getting introduced to the Holy Trio – Thakur, Ma, Swamiji.  About 5 years ago I approached Swami Yogatmananda for spiritual initiation and he gladly accepted me as a student. Since then I have been trying to live a goal oriented uphill life towards the summit of realization, while embracing some slips and falls along the way. With all the changes, I think, at least at a conscious level, more often than before, there is a sense of balance in life – but it is up to Swamiji to evaluate both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of this change.