This article first appeared in the Christian Research NEWSLETTER, volume 2, number 1.
The Choice: To Follow Jesus Christ.
The Price: To Go Alone with the Lord
(A spiritual journey from the cradle of Hinduism to the cross of Christ)
by Dr. Mahendra P. Singhal
Growing up in an orthodox Hindu home is to enjoy limited freedoms — spiritually speaking. It was more than true in my case. I was raised in a rigidly structured and despotically ruled Hindu home with well-preserved traditions, well developed customs, and well-formulated expectations, along with, of course, a great deal of love, understanding, and exhortation.
In spite of all the outward appearances of “peace” in our home, I used to sense tension and dissatisfaction with situations as they used to erupt from time to time. Each new episode was a note of despair in the chorus of our miserable lives. Each chord echoed with an air of helplessness which used to permeate every phase of our lives in our simple home. I distinctly remember being told, over and over again, that all our unhappiness was because of our karma coupled with the wrath of the gods against our family. I could not understand what we had done to deserve this and what could be done to change it, and my father would not allow me to speak of it.
We went through the usual visits to the temples of various gods on set days in the year. I remember walking, sometimes riding a tonga (horse-driven vehicle), a long way to reach a particular temple of Shiva, one of the three primary Hindu gods. The idol of Shiva was frightening to behold. He was shown sitting on top of the world, holding human skulls in his hands, with water running from his hair and his eyes staring at you with a dreadful message: Worship me or you will be destroyed. The idol, decked with flowers, was always smeared with oil and red color. The total effect was to create a feeling of foreboding and fear. You came away from the temple fearing what the future might hold and wishing, without any substantive hope, that all will be well and that he — Shiva — would be content with you. I was never comfortable in the temple. The picture of Shiva used to haunt me for days after the pilgrimage.
There was another god who was worshipped once a year in our home. This was Ganesha, the god with the head of an elephant and the body of a man. This god is supposed to be extremely beneficial. A son of Shiva, he is reverenced for averting dangers. We used to buy a new clay model of the god each year, and worship him on the appointed day, according to the family’s traditions.
It was on one of Ganesha’s celebrations that I became very disturbed about our gods and our obeisance to them. I distinctly recall the occasion. Sweets had been offered to Ganesha. We had been asked to close our eyes and pray for his blessings upon the home. I do not know why but I could not close my eyes. I was horrified to see a small mouse descend upon the offerings which had been placed before the god and Ganesha was unable to control this tiny creature. “If he cannot protect himself,” I said to myself, “how can he protect this house?” I lost faith in that god on that day; and I believe that my journey to discover the true God began at that event.
Two events occurred in rapid succession soon after that experience. One, my father insisted on my receiving training in the Hindu scriptures, especially the Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, and the others. Secondly, an ad in the local newspaper about a Bible correspondence course led me to begin a study of the Bible.
The Vedas and the other books were interesting, but they were decidedly speculative. There were no definite answers.
The Bible, on the other hand, pointed to definite answers. God loves people. God made His love known to people, of His own initiative, when He sent Jesus Christ to the world. A God pleading for me was a mind-boggling mystery.
While I was struggling to understand religions and religious ideas, my school work was moving, as it were, along regular channels. After receiving my masters degrees in mathematics and education, I was hired to teach in a Christian boarding school in Mussoorie, India. The school was run by Christian missionary societies to propagate Christian truths to the students who were not necessarily Christians. People attended this school because of its emphasis on academic excellence and because the medium of instruction was English. Proper language was taught, encouraged, and developed. The school needed a mathematics instructor, and the principal, an Australian missionary, was, as he later told me, led to offer me the position in spite of the fact that I was not a Christian. He (and I am grateful for his willingness to listen to the Lord) responded to the leading of the Lord not only in hiring me to teach in that school, but also in witnessing to me — in words, in his separated living, and in his priorities.
One of the staff at the school mentioned the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross to me. “He died,” he stated, “for man to be free from his bondage to sin and to enjoy victorious life forever.” That sounded wonderfully peaceful and achievable, but I dismissed the witness, because, in my opinion, it was too simple. There has to be much more to life than just simple faith in Christ’s death on the cross. I had been trained to believe, in the words of the Upanishads: “He truly knows Brahman who knows him as beyond knowledge; he who thinks that he knows, knows not.”
I had been led to believe in searching for answers, and I had been taught that such a search could take many, many lives. Sages had attempted to discover the truth and the reality of Brahman for centuries, but without any success. I was under the conviction that real truth is found within oneself. God and man are essentially one. Separation comes from being born in this illusory world which catches man in its embrace and entices him away from finding the true meaning of life and existence. Deliverance is impossible unless one renounces the allurements of this world. I had been trained to believe that God is unknowable, and therefore, beyond the reach of man. And here was Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross, bleeding to death at the hands of Roman soldiers, declaring his forgiveness for their crass brutalities — God searching for man and not man looking for God within himself.
There was another dimension to my dilemma. Coming from the family I did, my acceptance of Jesus Christ would make my parents lose their social respect and position in the whole community. My brothers and sister would suffer disgrace. That, too, was unthinkable. Even though I was working away from home in a different environment, I did not really feel free to make my own decisions. I tried to talk to some of the missionaries about my predicaments. They could not understand the heavy cultural factors. They felt that one should simply make a decision to follow Jesus Christ and that is all that really matters. Some missionaries were totally ignorant of Hindu traditions and the social implications which they impose on people. They dismissed my arguments as inconsequential. I was not ready to buy the argument that we live, and therefore die, only for ourselves, by ourselves.
The endless debate would have continued, I am sure, if I had not met Major Ian Thomas of the Torchbearers of England, who was holding meetings in a church in Mussoorie. He took the time to listen to my hesitations, my arguments, and my analysis. He, with great sensitivity and keen insight, explained the claims of Jesus Christ on my life. “Jesus Christ,” he explained, “will enable you to solve your dilemmas after you accept Him. He will be on your side.”
Major Thomas did not lead me to the final surrender but he prepared me for the final outcome. I knew, after spending almost five hours with him, what I had to do. There was no denying the fact that Christ had been calling me to accept Him as my personal Savior and to follow Him — irrespective of the cost. The call was extremely personal and urgent. I mused about the possibilities for a few more days. However, I could not get rid of pressures which were continuing to increase. I could sense that a decision had to be made.
I turned to Jesus Christ on July 16, 1963 at 2:00 a.m. in my bedroom — all by myself. He became my Savior. Praise His wonderful name!!
I had not counted on the cost which was to be paid for the decision, however. I expected rejection and humiliation from my friends and relatives. I even expected some mockery from some of them, but I was not ready for what came my way after my conversion: my own family disowned me. I was no longer a part of the biological family in which I had been born. My friends shunned me. They began to avoid me as if I had contracted some dreadful contagious disease.
With all the pains and burdens, with all the loneliness, and with all the struggles, I am nonetheless determined to follow the Lord. He is my answer, my salvation, my friend. As Major Thomas assured me, He has never failed me; He has always been there — to help, to direct. I am not following an idea, a creed, or a philosophy; I am not searching for an inner revelation; I am not working for a final deliverance. No, I am following Jesus Christ, who is the final revelation, the total deliverance.
Dr. Singhal is the chairman of Hinduism International Ministries, Post Office Box 602, Zion, IL 60099-060