by Pradeep Hoogakker
Den Haag, Holland
I hadn’t been overly drawn to spirituality as a youth, except for a distant feeling that I would like to spend some time in a monastery one day. I had been blessed with a childhood that seems exceptional these days: full of love, joy and happiness. I was studying geology at the time and basically was more or less happy, though somehow the real purpose of my life seemed to elude me. I was happy but not satisfied. I was doing well in sports and in my studies, but that didn’t seem to provide any real, lasting satisfaction.
After studying for two years I decided to take half a year off and travel around by myself in Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. In a second-hand bookstore in Australia I had my first experience of something beyond the confines of everyday life as I was strangely drawn towards a book by the Hare Krishna movement. The experience repeated itself in New Zealand some weeks later with a book from the same series. This was getting intriguing! Their philosophy appealed to me and I gave the local Hare Krishna Ashram a call asking whether I could come and spend some time there. That did not seem to be possible so I decided not to go.
However, as I was hiking the various long-distance trails of the South Island of New Zealand by myself, I had a wonderful experience one day. I was walking the ‘Abel Tasman Track’ and by the end of the afternoon reached a beautiful beach. There was no one around for miles and I had been walking by myself in silence for almost a day. I was in a serene mood that was nurtured by the sun slowly setting. Suddenly there were many dolphins very close to the shore. They were surfing on the waves. I was thrilled! I threw off my big backpack, took off my clothes and jumped in the water. The dolphins swam away, though, and slightly disappointed I returned to the beach. When I was halfway through drying myself, the dolphins reappeared and I gave it a second chance, getting back into the water.
This time the dolphins didn’t go away. They didn’t allow me to touch them but they were all around me, less than a metre away, singing their high-pitched songs. It struck something in me. I was drunk with joy. I was raving like a madman in the water and it seemed a long time until the dolphins swam away. That was the first time in my life I experienced real joy, and the search for more had started. After a few more months of travelling by myself with lots of time to wonder and ponder about life, I went back to Holland.
The second day after my return I was approached in the street by a girl from the Hare Krishna movement. I talked a little with her and bought the book she was selling. I had to follow the Hare Krishna lead the Universe was offering, it seemed. I read the book and even wrote a letter to the swami who had written it. The letter was pretty presumptuous, I am afraid, but the swami figured out who must have sold the book to me and asked the girl to contact me. She called me one day and invited me to come with her and some others to ‘Radhadesh’, one of their big temples in Belgium. We would meet at their temple in Amsterdam and then go together to Belgium by car. As I entered their temple in Amsterdam in the morning, I saw the girl who had sold me the book sitting in a corner of the room threading small flowers together into a garland for Sri Krishna. The love and devotion with which she was working left a huge impression on me. I instinctively knew I also had this kind of love and devotion within me; I just had to find a way to express it.
The rest of the trip to Belgium was in every way a disaster, although Radhadesh was beautiful and some of the disciples really inspired me. I was making one mistake after another and started to feel more and more uncomfortable. I remember following the girl I knew into the women’s dining room to have lunch with her. I hadn’t noticed it was ‘women only’ until I was told in no uncertain terms to get out of there by an older lady. Another time I was loudly saying 'Enjoy your meal!' when everyone had just started meditating on their food. A whole lot more things like that happened. I left after one day to go home by myself. I was absolutely devastated; I was crying sincerely. I knew I had found what I wanted in life: to lead a spiritual life. However, this path was not meant to be mine.
I decided to study comparative religion in university, along with geology. It was in that department a few months later that I saw this absolutely tiny leaflet on a big poster board, among hundreds of other flyers, about a lecture by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. I went there in the beginning of 1999. The lecture was very nice and I felt very much at home. However, since I had been the only one coming that evening, there would be no meditation course the following evening. I went home with Sri Chinmoy’s book Meditation and the phone number of the person who gave the class in my agenda. I was so happy when I rode my bike home! It seemed there was no reason for it, but I was feeling absolutely elated. The weeks following the lecture I started cancelling all activities in the evening and would only read the book on meditation. Trying out some of the exercises felt a little odd, though. For months I kept calling the classgiver, but somehow there was never a new meditation course starting.
Finally there would be a course starting in Den Haag, the city where I grew up and where my parents still lived. I decided to travel there once a week to follow the course. Unfortunately, the first evening I showed up at the wrong place. After waiting for almost an hour I realised that I had gone to the wrong address. At that moment I almost decided to drop the whole matter. I was already on my way home when this tiny little voice in my head said: "If you keep giving up like this, you will never get anywhere in life." I had the correct address with me, but I didn’t know where it was. So I decided to phone my mother from a telephone booth and ask her to look on a map and explain it to me.
I arrived that evening at the meditation course more than one hour late, but it felt like coming home. That feeling basically never left me. Not only did the meditation techniques of Sri Chinmoy provide a definite sense of happiness, but my life had finally found its meaning in the pursuit of enlightenment or God-realisation, as Sri Chinmoy calls it. Finally all the pieces of my life seemed to fit together! I didn’t hesitate for a second when asked whether I wanted to become a disciple of Sri Chinmoy. I didn’t have a clear picture in mind about the relationship between the Master and the disciple, but I was absolutely determined not to let go of this new horizon that had opened up before me.
Somehow the first time I gave my application to become a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, the form got stuck in someone’s mailbox or something like that and it didn’t reach Sri Chinmoy. However, a few days later I had a life-changing experience. I was lying in bed one evening when I suddenly felt a strong presence in my room. It didn’t feel bad, but it didn’t feel good, either. I was afraid and stiffened in my bed. Then this presence entered my body and suddenly my world was upside down. Something raced from the bottom of my spinal column into my brain and I had an intuitive vision of a huge book, like a medieval Bible. A page of the book was turned and I was completely overwhelmed by an all-knowing feeling. It lasted only moments, but for those moments I understood everything of life and death. I didn’t see the book any longer; I had become the Universe, I had become knowledge itself. Truth filled and fulfilled me to the brim. Then, as suddenly as it had come, everything vanished and I was back in my bed, still uncertain of what had actually happened.
After this experience my meditations became deeper in sudden jumps and by October 1999 Sri Chinmoy accepted me formally as his disciple. The day he accepted me I was sitting on a train having (by my standards) a good meditation, when I saw a double rainbow with predominantly blue colours. I knew then that Sri Chinmoy had accepted me, although outwardly I heard only two days later.
I am immensely grateful to Sri Chinmoy for reaching out to me in the whirlwind of life. Up to this day I wonder at the seemingly small coincidences that led me eventually to him. The tiny leaflet, the soft voice in my head – I could have missed them so easily! But it seems when you are ready, your true Master pulls you towards him with an inevitability that not even death can match…