Misadventures of a Reluctant Convert—Another Whimsical Memoir

Nils A. Haug

“The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose for it will defend itself.”
(Augustine of Hippo, 354 – 430 C.E.)

My previous essay—“Misadventures of a Reluctant Student”—concluded with my surprising graduation from High school. This memoir recounts the story of my education in the vicissitudes of life while at university, straight out of school, and how I reluctantly and unexpectedly transitioned from a free (and loose) spirit to a devotee of the Living God.

When I arrived at university in Durban, South Africa, in the early 1970’s having somehow survived High school, I was still a highly rebellious young man. Thriving in new-found freedom in the big city after escaping the repressive confines of a small-town authoritarian boarding school where I had been incarcerated for five long years, I enjoyed the delights of a permissive and wild lifestyle. This was the period of the hippy movement, the counter-culture based on peace, tolerance, restlessness and rebelliousness against the establishment inspired by the Vietnam war. This was the “summer of love” culture; the age of great music with bands such as The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, The Who, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the Rolling Stones; and talented musicians like Bob Dylan, Donovan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Santana, Neil Young, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Hendrix. So-called “free” love—drugs, alcohol, tie-dyed T-shirts, denim jeans, long hair, and rock concerts—were the order of the day. Heavily influenced by the Woodstock movie and music, we did our utmost to create an imitation of the Haight-Asbury lifestyle and culture.

So hectic was our social lifestyle that early morning lectures were seldom attended. My school mates Dan and Hank were now at university with me and together with our new friend Mike. We were rather feral and rebellious reflecting the spirit of the times. We looked forward to weekends when we would seek out parties and, naturally, pretty girls to party with. Our whole week was dedicated to arranging excitement for the weekend. When year-end holidays came around, Mike and I obtained temporary work at a large public Hospital, near the beach, so we could chat-up the nurses. Correction, only Mike was officially employed during these vacations but I went to work with him nonetheless, “working” for free. Hospital management never realised I was not officially employed for we looked the part in our standard-issue green hospital attire and engaged in “official” duties, like chatting up the abundance of gorgeous young nurses, arranging dates. At lunchtimes, after work, and on weekends we spent most of the time at the local beach, only some 200 yards away, surfing and bronzing ourselves. We carefully created an image of cool surfer dudes and joined the varsity surf-club, purely for the prestige and free surfer T-shirts which we wore with pride. My Volkswagen Beetle, and Mike’s Triumph sedan, had roof-racks with our surf boards displayed prominently.

(Mike, on left; Nils, on right)

About that time, Mike told me about some really cool guys he had met on the streets. He referred to them as Hare Krishna devotees. He said they practised a form of Hinduism known as Bhakti Yoga—which interprets as love and devotion for god. Although I had been compelled to attend church on Sunday mornings while at Boarding school, I was not interested in religion, unlike my parents who were Lutherans. Mike persuaded me to meet with the devotees and very early one morning we travelled to their Ashram (a small Hindu religious community) which was located about 15 miles out of the city.

The Ashram was set on a farm where the devotees had constructed a temple, accommodation, and grew vegetables. This was the first of a number of trips to the Ashram. Their basic rules included a strict diet of vegetarianism, no sex unless married, no gambling, and no intoxication of any kind. Two of the rubrics were a bit much I thought, so I gave them passing acknowledgement and without strict observance—I don’t think I need to clarify which two for, after all, I was in my early twenties, long hair, very cool, a surfer-dude, good-looking (I liked to think), charming (when I had an objective in mind) and, in the spirit of the times, thoroughly enjoyed the “company” of beautiful young ladies.

The daily regimen at the Ashram commenced at 4 am with cold showers and dancing while worshipping the deities—the main two being Krishna and his consort, Radharani. Thereafter a light breakfast, then studying the Vedic scriptures. At the end of the day, we headed home to our pad in Durban to recover from this restrictive regimen for some well-deserved rest and recreation—loose-living style. We felt we were developing our spiritual side, becoming more “aware” of spiritual life in the mode of Eastern religions favoured by celebrities such as Beetles John Lennon and George Harrison, who became a Krishna devotee himself.

I decide to become more involved although I never lived at the Ashram, maintaining my room near the university for escape from these constraints. When Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada (1896–1977), the elderly founder of the movement came to South Africa, Mike and I were among the very few privileged enough to be allowed access to him. We accompanied him on early morning beach walks with four or five others; sitting at his feet at the house where he was staying in Durban; and sharing remnants of food off his plate—a great honour for this food, known as Mahaprasad, was believed to impart spiritual benefits. I engaged with this sect for a number of years and found them to be very nice, decent, clean living people, sincere about their religion. Years later, one of the senior devotees wrote a book about the Swami and a photo shows me standing next to him while on a beach walk.

During this period and while still worshipping the idols, very early each weekday morning I undertook martial arts training in the black belt karate Instructors’ class downtown, which I had been doing for a few years. One of the senior grades, Phil, was a strong Christian and after the training sessions were over, he invariably spoke about Jesus for all to hear, “Jesus this and Jesus that.” It was becoming quite annoying, so one day I asked him if I could come to the home group he had mentioned. My motive was purely to teach these dumb Christians about the true religion—the Hare Krishna way with Krishna as the supreme personality of the godhead, not their Jesus. So, early one evening I arrived at the house where they met, and was introduced to about six other young guys, all in their early twenties. Sitting in the lounge, they opened the gathering by praying to Jesus. This activity was of no real interest to me for I was impatiently awaiting my turn to speak so I could give them the good news about Krishna, and explain why they were all wrong about their Jesus being the supreme God.

As the introductory prayers started coming to an end and I prepared myself to speak, the leader looked up at me and asked directly if I would like to give my life to Jesus! I should have been highly offended for I was a practicing Hindu and attended that evening for the sole purpose of enlightening them about the truth, not the other way around. For some totally inexplicable reason, I answered, “Yes!” He then asked if I wished to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. I did not really know what this was about but I again inexplicably replied, “Yes!” Just as I said this, a supernatural divine power like a lightning bolt physically went through my body and I nearly fell over, yet no one was near enough to touch me. A similar episode was experienced, I believe, by a young Rabbi called Saul while he was walking along a road towards the city of Damascus, in Syria, determined to eradicate those who believed this Jesus character was God.

And so, in this unexpected and intense way I became a devotee of Jesus, God of the Bible. He chose me, not the reverse. Ever since then, I no longer underestimate the supernatural power, sovereignty, providence, and love of God; his purposes will always prevail despite reluctance of the human heart to acknowledge him as the living, the true, the supreme and most-high God. My spiritual destiny in life was achieved for I had met the living God and been introduced to his ways. Truth had found me, dramatically changed my life, and I was never the same. My real education was complete.


Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

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