Wednesday, May 9, 2018

True Story: I Seriously Considered Becoming a Monk

I Considered Becoming a Monk

Yes, I'm being real. I seriously considered becoming a monk. I had this romantic idea of giving everything up and dedicating my time fully to the spiritual path. Crazy, isn't it? Well, let me tell you the whole story.

If you've read my previous blog post you know that in February 2005 I started an internship in Mumbai, India. I was working for TCS as a business analyst.

After eight months working for them, I decided to quit the internship to travel around India.

Those first eight months in India were incredible. On the surface, there was nothing spiritual about that experience, yet silently I was being transformed. I felt I had truly become myself for the first time ever.

But now I really wanted to do a more spiritual trip. I wanted to do a sort of pilgrimage, visiting places that I could only dream about before. Places I had read about in inspiring books or seen in movies.

Kolkata (Calcutta) was one of my first destinations.


Kolkata was the hometown of Paramahansa Yogananda, the author of the classic, Autobiography of a Yogi. This was one of the first yoga books I had read. It literally changed my life.

In his autobiography, Yogananda writes beautiful inspiring stories of his childhood in Kolkata, and of the years learning at the feet of his master Sri Yukteswar in Serampore.

Now that I was in Yogananda's hometown (I arrived in Kolkata on the 15 of October 2005) I really wanted to visit his house and the holy places he had mentioned in his book.

I had no idea how to get there though. By the way, there was no Google maps at that time!

By chance, I walked by an Indology bookstore. Oh boy, I wanted to buy all those books! They had many copies of Yogananda's books so I asked the shop owner if he knew how to get to his house.

He had no idea, but he picked up one of guruji's books, phoned the publisher, Yogoda Satsanga Society of India, and asked for the address. He then explained to me how to get there.

Mr. Somnath, the grandson of Yogananda's younger brother (Sri Sananda Lal Ghosh) received me at the house. He showed me around and then guided me to the room where Yogananda used to meditate.

Later he explained to me how to get to Dakshineswar and to Serampore. I wanted to visit the famous Kali temple, Yogananda's ashram, and the house of Sri Yukteswar.

This was such a special trip for me. I could barely believe I was there. I felt so grateful and inspired to be able to see those places with my own eyes, which I had read about in the book years earlier. I meditated everywhere.

I could tell you a lot more, but I did that same pilgrimage again in April 2016, and I wrote all about it in this blog. I came then back to Kolkata to volunteer at Mother Theresa's Mission, the Missionaries of Charity.

So if you like to know more about the Kali temple, and see some photos of Paramahansa Yogananda's house and his ashram, then you can visit:

During that second trip to Kolkata, in 2016, I realized this is one of the most spiritual places in India.

I know, that might sound a bit crazy since it's such a hectic and polluted city, but the feet of the greatest Indian sages have walked through its streets.

Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Sri Yukteswar. Also the famous Indian Poet, Rabindranath Tagore, and the Christian Saint, Mother Theresa. All of them lived in Kolkata.

I have no doubts their spiritual vibrations pervade this whole city. As I wrote before, Kolkata is the land of yogis.

Ok, back to my story

During that first trip to Kolkata in 2005, I stayed with my friend Agnes, from Poland. She was also an AIESEC trainee working for TCS. We had met in Mumbai but later on, she had to move to Kolkata.

After Kolkata Agnes and I traveled together to Varanasi, also known as Benares, or Kashi.

Varanasi, India. 2005

Varanasi, India. 2005

Lahiri Mahasaya, the guru of Sri Yukteswar, paramguru of Yogananda, lived in Varanasi. Unfortunately, we stayed there only for a couple of days. I'll have to come back at some point, for sure.

Update:  Well, guess what.  I did come back, in 2020.  You can read all about that experience here:  I Visited Lahiri Mahasaya and Babaji's Cave Temple in Varanasi.


After Varanasi, I made my way to Bodhgaya, in Bihar.

This is the place where Prince Siddhartha Gautama, after years of assiduous meditation, attained enlightenment. He then became known as The Buddha, the enlightened One.

So this is one of the holiest places in the Buddhist tradition. Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world visit Bodhgaya to meditate under the famous Bodhi tree, the tree under which Siddhartha became the Buddha.

Bodhi Tree Temple Bodhgaya
Night shot of the Bodhi tree at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya.  This was in 2005. Why can't my iPhone take pictures like this already in 2018?!  Maybe I should go back to point and shoot. Lol.

After a couple of days wandering around Bodhgaya, I went to the Root Institute. I joined a 10 days introduction to meditation and silence retreat.

This was my first retreat in India!

What I remember the most though had not much to do with Buddhism. During one free afternoon, we watched all together a movie, sort of a documentary. It was What The Bleep Do We Know.

This was one of those life-changing films, at least at that moment for me. I was already so high from everything that I had lived in the past eight months.

I was living fully in the present moment, experiencing synchronicity and miracles often. Watching this film simply helped to open my mind even more, to the unlimited possibilities that lie ahead of me. You gotta watch that film!

I asked myself a serious question

True story. It was when I was at this Buddhist center in Bodhgaya that I asked myself a serious question. "Should I renounce the world and become a monk?"

Believe me, I was really considering it. I had thought about it many times before. I even had a little chat with the Buddhist nun who was giving the course. I asked her for advice.

I was not thinking of becoming a Buddhist. I was thinking more about the path of the yogis. Perhaps, I thought, I could live in an ashram, or even in a cave!

I imagined learning at the feet of a master, guided by his or her instructions. You know, Autobiography of a Yogi had really made an impact on me.

But after doing some self-analysis I concluded that that was not my path, at least not in this life. I'm sure my parents will be glad to hear that. Lol.

For my temperament, living in a cave or in a monastery felt relatively easier than living in the world. The world represents a far greater challenge for me. That's why I had to stay.

I also knew that there were some specific life experiences that I still needed to live and learn from. Experiences that I wouldn't be able to learn from if I was having a monastic life, or if I was living in a cave.

You can be a yogi anywhere

Besides, one of the main lessons I've learned from the Gita and from Autobiography of a Yogi, is that to be a yogi one does not need to renounce the world and become a monk.

You don't need to change anything, at least not externally. You don't even need to change your religion. You can be a yogi right where you are.

You can live in the world, doing whatever work you need to do, while at the same time remaining established in yoga. That is the message of the ancient sages.

Externally you can appear to be the same person, but within your inner sight can always be directed to the Infinite. That is to be a yogi.

Even Yogananda couldn't escape to the Himalayas! He tried so many times, but that was not his karma. He had to live in the world. He had to work tirelessly for decades to spread the message of yoga in the West.

I also remembered Krishna's words to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.

"The Yogi is thought to be superior to the ascetics and even superior to men of knowledge (obtained through the study of scriptures); he is also superior to men of action; therefore, be thou a Yogi, O Arjuna!"
Bhagavad Gita. Chapter VI, Verse 46.

So, I stayed in the world. But here is a curious note. Sometimes when I've been teaching yoga at a yoga retreat, the guests have asked me, "Are you a monk?" Lol.

Maybe it's just because of the haircut, or perhaps a remanence from a past life... What do you think?

A word of advice

I get often emails from people who want to become swamis or monks. They want to find an ashram where to live for the rest of their lives, so they ask me for advice.

I know, this is probably not you, but just in case here is my advice.

You gotta know yourself first. You gotta really spend some time figuring out what is your true motivation to renounce the world and live in an ashram.

If you just want to escape the world because it is too challenging or difficult to handle, if you feel overwhelmed by the stresses of life and rather live a more simple life, then that's definitely not a good motivation.

On the other side if you truly feel a calling for it, if you truly have no material desires but rather the desire to dedicate yourself fully to the service of others, then a monastic life might be a good fit for you.

But don't think that living in an ashram is an easy life.

It is not a holiday. Self-work is hard work. An ashram will simply give you plenty of opportunities to discover all your hard edges so that you know what you need to work on.


From Bodhgaya, I made my way all the way up to Kathmandu, Nepal.

I had come there specifically for one reason. Ever since I saw the movie "Little Buddha," I had dreamed about staying at a Buddhist monastery. This was the time to make that dream a reality.

To be continued. This story continues in Why I Chose Yoga Instead of Buddhism

I'll tell you more about that experience, and why I decided not to become a Buddhist, in my next blog post.

Don't forget to subscribe by mail to make sure you don't miss the next update. Once you subscribe you'll also be able to download my free meditation eBook.

In my few recent blog updates, I've been going back in time, sort of connecting the dots that lead to where I am today. To get some context you might like to read my previous blogs related to this story:

I would love to hear what you think, so please don't hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I have the story that might open your another of being Monk.
    Have you heard about Monk Julien , he is very spiritual (and just so you know he is master in all yoga asana. )
    he is so much praiseworthy.

    Please view this short vdo.

    His story :