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Nonbeliever Ex-Monk


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For 14 years, I was a monk. After leaving my religious profession, I stopped believing in supernatural entities. I felt alone as an nonbeliever, ex-monk in a world of believers.

That is, until I joined The Clergy Project.

The Clergy Project is a network of 6491 current and former religious clergy that do not hold supernatural beliefs. In a private online community The Clergy Project members may safely discuss being a clergy person who has rejected the supernatural, the family stresses related to their rejecting the supernatural, and the unique challenges of leaving their religious career.

Roughly 95% of The Clergy Project members are currently within or formerly from Christian denominations2: Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, and so on. I’m one of the exceptions being formerly from an Eastern-Hindu Swami Order. The Clergy Project featured a story about me on their public website.

Below is an edited version of my story that originally appeared on The Clergy Project

I was known at the time as Brahmachari Scott. For 14 years, I was ordained a monk of Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order, a religious organization founded in the U.S. in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda, the acclaimed Yogi who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi and was the first Indian-Swami to permanently make his home in the West.

Mom raised me Roman Catholic. I attended weekly Catechism classes and Sunday masses. By age 16, I rejected church doctrine–my questions were terminated with the same refrain, “you just have to have faith”. I stopped believing and attending church, and became indifferent towards organized religion. What I had been taught to believe about the supernatural as a Catholic‒-about God, Jesus, and the saints‒-only slept for a few years. Later on my beliefs would be dramatically reawakened when I discovered Eastern religion and meditation.

Autobiography-of-a-YogiAt age 19, in college and at a party, a buddy’s Uncle introduced me to a book: Autobiography of a Yogi. The Autobiography captivated me. I devoted myself as a student, meditated twice daily, and regularly attended Self-Realization Fellowship temple services. The endless spiritual answers, meditation experiences, and like-minded religious friends were comforting.

I quit college, sold my small business, and left home for good without telling family. I was going to live as a renunciant at the Hidden Valley Ashram Center near San Diego.

Monastery routine consisted of meditation, classes, recreation, 9-to-5 jobs: ministering to a worldwide religious congregation at the Self-Realization Fellowship churches, temples, meditation centers and groups, and spiritual retreats. Each monk received $40 per month cash allowance, room and board, paid medical care, and all-you-could-eat lacto-ovo-vegetarian buffet.

To say that I renounced my quest for truth by leaving the Self-Realization Order would be incorrect. Ironically, reliable “realization” came as I questioned and thought deeply about what I was taught by religious tradition and spiritual authorities.



Transitioning from the monastery and back into the world took years. Day-by-day, I met new people, challenged old ideas, built a career, and went back to university to complete bachelors and masters degrees.

Only family and close friends knew that I was an ordained monk in a Hindu-Swami Order. While I read an article in Scientific American magazine I told myself “I’m a nonbeliever, a skeptic of gods and the supernatural”. Then I began to come out to others that my 14 years as a meditating monk lead me to nonbelief and skepticism.

Beliefs in supernatural entities adds layers of complexity that aren’t necessary. The world makes more sense as it is without postulating that there’s some divine being who is somehow in charge of things.

I’ve never regretted leaving the monastery, nor looked back after renouncing religious life. Down-to-earth, practical pursuits are enough to fill me with wonder: things such as cycling on backcountry roads, engaging in discourse on ethics or business, or volunteering to help community or hanging out with family and friends.

Originally from Scott – The Clergy Project


1 At the time of this writing The Clergy Project private online community had 649 members. Membership has been growing steadily since the group first started with dozens of members in October 2011.

2 See Religious Affiliations: The Clergy Project for a complete list of current or previous religious denominations of the members of The Clergy Project

Leave a Reply

  1. HI Scott, was there one particular moment or thing that made you an atheist skeptic? I was just curious. Thanks

  2. David R: Thanks for asking. Not really one decisive moment. Just the accumulated result of many “moments” of uncertainty and discomfort. Letting go of “answers”. Accepting life as it is, not what I wish it to be. Not accepting religious nor spiritual authority’s interpretations nor human speculations about the world within or without.

  3. Hi Scott, so what do you think about “autobiography of a yogi” now? Do you think Yogananda just made it all up, that it is pure fiction? I’ve wondered if that could be the case. Also was wondering if in all your experience as a monk and otherwise have you never had any sort of mystical experience of anything outside of ordinary mortality? And lastly if nothing in “autobiography of a yogi” is true, what do you think happens when we die? Do you think there is anything to us besides our physical bodies, what is it do you suppose causes our heart to beat, breath to draw, and so forth?

    Thank you,


  4. @Brent: That’s lots of questions. I’ll briefly address what I can in a short space.

    Autobiography of a Yogi, I think it’s Yogananda’s life story, dolled-up by SRF and him to get disciples and followers. Some of it is about what happened, much of his book is fantasy, no way to verify the outlandish claims.

    I’ve had many “mystical experiences”. Haven’t most of us? It’s just that I no longer interpret them as coming from some god or supernatural power.

    Your other questions about what happens when we die, etc… I don’t know. Yogananda claimed to know, yes? What good does that do us? We have to have faith and meditate, and maybe someday in this or a future life we will get to experience what Yogananda experiences? Bullshit. I no longer buy it.

    How about asking ourselves: What happens to use now if waste our time chasing after wishful fantasies in this or some next life, meditating for hours each day, and in the end only realize we had been duped? I wrote many posts on these topics, including Duped by Meditation?


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