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.
At 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