Abandoning Family for a Guru

Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When I discovered meditation at the age of nineteen, I was overjoyed, and felt that my life’s purpose had been found.

Thus began my renunciation of family, career, and education in an idealized quest for truth and self-realization in a Hindu-inspired meditation group, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF).

Ten years before, Dad had had lifesaving brain surgery. His psychological and emotional health gradually deteriorated. [I wrote briefly about this in the first paragraph of my post Think & Grow Rich Gurus]. Life at home with family was tense, dysfunctional. I sought refuge in meditation.

When I wasn’t at the SRF Temple to meditate or listen to sermons, at home I’d lock my bedroom door for hours to meditate and read books by Paramahansa Yogananda, the guru-master of SRF.

One day dad banged on my locked door and yelled, “What the hell are you doing in there? When you are in my house, my rules. It’s my way or the highway!”.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

At that moment I knew I had to get out and hatched a plan to leave home.

I called the SRF Hidden Valley Ashram and made reservations to stay there for an extended retreat.

The SRF Hidden Valley Ashram, a meditation retreat center and 40 acre farm, was located 40 miles northeast of San Diego.

My retreat reservations were easy. I was to live in the SRF Hidden Valley Ashram for weeks, months, even years. In exchange for room, board, and spiritual instruction I was to pick farm produce in the ashram and was to make a suggested cash donation.

I was eager to leave my problems behind, at home, and to start an ideal “spiritual” life on a retreat.

I packed a toothbrush, clothes, and some books by Paramahansa Yogananda in a cardboard box and a duffle bag. Before I drove away in my pickup truck to stay at Hidden Valley Ashram I scratched a handwritten note to family (my only communication that I was leaving home):

“Going away for awhile to live with friends in San Diego Area. Will call you in a few days. Love, Scott”.

That was the last time I was home with family. It wasn’t until a decade and a half later, when I left the Order, that I realized how important blood family is.

Thomas Leth-Olsen, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Thomas Leth-Olsen, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Regrets I have about abandoning family for a guru, included:

  • Missed my sister’s wedding. (The monastic rules and counselors forbade monks from attending weddings).
  • Missed my dad’s second wedding. (Dad remarried ten years after I left home).
  • Neglected my blood family relations and instead spent the majority of my time within SRF.

Actions taken with family while I was in the ashram, included:

  • Called my parents every month by phone, mailed birthday and post cards.
  • Visited my parents at their home for one to two days two or three times a year after I had been in the Order for several years.
  • Visited by my parents at the SRF Ashram once a year or two.

If I knew what awaited me in the ashram I would have never abandoned family the way I did.

Many members of SRF shunned me after I left the “fellowship”. Apparently, the unconditional love of a guru and “divine fellowship” is conditioned upon surrender to the rules of the community.

When I left the ashram in midlife, I was overjoyed, and was welcomed back into my blood family as if I had never gone.

Creator of Skeptic Meditations
9 comments
  1. Very touching, open story, Scott. May your writings help others in similar situations, no matter what religion.

  2. I agree with Sabio, beautifully written. You’re one of the fortunate ones to be able to reconnect with your roots, something which the guru tried to destroy. So many people are never “blessed” with enough doubt to be able to think critically again.

    Your concept of self-realization (with a small “s”) is making sense to me now. Sometimes there’s nothing more fascinating than getting to know me again, even with all my foibles.

    Your blog has definitely helped me. It’s been like a raft of safety while I try to survive this ordeal. Thanks, Scott. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  3. I’m glad to hear that your family welcomed you back!

    One day dad banged on my locked door and yelled, “What the hell are you doing in there? When you are in my house, my rules. It’s my way or the highway!”.

    Was there some more context to this? What was “his way” that he was demanding you follow?

  4. Thanks for sharing this story. The story would be powerful no matter how you wrote it, but your writing was so clear and concise that I think the pictures in my head that appeared as I read will last a long time. Very powerful. And the concluding lines are wonderful.

  5. Thanks Sabio. I need the encouragement. It is not easy hanging out my “dirty laundry” for the world to read.

  6. @Uwsboi14: Thanks for your encouraging words. I do feel fortunate to have a supportive family, despite my “crazy” choices in life. I still have much to learn and need constant reminders.

    Keep sharing your thoughts, questions, and keep us posted on how your journey is going.

    Happy holidays!

  7. Hey ratamacue0,
    Yes, I am quite fortunate to have a supportive family, despite the “foolish” choices I’ve made.

    You asked about the context to my dad banging on the door.

    I’ve written tidbits about my home situation with dad. My post Think and Grow Rich Gurus, noted:

    After lifesaving brain surgery, Dad would have intermittent seizures. In his paranoid hallucinations he’d demand that our family of four pack our belongings into the car so we could flee to the mountains for the end of the world. In early morning hours, the police might call. Dad had to be picked-up at the police station. He’d walked for miles in his pajamas and had been found on top of a neighbor’s parked car, yanking the wiper blades, and ranting about the end of the world.

    Additionally, my dad converted to Judaism, was controlling, and paranoid. He frequently would get into irrational rants and rages. Nobody was physically harmed. It was complicated because of his brain surgery that changed his brain and personality.

    I refused to lower myself to react emotionally by yelling back at him when he would rant and rage uncontrollably. I used meditation composure to counter his insults. Several years after dad’s brain surgery the family degenerated and was quite dysfunctional and uncontrollable. I don’t know if you can understand unless you’ve lived with a psychologically disturbed family member. Perhaps I will write further on how this relates to my joining the ashram and meditation, with prompting and questions from readers.

    I’ve checked out your blog. You also should write there or here what may’ve triggered your deep need for Christianity or religion. Seems that many who’ve asked the deep existential questions faced much anguish about the meaning of their life and in suffering.

    Thanks for asking

  8. Thank you for sharing this and so many other things in your recent posts. They are all very powerful. While I can’t often respond due to so many demands in my life, I look forward to taking a few moments every week to read your blog. It always helps with my own healing journey. Keep up the good work and hope you have a good Holiday.

  9. @cj725: I appreciate your comments and encouragement.

    Do you have a blog we can read? Would be willing to share something of what you mean when you said, helps with “my own healing journey”? What’s that journey?

    Writing about my journey, research, and experiences has been “healing” and learning for me.

    A wise person once said, I forgot who, that which is most personal, most intimate, is most universal (human). I feel that resonates.

    Thanks!

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