From Fundamentalism, Through Atheism, Toward Realization

A Video Autobiography by a Kriya Yoga Student of Paramahansa Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF)
Larry Dominus Reavis, Ph.D.

 

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7. I Join SRF

"Take this! Read it! Then you'll understand why I say that," my best friend in high school exclaimed.

For a couple of years I'd be talking and suddenly he'd say, "What are you, some kind of Gandhi man"?

Finally I asked him, "Gandhi man? What do you mean"?

He said, "You know, don't you? About Mahatma Gandhi, who freed India peacefully"?

"Of course - he's one of my heroes; but why do you ask if I'm a Gandhi man"?

"It's too complicated to explain," he replied.

But some days later he changed it to "What are you, some kind of yogi"?

"You mean like those guys in India who walk on hot coals"? I inquired.

"No, no - real yogis don't walk on coals. Look, I've got a book at home that will explain it all; read it and then you'll understand why I say that you think just like they think."

And thus it came to pass that when I went to see his new transmitter I instead found myself looking at a book in my hand: Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda. I thought to myself, "Mighty appealing face on that book's cover."

I looked up at my friend: "If I take home a book like this one my parents will hit the ceiling; but I'll read it someday."

"You'll forget"! he exclaimed.

He was but the first who tried to get me to read the Autobiography. So much more had to happen before I would be willing to read it.

Another one: When my lost love told me she was leaving in December of 1969, I lost it. I threw my head back and began to cackle. Wishing to console me, she jumped from her chair in my SMU office and rushed to my side. She clasped my wrist with both hands - the only time our skin ever touched.

"Have you heard of Paramahansa Yogananda"?

"The name rings a little bell, but I cannot place him," I replied.

"He wrote Autobiography of a Yogi. I found reading it to be very soothing when I went through a rough patch. Would you like for me to loan it to you"?

I didn't get the book.

But while sitting in my backyard for seven hours almost every night from January of 1970 until September of 1973, all had changed. Too many events transpired to list all of them here, but these are some of the more noteworthy, including a few that I've already mentioned:


► I had seen the aura around that fellow when my independent-studies student had invited me to go to the lecture where the presenter told us he could teach us how to see auras. After that, I was open to the idea that, in addition to a physical body, we also possessed an astral energy body.

► Upon reflection, I knew that I my guardian angel was a lot smarter than I was - as evidenced by his warning not to get married in Mexico, and other occasional intercessions.

► That student who was tardy with her project - that old preacher whom she brought to class had elicited memories of my life in Kentucky during the Civil War. That experience also revived my earlier vivid memories of my life in the Far East. By 1973
, I remembered that reincarnation was true.

► Just before the Easter break of 1973 a student had suggested that if I stopped eating meat, then I wouldn't have such a quick temper. I, of course, blew up. I yelled about the blood-brain barrier. "What nonsense," I thought.

But when another student in another class said the exact same words in the same tone of voice a few days later, I decided to give up meat as a trial. I would find out for myself.

About a month later - the first day back just after the long Easter break - I was sitting in my office with a student who was discussing his term paper. He said something totally off the wall and my stomach remained calm! I could see that eating meat is bad for tempers. So in 1973 I became a total vegetarian, except for eating just a little fish and chicken.

All of this no doubt was Guruji's doing, for avoiding meat makes it easier to still the mind for meditation.

► By summer of 1973 I had digested my "mystical" experiences in Korea (see the physics video), along with others that were less-dramatic, through the prism of physics. I had begun to see the outlines of how the pieces fit together (this understanding was the basis for those marathon lectures to my graduate students).

► Because my understanding was, in essence, in accord with the ancient yogic metaphysics, the graduate student had loaned me his copy of Be Here Now, and I had gone through that intense weeping spell when I my eyes fell the drawing of Jesus (described in my physics article).

Be Here Now
This is the image that set me sobbing
uncontrollably. I never quite understood why; it just seemed that years of pain and confusion had just ended and I was home. It wasn't the drawing itself. Rather, it was the context, all the other saints and gurus shown in Be Here Now. At last! I had found religion without bigotry, reflecting pure love for God. Drawing released to public domain by the authors.

► When the weeping stopped, I thought, "I gotta go to India and get a guru." But who would take care of my kids? So I headed for the SMU bookstore in order to get some books on how to meditate. I favored the Sufis' approach, and I also liked Buddhism. Hinduism didn't much appeal to me - all that caste stuff and holy cows and such.
Yoganandaji
It was a black-and-white version of this photo that I saw on the cover of the Autobiography in 1954 when I visited my best friend's home to see his new transmitter (one of the early printings before SRF had its own print shop). By 1973, SRF was printing the book and the cover was in color with this version of the photo. Copyright SRF, used here under "fair use" doctrine for non-commercial work.

After picking up at least a half-dozen how-to-do-it books, I headed for the cash registers. Along the way, I saw a stack of the Autobiography of a Yogi on the floor, face up. Very appealing, I thought; but I wanted something practical. Anyway, I already had plenty of books and I didn't want to spend money on yet another book that I might not even find useful. So I moved on without it.

Once in the check-out lane I kept hearing a voice in my right ear: "False economy, false economy." At the last moment just before my turn at the register, I bolted and picked up the Autobiography.

When I got home, I picked up the Sufi book that seemed most promising and started to read. But before I could get to the end of the first sentence, I inexplicably lost my train of thought and couldn't remember what the first of the sentence had said. So I started that sentence again. Soon I discovered that I was unable to read that book!

All the while, the Autobiography was pulling on me like a magnet. I relented. After reading just a few lines, I was hooked. I couldn't put it down. Waves of joy flowed over me as I recognized so many experiences that were like those that I myself had lived through. And all accompanied by the most marvelous explanations - light years beyond what I had been teaching in those marathon graduate lectures. Completely overwhelming! Thrilling!

I was taken aback at Yoganandaji's many references to God. So smart - how could he seriously believe in God?

It took awhile, but - as I digested his conception of God - finally I got it. After a few weeks, my atheism vanished, with never again one doubt about God's existence.

Somewhere in that book I read that he had published lessons. I wondered "Are these guys still in business"? I looked inside the cover and found an address for SRF, the publisher in Los Angeles. I wrote to them, asking if they still had lessons.

I half expected to get my letter back marked "undeliverable." But no. In their own sweet time, they wrote back and asked, "would you like to get the Lessons"? and sent me a questionnaire to fill out.

I thought, "These guys sure have a different approach to growth than we had in my old church when I was a fundamentalist. Back in the day, we would try every trick possible to persuade people to "get saved" and become members. But it was clear that SRF might not even accept an applicant as a student (my wife, in fact, was rejected until she finished the counseling that she had been involved with).

But they did accept me. Some weeks after I sent back the form and the small check that they had requested, at last the first of the Lessons arrived. I could hardly wait to start! I bought other SRF books, several Christian books that they recommended, I read the Bible, I chanted, I meditated. The lightness of heart that I experienced in the Army after becoming an atheist can't begin to compare to the joy that I felt. I was floating above all pain, engulfed in love!

Now that I had - after decades - settled the most important issue in my life, I thought that my next task should be to try to get my current situation fixed. I was terribly unhappy at my job (my university was going through a low-ethics trough - among other terrible experiences, I was getting calls from the coach to "test him again" if a star athlete didn't get a grade that was sufficiently high to meet their needs, etc.). I felt demeaned, dirty, while working there. So I subscribed to a jobs newsletter.

I saw an opening offered by an old Mexican friend of mine in Yucatan, Mexico. As a local professor, he had assisted me when I was doing my dissertation research in Merida, some seven years before (1965-66). Although he had helped many graduate students, I hoped he might remember me and had been impressed that I had obtained an almost-impossible-to-obtain fellowship directly from the National Science Foundation that had allowed me to hire a secretary (half time), graduate assistant (1/4th time), and my own dissertation adviser, Professor Pepinsky (1/6th time) - whom I flew down to Merida as needed for consultation; I had virtually endless funds for research. So I wrote to him. He not only remembered me, he eagerly invited me down so that we could see if I could lecture adequately in Spanish.

It went splendidly. The students were full of enthusiasm and followed me around every day. It seemed to be the kind of job that I had dreamed of. And my Mexican boss-to-be was the kind of sterling, honorable, and caring man who would be great to work for in the new psychology department that he was forming for the University of Yucatan. A couple of weeks later, I signed and mailed back his contract and resigned my job. After six years at SMU, I was done there. Or so I thought.

Quickly after I got back to Dallas I was sitting in my backyard when a man boldly walked up to me and thrust papers into my hand ordering me to appear in court. The reason? Divorce.

I had to tell my friend in Yucatan that I wouldn't be able to move after all. And I begged SMU for one more year so that I would have time to find employment elsewhere.

They didn't give me one year - they gave me TWO more years! Two more years would bring my total to eight! A bit of rule-bending on my behalf, for normally tenure must be given to anyone who has been a faculty member for more than seven years, according to court precedents. Not that I wanted tenure* at that point; I couldn't abide the low standards that were in place at SMU at that time (since drastically improved, I'm happy to say). But it always seemed to me that the powers in the psychology department regularly treated me better than I deserved. I remained friends with them for years. And thus resolution of one of main life problems was assured.

At first, I was deeply saddened by the divorce - I missed my kids so much. But I did have to admit that life was so much more peaceful while living alone. I liked living alone and I really didn't much want to get married again. But some four months after the divorce in 1974 I met Joie when she moved from California and began attending our SRF services in Dallas.

Then one Sunday morning Joie happened to be sitting in front of me at the SRF service. As soon as I opened my eyes after the closing prayer I saw Joie and I knew I should marry her. No words from Guruji this time - he just implanted the knowledge in my consciousness.

July 1975
Near-broke SRF students preparing to drive to Convocation in Los Angeles - July, 1975 (skinny bachelor me on the left, slender Joie next-to-right)

I resisted. Not only did I enjoy the solitude of living alone, but I wasn't attracted to Joie. That changed during the summer of 1975 when she and I and a couple of other near-broke SRF students drove together to the SRF Convocation in Los Angeles.

Toward the end of Convocation, I arrived at a certain room intending to attend some minor class. I arrived quite early and the room was locked, so I leaned against the frame of a window in the foyer, enjoying the sunset. People drifted in. Soon the foyer was packed, with the commotion of lots of conversations. 

Suddenly it seemed the roar of the crowd increased. Thinking that they must have opened the doors to the little auditorium, I turned around from the window.

Just as I turned around, perhaps a dozen people took a step in one direction, and another dozen stepped in the other direction, so that a path opened through the crowd in front of me.

I thought, "that defies all the laws of statistics"! Having accumulated enough credits in math and statistics so that I was eligible to sit for my Ph.D. exams either in statistics or social psychology, I was a big believer in the laws of statistics.

Once I got over the shock a bit, at the end of the path I saw a beautiful girl. I speculated that maybe Yoganandaji had heard my complaint and had found a girl for me that I might find more to my liking.

I muttered to Guruji, "now that's more like it"! and shoved off to meet that girl.

But just as I was about to take the first step, I heard Guruji say, "Better look before you leap." Remembering how things had turned out last time I ignored Yoganandaji's advice regarding marriage, I decided that this time I would heed his recommendations.

So I stayed my advance, and introspected. I saw that if I walked down that open path I would have to move some several hundred miles from where I grew up in Missouri, and the move would prove fruitless - after two stormy years the courtship would be off. I decided I'd better marry Joie - just as Yoganandaji had first indicated.

We got to know one another during the ride home from Convocation, and married a year later. And so the two giant life problems - job and marriage - were resolved and now I could focus on spiritual growth - much aided by Joie.

So many happy years have since flown by since getting into SRF in the Fall of 1973 - what a truly wonderful life; I never imagined it possible. And certainly my beloved Yoganandaji has been actively guiding my life since then. Of course, he was guiding my life long before 1973, as should be evident by my early experiences; but all the more effectively since I began to meditate. If I have time, I'll tell some more of those stories of his marvelous deeds after I got into SRF. But after finding my guru who taught me how to feel God's love, what else can compare in significance?

* I had been offered tenure by Sydney C. Reagan, then head of SMU's Institute of Urban Studies. The catch? I had to agree to serve as director of the next huge research project - this one a $500,000 study on driving under the influence.

It was an honor to be offered that position, and I had found that I really enjoyed working on those large projects when I worked with him as co-director of the Crossroads Community Study - a study of poverty in South Dallas - and the later spin-off projects. (Ironically, when I was a grad student, I thought to myself that if I played my cards right, I'd have a secretary and several employees, - just like Prof. Melvin Marx, the big man in our psychology department at the U. Mo.; but now I had rooms of secretaries and a total of about 200 employees in the research organization that I had built with the money obtained by Syd's Washington, D.C. connections.) Moreover, I liked and respected Syd Reagan.

However, I had had a similar opportunity even before I got my doctorate. The first summer that I was in Columbus, Ohio - where I was working for my Ph.D. - I got a summer job with Battelle Memorial Institute. Battelle was one of the largest non-profit research institutions in the world - having done the developmental research for Xerox, the aluminum flip-top can, the sandwich coins that the U.S. now mints instead of solid-metal coins, and so much more Americana that we all see every day.

After a few weeks at Battelle, I had a rather heated argument about a certain management issue, whereupon the division manager put me in charge of the Washington, D.C. office and told me I'd better fix the problem or else I would be in deep trouble. I got it straightened out, and soon the division manager and I became respectful friends.

When the end of the summer came, they gave me a signed contract for a permanent position with salary that was almost twice as high as the salary that I later earned as a faculty member with a Ph.D. They also offered to pay all my bills while I continued to work part time for my doctorate.

But even though the projects were interesting, I could see that one never really mastered any field of study. That was not for me. And that's one reason why I felt I had to turn down Syd Reagan's generous offer of tenure, and all the money that he was likely to keep sending my way. I was afraid that at the end of my days I'd be a contented old professor, like those that I sometimes saw shuffling across campus, who probably hadn't had a creative thought in decades. No thanks, not for me.

But a more immediate reason for my turning down Syd's offer was that all this happened just days after my lost love left Dallas. I was so intensely sad that I could not concentrate; I just wanted to sit in silence in my backyard.

Syd was hurt and we'd sit on a campus park bench and talk, then walk a bit and sit on another bench and so on for quite a long time while he tried to convince me to change my mind. It pained me to hurt him, but I just could not do it. To compound my pain, the man he got to replace me was an exhibitionist who soon got caught - leading to the demotion of Syd from his position as Director of the Institute (he remained as Chairman of the Department of Real Estate), in addition to the demotion of the chairman of my psychology department (he went back to "his first love, teaching" - in the words of the school newspaper), and - tragically - old Joe P. Harris, who died of a heart attack not long after losing his job as Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences (he was demoted to carrying projectors and audio equipment to classrooms around campus); so sad - they were all good people, and I felt partly responsible.

But as I have tried to show, it was the right decision for me to sit. By sitting in the backyard, I had numerous telepathic experiences, and ample time to reflect upon them and all the other happenings that I had experienced in the context of my understanding of physics. The end result was that I got into SRF - by far the most valuable thing that I've ever done in this lifetime.

  














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