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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Seth and Sari – A Civil-War Story of Spiritual Rebirth


If you've read my Reincarnation article (http://www.torealize.net/Reincarnation.html), you'll recognize the opening story line: It is a dramatization of my memory of arriving home after the Civil War. Every detail in these opening paragraphs is absolutely faithful to my memory – the dogs, the girl lunging at me, all of the characters, fighting in Gen. Bragg's army, the corn fields, and all the rest. Many other scenes also are autobiographical, being descriptions of experiences in this lifetime.

One such is the experience of plowing, for I sat high on an old-fashioned plow during WWII when gasoline was too scarce for the use of tractors, plowing with a team of a horse and a mule. The memory of plowing on my maternal grandfather's farm in Southern California surely is my fondest recollection from early childhood.

Memories of milking and gathering eggs and other farm-like chores comes from helping my paternal grandparents back in Missouri. I really loved all farm-like chores except for hoeing the weeds in the garden.

    The scene where the black man throws the donated ham back at Seth also is autobiographical. It is an exact description of what happened to me when I was a teenager, helping my church distribute donated hams to the poor. It happened soon after the African-American choir incident and the hiring of a black man by my Catholic boss, for which he got into big trouble with the district manage. I certainly was aware of racism before these events, having had that playground encounter with the teenage bullies who beat up the two little black boys almost a decade earlier. Still, these incidents played a major role in developing my interest in changing society – an interest that helped propel me into the a study of social psychology.

The information about seed hardening is not at all autobiographical and its inclusion is pure fiction. However, the facts of seed hardening are accurate, having come from two books: Seed of Knowledge, Stone of Plenty, by John Burke and Kaj Halberg (Council Oak Books, 2005; Mr. Burke is the founder of Pro Seed Technologies, Inc.). The other book is Celtic Mysteries, by Philip Imbrogno and Marianne Horrigan (Cosimo on Demand, 2000).

The name “Harmony Hollow” is taken from Harmony Hollow in Virginia, where Joie and I lived for so many happy years. The blue house in the photo was our Harmony-Hollow house – said by old timers in the area to have been the finest house in the hollow back when it was built in the 1840s, a status that it seems to have retained until well into the 20th century. That two-story house looks almost identical to the house I returned to after the Civil War, except that my Kentucky home had only a stoop without a roof, in contrast to the porch on our Virginia home.

I am indebted to a biography of Abraham Lincoln that I recently watched with Joie on PBS for the information about slavery in Kentucky. I never really felt that the black people whom I saw in the recollection of my earlier life were slaves; they just didn't act with that type of deference, and they clearly were overjoyed to see me return from the war. After learning that that Lincoln's father was a member of an abolitionist Baptist church in Kentucky, I could understand how blacks and whites there could be living together in one large house outside of the terrible institution of slavery.

The story of Sari seeing the five-pointed star of the spiritual eye is drawn from the biography of Dr. Lewis, the first disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. (Actually, when someone asked Yoganandaji if Dr. Lewis was his first disciple, he humbly replied, “That's what they say,” refusing to acknowledged himself as guru with disciples; he always said that God was the one true guru.) Dr. Lewis became a disciple so readily in part because he had been seeing the star and didn't know what it was until Yoganandaji explained it to him. Some evolved souls have that experience without ever having received instructions on how to see it, and Sari is depicted throughout as such a soul. Her knowing how to move the currents in the spine is, of course, drawn from my own experience of having learned Kriya Yoga from Yoganandaji by means of intuition.

Generally, it is not a good idea to try to remember your past lives. The problem is that usually you'll remember the bad parts. Dwelling on the bad is no way to grow spiritually. In fact, doing so may drag you back down into those depressing times if you immerse yourself in them. A depressed mental state takes your consciousness down the spine, away from God. Writing this ending to my terribly painful memory of walking home, so depressed, after the Civil War is my attempt to sweeten that memory.

This short story is dedicated to my loving wife, Joie. I hope you find it interesting.

One round-toe shoe after the other, hour after hour, day after day, those shoes were carrying Seth home. Still functioning – those shoes – although deeply scarred by the war. Like him.

Approaching the gate, he was disappointed to see peeling paint on the house. Still, it was the finest house in Harmony Hollow.

Both dogs raced down from the house. Would they attack?

At the last moment they stayed their assault, remembering. Instead of attacking, they jumped around him and barked furiously. Before the war he would have given them at least a little pat; but now he could not summon the feeling.

During the commotion, the screen door slammed open and out raced Sari – all arms and legs and pigtails. She had grown into an unusually tall 12-year-old girl. Flying over the ground in astonishingly long strides, she lunged at him from several yards away and caught him around the neck. Up and down she danced with her arms still loosely around his neck, u-luing just as her ancestors had done for eons back in Africa.

Close behind her came her mother, walking at a brisk and graceful pace, followed by his own mom and her sister.

Then came the girl's father, Mr. Johnson, and her little brother, Jeremiah, running. Someone sent Jeremiah out to the corn fields to get the warrior's brother, Merrill.

After warm greetings were exchanged, he wandered to the barn with Merrill. Immersed in the most heavenly smell on earth from the hay loft above, he sat in deep gloom. He could barely speak a word.

Like Abraham Lincoln's father, who had once live in this area, the entire family belonged to a Southern Baptist Church that opposed slavery. Kentucky was neutral during the Civil War, officially siding with neither the North nor the South. But most Kentuckians viewed slavery with the same contempt as that found in the neighboring hill country of Virginia, where citizens seceded from the state in order to form the state of West Virginia rather than help the Confederate states fight to continue slavery. This opinion prevailed despite the fact that many abolitionist families from this area – like the Lincolns – had moved across the border into Illinois in order to live in a free state.

Even with many liberals departed, Kentucky was spared the worst evils of slavery. Probably this was because of its hill country, where large plantations with lots of slaves proved to be untenable – rather than any moral superiority. Even those in other states who owned many slaves, such as Virginia's Thomas Jefferson, acknowledged slavery as an evil institution; but he was so addicted to his high lifestyle that he couldn't bring himself to free his slaves.

Even though a slave state, you would not be likely to find in Kentucky the windowless log cabins with dirt floors, typical of, say, East Texas, where slaves were crowded in at night and chained to iron loops found every three feet or so, anchored to the log walls. Tellingly, before the Civil war – while Seth still was a child – Kentucky founded the first integrated co-educational university in the South, and only segregated it by race when forced to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1905. Similarly, in 1966 it passed the first Civil Rights act in the South. An abundance of evidence shows that Kentucky was not a typical southern state in its attitudes toward blacks .

Seth himself hated slavery. He thought it evil. He had volunteered to fight in General Braxton Bragg's army only out of a sense of loyalty to his region. But his heart wasn't in it. So much needless suffering, so much brutal loss of life – for what? He had returned whole in body, but a broken old man inside, spent. Now at age 21 Seth even had a few gray hairs.

His grandfather had owned slaves – the grandparents of Mr. Johnson. But after the warrior's grandfather found himself dying with lung cancer, he decided to reform his life. Among other changes, he started planting corn instead of tobacco, and he freed his few slaves. The corn did well, and the freed slaves stayed with him and worked harder than ever. He thus retained his position as the most prosperous resident in Harmony Hollow until his death. Seth's own parents hired the former slave family and kept the house and had continued to prosper until the war.

Seth soon fell back into the rhythm of farming. He always had loved every moment of it – milking cows, gathering eggs, shucking corn – it all pleased him. But how he especially like plowing! The variety of corn that was planted back then produced huge stalks – stalks that required a corn plow to have an inverted-“U”- shaped frame that could clear the tall stalks until plowing season ended in mid-summer.

plow seat

Old seat like the one on my grandfather's plow; photo protected by Share-Alike, Non-commercial CC license by quadrapop.

Seth would sit proud on the seat of that plow that was high over his head when he stood on the ground. From that high seat he would look down over the two horses, feel the soft air as it carried the warm, moist odor of turned soil to his senses. Plowing did much to soothe his demons.

It was early June and the weather was getting hot. Working up a sweat felt good, and the work obscured the howling sounds of war that were echoing in his head. He found that if he worked really hard during the day, then he could sleep that night without too many nightmares.

The summer passed, the weather turned brisk, and soon enough the days were short and the evenings long. Then the terror nightmares returned.

He sought relief. He asked Mrs. Johnson, “Would you let Sari read to me in the evenings”?

After a long pause, she replied, “I'll put Sari to darning the socks in the daytime. Then I'll have time in the evening to clean the kitchen myself.”

And so every evening Sari read to Seth on the front stoop by the light of a lantern. Mostly he wanted to hear the Bible stories, but during his absence she had been reading a wide variety of books – science, history, biographies – whatever friends, family, and the church library could provide. So sometimes she would read from other books in addition to the Bible.

After she read, Mr. Johnson sometimes would get his old banjo. He had inherited it from his father and thought maybe it somehow had come directly from Africa. Africa, the original source of all banjos, also was a major early influence on the development of the string music of Kentucky that became bluegrass music. The sound was soothing for Seth, especially when Mr. Johnson sang in his deep voice. The resonances in his voice sounded almost like a large pipe organ. Seth loved the sound.

The routine became set.

Seth's mom pretty much lost the will to live when her husband was killed early in the war. When her sister's husband return from the war and reunited with his wife in their own home, she especially felt disconnected from life. She passed away less than two years after Seth returned. Seth was still so numb from battling his own demons that he could not even feel much additional sadness when she departed.

Then the next year Merrill decided he wanted to move to the city. Seth made arrangements to buy his share of the farm.

Now it was just Seth and the Johnsons living in the old home place. There was little variation from one day to the next. Occasionally Seth had gone to the church socials, sometimes accompanied by one or another of the Church girls. But they seemed so shallow, so limited in their understanding, so circumscribed in their interests. Some were cute, but he couldn't find them attractive.

He preferred his now-comfortable routine. Hard work during the day, Sari reading to him in the evening, a bit of Mr. Johnson's music, church on Sunday and prayer meeting on Wednesday evening. Not an exciting existence, but he had had more than enough excitement for one lifetime.

Usually Seth listened in silence as Sari read. But one day when she was reading from the second chapter of Matthew, Seth exclaimed, “That story is false.”

Sari was 16 now, and precocious. She had begged him to teach her to read when she was little more than a toddler. Back then, he, too, loved to read. It was against the law to allow blacks to learn to read, but like most people in that part of Kentucky, he didn't have much respect for laws of that type. So he taught her to read, and often he read stories to her, explaining the parts that were too difficult for her age.

By now the roles had reversed. Sari was thoughtful, introspective, and increasingly well read. She was forming her own understanding of the world while Seth was mostly disconnected, still lost in his gloom.

“False? How can you say that? It's the Bible,” Sari replied.

“Because any star that might come that close to the manger would burn it up,” answered Seth.

“Maybe it's not that kind of star,” argued Sari.

“Well, what other kind could it be”? asked Seth.

She explained, “Sometimes when I sit in my hiding place and I'm really quiet for a long time, I see a star.”

“In your hiding place? You see a star,” Seth repeated, dryly.

“I really do! A five-pointed star. It's like in my forehead when I close my eyes.”

“Oh, an imaginary star,” said Seth.

“Not at all imaginary. It's real,” Sari groped for words.

“A mental star,” Seth ventured.

“I don't think its mental. It's something – it's something else.” Sari said, recognizing that such things had to be experienced to be known – words would not do.

“So anyway, what does that star have to do with finding the manger”? Seth asked.

“I think it has to do with getting knowledge directly. I'm guessing that the wise men were called wise because they could do that. I can believe this because when I see the star, then I can see things or hear things – things in the regular world, things that I didn't know about,” asserted Sari.

“Like what”? Seth asked, sceptically.

“Like how we should prepare the seed corn for planting,” suggested Sari.

“And exactly how should we prepare the seed”? Seth asked.

“We should let it sit for a few hours in my secret room,” claimed Sari.

“Your secret room? And what would this secret room do for the seed”? asked the skeptical Seth.

“It would give it energy or something – I really don't know; I just know that we should try it,” persisted Sari. Sari was beginning to find her own voice – a new experience for both of them.

Seth mulled this over at length. Finally, he demanded, “Show me your secret room.”


The huge mound, not far from where Seth lived, at Moundsville, WV – one of the largest in the South. This one appears to be at least 2100 years old. Other stone chambers and mounds elsewhere appear to be at least 5000 years old.

She agreed. As a child, she had found the ancient stone chamber, its entrance almost totally hidden under a growth of vines and brush. The chamber was mostly buried under a mound, close to the stream high up in the woods. She couldn't have known it, but the chamber had been built on a high-energy point several thousand years ago. It was built by a people who understood such energies – having preserved higher knowledge from their very ancient ancestors.

Sometimes she would sit in that chamber. She could feel the energy. After a while, when she was very still, she then would see the star. Then she was given knowledge. The knowledge seemed to come through the star. That's how she knew about seed hardening with energy.

The country folks in these areas already knew to set seeds out in the cold weather for a few nights to “harden” them. Doing so made them more likely to germinate and more likely to thrive after germination. Cold hardening increased yields. And she intuitively knew that hardening with energy could further improve crop yield.

Seth looked over Sari's secret chamber. He saw that it was furnished with a stone bench, and it was clean, for she had felt that this was a sacred place and should be kept tidy. Seth himself was rather intuitive, and he, too, could feel something special about this chamber. So he agreed to bring half of their seed into the chamber for this energy hardening – as an experiment.

Sari said the best hours for hardening would be just before dawn. As a 19th-century girl she couldn't have known it then, but those hours are when the spread-out layers of the ionosphere move from several hundred miles above the earth down to a single layer with a daytime altitude of about 30 miles. As always, charged particles moving rapidly produces strong electrical fields. And it was these fields that charged the chamber, with the nearby stream acting as an antenna. The electrical fields stressed the seed, just like the cold stressed the seeds. The result in both cases was a biological response that strengthened the seeds, just as heavy exercise stresses the human body and repair of damage done by this stress strengthens it.

So they brought in half of their seeds several hours before sunrise. Shortly before the sky began to lighten Sari suddenly announced that they should now remove the seeds lest additional energy damage them.

Come planting time, they watched the results. Soon enough, they saw that the energy-hardened seeds did indeed do better than the other seeds. Seth was convinced that Sari really had some kind of understanding that was useful.

It occurred to them that they could provide this hardening service to others. They told nearby farmers that for a small portion of their harvest, they would do the same hardening for half of their seeds too. If they didn't notice an improved yield from the energy-hardened seeds, they would not have to pay the fee. Some took up their offer.

After a couple of years they were busy night after winter night, hardening seeds. Word spread that every farmer had seen the improved yield, and most now took all their seed to Seth and Sari for hardening. As the years passed, the business grew as their fame spread far.

Usually Seth sat in silence on the bench beside Sari, waiting for her to feel the time had come for them to quickly remove the seeds from the chamber. While awaiting her instructions, typically he'd cross his legs, prop his elbow on his knee, and doze with his head on his hand. In contrast, Sari sat very erect, with her eyes closed, performing her mental exercises.

One night when Seth sat by Sari with the seeds, he looked at her. He realized that it had been a long time since he had actually looked at her. Maybe, in fact, he never had really looked at her. She now was in her 20s, tall and slender, but with the soft curves of a young woman. And she was interesting, with her knowledge, her intuition, her lively spirit. He also sensed that she was bringing him out of his gloom.

She felt him looking at her and opened her eyes. She turned her head to look at him. She had a serious look on her face, but when he looked into her large, dark eyes, something awoke in him. “Such a beautiful face,” he thought. He smiled – the first smile in a very long time indeed.

Like him, she had not found anyone of interest to her. She had talked of moving away, for she was moving past the usual age for marriage.

He wondered if she might be interested in him as a man. Gathering courage, he took her hand.

She returned his smile, and squeezed his hand.

After several nights of holding hands, he asked if he might kiss her.

Sari had never dared imagine that she could marry Seth. She always had been attracted to him, and she was aware that she was the most beautiful young woman in Harmony Hollow, and she knew that she had a stronger mind than anyone else around. But marriage? Blacks and whites might enter into extra-marital activities, but they just didn't marry.

Thus she was shocked to not only hear herself agree to a kiss, but to also hear herself saying that before this sort of thing progressed much further he'd have to ask her parents for her hand.

His heart jumped for joy. It probably never would have occurred to him to consider marriage, and even if it had, he would not have had the courage to speak of it. But now that she had said those words, he didn't hesitate.

He asked for a meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson said, “I'm concerned. Most people here might be open to such a marriage, but not everyone. Are you sure you want to brave whatever they may do”?

“Sari's ready; and so am I,” replied Seth without hesitation.

Reverend Jenkins believed that we are all God's children. Even so, he would have advised against a black-white marriage in most cases, on the grounds of differences in background, interests, education, and all the other differences that usually separated blacks and whites. But he knew both Seth and Sari well. In this case, he saw their similarities and compatibilities and agreed to perform the wedding – but with two conditions. First, bi-racial marriages were against the law, so there could be no legal marriage certificate signed by him. And second, the marriage would have to take place in their home, lest anti-black sentiments be stirred against the church.

And so they were wed.

Fortunately, Brother Jenkins' church had never seated blacks in the back – unlike most Southern churches of that time. Seth's family and the Johnsons had always worshiped as one big family, always sitting together in church, and continued to do so after the wedding. Outwardly, the wedding changed little except that Seth and Sari now sat next to each other.

No one acted against them, but everybody knew – how could it be otherwise in a small community? When the Sheriff heard, he wasn't about to arrest two of the community's most prominent citizens upon whom so many depended for their prosperity. In any case, he decided, no Kentucky law had been violated for there was no Kentucky marriage certificate. As far as he was concerned, this was a marriage before God and God would have to decide whether any of His laws had been violated.

Their seed business – at present approaching the end of its first decade – had provided an impressive bank account. Having married at the end of the seed-hardening season before planting began, they decided to take off the entire summer for a honeymoon just as soon as the crops were planted. Mr. Johnson now did almost all the farming anyway, and was industriously saving for his and Mrs. Johnson's retirement and was planning to build their own little house on land that Seth had given them. He was happy to take care of the farm during Seth's absence in exchange for most of the farm's income.

Sari had never been more than 20 miles from this house, and she, especially, wanted to see the world. Still, she and he both were a bit tense as they, a bi-racial couple, crossed the U.S. on the new trans-continental railway. They need not have worried – Seth was a huge strapping man who now was in his prime, hardened by years of farm work; and Sari projected her own regal aura from her tall stature. Together they made a formidable couple. Even aggressive men decided it would be unwise to test their patience.

They relaxed when they reached the Hawaiian Islands without any significant racial incident. Once in China, they felt free from such concerns. Same for India.

Munnar hill station, Kerala – a favorite vacation area in southern India preferred by India's British rulers of old. Photo by Bimal K C, protected by CC attribution license.

India, especially, was full of surprises. Surprises like the Christian region of Kerala that dated its conversion to Christianity back to the apostle Thomas. St. Thomas had gone as a missionary to that Southern region of India in 52 A.D.

The second surprise was that most of the people of Kerala were literate and prosperous, and many locals even had learned English from the British, facilitating the travels in that region by Seth and Sari. The third surprise was that – despite its coastal location at the southern tip of India – Kerala was much cooler than where they had stopped in southern China. Indeed, it was so pleasant that they spent most of the summer there.

The final surprise was that some of the people there knew about the five-pointed star that Sari saw in her forehead. From them she learned much about meditation.

It would be just the first of many such trips to India, for soon they joined a missionary group that gave them a sense of purpose for their trips. They were evolved souls, so didn't try to push Christianity on everyone. But for those for whom God had chosen Jesus as their guide back home, they were there to help.

When Seth got back to Kentucky he extended the stoop so that it became a large porch. After hanging a swing on the porch, he and Sari would sit there as she read to him in the evening.

He also covered to old wood siding with stucco and painted it blue. It seemed to be that he was trying to cover over all traces of his sad years, now replaced by a new hope.

A few years earlier Sari had bought a fine fiddle and had taken lessons. Now sometimes she played classical melodies for him; at other times she played the local string music with her father. No longer so burdened with chores around the farm, Seth and Sari ate early so that they would have an hour or more for these evenings of reading and music before an early bedtime.

Speaking little, never overly familiar with each other, they rarely quarreled. It seems they had worked out their differences slowly, almost imperceptibly, during their many years together before marriage.

While sitting with the seeds in the early hours of the morning, sometimes they did engage in long conversations, speaking slowly in low voices. As the family grew, they might talk about their kids or other family members, but mostly they reflected on whatever they had read the night before while sitting in the swing. It was a good life.

As the years went by they continued their seed-hardening business and grew more prosperous than ever. Seth began playing guitar again, having abandoned it after the war. Sometimes they and Mr. Johnson played for church socials; sometimes they played for square dances (as Baptists, they generally were opposed to dancing – except for square dances). Merrill had learned to play the guitar too, and would join them from time to time – acting as caller for the square dances.

When the crowds began to thin, Sari would pull Seth down from the bandstand and they would join in the square dance. Mr. Johnson and Merrill would carry on with the music.

Deeply religious people typically are more generous with their money than most other citizens of the U.S., and Seth and Sari certainly were not exceptions. Not only did they give generously to the church, but they also made special efforts to help the poor. Having experienced more killing during the war than he wanted to remember, Seth no longer could stand even the killing of farm animals. As a vegetarian, he was uncomfortable when he accompanied other men of the church as they gave free hams to the poor. But above all, he was a loyal church member and always participated in all church functions.

On one such outing, a black man had come out of a shack as they approached and shouted, “I don't want your ham – I want a job”! Then his wife rushed out and took the ham with a soft “thank you.”

But after she went inside, the man again appeared at the door and threw the ham back at Seth and his partner, again exclaiming, “I don't want a hand-out; I want a job!

Seth told Sari about the incident while they sat on the porch that night. After a long silence she said, “You know, the days when we're a country of small farmers are numbered. Already, factories are appearing everywhere. And the best jobs in the factories go to those who can read and write. Seems to me that the best thing we can do for poor people is to get them to read.” Seth agreed.

Soon they had built a large addition on to the church so that it could expand its little library. They also helped fund a full-time librarian who offered literacy classes. The librarian they chose was a young graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which recently had moved to Kentucky. Like many from the Seminary, the librarian was a liberal on racial issues (later the Seminary would defy state laws and integrate its campus, and later still it invited Dr. Martin Luther King to speak during the height of the Civil Rights movement). Like all other functions at this church, the classes were open to one and all regardless of race.

In the meantime, Seth had become a rather happy man. When Seth's gloom receded sufficiently, she knew intuitively that it was time to teach him how to move the currents in the spine; no longer did he waste his time dozing while tending the seeds. Through Sari's loving help and God's grace, Seth became a mellow, loving fellow and worthy father. They were respected by all and grew in their love for God.

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