Introduced to Christianity
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
I was ready to go on my mission the West. One day I was going to the office of Thomas Cook Co., to have my passage booked. My inner voice said to me, "Atul, do you know anything about the people to whom you are going ? You had better write and publish a book on what you are going to preach there and send it over, so many will know about your mission and will be ready to hear you." It was a nice idea. At once I went and informed my Guru of this new idea. He appreciated it; so I began to write about “Real and Apparent Vaishnaism". Very soon I realized that my command over English was not quite sufficient to enable me to express fully the meanings of some Sanskrit words. I tried many dictionaries but they were of no use. I knew what these Sanskrit words mean but was unable to put them down in good English. For sometime I gave up the idea of writing this book. Again I seemed to hear the inner voice saying, "Atul, dictionaries won't help you. The people to whom you are going are English-speaking and civilized. They are not the people of Central Africa or the Nagas of Assam. They have a religion, too, which is very famous Why don't you read the book in which you will find their ideas about God and religion? You would become more acquainted with them and their ideas?" This seemed to be very logical.
At this time I remembered that I had been carrying a Christian book in my bag for several years. It was an object of ridicule to me. Many times I bad said brazenly without reading it, holding it out before my audiences that this was a Christian book but it had nothing in it which was worthwhile. But, now I began to thumb it through to find expressions that might help me to express. I liked the "Beatitudes" and copied them down. I found many suitable English expressions for my Sanskrit terms and was delighted. With the help of these expressions, I completed the book. Our Math printed the book and distributed it. Many copies were sent to selected leaders and thinkers in Europe and had many favourable reviews in the West. I liked the language and the thoughts embodied in this Christian book. I began to wonder whether I ought not to read the whole book to get a fuller knowledge of It. it had strangely gripped me. I decided to study it earnestly. I knew that no-one should read a scripture without securing the help of one who both knew and followed it. But, where to find such a Christian? Although I had lived in Calcutta for twenty-five years, and knew the city well and the educated people in it, I had never seen any missionary coming to the Math to talk about his religion. On the other hand I had constantly gone to Christian homes in Calcutta, Puri, and other places trying to make converts and get some help for our work. Though I knew no missionaries, I knew something of their locations. I sent some reply postcards to the Secretaries of several different Christian missions giving my history in brief and my desire to study the Bible. I expected a reply at once but no reply came. After some days I went to the nearest Mission-house. Near the gate, there were two small rooms filled with nicely bound books. Being a "book-worm" by nature, I was greatly attracted by the titles of these books. The names being full of deep meaning and thought, I wanted to buy the whole lot. Had I had the money I would have done so. I went to the salesman who was sitting at a table with some tracts and booklets before him. I bought a tract entitled “Devotions", the price of which was one anna. As I turned towards the gate, I met a missionary. I had met him long ago when he was in charge of a Christian hostel across the way from our house in Dacca.
I asked him about my postcard but he said it had not been received, for there was no Secretary in that mission. It must have gone into the wastepaper basket. I asked him some questions. Did he teach Christianity ? Yes. Could he teach me? No. Did he have Bible-classes ? Yes. Could I come ? No. Did they have prayers? Yes. Could I join? No. I realized wily I got such answers. It was because I was dressed like a sadhu-no shirt, no shoes, just a loincloth, long chutiya, head shaved and many religious marks daubed on my body. He probably thought I was merely an arguing sadhu and he did not care to waste his time on me. He gave me a letter of introduction to Dr. Howells, then editor of a weekly paper, "Epiphany" designed to answer questions for people. I opened the letter on my way to Mr. Howell's house and saw that I was mentioned as a devout Vaishnava. I wanted to understand Christianity. In a way he was not to be blamed, but he lacked a sympathetic understanding of hungry souls existing under the outward dress of a certain religious sect. He should have discerned this from the very way I talked. I felt his stupidity. I angrily stamped my foot on the ground, with my wooden sandal and said, "If you say 'no' to all such questions, why have you come to India? Why do you have such a huge building for this Mission ? If you don’t use it for such inquirers, dismantle this building pack up your things and get back to England.” The Father was neither disturbed nor angry at this, rather, he smiled a Christian smile as if understanding my earnestness and said, "All right, you may come at 3 p.m. on Thursday. I shall be in that prayer room. You please wait just in front of the door." That was Monday. I passed the intervening days restlessly, impatiently. I left the Math at 1 p. m. although it was only 20 minutes' walk. I did not want to be late.
I was extremely anxious to meet this Father an~ know something about the New Testament and the Bible. On this appointed day I went there at 1:30 and waited. As I waited a young missionary asked me whom I wanted to see. He did it in such gentle and courteous way that it warmed my heart because after the rebuff on Monday I didn't expect such loving treatment from any missionary. As a Vaishnava missionary, I began to introspect and try to see myself along these lines Whenever an inquirer came to me in the Math, I would treat him very brusquely and rudely. Just to show my dignity and indifference I would make him wait for some time. I found a striking difference between this gentle and concerned missionary and myself, so proud and unfeeling. His manner so impressed me that I wished 1 could be like that with all my inquirers. I thought that the secret of his behavior must be his religious teaching. As I was waiting, the door of the prayer-room opened exactly at three o'clock, and the Father came to me. His face was shining. Throwing his arm about me, he took me upstairs to his room. Soon after our conversation started, he took out his watch and looked at the time. I knew that he had to go somewhere. I began to ask questions hurriedly. "Could you give me something to read on Christianity and Christ ?" He said, "Yes," and brought me back numbers of "Epiphany" in which there were articles on the Incarnation and. Jesus Christ. I asked, "Why have you come to India to spread Christianity ? Don't you know that there is no older or better religion in India than Hinduism and that India is for Hindus & the Hinduism must remain their religion forever?" He answered, "I know that this is your belief but my deep conviction is that there is no religion better than Christianity". I said, "lf you could prove it to me, I would be the first one to accept your religion. I want a religion which will give me real peace, joy and satisfaction. Please do not form any false impression about me from my dress and my talk about the Hindu religion. I have no peace and satisfaction in my religion. If you really have come to India to give something that Hinduism cannot give, tell me at once. I am ready to receive it. I will not let anything keep me from accepting - this truth".
I was expecting a direct answer about his personal experience, but without another word, he looked at his watch. He may have thought 1 was not in a position to receive the "Good News", or, he may have had to attend to something more important. I begged to be excused for taking his precious time, and went away taking the "Epiphany" articles Also, I asked him for a book called "Mysticism". After saying "goodbye" to the Father I left the mission-house.
Arriving at the Math, I began to read that book. It was about the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. I was so much engrossed in the reading ot this book that I forgot to eat my evening meal 1 could not sleep until I finished it. It was this way. The life of St. Francis appealed to me very much, because of his simplicity. In him I found pure heart-love for others and for God. He was my ideal but I had not been able to express it before. He was the son of a very rich man and was driven out of his house. He too, had passed his father in the street, not to be recognized by him. Then St. Francis had said to him, "Father, you may not recognize me, but there is a Father Who does recognize me and love me." Because of this identical instance in my life, this struck a sympathetic chord in my heart. In my room, we were three. Throughout the night I would wake them up and would read to them some of the beautiful things of St. Francis. I simply could not enjoy them all by myself. The chord had been struck and the music was essential. I drank so deeply at the spring that the next day when my Guru came to my office where I was editing Hindu scriptures and getting manuscripts ready for the press, I could not refrain from telling him in glowing terms about St. Francis- He knew that St. Francis was a man of the Christian faith. He asked me what book was there on my table that I had read the night before. I praised St. Francis and urged him to read the book himself. Guruji was shocked that I had the audacity to mention in his presence so early in the morning, such an unclean thing as a Christian and Christianity. He could not conceal his anger at my behavior. He scolded me saying, "How could you get that book and how could you dare to read it, without my knowledge? We should not forget that we are Hindus and should remain Hindus to the end." He commanded me never to read such a book again and to burn this one at once. I told him that it was a borrowed one and that if he wished I would return it that very day. Then I told him of the reason of my visit to the mission bungalow. How I went there and what happened. To him I was worse than an utterly faithless wife. I was his "right hand" and I was to succeed him and continue the Math activities. When he heard all this, his shock and grief were so great that he sat down helplessly and forlornly. I was like an adopted son to him. Without a single word, he went upstairs to think out of a possible way to save me from the Christian faith. As I was getting ready to return the book to the Mission, he sent a note to me saying, "Bhakti-Vijay, you are to go to Vrindaban today. Get ready to catch the Delhi Express at 2:30 P.M. They expected us to be ready to be sent anywhere instantly. I had only a few things to take, namely a blanket, a brass cup, and a Webster dictionary, and I was ready to go. I was sorry to leave the Math because I was getting interested in Christianity and St. Francis and I wanted to learn more about them. My going away was going to put a stop to all this. Then came a feeling of joy. How fortunate I was to be going to Vrindaban, the place where many people had a vision of Krishna, the place which the great Chaitanya had visited, where the two Vaishnav saints and six true Goswamies had lived, the place which my grandfather and grandmother had visited. Now the crowning experience of my life was to come. I thought that Vrindaban was a holy place of Hindu pilgrimage, so it would be impossible that a Christian mission could exist there. I wanted to return the book and then bring many more to take with me. But when I went to return it, I was told that the missionary who gave me the book had been transferred and a new missionary was there. He did not know me and refused to give me any books. With a sad heart I came back and prepared to go to Vrindaban.