My spiritual journey in this life began the moment I came back to our beautiful blue planet. I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, to an upper-middle-class, pious Catholic family, one of the founding and leading families of the South American revolution. Years later, after a series of serendipitous roller-coaster-like twists and turns I found myself, at 15 years old, emigrating to the US. As a young child, I remember always having a deep connection to spirit. My shamanic grandmother shared with me her devotion to nature, Jesus and in particular the Virgin Mary, as she prepared me for my first communion. My father, a minister with degrees in Psychology and Theology, attended Catholic Seminary when he was a young man and aspired to become a Jesuit Priest. He and one of my uncles, a Catholic priest, were eclectic in their spiritual beliefs and subscribed to a philosophy that all religions lead to the same god. I was fortunate enough to be present during many of their lively philosophical discussions. I was often at their side listening intently and fascinated with all they had to say about Eastern religions. Years later, serendipity once again played a hand in my religious education and had me joining the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), attending Brigham Young University (BYU) and getting married at one of the Mormon Temples. Here I was being indoctrinated into another religion, with familiar beliefs, values, and saintly figures. Having acquired a strong foundational knowledge of these religions, I still felt them limiting...So, I continued my search for answers and when time allowed, I read everything I could on Eastern religions. One day on my way out of an old bookstore, after bumping into a shelf, I leaned over to pick up one of the books that landed in front of me. On the cover was an Indian looking man with long hair, deep mysterious eyes, and a soft smile. I immediately thought he seemed very familiar as if I actually knew him. Being that I was in a hurry, I put the book back on the shelf and didn't take the time to look at it. The man's face stayed with me, I would later learn that the man was an Indian guru by the name of Paramahansa Yogananda. That was my introduction to the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF). My thirst for answers to spiritual truths continued, I bought and read every book SRF had published and also took their lessons, received initiation, and became a Kriyaban. I felt that the more I learned the less I knew. Family and work responsibilities kept me extremely busy. After many years of moving cross country and overseas, we landed in California, wife at the time and two teenage sons. We took up residence in South Orange County. That same year, I took a wrong turn that landed me at the Rama Krishna Trabuco Canyon Monastery. I began to visit frequently, was befriended by a few monks, and attended lectures immersing myself with Vedanta.
One day while returning from a work assignment, I decided to stop by the Trabuco Canyon Monastery with one of my colleagues, my purpose was to ask for initiation. At the monastery, I ran into one of the friendly monks I knew. The monk mentioned that the head of the order was in the chapel and that he should be the one I should ask for initiation. I proceeded to the chapel, but before I was even able to make it up the stairs to enter, the door opened and Swami Swahanananda and his entourage headed in my direction. Given the throng of monks and devotees following, I decided that perhaps now was not the time to ask. As Swami Swahananda walked near where I stood, he stopped turned around looked at me, and out of nowhere, as if he had read my mind, said "are you ready?" I was taken back for a moment and responded "yes I'm ready." Soon thereafter I was initiated. Few years or so later, I took another wrong turn and I found myself parked at the front entrance of a house in Laguna Beach. Something sparked a curiosity in me, that compelled me to get out of the car and explore. I told the driver and other occupant to wait while I visited the house. Unbeknownst to me, I had arrived at Kali Mandir. As I approached the house, I caught the scent of incense and felt a profound peace. No one was around. I took my shoes off, got on my knees, and closed my eyes before mother. After a short meditation, I was warmly greeted by Swami Bhajanananda "Guruji" and Ushama, we had a nice conversation and thus began a wonderful friendship. They invited me to come back and I did. During the early years, Kali Mandir had no set visiting hours and a revolving door of devotees, including myself, coming and going at all times. For a host of reasons and being that I'm not one for attention, I always kept myself in the background, preferring anonymity. My interactions have for the most part been with Guruji, UshaMa, Swami Ambikananda, Rev. Kamalakanta, a handful of devotees from the early days, and in the last few years with Rev. Brahmachari Atmaram Chaitnya.
Fourteen plus years have passed since my first visit to Kali Mandir, many wonderful experiences, miracles and memories--my initiation from Guruji among the most cherished.