Rahil Patel decided to become a Hindu priest. But inner peace eluded him – until he walked into a church
From early childhood it was a normal thing to attend the Hindu temple every Saturday and Sunday. Hinduism shaped everything for us.
In 1988, when I was 16, the spiritual head [of our strand of Hinduism], or guru as he was called, came to London and noticed something special in me. By that time I was in charge of youth activities. I was asked to speak in the congregation and I found it very easy. There were about 3,000 people seated there and I spoke for 20 minutes. He said to me: ‘You’ve got a very good gift. Why don’t you think about being a priest? You would be a very, very good priest with us.’
On every level I felt reassured. He was someone who was literally known as God amid a vast Hindu community, internationally. And there was this sudden personal attention and recognition. So after completing my A levels, I went to India to a training centre; a monastery. I did the six years of training for being a priest.
The training was intense and vigorous. You are up at quarter to five every morning. There are classes throughout the day; studies of various Indian philosophy doctrines. Alongside that you study all the major world religions.
Training also often involves the lifestyle of celibacy. It’s very disciplined in that way. You have no money to your name. You are completely dedicated to the denomination which will then take on the responsibility of looking after you fully.
I had first encountered Christianity as a child; my nursery and primary school was Christian. But as I got plugged into the Hindu temple growing up, my early fascination with Christianity vanished.
The initial life decision to become a Hindu priest was easy. But within the first few months, doubts started to arise. I was worshipping one day when suddenly a whisper came into my left ear and said: ‘Are you sure you have made the right decision?’ It shook me completely. I remember looking around at everyone else, really engaged, and I felt so isolated. What had I done?
I questioned my guru on a few occasions. It didn’t go well. He was quite stern. He told me not to think too much. He told me, ‘The nature of the mind is to doubt and these are challenges that you will find on your walk. And you just have to keep on going.’ He had a certain type of presence about him that filled the gap for the time I was with him. But as soon as I left the room that sense of unsettlement and restlessness would reappear very quickly.
ATTRACTED TO THE CROSS
My own influence grew. That helped numb the doubts. I was taken on two world tours to get exposure from other cultures. I was soon known as an international speaker. I had these titles that I knew were shallow, but they kept me going.
When I visited certain countries, I loved going into churches. I went to Rome 19 times. I loved sitting in the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica. When I went into these churches, I began to feel a secret attraction to the cross.
One day, on my travels, I was in a bookshop and saw a children’s Bible. I had a whole library in my office, and I kept it secretly in the middle of all the other books. I remember taking it out one day. I was looking at the very simple stories and immediately there was a connection. It was incredible: it felt so good. I had to shut the book and put it away, because it was a completely different world to the one I represented. I was wearing orange robes, yet I was in my office reading a Bible. It was just too paradoxical to absorb. I knew there was something very special here, but I shouldn’t explore it. It would be dangerous to do that.
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LEAVING HINDUISM FOR CHRIST
My last year of being a Hindu priest was 2011. By that time, what was going on in my heart needed to be articulated. I went to India to meet the guru; I hadn’t seen him in one and a half years. But that visit to India changed me completely. What happened there was very hurtful, and I decided to leave. The guru was very happy, which was a shock to my system because he was like a father figure to me. I realised that they were happy for me to leave my position because my theology was changing as I was searching and probing into Christianity.
I moved back to London and stayed in a hotel in the West End. Three weeks later I was walking towards South Kensington Station and I saw the tower of St Paul’s, Onslow Square. I thought: ‘Let me go in and sit in there for a bit.’ It was Sunday morning and people were at the front door with incredible smiles. Love was oozing off them. They welcomed me and I went in.
As I went through the doors I felt this incredible peace fall on me and a silent whisper in my left ear that simply said, ‘You’re home.’
I had never seen Christian worship with drums and guitars before. But it all felt right. The sermons made sense. I drank everything in. I didn’t have the urge or even the thought to question anything. And then, after I left the service, I said yes to everything.
I went back to my hotel room and secretly in my heart gave my life to Jesus. It was then that I realised how he had been questioning, guiding and attracting me. He had been there throughout my life, knocking on the door.
Rahil Patel’s book Found by Love (Instant Apostle) is available now