I was born in Mangalore in a Roman Catholic family, and I was raised as a good Christian. My name was Claudius D’Souza then. I would go to church every Sunday without fail, attend catechism classes, and I even perform altar-boy services during my school years in Cochin.

There was nothing particularly wrong with that life, but during catechism classes, there were always some questions I could not get answers for. The nuns and priests were doing a good job, but some questions lingered at the back of my mind – questions about the meaning of life, the nature of the soul, about heaven and hell.

After school, when most people my age were making decisions about college and career – whether to take up medicine, engineering or something else – I wondered, is this all life is about? Having a career, getting married, raising a family? Nonetheless, I went the routine way at that time and took up chemical engineering.

While studying at BITS Pilani, my favourite haunt was the philosophy section of the library. More than academics, I read about Western and Indian philosophy, Buddhist and Vedic ideas and even self-help. Nothing particularly pushed me to change my life, but somewhere in me there was a deep conviction that there is more to life, and my quest did not end. All this while, however, I continued going to church – I found nothing wrong with Christianity.

Finding answers

In 1980, after college, I got a job at an engineering company and moved to Mumbai. Here too, I kept up my reading and, in 1981, a friend gave me a book by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON [International Society for Krishna Consciousness]. It was a book about the [Bhagvad] Gita and other teachings. I won’t say I was particularly attracted to it at the first reading, but I found that it did make logical sense. I found that some of my questions were getting answered, because it had very clear and straightforward descriptions of the nature of the soul and other aspects of life. It spoke about how this life is nothing but suffering, and that is something I immediately connected with, because I felt the same too.

I began reading more, and even visited the ISKCON temple a few times just to check it out. A lot of the ideas in the book were new and bewildering, but they were logical. Slowly, I began appreciating these ideas. The next step was to take up the process of chanting the Hare Krishna mantras, and once I started that, everything else fell into place.

Chanting enhanced everything that I was reading, and made it easier for me to follow the regulatory principles of the temple. The principles involve being strictly vegetarian, consuming no intoxicants (including tea and coffee), no smoking and no gambling. Some of these principles were starkly different from the life I was leading as a Catholic – I used to love non-vegetarian food and tea, for instance.

In 1984, I quit my job and formally got initiated into the temple, and was given the name Kapiladeva Das. On legal documents, my name is still Claudius, but I am known here by my diksha name. While it is possible to join the temple and still work outside, I chose temple-related work as part of the administration of the ISKCON-run Bhaktivedanta Swami Mission School.

Family matters

Naturally, my family reacted very badly to my decisions. For five years from 1984, I had no communication with them. In 1986, I chose to get married to a woman who was also a devotee at the temple, and sent my family a telegram about it. Only my brother, who was also living in Mumbai at that time, came for the wedding. Eventually, however, things did work out with my family.

My wife was also brought up in a mixed background, with a Protestant father and a Hindu mother who converted to Christianity after marriage. She joined ISKCON during her college days and also works full-time with the temple. We have raised our children in the ashram itself.

I don’t really see my journey as a conversion – I think of it as graduating from one level of devotion to another. Which is why I find the conversion debates in the country today very amusing. All this talk about forced conversions seems like a comedy show. Most Hindus today don’t even know what Hinduism is really about, and few people actually follow religion as it is supposed to be followed. If they did, they wouldn't behave the way they do.