His Holiness Devamrita Swami entered this life on October 16, 1950 in New York City, as the firstborn in a family dominated by a very devout and education-motivated Christian mother. Later in life his mother confided to him that during the time of his conception, she was praying to God that He send her a “servant of the Lord.” Observing her infant crawling to bookshelves, trying to grab books, she waited until he reached four years and then personally taught him to read, while ensuring that he immersed himself in church programs for children. At that time, he began to memorize Bible verses, and loved the Bible, hymns, and church life. Attending a Lutheran primary school for the first three years of his primary education, he relished learning in a religious atmosphere. At eight years old, the Lutheran Church offered him a university scholarship if he would promise to be a minister in the future.
Later, because the family, financially overextended, could no longer afford the fees at church schools, he enrolled in public primary and intermediate schools. His mother, observing that the best New York public schools had high Jewish enrollment, deftly maneuvered through school districts, constantly hunting the best public schools and teachers for her children. During these years, her eldest son developed an interest in Judaism and began to wonder about the existence of other spiritual paths.
The mother, a connoisseur of all Protestant faiths, began to attend Presbyterian churches, and there the future swami, at the age of thirteen, delivered his first Sunday sermon. Noting her son’s boredom and lack of challenge at school, his mother pushed for his acquiring a full scholarship plus living expenses to private boarding schools in New Hampshire, where he attended Exeter Academy during the summer and Holderness School for Boys during the regular school year. An abnormality amidst boys from the super rich and famous families of America, he would never forget his experience that wealth and class do not bring happiness.
At fifteen, dazzled by his sophisticated material studies, the spiritual inclinations accompanying him since infancy curdled into agnosticism. A year later, however, the historic recording “A Love Supreme,” by John Coltrane, turned him around. Stirred by the jazz legend’s devotional expression and by his public declaration, on the album cover, that love of God is the ultimate goal of life, the future Devamrita Swami made up his mind to find it pure love of the Supreme. Coltrane’s explorations of the music and philosophy of India–especially his chanting verses from the Bhagavad-gita perplexed and fascinated the mind of the young student, now bound for university.
In 1968, he received a scholarship to Yale University. Upon his informing his academic advisors that he was searching for the highest knowledge and wanted to study whatever he wanted, irrespective of academic rules for concentration, his overseers gladly agreed, admitting that they, while students, would have loved to have done the same. Plunging into world history, Western philosophy, anthropology, political science, economics, and the history of science, by his fourth year at Yale he gave up no thinkers had impressed him. He had failed to find any conclusive knowledge or any effective socio-political strategies for thoroughly improving humanity. During those years, seeking relief from the university, he would travel by bus to New York City and wander in the East Village and Second Avenue areas, expecting to discover something there that would save his life.
As graduation neared in 1972, he asserted to his dean of studies that he saw no future for himself in materialistic society. Brushing him off, the dean looked him straight in the eyes and pronounced: “You are a Yale man; you will influence the world.”
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