FROM ARMY TO YOGA
“My friend’s father thought I was a bad influence on him. And his father happened to be on the draft board. As soon as he found out that I wasn’t in school…he got me drafted. First they were going to ship me to Vietnam but then they started downscaling the war. So then I was told they were going to ship me to Panama, and if I joined up for another year, they’d guarantee I wouldn’t go to Vietnam no matter what. I accepted that because I definitely didn’t want to go to Vietnam. I didn’t see much purpose in that war. So I got drafted and I thought about going to Mexico and just starting a new life. But I figured it wouldn’t answer any questions. I decided to go through with it, and went to the Army. In my frustration, I found one other soldier who was practicing yoga. He gave me all these books on yoga and meditation, and I joined a group called Paramahansa Yogananda. It was a very popular group at that time. I started practicing that and I took initiation. So I had all these books…all these yoga books…and I was getting up in the morning. Of course, I had become vegetarian.”
Guru Prasad Swami is a teacher in Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna) whose life was transformed spiritually when he was in the U.S. Army at a base in Panama. It was a blessing that I met with Guru Prasad when he was in Panama teaching for a month, even though he lives in Texas today. What I love about his story is the idea that we can find our spiritual selves in the most unexpected of places.
When William Henricks (his given name) was in the Army, he saw a fellow soldier’s book about yoga and started waking up at 3 am to practice, which woke up (and annoyed) the other soldiers. This continued and he was exposed to the Bhagavad Gita. He became a vegetarian. One day, his captain called him in—he thought to chew him out. But instead this captain said, “You don’t belong here.
You are a religious man. I’m going to transfer you to the Chaplain Corps. I’m going to give you off-base housing, and a stipend so you can make your own meals.”
As one person to whom I related this story said, “There are angels among us!” Indeed, I take away from Guru Prasad’s journey that there is never a perfect place to have our spiritual awakening… or…any place is a perfect place. No conditions need to be met for God to enter our hearts, however we conceive of that God. And maybe further, we can be that angel for so many people and we don’t have to necessarily do something “religious” or “spiritual” to help someone on their journey. We just need to reflect back to them their greatest self and aid them on their journey…which is, in turn, to help others on their journeys.