“I was a Buddhist” is a fascinating story about a man’s search for the meaning of life and for Enlightenment. When Martin Kamphuis reaches his goal, however, it is not as a result of New Age techniques or his beloved Buddhism. It is the end of God’s search for him, when he is confronted by Jesus Christ.
As a young adult, Martin visits and tours South America alone, but soon realizes that there must be more to life than “love”. He does not see fulfillment in his father’s life as a farmer, either. On a neighbor’s recommendation, he travels to India and attends a meditation course. His impressions are rather mixed:
Initially, I thought that nobody in Holland would listen to such incoherent nonsense for even an hour. However, those who had been interested in Buddhist teaching for a while found his lectures fantastic, and were down-right enthusiastic. After a while, I found his words extremely appealing, too. We learned that Buddhist teaching cannot be grasped with the intellect, but we should relinquish our reason and leave room for transcendental, intuitive knowledge.
At the end of the course Martin became a Buddhist. His desire to reach Enlightenment led him to participate in initiations, meditation, and many rituals, some of them quite extreme and tiring. He returns to Holland, with the intention of returning to India, where he hoped to find his personal Guru, but it remained just a wish. In England he met a Dutch Buddhist, Iris, who claimed to have telepathic contact with several Buddhist Gurus, one of which would later be Martin’s Guru. The relationship with Iris was meant to help them both on the way to spiritual Enlightenment, and was quite important to him.
Martin studied psychology, but he also learned many New Age therapy methods, since according to tantric Buddhism, any means that might be helpful in reaching Enlightenment are allowed. The relationship with Iris is under constant strain, however. Martin is weighed down with guilt because of his lack of sympathy for her, necessary to reaching Enlightenment. Even though he is determined to end the relationship, it is not an easy step to take, because she served as a medium of his guru.
Finally, he meets a German lady, also seeking Enlightenment, and who has come to live with him on his ship. This enables him to break free. Elke is an alternative therapist, who, blinded by the ideal of self realization has been seeking her soul mate to the detriment of her family. Even though they both feel that their search has ended, they are still restless, and unfulfilled in their work as a therapists.
I felt a deep aversion towards my ship and our therapeutic work. Out of the blue, I said to Elke, “I don’t want to work here anymore! It doesn’t feel right any more!”
They embark on a trip around the world, and end up deciding to visit two destinations, India, so that Martin can fulfill a month long ritual, and Indonesia. They have no clear direction on their travels, but Elke received guidance in an unusual way:
That night I had a strange dream. I saw the continent of Australia and a voice said to me, “You will come to your heart here!”
As they progress through India and Indonesia, their sense of meaninglessness and frustration grows. In Australia they realize that they have been victims of a dishonest Indian merchant, and have lost a lot of money. Forced by their circumstances, they work on a fruit farm, and later visit an acquaintance who lives in the Australian rain forest. Hitchhiking on a Saturday, the couple meets a joyful young man. Elke and Martin think they know where that joy comes from - drugs. However, to their surprise, the man explains that his joy comes from his relationship with Jesus Christ. He invites them to experience something really alternative; he invites them to his Church. Open for almost anything, and somewhat curious, they agree.
At the end of the Sunday service, Mary asks Elke if she can pray with her; Martin goes along, too. Martin and Elke are used to sensing invisible powers, but now they sense that there is Someone there, Who is greater and stronger than all other powers that they had come in contact with. They meet Jesus Christ and experience Light entering their hearts. They had expected that they would reach Enlightenment from within, through New-Age and Buddhist methods. Now they recognize that the Light has come from outside, and that this Light had been searching for them all of the time.
After several days of inner peace and joy, Elke and Martin begin to feel a struggle within them. Well-meaning Christians that try to help and encourage them with scriptures only make the situation worse, as Elke and Martin don’t consider the Bible an authority, yet. They come to the point where they are willing to put Jesus alongside other Gurus and ideas, perhaps even give Him a special place, but do not see His unique significance. Their search for God goes on, this time in Sydney where their new faith grows, and where God takes hold of their lives. It becomes clear:
No, Jesus didn’t belong in the ranks of my other gurus. I knew finally that He is the Living God in person.
God’s story with Elke and Martin didn’t stop here. They returned to Germany, to Elke’s daughter. In the course of time, God made reconciliation possible, and started to heal the wounds in their relationship. God took them on to marriage and Bible school, to Tanzania, and then a pastorate. He also gave them the opportunity to share their story with others:
During the lectures and discussions that took place that day, the participants had often seemed tired and unable to concentrate, but now, they were completely absorbed.
Every sentence had a deep meaning. The existential significance of our meeting with God came out so clearly, that often the group couldn’t help laughing at our previous, futile efforts. Yes, it had been a pointless search, so exceedingly human. We had searched acceptance and spiritual unity; we wanted love, a home, and everything that everyone else in the world is looking for. However, in the middle of our search something unexpected had happened. Discreetly, it made itself perceptible. We were led by it, without even knowing it, but then He revealed Himself in all of His power and love, in His personal existence. He met us in Jesus Christ, God in person!
(Quotes from ‘I was a Buddhist’)