In Search of True Life – The Story of Pierre Danis
Although I am French I was born in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1947. I spent a good part of my childhood in Africa, especially in Cameroon. I was raised in a traditional Catholic family: mass every Sunday, catechism, sacraments, the works. When my family moved back to France I lost all interest in religion because one of my friends, an atheist, made fun of me. I stopped going to church. After all, I reasoned, I never had understood what the priest was saying.
After high school I apprenticed as a cabinetmaker and worked at that profession until it was time for military service. In 1968 while in the French army I made some friends who were into studying philosophy. They asked questions that I had never thought about: Why am I here? Where did I come from? Why are men wicked? Why is there suffering? Where do you go after you die? I began reading books by existentialists who encourage people to ask questions (a good thing) but never offer answers (which leads to deep anxiety). These questions led me to search for answers.
Growing up I was deeply influenced by African culture. Living in another culture will change you for life, especially when the host culture is very different from your own. As a result I was ill at ease when returning to France. I found it hard to adapt to the materialistic way of life. Instead I was eager to discover other cultures and religions. With my two army buddies we set out to discover the country of Morocco.
There I smoked marijuana for the first time. They called it « kif ». The small amount of money we had ran out quickly, and we wound up living on the beach with a friend who called himself Ali Baba. He loaned us a little cabin. We ate what we could find: mussels and sea urchins. For several months that was our daily diet. You can imagine what we thought of mussels and sea urchins. Fortunately we made some friends who invited us occasionally for dinner: good Moroccan meals of couscous and tajine. Our friends also spoke to us about Islam. We got interested in religion, but after three months we could not keep living that way. We needed to earn some money. It was time to return to France.
Arriving in Paris we found various odd jobs, at a printing press, a shoe factory, etc. After earning some money I set out once again for Morocco this time with a different friend. That trip did not last long. I decided my next adventure would be to visit Asia. I traveled across Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran (at that time the Shah was in power), then into Afghanistan (there were still camel caravans). Smoking marijuana became a habit for me, I thought it was part of the good life. While in Pakistan the people who housed me proposed that I convert to Islam. I was in search of love and freedom. Islam offered me neither so I set out to visit India and Nepal. I was chased from Nepal by the immigration police because my visa had expired. It was about then I began taking LSD and other hallucinogens. I stayed in several places in India then hitchhiked back to Europe.
Back in France I was totally out of touch with the European life style. I went to visit my parents, but it was almost impossible to communicate with them. I caused them a lot of suffering. Another trip seemed like the only solution, this time I set out for Amsterdam. There I met an old friend that I had known in India. We traveled together to Denmark where we spent the winter. I missed the warm weather of India so I traveled again across the Middle East, this time via Tunisia, Lebanon and Pakistan. I began to learn Hindi. We spent the winter in the plains; the summer in the Himalayas. Noticing the beauty of nature I came to the conclusion that this did not happen by chance, somebody or something was behind it all. Several times during my travels I came very close to death which led me to reflect on what would happen next. Without any answers to the question I only became more anxious.
One day I entered a house where I saw a little book called “The New Testament”. It was torn and missing the entire Gospel of Matthew. I borrowed it and began reading. This was my first contact with the Bible.
I traveled to Pushkar (Rajasthan), a “sacred city” for Hindus where I was the only foreigner. I did the ritual cleansing every day in the “sacred” lake. My friends wanted to convert me to Hinduism so they took me into the temples of their deities. During one ceremony we had to fold our hands and bow down before one of the statues. When it was my turn I couldn’t do it, I told them, “This statue can’t be a god.” I had understood at least that much.
I then left this region and went to live by myself near the banks of the Ganges. That was the period when the Beatles were initiated in Transcendental Meditation. Their guru lived in a monastery (ashram) where I wanted to stay, but because it cost money I had to leave. Walking along the river I found a set of caves where ascetics (religious hermits) lived. Finding an empty one, I moved in. I had been a vegetarian for quite some time, but I now began a strict frugivore diet. I ate nothing but fruit and drank water from the river. The only piece of clothing I owned was a piece of cloth that I wrapped myself in. I did my yoga exercises like my neighbors. Life was simple; maybe this was the answer. Then I caught dysentery.
Very frail and exhausted I returned to the mountains. Not knowing a soul, with no idea of what to do next, I was at the end of my rope. It was then that I met a Buddhist nun from Canada who suggested that I come to the Tibetan monastery where she lived higher up in the mountains. I lived there with the monks, participated in their ceremonies (poudja) and sat under the teaching of the lama. The nun that I had met owned a New Testament which I borrowed and read the Book of the Revelation.
One of the gurus used a meditation technique that supposedly provided a short-cut to Nirvana, a way out of the perpetual cycle of reincarnation taught in Buddhism. He taught me this method called « Vipasana ». I decided to become a Buddhist monk in the village where Gautama received his illumination (that is where he became Buddha). I shaved my head and followed their strict diet and rules: no listening to music, respect certain days of total silence, sleep on a board. Several times a day we were required to meditate for an hour without moving a muscle.
One day two new guys arrived. They were French and since the evening meetings were in English I served as their interpreter. One of them owned a big black book, a Bible, which he had bought in Delhi, 600 miles away. I asked if I could borrow it and began reading. It was at this time that I read “the one who seeks finds” which encouraged me to continue my search.
I began to compare Jesus and Buddha. I was more and more impressed with the person of Jesus Christ: first by his miracles, then by his wisdom and his love, then by his freedom of expression in front of religious leaders, like when he called them a “generation of vipers”. To my new friends I translated the professor’s lectures then I repeated to them the words of Jesus. That lasted until the day the owner of the Bible asked to have it back so that he could read it himself. Here I was with all of the same questions and no answers. I sensed it was time for me to leave. From there I met a Jew and we decided to room together. He also had a Bible. As I evaluated my situation I decided there was no need for me to stay there any longer. I had found no solutions to my problems in this part of the world. I headed back to France where I began living on a commune located on an old farm in the middle of France. There were four of us. We raised goats, chickens, honey bees, vegetables and marijuana. On the mantle was a collection of books. A Jew from our group had added his contribution, a Bible. This time I decided to read it from cover to cover. It was a Catholic version with apocryphal books and commentaries. It took me a year.
One winter day I was all alone reading the Gospel of John. In John 14 I read Thomas’ request to Jesus: “Lord show us the way.” This time it was not Thomas but me asking the question of Jesus. The response of Jesus surprised me. I could have imagined anything but, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”
At that moment I understood that Jesus was the Answer, there was no other way. I immediately abandoned all the others. One instant I believed that all paths led to the same god, the next I believed there was only one path, Jesus Christ. I had not arrived yet, but I now knew which way to go, as if I had been lost and discovered a road sign that showed the way to my destination. I took all the other books on the mantle and burned them. God showed me that He would not stop me from destroying myself but I now had a choice, “keep smoking pot or follow Him.” I decided to follow Him and get rid of the things that did not please Him.
I didn’t tell my friends about my decision. We left for a trip to Switzerland to visit a Buddhist community. On the return trip in Neuchatel I was at the end of my rope and began praying to God saying, ”I can’t handle this any longer. If you really exist I need you to do something for me. I read in the Book that you had disciples. If you still have some, allow me to meet at least one who can help me.” I didn’t tell a soul but a day or two later while we were hitchhiking to get back to the farm in France a man picked us up and told us, “I am a Christian, I believe in Jesus Christ. He is my Savior.” Then he explained the gospel to us. I was excited to see this answer to my prayer. I now knew that God exists, the proof is He answers prayer. I also understood that He hadn’t written me off. He was interested in me. That gave me hope to go forward. The man shared his picnic with us on the bank of a river.
Before we separated, the Christian gave us a book called “If You Want to Go Far”. It spoke about eternal life. It was just what we needed. After reading ten pages I told my friend that there was no point in reading further. Instead we ought to go find the author. We didn’t have a penny because on the commune we lived off of what the earth produced. The author, Ralph Shallis, lived only 45 miles away, but it took us five days to get there.
When we found his house in the countryside no one was home. We pulled out our sleeping bags to sleep in the garage. We were awakened by headlights coming down the driveway. It was Mrs. Shallis. We felt badly for her, a woman coming home alone at night in the winter to an isolated house in the countryside to find two men sleeping in her garage. What a surprise!
After asking us what we were doing she invited us in and served us tea and crackers. When her husband came home we explained again that we had read his book and that we were searching for eternal life. Mr. Shallis opened his Bible and spoke to us about the problem of sin. He said, “Between you and God there is a wall, it is made of all the things tha t you have done wrong. God wants you to repent.” So we began to confess our sins. That lasted for a week. Mr. Shallis spoke to us about God’s condemnation. It made me sick. I was convinced that with all the evil I had done I would be cast into Hell. Then he preached to us the Good News of salvation.
Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised from the dead, whoever believes on Him is forgiven and receives eternal life. It was too good to be true. Six more days went by until Mr. Shallis realized that I was still bound in my sin because of my involvement in the occult. I had been involved in divination, yoga, meditation, astral voyages and many other things. He told me that I needed to confess these things and ask God to deliver me from them.
The next day out in the countryside with my friend we read a short passage of Scripture and in prayer I committed myself to the Lord. I grasped hold of God’s promises by faith, especially this one, “whosoever believes in me has eternal life.” It was the little verb “has” that finally convinced me. It is in the present tense. In the past I believed that eternal life began at death. It was at that moment in 1974 that I was born again.
That was the beginning of a new life with the Lord in my heart. I know that God is my Father and that nothing can separate me from Him. I will spend eternity with Him in perfect peace along with all of those who have put their trust in Jesus as their only Savior.
To Him be glory and honor and power forever.
Translated by Paul Mattson