The Mindful Word
Erica Roberts writes:-
I’m normally not a person who cries while reading books or watching movies, but I have to admit, as I made my way through certain parts of Howard Beckman’s Tempting the Devil in the Name of God, I found myself on the verge of tears. I’d decided to take the opportunity to read this book since I’d studied prison communities a bit in university, and the psychologically oriented side of me wanted to learn more about addiction. However, this non-fiction memoir of sorts ended up seeming like much more than an educational primer on those two topics. In short, it’s the moving story of a man who was able to take the pile of shit that had, metaphorically, become his life, and turn it into something positive for both himself and others.
Through a series of unfortunate decisions that he made, Howard Beckman morphed from a hedonistic youth who used drugs recreationally with friends into a full-blown heroin addict and a dealer of the drug on an international scale. This activity all came to a head when he wound up being picked up by the police and imprisoned in Thailand. In prison, he experienced physical and mental anguish that most people would have difficulty imagining, including being confined in a solitary cell which was only four feet in height and width and not much longer, after being caught with contraband.
At first, Howard gave into the emotions of fear and irritation, especially the former, when he realized that he was going to be locked up for quite some time, but during his stay that added up to about two years, he eventually realized that he could achieve inner freedom even though his external freedom had been severely limited. He began to engage in some yoga postures, and after a near death experience in his cell and a subsequent trip to the hospital, this led to a regular meditation practice.
Meditation played a major role in helping Howard stay sane during his time in the Thai prison and throughout the time he had to serve for a previous offense that he’d jumped bail for upon his return to the United States. After his release from the American prison, he decided to travel overseas again, but he no longer took any part in the drug trade. Instead, he travelled to India to meet with two spiritual teachers from whom he learned more about Vedic astrology, which had been an interest of his since his youth, and something that he’d read about to help him pass the time in prison. He also expanded upon an interest he had in rare gems, which he’d sold before going to prison and again afterward, by learning about their Ayurvedic healing powers.
Since 1998, Howard and his second wife have lived in rural America, where another important step in Howard’s spiritual development has been developing the ability to recognize and embrace the healing power of animals—the two of them operated a yoga and Ayurveda center, which they also used as a sanctuary for dogs and horses without proper homes.
Howard’s story certainly serves as proof that at least some “criminals” can change, if they have the willingness to. They aren’t inherently “evil,” “immoral,” or “sociopathic”—the fear and guilt that Howard experienced after (and often before) committing a drug-related offense illustrates, on its own, that he’s far from being a sociopath! Sometimes, it appears that a couple of bad decisions, or a couple of instances of trusting the wrong people can lead an otherwise good person down a path of destruction that they’d never intended to travel.
Fortunately, Howard has long since abandoned his destructive path, and remains ready and able to give back to the universe that helped him steer his life back onto a positive course. It’s too bad he had to take a detour through the prison system to get there, but, if we look at what’s been gained instead of what’s been lost, his story may be able to inspire change in those readers among us who feel stuck in a metaphorical “pile of shit.”
Jen Gordon writes:-
Not too many people can say they lived through a hardcore heroin addiction, international drug smuggling, the hell of nearly two and a half years in a Thai prison, and a near death experience, to then come out on top and become a powerful spiritual teacher and healer. Although it sounds like pure fiction, this has been Howard Beckman’s real-life plight. What began as indulging in drug exploration as a young adult became a raging heroin addiction, drug dealing, overseas smuggling and hitting an absolute rock bottom when he found himself in solitary confinement knocking on deaths door in a four by four foot Thai prison cell. Beckman found the courage within to rise like a phoenix from the flames, and you can read all the juicy, tragic and ultimately awe inspiring details in Beckman’s new book set for release tomorrow, November 16th titled, Tempting the Devil in the Name of God. When asked what is the most important take-away from the book, Beckman assuredly responds, “No matter how bad it gets, and no matter how far you think you have sunk, there is always a way out. You have to ask the important questions of yourself and be open to living a different way.” I pressed him a little further on the topic and he explained, “I went on to counsel many, many people to help them try and overcome their drug addiction but noticed that most people just wanted desperately to try and get their old life back. What they really need to do is create a new and better life based on healthier principles.” Beckman is a model of practicing his preaching, as he began to rely on meditation to help him overcome the anxiety, pain and turmoil of being confined in such a terrible place. He began a very poignant spiritual practice. Once released, Beckman eventually returned overseas but with an entirely different purpose in mind. This time he traveled to India to meet with two spiritual teachers from whom he learned more about Vedic astrology, an interest of his since youth, and something that he’d read about to help him find serenity in prison. He also expanded upon an interest he had in rare gems, which he’d sold before going to prison and again afterward, by learning about their Ayurvedic healing powers. Beckman’s life has continued to grow and expand and not only as he continued to become an expert in Vedic astrology but he also went on to create Ocala Equine Rescue 501(c) 3. All proceeds of the book will be donated to his passion and commitment to rescuing horses.
Manhattan with a Twist
Chelsea-Rae Abbate writes:-
Howard Beckman has been many things, but boring is not one of them. Yogi, gemologist, father, Ayurvedic expert, astronomical guru, husband, heroin addict, international drug trafficker. Survivor of both the Thai and American penal system. Writer, motivational speaker. Animal lover. Friend. These are all descriptors that can be employed to describe him, and yet none of them are singularly able to define him.
His memoir, Tempting the Devil in the Name of God, illuminates the story of a man desperately trying to navigate the murky waters of life. Through trials, tribulations, and a steadfast commitment to survival, Beckman imparts his unique perspective on what he calls “the heavy hand of fate.” Beckman’s writing, more than anything, is conversational. While his turn of phrase can be repetitive, there is something in the vernacular he draws on to describe his life’s journey that makes him automatically familiar. This is clearly the way he would speak if he was sitting across from you, drinking a cup of tea, talking about his time in Hawaii or his years-long battle with heroin. He creates a meaningful dialogue with the reader, and though you don’t have the opportunity to respond, the intimate details he provides clearly show that this is a man attempting to bare his soul.
Beckman’s story begins in Pennsylvania, where at 16 he develops a relationship with his first wife, spirituality, and the Hare Krishna movement via his guru, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The texts and teachings of Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, takes Beckman west, to Los Angeles, where he immerses himself more deeply into the Hare Krishna community. After some time in LA, an opportunity arose to help open up a temple in Honolulu, and Beckman and his wife jumped at the chance to live in paradise practicing their faith. Beckman dabbles with Hawaiian marijuana, which leads him to return to his teenage dalliance with heroin, and a landslide unfolds: using leads to dealing, which leads to trafficking, which leads to Thailand, which leads to prison.
Chronologically, Beckman’s path becomes difficult to follow as he focuses mainly on his prime years of drug abuse and trafficking, and specifically on one romantic relationship that the reader later gleans is pertinent only in relation to those specific drug years. I was dismayed at a later point of the book where he glosses over a relationship in his post-incarceration phase in California where he becomes a de-facto father to this girlfriend’s son. The book also takes a bit of a turn at the end, when it shifts to Beckman’s current life in Arizona and focuses on his work with animals, and even encourages the reader’s monetary support. I did find the storytelling exciting, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I found myself lost in the book’s timeline more than once.
Beckman’s closing call to action ultimately clouds the focus of the reader, though he does repeatedly emphasize his thesis throughout the book, which is to share his story on his drug abuse and the ramifications his actions had on those around him. Yet even a few weeks after I finished this book, I found myself pondering just what I was supposed to have learned from this often harrowing tale. Is his main priority to widen and embolden the conversation of the current state of the American war on drugs? Is it to highlight the institutional pros and cons of the Hare Krishna movement, which Beckman at first glorifies and then vilifies with the evolution of the organization? Is it to delve deeper into the art of attention, meditation and yoga? Is it to draw awareness to animal abuse with the overarching goal to help them by beefing up his non-profit organization? The mind reels.
While all of these topics are deserving of books in their own right, I puzzled at what Beckman’s goal take away was. Perhaps his views on his first hand experience with each pillar of his story is meant to reach a wider audience, artfully stitching together a breadth of topics to discuss while providing a primary source’s account. Perhaps he is merely putting one foot in front of the other, and guiding us along his journey without prioritizing his love of yoga over his (former) love of heroin. Maybe he’s just spit balling.
Wherever his goals lie, the one thing I am sure of is his story is interesting and thought provoking, a book that is easier to delve into and tear through than it is to be believed. And yet, by the time I completed this book, I was a believer. A satisfying ending was handed to me on a silver platter, tying up all loose ends, and done in that familiar, conversational tone that makes you keep turning pages. The ebbs and flows of the narrative, coupled with what feels like a true commitment to honesty and living his truth, made me happy I had the opportunity to read this book. I am only glad Beckman chose to wait until this moment in his life to share his story, as his story is inspirational and ends on a hopeful note, encouraging education and outreach programs for addicts, and expresses the emotional journey of a man with a story to tell.
Canadian Soap Box
Gordon Cawsey writes:-
Through this blog I’m invited to review books from time to time, and on the vast majority of occasions I let them pass. But sometimes I’m hit with a title that peaks my interest, such was the case with Howard Beckman’s book, “Tempting the devil in the Name of God”.
Hot and cold, sun and moon, darkness and light, on Earth as it is in Heaven, as above so below. Life is often a study in contrasts. To truly appreciate peace it helps to have known chaos, joy results from having known sorrow and understanding abundance can only come from having known want.
“Tempting the devil in the Name of God” is a biography of one man’s life that speaks exceptionally well to this duality of existence. From the depths of drug dependence and lengthy stays in prison, to the re-awakening of a spiritual path. The author provides insights that can help many people seeking to find peace, contentment and the road back to the divine that resides within all of us.
I would venture to say that everyone has faced challenges in life, has had obstacles to overcome. I hope that for most it hasn’t been anything as devastating as a heroin addiction, or incarceration in a Thai prison. But even if your challenges aren’t as severe or the obstacles aren’t as harsh, it helps to know that incredible odds can be beaten.
This biographical work reads like a novel, starting out near the end in Thailand just before the author is incarcerated for heroin possession, having fled bail in the United States. The result is a protracted stay in a Thai prison described in lurid detail, with the author eventually being thrown into a “hole” like dungeon, solitary confinement. It then retraces his life, from his involvement with the Hare Krishna movement to experimentation with marijuana and heroin through to dependence and drug dealing.
I don’t wish to give too much away, but knowing that eventually the author would be released I was turning pages, anxious to learn of his rebirth. It was that part of the story, learning how Mr. Beckman put his life back together that had me anxious to get to the end. Rediscovering his spiritual path, travelling to India to learn about Eastern traditions and Vedic astrology, expanding on the knowledge already gained from his early days in the Krishna movement before it became corrupted.
I’m convinced this book can serve as inspiration for anyone seeking to find peace, for anyone looking to put past troubles, issues behind them, for anyone seeking a spiritual path.
I have had the good fortune to connect with Mr. Beckman both by email and over the phone. The author is 13 years my senior, but when speaking with him I was amazed at how energetic and youthful he sounds. I’ve known so many bitter people, those who can’t let things go no matter how far in the past events may be, and they age before their time.
Reading this book has already helped me deal with the stresses in my own life. We all have stress, but a book like this can provide that wonderful but often elusive element we all need, perspective.
Howard Beckman knows first-hand that lessons can be learned through hardship. As a young man, during his darkest days incarcerated for drug smuggling in an underground prison in Southeast Asia, he was forced to look within for strength. By developing a meditative process, he was able to not only survive the ordeal but to heal, inside and out, and transformed his body from a skinny junkie to muscular and fit.
Writer, spiritual counselor and expert speaker, Howard Beckman knows what it takes to recover from substance abuse and get to a place of strength, contentment and peace of mind. He shares how he took charge of his own destiny and healed his addiction, without 12-step programs or medications, in his newly-released, riveting memoir, Tempting the Devil in the Name of God: The Heavy Hand of Fate.
I was sent the book to review, and it was quite an interested read. He is a man who has really come a long way, with a unique sense of self and spirituality. I had a chance to interview him to learn more. These were his words.
I decided to write the book a little over 5 years ago when I was visiting family and friends abroad. I was sitting with some friends in London, a few of whom are old musicians, and one a publisher that I used to write for, as he published several alternate magazines in the 1990’s. The subject of a friend, who is a very famous musician, came up and his inability to see his drug problem for what it is and to deal with it. That brought up a discussion and I told them my story. You could have heard a pin drop by the time I was through (and it was obviously a very brief recount). My friend the publisher said “why haven’t you written a book about your experiences? Do you know how many people are suffering, caught in the jaws of depression and substance abuse that you could reach out to and help?”
Then I told the story to my wife’s family in a discussion about another family member’s drug problems and the same thing happened. “Why haven’t you written a book? My God, this would be one heck of a movie, as well. You owe it to yourself and the possibility of helping others to at least write it and see what happens.” So I thought about it and the more I did I decided that I needed to tell the story…for myself, as well.
“Tempting the Devil in the Name of God…The Heavy Hand of Fate” became the title. At first it was just “Fate”, then “The heavy Hand of Fate”, then the title as it is today. You see, Bekah, I was a monk, a yogi, a devotee of God (so I thought) trying to bring an important spiritual doctrine to others, or “doing God’s work” might be a term used today by others who feel their preaching efforts are inspired by God within their hearts.
So how does a man of God, a yogi, one on the spiritual path, fall back into the long ago rejected activity of intoxication and drug dealing? And further morph into a heroin smuggler and merchant of death? Well, the heavy hand of FATE certainly came down upon me. I spent almost a total of 4 years in prison, 2 & 1/4 years of it in a southeast Asian prison enduring suffering that many have said would surely drive them to suicide. But after some time I began to develop a system of meditation, even while I was locked inside a 4’ X 6’ X under 5’ (height) dungeon in the infamous “Klong Prem Prison” in Bangkok, nicknamed “The Bangkok Hilton”.
Everything is there in the book, my heart, my emotions, my trials and tribulations, as well as my hope and my eventual healing and becoming a person I am proud to be today.
San Diego Jewish World
Donald H. Harrison writes:-
SAN DIEGO – One of my favorite apocryphal stories concerns the Jewish woman who traveled to India to see the guru. She was told that before she could actually meet him, she had to spiritually cleanse herself in the ceremonial pool, fast for a full 24 hours, dress in a ceremonial robe, hike to the mountain top, and confine whatever she said to the guru to three words. This she did without complaint. When at last she stood before the crossed-legged guru and he nodded for her to speak, she responded: “Sheldon, Come Home!”
It’s not Sheldon, it’s Howard who wrote the autobiography, Tempting The Devil in the Name of God: The Heavy Hand of Fate, a story of a man who survived a troubled and unenviable drug-using and drug-dealing past and became a respected exponent of ayurvedic gem therapy and vedic astrology.
The tale begins with his arrest and imprisonment in Thailand for heroin possession. Beckman has a wonderful gift for description and through the power of his writing you can experience how soul-crushing drug dependence and state-sponsored violence against prisoners can be. The story then flashes back to his rebelliousness as a youth; his introduction to sex and drugs, his first marriage to 16-year-old Rhonda, their involvement with the Hare Krishna movement and his later disillusionment; the birth of his daughter Debbie; his estrangement from his wife; his heroin dealing in Asia, Hawaii and California; and his jumping bail in Hawaii and fleeing to Thailand, where his dependence on heroin got him into far more serious trouble.
A soul in turmoil, Beckman had flashes of regret for lives that he might be ruining by selling heroin, but he needed the income to support his own drug habit, so pushed such considerations aside. His life was one of a self-centered, pleasure-seeking hedonist who was caught on the hamster wheel of drug use; getting high, coming down, needing another fix, and in the process dealing with an ever widening circle of criminals.
There’s a saying that you have to hit bottom before you can climb back up, and Beckman certainly hit bottom in a Thai prison, where he almost died from an overdose of impure heroin. From that point on he started rebuilding his life. After leaving the Thai prison, he served his prison time in the United States, and once a free man, parlayed his knowledge of gems to become a successful wholesale salesman to jewelers around the world.
But though he had achieved material success, spiritually there was a void in his life, and in later chapters we read about his own visits to India seeking spiritual enlightenment.
Although the book had been sent for review to San Diego Jewish World, I was not 100 percent certain that Beckman was Jewish. He never declared himself as such, although he mentioned that he and Rhonda were married by a rabbi, and that in prison he befriended a French Jew whom other prisoners had picked on.
However, for all I knew, Rhonda’s parents who arranged the shotgun wedding also had arranged for the rabbi, and there was no hint in Beckman’s description of Henri, the French Jew, of any particular empathy for him. I assumed that author Beckman was now a Hindu, but wanting to establish whether he was of Jewish background, I posed that question to him by email. I’ll close this review with his response:
Thank you for writing. I was born a Jew and still am. I was bar mitzvah’d at 13, but quit Hebrew school before confirmation. I’d had enough hypocrisy, and did not feel like continuing. You see, Don, I have always been a thinker and some kind of philosopher. I asked questions, some of them that the rabbi, cantor and others didn’t like. For instance our rabbi lectured us constantly about discipline, prayer and dedication to the Jewish faith in practice. He taught us to lay tefillin and spoke about morals, staying away from drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc. However, they themselves practiced the “do as I say, but not as I do” philosophy when teaching Hebrew school students.
I asked the rabbi why he then was a chain smoker. He literally often lit one cigarette from the last, even sometimes lighting up and forgetting he’d just put one down in the ashtray. One day when he was lecturing myself and another boy (we’d been caught smoking) I asked if I might ask him something that was bothering me. (This was after he’d finished giving us a dressing down.) I asked him why he chain smoked cigarettes, when he seemed to be against us smoking them, and recalled so many health and other reasons he had cited why we shouldn’t smoke. Rather than addressing my question, which was asked politely, as well as addressing him reverentially, he got angry. That’s just an example, but I asked many questions that he would not answer, about Kabalah, about the different names of God and their meanings in the tree of life and so many things.
Most kids just wanted to get through Hebrew school to satisfy their parents and be done with it. I wanted to at least try to understand the philosophy behind Judaism. So I wasn’t getting much, except in my reading on my own, which back then meant going to the library. There was no internet. However, I kept going to Hebrew school. Until the day the rabbi and the cantor lectured us about morality, marriage, having children, bringing them up as good Jews and about the community of families.
Don, the cantor at that time was on his fourth marriage! I raised my hand and (I know, I know, it was considered a bit impudent as I was only 15) asked him why he had been divorced and remarried so many times. Although this was a “reform” synagogue, I didn’t understand why the basic moral codes that he was preaching weren’t followed by the temple leaders. So I was told that maybe I should leave Hebrew school. I did. But I studied Judaism and learned more about the Talmud and Kabalah than anyone I knew. I found the mystical texts fascinating and they grabbed my heart.
But I am not someone who believes that God has some kind of great joke, that only Jews can go to heaven, any more than I could accept that Christians could mouth a few words about accepting Jesus, yet live a life seemingly without real spiritual principles, but go to heaven anyway. It just seemed plain foolish. This was not a spiritual philosophy, but just an exposition of belief. So I searched and searched. I studied Hinduism (it has many facets and at the core is monotheistic, just as Judaism is), and Buddhism, a read a bit of Taoism and other lesser known religious doctrines. I found that yoga as a spiritual process, was unparalleled by any other system. The texts Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam impressed me with their knowledge.
So there you have it. I am a Jew, Don, and nothing changes that. I can still remember more from the Torah and the Kabalah than almost any other Jew I have known. I celebrate the Jewish holidays with family, but I speak, think and breathe spiritual philosophy 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I want to know God, my relationship with him and with transcendental knowledge try to understand the depth of the spiritual reality that is within us. I found that yoga and mantra meditation brought realizations within my heart for the spiritual doctrines (including Talmud and Kabalah) that I was studying with my mind and intelligence. To have any kind of prejudices in this regard would only serve to cloud my higher sensibilities. You see, Don, I empathize with all sincere people of every race and religion, but when it comes to practice I see very few people actually consider having a “spiritual practice” of importance, including my fellow Jews. In India I found many answers to what I could not fully understand in the Kabalah. You’d be amazed how close Judaism and Vaishnav Hinduism are.