By Srila Jiva Goswami dasa
Did you ever meet someone who claimed to have not heard of â€œDevotees,â€ or the Krsna Consciousness Movement, or ISKCON? It seems hard to believe, but having been in that very position, I know that it is strangely very possible to not have heard of The Devotees. Here let me present a few particulars about that selective state of ignorance. I mean … innocence.
In the mid sixties, I was a young man in the military. Home on leave for a while, my parents were frightened by the type of person I seemed to be becoming. I had been raised in a sheltered environment. My parents were atheists and brought me up as an atheist too. It was an inadvertent prophecy when they told me, â€œIf you want religion, you can pick one when you are an adult.â€
Iâ€™d left for the Air Force just after turning seventeen, as an innocent smart aleck, but after a couple of years I was back, passing though as a half baked thug.
My Mother told me about a group I would be very interested in, one which would be very good for me. I thought there was nothing wrong with me, but I humored Her by taking a look when Srila Prabhupada came on the local news. He was being interviewed at JFK. I listened, but shut down any inclination of receptiveness when Srila Prabhupada indicated that drugs were not taken by The Devotees.
I did not know the Person I was looking at was Srila Prabhupada, and I did not feel any need or inclination to stop taking drugs. My first exposure to Krsna Consciousness then was when my Mother effectively brought me to the Feet of Srila Prabhupada. I came away from that encounter not understanding or even really hearing where Iâ€™d been.
The next time I came across the Devotees without knowing it was one morning in the Village (NYC). I was walking around with a date. It was one of those deals we talk about today: Karmis going home to sleep while Devotees are just getting up.
My date and I were drawn to the sound of music and partying, and we came to a little store front in the Village where people I now know were Devotees, were dancing in a frenzied circle. I did not know what I was looking at then. The mood seemed to be festive, like a wedding, but it was not a wedding, not at that time of the morning. The dancing seemed to be some kind of spontaneous joy. My date and I stood at the threshold for a while, looking in. One Devotee, whom I now know was Haragriva Prabhu, beckoned for us to come and join in.
But come and join in what? I did not know and so I declined. We moved on. Once again, it was the Devotees, but I did not recognize. At the time I was still very much an atheist.
The next exposure I encountered was at a Mall off Sunrise Highway on Long Island. Upon entering, I was startled to see security at a high level and there were signs all over which forbade soliciting. Again, I was with a date. As we walked around, I heard undercurrents like â€œTheyâ€™re coming …â€ and â€œGet ready …â€ and there were security guards with walky talkies.
Then indeed, â€œtheyâ€ were suddenly all about! They seemed to me to be a crowd of joyful people who looked a lot like hippies. They came bubbling through the mall crowd and the mood to me, was like a Rock Opera. One very pretty member singled me out and asked me if Iâ€™d like to buy a book. Although I was with a date, I really only wanted the girlâ€™s phone number. The book I was shown was a Krsna Book. It was of course very beautiful. I could not buy it at the price the girl indicated, because to me it was worth much more.
When I told this to the girl, she lowered the price. That did not make sense to me, and when I again declined, the girl offered the book to me for free. I saw a very high quality publication with first class illustrations, I saw Krsna, as Damadara, on a swing. I could not accept such a thing for free.
â€œWhere can I find you?â€ I asked the girl.
â€œAt the Temple,â€ she responded.
â€œWhat Temple?â€ I asked.
â€œTHE Temple, the girl returned.
â€œYou donâ€™t know The Temple? Everyone knows THE Temple.â€
I did not know The Temple. I did not know I was talking to a Devotee in a Sankirtan Party.
The leader of the party, whom I think was Dharamatma, called to the girl I was talking to. It was time to go. She had some name which seemed strange to me. When she was called, the girl immediately responded.
The entire encounter took less than a minute and a half. They were here, they were gone. In their wake, security guards came roaring through, like Keystone Cops, with furious glittering little eyes and â€œthis way or that wayâ€ lurches.
When it was all calm again, my date approached me. â€œYou should not talk to those people,â€ she said.
â€œYou know … Them.â€
I did not know â€œThem,â€ so I certainly did not know how to avoid â€œThemâ€ in the future.
â€œWhat they represent,â€ she told me. â€œIf you ever talk to Them again, you can forget about me.â€
â€œOK,â€ I responded.
Her level of vehemence was unprecedented in our relationship. Looking back, I believe her ardent stature came from the fact that she was not an atheist.
I remained in ignorance. I still had never heard of the Devotees. Someone along the way gave me a Bhagavada Gita, and I read it without understanding or appreciating it.
One day in my sordid life as a â€œsuccessfulâ€ materialist, â€œmyâ€ wife took the children and left. At the time, I still professed atheism. I was a successful Science Fiction Writer, exploiting the niche Iâ€™d found as a Black Man by writing in the sub-genre of Sociology in Science Fiction. Weâ€™d moved from the Bronx to a nice house in Woodstock New York. On the grounds we had our own in ground pool with cabana and night lights. We had our own drive and a detached two story two car garage where I used half of that structure as an office.
In my spare time, I worked as a volunteer at a crisis referral and intervention center. But I was an atheistic dope taking womanizing low life person who thought I was actually quite OK. One day, some workers wanted to know if I cared to join them in chanting.
â€œChanting what?â€ I asked.
â€œYou know,â€ they responded. â€œChanting.â€
I did not know. I declined. The workers went on the front steps of the building, â€œFamily,â€ the center was called, and they chanted â€œHare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.â€
Their mood seemed very sincere. They chanted so quickly and intensely, I wondered what they were getting out of it. As usual, I shrugged and moved on.
When my wife took the kids and left, I was startled, to say the least, and I was hurt. I was confused. As an atheist then, in that empty opulent house, I fell to my knees and prayed: â€œOh God! This canâ€™t be all there is. There must be something more. Oh God! Please help me.â€
Is this, the cry of an atheist? It is true, what they say about no atheists in Fox Holes. I was praying and the squeeze, in retrospect wasnâ€™t even all that rough.
But God hears. Immediately, almost like the fire department, agents began appearing representing entities and agencies whoâ€™d never come around before. Jehovahâ€™s Witnesses? They didnâ€™t seem really actually religious to me. Mormons? I was interested there but at the time, when I wanted to join, they told me they were not accepting Black People.
All kinds of religious people came to the door. I did not even connect this surge of approach to the prayer Iâ€™d uttered. I was STILL an atheist, even though Iâ€™d spoken that prayer and that prayer was being answered verily in my face, to that time, I did not see.
Then one day, a friend brought over a boy who was a writer and who wanted to play chess. This guy was introduced to me as Robert. We became chess partners, and to me, Robert was the best of friends. My subjective take on all this is that God brought on those other approach vehicles, the Seventh Day Adventist, the Jehovahâ€™s Witnesses, and more, just as they were, and they were not attractive to me. However, an express, direct and pure approach was brought on indirectly, through this new friend I know now as Vahna.
One day, Vahna, presenting himself as Robert, brought a friend with him. I donâ€™t remember by what name this friend who turned out to be Gajendra Prabhu, was introduced, but I did notice a strong brotherhood like bond between Vahna and Gajendra. I asked them about that bond. It puzzled me. You donâ€™t see such love and understanding between two guys unless they are members of a team of some sort. Perhaps they were firemen or something. I asked them if they were members of a club. The way Vahna and Gajendra exchanged glances; they most certainly and clearly were affiliated in some way. But they declined to answer.
After theyâ€™d gone that day, I of course continued on my ostensibly atheistic path. Suddenly, out of the blue a package arrived from the Vahnaâ€™s true friend, Gajendra. I opened the package and there was The Bhagavada Gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace Srila Prabupada.
I started reading That Book and did not stop until Iâ€™d absorbed it completely. It took about a week of night and day study. To say this reading changed my life is an understatement. I no longer could say Iâ€™d never heard of The Devotees, for one thing. In fact, it has become increasingly clear that The Devotees have always been very close around everywhere.
Today then it is not surprising to me when people state that theyâ€™ve never heard of the Hare Krsna Movement, The Devotees, or ISKCON. I understand now that in order not to have heard of these things one need only to not want to hear or to see.
When I had cause to look around and find myself in that proverbial foxhole, and more, I saw for a moment that Iâ€™d virtually always been in that hole, I cried out, spontaneously, in desperation, and it was not too late. Even as today, as of this very moment Dear Reader, still, it is yet not too late.