The struggles and challenges a devotee had to undergo – all because he decided to become a monk
I came to know about Krishna consciousness through a college program in 2002. Earlier I had attended Bhagavadgita classes by a secular organization that taught that all gods and all paths are ultimately one – one can choose any path and reach the same goal. It seemed illogical and I rejected the idea. But when I heard from ISKCON devotees Srila Prabhupada’s explanation of the Gita concepts, I felt inspired. Very soon I started chanting Hare Krishna and in 2007 I joined ISKCON Pune as a brahmacari, or monk, wanting to dedicate my life in the mission of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Brahmacarya, or life of a celibate monk, is rarely appreciated by society. Even in India, where people understand the concept of Vedic varnasrama-dharma and the need for simple living and high thinking, the principles of celibacy and austerity remain an anathema to most. Free sex and live-in relationships are the latest trends in today’s world, and here celibates are seen as strange unnatural people, even dangerous fanatics. As soon as a man decides to become a monk, he must face several challenges and criticisms from his friends and family members. But if he remains determined, he can survive all these struggles and, by Krishna ’s grace, gain entrance into Vaikuntha, the eternal spiritual world of knowledge and bliss.
Our monastery inside the ISKCON Pune temple is a lively place. About 200 young monks, mostly engineering graduates from all over India, stay together. Rising as early as 3:30 am, the morning hours are packed with an intense spiritual program consisting of meditation, devotional music, and scriptural study. During the day, we are involved in various services like temple management, worship of the Deity, book publication and distribution, and public outreach programs.
Although I took some time to adjust to this lifestyle, I was happy because I knew that this life is much better than a reckless life devoid of purpose. My parents and relatives were not happy at my decision – naturally – but I was confident that they would soon get over the problem and would appreciate my decision. But this transition – from being angry to being appreciative – took some time, and in the process I had to go through a traumatic experience.
An Unexpected Turn of Events
It was February 20, 2011. I got a call from my mother saying she is going to visit me in the evening. After finishing my regular duties, I eagerly awaited their arrival. At around 7 pm, my mother, brother and a cousin arrived at the temple. After showing them the Deities and other parts of the temple, we sat in one corner, chatting. It was more than more than four years since I had left home to join the temple, and we all felt nice to have a reunion.
My cousin asked me to come and see his new car that he had brought to the temple. I agreed. As I opened the door and looked inside the car, two strong men suddenly pulled me inside. They locked the doors, shut my mouth, and drove the car immediately!
I was shocked to see my cousin sitting inside the car. And I saw four other cars were following us.
Reality soon dawned upon me – I had been kidnapped. And the kidnappers were hired by none other than my parents. I couldn’t believe this! A fly trapped in a cobweb gets more entangled while trying to escape. I feared that if I confronted them, they may do serious harm to me. Realizing that it would be dangerous to try to escape, I did not protest and chanted Hare Krishna softly, praying for guidance.
Ashish, the leader of the gang, asked me to stop chanting Hare Krishna , but I continued. My brother acted as a mediator between Ashish and me. Some gang members suggested that they take a Uturn and drop me back at the temple – they feared that torturing a sadhu could put them in trouble and ruin their life. But Ashish was unmoved and didn’t hold such fears.
After three hours we reached Ahmednagar, my hometown, and I hoped that they would drop me there. But they continued driving and took me to Aurangabad, another four-hour drive. It was midnight when we reached there, and I felt exhausted. They put me in a small cabin along with two men. My cousin spoke some consoling words and went away.
Mental and Physical Torture
The night somehow ended, but a new phase of miserable experiences began. Once while I was chanting Hare Krishna , Ashish told me to stop, but I continued to chant without paying heed to him. Burning in anger, he and his assistants started beating me. I broke down into tears. Then they forced me to give up my devotional dress (dhoti and kurta) and ordered me to wear shirt and trousers. Ashish challenged me, “You can try to escape from here, and if it takes me more than 15 minutes to find you I will release you.” He was an influential politician- cum-hoodlum and had several contacts in the city.
Once Ashish and his friends took me to a dhaba (a highway restaurant) located far away from the city. We reached there at 1 am. Knowing well that I was a vegetarian, they ordered varieties of meatbased food and started bingeing on them. I couldn’t wait to see them finish. All the while, the sound system blared rock music that was unbearable to my ears.
Another time Ashish and his friends got a pornographic movie and played it in front of me. I immediately removed my spectacles so I could avoid seeing clearly. When they saw that the movie did not affect me at all, they concluded that I had transcended sexual passion. They asked me to go to sleep, to which I happily agreed.
One evening Ashish took me to a beer bar. There he forced me to consume liquor. I flatly refused. I had decided that I will die but will not break any of the four regulative principles – no meat eating, no intoxication, no gambling and no illicit sex. They were shocked to see my resolve. Then they asked me to at least take a soft drink. Reluctantly I agreed. I feared that if I refused, I would be forced to do something worse.
I didn’t have my japa beads – I wasn’t carrying them when I came to see the “new” car that was going to abduct me. So I chanted whenever and wherever I could. Out of concern, my cousin came daily to meet me. I knew that if I had to escape then it would be impossible without his help. I pleaded with him, “It has been eleven days since I arrived here, and the stay here is getting unbearable. I am ready to do job and get married, but please save me from these tyrants. They are unnecessarily torturing me.”
To my surprise he instantly agreed to help.
Running for Life
One day after taking Ashish’s permission, my brother took me out on the pretext of seeing a movie. We went to his workplace where he worked as security. Having spent several sleepless nights, I immediately fell asleep as soon as I got a small place to rest. To my surprise, when I woke up I saw nobody around. I realized there could be no better opportunity to escape than this. My mind started reeling – I had to take a quick decision!
But there was a problem: I didn’t have my glasses with me. A few days back Ashish had broken them when he slapped me in a fit of fury after I disobeyed one of his instructions. I feared that if I escaped without my glasses, I may accidentally run into my captors. Time was running out; my brother could arrive anytime.
By Lord Krishna ’s mercy, I got the inspiration to take the risk. And without wasting a moment I ran out of the gate just like a person caught in fire runs to a river to save his life. After running for several minutes, I spotted an auto-rickshaw and jumped into it. But where did I want to go? I remembered seeing a petrol pump while I was moving with Ashish, but it was somewhere far outside the city. I asked the driver to take me there. Upon reaching the place, I had no money to pay for travel fare. So I removed my wristwatch and gave it to the driver in exchange of money. The driver stared at me in wonder, speechless. Without waiting to explain to him my situation, I got down from the auto-rickshaw and ran towards the mountain that I saw at a distance. After running for several minutes, I felt breathless and tired and wanted to rest, but I suddenly realized that my kidnappers would be desperately searching for me. Not caring for my bodily comfort I ran to catch another auto-rickshaw. And when it was time to pay him, I removed my chappals (footwear) and gave it in exchange of money. The driver couldn’t believe his eyes as the chappals were old and worn out and could hardly be a good bargain – he wanted cash. But before the driver could react I alighted and rushed towards the woods.
Journey through the Jungles
I walked through the forest briskly, singing Nrsimha prayers all the time. I remembered Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami, a sixteenth-century saint, who had made a similar escape through the jungles of India in order to meet Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. But surviving on a few drops of buttermilk like the Gosvami did was unimaginable for me. I wondered what to do next: “Should I spend some days in the forest until everything settles down so I could escape peacefully? What will I eat and where will I sleep?” I picked up some fruits and leaves and began tasting them. But I was not sure if they were edible. I had heard that some forest trees bore poisonous fruits although they appeared delicious. Not wanting to take unnecessary risk, I decided to fast.
When I saw the dense forest that lay ahead, I could not muster the courage to stay there alone in the cold night with cold-blooded animals, snakes, scorpions and other dangerous creatures. By evening I come out of the forest and took a safe village road.
Staying in the village & begging for food
I decided to hitchhike and go to a place where I could spend the night. I stopped a biker and requested for a lift.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked me. I had no answer.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked him. “That’s where I want to go.”
He seemed a bit surprised but agreed to drop me anyway.
After thirty minutes, I reached my “destination.” What next? I saw a small temple of Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Ramacandra, and prayed intensely for guidance. When I turned around, I saw a little boy staring at me. Coming close to me, he innocently asked me if I had dinner. I said no. Immediately he ran to his home and came back with his father. Carrying a glass of milk in one hand and bhakri (flat bread similar to chappati usually made of jowar or bajra) in the other, he offered it to me. I recalled the story of Madhavendra Puri, another great saint of medieval India, for whom Lord Krishna personally brought milk when he was hungry. Surprisingly, the child’s name was Krishna , and I considered this to be a personal reciprocation from the Lord. Although not qualified to get a direct darsana, I felt that Krishna was kindly making all arrangements for my survival in these difficult times.
The family also gave me a mattress and chaadar so I could sleep peacefully. I lay down in the temple courtyard with other wanderers. But I could hardly sleep – I kept getting nightmares about my kidnappers. After getting up early in the morning, I chanted my japa on fingers and then left the place.
I travelled to the next village by foot. Feeling hungry I begged for food from the local villagers, who happily shared with me whatever they had cooked. I felt satisfied and energized. Then I hitchhiked to the next village. Here I met a person who said he was a devotee of Krishna . When I explained to him my situation, he realized I was in danger. Out of compassion, he gave me some money. The first thing I did with the money was to get a new pair of glasses. It was a big relief – now I could see things clearly.
Finally returning back home
I called up a devotee family in Hyderabad and informed them that I am going to visit them for a few days. After several hours of bus journey, I reached their home. “Please stay with us as long as you wish,” the family assured me. “If those ruffians come here searching for you, we will fight them out.” It was so nice to hear such loving words.
I spent my days staying at the homes of various devotees. I wanted to make sure that my parents do not get a clue of my whereabouts. Several days passed, and one day I called my home. As soon as my parents heard my voice, they broke into tears.
“Where are you, my dear son? We have been searching for you for so long. Thank God, you are safe.” I understood they were greatly worried about my welfare. “We are really sorry for all that we have done. Please come back to Pune immediately.” They said I could stay in the ISKCON temple as long as I wished. “And we won’t trouble you anymore,” they assured me.
Finally I returned to Pune after six months. The moment I entered the temple, I broke down – it was such an emotional homecoming for me. It appeared that their Lordships, Sri Sri Radha Kunjabihari, were bathing me in their unlimited mercy by their loving glances. The devotees, too, showered their affection on me. Jubilant to see me back, everyone hugged and embraced me.
Maya’s Temptations and Krishna ’s Protection
It has been more than four years since this incident happened. I came to know that some of my relatives had incited my parents to do this act. Understanding that they did this out of love for me I decided not to hold it against them. Today my parents have become very much favorable towards Krishna consciousness and my devotional way of life. They regularly chant Hare Krishna and visit the temple.
I tried to derive some life lessons out of this incident, because nothing in this world happens without the ultimate sanction of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna . If we remain humble and grateful, we can make great progress in our spiritual life. In the Prema-vivarta, one of the Vedic scriptures, it is said, Krishna bahirmukha hana bhoga-vancha kare/ nikata-stha maya tare japatiya dhare: “As soon as you forget your relationship with Krishna , immediately there is maya, and she will capture you.” I had innocently gone with my brother to see the new car, but the ruffians captured me knowing that I am helpless. This is how a living entity becomes victim to maya’s temptations. Initially she appears harmless, even beneficial for us, but she will strike at the right moment, when we are most vulnerable. All we have to do is remain under Krishna ’s shelter, and the Lord will certainly give all protection.
Sri Caitanya Candra Dasa is an Electronics and Telecommunications engineer by qualification. He is a resident monk at ISKCON’s New Vedic Cultural Center (NVCC) in Pune.