WHEN DR. RAVI SINGH WAS a young man growing up in a village near Naimisaranya, Uttar Pradesh, India, his father, Dr. Chandraprakash Singh, insisted he and his siblings rise early, bathe, and attend to their Deities before breakfast. In his family of Vaisnava ksatriyas, Dr. Singh Sr. was particularly devout. He was the first in his family to break the tradition of hunting game and eating meat.
"My father brought us a book about Lord Caitanya," Ravi says, "and from it we learned how the Lord ate only prasadam. In our house everything cooked was vegetarian, and it was offered to the Lord."
Ravi vividly remembers his father reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam to the family each morning. Young Ravi could not understand why his father, a renowned scholar, seemed so moved by the reading.
Later, as a medical student in Jodphur, Ravi organized a philosophy and religion club. Some faculty and students complained, concerned about protecting the university's scientific objectivity. But Ravi was determined, and the controversial club continued.
In 1970 Ravi's father returned from a visit to Calcutta with a large book entitled Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Ravi's father praised the Western-born Vaisnavas who had given him the book, but Ravi was skeptical; he'd become committed to the idea of an impersonal God.
Ravi's father encouraged him to go to America to further his medical training. So Ravi went West in 1975, only to find America "pure hell." He found the materialistic values of the Western society shockingly foreign and mindless. After a difficult year, he was surprised to encounter Western-born devotees of Lord Krsna in Washington, D.C. Although he did not at first grasp the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, he found himself strongly drawn to the devotional services at the Washington ISKCON temple. He attended often.
"Theoretical understanding of God came from my family," Ravi says, "but my first practical understanding came from ISKCON devotees. I was accustomed to hearing so many sadhus in India give their opinions. But when I started listening to Srila Prabhupada's tapes, I quickly noted that he never said, ÔI think.' He always quoted scripture to back up his points. He compared himself to a postman who delivers the message without adulteration. To me this was the biggest realization: don't manufacture; just repeat what Krsna said."
In July 1976, Srila Prabhupada visited Washington. By now Ravi was an avid reader of his books, and he eagerly attended Srila Prabhupada's lectures, morning walks with disciples, and informal talks with guests. Srila Prabhupada addressed Ravi in Hindi, and Ravi felt blessed. Once, as Ravi was about to enter the room where Srila Prabhupada was speaking to a gathering of devotees and guests, the temple president gently suggested that Ravi, who had attended every event, stay outside to make room for others. As Ravi sat on the doorstep chanting, a devotee suddenly stepped out and said, "Srila Prabhupada would like you to come in and translate a Hindi letter aloud for him."
Ravi eagerly complied, then kept his seat in the room. He took the opportunity to ask Srila Prabhupada a question.
"My father is a scholar and a devotee, and he has just retired. Could he offer some service?"
Srila Prabhupada inquired about his age. Ravi replied that his father was 65.
Srila Prabhupada, who was 75 at that time, replied, "He is too young to retire. He has a lot of Hindi translation work to do for me."
Ravi's father was pleased to offer this service, and equally pleased to see his son taking to Krsna consciousness so seriously. He told his son he had never expected him to become a devotee of Krsna in America.
With encouragement from Ravi and his father, other family members began practicing Krsna consciousness. In 1981, Ravi accepted formal initiation into Krsna consciousness from Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, an American-born disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and received the name Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa ("servant of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda").
In 1983, while Nitai Gaurasundara was still in America, his family arranged his marriage to Meena, a young woman from West Bengal. He wrote that he could marry Meena only if she became a devotee of Krsna. Meena was unsure. Her family's religious tradition was a little different, and her only contact with ISKCON had come when she was twelve, when ISKCON leader Jayapataka Swami had visited her village. She had been impressed with his fluent Bengali but was uncertain about foreign-born devotees.
Meena began reading the Krsna conscious literature Nitai Gaurasundara sent her, and she too became impressed with Srila Prabhupada's teachings. She accepted initiation and received the spiritual name Matsya Devi Dasi. In time they married and settled in Murfeesboro, Tennessee, where Nitai Gaurasundara is today a clinical psychologist specializing in care for the elderly.
"In my practice," says Nitai Gaura-sundara, "I'm constantly applying the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. My patients are so afraid of death and are suffering greatly because of attachment to sensual pleasure. Whether it's schizophrenia or depression, the problems always trace back to a false identification with the body."
Recently while visiting Nitai Gaura-sundara, Dr. Singh Sr. became seriously ill. After a surgery proved unsuccessful, Dr. Singh Sr. asked to stay at his son's home rather than be on life support at the hospital. At Nitai Gaurasundara's home several devotees would visit and read Srila Prabhupada's books to him, fulfilling the dying man's desire. Before he passed away, his physician commented that Dr. Singh's religious conviction was so strong, his spirituality so advanced, that it was "infectious."
Nitai Gaurasundara recalls: "A couple of hours before my father passed away, I was encouraging him to get better and go back to India. He was too weak to speak, but he looked up and pointed to the sky. Then with his frail hand he wrote two lines in Hindi: 'I want the dust of Radharani's lotus feet on my forehead. The lake of devotion will blossom in every home and courtyard and the flower of devotion will flourish.'
"While watching my father die," Nitai Gaurasundara says, "I learned that, like it or not, we all have to prepare for death. Somehow we must stay Krsna conscious, as he did. I realize that the association of devotees is very important at all times, but especially at the critical time of death.
"Living far from an ISKCON temple as we do, we try hard to associate with devotees. As soon as you go out of the house, there is so much temptation, not only by materialism but by deviant philosophies. My Guru Maharaja suggested we establish a Deity of Krsna in our home and hold programs there, so we have been doing that for the past twelve years. My father used to greatly value the visiting devotees who came to help out with our programs.
"Srila Prabhupada said that his spiritual master fulfilled the spiritual ideas inculcated in him by his father. My father also gave me a basic understanding of God, and I was attracted to devotees because of this. Back in India I was involved with impersonalism, but Prabhupada saved me. I am sure that if I had stayed in India I would have been a pious vegetarian who would be afraid of God but ignorant of His loving service. I'm indebted to my father, my Guru Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada, and many, many devotees."
Nitai Gaurasundara's three children (Sruti, 13; Abhiseka, 12; and Manjari, 9) are also carrying on their father's tradition. Recently Abhiseka's social studies teacher asked him to prepare a report on a person of his choice who had changed the world. Abhiseka chose Srila Prabhupada. The teacher appreciated his work and put it on display in the school hallway so other students could learn about Prabhupada.