Ten years after meeting Hare Krsna devotees in Israel,
Druze leaders visit the land of their spiritual heritage.
Besides Lord Krsna, I have no one.
Lord Krsna, You are always my shelter.
Even by offering me all the world's treasures, no one could win my heart, because it is dedicated to You.
We are your devotees, and from Your worship we won't deviate, even if our bones are broken with sticks.
Please forgive Your servants the offenses we commit to You. Your mercy is bewildering to many people.
We are Yours forever. Our souls are dedicated to You.
We can lay down our lives for the service of Krsna.
Please glance at us with Your sidelong glances and allow us to enter into Your kingdom.
Signed, The most unworthy and weak among the devotees, and a beggar in front of God
YOU MIGHT EXPECT that these lines were written by a renowned poet of the Vaisnava tradition, such as Jayadeva Gosvami or Narottama Dasa Thakura. But, no, the author is Sheikh Fuad Aburukun, and the poem was composed in Arabic on the occasion of a welcome ceremony offered by the ISKCON Juhu Beach temple in Mumbai for a contingent of more than a dozen Druze sheikhs from Israel.
In its March/April 1997 issue, Back to Godhead printed an article describing the relationship between the Druze and the Hare Krsnas, forged during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a team of devotees profusely distributed Srila Prabhupada's books in the Druze villages. All sectors of Druze society welcomed the devotees and Vedic knowledge with eagerness. Dr. Salman Falach, Druze minister of education in Israel, bought full sets of books for all Druze schools and libraries and, echoing the thoughts of many Druze, stated, "I think that after reading these books I will discover that our religion is coming from them."
Since the Druze are perceived by the world as an Arabic sect, their receptivity to Vaisnava literature and culture may seem surprising. A study of Druze history, however, reveals that their roots are firmly planted in India. For example, a major tenet of Druze faith is the transmigration of the soul. Also, their histories are cyclical, dating back hundreds of millions of years, with descriptions of incarnations of God in human form appearing at regular intervals. This corresponds to Vedic literature and contrasts the Mideast religious traditions. The term Druze itself is a misnomer, coined by the Muslims, similar to the Muslim invention of the designation Hindu. Druze refer to themselves as muwahidoon, "the one, eternal religion," and believe there are muwahidoon, in various external manifestations, throughout the world.
Kamal Jumbalat, a modern Druze political, intellectual, and spiritual leader assassinated in Lebanon, had profound admiration for Indian culture. He visited India several times and was a strict vegetarian. His writings extol Krsna, the Bhagavad-gita, and the Ramayana. Jumbalat's picture hangs on the walls of most Druze homes.
Devotees met several times with Sheikh Tarif Amin, who was the worldwide spiritual leader for the Druze people. Sheikh Amin was grateful that Druze were placing sets of Srila Prabhupada's books in their homes. He said that he wanted the Druze and the Hare Krsna movement to work together as one race. Considering that the Druze are known for being insulated and secretive, this is a special declaration.
From studying Srila Prabhupada's books for more than a decade and associating with devotees, Druze religious leaders increasingly developed inter-est in Krsna conscious-ness and the similari-ties between Vaisnav-ism and muwahidoon beliefs and practices. Several Druze sheikhs were inspired to visit Vaisnava holy places in March and April of 2001.
On March 9, just after mangala-arati in the temple of ISKCON Mayapur, the Druze were warmly welcomed with a magnificent ceremony. The delegation of sheikhs entered the festive scene singing songs about Krsna and His wonderful followers.
Then, outside the temple, Jayapataka Swami, standing with the sheikhs on a raised platform constructed for the occasion, spoke to the devotees about the history and culture of the visitors. Sheikh Hussein Aburukun then addressed the crowd, reiterating the words of the late Sheikh Amin, proclaiming that the Druze and Hare Krsnas are like one race. After each phrase his words were translated into English and Hindi, and the assembled devotees cheered. Other sheikhs also spoke, expressing their great happiness at being in that holy place with many wonderful people of God.
One sheikh announced, "We are very eager to visit the Ganges, because we have heard that simply by touching the water to our heads we will be freed of all sins."
While in Mayapur the sheikhs did go to the Ganges River, as well as other sacred sites, such as the nearby home of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. At the ISKCON temple of Sri Sri Radha-Madhava, with a backdrop of roaring kirtana, they worshipfully offered incense to all the deities.
While accepting maha-prasadam, a sheikh exclaimed, "We think that all our problems have now been solved simply by accepting this sanctified food from your hands."
Moved by the devotion of the Vaisnavas, a sheikh said, "What has most impressed us is the humility of the devotees. They are all so humble and gentle. We have a lot to learn from them."
Several sheikhs told the devotees that the atmosphere of Sridham Mayapur had changed their hearts and greatly intensified the mood in which they approach God.
During a speech later in their visit, Sheikh Hussein said, "Since we stepped on the holy land of Mayapur, we felt that we were coming home."
With The King In Puri
Gajapati Maharaja, the king of Orissa, hosted the Druze in Jagannatha Puri on March 11. He asked the sheikhs many questions. Sheikh Hussein explained that the Druze accept that the universe is at least 340 million years old, and that the scriptures from India are remarkably close in many details to the muwahidoon philosophical, historical, and cosmological understanding.
"We know that many incarnations of God have appeared in India," he said, "and this has inspired us to come here. . . . In our culture the grandmother says to the children, 'I hope I may enter the gate of heaven.' To fulfill the desires of our ancestors, we have come to India to find the gate to heaven. . . . All true religious processes give some knowledge of God, but some give more, according to the capacity of the persons receiving the knowledge."
To close the meeting, Gajapati Maharaja spoke about the soul's entanglement in the material world and it's quest for enlightenment through self-realization and God-realization.
Feeling Krsna'S Presence
On March 15 the Druze were greeted at ISKCON's Krishna-Balaram Mandir in Vrndavana.
A leading sheikh spoke: "We have never felt God's presence as much as we do today. We bless you all with the names of Hare Krsna, Hare Rama. We consider ourselves part of this Hare Krsna religion, although there is some difference in the rituals. The leaders and spiritual seekers of our group, such as Kamal Jumbalat, also came to India for knowledge. Formerly we were getting this knowledge via reading the books [of Srila Prabhupada], and now we get more realization by meeting the devotees. And so we have embassies of Hare Krsna in our village, because of the efforts of Vijnana Dasa, Yamunacarya Dasa, and Suddha Sattva Dasa [devotees who run a center in the Druze village of Osafia, Israel]….
"We hope that by our prayers there will be peace between the many races of the world. It is predicted in our holy books that the final teachings of our religion will come from India. It is difficult to express in words our immense appreciation for you. I invite you all to come to our village. I am getting much inspiration from my Godbrothers here, and I would like to finish now by telling everyone Hare Krsna, Hare Rama."
Several ISKCON leaders greeted the sheikhs with warm salutations full of respect. A few led the assembly in chanting Hare Krsna, and the Druze raised their hands in feelings of joy and happily chanted.
When Vedavyasapriya Swami mentioned that in Mayapur the Druze had sung a song about Krsna, the devotees were eager to hear it, and the Druze obliged by singing their Hare Krsna song.
In Vrndavana the sheikhs visited holy sites, such as Lord Krsna's birthplace. One day at the ISKCON temple the sheikhs met with newspaper and television reporters. Although the first questions were political, Sheikh Hussein deftly sidestepped the politics, and the questions then turned spiritual. Later, the sheikh revealed that while speaking to the reporters, the other sheikhs were nudging him and imploring him not to reveal secrets of the Druze scriptures. Sheikh Hussein told them that he wasn't disclosing the Druze scriptures, but rather he was speaking on the Vedic scriptures, and it just so happens that the two are the same.
On March 16 the Druze visited Govardhana Hill. At the Govardhana Palace temple they were received by Jayadvaita Swami and Kesava Bharati Dasa. A philosophical discussion ensued, with the sheikhs posing profound questions, such as "What is the significance of Lord Krsna's pastimes?" "How can we enter those pastimes?" and "If God is Brahman, why do you worship His form?"
At Kusum Sarovara the conversation continued, with the Druze inquiring about the origin and significance of the Sanskrit language and the process of creation. They were very satisfied hearing from Jayadvaita Swami about the detailed, scientific description of the creation provided in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and about how material creation begins with a glance from the Lord, which conforms to the depiction in Druze literature.
By March 19 the Druze contingent reached Mumbai. There the sheikhs explained that the primary reason that worship of the form of God was relinquished in Druze tradition was to avoid persecution from the Muslim majority in countries where Druze resided. They said that upon seeing the deity worship performed in ISKCON temples, they realized that these rituals were very similar to those described in muwahidoonscripture, but circumstantially abandoned over time. During our original contact with the Druze more than a decade earlier, we learned that many of their current habits, such as meat-eating and coffee-drinking, were adopted to conform with Muslim practices but are not part of the authentic culture of the muwahidoon.
While touring the ISKCON Juhu Beach temple, the Druze met a member of the Hinduja family, who invited them to his home the next morning. They spoke at length the next day with Mr. Hinduja, who befriended and was intrigued by his special guests. They chanted the Hare Krsna maha-mantra together, and Mr. Hinduja suggested they build Krsna temples in Druze villages in Israel. Sheikh Hussein said that he could provide the land for such a project, and their host enthusiastically proposed that they proceed to make the idea a reality.
Druze Iskcon Members
Two of the Hare Krsna devotees who accompanied, served, and hosted the Druze during their visit to India were Tus i Mohana Krsna Dasa and Gopa Kumara Dasa, both native Druze and Arabic speakers. There was some concern that the Druze leaders would be upset that these young members of their community had completely given their lives to the practice of Krsna consciousness. To the contrary, the sheikhs were pleased that these young men had dedicated themselves to a spiritual process the sheikhs considered genuine and consistent with the muwahidoon heritage. Being from a land where external differences in religious practice have caused and continue to create divisive consict, the sheikhs could especially appreciate the essential, unifying principles common to the muwahidoon and the Krsna bhaktas, and to all genuine spiritual practitioners.
These descriptions of the sheikhs' visit to India were sent as letters to me by several devotees who were with the Druze during their pilgrimages. These devotees include Vijnana Dasa, Phalguna Dasa, Tus i Mohana Dasa, and Gopa Kumara Dasa. For me, as a member of the sankirtana team that initially contacted the Druze in the Middle East in 1988, it was a tremendous joy to receive these reports. They were confirmation that the books distributed by the devotees, and studied voraciously by the Druze people, were like seeds that fructified a decade later in the form of this journey to the East, which the sheikhs considered a journey to the homeland of their patriarchs.
Dhira Govinda Dasa, who holds a doctorate degree in social work, is the director of ISKCON's Office of Child Protection, based in Alachua, Florida.