God unable to help himself! A banker realizes the folly of impersonalism.
I came to know about ISKCON as a serious spiritual movement in the year 2002. A senior executive in State Bank of India (SBI), I was posted in Mumbai as a Relationship Manager to high-value corporate clients and had a tight work schedule. I never dreamed that the answers to my innermost quest would be found in this commercial capital, that too very near to my workplace!
Born in a smarta-brahmana family, I had been brought up as a Shiva worshiper. At home we used to worship different demigods such as Ganesha, Kartikeya, Sarasvati, Durga, etc., and observed various religious festivals with gusto, despite my father’s limited means. Right from my early age, I memorized and recited Sanskrit shlokas and mantras with feeling for different gods and goddesses, thanks to my upbringing. But, as I grew up amongst materialistic friends in school, I started developing doubts about these practices and almost became agnostic at college. I picked up habits like meat-eating, smoking intoxicants and regular cinema-going, as well as besides reading popular gossip magazines.
After graduation, I became a bank officer and became completely materialistic. With growing skepticism about religion, I was shy of even revealing to friends that I visited temples. My religiosity morphed into a vague faith that there is an unchanging unitary reality behind the changing nature and that merging in that formless reality is the goal of existence. This can be done anytime we choose because we are non-different from that truth and there is no urgency. All life is a dream and there are no serious consequences to our actions. There is no God as such and hence the work of self-realization can be done by our own efforts at a time of our choosing. I also concluded that all religions exploited our gullibility. My vices continued to grow. I took pride in them and believed they brought me closer to friends. Guilt and shame, I thought, are a sign of immaturity, and real advancement in life comes from overcoming these limitations.
But my philosophy, which found an echo in most modern thinkers, left me all alone to achieve the great leap from material consciousness to spiritual consciousness and I found myself ill equipped to do so.
However, incongruently, I continued vainly chasing after God with no clear conception of what I wanted. In 1984, while working in london, a friend introduced me to some occult books on yoga and I entered a new world of armchair philosophy—reading many books and debating, without any realization or sadhana. The books were interesting and I thought they would change my life forever. But except for getting a swollen head by knowing more than others, I made no advancement.
My desire to know more of spirituality was growing and the pain and disappointments from chasing many mirage-like movements was causing great anguish.
My journey can be summarized as follows:
* I ran after many so-called gurus and learnt asanas, pranayama, meditations on the formless and nameless.
* I enrolled with great hope in a correspondence course to learn kriya-yoga disciplines and took initiation too, but very soon gave it up as useless.
* I mastered the books of a famous yogi on Mayavada philosophy (the philosophy that stresses the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth and states that the form of even the Supreme lord is maya) and used to quote them with ease in my speeches. Yet, after several years of remaining enthralled in the philosophy that “I am God who is thinking of himself as human in illusion,” I finally gave it up as impractical. Despite sitting with closed eyes for days, I could not close the doors on my mind that thwarted me every time. It was frustrating to think that being God myself, I could not help myself, nor could expect anyone (higher than God?) to help me.
* I took mantra-diksha from many masters, not even knowing what it meant. Some of these encounters appear bizarre and ludicrous to me now, but not to the tortured and hankering soul that I was earlier.
* I practiced hatha-yoga with many reputed institutions but soon realized that despite their pronouncements, they had nothing to do with spirituality.
* I practiced a kriya for four years, but apart from helping me to develop a healthier body and sharper mind (which it certainly did), it had no impact in my spiritual development; rather it retarded the process by making me more body-centered.
* I also followed some famous sahaja-marga gurus for a while, but interestingly, none of them gave any prescriptions to implement in life, nor elaborated on life’s goals. People simply go to gaze at the face of the guru and listen to lectures and hope that he or she will remove all material and spiritual obstacles. The aspirant has to do nothing, except to keep visiting.
* I devoured many voluminous books containing conversations and talks by famous saints, known for the pithy wisdom replete in them. However, I ended up only being confused as they held no specific guidance on what I should do now. Rather, mostly they justified doing anything, saying things like yato mat tato pat: “What you like is your path.”
My one good fortune, which I realize only now, was that in all my wild goose chasing, I was not seeking siddhis or miracles, extraordinary powers or even freedom from suffering. I would soon get fed up with my gurus and move on, without suffering much damage to my psyche or wallet. I guess many of them were not bad people, but in different ways were ignorant and deluded by their ego, senses, desire for prestige, etc.
In a Dentist’s Room
As a married man with many responsibilities, my sufferings were compounded, but this only increased my hankering for the Truth, which I knew instinctively would liberate me forever. At this time, a root canal problem drove me to a dentist, Dr. Nitya Krishna Dasa in Sion (a Mumbai suburb). In his clinic, I saw BTG magazines for the first time. Awaiting my turn, I absorbed myself in those issues.
Having read many spiritual books and magazines before in my tortuous search for Truth, I found a unique appeal in these magazines, with contents simultaneously erudite and simple, refreshing in approach and talking directly to my heart. The books spoke from a different plane. The contents were simply a celebration of a spiritual reality and made no effort to talk about material sufferings and their solutions. My soul made an immediate connection. The spiritual aura of the clinic completed the effect.
My follow-up visits strengthened my attraction to the clinic and it was only on my final visit that I asked the good dentist how I could subscribe to these magazines. He promptly took me in his car to the Radha-Gopinath temple on a Sunday afternoon. That evening I joined a Bhagavad-gita course at the temple, taught by Radha-Gopinatha Dasa. I was assailed by my bookish knowledge and Mayavadi background for a while, but the beauty and perfection of what I was hearing was obvious from the very beginning, and the love and compassion of the presenter along with the nice prasada at the end of each class convinced me very quickly. The concept of a personal God, which I lovingly nourished as a child (though there were many) and later on discarded as unscientific, sentimental, and completely childish, was being presented again so beautifully and convincingly that tears would come uncontrollably as I listened. A typical Mayavadi’s questions, which I thought were unanswerable, were comprehensively handled with ease. For example, if I were God and temporarily in illusion, then that would mean illusion was greater than God. How could God fall into illusion? If I had to undergo some practices to rid myself of this illusion, then how could I be God, because God being the supreme controller need not resort to some practices; He could come out anytime. If this illusory existence was my pastime, then why was I suffering in this pastime and why did I want to come out of it? These questions convinced me that God is a person.
During the week, my wife too joined and I don’t know how my official duties permitted me to be at the temple on the dot for the whole week. Powerfully symbolic dreams with profound messages kept me in a reverie in daytime as well. I was so moved that I disposed of our television shortly and completely read the Bhagavad-gita As It Is within the same week. My wife and I started chanting 16 rounds shortly thereafter. Implementing the regulative principles was never a problem because the Krishna consciousness process and Vaishnava association were more than compensation for the small austerities.
We became counselees of Nitya Krishna Dasa and started attending weekly counseling meetings. We also started attending the weekly Bhagavad-gita program in Sion on Tuesdays and we got the wonderful association of Muralidhara Dasa and other Vaishnavas there, whose compassion and enthusiasm made a significant impact on both of us. Vamsidhara Dasa and his wife Jahnavapriya Devi spent long hours discussing the practical aspects of Krishna consciouness with us, which enhanced our faith and determination. We used to even take our personal problems that had no direct relevance in Krishna consciouness to our counselor, from time to time, who mercifully guided us in the right path.
That October, I went on a yatra to Vrindavana. The close association of Vaishnavas had a transforming effect. Waking up at 3 am after sleeping four hours every day, taking a cold water bath, walking in the dark, barefoot, pricked by small sharp stones, to mangala-arati at Srila Prabhupada Samadhi were not austerities but ecstatic experiences.
Moving out of mumbai
My stay in Mumbai continued until December 2003, when I got a promotion. It was a recognition that I could not relish as it meant leaving Mumbai. Despite being under heavy work and family pressures and tensions during my 18 months in Mumbai, I clearly recollect even today that I was experiencing the greatest happiness of my life throughout that time. By the unending mercy of Vaishnavas, even after leaving Mumbai I remained in the association of devotees, which protected my fledgling creeper of devotion. By the same mercy, now I am back in Mumbai and living close to the temple too.
Having meandered across many spiritual movements trying to satisfy my quest for definitive answers about ultimate reality, I now realize why the pursuits failed me. The mental speculations of armchair philosophers can never satisfy the soul. All questions arise apparently at the mental level, but the trigger for this lies at the soul, which is seeking to regain the intrinsic happiness that it has lost. Gurus who do not reveal this truth but only try to pander to this whim of creating and solving endless questions have really not understood the problem and therefore can neither satisfy their followers nor themselves. Even if they do, it is temporary and new doubts will invariably arise.
Unlike other popular spiritual movements, whose founders use scriptures only to lend legitimacy but do not fully believe in them, preferring to propagate their own mental speculations, ISKCON follows the recommended method of guru, sadhu, and shastra. The bona fide guru is a transparent via medium for God’s mercy and he continues the parampara system. He never deviates from shastra and humbly repeats what he has learnt from his spiritual master. Krishna is the original founder of the parampara system and the devotee’s connection to this system through the spiritual master is the key to accessing Krishna’s mercy.
Mayavada philosophers unquestioningly accept that individual existence is both unreal and miserable and see a solution only in committing a spiritual suicide, as they cannot imagine that the soul could ever be fully satisfied and eternally happy without impediment, in loving reciprocation with the lord. Soon, the followers cloy from the endless dry mental speculative processes and with their souls seeking ever-new happiness, the gurus have to constantly invent many cheating methods to infuse some variety to keep them!
Having searched everywhere for answers to the questions troubling me, at last I find peace and happiness reigning in my heart and an assurance that I have found the ultimate truth. My two sons, who have been witness to my restless quest over the years, sometimes taunt me that I will move on once again to another guru. But now they know this time it is different and they are happy too.
Many unbelievable blessings have come to me and my near ones in the last few years. My parents, who were in their late seventies, were with me in Mumbai. I took them to the temple a few times and they had some Vaishnava association, started chanting 16 rounds regularly. My father increased his rounds to 80. They maintained this commitment until they left a year ago. My parents-in-law and a brother-in-law are chanting 16 rounds. My brothers and sisters have been influenced tremendously to take spiritual life seriously. In my workplace too, colleagues have shown enthusiasm to learn about the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness. They are impressed by the depth of and my earnestness in the spiritual path, which is rarely seen among materialistic people. They appreciate the simple, yet profound and practical answers of Krishna consciousness to the complex problems of the material world as a genuine alternative.
I was able to assist the book distribution team in distributing books in ludhiana and in Vijayawada where I was posted for a while. This was highly appreciated by the corporates whose employees were benefited. I organized a well-attended public program in Jalandhar to introduce industrialists and prominent citizens to Krishna consciousness. I also arranged a Bhagavad-gita course for the employees of our Vijayawada Zonal office for over five days and they greatly appreciated the initiative. I used to hold a Bhagavad-gita study group in my residence for one evening each week for a whole year in Vijayawada.
I am eternally grateful to Dr. Nitya Krishna Dasa and his wife Vraja lila Devi for guiding me to this wonderful sankirtana movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, which is the prescribed process to liberate the soul from the evil influences of Kali. But for their compassion I would have been lost among the other countless numbers of suffering souls vainly looking for redemption from the fire of material existence, either by taking shelter of sense gratification or mental speculation, which is like looking for water in a desert.
I pray at the lotus feet of all Vaishnavas and my spiritual master that I eternally remain grateful to the mercy they have showered upon me and try to repay my debt by always trying to bring other conditioned souls to the shelter of the Krishna consciousness movement.
Kalanidhi Dasa, a general manager in SBI, helps in organizing spiritual programs for corporations.