IN JANUARY last year a woman in her early seventies came into my art shop at the local shopping mall. She bought several paintings for her home and while I framed them we talked. She told me her name is Harriet Barret, she is the mother of three children and the grandmother of seven, and she had been married for thirty-six years before her husband passed away in 1984.
Somehow we got to the subject of reincarnation. When Harriet mentioned that she believed in reincarnation, I replied, "It's not a question of belief but a matter of fact." I told her I've been a student of Vedic literature, specifically the Bhagavad-gita, for more than twenty years. I explained some of the Gita's teachings, and she was very receptive to the philosophy. At the end of our conversation I asked her to come again.
"There's a book I want to give you," I said.
When she came back two weeks later. I gave her a copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. She took the book and thanked me enthusiastically.
Every week since then she has been coming to my shop asking questions about vegetarianism, material attachments, the three modes of nature, and so on. One day she asked if I knew anything about meditation.
"Oh, yes," I said. "I've been doing mantra meditation for many years. Someday I'll show you how to meditate with beads."
A few weeks went by, and Harriet kept coming to my shop. "When are you going to show me how to meditate?" she would ask. But because of my busy work schedule, I just couldn't find time to show her how to chant Hare Krsna on beads.
Then one day she called me on the phone. By then she had read more than four hundred pages of the Bhagavad-gita.
"How do you pronounce K-R-S-N-A?" she asked.
"Oh, that's Krsna!" I said, pronouncing it for her.
Then she asked, "How do you pronounce H-A-R-E?"
"That's Hare!" I said.
"So," she asked, "you say, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare? Is this the mantra you were going to teach me?"
"You got it!" I said.
I explained that this is the maha-mantra the greatest mantra and the highest form of meditation one can possibly perform. If she chanted this mantra, all her material attachments could be broken, her past karma removed, and eventually she could become completely purified. She could transcend the bondage of repeated birth and death and return home, back to Godhead.
Harriet started chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. At first she chanted fifteen minutes a day. Gradually she increased. One day she called me in a very excited mood. She had just chanted for two hours without stopping.
I'm very happy at Harriet's progress. Her enthusiasm to learn more and more has also humbled me to begin to appreciate the incredible gifts Srila Prabhupada has given the world. How easy it is to take for granted the perfect wisdom of the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam and the potency of the holy name.
The realization I've had is that billions of people never get the chance to have the most important questions of life answered even by the age of seventy-one.
Harriet Barrett had led a thoroughly prosperous life, but something was missing. Now she is chanting Hare Krsna every day. The gap is filled. She says that the Hare Krsna mantra is the most valuable acquisition of her life.
"Never in my seventy-one years have I ever experienced such overwhelming joy and tranquillity," she says. "I am humbled that at my age the Supreme Lord would be so kind to give me this great gift of purification and the ability to understand it."
Udayananda Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada's, joined ISKCON in 1973. He lives in Efland, North Carolina, with his wife and their three children.