Faithful longtime residents and enthusiastic newcomers
work together to carry on Srila Prabhupada's mission.
IN 1970, WHILE Richard Nixon was sending American troops into Cambodia, Srila Prabhupada sent two families to Dallas, Texas, to introduce Krsna consciousness in one of America's more conservative cities.
Attracting interest with daily kirtana and prasadam distribution, the two couples (Mohanananda Dasa and Sasthi Dasi, Dina Bandhu Dasa and Akuti Dasi) promptly outgrew their temple/apartment. They rented a large house and outgrew that within a year. Then they located a large church in a transitional East Dallas neighborhood. Soon the growing team of devotees found themselves the proud owners of the former Mt. Auburn Church.
To encourage the devotees, Srila Prabhupada visited the new temple in 1973 and sent an extraordinary Deity of Krsna to Dallas from India. Kalacandaji ("the dark, moon-faced Lord"), a large black-marble Deity, had been worshiped in an Indian temple some five hundred years earlier. Historical events had relegated the sacred Deity to serving as a doorstop in an Indian museum. Upon seeing Kalacandaji, Prabhupada arranged for His transport to Dallas, along with a deity of Srimati Radharani, and the devotees in Dallas have cared for Them ever since.
Nearly thirty years later, the Dallas community is thriving under the leadership of regional director Tamal Krsna Goswami, who is also the guru of many devotees in Dallas, including temple president Yudhisthira Dasa. The devotees have transformed the church into an ornate temple with neo-Vedic architectural veneer. The complex includes a large community hall and a popular, award-winning vegetarian restaurant. Devotee families have bought and beautifully renovated some twenty nearby houses in the working-class, mostly Hispanic neighborhood. They have developed successful businesses, a primary school, programs for higher education, and a congregation numbering in the thousands.
Srila Prabhupada sent disciples to Dallas, installed Radha-Krsna there, and trained the devotees to worship Them. How has Krsna consciousness blossomed from the seeds Srila Prabhupada planted some twenty-five years earlier? The story unfolds in the lives of Radha-Kalacandaji's servants.
In 1967, after graduating from Stanford University with a degree in fine arts, Prajapati Dasa took a turn for the philosophical and enrolled for a master's degree in Southern Methodist University's theology program. That same year he learned about Krsna consciousness from devotees chanting in Tompkins Square Park in New York City. He continued chanting Hare Krsna while at SMU, and after graduating in 1970 he encountered devotees at a Boulder, Colorado, festival.
"Why don't you start a temple in Dallas?" he asked.
Later that year, two couples did just that.
While Prajapati and his wife (later initiated as Satarupa Dasi) welcomed the devotees, they had no intention of joining them. But they soon became attached to the daily lunch prasadam and didn't care to eat anywhere else. Then the devotees began a series of classes on Bhagavad-gita, which Prajapati couldn't resist, having just finished an extensive study of the book during his master's degree work. Even their six-month-old son seemed to be pulling them to Krsna. The baby would cry and fuss while his parents practiced silent meditation, but at the temple he remained content.
"I had studied phenomenology of religion," Prajapati says, "and I admired how the devotees lived their religion twenty-four hours every day. I thought, 'Every spiritual person should live like this.' "
Finally the devotees asked Prajapati, an actor, to perform the part of Lord Caitanya in a play. That led him to read Srila Prabhupada's Teachings of Lord Caitanya, which in turn led him to dedicate his life to Lord Krsna.
Prajapati was astonished to realize the difference between the impersonal path he had been on and the path of personalism, bhakti-yoga.
"Lord Caitanya's teaching of acintya-bhedabheda tattva," he explains, "reminded me of Charles Hartshorne's panentheism the simultaneous existence of God as His creation and as a distinct individual. That was the only philosophy that had made sense to me in my theology studies."
After some time Srila Prabhupada initiated Prajapati and suggested that as a theology graduate he approach members of other religions. "Get them to agree there is one God," Srila Prabhupada said. "Then establish that God and His name have an intimate connection. Next point out that whatever name of God one chants should bring transcendental pleasure. If they are lacking transcendental pleasure, invite them to try chanting Hare Krsna."
These days Prajapati is active in Thanks-Giving Square, the renowned Dallas interfaith group directed by the internationally recognized Elizabeth Esperson. He also serves as a member of the Dallas independent school district's religious task force.
"This experience has given us all a more liberal attitude toward other faiths," says Prajapati. "We're appreciating how Krsna reveals Himself to different groups according to different scriptures and different mentalities. I've gained a broader understanding of love of God or worship of God. Our interfaith work has similarly opened up many new people to Sri Sri Radha-Kalacandaji and Their devotees."
Radha Vinoda Dasa & Indra-nila-mani Devi Dasi
After marrying in their native Argentina, Radha Vinoda and Indra-nila-mani were traveling in Europe in 1980 when they met devotees.
"We were on our way back to America and decided to visit Bhaktivedanta Manor outside London for a couple of days," Radha Vinoda explains. "I didn't get off to a very good start. I woke up in the night feeling hungry, so I wandered down to the temple kitchen and ate some sweets meant for the Deities."
Eventually they decided to practice Krsna consciousness more seriously and moved to the Dallas temple community in 1981. Since then they have served together as a team, first in the temple kitchen, then as salespeople for a community-run art business. Over the last several years, they have turned their talents to distributing Krsna conscious literature. Indra-nila-mani is consistently one of the top distributors in North America, while Radha Vinoda oversees all aspects of literature distribution for the community. They also enjoy helping their many contacts and friends develop their Krsna consciousness.
When they received an inheritance in 1991, the couple used part of it to help build a new, artistic temple exterior, along with new temple offices, dormitories, and a guest house. Their four-year-old daughter, Syamali, attends the community preschool. The outgoing couple takes part in many outreach programs.
"Right now the temple attends to the local Indian population," says Radha Vinoda. "We want to expand our outreach among the local Hispanic community as well. But our main contact with the public remains Kalachandji's Restaurant."
The popular all-vegetarian buffet attracts a steady flow of customers for lunch and dinner six days a week. Many diners also take part in classes on yoga, Bhagavad-gita, and vegetarian cooking.
Radha Vinoda keeps busy developing Kalachandji's and a variety of programs.
"My satisfaction is to see everything going on nicely and steadily improving over the years. Many families have been here for eighteen or twenty years, so we have developed a strong sense of direction and spiritual camaraderie."
Indra-nila-mani describes raising a devotee child.
"It is a constant teaching engagement. Since the young child is always inquiring and observing, you have to explain what you do as a devotee and why you do it. It makes me more introspective. Over the years you may start to overlook details in devotional service, but having a child has made me realize how important the details are. I work on my feelings for Krsna. Children are very perceptive. If spiritual practice is mechanical, the children can tell. If you manifest real devotion for the Lord, the children will also invoke some love for Krsna within their hearts. Being a parent has helped me be more serious about spiritual life."
Despite her family duties, Indra-nila-mani actively distributes books and meets with interested people in their homes.
"The magic of spreading Krsna consciousness is to see how people transform. You can see how they become peaceful and happy by reading Srila Prabhupada's books and associating with devotees. That's what keeps me going. It's very satisfying."
Candravali Devi Dasi
A much loved and admired devotee, Candravali Dasi moved to the Dallas temple nearly twenty years ago and has never left. She tells about her early days in Krsna consciousness.
"My ex-husband brought home a Krsna book. I thought it was crazy. I read about Krsna having sixteen thousand wives and thought it unbelievable. My ex-husband kept reading and bought a Bhagavad-gita. I looked through that, but nothing sunk in. Later we had marital problems. He stopped reading the Gita, and I picked it up. I was in distress and took shelter of Krsna."
Candravali was astonished when she first visited a temple.
"The Deities were so beautiful. And there were all these men in orange robes jumping and banging cymbals. I had never seen men so interested in God. In my upbringing, all the women went to church, but only a few of the men would go. I was amazed, so I knew that I had better pursue this."
Soon afterwards, Candravali moved to the Dallas temple community, where there would be more companionship for her young daughter. She took two vows: to devote her life to Krsna without remarriage, and to stay in the service of Sri Sri Radha-Kalacandaji in Dallas. She has kept these vows for nearly twenty years. How has she and the Dallas temple changed during that time?
"For several years I helped support the temple financially through distributing books and helping in a devotee-owned business. Later I became the head pujari, taking personal responsibility for the Deities' service. To my surprise, my years of dealing with the public helped prepare me for my Deity service, where I found myself working with an all-volunteer staff with quite different personalities. Keeping everyone happy required that I think like a psychologist. The experience sobered and matured me.
"I've found that Deity worship and book distribution should go hand in hand. Teaching the public helps focus the mind, and Deity worship, by allowing you to serve the Lord's form, erases all material desires."
The son of South Indian immigrants in Singapore, Rasikendra Dasa became interested in Krsna consciousness while pursuing a master's degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas in Arlington.
"I first met devotees at the campus Bhakti Yoga Club. Later, when I visited the temple, I was impressed to see devotees so at ease living a disciplined life and giving up material enjoyment. Their presence created a strikingly pure atmosphere around the temple. I had only heard of saintly persons, but now I was meeting many saintly devotees. And words cannot describe the beauty of the Deities. It was overwhelming. Having been born an Indian, I felt embarrassed that I was not following this Vedic culture."
Rasikendra earned a master's degree in 1995 and is now pursuing a doctorate. Shortly after graduation, he became an initiated devotee and volunteered to serve as the temple's director of congregational development.
"Our members attend the temple steadily and call us to their homes for chanting and classes. We must see that these sincere devotees become properly educated in the scriptures.
"I'm trying to train some members to take more active roles so that eventually they can run the temple. Some already help with the Sunday feast, and their support for the temple has increased. More congregational help allows the more experienced devotees to develop new frontiers for spreading Krsna consciousness.
"One of the reasons for the success of ISKCON are the bold initiatives Srila Prabhupada took that were somewhat unorthodox by Hindu traditions. We should follow in his footsteps and tax our brains to find new ways to help this movement flourish.
"Keeping up my studies and my temple service can be a real balancing act. I am also newly married and work as a teaching assistant at the university. But from the very beginning I always felt I should be useful to this movement. What is the value of human life if you don't use it for the Lord? I pray to my guru and to the devotees that I can be useful in their service.
"I'm grateful to the Dallas devotees who trained and inspired and tolerated me. Now I want to help organize and make our efforts more effective."
Kaustubha Dasa joined ISKCON in New York in 1987.
"I was twenty," he says, "working here and there after high school, and not really doing much. I had always believed in God, but my religious readings always seemed to demand a great leap of faith. Srila Prabhupada's books answered my questions in a logical and consistent way. When I studied the devotees' way of life, I understood how one could practically apply the philosophy.
"After my basic training I decided to try distributing Srila Prabhupada's books, and I loved it. I liked the idea of sharing with people what I found most valuable. Distributing books gave me unlimited opportunities to practice the philosophy. Whatever sacrifices you make, whether your time or effort, or encountering harsh weather or people, it's easy to have the sense of doing everything for Krsna.
"Although I now spend much of my time training book distributors elsewhere, the Dallas temple is my base. During the fall and winter I travel with other distributors to college campuses, and in the summer we distribute at music concerts. To me it's constant fun and adventure.
"At schools, we find young people very receptive. They no longer perceive Hare Krsna as a cult. Many students are interested in Eastern ideas and buy five or six books at a time. They're looking for answers to questions in life and not finding them in school or at home. They're not willing to drop everything like young people in the 60s and 70s, but they're eager to find out about spiritual life.
"Since we visit the same campuses and concert arenas each year, meeting past customers is common. Their response is overwhelmingly positive. They're happy to see us again, and they ask more questions and buy more books. Although the most interested people we meet aren't usually inclined to move into an asrama, they can play a large role in our movement. We have to help them find suitable ways to serve Krsna.
"I'm also involved in developing and teaching courses on book distribution. The courses are not simply about techniques but deal with the values and principles of a book distributor. We want to see ISKCON representatives well prepared to handle all aspects of their service. The course helps book distributors better appreciate their service, and it makes them steadier and happier. And that's important, because meeting a book distributor is perhaps the most common way for people to meet ISKCON."
Jayanti Devi Dasi
ISKCON's primary school in Dallas began in 1972, and although it has been through some rough periods, it has never stopped. Since 1985 the school has been directed by Jayanti Dasi with help from her husband, Rupanuga Dasa. Both hold degrees in education. They love teaching the children.
"In the early days the city scrutinized us to make sure we met their codes," says Jayanti. "Now city authorities and local educators recognize and appreciate us as a certified private school. Public-school teachers often tell us that our smaller student/teacher ratio and less restrictive curriculum requirements give our students a big advantage.
"Our students range in age from five to seventeen. Although we have several classrooms, we sometimes use the old one-room-schoolhouse techniques from the pioneer days. The older students help teach the younger ones, and discussions on some subjects can involve students ranging from grades four to twelve. The younger students are less intimidated by advanced subjects because they see the older students doing them. The older students treat the younger ones affectionately and like to set a good example for them. Everyone is quite used to the system, and it works well.
"We use a combination of curriculums, including some public-school texts and some wonderful home-schooling texts developed by a Christian organization. The children have two hours of scriptural classes each day. Whenever possible, we use Srila Prabhupada's books for various subjects. For example, last semester we studied Darwinism and creationism using Srila Prabhupada's Life Comes from Life.
"As is usually the case with devotee children, their scores in reading and writing are far above average for their age. With the curriculum we've selected, our students are very strong in math and the sciences as well. Achievement tests show that our students are above the norm in every subject area, many scoring above the ninetieth percentile.
"For the past several years we have accommodated all the children of the devotees who live in the immediate temple vicinity. Now we plan to focus on primary grades and expand our school to include children of our congregational members as well. Our good academic track record has brought a lot of interest. All of our students who have chosen to go on to public schools have graduated with honors.
"Besides the regular curriculum, our students learn music, theater, arts and crafts, and physical education. We take the children on field trips, including a three-day camping trip at the end of the term, which they earn by good grades, attendance, and behavior.
"I love watching the children make discoveries. I want the children to be able to learn in a safe, Krsna conscious atmosphere in which they can thoroughly prepare themselves to serve and remember Krsna throughout their life. These children are our future."
Kalakantha Dasa writes, runs a small business, and oversees circulation for Back to Godhead. He and his wife, both disciples of Srila Prabhupada, live with their two children in Gainesville, Florida.