A young Christian is inspired to follow the non-sectarian and universal
principles of Krishna consciousness in spite of strong opposition from family and friends.
principles of Krishna consciousness in spite of strong opposition from family and friends.
It was around June 2001 when I joined the training department in AurionPro Solutions, a software company in Mumbai. One day, a smiling man entered the office and introduced himself as Satish More. Apparently he worked there but had been away, and since I was a new employee we had never met. After getting to know each other a little, he gave me some sweets. He said he had just returned from a two-week trip to Jagannatha Puri, Orissa, where he had attended the famous Ratha-yatra festival. He had brought the sweets from the festival for everyone in the firm.
While commuting between the office and home I saw that Satish was always murmuring something, with his right hand in a small cloth bag. He explained that the bag contained sacred beads and that he was chanting on these beads a mantra, or prayer. I was raised in the Christian faith and had seen my family members chanting prayers on rosary beads, so the concept wasn’t unfamiliar. What was unusual was a twenty-two-year-old man reciting prayers! I was amazed.
Questions and Answers
I started to observe Satish more closely. Almost everyone in our firm drank tea, but when the tea boy would approach Satish he would refuse. This intrigued me as I was a tea addict, drinking six cups a day. He was also a vegetarian, and he wore some sort of beads around his neck that seemed connected to his religion.
On our way home together we discussed philosophy. I considered myself a pretty pious guy and questioned him on his practices. One question would lead to another, and many times I challenged him based on my limited knowledge of Hindu theology. Satish would answer all my questions patiently. I also challenged him about vegetarianism, Deity worship, chanting, offering food, drinking tea and coffee, and he would defeat me again and again with his in-depth analyses and references to scriptural texts. I used to delight in non-vegetarian food, and was bowled over by his conviction that vegetarianism is good for spiritual progress and the greater good of humanity. He told me he regularly visits the ISKCON temple, where the members practice Krishna consciousness, or devotion to Lord Krishna (also known as sanatana-dharma, the “eternal religion”).
Our discussions on Christianity and Krishna consciousness continued for six months. I began to realize that all religions essentially teach the same thing and lead to the same ultimate goal. My previous misconception that Christianity is the only way to salvation was cleared. I had watched people of different faiths, and Hinduism appeared to me to be a mix of people worshiping different demigods, each claiming their god to be supreme. My discussion with Satish changed my perspective, and I became receptive to the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. I began to understand the importance of finding a guru.
Introduced to ISKCON
Satish became a friend I could trust and share anything with. I told him of my desire to visit the temple, and he invited me one Saturday. At the temple he served me khichari and halava. I had never tasted anything so wonderful in my life. I saw the Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha and purchased a couple of small books written by Srila Prabhupada. I also took a copy of Christianity and Krishna Consciousness by Satyaraja Dasa.
I have read a number of books on religion and philosophy, and I have noticed how each author tries to prove that his faith is superior to others. When I started reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, however, I noticed that he seemed to be motivated by something else. For example, I was surprised to read, “Jesus Christ is the son of God, the representative of God… our guru… our spiritual master.” I realized that Krishna consciousness is non-sectarian; one may call God “Christ,” “Krsta,” or “Krishna,” but ultimately, all His names address the same Supreme Personality of Godhead. Srila Prabhupada writes, “To practice bhakti-yoga [loving service to God] means to become free from designations like Hindu, Muslim, Christian, this or that, and simply to serve God.” This statement shook the foundations of my spiritual thinking. Srila Prabhupada’s explanations removed the weeds of my incorrect understanding of religious philosophy.
One day I attended the Sunday Feast and was amazed to see so many people joyfullyjumping and dancing in the temple hall. I had attended several retreats and faith-healing seminars (also known as charismatic groups) in churches where we used to also jump, raise our arms, and pray, but this was extraordinary! Just an amazing experience. While leaving the temple I got more books to read. When my mother saw these “Hindu” books she became curious and wondered what was happening to me. I pacified her by saying I was interested in yoga and was learning this science from these books.
Soon I started chanting on a japa counter; I didn’t chant on beads to avoid trouble at home. I found that japa is the best form of personal prayer. I stopped drinking tea and coffee and reduced my intake of non-vegetarian food. My parents were becoming more and more curious about these changes and kept trying to persuade me to drink tea and eat meat. I blamed my lifestyle changes on yoga. Occasionally, I would have to yield to their pressure, but mostly I stood my ground, all the time remaining kind and polite in my dealings with them.
Shortly thereafter Satish accepted spiritual initiation and received the name Sri Kishore Dasa. He left AurionPro and became a professor at an engineering college. Although I was sad I would no longer meet him so often, he came to my home regularly, and we would discuss the teachings of the Bible and correlate them with the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita. I found Vaishnava philosophy to be a progression from Christian theology because it gave more information about the nature of the soul and our relationship with God. My mother was impressed to see a Hindu boy taking such an interest in Christian teachings.
Going to church on Sundays is mandatory for everyone in my family, so it was a challenge to also attend the Sunday Feasts and other temple functions without alarming my parents. But somehow I managed. I started to associate more with devotees in order to get encouragement and good guidance.
Then one day Sri Kishore informed me that his spiritual master, His Holiness Radhanatha Swami Maharaja, was coming to India after his annual trip to the USA. I grabbed the opportunity and decided to attend his morning Srimad-Bhagavatam class. Maharaja’s personality and lecture had a profound impact on me. He referred extensively to and quoted from the Bible. The words I had read in the Bible and heard during Gospel readings at church came alive through his explanations and realizations. He exalted Jesus Christ, and explained how Jesus preached devotional service to the people.
Revolt Against Family and Friends
Through these days I never chanted japa at home but always chanted while I was commuting to work. But this japa had little value because the surrounding noise hardly enabled me to focus on the mantra. So I got a bead bag with beads and started to chant eight rounds at home, very softly at night, when everyone was sleep. But inevitably my mother saw me chanting the holy names and got upset. She told me I had become a blasphemer and that it was sacrilege to pray to other gods. I pacified her, saying it was just a mantra to help calm the mind. The argument ended, but by now my whole family was aware that I was really into something else. She became angry at Sri Kishore, whom she now realized was responsible for my change of faith. She banned him from our home.
In the meantime I took up kitchen service at the temple, soon learning how tasty prasada can be cooked without adding meat, onions, or garlic. Slowly I started chanting sixteen rounds of japa and completely stopped eating non-vegetarian food. I stopped using foul language, stopped going to restaurants that served alcohol and meat, and Sundays, which had once been dedicated to cricket and football, now took me to the temple. Some of my childhood friends were sarcastic: “Kal tak apne saath chicken khaata tha, aaj bada natak kar raha hai.” (“Till yesterday you were eating chicken with us, but now you are acting strangely.”) But I would remain quiet unless someone questioned my faith. Then I would vehemently defend Krishna consciousness with neophyte enthusiasm. This strained my relationships with my friends, and slowly I found myself without their association. But I was making new friends at the temple, and I began to like my new life.
Moving Away from Home
In June 2005, devotees were planning to attend the Ratha-yatra in Puri. I wished to attend but did not know how to tell my parents. So I told them I had to attend a training session outside Mumbai, and with this excuse I escaped. When I returned to Mumbai I was shocked to discover that my beads and other devotional paraphernalia were missing from my home. Somehow my mother had come to know of my pilgrimage and taken the opportunity to seize my belongings.
She took me to the church to meet the parish priest. He asked me to stop going to the temple. I refused. There was no way I could explain to him what I was feeling, and my parents were not going to understand why I was trying to follow an alternative way of life. I decided to leave home and move in with a group of devotee bachelors. This helped me solidify my faith, and in their company I began to understand and appreciate the finer nuances of devotional service.
A fortnight later my mother called to say she had come to terms with my spiritual practices and I should come home. She would even cook vegetarian food for me. I agreed, and after living with the devotees for six months, I returned home. Although my mother was true to her word and less aggressive now, both she and my father were extremely watchful about my activities. Then I got a job with IBM and had to move to Bangalore. This was a welcome change as it allowed me to practice Krishna consciousness freely, without being questioned. I got in touch with the local devotees and began visiting ISKCON’s Sri Jagannatha Mandir regularly.
Then my family started pushing me to get married. When my mother came to Bangalore to look for a match, she was upset to see that I was now practicing my sadhana openly, visiting the temple and inviting devotees to my home. She went to Saint Anthony’s Church and enrolled me in a faith-healing program. The priest and nuns told her I had been brainwashed and needed help. Such comments made her anxious. After that, priests came regularly to my home to discuss my reasons for joining the Hare Krishna movement. I would answer them, and then they would pray for me and leave. The more this happened, the more intensely I prayed to Krishna, Christ and Lord Narsimhadeva to protect me from this torture.
Out of respect for my mother I continued to go to church with her. I would see people fall to the floor, and the preacher would declare how he or she had been healed. My mother would glance at me from the corner of her eye to see if there was any transformation in me. The only way to stop this, I realized, was to get married. My parents insisted I marry a Catholic girl; a devotee girl was completely out of the question. But finding a Christian girl who could understand my way of life was like searching for a needle in a haystack!
A New Phase
So I enrolled in the church’s Marriage Bureau. I insisted the girl be vegetarian, and the priest and sisters only raised their eyebrows and gave me puzzled looks. Some girls I met looked at me as if to say, “What on earth is this guy doing?!”
I finally met Vilma, now my wife, and told her I was practicing the Vedic way of life. Fortunately, she was accepting. Her childhood neighbors had been Gujarati Vaishnavas, so she had some idea what I was following. Although initially apprehensive, she managed to put her fears to rest after hearing my explanations. My mother was happy. She now handed to Vilma the baton to “convert” me back to the Christian faith.
Vilma observed me closely and asked many questions. We visited the ISKCON temple regularly and in 2008 went together to Jagannatha Puri. After three years of marriage she has almost given up eating meat. She read the Krishna book and has started to chant one round of japa daily. I am glad she has been cooperative and supportive of my spiritual life. We have both realized that a God-centered family makes our life sublime and blissful.
I am now working for a bank in Saudi Arabia. Practicing Krishna consciousness in this country has its challenges. I hope I will soon be able to go back to India to engage myself in serving the devotees. I am grateful to my parents and the church for providing me the fertile ground of a spiritual environment by which I was able to grow the seed of bhakti. The journey so far has been rough but worthwhile, and my life has been transformed from nominal religionist to spiritual practitioner through the sublime process of chanting the holy names, remembering Krishna, relishing tasty prasada and associating with loving devotees.