Pitambara Dasa

Pitambara Dasa

How a high-school kid from the American capital joined Hare Krsna, made a million dollars, and stays focused on spiritual life.

Devotee: Anuttama Dasa, age 40

Residence: Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.

Family: Wife, Rama Tulasi Devi Dasi; daughter, Vrnda Dasi (12); and son, Pitambara Dasa (10)

Profession: Buying and selling cars

How long connected with Hare Krsna: Since 1971

On a recent visit to Florida, Anuttama Dasa dropped by the BTG offices and talked with us about his spiritual life.

Getting Started

I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, in eleventh grade. I had been searching for the truth and was having a hard time finding it. I had an interest in God. I'd become a vegetarian, and I was studying the Bible and some yoga and whatnot. And I'd heard of Hare Krsna. I'd seen the devotees on and off, here and there. I'd met them at a 1969 peace demonstration in Washington, D.C., and gotten some incense from them.

And then I'd also seen them in Manhattan in maybe 1967, when I was there with my parents. I couldn't have been more than twelve or thirteen. There were devotees chanting across the street. And I said, "Mom and Dad! Let's go over and look at them! Look at that!" But my father grabbed my hand and told me, "No, we gotta go."

So by 1971 I'd heard of the devotees. I'd heard of Hare Krsna. I didn't know exactly what it was. I knew it was a spiritual group something from Indian culture. And everyone said, "If you want to meet the Krsnas, you have to go to Georgetown. They're in Georgetown every Saturday."

So I went down to Georgetown (the Greenwich Village of Washington, D.C.), and there were the devotees chanting. They were on each corner, passing out Back to Godheads and "simply wonderfuls" [a kind of sweet].

So I went to the corner and said, "I've been looking for you people, and I want to know what you're all about." And a devotee said, "Here, take this book. Read this book. Here have a simply wonderful. This is spiritual food, offered to God." The simply wonderful was wonderful.

That devotee was happy to talk to me, but then he had to move on. So then I walked to the next corner and met another devotee, and then I had another simply wonderful. And then the next corner and anothersimply wonderful. And by that time I also had several books and Back to Godheads.

Then I went to the temple. They had invited me to the feast at the temple, on Dupont Circle, and I went that Sunday.

And I just became very quickly involved. Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, "due to past lives." The incomplete yogi, Krsna says, in his next life begins again.

I remember reading Prabhupada's books, and the books were so definite. You had to surrender to Krsna, and there was no grey. It wasn't like "You can be a part-time devotee, you can be a fringie," or something like that. You have to surrender to Krsna. You have to give up your nonsense. You can't have two lives. You can't have your sense enjoyment and your spiritual liberation at the same time. You have to get serious.

And back in those days the Society hadn't evolved to a congregational level. To be a devotee meant to live in the temple, to surrender everything. There was no choice.

I was still in school. I was young. I wasn't even eighteen yet. And I was living with my parents. So I used to come every Sunday regularly.

And then Easter vacation came, and I stayed at the temple for the whole vacation. "This is my vacation I'm going to stay in the temple." And my parents, fortunately enough, were understanding. They felt I was going through a phase I had been through so many phases. A typical teenager growing up.

So I came back with a shaved head or at least a crewcut and a sikha [the tuft of hair worn by men on the back of the head as a sign of devotion]. And I remember my father saying, "First it's long, now it's short. Why don't you just leave it alone!"

I used to pass out books to my friends, and with all my friends I used to talk about Krsna. And I couldn't understand why they couldn't quite grasp it. Even to get them to become vegetarian was not easy. I guess I was kind of simple. For some reason becoming a devotee was natural to me. I saw it as the thing to do. It all made sense. But to them it didn't.

I remember saying to one devotee, "I joined very quickly. Why is it that when I talk to my friends they don't want to?" She said, "Well, you're a very special case." And I remember thinking, "Was I special?" To me, to become a devotee was a natural thing.

When summer came around I joined the temple. And then school came again my senior year. So my parents said, "We don't care what you do, but you've got to finish high school. You're not a complete human being you can't make it in this world unless you have a high-school diploma. You can live at the temple, but you've got to go to school."

So I said all right, and I went to public school in Georgetown. I would go every day to high school in a dhoti [robe] and a sikha. Back in those days we didn't wear "karmi clothes." * (A "karmi" leads a life of working hard but with no spiritual purpose. So "karmi clothes" is devotee lingo for "ordinary street clothes.") There were no karmi clothes, no edgies, no fringies. It was a hundred percent there was no choice. You know you were surrendered. So I went through my whole senior year in dhoti and sikha.

And in my senior year, in January of '72, after six months of living in the temple, I got initiated.

So that was my start.

"Oh, New York!"

In Washington, the temple president's wife would always talk about New York: "Oh, the New York temple is so wonderful!" Washington was a small temple, rather on the quiet side. We had seven to ten devotees. So she would always say, "New York! There are so many devotees! And our press is there, and the artists are there …" So it got into my mind.

So one time when Srila Prabhupada came to New York we went to see him, as we always did. And I arranged to stay and work with the press. That was the summer of '72.

And one day the press manager was saying to the temple president, "The headlight on the van is broken, and I'm going to take it to the dealer and have it fixed." And I'm sitting there thinking, "Well, I can put a headlight in. I mean, I can do that much." I never had any formal training on cars. I used to help my father do brakes and change oil. I knew how to turn a screwdriver. And here's a devotee saying he's going to go spendmoney. And, you know, spending money is like a sin: "We don't spend money. We do it all ourselves." So I said, "Well, I can put the light in."

So I put the light in, and they all said, "Ooh! We've got somebody who can work on cars! Great!" So I used to work at the press, and then I'd spend an hour or two fixing the cars. And then gradually it became working more on the cars and less at the press.

I never had any formal training in mechanics. I used to go to the gas stations. And just as you need a guru for anything, I used to go to my gas-station gurus. I'd say, "I have this problem," and they'd say, "Well, check this and that," and I'd go back and figure it out. And in that way I learned a lot about vehicles. We used to buy cars and sell them and fix them, and I was in charge of that. At one point we had twenty cars on the road. In fact, it got to the point where the devotees used to call the cars "Anuttamobiles."

So that's where I learned about cars. I would dress the Deities in the morning, and then, among other things, I would work in the garage. The pujari auto-mechanic.

Use It For Krsna

I moved out of New York in '75. And after a while I went to India and stayed there for two years, distributing books to libraries. (In India I didn't work on cars you can get a mechanic cheap.) Then in 1980 I got married in Bombay.

After a while I came back to America. Now I was a householder and had a child … And I moved around for a while West Virginia for one summer, Miami for one winter, and then even Toronto, trying to find my spot.

And it was in Toronto that I got introduced to the car business again. A devotee there, Rocana Dasa, had a car dealership. And he had a license to go to the wholesale auctions. So that's where I got familiar with going to auctions and doing the car business.

But the economy just wasn't very good in Toronto. So I came back to Washington. And I started going to the auctions and got involved in it more. And pretty much from '85 till now I've just developed it into a very successful business. Krsna's mercy.

It's not the be-all and end-all of life. You have to make a living. But if you're going to waste your time making a living, you might as well make a good living and then you can use your money for something spiritual.

Business is just a means to survive. The real point is to use your wealth, your words, and your life for Krsna.

There was a devotee in the Caitanya-caritamrta selling leaf cups and giving fifty percent of his income to worship the Ganges. Now, it's not that selling leaf cups was giving him great ecstasy. He had to do something to make a living, and then the money that he got he used in service to the Ganges. It's not that the essence of your life is the business of selling the leaf cup or selling the car or being a doctor or whatever you do to make a living. You have to do something but the real pleasure comes in your devotional life.

And whatever you do whether you make a little money or a lot of money it's all the same. A job's a job.

Of course, some jobs are less pleasurable. I enjoy the car business because I don't have to associate with karmis. I do it all myself. I buy the car, I fix the car, I market the car. I don't have any employees, I don't have any boss. I can go take a break, go to the temple. I can do anything I want. So that's a good feature. "A brahmana doesn't work for others." In that sense, although it's a vaisya [business] activity, it has a brahminical aspect.

My goal is to figure out how to make as much money as I can and then spend it for Krsna. Besides doing cars, I own ten different properties, and do rentals … I figured it out the other day. If I sold all my houses, cashed in everything, and put all the money together, I've probably got at least a million dollars.

I moved out of the temple with twenty bucks in my pocket, and from that twenty bucks I made a million and nobody helped me.

It's your karma. It's your destiny. Prahlada Maharaja says that happiness and distress come on their own. If you're going to be happy, you're going to be happy. That's how I see it.

And it doesn't affect me. Prabhupada said, rich or poor you still can eat only so many capatis a day. I just have a formula that I work in, and if the formula stops working then I'll do something else. Maybe it will all blow up one day. Maybe the business will all go kapooey.

Whatever Krsna sends us we have to use for Krsna. And if by our good fortune or good karma we're successful at business, we have to recognize why and who's the proprietor and use it for Him.

You have to do what you can for Krsna, while you've got the energy and funds to do it. And if you don't have the funds, just use your energy. Use your words, your money, your life. There are many ways to preach. You don't have to be a rich man to preach.

Projects And Association

I have several projects I work on. I have a cow program. We started a program at the temple "Save Mother Cow" and got people in the community involved in that. We got a cow for the temple. And we care for two cows at our house.

I'm vice president of the Potomac temple and get involved a lot there. I try to take at least one day off a week and just physically go over there and do things, whatever there may be clean up the trash, or whatever. Fix things, paint things, anything that needs to be done.

I have programs at my house regularly. I try to coordinate the devotee community in the Washington area through regular programs. In the summer, about once a month, we have what we call the Hare Krsna Picnic Programs. Devotees come, and everybody brings a preparation, and we have kirtana and arati and some discussion. Then we have prasadam, and the kids play some sports outside. In this way we associate with devotees and basically have fun, because as family men we all need to have friends, and our children need to have friends everyone needs friends. So this is a chance for devotee association.

Sometimes devotees get distant, get on the edge. So then they need to feel they've got friends who are devotees, that there is a community of devotees. We've left full service in the temple atmosphere we're householders, we've bought a house, we have a job and it's easy to just kind of fade out.

People can just disappear. First you see them once a month, then once every six months, once every Janmastami. So we need that devotee association.

As the years go by, we have to realize Krsna for ourselves. Because at the time of death everything's finished. You have to know yourself. And your meditation should be on your guru and on Krsna.

When The Senses Are Controlled

And a good wife helps. In the temple you're always supervised, one way or another. You've got to come to the programs. Someone's watching you. But when you move out, no one's watching you. But I've learned to watch myself and my wife watches me. So if your wife is watching you and you're watching yourself, it helps. So many little things keeping Ekadasi, going to the temple, chanting, reading … Dharma-patni: the proper function of the wife is to act as a partner in your spiritual life.

In the association of devotees in the asrama, we all keep an eye on one another. But when you're a householder there's nobody watching. So if your wife's in maya, then fifty percent of your protection is gone. She doesn't have to be a pure devotee, but you want her to have at least basic Krsna consciousness. That's important.

In the early stages of living outside I went through the stage where I thought, "I can do whatever I want. Nobody's going to yell at me. Nobody's going to know. I can drink, smoke whatever." There are so many forms of maya out there. But I never did it.

I remember I thought about it once. But then I thought, "That's stupid. Why should I do a thing like that? Look, I've got twenty years here of clean bill of devotion, and why should I give it up just for some flickering happiness?"

"Let your conscience be your guide." When you've trained yourself to become Krsna conscious, you're self-controlled. When the senses are controlled, they're like a snake with no fangs they can't harm you.

A little example: Six or seven years ago I went to El Salvador on a business trip my father arranged it with a friend's company to install a generator. There were three other guys, all electricians, and I was going to do the mechanical end. So I had to be with these guys. One was divorced, and the other two weren't married. And all the time they're telling me, "Take a beer. Take a beer." And all the time looking at women, joking with women.

They were constantly throwing maya right in my face. "Here's a beer." And they all wanted to go off to prostitutes. And I would explain, "Well, look, I'm a married man. I have my wife. I don't need that." I didn't want to get into preaching to them. I was just saying, "Don't you know what it is to be moral you know, be responsible and chaste? Don't you know what it means to be married?" But they were just total animals, just gross.

Luckily we have a temple in El Salvador. So after two days of being with these guys in the hotel, I just said, "I'm going to go stay with my people downtown. I'll meet you at work every day. I'll take a taxi."

I could have gone and done it, and nobody would have known. But my conscience would have known. I would have known in my heart that I had done something horrible, and I couldn't live with myself. So ultimately as you become Krsna conscious you develop that self-protection, those warning lights. You can't cheat yourself.

As for the future, when the kids get a little bigger my goal is to return to full-fledged service and retire from business altogether. As long as you have enough money to buy food and a place to stay, that's all you need. Food, shelter, and your plane fare to Mayapur or Vrndavana.