I don't know what prompted Aarati, a female helper in the emergency ward of our hospital, to come to me with her open palms, but here she was imploring me to look at the lines of her hands and predict her future.
"I don't know palmistry," I confessed.
"No, I know that you know, so please tell me if I will get what I want."
Nobody gets everything that he or she wants, I thought, not even the devotees. Krishna even takes away what we want. So what should I say?
"Sorry, I don't know palmistry."
"No, sir. Please just take a look and tell me."
I shut my eyes and prayed.
What should I say? What would a young girl want?
"Is there a boy?" I asked. She beamed. I was right.
"Willi get him?" she asked. Aarati is a simple girl with modest means. Ordinary looking. I had my doubts.
"You are sure your guy is fixed up with you?"
"Yes, sir."
"Just confirm with him … If he is really committed to you, there should be no problem, I guess."
"Thank you, sir." She rose from the chair.
"And please don't tell anyone about this."
"Sure, sir.
The next day Aarati came again.
"I asked the boy," she said. "He is committed."
I was happy to know. "Well, who is the lucky guy?"
"Govind," she replied coyly.
A dashing male helper who works in the evening shift, Govind seemed a sober guy. "Very good." I said, "And remember: Don't say anything about this to anyone."
"Sure, sir."
I did not take note of Rohit, another helper, who was hovering around during our conversation. The next day he came, "Sir, I need to talk. We earn money, but it just vanishes. We can't have any savings. What should we do?"
"I don't know," I said tersely. "I am busy. I don't have time for this." But he wouldn't let go of me.Then I had an idea. "Well," I said, "you can try one thing."
He leaned forward.
"Keep tufas! at your home. Water it daily. Do four rounds around it. Bow your head to it, and if possible offer incense and lamp. Then we will see."
"Will this work?" his eyebrows knotted.
"Try it."
I thought that was the end. I was wrong. The next day, Navin, an elderly helper, came to me. "I have problem with my extended family." 

From Crisis to Krishna

I realized that in crisis people look for outside help. Simply seeing that someone is willing to listen with empathy makes them feel better and they open up and share their personal problems. In my case, they felt that I was some fortune teller and could offer them some charms or rituals that would ease their misery. I on the other hand thought of using such situations to bring them closer to Krishna, by engaging them in some devotional service at least some of its ritualistic aspects. Who knows? This could be the beginning of their Krishna consciousness. Perhaps this was the way Krishna wanted me to spread His teachings. 

Such were my noble thoughts, and I must confess, I also liked the attention and reverence I was getting I gave Navin the same formula-worship tufasi at home. Later I would add more – offer food, chant Hare Krishna, 

Astrology as a Vedic Science 

My Career as a Fortune Teller

Srila Prabhupada describes the role of astrology in traditional Vedic society in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 17.103-4): "Brahmanas generally used to become astrologers, Ayur-vedic physicians, teachers, and priests. Although highly learned and respectable, such brahmanas went from door to door to distribute their knowledge. A brahmana would first go to a householder's home to give information about the functions to be performed on a particular tithi, or date, but if there were sickness in the family, the family members would consult the brahmana as a physician, and the brahmana would give instruction and some medicine. Often, since the brahmana were expert in astrology, people would also be greatly inquisitive about their past, present, and future. 

" This system was current even one hundred years ago; even fifty or sixty years ago, when we were children, such brahmana would visit householders like humble beggars, and people would derive great benefit from the mercy of such brahmanas. The greatest benefit was that a householder could save a great deal of money from being spent on doctor bills because the brahmanas, aside from explaining the past, present, and future, could ordinarily cure all kinds of diseases simply by giving instructions and some medicine. Thus no one was bereft of the benefit of a first-class physician, astrologer and priest." 

"Through astrology, one can know past, present, and future. The brahmana who went door to door like beggars had perfect command of vast knowledge. Thus the highest knowledge was easily available even to the poorest man in society. The poorest man could inquire from an astrologer about his past, present, and future with no need for business agreements or exorbitant payments. The brahmana would give him all the benefit of his knowledge without asking remuneration, and the poor man, in return, would offer a handful of rice or anything else he had in his possession that might satisfy the brahmana. In a perfect human society, perfect knowledge in any science – medical, astrological, ecclesiastical, and so on – is available even to the poorest man, with no anxiety over payment. In the present day, however, no one can get justice, medical treatment, astrological help, or ecclesiastical enlightenment without money, and since people are generally poor, they are bereft of the benefits of all these great sciences." 

Astrology as a Career? 

One day, while seriously thinking about learning Palmistry as an aid to teach Krishna consciousness, I called up a relative who is an astrologer. I told her everything, hoping she would be delighted. 

She was furious.
"Don't do this," she scolded. "You know neither astrology nor palmistry. You might be successful a couple times, and people may like you. But the same people will speak ill about you once you go wrong. And you are bound to go wrong. Even I go wrong at times. Leave this at once. Just stick to your devotional practices."
"Then what should I do when people come to me for help, asking about their future?"
"Tell them that you are a spiritualist, not an astrologer. You can pray for them. You can teach them Gita and mantra-meditation You can connect them to God, but you can't predict their future."
It made sense.
I later read how Srila Prabhupada discouraged his devotees from taking shelter of astrology.
"Krishna consciousness is beyond astrology," said Prabhupada, "If you surrender to Krishna, with a slight kick Krishna can annihilate 100,000 Rahu planets." (Srila Prabhupada Nectar 3)
In another conversation, he said: "Astrology is a science. Krishna consciousness has nothing to do with astrology, but it is the general custom that as soon as a child is born the astrologers come. That is the Indian system, Vedic system." (Conversation, August 4, 1969, Los Angeles)
But perhaps Krishna wanted to drive home the same point even more strongly, as I was to learn over the next few days.

Prediction Fiascos 

"Please tell me if my uncle will survive." It was Aarati. 

Her uncle had gas-gangrene of the leg. The moment the surgeon incised his leg, pus mixed with blood and gas bubbles shot up almost to our heads. Bacteria were eating up his flesh and spreading virulently in his body. Surgery had helped, but things were still critical. The skin over his remaining leg had started to blister. A couple of days earlier, I had my doubts, but after two blood transfusions the previous day, her uncle looked in good spirits and his condition seemed stable. 

"I think he will make it," I said. "He looks much better."
I don't know why, but she kept repeating this question, almost six or seven times, and each the time I smilingly said he would make it.
The next day I came to work in high spirits and found Aarati sitting near the lift. "How is your uncle?"
I breezed past her.
"He expired."
I froze. "What?"
"There was some reaction to a new antibiotic. He was in the ICU the entire night, and then expired half an hour back."
I was stunned. She looked at me and then continued talking to her relative. Thankfully, she didn't complain or put me in an embarrassing situation by referring to our conversation from the previous day.
As I continued my rounds in the ward, a nurse came in looking for something. She was tearful. She gave me a very short but piercing glance then left, sniffing into her kerchief. 

I remembered having met her couple of days earlier.
"I have heard you tell fortunes," she had asked me.
"No, it's just God's grace." I realized that she was a Sikh.
"Just go to Golden Temple, and offer pranams there. And I think you will be perfectly fine in your life."
"That's all?"
"Yeah, everything will be OK with you." I said emphatically.
Now she was crying.
"What happened?" I asked the other nurse.
"Somebody stole Rs. 7000 from her cupboard. That was her monthly salary. She has been crying since morning."
I shook my head and remembered the words of my relative. That was the end of my short career as a fortune teller. 

Murari Gupta Dasa is a member of the BTG India editorial team. He is also a doctor by profession. Check his blog at http://diaryofmgd. blogspot. in