A successful physician tells his story of discovering Krsna consciousness at a young age and renewing his commitment thirty years later.
Crossing the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville one day in 1973, I heard the chiming of bells in the distance. A shaven -headed man in saffron robes singing by himself in an open courtyard caught my eye . Knowing nothing about the Hare Krsna movement, I thought he must be a Buddhist. I sat at a distance and watched for a long while, enchanted by his blissful singing. Finally I left without approaching him, but I couldn't get him out of my mind.
The next day I returned at the same time, and there he was again. This time two or three younger monks, also with shaven heads, were singing a long with him and passing out plates of food. I came closer and was delighted to find out that it was a vegetarian preparation. One young man handed me a colorful magazine and spoke to me. But I kept looking at the older monk, who was playing hand cymbals. He seemed to emit tranquility and wisdom. I had to speak to him.
This is my tale of how I came to the Hare Krsna movement, left, and eventually found my way back. Perhaps others who were once attracted to this wonderful movement and left for one reason or another can identify with my journey and give ISKCON another chance.
In the fall of 1973 I was a freshman at the University of Florida. I had started college young, at age sixteen. Like so many others in those days, I was searching for a deeper meaning of life. As far back as I can remember, the thought of aging, dying-the entire temporal nature of our existence-troubled me.
Brought up in a nominally Catholic family and educated in Jesuit institutions, I was always a spiritual person. From the age of eleven or twelve I read everything I could about theology, philosophy, parapsychology, and mysticism. By sixteen I was convinced that the priests, rabbis, and yogis I'd met were all as lost as l. What made the most sense to me was the philosophy of a simple Christian sect called The Christ Family. They believed that one should not kill (they were vegetarians), that one should not covet material possessions, and that one should be celibate. But they had no deep opinions about anything else and were basically wandering, homeless hippies. After a while I decided this group was just copping out on life.
When the senior monk was through chanting, I began drilling him with question after question. His initial response was laughter. Then he told me to slow down and ask one question at a time, and he would do his best to satisfy me.
Time seemed to fly, and before I realized it I had been talking with this man for hours. His explanations of the philosophy of Krsna consciousness touched me deeply. The other monks had gone, and I had missed all of my classes for the day. The senior monk invited me to their temple to eat and chant. I didn't go that day, but for the days that followed I couldn't focus on any classes or talk with anyone. I was really confused about my next step. The philosophy of Krsna consciousness appealed to me. But I knew that if I went to the temple it would be very difficult to leave. And I wasn't ready for that. My entire life was in a tailspin.
A week later I approached a group of devotees and asked about the monk. They told me his name was Tamal Krsna Goswami. That afternoon I went to the temple on Depot Avenue. Suddenly a modified Greyhound bus pulled up. Fifteen young men, all with shaven heads, unloaded a variety of exotic instruments from the bus. A tall, attractive devotee saw me gazing in amazement and invited me on to the bus. There was Tamal Knna Goswami.
Although only one week had gone by, he immediately said , "What took you so long to return?"
The tall devotee Visnujana Swami then began singing Hare Krsna to melodies so sweet that tears came to my eyes. I knew these people had experienced what I was searching for, true love of God. Soon I dropped out of school and moved into the Gainesville temple, where the temple president, Amarendra Dasa, trained me as a brahmacari, a celibate student living in the asrama. Later I went with the Radha-Damodara Traveling Sankirtana Party, headed up by Tamal Krsna Goswami and Visnujana Swami. The bus party, as it was called, was made up of dozens of young men who traveled around America in converted buses and vans, spreading Krsna consciousness.
Though brahmacari life was austere and a complete change from anything I was familiar with, my transition was natural and surprisingly pleasant. To explain why, I have to tell you a bit more about myself. As far back as I can remember, I never felt like I belonged here. I am a social being, not a loner, but in truth I did feel quite alone, despite plenty of friends and a close-knit family. To me, trivial conversations and worldly knowledge were as boring as philosophical arguments with abundant questions and few answers.
The brahmacari asrama, however, was full of colorful personalities, more enthusiastic and talented than any of my previous companions. There were musicians, artists, poets, cooks, philosophers, mechanics all linked by devotion to Srila Prabhupada. This conglomerate of fired up beings emanated warmth, love, and devotion . Their association turned what at first glance were unbearable austerities (and radical changes to my existence ) into exciting adventures, lived as in a dream state. Every day I awoke to dancing and singing, followed by deep meditation and study of profound spiritual books. Where else, I asked myself, could I experience all this?
For the first time my life had meaning. Visnujana Swami, Tamal Krsna Goswami, and so many others transformed the austerities into a dynamic and meaningful yet incredibly fun existence. I felt that the devotees really cared about me and my spiritual progress and were happy to take me along on the journey back to Godhead. Srila Prabhupada's books-combined with an unexpected taste for chanting- solidified my commitment.
My downfall came from feelings that I was underachieving. I had abandoned my family and my dreams of becoming a physician. When I brought this topic up, the young devotees, who were not so mature in those days, were generally unsympathetic. That was difficult to understand.
Another problem: I always enjoyed temple life. To this day I still get excited each time the curtains open and arati begins. Traveling away from the temple was difficult. I missed the temple, but I was quite good at distributing books, so my supervisors naturally liked to keep me on the road.
In February of 1975 I visited my family. Then I returned to my devotee companions in Atlanta. Srila Prabhupada was at the temple. The mood was very high. Srila Prabhupada led some astonishing kirtan as and gave some unforgettable classes . Feeling unworthy and not yet serious enough , I had been avoiding initiation for over a year. I was supposed to take initiation that weekend. Initiation was a heavy commitment, and because of my conflicted feelings, I decided I wasn't ready. Instead of getting initiated, I left the movement. The truth is I tried to leave, but the Krsna conscious life had become a part of me.
BACK TO COLLEGE
Upon returning home, I found it difficult to fit in. Ordinary life could not compare with Krslfa consciousness. My family and friends seemed like strangers, and no doubt they looked at me as if I had landed from another planet, because I retained remnants of a brahmacari lifestyle.
My first week back I resumed undergraduate studies at Loyola University in Chicago. Though my major was pre-medical, all of my electives were in Eastern philosophy and theology. I decided to seek employment and apply for student loans so as n ot to depend on my family for fin ancial support.
After placing an ad for vegetarian roommates, I proceeded to convert an apartment near the campus into a quasi-t emple. A nearby Indian shopping area proved a fertile ground for Indian musical instruments-harmonium, tamboura, mrdanga, and karatalas. I painted the walls bright yellow and wrote Sanskrit texts from the Bhagavad-gita on every free space. Soon my place was known as a meeting ground for vegetarians, hippies, and even estranged devotees from the local Evanston temple. My family became convinced that I had left my mind in some distant Hare Krsna temple.
I would often visit the Chicago temple, but the Radha-Damodara parties sometimes passed through and did not give me a very warm reception. That didn't stop me from attending the artis regularly, but I did begin the practice of slipping in and leaving the temple before anyone had the chance to talk to me.
My studies advanced quickly because I never took summer breaks. After completing undergraduate studies, I continued my graduate and postgraduate studies at a similar pace. Because I sometimes attended class with robes and a shaved head, my colleagues and professors thought I was eccentric. Still, they respected me because I was at the top of my class. I used what I'd learned from the devotees. Rising at 3:30 A.M., I chanted on my beads, and before any other medical student was awake, I had already studied for my courses.
I greatly missed my devotee friends. Prayers to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Cait anya (and a continuing taste for chanting the holy name ) got me through difficult moments. But the material energy is far too strong to face alone. Gradually I stopped chanting and receded t o a mostly illusory life, although I did find comfort in the thought that I could still dedicate my career to Krsna's service.
For many years I practiced medicine in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean , and the US. During this time I visited almost every temple on earth. I would come in like a thief in the night. Sneaking in the back during the early-morning mangalaarati, I would slip out before anyone could speak to me.
MY ARREST RECORD: A FORTUNATE DISCOVERY
For the last sixteen years my medical practice was in Miami. One day, in the spring of 2002, I received a notice from the Board of Medicine in Florida that a new law had been passed requiring all physicians to be fingerprinted and to undergo background checks. Since I am the type of person who avoids even parking tickets, I thought nothing of this.
One morning the administrator of the hospital where I work called me to his office. He asked me for an explanation of my arrest record. I had no idea what he was talking about. Suddenly the recollection hit me and brought an immediate smile to my face. The administraror, perplexed , said, "You must explain why you were arrested fifteen times in twelve states from 1973 to 1975!"
The simple answer was Hare Krsna book distribution , but I knew a longer explanation was in order. I told him that I was in the Hare Krsna movement when I was very young and that we often got picked up for selling books Without permits.
To expunge my record I learned I would have to perform one hundred hours of community service. Since working for churches met the criteria, I decided to visit the Miami ISKCON temple to pay my debt to society.
On returning to the temple, I felt like I was home again. The movement is different in many ways, but I soon realized that Srila Prabhupada is still the force that forges the way.
Many great souls have again blessed me with their guidance and association. Trivikrama Swami Dharma Dasa, Laksmimoni Devi Dasi, Malati Devi Dasi the list would fill this page. I felt restored and ready for a more mature commitment to spiritual life.
I resumed chanting sixteen rounds a day and following the regulative principles with conviction. Soon I concluded that I must continue where I left off, so I searched for a spiritual master to take mercy on an old goat named Dr. Hugo Romeu. In May 2004, at the Festival of Inspiration in New Vrindavan , I became attracted to the speaking and preaching of a very loving and dedicated devotee named Bhakti Marga Swami. He heard my story and, after a time, agreed to accept me as his disciple and guide me in my service to Srila Prabhupada. Later that year, feeling like a nervous groom, I took the plunge. After thirty-two years of chanting Hare Krsna, I finally accepte d a formal initiation into Krsna consciousness.
I have heard sad tales from some disgruntled devotees who have left ISKCON, but as far as I'm concerned, my days in ISKCON were the best of my life. I was living out a spiritual experience that most seekers just dream about. I had the opporrunity to meet Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of ISKCON. I had the association of Tamal Krsna Goswami and so many great souls. To this day I have no idea why I have been so fortunate.
To exist in the material world and simulate happiness is impossible once you have tasted the life of devotion to Krsna. I found out that you can run but you just can't hide from Krsna.
I've become a successful physician, but I feel that my greatest accomplishment has been to resume Krsna consciousness. To chant sixteen good rounds on my beads is more difficult and tastes much sweeter than any material accomplishment.
It took me a lifetime to realize that real medicine for suffering people is found in the gifts Srila Prabhupada gave the world.
I am happily married and have fathered three wonderful children. My family members are all vegetarians. Although they always knew of my love for Srila Prabhupada, they were surprised at my newfound commitment to ISKCON. When they ask if I'm going to run off like I did when I was sixteen, I assure them that ISKCON has matured and gives great emphasis to family life as a solid foundation for practicing Krsna consciousness.
Today I feel my life has truly become full. I hope to give a little back from all that Lord Krsna has given me. I've become a member of the Miami temple board and try to help devotees as much as I can. I hope to please Srila Prabhupada, who has always remained in my heart, by pleasing his dear servant Bhakti Marga Swami, my spiritual master.
Dear reader, after my experience I have one request of you: Please reaffirm your commitment to push Srila Prabhupada's dream of a flourishing Krsna conscious society into yet another generation