A young Russian devotee finds shelter and guidance under Krishna’s special devotee plant.
Our cultural upbringing can greatly influence us in how we practice devotional service. If we had good training in our early years, then this can be a strong help in our later accepting the principles of Krishna consciousness. This is evident from the example of Aruna locana Dasa from Moscow, Russia.
Aruna locana is a thirty-year-old, well-built Russian, who has spent time in the United States trying to make it big. During his childhood, surprisingly, his mother had inadvertently nurtured tulasi plants. Initially she thought what she was growing was just some ordinary plants, but gradually she realized the spiritual potency of tulasi. Among the many plants she had at home, she found herself getting attracted to tulasi more than any other. Eventually, she began to serve her tulasi plants exclusively, and found that the service filled her with serenity. Meanwhile her son too became affected by her new-found enthusiasm for tulasi, and he began to help his mother in her service. 
Performing devotional service without realizing what you’re doing is called ajnata-sukrti, and it brings further opportunities to advance in spiritual life. Just a few days after beginning his service to tulasi , Aruna locana met a few ISKCON devotees who were out on the street distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books. He bought what they were selling and began reading. The books changed his life. His mother also read the books and became attracted to Krishna consciousness. Aruna locana decided to move into the temple. His parents did not object. There he discovered that the plant he had been serving was none other than tulasi. He decided to increase his service to and worship of her. 
In the meantime his family made a spectacular discovery: tulasi plants did not grow in their city because of the severe cold. In fact, the Eurolova temple kept only a photograph of tulasi on the altar. Yet tulasi grew luxuriantly in his mother’s house-she was reciprocating with his mother’s devotion. So Aruna locana asked his mother to give her tulasi plant to the temple so the devotees could serve her. She reluctantly agreed, and later confessed that when tulasi left so too did the special spiritual vibration that had permeated her home. 
Tulasi plants grow everywhere in India, yet we often neglect her presence or offend her by using her leaves for tea. Rupa Gosvami gave us sixty-four ways to practice devotional service, including the worship of tulasi. These ways are not meaningless rituals; properly executed, they can bring us closer to Krishna and awaken our dormant love for Him. 
Aruna locana’s experience of serving tulasi lit in him the spark of a desire to serve. By acting on that desire and serving tulasi with more devotion, his desire to serve increased. Today, he is the receptionist at Eurolova, and during our visit to his temple he attended to all our needs. His service was excellent. I am pretty sure how this desire to please devotees came to him-it’s by the mercy of Tulasi Devi. 
Aruna locana was silent when I congratulated him on his good fortune. He insisted that he would actually become fortunate the day he was able to visit India, meet the devotees there, and smear the dust of the holy places on his forehead. He repeatedly confessed that he is too sinful to go back to Godhead in this lifetime. He feels he needs a birth in India. Then, maybe in his next life, he can attain perfection. I know it’s not true that Indians are naturally better than Russians just because they were born in India. Anyone with simplicity and the desire to serve devotees, and who is engaged in devotional service to the Lord, has received Krishna’s mercy no matter where he or she was born. 
 Of course, Aruna locana is aware that by the mercy of Gaura-Nitai his life is perfect because he has a chance to serve Them in Moscow. However, his humility and sincerity compels him to cultivate a healthy desire to visit holy tirthas and serve devotees.  His eagerness to come to India to progress spiritually is a million times stronger than his earlier desire to immigrate to the United States-a desire in stark contrast to many Indians, who are seeking to escape India for the US to make material progress.
Vraja Vihari Dasa holds a master’s degree in International Finance and Management (MBA). He serves as a full-time resident devotee at ISKCON Chowpatty and teaches Krishna consciousness to university students and the temple’s congregation members.