Looking into the pale and reddish-brown faces of the passersby on Avenida Insurgentes, Mario Ortega Martell no longer sees only country people and businessmen, students and merchants, Mexicans and foreigners, men and women going about their business on a warm afternoon. Instead, looking deeper, Mario sees them as almas espirituales spirit souls, all part and parcel of God, but all somehow unmindful of their relationship with Him.
That's why he's out there, downtown in Mexico City, stopping people and talking with them, reaching into a cloth bag on his shoulder to hand them books they've never seen before. Fifteen months ago, someone on the street had handed him the same book, and what he found when he read it changed his life. Now Mario Ortega wants everyone to have the chance to taste what he calls "the nectar of the mercy of Krsna."
The book was Bhagavad-gita Tal Como Es (Bhagavad-gita As It Is), a Spanish translation and commentary upon one of
India's most revered texts of spiritual enlightenment. The author was "Su Divina Gracia" A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual preceptor of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Shortly after Mario had finished the book, the devotees of Lord Krsna gathered in Guadalajara to hold the annual Ratha-yatra, the festival of the chariots. Each year in this celebration from ancient India, the devotees dance through the streets in cities worldwide, playing musical instruments, chanting Krsna's names, and pulling huge multicolored floats that call to mind Krsna's transcendental pastimes.
Mario took part in the festival at Guadalajara, and that very day (the nineteenth of August, 1978 he whips off the date as readily as his birthday) he decided to join the temple in Mexico City and become a devotee of Krsna.
"From my own experience," Mario says, "I knew that the best thing you could do with your life would be to make it pure and even better than that would be to show other people how to do the same.
"Before I came to Krsna consciousness, though, I felt that my own way of life was completely impure. I was confused and indecisive about spiritual life and couldn't even help myself. But after I read that book, I lost my taste for materialistic activities. And now I understand that I was being cheated by maya, illusion.
"I feel that I have become very fortunate, and because of that I want to give these books to others, so that they can also become fortunate. I want everyone to come in touch with Krsna."
It was in 1971 that Krsna devotees went to Mexico from the United States and began Mexico's first Krsna conscious temple. That same year the devotees published the first Krsna conscious books in Spanish, and since then they have put out a steady flow of new titles.
To distribute the books, the devotees travel from city to city and town to town. So although the only formally established Krsna temples are in Mexico City and Guadalajara, word gets around. and people from all corners are reading about Krsna and chanting His names.
The Mexico City temple, formerly the Ethiopian embassy, serves as the Krsna movement's Mexico headquarters. Here devotees live and work and hold regular classes for the public and for a growing congregation of people who live and work nearby and follow the principles of devotional life in Krsna consciousness.
"Krsna consciousness in Mexico is no different from Krsna consciousness anywhere else," says Pancadravida Svami, the movement's director for Mexico and other Latin American countries. "Krsna consciousness is not a limited form of consciousness like nationalism, family loyalty, or a religious belief you hold because you were born into it. Krsna consciousness is the original consciousness of the soul.
"People feel drawn to Krsna consciousness because it makes sense to them: 'I'm not my material body but the soul within. So "Mexican" or "American" or "Valdez" or "Smith" or any other label that might have come along with my body doesn't really apply to me. I'm really just a soul, part and parcel of God. So all I really have to do is devote myself to Him, and that will automatically be good for my nation, my family everyone.'
"Krsna is universal. He is not the God of a particular country, time, or cultural group. God is one. So His name, qualities, pastimes, and philosophy will be attractive to anyone who thinks about things carefully. And bhakti-yoga linking with God through devotional service will be effective anywhere."
An important feature of the Krsna consciousness movement in Mexico, as in other countries, is its Gurukula, a boarding school where learning how to advance in spiritual life is as much a part of the curriculum as reading, writing, and arithmetic. A child is ultimately a spiritual being, say the Krsna conscious teachers, so what's the use of a school that ignores spiritual realization? A materially brilliant student with no understanding of who he is or how he is connected with God is no better than a fancy package with nothing inside. At Mexico's Gurukula (a modern three-story house with parquet floors, picture windows, and a large patio and garden courtyard) the children. learn first to understand themselves and Krsna. and then whatever else they need to know. The children get a strong general education (most Gurukula students are two or three years ahead of their public-school counterparts in reading and the other usual subjects), but more important, they learn how to discern the spiritual essence of life amid the complexities of an increasingly materialistic society.
As the children grow older, they will take further instruction under the guidance of a Krsna conscious spiritual master, as do other initiated members of the Krsna consciousness movement.
The movement's original spiritual master in the West was His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the author of the books that Mario Ortega and the other devotees distribute to the public. Many of the devotees in Mexico are Srila Prabhupada's disciples, but since his passing, in 1977, newer devotees have been learning his teachings from one of his eleven authorized successors, His Divine Grace Hrdayananda dasa Goswami.
Srila Hrdayananda Maharaja speaks fluent Spanish, Portuguese, and English and has spent the last six years teaching and traveling throughout the Latin American continent, opening centers, and overseeing new publications.
Less than two months ago, Mario Ortega became one of his disciples. "Because my spiritual master is eternally linked with Srila Prabhupada," says Mario (now known by the spiritual name Maharsi dasa), "I also feel eternally linked with Srila Prabhupada and ultimately with Krsna Himself.
"The message of Krsna consciousness is eternal and unchanging. It comes down from master to disciple, from one generation to the next. Five thousand years ago, Krsna taught Bhagavad-gita to His friend and disciple Arjuna. Krsna's teachings dispelled all Arjuna's illusion, cleared up all his doubts, and revived his inner understanding so that he knew who he really was and what he had to do. And even today, anyone who seriously tries to understand Krsna's teachings from a bona fide spiritual master can get free from anxiety and illusion and make his life spiritually perfect."