By Chaitanya Charana Dasa, as told to Janakinatha Dasa
How a father’s dying wish and Srila Prabhupada’s Gita changed one man’s destiny.
While distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books village to village, door to door, in remote parts of India, I invariably meet someone who has been miraculously touched by Krishna’s mercy. One such person was Chandu, whom I met in Srirampur, Maharashtra. His tall stature and heavy build contrasted with his soft, humble demeanor. Curious to know his background, I asked him to tell me his story of choosing the path of Krishna consciousness. – JD
Right from childhood I had a quarrelsome nature. My strong and stout body enabled me to bully others and fight with them. I would harass everyone and behave rashly. This made others hate and fear me, so most people kept their distance. My father was soft and gentle, a humble schoolteacher devoted to tulasi and Lord Vitthala. Local people wondered how such a person had conceived a tyrant like me.
At a young age I became the local leader of a political party. Lying, cheating, and manipulative dealings were my daily activities, and I drank alcohol and ate meat. My father would spend his day in devotional activities, while I was engrossed in fights and sense indulgence. Many people advised my father to somehow transform my character, but all his efforts failed. Finally he got me married, hoping that might change me.
My wife had a tough time handling me. Frustrated with my brute behavior, she would often leave home to visit her parents. I had been promoted to a higher rank within the party, and my corrupt dealings rose to even higher levels.
My father would often plead with me, “Dear son, at least once in your life please read Dnyaneshwari [a commentary on the Bhagavad-gita by Dnyaneshwar, a thirteenth-century Maharashtrian saint].”
I couldn’t have cared less about this instruction. I was speeding towards the darkest region of hellish existence. I had opened a liquor shop and a nonvegetarian restaurant. Almost every night I would eat meat and drink alcohol, and then I would return home and beat up my wife or create trouble in my neighborhood. My family life began to break into pieces. “A demigod father, a demonic son” is how people referred to us.
Promise at the Deathbed
When my father was on his deathbed, I went near him, fully intoxicated.
“At least once you should read Dnyaneshwari,” he said.
“I will,” I said, and then he left this world.
Now that the last hindrance to my sinful enjoyment was gone, I fully dived into all kinds of indulgence. Days passed, many months passed. All the while my father’s request kept surfacing in my mind, and I felt guilty about not fulfilling my promise.
Finally one day I entered the puja room, where I saw many sacred books bundled in a white cloth. I pulled out Dnyaneshwari and reluctantly began to read it. But I found the language too archaic and the message too cryptic. I was about to put the book back when I noticed in the same bundle Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is along with some small books.
I thought, “Well, Dnyaneshwari is the same as Bhagavad-gita, so let me try reading the Gita instead.”
I felt a special attraction towards the cover painting of Krishna and Arjuna, where Krishna is driving the chariot of His dear devotee.
I began regularly reading the Gita in the bar and “preaching.” Sitting on a chair, my legs sprawling over the table, I would hold a bottle of beer in one hand and the Gita in the other. My audience consisted of fully intoxicated drunks who could barely lift themselves after their binge. The discussion would sometimes go on till midnight. This went on for about seven months.
On the Way to Krishna
The Bhagavad-gita (3.13) instructs us to offer food to God before we eat it.
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” I began to follow this instruction. Reaching home late at night, fully drunk, I would wake my wife and ask her to prepare food. I would take the plate and place it in front of the murti of Lord Krishna, and in my half-asleep intoxicated state I would order Krishna, “Eat!” The Bhagavad-gita had convinced me that God can accept food and eat it. But sometimes I would laugh at my crazy behavior, and I would feel that the murti was laughing back at me. Gradually, though, I developed a desire to render some service to God.
The Bhagavad-gita and Srila Prabhupada’s explanations impressed me more and more. I read how Krishna is pleased with anyone who tries to distribute His message to the masses, so I printed flyers containing the maha-mantra and a short message from the Gita. While I was distributing them, the local villagers asked me to give a short speech. I spoke on the Gita for a few minutes, but I understood that to be genuine I needed to lead a purer life.
Once when I visited Pandharpur I saw a group of ISKCON Padayatra devotees traveling village to village doing harinama-sankirtana. Inside their bullock cart they had a huge picture of Srila Prabhupada. I had seen many saints and so-called godmen, but I always doubted their authenticity and purity. When I saw Srila Prabhupada, however, I was convinced that he was genuine, and I developed more faith in him.
Some days later, my friend Sudama Dasa, an ISKCON devotee, visited my house.
“Do you know that in Pandharpur there is a temple of Lord Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita?” he asked. “His Holiness Lokanath Swami Maharaja is going to give a series of lectures there. Why don’t you attend?”
I was not sure what to say, but some divine force seems to have pushed me to say yes.
Let me try it once, I thought. I don’t have to commit to their process. I can always come back if I don’t like them.
As soon as I entered the ISKCON temple in Pandharpur and met the devotees, I could feel I was undergoing a mystical transformation. I felt a sense of peace and happiness. Sitting through the entire discourse, I was convinced that this was the path I needed to follow throughout my life. The seed of love and devotion was now firmly planted in the soil of my heart.
Upon returning to my village, I decided to begin a new life. I wound up my liquor and meat enterprise. I even gave up my political post and took up farming. I began to regularly chant the holy names of Krishna, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and to follow the four regulative principles.
It was amazing to see how easily I gave up my nasty habits. My family members were skeptical, unable to understand the change in me. Earlier all my actions were under the influence of alcohol. Now, seeing this miraculous transformation in my life, they wondered if I was acting under the influence of something more dangerous. But every morning I read the Bhagavad-gita, and I introduced everyone in my home to the devotional way of life. After a few years, Lokanath Swami Maharaja offered me spiritual initiation, giving me the name Chaitanya Charana Dasa.
Chaitanya Charana Dasa now oversees a Krishna conscious center in his village, and many local villagers attend the regular programs. His whole family is involved in various services, and they regularly distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books.
From Chandu to Chaitanya Charana Dasa – the story gives hope. It shows the power of bhakti, Krishna consciousness, which can raise anyone from the lowest level of ignorance to the highest level of enlightenment. It shows how potent Srila Prabhupada’s books are. And it shows how anyone who comes in contact with them will get the ultimate benefit.