By Upendra Dasa
A search for the spiritual world, inspired by the words of an unwitting songwriter.
I earned my degree in chemical engineering in 1970 and took up a job in a petrochemical company in Mumbai. I stayed in bachelors’ accommodations, and my life was not smooth. Eating in hotels, watching roommates fight over trivial matters, and being deserted by my best friends over some misunderstanding made me depressed and homesick. Though not at fault, I was blamed for a couple of mishaps in our factory. One day as I was returning from work, a furious elderly neighbor called me a dirty bachelor and blamed me for spoiling the children of the building. I did not understand what he was saying and why he was angry. It seemed everybody hated me. Later I came to know that one of my roommates had shown a nude calendar to the children.
One day I thought, “Enough is enough.” The next day was my birthday, and I decided to put an end to all my miseries by throwing myself under the train that passed nearby at 4:00 P.M. As I lay in my room alone waiting, I watched the clock tick second by second. Suddenly I heard a popular Hindi film song playing over a loudspeaker. In my present situation, its meaning hit me like a thunderbolt: “Come, I will take you to that far end of the sky where there are no miseries, no tears; there is love and only love.” I wondered, “Is there really a place like that? Should I end my life now, or look for that place? Is somebody offering to take me there?”
Just then the doorbell rang. A ten-year-old girl who lived on the second floor was standing at the door, and she invited me to her house. I asked why. She said it was a surprise. How could I go to some stranger’s house on the invitation of a small girl, especially after being accused of trying to spoil the children. But the girl was persistent and stood there for a long time. I heard the four o’clock train pass by. The girl had foiled my plan. Her two elder sisters joined her. Now what? Maybe another round of dirty bachelor scolding awaited me. Let me get it done with.
I went up to their home. What I saw there filled my heart with mixed emotions of shock, surprise, and joy. On a blackboard they had written in big letters “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO BROTHER UDAY.” My eyes filled with tears. Soon the girls’ father joined us and there was a mini birthday party. (Incidentally, the ten-year-old girl’s name was Kirtana.)
When I returned to my room, I was confused by the turn of events and decided to investigate the place “where there are no miseries; there is only love.” I had a friend whose father supplied light and sound equipment for film shootings. My friend often attended shootings and knew people in the film industry. I requested him to ask the lyricist who had written the song in question what he knew about the place he wrote about. A week later my friend told me he had met the lyricist, who told him that I was a nut, a mad person. The films are a make-believe world, and there is no such place in this creation where there are no miseries. I was disappointed, but deep in my heart I felt there must be a place like that somewhere.
I married in 1975, and a daughter was born to us in 1977. In those years I visited many missions—Rama Krishna Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Satya Saibaba Mission, and so on—but my question remained unanswered. By 1986 I had reached the top of the organization and started working like a donkey for twelve to fourteen hours daily.
Not Ready to Commit
In April 1991, my life began to change. I attended an eight-lecture course entitled “The Science of Self-discovery,” based on the Bhagavad-gita. Govinda Dasa of ISKCON conducted it, and at the end of the course he asked me to sign a form, committing to chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra daily and follow the four regulative principles: no meat-eating (as well as no onions or garlic), no illicit sex, no intoxication, and no gambling. I was not ready to sign it.
About two years later I got the opportunity to attend two lectures by Devamrita Dasa (now Bhakti Rasamrita Swami). I told him that the philosophy was very nice but I could not commit myself to all the regulative principles. He told me not to worry and asked if I could give ten minutes a day.
“Ten minutes a day is not much,” I said.
“For a lifetime,” he replied.
I was shocked. That’s a big commitment.
But then I thought, “Whatever he wants me to do in those ten minutes will benefit me and not him. Moreover, he is a very calm, effulgent person, and intelligent, too. If I can get even a fraction of those qualities, then why not make the commitment?”
I asked him what I should do in those ten minutes. He told me to chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
Thus I started chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra daily. Those days I used to chant a Shiva mantra and a Ganesa mantra for half an hour. I added the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and soon the maha-mantra replaced the other two mantras. Within a couple of months, without any conscious effort, I stopped smoking, eating meat, and drinking alcohol.
Not Ready to Dance
One Sunday in May 1993, I visited ISKCON’s Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha Temple in the Chowpatty section of Mumbai. I stood aside and watched as devotees danced during the arati. Then His Holiness Radhanatha Swami Maharaja started his lecture. He began by describing how miserable this material world is. I agreed with him.
Then he said, “But there is another place, where there are no miseries, no dualities; there is only transcendental love. That place is the abode of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, our real eternal home. Going back home, back to Godhead, is the highest perfection of our life.”
My heart leapt with joy. At last I had found the answer to my question. His class that day cleared many of my other doubts as well.
After the lecture, Maharaja led the kirtana and the devotees danced. Beginning in my college days, I had done lot of dancing at college election rallies, annual festivals, parties, and so on, and later during Ganesa festivals. I was sick of it. I could not reconcile myself to this dancing in the temple for spirituality. I tried to stand aside, but devotees kept pulling me among them. I decided to get out.
I started moving backward through rows of dancing devotees toward the exit door. Maharaja was pausing the kirtana regularly to tell the story of Draupadi being disrobed.
“Duhsasana was pulling her sari, and Draupadi was frantically trying to hold on to it.”
I was slowly approaching the exit door.
“What was Draupadi’s strength compared to that of Duhsasana, who had strength of a thousand elephants?”
I was almost at the door.
“Draupadi realized the futility of her attempts to save herself and in the mood of helplessness and surrender raised both her hands and called out …”
Just one more step, and I will be out the door, out of the temple, out into the material world forever.
“O Krishna! O Govinda!”
I didn’t know what hit me. I froze where I was. For a moment I forgot who I was, where I was, what I was doing. When I came to external consciousness, I found myself moving forward and backward with the devotees. Still not fully aware of what was happening, I looked around, and my eyes fell on Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha.
Gopinatha was mischievously smiling at me and seemed to say, “You fool, trying to get out? If you do, it will be biggest mistake of your life.”
To my surprise I was enjoying dancing with the devotees. I knew now, “This is my home. This is where I belong.”
A Family for Krishna
I went home very excited by the experience and told my wife that I would like to go to this temple every Sunday. She did not like this idea. She was furious. We fought bitterly over the issue. Ultimately she dropped a bomb.
“If you remain out of the house on Sundays, then I’m afraid that may be the end of our marriage.”
Both of us fell silent. For two days not a single word was exchanged between us.
I prayed, “O Lord! This is your problem. I don’t know how to solve it. The ball is in your court.”
One day that week my wife asked me, “Are you going to that temple this Sunday?”
I said yes. She said she would also go. She was curious to see what had attracted me so much. So the following Sunday we went to the temple together. On our way back home she said that she would go to the temple every Sunday even if I didn’t.
Radha-Gopinatha solved my problem as only They could. Since then we have been part of this movement of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, in the mission of Srila Prabhupada, under the guidance of His Holiness Radhanatha Swami Maharaja, and under the care of the devotees of Radha-Gopinatha.
Soon after I joined this movement, my company wound up its business. I retired from my profession in 1996. My wife and I received our harinama initiation in 1995, and my wife got the name Sharanagati Devi Dasi. We received second initiation in 1996. Since 1999 I have been serving as a spiritual counselor for the Chowpatty congregation. Our daughter Chandrika Devi Dasi, who received her initiation in 1997, is happily married to Gaurachandra Dasa, who works in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a software professional and also renders service to the ISKCON temple there. I often travel to Malaysia and Singapore and get further opportunity to glorify the Lord.