By Kalanidhi Dasa
God unable to help himself? A banker realizes the folly of impersonalism.
I came to know about ISKCON as a serious spiritual movement in the year 2002. A senior executive in the State Bank of India, I was posted in Mumbai as a relationship manager to high-value corporate clients and had a tight work schedule. I never dreamed that the answers to my innermost quest would be found in this commercial capital, and so close to my workplace.
Born in a brahmana family, I had been brought up as a Shiva worshiper. At home we used to worship demigods such as Ganesha, Kartikeya, Sarasvati, and Durga. We observed religious festivals with gusto, despite my father’s limited means. Thanks to my upbringing, right from my early age I memorized and feelingly recited Sanskrit verses and mantras for different gods and goddesses. But as I grew up among materialistic friends in school, I started developing doubts about these practices and almost became an agnostic in college. I picked up habits like meat-eating, smoking intoxicants, and regular cinema-going, as well as reading popular gossip magazines.
After graduation, I became a bank officer and was completely materialistic. With growing skepticism about religion, I was shy of even revealing to friends that I visited temples. My religiosity morphed into a vague faith that there is an unchanging unitary reality behind the changing nature and that merging into that formless reality is the goal of existence. This can be done anytime we choose because we are identical to that truth and there is no urgency. All life is a dream, with no serious consequences to our actions. There is no God as such, and hence we can do the work of self-realization by our own efforts at a time of our choosing. I also concluded that all religions exploited our gullibility. My vices continued to grow. I took pride in them and believed they brought me closer to friends. Guilt and shame, I thought, are a sign of immaturity, and real advancement in life comes from overcoming these limitations.
But my philosophy, which found an echo in many modern thinkers, left me all alone to achieve the great leap from material consciousness to spiritual consciousness, and I found myself ill equipped to do so.
A Blind Pursuit
However, incongruently, I continued vainly chasing after God with no clear conception of what I wanted. In 1984, while I was working in London, a friend introduced me to some occult books on yoga and I entered a new world of armchair philosophy—reading many books and debating, without any realization or sadhana (regulated spiritual practice). The books were interesting, and I thought they would change my life forever. But except for getting a swollen head by knowing more than others, I made no advancement.
My desire to know more of spirituality was growing, and the pain and disappointments from chasing many mirage-like movements was causing great anguish. My journey can be summarized as follows:
I ran after many so-called gurus and learned asanas, pranayama, and meditations on the formless and nameless.
I enrolled with great hope in a correspondence course to learn kriya-yoga disciplines and took initiation too, but very soon gave up kriya-yoga as useless.
I mastered a famous yogi’s books on Mayavada philosophy, the philosophy that stresses the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth and states that the form of even the Supreme Lord is maya, or illusion. I used to quote his books with ease. Yet, after several years of remaining enthralled in the philosophy that “I am God in illusion thinking of myself as human,” I finally gave it up as impractical. Despite sitting with closed eyes for days, I could not close the doors on my mind that thwarted me every time. It was frustrating to think that although I was God, I could not help myself, nor could I expect anyone higher (higher than God?) to help me.
I took mantra initiation (diksha) from many masters, not even knowing what initiation meant. Some of these encounters appear bizarre and ludicrous to me now, but not to the tortured and hankering soul I was.
I practiced hatha-yoga with many reputed institutions but soon realized that despite their pronouncements, they had nothing to do with spirituality.
I practiced kriya-yoga for four years, but apart from helping me develop a healthier body and sharper mind, it had no impact in my spiritual development; rather it retarded the process by making me more body-centered.
I also followed some famous sahaja-marga gurus for a while, but none of them gave any prescriptions to implement in life, nor did they elaborate on life’s goals. People simply go to gaze at the guru’s face, listen to lectures, and hope the guru will remove all material and spiritual obstacles. The aspirant has to do nothing, except to keep visiting.
I devoured many voluminous books containing the conversations and talks of famous saints. The books were known for the pithy wisdom replete in them. However, I ended up only being confused as these so-called saints held no specific guidance on what I should do now. Rather, mostly they justified doing anything, saying things like yato mat, tato path: “Whatever you like is your path.”
My one good fortune, which I realize only now, was that in all my wild goose chasing, I was not seeking siddhis (mystic powers) or miracles, or even freedom from suffering. I would soon get fed up with my gurus and move on, without suffering much damage to my psyche or wallet. I guess many of them were not bad people, but in different ways were ignorant and deluded by their ego, senses, or desire for prestige.
Light in a Dentist’s Clinic
As a married man with many responsibilities, my sufferings were compounded, but this only increased my hankering for the Truth, which I knew instinctively would liberate me forever. At this time, in June of 2002, a root-canal problem drove me to a dentist, ISKCON devotee Dr. Nitya Krishna Dasa, in Sion, a Mumbai suburb. In his clinic, I saw Back to Godhead magazines for the first time. Awaiting my turn, I absorbed myself in those issues.
Having read many spiritual books and magazines in my tortuous search for Truth, I found a unique appeal in these magazines, with contents simultaneously erudite and simple. They were refreshing in their approach and spoke directly to my heart from a different plane. The contents were simply a celebration of a spiritual reality and made no effort to talk about material sufferings and their solutions. My soul made an immediate connection. The spiritual aura of the clinic completed the effect. My follow-up visits strengthened my attraction to the clinic, and on my final visit I asked the good dentist how I could subscribe to these magazines.
On a Sunday afternoon soon thereafter, Dr. Nitya Krishna Dasa took me in his car to ISKCON’s Radha-Gopinatha temple in Chowpatty. That evening I joined a Bhagavad-gita course at the temple, taught by Radha-Gopinatha Dasa. My bookish knowledge and Mayavadi background assailed me for a while, but the beauty and perfection of what I was hearing was obvious from the very beginning, and the love and compassion of the presenter, along with the nice prasada at the end of each class, convinced me very quickly. The concept of a personal God, which I lovingly nourished as a child (though there were many gods) and later on discarded as unscientific, sentimental, and childish, Radha-Gopinatha Dasa presented again so beautifully and convincingly that tears came uncontrollably as I listened. A typical Mayavadi’s questions, which I thought were unanswerable, he comprehensively handled with ease. For example, if I were God and temporarily in illusion, then that would mean illusion was greater than God. How could God fall into illusion? If I had to undergo some practices to rid myself of this illusion, then how could I be God, because God, being the supreme controller, need not resort to practices; He could come out of illusion anytime. If this illusory existence was my pastime, then why was I suffering in this pastime and why did I want to come out of it? These questions convinced me that God is a person.
During the week, my wife joined the classes. I don’t know how my official duties permitted me to be at the temple on time for the whole week. Powerfully symbolic dreams with profound messages kept me in a reverie in daytime as well. I was so moved that I disposed of our television shortly and read the complete Bhagavad-gita As It Is within the same week. My wife and I started chanting sixteen rounds of the maha-mantra on our beads shortly thereafter. Implementing the regulative principles—no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling—was never a problem because the Krishna consciousness process and Vaishnava association were more than compensation for the small austerities.
We became counselees of Nitya Krishna Dasa and started attending weekly counseling meetings. We also started attending the weekly Bhagavad-gita program in Sion on Tuesdays and got the wonderful association of Muralidhara Dasa and other Vaishnavas, whose compassion and enthusiasm made a significant impact on both of us. Vamshidhara Dasa and his wife, Jahnavapriya Devi, spent long hours discussing the practical aspects of Krishna consciousness with us, enhancing our faith and determination. From time to time we would even take to our counselor personal problems that had no direct relevance to Krishna consciousness, and he mercifully guided us on the right path.
That October, I went on a pilgrimage to Vrindavan. The close association of Vaishnavas had a transforming effect. Waking up at 3:00 A.M. after sleeping only four hours, taking a cold-water bath, and walking barefoot in the dark to mangala-arati at Srila Prabhupada’s Samadhi—these were not austerities, but ecstatic experiences.
Moving Out of Mumbai
My stay in Mumbai continued until December 2003, when I got a promotion. It was a recognition I could not relish, however, as it meant leaving Mumbai. Despite being under heavy work and family pressures and tensions during my eighteen months in Mumbai, I clearly recollect even today that I was experiencing the greatest happiness of my life throughout that time. By the unending mercy of Vaishnavas, even after leaving Mumbai I remained in the association of devotees, which protected my fledgling creeper of devotion. By the same mercy, now I am back in Mumbai and live close to the temple.
Having meandered across many spiritual movements trying to satisfy my quest for definitive answers about ultimate reality, I now realize why the pursuits failed me. The mental speculations of armchair philosophers can never satisfy the soul. All questions arise apparently at the mental level, but the trigger lies with the soul, seeking to regain the intrinsic happiness it has lost. Gurus who do not reveal this truth but only pander to the whim of creating and solving endless questions have really not understood the problem and therefore can satisfy neither their followers nor themselves. Even if they do, the solution is temporary, and new doubts will invariably arise.
Founded on Spiritual Authority
Unlike popular spiritual movements whose founders use scriptures only to lend legitimacy but do not fully believe in them, preferring to propagate their own mental speculations, ISKCON follows the recommended method of accepting the authority of guru, sadhu, and shastra—or one’s own guru, the previous gurus in the Vaishnava line, and the Vedic scriptures. The bona fide guru is a transparent medium for God’s mercy and continues the parampara system, or the line of spiritual teachers that traces all the way back to Krishna Himself. The genuine guru never deviates from shastra and humbly repeats what he has learned from his spiritual master. Krishna is the founder of the parampara, and the devotee’s connection to this system through the spiritual master is the key to accessing Krishna’s mercy.
Mayavada philosophers unquestioningly accept that individual existence is both unreal and miserable and see a solution only in committing spiritual suicide by merging with the Absolute. They cannot imagine that the soul could ever be fully satisfied and eternally happy, without impediment, in loving reciprocation with the Lord. Their followers soon cloy from the endless dry speculation. Because their souls seek ever-new happiness, their gurus must constantly invent many cheating methods to infuse some variety to keep them.
Having searched everywhere for answers, at last I find peace and happiness reigning in my heart and an assurance that I have found the ultimate truth. My two sons, who have witnessed my restless quest over the years, sometimes taunt me that I will move on once again to another guru. But now they know this time it is different, and they are happy too.
Many unbelievable blessings have come to me and those near to me in the last few years. My parents, who were in their late seventies, were with me in Mumbai. I took them to the temple a few times. After some Vaishnava association, they started chanting sixteen rounds regularly. My father increased his rounds to eighty. They maintained this commitment until they passed away a year ago. My parents-in-law and a brother-in-law are chanting sixteen rounds. My brothers and sisters have been influenced tremendously to take spiritual life seriously. In my workplace, too, colleagues have shown enthusiasm to learn about the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness. The depth of my spiritual path and my earnestness to follow it impress them. They appreciate as a genuine alternative the simple yet profound and practical answers the philosophy of Krishna consciousness has for the complex problems of the material world.
I was able to assist a team of devotees distributing books on Krishna consciousness in Ludhiana and in Vijayawada, where I was posted for a while. I organized a well-attended public program in Jalandhar to introduce industrialists and prominent citizens to Krishna consciousness. I also arranged a Bhagavad-gita course for the employees of our Vijayawada zonal office for five days, and they greatly appreciated the initiative. In Vijayawada I organized a Bhagavad-gita study group in my residence for one evening each week for a year.
I am eternally grateful to Dr. Nitya Krishna Dasa and his wife, Vraja Lila Devi, for guiding me to this wonderful sankirtana movement of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It is the prescribed process to liberate the soul from the evil influences of Kali-yuga, the current age. But for their compassion I would have been lost among the other countless numbers of suffering souls vainly looking for redemption from the fire of material existence by taking shelter of sense gratification or mental speculation, which is like looking for water in a desert.
I pray at the lotus feet of all Vaishnavas and my spiritual master that I eternally remain grateful to the mercy they have showered upon me and try to repay my debt by always trying to bring other conditioned souls to the shelter of the Krishna consciousness movement.