Chapter-31: The Krsnas in Texas

April 1 – 6 , 2001

Houston, Texas

By Indradyumna Swami

While flying from Philadelphia to our next destination, Houston, Texas, I sat next to a gentleman who told me that Texans are “fiercely  independent.”  In  a  long,  southern  drawl  he said, “We’re Texans first—before anything else.” He said that when Texas became an American state in 1845, it made a clause in its constitution that it could secede from the union whenever it chose. That clause remains part of the Texas State Constitution to this day.

Upon arriving in Houston, I witnessed first-hand that independent spirit  as I saw the Texas State flag with its “lone star” flying alongside every single American flag we passed—and there were many. Several billboards on the way to the temple also reflected the local mentality: “A man is only as rich as the beer he drinks,” “Boot Camp: survival is for sissies,” and a picture of the local football team with its coach in front read, “I’ve put the players on a diet—dirt and turf.”

The flags and advertisements failed to arouse any patriotic fervor in me. Rather, they made me reflect on the predictions about Kali-yuga given in Srimad-Bhagavatam  12.1.40:

asamskrtah kriya-hina

rajasa tamasavrtah

prajas te bhaksayisyanti

mleccha rajanya-rüpinah

 . . . not purified by any Vedic rituals and lacking in the practice of regulative principles, they will be completely covered by the modes of passion and ignorance.

Our driver, Krsna Krpa dasa, told me that few Texans have joined the Krsna consciousness movement since its inception in 1966. Nevertheless, many Texans have come to appreciate Krsna consciousness over the years, due in part to my Godbrother Tamala Krsna Maharaja’s preaching in the higher circles of Texan society. For example, Maharaja has several times addressed the Dallas City Council—at its invitation—and during his studies at Southern Methodist University he won the admiration of many students and professors. ISKCON’s Kalachandji’s Restaurant in Dallas has received numerous awards and maintained a steady flow of customers through the years. Southerners are known for their hospitality, and in most cases devotees are respected whenever they interact with the local society.

It was not an easy task for the devotees to cultivate the Texans’ respect   if only because Texas is right in the middle of the Bible Belt, those areas of America’s South and Midwest where Christian Protestant fundamentalism is deeply rooted and faithfully practiced. Nowhere else in the country have I seen so many varieties of churches. As we drove to our temple, I saw a church on practically every street corner. I noted the Christ World Family Church, the Abundant Life Church, the Holy Gospel Center, God’s Prayer House, and the Southern Baptist Church, to name only a few.

Arriving at the Houston temple, I was surprised to see that there were  even four or five churches in our own neighborhood, including the Living Faith Church directly across the street. The large signs on this church’s  lawn advertised “lively gospel singing three days a week.” Of course, there is certainly no harm in living close to our Christian brothers (if the world needs anything, it is more spirituality), but I wondered if a temple and church so near to one another might be “too close for comfort” for some. When I inquired about this from Krsna Krpa he smiled and pointed to the pastor of the Living Faith Church sitting in a chair outside the church door. As we drove by he waved to us. Krsna Krpa said, “He’s been sitting there every day for years. He used to curse us, but after so many years he said he has come to understand that our people are even busier in the work of God than his congregation. He saw devotees coming and going day and night in their services, and finally concluded that we must be sincere. His realization was that when we get to heaven and see God, we’ll find Jesus at His right side. In his mind, that will be the moment of our redemption, because Jesus will save us and make us good Christians.”

Having been shown to our rooms at the temple, I took a walk and chanted my rounds in a nearby park. A number of people nodded their heads in greeting, and one elderly lady stopped me and asked if I had any questions about the beautiful park I was strolling through. I chatted with her for a few moments, hoping I could leave her with a small drop of Krsna consciousness. I casually mentioned the frequent changes of temperature we were experiencing, from hot to cold and back to hot all in the same day. She smiled and said, “We have a saying here in Texas: ‘If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute longer!’ ”

When I commented on the beautiful flower gardens, she paused, then said they were the only beauty left in life for her. Trying to comfort her, I replied, “Then God is with you. My spiritual master once said that flowers are God’s smile.”

She responded by questioning the existence of God, saying that she had experienced much suffering in life and didn’t know whether He existed. I explained the law of karma and how suffering can ultimately be an impetus to take shelter of the Lord. She listened carefully, and when I finished thanked me. Reflecting on my words she concluded, “I suppose God gave weeds in the garden of life so we would better appreciate the flowers.”

Our party spent two days at the Houston temple, including the celebration of Rama-navami, the appearance day of Lord Ramacandra. On April 4 we drove north to Dallas, where we were nicely received by the temple president, Nityananda dasa, one of Tamala Krsna Maharaja’s senior Indian disciples. A qualified devotee with a degree in law, Nityananda has served faithfully in a number of ISKCON temples. As we sat down for lunch, I was intrigued with his story of how he came to Krsna consciousness.

In 1978, he was a practicing lawyer living with his family in Lautoka, Fiji. One day the devotees moved in to the house next door. They promptly put large speakers on all four outside corners of their new temple and broadcast all seven aratis. Their intention was to cause the neighbors to move away so that they could rent their houses. But Nityananda, who had not met the devotees before, became defiant and decided to take them to court. His relationship with his new neighbors worsened as the volume of the broadcasts increased.

By the time the case went to court, his brother, who had connections with the opposition party in the Fijian Parliament, was becoming impatient. One day he said he could easily arrange to have the devotees’ house blown up. Nityananda disagreed. He also wanted revenge, but felt the problem could be resolved legally. He told his brother not to worry; they had a solid case against the devotees and would surely win.

Meanwhile, Nityananda was constantly praying to his worshipful Deity, Lord Siva, to help them defeat the ISKCON devotees. He was a staunch devotee of Lord Siva and often read the Siva Purana for strength and inspiration. One day while reading that Sastra, he found several verses stating that one should seriously search out a bona fide spiritual master. The verses stated that if one didn’t find such a guru, he would have to wander for ten thousand births  in the material world before getting the chance again. Nityananda resolved that despite his responsibilities, including the legal battle with the devotees, he would try his best to find a spiritual master. Continuing to read, he was surprised when Lord Siva said that such a guru may appear as older or younger than the seeker. Such a guru may appear as a friend or an enemy. The Siva Purana said that if one is sincere, the Lord will reveal his spiritual teacher to him.

The next day, after a grueling session in court fighting the case against the devotees, Nityananda went home. A close friend was waiting for him there and requested he come to a public program that evening to meet a genuine spiritual master. When his friend told him the speaker would be Tamala Krsna Maharaja from the Hare Krsna movement, Nityananda couldn’t believe it. His friend wanted him to go to a lecture given by his bitterest opponent! He adamantly refused, but later reflected on Lord Siva’s statement in the Siva Purana that one might even find his guru in his supposed enemy. He decided to go to the program.

When he and his friend arrived at the hall, the devotees surrounded them, thinking they had come to harm Tamala Krsna Maharaja. Nityananda humbly insisted that they had come only to hear from him. He and his friend sat at  the back of the hall and listened attentively to Maharaja’s discourse. He was impressed with Maharaja’s skillful and devotional presentation of spiritual knowledge, but he didn’t keep his animosity toward the devotees a secret when his friend later asked him how he liked the lecture. He replied, “He spoke well, but let us remember that we are at war with these people!”

That night an amazing thing happened to Nityananda. He dreamt that Lord Siva appeared before him and told him that the speaker that evening was, in fact, his spiritual master. Nityananda awoke in a sweat, dumbfounded by his dream. “A guru in the Hare Krsna movement is my spiritual master? How could that be?!” But being a true and loyal devotee of Lord Siva, he took the dream to heart. “It may have simply been a dream,” he thought, “but it was no ordinary dream. Lord Siva has kindly given me direction in my spiritual life.”

He contacted the devotees and asked if he could meet Tamala Krsna Maharaja personally. A meeting was arranged, at which Maharaja continued to impress Nityananda. Maharaja concluded the meeting by offering Nityananda a challenge. He should seriously try chanting Hare Krsna and study Srila Prabhupada’s books for three months. If at the end of that period he had not developed a serious attraction for Krsna consciousness, he could give it up. However, if he did develop an attraction, he had to put an advertisement in the paper stating that he had dropped all litigation against ISKCON and become a devotee of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

It didn’t take three months for the holy  name  to  melt  Nityananda’s  heart. Within a month he had tasted the nectar of chanting Hare Krsna and surrendered to Tamala Krsna Maharaja. As requested by Maharaja, he dropped the litigation and became a regular visitor to the temple next door. After  some time, he took initiation and became an active member of our ISKCON movement in Fiji.

madhura madhüram etan mangalam mangalanam

sakala nigama valli phalam cit svarüpam

sakrd api parigitam Sraddhaya helaya va

bhrgu vara nara matram tarayet krsna nama

 Krsna’s name is the sweetest of sweet things, the most auspicious of auspicious things, the transcendental fruit of the vine of all Vedic literature. O best of the Bhrgus, chanted even once, either with faith or contempt, it delivers the chanter.

—Padyavali, Text 16