THE KRSNAS IN TEXAS
A p r i l 1 – 6 , 2 0 0 1
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 Çrémad-Bhägavatam 12.1.40:
prajäs te bhakñayiñyanti
. . . 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, Kåñëa Kåpä däsa, told me that few Texans have joined the Kåñëa consciousness movement since its inception in 1966. Nevertheless, many Texans have come to appreciate Kåñëa consciousness over the years, due in part to my Godbrother Tamäla Kåñëa Mahäräja’s preaching in the higher circles of Texan society. For example, Mahäräja 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 Kalachandjé’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 Kåñëa Kåpä 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. Kåñëa Kåpä 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 Kåñëa 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 Räma-navamé, the appearance day of Lord Rämacandra. On April 4 we drove north to Dallas, where we were nicely received by the temple president, Nityänanda däsa, one of Tamäla Kåñëa Mahäräja’s senior Indian disciples. A qualified devotee with a degree in law, Nityänanda 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 Kåñëa 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 äratis. Their intention was to cause the neighbors to move away so that they could rent their houses. But Nityänanda, 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. Nityänanda 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, Nityänanda was constantly praying to his worshipful Deity, Lord Çiva, to help them defeat the ISKCON devotees. He was a staunch devotee of Lord Çiva and often read the Çiva Puräëa for strength and inspiration. One day while reading that çästra, 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. Nityänanda 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 Çiva 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 Çiva Puräëa 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, Nityänanda 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 Tamäla Kåñëa Mahäräja from the Hare Kåñëa movement, Nityänanda 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 Çiva’s statement in the Çiva Puräëa 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 Tamäla Kåñëa Mahäräja. Nityänanda 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 Mahäräja’s discourse. He was impressed with Mahäräja’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 Nityänanda. He dreamt that Lord Çiva appeared before him and told him that the speaker that evening was, in fact, his spiritual master. Nityänanda awoke in a sweat, dumbfounded by his dream. “A guru in the Hare Kåñëa movement is my spiritual master? How could that be?!” But being a true and loyal devotee of Lord Çiva, he took the dream to heart. “It may have simply been a dream,” he thought, “but it was no ordinary dream. Lord Çiva has kindly given me direction in my spiritual life.”
He contacted the devotees and asked if he could meet Tamäla Kåñëa Mahäräja personally. A meeting was arranged, at which Mahäräja continued to impress Nityänanda. Mahäräja concluded the meeting by offering Nityänanda a challenge. He should seriously try chanting Hare Kåñëa and study Çréla Prabhupäda’s books for three months. If at the end of that period he had not developed a serious attraction for Kåñëa 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 Kåñëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
It didn’t take three months for the holy name to melt Nityänanda’s heart. Within a month he had tasted the nectar of chanting Hare Kåñëa and surrendered to Tamäla Kåñëa Mahäräja. As requested by Mahäräja, 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 madhüräm etan maìgalaà maìgalänäà
sakala nigama valli phalaà cit svarüpam sakåd
api parigétäà çraddhayä helayä vä bhågu
vara nara matraà tarayet kåñëa näma
“Kåñëa’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 Bhågus, chanted even once, either with faith or contempt, it delivers the chanter.”
—Padyävalé, Text 16