Atha Sadhu-sanga (Part 2)

By Satyanarayana Dasa


Search for a Guru

One day I was in a mall and discovered a sale of old books. “Easy Journey to Other Planets” by Srila Prabhupada was one of the books I picked up. I began reading this small book immediately and found it quite interesting, but didn’t realize the connection between the author and ISKCON. I was so impressed by Srila Prabhupada’s writing that I would have changed my mind and gone back to the temple had I realized it.

After one year I was transferred to the headquarters of my company in Detroit. There I lived with an Indian friend from IIT Kharagpur who hailed from a pious family in Calcutta. This was the first time in my life that I could speak my heart openly. I had a few Indian friends in Miami, but did not engage in spiritual talks with them. It was thus a pleasant surprise to have a roommate in Detroit who was quite spiritually inclined. We became very good friends and, despite our meager knowledge, were always discussing spiritual topics in our apartment. We used to go to the Municipal Library in downtown Detroit and get books on Hinduism, Yoga, and Spirituality, and planned on eventually giving up our jobs so that we could go back to India and search for a guru. I would lie in bed every night and dream of walking in the Himalayas in search of a self-realized guru. This was also when my friend and I began fasting on weekends because we read in a book on Yoga that fasting gives control over the senses, which is the preliminary step for self-realization.

While in Miami, I had contacts with many of my previous classmates and other students from my Institute however I considered it a disturbance because all these friends were into material enjoyment and there was not even the remotest chance of talking about spirituality with them. Once I moved to Detroit, I no longer contacted any of them.

ISKCON Temple Detroit

ISKCON Detroit
ISKCON Detroit

Once I was invited to Lansing, the capital city of Michigan, by one of my senior colleagues from IIT Delhi. He was a nice gentleman and had heard about my spiritual inclination – which was big news to my circle of friends. He informed me that in downtown Detroit there was a very beautiful Radha-Krishna temple and that they had artik, lecture, and prasad every Sunday evening. When I returned to Detroit, I found out the telephone number of the temple and called them for directions. Because we used to fast on Saturday and Sunday, my roommate and I thought it was a perfect arrangement to break our fast at the temple since they were giving out prasad. As it was, we were not very fond of cooking.

Before we went I did not know it was an ISKCON temple. Given my past experience, I would not have gone had I known. Once we arrived, I was completely captivated by the whole temple surroundings, the deities, and the prasad. I was only disturbed by how the devotees interacted with me – but it was different from the Miami ISKCON temple because there were many Indian visitors and devotees.

Radha Krishna in Detroit

An Indian devotee gave me a copy of “Back to Godhead” magazine. At that time, Prabhupada’s Lilamrita (biography) was not yet printed, but parts of it were being published in BTG. They were printing chapters from the second volume, “Struggling Alone.” This captivated my heart completely. It described Prabhupada’s struggle in the Bowery of New York. I was very impressed by his dedication and his efforts to spread bhakti in the West. I visited the temple regularly and the devotees always tried to preach to me, which later on I learnt was their duty. I would always end up in arguments with them. After a few visits, the devotees stopped preaching to me. Later on I learned that the temple president, who happened to be alumni of my Institute, heard about me and instructed the brahmacaris to leave me alone – he would deal with me personally.

A Guru like Prabhupada

Prabhupada Murti Detroit

The temple president would meet me and my friend and talk to us very nicely. Being Prabhupada’s disciple, he told us his personal experiences with him. After reading Prabhupada’s biography, I was already thinking of becoming his disciple, but I soon learned he was no longer present.  I then planned on going to India to find some of his godbrothers. I thought that if Prabhupada and his guru were so great, there must be other disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta who were equally great, and that I could accept one of them as guru.

One day when I was talking with my friend about my plan to go back to India and search for a guru amongst Prabhupada’s godbrothers, he asked me, “Do you believe in Prabhupada?” I replied, “Of course, otherwise why would I look for his godbrothers?” He pressed, “Do you believe Prabhupada is a pure devotee?” I replied affirmatively. To this he said, “A pure devotee is perfect. He knows everything. Prabhupada is a pure devotee and he has appointed 11 of his disciples who act as gurus. So you should accept diksa from one of them.” His argument was convincing to me and this is how I joined ISKCON in 1980 at Detroit.

Intense Desire to Study the Sandarbhas

Jiva Gosvami

Through Prabhupada’s books I learned about the Sat Sandarbhas of Sri Jiva Gosvami, whom Prabhupada considered the greatest philosopher. An intense desire arose in me to study these Sandarbhas. At that time I had no idea how it was possible to fulfill that desire, but I knew it could not happen in the USA – to study the Sandarbhas, I would have to return to India. Moreover, devotees in ISKCON were not encouraged to read anything except BBT publications.  In the meantime, I started learning Sanskrit through my own effort.  I was hoping that one day I would be able to go to India and learn Sanskrit well enough to study the Sandarbhas. However, the devotees always spoke negatively about returning to India and said that in Indian ISKCON temples there was hardly any service to do, making it a waste of time to go there when I had important service at the temple in Detroit.  Therefore, I had no immediate plan to return to India.

At the same time, I was regularly getting news from my family that they were always worried about me, especially my mother who often cried thinking about me. She thought that since I had become a sadhu I would be going around begging food in the USA because she saw the sadhus in India begging from house to house. She wanted me to come back and live in some temple in India so I didn’t have to go around begging. Considering my mother’s concern and also my situation in ISKCON – which had taken a drastic turn because of the departure of my initiating guru in ISKCON – I decided to return to India in 1983. I visited my family, consoled my mother, and then visited Mayapur and Vrindavan temples.

My desire was to be in ISKCON Vrindavan, but considering that my family lived just two hours outside Vrindavan, I did not think it was a good idea.  Thus, I chose to serve in ISKCON Tirupati, where I started learning Sanskrit from a professor. I continued to dream of moving to Vrindavan.

(to be continued) 


One thought on “Atha Sadhu-sanga (Part 2)”

  1. So good to hear your personal experience – thank you very much for sharing.

    Looking forward to further parts.

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