By Visakha Priya dasi
Krsna-karma (written in 1996)
No work should be done by any man except in relationship to Krsna. This is called krsna-karma. One may be engaged in various activities, but one should not be attached to the result of his work; the result should be done only for Him. For example, one may be engaged in business, but to transform that activity into Krsna consciousness, one has to do business for Krsna. If Krsna is the proprietor of the business, then Krsna should enjoy the profit of the business. If a businessman is in possession of thousands and thousands of dollars, and if he has to offer all this to Krsna, he can do it. This is work for Krsna. Instead of constructing a big building for his sense gratification, he can construct a nice temple for Krsna, and he can install the Deity of Krsna and arrange for the Deity’s service, as is outlined in the authorized books of devotional service. This is all krsna-karma. One should not be attached to the result of his work, but the result should be offered to Krsna, and one should accept as prasadam the remnants of offerings to Krsna. If one constructs a very big building for Krsna and installs the Deity of Krsna, one is not prohibited from living there, but it is understood that the proprietor of the building is Krsna. That is called Krsna consciousness. (Bg 11.55 p)
I had picked the verse at random for the Sunday afternoon lecture. As I read through the purport, the above passage struck me. Only a few days before, at a godbrother’s place in Zimbabwe, I had seen krsna-karma in action.
My godbrother Sat-cid-ananda dasa was born in Zimbabwe in 1950. His father had left his native Gujarat (India) at the age of two, and his mother had emigrated to Zimbabwe after her marriage was arranged with Sat-cid-ananda’s father. The boy grew up in Salisbury (now Harare) and was educated up to A level. He then joined his father’s business as a general merchant in the smaller town of Marondera. In due course of time another young girl (my godsister Kisori dasi) was brought from Gujarat to marry him.
Marondera is a peaceful place with the healthiest climate in Zimbabwe. It enjoys good rains in summer and cool weather in winter. From its origin as a relay station between Salisbury and Beira (Mozambique), it has steadily grown to a town of over 50,000, the provincial capital of East Mashonaland. The areas’ main business is agriculture. Farmers grow maize, cotton, cereals and tobacco, and raise cattle for slaughter.
Sat-cid-ananda’s family owns several businesses in Marondera, and at first all the members worked together. Nineteen-year old Kisori was used to simple village life. But when she came to Zimbabwe she had to learn many things: how to drive a car, run a business, cook elaborate Gujarati feasts, and raise two sons and two daughters. Daily, from 5 am to 11 pm she faithfully served her allotted husband, accepting joys and sorrows as her pre-ordained destiny. “We work very hard” she once told me, “but we think nothing of it. We are trained like that.”
Sat-cid-ananda, however, was not satisfied. He wanted to find God. The rituals of his family tradition had given no clue, and the Bible and Koran had failed to answer his most basic questions. In desperation he turned to the Divine Life Society and Shivananda’s Bhagavad-gita. Sat-cid-ananda’s attempts to become God by merging into the brahmajyoti led him to perform many austerities, but his heart was not appeased. And although he couldn’t explain why, he sensed that his desire to become God wasn’t right.
In August 1989, on the plea of looking for motor parts unavailable in Zimbabwe, Sat-cid-ananda left for South Africa. His real motivation, however, was to resume his search for God. In Johannesburg he strolled through “The Oriental Plaza,” a large multi-storied shopping complex owned and managed by Indians. Although no motor parts dealers can be found there, all kinds of shops and outdoor stalls solicit the visitor’s attention, and people from all over the country crowd the Plaza for a bargain, an exotic meal, a religious experience, or just a change of scene.
“Eighty Winks” is a linen shop down a spiral staircase on the Eastern side of the Plaza. As Sat-cid-ananda walked past he remembered he needed table cloths, so he walked in. The shopkeeper, a tall, handsome Gujarati man in his mid-thirties, looked up from the book he was reading and welcomed his prospective customer with polite indifference. His jet-black curly hair was quite short, except for a one-inch wide ponytail that hung from the top of his head to the nape of his neck; his nose bore a yellow, inverted triangular mark; and two vertical lines of the same substance ran from his nose up to his hairline; he wore a long white cotton shirt buttoned up to his neck and white cotton pants that looked like pyjamas.
Forgetting his table cloths, Sat-cid-ananda peered at the open book on the shopkeeper’s counter. “Have you read Bhagavad-gita?” the shopkeeper asked. “Oh, yes, I know Bhagavad-gita.” “This one?” Sat-cid-ananda looked closer at the title: Bhagavad-gita As It Is‚ by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. “Not this one. Why? What’s the difference?” “A big one. Most translations of Bhagavad-gita interpret the words of Krsna. This one doesn’t. Srila Prabhupada has translated the Bhagavad-gita as it is, without changing its meaning. Look. Here’s a list of the disciplic succession starting with Krsna. It goes right down to Srila Prabhupada. That means the words Krsna spoke to Arjuna 5000 years ago are the same words Srila Prabhupada translated. That’s why this edition of Bhagavad-gita is so potent. Within eleven years Srila Prabhupada opened 108 temples of Krsna throughout the world and made thousands of devotees –whereas the other English editions never managed to turn even one person into a devotee of Krsna.”
“Where can I get this book?” Sat-cid-ananda asked. “Take this one. What is your name? Where do you come from?” Sat-cid-ananda introduced himself and the shopkeeper reciprocated. “My name is Bharat Desai. I live in Lenasia, but our temple is in Muldersdrift, about twenty kilometers from here. You must meet my spiritual master. He will be coming to South Africa in a couple of months.”
The new friends exchanged addresses and telephone numbers and Sat-cid-ananda went back to Zimbabwe with the Bhagavad-gita As It Is and a few table cloths. Two months later he was back to meet Bharat’s spiritual master, but the spiritual master had not come. Disappointed, Sat-cid-ananda went to the Divine Life Society in Durban; but he was not impressed. He started chanting Hare Krsna on and off, when he felt like it.
Bharat kept in touch by phone, and around March1990 he informed Sat-cid-ananda that his spiritual master was in Johannesburg. Leaving the business in his wife’s hands, Sat-cid-ananda drove 15 hours straight to Johannesburg and met Bharat at his shop. Bharat took him to his house for the night and to Muldersdrift the next morning.
The two men arrived at the temple on time for guru-puja, a daily ceremony honoring Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the Hare Krsna movement. Standing barefoot on a straw mat by the life-size murti of Srila Prabhupada was one tall gentleman with a shaved head and a ponytail similar to Bharat’s. He wore a long saffron-colored cotton shirt buttoned at the neck; a piece of the same material was draped around his waist and fell to his ankles like a robe; and another piece of the same cloth hung from his neck in loose folds. He was offering a flower to the murti while simultaneously ringing a bell with his left hand. “This is Giriraj Swami,” Bharat whispered. “My spiritual master.” Bharat bowed down and Sat-cid-ananda also did. Giriraj Swami fanned the murti with a whisk and a peacock feather; someone blew a conchshell; the ceremony ended. Everybody sat down as Giriraj Swami began a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam. After the lecture, Bharat briefly introduced Sat-cid-ananda to his spiritual master before driving back to town.
That night Bharat and Sat-cid-ananda accompanied Giriraj Swami to a preaching program, and Giriraj Swami and Sat-cid-ananda got to know each other better. Sat-cid-ananda’s sincerity, his austerity and his intelligence, impressed Giriraj Swami, who felt that Sat-cid-ananda’s tendency towards impersonalism was due to past association rather than to deep conviction.
The next morning Bharat and Sat-cid-ananda again came for the lecture. Giriraj Swami spoke directly to Sat-cid-ananda about Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya and how Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu converted the learned scholar from dry logic and impersonalism to ecstatic love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. “Is the brahmajyoti platform the highest?” Sat-cid-ananda asked. Giriraj Swami explained that it was not and that one cannot find the Supreme Personality of Godhead without surrendering to a bona fide spiritual master. Hearing this, Sat-cid-ananda got up, walked over to the raised seat where Giriraj Swami was sitting and offered his prostrated obeisances. He then knelt in front of the spiritual master and folded his palms together. “Whatever I have,” he said in a choked voice, “my body, my family, my business, I surrender unto you. Please accept me as your disciple.”
As an austerity, Sat-cid-ananda had been eating only fruit and milk for many months, but Giriraj Swami convinced him of the higher principle of honoring krsna-prasada. In celebration of his conversion, Sat-cid-ananda agreed to honor full maha-prasada.
Sat-cid-ananda’s dramatic surrender to the process of Krsna consciousness didn’t stop at that. He phoned Kisori and told her he wasn’t coming back. He wanted to take sannyasa and remain in South Africa. Kisori objected that their youngest child was only one year old and the oldest nine. “Better you come back and discuss things with me,” she said. But Sat-cid-ananda was adamant he must live in the temple. When Giriraj Swami heard about it he said there was no question of renouncing family life. Sat-cid-ananda must go back to Zimbabwe and make his wife and children Krsna conscious.
Sat-cid-ananda bought a full set of Srimad-Bhagavatam, gathered as many Krsna conscious books, posters, pictures, neck beads and japa beads as he could find and returned to Marondera. He banned garlic and onions from the household, threw away his Western clothes and started wearing dhoti and kurta — and Vaisnava tilak on his nose and forehead. At that time his father decided to split the business and divide the properties among his four sons. Sat-cid-ananda was allotted the smallest share: a supermarket in the town center and a house on one acre of land in the residential area. He felt cheated but took it as Krsna’s mercy.
Getting up at 2:30 am was nothing new for him. And the family was already praying together twice a day. But now Sat-cid-ananda replaced all Divine Life hymns with ISKCON bhajans and kirtans and started holding regular mangala arati at 4:30 am, insisting that Kisori and the children attend. They didn’t. For a while Sat-cid-ananda conducted his whole morning program alone: mangala arati, japa, greeting of the Deities, guru-puja, and then he would read Srimad-Bhagavatam for two hours. He was no longer interested in business and let Kisori manage most of it. After a few months he told her that unless she and the children attended the morning program and chanted Hare Krsna he would leave them. So she got the children up for mangala arati, but she herself didn’t attend. And she wasn’t interested in chanting Hare Krsna just because her husband said so. Unless she felt like chanting, what was the use?
When Giriraj Swami sent a disciple from Johannesburg to visit them, the whole family got into the habit of chanting one round of the Hare Krsna mantra together. One afternoon, His Holiness Indradyumna Swami paid a surprise visit and spent the entire evening clearing up the temple room of demigod residues. Kisori started chanting more: 5, 6 rounds. A few weeks later another senior devotee, Partha-sarathi dasa, came from South Africa to do preaching programs in Zimbabwe. He said that unless Kisori chanted sixteen rounds she couldn’t cook. How could a pious Indian lady not cook for her guest, especially a sadhu? Kisori had no alternative but to chant sixteen rounds. Partha-sarathi Prabhu stayed for a couple of weeks and did harinama every day in a different part of town.
From the beginning of his involvement with Krsna consciousness, Sat-cid-ananda knew that selling meat, liquor and cigarettes wasn’t right. But what could he do? Somehow he had inherited the supermarket instead of the cloth business. Still, as he and Kisori became more Krsna conscious, they realized they couldn’t carry on with the business as it was. At the end of January 1991 they called their staff, explained to them that the butchery section was now closed for good, and invited them to chant Hare Krsna. To help them develop a higher taste they banned all mundane music from the supermarket’s PA system and only played Hare Krsna kirtans and bhajans. Predictably the business went down, but the couple didn’t worry. They knew they had done the right thing.
Sat-cid-ananda wanted to start prasadam distribution in Marondera. At that time I was managing the Food for Life program in Johannesburg and was enthusiastic to help. In May 1991 our Guru Maharaja arrived in Marondera with a small group of disciples, four large food bins, a 700-liter cooking pot, 30 liters of oil and two hundred kilos of sugar beans. Sat-cid-ananda was in ecstasy. We stayed for a week, cooked and distributed prasadam, did harinam and held a few programs in Gujarati houses in Harare. The following month, the regular Johannesburg crew came back for a Food for Life safari in a drought-stricken area near the Mozambique border. Officials from the provincial government drove us to the area and settled us at a government school where the water supply was sufficient for our purposes. Every morning for ten days we cooked kichari and drove out into the dry bush to various school camps, got the staff and pupils to chant and dance, fed them krsna-prasada and left some of Srila Prabhupada’s books with the schoolmaster. And at night, back at our headquarters, we held kirtana and Bhagavad-gita class and distributed Simply Wonderfuls. Many young men attended, danced enthusiastically and asked lots of questions. In rural Africa, a man’s importance depends on how many wives and cows he has. Thus, when our audience heard that Krsna had sixteen thousand wives and millions of cows, they could easily understand that He must be the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In September 1991 I was called to serve in India and only came back to Africa in August 1995. When I arrived in Durban, the first thing I saw on the temple’s notice board was a general invitation to the opening of the Hare Krishna Temple of Love and Devotion in Marondera on September 2. I was thrilled and immediately booked a seat on the 50-seater coach the local devotees had hired to go to Marondera. Meanwhile Sat-cid-ananda came to Durban for our Guru Maharaja’s Vyasa-puja with his two younger children and a few new devotees. I noticed that the children were carrying bead bags and chanting. But the very next day they all drove back to Zimbabwe — a straight 20 hours ride — to prepare for the temple opening.
At 4 am on September 1, a busload of South African devotees pulled up in Sat-cid-ananda’s driveway. Although it was still dark we could make out the outline of the new temple. It looked like a regular 5- or 6-room house with a slanted tile roof, but the entire side wall (facing the driveway) was covered with a large painting of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana party. Above the painting, in black ornate letters, were the words “Hare Krishna Temple of Love and Devotion,” and above that on two lines, “International Society for Krishna Consciousness” “Founder-Acarya: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedana Swami Prabhupada.”
Stumbling out of the coach after the 23 hours ride from Johannesburg, we met the stumbling devotees who had stayed up the whole night, waiting for us. I was happy to see Kisori again but could hardly recognize her two eldest children, Arjuna, now sixteen, and fourteen-year old Sheetal. Immediately the family arranged for our accommodation: the men at their house, a few women at another devotee’s house and the rest of the ladies at Sat-cid-ananda’s empty flat above the supermarket. Our hosts encouraged us to take a few hours rest before breakfast, but there was a lot to do: pick up Guru Maharaja at Harare international airport, cook for him and for the devotees, peel and cut mountains of vegetables for the next day’s feast, help put up the pandal, make flower garlands, shop for last-minute items, clean and decorate the temple room. The highlight of the temple opening was to be the installation of a 20cm-murti of Srila Prabhupada Guru Maharaja had especially brought from Bombay.
After breakfast I went to the temple building. The 10x17m temple room was almost a replica of the temple room in Muldersdrift, with six large windows overlooking the garden and a light brown tile floor. The Deity chamber was larger but contained Nitai-Gaurahari’s original altar and ornamented wooden canopy (which Sat-cid-ananda got when Their Lordships moved to Their new temple downtown Johannesburg.) A bookroom, fully equipped Deity kitchen, and pujari backup area completed the arrangement.
Walking around the grounds, I recognized Sat-cid-ananda’s nephew and a few devotional employees from the supermarket, but apart from them and the devotees who had come from South Africa to help, the only other committed members of the Zimbabwe yatra were Bhakta Dev and his wife Hemlata, the owners of Marondera’s two dry-cleaners.
September 2, Radhasthami. At 8 am, just before greeting of the Deities, a tall, good-looking man in a dark blue suit entered the temple room. The medallion draped across his chest revealed his identity as mayor of Marondera. He graciously participated in greeting the Deities and stayed right through the ceremony, garlanding Srila Prabhupada’s picture before guru-puja and his murti after the abhiseka, clapping his hands during kirtanas, hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam and offering obeisances to both Srila Prabhupada and the Deities. He also gave a nice speech. Picking up on the word love Sat-cid-ananda had used in his welcoming address, the mayor made the point that sometimes, although people speak of love, they do not know what love means. “Wherever there is love”, he said, “you could at least never expect to see or hear anything undesirable…. We should conduct ourselves in a manner that shows love — as I am seeing here. So I am very happy to be part and parcel of this function, opening of the temple….” The mayor was impressed to learn that devotees from America, England, France, Spain, India, Mauritius and other African countries had all gathered in his municipality, united by love and devotion to Srila Prabhupada and Krsna, and he wished us all success. After taking the feast he left, his arms laden with Srila Prabhupada’s books and extra prasadam. As we were walking him to his car he commented that never before had he been honored as much as he had been at the temple.
About 250 people had attended the festivities. After they left, the estate was in a mess and the devotees were exhausted. For Sat-cid-ananda and Kisori, however, there was no question of slowing down. They still had 45 guests, four kids, a supermarket, and a transport business to run. On the night of September 3 the South African devotees left. I stayed two more days to catch up on the family’s Krsna conscious story.
A few months after the butchery had closed down, business unexpectedly picked up. Taking it as a sign that Krsna was pleased with him, Sat-cid-ananda closed down the poultry section. As business went down again, Sat-cid-ananda began to wonder how he would ever get rid of his tobacco and liquor counters without having to close the supermarket down.
HH Krsnadas Swami visited Marondera in November 1991 and encouraged Sat-cid-ananda to hold a formal Srimad-Bhagavatam class every day. Sat-cid-ananda agreed and informed his employees that whoever attended class would get breakfast and could go to work later. He rescheduled the morning program to start at 5:30 am and got Kisori to pick up the aspiring devotees from their township at 5 am every morning. And every Friday night there was kirtan, Bhagavad-gita class, prasadam, and a free ride home.
One night in 1993, Sat-cid-ananda’s motor car broke down in the Masvingo district, a good 200 kms away from home. Sat-cid-ananda had no alternative but to spend the night in his car in a nearby garage. The next morning he took a bus to Chivu, another small place 130 kms from Harare, where his nephew lived. Sitting in the bus with 75 odd passengers, his nostrils assailed by tobacco smoke, his eardrums pulsating with the sound of loud, inane music, Sat-cid-ananda began to dream of a bus where only Krsna conscious bhajans would be played. A few days later, the governement relaxed its import policy on commuter omnibusses. Immediately Sat-cid-ananda took a bank loan and started Govinda Transports. From one 12-seater minibus he expanded his fleet to 5 commuters, each with a sound system playing Srila Prabhupada’s and ISKCON bhajans exclusively.
What can you buy in a supermarket that doesn’t sell meat, fish, eggs, liquor or cigarettes? Walking around the aisles, I saw fruit, cereals, milk, butter, vegetables, canned foods, toys, toiletries, stationery and many other things. In the grain section were bags of rice that said “Hare Krishna Rice” and had the maha-mantra printed all around them. At the stationery counter I picked up two writing pads. Kisori wouldn’t let me pay, but she put the pads in a plastic bag that said, “Chant Hare Krishna and Be Happy” and also had the maha-mantra printed all around. The PA system was playing soft, Krishna conscious music that soothed the shoppers’ soul, and I thought that S.A.V. Supermarket, at 6 Pine Street, Marondera, might just be the only one of its kind, if not in the world, then surely in the whole of Africa. And I felt a surge of affection for all the wonderful devotees who had made it possible.
The spring night has turned chilly. Like straws gathered together by the waves of a river, Sat-cid-ananda, Bhakta Dev, Kisori, Bhaktin Hemlata, Arjuna, the children and I stand before the Govinda Transports minibus that will take me to the Greyhound bus station in Harare. Kisori and I sob unashamedly while the others hold back their tears. Our sorrow is not mundane, though. As the eternal servants of one of Srila Prabhupada’s servants, our relationship is eternal and we know we will serve together again, lifetime after lifetime.