By Damodar Nityananda Dasa
Nedzad was born in a family of practicing Muslims in the city of Tuzla in present day Bosnia in the year 1965. His father was from Tuzla, but his mother was born in Montenegro. His father was not very strict in his practices and was into music. But his mother was a very strict Muslim and she had attended Muslim school. “My mother was from a strict family tradition wherein the girls were trained in high standards. They were much regulated with no illicit sex even in mind and they knew even as a child that they were meant to be married to and stay loyal to one man throughout the life,” Nedzad quips. He has a younger brother fifteen year junior and a younger sister who is a widow having lost her husband during the Bosnian war of the nineties. When ISKCON Bosnia was registered a decade ago, and needed a few hundred non-affiliated Bosnians to sign and support their registration, his brother was at the forefront of that activity. Nedzad’s mother and sister did Namaz at home, but he did not even though he respected all Islamic traditions and practices.
He went to a secular school and then to trade school to learn drilling in order to dig out gas, salt and oil. He continued with engineering education, but did not finish and joined the Hare Krsna movement in 1990 when only one exam was left in his final year. For four years he frequented the temple and followed all practices. His mother cooked food separately for him in those days. “Being vegetarian was difficult in my family”, says Nedzad. We used to have many cows, chickens, goats at home and invariably they were used as food. One time, my mother felt that I was sick after taking up Krsna consciousness due to a vegetarian diet. She mashed meat and mixed in my food to give me “energy” and tried to camouflage the smell. But as soon as I ate it, I felt uncomfortable. I asked her what she had put in the food. She did not give me a clear answer. It was easy to conclude that she had mixed meat. We had a heated argument. I ate only some bread and water for the next week or so, despite her sniveling. She understood that such actions will be counter- productive.”
Nedzad relates the turn of events that brought him to Krsna consciousness: “In the summer of 1990, through Dzafer, my friend from University and opponent in chess, I received books on yoga. I was reading them and thinking about them day and night. At that time, I was in love. A few years ago we broke up, but only apparently. In my heart, she occupied the most important place. I always talked about her. After the break up I had become addicted to alcohol. Every few days I was overcome by ecstatic signs: my body would burn out of separation while I pronounced her name: ‘Saliha, Saliha, life without you is a desert and with you it is an oasis in a desert’. I went to Orebic in Croatian coast and the summer had just begun. For days I thought about entering the sea during moonlight and ending my life. On my way back from the beach, at the entrance of the house where I was staying, stood a girl who offered me some books. Of course, I looked at something completely different. When she mentioned yoga, I exclaimed: “I read books about yoga!” My spiritual life started at that moment. I took The Science of Self-Realization and Raja-Vidya: The King of Knowledge. I averred that we should meet again in the evening. Krsna is a bigger charlatan than I am. In those days my main trick was to bring books to the beach and hope that ladies notice me. But the pieces of mercy that make up spiritual life began to fall into place; devotees, books, and everything linked to Krsna.” Srila Prabhupada’s books allowed Nedzad to develop another kind of love.
Nedzad describes his relationship with his brother through this interesting incident, ‘I lived with my parents at that time. They were upset that I was a ‘Hare Krsna’. But I had a good relationship with my brother. One time our mother told him, “You will also become Hare Krsna!” After that, my relationship with him derailed. I fervently prayed to the Lord for help. The next morning my brother was petrified as he narrated his dream. In his dream he went to the kitchen and saw an unknown person with long hair, big eyes, emanating enormous energy. My brother wanted to hit him, but that person smashed his hand completely. He tried to hit with the other hand, but his shoulder got deformed, and that person said, “You cannot hurt me, don’t you know who I am?” In his dream, at that moment, I entered the kitchen, approached that person with joined palms and said fearfully: “Visnu don’t kill him, he is my brother!” My brother had never heard the word “Visnu”. That person looked at me and left. After this dream, my relationship with my brother improved.”
Nedzad explains how he joined the temple: “In 1994 the relationship with my parents was thorny. I phoned the temple in Sarajevo and Dadhibhaksa dasa answered. I asked if I could move in. He said: “You can come. Time will tell if you can stay.” War was raging in Bosnia and Sarajevo was the battlefield. I was approaching Sarajevo first by one car, then another and some part by foot. Mount Igman was right in front of Sarajevo and at the gate, I saw many were waiting. It was raining and they were wet and sad. The police patrol stopped me: “Where are you going?” I said, “Sarajevo” They were bewildered, “How would you get there?” “On foot” I replied. “Don’t you know that Sarajevo is completely blocked? Even if we let you go, snipers will shoot you,” they said. I was told that only cars with special documents can enter and people have been waiting for days for their turn. I said, “No problem, I will wait.” Suddenly, a car came in. I don’t know why, but I jumped the queue. I asked the driver if I could get in. After I had entered the car, others entered to occupy empty seats. I had some inconveniences in the car: folk music, alcohol, and cigarettes. When they learnt that I did not smoke, they asked “Are you a Muslim priest, my friend?” We passed through the tunnel under the Sarajevo airport and entered the city. I found myself in front of the temple on Saburina Street. I was tired and smelled of tobacco. First, I offered dandavat outside the temple. Jahnukanyaka Devi dasi opened the gate and I offered dandavat but she ran away, frightened. After she calmed down to let me in, she showed me the entrance to the temple room where Lecture was taking place. I threw myself on the floor for the third time.”
Nedzad explains how he was protected by the Lord during the war: “In 1995, I was in Sankirtana in Sarajevo. War was raging. I was walking down an alley with books in hands, and a lady was coming towards me. I offered her the books. She took “Life comes from life” and pressed it on her heart. She started talking to me. She was repeating the same story again and again— her daughter used to come to the Hare Krsna temple and liked the process very much. But it was weird since she continued to keep the book on her heart. I didn’t know if she would pay for it or give it back. Finally, I asked her if she wanted to take the book or not. She gave a donation for the book and walked uphill while I proceeded towards another building. At that moment I heard a well-known sound of a grenade explosion. It was hissing in the air! It fell on a building I intended to enter if that lady hadn’t delayed me. I fell on the ground, saying: ‘Krsna, Krsna!’ Fragments were all around me but I remained protected.”
He describes another incident related to the war time of 1995, “I was in the army and the commander ordered me to carry some heavy load, and I was punished with a two day jail term for failing to do so. When I came to military prison I asked to be kept in dungeon for I wanted solitude. The guard agreed when I explained that I was a member of Hare Krsna movement and I mind smoking. He said: “All right, but I’ll leave the door unlocked in case you changed your mind.” Next morning, I washed my hands and mouth with water and chanted for a few hours. I then read Bhagavad-gita for a while and was inspired to talk about Krsna. Just then, someone knocked on the door. I shouted: “Come in, it’s open!” “Are you Hare Krsna?” He asked as he entered. “Yes,” I replied. “I heard about Mahabharata. Could you tell me more about it?” He said frenziedly. After about half an hour of Krsna-katha, other inmates started to pour in and we had a full-fledged spiritual discourse.” Krsna can do whatever He likes. If He likes, He can turn a dungeon into a temple-room.
Nedzad describes how he was saved from fanatics in 1997, “We were in Travnik, Bosnia for the book distribution marathon. It was the first hour of the first day. I walked into a gas station with no idea of what would unfold. As I climbed the stairs to the office of the gas station, I ran into a young bearded Muslim man. The vibes were not favorable. After a few minutes when I walked out, sensing imminent danger, another Muslim man in the hall instigated him to stop me. He shouted: “Stop! Stop!” I turned back and said, “I am not a Jehovah’s witness!” “I know, you are worse!” He replied, moving menacingly towards me. He grabbed the books from me and tore my neckbeads. While opening the Nrsimha Kavachas, he hysterically asked, “What’s inside? Is it drug?” “No”, I replied. Then he said: “Give me those books in your bag!” By the mercy of Krsna, I suddenly got great strength and shouted, “I live on these books!” The transformation of his consciousness occurred instantly as if someone had switched off the anger button and pressed the goodness button. While returning the books and Tulasi necklace, he murmured, “Allah saved you! Allah saved you!” After ten minutes of philosophical discourse, our dialogue ended amicably. After chanting for some time, I decided to see this little town more. Soon I ran into few more fanatics. They walked towards me but I entered the market nearby and started a conversation with a man while 5 or 6 of them waited for me to finish. Then, I entered a shop and started to take the books out from my bag. Suddenly, there was a call for prayer from a mosque, and so all of them left to pray. Allah saved me for the second time.” It was a very eventful start of the marathon.
By the year 2000, Nedzad was a decade into Krsna consciousness, but he was not a full-time devotee yet. He had different ideas about what to do in life. His parents and family wanted him to work at some job and of course, to marry. He applied for many jobs, but was refused. Somehow it seemed that Krsna was telling him, “Forget about your work, do My work”. He says, “I was trying to keep my consciousness high, but it wasn’t easy. My sadhana was weak. One day, devotees came to Tuzla to organize a public program. A devotee told me, suddenly, “Prabhu, Sankirtana is for you!” The moment he said it, I started to think about Sankirtana! It was crystal clear why I could not get a job. When I lived at home, one of the ways I earned money was by selling non-devotional books. One day Mahasvan parbhu saw me selling those books and asked “Prabhu, are you collecting money for travel to India?” By his mercy and devotees who helped me financially, I went to India and received the first initiation!”
Srila Prabhupada said, “These book distributors are the greatest friends of mankind because they are dedicated to spreading knowledge and giving relief and the joyful life everyone is seeking. They don’t take vacations; they are always thinking of how to distribute this knowledge.” Nedzad says that he is driven by these inspiring words of Prabhupada. He concludes, “Those days during the war were wonderful for Krsna consciousness and only after the war I heard such words like ‘critic’ or ‘sexual problems’. During the war we didn’t use those words. Unless one continues to plunge into the blissful chanting of the maha-mantra, one’s spiritual life can plummet like a pricked balloon at any time. One of the main rules for Sankirtana is: Krsna distributes books and we are supposed to work as His instrument.”