From Back to Godhead
By Bhakti-lata Devi Dasi
After years searching and struggling, she finally found the right place to develop the natural connection she felt with God.
It was the third day in the hospital. The IV was still in my right arm. As I gazed through the window, a few leaves, colored yellow and red by the season, fell from a nearby tree. It was a beautiful fall day in Montreal, I was twenty, and I was trapped in here. How did it come to this?
I was raised in a middle-class, French Canadian, Catholic family. I went to church ever since I can remember. I recall being at church at the age of four, feeling safe, awed, and in some way, more at home than in my own house.
The presence of God was very natural to me. I used to have conversations with Him before falling asleep, talking to Him like a friend. I would confide, discuss my day, ask questions, and reveal my hopes and fears.
The first time I examined one of Srila Prabhupada’s books I was twelve years old. The book was entitled Easy Journey to Other Planets. Somehow, it found its way to my brother’s bookcase, and I browsed through it many times. Although I couldn’t figure out what it was all about, I loved gazing at the cover and inside pictures.
In that same period, I went on a field trip with my class to a convent for cloistered nuns. As I entered I was overwhelmed with a feeling of belonging. I loved the seclusion and the prolonged prayer times. I loved the idea of a life dedicated to prayer and contemplation. I would have moved right in, but understandably, my mother was not so inclined to let me make such a life-long commitment at the ripe age of twelve. As an alternative, for the next two years I corresponded with a priest, discussing religious matters.
I began to go to church more often, not only for the usual Sunday mass with my family, but also by myself, at odd times during the week. I would even sometimes leave school during lunch break to seek the oasis of a nearby church. Determined to live a sin-free life, I visited the confessional often, reciting my list of innocent, harmless “crimes” over and over again.
At fourteen, at a time when most girls my age listened to pop music and worshiped the rock stars of the day, I would spend hours in my room listening to the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, a popular movie at the time. Although I had never seen the movie, I knew all the lyrics by heart and sang them with great feeling, meditating intently on Jesus’s life and teachings. But I didn’t have any friends to share my passion. Religion is not a popular hobby.
One day, when shopping for ballet shoes downtown with my sister, I had my first sight of Hare Krishna devotees. They were dancing a few blocks away and I could hear a faint ching-ching-ching. I had no idea who these people were or what they were doing, but something stirred inside me. I felt intrigued and attracted, but I was far too introverted to go any closer.
Years passed, and my lack of association with spiritually-minded people made me vulnerable to peer pressure, with its unrelenting demands for conformity. Slowly, I started loosing touch with my spiritual aspirations and became consumed by my efforts to fit in, to be “cool”. Against my better judgment I toyed with drugs, sex, and alcohol. My grades began to suffer, although I managed to keep them afloat thanks to my natural academic nature.
Little by little I started living only for the next thrill, the next smoke, the next party. I developed a whole persona to fit what I thought were people’s expectations of me. I forgot myself and, soon enough forgot God as well. My life became bleak, soulless, and unsubstantial.
When I was sixteen and in the midst of senseless pursuits, Krishna reached to me again, this time in the form of a tall brahmacari (celibate student) stationed at a subway exit, holding a large tray and smiling kindly. I reached out to take the sweet he was offering me. Walking quickly away, I took a bite. Wow! The taste exploded in my mouth. I had never tasted anything like that in my life! I was at a total loss to comprehend what I was experiencing, but I knew that something extraordinary was happening. Now, knowing the inconceivable purifying power of prasadam, I understand I was having a taste of the Lord Himself.
Had I not been so shy I would have turned back and asked the devotee to explain what had just happened to me. Unfortunately, I continued on my way, entangling myself deeper into the complex web of maya, the illusory energy of the material world.
At age nineteen I met the man I would spend my life with. As I saw him the first time, I heard a voice say, “To be in love.” I was taken aback, not only because I was not given to hearing voices, but also because that day I had decided I would be better off being single. We talked and talked; I felt I had known him forever. Soon after we met, Marc convinced me to stop using drugs. He was a seeker of truth.
At this point I became somewhat attracted by spiritual matters once again. Deplorably, for lack of guidance and discrimination, I read the book of a famous Indian guru who advocated that we could have complete control over our life. He described how we could send our “gray particles” into the future to shape our upcoming reality. It sounded like a great philosophy to me. As Marc and I wanted to go plant trees in western Canada, I sent my gray particles ahead of us. We hitchhiked across Canada for weeks, bent on our new adventure. We traveled all day and at night pitched our tent among the trees alongside the highway.
In Calgary we applied for a tree-planter job. We were told that since hundreds of young people applied every year, the possibility of employment was slim. Utterly confident in the power of my gray particles, however, I was completely undaunted. We went on to camp in Banff, British Columbia, for a couple of weeks, and then hit the road once more. The first man who gave us a ride happened to be a tree-planting contractor. He hired us on the spot. I was neither surprised nor even remotely grateful; my gray particles had done all the work, hadn’t they?
Planting trees was an awesome experience. I was working hard for ten hours a day, alone, in the most wild, remote places. One area we worked in was so isolated that it could only be reached by helicopter. One time I even came across the skeleton of a moose, and another day I found myself face to face with a bear.
Calling Out to God in the Wilderness
A few weeks of this grueling physical labor brought about unexpected therapeutic results. One afternoon, I became suddenly aware that the chatter of my mind had completely stopped; a sense of peace came over me like I hadn’t known before. I left my tools on the ground and instinctively made my way deeper into the woods. I found a small, crystal-clear brook and sat beside it. For the first time in years I remembered God. I felt like a whole part of me had been locked in the dark and some light was at last filtering through.
A few days later, as I was working under a heavy rain, trudging in deep mud, the veil of illusion that had covered me was mercifully removed and I saw the past few years of my existence for what they really were, with all of their lies and futility. It was as if my life was passing in front of my mind’s eye for review, and I found it to be very wretched indeed. My heart was filled with sorrow. At that moment I felt that not only my body, but my spirit as well, was covered with mud. The setting couldn’t have been orchestrated more perfectly. Overwhelmed, I prayed for forgiveness. I didn’t know how I would salvage my life or if it was at all possible. In that solitary place, away from an artificial civilization, I silently prayed for help.
Our tree-planting experience over, we returned to Montreal. Although I was unaware of it, our apartment was close by the Hare Krishna temple. One morning, while taking a walk, I saw a devotee on the other side of the street. His robes were slightly floating around him in the breeze, and he seemed to be in and from another world. I would love to be like these people, I thought, not really understanding what I meant by that. I just knew that somehow “these people” seemed oblivious to the turmoil of the world around them, as if gliding above it, whereas I felt tossed by its every single wave. Once again, I passed up the opportunity to inquire further and kept on walking.
Life went on. I went through the motions, without any real interest in anything or any sense of direction. One day I realized I was pregnant. I was overjoyed by the prospect of having a baby with the man I loved. I remember waiting at the bus stop, talking to my baby and patting my still flat belly.
To my great distress, Marc didn’t share my delight in having a child. He was twenty-one, without a career or even a job, and definitely not ready to be a father. I was devastated. Fearing that if I kept our baby he might leave me, and lacking the communication skills to discuss the matter properly, I did the unthinkable; against my deepest desire and convictions, I had the baby aborted.
I came back from the clinic utterly empty and dispirited. Although I was told to take complete rest, I furiously and frantically tore up the old linoleum in my bedroom, thus expressing my inner torment the best way I could. As a result of this strenuous work, I developed a serious internal infection and had to be hospitalized, IV and all.
That’s when I got it.
I hadn’t sent my gray particles to create this tragedy, had I? So if I hadn’t created this situation, who or what had? That meant only one thing: I was definitely not in control of my life. This realization hit me hard. If I was not in control, anything could happen at any time. I felt humbled, lost, and scared.
This was the lowest point of my life. My heart was broken from the loss of my first child, and I became so depressed that I would sit in the corner of my room, smoking cigar after cigar and gulping down chocolate bars. Yet from the depths of my grief the memory of Jesus rose up as if from the distant past, bringing me solace and hope. I began imagining him knocking on my door. I visualized myself stepping outside, leaving everything behind, and following him without even looking back. My old hankering for a religious life was reawakened.
In Bhagavad-gita Krishna explains that four kinds of people come to Him: those in distress, those in need of money, the inquisitive, and those searching for knowledge of the Absolute. In my case, it was distress that fueled my desire to turn to God once again.
Waiting for Something to Happen
Two months passed. I somewhat got over my depression, but felt disillusioned by the whole show of this world. Nothing seemed attractive. I didn’t care much for anything anymore. I started reading some semi-spiritual books that served to tantalize me but were not nearly potent enough to satisfy my inner hunger for the Absolute Truth. I felt myself waiting for something to happen.
One fine afternoon Marc stumbled upon an old friend of his he had been searching for ever since we had met. As it turned out, this friend had become a Hare Krishna devotee the year before. Marc stayed at the temple for two days and came back to tell me all about it. After hearing his account, I knew this was the chance to change my life I had yearned for, a chance I was determined not to miss. There was no time to lose. Even before visiting the temple I packed my bags. We moved in right away.
Witnessing my first evening arati (ceremony to worship the Lord) was a very mystical experience for me. Although there were many deities in the temple, I could only see the deity of Krishna, no one and nothing else. My eyes were transfixed on His face, and I felt Him take over my heart, my life, and seep deeply into my soul. The experience seemed to last an eternity. I was finally home.
Twenty-two Years Later
That was in 1984. Now, many years later, Krishna’s fascinating nature still holds me in its grip. I have learned since that Krishna’s deity in Montreal is called Manohara, or one who steals one’s mind. This is what I experienced that first night; Krishna stole my heart and mind.
Marc (now Mukunda Dasa) and I got officially married in 1985, and we now have two wonderful daughters. We feel blessed in every way.
Do I regret my sudden decision to join Srila Prabhupada’s Hare Krishna movement? No. In reality, it was not as sudden as it seems; my cherished desire to give my life over to God had simply been forgotten. Once reminded of it, I couldn’t see any reason to deny my path any longer. Also, by then I knew that God’s presence was not limited to a particular religion. It didn’t matter to me how God was calling me, only that He was calling me.
Over the years, I have served the Lord’s deity form, dressing Him, cooking for Him, making garlands and clothes for Him. I have also chanted His name in the streets, my baby daughter on my back, while distributing cookies I baked so others could have their first taste of prasadam. I have sent Srila Prabhupada’s books to all the prisons of Canada that were willing to accept them, and corresponded with many inmates, sending them more books and also prayer beads, encouraging them to take up the chanting of the holy name. I have organized Krishna conscious plays and taken part in a devotee home-school cooperative.
As part of my current service, I teach a powerful breathing technique that benefits body, mind, and spirit.
Reflecting on my life, I see how Krishna has never deserted me, how He has determinedly followed me through the years, dropping hints of His presence, patiently waiting for me to turn to Him once more, like the most loving friend. I am grateful.