One of the energetic members of Ilford Hare Krishna youth group spreading the word
Please excuse the headline. But I thought it would get your attention, and it’s also a true story.
On Friday night I went to the monthly gathering of the Hare Krishna youth over in the east end of London. The group is particularly lively and in addition to regular get-togethers for kirtan and class, also puts on some hilarious topical theatre. The prasadam at the end of the evening – around 10pm – is also delicious. In fact, I am torn as to which is the best local ISKCON group prasadam: Ilford or Guildford.
Although the names of both towns sound the same, they are miles apart in terms of the local culture. Guildford is perhaps the most English town in England, and Ilford – or Upton Park, where the group holds its meetings – is predominantly Asian and Muslim.
That being the case, I gave a class that repeated some of the elements of my talk at the London temple on the morning of Gaura Purnima. Last Tuesday, for the festival, I explained how Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had appeared not only within the world of Kali-Yuga but in a part of India dominated by Muslim sharia law. Under that law Srila Haridas Thakur was whipped without mercy for being a Muslim convert to Hinduism, and the local Hindus of Nadia were regarded as dhimmis or subjugated citzens whose religious preferences were grudgingly tolerated.
My point – amongst many other points – was that the sankirtan movement began amongst such oppression and flourished according to the transcendental arrangement of the Lord. When we act for the Lord, even though there seems to be a completely unfavourable or even oppressive local climate, we can take part in that same transcendental arangement.
The religion for Kali Yuga is factually the congregational chanting of the names of God. The God to be worshipped is Lord Krishna who came in the form as His own devotee: Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. While other avataras also come with the dual mission to uplift the pious and vanquish the evildoers, they do so with divine weapons. Lord Chaitanya has no such weapons; but he has his holy associates who, like Him, raise their weapon-less hands in divine song and dance. While all incarnations of God are eternally blissful and omnipotent, Lord Chaitanya actually feels Himself to be a humble devotee, and experiences the devotee’s anxiety at seeing so many souls forgetful of their eternal relationship with Krishna. To relieve the anxiety He feels we tell others about Krishna, according to His own request. Serving God in this way – by telling others and helping them along the path – is thus the perfect divine service for Kali Yuga.
Srila Prabhupada didn’t use the word ‘conversion’ to describe the act of taking to Krishna consciousness. As Vaishnavas we are not ‘converts’ he said, since all we have done is to accept the identity we have had for millions of lives. In accepting that spiritual identity we are simply reverting to what we once were: eternal servants of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So ‘reverts’ not ‘converts.’
But people can change so much in their daily habits that it can seem that everything about them has converted. Which brings me nicely to the story that is the subject of my blog header. We’d just an energetic kirtan when she came up to me and told me her story.
I’ll keep her name private, but she is happy for others to know what happened. She was a Jehovah’s Witness for seven years, attending her local Kingdom Hall weekly and going out door-to-door to convince others armed with the Watchtower. Then, when she was in hospital delivering her first baby, and after praying to Jehovah for a safe delivery, she heard the name of Krishna within her mind.
With the pain of labour, the intensity of impending delivery, and the gas and air mixture she at first thought she was hearing someone’s conversation or the radio. But then she realised that something else was happening and began repeating Krishna’s name. When her son was born she changed his planned name to Arjuna and began seriously inquiring about Krishna consciousness. Now she reads the Gita daily and chants rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra on her wooden japa beads. And although the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been to her house many times to request her to return she says that now she cannot.
Just one more tale from Lord Krishna’s congregation here in England.
You can check out the new website of the Guildford devotees here