Bonds of Love: Vrindabaneshvari Devi Dasi
From ’70 to ’71, Vrindavaneshvari, 18, was seeking something spiritual. She’d been a vegetarian for about a year when she and two friends – her boyfriend (now husband, Madana Mohana Dasa) and a good friend of his (now also an initiated devotee) – were going to some different yoga gatherings. But nothing really moved them.
In November 1971, my boyfriend and I left our hometown in our 1959 bread truck converted into our first RV, which we thoughtfully named Salvation, with the mindset that we would have it take us to the destiny we were seeking. As happened, our first major stop was visiting Madana’s brother, who lived at 3765 Watseka Avenue – right across the street from the Los Angeles ISKCON temple. We parked in front of the temple, and before long, we were eating the devotees’ free vegetarian lunches, which we loved. We also bought a Krishna book and the Bhagavad-gita.
Our next travel took us up to Northern California, where a large group of hippies lived. We stayed at an old friend of Madana’s who had a degraded lifestyle, having sex in the open, always intoxicated, and hedonistic. They even thought it was cool to teach their infant child to inhale marijuana. They were extreme. Meanwhile, my daily spiritual ritual was to read the Krishna book – Madana read the Bhagavad-gita – while we listened to a recording we had made of the Radha Krishna Temple record. After about five weeks, we left that place and I began chanting two rounds daily, which dramatically changed my perspective and faith in Krishna consciousness.
On my birthday in February, I spent about twelve hours chanting. I vowed to go to the Los Angeles temple, live in my van, and work at the incense factory for the $1.00 an hour they paid. I parked in the empty lot across from the temple and, with the help of my godsister Akuti, who banged loudly on the side of the van every morning at 3:30, I attended all the temple functions, increased my chanting to eight rounds, and worked at the incense factory all day, still listening to the beautiful Radha Krishna Temple album every day.
About three days after I moved to Los Angeles, a bunch of devotees asked me if I would like to travel with them up to San Francisco for a festival. I agreed. Then fourteen woman sat cross-legged on the floor of a van to north for an adventure. A sweet devotee named Mary befriended me, and we spoke throughout the drive. When we stopped for a picnic of what I thought was unusual food, she explained what everything on my plate was and practically fed me with her sweetness. She was motherly and imbibed how a devotee should be. I think her kindness had a very big influence on me. Later she was initiated as Manjuali.
Two weeks later I felt impelled to move into the ashram and become a full-fledged brahmacarini. I was enthralled by the atmosphere. Enter the temple room and it was billowing with frankincense and myrrh – it was intoxicating. A few feet away from the temple room was the kitchen, with all its exotic smells, blending with the smell of incense. The temple room itself was a riot of colors and joy.
I immediately bonded with the devotees, like I’d always known them – there were so many devotees there in New Dwaraka, teaching by their example. Everything was first class. All the intensely sweet bonds and attachments I made with my godsisters softened my heart and brought me a happiness I had never experienced, and I still feel close to those devotees even after so many years and miles have separated us.
It was magical to offer obeisances with your head on the floor while saying exotic prayers and then everyone yelling out “Jaya!” It was glorious. In the first couple of weeks at the temple, whatever I had been speculating was the purpose of life, my questions, were answered. I had been infatuated with death, and when the devotees explained that we’re eternal, I felt that a lot suddenly made sense. Within the first two weeks, I felt I was reborn.
In May, word got out that Prabhupada was coming. So much excitement – devotees were going nuts. I was excited but didn’t really know what to expect. I went to the airport with who knows how many devotees, and we were so excited that we screamed and jumped and chanted like we were in another realm, oblivious to everybody around us. We were out of this body because Prabhupada, who had saved us with this knowledge and the maha-mantra, both of which had given us bliss, was coming to be with us.
Prabhupada deplaned and glanced around at everyone with such apparent pleasure. He saw all the new devotees along with the ones who had already dedicated themselves to him, and he gave us this loving smile and glance. I immediately felt a transcendental connection with him; Prabhupada was my eternal father. He made me feel at home and that I was doing the right thing.
Every Sunday, all the brahmacarinis and brahmacaris went into the kitchen for about six hours. Men at one table and women at another, we rolled puris, samosas, and sweetballs for the feast. It was ecstatic service. Again, there was such a bond between the devotees. There wasn’t any difference between men and women in service.
Prabhupada was there for two months. I observed him – his grace, his humility, his loving glances, his appreciation of many small things. Once I stood near him when he was taking caranamrita, and saw the boyish grin on his face as he said, “This is so nice, I could eat this all day.” It was so sweet.
One of my strongest remembrances is Prabhupada sitting on the vyasasana in the packed, small, old temple room. There were devotees from all over the world there, and Prabhupada was singing “Jaya Radha Madhava” ecstatically. I was completely absorbed. He was playing the gong with his little hammer, raising his arm up like an orchestra conductor and motioning for everyone to dance – and everyone danced exuberantly. I used to think, “I’m going to touch the ceiling!” I was so high from the energy that I really felt like I was going to float up and touch the ceiling. In that ocean of devotees I was thinking, “Prabhupada, look at me,” because I wanted his special attention. And suddenly through this ocean of devotees, heads all around, I realized that Prabhupada was gazing right at me with this intense look. At the moment I felt guilty and foolish, but I didn’t care. I felt ecstatic that Prabhupada picked up on my energy, and we had this eye contact that lasted several moments. And I went crazy, dancing more.
I think it is the lessons and causeless mercy of Prabhupada that keep me going. I have some attraction to chanting. I wake up and chanting is in my head. At night it’s my lullaby for sleeping. I was fortunate to have many years of sincere service to the devotees, which I think is very important – to recognize the importance of giving to Vaishnavas. They are not ordinary people. I think having a strong foundation in service is really important. Krishna consciousness is not just reading and chanting; it’s physically doing something, because that connects you. In the spiritual world, everyone is actively engaged all the time.
In a lecture in L.A., Prabhupada said two things that have always stuck with me. He said there’s three ways to transcend this body – by chanting, by dancing, and by playing a musical instrument. Sometime later he said, “Even if you don’t want to dance, force yourself to dance and the bliss will come.” That was amazing. Dancing is not an ordinary thing. It was a special benediction given by Lord Chaitanya, given by Prabhupada. So many times I feel ill or my back hurts or my foot hurts and I’m dragging, I wear my orthopedic shoes in the temple, but this is a special benediction. When we dance, we transcend the body. Dancing was important to Prabhupada.
I am eternally indebted to my guru, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, who has so kindly entered my heart, opened my eyes, and given purpose to my life, with song, dance, and a smile.