Bonds of Love: Munipatni Devi Dasi
Munipatni traveled on a sankirtana party from the day she joined the Los Angeles temple in October 1975. She was still on that party six months later when she received a letter from Srila Prabhupada in which he accepted her as his disciple.
Once, when I was a teenager, I told my parents that if they didn’t leave me alone I was going to join the Hare Krishnas. But I didn’t know anything about the devotees or about Srila Prabhupada. Then after I graduated high school I was working my way into the corporate realm in downtown Chicago when one day I saw small posters on trees and telephone poles all over the city that read, “Come for a free vegetarian feast,” with a picture of Prabhupada and some of his disciples. I was already interested in vegetarianism, and had been asking my mom about it from a young age. so the devotees’ feast posters attracted me.
Once in downtown Chicago I saw three devotees on the other side of the street doing harinama. They weren't wearing kurtas and dhotis, but bed-sheet-like material. I was looking at that from afar and somehow they seemed eerily familiar. It was so interesting. The clang of the kartalas drew my attention, and I thought, “These guys must have something going on to dress like that.” Then someone approached me and asked if I would like to give a donation and “read our Bhagavad-gita?”
“Sure,” I said, “but I only have three dollars.” He accepted my money and gave me the book and some incense. I went back to my office feeling that I’d found something valuable. I loved the pages and the look of the book, and I loved how Prabhupada looked in his picture. He was clean and elegant. The other swami photos I’d seen showed men with long hair and a crazy smile on their faces. Prabhupada looked serious and sincere. That’s what impressed me. He looked like a holy man. I was used to Roman Catholic priests and their drinking and woman-hunting, and Prabhupada didn’t look anything like that. When I returned to my office I thought, “All these people can play their office flirtation games, but I have this book and this wonderful incense.” I was happy even though when I tried to read the Gita I couldn't understand a word of it. But I kept it on my mantelpiece at home.
I would get some beginning spiritual revelations from time to time, so I started to pick up books in head shops by popular yogis. I’d read a few pages and quickly put them down and say, “Well, this isn’t it.” I’d pick up spiritual newspapers and head magazines just looking, looking, looking, looking for the right source of information, and I couldn’t find it.
After a few of my friends died from drug overdoses, I realized I didn’t want to end up like that. I wanted to go to California where you could even be a Hare Krishna if you wanted, and no one would say anything about it. On that inspiration I went to a Catholic church. It was empty, which I was glad of, and I prayed hard: “Whoever You are, I need Your help now. Just guide me to put one foot in front of another so I can go where I need to go.” And that night I hitchhiked from Chicago Los Angeles. Of course, you can’t hitchhike like that anymore – and probably couldn’t do it safely then. I don’t know why I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t have any money, yet the trip was smooth. Everybody was helpful, giving money and food, and I wound up on the corner of Bagley and Watseka.
For a week I stayed with a friend who lived in an apartment on Bagley, and when we went by the Hare Krishna temple, which was just around the corner, I’d yell out “Hare Krishna.” I was happy and making fun and having a good time. My friends in the car would say, “What does that mean?” I didn’t know, but I liked it.
One day, after I’d been in Los Angeles for a week I ventured into the Hare Krishna community. Pranada was there. She told me they had a Sunday feast going on and asked if I would like to join them. She brought me in and showed me the Deities, Rukmini and Dvarakadhisa. I looked at Them and loved what I saw. I’ll never forget Pranada for bringing me in and for giving me some Sunday feast halava. I ran back to my friends with the halava and told them, “Look what I have! This is so great, it tastes so nice, the smells – everything was just beautiful in there – you guys have got to come!” But they criticized it. I realized these people didn’t know, and at that moment I cut myself off from my friends because I thought, “If they can’t appreciate this, then what am I doing with them?”
The next day I went to the temple and asked, “Do I have to read the Bhagavad-gita before I can become a devotee? I can’t read that book but I want to be a devotee.” The devotees said, “No, no, don’t worry, you can be a devotee anyway. We’ll teach you how to read the book. Gather your things and meet us here tomorrow morning.” I said, “Absolutely.”
I didn’t say anything to my friends. I got my things together, went back to the temple, and met Hasyapriya. He asked if I liked to travel.
“Would you like to go on traveling sankirtana?”
“Yes, I love to travel!” But I didn’t know what sankirtana was. The next day Yudhamanyu scooped me up, and off I went for two years on the road. It was difficult. We went to bed at ten and got up at two every day, we were out all day in winters and summers. And I didn’t know one thing about Krishna consciousness. After that traveling sankirtana party was over, I went to the airport and distributed big books every day.
This whole time I never saw Srila Prabhupada, I only listened to his lectures during our morning programs. In the beginning, I didn’t think too much about him because I was trying to absorb all the things that one has to absorb on sankirtana. But eventually I understood that Prabhupada held something valuable and I wanted to know what it was. It was clear that I was now in Prabhupada’s realm and I needed to be patient. Determination took over; I thought, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to join this group." I had been a rebellious teenager, so to become a surrendered devotee I had to make a complete turn around. But when the devotees initially accepted me, from way deep inside – so deep that I don’t even know where it came from – I knew I was doing the right thing. Although I didn’t know anything about Prabhupada, his drawing power was pulling me in.
Even though at first I couldn’t understand his words, I felt the potency of his lectures. I listened and slowly understood him and got to know him. Finally, when I became more knowledgeable about Srila Prabhupada I was respectful and grateful. Prabhupada did everything with such care. His preaching and the way he spoke from Bhagavatam was so direct – no nonsense – but sweet and kind and charming and witty all at the same time.
Slowly I became more attached to Srila Prabhupada, and that attachment protected me throughout my life with almost every major thing a person can go through – marriage, children, chanting rounds, sticking with it. When I was young I got so many opportunities to do something else, but I always thought, “What would Prabhupada want me to do?” and on that basis I stayed true to him. I listened when he spoke, I prayed to Krishna and to Srila Prabhupada, and my life improved. I wouldn't stick to this process of Krishna consciousness for anybody else, not even for myself. I stuck to it because Srila Prabhupada asked me to. Krishna has His plan and we have to tolerate what He sends our way. We rely on His grace whether He lifts our suffering or lets us suffer for a while. It all works out. When I struggle against His plan, following my mind's dictations and ignoring Prabhupada’s compassionate instructions on how to pass through the tides of material nature, I am fooling myself knowingly. So I try to be a little obedient – just a little. And somehow, along with the passing years, as I chanted Hare Krishna and followed the principles and read his books, I got a real sense that I need and want to do what he asks of me. There’s no question. So even to this day – now even more intensely – when I see Srila Prabhupada or pray to him, he gives me hope and so much to look forward to.
Srila Prabhupada has qualities like nobody else. As he said, “Purity is the force.” He gave us the shelter of the holy name. His books clearly answered all the questions I had about who I am, where I'm going, why I have this body, why I have to die; his books made me a different person and his presence on this planet changed my life from unfortunate to fortunate.
If you actually think about Prabhupada’s contribution, your heart melts. I pray to Srila Prabhupada that I can remember him at the end of my life and be with him always. And I would like to find more fortunate persons who can receive his blessings through his books. There is nothing like meeting wandering persons, joining with them spiritually even for a few moments, have them walk away knowing a little more of who they truly are, and being confident that you’ve given them knowledge from the correct source. My hope is that future generations will respect and admire and love Srila Prabhupada for the way he's drawing us to Krishna and teaching us to depend on Krishna’s mercy.
If we stay conscious of Krishna the way Prabhupada kindly taught us to, if we stay pure and simple and thoughtful, our lives will change. We’ll be blessed and feel deeply thankful to Srila Prabhupada. Our movement will thrive – and pivot – on purity. If we struggle for purity and we try sincerely and genuinely to serve Srila Prabhupada, there’s no limit to what we can do for him. In his movement there’s no place for separatism or impersonalism, but only for trying to follow his teachings. And if we follow we’ll get Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, we’ll understand him, and eventually we’ll be with him and with Krishna..