Bonds of Love: Mondakini Devi Dasi (part one)
Mondakini joined ISKCON with her two friends from high school, who later became Jyotirmayi and Ilavati. Mondakini and Jyotirmayi were studying ethnology at La Sorbonne in Paris. They were interested in the conception of God in different civilizations and trying to find out the goal of life. Disappointed with material life, they wanted a spiritual master and were ready for anything.
We met devotees, who looked like pure angels, and were impressed with the maha-mantra. The devotees told us, “Our spiritual master is in London. Why don’t you go and meet him?” Ilavati was working and couldn’t come, but Jyotirmayi and I somehow managed to get to Bury Place.
It was a powerfully spiritual place. The temple was beautifully done and had a mystical atmosphere. We were polite young girls, so when, during kirtana, the devotees all bowed down, we did too. I picked up my head a little and saw two golden feet nearby. I looked up and there was Srila Prabhupada, and I had an absolutely unusual, wonderful feeling. Prabhupada went and sat on the vyasasana and led a beautiful, meditative kirtana. When I caught his glance for the first time, tears fell from my eyes, although I didn’t understand why. They were not tears of sorrow or of mundane joy; I had a true feeling that this person knew me better than I knew myself, that he could see inside me to who I really was. I felt a sense of eternity beyond my body, and I felt that Prabhupada and I had known each other for a long time. His strength and purity struck me. He looked humble and merciful, but at the same time, he appeared to be the emperor of the universe.
I loved the devotees more and more, but because I was so contaminated by Mayavadi books I had a big problem with the philosophy. Even though Prabhupada answered every single doubt and question we had – even those we hadn’t asked – in a clear, convincing, logical, and mystical way, every day Jyotirmayi and I would ask each other, “Do you think Srila Prabhupada is our real spiritual master?” And we’d answer, “We have to wait a little more to know for sure.”
One day, after a Sunday lecture, an Indian guest said, “God has no form! Krishna is not God.” Prabhupada became red with anger and began to scream at him, “You rascal!” Jyotirmayi and I thought, “The spiritual master is not supposed to get angry.” I was crushed and thought, “He’s not my spiritual master. He doesn’t control his anger. We have to leave. We cannot go on with this just because of affection. I cannot take a wrong path; I’m looking for the truth.” We were getting ready to leave when somebody told us, “Srila Prabhupada wants to see you.” We went into his room and he asked me, “Do you know how to type?” I didn’t at the time. Prabhupada wanted to engage us, and he completely captured my heart with the simple feeling of his presence, love, and care.
I stayed, and our wonderful Yamuna taught me the basics of devotional life in a creative, personal way, with enthusiasm. The temple was pure happiness. We were with wonderful, bright, creative devotees. We were never bored, and service was a pleasure, never a burden. We didn’t sleep much, and every minute was an inner and outer adventure. Trivikrama Swami, then a brahmacari, took us on sankirtana in Piccadilly Circus and on Soho Street. He was like a big brother to us. Minute by minute, my love for Srila Prabhupada grew and my link with him became more and more established. I felt that every second should be for the joy and the service of the Deities. They were the center of our lives and we felt protected by Them too.
A week went by and Srila Prabhupada was to leave for America. Even before he left, I felt intense separation from him. In his presence, I felt the reality of Krishna and of Krishna consciousness and of the fact I am not this body. Prabhupada opened our hearts. And he opened a window to the spiritual world. At the airport, everybody was crying, and when he finally went off in his aristocratic way, I was convinced that he was my spiritual master.
That strong feeling of separation came again later. He was on the point of leaving us after one month at Bhaktivedanta Manor. I had a strong feeling of loss – that I wouldn’t be able to live without his physical presence. He was bringing us directly to the spiritual world, convincing us more and more. Life without him seemed unbearable; it seemed impossible to carry on without his physical presence. But after some time, I realized that I had to resume my service, and by doing so I would be with him. Then by Krishna’s grace, I was able to tolerate his physical absence and to feel his presence through devotional service.
We used to send Srila Prabhupada little things like luglus and scarves that we’d made for his Deities. He would always acknowledge and reciprocate, and that increased the love between Srila Prabhupada and us. It was a competition of love, and as we became more and more attached to him, we were also becoming more attached to the lotus feet of Krishna. Once Prabhupada came in the temple wearing a little scarf I’d made and given him the day before. The scarf was too small and looked funny, but he accepted my simple, imperfect offering with love. Prabhupada was expert at increasing the loving exchanges between his devotees and himself, and in strengthening our spiritual link and loving affection.
Srila Prabhupada used to joke with me sometimes: “Oh, Mondakini, you are not married yet?” At this time I didn’t want to get married. He laughed, “You didn’t find anybody good enough for you? Don’t worry, Krishna will send you somebody good enough.”
By hearing Srila Prabhupada’s lectures and reading his books, I developed a desire to preach. Once I heard that you can progress in spiritual life when the spiritual master asks you to perform a difficult task and when you immediately say yes to him, I prayed, “My dear Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara, please have Srila Prabhupada ask me something difficult and please remind me to say yes straight away.”
Then I heard that Srila Prabhupada was in Russia with Shyamasundar Prabhu. I thought of Prabhupada’s bravery. Russia was such a strange and terrible place. I myself would never want to go there. When he returned from Russia, Srila Prabhupada looked at me with a big smile and said, “Mondakini?”
“Yes, Srila Prabhupada?”
His tone was so casual and familiar, like he was going to send me across the street to buy potatoes. He said, “Would you like to go to Russia and to marry this boy Anatoly to help to spread Krishna consciousness?” I quickly remembered my prayer and said, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada!” His smile became huge, and he turned to Shyamasundar, “Ah, good. Shyamasundar, you arrange.”
That was the beginning of my wonderful adventure in Russia for Srila Prabhupada. I was 20. Russia was a special blessing. For many years I took it as my heart’s service. Prabhupada was always asking me for news and was very thankful that I was going there. He always encouraged us, and was happy with whatever little progress we made. That was the time of the Iron Curtain, and the KGB would follow us around. Preaching there was dangerous. But the Russian people were eager to hear about Krishna and take prasada. I met Russians who were ready to lose their freedom, maybe their lives, in order to gain spiritual knowledge. Any book we managed to bring into the country would be read overnight and passed on to someone else. It was very exciting – absolutely extraordinary. Somehow or other I got legally married to Anatoly, who became Ananta Shanti, and who did wonderful things.
Once at Bury Place, we were sitting at Srila Prabhupada’s feet for Srimad-Bhagavatam class, when he asked the devotees to recite the Sanskrit verse. When my turn came I felt shy. I was frightened to recite Sanskrit in front of everybody. Srila Prabhupada had this big laugh and said, “Just see, she’s not frightened to go to Russia, but she’s frightened to speak a Sanskrit verse.”
When Srila Prabhupada left this world, I felt separation without union, and that was extremely painful. I was alone. It took me time to find him again in the mood of union in separation through service, through trying to follow his instructions, and through the association of his gemlike family of devotees in all its generations.