How I Came to Krsna

By : 
Bhakta Jason Matthews; Columbia, South Carolina

It was in 1973 when I first came into contact with Krsna’s pure devotees. I was five years old and traveling through the Frankfurt airport with my parents and older brother. In thinking back on the experience it’s really odd, in a way, that I remember it so clearly now, especially as it became covered by other experiences of conditional life and remained forgotten for some thirty-two years.
As a very inquisitive child I liked to explore and ask many questions of my parents and others around me. Therefore it was always necessary for either my mom or dad to hold my hand so I did not wander off into the environment. This occasion was no different. My eyes were darting around from one person to another. Looking up and down the airport corridors I was indeed enamored by all of the activity.
Then that moment came when I saw from a short distance these beautiful smiling people dressed in brightly colored robes, singing and dancing while playing musical instruments. Everything I had seen prior to seeing them had instantly paled in comparison. My little legs, as if automatically, began to make me toward these happy people. However with my ever-protective mother holding me firmly by the hand, I was restrained from taking off in a full run. Fortunately for me they were coming toward us, and as the type of child I was, a feeling of excitement filled my heart and mind.
The closer this small band of Krsna’s surrendered servants came to me, the faster my heart beat, until they walked right past. I reached out to touch them, their sweet smelling robes gently flowing with the swaying movements of their bodies. They looked upon me smiling, singing and dancing as they traveled along. I then turned around, as if transfixed, my mother practically having to drag me the rest of the way through the airport.
Of course I began asking questions of my dear mother. Momma, how come those people were to happy? Why were they singing and dancing? What were they singing, Momma? Why were they wearing those funny clothes? Momma, why did they have bald heads? Unfortunately, my precious mother could not answer any of my questions.
We soon boarded the plane for a transatlantic flight to the United States. South Carolina was our destination, and obviously once we reached it, the questions stopped. My focus shifted to the many activities of a normal little child growing up in a Western culture.
My parents were devout Christians and from early on in my childhood they instilled within me, as well within my older brother and eventually my younger brother, love of God. We went to church regularly. Every night we prayed together and both parents taught us to say our prayers in the name of Lord Jesus Christ. As a very close family we lived this way.
At age eight, as a Christmas present, I received my first Bible. I remember being so proud of it. It was dark blue, with a shiny zipper and my name was etched in gold letters on the front. I was instructed as to the meaning of the red letters and why there were different from the black ones. Each of my parents would take time individually to guide me in a proper study program, telling me to read only a verse or two at a time so as to meditate more deeply on why scripture I had studied. This, they said, would bring greater enlightenment.
Six years passed and as I advanced in my study of the Bible, questions filled my mind. In Sunday school I would ask questions of my teachers. They could not answer them, and at times, made me feel terrible for even asking them. I would ask my parents questions and when I could, I would also ask questions of the preacher. Everyone seemed to give me the same answers: We do no know, we are not supposed to know, the Bible does not say, we are not supposed to ask why, etc. I grew frustrated and became more introspective. I wondered why God looked like? Where did He live? What did He do all day? I wondered about he activities of His angels? I remember looking into the night sky, being bewildered in seeing so many stars, not knowing why.
By the time I turned fourteen my family had moved to an area about forty miles west of Charleston. It was a typical small town. Everyone seemed to have lived there their whole lives. And here I was, having lived on three different continents, trying to fit in. It turned out that it wasn’t that difficult, but in time the associations began to corrupt my Christian upbringing. Yes, we still went to church; however, as in the past, I found myself distant in not feeling spiritually satisfied within my heart and soul. Church became just another setting for socializing and not much else. Soon I became sexually active, began using drugs, and listening to heavy metal music that was popular during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Another six years went by, my becoming very much entangled in material life. Even with very loving and caring Christian parents to guide me, I felt lost. Moving from one experience to another, nothing truly satisfied me. Yes, there was a sense of temporary satisfaction in one way and then another, although I knew deep down there was more to life. There had to be! Unfortunately for me I just could not find out for myself what it was, and could not find the individuals to teach me what it was. I was missing the point, the purpose of my existence.
Then in March of 1989, while traveling to Florida to witness a cousin exchange wedding vows, I was stopped for speeding by a police officer in another small southern town. This routine traffic stop turned into a nightmarish experience that has lasted some nineteen years. Without going into much detail, I soon found the individual who stopped me and the person I was traveling with to be a very dangerous fellow. Upon our exiting the vehicle we both were assaulted. The female was sexually assaulted. For nearly six hours that night we suffered abuse at the hands of this lawless police officer, until he finally fell dead by actions of self preservation.
Afterwards, the female and I fled the country due to fear and irrational thought. However, soon thereafter I made the decision to return to face whatever was to come. We both were arrested and charged with Capital Murder. We were facing the death penalty. Again, without going into detail, I received a life sentence with parole eligibility after thirty years. The sentence was handed down to me on September 6, 1989.
Upon entry into prison life I turned to drugs to numb the pain. The drug use, however, was not working. The pain and suffering permeated every liber of my being. It was not long before I got into trouble and placed into solitary confinement. There the days slowly passed and the nights seemed even more endless without the activities of eating, showering, and walking around the small fenced-in recreational area.
Then one night amidst the noise of individuals screaming and ganging on their cell doors I fell on my knees and cried out to God. Being extremely distressed I begged Him to help me. I begged for forgiveness. The Christian teachings my dear precious parents instilled within my heart as a child were coming to the surface. I remembered, though I had no fully forgotten, love of God.
About a month later I was released from solitary and transferred to another prison. I continued to pray as I had I solitary, but even so, the drug use continued. I was not ready to surrender my will unto God. In fact, I took up the additional sinful activity of running a small gambling operation. Prison life became routine and I made associations that seemed to make it more bearable. With a TV, radio, money, drugs, food and a wide selection of pornography I settled in to “do my time.”
Years passed as I tried to balance Bible study with my desires to enjoy the co-called comforts I had accumulated within my cell. It was not working and I knew it. God, His Supreme Spirit within my heart, was prompting me to give up the sinful activities. I cried and I prayed for help. My dear family walked with me every step of the way. They visited as often as they could, not at all abandoning me. I looked upon each of them, seeing the love of God they showed me even with I did not deserve it. I learned anew every time we visited that they wanted me to turn my life over to God.
In 1992, three years after I had been in prison, I gave up the drugs. A few months later I gave up the gambling. As a result Bible study became more structured and central in my life. Yet, I still did not give up the pornography, despite my making many efforts to do so. I read in the Bible to “flee youthful lusts,” but I would ask myself, where was I to flee when it was within me?
I could not tame this terrible enemy that tortured my mind by causing such agitation in my body. Then there was the issue of the anger I felt regarding how my case had been handled. Turning the anger inward I grew depressed, only to take shelter in the sinful activity of viewing pornography. It was a vicious cycle I could not break, no matter how much Bible study I did or now earnest my efforts were. I even began running miles and upon miles around the prison recreation yard. I worked out with weights, but nothing I did conquered these enemies of my mind.
I remember reading book after book espousing psychology in the form of self-help, conflict resolution, suicide prevention, etc. I studied some philosophy. I read the writings of many Christian authors. They all seemed to be saying a lot about different aspects of life, without any of them saying such at all to actually assist me. Yes, I was learning along the way, though I still felt lost. I began visiting with a spiritualist and we talked about God, living for Him, that we are all His children, etc. But I just could not connect with what I was looking for. I branched out into other religions just to see if the answers were in the teachings they were propagating. I found none. Even the questions I had as a child resurfaced, with no answers.
In 1996 I was transferred to another prison, one that was closer to my family. My spiritual journey continued, though not without many personal struggles. Looking at the years go by, I saw my life as being empty and I grew more depressed.
In 1998 I took a job in the prison library and this seemed to help to some extent, especially as I had early on cultivated the practice of reading. Being in the library gave me more access to books and I appreciated this privilege. A few more months passed and as I was going through an incoming box of books I discovered a book entitled Bhagavad-gita, chapters 1 – 6 with commentary. Having never heard of it before, I picked it up and checked it out. Well, for the next two years I studied this edition, though not fully understanding all of it.
I wondered how many chapters there were to this book, as I had a desire to read t in its entirety. I read of the three gunas and how we were to be free of them. However I could not figure out how to do this. The commentary was kind of hard to follow so I debated on sending a letter to the address listed in the back, but never did. I just kept studying it, thinking how I would like to have a complete edition of this book entitled Bhagavad-gita.
Three more years passed and despite my own efforts to advance in spiritual life, a deep seated depression had me in its clutches. In the darkness of ignorance I was certainly in illusion. At this point I began contemplating killing myself. Even in light of the love my family and few friends showed me, I was miserable. Prison life was destroying my desire to continue on. I reasoned with myself, I’m going to die in prison anyway, why continue to live in these miserable conditions? I discussed this matter with my spiritualist friend, who had now been visiting me for some ten years. It was at this point that the topic of reincarnation came up. Yet in part because of my Christian upbringing not speaking of such a spiritual matter and in part because I really did not care anymore, I quickly dismissed it.
My life seemed to continue going slowly nowhere. The fight to survive was intense. Then one night as I was making my rounds of book and magazine delivery I was offered two Back to Godhead magazines, along with Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Science of Self-Realization. By the grace of God my desire to have a complete copy of Bhagavad-gita had been satisfied. Even as I did not know exactly what I had, I knew in my heart of hearts I had just received something special. I returned to my room that night and looked through each one of these transcendental publications. I briefly read a passage out of the Gita. I looked at the Table of Contents to the Science of Self-Realization, along with looking at the pictures in the Back to Godhead magazines. I felt a happiness that I had never felt before. I really did not understand why, but I did.
The next day, however, reality of dwelling in this environment reminded me of the misery and suffering. My cell assignment was hellish and because of this and everything else, I unfortunately could not find the strength to begin a thorough reading of any of these transcendental publications so I kept them tucked away.
Eighteen more months passed and I was finally able to get a cell reassignment. My new cell mate was a young fellow who seemed to care about others and he showed me this by trying to relieve me of my misery by putting me in contact with pen pals, prison correspondence programs, etc. He was very compassionate so I eventually decided to share those two Back to Godhead magazines with him. I told him, upon handing them to him, “There’s an address on the cover and you can write to them and they will write you back. They seem like good people.” Of course I did not know for sure that anyone would write back to him, but I just felt led to say it anyway.
A week later he wrote to ISKCON Prison Ministry in Moundsville, West Virginia. Well, on his birthday October 10, 2005 he received a package and I was standing next to him when he opened it. It contained Coming Back, Perfection of Yoga, two Back to Godhead magazines, a booklet on chanting Hare Krsna and other information. It was a truly amazing experience for both of us. We really could not believe our great fortune.
While my cell mate Shawn read the letter written by Krsna’s devotee, Mukta Kesa Dasa, I picked up Coming Back as I had been unavoidably contemplating the spiritual impact of suicide, life after death, etc. Upon Shawn reading Mukta Kesa’s letter he shared it with me and I was immediately stunned by the great depths of spiritual knowledge he conveyed. It was the deepest letter I had ever read! I knew at that moment I had in fact found who and what I had been searching for during the past twenty-nine years.
That day I began chanting Hare Krsna and over the next ten days realized truths that had remained covered for so long. I quickly, but very thoughtfully, read Coming Back and then Perfection of Yoga. I read the booklet, the BTG magazines, and the other information. I could not get enough of this profound philosophy of Krsna Consciousness. Everything I needed was coming to me at the very lowest point in my life.
On October 22, 2005 I wrote a letter to ISKCON Prison Ministry. I shared a small portion of my spiritual journey and put forward a very respectful request to also receive some transcendental items. In a few weeks a package arrived. It contained a compact edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Welcome Home, Teachings of Queen Kunti, two BTG magazines, and a Bhagavad-gita study course. The journey to become Krsna conscious had begun, or rather reached another level. Over the next eighteen months Mukta Kesa Dasa showed me boundless mercies. He wrote twenty letters to me, sent me numerous transcendental publications, altar photographs, japa mala beads, bead bag, study courses—all with the topmost expert spiritual guidance that has bestowed upon me the most glorious gift of Krsna consciousness.
And as I sit here finishing this story of how I came to Krsna consciousness tears are streaming down my face. The tremendous gratitude I feel within my heart is truly immeasurable. I am indeed eternally indebted to my beloved spiritual guide for it is he that very personally showed me how to get back home, back to Godhead. He freely shared with me this most sublime spiritual nectar that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada ever so mercifully gave to this entire earth planet while he tirelessly traveled freely distributing K
Krsna-prema, pure love of God.
For me, it has been a long journey filled with difficulty. Many times I felt like totally giving up, but now that I have become Krsna conscious I am thankful that I did not. In receiving this torchlight of transcendental knowledge I do see now that God truly is our eternal well-wisher and is all auspicious in everything that He does. Yes, Krsna is the greatest; there are none greater nor equal to Him. Krsna is the Supreme Person to whom I humbly offer my loving devotion by humbly seeking to become a servant of a servant of a servant of His pure devotees. Jaya! Hare Krsna!
Your Humble Servant,
Bhakta Jason