My Pathway to Krishna

By : 
Bhavananda Dasa

It seems that my coming to Krishna has taken me my whole life. As I look back on all my wasted years I can see the many opportunities Krishna gave me to put my life together, that I let pass by.

My early years were spent as a military dependent living around the world. The choice in worshiping God was broken down into Jewish, Catholic or Protestant. By the time I was out of elementary school my parents has stopped taking me to the Protestant services. By high school I felt that void and started going back on my own. I was active in the church but there was something lacking. I was confused in the teachings and just couldn’t believe all I was being taught. I also couldn’t find a role model in the church to help direct my life. My life started spiraling downward. Living in Germany I had easy access to alcohol. Drinking became my main focus. I returned to the states to start college but didn’t last a semester in college before dropping out and joining the army. When I returned from Vietnam I decided to try college again. By this time I was drinking heavily and instead of making it to classes I spent my time in a local bar.

I had lost my faith in everything. Well, not quite everything, I still believed in God. I had no idea of how to worship God or anything about Him, but even as messed up as everything in the world seemed, I still believed there had to be a God. I had left Christianity behind and was becoming attracted to Zen Buddhism.

My first contact with Krishna devotees wasn’t a physical contact but a very memorable one. I was living in College Park, Maryland around 1972 and was in a bar trying to drink myself into oblivion. The TV was tuned into a program where the host would invite guests to his show and then proceed to make fools out of them. These strange looking people wearing sheets walked in as the next guests on the program. I didn’t follow a lot of what they were saying, some religious stuff, but what got my attention was that no matter how hard the program host tried he could not defeat the Krishna devotees. I said to myself, that these people may look strange but they are really fixed up in their beliefs and are undefeatable.

I returned to Arkansas in 1973. A friend from back East moved there too and we moved into the woods of the Ozarks in northern Arkansas. It was really primitive; a hand built shack with no plumbing or electricity and a small 2 men tent. He had brought a copy of the Bhagavad-gita with him. When he finished reading it he came to me and said he was only willing to talk to me about our survival or about Krishna. He believed that this philosophy was the truth and he was going to become a devotee. I’d go crazy without anyone to talk to, so I borrowed his Gita and started reading. I was just getting to the 18th chapter when he really started asking for the book back so he could study it more. I had been blown away by all that I had read and wanted to finish the last chapter, but could see how sincere he was in wanting to become a better devotee so I returned the Gita. Shortly after that he decided to go to a temple, so we loaded up the car and headed to Dallas.

This was my first actual contact with devotees. It was the summer of 1973 and the Dallas temple was very busy. My friend got shaved up and fit right in. I, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what I was doing. Being there was totally blissful and I do not remember being as happy anywhere else. But it just didn’t seem to be the place for me. After 4 days I returned to Arkansas. I was just too attached to the material world and all my pleasures. I had a job waiting, my parents were expecting me to come back and I just couldn’t give up my propensity for intoxication and women, but I did become a vegetarian.

From then on my spiritual life was a series of ups and downs. I returned to college to get a degree in forestry in the hope of getting a better paying job so I could afford to buy some land and live a simple life in the country. I went to work for the U.S. Forest Service. I believed I had found the truth about God in the Bhagavad-gita but wasn’t able to actually follow the teachings. Nevertheless, my perspective on reality had changed.

I didn’t really see another devotee until the latter 1980’s when I started occasionally going back to the Dallas temple. Things seemed to have changed at the Temple. There weren’t near as many devotees around and I was totally shocked to learn that Srila Prabhupada had left his body. I started sending money to the temple, trying to chant and read some of the many books I had purchased. One devotee I met traveled around teaching cooking classes and he used to stop at my house to rest from his travels. He taught me to cook and encouraged me by his association. I became a Life Member, but as time passed I stopped going back to the temple in Dallas. I met some devotees who lived in Missouri that had left ISKCON and I visited them off and on. I learned of a break in ISKCON and became totally confused as to what had happened.

As I moved from place to place I always kept Srila Prabhupada’s books with me. I knew these books contained all the knowledge I needed and they were my prized possessions. I had finally read all of the Gita but had never attempted to read Srimad-Bhagavatam or Sri Caitanya-caritarmrta. One day I would read them, when I could get my life together. I did tell everyone that in case of fire the only important thing to save was Prabhupada’s books.

Years passed and I continued my old ways. I had become successful in the material world but had not made any new progress spiritually. My senses and mind pulled me around and I just didn’t have the will power to say “no” to intoxication or women. Finally the Lord came to my rescue. I broke the law and went to prison. I had hit rock bottom.

When I first arrived in prison I had the good fortune to meet another devotee inmate, who gave me the address for the ISKCON Prison Ministry. I started writing Mother Shyama Priya for her association and that started a wonderful friendship both on a spiritual and personal level. The 2 years 7 months I was in prison was the Lord’s blessing on me. He took away all my attachments and provided me the time to chant and read Srila Prabhupada’s books. Of course trying to be a devotee in the Arkansas prison system was a real challenge. The prison units I ended up in didn’t seem to have any experience with vegetarians. But I kept up my vegetarian diet and got stricter on myself as time went on. Shyama Priya was of great help to me, sending japa beads and books to read. I got out of prison in February 2008. That August I made a trip to Alachua to finally meet Shyama Priya in person, and be able to go to the Temple. Then the following February I received my initiation, on my 60th birthday, from H.H. Hridayananda das Goswami.

Of course being out of prison has been difficult too. All the old attachments are now available once again. I have not met any devotees in Arkansas, but I have taken shelter of the Holy Names and my spiritual master. I’m retired with free time so I’ve started producing the IPM Freedom Newsletter as a service to others in prison. I bought a small house on a couple of acres in the country where I live alone living a simple life, chanting my rounds and reading Srila Prabhupada’s books.

I have been fortunate to be able to make a couple trips to the Dallas temple and get the association of the devotees there. I plan to continue those visits on a regular basis. These trips have resulted in a blessing for people in Arkansas. Several of the devotees I met in Dallas plan to come to visit me in Arkansas with the thought of being able to start some sort of a preaching program here. This is something greatly needed in Arkansas and I look forward to being part of it. It is all Krishna’s blessing and I am thankful to have this opportunity to serve our Lord and my spiritual master.