By Radha dasi
“Nitai Gauranga, Nitai Gauranga, Nitai Gauranga, Gaurahari!” As I looked throughout the room, I saw some men with their eyes closed gently swaying to and fro, some moving side to side, some clapping, while in unison all were singing. Suddenly I felt I was transported to Navadvip Dham witnessing the power of those sacred Names. Names so glorious, it was clear to see that everyone was experiencing something special.
And then, “Govinda bolo Hari, Gopala bolo!”, again and again this kirtan filled the room. Suddenly one man jumped up and everyone followed, because these Names could no longer be contained within a sitting position. There was an element of madness embracing joy. Their voices became louder, and they continued to dance while singing the Names of Krishna. One by one, each person led “Hari Bol! Hari Bol”! You could see on everyone’s face the excitement to lead and sing as loudly as they could. When it came to an end, one man pointed at a person who just walked in and said, “Oh, but he did not sing yet”, and then again, this mood of madness embracing joy came. The man who just walked in again and again led us all in singing, “Hari bol, Hari bol!” and everyone even louder followed. Kirtan bliss, kirtan madness – how can I properly describe this scene? It was so special.
Aside from that beautiful day of kirtan and Harikatha, just 2 days prior we went to another prison and did the same thing with just a few inmates. One man deeply affected me. Out of the group of men, he knew the most about Krishna. He shared his story how he was introduced to this philosophy. He said his cellmate used to chant the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra every day. Whenever his cellmate would chant that mantra, he would stop anything he was doing or reading, close his eyes, and just listen to him. And whenever his cellmate went to meditation programs, he would push him on his wheelchair. Through his cellmate’s association he became attracted to Krishna.
This touched me deeply, because it brought to life the Harikatha I heard and read from my Srila Gurudeva and Srila Prabhupad about the glories of loudly chanting the Holy Names. How Haridas Thakur by his example would chant loudly a fixed number of rounds, then in a soft voice, and then by mind. This man reminded me that no matter what level a person is, this Maha Mantra is so great, that when we chant these Holy Names out loud, everything around becomes affected in powerful way, that it really does cleanse the conscious of all. There are so many lessons here actually.
Overall, these past 2 weeks of visiting prisons, sharing kirtan and Harikatha, hearing from the inmates, and distributing books was such a beautiful experience. I am grateful to my spiritual Masters, all those involved in serving this IPBYS Prison Program, and especially Srimati Syamarani didi and Vasanti didi for allowing me to serve and become inspired by their service.
By Malini dasi
I am so moved and inspired by the dedication and sincerity of the people I met during my visit to Snake River Correctional Institution and Powder River Correctional in Oregon. It has become so much more apparent to me that Sri Radha-Krishna and all our well wishing Gurus of the present and past are always eager to bring yearning souls closer to Them, no matter what obstacles may seem to be put forth. I have witnessed with my own eyes on this trip that there are no actual barriers when it comes to matters of the heart and soul.
Our first visit to Snake River had a rocky start. There was some complication with Vasanti’s volunteer card status which stopped the three of us from joining the Thursday kirtan that is done weekly at Snake River. There we were sitting in the Chaplin’s room, seeing devotees in a circle chanting and anxiously waiting in the room across from us, wondering if we would join them. The time was passing fast and it seemed we would not be able to do kirtan with the rest of the devotees that day. Just then, at the very last minute, we were able to join the devotees and were kindly given an additional hour for our program. It was short and sweet with discussion and kirtan but I could feel the relief in the room that we were all able to come together.
I thought to myself how Krishna must have orchestrated all of this. Not a blade of grass moves without His will. Why were such obstacles created? I remembered when Srila Gurudeva would tell how Mother Yashoda once tried to bind Krishna to the grinding mortar as punishment for his mischievous behavior, but no matter how hard she tried, her rope was always two fingers too short. After trying with more and more rope, she became desperate and beads of sweat were decorating her forehead. Yashoda finally prayed, “O Vishnu, please! If I cannot care for my son’s well being and teach him properly, what will I do?” Her love for Krishna was so strong that at that moment Krishna immediately allowed her to bind Him. As insignificant souls that are only sparks of light in comparison to the blazing sun, we cannot control circumstances or people, what to speak of God Himself, but it was so eye-opening for me to see that what Krishna really wanted to see from all of us was that moment of desperation. Srila Gurudeva said that two fingers represents endeavor and mercy. We must first endeavor to show Krishna our eagerness and when we are sincerely trying and fully dependent on Him, then His mercy flows like a raging river. I really experienced that that day and knew that the rest of the trip was going to be blissful.
Then we went to Powder River. I was so impressed with our discussion with our group there about mantra meditation and bhakti yoga. Very few of them had ever heard about Krishna or the Maha-mantra, but most, if not all attended because they were encouraged by fellow inmates that had already left the facility or who were not present at the time. I saw the camaraderie in the room and the brotherly love that was being shared. It really moved me. In this age of Kali, this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the world is so individualistic. People are worried about their own survival and enjoyment over others. Society has it set up so that there isn’t even enough time to really pay attention to others. There is a lack of genuine communities and connection all over the world. I was so pleasantly surprised to be in a room with such conscious and caring men who were supporting one another to develop on their spiritual paths, acknowledging each other’s progress and needs. It was truly moving. It’s no wonder we all clapped and danced in a circle by the end of it.
Last but not least, we returned to Snake River for a program where we sang some kirtans, and discussed many aspects of bhakti yoga: transcendental sound vibration, karma, reincarnation and prayer. I think after the whole episode that had happened the first time around at Snake River, everyone was ready to fully give themselves to the experience, including myself. We danced and chanted with all our hearts and in that moment I really felt we had transformed that entire space into something very sacred. That is what kirtan is about. It is about losing yourself to the transcendental sound, and giving up the mental chatter and opening your heart—praying and allowing for Sri Radha and Krishna to enter.
With all of our endeavors there is so much mercy available to us. I cannot wait to come again and be a part of the IPBYS prison program. I encourage everyone who is reading this to continue steadily in your spiritual endeavors and never give up. We may forget Krishna sometimes, but Krishna never forgets us. When we make even one step towards Radha and Krishna, They take one hundred steps towards us.