Learning from Krishna

2008-11-06 00:00

Devamrita Swami, the governing body commissioner for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskon) in South Africa, and the travelling sannyasa preacher Bhakti Narasimha Swami were in Pietermaritzburg last weekend to attend the Govardhan Puja Festival celebrating the miraculous feat of the Supreme Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, when he lifted the Govardhan Hill and used it like an umbrella to protect his devotees from the torrential rain sent by the demi-god Indra.

Narasimha said this miracle that occurred 5 000 years ago was a demonstration of how God shows love to his devotees. The Govardhan Puja Festival was held in South Africa for the first time and Pietermaritzburg was chosen especially as the inaugural venue. “It’s the capital of KwaZulu-Natal and we chose it as we wanted to put across this message in a very big way.”

“We want to send a message of goodwill,” says Narasimha, “a message of peace, because in our country we belong to a culture of violence and anxiety. But it is also possible to have a culture of love, celebration and liberation.”

Devamrita added that Krishna’s act also had an ecological and environmental significance. “If you act in harmony with nature everything’s fine. If not, it hits back or causes havoc.”

Devamrita, an African-American, was brought up as a Presbyterian — “at the age of 12 I was preaching in church”. He describes himself as having been a scholarly child and when he graduated from Yale he decided to take up Hare Krishna — “I was looking for the topmost knowledge and I had the topmost education. At Yale I studied politics … but I saw that without any spiritual knowledge politics doesn’t change anything.”

He found the “topmost” knowledge elsewhere: “I studied the Bhagavad Gita and other Krishna-consciousness books — I had never encountered such knowledge before.”

Devamrita and his colleague Narasimha are both sannyasa, Hindu renunciates who dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits.

Narasimha is the first black South African sannyasa of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and is responsible for preaching and teaching in Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho. He was born and grew up in Durban, later studying engineering in Johannesburg.

Narasimha came from a family of Seventh Day Adventists and he says his becoming a member of the Hare Krishna movement grew out of his own inquisitiveness when, during the student uprisings of the apartheid years, he was forced to confront the question: “What causes all this disturbance? What is the nature of the Absolute? The Bible didn’t fulfil me,” he says. “I looked at the deeper concepts of Hinduism to see what it had to say about God and his relationship to chaos in the world. This expanded my views and my consciousness. In the Bhagavad Gita all my questions were answered.”

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