A Lifelong Search for Something More
“I am now in a place where I can never forget Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
I was born at home in Harlem, New York, on October 31, 1926. My father was sixty-two, my mother in her late forties. Mother was a pious woman who read her Bible regularly and always spoke of God. My parents were strict with me, but that did no harm. Discipline and etiquette were an important part of my life.
My parents were members of the Marcus Garvey movement, or the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded in 1914. Garvey (1887-1940) devoted his life to correcting the injustices black people suffered. He provided a vision that gave many people a renewed sense of dignity and destiny. As members of the Marcus Garvey movement, we didn’t go to church on Sundays but to meetings and rallies. The meetings always opened with prayers, followed by a lecture.
As a child growing up I noticed that most of my friends went to the local Catholic church. When I spoke of wanting to go to there, my father became angry. He told me that the Pope had blessed Mussolini’s troops to invade Ethiopia and kill our ancestors and kinsman. Being obedient, I submitted to his wish and did not attend the church.
At eighteen, however, now legally an adult, I decided to go to the Catholic church despite my father’s opinion. By then I had visited other churches, but I didn’t feel as comfortable and peaceful as I did in the Catholic church. I got married in the Church, and later raised three children as Catholics.
Eighteen years passed. Gradually I began to feel there was more to know about God. I felt it was still important to worship Jesus and all the saints regularly, but I wanted to reach the top person. Jesus always spoke of the “Father,” but I didn’t know who He was.
One Sunday I heard a radio program from The Church of Religious Science, speaking of positive thinking and affirmations. The show’s host assured me that such things would change my life. He called the study “the science of mind.” His philosophy reminded me of my father, who in his later years had studied metaphysics and meditation and had wanted to introduce me to those topics. I recall observing how his personality had transformed.
After a period of study, I decided to leave the Catholic Church and joined The First Church of Religious Science. As a member, I studied metaphysical principles, beginning with the concept that God is the Universal Spirit, all-powerful, all-intelligent, all-love, and present in and through all. According to Religious Science, the Universal Spirit creates through the instrument of Universal Mind; all mind is God-mind, so all ideas originate in God, and through the creative medium, become created form. We used “Spiritual Mind Treatment” prayer, based on the theory that the word spoken into the Spiritual Law creates its manifestation in the world.
These teachings were helpful in my life because by knowing that God is present everywhere, I found I could talk with God/Spirit and knew I was being heard. This made dealing with my financial and other difficulties easier.
Over the next ten years my financial circumstances improved after I took a job at a research laboratory of a large hospital in the Bronx. Working gave me an incentive to return to college to complete the studies in laboratory technology that I had begun twenty years earlier.
At age fifty I completed the two-year degree in medical-laboratory technology and decided to enter the bachelor degree program. Difficult days followed. I struggled with courses in organic chemistry, calculus, and other subjects in the biology curriculum. The other students couldn’t understand what I was doing in such a program, and I often wondered myself. My salary had increased, and the degree would now make little difference. But the Science of Mind studies helped me maintain a positive attitude; I felt always connected to God/Spirit.
“Learn the Principles”
In 1974 I divorced my husband after twenty-four years of marriage. As I continued to seek spiritual growth, he seemed too stagnant. He wasn’t a bad person. He went to work, came home, then sat in front of the television day after day something any number of people do in this world. Still, I was growing and discovering the meaning of life, and I knew I could not live the same life he was living.
One morning, while I was still in college, I woke up with the words “Learn the principles” clear in my mind. At first I thought the words meant I should learn the principles of algebra, because I was struggling so much with physics and calculus. But it seemed deeper than that. Could it mean I should learn the principles of life? After much introspection, I decided to withdraw from school for a while.
After withdrawing, I asked aloud what would I do now? I needed to travel. I needed to relax from the stress I felt at school and focus my attention on God and the meaning of life. I visited friends out of the state and people I hadn’t seen in a long time. They were quiet visits. I began reading books on African, Eastern, and Buddhist teachings. I began questioning at a deeper level my teacher at Science of Mind. He became irritated with me. That nagging was within me again. There must be something more. I knew it was time to move on.
In October 1977, a car hit me while I was crossing the street. I remember thinking, “OK, Spirit, what’s this all about?” That questioning felt like a moment of complete surrender. Through the trauma of the emergency room, x-ray room, ICU ward, and the broken arm and leg, I lost my sense of worry. I felt like a child again. I had to have a home care attendant; I was in a wheelchair with a cast from left leg to hip and another on my left arm. I could not do much for my self. Another crossroads and I crossed into a state of thankfulness.
While recuperating I had time to read spiritual books. I observed that my body healed without any direction from me. God, who created everything, knew how to put the broken bones together again.
My experience and readings gave me the basis to help others have faith and trust in God/Spirit. This revealed to me that I wasn’t to go back into the laboratory. I wanted to assist others to grow spiritually.
Back to School
I decided to go back to school, this time for a degree in counseling. I completed my bachelor’s degree and then my master’s. I worked for Social Services, followed by a position in the City University system, in a special program for young people. I worked with young people for a few years. I found that I was able to encourage people, especially parents, to realize they had choices about how to think and live.
Indrani Devi Dasi
Meanwhile, I was attending any retreat or meeting that appeared spiritual in some way. At one meeting, I met the members of a spiritual community from Uganda, East Africa. They were vegetarians, chanted a mantra, and had a charismatic leader. They held a large conference in Uganda in 1987, which I attended. I felt at home there. Although the spiritual discourses were esoteric, the community’s plans to build a spiritual city were realistic.
By the time I returned to the U.S.A., I had decided to move to the community in Uganda to live out the rest of my life. I applied for early Social Security at sixty-two and prepared to move. It meant I had to give up most of my material goods. I gave away my car, jewelry, and mink coat. Having lived in my apartment for thirty-six years, there was a lot to get rid of. I did that without any regrets, because I was determined to do whatever was necessary for spiritual growth.
I was not in the best of health while in Uganda. My doctor in America had been concerned about my heart. Tests had indicated a problem. It didn’t matter. I was determined to go. I left for Uganda in June 1988, not knowing whether I would see America or my family again. I felt so strongly about growing spiritually that I didn’t want anything to stop me.
The experience in Uganda certainly required faith in God. It was not easy. I lived in a straw hut where the cows would come and nibble, the ants built hills, and the roof leaked when it rained.
On the more positive side, there were spiritual discourses twice a day, although not usually in English. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand much; I enjoyed getting up in the morning and sitting in the circle with the members of that pious community. I always felt that the lectures carried the vibration of something I needed. Most of the discourse was esoteric or metaphysical. But the group planned to build a spiritual city on the shores of Lake Victoria, consisting of a university, a hospital, a school, and brick homes instead of straw huts, and to develop a culture of spiritual people who would bring about world change. I was excited by the idea and took part in some of the planning.
But my heart condition was not getting better. I finally had to go to the hospital in Kampala. Someone called my daughter in Washington, D.C., who then arrived with my son and other daughter to take me home. When I left Uganda, my heart was beating at thirty-seven beats per minute. Upon arrival in the States, I underwent surgery for a pacemaker implant. It was so strange to hear police sirens and traffic sounds after being away from all that for a year.
As I recuperated, the questions returned. I was sixty-three and on Social Security. What should I do with the rest of my life? Where will I live? I had given up the apartment I had lived in for thirty-six years in the Bronx. I had even given away most of my clothes and other possessions. I had almost nothing. Then my oldest daughter invited me to live with her in Washington, D.C. What else could I do?
It is difficult to describe my feelings at that time. I had given up all my material possessions and security for my spiritual growth, and here I was in a room in my daughter’s house, wondering what to do next. My cup seemed empty. I began to pray. “Not my will but Your will be done.”
It was now May 1990. I was walking on the Howard University campus in Washington, D.C., and I was handed a flyer. All I remember seeing was “Spiritual,” and the address for a meeting. I went to the meeting on time, expecting an answer to my prayers. It was the first meeting of The Institute for Applied Spiritual Technology, under the directorship of Bhakti Tirtha Swami.
Two Institute staff members conducted the meeting. They spoke of consciousness and the spirit soul in a way that held my attention. It was a pleasant, informative evening, and I knew I would return. I attended every meeting after that.
A few weeks later, I heard that Bhakti Tirtha Swami himself would conduct the meeting. He spoke on stress management with a marvelous spiritual flair. The subject was so intriguing that I began to get a taste of “the something more.” The next week he spoke of about conflict resolution, again with a spiritual flair. I was intrigued because years ago when I lived in New York I tried to give workshops on personal growth and development with a spiritual basis. Here was something to fill my empty cup.
I found each meeting more informative than the last. I also found the meetings to be presenting something higher than any other lecture or workshop I had attended. Bhakti Tirtha Swami answered all questions with knowledge and understanding. After a few weeks, he left to travel to Africa and his staff members again conducted the meetings.
One evening one of the staff persons said, “God is a person.” I was taken aback. A person? God? But because I had already opened myself to learning from these people, I took in the information.
At the next meeting, someone in the audience asked if the meeting’s facilitator was a Hare Krsna, and he said he was. Well, my mind jumped. What is a Hare Krsna? What was I getting myself into? I questioned myself all the way home. What had God brought me to? I found I trusted God, and I decided to keep attending the lectures.
An Important Meeting
Eventually, one of the staff members recommended I have a meeting with Bhakti Tirtha Swami. I was surprised that someone so knowledgeable and busy would take time to speak to me. When we met, I felt I could speak openly with him. I told him of my experience in the community in Uganda and of other spiritual pursuits. He listened attentively.
As the meeting came to a close he said, “God knows what is in your heart.”
I cherished those words, because I knew I wanted to know God. He also suggested that instead of thinking that my experience in Uganda was incomplete, I should think of it as being all that I needed at that time. I should now look forward to the next experience.
Then he informed me that the plans for the Institute in Washington, D.C., were being formed and that he thought I had a role to play in them. I could be of some service.
Bhakti Tirtha Swami kept an open-door policy at the Institute. That was helpful for me. I was still letting go of so many old ideas I had gathered from my various paths. He made it easy for me to understand the concepts a little at a time.
Through that time I realized that my search had brought me to Bhakti Tirtha Swami and Krsna consciousness. Now I began to learn how to serve. There was always some service to do. I enjoyed meeting the people who came to visit Bhakti Tirtha Swami after attending his lectures or hearing him speak on radio or television, and I was beginning to enjoy discussing the concepts taught in the Krsna consciousness philosophy.
On October 3, 1990, Bhakti Tirtha Swami departed for West Africa. At the departure gate he handed me a rose and said that I was the mother figure for the Institute. At the end of that month I celebrated my sixty-forth birthday. I was beginning a new life with a new family and a loving family leader, and I was thankful.
While Bhakti Tirtha Swami was away, I became more involved in the Institute’s activities. I joined the counseling unit and attended the facilitator’s course, in which senior devotees taught the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. I was asked to take part in the presentation about spiritual counseling.
In March 1991, Bhakti Tirtha Swami returned from Africa, and after a few weeks, he began planning for initiations. I knew I needed a spiritual master. I knew Bhakti Tirtha Swami loved me and cared about my spiritual growth. His teaching encouraged me to strive for greater spiritual awareness. I knew I cared for and respected him. I felt he was the teacher/guide who would fulfill the desires of my heart to know and experience God while in this body. Yet was I ready to take the final step?
My mind went into overdrive. There were so many things I didn’t know. Maybe I should wait until I knew all the Sanskrit prayers. I didn’t know how to offer my food properly. I needed more time, I decided. I called the Institute to have my name removed from the list of initiates, and to my amazement, Bhakti Tirtha Swami answered the phone. I expressed my doubts, and he listened. He told me that some of my concerns were external, and that the qualification for initiation was based on a strong desire to know and serve God. Maybe I wasn’t serious, he said. When he hung up, I realized how much he had been there for me, but that I must make this decision now.
I felt I had been at this point before but had not completed the journey. I did not rest well that night. The next day, I attended the meeting Bhakti Tirtha Swami held for the candidates for initiation. After the meeting, I requested not to remove my name. I felt ready to make the commitment.
On May 4, 1991, I accepted initiation from Bhakti Tirtha Swami and received the name Indrani Devi Dasi (servant of the queen mother of the demigods). As I publicly offered obeisances to my spiritual master, I knew he had brought me to where my soul had been crying to be. He has truly “opened my darkened eyes and filled my heart with knowledge.”
After initiation my services increased fantastically. The Institute for Applied Spiritual Technology was growing at a tremendous rate. Bhakti Tirtha Swami was giving lectures in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. People were filling our space on Sunday afternoons. They came to Bhagavad-gita classes, meditation classes, and training classes. Endeavoring to understand devotional service, I transcribed tapes of Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s lectures. I put out a newsletter and set up the Institute mailing list. I was meeting, greeting, encouraging, and counseling. I found that many of the mature professionals who where coming because Bhakti Tirtha Swami had touched their souls had been on the spiritual search for many years, as I had been. So I could understand, encourage, share with them.
Role Model and Hero
Bhakti Tirtha Swami always speaks of his spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, and always praises him before every lecture. On the days commemorating Srila Prabhupada birth and passing, we came together at the Institute and read about him and listened to his tapes. I felt a connection with Srila Prabhupada when I heard about his heart problems. I was inspired to hear how he began his work in America at an older age, and to hear of the hardships he endured until he formed the organization. Hearing about his loving interaction with young people gave me the courage to continue to study and share Krsna consciousness.
In fact, Srila Prabhupada is a role model and hero to me because I came into Krsna consciousness at an older age and my interaction is mainly with younger devotees. When the going gets intense, especially physically, I pray to Srila Prabhupada for strength. I also give thanks to Krsna because I see His hand guiding me through each experience to reach Him.
After nine years of service at the Institute, in June of 1999 I moved to the Gita Nagari farm community in Port Royal, Pennsylvania. As my body gets older it is slowing down. Yet I have so much to be thankful for. I am now in a place where I can never forget Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I am very close to Their Lordships Radha-Damodara. I am regularly closer to nature than I have ever been. I can hear lectures every day. I have the quiet time every morning to chant on my beads. I see the cows grazing and the peacocks strutting with their beautiful tail feathers spread. On clear nights I can see the sky full of stars. Full-moon nights are breathtaking.
The devotees on the farm are hard-working, devotional, and caring. I know I’ve been given the opportunity to continue to serve at a different level and to chant my way out of this material world whenever that time comes.