on Sept. 28, 2008
It is interesting to note that many Hare Krishna devotees rarely live and preach in the country of their birth. One such devotee is Devaki Devi Dasi, born in Bensheim, south of Frankfurt, Germany, and raised near Stuttgart.
Krishna consciousness began for Devaki in Australia. After she had trained in physiotherapy, and becoming dissatisfied merely treating the body in an attempt to help her fellows, Devaki traveled to seek a cure for the ache that was deep inside her - a more meaningful way of life. Upon meeting devotees and reading several of Srila Prabhupada’s books, she embarked on the Hare Krishna lifestyle at Colo River outside of Sydney. For the first four years in devotional life, Devaki was a dedicated practitioner, worshiper and preacher.
When Devaki married at the end of 1988, she and her spouse, Guruttama das, traveled to Riga, Latvia, to start a missionary program. Since then, Devaki seems to have always been on the move. As well as spending time in Latvia and other parts of Europe, Devaki has traveled extensively in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Her favorite destinations are Bangladesh and Ukraine.
The history behind the choice of Bangladesh is a sign of her dedication to spiritual goals. Devaki’s spiritual master, Prabhavishnu Swami, was given the task of developing the temples and communities in Bangladesh and Nepal by ISKCON founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. To assist her spiritual master, Devaki liberally gave donations towards building projects. When in 1998 she began visiting those regions to appreciate how her financial assistance was utilized, the local devotees realized that Devaki had more to offer than simply assisting with bricks and mortar: the talent to train and educate ISKCON members was obvious, and these skills have been welcomed in Bangladesh to further the spiritual and managerial progress of the major center in Dhaka.
On a visit to Bangladesh in 2000, when she was accompanied by her father (an avid traveler and friend of the Hare Krishna devotees), Devaki became a participant rather than a visitor in the Bangladesh mission by singing and speaking on stage about her involvement in ISKCON. These pandal programs are held in villages and cities around the nation, with enormous tents or canopies to cater for the large audiences. Devotees who arranged the programs and who ran the local temples were happy working with Devaki. Over time and a few subsequent visits, the relationships developed and Devaki has been increasingly involved in education in Bangladesh. The process has also allowed Devaki to see that her donations have been spent wisely and that training is continuing for the progress of the Hare Krishna community there.
Devaki also went to Nepal and established strong links with that devotee community in the same spirit of service.
Devaki shared her insights into some of the crucial factors for spiritual health, in light of her twenty-two years of bhakti-yoga experience. She suggested having a supportive spiritual culture as the key to long-term dedication to the practice of bhakti-yoga. The principles and practices of the Hare Krishna movement are not mainstream culture, and for the individual members of ISKCON (a growing number live and work independently from a temple setting) it can sometimes be challenging to swim against the tide of materialism. Devaki defined a supportive culture as “a way of being spiritually dependent on like-minded individuals and community, like a spiritual family.”
A source of inspiration for her in this regard is one of her mentors, Niranjana Swami, who is a Governing Body Commissioner in Ukraine where Devaki spends part of her year. A book entitled “Taking Care of Krishna’s Devotees” has been composed of Niranjana Swami’s lectures and teachings. A quote from the book, "Though one usually ignores others in attaining one’s own goals, those aspiring for prema accept dependence on others with similar goals and tastes . . . [so] cooperating with each other, they worked together keeping in mind the goal of prema," is a focal point for Devaki. She says that meeting and joining in the congregational chanting of the Lord's names, discussing philosophical topics and taking food offered to the Lord together is the way to become strong in Krishna consciousness. The quote indicates that materialistic culture means ignoring each other in the pursuit of one’s own goals, and shows us how to practice depending on each other in spiritual culture. The mood of accepting mutual dependency on those who have similar spiritual goals is essential.
Devaki said: “The opposite of this spiritual dependency is materialistic culture which cultivates separatism and individualism, and maybe even selfishness. Because devotees are often from that culture they sometimes lack the shelter of spiritually nurturing relationships.” She recommended spiritual shelter and said family-like relationships would support a lifetime of spiritual practice, rather than a short-term commitment.
This type of family approach to spiritual life can be seen in areas where some traits of Vaisnava culture remain: India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Manipur, etc. One devotee community in particular, in Chowpatti, India, is systematically building upon the natural culture of the people and creating deep and lasting opportunities for family-like bonds to support individuals on their path to Krishna consciousness. Following in a similar model, Niranjana Swami is establishing principles of sustainable bhakti practice through developing interpersonal relationships as the basis of devotees’ lives in Ukraine.
“It seems it is easier to establish these principles in countries where there is material dependency, as opposed to Western countries where there is material opulence and a feeling of individualism and independence," Devaki said. "Where society is less materialistic, people are still rooted in extended families and community-based living. In those places it is easier for individuals to see ISKCON as their extended family. In places where there is no living experience of extended family it is harder for devotees to rely on ISKCON for that experience."
Recently Devaki has had a brief stint in Australia recovering from cancer. This has allowed her to reacquaint herself with a former preaching field and revisit friendships, while continuing to work on the principles of taking care of Krishna’s devotees.