Partha-sarathi Dasa, a Hare Krishna
devotee from New York City, separated from the US Army on Monday, January
26, 2009. He held the rank of Sergeant First Class.
Partha-sarathi enlisted in the Army
in 1995 at age 17. He served in Bosnia in 1998, in Kosovo in 1999,
and in Iraq for thirty-six months between 2003 and 2008. "I
arrived in Kuwait in February 2003, and was in Iraq right after the
ground war started," he recalls. On August 15, 2007, he received
a Combat Award for his actions during and after a mass casualty evacuation
of Iraqi civilians.
Like many other soldiers in Kosovo,
he was shaken by his experiences. "I just got sick of this world
and wanted something better after having to pick up some dead children."
A few months later, he met devotees from the Hare Krishna movement.
The Hare Krishna movement is officially
known as ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
The movement was started five hundred years ago by Lord Caitanya in
Bengal, India. It was brought to the USA in 1965 by the Founder-Acarya
of ISKCON, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Over the next eleven years before his demise, Srila Prabhupada established
the Hare Krishna movement on all the continents of the world, except
The day after he met the devotees,
Partha-sarathi joined the Hare Krishna temple in Nurnberg, Germany.
Krishna consciousness helped Partha-sarathi accept the reality of birth,
death, disease and old age, and put his war-time experiences in perspective.
He conducted book distribution with the devotees while continuuing all
his responsibilities as an active duty soldier.
Partha-sarathi found that in Iraq,
death was even more prevalent than it had been in Kosovo. Thanks to
Krishna consciousness, he had a philosophy perfectly tailored to his
situation. The philosophy is based on the Bhagavad
Gita As It Is, an ancient Vedic scripture from India. Hare
Krishna devotees read Srila Prabhupada's translation of the Bhagavad
Gita As It Is, which provides the ancient verses in both Sanskrit
and English, as well as a comprehensive English-language purport to
Gita As It Is is a dialogue between Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality
of Godhead, and His dearmost friend Arjuna. The conversation takes
place on the Battlefield of Kurekshetra, just before the commencement
of the most destructive war in human history. Knowing the horrors of
war, Arjuna does not want to fight. Arjuna begs Lord Krishna to
tell him what to do. Lord Krishna chastises Arjuna for his "petty
weakness of heart," and orders Arjuna to fight as an act of devotional
service. Similarly, when Partha-sarathi was unsure about his duty,
he inquired from a senior devotee of the Hare Krishna movement. The
devotee told Partha-sarathi to "go and be a devotee." Armed
with practical guidance, Partha-sarathi returned to the battlefield
of Iraq and performed his duty as an offering to Lord Krishna.
On duty in Iraq, Partha-sarathi continued
his practice of book distribution. Many soldiers received comfort and
protection from the books. One soldier, who received a book shortly
before he was injured, told Partha-sarathi that reading the book had
made the difference during his recovery. The soldier then picked
up a pile of books and distributed them to his friends, saying, "These
books can save your life."
Even military personnel in the US are
asking Partha-sarathi for books. During his mandatory finance briefing
earlier this month, the civilian who processed Partha-sarathi's paperwork
told him that she had heard that the books he is distributing in Iraq
are "powerful." She was delighted to receive two books written
by the Founder-Acarya, Srila Prabhupada.
Just like the philosophy, Hare Krishna
spiritual practices have proven themselves perfectly suited to the situation
in Iraq. According to the Bhagavad
Gita As It Is, life is a preparation for one moment -- the moment
of death. The most important spiritual practices relate to the
art of dying. Thus, Krishna consciousness confronts the reality
of death squarely. Partha-sarathi says, "In Iraq, the reality
of death is inescapable. Every time a soldier rolls out of the
gate, he doesn't know whether he is coming back. The soldiers
are very receptive to the philosophy."
The practices are designed to steady
the mind and all five senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing.)
For example, camphor is an aromatic herb used during the arati
ceremony. Camphor has the property of cooling an over-heated body
and mind. This is of great value in the deserts of Iraq during
the summer, or for a soldier who is suffering from anxiety or battle
The most important spiritual practice
is the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare
Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama,
Hare Hare. The maha-mantra can be chanted by anyone, in any time,
place, or circumstance. It is an ancient prayer that releases
the mind from the fear of death.
"There was one soldier who would
never take a book. He would avoid me and wouldn't accept anything
that had to do with Krishna consciousness," recalls Partha-sarathi.
Was Partha-sarathi disturbed by this response? Not at all.
Instead, Partha-sarathi thought, "I'm not going to push anybody.
I want to leave everybody with a favorable impression of devotees."
On patrol one day, this same soldier's
vehicle was hit. Partha-sarathi could see that the soldier was
unlikely to survive. Because of his training as a Hare Krishna
devotee, Partha-sarathi knew what to do at this critical moment.
He began talking to the soldier about Lord Krishna, and chanted the
maha-mantra in his ear. The soldier, who was barely alive, suddenly
said to Partha-sarathi, "For so many months and for so long, I
ran away from Krishna. And now at the time of death, He's the
only one here." Immediately after saying this, the soldier
died. The entire event lasted five to ten minutes.
According to the Bhagavad
Gita As It Is, anyone who remembers Lord Krishna at the moment of
death attains Goloka Vrindavan, or the Kingdom of God. Did this
soldier return back to Goloka Vrindavan? Partha-sarathi says,
"Lord Krishna was there. He can make this happen for everyone."
Why did Partha-sarathi make such an
effort to help someone who had avoided him and his books? "Because
it is the duty of a devotee to help people return to the spiritual world.
I had been in this situation a few times, so it was second nature for
me to go to him, calm him down, and prepare him for what might happen."
Naturally, the other soldiers present
were shocked by the death. But many also felt inspired by the
fact that Partha-sarathi knew exactly what to do at that critical moment.
Moreover, the soldiers knew there was some concrete evidence that their
friend had returned to the Kingdom of God.
Partha-sarathi proved that the maha-mantra
can be chanted anywhere. He once led a rousing chorus of the maha-mantra
when his barracks was bombed. Another time, on a six-mile run
with five hundred soldiers, Partha-sarathi substituted the maha-mantra
in place of a traditional cadence call. His commander remarked,
"That was amazing – the most motivating run I've been on in thirteen
years." Partha-sarathi handed his commander a Bhagavad
Gita As It Is.
Partha-sarathi was a trailblazer by
bringing the Hare Krishna movement to the US Army. Now, he has
a very different future ahead of him. He is currently in India
for the first time. He plans to visit the holy site of Vrindavan,
the birth place of Lord Krishna. And afterwards? Partha-sarathi
says, "I have my plans, but of course, Lord Krishna has His plans.
I want to just continue distributing books. My goal is to continue
distributing books until I leave my body."