for ISKCON News on Jan. 6, 2012
Visakha Dasi, a lifelong student of India’s foremost wisdom text the Bhagavad-gita, is sharing her philosophical realizations from the book—as well as her experiences of how it changed her life—in her second annual North American tour this year.
Back in 1971, Visakha was studying photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, when she met her future husband John Greisser (Yadubara Dasa) and took off with him to trek along the snowline in the Himalayas at 10,000 feet. Along the way, she read his copy of Bhagavad-gita As Is by Srila Prabhupada, the leading teacher of the Gita in the Western World. That winter, she was initiated by Srila Prabhupada, and her life was never the same again.
Bhagavad-gita As It Is made such an impact on Visakha’s life that she wrote three books presenting its teachings to different audiences, and has taken them on tour to share the gifts she received with others.
Last year her forty-five-date tour hit locations all over Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, West Virginia, Washington, and British Columbia. This year, Visakha looks like she might top that, with fifteen dates so far in January alone, covering Southern States such as Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana.
At each location, she makes different presentations according to her audience’s demands. Her lead presentation on the tour, A Bumpy Journey Toward Harmony with the Bhagavad-gita, is a memoir of her life and spiritual journey accompanied by slides, which also integrates all three of her books based on the Gita.
There’s Our Most Dear Friend, a version of the sacred text for children aged four and up with simple text and colorful photographic montages, released in 1996.
Then for young adults, there’s Bhagavad-gita: A Photographic Essay, published for Gita Jayanti 2010 and featuring poetic, inventive photography from Visakha to illustrate the Gita’s many analogies. The book was the recipient of a bronze medal in the inspirational/spiritual category at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards.
And finally, for adults, there’s last year’s Harmony and the Bhagavad-gita, which tells the story of how Visakha and her family moved from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles to the off-the-grid spiritual community of Saranagati in the forests of British Columbia, Canada. Through a series of personal introspective stories, it conveys the message of the Gita and shows how the sacred book guides Visakha and the other members of Saranagati.
Visakha also has a second presentation, in which she speaks about the importance of understanding Srila Prabhupada, and becoming familiar with his teachings and personality. Along with this, she shows segments from the newly released The Master Collection: A Following Srila Prabhupada Series, produced by herself and her husband Yadubara with their company ISKCON Cinema Productions.
“It’s thirty-one hours and contains all the known footage of Srila Prabhupada,” Visakha says. “There’s also an audio commentary track featuring remembrances from over 300 devotees who were there with Prabhupada at the time.”
Visakha also discusses and shows clips from ISKCON Cinema Classics, a series of eight documentary films about ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada, and Lord Krishna’ birthplace Vrindavana that she and her husband made over a period of twelve years. There’s also Simple Living, High Thinking, a half-hour film of Srila Prabhupada speaking about farm communities and the importance of an Agrarian lifestyle.
Finally, Visakha does presentations on The Demon of Doubt, and on Yamuna Devi, the renowned vegetarian cook and ISKCON pioneer who passed away on December 20th last year. Each presentation concludes with questions and answers.
“The response so far on this year’s tour has been great,” Visakha says. “Devotees appreciate that my presentation of the Bhagavad-gita is a fresh new approach to presenting Krishna consciousness. The general public finds my personal story, intertwined with the philosophy of the Gita, interesting. And the Indian community is very happy to see Westerners taking up their culture and seriously trying to follow its teachings.”
The Indian community particularly showed its support at the ISKCON temple in Houston, Texas, where five hundred attended Visakha’s presentation on the Bhagavad-gita on January 1st because they wanted to start the new year in an auspicious way.
“The response in Houston has been extraordinary,” Visakha says. “Many devotees have invited me to speak at their homes. And Guru Bhakti Dasi, whose guru the late Tamal Krishna Goswami asked her to reach out to Caucasian Americans, has lined up engagements for me at the local Emory Weiner High School, the HCC Anthropology Club, two Theosophical Societies, and ISKCON Houston’s morning radio show Waves of Devotion.”
Visakha will also be speaking at “Our Spiritual Journey,” a cultural event promoted in local alternative magazines and held at ISKCON’s Gauranga Hall, alongside a classical Indian dance depicting the Bhagavad-gita.
Visakha is traveling to each location on her tour in a nineteen-foot converted van, and paying her own travel costs by selling her books and DVDs along the way.
“Spending so much time on the road was definitely a culture shock for me,” she says. “But now I find I really appreciate it. Everything I need is there: a shower, a toilet, a table to write or eat on, a bed, and a storage space for my books and DVDs. And it’s all so compact I can practically reach everything without even getting up from the dining room table!”
As well as promoting her current books, Visakha sees her tour as a good way to meet and get to know her audience for her next book, a memoir called Bhagavad-gita and One Life Transformed. She hopes to spend the next year after her tour working on the volume, which will tell the story of how she met and surrendered to Srila Prabhupada, and how his teachings changed her life.
“Bhagavad-gita transformed my life for the better,” she says. “It gave me direction, a purpose in life. It was so transformative for me, and that’s why I’m trying to bring its message to so many other people. Because I think that if they take it in and apply it in their lives, they will also benefit tremendously.”
For a full list of tour dates and some photos and thoughts from the road, please visit http://bhagavadgitasdotcom.wordpress.com. For more information on all Visakha’s books, please visit http://our-spiritual-journey.com. And to order ISKCON Cinema releases, visit http://www.iskconcinema.com.