Over the years there has been a tradition of using fiction, and in particular the allegorical spiritual journey, to teach people about how to find success and satisfaction in life: John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” and Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” to name just a few.
Most have been either Christian or contain a spiritually impersonal message. There are, of course, examples of using fiction as a vessel for essential truth in the Vaishnava tradition – for instance, Bhaktivinode Thakur’s “Jaiva Dharma” and “Prema Pradipa.” But contemporary Krishna conscious fiction – where perfection for the protagonist is a loving relationship with a personal God – has been few and far between.
On April 16th, however, Srila Prabhupada disciple and longtime educator Urmila Dasi has released a unique novel entitled “Essence Seekers: A Quest Beyond the Forest of Enjoyment.”
The allegorical story takes readers through practical, emotional, and psychological steps from beginning curiosity and longing to enlightenment.
In it, our hero Avid starts out as part of a nomadic group, journeying with his family. Together, they seek wealth in the forest, which they sell in villages and cities along their route. Their happiness and hopes for satisfaction are frustrated by perils representing various internal and external obstacles. Avid gets help from a mysterious guide in the forest and eventually joins with two friends on a quest for the essence, or nectar, of life. But first he has to find out exactly what it is, and how to overcome the diversions and tests on the way to his goal.
The book is inspired by the metaphors that are liberally used in many Vaishnava scriptures. “I thought, why not turn them into a story?” says Urmila.
The first two parts of Essence Seekers draw especially from Jada Bharata’s instructions to King Rahugana in the fifth canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, where he describes a metaphorical “forest of enjoyment.”
While Jada Bharata talks of “merchants in a forest trying to make a profit” as an allegory for the soul in the material world trying to be the enjoyer, Urmila incorporates them as actual characters in her narrative fiction. And the dangers they face on their journey are all metaphors used by Jada Bharata: shallow rivers filled with rocks (false religions), cannibalistic demons (tax collectors) and steep mountains covered with thorns (family entanglement).
In a similar way, later parts of the book use metaphors from Raghunath Das Goswami’s Manah-Siksa, and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s allegory of Sarvajna the astrologer, from the Chaitanya Charitamrita.
These usually present themselves as desireable things (honeybees as a metaphor for pure devotees) and obstacles (mad elephants as offenses to the devotees) along our heroes’ journey to perfection.
Urmila was also inspired by Sivarama Swami’s book Suddha Bhakti Chintamani, which includes a fictional story of devotees going through the process to attain prema, or pure love of God.
But unlike Sivarama Swami’s story, which used insider language and was for practicing devotees only, Urmila’s is aimed at a broad audience of anyone open to Eastern spirituality and looking for fulfillment.
“This is a book you can give to anybody, even if they have no background in Krishna consciousness at all – such as co-workers, family and friends,” she says. “It would also be very useful for university bhakti-yoga clubs, yoga groups and more. Many temples have already placed orders for their stores and outreach.”
Urmila, however, hastens to add that the book is not just an “ABC” presentation, but “takes you through all the steps and obstacles to Krishna Prema.” Thus it can also be used by longtime devotees for inspiration and guidance in their personal practice.
Several senior ISKCON devotees, in fact, have said the book enlivened them in their own spiritual process, and are espousing its benefits. “Essence Seekers is a masterful account of a journey—both inward and outward,” says Giriraja Swami. “We can identify with the characters and events, which foster in us detachment from the mundane and eagerness for the Divine.”
ISKCON youth – teenagers aged 13 and up – have also found the book inspiring and helpful.
Meanwhile Urmila will soon be touring the world with a seminar based on the book. Also entitled “Essence Seekers,” it is spoiler-free but goes into depth on all the metaphors used by Jada Bharata, Raghunath Das Goswami, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
The novel is also set to be released as an audiobook read by professional narrator Leslie Howard, which will be available on Audible and iTunes at the end of May.
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Essence Seekers can be purchased athttps://www.amazon.com/Essence-Seekers-Beyond-Forest-Enjoyment/dp/1987703464/
For bulk orders, contact Urmila Dasi here: http://urmiladevidasi.org/contact/[ novel ] [ urmila ]