Prime Minister John Keys and Temple President Kalasamvara Dasa walking on the ISKCON Auckland temple grounds
At a visit to the New Varshana community in Auckland, New Zealand on June 21st, New Zealand Prime Minister John Keys asked deep questions and expressed a lot of appreciation for ISKCON.
The visit was the result of a long-gestating friendship with temple president Kalasamvara Dasa.
“A decade ago, when he was a local MP, I would meet him every year at the Buddhist community nearby, where dignitaries are invited for Buddha’s Birthday,” Kalasamvara explains. “We developed a relationship there. He always showed an interest in what we were doing. So this year, we invited him to visit during the year-long 40th anniversary celebration of our Sri Sri Radha-Giridhari, who were installed by Srila Prabhupada in 1972.”
This June, as he was visiting local schools in the area, the Prime Minister finally had the chance to visit the ISKCON community for one hour.
He first spent nearly forty minutes at the Hare Krishna School, a government funded primary school that’s one of the oldest in ISKCON.
There, escorted by headmaster Krishna-nandana Dasa, he joined the school’s one hundred students for an assembly in the school hall, where they treated him with a selection of devotional songs.
A question and answer session followed, in which the students asked the Prime Minister what a typical day was like for him, and what the government was doing for special needs children.
The Prime Minister speaks to 100 children at the Hare Krishna School
“He was very relaxed and chatty,” says school secretary Amrita-Pani Dasi. “On the other hand, the children were so excited to have somebody so important come to their school. The whole day was like a festival!”
Next, Prime Minister Keys visited Sri-Sri Radha Giridhari’s temple. From the very beginning, it was clear that New Zealand’s head of government held a lot of respect for the sacred place.
“He had a large 3 or 4 car security detail with him, who informed us that he wouldn’t be taking off his shoes when entering the temple, and would instead wear special covers over them,” Kalasamvara Dasa recalls. “But when he arrived, he asked me, “Do you want me to take off my shoes?” I said, “Well, it’s up to you,” to which he replied, “Well, why not?” and did it anyway.”
Temple president Kalasamvara shows the Prime Minister around the temple
Immediately upon entering the temple, Keys admired the beautiful oil paintings of Krishna’s pastimes on its walls and ceiling, and was particularly taken with the stained glass window work, which Kalasamvara explained the devotees had done themselves.
The temple president then led Keys to the altar, where he received the Deities’ crown respectfully upon his head, and accepted charanamrita, water that has bathed the Lord’s feet.
“He was very impressed with the standard of Deity worship,” Kalasamvara says. “I was thinking, ‘What does he know about Deity worship?’ But he was very inquisitive about it, asking lots of questions such as ‘How often do you dress the Deities?’ and ‘Do you dress them at night also?’”
Prime Minister Keys receives Charanamrita from the Deities
Seeming very at ease in the temple environment, the Prime Minister then crossed the room to see the murti form of Srila Prabhupada, where he inquired about the ISKCON founder’s life and upbringing.
He also viewed the rest of the temple, including the gift shop and prasadam room, where sanctified food is honored.
“He was especially impressed by the size of the kitchen, and the fact that we feed up to 5,000 people on our biggest festival, Sri Krishna Janmastami,” says Kalasamvara. “We also presented him with a copy of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Kurma Dasa’s cookbook Great Vegetarian Dishes. He was very happy to receive the latter, as one of his daughters is becoming a vegetarian, and he himself cooks every Sunday.”
The Prime Minister receives Bhagavad-gita and Kurma's cookbook
The Prime Minister then helped to plant a memorial tree for the 40th anniversary of Sri-Sri Radha-Giridhari, which will receive a commemorative plaque soon.
Standing near the tree afterwards, he asked about life after death, and about how one advances in spiritual life.
The temple president replied that focusing one’s consciousness was the answer, citing an example in Keys’ own life: “You stated at the age of seventeen that one day you would be the Prime Minister of New Zealand. That conciousness has brought you to this point.”
The Prime Minister plants a tree to commemorate Radha-Giridhari's 40th anniversary
Finally, the Prime Minister was served some light prasadam snacks as he continued to chat with Kalasamvara Dasa in the temple president’s office about spiritual topics.
The two discussed how perceived differences in world religions are simply a misunderstanding, and the Prime Minister expressed his appreciation for ISKCON’s work in educating the youth of New Zealand.
He also enquired about ISKCON’s temples in India, and listened with interest as Kalasamvara told him about the monumental Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur, West Bengal.
At last, the Prime Minister was informed by his secretary that the hour he had allocated for visiting New Varshana was up, and he had to continue on with the rest of his schedule for the day.
Prime Minister John Keys with the ISKCON Auckland community
“He didn’t want to leave,” Kalasamvara says. “Personally, I feel that if he didn’t have other appointments, he would have spent a few more hours with us, and we would have gotten into Krishna conscious philosophy in more depth. I’m hoping we will next time.”
Kalasamvara feels that the Prime Minister’s visit to the temple and appreciation of ISKCON will give great credibility to the society in the eyes of the public.
“Everyone in the community is very happy,” he says. “It was a great occasion. There was a real buzz about the place, and still is. Next, I’m planning to invite the Mayor of Auckland to visit.”