Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Woodworker and Sugarmaker Dovetails His Gifts into Sweet Devotional Service
By Thomas Haribol, ISKCON News Managing Editor   |  May 13, 2023
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Terms like “dovetailing” and “extracting sweetness” aren’t uncommon terms for a skilled woodworker and maple sugar producer like Bhakta Michael Gray, but he never expected they would also describe his spiritual journey.

Gray, a resident of the Adirondacks of New York, holds a graduate degree in biology, where his research focused on stream ecology and aquatic invasive species. He didn’t grow up in a religious home but was exposed to both Christian teachings and Eastern meditation through family members. “By the time I was an adult, though, I was well-trained as an atheist, mostly due to my training in biology,” Gray said.

Finding sense gratification unsatisfying and looking for something more, Gray decided to take up a meditation practice he found in a book from his mother’s library. During the practice, his unease turned to peace. This opened his heart to the possibility of a meaningful spiritual path, so he began to dig more deeply.

Michael was introduced to the Bhagavad Gita through a local yoga studio he found on social media and instantly resonated with the Gita’s teachings. Through a contact at the same studio, Michael learned about a podcast exploring spiritual literature daily. “In the Fall of 2020, I began to hear the sweetness of the Srimad Bhagavatam every day by tuning into the Zoom room of Wisdom of the Sages podcast, and that’s when I “rediscovered” my love for Krishna. It was a gradual process. I began chanting and following the four regulative principles,” Gray remembers. During this time, Michael met his now fiancé Michelle. She had come to the Bhakti path a year before he had. After getting to know each other, they decided to walk this Bhakti path together.

“The internet and Zoom meetings have been my lifeline to the devotees. I was exposed to Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita, the devotees, Bhaktin Michelle, and sangha all through the digital world. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to find the devotees without them!”

It’s also through the internet that Michael began listening to ISKCON teachers and searching for a spiritual master. As a result, he and Michelle are aspiring disciples of Vaisesika Dasa Adhikari. “Under his guidance, we have seen our sadhana sweeten and our service blossom,” Gray said.

As a woodworker, Gray was delighted to discover the woodworking term “dovetailing” in Srila Prabhupada’s writings and lectures. He designed a sign for Supersoul Farm in upstate New York for his friend and teacher, Raghunatha Das. “I had never experienced this level of satisfaction in any project before, and it wasn’t in the work itself, as this was just a simple sign, but it was because I was serving a Vaisnava, one of my most influential teachers, and that this sign was to welcome all visitors to his ashram and all passersby. I realized that I could preach through wood!”

Michael began to pivot from building banjos to building altars and other devotional wood products. “I have endeavored to spiritualize every aspect of my life; extending that into the woodshop made sense,” he continued, “When it came time to build our altar, I built it with dovetail joinery. It is time-consuming and tedious, but the joints are beautiful and incredibly strong. And, of course, Srila Prabhupada said: ‘Simply, we must learn the art of how to dovetail. That’s all.’ ”

“I truly experience bliss when I work with wood in devotional service! That resulted in me reevaluating where my woodworking may be going, and it became clear that I should pursue devotional woodworking more seriously.” Gray said. Michael hopes to create a sustainable livelihood from this and is taking on smaller commissions for bespoke altars and other devotional furniture, treasure boxes, wood art ( and even banjos). All are crafted with devotion.

If you want to reach out to Bhakta Michael, you can visit his website.
You can also follow his work on Facebook and Instagram.