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New Vrindaban and My Journey
by Dan Pascavage

What church am I in today?

I was on a business trip to Philadelphia and deplaned at the airport there, one fine day in the ‘70s, and encountered a strangely coiffed and dressed group of young people, smiling, engaging passers by in conversation, passing out literature, and selling books. Despite their odd appearance, they were attractive young men and women, and their smiles and enthusiasm were infectious. I accepted some literature. "Hare Krsna," they said to me.

"I’m in no hurry, and my name’s not Krishna," I thought, and continued on my way. On my next encounter with devotees at LaGuardia Airport, I puchased a number of Prabhupada’s books, including the Gita. But mostly they just sat on my bookshelf.

The ‘70s was a decade of spiritual exploration and growth for me. Although raised Catholic, I had been more or less an atheist since my philosophy and humanism courses at Carnegie Mellon U in Pittsburgh. But I had been the recipient of numerous kicks in my spiritual butt lately, leading me to begin thinking that there might be more to life and death and eternity than met the temporal eyes and mind.

I found the Christians I had known to be.... Well, let me just be charitable and say they and their theology failed to win me over. The idea of a just and loving God who would send most of the people He created to burn in hell for eternity just didn’t compute, either. But the Eastern ways of thinking described in Alan Watts books intrigued me. So, too, did the Mormons I had been meeting lately. A family of them moved in next door to me.

Now, here were people whose lives reflected their beliefs. To make a long story short, I was baptized into the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, or LDS for short) along with my wife and two young children in 1978. They had some novel (to me at that time) beliefs. No hell. The spirit is eternal, pre-dating this life on earth, and it will never die. The things we did or did not do in our previous existence determined our present situation and our behavior here will determine our circumstances in our next life, the goal being to eventually reach a state of enlightenment and sanctification that would allow us to rejoin God. (Is it any wonder the devotees found such a positive reception in the heart of Mormondom, Provo, Utah?).

I was re-married to my wife in the Mormon Temple in Washington, DC and progressed through the ranks to become a High Priest. My children served missions for the church in Tokyo and Costa Rica and I was asked by church leaders to start a branch of the church in East Cleveland, which I successfully did.

But during all this, my encounters with devotees continued and always left me wondering what motivated them. One day I was driving down I-70 in Pennsylvania and saw a billboard advertising the Palace of Gold. Well, I had read about that in a brochure I was given and I had some spare time and it was not far away, so......... why not?

This was in the heyday of New Vrindaban, and as I drove by the now nearly deserted wooden buildings on the right of the road approaching the Palace and Temple, they were teeming with devotees, many of whom waved as I drove by. The sight of the Palace of Gold as you round the bend on top of the hill sent a shiver down my spine. I continued down the hill to the Temple of Understanding and saw dozens of people entering it. "Hmmm, looks like some sort of ceremony is about to begin. I wonder if I am allowed to see it?" I thought.

I asked someone and he said, "Of course." Then I began to have second thoughts. I parked my car facing outward, so that if they threatened to tie me up and shave my head or sacrifice me to some demigod I could sprint to it and burn rubber on my way out. I even thought of calling work and telling them where I was so that they would know where to send the police if I disappeared. But I had a reassuring feeling in my spirit that this place was good and I needed to be here, so I laid my fears to rest.

George Harrison’s "My Sweet Lord" with the Maha Mantra was going through my mind. I understand that song is being re-released. We (I think of myself as one of you, now) ought to try to somehow get some publicity out of that. I don’t know what... offer free copies to those who visit NV or something like that. I will gladly contribute to the cost of that.

The Temple was filled with devotees, the Godbrothers on the right, drumming and chanting, the Godsisters on the left, dancing joyously. I watched in awe. I was filled with reverence for this place and knew this was holy ground. Regardless of the fact that I still thought this was just some strange cult, I still felt with my whole being that this was a holy place. I soon experienced sensory overload and left, amazed at my conflicting feelings.

At that time, I did not know the explanations of deity worship (which now makes perfect sense to me) and wondered why I felt such an attraction to this place and these people, who must be on drugs or something to worship these little statues. I returned the following year when I had the chance. I appreciated the aratis more with each visit. Krsna was calling.

I visited several more times over the years, but never really participated or stayed long. It was a strange relationship I had with that place. My mind told me it was all silliness, but my spirit would not let me stay away. The effort and dedication of the devotees who built that place humbled me and left me in awe.

My then wife, an ultra-orthodox Mormon would not even talk about it, much less visit. We eventually divorced. I remarried in 1999 to a woman with four young children. I told her about New Vrindaban and, on a whim, I asked if she would like to visit it for a weekend. I had always wanted to. She somewhat skeptically agreed, not knowing quite what to expect. I mean, you just cannot describe that place in words.

Much to her surprise, she experienced much the same attraction to it and the people that I did. And the children loved it! When asked what he wanted as a reward for good grades, our six-year-old gleefully jumped up and down and pleaded to visit the Hare Krsnas! After that visit, I began chanting the Maha Mantra every day and reading more of the books I had acquired so long ago, especially the Bhagavad Gita.

Of course, we returned when we could, but we wanted more frequent contact with Vaisnavas as New Vrindaban was a long drive and we had very busy schedules and could not make the trip very often. So we asked some of the devotees we met there for contacts locally. As a result, I spoke with Dayal-Nitai das and we were able to attend a meeting of devotees at Mother Krishnanandini’s home, which we found most enjoyable and uplifting. We will attend as many such meetings as our schedule will permit in the future.

The Mormon Church was good for us but both Mona, my wife, and I have grown away from it. We have learned what it had to teach us. We resonate more with Krsna Consciousness these days. Where this will take us, I do not know. I cannot say when or if we will seek initiation. All I can say is that we plan to associate with the devotees as much as we can and participate in as many meetings with them as possible and ride this bus wherever Krsna drives it.

Your servant,
Dan Pascavage
(Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare)

© CHAKRA 14 December 2001

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