Bringing Hare Krishna to Germany
By Hamsaduta dasa
In August of 1968, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada introduced Krsna consciousness to the European continent. At that time Srila Prabhupada was visiting the Montreal, Canada, branch of his newly founded ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). The leading devotee of the Montreal Center, Sivananda dasa brahmacari, approached Srila Prabhupada and informed him that he had saved a thousand dollars that he had intended to use for his enrollment at London University. As a surrendered soul, Sivananda offered to engage this money directly in the service of his spiritual master. He submitted to Srila Prabhupada that he no longer felt that the best use of the money was to finance his education at the university, but he suggested that he might be allowed to go to Europe to open the way there for Krsna consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada, thankful for the proposal, blessed Sivananda Prabhu, assuring him that his plans were actually the desires of Lord Caitanya. (Five hundred years ago, Lord Caitanya, the incarnation of Krsna who delivered the Hare Krsna chanting, declared that this message and the chanting of the holy names of Krsna would spread all over the world.) Having been given a direct order by the spiritual master, Sivananda felt happy and eager to discharge his new duty. A real disciple of a bona fide spiritual master always looks for an opportunity to render service at the lotus feet of the spiritual master, and upon receiving an order from the spiritual master, a disciple should take it as his life and soul.
There is a parallel to this incident in the life of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. He himself was a young man when he met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaja, in 1922 in Calcutta, India. At that time our spiritual master, then known as Abhay Charan De, was active in Gandhi’s movement of nonviolence and noncooperation to make India an independent nation. At their first meeting, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta asked Abhay Charan De to take up this mission of Lord Caitanya’s and distribute Krsna consciousness to the English-speaking world. Our spiritual master, who was then twenty-six years old, was very much impressed by His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, but he replied that since India was still a dependent nation, no one would accept instruction from India. The first step, he said, was to work politically for India’s freedom. Bhaktisiddhanta replied, “Never mind; if you simply try your best, that will be the perfection of your life. You will benefit, and others who hear you will also benefit.” The Krsna consciousness movement now spreading around the world is in no way a sectarian movement dependent on any ethnic culture. It is transcendental to Indian, American, Russian, Hindu or Christian. This is the spirit in which Lord Caitanya preached, and Bhaktisiddhanta conveyed this to our spiritual master. Thus in 1922 he planted within the heart of our spiritual master the seed that was later to fructify in the Western world and become the dynamic Hare Krsna movement.
In 1968, therefore, His Divine Grace was encouraging one of his disciples, Sivananda Prabhu, to travel to Europe. Sivananda had joined the Montreal temple in the summer of 1967. When the first devotees arrived in Montreal in the winter of 1967, Sivananda happened to meet them, and he helped them carry their luggage to the rented bowling alley on the corner of Park Avenue and Pine Street that was to become their temple. He had just happened to be walking on the street one snowy evening as the devotees arrived in Montreal. They attracted him as they tried to find the address to the new temple. At that time, Sivananda had no idea that he was going to become the President for the Montreal center and the pioneer of the European movement for Krsna consciousness.
Sivananda was born Samuel Greer in Vermont, USA. After finishing his education, culminating in the study of botany at the University of Vermont and Berkeley University, Samuel Greer was considering his career and his military obligations, and he was therefore very thoughtful about his future. He was beginning to ask questions like “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “Where am I going?” “Why am I suffering?” “Why do I have to die?” and “What is God?” These questions mark the beginning of human life. The Vedas say that until a person asks these basic questions, he is not considered to meet the standard of human consciousness.
Not long after helping the devotees find their temple, Sam attended their classes in hope of finding the answers to his questions. Samuel, of course, was very intelligent, and he asked many questions regarding the spiritual science of Krsna consciousness. He used to stay with the devotees at the temple, engage himself in devotional service and hear the lectures from Srimad-Bhagavatam—and then he would go away for days. While away, he would consider what he had heard and seen in the temple and discuss it with his friends. One day Sam resolved to take to the Krsna conscious way of life as a preacher. He shaved his head and since that time has never swayed from his resolution and determination to advance in Krsna consciousness. He soon became an initiated disciple of His Divine Grace, and preaching the science of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, he transformed himself into a Krsna devotee. Upon initiation he was given the name Sivananda, but he had not actually met his spiritual master at that time. Hearing from his elder Godbrothers in the temple, who had trained him according to the system of disciplic succession, had convinced him about the authority and authenticity of the message of Lord Caitanya, and Srila Prabhupada initiated him by mail.
Sivananda had not been in the temple more than a year when Srila Prabhupada came to Montreal. After a short meeting, Srila Prabhupada requested Sivananda to go to Europe to try to open a center there. Naturally every disciple likes to stay with his spiritual master and directly associate with him and serve him, but Sivananda had advanced to the point where he did not hesitate to leave the physical presence of his spiritual master to go to a distant place to push on his movement. In fact, he very enthusiastically took the opportunity to serve His Divine Grace at all risk.
The primary concern of those who are advanced in Krsna consciousness is to preach for the welfare of others. There is one class of transcendentalists who go to the forest to sit alone for meditation. They are mostly concerned about their own salvation. Pure devotees of the Lord, however, not only think of their own salvation but always absorb themselves in thinking of how they can bring spiritual understanding to those who have no spiritual life. In Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, “O Arjuna, I consider one who preaches about this divine discourse between you and Me to be the most dear servant in this world. Never will there be one more dear to Me than he.” Prahlada Maharaja, a great devotee of Lord Krsna, said to the Lord, “I do not want to leave behind me in the material world all these living entities who have no alternative than to surrender unto You.”
It was in that pure spirit, on the order of a pure devotee, that Sivananda left Montreal to open a center of Krsna consciousness in Europe. We were all excited by Sivananda’s daring spirit. I remember that just before he boarded the bus for the airport, he asked me, “What shall I do when I get there? How shall I begin?”
I replied, “As soon as you get off the plane, sit down where there are some people and chant Hare Krsna, accompanying yourself with hand cymbals. When a crowd has gathered, explain something about Krsna consciousness and ask people to give a small contribution to help spread your mission. This is sure to be successful.” Sivananda and I laughed, knowing the simplicity of our life as taught to us by our spiritual father, Srila Prabhupada. Sivananda agreed, “Yes! I’ll do it if you think I should.”
I reassured him, “What else do we have to do but chant Hare Krsna?”
“Yes, our business is to chant,” said Sivananda. “Chant and explain everything we have heard about Krsna consciousness from our spiritual master. Other than that, we have no engagement, so if I simply do that, everything will be all right.”
The first letter from Sivananda arrived on August 25, 1968. Sivananda was rejected by the immigration authorities in London, and he had to go to Amsterdam. His letter to Prabhupada was very enthusiastic, and he enclosed a news clipping in Dutch from an Amsterdam paper in which the reporter had mentioned the Hare Krsna mantra and the name of His Divine Grace. There was also a picture of Sivananda surrounded by a big crowd of Hollanders. Upon examining this letter and the news article, Srila Prabhupada immediately dictated a letter to Sivananda Prabhu. The letter reads follows:
My dear son Brahmacari Sivananda, Please accept my blessings. I am so glad to receive your letter dated August 21, 1968, and I declare that it is because Krsna desired you to go to Amsterdam that you were not admitted into England. I have also seen. the description of your activities in Amsterdam, but I could not understand the language. But one thing ob served in that article was my name Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta. This indicates that your tour in Europe is going to be very successful. I hope you will receive this letter and be courageous and always chant Hare Krsna. You wil be successful, in the same way that I was. I came to New York in the same helpless way, and gradually many students like you came to help me. So don’t be disappointed; try best, and Krsna will help you.
I understand that one Finnish boy has joined you, and so many others will come and join you because the whole world is in need of Krsna consciousness. My Guru Maharaja used to say, “There is no scarcity of any thing in this world except Krsna consciousness. ” Keep your present attitude intact, Have good faith in your spiritual master and Krsna, and everything will be all right. You already have the secret of success-sincerity. Pull on with that mentality, and Krsna will give you all help. You write to say, “I really miss Prabhupada and my Godbrothers’ association so much. ” But I may remind you that I am always with you. Wherever I am, you and your Godbrothers are there. Please remember always the humble teachings that you have received from me, and that will keep you always associated with me and with your Godbrothers also.
I hope this letter finds you in good health and good Krsna consciousness.
Your ever well-wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
We all felt very blissful about the wonderful news: “Krsna Consciousness in Europe.” At that time Srila Prabhupada’s movement had only four established centers—one in New York (started in 1966), one in San Francisco, California (started in 1968), one in Montreal, Canada (started in 1967), and one in Boston (started in 1967). Prabhupada declared that now our movement was truly international, for these European activities were a further fulfillment of Lord Caitanya’s prediction, “In every town and village all over the world, My name will be known.” Being captured by the profound simplicity and purity of Prabhupada’s words and deeds, we were happy to accept him as our father in all matters. We knew Prabhupada as our savior, who knew everything that was to be known, because he was coming in line from Krsna.
A week later, Sivananda wrote that he thought it would be better to go to Germany because Germany is the leading nation in Europe and the German people are very intelligent and especially fond of philosophy. Prabhupada replied, “Yes, the German people are very intelligent. You may therefore go to Berlin, which has been the most important city of that country for a very long time.”
A student in Krsna consciousness never does anything on his own; he is always aware of his eternal dependence on his spiritual master and Krsna. It was very appropriate that Sivananda ask his spiritual master about his best course of action so he could be certain his action was authorized as favorable service to Krsna. Those who are not Krsna conscious do not recognize their dependence upon the Supreme God and His representative, the spiritual master. They do everything whimsically; even though they may be leaders of empires, they act under the dictation of their senses. Sometimes such men are inspired, but because of their attachment to women, they act just to satisfy their uncontrollable sexual appetites, not considering the consequences. At other times, being attached to fame and fortune, they commit all varieties of abominable actions, blinded by their false prestige and lust for material enjoyment. Devotees of the Lord, however, never allow themselves to be directed by anyone other than their spiritual master, whom they accept as the direct representative of the Supreme Lord.
An actual devotee is an emissary of the Supreme Lord, and he is always peaceful and fearless because he knows that Krsna is guiding and protecting him at every moment. A devotee of Krsna is always humble and meek. He never makes a false show of strength, but depends upon Krsna. Krsna can work in any way He desires by empowering His devotee. The devotee never desires to be powerful, rich or famous, but because he engages in the service of the supremely rich, powerful and famous Personality of Godhead, automatically these material opulences are also at his disposal. The devotee never takes advantage of these opulences for his own sake, but he uses everything for the service of the Lord. A devotee does not strive to become very much qualified, but because of his surrender, Krsna qualifies him in every way. Some of the qualifications of a devotee are as follows: he is kind to everyone, he does not quarrel with anyone, he is fixed in the Absolute Truth, he is equal to everyone, he is charitable, clean, simple and peaceful, he has no material desires, he is selfcontrolled, respectful, humble, poetic and compassionate, and he does not eat more than required. The Vedic scriptures say that pure devotees are decorated by all these qualities, whereas those who are not devotees of the Lord have no good qualifications and are not to be trusted.
On the order of his spiritual master, Sivananda went to Berlin. In a humble spirit, he began to hold regular kirtana (chanting) and classes on Bhagavad-gita in a small shop that he described in his letters very enthusiastically. It was not until some time later, when another devotee from California came to see Sivananda in Berlin, that we learned that the temple in which Sivananda was conducting Krsna consciousness was without heat and water and that the back wall was completely missing, having been bombed out in the last world war. Sivananda, however, did not find any inconvenience; rather, he thought himself fortunate and accepted everything as Krsna’s mercy. For Sivananda the bombed-out storefront was a temple, but to those lacking in spiritual vision it was an unwanted store without heat and hot water, too close to the dreaded Berlin Wall and therefore not fit for habitation.
Sivananda sometimes tried to go to East Berlin to introduce the people there to the chanting of Hare Krsna, but the guards at “Checkpoint Charlie,” exasperated at the open and simple behavior of Prabhupada’s ambassador from America, turned him away abruptly. Still, Krsna has arranged for our Berlin temple to be exactly opposite the Berlin Wall at the U Bahn Station Wollankstrasse. There is no doubt that those on the other side must be regularly hearing, morning and evening, the sweet sounds of those surrendered souls who chant the holy kirtana of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Krsna consciousness is completely spiritual; therefore nothing material can check the process of devotional service. From Srimad-Bhagavatam we learn of Prahlada Maharaja, a devotee of the Lord although only five years old, and his father, Hiranyakasipu, a most powerful king and atheist. The father tried in many ways to check the devotional behavior of his boy Prahlada. He gave him poison, threw him from a high mountain, boiled him in oil, put him in a pit of snakes and tried to have an elephant trample him, but still the boy could not be killed. He never stopped the remembrance and chanting of the holy name of Krsna. At last the father’s rage reached a climax, and he demanded of his son Prahlada, “Where is your God?”
Prahlada replied, “My God is everywhere.”
“Is He here in this pillar?” Hiranyakasipu asked, pointing to a pillar of the palace.
When Prahlada replied yes, the demon struck the stone pillar with his sword, and at that instant the Lord Himself appeared from within the pillar and tore apart the demon Hiranyakasipu. Thus there may be a pillar or a wall, but Krsna cannot be kept out of any place. The Lord is all-pervading and transcendental. Those apparently being deprived of the knowledge of Krsna consciousness will also soon have the opportunity to hear about Krsna.
After he had stayed some time in Berlin, more devotees came from the United States to help Sivananda in his mission to spread the chanting of Hare Krsna in Germany. A permanent temple was established in Hamburg, and the boys would be seen every day in the streets of Hamburg—sometimes on the Rathaus Platz, sometimes on the Moncheburg Strasse, and so on. Reporters often interviewed them and every now and then they appeared on different television stations. Lecturing at universities, they attracted some German boys to their regular kirtanas and Bhagavad-gita classes at the temple. Srila Prabhupada then sent another disciple to Germany to translate his books into German, and shortly thereafter Back to Godhead appeared in the German language. Back to Godhead is the only magazine in the Western world to distribute the authorized teachings of the Vedic literature. Originally started in English by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada in 1944 in India, it is now published in English, German, Japanese, Hindi, French, Dutch, Spanish and Swahili, and over one million copies are distributed monthly. Our spiritual master calls the press that prints Back to Godhead the “‘big mrdanga.” The drum used to keep the rhythm for sankirtana is called a mrdanga. This drum can be heard for several blocks when played loudly, but a press, when printing Back to Godhead or other transcendental literatures, is heard around the world. Therefore it is the big drum, or big mrdanga. These most important activities for the devotee—holding sankirtana (chanting of the holy names of God on the street) and translating or publishing literatures about the science of Krsna consciousness—formed the main activities of the devotees in the Hamburg temple.
In Augustof 1969, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada came to Hamburg on the request of Sivananda. Srila Prabhupada asked the devotees to open a bigger temple to accommodate the many guests, and within a short time the temple moved to a better location. Later the Deities of Sri Sri Radha Krsna were installed there, and They are being worshiped today in the present location of the Radha-Krsna temple in Hamburg.
Srila Prabhupada stayed in Hamburg for about two months, lecturing in English while his German disciple Mandalibhadra translated his words. Prabhupada met with important Sanskrit professors, and he would be seen early in the morning taking his daily walk on Landugs brucke, the waterfront of Hamburg. Once, while taking a walk with some of his students, he stopped and stood, watching a tugboat pull a large ocean vessel backwards into the harbor. Suddenly he turned and said, “Just see! A man under the spell of maya [illusion] is just like this big ocean liner. The tugboat is small, but because the big ocean liner has its ship’s motor shut off, it is possible for the little tugboat to drag the big ship helplessly to dock. Similarly, the soul without Krsna is being pulled by maya, down to hell.”
Once Srila Prabhupada explained that the Mahabharata, the great history of the planet earth, states that the great ksatriya warriors of India fled to Europe during the time of Parasurama, an incarnation of Godhead. Therefore, he said, we still notice today that the Germans are the best Sanskrit scholars in the world; they even excel the Indian Sanskrit scholars. He told us that his spiritual master’s first foreign disciple was a German professor, now known as Sadananda Svami, who is still preaching in Sweden.
While Prabhupada was in Germany, he initiated several German boys into Krsna consciousness. The Society now has four centers in Germany—one in Hamburg, one in Heidelberg, one in Munich and one in Berlin—and maintains five Volkswagen buses in which devotees travel to surrounding cities to distribute books and magazines. This process is very exciting and spiritually rewarding for both the devotees and those who come in contact with them. The spiritual master has described that the devotees, with their saffron robes and shaved heads, appear like angels from the spiritual world, and so whoever receives them favorably can also take part in the benediction of sankirtana For this age of darkness, all spiritual authorities recommend the sankirtana movement, and we invite everyone, young and old, to join us in this movement in whatever capacity he can.
There are many ISKCON devotees like Sivananda dedicating their lives to making the glories of Krsna known in every town and village. We invite all young, adventurous persons to seriously consider joining this mission to distribute Krsna consciousness all over the world for the benefit of all people of the world. Human life is meant for this purpose: to go back home, back to Godhead.