Iraq – As a Christian, Chaplain L. was real big on charity. Service to God meant service to man, so I decided that that was the angle from which I would ‘get’ him. After all, the best way to preach to someone is through the medium of their own beliefs, for they have no arguments against them.
Sure enough, the topic came up, as it always did, at our next discussion group meeting. The chaplain brought forth various excerpts from the Bible on the importance of charity work, as if to suggest that charity work isn’t an important tenet of our philosophy. Little did he know.
Only a person who is fully in Krsna consciousness can be said to be engaged in welfare work for all living entities. When a person is actually in the knowledge that Krsna is the fountainhead of everything, then, when he acts in that spirit, he acts for everyone. The sufferings of humanity are due to forgetfulness of Krsna as the supreme enjoyer, the supreme proprietor, and the supreme friend. Therefore, to act to revive this consciousness within the entire human society is the highest welfare work. One cannot be engaged in such first-class welfare work without being liberated in the Supreme. A Krsna conscious person has no doubt about the supremacy of Krsna. He has no doubt because he is completely freed from all sins. This is the state of divine love.
A person engaged only in ministering to the physical welfare of human society cannot factually help anyone. Temporary relief of the external body and the mind is not satisfactory. The real cause of one’s difficulties in the hard struggle for life may be found in one’s forgetfulness of his relationship with the Supreme Lord. When a man is fully conscious of his relationship with Krsna, he is actually a liberated soul, although he may be in the material tabernacle. – Bg. 5:25 purport
He questioned me, “Well, what can you really do besides just loving your fellow brother and sister and trying to share with them the ‘good word’. I mean, realistically, what can you do besides just tell people about God?”
So, there it was. The challenge. I replied, “Meet me in front of the PX in an hour and I’ll show you. Bring some Bibles.”
An hour later, the chaplain and I met at our destination. In his hands, he carried a stack of Bibles. I carried a stack of Bhagavad-Gitas and some small books. I proposed that we stand there for an hour and distribute the books, alternating between Bibles and Gitas. He was inclined to take the challenge, and so began Camp Anaconda’s first book distribution marathon, which ended up lasting well beyond the proposed hour.
As I watched the chaplain distributing Prabhupada’s Gita, I was simply amazed and awed at what Prabhupada had accomplished. Who would have ever thought that a Christian minister would be distributing Vedic knowledge in Iraq? And what would I be doing if the devotees had never found me? I’d probably be sitting there laughing at that ’silly guy giving out those silly books’. not realizing the extreme importance of what he was doing. He had just saved himself.
I also alternated between the Bibles and Gitas, adding a small book with each Bible. Periodically, I’d turn and check on the chaplain, and with each book, his smile grew bigger and brighter. He was receiving a brief taste of ecstasy, and I was humbled by it. By the end, we had distributed all of our books, which included a dozen hard Gitas and a dozen small books. The chaplain rambled on and on about how that was the greatest charity work he had done in Iraq. Indeed, it was.
He then told me that, if I was interested, I could set up a table of books outside his office, which was frequented by many people daily. This was one more avenue that Krsna was opening up. From then on, I referred to the chaplain as ‘Captain Sankirtana’. And he was proud of it.
The devotees’ mercy
June and July were great months, and preaching opportunities seemed to spring up almost everywhere. In response to an article I had submitted online, devotees from all over the world began sending me packages of books, japa beads and prasadam. I even got two sets of karatalas for my ‘Little India’ programs, which had grown to include several soldiers.
The support was astounding. Within two weeks, I had acquired over three hundred books. One devotee from India sent me some puffed rice maha-prasadam of Lord Jagannatha, which I secretely mixed into the big Rice Krispies bowl at the DFAC. Who knows how many people gained the devotees’ mercy that day?
There truly is an International Society for Krsna Consciousness, no doubt. As I received mail from Russia, England, India, Australia, Latin and North America, and other places, this became quite clear. Even devotees outside of ISKCON, as well as ritvik supporters, offered help, and, politics aside, it was beautiful. Personally, I support ISKCON, the GBC and the parampara system, and I always will, but I really saw a vast and endless display of the devotees’ mercy, regardless of personal differences.
Preaching took my focus off the sweltering 135-degree weather which had, by now, become almost intolerable. It hadn’t affected Captain Sankirtana in his ecstatic episode of ‘bhakta bliss’, and I wasn’t going to let it affect me. As uncomfortable as I might have thought it was, Srila Prabhupada had endured far greater.
One day, my godbrother, Partha-sarathi prabhu, sent me an email and told me that he’d be at Anaconda the following day. Partha has been in the military for the better part of ten years and had become a devotee while stationed in Germany. He was currently on his second tour of Iraq, and his bazillionth combat tour.
I first met him while serving as a pujari in Germany and we immediately became good friends. At first, we bonded because of our similar punk rock upbringings and our prior obsession with tattoos, but now, we shared a special bond as the only two of our godsiblings in the Army and, as far as we knew, the only two devotees in Iraq.
When we finally met up the following day, it was nectar. Although he had less than an hour to spend until his convoy would be rolling out again, we took advantage of the time we had and I loaded him up with prasadam, BTGs and some books.
Even a minute’s association with a devotee is better than a lifetime’s association with non-devotees. We didn’t even talk about anything specific – just caught up with each other – but, like a purifying bath, his presence cleansed me of all my bad association, thus far. This is the devotees’ mercy.