The Kotahena town has appeal because the community there is multi cultural. The main road is dotted with business establishments which reminds any visitor that life is a struggle. One needs to sweat, but the presence of a fast food giant-which specializes in sells burgers-in the vicinity suggests that temporary happiness can be bought in exchange for green notes. But the attention of a person touring the area is certain to catch a glimpse of the many temples, kovils and churches that fill in the landscape. Such a sighting triggers an inner alarm within which reminds an individual that the clock is ticking away and you haven’t begun your spiritual journey in life as yet.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) temple in New Chetty Street Kotahena is one such religious institute that helps people find lasting happiness. Temple priest Swami Maha Karta Das and the aids that offer their services at the temple are busy these days preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Swami Srila Prabhupada’s visit to Sri Lanka. But Swami Maha Karta Das found the time to speak to The Nation and educate its readers about the fruits of embracing God Consciousness.
“Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita help you understand the relationship between God and athma (soul). Once this realization dawns one can stop worrying and be eternally happy,” said Maha Karta Das who handles the newspaper interview while making journal entries, answering calls and speaking to the staff that helps run this religious movement which he began in 1976.
Seeing the completion of a temple which is fast coming up and is a stone’s throw away from his office is his life’s dream. He is propagating the message of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of God Head, who appeared as the charioteer of Arjuna in the battle of Kurukshetra. “If you have a temple, one can give Krishna’s message to society effectively,” said the priest.
Swami Maha Karta Das was in Europe studying when he was bitten by the Hare Krishna bug. He is one of those ‘chosen ones’. “I had arrived in India, after being in Europe, when Swami Srila Prapbhupada summoned me and sent me to Sri Lanka to propagate the message of Lord Krishna,” he said.
He is quick to point out that there is no difference between a Hindu and a Hare Krishna devotee. Swami Maha Karta Das explained that both the Hindu and Hare Krishna devotee read the Baghavad Gita, one among many religious manuals that teaches how to live a perfect life. Two significant differences between these two groups are probably the attire (a Hare Krishna devotee wears white and the renounced order wear saffron colored clothing) and the little bob of hair that a Hare Krishna devotee maintains at the back of his head, once he receives initiation.
The Bhagavad Gita encourages devotees to lessen material possessions and increase knowledge of the spiritual world. But Swami Maha Karta Das affirmed that making spiritual progress would in no way hinder progress at one’s workplace. “The performance at your workplace will increase because a person who develops Krishna consciousness will have enhanced concentration abilities,” explained the priest.
The priest acknowledges that the movement is growing slowly because this is Kali Yuga (A period where people aren’t ready to embrace religion). “Not many are interested in Krishna Consciousness, but no one is against us,” he said.
This is a very significant statement by a priest representing one of the minorities, given the religious disharmony in the country. According to him, Sri Lankan Buddhists also worship Lord Vishnu, which the Bhagavad Gita states is an expansion of God Head. “As as result, Hare Krishna devotees have a good relationship with Sinhalese Buddhists,” the priest said.
The Bhagavad Gita affirms that its contents offer the ultimate knowledge. The priest deals with devotees who come from all walks of life. There are professionals among them, some who have climbed the heights in the field of medicine and are doctors. Will they be made to look small in the face of a statement which claims that the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita supersede all other knowledge? “There are many learned professionals among our devotees, but I am yet to find anyone who argues that his knowledge as a professional is superior to Krishna Consciousness,” said the priest who added, “People have accepted the message of being God conscious”.
One of the priest’s goals is to see a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in every home. The phrase ‘Going back to God Head’ suggests something has disconnected and calls for reuniting. What would be the explanation of priest Maha Kartha Das on this when the Bhagavad Gita promises that a spiritually enlightened one will never return to this world, but there is the phrase which suggests one needs to ‘ go back to God’?
“Lord Krishna enjoys life, but if the devotee in the spiritual world wishes to emulate the Lord, he will have to return to this world. This just explains that the individual enjoys some independence and those who have misused this facility that been born again to this world,” explained Swami Maha Karta Das.
The Bhagavad Gita explains that the four classes of social order are needed to maintain peace in society. But the Gita affirms that whatever social order a person belongs to, progress in the God consciousness is guaranteed if a devotee reads the scriptures and chants the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra daily.
Swami Maha Kartha Das has a vision and that is to see the completion of his temple. The temple project has almost reached the halfway mark. There are many more bricks to be laid and walls to come up. However, this servant of The Lord is determined. The confidence in him that ‘it can be done’ has come from a spiritual blessing from somewhere beyond this material world. He has connected with this universal energy and he wants others to experience it.