Preaching in Russia

The following is a wonderful article written by Govinda Dasi and published in Dandavats in 2016. It was recently posted on Facebook. I thought this was an especially good time for presenting this once again.

Back in New York, in early 1967, Srila Prabhupada often sat in his room and slowly turned the world globe, studying the geographic demarcations of various countries on the Earth planet. He would sometimes say, “Brahmananda, you will go to Russia, Goursundar, you go to Japan, Rayarama, you will go to Europe…” and so on. Even though he had merely a handful of sincere American youths, most of them in their late teens or early twenties, he had big plans. Clearly, he wanted to open preaching centers in every country on Earth. His vision was huge–he planned to spread the Hare Krishna movement all over the world! But he was especially concerned about Russia.

Russia, at that time, was the very heartbeat of the communist/atheist world. The message of atheism, the no-God philosophy that is the destroyer of religiosity, had established itself aggressively in Russia. It had also consumed many other surrounding countries, forcing atheistic education on their children, and punishing those who were Godly. Russia, during the 1960’s, was very aggressively moving toward world domination. At least that was their ambition.

People were suffering in Russia, and Srila Prabhupada was acutely aware of it. He knew that Russia’s atheistic propaganda, and aggressive military takeovers of other weaker countries, had to be stopped if Lord Chaitanya’s mission were to reach every “town and village.”

Srila Prabhupada sometimes said that a “bear-like race of beings had come from a lower planetary system, and were attempting to take over the Earth planet.” This bear-like race of asuras had established themselves in Russia. And by promoting communism, a form of atheism, they were determined to convert the world to Godlessness.

Formerly, in Vedic times, the land of Russia was known as the land of the rishis. It was known as “Rishiya.” The region was populated by many yogis and sadhus who went to the mountains of the Himalayas, and beyond, to perform penances and austerities in the frozen terrain, far away from the hubbub of worldly life.

Srila Prabhupada knew that there were those in Russia who were the descendants of such rishis, and would have the sukriti to take mightily to Krishna consciousness. Yet they were being suppressed and even tortured by the Godless asuric race that had overtaken the political systems of Russia.

Those same asuric leaders were also keen on overtaking the political systems of other countries, closing their churches, and poisoning their children with government schools that taught only Darwinism, and other forms of atheism. In this way, the communist political machine planned to permeate the world with the poison of atheism. This was a serious threat to the future of the Earth planet.

Srila Prabhupada often expressed concern for Russia, and for the suffering people there. It was almost as if he were tuned in to the sufferings of the saintly people in that iron-clad country. Because of the “iron curtain” as it was called, practically no interaction with the West was allowed. The “iron curtain” was firmly in place after World War II and anyone who tried to escape to the West, could be shot at various checkpoints. The asuras had successfully sealed off an entire country from the influence of the rest of the world, and were busily indoctrinating the helpless citizens with brutish atheism.

Sometimes Srila Prabhupada would talk about this in his lectures, how the communists would say to the hungry citizens “where is your nonsense God, pray to us! There is no God, but we will bring you bread!” And then they would bring in truckloads of bread to the starving people. The asuras were pounding away at the faith of the Russian people, and Srila Prabhupada desperately wanted to save them from this cruel fate of atheism.

But, “how to do it?”–that was the question that weighed heavily on his mind.

Just prior to his trip to Hawaii, he had visited Russia, along with his secretary, Shyamsundar dasa. Though he was able to visit for only two or three days, he made an amazing connection with a young Russian student. Shyamsundar met the young man while out shopping for vegetables, and brought him back to Srila Prabhupada’s hotel room. There, he met with Srila Prabhupada, who instructed him almost continuously for two days, and also gave him initiation into the Gaudiya Sampradaya with the name Ananta Shanti dasa Brahmachary.

Srila Prabhupada empowered this young man to preach in Russia, but he was unable to stay long enough to train him in cooking, Deity worship, and so many things that he wanted him to learn. So now, Srila Prabhupada was constantly thinking of this young man, and how to assist him.

At that time, the only way an American could enter Russia for more than a few days, was by marriage. If a Russian man married a Western woman, she was permitted to remain in Russia. Therefore, Srila Prabhupada was trying to find a way, working within the laws of the country, to introduce Krishna consciousness.

He handpicked one French lady devotee named Mondokini Devi Dasi, to go to Russia and marry Ananta Shanti, sight unseen. Such a degree of surrender would be difficult for any Western woman, but he knew that Mondokini’s level of sincere devotion and surrender were unsurpassed.

So he wrote to Mondokini Dasi, and requested that she go to Russia and marry Ananta Shanti, and train him in all aspects of Krishna consciousness.

While in Hawaii, Srila Prabhupada received her reply. We were driving back home to the Waimanalo beach house, after a public lecture, while Shyamsundar sat opening and reading Srila Prabhupada’s mail to him.

Srila Prabhupada sat in the front passenger seat, and we all sat in the back. Shyamsundar read Mondokini’s letter aloud, and when Srila Prabhupada heard that she was ready to depart for Russia and marry this young man, his joy knew no bounds!

While this letter was being read, I snapped two pictures of Prabhupada. He was smiling the biggest smile I had ever seen! He was so overjoyed to hear her reply! To him, this was the beginning of the conquest of the demonic atheism that had invaded the land of the rishis, Rishiya.

Soon Mondokini would indeed go to Russia and marry Ananta Shanti, take him some books, and train him to cook, make offerings, perform Deity worship, and so many things to help spread Krishna consciousness there. Mondokini was an excellent pujari, and cook, so she was able to impart everything to the young man in the few weeks allowed by her visa.

Later, however, she was somehow blacklisted by the Russian government, and though she tried for years to re-enter Russia, even from different countries, she was unable to do so. Mondokini took Srila Prabhupada’s instruction as “her heart and soul.” This is the duty of every disciple, and she was most successful. It seemed her job was done–well done.

Ananta Shanti then spread Krishna consciousness all over Russia, single handedly, and it grew like a brushfire. The population was hungry for the truths of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, and took to Lord Chaitanya’s movement enthusiastically. Ananta Shanti took great risks in his preaching work, in a devoutly atheistic country. He was even imprisoned and tortured for many years. Yet he remained faithful to his spiritual master’s orders. He was given a very challenging task, but he did it, empowered by Srila Prabhupada. He was so empowered that he could speak philosophy for hours on end; he became Srila Prabhupada’s “mouthpiece” in Russia.

We are eternally grateful for the service of this young man, who served his guru unflinchingly, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Many years later, I met Ananta Shanti while in Vrindaban. He told me the entire story of the early preaching work in Russia. Indeed, Russia was the land of the rishis, as Ananta Shanti must have been a great yogi from previous life to be able to retain firm faith while under the cruel tortures dealt by the asuras.

Ananta Shanti has recently left this world, and I offer my most humble pranams to his lotus feet. I am quite certain he met with a glorious reception in the spiritual world of Vaikuntha!