The Initiation of Arjuna Dasa-10-30-2008

By : 
Akhilananda Dasa
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        With only a few days remaining before the much anticipated arrival of Bhaktimarg Swami Maharaja, I was rushing around and calling devotees who were helping with all the arrangements that would culminate in the long awaited initiation of Bhakta Aaron. I was reflecting on all that had led up to this point.

        I was fortunate to have met Aaron over four years ago. While attending to my regular duties as a volunteer, I would visit the county jail. It came to my attention that Aaron had just recently entered the system there in the county jail. I had heard of him through the newspaper and since he was from my home town, it dawned on me that I might be able to visit him and take him some literature on Krishna consciousness. Our first meeting went very well and soon he was reading BTG’s, Mahabharata and Ramayana, which are timeless epics of Lord Krishna’s and Lord Rama’s unrivaled heroic victories over evil. Aaron asked for more articles and books on Krishna consciousness and soon became truly immersed in The Science of Self Realization by Srila Prabhupada. We have kept in regular contact since then by visits and letters which are always filled with live discussions about Krishna Consciousness and life as a devotee of Krishna.

        While living in incarceration, Aaron has increased his focus on self realization and self introspection. Krishna consciousness has been the serious goal of Bhakta Aaron Prabhu now for over four years. His intense desire has been to deepen and strengthen his relationship with Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada by chanting Hare Krishna and becoming a duly initiated disciple in the line of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

        So it was during the monthly visits with Bhakta Aaron that we discussed the many topics concerning taking initiation from a bonafide Spiritual Master. Srila Prabhupada is coming in the line of disciplic succession from Lord Krishna and has given His mercy and instructions to his qualified senior disciples to follow in His footsteps and initiate bonafide candidates into the chanting of Hare Krishna and the path of Bhakti Yoga. Now that the year long planning and back and forth of e-mails to the prison chaplain had come to a fruitful conclusion, Bhakta Aaron’s initiation ceremony was finally in sight. I explained that even though I am a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, I am not an initiating Guru. I am simply a humble servant passing along the preaching message as best as I can. I encouraged Aaron to think about Bhaktimarg Swami as someone he could take shelter of and become a disciple in the line of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada and Lord Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

        Bhaktimarga Swami very kindly agreed that he would gladly accept Bhakta Aaron as a disciple, upon my recommendation, followed by a period of establishing a persona relationship with him through correspondence. Bhakta Aaron enthusiastically took up this opportunity and even made a beautiful art box elaborately decorated with intricate designs and drawers with velvet linings. I was able to present his gift of loving devotion to Bhaktimarg Swami at the Festival of Inspiration in New Vrindaban, West Virginia. Even to this day Bhaktimarg Maharaja tells me that he keeps his important personal documents safe in Bhakta Aaron’s gift box. While reflecting on all that had led up to this joyous occasion I prepared for the arrival of Bhaktimarg Swami, After picking up Maharaja from the airport we traveled to Cleveland for the weekly program held at the home of our dear friend’s Dayal Nitai and his wife Tanya. There was a lively kirtan and class on the Bhagavad-Gita Gita followed by wonderful Prasadam(vegetarian preparations offered with love to Lord Krishna). Bhaktimarg and I received many wishes of good fortune and blessings from all the devotees there at Dayal’s home as we told of the next day’s initiation ceremony that would be for Aaron inside the prison.

         Rising early at 4:30 am the next morning for the Mangala Arti, Bhaktimarg Swami and I prepared for what was to be a historical event in the Trumble Correctional Institution; a Vaishnava initiation ceremony. We were blessed with a beautiful morning sunrise as we traveled the fifty miles to “the Center of the world”, a tiny one store village just outside the large prison grounds, I had received the okay from the prison Chaplain, that Bhaktimarg Swami and I would be permitted to enter the facility on our traditional robes, Bhaktimarg Swami in his saffron and I min my kurta and dhoti, along with the flower garland, milk sweets, neck beads, and japa beads that would be presented and kept by Bhakta Aaron.

        We were pleasantly surprised that entrance into the facility went smoothly. Bhaktimarg Swami even had a nice discussion with another visitor, a Philippino man who was acquainted with devotees and the chanting of Hare Krsna. We were soon escorted across a small courtyard to the visitation area and were given a private glass-walled room just off to one side of the larger room where all the other visitors were sitting with their relatives and friends. Bhakta Aaron arrived wearing the blue kurta and bead bag which had been sent to him. He very carefully offered obeisance’s to Maharaja reciting the Sanskrit versed. He respectfully received and put on the flower garland which Bhaktimarg Swami had been wearing. I applied the clay Tilak marking to Bhakta Aaron’s forehead while reciting the proper mantra “Om Keshavaya Namaha”. After some informal conversation Bhaktimarg Swami said we should begin the initiation ceremony.

         Since we were not permitted to have a traditional fire sacrifice, Maharaja explained the process and significance of taking initiation, Bhakta Aaron listened intently and finally was asked to recite the four prohibitions that an initiated devotee must strictly avoid: no meat eating, no gambling, no intoxication, and no illicit sex. Bhakta Aaron also repeated the vow to chant at least sixteen rounds of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra daily as well as reading Srila Prabhupada’s books faithfully. Maharaja had been chanting on the new set of japa bead that would be given to Bhakta Aaron.

        Bhaktimarga said that it was now time to give Bhakta Aaron his new spiritual name. I knew that Bhakta Aaron had been very interested and perhaps a little nervous about what his new name would be. So when Bhaktimarga Swami leaned forward, handed him the new japa beads and said ”Your spiritual name will be Arjuna Das”. Bhakta Aaron folded his hands with great gladness and amazement. He looked at me with emotion and recognition that once again Lord Krishna had fulfilled al desires!

        We very happily shared the milk sweet burfi Prasadam and then became immersed in chanting together “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare , Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”. this marked the conclusion of the ceremony and we came out of the small meeting room to have our photo taken together.

        The officers and other visitors seemed pleased to see this unusual sight of Hare Krishna devotees wearing flowing colorful robes, flower garlands and Tilak in such a place as the TCI visitor area. We were also very happy to see a sincere soul receiving the mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Srila Prabhupada.

         Bhaktimarga Swami and I gave and received a heart-felt farewell to now Arjuna Dasa Bhramacari. We parted company reluctantly still feeling the bliss of Krishna Consciousness and the association of devotees of Krishna. Arjuna Dasa later wrote me that the entire campus at TCI was abuzz about what had taken place and he experienced new interest from others about the path of Krishna Consciousness.

        Bhaktimarga Swami and I reflected on all that had taken place that day and were reminded how Srila Prabhupada had come to save us all who were imprisoned by our illusion to material sense gratification and sinful activities. We both felt very happy to have a new devotee of Krishna to associate with and to encourage from now on to always remember Krishna and never forget Him.