"Special Mercy" An interview with Vidura das in 1998
Q: Please, remember how it all began.
A: That time was so surprising that it now seems story-like and surreal. It seemed that in this country, where any spiritualism was declared to be an ideological diversion created by the USA and were purged by the machine very thoroughly and several times, nothing spiritual could possibly spring up, something that differed from Marxist-Leninist ideology. But it happened! And here is the result: I was once a very honest member of Komsomol, and now I am a worshipper of Krishna.
Even our fingers prickled with the energy that filled us. There was no fear that something would not work, that the wife would throw us out of the house, that we’d be thrown in jail, or of anything else. There was no fear.
I remember how we impatiently waited for the Saturday and Sunday programs. By the way, it is interesting to remember how the programs started up in Moscow. There was a bioelectronics laboratory where occult research went on (1), among which was a group dedicated to the mantras. I was also in this laboratory. At the time there were no lectures, no programs, and nobody knew that we could all get together and sing. Pianev (Ananta Shanti) gave these people a mix of several systems of yoga and occultism. He also spoke a little of bhakti yoga. After we met, a small group of the most devout sprang up, of whom you all know. They were, above all, Sadananda, Sanatana Kumar, and Vishvamitra. Once, we met and Pianev described his point of view on the Acceptance of Krishna. Sanatana Kumar had a two-room apartment in an old house and from this apartment, the Moscow ISKCON sprang up. The first programs were very specific. We just listened to Vedic music on cassettes. But nobody opened there mouth, and nobody even suggested that we could sing. Maharaja (Ananta Shanti) would show up, he would be given a newspaper so that he could sit on a clean surface, and he began to speak. I was shocked by how he spoke. I remember my sensations. I don’t remember what he said, as I didn’t even listen to what he was saying. I was satisfied just by how he spoke. And this is what is surprising: some time later, everybody began to speak just like him. We were learning to preach from Ananta Shanti. If only you had heard his first sermons! Once I preached in one of the laboratories at my institute of physical education. One colleague recorded this sermon on a tape recorder. Some time later, I heard this recording. I was surprised, and asked, “Where did you get a recording of Ananta Shanti?” even though this was a recording of my sermon. I did not recognize my own voice! The intonation, the energy, the expressions, the twists – all of these reminded me of that which Ananta Shanti said to us.
Q: How did the regular singing of sacred names start in Moscow?
A: We used to not sing at all. We would just show up and listen to music. Before then the programs went like this: people would show up, wait for Maharaja (Ananta Shanti), who could be late by six hours, and all this time music would play. Everybody sat and listened, but they did not sing themselves, they stifled this desire within them. And once, when Maharaja wasn’t there for a very long time, one of the devotees, Ayodhya-pati, suggested, “Let’s sing Hare Krishna.” For us, this was very unusual. Everybody looked around confused. “Alright, let’s sing. Who can sing? Ayodhya-pati, go on!” We made Ayodhya-pati sing. And he sang Srila Prabhupada’s famous melody. Our eyes went wide, and we began to sing along. We sang for a mere ten to fifteen minutes. We liked it so much! The next day, we did not go to work. I was cutting something out of some sort of material, and my mother in law was mad because I had ruined the scissors.
That something was metallic, like a soup can, but a little thicker. I cut a circle out of it, made a hole, and used a hammer to give it the form of a karatal. The sound was surprisingly beautiful! The next day, we got together on Preobrazhenskaya square, at the house of one of our acquaintances. We showed up, and Sadanada, Vishvamitra, Sanatana Kumar, and I began to sing! This was something special… we were tearing our homemade karatals out of each others hands, saying, “Let me lead! Let me!” We sang, “Govinda jaya jaya” and Hare Krishna. We were thirsty! We wanted to hear, we wanted to sing. But we only got together once a week at that time, since we had to go to work, see all the faces there, listen to what they said, and see what they ate. Monday, Tuesday went by find after Sunday, since we had just recently seen each other. By Wednesday or Thursday our transcendental charge ran out, and we became thirsty. We developed a desire to meet with devotees. And Friday was just impossible. We were already calling each other, “Are you coming? How about you? Who did you invite? Did you invite him? Invite him.” And when we met, it was a holiday because we had not seen another devotee worshipper all week! Can you imagine what it’s like not to see another worshipper all week?
And after the program, we could not part for a long while. It got to the point where somewhere around nine in the evening we would begin to say good-bye to the owners of the apartment, who graciously allowed us to use it for the program, but somehow at the apartment’s door a crowd would form. Everybody was standing in their hats, jackets, and shoes… and saying goodbye! The farewells always lasted several hours. Sometimes they looked at the clock to see, will I make it to my line on time to catch the last subway? Then everybody would get up and run for the subway. Sometimes after this somebody would return and say, “Well, I missed it.” Two hours later he would come home, when all the subway stations were closed and the subways would no longer be running.
Q: Did you ever go outside?
A: That happened much later, in maybe 1987. We started out with small groups on the Arbat Street and at the Exhibition of the Achievements of the People’s Economy. There was one worshipper in the West – Kirtiraj das, who was responsible for Russia. He gave us the assignment to sing on the Arbat every day. After that the singing on the Arbat began. First, we sang opposite the restaurant “Prague”, and then we went down to the subway station and sang there. And we sang every day.
Q: In what clothing did you go to the harinam?
A: We went in normal clothing – in pants or jeans. We sang very well. Crowds would get together to listen to us. This was unusual – at the time, we were in the Soviet Union, and there we were taking part in dissident activities. Then for the first time everything was allowed. Lyubera (2) arrived, and a police regiment was posted on the Arbat. Everybody attacked us: local hooligans, the police, and even the KGB. But, we sang every day. For him, who researches Krishna consciousness, this is a treasure trove of information. There were so many stories, so many scenes! There was one worshipper, Kostya. He sang, and a hooligan was waving his fist in front of his face, unable to hit him. His gang all came to his aid, but couldn’t beat us up, as they suddenly had no energy. They looked and saw the devotee, singing sincerely, and they could not attack us. Once he actually hit Kostya and the next day somewhere else his mouth was ripped. He came and told us, “That’s it. I’m not touching you anymore.” We even made friends with him, and he told us, “I don’t want to do it, but they ask us to, and they’re poisoning us.” After some time he died. And there were many other stories. Once, at the time of the Olympic Games in 1980, we got together, 300 or 400 of us, in the middle of Moscow and staged a demonstration. The KGB and police immediately showed up, about 150 of them. Everybody was identified and they started to try and figure out who organized the demonstration. They didn’t have the brains to cover up this event. Every person from their list was summoned by the party committee at work. The whole organization would find out about Hare Krishna. Great missionary work began at that time throughout Moscow. In 300 to 400 organizations, they began to ask, “Who is Krishna?”
When it was established that many were invited by me, a whole story spread in the institute. They began to summon me to the department head’s office, and the whole institute began to talk about Hare Krishna. They made a large strategic mistake. Everybody began to tell stories of Krishna. Thus, they made one mistake after another.
At that time, there were no books, no cassettes, and we did not know philosophy. The sermons were successful if we managed to teach somebody the Hare Krishna mantra. We prepared special papers with the mantra. If you were riding on the train or the subway and you saw an uplifted face, you would approach, hand over the paper, and say, “Sing this and your life will change. I already do this, and I am experiencing surprising changes in my life. Try it.” We had no books, and so this was our missionary work. We consider our day to be successful if we were able to give somebody the mantra. We got together outdoors in winter and in summer.
Q: Even in winter?!
A: This was surprising. We would get a huge fire going, sit in a circle around it, and sing for five to six hours. At home, we would cook rice and bring it with us. We poured ghee into a large cauldron, put spices in, added rice, and after several minutes we would obtain a wonderful prasadam. We had bread and drink and everybody was happy. We all held onto singing. It was a surprising state.
Q: What about when the persecution began?
A: That began in 1979. At that time, the head of the sixth branch of the KGB was Belopotapov. He was responsible for the Movement. At that time, many were thrown into prison. Sucharu, Vishvamitra, Vrindavan were all imprisoned.
Q: How did it happen that you were not imprisoned?
A: First of all, nobody implicated me in any of this. Secondly, I didn’t implicate myself in any of this. I gave them no reason to imprison me. The investigator said, “Your Sucharu is one tough nut to crack, we barely got to him. But Vidura is even tougher!” I was helped by one dissident. When I was being interrogated on Lyubyanka (3), I answered everything with, “I don’t remember.” I didn’t contradict them, I said that I was a scientist studying the effects of sound on a human, and I did not remember whether or not I was involved. Then almost everybody was imprisoned. We began to get together in groups of fifty to sixty people. And Belopotapov told us, “We can no longer allow you to operate. Sixty people are very dangerous.” After that, they began to raid devotees in Moscow. The started to show up for the programs, record them, and get people fired. They saw that these weren’t the dregs of society getting together. Scientists and other educated people were showing up. They were worried by the fact that such people had become interested in this philosophy. But then, perestroika (4) began and the situation began to improve.
Q: What other events of the time do you remember?
A: The strength of the devotees is unbeatable. Nobody can stand against the strength of the devotees! This was when there were many of us and they began to persecute us. KBG agents showed up to our program with search warrants and began to take away our religious paraphernalia and everything that had to do with worship. We especially didn’t like one of the agents, then a young “worshipper” of communism, whom we called “obnoxious”. And we observed a scene where our dear Vishvamitra fought with this very agent. This agent wanted to confiscate our mridanga. This was a plastic mridanga – not fragile at all. Vishvamitra pulled it his way, the agent pulled it his way, and we watched to see how it would end. Vishvamitra pulled his way, the other his way. They switched hands, grabbed belts… this looked like a tug-of-war. And Vishvamitra won! The mridanga remained in the hands of the worshipper of Krishna! And the “worshipper” of communism lost. This was very significant.
Vishvamitra was very decisive. He borrowed Srila Prabhupada’s books from the Lenin library, which by the mercy of Kirtiraj Prabhu miraculously happened to be there. He had some acquaintances there. He borrowed them there and read them at the programs. And once, during one of the searches, a KGB agent took one of Srila Prabhupada’s books. This occurred in a two-room apartment. Some of the agents went to the kitchen, where they recorded somebody’s name, and part went to the other room, and in the big room Vishvamitra and this one agent remained. Vishvamitra locked this room and told him, “While you have the book, I will not open the door.” The rest of the agents got very upset and began to knock on the door. “I won’t open it; he should give the book back.” In the end, Vishvamitra won this psychological battle. They returned the book to him. There is one other wonderful worshipper, Bharadwaj Prabhu. At that time he had some problems with his documents and he had a lot of experience in the area of dealing with the police. Once, he was taken by the police, and how he yelled! He did not yell “Krishna!” He yelled, “I’ll bleed you!” He yelled very petulantly, and they left him alone. He was very sly. Once, when they showed up with a search warrant, he shut himself up in the bathroom and wouldn’t leave. Everybody was arrested, and he was not touched. Everybody was taken away, and he remained. Another time, he got under the bed. One of the devotees sat on the bed, and thus he was hidden by their feet… what a wonderful worshipper!
Once Ananta Shanti scolded me because I gave Bharadwaj the chance to develop hubris. After school graduation, I had a very nice suit. For a long time, it just hung in my closet. You probably know of such things – they stop being fashionable and just hang in your closet. I gave him that suit because had nothing to wear. And the next day, Ananta Shanti started telling me, “Why did you give him that suit! He put it on and now he won’t listen to me.” Obtaining something that causes a worshipper to question authority is dangerous for him.
When in 1980 Sri Vishnupad told us to leave Moscow, the devotees all left for different place. We (two families) left for the hills. I sang a lot there. There was nothing to do – at that time there were no English books. All we had left to do was sing. I had a guitar. I would hold it in my right hand and use matches to hold the strings to the frets. In my left hand, I had cymbals, with my right leg I stomped on the ground, and the result was like a mridanga. With my left leg I worked the pump of a rubber boat, whose hose could be used to play a harmonica. I bought a child’s harmonica, which I set to play the same chord as the guitar. Thus, I was a one man band. With my left leg, I played the harmonica, with my right leg, I drummed on the floor, I had a guitar and cymbals. I would close my eyes and imagine that around me were many devotees. It was as though many devotees were playing, devotees were dancing, singing… I entered into an unbelievable state of ecstasy! I sing much better when I am alone…
Things went on like this for a long time, until the search. What happened as a result of such singing? My way of walking changed! As a result of singing, my way of walking changed. The KGB agents who came from the regional center told Nrisimha, “This is your manager.” She told me, “Vidura, walk more simply. You’ve been marked.” I didn’t understand. How was I to walk simply? I walked like a king. I had sung for a year! People moved over to let me pass. I walked, and they moved over. My walk had changed. Everything changes. Now I don’t sing like that. I haven’t been singing for a long time, and my walk went back to the way it was. That is the strength of song. Nothing can replace the singing of a holy name. You can tell many stories about this. These were surprising time. Now, some of the times when I chant mantras or during a kirtan I start remembering those times, and tears come to my eyes. The taste of the energy which sustained us, which gave us enthusiasm and decision, is indescribable. You have to experience it.
1 -- occult research meaning government sponsored mind control and remote viewing experimentation.
2 – name of the gang intolerant to hippies, Hare Krishnas, etc.
3 -- KGB headquarters and prison.
4 -- Perestroika [restructuring] was the term attached to the attempts (1985–91) by Mikhail Gorbachev to transform the stagnant, inefficient command economy of the Soviet Union into a decentralized market-oriented economy.