"The hunt for Vaishnavas" An excerpt from book by Alexander Nezhny
Having finished the Moscow Institute of Aviation, Sergey stayed here to work in the research laboratory. He occupied himself with problems of higher learning that had long interested him. As a student, he had run a group which did socio-psychological research. They studied the learning process, and in such a way tried to influence the intellectual activity of the students.
For this, by the way, the group got the Lenin’s Komsomol award – an intangible addition to an insignificant scholarship.
Having become active followers of the Movement, a worshipper, Sergey got a new name – Sucharu das (birth name is Sergey Zuev, current name is Radha Damodara das). This witnessed the new life which the newly converted man was entering. This is the same as when Christians give a person a new name at Baptism, to his name is added the name of a Saint – his heavenly benefactor.
Knowledge in the East is compared to the greatest riches, while ignorance is equal to sin. Because of this, the problems of education had a higher religious meaning to Sucharu. His activity in this field was immediately noticed. The KGB, in the form of Ernest Fyodorovich Belopotapov once walked up to Sucharu and showed him his little red ID. This happened at work, in his laboratory. The young man was invited to the dean’s office, where another “representative” sat.
The conversation was harsh – “We know that you are spreading the religious teachings of the Vaishnavas. Your leaders are agents of the CIA. In your group, there are twenty men, all of whom are potential enemies of the Soviet government. We suggest that you abandon your beliefs, change them and work with us. Refuse, and you will be fired from the university, which means that nobody will ever hire you to do any decent work.”
Sucharu listened calmly to their threatening speech. In his group, there were female students. One of their mothers wrote a letter to the KBG, directly accusing Sergey Zuev of corrupting her daughter: “He worships a god, he reads some kind of Indian books, he prays, and he doesn’t eat meat.” And in the end she asked for help: “I ask you to protect my daughter from this corrupting influence.” This letter was shown to Sucharu. “So choose.”
But he chose when he joined Krishna Consciousness. Because of this, he acted calmly and fearlessly.
“You’re wasting your time trying to scare me. My views are my personal belief. The constitution guarantees me that my views are untouchable and that I have freedom of religion. So stop sticking your nose in my personal life. You could do that in the thirties, but today nobody’s afraid of you.” Belopotapov was hurt. “You’ll regret this! There are cosmic projects at MAI! You have security clearance! And you are working for foreign intelligence! We will break you!”
After some time Sergey was called by the dean and told, “Either leave of your own accord, or we will fire you.” A formal reason was found. Sergey had been late to work several times, and this was fixed in the records and reported by his superiors. The agents of the KGB were working hard. It wasn’t by accident that in those years it was said of them, “On the gates of Lyubyanka it says, whoever doesn’t work here doesn’t eat.” (1)
Sucharu’s spiritual teacher suggested that he leave for Georgia. A small community of Vaishnavas had sprung up there. The community was an exaggeration. It was just a dream. They hoped that it would grow out of a small group of Armenian devotees. In Svanetia they bought a house, land, and an orchard. They thought of getting cows and bees… To pray to god and live off the fruits of your own work – what could be simpler and more just for a citizen of the Earth?
The idea of settling devotees in the periphery, in villages, seemed promising. If the government was opposed to sermons of Krishna’s devotees in the cities, they would obediently move somewhere far away, closer to the perfect way of life which God calls them to.
Sucharu went to Upper Svanetia, to the village of Tsana, not only to talk to people of the same faith and spiritual grow, but also to find blessed locations for future settlements.
The village was located high up in the mountains. It was a handful of clay houses. The population was kindhearted and talkative. However, they weren’t very happy about the fact that some of the new settlers were of the Armenian descent (2).
Winter in Svanetia isn’t as freezing as in Russia. But in the hut where they settled, there was no glass in the windows and there was no electricity. But there was an iron oven, around which they gathered on long evenings and read the Bhagavad-Gita by the light of an oil lamp and sang mantras. They closed the windows with a polyethylene film, because of which dark came a lot earlier than in the yard.
It is known that Krishna’s devotees treat animals peacefully, and even go so far as to worship cows.
The neighbor’s cow, which they fed every now and then, was treated especially well by them and used this shamelessly. Once in the morning she came up to the house, and not finding any food in the pail, she demanded it by hitting the polyethylene screen. Overall, they lived peacefully, working and praying. While it was light they translated “The Teachings of Lord Chaitanya” from English to Russian. They started this great and necessary work.
One of them was very good with radio technology, which turned out to be a blessing for a small settlement lost in the hills. The demand for a radio technologist was no less than that for a dentist. There were many orders. He barely managed to meet them in time. For some reason, he was unable to fix the radio of a man whose owner was a native, while he was an Armenian. His nationalism was hurt, and he told the police that some random Armenians had showed up and sang all the time and that they do something with radios. They had just entered into the rhythm of their new life when their house was approached by soldiers carrying automatic assault rifles.
The soldiers demanded that they show their documents. They searched the house and found books, two bags of potatoes, firewood, a can of sunflower oil, and flour. They tried to find out if they were tourists or spies. They were stumped, and so they decided to evict them. They were given a week to pack.
Sucharu had his father’s military uniform. This protected them about as much as their imported radio set.
Sucharu’s passport was examined with especial attention, and they were looking at the watermarks and the photograph.
So, they had a week to find a new house. They chose to stay there and not go back to Moscow. They hoped to settle in Sokhumi or nearby. But they had no hope of buying a house. Their society, their small ashram was being watched by all levels of local government. But Sucharu had further plans. Even if they were rooted in Svanetia, he would leave them in the spring. He would have gone to seek a new place. And so he went to Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and finally Frunze. And he found what he was looking for: a settlement in Central Asia where he could establish a base in the near future. He kept the addresses in his memory, as he didn’t trust paper. Sometimes he met devotees.
From Frunze he returned to the Ukraine. In the Don area in the village of Blagodatno lived his grandmother, who at one time had baptized him. Here there was a lot of promise. The young were leaving the villages, and the old were dying out. There were many houses without owners and they were cheap. There was no better place to settle: the climate was mild, the earth was fertile, and his relatives were near. A family moved from the nearby village of Big Shishovka to the Far East. Their brick house cost 1200 rubles – it had an orchard, a bathhouse, a coop, and a well. It was on the edge of the village, and farther out there was just sky and steppe. Near the house was a stream.
Having been to Moscow, Sucharu returned to Big Shishovka with his friend Sadananda and his mother Anna Sergeyevna, who was an expert at agronomy. She dreamed of having her own orchard. The house had three rooms, which allowed them to be relatively comfortable.
Sadananda was a good artist. He immediately appealed to the villagers and suggested starting an art club. He hung announcements and on the next day ten local children had already started. The classes were started on September 1st. In a village, there is always something to do. They fixed the porch, cleaned the coop, fixed the fence around their land. In this area the fences were made of flat rocks. The waited from day to day for Nadezhda, Sadananda’s sister. Unlike her brother, Nadya and Anna Sergeyevna did not worship Krishna. Rather, they sympathized with the devotees. But under the leadership of their experienced men they studied the Bhagavad-Gita over the summer.
Suddenly, Kurkin got a telegram saying, “The police are searching for you.” It was signed Nadya. The men looked at each other. How were they to call such an action? Naivety? Girlish infantilism? One who believes in a higher law must follow earthly laws. Especially when such a one lives in a country which “celebrates” this higher law.
How was the local authority to react to such news, having received it before the addressees? They reacted the only way they could. And so, early one morning both Sergeys were reading the chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita called Karma-yoga. The text they were meditating on said, “All living things feed on grain, and grain comes from the ground, which feeds on rain. Rain is called by practicing yoga, which is born by fulfilling your duties.”
Five policemen in civil clothes showed up early morning. They wanted to know, “Who are you, why did you come here, and what do you do?” They showed their search warrant, and began to search.
“What are you looking for?” asked Sucharu.
“For whatever we find!” answered the searchers.
They were told to find religious literature, cult items, cassettes, radios, papers. But the men lived carefully. They did not keep any of this where it could be found, but kept it well-hidden. They didn’t even find the papers that had just been hidden under the rocks of the fence. However, they didn’t want to leave empty-handed. Orange is a holy color, and they seemed to know this, so they took orange clothing. They also took Chinese vases. They took the bell. And yet, they didn’t find what they were looking for. They started asking, “Where are the cassettes and images? Damn your gods.” The men stayed silent, hoping that their guests would soon leave.
The probably had showed up hoping to find the “sect” which central intelligence had given them detailed information about. How could they now report that they had found nothing? Because of this, they order the men to sell the house and leave the village forever. They said that they would buy them tickets to Moscow, explaining that they men were called to Moscow as witnesses of something or other. They could only sell the house for 600 rubles, half of what they paid for it.
They had few belongings, but they were hiding the texts and tapes in a suitcase in the yard. It would be risky to take that suitcase with them, but to leave it was impossible. They understood that they would never be back. They new owner could find their hiding place and report to the police. They were forced to relocate the suitcase to the forest past the stream.
They hid it at three in the morning, but when they rose to the hillock they instantly noticed people in the court of their house. Professional intelligence officers, guards of universal security, outwitted young people. They’ve been monitoring the house with night vision goggles. The stash was eventually found. The sun was very high in the sky by the time it was found. All of the villagers were called in, and a table was set in the middle of the yard. An officer told everybody, “Comrades! In your peaceful village, a religious sect has grown. We have long suspected them. We asked Moscow about them, and our fears were confirmed. The came here with hidden intentions, but we have unmasked them. Tonight we saw how they buried this suitcase. We found a list of children on whom they were going to perform their savage rites. This list has the name of the daughter of one of your leaders. She would have been the first innocent sacrifice.”
The people didn’t know how to react to this. “We will now play you a cassette so that you can be convinced of what was going to happen to your children!”
The officer’s tired face froze in apprehension of what he was about to hear. But nothing scary occurred. Rather, the cassette player, like a bird in a cage, sang a beautiful, joyful melody. The melody seemed as though it was joyful that it had at last broken out of its cage, and that it could sing in front of so many people!
Nobody chose to interrupt the melody, and the people, enchanted by its purity, listened thoughtfully. Someone smiled, and someone yelled at the officer, “End the concert!” The people guessed, something’s wrong, they must be making fun of us. The officer also understood that there had been a misunderstanding, and tried hitting all of the buttons on the cassette player at the same time. This did nothing to help him. The people started to leave, the neighbors helped the men pack their stuff into the truck, and then the men got in the truck with their stuff. The next day in Moscow, Sucharu was already being questioned by the prosecution. He could not understand who the KGB could possibly be building a case against. Who was he witnessing against? This confusion was part of the plan. However, it was obvious that they were especially interested in Sadananda, and it was better to be safe and not answer the court summons. Vishvamitra had already been arrested. And most likely, Sadananda was necessary not as a witness, but as a defendant, as a sacrifice.
Because of this, he didn’t want to stay in Moscow. He told him to have less meetings and phone conversations. He went down south again, to Yalta, where his mother worked in a botanical garden. He managed to get a job as a guard there.
As soon as Sadananda disappeared from Moscow, the KGB announced a nationwide search for him. His apartment was considered by them to be the headquarters of the Movement in the capital. They never stopped watching it and yet they could not find the owner!
They had already had him, and he disappeared. Neither his sister nor his friends risked writing to him, as all the post offices could possibly be part of the nationwide search.
How happy he must have been when he found Sucharu standing in front of him, smiling. Sucharu had brought letters and, sadly, non-comforting news. In the summer, Crimea is reminiscent of an overpopulated communal apartment as packed like a brick of tea with vacationers, especially on the beach, where everybody would go swimming. But young people lived in a shack, hidden in the woods on the southern edge of the hills. Two or three times a week Anna Sergeyevna would visit, bringing groceries and food. Their pine-needle and sea air filled exile was not blissfully unaware of the world around them. They tried not to be scene by the vacationers, rarely wandering into the hills. But mainly they were visited by wildlife. Their nights, like in the jungle, were filled with the sounds of buzzing and scratching and an inexplicable stomping. The thick bushes were full of overripe berries. It was said that that year saw an unprecedented harvest.
A path led to the shack from below. This path was taken by Anna Sergeyevna. The organization seeking her son was of course forced to watch his mother. Anna Sergeyevna discovered this too late.
One evening, she was descending along the rocky path and saw a police officer with a dog and two agents of the state. She looked around and found that there was nowhere to hide, and she was seen. Had she stayed for another minute with her son, she would no doubt have avoided the eager detectives: they were walking along the foothills and were already going past the path. And now she had walked right into them and frozen on the spot. The policeman shortened his dog’s leash.
The search was being headed by Belopotapov, who had once promised to break Sergey. Now he was obviously pleased at the conclusion of this operation. He was making jokes about the holes in the shack’s roof and, certain that the criminals had been capture and had nowhere to go, he went aside into the bushes.
In the Yaltan branch of the police, the friends were interrogated again about the same old case, where Sadananda was the defendant, and Sucharu was still being used as a witness. They were separated. One of them was sent in stages to Moscow – a long and exhausting journey, while the other, who was unguarded, went to Moscow on his own.
1 – KGB employs huge number of informants of every walk of life which are hired under pressure of loosing their jobs.
2 -- Svans are one of the main ethnic groups making up the Georgian nation, generally hate Armenians.