Patriarchy Across Cultures: A Lifetime Commitment: Initiation

by Tapati

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Temple Deities

In January of 1977 Mike and I were preparing to ask for initiation. We were carefully composing letters to Srila Prabhupada to indicate that we understood the commitment we were making and hoped that he would accept us as disciples. Mike shaved his head, something he’d avoided up until that point. He knew he would not get a recommendation for initiation from the temple authorities if he kept his hair shoulder length. Embarrassed, he wore a cap over his head until it grew out again. We were more strictly abstaining from sex as well, trying to genuinely follow the instructions we had received from Srila Prabhupada.

My initiation letter is dated February 2nd, 1977. We expected a wait before we heard whether or not we were accepted. Occasionally we knew that initiations were delayed, and Srila Prabhupada was said to be gravely ill. In March we were asked to pray for him and there were 24 hour a day kirtans on his behalf. He improved for awhile after that but remained ill and under medical guidance.

The day came when we heard that we were accepted, and Radhaballabha Dasa was informed by telegram that our names were to be Mahasraya* Dasa and Tapati* Dasi. We were ecstatic! Both of us felt like we had waited so long for this. Mahasraya had been involved in the movement for several years and I had first written to ISKCON members in 1974. We knew it was a big step and a huge commitment. We were agreeing to spend the rest of our lives in the service of our spiritual master and to follow the four regulative principles—no meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex life or gambling, plus we would be required to chant at least sixteen rounds of the mahamantra each day.

In mid-March there was an initiation ceremony in the temple and we received new japa beads that had been chanted on by Ramesvara Swami. In April the official letter arrived with our names signed not by Srila Prabhupada but by Tamal Krishna Swami. We understood that with his illness, our spiritual master (how exciting those words sounded to us) had been forced to delegate these duties.

Initiationletter

Not long after our initiation an old correspondent from the registered membership program, Pastora Roldan, came to visit and stayed with us for a couple of days. She had tried to surrender twice before in London and Los Angeles and even considered coming to St. Louis, but didn’t seem to be able to adjust to life in the temple. I tried to show her that life could be pleasant if she gave it a chance and cooked for her and took her to the kirtans with me.

At the temple they showed some film of Srila Prabhupada that shocked us all and brought many to tears. He was very thin and frail-looking, lying in bed with a microphone held up to his mouth, still translating, desperately trying to finish Chaitanya Charitamrita, a multi-volume chronicle of the life and preaching of Lord Chaitanya in the 16th century. We took up our kirtan with renewed fervor, as if we could transfer our very life force to our Guru Maharaja. Devotees were saying that it was our sinful activities that contributed to his poor health, since he was taking on our karma. We hoped that pious activities would improve it.

When Pastora left, Mahasraya and I fell down from our lofty platform of compliance with the rules. After suppressing our desire for over a month we had sex, and our first child was conceived. Guilty we again resumed our chaste existence and it wasn’t long before I felt the first sign of nausea that soon told me I had conceived. I had also betrayed my vows, in my mind, because I knew that “illicit sex life” was supposed to mean even in marriage unless one chanted 50 rounds of the mahamantra and deliberately tried to conceive a child. This was to be a conflict for me the entire time we were married and I would go back and forth between resisting my desire to have sex and giving in. I was often consumed with guilt and felt like I was endangering Srila Prabhupada’s health with my weak will. At the same time, I was happy that I was going to have a baby—at least once the morning sickness had subsided. This part of the story is continued in “I Will Lay Me Down.”

*Tapati rhymes with cup o’ TEA.
*Mahasraya is pronounced Muh HAAH shray (rhymes with eye) uh

tapati

Tapati McDaniels is a freelance writer who started a forum designed to meet the needs of former Hare Krishna devotees at http://www.gaudiya-repercussions.com.

She is working on a memoir and her personal blog can be found at http://tapati.livejournal.com

Be sure to read Tapati’s NLQ series: “Patriarchy Across Cultures.”

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Patriarchy Across Cultures by Tapati: