Hare Krishna!  

My name is Cintamani Dhama dasi. I would like to share with why I am so passionate about sharing the Principles of Improved Sadhu Sanga.  I can honestly say that they have transformed my life from black to white. I joined ISKCON in 1981, having undergone a very stressful childhood and youth. I shall spare you the gruesome details but suffice it to say that I did not receive a loving and nurturing upbringing, and this left me extremely insecure and emotionally unstable. However, it did at least turn me toward enquiring about the absolute truth.

From my early teens I would sit on the flat roof of my home in Tehran and look up at the skies. “Who am I? Where have I come from?” I did well at school and went to Bristol University where I did a joint degree in Philosophy and Politics. I chose Philosophy because I wanted to find the answer to these questions. Sadly though, I may as well have chosen engineering. In his first lecture to our year, the head of Philosophy, Professor Stephan Korner said, “If you are studying Philosophy because you want to know the meaning of life, then you have come to the wrong place. Philosophy today is about the meaning of words.”

I had led a sheltered life until I went to University. There, however, I quickly became degraded. When I graduated my step-father told me he wanted to open a fast food chain in the future. He asked me to get a job with McDonalds so that I could get experience in that field. I obediently did as he asked, but I was miserable there. 

One day as I walked to work, a prayer escaped my lips: “Oh God, please tell me what is the purpose of life? It seems so meaningless to me. Why should I go through all the suffering in between birth and death if there is no meaning to life? Why not just die?” Then I remembered that I no longer believed in God. My childhood faith in him had been destroyed during my years at University. So I revoked my prayer. “How can I pray to you? I don’t even believe in you anymore. I take the prayer back.”

Thankfully, to my eternal relief, Krishna ignored that last bit. He acted solely on the initial heartfelt prayer. That night after I had closed up the McDonald’s restaurant where I was an assistant manager and I was waiting for a taxi to take the rest of the staff and myself home, the Lord answered my prayer. Someone had left a Back to Godhead magazine on one of the tables. I noticed one of the staff browsing through it, and as I had nothing to do while we waited for the taxi, I asked her what it was. She pushed it away and said, “Oh just some rubbish.” I pulled it over and began to read. I was so attracted by what I read that I went to the London temple the next day right after work. For three weeks I visited every day, then much to the disapproval of my parents I gave up my job and joined the temple. This was mid-1981. My early years in the movement were very unhappy. I had low self esteem and found it hard to find acceptance among the devotee ladies. I was not interested in feminine services like cooking, sewing or Deity worship. I was more attracted to philosophy. This made it hard for me to fit in. When I asked questions, I was frequently instructed: ‘Don’t be over-intelligent.’

After nine months I was given initiation by Jayatirtha. In less than a month from my initiation Jayatirtha defected from ISKCON and asked his disciples to join him in India. That was a deeply traumatic period for me. I returned to ISKCON after 9 months. My faith had taken a beating. If my parents had been kinder or if I had kept any of my savings I probably would have left at that point. As it was, I had nothing and nowhere to go. So I returned to the ashrama. I was taken in to meet the new guru, Bhagavan das. I told him I thought the devotees were fakes and liars. He was not very impressed with me, and made it clear I would either comply with his expectations or I could leave. Since I had nowhere to go, I kept my mouth closed after that. I went through a few difficult years in the ashrama, culminating in a four month long sankirtan ‘marathon’ collecting funds. This was very debilitating for me and I prayed to the London deities to give me a more sustainable way of remaining in Krishna consciousenss.

At the end of that marathon Bhagavan prabhu arranged my marriage to my husband, Krishna Dharma. I believe my marriage was Radha Londonisvara’s response to my prayer. Together we went to Manchester to start a preaching centre. The first few years were very blissful. But then we started our family. After I had two children I found it hard to attend the classes or to read; also my rounds became of a very poor quality. My husband was both the Temple President of the Manchester Centre and the UK National Secretary. Consequently I heard about the scandals he was privy to. This plus my poor sadhana gradually eroded my faith again. By the time my third child arrived, I had completely lost my faith in Krishna consciousness and the devotees.

I remember sitting at our kitchen table wandering what to do. I am not the kind of person who can live a lie, but I also felt trapped. I had three small children whom I didn’t want to abandon, and I had no money, career or family to turn to. (My family completely disowned me when I married my husband.) If I left, I would be alone with nothing. Still I seriously considered leaving, as the alternative was to live a lie. As I sat in our kitchen, a small voice in my heart said, “Zahra, if you leave now you will suffer greatly in your life. Instead begin to study Srila Prabhupada’s books.”

Thankfully, I decided to listen to that voice. When my three children were asleep, I would sit with Bhagavad-Gita As It is. I would write out a sentence and then underneath write what I understood. When I read Srila Prabhupada’s statements about women I felt a rage. Such statements had been used to belittle and stifle me during my time in ISKCON. When my husband would come home, I would challenge him, “How can you accept such abusive statements as Absolute Truth?”

He would calm me down and suggest we discuss the section. I slowly began to understand the statements in a way which was not abusive. Over the course of the next two years, as a result of regularly reading Bhagavad-Gita and discussing my doubts with my husband my faith returned. My husband then suggested we daily discuss Gita together. At first our discussions were fraught. We had many arguments and tense moments. Still we kept discussing the Gita together. We were also listening to Srila Prabhupada’s lectures. We often heard snippets in these lectures in which Srila Prabhupada seemed to be speaking directly to us. He seemed to be giving us advice how to make our discussions more harmonious and fruitful. As we began applying the advice we heard, we felt our discussions beginning to improve. Over the course of five years they became deeply and mutually satisfying. We share those statements from Srila Prabhupada which helped us in the Principles section of this website. 

At the end of those five years we returned to the Manor community. After twenty-five years working voluntarily for ISKCON we had large debts, no careers, and no family to help us. I felt fearful, and for want of knowing what else I could do, just kept taking full shelter of my sadhana; especially our discussions. By now we were discussing twice a day: Bhagavatam in the morning, Gita in the evening. Over the course of the next few years Krishna worked miracles in our lives.  The council gave us an affordable rent house in a newly built estate near Bhaktivedanta Manor. My husband got a job running community centres. He was given an office one minute’s walk away from our house. We were able to continue with our sadhana, two daily discussions, and pay back all our debts. Our lives finally became crisis-free. 

Krishna also helped us with the internal emotional problems we both carried from our abusive childhoods. Gradually we have become peaceful and happy. Since our return to the Manor community I have tried to share the discussions with other devotees whom I saw were suffering as I had been. I’ve seen that those who have tried to discuss Srila Prabhupada’s books according to the principles we share here have benefited in the same way as us. Seeing others’ benefitting has both cemented and increased my faith in the healing power of discussing Srila Prabhupada’s purports in this way.

I genuinely believe that applying these principles can help anyone become happy, whatever their current struggle may be. I also believe that if the wider body of devotees are trained in them then it will very much help to heal the divisive factions which have plagued the Krishna consciousness movement, helping us find unity in our diversity.

I have often wondered why Krishna is using a broken person like myself to champion these principles. I have so many disqualifications. My conclusion is he is using me as a living proof that no matter how wounded you are, or dire your life circumstances might be, just by applying the principles of good sadhu sanga you can heal and become happy. I hope my example can give you courage and hope. It has worked for me and I am sure it will work for you if you apply the simple practises we share on this website.