Saturday, September 15, 2007

Karma Free Tea

Last nite i spoke with one of my close friends who is living in Amsterdam. Many of you know him as Ananda Swarup. He is not a guru reformer; he is a reformed guru. What i mean to say is, he is no longer claiming to be guru or anything, other than a follower of Srila Prabhupada. He had a long and illustrious career in Iskcon as a brahmacari preacher in West Bengal, then as a sannyasi and Regional Secretary in South India. Ananda (who was then known as Bhakti Ananda Swarup Swami) was unjustly removed from his position in India by Jayapataka after he stood up to JP when Bhavananda was excommunicated for being a predatory homosexual. After that, Ananda spent some time in Hawaii, then he went back to Holland, became an initiating guru in Europe, and opened a preaching center in Cairo. I have known him since his early days in Mayapur.

We caught up with each other again in 1992 in Amsterdam. Later that year, Ananda left the sannyas ashram and got married. It was a messy affair, and naturally Iskcon, rather than looking for a graceful solution, exacerbated the situation by banning him from preaching in all temples. (He later got the GBC to repeal that order.) His marriage did not last long, and soon Ananda was without his danda, without his wife and without any service. That began a very difficult period for him that lasted more than a decade. But gradually, thru divine intervention and the process of maturity, Ananda found his peace and recreated himself as a devotee. He is learned and talented and now he's planning to open his own preaching center in the heart of Amsterdam.

When we spoke last nite, he told me he wanted to find a location in one of the trendy urban neighborhoods in Amsterdam, an area known as De Pijp, and create a place where anyone could come along and feel welcome, get a cup of tea or bowl of soup and hear about Krishna consciousness. Previously we had been brainstorming about forming his own non-profit structure, to be called: Karma Free Foundation. So after hearing about his idea for the storefront, i suggested he call it Karma Free Tea.

Now there will be those who object to serving tea, unless it's herbal tea. I only drink herbal tea --if anyone cares to know--Bengal Spice is my favorite. But even if Ananda serves green tea, black tea, latte or expresso, to attract people who are lost in the material world and help them be more open to hear the message of the Gita, then i support him 100%. Didn't Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur once say that he was prepared to serve meat in an English hostel, if that is what it would take to get the Englishmen to hear Bhagavatam? How much more evidence do we need? It is the intention that counts, not the external form. I say to Ananda: start your tea house, and make it a grand success. Don't follow convention. We will all be better off drinking tea and preaching than following some orthodox diet and finding fault with each other.

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