alexa I searched far and wide for  perfect peace, and I found it inside a Hare Krishna temple - Daily Nation

I searched far and wide for  perfect peace, and I found it inside a Hare Krishna temple

Wednesday May 20 2015

Jayne Adhiambo Opondo at the Nation Centre on May 15, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

Jayne Adhiambo Opondo at the Nation Centre on May 15, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE 

NGARE KARIUKI
By NGARE KARIUKI
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"My all-attractive God is an alien thing to the African mind, but I believe He is the most beautiful, the richest, most wise, and strongest; and we, his children, crave for these superlative things.

"Without Him, we try to make ourselves gods, we try to compete and be the best at these things. We try to be the most beautiful, wise, strong… just like Him. And we are always disappointed. We can never attain this state of perfection and transcendence. We can never be God, because he is a supreme being and we are not."

It is Wednesday evening, at around 6:30pm, and I am sitting on a small mat, my legs crossed into a tight knot. The large doors, the high ceiling and the artwork on the walls evoke a sacred, reverent feeling in me. I am caressing a set of beads between my fingers as I chant and sing just low enough not to disturb the woman seated next to me. She is also singing.

My story today begins where it will end: inside the Hare Krishna Temple at Ngara, Nairobi.

My name is Jayne Adhiambo Opondo. I am 22, and I am a follower of Krishna. I know “Opondo” and “Krishna” in the same sentence sounds strange, because there is this strong stereotype that some religions belong to certain people.

In the same way people assume every Arab or Somali is a Muslim, the name Adhiambo Opondo is likely to have Christian, rather than Krishna, associations. So how did I end up here? Perhaps the best picture to illustrate the beginning of my journey is that of a box.

Life is full of boxes, and those boxes are full of people, and people full of stories. My story is one among billions. There is nothing particularly impressive or amazing about it. In fact, I think it the ordinary nature of my story that makes me think it is worth telling. Because that’s what we all are at the end of the day. Ordinary. We are merely trying to make it through life, searching for the truth, whatever that may be.

My journey began before I even knew I was on a journey. I was born in 1993 to a Christian couple. My mother was a strong Anglican, and the church is where I would spend much of my childhood Sundays.

THE WAY

You see, like every child in the world, I started out by living the story my parents wrote for my life. The things I did and the places I went and the rules I lived by were all chosen by my parents. To be fair, all children live out the stories their parents write for them.

I have five siblings, two girls and three boys. Most of my formative years were spent in South Africa, where my dad worked between 1999 and 2006 before we moved to Russia where we lived until 2010.

My father worked with Kenya’s Foreign Affairs ministry, and that is why we moved around a lot. This also means that I was exposed to different cultures from a very early age.

Even so, this did not necessarily mean I was best placed to make independent choices about my life and, most importantly, my religion. Strange how, as we grow up, we tend to simply replace the stories our parents dictate for our lives with stories from other people — especially our peers.

Do you sometimes feel like you are living everybody else’s story but your own? Y’know, wearing certain clothes because somebody somewhere said that’s the cool way to dress? Or speaking in a certain manner when among certain people in order to fit in?

You are not alone; my teenage years also found me in the deep trenches of living other people’s stories of my life. Peer pressure would force me to publicly conform to a lifestyle I may not have privately approved of.

But around 2012, I started asking a lot of questions about religion. I was not comfortable with the audacious manner in which “the deeply religious” claimed their religion was “the only way”.

I found myself asking “what about all these other religions? What about the people who never got to hear about all these prophets because they lived too far from the Middle Eastern region where the monotheistic religions started?”

“They were all going to hell” did not sound like a sufficient answer to me because there are a lot of other religions where people pray and are more faithful and pious than these “major religions”. I couldn’t understand how they would all go to hell simply because they believed in the wrong god without even getting a chance to know the right one.

I was also put off by the way a lot of people are ready to fight for their beliefs when they are put up for debate, but none of them really follows what is in the holy books. Religion, for a lot of people, is just a topic for discussion in which you fight for your prophet intellectually and go on to live your life.

MONEY-MAKING SCHEMES

Then there’s the religious leaders and pastors taking advantage of people searching for hope; misusing these people and making church a money-making scheme. These leaders are also putting their own beliefs into the teachings of the holy books and messing up with the original texts.

So I naturally became curious about these “other” religions. I started to do a lot of research about their dogmas, philosophies and tenets. My first stop was Buddhism.

Jayne Adhiambo Opondo at the Nation Centre on May 15, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

Jayne Adhiambo Opondo at the Nation Centre on May 15, 2015. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE

I started practising this “religion” the moment I learnt about it because I found it so attractive. I was mesmerised by the peaceful manner in which Buddhists approached our otherwise violent and chaotic world.

I read some books on Mahatma Gandhi and Dalai Lama and the peaceful trance and I got hooked. I think, though, that what really appealed to me in Buddhism was the insistence on equality among all life-forms on the planet; the no-harm system.

Caring for every living being. I loved that it talked about people as souls and not bodies. Because there are all these religious wars going on about “you’re a Christian, I am a Muslim,” and whatnot.

But in Buddhism, there was nothing like “I am a Buddhist”. It was all about “you’re a soul, you’re an entity, just like everybody else”. I liked that. I was also attracted to Buddhism because all the other religions tend to set up many barriers between people.

But in Buddhism, we are all one big family.

Meditation was one practice that I found quite helpful and enlightening in Buddhism. I love meditation because it is sort of like a peaceful violence. It is finding yourself through yourself and to yourself.

I mean, as I said at the beginning, I used to hang around a lot of people and I found myself blindly doing a lot of religious things.

I guess I was influenced by everyone around me and I wasn’t really my own person. What people thought of me is what I was. I was living everyone’s dream and I had to find myself because it was suffocating and frustrating.

But when I started reading about Buddhism and solitude and peace, I started finding out things about myself by myself. I found joy and peace in this self-unraveling solitude.

I was a Buddhist for quite a while, until I lost my dad in July 2013. This woke me up to a reality I had not thought about before. For the first time in my life, I realised that death is very real and has been around for as long as humanity has been in existence, and it felt like such a waste.

I started having more questions about death: “Why do we die? What is the purpose of life? Are we just here to die?”

I wanted to understand this higher power and answer these higher questions. Christianity wasn’t really working for me and there was no God in Buddhism.

MAHA MANTRA

I realised that I needed a more personal God. I needed a God that could be named. You see, with Buddhism you just meditate on things like energy, the sun, your breathing, calming yourself down, releasing, letting go of stress and things like that.

But I needed to pray. I wanted to pray to someone. I couldn’t just pray to some supernatural energy. So I decided I was going to go on a fast and a quest for this God. I was determined that by the end of my fast I would know God and understand Him.

During that fast, and through a rather interesting series of events, I came across a random book called Beyond Illusion and Doubt by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He is the founder and leading teacher of Krishna Consciousness (the Hare Krishna movement).

This book randomly came to me, like a weird sort of miracle. I believe that God can only speak to you in a language that you can understand. For me, I love to read books, so they just always come to me exactly when I need them, and this one was no exception.

This book was amazing, it kept talking about equality between all forms of life — an ideology that I already mentioned was dear to me.

There is equality between animals and people, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. In fact, this Krishna Consciousness sounded a lot like Buddhism, only this time it had Krishna. Krishna is the supernatural Supreme Being.

The word Krishna means “all attractive”. What I learnt from this book is that Krishna, being all-attractive, is the most beautiful, the richest, most wise, and strongest. And we, his children, crave for these superlative things.

Without God, we try to make ourselves gods, we try to compete and be the best at these things. We try to be the most beautiful, wise, strong… just like Him. And we are always disappointed. We can never attain this state of perfection and transcendence.

We can never be God, because he is a supreme being and we are not. But if we are under him, then we automatically have these things.

It is like working for the president. If you are his driver, wherever he goes you go. But you cannot be the president because there already is a president.

I also noticed the book kept talking about the Maha Mantra. This is the Hare Krishna chant for deliverance. I started chanting it and, as if by some miracle, I felt like everything had become a lot clearer.

Another thing that the book kept mentioning was the Bhagavad-Gita (simply referred to as the Gita), and I kept wondering “what is this Bhagavad-Gita?” So I started asking around. I asked my friends, I asked about it on Facebook, I asked whoever I came across, but nobody told me.  Nobody knew what it was.

Then this one time I’m in the bus and I am going to school. This old Indian woman comes and sits next to me in the bus. My intuition is just to ask her. It is quite random. I am nervous. But I ask.

“Do you happen to know about this book, the Bhagavad-Gita?”

The Bhagavad Gita (The Song of the Lord), the most important sacred text for the Hare Krishna. Beloved also by Gandhi and nearly all Hindus, the Gita tells the story of the warrior Arjuna and his encounter with Krishna, and is regarded as literal truth by Hare Krishnas. GRAPHIC | NATION

The Bhagavad Gita (The Song of the Lord), the most important sacred text for the Hare Krishna. Beloved also by Gandhi and nearly all Hindus, the Gita tells the story of the warrior Arjuna and his encounter with Krishna, and is regarded as literal truth by Hare Krishnas. GRAPHIC | NATION

KARMA AND REINCARNATION

She does, but she is incredulous at how such a question could come from an African.

“Why are you asking this?,” she shoots back. “Do you believe?”

Then I find myself saying yes, and the next thing I know is her giving me directions to a temple, and I find my Bhagavad-Gita.

This was about eight months ago. I remember getting lost while trying to find the temple. The matatu to Stima Plaza, Ngara from town dropped me somewhere else — at the Swaminarayan Temple on Forest Road. I asked the guards “do you know where the Hare Krishna temple is?” and an Indian lady who was passing by overheard me and she was actually going there. So she took me there.

It was such an amazing coincidence because she hadn’t been to the temple in years. It was like I was meant to go on that day and she was meant to take me. I don’t know if you believe in miracles, but this series of events was magical to me.

The moment I walked into the temple, I heaved a sigh of relief. Like this is where I am meant to be. And this was just on the fifth day of my fast. I stopped fasting after this day because I felt like I was finally home. I had found what I was looking for. I just took off my shoes and felt like this is where I was supposed to be — where I had always been. It was like a déjà vu moment.

I believe in karma and reincarnation. Krishna Consciousness talks a lot about Karma. We are here, and our current lives are the results of the good or bad deeds that we have done in our previous lives. I discovered that a lot of the philosophy I had in my life was in this religion, and it was so amazing. Later, I found out that Krishna was an incarnation of Buddha!

You know, it is easy to take this as a smooth story that feels almost out of touch with reality. But the truth is that each of these decisions was scary. For instance, I am an African, a Kenyan, and the idea of just walking into a temple associated with Indians was scary.

But when I got there, they were so warm and inviting and accommodating. It was surprisingly refreshing. They did not care about where I came from. I learnt that this philosophy, this way of life, is actually not an Indian thing. It is for everyone, and the whole world needs to know about it.

**********

FACTS 

250BC 

Estimated year of the first publishing of the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of the Lord), the most important sacred text for the Hare Krishna. Beloved also by Gandhi and nearly all Hindus, the Gita tells the story of the warrior Arjuna and his encounter with Krishna, and is regarded as literal truth by Hare Krishnas.

The main religious ritual of the Hare Krishna is the chanting of mantras, particularly the maha-mantra for which they are named: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Through the mantra, they express devotion to the gods Hare, Krishna and Rama, and also seek a higher state of consciousness.

 MORE ABOUT JAYNE

  •  I am a journalism student at Daystar.

  •  I am a part-time jazz singer. I am currently recording, and I perform at the Goethe Institut and Alliance Francaise.

  •  I love learning different languages and new things.

  •  I love nature and travelling.

  •  I like to draw in my free time.

  •  I draw landscapes, portraits, mandalas (sophisticated patterns, meditative trance).

  •  I also like to meditate and do yoga. 

I realised that I needed a more personal God. I needed a God that could be named. You see, with Buddhism you just meditate on things like energy, the sun, your breathing, calming yourself down, releasing, letting go of stress and things like that.

But I needed to pray. I wanted to pray to someone. I couldn’t just pray to some supernatural energy.

So I decided I was going to go on a fast and a quest for this God.

I was determined that by the end of my fast I would know God and understand Him.

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