Pandava Vijaya Dasa editing in his studio.
For Pandava Vijaya Dasa, making his own Hare Krishna TV show was a no-brainer the moment he discovered that the city of Houston, Texas, where he lived, had its own public access television station—and one that offered free training in filming and editing, at that.
Borrowing some equipment and footage from his friend Nrsimhananda Dasa of ISKCON Television (ITV), Pandava Vijaya launched his show in 1995, giving it the attention-grabbing title “Dangerous TV.”
This cryptic reference to a statement by Vaishnava saint Rupa Goswami, that one’s pursuit of material enjoyment is put in danger once one becomes attracted to Krishna, confused viewers at first.
“People would call up and say, ‘I’ve been watching the show, but I haven’t seen anything dangerous yet,’ Pandava Vijaya recalls, grinning. “I would reply, ‘Don’t worry, it takes a few shows to get it.’”
Changing the title from “Dangerous TV” to “Whole Life Experience” in 2006 nevertheless, Pandava relocated to Dallas, where the show now appears on Channel 95 every Wednesday at 8:30pm.
“Each episode contains traditional kirtan or Krishna-infused contemporary music, an interview wherein a devotee answers common philosophical questions, some ITV footage of current ISKCON projects, and information on how to chant, offer your food at home, and other simple spiritual practices,” Pandava explains. “Each section is chopped up into five minute segments and interspersed throughout the show, to cater to our modern-age short attention span.”
Different ISKCON devotees, all well-educated and eloquent, are interviewed for each show. Previous guests have included the late Tamal Krishna Goswami, who held a Masters Degree in Religious studies and was working on his PhD thesis at Cambridge when he passed away; the Dean of Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, who had been Tamal Krishna’s mentor; GBC Ravindra Svarupa Dasa and ISKCON Deity Worship Minister Krishna Ksetra Dasa, who both hold PhDs; Brahma Tirtha Dasa, a Florida Supereme Court Certified Mediator; and Pandava Vijaya’s wife Shakuntala Dasi, who holds a Master’s Degree.
“I get some people calling up and saying, ‘I don’t know if I’m smart enough to be a Hare Krishna!’” Pandava laughs.
Nonetheless, the show is aimed at the everyman, someone who, Pandava says, “probably landed on our show after flipping through channels, and is kicking back with a beer and some chips.”
And answers are given to questions that everyone can relate to: How can I live a happier life? Why do bad things happen to good people? Does chanting Hare Krishna help overcome problems such as drug addiction? What is karma? What is reincarnation? What is the purpose of life?
And people seem to warm to the show’s relaxed approach, one that presents the answers to such questions as options, not something to be shoved down their throat.
“Back when we were in Houston, a punk rocker and his friends were smoking pot and channel-hopping late one night when they stopped on my show to check out what they thought was just some random cool rock concert, but which was actually the “Krishnacore” group Shelter,” says Pandava. “The next minute, people with shaved heads, orange outfits and strange bags around their necks filled the screen. Desperate to find out what was in the bags, the punk rocker visited our temple store, got himself a beadbag and japa beads, and started chanting. He thought it was the coolest thing in the world.”
Despite being unable to leave his rockstar lifestyle for twelve years, the punk rocker was finally frustrated by its emptiness. He found the old beadbag Pandava had given him, returned to the temple and was initiated as Sukhada Dasa by ISKCON guru Sankarshana Dasa in 2008.
Sukhada, who sadly passed away two years later, wasn’t the only person to make a major life change after watching “Whole Life Experience.” A school-teacher, flipping through channels after a long day at work, was hooked by the show’s vegetarian food recipes. She visited the temple that Sunday, became a devotee and was eventually initiated by Tamal Krishna Goswami as Madan-Mohan-Mohini Dasi.
“Actually, when I asked viewers what their favorite part of the show was, they said they most appreciated the vegetarian recipes and information on how to offer food,” Pandava comments. “I explain very simply how to offer by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra three times, and people love it! So many people come to the temple and tell me, ‘I watch your show and I’ve been offering my food for six months!’ People like the idea that they can connect with God through offering Him their food.”
With the Vegetarian Society and various Dallas Vegetarian clubs following the show in a big way, Pandava tries to regularly include segments such as “Why Be Vegetarian?” and “Why Vegetarians are More Healthy.” He also says that his viewership reached an all-time high in January, when people sought out vegetarianism as a way to loose weight for their New Year’s resolutions.
“Whole Life Experience” has brought about many other kinds of positive change in people’s lives. Some prefer not to completely change their lifestyle, but take elements from what they learn on the show. “In Houston, I’d bring the guy who used to book the shows a Sunday Feast plate every week,” Pandava says. “He is a serious Christian, and did not decide to chant Hare Krishna or join the temple, but he did become a vegetarian and still is to this day.”
Others, including Dallas’ Indian community, had no idea that there was a Hare Krishna temple in Dallas, but discovered the city’s Radha-Kalachandji Mandir through the TV show.
The show has even impacted sales of Srila Prabhupada’s books. “Book distributors have told me, ‘I met this guy who took one of every book I had, because he had heard of them on your show,’” Pandava says.
Although “Whole Life Experience” is only watched by a little over 1,000 people out of the 300,000 homes that get cable TV in Dallas, it is undeniably making a difference.
And Pandava encourages other devotees around the USA to start making a difference in their own area. “There’s a public access station in every major city, each of which have training programs to teach you how to film and edit your own show,” he says. “They even supply you with first-class cameras for a very nominal fee and give you access to their editing facility.”
What’s more, according to Pandava Vijaya, making a Krishna conscious TV show is an extremely fulfilling service.
“I feel like I’m following in the footsteps of our previous spiritual teachers by spreading Krishna consciousness in a way that’s palatable for modern people,” he says. “And in a way, I’m representing our entire line of spiritual teachers to people at home in their living rooms.”