A small yet growing crew of dedicated devotees have been doing Harinama Sankirtana in downtown Vancouver, Canada, for over 200 days in a row now, chanting the Holy Names of God for two hours every week day after work and for three hours on weekends.
“The method works,” says the program’s organizer Ishvari Jahnava Dasi, who has not missed a single day. “It develops taste for the Holy Name really, really fast. It’s like a pressure cooker.”
Ishvari Jahnava was inspired to start the group after a month with the New York City Harinama Ashrama this winter changed her life.
There, lifelong celibate monk Ramaraya Das, previously a key kirtaniya in the late Aindra Prabhu’s 24 Hour Kirtan in Vrindavana, India, leads 18 full-time chanters in doing six hours of kirtan a day on New York’s streets and subways.
“It was an out-of-this world spiritual experience,” says Ishvari Jahnava.
Soon after, she started her own group, which she calls “Srila Prabhupada Harinama Sankirtana.”
Every week day, after her job as a program coordinator and teacher at Native Education College, Ishvari loads the luggage rack on her Prius with harmoniums, mridangas, kartals, a maha-mantra sign, a speaker and a book table, and drives to a spot in downtown Vancouver to chant from 5pm to 7pm. On weekends, she chants from 2 to 5.
“At the beginning, it was tough,” she says. “Sometimes, it was just me by myself, and people were laughing. At first, I looked in their eyes, and I would take all their negativity in. But then I learned to close my eyes and just focus on the Holy Name.”
Soon, her husband Rama Nityananda Das managed to get a job close by so that he could join her. And gradually, others began to participate too. Now, Toshan Krishna Das and Bhakta Dan are there every day. Other regulars include 89-year-old Purnamasi Dasi, Ganga Dhara Das, Bhakta Stefan and Bhaktin Rashmi, Bhakta Victor, Bhakta Douglas and Bhaktin Gillian.
Ishvari Jahnava, who credits any of the program’s success to the blessings of Lord Krishna, Srila Prabhupada and her guru, has also seen the Lord’s hand throughout her efforts.
When inaugurating the program on Nityananda’s appearance day, she noticed later that she had taken space 108 in the parking garage out of 300 possible spaces, without realizing it. (108 is a sacred number in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition)
Meanwhile, she was able to secure a daily spot for the Harinama on the intersection of West Georgia Street and Granville in the heart of downtown Vancouver, a nonstop hub of pedestrian traffic. What’s more, she found out later that it happened to be the exact spot where young brahmachari monks had chanted during ISKCON’s early days in the 1970s.
These days, even though she still sometimes finds herself chanting and distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books on her own, Ishvari says Krishna sends her many inquisitive people interested in her message.
“Recently,” she recalls, “One first nation person approached me, drunk, saying ‘We drink for happiness, but I like you people. I don’t have any money, but I really want to read your books.’ I gave him some small books, and the next week, he returned sober. He said he had started to read the books, and had realized that Krishna was the very God who had created everything. Because he was poor, I gave him a free Bhagavad-gita, and he was so happy he was chanting with joy.”
On another occasion, a whole family was waiting for Ishvari when she arrived at her spot. As soon as she set up her book table, the mother began shoving the books into her grown children’s hands, imploring, “You have to read this! Take it!”
Ishvari Jahnava makes sure to establish long-term connections with people, too. Every day, she gives out “Chant and Be Happy” cards featuring the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on one side, and the group’s name “Srila Prabhupada Harinama Sankirtan” along with her and her husband’s phone numbers on the other.
She then invites interested people to a Saturday program for newcomers at her home, where they listen to a class by her husband Rama Nityananda and ask questions, participate in a kirtan, and sample her delicious homecooked prasadam.
Many return, and some begin to attend the Sunday Feast at the ISKCON Vancouver temple in Burnaby, or the bi-weekly Chant programs organized by second generation devotees at rented yoga studios downtown.
Srila Prabhupada Harinama Sankirtan of Vancouver, B.C. isn’t just inspiring newcomers to investigate spiritual life, however. Just as Ramaraya’s New York Harinama program inspired Ishvari Jahnava, her Vancouver program is also motivating devotees in other cities, such as Montreal, to begin their own daily Harinamas.
It’s a sign that now a more mature and stable ISKCON family is ready to return to the daily practice that made it famous in the early days.
“When they see us on the street, people say, ‘Oh, Hare Krishna is still alive? This is like a flashback!’” Ishvari Jahnava says. “Because they thought we didn’t exist anymore. But doing Harinama on the street reminds the public that we are alive and well.”
The next step for Vancouver’s Harinama program is to establish an ashram and a steady group of people like Ramaraya’s New York effort. Ishvari Jahnava is offering to help with accommodation, prasadam, and transportation for any renounced souls “who live just to do Harinama” and have some chanting and instrument-playing experience. She hopes to find some willing to dedicate at least a year or two to the program.
“Harinama on the streets for the public at large will revive Srila Prabhupada’s movement, and it will make devotees happy and joyful,” Ishvari Jahnava says. And she speaks with the conviction of experience – since the program began, she explains, everything in her life has been in flow and every day has been full of bliss.
“The method works!” she beams.
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To inquire about joining Srila Prabhupada Harinama Sankirtana of Vancover, B.C. please contact Ishvari Jahnava Dasi at email@example.com.
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