Kamrā devī dāsī Autobiography Part 2
My name is Kamrā devī dāsī. Śrila Prabhupāda accepted me as his disciple in December of 1974. My relationship with him is stronger now than it was even then, when he was still with us on the planet, and he has inspired me with some service on his behalf. I always prayed to be able to do something pleasing to him in this lifetime, and there is some service that is evolving that could be an answer to that prayer. This is part two of my autobiographical video series. It is a brief synopsis of my life before coming to Krishna.
I’m not so fond of talking about myself, but people have asked, and maybe a little background is relevant in the overall picture of the presentation of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. People seem to have an interest in personal stories, what brings people to their chosen lifestyle and commitments…
I was born in March of 1954 in New York City.
When I was 3 or 4 years old, I remember sitting by the bedroom window in our 3rd-floor Bronx apartment looking at the sky. The window was open, there was a protective grate so that no one fell out. I had tested it, it was a little loose. My mother came up to me, probably to see if I was safe. I told her that I was God’s child, that I’d been born from her belly but that I was God’s child. She got really upset, and called my father at work to come home early and straighten me out. He was saying, what do you mean, you’re God’s child. You’re your mother’s child. It all made no sense to me, what they were saying, why they were so upset. I was God’s child, but I came from her belly. It was simple.
That’s the way I was. I would wiggle my fingers under the covers at night and know that only God and I knew what I was doing. It was a comfort, a simple relationship.
I was actually born into an abuse family of the worst kind. Parents, grandparents, teachers, the dentist, family friends, classmates, so many people were involved. The family doctor actually was the head man. There was one boy just a little older than me, he became very hard and cruel from all of the torture and rape and later joined the military. How perfect. There was one girl classmate who I witnessed being killed. The teachers told us that she was ill and would not be returning to school. She was a lovely girl. There were many others. It was ritual abuse. There are plenty of descriptions of this kind of stuff out there. I don’t need to elaborate. But as ugly and horrific as it was, I always had the sense the perpetrators were “wannabees.” I didn’t meet the “real” ones until later in life.
I was fortunate in that I never blamed God or doubted His protection. God was the center of my life, even though I didn’t know very much how to approach Him except in my little girl way. So many people who had similar experiences were not so fortunate. Many had crises of faith that colored their lives over the long term, but there are some who became introspective and I guess saintly in some regards. I mean, I wasn’t unscathed, I did my share of processing and acting out. Like, I got thrown out of pre-school at four years old for being belligerent and spitting on the floor, I tortured my dolls, I had so much inner rage that even at that age I had inner conversations to convince myself not to burn the house down, I sat down to try to express it in art and stabbed the paper with a pencil. At one point, I missed the pad of paper and put the pencil through my finger. It got worse as I went into my teen years and had the relatively undisciplined life as an undergrad at Cornell University. I acted out a lot. I’m sure that all the wonderful people I met at Cornell will never forget me for all the insane things I did. But I never doubted God. That faith saved me.
However, as is usual with a trauma upbringing, when the internal knowing clashes with the external façade, when the unexpressed emotions get stuck in the body, when the people closest to you appear in one way in one setting and are totally different and very scary in another, there would be a lot to process later in life. I will address some of that process in other videos.
On a more philosophical level, I think the most important thing growing up was that I was always looking for the meaning of life, the topmost purpose. I always had an awareness that desires in this world could never be satiated. For example, I always loved music, went to concerts, and went out dancing to live bands. I wanted a good sound system, but I realized that there would always be a desire for a bigger one, a better one, that nothing would be enough. Or horses, that I could have a stable full of them and there would always be a desire for more, different breeds, different talents and qualities. I could see that material desires were a frightening spiral of always wanting more, never satisfied.
I never felt that I fit into life, really, that this world was a foreign place. I was wondering how we get different types of bodies, what was the purpose of life, what happens at the time of death, why I was suffering. I studied volumes of the great philosophers, asked clergy and rabbis and professors, no one could answer these things. The rabbis in particular told me to stop asking so many questions, to just do as the forefathers did. I told them that I needed philosophy, not just histories and rituals and tradition. Not very well received, we were mutually frustrated, I guess. I did a lot of searching, a lot of analyzing, a lot of praying, and the Lord in the Heart was reciprocating. Some things really stand out as markers.
When I was a teenager attending the university, I was going to meetings of one particular yoga group. I had some sense that I would find the answers I needed in something from the East. These people would chant some mantra and then sit in meditation. I would look at the ladies with their long hair and flowing dresses, look at the men with their long hair and beards, dressed in robes, and think, “Oh, when will I become spiritually advanced like these people?” Once, when I was thinking like that, the Lord in the heart spoke to me. He said, “Find yourself a bona fide guru.” His voice was deep and resonant. I could almost see Him, but not quite. I could understand that He was of a bluish color, that lovely color when a storm is coming in and the tops of the trees are iridescent green and the sky has that storm cloud blue color. In any event, from what He told me, I could understand that what these people were doing was not bona fide from God’s perspective, but I didn’t yet know what was, so I had to put it on the back burner.
Another thing was vegetarianism. I had played with the concept, but never really made the commitment. I was walking in the college town in Ithaca New York, and again, the Lord in the Heart spoke to me. He said, “If you ever eat flesh foods again, it is a spiritual fall down.” I said “OK, but “what about fish? I really like fish.” He replied, “Don’t be a hypocrite.” It was a done deal. I never questioned it. I was 17 at the time.
One of the most important reciprocations from God was when I was 18, and it came in an interesting venue. I had invited my college roommate to visit with me during Christmas break. I was living in Queens, NY, with my parents, and I booked us tickets for the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” off-Broadway. My parents did not approve of either my roommate or that I was taking her to something about Jesus, because in our pseudo orthodox Jewish household, the name of Jesus was a curse word. Anyway, at the end of the performance, when Jesus is praying, “Dear Lord, forgive them, they understand not what they do,” I lost it. Full theater, I was sobbing uncontrollably, just couldn’t stop. I accepted at that moment that my life’s goal was to understand what Jesus understood that these people didn’t. I have an essay on my professional website, WorkofanAngel.com, entitled “Epiphany,” that describes this experience in more detail.
I also have some more biographical things written on my two professional websites, workofanangel.com and HearYourHorse.com. You can look there if you have the interest. I didn’t want to be lengthy here, so I am offering those resources.
My relationship with Jesus and my quest for the Absolute Truth have always been the most dear things to my heart. The only way I can honestly express that is to say that Jesus Christ is my very lifeblood, and that my eternal spiritual master, my eternal spiritual preceptor, is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Śrila Prabhupāda is the person whose personal example and brilliant library of transcendental literature answered my every philosophical question and gave my life purpose. There is no dichotomy at all, and in my next video, I will explore this more and give some revelations about my understanding of Jesus and his teachings, some discussions I have had with people professing to be followers of Jesus and the Bible, and then move on to my relationship with Śrila Prabhupāda and how he saved me in every way.