We start off from Nairobi, at a temple in Ngara, talking to Peter Mwamba, a senior monk. Three plane rides and a nerve wrecking three-hour drive on Indian roads later, we end up in Mayapur, India. The question was, what inspired them to take up such a divergent life, and what have they learnt from the Vedic culture?
PETER MWAMBA, 45, KENYAN
Eighteen years ago, I was walking the streets of Nairobi when I was stopped by an American man dressed in Indian robes, selling books. I bought one called Easy Journey to Other Planets. He also gave me directions to the Hare Krishna temple in Ngara. At the time, I was a Christian, and I was curious as to why a white guy was dressed in Indian clothing and selling these books. I read the book and found the subject matter interesting, so I decided to go and check out what else they had at the temple. When I went there, an Indian woman known as Manasi Ganga invited me for a class that took place every Wednesday and Saturday, based on the Vedic scripture – the Bhagavad-Gita. I attended the class for three years, before I decided to seriously follow the philosophy.
The essence of this philosophy is that despite our external differences of race, culture and tribe, beyond our bodies, we are spiritual beings. Someone who is on the bodily identification will naturally see differences between race and tribe. That’s why tribalism and racism are only increasing despite determined efforts to eliminate them. Kenya is especially plagued by this, and if we genuinely want to live peacefully together, then we must, as a society, elevate our consciousness to understand that we are the same spiritually. This philosophy, despite appearances, is not meant just for the Indians, but for every human being. It doesn’t matter your religion, tribe or language.
WILFRIED OUEPOHI, 34, FROM IVORY COAST
I used to be overly stressed, spending most of my time alone and certain I was going to have a mental breakdown. I checked myself into hospital, but they sent me to a retreat centre. While there, I befriended a man who I’d discuss philosophy with, and one day, he gave me a book by Srila Prabhupada, Perfect Questions Perfect Answers. In it, an American Peace Corps officer goes to India, meets a guru and questions him. I’d been reading into Buddhism and Shintoism, but this book was different. It comprehensibly addressed the transcendental aspects of life.
At the time, in my early 20s, I was living alone in a council house in London; smoking, drinking and chasing girls. I wanted something more with my life and this book took me in that direction. At the back were some addresses, and I visited the nearest temple.
I feel we should all contemplate the deeper aspects of life. Life is not meant for simply improving our material position. I would therefore urge everyone to become a philosopher, never stop questioning, and even when you think you’ve found the answer, question that too. Question everything that you are being fed by society and ask yourself if there’s more to your life than that.
I decided to dedicate my life to answering these questions, and the best place to do that is here. Life in Mayapur is simple; we study, eat, sing and dance. While I don’t know how long I may be able to walk this path, I know every day spent improving myself spiritually will never go in vain.