Third eye un-blind

Spiritual journey to India revealed a lot about Sacramento

Don’t have a cow, man! SN&R CEO Jeff vonKaenel shares the road with one of India’s ubiquitous bovines.

Don’t have a cow, man! SN&R CEO Jeff vonKaenel shares the road with one of India’s ubiquitous bovines.

SN&R Photo By Jeff vonKaenel

On a recent trip to India, I spoke to God.

More precisely, I stood next to the Brahma Kumaris’ spiritual leader, Dadi Gulzar, who channeled God in front of 15,000 other Brahma Kumaris at a religious festival this past February.

A Hindu religious organization, the BKs—not to be confused with BK fast food; these folks don’t eat cow—formed in the 1930s and are primarily led by female spiritual leaders known as Dadis, who are now in their 80s and 90s. The BKs have a reputation in the United Nations for doing tremendous amounts of good work in India.

Their religious festival crescendos in February, the time heaven is closest to Earth, giving the Dadis the clearest reception when channeling God. Can your hear the Almighty now? Indeed.

Due to my interfaith work—which has included attending more than 80 different religious services (and counting) in Sacramento and establishing the A Call for Unity event that is now in its sixth year—I befriended the Sacramento BK’s leaders, Sister Hansa and Brother Vinod. Wanting to give me a full understanding of their faith, they sponsored and accompanied my 14-year-old daughter, Natasha, and me on a 16-day trip to India, highlighted by meeting Baba, the BK’s spiritual connector to God.

We entered a gigantic hall filled with 15,000 people all dressed in white. Huge screens were set up so everyone could see, and headphones allowed Natasha and me to hear the English translation.

The place was electrified. Then out came the two Dadis who head the BKs worldwide. Dadi Gulzar sat on a couch silently for 30 minutes, during which time no one in the auditorium made a peep. She then appeared to go into a trance and started speaking Hindi in a deep gravely voice. It was not her usual voice.

Hearing the translation, we were told that the Father, or Baba, the head of the BKs who died in 1969 and is believed to be a reincarnation of the Krishna, was speaking through the Dadi. Addressing the audience, Dadi/Baba said, “Welcome my children, you must remain pure.”

The intensity was overwhelming. Foreigners were asked to stand, and my daughter and I were led onstage. This was totally unexpected. We knelt before the Dadi and he/she/God exchanged “Drishti,” which was explained as staring at you through your third eye.

I was overcome by an incredibly powerful feeling. “Oh my gosh,” I thought to myself, “I am falling backward and I don’t want to fall over.” I grabbed a nearby table to steady myself, and the Dadi, speaking directly to me, said, “You have the power of the pen. You should be like a Lotus flower and have detached truth. You have the power of the quill.” She then reached out, grabbed my daughter’s hand and talked to her.

The experience blew me away. Frankly, as the son of a doctor from a small town in Ohio where Darwin, Einstein and Newton were revered and there was no room for chiropractors, let alone mystics, I had no idea where to even place this experience.

Throughout the rest of my trip to India, I felt conflicted about how this new spiritual experience fit into my life. I did not find answers, but was instead filled with questions. I discovered the two worlds don’t combine easily.

I could have expected to learn a lot about India on this spiritual journey. Actually, the learning started before I left as I boned up using travel books. What I didn’t expect was what I learned about Sacramento.

We visited Bombay and New Delhi. We met journalists everywhere. I was on Indian radio and television. We toured sparse hospitals, saw the beautiful countryside, looked on with horror at the tremendous poverty and marveled at the massive building going on.

I came away convinced that—despite its faults, faults you read about every week in my newspapers—the American legal, political and economic systems are far superior to those in India, where corruption and organized crime rule. The common expression is that they don’t cast their vote, they vote their caste. The impediments to people succeeding in life seem insurmountable there. It is no wonder so many from India wind up in Sacramento and elsewhere in America.

And you would not believe how many cows are in India. Even in cities like Bombay they freely circle sidewalks and cross streets. Seeing them acting, well, lazily cow-like even in the most impacted urban areas served as a constant reminder of a previous time when we were more united with nature.

I contrast this to driving down I-5, passing tens of thousands of cows at the cow factories. The lumbering beasts stand in piles of manure, having been shot up with antibiotics to keep them alive amid wretched living conditions. After India, I look at this as proof that we’ve lost our connection with our own sense of humanity.

Since my trip, I have become a vegetarian, not so much because I think it’s wrong to eat meat (I don’t), but because I am convinced our current life practices in America are not sustainable. We each eat somewhere around 800 pounds of grain per year, while the typical Indian eats 200 pounds over the same span. If everyone ate like Americans, only 2.5 million people in the world would be fed. Somehow I don’t feel right eating more than my share.

It was also overwhelming to realize how many material things Americans have compared to Indians. My daughter observed that some people in India have less space in their house than underneath our kitchen table. Previously, my family had thoughts of adding a second story, like others in our Land Park neighborhood have. After my trip to India, I’d like to put our house in the clothes dryer to shrink it.

I am forever grateful to Sister Hansa, Brother Vinod and the BKs for hosting my trip. Since many will never make it to India to experience what I did, I urge you to go see Dadi Janki when she comes to Sacramento. A phenomenal woman in her 90s, Dadi Janki is full of energy and full of love. She meant a lot to me when I met her in India; she gave me a beautiful gold ring with a red stone in the center and a small diamond to signify the light. When I wear it, it reminds me of not only my trip to India, but also what I learned about Sacramento in that faraway place.

Do not go see Dadi Janki expecting all the answers. You very well may end up like me, filled with questions. At age 56 and after India, I find the questions more important than the answers.