Krishna Prema's Food for Thought 2019 # 6 - `Istanbul Yoga`
Srila Prabhupada's books have changed the lives of thousands of people all over the world. Also the life of Serhat, my Turkish friend from Istanbul, now better known as Nrishma Krishna Dasa, the leader of ISKCON Turkey. We got to know each other during our studies at the GBC College in Mumbai in 2016 and this weekend I fulfilled my promise of visiting him.
While we were driving into the city my friend tells me his story, how he came in contact with Krishna Consciousness. His English teacher once suggested him to improve his English by reading the book `The Science of Self-Realization` by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. At first, the knowledge presented there seemed to be too different from the Islam tradition that he grew up with. Later he read it again and came across a statement that encouraged him to explore Krishna Consciousness deeper: „Yes, the essence of all religion is the same. Our proposal is that whatever religious system one follows, he should try to understand God and love Him. If you are a Christian, we do not say, "That is no good; you must become like us." Our proposition is that whether you are a Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, simply try to understand God and love Him.“ Relieved that he does not have to give up his own religion, Serhat started practicing Bhakti Yoga, connecting with God through devotion and love. Today he runs a Yoga center here in Istanbul and connects many sincere spiritual seekers to the path of devotion.
These days, I reflected a lot about Srila Prabhupada’s influence on all of us. How, by his mercy, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness had been established, and now there are devotees of Krishna sincerely practicing and spreading Krishna Consciousness in every part of the world. Also here in Turkey, a place that was, until now, quite unknown to me.
During the three days I spent here in this historical city, the bridge between east and west, I got to see different aspects of Turkish culture and lifestyle, such as Turkish breakfast with homemade bread, tahini, olives, different cheeses, and tea. I also got to visit the marvelous Blue Mosque, tasting baklava, a traditional Turkish sweet, and of course interactions with different Istanbul people. What I soon noticed, was a strong cultural and religious atmosphere that is very predominant throughout the whole city. With around 18 million people, 99% of them being Muslims, you can't miss the fact that Allah is being worshiped here. Coming from a western European country, where religion has become something you do not show in public, I really enjoyed this environment here. My Turkish devotee friend mentioned that there are more than three thousand Mosques in Istanbul. Hearing the daily prayers chanted from the minarets of the neighboring mosque, I was reminded of my own prayers I am supposed to offer, my daily Gayatri Mantra.
On Saturday and Sunday evening I was invited to give a talk at the yoga center on the path of Bhakti Yoga and devotees and guests participated enthusiastically. While leading a Kirtana I reflected on our visit at the Blue Mosque, about the faithful Muslims bowing down and praying to Allah. While millions of Muslims offer their prayers right now during this kirtana, we also offer a prayer from the heart to the same Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yoga and Bhakti Yoga, in particular, is meant to establish a connection with the Lord. Although Yoga has become part of Istanbul's life, as in every other big city in the world, it is most probably still something unorthodox in the eyes of many. According to the true meaning of Yoga we can understand that the whole city of Istanbul is practicing the path of Yoga, connecting daily with the Supreme Lord sincerely.
Unfortunately, not everyone can see it in this way. Dogmatic, narrow-minded viewpoints are still very prominent in minds of many religious people. When will the world understand Prabhupada's words that religion is not about a certain belief or dogma? True religion or spirituality is all about understanding and loving the same one God. Thanks to all the wonderful devotees of the Turkish Yatra for this truly inspiring weekend! Your enthusiasm and taste for Bhakti is truly amazing!