When we came on the seventh consecutive program at Pula prison, five inmates were there (mostly the ones who were regularly attending before), surprised to see only us. “Where is the special guest?” they asked. Now we were the ones to be surprised. There was no special guest scheduled, only the usual crew! Finally we understood they had been waiting for Srila Prabhupada. To announce the program, we made a poster with a photo of Srila Prabhupada in the background so they thought that he would come personally to give a lecture. We had to disappoint them and excuse our Acharya for not attending this program with more than a valid excuse – he has left this world in 1977.
In absence of our, by inmates eagerly awaited, Founder-Acharya, after the short bhajans by Malati Mala, Sivananda Sena made a brief summary of the topics mentioned so far on programs: reincarnation, Vedas, yoga… Preparing them for today’s workshop – group chanting, Sivananda Sena told them the story from India about a man who was going from one village to another, preaching about the sweetness of honey. But since he was just showing the jar with honey and never actually opening it, the villagers were indifferent, not knowing whether what he said was really true.
To make the inmates taste the nectar of devotion and become convinced of its taste, Sivananda Sena advised them to sit comfortably and maybe close their eyes to ward off outside influence. We chanted less than half a round. It was interesting to see that each person had a different reaction chanting. One had his eyes closed but was laughing as if he found chanting to be funny, the other person was serious and trying to find out about his own reaction from the inside, third one was fidgeting nervously, fourth person was trying to find his mood, and the fifth one just looked sad.
After the chanting experiment first of all they wanted to know why should they chant this mantra when they know about so many other mantras like Om, or Om mani padme hum. We gave them the reasons known from the sastras: that this mantra is recommended for this Age, and that it in fact contains all other mantras and that’s why it’s called Maha Mantra. The usual question, which is coming up on almost every program – our opinion about Christianity – this time was answered by Misra Purandara. He told them he had been a very serious Christian before, but had been wondering about a lot of things that the Bible says nothing about. When he read some of Srila Prabhupada books, he was happy to find answers to his questions. The inmate who was fidgeting during chanting session) admitted that he only came because he wanted to escape from his roommate who was all day walking up and down the room being afraid the judge will give him a longer sentence for some reason. He even apologized for not being interested, and said that’s because he’s an ardent Catholic. Sivanada Sena encouraged him with Srila Prabhupada’s own words, telling him that if a person has a name for God that’s already a high stage.
Malati Mala shared with them that the Maha Mantra has helped her in many perilous situations, and that she has realized that miracles happen to a person who chants this mantra. The others emphasized, mantra should not be chanted with the purpose of acquiring something, but the chanting itself should be considered a service for the Supreme. The Catholic inmate immediately got it and said that it would be stupid to pray to God “Please let me smuggle the package with drugs across the border just one more time.” They complained about not having good conditions for chanting, being stuck with other people who make noise in a small room. But, we said, there’s always a way, even if you just repeat the mantra in your mind. For the next program we promised to bring them japa beads.