Life from a monk’s perspective

Murari Gupta Das (51) is a full-time monk living at the Hare Krishna temple in Rondebosch. Murari looks ten years younger than he actually is, and his whole demeanor speaks of vitality and energy. Murari is the name of the Lord and Gupta means hidden.  To Murari, his name symbolizes the fact that the Lord is hidden in his heart. Murari, previously known as Michael Hand, has been initiated as a monk since August last year. His new name signifies the shedding of an old identity and an old life.

I asked Murari what is the first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning. He said he prays to mother earth and asks her forgiveness for putting his feet on earth. After he says his prayers, he chants for half an hour and then attends the morning program at the temple.

I spoke to Murari’s spiritual master, Medhavi Das, about the morning program at the temple. Mangal arotike begins at 04:30 AM. This is followed by Tulasi puja. Then there is “a period of japa meditation where devotees individually chant the Hare Krishna mantra as attentively as possible. Afterwards, there is a greeting of the deities on the altar.” Then there is a class on the Srimad Bhagavatam, which has been translated from Sanskrit by Śrīla Prabupāda, which contains the gradual education in the intricacies of spiritual understanding and spiritual knowledge, following which there is breakfast, or Prasad (food that is offered to Krishna).

The altar with the deities. Photo: Lara Antonopoulos

Murari has been a vegetarian for nine years. Recently, he became a vegan.  Someone shared a video with him about how dairy animals are treated in factory farms. He then made the decision to not “partake in their suffering” and be “part of their torture” any longer. “The suffering of the cow goes into the milk, and then goes into the person who drinks or eats it,” he says.

The three main things one has to do to become more spiritual are first, realizing that there is “more” to life.  Secondly, one has to associate with spiritual-minded people. Spiritual strength comes from associating with like-minded people. Thirdly, one has to “start looking for a spiritual master/guru that you can surrender to and take instruction from to lead you further on the spiritual path.”

Murari says he has become happier since becoming spiritual. “Our true nature is service to the Supreme Lord. Therefore by practicing devotional service (chanting, hearing, and remembering), we are becoming more in tune with our true nature. That’s how you become happier,” says Murari. His path has been checkered, as he got divorced and his girlfriend died from cancer three years ago. Murari battled with depression a few years ago, and his psychologist told him “all you need to do is think of nothing.” He thought, “but thinking of nothing is thinking of something.” But when he discovered meditation, he found out it’s all about concentrating on one thing. Murari says meditation gave him a “peace of mind, it cured my depression, increased my concentration and increased my ability to be present in the moment.”

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Murari sitting in a meditative position. Photo: Lara Antonopoulos

What inspired Murari to become a monk is “the desire to develop a relationship with God. Living a normal life you are always so busy with living that you often don’t seem to have the time to contemplate on where you come from and what happens after you leave your body.” Murari feels he has become a better person since becoming spiritual. His diet has to do with compassion, but by no means does he judge meat-eaters. Through spirituality “you learn compassion and forgiveness. Those traits make you a better person.”

Murari has been celibate for two years. The purpose of celibacy is to focus your thoughts on God and spiritual things, instead of sexual pleasure. The Hare Krishnas believe that the purpose of sex (if you are married) is to make children. Celibacy isn’t easy, but through meditation one gradually detaches oneself from worldly pleasures, as you are drawn like a needle to a magnet to spiritual pleasures.

My absorbing conversation with Murari comes to an end too soon. What strikes me most about Murari is how happy he is with his life. A monk’s path is definitely not an easy one, but it is a happy one.