Getting my name Tukaram Das

Let’s start with a couple definitions. A siksa-guru is any guru (or advanced devotee) that gives you teaching or shows great leadership in your life. As the founder-acharya of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada is the pre-eminent siksa-guru for all of ISKCON. A diksa-guru is your initiating guru, or spiritual master.

When one takes diksa initiation it is customary to receive a new name. Your old name carries a lot of baggage relating to your material identity. Such as nationality, gender, social status etc. Taking a spiritual name is a link to your guru, and a new start into your spiritual life.

Initiation Texas 1999

At my initiation I was given the name Tukaram Das. From the cheers in the temple room it seemed that people approved, and liked Tukaram. Being raised in Texas I had a severe lack of education on 17th century Indian poets, so was unfamiliar with Sant Tukaram.

But as my guru maharaj gave me the name, he also said something along the lines of ‘maybe one day you will find a wife to accompany you on your journey to Vaikuntha’. And everyone laughed. Again – I did not understand the reference.

After the initiation I was talking to some friends at the temple and they said I had to watch the Indian movie Sant Tukaram, from the mid 1930s. They said it would explain who Tukaram was, and why people laughed about my lack of wife and a trip to Vaikuntha.

I was able to find the movie on YouTube. It is out of copyright so it is posted on many channels. I will not link to it as the channels may come and go (although one copy has been up almost 15 years). When I watched it, I was happy to learn about Sant Tukaram, and at the end of the movie – I got the joke. It is also just a very good movie.

Not my initiation – but a better quality picture.
Why so serious Tuka?

Some back story

I was a single father for over 15 years. When my wife left, I was able to get more active in ISKCON. But working full time, raising the kids, and trying to do some service at the temple was a daunting task. There were many of the women at the temple trying to fix me up with one devotee or another. They felt I needed a wife, and the kids needed a full time mom. My guru agreed, but had someone particular in mind.

The days of arranged marriages was pretty much over in ISKCON by the late 1990s, but the guru does make arranged introductions, and makes it clear that he thinks it is a good match. So introduce us, he does.

The mataji was a pujari in London, from the Philippines. A few of the other matajis in Dallas knew her and also said we would be a great match. We wrote letters back and forth, as well as emails, and some phone calls. This was before the internet provided cheap communication, so international phone calls were expensive, and rare.

Eventually I flew to London to meet her in person. We got along right away, except she did comment on how big I was. You can see from the picture above that I was not skinny, but also by no means fat. In fact she was a bit plumper than I was. But other than the one snide remark, we got along very well.

I stayed in the Soho temple for a week in the brahmachari ashram. Almost everyone was very cool and very friendly. There was one young man that just gave me dirty looks all the time. More about him later. Also the temple president seemed to take an instant dislike to me.

During an interview with the temple president he made it clear that I was not worthy of marrying the mataji. But he kept mentioning how much he did not want to lose her service as a pujari. Many of the temples are very greedy and try to keep “their” devotees there. He spoke poorly of me to her and changed our room & board arrangement during my stay.

I do not remember what I paid to stay at the temple (certainly cheaper than a hotel), but after a couple days the temple president decided our arrangement would no longer include food. I was to pay full price and eat at the attached Govinda’s restaurant. My fiance being a pujari however meant that all the pujaris would bring me giant plates of maha prasadam from the alter. I ate better after he ‘cut off’ my food.

I bring that up, not to bad mouth a senior devotee, but to show that he was one of the stumbling blocks in our possible marriage. But after talking for a while, the fact that we really seemed to get along, and that she had a few friends in Dallas already, we decided to get married.

We did a courthouse wedding (or whatever the magistrate office is called over there). And I went back to Dallas to start on her immigration paperwork. That was when the trouble started.

She kept making excuses not to go to the US. She said I should bring the kids and move to London. When I told that was not going to happen – for many reasons – the primary reason being that I had a job that I was not going to leave. So she said they had a good welfare program in England and I could just move there and go on the dole. Also not part of my plan!

I finally asked what she wanted to do. She kept saying that Gurudeva wanted us together. I reminded her that he said it was up to us… what do “you” want? Finally she said that she had no interest in going to the US… and… she had a boyfriend at the London temple?! Remember the guy that always scowled at me? Yeah, he was the unknown other guy.

So I threw away the immigration paperwork and she filed for an annulment. The marriage never happened.

I did find a copy of the movie Sant Tukaram, and (spoiler alert) at the end, when a flying chariot is sent by God to take Tuka to Vaikuntha, his wife refuses to join him. This is the reason for the laugh when my guru said perhaps I would find a wife later to join me.

Since she had friends in Dallas, she did hear about it. She called me and was very angry at me for a joke I did not tell. I was just laughing at her anger. Then I told her that since I did not make the joke she is either mad at herself or at Gurudeva. I suggested she call her guru and yell and him. The choking noise she made at that suggestion was also hysterical to me.

I do like my name, and hope that my guru gave it to me in all seriousness, and the joke was just an afterthought… but I will never know for sure.

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