Mantra Chaitanya das, 33, on how spirituality has changed his attitude towards money.
Interview by The Guardian.
Name: Mantra Chaitanya das
Occupation: Gardener, teacher and voluntary university chaplain, Canterbury
I became interested in the Hare Krishna movement following the death of my brother 10 years ago. He worked as a DJ and was materially successful but within a couple of years of being diagnosed with cancer, he lived on a boat with few possessions. He turned to Buddhism and meditation during the last six years of his life and underwent a massive spiritual transformation; he just seemed to be happier the closer he was to death. That blew my mind.
After his death I was given his copy of Bhagavad Gita, an ancient book of wisdom, and eventually met some Hare Krishna devotees, which led me to study Krishna consciousness and meditation. Everything they said made sense. I was hooked.
At the time I was a musician, a career I’d always had my heart set on. I’d set up a record label and toured but it didn’t make me happy. I told my bandmates that I had to follow my heart and join the Hare Krishna movement. Fortunately they were really cool with it.
After I met my wife we decided we wanted an adventure so we moved to Canterbury – a place with no Hare Krishna presence – to share what we had learned with others.
Three years ago I started to work full-time as a gardener. I work about four days a week and earn about £12,000 to £15,000 a year. My other positions are voluntary. I teach mantra meditation and bhakti yoga at the University of Kent every Monday and every Saturday and Sunday my wife and I run programmes in Canterbury and Margate. We’ll hire out community centres and we’ll all meditate, listen to a talk, chant and dance. By 7pm we’ll sit down to eat and chat.
Our income is spent running meditation workshops, philosophical study groups, free community lunch sessions and a student society at the University of Kent, where I also volunteer as a chaplain representing Krishna consciousness. Everything we offer people is free of charge; we rely on voluntary donations to help us do what we do, although the bulk of it is paid for ourselves.
We don’t drink, smoke or eat out, and we don’t go to the cinema or theatre.
Our understanding is that money is a gift from Krishna and he lets us utilise what’s necessary for our upkeep. We live simply and we don’t waste time or money. We work hard and play hard. We help others find lasting happiness.
We rent our apartment and that costs us £800 a month. We split everything between us. Bills come to about £250 a month. We spend about £20 a week on food. We like to drive to a wholesale store in Wembley once a year to bulk buy dal, rice, ghee and spices.
I travel around in a 13-year-old ex-fire service van; fuel for it costs about £100 a month. Insurance and tax is about £60 a month.
For the past two years we’ve been lucky to find our way to India for a couple of weeks. We buy a lot of our clothes and other devotional items there because the price is so good. It’s mainly a spiritual pilgrimage for us. Most of our life is about giving; this helps us recharge so we can offer more to everyone.
Our philosophy is that real happiness is permanent and spiritual, as opposed to temporary and material. So we try to engage whatever wealth we have in helping others develop spiritually, and in doing so we’ve found a happiness that can never be exhausted.
I used to be silly with money but with Hare Krishna I’ve learned self-control and feel more satisfied as I’m looking after myself. There’s moments when I look at what cash is going out and wonder what is going in, but that doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I know Krishna will sort us out. I just try to be sensible and not reckless with money.
I think sometimes people think Hare Krishna life is a bit austere, but now my life is so rich and full of bliss. I’m deeply happy.
More information at harekrishnacanterbury.com