MISSIONARY: Living with nature, not against, is the way of the monk.
KLAIPEDA - In the remote, forest-engulfed village of Drumuliai, at the border between Lithuanian and Latvian, the mobile connection is very bad, as Lithuanian wireless signals are often interfered with ones from Latvian mobile connection providers, and vice-versa.
A newly built house of massive slabs in an opening of the forest implies that some farmer, seeking seclusion, has settled here. However, I quickly realize that my hunch is wrong, as a thick-bearded, bandana-wearing exuberant man waves in my direction through a window slightly ajar, inviting me to come in.
I am about to meet monk Suddha Brahman, preaching, for most Lithuanians, the most unlikely religious views – the Universal Religion, a modern branch of Hinduism. The monk, who, in fact, is Dane Harold Olsen, has been on an extraordinary mission to Lithuania - to acquaint locals with the modern religion - for over twenty years now. I reckon he does that impeccably well, as he hints the “office” of the hub of the Universal Religion monasteries in Denmark has not dared to call him away from the missionary work.
Already inside, my attention is caught by quite few kitchen utensils, meticulously lined up on a shelf of the kitchen cupboard. Despite the shadows of the dark patches of soil penetrating through the large window, I can’t fight the feeling that the kitchen is shining, as if the scarce kitchen belongings radiated their energy.
“I don’t have electricity and I am not intending to install it,” says the monk, adding: “There, where electric power turns up, people settle down and start skewering shashliks, throwing parties and building structures while destroying the natural landscape. I do not want any of this,” Suddha Brahman says, shaking his head, smirking.
To my remark that he uses some electric appliances I see in the kitchen, he grins, saying that he’s got an electric generator to satisfy his minimal needs for power. “When I take on expansion of my ashram, the temple where the followers and I pray, I will build a wind-harnessing power station to meet the increased energy demand,” he adds.
My nature is resistant to any brain-washing, especially by clergy, but his relation about his ashram flows naturally and matter-of-factly. He says the followers, a group of several dozen people, along with numerous “unattached” visitors, besides collective prayers learn meditation and yoga, endeavoring to reach spiritual perfectness.
Ashram, in other words, the Hindu-style temple, used to be a place to live and pray for sages, ascetics and recluses in ancient India. Over the centuries, ashrams have become hubs of Hindu religious communities where spiritual life seekers come in search of spirituality, God and, ultimately, enlightenment.
As the monk continues his monologue, interrupted only by my brief exclamations and questions, more out of politeness, I notice a young and a little bit clumsy lad walk into the kitchen. He casts a sullen glimpse at me and, asked by the preacher, makes a cup of tea for me. Having placed the cup in front of me, he lumbers out.
“This guy is a former drug addict. He came to me from Vilnius region, after a Catholic monastery rejected his determination to join it. He’s been in my ashram over two months now, and we have been praying, meditating and talking about life for as long. Sure, he’s been ‘clean,’ off the needle, all the time. Abstinence syndrome, following an abrupt disruption of drug use, can be overcome by prayers and meditation. I hope the guy can stay this way for as long as he continues to strengthen his spirituality,” the preacher told The Baltic Times.
He admits that in his early youth, he had been a drug addict himself, but was able to overcome the disastrous dependency. Former and current drug users, he maintains, are quite frequent visitors in his temple. Some of them, such as the tea server, stay here for longer in a cozy little guest house outside the ashram. And not only druggies are welcome here. Many psychologically depressed folks also set out on the journey to the mystic place in the secluded woody area.
“All are welcome here,” the Hindu monk grins. He adds: “I am in the process of establishing my ashram. A lot of things have to be done here yet. I am so happy to hear from people who end up here that they feel a rush of energy and experience brightness of spirit here,” Suddha Brahman says. He is also swami, meaning a higher monk rank in Hinduism.
In Lithuania, where traditionally 80 percent of the population deem to be Roman Catholics, this representative of Hinduism is alone, but not lonely. “Most people who come to the ashram are Catholics. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church has been through a very severe crisis all over the world today. The Church does not have, any more, so bright, spiritual and, at the same time, down-to-earth priests like the gone Father Stanislovas. I do not see more priests who could match his depth, simplicity, life experience and attachment to the core of Christian teachings. All around are mediocrities, if not hypocrites, who bid for earthly wealth and power,” Arunas Dobilaitis, a popular yoga teacher in Palanga, a resort town on the Baltic coast and a follower of Suddha Brahman, said to The Baltic Times.
The yoga teacher admits he is a convert, an ex-Christian who has chosen a different path to spirituality and God, a lot more active and awarding, he says. “When I descend into a prayer in the ashram that, in fact, does not remind one of a sacred place at all, I feel as if a power circuit flows through my skin. That is the way you could feel in some Catholic churches led by extraordinaire priests a while ago, but you do not have these kinds of Catholic churches and priests left anymore,” Dobilaitis says.
He says proudly that before, only a few people would roam into the swami Brahman-led Hindu temple, and now there are dozens. “They come to experience bliss of the prayer, have a talk with the enlightened monk and fill their souls with joy,” the yoga fan says.
Not giving into the persuasiveness, I say I have my “human doubts” over a deity of the world, and, upon necessity for a superior spiritual power, I can do that while contemplating and hugging a Lithuanian oak, or eyeing the horizons of the Baltic Sea. “This is also a certain form of faith,” the monk nods. “Even if a smart man thinks he is atheist, he or she may eventually come to search for God while scrutinizing himself or herself,” the Dane-turned-Hindu-monk says.
He is convinced that, sooner or later, all of the world’s religions will coalesce. Especially, he stresses, when traditional religions of Christianity, Islam, or even some old Eastern faiths, have succumbed to the lure of mundane wealth and are moving away from the human being.
“The quintessential essence of God has been forgotten,” the swami claims.
His relation brings me back to the 1960s, when, with the rise of the New Age Movement, a collection of Eastern-influenced metaphysical ideologies and, to some, a hodge-podge of theologies and philosophies bound together by “universal tolerance” and moral relativism, he, a 20-plus-year lad, as did thousands of his peers, set out on a journey for spirituality, truth and the gist of life, to India, Afghanistan and the Himalaya mountains.
“An abundance of young people had chosen the itinerary then, as the region was deemed to be unspoiled by the Western culture of consumerism,” says the Dane.
He says the turning point in his search for spirituality has been the acquaintance and regular meetings with Hindu guru Narayananda, whom he first met in India and, later, in Denmark, having joined the Universal Religion. “The conversations with him led me to the perception that I really do not care about material life, women, family life and entertainment,” Olsen relates.
Having joined the new religion in the Danish town of Gyling, where the hub of the Universal Religion monasteries was, asked by his ecclesiastic heads, he went to the United States, Germany and Scandinavian countries helping to found ashrams locally. “When I came back from the missions, with discussions about new destinations of new missionaries brewing, I came to a map and pinpointed the yet red-colored spot on it, signifying the Western border of the former Soviet Union: Lithuania, precisely,” Suddha Brahman says.
Having arrived to Lithuania in the beginning of the 1990s, when the national movement for independence was at its peak, the Dane settled in the Utena region, in eastern Lithuania. “The very beginning was not easy, as there were not the simplest goods in the stores. And forget construction material, that I needed most. Luckily, a local farming enterprise helped me out, providing me with some construction material,” the missionary remembered.
He is nearly 70 years old, but he exudes exuberance more characteristic for a life-enjoying 40-year-old man. “I feel as if being a 16-year-old boy. I tell you frankly I had not had so much energy when I was very young. Unlike a 16-year-old, I am not overwhelmed by surges of sexual energy which, if not focused in the right direction, can be very damaging,” he quips to my remark on his agility.
The hub of the Universal Religion monasteries in Denmark, he relates, was plagued with some financial burdens, so he was told by his ecclesiastic authorities in Gylinge to support the newly established ashram in Lithuania on its own. “I puzzled on how to make ends meet for quite a while,” the monk admits. He added: “I noticed that granite was extremely cheap back then in Lithuania. Therefore, I bought it and sent it over to Denmark, and from there it was shipped as far as Japan. However, despite the lucrative business, I stayed in it for only a few months a year, devoting the rest of the time for establishing the ashram,” the missionary recalled.
He stayed nearly eight years in the Utena region before setting his foot in Drumuliai, at the Lithuanian border.
Swami acknowledges that, while still in Utena, the authorities of the monastery in Denmark wanted to call him back and send him to Germany, but he says he managed to talk the ecclesiastic governance to let him stay in Lithuania. “I had travelled all over the world before coming to Lithuania, but I did not fall in love with any country in the world as I did so with Lithuania,” the spiritual leader confesses.
He has been nearly nine years near the seaside. “I was looking for a very remote locality, which I could turn into a spiritual place for prayer services and meditation. When I set my foot in Drumuliai, I knew that was the place I was looking for,” says Suddha Brahman.
Having moved into a dilapidated, windowless and doorless farmstead, sunk into towering lush weeds all around, he was quick to discover the place was the reign of finger-length wasps, huge bats and obtrusive rats. And not only these – it was home for ghosts as well. “There were quite a few of them. They would rumble my bed, demanding me to leave them and, once, they shut the door, not allowing me in for some time. When I forced my way, I saw two esoteric red-haired creatures trudge away. I was not scared at all. I meditated, laughed and I was eager to befriend the real tenants of the place. And I succeeded in that: their destructiveness gradually was subdued by my prayers,” the monk remembered.
He says after rehabilitation of the house the ghosts left.
Among the monk’s future plans is building a larger ashram, especially with a focus on a roomier hall for praying in, and construction of more guest houses. “The one I have accommodates only a few people. And the need quite big,” he says.
Successful amber trade – only for two months a year just to satisfy the basic needs of the ashram, he hurries to specify –will embody his dreams, he is confident. “You cannot get rid of your material life. It is a significant part of a human being’s life. However, it cannot overshadow spiritual life,” the monk warns.
Probably feeling the sensitivity of the matter, he adds: “I am well aware of the blunders most traditional churches have done, i.e striving for wealth. It does not cost me a lot to bake biscuits in the Eastern way, and treat my guests for free. What is much more important is communication of souls in search of spirituality and God. I am grateful to God if someone thinks I succeed in being a good soul communicator,” Brahman smiles.
Asked about the ultimate spiritual award, enlightenment, he says he has achieved it in Lithuania, “while communicating with people,” the monk claims.