When Lu wling left her home in the coastal Shandong province of China to study in New Zealand, she had no idea that she would one day wake up an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna.
Twenty-two years on, Manisha, as she is now known at the ISKCON Centre in Newlands, Wellington, is a full-fledged Krishna sevak weaving floral garlands and helping with chores, along with other volunteers.
This setting marks the end of a long spiritual quest that took Manisha from her early Buddhist influence under her Tai Chi instructor father through her years as a church-going Christian before finally ending up in Krishna consciousness.
But Manisha, the name given by her mother-in-law after she married an Indian whom she met while at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, is yet to be initiated as a Hare Krishna bhakta.
Manisha must wait for a spiritual master or guru to bestow a name after initiation, which takes several years of temple service to Lord Krishna.
“I have a spiritual master in mind,” Manisha says. “But he is in Malaysia. I am waiting in line for the day he will initiate me.”
To qualify for initiation, a volunteer must be recommended by the president of the ISKCON Centre.
The prospective candidate for initiation must, among other things, be proficient and steadfast in the daily chanting of the Lord’s name with beads.
Manisha describes the chanting ritual as “easy and hard.”
“You need to focus your mind on chanting the mantra for 16 rounds each day. You can’t miss a day,” Manisha explains.
For how long must the chanting exercise go on before a volunteer qualifies to be initiated? “Forever,” Manisha replies, hyperbolically.
Clearly, the process of initiation into the Hare Krishna fold is long drawn and strenuous.
Before she met her husband Mahesh, Manisha was a regular churchgoer.
“My experience with the church was very good. Christians were very helpful,” she reminisces.
But when the time came to be baptised, she backed out.
“There were too many unanswered questions in my heart.”
A fundamental question that troubled her was the Christian belief that “you either went to heaven or to hell after you died.”
Manisha was not convinced by that belief.
When she and Mahesh attended “kirtan” sessions organised by Hare Krishna devotees in Christchurch, Manisha had her moment of spiritual awakening.
“From that day, I became a fulltime volunteer at the Hare Krishna temple in Christchurch.
“Krishna has brought so much peace into my life,” Manisha says. “I come every Saturday to this temple to do garland seva for Krishna, as well as on other days if I am needed. In return for this small service, Krishna bestows his blessing, which I feel deep within myself.”
For Manisha and Mahesh, Krishna consciousness translates into a simple code of living that involves “keeping Krishna at the centre of everything you do.”
“Things you can’t say to Krishna, things you can’t do to Krishna, you can’t say or do to another.”
For Manisha, the Krishna temple is her home.
“Every day, I come to the temple with only one prayer to Lord Krishna: Please keep me always in your service.”
The journey that began on the shores of China over two decades ago has ended at the feet of Lord Krishna in Aotearoa.