When I returned from my trip to see my family, I was relieved to be away from all of their drama. Mahasraya was happy to see me and we had a honeymoon period. He had given up on growing psychedelic mushrooms and we had the use of the bedroom. He slept in there alone because otherwise Lakshmana’s crying would keep him awake. He was working for the temple, guarding at night, so we still had the same graveyard schedule as before, waking up in the early afternoon.
Now that he had his own income from guarding, the stipend they paid all householders who worked for ISKCON, he enrolled in a Wing Chun martial arts class with the already well known Sifu Douglas Wong. MY AFDC money was what we used for all household expenses.
I was his practice dummy to help him with the various strikes and blocks he needed to practice. We did this when he was studying Tai Chi, practicing push-hands. Often we would spar, stopping just a hair’s breadth before the actual strike. Some say this is not the best way to practice sparring because in a real fight one might not be prepared to use the amount of force needed. In any event, blocks and strikes were becoming second nature to me. I had always been interested in martial arts and wanted to learn even more. He had taught me some basic self defense skills when we first got together, which I used to block my mom’s punches.
I observed as he prepared his hands for the Iron Fist (aka Iron Palm), a way of making one’s hands denser and hardened, thus more effective at striking the opponent. He found instructions for making a concoction of vinegar with rusty nails steeped in it for a long period of time. Every day he would rub this stuff on his hands. I vaguely remember that he used some rice or something also to toughen his hands, hitting into a bowl filled with the grain. I’ve since read that original recipes with Chinese herbs have been published online as well as having been made available commercially. He was mostly trying to figure it out himself from hints he’d read. He was also into Chinese medicine and drinking Chinese herbs on a regular basis.
Mahasraya read about Bruce Lee’s One Inch Punch technique in his book, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, which Mahasraya hoped would combine with the denser fists he was developing to create a more powerful punch. I suspect this is what interested him in Sifu Wong and Wing Chun. I also enjoyed reading Bruce Lee’s book and learned a lot from it. Mahasraya had also acquired a super 8mm movie projector and would buy martial arts film with techniques and katas (a set of movements designed to make the skills automatic). His friends would come over and watch them projected onto a sheet on the wall. He was not content being, as he told everyone, a master of Tibetan martial arts. He continued to soak up as much as he could about other styles. He was delighted to learn a new kata.
It wasn’t long before the general stress of life with a new baby got to him. Although he enjoyed playing with Lakshmana, I believe he found the responsibility of being a father daunting and also seemed to resent my own preoccupation with our child. One of our fights, for example, was about my being busy with Lakshmana, changing a diaper, when he wanted me to cook and complained that I hadn’t already. Dealing with lack of sleep and stressed out too, I snapped at him that he was the one who taught me to cook; why was he waiting for me if he was so hungry? He threw one of my stainless steel pots across the kitchen, denting it on the bottom, and that made me so angry that I actually smacked him in the face for the first—and only—time. Of course he quickly retaliated.
We were brought back to earth quickly when Lakshmana rolled off the changing table—fortunately to land on a carpeted floor with no apparent injury. But it quickly sobered us. Mahasraya blamed me for the whole thing and ranted at me.
“Look at what you did! It’s your fault. You’re supposed to be taking care of him! Fuckin’ A!”
This was a low blow coming from the man who was willing to risk having his child taken away if he was discovered growing illegal mushrooms in our home, not to mention beating me while I was pregnant with this same child. I was furious but more concerned with comforting my crying baby. Mahasraya wandered back into the kitchen to get something to eat, slamming cupboard doors and continuing his rant, which I ignored.
I was mortified that my baby had fallen and disturbed that our fighting had distracted me to that degree. I was normally so watchful and careful of his welfare. So it didn’t help to have Mahasraya blaming me as if he had played no role in the fight.
Each fight was beginning to put cracks in my love and devotion to Mahasraya and it seemed that the pleasant times, the laughter and loving moments were occurring less and less often.
Our martial arts practice continued, although Mahasraya would often complain about how out of shape I was. For instance, I couldn’t hold my arms above my head for long. I don’t remember why I was supposed to but I didn’t have his stamina and of course I didn’t have his upper body strength. I was so sensitive already about my weight that this hit me where it hurt. Here I was walking everywhere and carrying my baby around. I was hardly a weakling!
As we were sparring one day, Mahasraya made it a point to tell me that he never teaches his students everything he knows; he always holds something back. I took that to be an oblique warning: don’t think you can use this stuff against me because I know even more and you can’t win. I guess my hitting him that one time made him realize that I might be inspired to use these techniques to defend myself from him. I had considered it, of course. Who wouldn’t? But as I pictured how it might go I realized that the fights would probably escalate to the point that we would both be seriously injured and end up in the hospital. Who would take care of Lakshmana then?
We were on this weird, parallel course where sometimes, martial arts was used to teach me how to defend myself from others, and sometimes martial arts was used against me to keep me in my place, release his stress, or for reasons I probably don’t understand even now. I began to resent Sifu Wong for teaching my husband even more ways to hurt me. I wondered why he didn’t try to screen out violent men who might misuse the arts he was teaching. Didn’t he recognize that learning these techniques was like handing out a stick of dynamite? Didn’t he know about domestic violence?
Mahasraya was responsible for misusing these powerful strikes. I’m sure every martial arts instructor gives a lecture about the ethical use and philosophical basis of this powerful knowledge. Yet it seems to me that more can be done to identify those who are prone to violence and have anger management problems. At the time I believed in shared karma, and I felt that my husband’s teachers deserved a small per cent of the karma for my beatings.
Mahasraya was hitting me more and more often and almost always on the head, several quick blows. Sometimes my head would hit the wall. I didn’t realize at the time how serious this was and how easily I could get a concussion. I believe I probably suffered more than one concussion but I never got checked out at the hospital. He would sometimes cry after hurting me and usually apologize and want to hug and kiss me. Occasionally, though, he would get defensive. “Why do you make me do this?” Sometimes he would storm around the house and yell, then start hitting. A raised voice would be enough to put me on guard. It got to the point that I was being hit every few days.
I was so desperate to stop this that when Mahasraya wouldn’t listen to me I talked to his friend Keshava. I hoped that the respect Mahasraya had for Kesava would make him more open to understanding how I felt. Kesava’s ex-wife told me that Kesava had battered her and so we had a frank talk about wife-beating. He expressed that he was deeply sorry for having hurt his ex-wife, L-P. dasi, whom he acknowledged was a very advanced devotee. He was glad she was happily re-married.
Unfortunately, his focus was to tell me to alter my speech and behavior. He was willing to talk to Mahasraya, for which I was and still am grateful, but like many people in the 1970s the belief was if women behaved above reproach that would solve the problem. So apparently I wasn’t to try to talk to Mahasraya about the violence because that would cause him to hit me again. What a catch-22! I shouldn’t ever mention that I was getting so desperate I might leave him, then. Kesava told me, without a hint of irony, that I should emulate Muslim ladies and whenever we disagreed I should say, “You are right, I am wrong, it must be the will of God.”
There is no way I could ever say that without being sarcastic.
My frustration increased after talking to Kesava. His ex-wife had made it clear that some days he would beat her for leaving too late for the morning program at the temple, and other days she’d get ready quickly and he’d hit her for preceding him to the program–once knocking her down stairs. So if we women are supposed to keep ourselves safe by adjusting our behavior, you can see the problem here. The goal post keeps changing on a whim. One might conclude that the problem isn’t our behavior at all!
Hearing from Kesava about his behavior just made Mahasraya angry and led to more beatings. He was always concerned about how he appeared to other people and didn’t want anyone to know about what he did when we were alone. That’s why he was so careful to only hit me in places covered by my saris or blouses and long skirts. I often had a bruise or two on my upper arms, for instance, because all my blouses and t-shirts had sleeves that covered them.
During this period of time a devotee loaned us a TV. His name was Jagaman and he was a teenager who wasn’t allowed to have a TV. I seem to remember that he lived in the brahmancari ashram. He wanted to store the TV with us and then come and watch it once in awhile. He liked Saturday morning cartoons, for instance. This was fine with Mahasraya. We caught up on reruns of the show Kung Fu with David Carradine, a show Mahasraya loved and told me about. I grew to love The Incredible Hulk, myself. I would catch in on TV when Mahasraya was at work.
I’d watch Bill Bixby’s character deal with bullies and bad guys by turning into the Hulk and I was overcome with a desire to do the same–just once. I believed if Mahasraya knew what it was like to be terrified and overcome by someone stronger he would never want to make me feel that way again. Beneath my fear and anxiety an anger was building, a rage and bitterness that was beginning to crowd out the love I felt. It was a confusing mix of emotions to deal with as I tried to figure out a way to get through to my husband.
My neighbor from the Spanish apartments, Sri Prada, moved across the street from us so we were neighbors once again. I confided in her about the abuse as I had Mitravinda and Kesava’s ex-wife L-P. dasi To my surprise, Sri Prada confided in me that her husband Ramai also hit her. Like my own husband he seemed like such a nice guy and it was hard to imagine him behaving that way. What was going on here?
Copies of the book Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin were being passed around the devotee community from woman to woman. Andelin was a Mormon lady and her book was supposed to help us in our quest to be proper chaste Vedic women, since it was written from a conservative Christian viewpoint. It was all about how a devout and chaste wife should serve her husband and could use her feminine gifts to guide her husband for the good of the family. I looked at this book like a person dying in the desert might look at a glass of water. I felt it was my last chance to make my marriage work. I became engrossed, reading it cover to cover and returning to key passages. Maybe this would help us inspire our husbands to treat us better. Maybe I would learn what I’d missed, being raised by the uppity and independent women in my family, something that could inspire my husband to be the gentle person I’d first met, the kind and thoughtful man I fell in love with.
Next: applying everything I learned to try to save my marriage.