Bhagavad Gita in Iraq
By Antony Brenon
An American soldier sees hundreds dying at the battlefield in Iraq. He wonders about the questions that have disturbed mankind for over two millennium; ‘Who are we?’ ‘What is death and is there life after death?’ Ari Sonnenberg, from Brooklyn New York, USA is a soldier in the US Army. And in the middle of a war, he discovers in the Bhagavad Gita, the answers to his questions. And Mr. Sonnenberg’s life changed ever since.
Ari picked up a Bhagavad Gita while in US in 1994, and had been deeply touched by Lord Krishna’s call for duty and love. Now while fighting deadly battles in Iraq, he began to get lonely, and pondered over the questions of life. The Gita he carried with him, provided solace and strength. “I was pleasantly surprised when one evening I shared this knowledge with my friends, and they too became receptive and eager to know more”, says Ari Sonnenberg. While in US, Ari also met his guru, spiritual preceptor, Kadamba Kanan Swami, a teacher of Bhagavad Gita, and who originally hails from Netherlands. “I am amazed at the profound wisdom of Bhagavad Gita. The temporary nature of this body and the world is succinctly presented in the Gita, along with the knowledge of a spiritual path” says Ari. “I now know I can love God and re-establish my relationship with Him, even while serving my country in a war.” Ari’s guru inspired him to make the best of his situation, and encouraged him to preach the message of Gita. Ari confesses to be a beginner student of the Gita but wonders how much more ecstasy waits to be plundered with deeper study of Bhagavad Gita, and a more sincere practise of spiritual life.
What prompted him to commit to serious study and preaching of the Bhagavad Gita? Ari recalls the testing moment, “I had to pick up dead children while on a battle at Kosovo, and the whole thing sickened me. I was internally lost and confused. At night, as I picked up my copy of the Gita, Lord Krishna guided me with the immortal words in the eighteenth chapter, especially, 18.66- do not fear.” Ari’s positive demeanour, even in trying and extremely provocative situations inspired his superiors to appreciate and recognize his special position. “My superiors think Bhagavad Gita is excellent. They have also become favourable,” exudes Ari with child like enthusiasm, “my old commander would offer pranams in the traditional Indian way. My new supervisor came by because he remembered seeing my salagram silas (a stone likeness of the Lord) in Kuwait and he wanted to have an audience (darshan) before them again.” US Army officials have noted that while many soldiers fighting a gruelling war are interested in escaping reality, Ari is really keen to help each person develop the good in themselves.
After returning from his gruelling and life threatening missions, each evening Ari cooks a small meal of Dahl and chapatti for his Lord, and accepts the remnants as Prasad. He then studies Bhagavad Gita reverentially. For a few minutes he also teaches mantra meditation to his Army brothers at the defence unit, and then retires for the night. There are some soldiers taking guidance from him. “They ask questions and seek solace in their craziness.” Ari reveals, “I don’t force anything on them; they ask and I repeat Lord Krishna’s words.” Ari’s positive outlook and Gita’s spiritual potency has helped the few dozen soldiers, whom Ari has personally counselled, in emotionally troubled times.He has been counselling the soldiers since 17 years now.
What is the one most important realization in Ari Sonnenberg’s life that he wishes to share with all? “Lord Krishna is kind. If we spread His message of Bhagavad Gita, He certainly reciprocates. In my opinion, Lord Krishna wants us to give Him to everyone with whom we come in contact. We can do that in our own way.”
His final word of advice to Indians, “please do not take this great wealth of India for granted. You are in the best situation in the world. Please make your lives perfect and share this priceless gift of spiritual culture with the whole world.”
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