One meaningful section of the day was a walk with two members of our community, Keshav Sharma and Allyson Gilbert, to a Hindu-Catholic meeting. It's a mere 1 kilometre from our super central temple/ashram location to the Archdiocese of Toronto, Catholic Pastoral Centre on Yonge Street, where a modest number of pastors and pandits knocked heads together. It was a successful shot at enhancing communication between the two traditions. During our adjournment, Prof. Reid Locklin and I took to a casual talk. Knowing he teaches at the University of Toronto, where acquaintance Prof. Joseph T. O'Connell is well established, I asked Reid, "How's Prof. O'Connell?" to which a great appreciation of words came.
Little did we both know then that O'Connell passed away. I found out later in the day that he left his body while in New York on Sunday. I had telephoned his good wife Kathy once I heard the news from a godbrother.
Who is Professor O'Connell? In brief, he was an eloquent speaking teacher and knew his stuff with regards to the culture of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the particular traditional line of devotion that we follow. He spoke fluent Bengali and was spending six months in Bangladesh teaching. Recently he compelted a text on "Vaishnav Ethics". During the time of establishing Krishna Consciousness, Professor O'Connel came forward to give his endorsement from his academic background. In our pioneering years there was ample welcome and scepticism floating about from the public view. At that time our dear friend stepped up to give his statement about the mission of our guru, Srila Prabhupada.
In a meeting Prof. O'Connell had with our guru, a question was raised on whether there were female gurus in our tradition and Prabhupada answered, "Yes", citing the example of the wife of Nityananda, a forerunner of the bhakti movement in India in the early 16th century.
O'Connell statement in our defence goes as follows:
"The Hare Krishna movement is but the most recent phase of an ancient tradition of religious piety known in India as Vaishavism. The devotees in the Hare Krishna temples live a full and active life of study, prayer, singing and day to day management of the temple's activities. Many are also active in a variety of more practical tasks such as the publishing and sale of books, the manufacture of incense, the operation of vegetarian restaurants, and the launching of a small dance-drama company. All observe abstention from meat, intoxicants and drugs. In my judgement, it is indeed fortunate for these individuals and for the society in which they live that there has been available this outwardly exotic but inwardly authentic and well-rounded way of religious communal life."