Finalist: 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Spirituality category
“Brilliant photographs … a talented writer … her descriptions are lyrical and evocative.” — Kirkus Reviews
“As multi-faceted and luminous as the photos it contains, this book is an important historical and spiritual journey told seamlessly.” — The BookLife Prize
“This book will give pleasure and wisdom to many people, for many years to come.” — Howard J. Resnick, Ph.D., Harvard University
“Whatever our own spiritual orientations and commitments might be, this memoir brings us into Visakha’s world of material detox and spiritual reset, inviting us to look again and look deeper into ourselves and our motivations, convincing us that a ‘lifetime of unexpected love’ is truly possible.” — Kenneth R. Valpey, Ph.D, Oxford University
A new memoir by a bestselling author
After growing up in the United States in the tumultuous ’60s, Visakha, a professional photojournalist who had just published her first book, was suspicious of everything metaphysical. In early 1971, invited to India by her boyfriend who was working on his MFA thesis there, Visakha hears about bhakti, the yoga of devotion, from a simple Indian sage. She flatly rejects it. Then, after observing and empathizing with ascetic monks in Nepal and deeply pious widows in one of India’s holiest towns, she begins to doubt her convictions. Gradually she finds the bhakti teachings unreasonably reasonable. Despite herself, her skepticism wanes. Bhakti and the love it evokes upends her life.
The story’s backdrop is the amusing challenges a Westerner experiences while living in India, and the misadventures a new adherent of an Eastern tradition has while living in the West. The tests of celibacy add spice to it. And it’s a disarmingly frank exploration of the inner churning and confusion that result when faithlessness meets faith, and when firmly held conclusions prove unexamined.
Throughout the story runs a lasting thread of love bonding teacher to student, student to teacher.
BookLife Prize – 2017
Plot: Well plotted and well paced. That the character arc develops slowly makes the book that much more believable. I wouldn’t cut a word.
Prose: This gifted author’s prose is beautiful, carefully wrought, and a pleasure to read. The only issue is the title, which doesn’t do justice to a wonderful book.
Originality: Wholly original. This makes Eat, Pray, Love look like a summer vacation.
Character Development: The author’s spiritual development occurs gradually. It is believable and by degree — and brilliantly told. The way the author handles the deaths of her parents is both painful and perfect. Dasi walks the line between sentiment and sentimentality and never veers too far toward the latter.
Blurb: As multi-faceted and luminous as the photos it contains, this book is an important historical and spiritual journey told seamlessly.
The BookLife Prize.
By Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D., Visiting Professor and Research Scholar, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley: Five Years, Eleven Months is hardly an ordinary read. The author shares how her relationship with an ancient spiritual path from sacred India becomes more and more a part of her life. She is confronted with the big questions, such as the purpose of life and the question of ultimate meaning, giving the reader a fresh look at the nature of a faith as it transforms a person. I offer my guarantee to the prospective reader of this book–you will not only learn much from its pages, but you will soon learn how difficult it is to put the book down. The author is an excellent writer, who engages irony, humor, anecdotal delights, and more. It is one of the best memoirs conveying the power of the spiritual that I have ever come across.
By Howard J. Resnick, Ph.D., Harvard University: In her latest, most revealing book — Five Years, Eleven Months — Visakha Dasi unleashes an autobiographical work of revolutionary honesty. Rarely has a serious, practicing “Hare Krishna” bared their heart and mind with such candor and eloquence.
Along this riveting journey, we relive with her a lonely, painful youth. We share her relief and joy at the discovery of romantic love, and career success. With impressive maturity and earned wisdom, Visakha then carries us to exotic lands, where spiritual discovery transforms her life.
With courage and humility, she talks openly of heavy changes in her marriage, her guilt at the loss of a neglected parent, feminism, problems within the Krishna consciousness movement, fellow practitioners who inspired and repelled her, and much more. And at the center of this uncompromising narrative, we behold her extraordinary relationship with her beloved spiritual teacher, Srila Prabhupada.
This book will give pleasure and wisdom to many people, for many years to come.
By Jayadvaita Swami, author of Vanity Karma: Ecclesiastes, the Bhagavad-gita, and the meaning of life (winner of the 2016 Benjamin Franklin Book Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association as the best book in the “religion” category). Literate and introspective, Visakha’s memoir is a joy to read. Especially engaging is her running account of the tension within herself between her spiritual path and, on the other side, her persistent doubts, her skepticism, and a rational mind always on guard against being spiritually duped. And hers is an extraordinary story. As a young photojournalist, still in college, she journeys first to Nepal and then to India, where she meets a spiritual teacher who shows her much more than she expected to see in her viewfinder and changes the course of her life. Now, nearly fifty years later, she shares with us her adventures, her insights, her reflections, her wisdom. A splendid book!
By Sacinandana Swami: In her new book Five Years, Eleven Months, Visakha takes her readers on a fascinating journey. What is it like to meet a true saint? What happens to one in his association? How does he live and how does he teach and – most important – how does he impact those close to him? These and other questions are masterfully answered by Visakha as she tells her amazing story of spiritual transformation – a story of a journey that makes her turn from a skeptic into a student.
The backdrop of her spiritual adventure is modern and traditional India, which is brought to life by her amazing ability – as a writer and a photographer. Again and again she meets the Queen of faith on the dusty little lanes of a pilgrimage town and feels compelled to start a friendship with her – first with some hesitation. This friendship we learn by her honest descriptions has its very human ups and downs.
When reading and viewing Vishaka’s journey I became deeply affected myself and thus experienced maybe the most outstanding feature of the book – I met Srila Prabhupada again – in a fresh way through the eyes of one person who was there and who dared to ask questions which very frankly put are in the heart of most persons from the west brought up in modern critical thinking.
From all the books on this great saint who brought the ancient teachings on Bhakti to the west this is a jewel which will illumine the heart of the reader and leave permanent impressions of a success story – the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.
By Bob Cohen, Florida Supreme Court Certified Mediator: I was mesmerized by the candor, picturesque detail and superb writing style of Visakha’s autobiographical adventure of her almost six years with A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (aka Prabhupada). Visakha is multi-talented (I used her book on macrophotography as a reference during my graduate school days in the 1970s). She applies her photo skills to the written word, composing a complex mosaic of her time with Prabhupada and her personal struggle with her latent atheism, encounters with misogyny, austerities of India in the ’70s, and difficulty of opening of her heart and trusting. I knew Visakha during those fascinating and exciting years. Her memoir preserves the actual tensions, exhilaration, doubting and heart-wrenching of the times. Five Years Eleven Months is required reading for those who want to understand the source of her awakening, the tumult of the times and the open-hearted love she felt for Prabhupada and Prabhupada for her. The book is a page-turner.
• The writing was clear and elegant, often poetic in its descriptions
• The author was brutally honest about her struggles with atheism and faith (I identify with that; I was brought up in a communist, atheist household that mocked the idea of God)
• She was also honest (in a non-judgmental way) about the shortcomings of neophyte spiritual practitioners and how their inner battles were sometimes expressed in harsh and condemnatory behavior toward female followers
• She eloquently described how the progress of someone new to the spiritual path is not at all linear, but rather ebbs and flows based on a number of stimuli
• The love she developed for her spiritual teacher was inspiring
• The transformation of consciousness she experienced in the holy Indian city of Vrindaban made me want to go there
• And the scene of her return to her family home was touching and all-too-real.
This work is a result of decades of mature spiritual practice grounded in human experience and wisdom. I found it spiritually edifying and an absolute joy to read. It deserves to become a prominent part of the literature in this genre.
I bought Visakha dasi’s book on the recommendation of a personal friend who’d read it and loved it. Boy, was I glad!
It’s brilliantly written, gripping and tells an extraordinary tale of a talented young woman from Long Island, NY (published author at 19, and a photography major), who goes to India to shoot films and pictures with her boyfriend John.
The subject? The burgeoning Hare Krishna movement and the founder who brought this ancient spiritual tradition to American shores in the 1960s: Srila Prabhupada.
Part travel writing, part memoir, the book is a completely sincere account of the nearly six years she spent traveling around the world photographing Prabhupada and his students. She doesn’t gloss over the doubts she harbors, the chaos of India, or the turmoil within the movement itself as some of its adherents find they cannot live up to the simple but pure spiritual standards established by Prabhupada.
The book captures the utter charm and charisma of the founder, how he inspires by high personal example, the growing attraction to his teachings within the heart of this once atheistic girl, her marriage with John along the way, and the wonder and the joy she finds doing her work.
It’s a most refreshing book, full of enthralling story after enthralling story. The writing is superb and very easy to read. The descriptions are brilliant. The black and white photos are evocative. The emotions depicted are sincere, and searing at times. The book inspires and provides enjoyment at the same time.
Very highly recommended.
I really enjoyed this book and Visakha’s story. She narrates her tale simply and takes the reader along with her.
Visakha’s life story and wisdom has definitely inspiried me and I can see it inspiring many successful women who have got it all!
my own life. Thought provoking , I recommend it for everyone.
I read this book like a hungry man devouring a meal, relishing each new course while anticipating the next. The author describes her dramatic transformation in exquisite, relevant detail, creating for me vivid insights and realizations. The introspective sections balance smoothly with the exciting flow of events in her life, intermingling and prodding one another into a rich, virile, stimulating and very human tapestry. This is a great book for someone looking for more out of life. If you’re like me, you’ll love the read and leave it a better person.
A brilliant work of introspection, candor, narrative, and hope from which I
learned much, not only about Visakha and her journey, which have been described
in vivid detail, but also about myself: Visakha’s insights into her ways of
being and her efforts to achieve transcendence gave me tools with which to
evaluate my own ways of being and attempts in enlightenment. Also, reading her
descriptions of events to which I was party, or in knowledge, was refreshing;
she saw things that I missed, or saw them from a different perspective—that of
an extremely intelligent, clear-eyed, frank, dedicated, tenacious woman with a
wry sense of humor. The book is accessible to all sorts of readers and will be
captivating and enlightening to any open, honest person. It is so rich and deep
that I have read portions repeatedly and gained fresh insights every time.
The book was tooooooo good.
The Hare Krishnas are an enigma to many. This book clears up many misconceptions. Visakha Devi’s memoir: Five Years, Eleven Months is an earnest and honest account of her entry into that society. Five years and eleven months was the time she knew the founder of the society, A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami.
This book sheds light on the teachings and attitude of the founder, the adaptations he made to bring an ancient philosophy to the West, the struggles of Westerners to adapt to it, and through it all, a highly personal and transparent telling of Visakha’s own doubts, misunderstandings, and realizations.
The Hare Krishna society, otherwise known as The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was more than just chanting and dancing. It was also a powerful art movement with a deep philosophical base. Visakha was a photographer before and after she joined. In this book she gives us some idea of the founder’s attitude toward art.
This may be the best book to read if you really want to know what it was like.
My favorite part of this book is her realizations from the perspective of a sophisticated Long Island born woman. If you want to understand why the Hare Krishnas grew so fast and quick in the 1960’s and 70’s, read this book, it is a rare window into the life of a saint and devoted disciple.
I am glad I read this book. The subject of selfless devotion is not easy to adapt and, cultivating it is even harder. Reading the memoir of Visakha Dasi made it easy with her honest, vivid writing that is palatable as well. She touches head and heart and, reaches to an innermost conscious layer.
The depth of Visakha Dasi’s self-revealed understanding shines through her elucidation of often subtle and obscure experiences with smooth flowing and lucid writing. It is adaptable and adoptable.
While the memoir is for everyone running, it would benefit most to those who have not yet initiated the spiritual marathon. The photojournalist author, Visakha Dasi herself unexpectedly landed on the ‘start line’ unprepared and trod the unknown track. Throughout the journey, she experienced all possible road blocks: doubts, skepticism, anxieties, fears, struggles, resistances, uncertainties. She has unfolded them in her memoir clearly, systematically and sequentially as she experienced first-hand and, the ways she overcame them. I could relate those to my own struggles and found answers reading her memoir. I am sure, you would too. That makes the memoir most valuable. I highly recommend all spiritual marathon runners to read and benefit; especially more so to the new and wary runner. It is all gain and none loss.
This book details the account of a young Western woman entering a spiritual lifestyle that was previously reserved mostly for Indian men. Self-reliant, wry, witty, and even-keeled, Visakha Dasi’s story contrasts her personal struggles with the insight of the Bhagavad Gita and the emergence of a modern day (monotheistic) mystical Indian lifestyle, as she meets and travels with her spiritual teacher, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.I enjoyed seeing through Visakha’s eyes as she grew up in New York, traversed the 60’s, traveled the globe, delved into a new culture, and found a deeper love; a journey which came to life all the more through her beautiful and rare black and white photographic collection.
This book will be of interest to those interested in self-discovery, those who would like to know more of India’s spiritual wisdom and heritage, those interested in the impact of spiritual movements upon the social dynamics and thinking of American life over the last 50 years, particularly in the 60’s, and those who value the rarely heard perspective of a practicing woman spiritualist. For me, it’s a 5 star read because it‘s descriptive, insightful and entertaining, written from a woman’s viewpoint, and because it helped open avenues of thought for me that I am still contemplating.
While reading this book, I became reflective of my own journey by the authors honest and open approach .There are many strong messages within the pages about life, love, devotion, family and caring for fellow souls on the planet. I would recommend this book to anyone who is searching for more answers, indeed to anyone interested in a more meaningful life.
A marvelous achievement; this memoir speaks to both the cynic and the faithful, and carefully documents the author’s journey from deeply held intellectual queries to the transformation of the heart. The author Visakha Dasi writes with a voice that is self-reflective and undeniably smart; her observations of her surroundings are mediated by a dry humor that charms, and her conclusions resonate with wholistic power, appealing to the mind and heart. Visakha Dasi moves through her story with not only vivid detail but vulnerability, so necessary in a memoir, and thus pushes her work to the top of this particular genre. What I particularly appreciated and enjoyed was that the narrative is grounded in personal experience, including early childhood memories, her first meeting with her husband, and the tragic unraveling of her parental family. The personal is never lost, even as Visakha moves into the more metaphysical realm, having discovered a guru, who in Five Years, Eleven Months, alters the course of her life forever. Highly recommended. A superb read which moves the heart and the intellect to a deeper understanding.
A book you don’t want to missIn Five Years, Visakha Dasi makes known her fascinating spiritual journey from an egocentric Long Island photojournalist to a humble pilgrim and personal photographer of Bhaktivedanta Swami, leader and founder of the Hare Krishna Movement. If you want know how photographs of transcendence and of its personification are articulated in colorful, focused language, then Five Years is a book that you don’t want to miss.
The book is refreshingly unique, the emotions are palpable Reviewed By Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite March 19,2017
Five Years, Eleven Months and a Lifetime of Unexpected Love by Visakha Dasi is a brilliant memoir about a woman’s struggles in coming to terms with her spiritual realization, conditioning her mind to overcome her atheism, and her transformative spiritual journey amid many challenging circumstances. The memoir speaks about a woman who goes to India with her boyfriend, John, to capture how villagers lived in a quaint Indian village without the complexity and stress which is typical of Western life. Things take a different turn when she comes into contact with her spiritual guru. The book draws readers in with its honesty, faith, and the author’s personal experiences. It is a memoir of self-realization, self-discovery, and an inner journey that will leave readers inspired and motivated to look for answers that revolve around God and faith.
The author’s insights, thought-provoking reasoning, and her account of Prabhupada and his movement reveal the spiritual journey of a young woman who starts questioning her lifestyle, goals, values, and identity. The narration is descriptive and the black and white photographs are starkly vivid – they capture the essence and mood of the author’s words. The way she has woven her story is simple, yet she manages to encourage readers to find their own spiritual path. The book is refreshingly unique, the emotions are palpable through the words and pictures, and the struggles and obstacles undergone and faced by the author during her journey as a spiritual seeker make it a compelling and thoughtful memoir.
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