Tribute to David Lange

  By Madri devi dasi

 ISKCON, especially the Auckland Yatra, remembers the Rt Hon David Lange with great affection.  All New Zealanders, and in fact many thousands of the world’s citizens, have the greatest respect and appreciation for his contributions to global peace and understanding.

 David was associated with our Hare Krishna Society in its very early years, when he acted as our lawyer. He was well-known for his easy and friendly manner and for his complete lack of any prejudice in race, religion or status in society.  Born and bred in Mangere, South Auckland, he always preferred to live simply, counting as his friends the local Indian and Pacific Island shop keepers, and appreciating the different cultures of Auckland communities.

His relationship with our ISKCON devotees was open and sincere.  At the Ground Breaking ceremony for the new Auckland temple in February 1987 when, as Prime Minister, he was our Guest of Honour, he said in his speech, “I come today because New Zealand is a land of great diversity........ In New Zealand society we are developing tolerance and understanding and we are assisted in that by the people I have known in your movement now for a good number of years.
“For a person brought up in New Zealand an occasion like this can be a very mystifying, exciting and perhaps disturbing experience. .... to come out of the blue to a function like this, with a fire burning in the middle of summer...... But there has over the years now grown an understanding, a sense of the richness of difference which is part of the New Zealand scene and also an appreciation that people have made their contribution other than in self-fulfilment. Your Food for Life programme has become adopted and embraced by the places in this country within which it operates. You have two or three splendid restaurants. And you have also been enriching certain cultural activities as we have seen by that extraordinary Chariot which is now part of the Auckland City Festival. .
“So I want to thank you for what you’re doing and to say that I hope that those of us who do not follow the path that you do can always be tolerant. I wish you well as you start on this very large task of building what will by stages be a very substantial project.”
Mr Lange also visited our gurukula (school) on that occasion and told reporters that he had never seen such intelligent, happy children; he called them “ISKCON’s success story.”

David’s first heart problems began in 1995 and he answered our letter of good wishes as follows.  “It was great to hear from you and ISKCON.  Do vegetarians ever get coronary disease?  Things are getting better slowly.  I would like to see the project again.  Last time it was a rather deep hole in the ground!  Kind regards.”

Later, when the temple was half-built, in June 1997, we invited him to see the progress and he was delighted to come, this time with his second wife Margaret and little daughter Edith (then three years old).  It was a terrible day weather-wise and he braved the pouring rain to stand under an umbrella in the muddy earth while planting our first tree beside the new temple - a magnolia.  He took lunch with us and then spoke to devotees and visitors in the old temple:  “Hare Krishna. I’m here because some years ago I stood in a field a bit down the road from here and there was a very big excavation - a hole in the ground. And I put some gold in there - and a few precious stones. And quite a number of European provincial people thought I was mad! And I got a letter asking what I was doing putting stones in a hole in the ground in Kumeu.
“And the reason I was doing that was that I was trying to say something about the diversity of New Zealand - and trying to say something about myself actually.
“Twenty years ago, in about a week’s time, I landed in India for the first time . I’ve been back about 20 or 30 times since and I’ll be over again in about three weeks’ time. It’s a place which has a  wealth of tradition and civilisation far beyond that which European people enjoy . It has a tide of religion, - waves of belief.  It has devotion, it has spirituality which is just rampant throughout the country.  And it has given me some of my greatest memories and some of my greatest friends.
“So 10 years ago I stood in a paddock and put some gold and precious stones in the ground. And the reason why I did it for the Society was a bit more complicated than that. I used to act for them. In the days when they really needed a lawyer. They really did have lots of trouble. It was before they started the Food for Life programme. If you could ever see anything more successful in the course of your Society and the course of showing your devotion - it is the Food for Life programme which has changed the view of New Zealand to Hare Krishna right around. It was a  remarkable and ongoing success story…….
“That’s the story of the Society. People who are people of great devotion who in the end are moved by it, touched by it, and make it their responsibility.  They do it in all sorts of ways. If you go to India now you can see there in Calcutta a huge new Headquarters for your Society. You’ll see people in the streets of New Zealand for food distribution. You’ll see people who are really sort of undercover missionaries in strange countries like Russia and China who are talking about the work of the Society. You are part of an international organisation which has won great respect from people and which has changed people’s lives through their devotion in extraordinary ways. I want to thank you for that, and for the contribution you make to New Zealand. Even if you do nothing else except look different!  That’s a really remarkable contribution to New Zealand You’ve got no idea how insular New Zealand was 20 years ago.  Everybody looked the same! And I still do, don’t I?
“And here’s your architect too! (referring to Pascal Tibbits)  One day the architect will work out what a window is!   And then you’ll pay for it! And he’ll put it in!  Thank you.”
Later in a letter after his heart surgery he remembered that occasion, writing in response to our good wishes, “It was good to hear news of you, the farm and the temple.  I well remember the joyful events of the inauguration and often compare them to that dismal day in dreadful weather when we wandered through the Stonehenge of the unfulfilled structure of the temple.  … …Things are on the mend. … As part of my therapy I’ll try to drop in.  All the best,  David.”

Over the last years we have kept in touch, sending him photographs of the temple as it gradually manifested, and he always responded with encouraging words and sometimes donations.  In fact, he twice supported our applications for funding grants from the ASB and the Lotteries Commission, which no doubt helped us to be successful in those requests.  To the Lotteries Board he wrote, “The major part of the development at Kumeu is to facilitate good and constructive work.  There are some dedicated people living on the property who run a farm and a school and in particular engage in charitable works and welfare works in Auckland and have effective drug and rehabilitation programmes both in the city and at the community development.”

Sadly, although he several times said that he hoped to visit the completed temple, it was not to be.  He underwent chemotherapy, blood transfusions and dialysis for various ongoing conditions.  He was overseas in India (his last time of travel) when we held the Opening in January 2004, and after that his health deteriorated quickly.  Again we sent cards and letters, and finally when it was clear that there might not be much time left, we visited the Middlemore Hospital with cards and a garland from Sri Sri Radha Giridhari of orchids, roses and lavender – some of his favourite flowers.  Our Hare Krishna school children had enthusiastically created many individual cards for him, with very special messages such as, “Dear David Lange, please get better soon.  You opened our temple.  You were a great Prime Minister.  You are a spirit soul and Lord Krishna will look after you.”  And of course many of the cards had drawings of Lord Krishna or of the Deities, which David would have been able to see in his very last hours.

The official card from the temple sent him best wishes from all our devotees and quoted Bhagavad Gita verse 12.8.  mayy eva mana adhatsva mayi buddhim nivesaya, nivasisyasi mayy eva ata urdhvam na samsayah   “Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me.  Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt.”

Hare Krishna.