I Shall Not Pass This Way Again – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 13

“I Shall Not Pass This Way Again”

July 23, 2017

I am aware that my biological clock is winding down. There is no use denying it. It is real. Not only am I in my late sixties, but I have also survived two deadly bouts of cancer. Left with the possibility of reoccurrence, I savour each moment just like gold. My years of training in Krsna consciousness have prepared me for the arrival of old age and disease, and have enabled me to handle them without lamentation. Moreover, the challenges of old age have acted as a strong impetuous to improve the quality of my chanting – the principle activity in Krsna consciousness – both in my personal sadhana and in the public forum. I am more aware than ever of my good fortune in serving in my spiritual master’s mission, and as a result, I find myself focusing intently on each and every syllable of the maha mantra as I chant my japa. I also give my heart and soul to chanting in city streets throughout the word. There is a sense of urgency that comes with the passing of the decades. The years left to me are likely measured in single digits, not double, and so I wake each morning thanking Srila Prabhupada for the opportunity to represent our august succession of spiritual teachers to the devotees I train and the people I meet.

As we set out to advertise our sixth summer festival program to be held in the city of Miedzyzdroje on Poland’s Baltic Sea coast, I eagerly joined the harinam chanting party. As our festival crew began setting up the stage and tents on the lawn of the main park in town, just meters from the crowded beach, seventy of us walked down the boardwalk toward the sand. On the way, we passed three scruffy tattooed men in black leather jackets getting off their motorcycles. One of them made threatening motions and shouted obscenities at us, and the other two followed us for a short distance, jeering and making fun of us.

“Don’t look at them,” I told the devotees. “Just keep walking.” Nothing and no one should disturb our enthusiasm.

Down on the beach, we began chanting, dancing and handing out colorful invitations. As always, people smiled and waved, happy to see us. It was obvious that many had been to our festivals before.

We passed by a young girl who jumped up and excitedly spoke to her mother. “Mommy, if I speak to them, will they understand me?”

“You’d have to speak Hare Krishna to them,” the mother said.

“You mean like French or German?” the girl asked.

“Exactly,” the mother said seriously. “You’ll have to learn Hare Krishna.”

Our procession wove through the crowded beach, handing out thousands of invitations left and right. Most people accepted them with a smile or a handshake, but when one boy took one his mother shouted at him angrily.

“Give me that!” she yelled. “These are dangerous people!”

“Dangerous?” he said incredulously, holding the invitation out of her reach. “They are cleanly dressed, they’re singing and dancing, they’re smiling and waving at everyone. What exactly is dangerous about them?”

“They just are!” the mother said loudly. “Everyone knows it.”

“But everyone is waving back to them,” the boy said. “And smiling too. And over there some people are buying books from them. Nobody else seems to think they’re dangerous.”

“Just listen to me!” the mother screamed. “Throw that invitation into the sea.”

“Oh, Mom!” the boy exclaimed, shaking his head. His mother turned away. He smiled at me and shoved the invitation into his pocket.

We chanted for an hour down the beach, and then stopped at one particularly crowded area. I gave a short talk to the people who had gathered, explaining why were chanting and a little about the festival. People listened attentively, applauding in places and nodding in approval. I thought to myself about how pious people in ancient India would visit a temple or ashram to listen to Vedic knowledge from a sadhu or priest. But here I was on a public beach in Eastern Europe sharing the exact same Absolute Truth to sunbathers in swim suits, a number of whom were holding beer cans. Yet they were clapping and agreeing with much of what I said! Such is the incredible mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

After I finished my talk, several devotees went through the crowd offering Srila Prabhupada’s books to the audience. I smiled as I watched interested people purchasing the books. The kirtana and philosophy had touched their hearts. I noticed one woman with at least six children hesitate over buying a book but she eventually shook her head, and our party moved on.

But half an hour later, one of her sons found us further down the beach.

“Mom decided she wants the book,” he said breathlessly. “Here’s the money.” He took a Bhagavad-gita. Still trying to catch his breath he said, “Mom said it was too far for just one of us to run the whole way, and we were afraid we’d lose you if we didn’t run, so…”

He gestured down the beach. His brothers and sisters were lined up at 50-meter intervals like a relay team.

“She really wants the book!” he explained. Then he ran and gave the book to his brother, who ran the next 50 meters and gave it to their sister. As she ran to into the crowd, obviously to find the next sibling, the two brothers walked at a leisurely pace back up the beach.

We chanted for several hours, the devotees jumping and twirling amidst people sunbathing, swimming and eating ice-cream. A number of devotees waved colorful flags and banners, and others distributed delicious cookies. Anyone within hearing range was staring at us in wonder. Suddenly, I noticed the three motorcycle gang members – their leather apparel had been removed and they were lounging on the sand in swimsuits.

“Uh oh,” I thought. “Here comes trouble.”

But to my amazement all three of them started dancing with us, while smiling and trying to repeat the mantra as best they could. At first I thought they were mocking us, but it soon became obvious that they were enjoying themselves. The kirtan leader began to bring the kirtan to a close, but I said loudly in his ear, “Keep it going. Don’t stop!”

He looked at me incredulously as if to say, “But I’m exhausted!” He had been leading kirtan for more than two hours.

I shook my head. “Keep it going until I tell you to stop.”

The holy names melted the hard hearts of the men who had been so rude to us earlier. My smile got bigger and bigger as they danced. Finally, they fell back exhausted in the sand, and I motioned to the equally exhausted kirtan leader that he could stop. As we walked away I looked back and one of the gang members smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I remembered one of my favorite verses, written by Sarvabauma Bhattacarya:

“From the time that Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, the sacred form of love for Krsna, gave out His gifts of prema, the sinner, the ascetic, the drunkard, the dacoit, the rogue and thief, all became very grateful to Him, completely abandoned sense enjoyment as if it were deadly poison and then very intoxicated, loudly sang the holy names of Krsna, until they sank exhausted into the ocean of Krsna-prema.” [Susloka-Satakam, verse 49]

Back at the festival site, the set-up crew was putting the finishing touches on the stage and tents. Our harinam party hardly had time to honor prasadam before people started filling the seats in front of the stage. I watched the devotees rush to their respective services.

“These devotees are real troopers,” I thought. “They go on harinam for five hours each day and then serve for another five hours at the festival – whether it be doing stage performances, or in the restaurant tent or exhibits. And they do it for two months straight! Their deliverance is assured!”

jalpanti hari namani
caitanya jnana rupatah
bhajanti vaisnavan ye tu
te gacchanti hareh padam

“Those who chant the names of Hari, while learning the knowledge and following the practices taught by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and who worship the Vaisnavas, certainly go to the abode of Sri Hari!” [Susloka-Satakam, verse 80]

Just as I was sitting down to watch the first stage act, a young man rode into the festival on his bicycle. He wove in and out of the crowd and stopped directly in front of me.

“Master! Master!” he cried out. “I’m back! I rode 200 kilometers to get here. You remember me, right?”

“I do,” I said with a smile. “We meet at this same spot in this same town every summer.”

“Yep!” he said. “And you know why I come, right? Because just one evening with you guys keeps me going for the whole year. Seriously. The stage show, the singing, your happy smiling faces – it’s enough to give me the strength to bear all of life’s trials, for I know that the good Lord is with me.”

“That’s wonderful.” I said.

“But don’t forget, Master,” he said with a coy smile, “your special grace upon me each year.”

I had to think for a moment.

“The food!” he exclaimed. “You know I’m a poor man. That’s why I ride my bicycle here. I can’t even afford a bus ticket! You can imagine how hungry I must be!”

Smiling I took him by the hand and walked with him over to the restaurant.

“My friend here has my permission to eat anything and as much as he wants,” I said to the devotee behind the counter.

On the other side of the restaurant tent, I saw a large man with cuts and bruises on his face. I recognized him as another unusual veteran of our festivals.

Coming forward he said, “I’ve been waiting months to talk to you, counting the days down on the calendar until your festival came to town. Life is still difficult for me. I just can’t make ends meet. I’m trying to take your advice to become more serious about spiritual life, but lately things have gotten so bad I can’t think of anything else but my sorrows. You know, they repossessed my house!” He broke down crying.

“Let’s move outside the restaurant,” I said.

“My wife and kids can’t enjoy life,” he said once we were outside. “Everything’s a struggle. The other day I gave up. I tried to hang myself from a tree on the roadside, but a passing motorist stopped and cut the rope!”

“I’m so sorry to hear this,” I said. “Remember what I told you last year?”

“Yes, I remember,” he said softly. “You told me that we are all suffering or enjoying because of our past activities. And that we have to tolerate happiness and sadness, just like we have to tolerate the seasons which come and go.”

“Yes,” I said.”

“You also said that we should use difficult times to take shelter of God. And you said that because my wife is a devout Catholic I should go to church with her and pray to God for guidance.”

“And are you doing that?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said sheepishly.

“Well, if you don’t take my advice what can I do?” I asked. “It’s in your own best interest.”

“Yes,” he said. “It’s about time I get serious and do what you suggest. I promise I’ll start going to church. What’s that prayer again, the one that you gave to me to say?”

I wrote down the Hare Krishna mantra and gave it to him.

“These are names of God,” I said. “It is the most powerful prayer for this age.”

“It’s OK to say them in church?” he asked.

“Why not?” I said. “It’s an appeal to the Lord of all religions.”

As we parted he handed me a wad of Polish money.

“I can’t take this,” I said.

“No, please!” he insisted. “It’s money I make from bare knuckle-fighting on the weekends. That’s where I get all these bruises and scars on my face. I keep aside some of the money for you each year. I beg you, please take it.”

I accepted the money, with the intention of putting it towards the sale of Srila Prabhupada’s books.

It was time to give my lecture. I walked toward the stage, my heart completely satisfied from another day’s work in service to the Lord.

“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

[Stephen Grellet, 1773-1855, Quaker missionary]

That Special Song – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 12

“That Special Song”

July 18, 2017

diary.14.12

I awoke at 3:30 a.m. as the first rays of Eastern Europe’s summer sun peeked through my window. I was confused. Where am I? Nothing in the room seemed familiar. Since my travels take me to a new town and country every few days, this happens often when I first awake. Getting up, I looked outside the window to get my bearings.

“Oh, right,” I said softly, as I watched devotees arriving with their luggage to our base for the summer festival tour. “I’m back on the Baltic Sea coast in Poland.”

Excited to begin, I showered quickly, dressed, and stepped out into the cool morning air. Chanting my japa, I found myself distracted by worries of how this tour would unfold. We were short of funding, several trucks were broken down, the electrical system on our massive stage was malfunctioning, and worst of all, local farmers were predicting a cold, wet summer.

I decided not to waste my time in worry. “Krishna’s the supreme controller,” I reminded myself. “He can fix all these obstacles on a moments notice. He’s done it for us many times before in the last 28 years.”

And it’s a fact. While preaching and spreading the holy names, a devotee can sometimes easily perceive the Lord’s intervention in difficult situations. One such case had already happened! Nandini dasi told me, upon my arrival at our new school base, that we were unable to rent the school we had previously used for many years in another town because they were planning to renovate it. She had looked high and low for another school to meet our needs of accommodation for 300 devotees with kitchen included. Not finding anything suitable and with time running out, she approached a school we had stayed in 13 years ago during another summer tour. However, the price was now astronomical – way beyond our means. Nandini bargained with them for days, finally renting the school for half the original price. The next day all 300 of us moved in.

After the agreement was signed, she discovered the whole town had been rooting for us. A lady told her, “Many years ago, when you people were staying here, you used to sing daily on the streets of our town. Everyone remembers those colorful and joyful processions. We miss them! Promise us you’ll find the time to sing that special song you sing over and over and over in our town again while you’re here.”

Later in the morning we held a meeting for the devotees. I impressed upon them that we have inherited a great responsibility from our previous acarayas. For generations, Vaisnavas in India had been developing and organizing Krishna consciousness in such a way that it would one day spread all over the world.

In the 19th Century, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur wrote, “When will that day come when the fair-skinned foreigners will come to Sri Mayapur-dhama and join with the Bengali Vaisnavas to chant ‘Jaya Sacinandana, Jaya Sacinandana!’

“Very soon the chanting of Harinam sankirtana will be spread all over the world. Oh, when will that day come when people from America, England, France, Germany and Russia will take up kartalas and mridangas and chant Hare Krishna in their towns?” [ From Sajjana-toshani ]

I impressed upon the devotees that the time had arrived for us to uphold the tradition and to spread it to every town and village. It is simultaneously a grave and joyful responsibility, but we are especially fortunate as our contribution is a particularly attractive one: holding Krishna conscious festivals throughout the summer in the beach towns along the Baltic Sea coast.

The next day we went on harinam to advertise our first festival. Soon we were chanting on the boardwalk in great ecstasy with our drums, cymbals, banners, flags and trumpets. Our beautiful, colorful, joyful and exuberant kirtan party was in stark contrast to the unseasonably cold and wet weather, with gray clouds hanging ominously above us in the sky. Devotees moved systematically through the crowds handing out our informative, beautifully designed invitations. The invitations included a quote from the Indian Ambassador to Poland, encouraging people to visit the festival, which in his words “embodied the spirit of India’s culture.” As we proceeded along suddenly a young boy around 12 years of age ran up to me, his eyes wide open in amazement.

“Indradyuma Swami,” he said excitedly. “Do you remember me?”

I wasn’t sure how to reply. I meet thousands of young men his
age each year, so I couldn’t remember him. But I didn’t want to disappoint him. So I paused for a moment hoping he would refresh my memory.

“I first met you when I was 6 months old,” he continued.

I really didn’t know what to say at that point.

“Here’s a picture of me in my Mom’s arms at your festival 12 years ago.”

I glanced at the picture and sure enough there was a baby in his mother’s arms standing next to me on our festival grounds.

“Very nice.” I said.

Then he pulled out another photo.

“Here I am with you at the festival when I was 5.” he said.

Looking closer I saw that he was indeed older and so was I.

Producing a slew of photos he said, “And here we are together when I was 7, 8, 9 and 10!”

“Well, our association is certainly well documented,” I smiled.

“Yes, you’re my hero,” he said. “I’ve never been to a Hare Krishna Temple and I’ve only read one small book about Krishna. But I want to be just like you when I grow up. And guess what? I stopped eating meat a long time ago and I don’t smoke either. My friends think I’m crazy, but I don’t care.”

“I’m happy I can be an example for you,” I replied. “Will you be coming to the festival tonight?”

“Of course,” he said. “And my Mom’s bringing her camera!”

As the harinam wound it’s way through the town many people smiled and waved. I could only conclude that they knew us from having been to our festival before, just like the young man who’d approached me.

“Our festivals changed the antagonistic opinion people had about us some years ago.” I thought. “There was a time when the Catholic Church was openly saying that we were a dangerous sect. Now they wouldn’t dare say such a thing because so many millions of people have passed through our festival programs and know us well. We average 5,000 people a day, for the months of July and August. Multiply that by 40 festivals a summer for 28 years and it’s an astounding number of people who have come in contact with us in a most positive way.”

Smiling, I thought, “It was the church who bravely brought down Communism in this country, but they couldn’t take us down.” I remembered a verse from Bhagavad Gita:

“Wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality.” [Bhagavad-gita 18.78]

Although spoken 5,000 years ago, the Lord’s words in Bhagavad Gita come alive even in modern times if applied properly. Absolute Truth is relevant for all time – past, present and future.

Hour’s later, tired but fully satisfied, we proceeded to the festival site near the beach. The festival was just beginning and all 300 seats in front of the stage were full. Many other hundreds of people were walking around the festival taking in the various attractions: the restaurant, magic show, puppet show, yoga lessons, face painting, cooking demonstrations, question and answers tent, etc. Everything was first class – looking attractive and professional. The harinam devotees quickly took their positions on stage, in the tents and restaurant. All 300 devotees were actively engaged.

As I walked around surveying the scene, I picked up pieces of paper, old cloth and other oddities and put them in garbage cans. Soon after, the first of our theatrical productions, a revised edition of our previous theater, “Krishna in Vrindavan,” began. Devotees had worked for months on the production and their hard work paid off as the crowd gave a thunderous applause at the end.

When it came time for my lecture, I walked up the steps of the stage reflecting on the fact that I’d given introductory lectures on the summer stage for 28 years. I thought about the challenge of giving an introductory lecture to people who return year after year – trying to keep it interesting and fresh.

As I began my talk I saw 4 young men, likely in their early 20’s, showing no interest in what I was saying. At one point, they began making fun of me, imitating my movements and joking about what I said. It was a distraction, so I did what I often do in such circumstances – I fixed my attention on someone in the audience who was attentive and appeared interested. Occasionally I would glance at the disruptive boys. Seeing their ongoing antics only increased my resolve to present the sublime truths of the Gita using convincing examples, analogies and verses. Then something quite amazing happened. Halfway through my lecture I looked over and saw the boys were listening with rapt attention. I thought it might be part of their antics, but as time went on I saw them nodding their heads in approval of what I was saying. At the end of the talk they applauded along with the rest of the crowd.

“Powerful philosophy,” I thought to myself as I descended the stairs to sign copies of the Bhagavad Gita that I had encouraged people to buy during my talk.

An elderly man was one of those waiting in line for me, a new Bhagavad Gita in his hand. He was also holding a smaller edition of Bhagavad Gita translated and commented on by my godbrother, Ranchor dasa, from England. Simple and easy to read, we give his Polish edition along with Srila Prabhupada’s translation of Bhagavad Gita, encouraging people to read it first, so they will better understand Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is.

“Could you please sign my books?” he said.

As I began signing the books he said, “I want to thank you for your talk. In all my 80 years I have never heard spiritual knowledge explained so clearly and logically as you did today.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I learned everything from my spiritual teacher who translated and wrote the comments in the larger book you have in your hands. Spiritual life is logical as well.”

Clutching the book tightly he said. “Yes, and I am eagerly looking forward to reading it.”

Noting his distinguished appearance I asked what his profession was.

“I’m retired” was his only reply.

“But what did you do as a profession during your working years?”

“I was a politician” he replied quite reluctantly.

“Oh, what was that like?” I asked hoping to get into a discussion where I could somehow introduce Krishna consciousness.

“You wouldn’t want to know,” he replied. “Let’s not get into that. You people just keep doing what you are doing. You’re capable of making the world a better place. And I mean that.”

As he walked away I saw people in the line talking excitedly.

“Do you know who that man is? ” said the next person who came forward for a signature.

“No, I don’t,” I replied.

He mentioned some name with reverence and was a bit surprised by my lack of response, as I had never heard the name before. Nevertheless, I took great satisfaction that a man of political importance had bought a Bhagavad Gita.

There were around 12 people in line with Bhagavad Gitas in their hands. Sitting down, I signed one after the other, hardly looking up. When the last person came forward, I stood up and looked at him to ask if he was enjoying the show. Suddenly I realized he was one of the boys who had been making fun of me during my talk. Looking at me with his head bent down a little he said softly, “Sorry.”

“No problem,” I said. “Give me your book. I’ll be happy to sign it.” As he was leaving I shook his hand firmly and asked him to come back the next day.

“Sure” he replied. “What time will you be speaking?”

I smiled and replied, “Same time, same place.”

After signing the books, I walked over to sit down on one of the last benches in front of the stage. Very quickly a woman in her early 40’s approached me.

“May I speak to you for a moment?” she said. “I don’t want to take much of your time.”

“Of course,” I said.

“I just wanted to thank you for your talk. It literally saved my life.”

“Saved your life?” I said, thinking that perhaps she was speaking metaphorically.

“Yes,” she said. “Two years ago my only child, my 16 year old son, was killed in a head-on car collision. I was devastated and as a result my relationship with my husband deteriorated quickly. We began quarreling and fighting and eventually separated. Six months ago we divorced. Because I was so distraught I couldn’t focus at work, and several months ago I lost my job. My friends were unable to cope with me, and one by one they abandoned me. I couldn’t make sense of it all. I kept asking, ‘why is all this happening to me?’”

She paused and then said: “There seemed to be no reason to keep living. So I came up here to the coast last week with the intention of ending my life.”

“I’m sorry to hear all this,” I said in sympathy.

“But today I was walking on the boardwalk past your festival at the moment you came on the stage to give your talk. I could sense this was a spiritual event and decided to sit and listen to you, hoping to find some solace in my misery. But besides the solace I also found the answer to my question of why my life was so suddenly turned upside down. Your clear and logical explanation of karma – receiving the results of our past actions – made sense to me. But most important you offered an alternative to my misery. Your explanation of the spiritual world was convincing, and I realized then and there that returning there was the real solution to my problems. So I’m going to go and purchase the Bhagavad Gita now. I just request that I can keep in touch with you.”

Then she paused and concluded: “Thank you for saving my life – and more important – for giving me new life.”

It was a humbling experience, but I silently thanked Srila Prabhupada for saving us all.

In the next moment, the head of our security team rushed up to me exclaiming, “Srila Gurudeva, be on your guard! There’s a big, burley man walking around the festival grounds asking for “the guru.” He has approached several of my men. He’s looking in the tents now. Don’t worry, we’re here if you need us.”

Suddenly ten meters away, a large, muscular man, dressed in shorts and t-shirt called out “Maharaja!” with a big smile and came running toward me. Before security could intervene, he picked me up and swung me around saying, “I’ve missed you so much!”

Putting me down he continued, “Do you remember me? Woodstock, 1997, in Zary, Poland. I lent my truck to you to transport your equipment around the site.”

I remembered. “Yes!” I said, “We spent many hours talking about life during that event.”

“Everyone in my town misses you guys,” he said in a quieter tone. “You know, people still talk about the singing parties you all had in the town market day after day. They were magical!”

“Yes,” I repeated, “Magical.”

“I’m up here on the coast for vacation and I got an invitation to your event on the beach this morning.” He continued. “I was thinking, ‘maybe Maharaja will be there’ and here you are! I’m so happy to see you again.”

“And I’m happy to see you,” I said, taking his hand.

Then he paused and said, “Seriously, Maharaja, when will you and your team come back to Zary and sing that special song in the market place? It would make us all so happy.”

tri bhuvana kamaniye gaura candre vatirne
patita yavana murkhah sarvatha sphotayantah
iha jagati samasta nama sankirtanarta
vayam api ca krtarthah Krishna namasrayad bhoh

“When Lord Gauracandra, the most attractive personality within the three worlds advented in this universe, all the fallen souls began to wave their arms in the air excited by the congregational chanting of the holy names. We also were completely fulfilled because of our taking shelter of those same names of Lord Krishna. O my Lord!”

[ Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Susloka-Satakam – One Hundred Beautiful Verses Composed In Glorification Of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu – verse 44 ]