A Thousand Lectures on the Absolute Truth – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 2

A Thousand Lectures on the Absolute Truth

August 8, 2014

– by Indradyumna Swami

chap2

It was a week after the Sadhu Sanga Retreat in North Carolina last May, and I was in Los Angeles waiting to board a flight to London and then on to Warsaw, when an older gentleman walked up to me. He looked at my sannyasa robes. “You must be a Hare Krishna,” he said with a strong Polish accent.

“Well yes,” I replied, “I am.”

“Where are you going?” he said.

“Actually,” I said, “I’m off to Poland.”

“Is it your first trip there?” he asked.

“Well, no … ”

“Hare Krsna is a famous religion in my county,” he said, interrupting me with a smile.

“Oh really?” I said feigning ignorance.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “They have wonderful festivals.” Then he walked back to his place in line.

“Well now,” I thought, “if that’s not one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me… It’s the result of pushing on our festival program along the Baltic Sea Coast for the last twenty years.”

At the airport in Warsaw the next day, the woman behind the immigration window looked up at me with a big smile. “O Guru,” she said. “Festival of India. Welcome.”

“They almost never smile,” I thought. “And to be addressed as Guru, well, that’s something really rare.”

“Officer,” I said as she stamped my passport, “have you been to one of our festivals?”

“Four” she replied. Then her face took on an official expression. “You may proceed now.”

“Two auspicious omens,” I thought as I walked down to the baggage carousel. “First the man at the airport in Los Angeles and now the immigration officer. It’s got to mean a good start for our twentieth-anniversary summer tour.”

I reached my apartment in Warsaw an hour later. I started to repack my bags but fell asleep and didn’t wake up till the next morning, just in time to rush back to the airport and catch a flight up north to the Baltic Sea Coast. A disciple drove me to the site of our first festival, where the devotees were putting the finishing touches on the exhibits. And just an hour later I was on stage delivering a talk to seven hundred people. As I walked down off the stage I stopped a devotee passing by. “I feel so satisfied,” I said. “And you know, I don’t think I could count the number of times I have given that talk over the last twenty years.”

“Oh I could,” he said with a smile. “A thousand times.”

“A thousand times?” I said. “How do you get that?”

“Well,” he said, “we do about fifty festivals each summer. Multiply that by twenty years and you get a thousand lectures on the absolute truth.” He started to chuckle. “Hey, you know what?” he said. “That would make a great title for one of your diary chapters—A Thousand Lectures on the Absolute Truth.”

The next day I woke up exhausted. “Twenty years of festivals has taken its toll on me,” I said to a devotee as I struggled to crawl out of my sleeping bag. “I’m sixty-five now.”

“My dad’s the same age as you Maharaja,” he said. “The other day he told me that the sixties are the youth of old age.”

“That helps a little,” I said.

My heart was beating in anticipation as the vans and buses pulled away from the base that morning, taking the devotees on harinam to advertise the next festival. As we drove along I remembered the words of my godsister Sitala Dasi. Some months earlier we had reminisced about the first time I went on harinam. It was in 1971, just after I had moved into the temple in Detroit. After a few hours of singing on the streets and selling Back to Godhead magazines, we were all in a van driving back to the temple. Sitala turned to me. “So,” she said, “how did you like your first day on harinam?”

“I could do this for the rest of my life,” I replied.

And indeed I have. I am indebted to my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, who encouraged his disciples to share Krsna consciousness with the whole world through the chanting of the holy names. I could never give it up.

The great devotee Prahlada Maharaja once spoke the following words: “My dear Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, because of my association with material desires, one after another, I was gradually falling into a blind well full of snakes, following the general populace. But Your servant Narada Muni kindly accepted me as his disciple and instructed me how to achieve this transcendental position. Therefore my first duty is to serve him. How could I leave his service?” [ SB 7.9.28 ]

Upon reaching the town we all jumped out of the buses and vans. The sun had just dissipated a chilly fog, and devotees were taking off their sweaters and coats when a man walked up to us. “Welcome to our town!” he said. “Everyone knows that whenever you people come with your mantra the clouds run away and the sun shines.”

“Just see!” he said looking up at the sky as the last bit of fog disappeared and the sun shone brightly.

Within moments we had crossed through the town and descended on the beach, which had quickly filled up with people as soon as the sun came out. As we were taking off our shoes to walk barefoot in the sand a young man in his late twenties approached me.

“The priest was talking about you people in his sermon last Sunday,” he began.

“Oh no,” I thought. “Here it comes. And just when everything was going so well.”

“He told us you were coming soon,” he said.

I braced myself for some harsh words.

“He told us not to be afraid of you,” the young man continued. “He said that that you worship the same God as we do, but you call him by a different name: Krishna. He encouraged us to attend your festival and learn more about your religion. He said we should each try to be as good a follower of Christ, as you people are of Krishna.”

I was dumbstruck hearing these words after decades of harassment and abuse from the local priests. After a few seconds I managed to speak. “Yes,” I said, “please come. And offer your priest my deepest respect and admiration.”

“I never imagined it would come to this point,” I thought, “at least not in my lifetime.”

I remembered Nelson Mandela’s words in 1996 at our Festival for the Children of the Rainbow Nation in Durban. I was standing next to him when a reporter asked him about his long struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa. “It always seems impossible,” Mandela said, “until it’s done.”

My thoughts came back to the present. “Of course,” I thought, “we still have a long way to go in establishing Krsna consciousness in this country, but now we’ve got our foot in the door.”

As we started chanting and dancing down the beach giving out invitations, I noticed a mother grabbing her young daughter and pulling her to her side. “Don’t be afraid, darling,” the mother said. “They won’t kidnap you. They’re just collecting money for the poor people in India.” Her words brought a smile to my face.

Then I noticed a group of devotee women sitting in the sand some distance away. I called another devotee over. “Please go and tell those matajis not to sit down now,” I said. “We have a lot of invitations to pass out. Tell them to help with the distribution.”

The devotee ran over to the women. After a minute he returned. “Maharaja,” he said chuckling. “They’re not devotees. They won the saris in the dance competition at the festival last night. They’re proudly wearing them around town and on the beach.”

The hours went by as we chanted and danced among the throngs of people on the beach. Often we would stop, and when a crowd gathered I would give a short lecture and invite people to the festival that evening. One time, we started down the beach with an especially loud and enthusiastic kirtan while people followed and danced alongside us. Suddenly a woman came running up to me. “Please stop!” she said. “My baby is asleep. It’s her afternoon nap. If she wakes up she’ll be very upset.”

“Maharaja,” said a devotee smiling, “we can’t stop the kirtan for one baby. Anyway, if the baby wakes up hearing the holy names she’ll get mercy.”

“And the people will think ill of us,” I replied. “Stop the kirtan!” I yelled.

Most of the devotees had not seen the woman and were surprised that I ordered the blissful kirtan to stop.

“Keep walking!” I shouted.

We walked in total silence for a good twenty meters. “OK!” I shouted. “Kirtan!” The devotees began chanting enthusiastically.

Then I heard a man talking to his wife. “These people have etiquette,” he said. “They are ladies and gentleman. They took care not to wake up the child. Take one of their invitations, dear. We’re going to their festival.”

The devotee who had objected to stopping the kirtan also heard the man. I winked at him.

After all the invitations had been passed out, I took the kirtan through town on the way to the festival site. As we stopped at a red light, a taxi drove by. The driver put his head out the window and shouted out the name of one of Srila Prabhupada’s books.

“Yes!” he yelled. “Teachings of Queen Kunti! Yes!”

That evening thousands of people passed through our festival site. Again I found myself on stage sharing the truths of the Bhagavad Gita. When I saw that people were not catching a point, I would illustrate it with an anecdote. When they caught the point and their faces lit up, I felt as if I’d achieved a great victory.

As I walked around the festival grounds that evening, a woman came up to me. “Good evening,” she said. “Are you the wise man everyone is talking about?”

“No,” I said. “I’m his servant.” I put a Bhagavad Gita in her hand. “Here is one of the books he wrote,” I continued. “You will get great satisfaction from reading it.” She bought the book.

A young man standing nearby spoke up. “Is that the Bhagavad Gita?” he said.

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

“I want one too,” he said.

“Wow!” I thought. “This is my lucky day… No, it’s not just a lucky day. It’s often like this out here on the preaching field. Every sankirtan devotee experiences these special moments.”

“Last year,” the young man continued, “I went to Woodstock and met you people there. I went to the Questions and Answers tent and listened attentively. Suddenly I had all the answers to the questions of life that I had been asking. It was as if a light had been turned on. Seriously. I wanted to buy the book that the speaker was quoting from, the Bhagavad Gita, but I had no money. I have been waiting all year to buy the Bhagavad Gita. I was so surprised to find you people in town today. In fact I just walked into this festival by chance.”

“Nothing happens by chance,” I said, “especially in spiritual life.” I picked up a Bhagavad Gita from a table nearby and handed to him. He smiled as he gave a generous donation.

A couple of hours later I was heading to the stage for the final kirtan when Nandini Dasi came up to me. “Srila Gurudeva,” she said, “do you remember Rewal, the town where they canceled our festival many years ago when the priest objected to it? They actually asked us to leave town.”

“Yes,” I said, “of course I remember. The incident is seared in my memory.”

“Of course, years later they welcomed us back,” Nandini said, “but I thought you would appreciate the letter I received from the present Mayor of Rewal.”

She handed me the letter:

“Respected Agnieszka,

“Remembering our longing for lifetime cooperation in organizing the Festival of India in Rewal and surrounding towns, it is our pleasure to inform you that we will allow you to use all the locations you requested for this year’s events free of charge. Your festival is one of the most attractive and popular events of the year in our city, actually on the entire Baltic Sea coast. Each year it attracts thousands of local people and tourists hankering for the exotic and cultural experience you present so well. We are confident that this year our cooperation will be smooth and harmonious, as it has been for several decades.

“If you have any specific needs we will be happy to attend to them. Please just contact us at city hall.

“With Respects,

“The Mayor of Rewal”

“How happy Srila Prabhupada would be to hear this message,” I thought. “But in fact he must know. This event could not have gone on for so many years without his blessings.”

The kirtan that evening was wonderful. I noticed many people I had seen on the beach that afternoon chanting and dancing with us. When the music stopped and the lights went down I started walking back to my van. Just as I was about to open the door a family of four came up to me. The wife and two daughters were dressed in beautiful saris they had won during the competition at the last kirtan. “Please can you sign our Bhagavad Gita,” the man said. “We’d be very grateful.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Is this your first Hare Krsna festival?” I asked as I started to sign the book.

“Yes,” the man replied. “It’s our first time.”

“What part of the festival did you enjoy the most?” I continued.

“Actually, we just arrived ten minutes ago,” the man said with a smile. “But the atmosphere here was so overwhelming, so gracious and loving, that we went straight to the book store as it was closing to buy this book to understand more about you people. We were able to join in the dancing for three minutes. We loved every second. My daughters memorized the whole song and can’t stop singing it.”

“Do you have a card?” the man continued. “We’d like to keep in touch. My wife and I feel we’re on to something deeply spiritual and satisfying.”

I handed him my card. “Another good sign,” I thought. “It’s going to be a great summer just like all the others we have spent chanting and dancing along this coast for the past twenty years.”

That night as I rolled out my sleeping bag, I thought about my reply to Sitala Dasi after my first harinam. “What to speak of this lifetime,” I thought as I drifted off to sleep, “I could go on distributing the nectar of the Holy Names forever if that would please my spiritual master, my eternal friend and guide.”

“O swan gliding in the lakes of the Vraja-vasis’ love, I wish that I may wander everywhere always chanting and drinking the nectar of Your names. Those most sweet names arise from the ocean of Gokula and spread the glories of Your infinitely varied dress and ways of acting. As I wander, behaving like a madman, may I distribute joy to everyone in all the worlds.”

[Narada Muni, Brhat Bhagavatamrta 1.7.143 ]

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