You Have Surpassed All the Stages of Yoga – By Indradyumna Swami

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 20

June 6,1995

While I was brushing my teeth this morning, one of my teeth fell out. I took it as a sign that at 46 I’m not getting any younger. Srila Prabhupada says in the Srimad-Bhagavatam that old age begins at 50. I also heard a lecture tape recently of Srila Prabhupada in New York City in 1969. “This body is no longer like a young man’s body,” he said. “As soon as you are 50 years, old age begins. And when you are seventy years, you are completely old.”

I suppose if I’d taken things easier throughout my life, my body would be in much better shape than it is now. But I have no regrets. As the Bhagavatam says, “What is the value of a long life inexperienced by years in this world? Better one moment of full consciousness for that begins one on the path of perfection.” Being a traveling preacher is a demanding service and takes every ounce of one’s energy.

Canakya Pandita says:

“A garment becomes old by being left in the sun, a horse becomes old by being left tied up, a woman becomes old from lack of attention from her husband, and travel brings old age upon a man.”

But despite the difficulties, the happiness in being a traveling preacher is unlimited. Not because one gets to see the world—I’ve seen enough of that­— but because it is an opportunity to please Srila Prabhupada by completely devoting one’s body, mind, and words to his mission.

Srila Prabhupada wrote the following to Prabhavisnu Maharaja in

London in January of 1973:

“I can understand that it is not an easy manner to travel extensively over long periods of time without proper food, rest, and sometimes it must be very cold there also, and still, because you are getting so much enjoyment, spiritual enjoyment, from it, it seems like play to you. That is advanced stage of spiritual life, never attained by even great yogis and so-called jnanis. But let any man see our devotees working so hard for Krsna, then let anyone say that they’re not better than millions of so-called yogis and transcendentalists, that is my challenge. Because you are rightly understanding through your personal realization this philosophy of Krsna consciousness, therefore in such a short time you have surpassed all the stages of yoga processes to come to the highest point of surrendering to Krsna. That I very much appreciate. Thank you very much for helping me in this way.”

This morning I gave a lecture to 100 university students, and in the afternoon I lectured to 300 people at a public program, some of them from the university program. During Govinda Maharaja’s question-and-answer session, I did a television interview for the biggest television network in Kirghistan. They had heard last night’s radio program and came to film our lecture program. This evening I gave a lecture at a devotee’s apartment, where Govinda Maharaja installed Gaura-Nitai Deities. The day was packed full of preaching programs from morning to night.

“Oh Prabhupada, how happy I am to serve you like this, “Always preaching and traveling on,

“As a flowing river remains always clean, “I pray to remain always pure.”

(Vyasa-puja offering, 1990)

A Wonderful Dream about Sri Sri Radha-Krsna – By Indradyumna Swami

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 19

 June 5,1995

This afternoon we had a big Harinama in downtown Bishkek. The devotees had worked hard to get permission, so they were really eager to chant and dance. The public, being Oriental and quite reserved, didn’t chant or dance with us, but looked on respectfully and asked some nice questions.

Before going to sleep, I told Govinda Maharaja about the bad dreams I’d been having since the big initiation in St. Petersburg on Lord Nrsimhadeva’s Appearance Day. He told me that Sivarama Maharaja often has dreams of a spiritual nature. So I fell asleep thinking of Sivarama Maharaja and had a wonderful dream about him.

I dreamt that Govinda Maharaja, Sivarama Maharaja, and I were installing Radha Krsna Deities on the New Vraja Dhama farm in Hungary. Sivarama Maharaja actually plans to install such Deities there on Janmastami 1996. In my dream, after the installation the curtain closed for the pujaris to dress Their Lordships. When the curtain opened again, Srimati Radharani had a beautiful, radiant smile on Her face. Sivarama Maharaja fainted in happiness, and I caught him as he fell to the ground.

Bishkek: Half a Million Listeners – By Indradyumna Swami

 

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 18

 

 June 4,1995

Bishkek: Half a Million Listeners

By Indradyumna Swami

 

We left Baku for Bishkek at 3:00 a.m. on Azerbaijani Airlines. In the CIS, flights operate around the clock. The four-hour flight took us past Afghanistan and India to Kirghistan. The airplane was quite old, and it appeared it had never been cleaned.

 

It was typical of planes in the CIS. Inside they are more like buses, no drinks or refreshments are served, and no one asks you to buckle your seat belt. I can only imagine how much attention is given to the mechanical parts of the planes. Once Srila Prabhupada said that the external condition reflects the internal state. Then no doubt flying in the CIS is risky. I’m sure there are crashes, but the policy is that they are never reported. Vinode Bihari told me that on his way to join us he boarded an Aeroflot flight in Odessa bound for Moscow. Just as they were taking off, the right engine caught fiire. The plane screeched to a stop and all the passengers fled the plane. The fiire was extinguished and the engine replaced, and in three hours they were off again—in the same plane.

 

Upon our arrival in Bishkek we were met by the forty devotees of the yatra. Because the place is so close to China, most of the devotees are of Oriental appearance. The only senior devotees to have ever visited this place are Gopal Krsna Maharaja and Govinda Maharaja, so the devotees were leaping in ecstasy to see us.

 

We went to the temple for a short darsana. As one particularly blissful old woman came forward to offer me flowers, I noticed a large, blue tattoo on her. It read, “46123.” I asked the temple president why she had such a strange tattoo, and he replied that she was a prisoner in one of Hitler’s death camps in World War II.

 

“How fortunate she is!” I thought, “She has survived to get the mercy of Lord Caitanya fifty years later.”

 

After the reception I was whisked away to a radio program downtown.

 

When I arrived at the radio station, I realized what a big preaching opportunity was at hand. The radio station was one of the biggest and most popular in Bishkek. The disk jockeys loved the devotees, who bring them prasadam every day.

 

When I walked in they told me I could do whatever I wanted for three hours. The studio was mine. They said more than fiive hundred thousand people would be listening. So I called the temple and told the devotees to tell Govinda Maharaja and Sri Prahlada to get down to the station in 45 minutes, before we went on the air. They arrived just before the program began.

 

Suddenly the mike was in my hands and we were on the air. We started a kirtana, and after a few minutes I spoke through a devotee translator.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I began, “this is Indradyumna Swami, and I’ll be your host for the next three hours for a transcendental journey through the wonderful world of Hare Krsna.”

 

Govinda Maharaja, Sri Prahlada, and I spoke and answered questions that came in over the hot line. At the end we had a big kirtana and all the disc jockeys and their assistants were dancing around the studio in ecstasy.

All Glories to the Devotees of the Baku Yatra! – By Indradyumna Swami

 

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 17

 

 June 3,1995

All Glories to the Devotees of the Baku Yatra!

By Indradyumna Swami

 

This morning I gave class on a verse from the third canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam about the glories of the brahminical, or priestly, order. I was emphasizing the point that by becoming a devotee of the Lord (a Vaisnava), one naturally develops the good qualities of a brahmana. I then gave the example that Haridasa Thakura was born in a low-class family as a Muslim.

 

Immediately upon saying this I felt uncomfortable, because almost all the guests were Muslims. It wasn’t the proper choice of words according to time and circumstance. I immediately tried to adjust the mistake by quoting the verse from Bhagavad-gita that states that those of low birth can approach the supreme destination;

 

mam hi patha vyapasrita

 

ye ‘pi syuh papa-yonayah

 

striyo vaisyas tatha sudra

 

te ‘pi yanti param gatim

O son of Prtha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaisyas [merchants] and sudras [workers]— can attain the supreme destination.” (Bhagavad-gita 9.32)

 

But of course, the verse doesn’t mention Muslims, so I didn’t completely succeed in adjusting the awkward moment. A preacher must become expert at preaching according to time and circumstance so as not to offend anyone and inspire his audience towards devotional service.

 

Later this morning, Sri Prahlada and I, with one other devotee, went into Baku to find a park to chant our rounds. While driving around we came across a beautiful mosque that was under construction. We stopped and got out to look.

 

We were surprised to see that it was being built entirely from solid pieces of rock and marble, like buildings of previous centuries. The small crew of men working on the construction at the front section of the mosque were chipping away at a piece of flat stone that appeared to be for an intricate window frame. They approached us and asked where we were from and what religion we were practicing. After some discussion about the Koran and Bhagavad-gita they invited us to come inside the mosque. At first I hesitated, because I feared that if any militant Muslims saw us in the mosque, we might have a problem.

 

Several years ago when there was agitation in India over the Hindus tearing down a mosque in Ayodhya, local Muslims in Baku surrounded our temple and threatened to burn it to the ground. The devotees called the temple in Moscow, where they immediately went on COM appealing for international help. A few hours later a flood of protests swamped the Azerbaijan Government from devotees and well-wishers throughout the world, and soon the Baku police came and dispersed the mob that was surrounding the temple.

At the insistence of the workers, we went inside, and they took us all the way to the top of the mosque by way of the stairs in one of the turrets. At the top we had a bird’s-eye view of the entire city. At one point Sri Prahlada turned to me and said he was also feeling nervous being in the mosque, due to a few people gathering and watching us from the street. So we thanked our hosts and descended the stairs back to our car.

 

This evening we held our final program in the Baku Temple. At the end of the last kirtana I gave a little talk thanking the devotees for their wonderful association and encouraging them in their preaching. I told them Srila Prabhupada must be very proud of them for their determined preaching in this part of the world. Srila Prabhupada once said he would take the dust of the feet of any devotee who preached in the Muslim countries. As I looked out at the Baku devotees, tears streaming down their faces, I could understand that many of them must have been placed there by Lord Caitanya to fulfill His desires for spreading the glories of the holy names in every town and village. All glories to the devotees of the Baku Yatra! May they be blessed with the full mercy of Haridasa Thakura!

We Get the Visas – By Indradyumna Swami

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 16

 June 2,1995

We Get the Visas

By Indradyumna Swami

 Today I held initiations in the courtyard of the temple. I accepted two boys, 17 and 23 years of age, as disciples. Because they are sankirtana partners I called them Nakula dasa and Sahadeva dasa, after the twin sons of Madri, the wife of Pandu.

 Besides a crowd of 300 devotees, many of them congregation members, there were a number of people from the neighborhood. There also must have been fifty Muslim children, and during the two -and-a-half-hour kirtana that Sri Prahlada led afterwards, they chanted Hare Krsna and danced in ecstasy as their parents looked on from the rooftops or over the walls of our temple.

 It always amazes me to see Muslims intermingling freely with devotees and attending our functions. The temple is situated in an area where the houses are packed closely together, but no one seems to mind our kirtanas. But every morning when Govinda Maharaja or I give Srimad-Bhagavatam class, the local mosque, just fifty meters away, blasts the reading from the Koran over its loudspeaker to the area’s Muslims. The devotees attending class simply move in a little closer to hear the Bhagavatam speaker.

Before we took rest, a devotee brought us our passports. He had managed to get visas for us from a government office, with a bribe on the side. Now we were legally in the country and could legally leave as well. It was a great relief for us. Tomorrow night we plan to fly further into central Asia, to Bishkek on the border of northern China.

 As I fall asleep I curse the mosquitoes. There is no relief from them, especially because in Azerbaijan and Russia you cannot buy mosquito repellent. It doesn’t exist. For me it is “the most amazing thing.” I searched shop after shop for mosquito repellent the other day, until Uttamasloka told me that Russians don’t even know what it is.

The Fire-Temple of Agnideva – By Indradyumna Swami

 

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 15

 

 June 1,1995

The Fire-Temple of Agnideva

By Indradyumna Swami

 

We awoke early to bathe and prepared to go to the temple. Although the devotees have given us the best facilities they can offer, they are austere by our Western standards. We are seven men (and one million mosquitoes) sleeping in two small rooms, and there has been no water in the bathroom since we arrived. Baku is in the desert, and the government rations the water. The devotees bring water for us in buckets up the eight flights of stairs.

 

After the morning program I had a meeting with my disciples. Although I have been here only once before, three years ago, I have more than 15 disciples here, most of them book distributors. I enjoyed hearing their sankirtana pastimes as they told how they distribute Bhagavad Gita in this Islamic country. They each distribute five to ten large volumes a day, mainly by going shop to shop and office to office. They say that they have gone to every town and village in Azerbaijan and that most people are receptive to Krsna consciousness.

 

After darsana with my disciples, Govinda Maharaja came to inform me that we were in hot water regarding our entering the country illegally. He visited the Home Affairs Department, which refused to issue the visas necessary for us to leave the country. There are two alternatives. We can go back to the border we entered through and plead with the soldiers there to stamp our passports and then obtain our visas here in Baku, or we can take the boat across the Caspian Sea to Krasnovodsk in Turkmenistan. From there we would have to drive six hundred kilometers across the desert to Ashgabat and then catch a flight to Bishkek in Kirghistan, our next destination in central Asia.

 

Since the moment we arrived, the devotees have been telling us about an ancient Vedic temple just outside Baku. They say it is a temple of Agni, the fire god, which was established in this part of the world thousands of years ago. They even say there is a plaque at the entrance to the temple with Sanskrit writing. I was fascinated by the idea that there could be an ancient Vedic temple in this remote part of the world, so I asked the devotees to drive us there this afternoon.

 

After a short drive outside the city into the desert, we arrived at the temple. It appeared the government had recently begun excavating the site and preparing it for tourism. At the entrance to the temple we found the carved stone Sanskrit plaque, which Sri Prahlada and Vinoda Bihari tried to decipher. It begins by offering prayers to Ganesh and goes on to mention the name of a sannyasi who resided at the temple and oversaw its development. As we entered the temple area, we found it was constructed similar to an ancient monastery, with rooms made from stone in the inside wall. The temple itself is in the center of the compound.

 

We inspected the many rooms and discovered that most of them go deep into the ground to escape the heat of the desert. The actual mandira where Agni was worshiped consists of a small structure with a yajna pit, where fire is still burning from the natural gases below the surface. Fire also goes up through the walls of the temple with flames coming out of the structure on top. It was an incredible scene.

 

We were told that recently the government put gas lines in to regulate the flow of the natural gases to make it safer. But apparently, for thousands of years the natural gas fires burned without obstruction. One local man told us the fires went out briefly during the late 1800s, and the yogis who were worshiping there left, saying that Agni had become displeased and had himself abandoned the site.

 

The architecture of the temple is a curious mixture of Vedic and Muslim design. I would imagine that the original design was purely Vedic but that through thousands of years of development or reconstruction, it has blended with the Islamic tradition.

 

We visited several small rooms where the government is compiling artifacts, photos, and the history of the temple. I was surprised to see that the temple register goes back to the 1600s, where it is recorded that travelers from Europe visited the site at that time. The list was long, but included the following:

 

1671, S. Streis – Dutch sailor; 1683, Kempher – German traveler; 1689, Villot – French missionary; 1733, E. Lerh – German traveler; 1743, Canvey – English merchant; 1747, John Kuk – Russian surgeon; and 1770, Cmelin – Russian scientist.

 

From the information given by the government, it appears that the site was accessible to travelers because from the 15th through the 18th centuries Baku was one of the most important trade centers between Azerbaijan and India. Indian goods went by sea through Baku to the north of Russia and on to Western Europe.

There were accounts of people visiting the site from ancient times:

 

“Coming after their raid on Media, Iran turned to the other road and passing the flames rising out of the rock into the sea, had come to their motherland.” —Panijsky, fifth century diplomat

 

“Within Shirvan and Baku on the surface of the ground there are such places, where fire burns eternally.”—– Persian manuscript by Khamdulla Kazviny, first half of the fourteenth century

 

“In one far slung from this city of Baku there is one place continuously erupting fire.”—Azerbaijan geographer Abdar Rashid Bakury, beginning of the fifteenth century

 

And the European travelers had also written of their visits to this

 

Vedic temple:

 

“Here, near the fire, were cooking for the settlement Sroganny ates-garva, called so to this fire. Others were burning lime. Two descendants of the ancient Persian tribe, newcomer Hindu fire worshipers were passively sitting around the wall built by them and prayed—gazing at the flame gushing out of the ground and worshiped.”—Kempher, German traveler,1689

 

“Near the wall there was seen a volcano erupting fire from eight or ten mouths. They call this place ‘Ateshgah’, that means ‘Home of the Fires’. Even nowadays it is honored by Hindus and Herbes. They come here to worship from different places and throw silver and gold coins and even keep two Dervishes to guard this sacred fire.”—Villot, French traveler, 1689

 

“Situated in the southern part of Russia, in the city of Baku, are a lot of things noteworthy of the attention of travelers. But without doubt the inextinguishable fire is the unique phenomenon that attracts all travelers.”—E. Berjozin, 1842

There were some photos of the temple from the 1800s and drawings from earlier centuries as well. We noted with curiosity that in one of the drawings, yogis are doing an arati to an altar with a number of deities on it. Who those deities were, or where they are now, we didn’t know.

 

Before leaving the ancient temple we offered our respects to Agnideva. It was an interesting visit and confirmed for us Srila Prabhupada’s statement in Srimad Bhagavatam that the Vedic culture once existed all over the world.

An Extraordinary Reception – By Indradyumna Swami

 

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 14

 

 May 31,1995

An Extraordinary Reception

By Indradyumna Swami

 

This morning Govinda Maharaja found out that we defiinitely need visas to get out of the country, unless we want to go out the same way we came in. We voted unanimously not to do that and made plans to apply for visas at the Home Affairs Department. But it would take fifteen days to process the visas. The only alternative was to take a boat across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan and catch a flight there to our next destination. Apparently no one checks the passengers on boats for visas. We seriously considered the plan.

 

We rested most of the day and went to the temple for our fiirst program at 4:00 p.m. The reception was extraordinary. We were met by more than 300 devotees, most of them congregation members. The devotees were starving for association, and their bliss knew no bounds.

 

In the temple, Govinda Maharaja and I sat on the vyasasana to receive guru-puja. Sri Prahlada led the kirtana , and Krsna Prasada offered the guru-puja. One by one the people come forward: old men and women, couples with their children, brahmacaris, and brahmacarinis.

They were all from Muslim backgrounds, all dark-haired and dark-eyed. Although they were dressed in Vaisnava clothes, a touch of their Islamic tradition remained in the colors and the jewelry they wore.

 

The temple room walls are decorated with beautiful Arab carpets, typical of the Muslim homes in Azerbaijan. Maharaja and I spoke, and then we had a two-hour kirtana with the devotees. It spilt into the driveway, but no further. In Baku we couldn’t go chanting throughout the neighborhood as we did in Rostov. Azerbaijan is a traditional Islamic country, and although we’re allowed to chant in the privacy of homes and the temple, that’s the limit. To take the kirtana further would infuriate the local Muslim priests.

Nineteen Hours through Hell – By Indradyumna Swami

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 13

May 30,1995

Nineteen Hours through Hell

By Indradyumna Swami

Last night as I prepared to sleep, I felt apprehensive about this morning’s journey. Because of a shortage of funds we are unable to fly all the way to Baku, Azerbaijan. So we planned two short flights across southern Russia to Machatshkala, and from there a drive south along the coast. The devotees from Baku would cross the border into Russia to pick us up and drive us back into Azerbaijan. But the idea of crossing from Russia into a strict Muslim country at a remote border made me uneasy.

 We rose at 4:00 a.m. and drove to the airport for the fiirst leg of our journey. We stowed our luggage in the propeller plane and flew for one hour to Mineralnye Vody. From there we caught a flight to Machatshkala. It should have been a one-hour fight, but because of a diversion around the fiighting in Grozny, the flight took three hours.

When we arrived, we again saw Russian military helicopters lining the airfiield for use in Chechnya. We were happy to see several devotees from Azerbaijan still waiting with three cars to take us to Baku. While we were putting our bags in the cars, I took a moment to speak to a small crowd of Muslim men around me. They asked who we were, and I told them we are Hare Krsna devotees. I mentioned that some of our men have been distributing food in nearby Chechnya. They expressed their gratitude and said they would pray to Allah for our safe journey across the desert to Azerbaijan.

We needed their blessings.

The seven-hour drive to the border was without incident although we were stopped a number of times at police checkpoints. It’s a routine we have become used to. Govinda Maharaja usually gets out and jokes with the offiicers. He even embraces them, and then they start laughing and let us go. If that doesn’t work, we give them a little money. That always works.

We passed many small villages where the Muslim people maintain themselves on small farms. Every 500 meters or so, children sell petrol in all sorts of containers. There are no petrol stations here, so when you need petrol, you simply purchase it from these roadside stands.

The trouble began about ten kilometers from the border while we were driving on an old dirt road. At fiirst I couldn’t fiigure out what was going on. I asked Vinode Bihari to ask the driver why we were on this dusty road. The driver explained that when they had come up from Baku this morning, the Russian border guards at the main crossing had refused to let them into Russia. They simply told them to go back home.

Expecting trouble, the devotees had brought along a top police offiicer from Baku, a good friend of our movement there. They were hoping he could persuade the border guards to let them pass, but the guards ignored him. When the devotees said they were driving into Russia to pick up their spiritual leaders, the Russians said if they brought their leaders to the border they would be arrested. The devotees asked why.

 We are the law here,” the guards said.

 Having no other recourse, the devotees went to a nearby town and asked if there was another, perhaps smaller and more obscure, border crossing. They met a man who agreed to show them a crossing in a village 50 kilometers away. Using back-country roads, they eventually got to the border crossing and talked their way over. This was the border that we were going to. My apprehensions grew.

Two kilometers down the dirt road our car blew a tire. When our driver looked into the trunk he discovered there was no spare. So one of the other cars took the blown-out tire back to the previous village and had it repaired.

While we were waiting, I talked with our driver. He told me the last sannyasi to visit Baku was Gopal Krsna Maharaja a year ago. He said devotees never came there because the political situation was so unstable. A year ago the democratically elected president was overthrown by the military, resulting in a dictatorship. The country aligned itself with Turkey, which constantly sends aid to prevent the famine that would otherwise overrun Azerbaijan.

When the tire was fiixed we continued on our journey. The road got worse, and twice we had to cross small streams. After fiive hours of driving through the dust, we neared the border crossing. From a distance I could see a small hut with seven or eight men inside and a small rusty gate across the road.

I turned to the driver. “What kind of people use this border crossing?” I asked.

He smiled. “Drug traffiickers,” he said, “other criminals, people trying to avoid the army, refugees … and now Hare Krsnas.”

I turned to Govinda Maharaja. “Next time,” I said, “let’s try to get the laksmi together to fly into Azerbaijan.”

At the Russian border we passed two or three drunken Russian soldiers no more than eighteen years old with AK-47 rifles around their shoulders. It was dusk and they probably couldn’t see us well so they simply waved us through. But when we arrived at the Azerbaijani border gate 50 meters down the road, seven men ran out with guns in their hands and surrounded our car.

They asked for our documents and Azerbaijani visas. It was the fiirst time we had heard that we needed visas for Azerbaijan. Vinode Bihari pushed forward our Russian visas. “Here,” he said, “these are our visas.”

In the confusion and the darkness, the soldiers didn’t see that our visas were actually Russian and not Azerbaijani visas. So they prepared to stamp them. But if the visas were stamped they would become invalid as Russian visas, so we begged them not to stamp them. They couldn’t understand why we were making such a request.

Speaking fast in order to distract them, Govinda Maharaja got out of the car and started joking with the soldiers. I got out and proudly announced that I was from America, a stupid move because the United States supports Armenia in the war against Azerbaijan.

Suddenly the soldier with our visas realized he didn’t have his stamp with him, so he decided to write something on our visas. When we again protested, he grabbed his pen and started to write, but the pen ran out of ink. Then I had an idea. “Let’s all take a photo,” I said.

Somehow this idea became a hit with the soldiers, who stopped what they were doing as we posed together for a number of photos. Then we exchanged addresses, and delicately taking back our passports and visas, jumped into our cars and drove through the gate.

As we were driving away we couldn’t believe we’d made it through the border. But we also realized that, because we didn’t have the required visas for crossing the border, we were in the country illegally. The next question became, How will we get out of the country?

By this time it was 8:00 p.m. and dark. We had been traveling for fourteen hours. I asked our driver how much further it was to Baku.

“Another four hours,” he said.

As he drove faster I asked him to slow down.

“There is a strict curfew in Baku,” he said. “Everyone has to be off the streets from midnight to 5:00 a.m. Anyone breaking that curfew is immediately arrested by the military.”

“Step on it!” I said.

We arrived at the outskirts of Baku at ten minutes to midnight. The streets were becoming deserted, and I was getting nervous.

“Are they really strict with the curfew?” I asked our driver.

“Oh yes,” he said. “It’s the dictator’s order, and the army polices the streets carefully.”

“How much further to where we’re going to stay?” I said. “Ten minutes,” he said. “We’ve got just enough time.” Just as he said that we heard something go “boom!” and our car swerved sharply to the left.

“Oh no!” the driver said. “We blew another tire.”

We all got out and looked at the flat tire. The streets around us were deserted, save for a car now and then rushing past in a mad dash to get home before being caught by the army. But there we were, stranded with a flat tire, exhausted after eighteen hours of traveling, and in the country illegally with no visas. He didn’t have a spare tire, so our driver took the spare from one of the other vehicles. It was much too small, but served the purpose.

After twenty minutes we sped off, but the curfew was already ten minutes in effect. There was no one on the streets of Baku. Govinda Maharaja started chanting Nrsimha prayers, and we all followed.

Suddenly up ahead we saw an army checkpoint. There was nothing we could do but go forward. As we arrived at the checkpoint the soldiers came forward, guns raised. An Azerbaijani devotee in the car in front of us jumped out and gave the soldiers one of Srila Prabhupada’s books. He began preaching to them that we were missionaries. It worked, and they waved us on. But they arrested another man who had arrived at the checkpoint at the same time we had.

We drove fast through the dark streets while having a very intense kirtana in the back. Suddenly we came across another checkpoint where soldiers ordered us to stop. Again our Azerbaijani devotee jumped out, shook their hands, gave them prasadam, and preached to them not to arrest us. Again Lord Nrsimhadeva’s mercy was with us, and we were soon on our way.

It seemed like we were driving around the city forever looking for our apartment. And then suddenly, once again an army checkpoint loomed ahead of us.

“Oh no!” I thought. “We’ll never get out of this one. It’s 1:00 a.m.”

But just before we arrived at the checkpoint, our driver turned sharply left into an apartment complex, and within seconds we were at the entrance to the building. We all sighed with relief. It had taken us nineteen hours to reach our destination, through hell and high water.

But there was one last austerity. The apartment was on the eighth floor, and there was no elevator. And to add insult to injury, when we fiinally entered the apartment, we were met by thousands of hungry mosquitoes. But we were happy, and the devotees in Baku were happy too. We took a big feast and went to bed at 2:00 a.m.. Jaya Lord Nrsimhadeva!

One’s Own Spiritual Master Is Best By Indradyumna Swami

 

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 12

 

 May 29,1995

 

 

One’s Own Spiritual Master Is Best

By Indradyumna Swami

 

We held a morning program with about fifty local devotees in a park in Novorossisk. Govinda Maharaja gave class, and during his lecture I met with my local disciples.

 

I asked an aspiring woman disciple, who lives outside the temple, what type of work she did. She hesitated at first and then said she worked as a nurse in an abortion clinic.

 

I was shocked.

 

She said she didn’t help with the abortions, but simply took care of the patients afterwards. I told her she had to find another job immediately. In order to giver her time to find other work, I arranged to give her money, as she supports her husband and three children.

 

During our discussion she revealed the horrors of the abortion clinic. Sometimes when doctors perform abortions during the seventh month of pregnancy, the child comes out alive, often crying.

 

Again I was shocked. “What do the doctors do with the child?” I asked.

 

“They kill it,” she replied.

 

I immediately thought of Srila Prabhupada’s statement in Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead: “A saintly person can tolerate all kinds of difficulty, a learned man can do his duty without awaiting favorable circumstances, a devotee of the Lord can sacrifice everything to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and a heinous person like Kamsa can act in any sinful way.”

 

While I was speaking to my disciples, Govinda Maharaja finished his class and took a short walk in the park with Sri Prahlada and two of his own disciples who have joined our tour from India: Vinoda Bihari dasa from Ukraine and Krsna Prasada dasa from Nepal.

 

While they were sitting on a park bench, a curious thing happened. They were approached by a well-dressed man who told them that he knew our movement was under scrutiny by the FSK and that the FSK would soon make a move against us.

 

When the devotees asked how he knew this, the man replied that he had worked in electronic surveillance for the KGB for ten years and that he maintained contact with his friends who were part of the FSK. He asked what we were going to do if the FSK cracked down.

 

The devotees immediately understood he was an FSK agent trying to gain their confidence in the hope they would tell him what they knew about ISKCON’s strategy.

 

“We’ll depend on God, Krsna,” Sri Prahlada said.

 

“To say that you’re neither for something nor against something means that you are against it,” the agent said.

 

This didn’t have anything to do with the immediate discussion, but the devotees knew why he had said it. It was the philosophy the government was preaching to their agents: anything that is not part of Russian heritage and Russian ideology is against it. The conversation continued, but the devotees were careful not to say anything that would reveal what our movement planned to do.

 

When Govinda Maharaja told me about the incident, I felt uneasy. The situation was becoming as it was six years ago, when I always felt that someone was watching me during my visits to Russia. Once again we were being followed and watched, once again we were at the mercy of the secret service. In 1990 they had been told to leave all religious organizations alone, but now they were investigating again. Will it become like it was? The pressure gets to you sometimes. I thought of places like Australia and New Zealand, where the devotees are free to preach. That freedom of religion is meaning more to me these days.

 

This evening we drove back to Krasnodar to catch a flight to Azerbaijan early tomorrow. When we arrived at our apartment I checked my e-mail, and found a letter from one of my initiated disciples, where she expressed a desire to take her second initiation from another spiritual master. I always encourage my disciples to take shelter of, and inspiration from, other spiritual masters, but this came as a shock to me.

 

I have never heard of such a thing in our disciplic succession, that a disciple takes second initiation from another spiritual master. And her desire indicates a loss of faith in my ability to guide her in spiritual life. It is also painful in that it shows a lack of gratitude on her part for all I have done for her: taking the responsibility to help her in Krsna consciousness, accepting her karma, counseling her in her difficulties… As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati once said, “It takes gallons of blood to make a conditioned soul into a devotee.”

 

At the same time I don’t want to discourage her. My desire is to see her progress in devotional service. If she is inspired by the association of another spiritual master I want to encourage her, but it must be done in accordance with Vaisnava etiquette.

 

So I wrote to her quoting from Sri Krsna–bhajanamrta by Srila Narahari Sarakara Thakura, translated by His Holiness Jayapataka Maharaja and published by the Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust.

 

In verse 46 Srila Narahari Sarakara Thakura says, “If one’s initiating spiritual master and instructing spiritual master are of small spiritual potency, or in other words, if they do not possess a special power to give spiritual instruction on worship for devotional service, then one may listen from the mouth of other great advanced Vaisnavas and understand their special instructions. However, thereafter, the disciple must go to his spiritual master for confirmation or instructions.”

 

In verse 48 he says, “Just as a faithful son may go out for earning money and subsequently brings to his father the wealth gained, later the son may ask for some allowance from the father and whatever he receives from the father he is entitled to spend for his own enjoyment. Similarly, a disciple may hear some instructions from another advanced Vaisnava, but after gaining that good instruction he must bring it and present it to his own spiritual master. After presenting them he should hear the same teachings again from his spiritual master with appropriate instructions.”

 

Then in verse 50 Srila Narahari Sarakara Thakura says, “For this reason, in all circumstances all Vaisnavas are offered respect as one offers respect to one’s spiritual master. However, with body, mind, and words one serves one’s own spiritual master.”

 

Finally, in verse 51 he says, “even if in the performance of one’s devotional activities one has disobeyed the spiritual master, still one should not give him up, but should remain faithfully with him, because all authorities say that the shelter of one’s own spiritual master is best and perfect, even if another spiritual master is more powerful.”

No Peace for You in This Lifetime By Indradyumna Swami

 

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 1, Chapter 11

 

 May 28,1995

 

 

No Peace for You in This Lifetime

By Indradyumna Swami

 

For the past week I have been having bad dreams. It often happens to me after initiation ceremonies.

 

Srila Prabhupada writes, “A devotee sometimes accepts a sinful person as his disciple, and to counteract the sinful reactions he accepts from the disciple, he has to see a bad dream. Nonetheless, the spiritual master is so kind that in spite of having bad dreams due to the sinful disciples, he accepts this troublesome business for the deliverance of the victims of Kali-yuga. After initiation therefore, a disciple should be extremely careful not to commit again any sinful act that might cause difficulty for himself and the spiritual master. Before the Deity, before the fire, before the spiritual master and before the Vaishnavas, the honest disciple promises to refrain from all sinful activity. Therefore he must not commit sinful acts and thus create a troublesome situation.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.4.15)

 

But last night I had an interesting dream. I dreamt that three beautiful Gandharvas (angels) with golden wings appeared in my room, emanating a brilliant effulgence around themselves. I was in distress for some reason, but with benevolent faces and gestures they told me that everything will turn out alright. They said they will protect me and that I have nothing to worry about. I awoke this morning completely peaceful. Although it was only a dream, it somehow gave me strength and encouragement.

 

This morning I spoke by telephone with Niranjana Maharaja, who had been allowed into Russia at the Moscow Airport. He had good and bad news regarding the rumored strike by the government. We learned that during a recent visit to Moscow, American President Bill Clinton had warned President Yeltsin not to sign the “new religions” bill. On the other hand, the head of the public relations department of the FSK, Alexander Mikhailov, appeared on national television and said that the FSK had begun an investigation of all new religious movements in Russia. As well as ISKCON, this means the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, and many others. Maharaja said that people in the government favorable to us have warned us to keep a low profile during the next few months, so the devotees in Moscow have decided to cancel this summer’s Ratha-yatra.

 

After class I took a walk alone in the garden of the Krasnodar temple. It was a beautiful, warm spring morning with fragrant flowers blooming abundantly. Bees were humming, and butterflies were flying everywhere. The whole atmosphere was enchanting.

 

I found a bench under a flowering apple tree and sat there to chant my rounds. I suddenly realized it was the first time that I had been alone in years. As a traveling preacher, my life is public twenty four hours a day. I began savoring those few moments. It was a new world for me. I remembered a book I had read as a boy, All Quiet on the Western Front. It was about the life of a soldier in the trenches of

France in World War I. During a lull in a battle he notices a butterfly, the beauty of which sharply contrasts with the death and destruction around him. In an effort to reach out to something beautiful and full of life, he stands up in the trench to touch the butterfly and is immediately shot dead by the unseen enemy.

 

I thought of myself as being in the lull of a battle. Of course, a preacher’s fight is not among death and destruction, but he does see the reality of birth and death, disease and old age constantly in his travels. And here in Russia the living standards are so low as people struggle to maintain themselves. So I identified with that soldier in the book as I observed the quiet and peaceful scene around me.

 

Suddenly Govinda Maharaja appeared on the path under the tree. “Maharaja,” he said, “what are you doing here?” “Oh, just enjoying a few minutes of peace,” I said.

He laughed. “That’s not like you,” he said. “Come on, it’s time to go to Novorossisk. There’ll be no peace for you in this lifetime. We have a lot of preaching to do. Let’s go. The devotees are waiting. You can rest in the next life.”

 

I left my little daydream in the garden and walked with Maharaja to the car.

 

After saying goodbye to a tearful Nadya, who left us today to rejoin her mother, we drove to Novorossisk, a city to the south on the Black Sea. The devotees from there had sent one of their congregation members to drive us in his 1989 Audi. It was a comfortable and pleasant journey through beautiful countryside down to the ocean.

 

The congregation member, Serge, turned out to be an interesting man. He was a captain in the Novorossisk Police and a member of an elite counter-terrorist team in the region. He was a well-built and handsome man in his late thirties with a pleasant disposition and quiet nature. I discussed a number of subjects with him: the importance of chanting sixteen rounds, how to make one’s home into a temple, and (I couldn’t help it) counter-terrorist operations, commando training, and state-of-the-art weaponry.

 

As we were driving I kept thinking, “Every time we drive somewhere in Russia we seem to get pulled over by the police for checks. I hope it happens this time. All Serge would have to do is pull out his police badge and counter-terrorist unit card and the police would apologize, salute us, and let us go on our way.”

 

Two minutes later a police car, siren blaring, pulled us over to the side. I was in ecstasy. Everything went almost exactly according to my daydream. The police officer approached our car, and speaking in an official tone demanded to see Serge’s identification papers. You should have seen the look on his face when Serge presented his documents.

 

He immediately backed off. “Of course you may go, sir,” he said. I exchanged a big smile with Serge as we drove off.

 

When we arrived at our Novorossisk apartment, we showered and immediately went to a public program arranged by the local devotees. Govinda Maharaja asked me to speak, so I talked for an hour and then asked for questions.

 

A Christian man stood up. He began asking challenging questions and proclaiming that only Christians went to heaven. Usually I don’t bother speaking to such people because they won’t hear or accept what we say, but I debated with this man for almost an hour. I wanted to teach the local devotees the philosophical arguments we use in such situations.

On the way back to our apartment, I noticed a big statue of Lenin. You still see these statues throughout Russia, along with other communist memorabilia, although it has been years since democracy replaced communism.

 

“Why doesn’t someone pull these statues down?” I asked a local devotee.

 

“It costs money to pull them down,” he said, “and people don’t have money here.”

 

It sounded logical, but still it seems strange to see the hammer and sickle and the busts and statues of Lenin everywhere.