Volume 14, Chapter 14

“The Line up”

July 31, 2017

I was in a cheerful mood when I awoke on the last day of the first half of our summer tour. All twenty-four of our festival programs along the Baltic Sea coast in Poland so far had been successful despite the unseasonably bad weather. For the moment, auspiciousness reigned. Nevertheless, I reflected on the unpredictable nature of this world and Srila Prabhupada’s words to a disciple that, ‘anything can happen at any time.’ But after musing that reality, I returned to the joyful fact that we had one last festival that day, before packing up and moving to our next base for the great Woodstock festival. As I readied myself for my service, I remembered a quote that caught my eye the day before:

“Be satisfied and pleased with what thou art,
Act cheerfully and well thy allotted part,
Enjoy the present hour, be thankful for the past,
And neither fear, nor wish, the approaches of the last.”

[Marcus Valerius Martialis: Roman poet, 41 – 102 AD]

Later in the morning I met with all the devotees and thanked them for their unwavering service over the past month. I also reminded them of the challenges we still faced ahead. There was fatigue evident in their bodies, but their resolute determination to go forward shone from their eyes. How I love these devotees!

That morning we headed out on harinama to advertise the festival. The beach at Ustronie Morskie was so crowded that there was hardly room to place one person’s foot, let alone the feet of 75 dancing devotees!

“Move on down to the water!” I called out to the devotees.

But the mass of people extended down to the last inch of sand. We had no choice but to enter the sea and walk with the splashing waves up to our ankles.

“It’s freezing cold!” screamed one of the devotees.

“It’s the Baltic Sea!” I called out. “Not the Pacific Ocean. Just keep forging ahead. You’ll get used to it.”

It must have made for a humorous sight, all of us trudging through the water, trying to balance in the slushy sand while singing and playing musical instruments. But the people were sympathetic. They moved out of the water as we passed by, and even offered words of encouragement. At one point a group of women stood and clapped, and called out, “Bravo! Bravo!”

Suddenly, I saw coming from the opposite direction on the beach, a large group of Christians with guitars, banners and flags singing the glories of Jesus Christ. I was amazed. In all my years of chanting on the beaches of the Baltic Sea I have never seen Christians singing like us. I smiled as they approached us, but a devotee walking next to me expressed his disdain.

“No, no,” I said. “Don’t speak like that. What’s the difference between what we’re doing and what they’re doing? There is no difference. It is all for the glory of the Lord. Besides, there’s a saying: ‘Imitation is the highest form of flattery.’”

I smiled and waved at several nuns who accompanied the singing party, and they smiled and waved back. The devotee walking beside me didn’t seem impressed.

I looked at him and, quoting Albert Schweitzer, I said, “You don’t live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here too.”

When I stopped the kirtan party further down the beach, 20 people spontaneously joined in and began dancing with us. It happens every time. It never ceases to amaze me how people on the Polish beaches dance with us with such abandon. More than anything else I attribute it to the immediately purifying effect of holy names. The holy names are so potent that they transform even the most mundane place into an abode of transcendence.

“The rivers Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, as well as all holy places of pilgrimage appear where the transcendental topics of the infallible Supreme Personality of Godhead are narrated.”

[Srila Rupa Goswami, Padyavali, text 44].

As the kirtan wound down, I noticed a book distributor offering a family a Bhagavad-gita a few meters away. Unfortunately, I could see they weren’t interested, but then one of the children, a girl of about sixteen years old, grabbed the book and held it close to her chest. When the mother tried to take it back from her, the girl started flailing her arms and making all sorts of faces. It was obvious that she wanted the book. After some discussion with her husband, her mother finally bought the book for her.

“What was all that about?” I asked the devotee who sold the book, once we had moved on.

“The parents weren’t interested, but the young girl was,” she said. “She was fascinated by the pictures in the Gita and read several of the verses as I showed them to her parents. I was surprised when she grabbed it from me. Her parents apologised and told me that she was deaf and dumb. But in spite of not being able to hear or speak, something she saw in that short encounter resonated with her and she wasn’t going to give that book up! So her parents gave in and bought it for her.”

I looked back up the beach at the family. The mother and father were swimming, while their daughter sat fully absorbed in reading the Gita on the beach.

After three hours we let the kirtan wind down. I could see the devotees were exhausted, not only from walking in the water on the soft sand, but from the twenty-four previous harinams and the twenty-four previous festivals as well!

When we arrived back at the festival grounds early, Nandini dasi approached me looking relieved.

“Srila Gurudeva, there are already guests here who would like to meet you. They came off the beach, went back to their hotels, got dressed and here they are.” She pointed to a small group of people sitting on the benches in front of the stage.

I hesitated for a moment. “But I’m so tired,” I thought. But then I reminded myself that these people were seeking out the association of devotees, and all my hesitation lifted.

“Ok, give me ten minutes—no rest for the wicked,” I joked.

“Wicked what?” Nandini asked.

“Oh, nothing,” I replied. “I’ll be back in ten.”

I walked to a shady spot away from the tents, and lay down on the grass for ten minutes. I splashed some cold water on my face and went looking for the people who were waiting to talk with me.

“Hi, my name is Kinga,” said a young woman in her early 20s. “I wanted to know if you could sign my Bhagavad-gita? I bought it on the beach today.”

“Sure,” I said. “Is this your first time at our festival?”

“Yes,” she replied. “But I know everything about you.”

“Oh?” I said, a bit surprised. “How do you know everything about us?”

“No, I don’t mean I know everything about all this,” she said, gesturing with her arms around the festival site. “I mean, I know everything about YOU.” And she pointed at me.

I was puzzled. “You know everything about me?”

“Yes,” she said. “Two years ago I was really depressed. Despite professional help I was sinking lower and lower. One night in desperation I did a Google search for the word ‘happiness’. As you can imagine there were so many leads to follow, but I took a chance and clicked one that said ‘Chant Hare Krishna and Be Happy.’ That led me to the Hare Krishna Movement and after half an hour I was absorbed in reading your Facebook page. I stayed up all night reading your posts, looking at your photo albums and watching your videos. I found great solace in your singing of the Hare Krishna song. After some time I couldn’t fall asleep at night without that song.

“I also learned so much about your spiritual teacher, Swami Prabhupada. When I read about all the difficulties he went through to bring the teachings of Krishna to the West, my problems seemed insignificant in comparison. I started chanting Hare Krishna and reading Hare Krishna books online. Gradually my depression went away and now I’m actually happy all of the time. My doctors can’t believe it. And I never miss a single posting you put up on Facebook.

“Anyway, I told my mom I wanted to meet you personally, so we planned our vacation around your event. I’m so eager for it to start. When will you sing?”

“Towards the end of the show,” I said, a little embarrassed as I handed her the signed copy of Bhagavad-gita.

“You don’t know how much you mean to me,” she said. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d probably be dead.”

I was speechless. I just nodded my head and prayed to Srila Prabhupada to be his proper representative.

Next in line was a woman who looked familiar. Her husband stood just behind her.

“I’m so happy to see you again!” she said shaking my hand vigorously. “Do you remember me? Two days ago in another town, Rewal, you gave me your garland after your lecture. And you gave me a Bhagavad-gita too.”

“Oh, yes” I said. “I remember. I always give my garland to someone in the audience along with a Bhagavad-gita after my talk.”

“Well, to be frank,” she said, “I wasn’t interested at all. I hardly listened to your talk. I was waiting for the next act on stage. But I was touched by your kindness so I took the book with me to the beach yesterday. To make a long story short, I couldn’t stop reading it. I read it all day yesterday and today. Everything that’s in it makes so much sense. That’s why I dragged my husband here this evening. He’s a chemical engineer, so I’m sure he’ll understand your philosophy, although the book says that one can only learn these things with the help of a spiritual teacher.”

“You’re learning fast,” I said with a smile, and I signed the copy of the Gita I had given her two days ago.

“We’re going to put this book right next to the Bible in our home,” she said.

“This is quite a line-up!” I thought to myself.

The next lady was stately and well-dressed. She came forward with her daughter and handed me an old and well-worn Bhagavad-gita.

“Welcome to our festival,” I said with a nod.

“Thank you,” said the woman. “We’ve been coming to your festival for 16 years. My daughter was only two at the first one.”

“Yes, we love it,” said the girl. “We have pictures of the festival all over our house. We play your music all the time and read the Bhagavad-gita too. We brought it for you to sign today. We used to come with my grandma, but for the last three years she hasn’t been able to attend because she’s too old.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

“No, no, it’s OK”, said the lady. “While we sit and watch the program, we call her and hold my cell phone up to capture the sound of the festival. She’s heard the whole show each year she hasn’t come.”

“My mom and I swap the phone back and forth between us because the show is five hours long, and our arms get tired holding it up,” said the daughter, laughing. “Your singing at the end is my grandma’s favourite part. We’ve recorded a number of your songs. Grandma can’t go to sleep at night without listening to you chant!”

I signed a few more books and then headed toward my van to freshen up and prepare for the festival. As I walked, I reflected on my cheerful thoughts of that morning.

“Everything really is going so well,” I said to myself.

But at that moment a devotee girl raced toward me calling out hysterically, “Gurudeva! Gurudeva! I got a call from my family, and they said that my mother just died! She had a sudden heart attack!”

She collapsed in front of me, and her friends ran forward to comfort her. I remembered Srila Prabhupada’s prophetic words: “Anything can happen at any time.”

At such moments one can only offer words of comfort to the person lamenting. It’s not a time for philosophy.

“I’m sorry I’m crying,” the girl said.

“Just keep crying,” I said. “We all understand. And we’re here for you.”

After ten minutes she said, “Gurudeva, please give me some words of wisdom.”

I quoted from the Bible:

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to grieve and a time to dance.”

[Ecclesiastes]

I gently elaborated on the words of Ecclesiastes for some time and the girl gradually calmed down.

“May I share with you my mother’s story?” she asked.

“Yes, please do.” I said.

“Twenty years ago my mother worked in the airport in Ekaterinburg, Russia. One day you arrived on a flight from Moscow and were greeted by a large group of devotees, who gave you a beautiful fragrant flower garland that extended down to your knees. As the devotees were escorting you out of the terminal, my mother, who had never seen devotees before, stood outside her office is awe. Noticing her, you walked over and placed the flower garland around her neck. Then you proceeded on your way with the kirtan party.

“My mother was deeply touched by your gesture. In fact, that garland hung in her office until she retired last year. I remember seeing it each time I visited her office. She’d tell me the story over and over of how you gave it to her. Three years ago, I became interested in Krishna consciousness and started visiting the local temple. As much as she appreciated devotees, she was somehow reluctant for me to get involved. At one point, she even discouraged me from going to the temple too often.

“Then last year you came to Ekaterinburg for our Ratha Yatra. At that time I approached you and asked if I could become your aspiring disciple. You kindly agreed and asked if my mother was favourable to my involvement. I explained how she was a little uneasy about the idea, but I shared with you the story of how you gave her a garland at the airport 20 years ago. Your eyes lit up and you said, ‘I have an idea!’ Then you sat down and wrote my mother the sweetest letter, telling her not to worry because Krishna consciousness is the most desirable life for young people. You promised her that you’d watch out for me and protect me. When you gave me the letter you also took off your large flower garland and asked me to present it to my mother with the letter.

“When I went home that night I first gave my mother the letter. As she read it, tears started flowing down her cheeks. But when she finished and I gave her your garland she broke down sobbing. Everything changed after that. She not only encouraged me in my practice of Krishna consciousness, but she herself became involved! She would come regularly to the temple to help with the cooking and many times she gave money for various temple projects. All the devotees loved her and she loved all of them.

“Then early this morning she had the heart attack. The ambulance came and took her to the hospital. She asked that the devotees come and be by her side. When she left her body a few hours ago many devotees were around her sweetly singing the holy names of Krishna. It was such an auspicious departure. I miss my mother so much!” She began crying again.

“Your mother is going to be fine,” I said. “She has heard the sublime message of how to transcend this world of birth and death, the same message we are striving to give to the people through our festival programs. Know for sure that Krishna will gradually lead her back Home, back to Godhead.”

“Out of His spontaneous compassion Lord Caitanya restored all the people back to consciousness, and through the means of His Holy Name enabled them to pass beyond the impassable ocean of the age of quarrel. Thus by the golden moons of Lord Hari and the Vaisnavas news of the names of Krishna was told from person to person.”

[Sarvabauma Bhattacarya, Susloka-Satakam, Verse 46]

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 ]

O Resident of Kailash! – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 11

O Resident of Kailash!

November 7, 2016

– by Indradyumna Swami

Kailash

My fascination with Tibet began in the 1960s. I was fifteen, and the hippie movement, with its unconventional philosophies and ways of life, had just taken hold in America. I often visited alternative bookstores in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, and one day I found The Tibetan Book of the Dead in the Eastern Spirituality section. I read it for years until I found a deeper understanding of spiritual philosophy in Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is.

Three years ago an opportunity to visit Tibet arose when several devotees invited me to join them on a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash, the sacred abode of Lord Siva, situated in the remote western part of the country, but our plans ended abruptly when the Chinese government refused our visa applications. My interest in Tibet was reignited last year when I met a Buddhist monk from Tibet in New Delhi. He was traveling to Bodh Gaya, the place of Lord Buddha’s enlightenment in Bihar, India. The monk had encountered many difficulties in his travels, and I did my best to help him. In the short time we were together, a close, almost mystical, bond arose between us, and as we separated he told me he would leave something of great spiritual value for me in his monastery in Tibet. I wondered, of course, what he would leave for me, but I wondered even more how I would ever obtain it. Though I am used to packing my bags on a moment’s notice and traveling to wherever my service takes me, Tibet had never been within my realm.

Then a few months ago, I received a call from the group who had planned the original journey to Tibet. The Chinese government was again issuing visas for Mount Kailash. Would I be interested in going? Oh, would I ever! Thirteen of us were granted visas through an official Tibetan travel agency.

My motivations for visiting Tibet went beyond the fascination I had had as a teenager, and even beyond the desire to obtain the gift from the Tibetan monk. My objective, as a devotee of Lord Krsna, was to obtain the blessings of Lord Siva who resides with his consort, Parvati, atop mount Kailash. In Vaisnava teachings we learn not to approach the Lord directly, but through His pure devotees.

“My dear Partha,” Lord Krsna says to Arjuna in the Adi Purana, “one who claims to be My devotee is not so. Only a person who claims to be the devotee of My devotee is My devotee.”

And of all devotees of Krsna, Lord Siva is considered the best:

nimna-ganam yatha ganga
devanam acyuto yatha
vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh
purananam idam tatha

“Just as the Ganges is the greatest of all rivers, Lord Acyuta the supreme among deities and Lord Shambhu (Siva) the greatest of Vaisnavas, so Srimad-Bhagavatam is the greatest of all Puranas.” [ Srimad Bhagavatam 12.13.16 ]

Mount Kailash, 22,000 feet (6,705 meters) above sea level, is a special and sacred dhama because it is there that Siva meditates deeply on Lord Krishna and meets with great sages like Narada. It was at Mount Kailash that the Ganges descended with great force from the spiritual world to the material world and was caught by Lord Siva in his matted locks.

“The demigods observed Lord Śiva sitting on the summit of Kailāsa Hill with his wife, Bhavānī, for the auspicious development of the three worlds. He was being worshiped by great saintly persons desiring liberation. The demigods offered him their obeisances and prayers with great respect.” [ Srimad Bhagavatam 8.7.20 ]

Kailash is also known as Mount Meru, the center of the universe. Throughout the ages it has been called by various names including Jewel Peak, Lotus Mountain, and Silver Mountain. The city of Kuvera, the treasurer of the demigods, is said to be near Mount Kailash.

Local Buddhists recognize the spiritual significance of the mountain and consider it one of their holiest places of pilgrimage. It is also fervently worshiped by followers of the Bon religion, the religion of Tibet prior to the arrival of Buddhism in the seventh century. Tibetans say that there is an invisible ladder connecting Kailash to heaven, and the rulers of ancient Tibet were said by their citizens to have descended to Kailash from heaven attached to ropes of light.

Because of the mountain’s sanctity in the eyes of several of the world’s great religions, no one has ever attempted to climb it. Reinhold Messner, the famous Austrian mountaineer who has scaled all fourteen of the 8,000-meter mountains of the world, was offered a license to climb Mount Kailash by the Chinese government in the 1980s. “Of course I declined,” he writes. “It would not have been intelligent to do otherwise. One should not trample on gods.”

A Buddhist saint once said: “Only a man entirely free of sin can climb Kailash. And he wouldn’t have to actually scale the sheer walls of ice to do it. He’d just turn himself into a bird and fly to the summit.”

Through the centuries Westerners have been attracted to visit Kailash, not for spiritual reasons though, but out of curiosity. The first recorded Westerner to visit Kailash was an Italian Jesuit Missionary, Ippolito Desideri, in 1715. He wrote:

“Kailash is a mountain of excessive height and great circumference, always enveloped in clouds, covered in snow and ice, and most horrible, barren, steep and cold. The Tibetans walk devoutly around the base of this mountain which takes several days, and they believe this will bring them great indulgences. Owing to the snow on the mountain my eyes became so inflamed that I well nigh lost my sight.”

Following more in the footsteps of the pilgrims and less in those of the curious, our group left Kathmandu, Nepal, on September 15, 2016, and headed for Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Our short flight over the beautiful Himalayan Mountains was meant to take only one hour. Unfortunately, as we were to repeatedly experience in the coming two weeks, we encountered an obstacle. Forty-five minutes into the flight, the captain announced that we were unable to land in Lhasa due to inclement weather and that the flight was being diverted to Chengdu in Southwestern China, two hours away. I knew someone was lying. The weather in Lhasa was fine. I had checked it on the internet just before we took off. Later we learned that the flight had been diverted to Chengdu to pick up more passengers for Lhasa.

The airlines put us up in a hotel in Chengdu for the night and we flew out for Lhasa the next day. The austerities in the detour were bearable, but little known to us there would be serious flow-on effects from the delay. Because of the detour we would begin our pilgrimage later than planned and would have to face bad weather.

Within hours of arriving in Lhasa, 11,450 feet (3,490 meters) above sea level, most of our team began struggling with altitude sickness, also known as mountain sickness. Caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels, it affects climbers, skiers, and travelers. At times, altitude sickness can be life-threatening, causing pulmonary edema or cerebral edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs or brain), both of which require the sufferer to be evacuated to a lower altitude. In most cases, though, symptoms are mild: difficulty sleeping, dizziness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

Altitude sickness was an ongoing problem for us during our stay in Lhasa, one of the highest cities in the world. I had acclimatized myself somewhat by spending twelve days in the mountains of Kashmir before the trip to Tibet. Most of the other members of our team, though, suffered from headaches and dizziness during our first days in Tibet.

While they rested, I decided to take a look around the old city of Lhasa that I had heard about during my youth. It was harder to find than I expected. Much of the city had been rebuilt with endless modern structures like apartment buildings, office buildings, and shopping complexes. The romantic idea of exotic, spiritual Tibet I had formed as a young man seemed nothing more than an insubstantial dream until I rounded a corner and saw thousands of Tibetans in traditional dress walking in pilgrimage around the sacred Jokhang Temple (built starting from 1652 AD), the most important site of pilgrimage in Tibet. Hundreds of Buddhist devotees were bowing down repeatedly while others walked around the temple fingering their wooden prayer beads as they chanted om mani padme hum (I worship He who sits on the divine lotus). I joined the surging crowd circumambulating the temple and then sat among the pilgrims. I immediately became an object of discussion. I was pleasantly surprised that everyone without exception welcomed me and several even came over to congratulate me on my good fortune to be there. When I took out my japa beads to chant, swarms of curious people surrounded me and listened attentively to my chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra.

I had been chanting for a couple of hours when two young women approached me.

“Are you a lama?” one asked.

“Do you mean a priest?” I asked. She nodded. “Well yes, I am trying my best,” I said.

“We are honored to meet you,” said the other woman. “My name is Nima.”

“And I am Zaya,” said the first woman.

“You speak English very well,” I said.

“Yes,” said Nima. “Here in Tibet we learn three languages in school: Chinese, Tibetan, and English.”

“Why is English mandatory?” I asked.

“It’s the international language, of course,” Nima said.

“Ours is a beautiful country,” said Nima. “And the most important thing for Tibetans is our spiritual tradition. That’s why every morning more than fifteen thousand people circumambulate Jokhang Temple.”

“I very much appreciate the pilgrims’ devotion,” I said.

“My grandma tells me that you Western people have very strange habits,” Zaya said, abruptly changing the reflective tone of the conversation.

“Like what?” I asked.

“She said most of you take a bath every day.” They both giggled.

“Well, yes,” I said. “Don’t you do that in Tibet?”

“No!” exclaimed Zaya, looking horrified. “My grandmother bathes once a year. She says if she were to bathe every day, the blessings she received by prostrating herself before the temple three hundred times a day would be washed away.”
“We all bathe during a special festival called Karma Dunba,” said Nima. “Everyone, even Zaya’s grandmother, goes down to a river and takes a full bath. Strict followers wash their clothes just once a year on that day.”

“But times are changing now,” said Nima. “I bathe once a month.”

“And I bathe once a week,” said Zaya. “Some of my friends even bathe every day like you Westerners.”

We needed another day in Lhasa for acclimatization before beginning our journey to Mount Kailash some thirteen hundred kilometers away, so I suggested we visit the famous Potala, formerly the residence of the Dalai Lama. Built at various stages beginning from 1645, it is rich in Tibetan history. The palace was visually stunning, a reminder of the mysterious enchantment of old Tibet, but as we meandered through the amazing structure my mind was elsewhere. I was remembering the Buddhist monk I’d helped in New Delhi and the special gift he had left for me in the Sera monastery in Lhasa.

But where was the Sera monastery? And how would I get there? We only had one afternoon left in Lhasa. I decided to ask the monks who were tending to the shrines in the palace.

“Excuse me,” I said to one. “Can you kindly tell me where I can find the Sera Monastery?”

“Sera means ‘wild rose,’” he said. “It is one of our most important monasteries. You can find it in the northern suburbs of Lhasa.”

“Is it a big building like this palace?” I asked.

“Oh no!” he said proudly. “The monastery consists of thirty six buildings scattered over twenty eight acres of land.”

“Thank you,” I said, suddenly feeling despondent. It would be impossible to find the priceless gift in a complex so huge. I resigned myself to following our group around the Potala.

We returned to our hotel late in the evening, and I quickly fell asleep. I dreamed that our group was visiting an old Buddhist monastery. Guests were being given headphones that guided them through various parts of the monastery. Everyone in our group except me was given brown headphones. I was handed a silver set that glowed brightly in the dark. When I put the headset on, I heard the familiar voice of my monk friend.

“I told you we would not meet again in this life,” he said, “but I will speak words regarding the gift I promised you. I cannot give you anything greater than that which your spiritual master has already given you. Be content with his boundless mercy alone, and with it attain the highest perfection.”

I woke suddenly and raced around the room to find paper and pen before I forgot the monk’s words. Part of me wanted to knock on the other devotees’ doors to tell them about the amazing dream, but I also felt shy. Afterwards, it took me hours to fall asleep.

The next morning we were meant to fly to Ngari, a city just one hundred kilometers from Mount Kailash. But we were informed at breakfast that the flight had been canceled. China’s security was on red alert because of North Korea’s recent test-firing of missiles. It was another setback in our pilgrimage. The only other way to reach Mount Kailash was a four-day drive across one thousand three hundred kilometers of mountainous roads.

Our government travel agency provided two SUV cars with drivers, a small truck for our luggage and cooking equipment, and two official guides who were required to be with us every minute of our stay in Tibet. Ultimately, their presence worked to our advantage, because wherever we went we were subjected to security checks.

Upon departing Lhasa, we learned that a storm and cold front were about to descend on western Tibet. We had to get to Mount Kailash as fast as possible. By driving seventeen hours one day and eleven hours the next, we managed to cut the journey in half. The long hours in the car were austere, but gave me time to reflect again on the purpose of our journey to Mount Kailash: to obtain the blessings of Lord Siva that we might become become better devotees of Lord Krsna and His representative, my beloved spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada.

During the drive, I read the Sivastakam, eight prayers glorifying Lord Siva spoken by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and recorded in Murari Gupta’s book, Sri Caitanya Carita Mahakavya. I did so to better understand Lord Siva according to our Vaisnava philosophy.

“I perpetually offer obeisances unto you, the lord of the thirty primal devas, who are the original father of created beings, whose character is gracious, upon whose head, which is crested by the sickle moon, the Ganga springs, and who are a festival for the eyes of Gauri, the fair goddess.

“I offer my obeisances to you who resemble a moon of molten gold, who are dressed in garments colored like a group of budding blue lotuses or lustrous rainclouds, who bestow the most desirable boon on your devotees by your delightful dancing, who offer shelter to those who seek to become one with the transcendental effulgence of Godhead, and whose flag bears the image of the bull.

“I offer my obeisances to you who dispel darkness with your three eyes – the moon, the sun, and fire – and thus cause auspiciousness for all the living entities of the universe, and whose potency easily defeats thousands of moons and suns.

“I offer my obeisances to you, whose form is brilliantly illuminated by the jewels of Ananta-deva, the king of snakes, who possess divine potencies and are clothed in a tiger skin, who stand in the midst of a thousand-petaled lotus, and whose two arms are adorned by lustrous bangles.

“I offer my obeisances to you who bestow happiness on your servitors as you pour upon them the liquid nectar flowing from your reddish lotus feet, upon which charming ankle bells ring. Obeisances unto you who are adorned by an abundance of gems. Please endow me today with pure love for Sri Hari.

“O Sri Rama! O Govinda! O Mukunda! O Sauri! O Sri Krsna! O Narayana! O Vasudeva! I offer my obeisances unto you, Sri Siva, who are the monarch ruling over all the bee-like devotees who are mad to drink the nectar of these and other innumerable names of Hari, and who thus destroy all grief.

“I offer my respectful obeisances to you, Sri Siva, who are forever inquired of confidentially by Sri Narada and other great sages, who very easily bestow boons on them, who bestow the happiness of Hari-bhakti on those who seek boons of you, who thereby create auspiciousness and are thus the guru of everyone.

“I offer my obeisances to you who are a festival of auspiciousness for the eyes of Gauri, who are the lord of her life-energy, who bestow rasa and are expert in forever singing songs with eagerness of the pastimes of Govinda.

“A person who lovingly hears with rapt attention this wonderful eightfold prayer to Sri Siva, can quickly gain Sri Hari-prema as well as transcendental knowledge, the realization of that knowledge, and unprecedented devotional potency.”

Sripad Sankaracarya also wrote a well-read Sivastakam, but even more popular are Ravana’s prayers to Lord Siva which he composed while residing at Ravana-tal, a lake near Mount Kailash. The demoniac king, a devotee of Lord Siva, created the lake and performed severe penance and austerities on its banks with the desire to gain the strength to pick up Mount Kailash, along with Siva and Parvati on its summit, and take it back to his abode in Sri Lanka. He was unsuccessful because Lord Siva increased the weight of Kailash so that no human, devata, demon, or snake from the lower planets could ever lift Mount Kailash.

In his Siva Tantra Stotram, Ravana prays:

“When will I be happy, living in a hollow cave near the celestial river Ganga with folded hands on my head all the time, with bad thoughts washed away, uttering the mantra of Lord Siva and devoted to the God (Siva) who has a glorious forehead and trembling eyes.” [ Verse 13 ]

After two days of driving, we approached Ravana-tal and the even more important nearby lake of Manasarovar (Mapham Tso in Tibetan). Every pilgrim first takes darsan of Manasarovar on the way to Mount Kailash. It is famous for three things: its changing colors, its infinite variations of reflection, and its fearsome storms. On the top of Mount Kailash, Lord Siva and Parvati once sat in deep meditation on Lord Krsna for twelve years by the calculation of the demigods. No rain fell in the area during that period, so Lord Siva called Lord Brahma to create a sacred lake where he and his consort could bathe. Lord Brahma created Manasarovar from his mind. After their bath, a self-manifested golden Siva lingam appeared in the center of the lake.

We took darsan of Manasarovar and that same day reached Darchen, a small village just a few kilometers from Mount Kailash situated at an altitude of 15,010 feet (4,575 meters). Darchen serves as the starting point for every pilgrim’s journey around the sacred mountain.

We rested in a simple hotel there for two days to prepare ourselves for the arduous pilgrimage ahead. Despite our best efforts to be in good physical shape and to avoid altitude sickness by acclimatizing ourselves, we all knew that faith in Krsna and His devotee Lord Siva were the most important qualifications for completing the kora (the Tibetan word for “pilgrimage”).

Two days later, at long last, all thirteen of us set out on our kora around Mount Kailash. It was to take us three days. The first day is called the day of purification, the second the day of departure (from one’s illusory self or the false ego), and the third the day of renewal. Many Tibetans do the pilgrimage in a single day. There are also those who do the circuit in prostrations, which takes three weeks.

Most of our gear and kitchen paraphernalia had gone ahead on yaks to meet us where we would stay the first night, a location twenty-two kilometers further up the winding road. We were carrying just basic necessities in our backpacks as we started on the barren moonscape terrain towards Mount Kailash. Eager to get the journey underway after so many days of waiting, everyone started out at a fast pace.

“Slow down, Prabhus!” I called out. “At this height you have to pace yourselves. And remember to drink three liters of water as we walk along today. It’s easy to get dehydrated up here.”

I noticed that Bhakta Alexey, a strong, healthy, and well-built Russian man in his early 30s, was missing. He had come on the trip to help Ananta Vrindavan das film the expedition. I retraced my steps along the path until I found him trailing far behind us. He was barely moving along the road.

Saradiya Rasa dasi came up behind me with our chief guide. “He doesn’t look good,” she said.

“Maybe he’s just exhausted from traveling here,” I said. I turned to the guide. “Do you think he should stay back this morning? Maybe one of the other guides can stay with him.”

“Yes,” he said. “I can take him back to the hotel, and I’ll keep in touch by phone to let you know how he is doing. Your phones should certainly work on the first day of your pilgrimage. If he feels better this afternoon, we can catch up by horse.”

The rest of us proceeded onwards. As the road gradually got steeper I didn’t have to remind the devotees to slow down. The altitude made sure of that. Soon we were walking only ten paces at a time before having to stop and catch our breath. To our left the huge, treeless Barkha plain was dotted with white nomadic tents and herds of sheep and goats. After four hours we arrived at a chaktsel gang, one of four places on the kora where Tibetan pilgrims offer prostrated obeisances to the mountain. At these sites there are images on rocks which are reputedly places where Lord Buddha left his footprints when he magically visited Kailash in the 5th century BC.

From the chaktsel gang we had a clear and direct view of Mount Kailash’s beautiful, awe-inspiring southern face. All the devotees lay down on the ground for a few minutes of rest. Already exhausted by the high altitude I began to wonder if I could carry on, especially when I saw the trail ahead. From where we were, it entered the glacial Lha Chu valley, a flat, rocky wasteland that wound along vast scraggly mountain slopes.

The silence of the party was broken by the ringing of Saradiya Rasa’s cell phone. When she hung up, her face was pale and had a worried look.

“Alexey is in critical condition.” she said. “He has pulmonary edema, the worst-case scenario in high-altitude sickness. Our guide has taken him to the hospital.”

“We need to act quickly,” I said. “Pulmonary edema can be fatal in a matter of hours. The golden rule is to get the patient to a lower altitude as quickly as possible.”

“But that’s the problem,” said Saradiya Rasa . “We’re on the Tibetan plateau and there are no lower altitudes. Our guide says the doctors are trying to stabilize him with oxygen and some medication, but he’s not responding. He is unconscious, his extremities are cold, and he’s shaking like a leaf.”

Everyone was dazed by the news. I stood up quickly.

“OK,” I said. “We’re aborting the pilgrimage. We have to turn around and go back to Darchen to assess Alexey’s situation. Let’s move now.”

“It’s serious, but surely not all of us have to go,” one devotee said. “Maybe one or two of us can go and work with the doctors. We can break into two groups and meet along the trail tomorrow. We don’t all have to break the kora.”

“Forget the kora!” I said loudly. “No kora is as important as a devotee’s life. We need to go back to Darchen as a team. We’ll have kirtan together and pray that Krsna protect Alexey.”

Everyone stood up and we began following our tracks back to Darchen, passing many pilgrims who looked at us quizzically as if to say, “You’re going the wrong way.”

All the way back Saradiya-Rasa was on the phone with our main guide, who suggested that we put Alexey in a car and drive him several hundred kilometers south where the attitude was slightly less.

“It’s not enough!” Saradiya rasa shouted. “He’s in critical condition! We have to get a helicopter in to take him to Kathmandu.”

Even as she said it, I knew it wouldn’t be possible. The only helicopters in Tibet were used by the military. The officials would never give permission for a helicopter to fly in from another country to rescue someone who, for them, was just a tourist. I had read extensively about the region before our journey began, and I knew there were risks attached to the Kailash kora because the place is so remote. Our guide had privately told me that over thirty pilgrims, mostly Indians, had already died on the kora this year, almost all from high-altitude sickness. The situation looked bleak at best.

But by the time we reached Darchen three hours later, Saradiya rasa was making things happen. She had contacted both the Russian Embassy and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing to ask for assistance. She had also contacted a private helicopter service in Kathmandu. She was a miracle worker.

“The Russian Embassy called the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and told them to get into action,” she told me. “The Ministry has called the local Darchen police station and told them they have one hour to get Alexey into an ambulance and start driving him to Kodari, a small village on the border with Nepal, about two hundred kilometers south of here. Once we make it to Nepal, there will be a helicopter from Kathmandu to pick Alexey up and fly him straight to the hospital. It’s a five-hour flight, with one stop for refueling.”

The only ambulance in Darchen was broken down, so Saradiya Rasa quickly arranged a private car. In the meantime, the rest of us visited Alexey in the hospital, which was nothing more than a few rooms with some beds and oxygen canisters. The nurses and doctors all seemed capable, despite the lack of facilities.

Alexey opened his eyes when he heard us enter his room. He spoke a few faint words of greeting.

“Much of the water has receded from his lungs,” his doctor said.

“It could return without warning, though. His condition is very, very serious.”

A few minutes later, the hospital staff helped us move Alexey into the car. Saradiya Rasa and her husband, Sukanta das, were to travel with him as far as the border, and Rasika Mohan das would accompany him all the way to Kathmandu. As they sped off leaving a small cloud of dust in their wake, Nrsimhananda das, Nicolae, Mahavan das and Varsana-rani dasi waved goodbye. Rama Vijaya das stood nearby on his cell phone arranging a bank transfer of thousands of dollars from his account in the United States to pay for the helicopter.

The next morning at 6:15, I received a call from an exhausted Saradiya Rasa. I had been up most of the night chanting and waiting for news.

“The mafia was waiting for us at the border,” she said. “They demanded a fifty-thousand-dollar cash payment to allow Alexey to cross into Nepal. They had weapons with them, but I got out of the car and was arguing with the leader when my phone rang. It was the Russian Embassy following up on our progress. I told them where we were and handed the phone over to the mafia leader. Within moments he and his gang were gone. A representative of the helicopter company was waiting halfway across a rope bridge swinging over a river between Nepal and Tibet. We helped Alexey and Rasika Mohan to the halfway point on the bridge and left them in the care of the man from the helicopter company. They all disappeared into the night. As soon as it was light, the helicopter took off for Kathmandu. The doctor on board called me to say we had gotten Alexey out just in time and with proper medical care he should be OK in a week or so. We’re on our way back now.”
After Saradiya Rasa’s call I collapsed in bed, but a few short hours later I was awoken by Chaturatma das knocking on my door.

“Maharaja, let’s go. Back on the kora. We have to walk fourteen kilometers today.”

The weather was changing for the worse and we didn’t want to lose time, so we rode in jeeps to where we had stopped the day before. After walking for an hour I realized how physically and emotionally exhausted I was from the events of the previous day. I asked one of our guides if he could arrange a horse for me. Bada Haridas and Ram Vijaya also asked for horses. The guide found horses to rent further down the valley for all three of us.
We rode and the others walked at different paces, braving the high altitude. We all chanted and absorbed ourselves in the remarkable beauty of the scenery. The mountains were beyond description. I remembered a quote from the Ramayana:

“There is no mountain range like the Himalayas, for this range contains both Kailash and Manasarovar. As the dew is dried by the morning sun, so our sins are dried when we gain sight of the Himalayas.”

As we moved through the valley a strange sight caught my eye: a flat area a little above the plains was draped with Tibetan flags flying majestically in the wind, and many large vultures were sitting and flying about.

“What is that?” I asked my guide. “A special temple?”

“No,” he replied, “it’s a sky burial site. In our Buddhist tradition we don’t bury or burn the dead. We lay their bodies out in the open for vultures to eat. That might sound repugnant to you, but you Westerners bury your dead in the ground and worms eat the body. Worms or vultures, it’s the same principle. The only difference is that in a sky burial, family members watch the vultures feast on their loved ones while priests chant mantras.”

“Wow!” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “It allows us to confront death and understand the impermanence of earthly life, and it helps us appreciate the importance of searching for the eternal life of the spirit.”

By late afternoon all the devotees reached Diraphuk, our campsite for the night. The yaks, which had carried all our paraphernalia up the day before, were waiting for us. Situated at about 5,000 meters, the site allowed us a view of the soaring, resplendent north face of icy Mount Kailash. I prayed for the eyes to see the spiritual beauty of Kailash, which is described by Srila Prabhupada as a celestial place, quite different from the cold icy granite mountain I was now seeing:

“It appears from these verses that Kailash is situated near the residential quarters of Kuvera. It is also stated here that the forest was full of desire trees. In the Brahma-samhita we learn about the desire tree, which is found in the spiritual world, especially in Krsnaloka, the abode of Lord Krsna. We learn here that by the grace of Krsna such desire trees are also found in Kailash, the residence of Lord Siva. It thus appears that Kailash has a special significance. It is almost like the residence of Lord Krsna.” [ Srimad Bhagavatam 4.6.28, purport ]

It was the closest we would come to the mountain itself.

“Could we walk a bit closer?” I asked the guide. “I would like to take a small stone from the face of the sacred mountain. I want to worship it as tadiya, (something connected to a holy place and the pastimes that take place there).

“Not possible” he said, without a moment’s hesitation. “The government no longer allows pilgrims to come closer to the mountain than we are now. They used to issue permits for the “inner kora” along a path that runs close to the mountain, but too many pilgrims were killed by landslides. Plus, the area immediately surrounding Kailash has high velocity winds. Many times pilgrims just disappear from there without a trace.”

Exhausted from the day’s walk, we all settled down for a good night’s rest. But sleep was difficult at such an altitude, and temperatures plunged well below freezing during the night. The accommodations were austere. We slept on wooden beds in huts made of concrete without insulation or heating. The toilet was a hole in the ground outside and a bucket of ice-cold water. There was no facility for bathing.

At 2:00 a.m. I crawled out of my sleeping bag to answer the call of nature. I couldn’t find my flashlight, so I stumbled outside and made my way along by the light of a full moon. I looked up at Mount Kailash and was amazed at the sacred mountain’s beauty in the moonlight. The moon’s rays gave the snow a shimmering luminous effect and made the whole mountain glow silver in the darkness. I stood there dumbfounded as if seeing a mystical vision, unable to take my eyes away from the mountain.

Suddenly, one of the yaks appeared from around the corner of a small building and began to charge at me. Its aggressiveness broke my meditation and I ran for the shelter of our room. I made it inside just in time. So ended our first day of the kora, our day of purification.

We began our second day—the day of departure (from the false ego) — after a breakfast of hot porridge. Nobody ate much, as the fire of digestion is not strong at such altitudes. The second day proved the greatest challenge of the kora. We had to walk (or ride) more than ten kilometers upwards to the highest point of elevation on the kora, a pass called called Drolma-la, at 5,630 meters. It would take approximately seven hours. Before leaving I sat down in a quiet place and meditated on beautiful Mount Kailash. I took out my notebook and read several verses from Srimad Bhagavatam trying again to see the sacred mountain through the eyes of scripture:

“The abode known as Kailash is full of different herbs and vegetables, and it is sanctified by Vedic hymns and mystic yoga practice. Thus the residents of that abode are demigods by birth and have all mystic powers. Besides them there are other human beings, who are known as Kinnaras and Gandharvas and are accompanied by their beautiful wives, who are known as Apsaras, or angels.” [ Srimad Bhagavatam 4.6.9 ]

Again we made our way in small groups at different paces. Clouds moved in at mid-morning and rain began to fall. The storm we had feared was upon us. Several hours later, cold winds picked up and the rain turned into sleet and snow. Everyone, including our guides and horses, moved at an agonizingly slow and painful pace, our faces whipped by little drops of ice and freezing cold droplets of water. Each step took an immense amount of strength, and I could see everyone gasping for oxygen in the rarified atmosphere, except the Tibetan pilgrims, who walked past us, one group after another, at a steady pace, eventually disappearing in the distance.

I was wearing many layers of clothes, but I was chilled to the bone. The protection of my layers was no match for the harsh weather. As I was contemplating the severity of the cold, a jeep with an open cab and several somber-faced policemen inside rumbled down the rough terrain towards us. When it passed by, I gasped at the sight of a dead man lying face up in the back of the cab, his ankles and wrists tied with rope. He was fully clothed for doing the kora and had apparently died while doing it. I glanced over at one of our guides. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “No big deal, it happens every day.” My lamentation about the cold melted away. I was grateful I was still alive.

Because Bada Haridas, Rama Vijaya, and I were on horseback, we moved faster than the others and ended up far ahead of them. After some time, my horse took me so far ahead that I could see no one behind me or ahead of me. I was alone on the mountainous track, which had begun to ascend so steeply that I had to hold on to my horse to keep from sliding off backwards.

Eventually I came to a small plateau. A passing pilgrim told me it was the famous Shiwa-tsal charnel ground, named after a place of cremation at Bodh Gaya in India. Pilgrims undergo a symbolic death at Shiwa-tsal. It is traditional to leave an item of clothing or a bodily part such as hair, teeth or blood to represent the renouncing of life. In fact, what is being renounced is the false ego—the false identification with the material body—in favor of a true spiritual identity. For followers of the Vedic tradition, such renunciation means giving up all temporary bodily designations such as race, nationality, family, name, fame, beauty, and all material attachments and realizing oneself as a pure spirit soul, a servant of God.

It is said those who are close to that goal of self realization immediately leave their bodies while passing through the Shiwa-tsal charnel ground. I left a favorite hat as a sign of renunciation and prayed to Lord Siva to help me realize that I am an eternal servant of Krsna, but I didn’t leave my body. Disappointed, I mounted my horse again and continued up the steep pass. I was encouraged though, when an old sadhu I had never seen before loudly greeted me, “O Kailash-vasi!” (“O Resident of Kailash!”) I took it to mean that although I
had a long way to go in spiritual life, Lord Siva was pleased with my humble prayers at the Shiwa-tsal charnel grounds.

We continued on for another two intense hours— I, my horse, and my guide. At one point, the guide and the horse both stopped abruptly, exhausted from the steep climb.

“White Lama,” my guide said to me after he caught his breath, “If you are fortunate you will see a yeti. Sometimes lamas see them.”

“What is a yeti?” I asked.

“You Westerners call them abominable snowmen. But your people have little faith in such things. Your countrymen live in mundane lands devoid of the mystics, sages, and rsis we have here in our sacred mountains. Nothing out of the ordinary happens in lands where your people dwell.”

I gazed at the mountains.

“Have you ever seen a yeti?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “But my father and uncle have seen them many times, much higher up in the mountains. They are very large. Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, reported seeing large human-like footprints at 22,000 feet as they ascended Mount Everest for the first time. The footprints are several
inches shorter but at least four inches wider than a human’s. Other mountaineers in the Himalayas have photographed such footprints.

“Hundreds of years ago there was an entire village of yetis near here. It is said that during a feast many became intoxicated and practically killed each other off. Only a few families remain, hidden in the vast mountains and valleys of our Himalayas. They live a very long time because of the medicinal herbs that are found in the fertile valleys of these mountains.”

“It’s all very interesting,” I said. “But I have not come here looking for yetis. I’ve come to receive the mercy of Lord Siva, who can help to destroy my false ego and show me the path back home to Vraja.”

“I understand,” said my guide with a smile. “And if you are fortunate you may even see Lord Siva. But if you are even more fortunate, he will see you.”

We finally reached Drolma-la pass which was festooned in prayer flags. My horse had put in hours of strenuous effort. I marveled at his strength and agility on the rough surfaces, which were steep and strewn with boulders. My guide told me that Genghis Khan used the same species of horse (more of a large pony than a horse) to conquer the known world.

Though I had ridden and not walked up the steep path, I was exhausted from the harsh atmosphere, the altitude, and the cold. A posted sign read, “5,630 meters.” Because of the extremely high altitude, pilgrims are warned not stay there longer than ten minutes.

While we rested I reflected on how fortunate I was to have a horse to navigate my way down the precariously steep side of the mountain. But I was in for a big surprise. My guide broke my thoughts.

“You have to get off the horse and walk for five kilometers now,” he said. “The incline down is too steep for the horse to carry you. We will meet you at the bottom of the mountain.”

Standing alone on top of Drolma-la, I wondered whether I could make it down. I could feel my heart beating fast, and I felt nauseated and increasingly disoriented. A snow flurry descended on the pass and the thought crossed my mind that I might die there at Mount Kailash.

A few moments later, Bada Haridas arrived at Drolma-la and relinquished his horse too. We waited for Ram Vijaya, but it got colder and colder and we decided we had better start walking. Picking my way down the steep slope, I was unsure where I was going. The high altitude was finally catching up with me. I fell behind and lost Bada Haridas. No other pilgrim appeared on the trail.

I managed to walk fifty meters farther before resting on a boulder. I thought about lying down for a short sleep, but something inside me resisted the idea. Chaturatma later told me that when he had reached the summit of the pass a few hours after me, he actually did lie down and felt himself drifting off. A passing Tibetan pilgrim shook him violently to wake him. “Don’t do this!” he shouted. “You will never wake up again!”

Navigating my way down the steep ridge, I saw to my right a beautiful turquoise-green lake that I had seen in photos. It was Gauri Kunda, the lake of compassion. The lake is the bathing place of Parvati, Lord Siva’s consort, and the site of numerous pastimes between them. It was here that Parvati performed austerities to win Lord Siva as her husband. Devout followers of the Vedic tradition bathe in the frigid waters to become free from sin. I resisted the temptation. Watching two pilgrims struggle to get down the jagged hill to bathe in the kunda, I reflected on how simple and sublime the path of Krsna Consciousness is compared to other paths, which encourage great austerities and penance. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna says,

raja-vidya raja-guhyam
pavitram idam uttamam
pratyaksavagamam dharmyam
su-sukham kartum avyayam

“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” [ BG 9.2 ]

What, then, could I say to critics who challenged me and our group for undertaking the austerities and risks of the Kailash kora? I would again quote the Lord in the Bhagavad Gita:

dyutam chalayatam asmi
tejas tejasvinam aham
jayo ’smi vyavasayo ’smi
sattvam sattvavatam aham

“I am also the gambling of cheats, and of the splendid I am the splendor. I am victory, I am adventure, and I am the strength of the strong.” [ BG 10.36 ]

Real adventure is to be found in service to the Lord and His representatives. This is why we were on the kora trying to attain the blessings of Lord Siva. There are, however, easier ways to get his mercy.

At the beautiful and sacred site of Gauri Kunda, I offered full dandavats and took several serious vratas (vows) which I had been planning to take while on the kora. Generally, a Vaisnava does not reveal his vratas, but for the benefit of my disciples I will share one of the vows I took on that day: that for the rest of my life I would not watch, read, or listen to any mundane media: no internet news sites, no newspapers, no magazines, no movies. I imagined the demigods calling out: “Bhisma! Bhisma!” (“How horrible! How horrible! What a horrible vow!”), but I realized that I, as a person in the renounced order of life, should have had the determination to give up mundane news long ago. As Lord Caitanya said to Ragunatha das Goswami:

gramya-katha na sunibe, gramya-varta na kahibe
bhala na khaibe ara bhala na paribe

amani manada hana krsna-nama sada la’be
vraje radha-krsna-seva manase karibe

“Do not talk like people in general or hear what they say. You should not eat very palatable food, nor should you dress very nicely.

“Do not expect honor, but offer all respect to others. Always chant the holy name of Lord Krsna, and within your mind render service to Radha and Krsna in Vrndavana.” [ Caitanya Caritamrta, Antya-lila, chapter 6, verses 236 – 237 ]

One reason for going on pilgrimage to holy places is that in the sanctity of the dhama one gets the inspiration and strength to take courageous steps forward in spiritual life.

Soon after I moved on from Gauri Kunda, I heard the voice of Rama Vijaya behind me. He had been trailing behind me without his horse, but had managed to catch up. He was a welcome sight. The trail was becoming more and more treacherous. Even the Tibetan pilgrims were slipping. Some of them even slid part way down the dangerous slope.

I was struggling with the descent, so Rama Vijaya went in front of me and extended his hand to steady me, but then his bootlace came undone. The slope was so steep that he couldn’t let go of my hand to retie it. Two young Tibetan men made their way toward us and bent down to tie Ram Vijaya’s bootlace. It was typical of the Tibetan people. They were friendly, helpful, and courteous to us without exception. Because I was always in my sannyasi robes they treated me with great respect. Even the poorest pilgrims would offer me money.

After several hours, Bada Haridas, Rama Vijaya, and I finally reached the valley at the bottom of the mountain where our horses were waiting for us. The three of us felt we couldn’t go another step, but our guide told us we still had another ten kilometers to go. We rested half an hour, and then mounted our horses for the final leg of our second day on the kora. We found ourselves in the midst of a terrible storm. Our walking team members caught up with us and we all trudged along shivering through sheets of cold, driving rain.

When we reached our campsite, we found the same rudimentary facilities as those of the previous night. Once our packs were brought off the yaks, I changed into dry clothes and jumped into my sleeping bag to try to warm up. Later that evening as I was dozing off in the freezing cabin, I wondered if the second day on the kora—the day of departure—had had any tangible effect on me. I once again prayed to Lord Siva to help destroy my material attachments and grant me eternal residence in Sri Vrindavan dhama.

We awoke to a sunny morning on the last day of the kora, the day of renewal. “Renewal” means that having gone through so much austerity on the kora, the pilgrim would be purified of sin so that his or her spiritual nature would shine forth. When I looked in the mirror that morning, all I saw was an unclean, bearded, disheveled person. But in my heart I had the feeling I had become purified. That morning I chanted my japa with extra attention and relish.

But the kora was not over by any stretch of the imagination. We still had twelve kilometers to trek until we reached our original starting point, the village of Darchen. The path wound up and down several gorges that run along the Indus River (in ancient times called the Sindu). The gorges were so steep that they were unsuitable for the horses. When we were one hour into the trek that morning, the Tibetan family that had rented the horses to us appeared from nowhere to reclaim them. All that kept us going from that point on was the thought that by evening we could take our first shower in days.

Clouds once again darkened the sky. I looked for a sign that we had achieved the mercy of the Lord’s greatest devotee, that Lord Siva had noticed our endeavor. On a hillside, I saw an interesting formation of rocks that bore distinct impressions.

“What is this?” I asked our guide.

“This is where Siva and his bull Nandi come down to congratulate saintly people on the completion of the kora,” he said. “These marks are the impressions of Nandi’s hooves and Siva’s feet.” As I reached out to touch the impressions, the sky cleared for a moment and the sun burst through, giving the atmosphere a golden hue for just a brief moment. When I finished touching the stones, the clouds covered the sky again.

Perhaps it was just the beauty of material nature shining forth. But maybe, just maybe, it was a sign from above that we had received the mercy of Lord Siva. Certainly, such signs are not unusual in a sacred place that, as my guide had said with such confidence, is inhabited by mystics, sages, and rsis.

Aspiring devotees may also receive and experience such divine mercy. In Bhagavad Gita, Krsna is encouraging non-devotees, not pure devotees, when He says famously:

sarva-dharman parityajya
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” [ BG 18.66 ]

It was late afternoon when we walked out onto the open plain and into the village of Darchen. Our kora was officially finished. We all prostrated ourselves on the ground in the direction of Mount Kailash and paid our final obeisances. I stayed on the ground for a long time, reflecting on the journey and all that I had undergone. It had been an adventure, but having completed the Kailash kora, I would not recommend it as an adventure for most Vaisnava devotees. The risks are too great. But I indeed felt I had become a different person, reborn, purified, and cleansed. While walking the path of the kora, I felt I had also journeyed further along on the path of bhakti.

I got up and took a last glance back at the arduous path we had traversed. Then, without looking back again, I walked forward toward my next service for my spiritual master. But wherever that service takes me, part of my heart will always remain in the mountains and valleys of Mount Kailash. I pray that all the mystics, sages, and rsis who reside there, and, most important, Lord Siva himself, will truly accept me as a Kailash-vasi, a resident of Kailash, that mysterious and sacred abode.

indradyumna-swami-diary-14.11

 

Back in Town – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 10

Back in Town

August 26, 2016

– by Indradyumna Swami

chap.10

For years we have taken pride in doing our summer festival in Kolobrzeg, one of the biggest and most popular tourist destinations along the Baltic Sea coast in Poland. There was a time when we had to fight for permission to hold our programs there, but as the years rolled by, word spread that our event is highly professional, cultural and fun. The city has warmed to us and has even suggested specific dates on which to hold our festival.

Unfortunately, last year we were unable to perform in Kolobrzeg because the city was upgrading the waterfront where our event has taken place over the last twenty seven years. This summer we anticipated a big comeback, only to be disappointed when we learned that the renovated area could no longer support the semi-trailer that unfolds into the large stage on which our show takes place.

Nandini dasi, as determined as ever, met with the mayor of Kolobrzeg to discuss alternative sites for our event.

“As much as we’d like to host you, there is no suitable site where we can hold an outdoor event the size of yours,” the mayor told Nandini.

“What about the area around the lighthouse at the end of the big boardwalk?” Nandini suggested. “Thousands of people gather there every day to see the ships going out to sea. It would be a perfect venue.”

The mayor shook his head.

“We’ve never allowed that spot to be used for an event in the history of the city,” he said. “It has its own ambiance and we don’t want to detract from that. Besides, that site is under the jurisdiction of the captain of the port. He would never agree because it would be a distraction for his job of safely seeing off and receiving ships each day.”

“But Mr. Mayor, our event is not a commercial event. We hold our festival to introduce people to the attractive culture of India and to a positive spiritual message that can benefit their lives.”

“I know, I know,” said the Mayor. “I’ve been to your event many times and I know it’s well-organized; in many ways it’s the main event of the summer here in Kolobrzeg.” He paused for a moment and thought. “OK,” he said at last. “If you can get permission from the captain of the port, the City Council will back you. But bear in mind, he won’t be an easy person to convince.”

The large paved area around the lighthouse was crawling with thousands of tourists when Nandini arrived. “This would be perfect for our event,” she thought. But when she was asking the secretary if she could speak to the captain, he walked out of his office and stopped her speaking before she could even start.

“No! No! No! I will not give permission for you to hold your event on this property. It’s under my jurisdiction and I refuse to even consider it.”

“But how did you know that was what I was going to ask?” Nandini said.

“I heard you were denied permission for your event at the waterfront,” he said. “I was expecting you’d come here, and I have told you my answer. There is no need for further discussion on the matter.”

“Sir,” Nandini said, “We have done our festival in your city every summer for almost three decades. It’s a tradition here. It’s not an ordinary event. It brings color, joy and festivity to the Kolobrzeg, but more importantly it brings a deep spiritual message. And the ambassador for India to Poland, Mr. Ajay Bisaria, has promised to come if you give us permission ….”

“Stop!” the captain said. For several moments he looked out the window at the waves breaking on the rocks. “Alright. I give you permission to hold your festival at the lighthouse. I’ve been to your event many times over the years and if I am honest I have to say that I believe in everything you people stand for. Now go!”

Nandini scurried out of the office as fast as she could and reached for her phone.

“Gurudeva, we got permission for the festival in Kolobrzeg,” she said when I answered the phone. She was obviously on the verge of tears.

“That’s amazing,” I said. “How did you convince them to let us use the waterfront?”

“Not the waterfront,” she said. “They’re letting us use the lighthouse.”

“The lighthouse!” I exclaimed. “Nothing is impossible if Krsna desires it.”

The next day 100 devotees charged out of our base into two large buses to begin advertising the festival.

“Faster!” I told our bus driver.

“Your event is still two days away. Why the hurry?” he asked.

“Every minute counts,” I replied. “Step on it.”

Our colorful harimana party was replete with banners, flags and even balloons; as we began singing and dancing down the beach people took notice. Three children in the water jumped up and down, waving their arms to attract their parents’ attention. “Mom! Dad!” they screamed. “Take an invitation!”

Further down the beach I saw a woman crying.

“She looks distressed,” I said to a devotee. “Can you go and ask her if she’s ok?”

The devotee returned with a smile on her face. “She apologized for causing us worry,” she said. “When we didn’t come last year she didn’t know if we would ever come back. She’s crying out of happiness because the festival’s back in town.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man speaking angrily to a devotee.

“What happened?” I asked.

The devotee said, “This gentleman is angry…”

The man interrupted in a loud voice. “Why didn’t you come last year?” People began to gather around, interested in the apparent conflict.

“Excuse me?” I asked, still not understanding the nature of his dissatisfaction.

“Why didn’t you come last year?” he repeated. “My children wait all year for your festival to come here in the summer. You let them down. They were so upset. You have a responsibility to the public to be consistent.”

A number of people in the crowd nodded their heads in agreement.

“I am so sorry, sir,” I said. I spoke loudly so the crowd could hear. “It was beyond our control; the city was doing work in the site where we usually hold our festival. But in two days we’ll have the festival at the lighthouse.”

The man looked surprised.

“The lighthouse?” he asked in a calmer voice. “The city gave you permission to have your event there?”

“Well, the captain of the port to be specific,” I said.

“Well… That’s very good!” he exclaimed. “My family and I will be there.”

I shook my head in disbelief as the crowd dispersed. “In the old days some people would become angry when we showed up in town. Now they become angry when we don’t come! This is a sure sign that this movement is progressing.”

We stopped to have kirtan in one place, and, as always, a large crowd of sunbathers gathered. Many of them were soon dancing with us.

“Would you like to hear my opinion about this singing and dancing?” a nicely dressed gentleman asked me.

“Of course,” I said. “I’m always interested to hear the public’s opinion of our efforts.”

“My opinion,” he said in a serious voice, “is that this singing and dancing has the potential to unite all the religions of the world.”

As the blissful singing and dancing continued, I watched one lady who had joined the kirtan as soon as we had arrived. She was beaming as she swayed back and forth with her arms around two devotee girls, chanting in a loud voice. Then she entered the circle of devotees and began dancing on her own, her arms stretched towards the sky. She stayed for more than an hour.

“Looks like you really enjoyed that!” I said to her as the kirtan party moved on down the beach.

“Oh yes,” she said. “I really love you people.” Then she winked. “But remember: Jesus is the only way!”

Further down the beach a man came towards me.

“Hare, Krsna and Rama,” he said. “There! I said it! One gets so much benefit from saying those words even once in a lifetime. I read that somewhere. Bye!”

The next moment a woman approached me, a Bhagavad-gita in her hand.

“The girl who sold this to me said you would sign it.”

“Yes, of course I will,” I said.

When I gave it back to her she said, “Finally, something else to read besides the Bible!”

“Oh, but the Bible is also an important scripture,” I said.

“Yes, it is,” she agreed. “But all the questions I have ever had about spirituality were answered this morning in the few pages of this book I’ve read so far.”

We concluded the harinam after four hours and returned to the festival site to prepare for the crowds that would come. On the boardwalk, a man called out to me.

“Indradyumna Swami,” he said, “Do you remember me?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling guilty. “I can’t seem to place your face… “

“You must remember,” he said. “We met on this beach in 1997. We had a very interesting discussion for ten minutes or so. It changed my life in lots of positive ways.”

My guilt subsided a little knowing that the meeting occurred nineteen years ago.

“I bought your Pada Kamalam kirtan tape that day,” he continued. “I still listen to it every day on my way to work. And my children can’t go to sleep without it. I just wanted to thank you for what you’ve done for me and my family.”

“It was just a short talk…” I said.

“But it was enough,” he said. “It was more than enough.”

The festival site was already crowded with people sitting on the benches in front of the main stage.

“The show doesn’t begin for another two hours,” I said incredulously to Guru Kripa das.

“I guess because there was no festival last year they want to make sure they don’t miss anything this year,” he said.

The festival looked especially charming with the lighthouse towering overhead and the beautiful port as a backdrop. More and more people poured through the gates, and I took the opportunity to ask them why they had come.

“I purchased some chanting beads a few years ago at one of your festivals,” a lady told me. “I use to use them as a decoration in my home. But something told me they have a more important purpose, and one day I saw a devotee chanting on them. I have them here with me today so that I can learn how to chant on them.”

“My grandkids have never been to your event,” an elderly man told me when I asked him why he had come. He gestured to the four children by his side. “But I have been many times. I convinced them to come because there’s something for every member of the family at your festivals.’’

Then he lowered his voice. “But if they didn’t show any interest I was going to take them back to their parents for the afternoon. I wouldn’t miss this festival for the world, believe me. Especially because you didn’t come last year!”

It started to rain midway through the program, but the people were prepared: everyone in the audience popped open an umbrella as if on cue.

When it was time for my lecture, I prayed to Srila Prabhupada.

“Srila Prabhupada, I’ve never asked you for anything other than the blessing that when I speak my words will touch people’s hearts. My only prayer all these years has been to be your representative and speak on your behalf. Once again, allow me to be that transcendental medium.”

When I came off the stage forty five minutes later, there was, as always, a small group of people with Bhagavad-gitas to be signed.

“I am genetics scientist,” said the first woman. I saw she was not holding a book, and I flinched expecting a debate about science and religion. I wished I had the scientific jargon to make my presentation more acceptable to her.

“I loved your talk,” she said, and I sighed with relief. “Your approach to science and religion is interesting. Your arguments are much better than the standard ones I hear when speaking to religious people. Where did you get this knowledge?”

“From my spiritual master,” I said proudly.

“Was he a scientist?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “But he was a representative of the greatest scientist.”

“The greatest scientist,” she repeated. “Tell me. Who is that?”

“God,” I said. “The one who made it all.”

“Well that’s debatable,” she said, pulling a Bhagavad-Gita out of her handbag. “But you did convince me enough to buy this book to find out more.” She shook my hand when I gave the book back to her. “It would strengthen your presentation if you had some scientific terminology.’

“I was thinking the same thing,” I said with a smile.

“Srila Gurudeva,” Mathuranath das said as she walked away, “I was listening to your lecture and your arguments against mundane science were awesome.”

“Well, don’t be under any illusion,” I said. “If it wasn’t for Srila Prabhupada I’d still be mowing lawns at the University of Michigan without a clue about science or religion.”

Next in line was a man holding the Gita so tightly that initially I couldn’t take it from his hand to sign.

“Sorry,” he said, relinquishing the book. “All my life I’ve been searching for the knowledge you shared with us this evening. And now that I finally have it in my hand, I am reluctant to give it up even for a minute. It’s unbelievable. I finally have it in my hand!”

“It will just take one minute to sign,” I said.

“OK,” he said. “But make sure you give it back.”

The next person in line was a man with a big handlebar moustache. He stood silently as I signed his Bhagavad-gita.

“What inspired you to buy the book?” I said hoping to initiate a conversation.

“I’m a train conductor,” he replied. “My route takes me all over Europe.”

“That’s an interesting profession,” I said. “It gives you the opportunity to travel and see the world.”

“It gives me reason to inquire about birth and death,” he said without smiling.

“Oh,” I said. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve seen many people give up their lives on the train tracks,” he replied. “Suicides. Each year four or five people jump in front of my train or tie themselves to the tracks. I always feel some guilt when I see them die in that way. I’ve come to accept it over time. But recently it’s caused me to consider whether there is life after death. The things you said about reincarnation made sense to me. I’m buying this book so I can understand more and in doing so alleviate my fear and doubt.”

“It’s easy to understand how Srila Prabhupada was so insistent that his books be widely distributed,” I thought. “They do indeed relieve the suffering of the fallen conditioned souls.”

Next a man in a wheelchair came up to me.

“Where did you get all the knowledge that you wrote in these purports?” he asked.

“I didn’t write them,” I said, chuckling. “My spiritual master wrote them.”

“Oh I see,” he said. “But because you are saying the same thing you are qualified to speak from the stage. Is that the idea?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And if I learn the same teachings and practice them, then I can also share the knowledge with others?”

“Yes,” I said. “Is that your intention?”

“It is,” he replied. “I am bound to this wheelchair and I can’t do much. But your talk inspired me to try and make my life worthwhile by sharing this knowledge with others.”

The last man in line was dressed nicely and had been waiting a considerable amount of time. When I apologized for this, he smiled.

“No problem,” he said. “I wanted to get a dedication in this book I bought, but I also wanted to compliment you on your event. I have been following it for quite some time now and have seen it grow year after year.”

When I handed his book back to him I asked him what his profession was. I was curious because he looked so aristocratic.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said in a serious way. “And neither would you believe me if I told you who I am. In fact, you would probably faint.”

“I would?”

“You would,” he said. “But know for certain that with my influence many people in this country will hear about your event and will come to appreciate it.”

As he walked away clutching the book tightly under his arm I thought of my spiritual master, and I prayed to him.

“Srila Prabhupada, this is all your mercy. Fifty years ago in 1966, you incorporated your International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and that movement is continuing to produce miracles one after the other. What we witness daily in our humble attempt to serve you here in Poland is just part of a great worldwide phenomenon. We pray for the day when your glories will be compiled into a great journal to be appreciated by the entire world now and for all of eternity.”

“But there are also many other things which Jesus did, so vast a number indeed that if they were all described in detail, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would have to be written.” [ Bible: John 21:25 ]

BACK IN TOWN – Indradyumna swami diary 14.10

 

I Could Do This Forever – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 9

I Could Do This Forever

July 28, 2016
– by Indradyumna Swami
chap9

I settled into the science classroom in the school that would once again be our base for our summer festival tour. The walls were crowded with test tubes, microscopes and colored bottles filled with liquid. Guru Kripa das laughed out loud as he looked around the room.

“Gurudeva, you’ve stayed in this room for three months every summer for last fifteen years. That means you’ve lived in this science lab for a total of four years! Have you ever noticed the monkey brain in the jar of formaldehyde?”

“Well, yes I have,” I said. “But I try not to look. Srila Prabhupada once said that sometimes a preacher lives in a palace and sometimes in a simple hut. But he never mentioned a science lab!”

The next morning we held a meeting with the 250 devotees who had joined us for the summer tour. There were many new faces; a number of the veterans from previous tours had not returned this year, either because they had to work, were recently married or had other responsibilities. Scanning the crowd, I suddenly realized I was the only devotee present who had been on the first Polish tour twenty six years ago.

I welcomed the devotees and gave a talk requesting them to give everything to Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement for the next three months. The tour, I explained, is a unique kind of festival within Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Temple festivals provide devotees with the opportunity to enjoy kirtan, katha and prasadam, but our festival program is specifically for non-devotees. Our job is to work in the background in order to give them the chance to experience the kirtan, classes and prasadam that we enjoy. It means a lot of self-sacrifice on the part of the team, but the reward is seeing others happily experiencing Krsna consciousness for the first time.

“Our festival is part of the sankirtan movement,” I concluded, “and thus it is part of the modern day pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. His movement did not conclude when He left this planet. He Himself predicted that the holy names of Krishna would one day be heard in every town and village of the world. That being the case, we should look for present day miracles happening in our midst. This will help us to remain inspired during our three-month sacrifice.”

“Do you mean miracles like seeing our guests walking on water?” one devotee asked.

“Not miracles like that,” I replied with a smile. “Just look for a change of heart in people when they come to our festival. That’s the real miracle. To have a genuine spiritual experience is no ordinary thing in the age of Kali!”

The devotees didn’t have to wait long to see such changes of heart. The next day, within minutes of our harinam party entering the crowded beach to advertise our first festival, a gentleman began enthusiastically taking photos of us. That he was taking photos wasn’t unusual in and of itself; what was unusual was that he didn’t stop. He continued following us for forty five minutes, shooting frame after frame of the brightly dressed matajis, the mrdanga players and the synchronized devotee dancers. Finally I walked over to him.

“Sir, why so many photos?” I asked.

“My daughter recently started practicing your faith,” he said, still shooting away. “She has been trying to explain it to me. I wasn’t very understanding of her choice and so she was becoming quite upset with me. When I saw you all – so many people who are obviously from different countries and backgrounds – singing and dancing happily in unison down the street I was convinced there could be nothing wrong with your movement after all. So I am taking all these photos to send to her to show my approval.” He shook my hand and waved as we continued on.

A few minutes further down the beach, a lady jumped up from her towel and came over to me.

“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” she said. “We are so happy to see you! Each year when you people come to town it means summer has finally arrived!”

That evening the crowds flooded into our festival grounds. I watched, spellbound; even after twenty six years, the sight still amazed me.

As I watched some festival goers settled down to enjoy the continuous stage show, while others milled around the restaurant, the shops, the book stalls, the yoga classes, the face painting, and the many other attractions.

“These are the most precious moments of my life,” I thought, as I began my customary walk around the festival site, Guru Kripa and Mathuranath by my side. “So much endeavor goes into collecting for and planning these events, but when I see so many hundreds and thousands people enjoying Krsna consciousness I feel full satisfaction.”

As I was walking, I noticed a woman in her twenties with a sad look on her face standing at the perimeter of the festival. She was holding a big basket of flowers.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I’ve been trying to sell these roses for nine hours,” she said. “I’m hungry and tired and I’ve only sold two. My boss is going to kill me. And while I’m feeling bad, all the people at your festival are having a great time. I just wish I could come in, but I can’t. I really depend on this job, and I can’t afford not to sell the flowers.”

“How much do they cost?” I asked.

“They’re two zlotys each,” she said.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” I said. “I’ll buy the whole basket if you promise to come to the festival and stay until the very end.”

There was a long pause. She regarded me with wide-eyed amazement.

“Really?” she said at last. “You’re not joking?”

“Not at all,” I replied. “I can ask someone to take you to the fashion booth where you can put on a sari for the evening. Then you can have your face painted with beautiful flowers and you can go to the restaurant and eat for free. And then you can just sit in the front row and watch the show.”

Her eyes filled with tears as I pulled out 100 zlotys, took all the flowers, and handed them to Mathuranath.

“The pujaris were looking for some nice flowers for the deities this afternoon. We can give these roses to them.”

One of the lady devotees took the flower girl towards the stalls. Guru Kripa turned to me.

“Gurudeva,” he said, “this festival is free, but you just paid that girl to come. It’s so unusual.”

“There’s a saying in Sanskrit,” I said. ‘Phalena pariciyate’. It means ‘judge something by the result.’ Let’s see how she’s doing at the end of the festival.”

I continued my walk around the festival site. On the stage, our new theatrical performance “Vrindavan” was in full swing, the audience mesmerized by the performance of the thirty two actors. Meanwhile, all sixteen tents that bordered the festival area were full of people soaking up the various aspects of Vedic culture on display. In the book tent, people were browsing through Srila Prabhupada’s books and asking the devotees behind the counter questions. I saw an elderly woman concluding her purchase of Bhagavad-Gita at the cash register.

“It’s a wonderful book,” I said to her.

“Oh yes, I know,” she said. “I’ve read this edition several times. I come to your festival every year and purchase four or five copies.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, I am 85 years old and lots of my friends are beginning to pass away,” she said. “When each one does, I give a Bhagavad-Gita to their relatives so they can understand what death actually is and that the soul is reborn.”

“Now that’s a little miracle,” I thought to myself. “An old woman who has never lived in a temple or been formally trained in Krsna conscious is sharing the wisdom of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita with others!”

It was time for me to head to the stage to give my lecture.

“How many times have I given this talk?” I asked Guru Kripa.

“At least 108 times,” he said.

“More like at least 1008 times, if not double that,” I said.

With Gita in hand I walked onto the stage and went straight to the front, my translator Mondakini dasi by my side. As a young boy I was always shy about speaking in public, but I’ve never experienced fear when delivering a lecture on Krsna consciousness. The reason is simple: the philosophy is perfect and complete. For a person who studies it and lives it, the philosophy is attractive because it provides a logical explanation of spiritual life and a positive alternative for solving all problems by returning to the spiritual world.

At the end of the lecture, I descended the stairs to find a small group of people with Bhagavad-Gitas in their hands, waiting for me to sign them.

The first to approach me was a sixteen-year-old girl who said that it was the eighth summer festival she had attended.

“Since my first festival I have had a special attraction to your food. I also love your theatre shows. I’ve watched all the shows you’ve ever produced; my favorite is the one about Lord Rama. As I was sitting listening to your lecture today, it dawned on me that it’s about time I started studying your philosophy, so I ran over to the book tent and bought this Bhagavad-Gita.” She blushed and looked at the ground. “Sorry it has taken me eight years to come to this point.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” I said. “That’s how the process works.”

Next two girls approached me with a Bhagavad-Gita.

“It’s for our parents,” one of them said. “Our family is going through a difficult time. We were listening to your lecture and realized that your philosophy solves so many problems, so we’re hoping the wisdom in this book can guide our family to happier times.”

“I’m sure it will,” I said.

I signed ten Bhagavad Gitas, and as I was finishing two boys ran up to me.

“When’s your talk?” one of them said, gasping for air.

“Well, actually, I already spoke,” I said. “It was about an hour ago.”

“Oh no!” he said. He turned to the other boy. “You were eating your dessert too slowly. I told you we’d be late!”

“How old are you boys?” I asked.

“I’m twelve”, said the taller boy, “and my brother is ten.”

“And you came to hear my lecture?” I asked.

“Yes!” said the older boy. “We’ve come to your festival for the last three years and our favorite part is your talk. So much knowledge.”

“Yep,” said his younger brother. “As you always say, ‘Out of 8,400,000 species of life, the human form of life is the most important.’”

I shook my head in amazement. “Yes, I do say that.”

“Every lecture,” the older boy said, and they both laughed.

“But there’s always something new for us to think about too,” said the younger one. “We’re very grateful to you.”

“Why don’t we go and talk in the restaurant?” I suggested. “Because you guys missed the talk you can have whatever you want to eat.”

Their eyes lit up. “Great idea!”

Walking to the restaurant beside the boys, I marveled at how Srila Prabhupada’s movement appeals to people of all ages. “Even to very young philosophers,” I thought.

Outside the book tent I saw the flower girl emerging with a big smile on her face and one of Srila Prabhupada’s books under her arm.

“So there’s the result!” I said aloud.

“What did you say?” asked the younger brother.

I gave a huge smile. “I said I could do this forever!”

aneka janma krta maj jato ‘ndhau
siddhim kurusva prabhu gaura candra
samuj jvalam te pada padma sevam
karomi nityam hari kirtanam ca
“I have been immersed for many lives in this ocean of birth and death. Oh Lord Gauracandra! Oh golden moon-like master! If You bestow upon me continuous service to Your brilliant lotus feet, I shall chant and describe to others the glories of Sri Hari forever.”
[Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Susloka-Satakam, text 99]

The Light of the Soul – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 8

The Light of the Soul

March 4, 2016

– by Indradyumna Swami

chap4

“Welcome home!” Mahavan dasa, a Russian disciple, greeted me as I came out of New Delhi’s slick new airport terminal, tired after my flight from Bangalore. Mahavan is my secretary when I travel in India. A brahmachari in his thirties, he wears saffron, shaves his head, and stuffs his bag with the latest gadgets—cell phones, iPads, ear buds, chargers.

“We’re not home yet,” I said. “I wish we were, but Vrindavan is still a good three hours away.”

“Well, let’s get there quickly,” he said. “The car is just over here.”

We began working our way through the crowd of people that were going into and coming out of the terminal when Mahavan suddenly pointed to an elderly man in soiled burgundy-colored robes in the midst of the throng. “Gurudeva,” Mahavan said, “look at that man. It looks like he’s asking people for help. I think he’s a beggar.”

“He’s not a beggar,” I said. “He’s a Buddhist monk from Tibet. It’s part of his tradition to approach others for alms. It helps the monks develop humility.”

“But he doesn’t have a begging bowl,” Mahavan said, “and he looks desperate.”

No one was giving the man anything. As we watched, a teenage boy shoved him aside. The monk covered his face with his hands and sat down on a bench. A moment later, an affluent-looking couple walked past, and he got up and approached them, but they too ignored him, and when he persisted the man shouted at him. The monk looked flustered. He sat back down on the bench and stared straight ahead, as if in contemplation. Despite his bedraggled condition, he appeared effulgent.

I was shocked at the way people were treating him. I felt it was my duty to help him, so I started to walk toward the bench when he noticed me and jumped up to hurry over and grab hold of my sleeve. “Please let me stay with you for a while,” he said in English. “I need the shelter of spiritual people.”

“Sure,” I said. “Why don’t we sit down?”

“Do you have the time?” he asked softly.

“For someone like you I have all the time in the world,” I said. We walked toward the bench he had been sitting on. He continued to hold onto my sleeve.

“Are you hungry?” I asked. “Can I get something for you to eat?”

“Thank you, no,” he replied. “I am not hungry.”

“Have you lost your way?” I asked. “Maybe I can help you get to your next destination.”

“Just a minute,” he said. He straightened his back and closed his eyes, assuming a meditative pose. As he slowly inhaled and exhaled, he became calm, serene, and composed.

“How in the world did he manage to find such peace right after being mistreated?” I wondered. The minutes passed, and I felt a wave of tranquility come over me as well. Finally he opened his eyes. He didn’t look directly at me, but stared into the distance as he told me his story.

“My name is Tsering Lama,” he said. “I come from the Sera Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet. I have lived there since I was five years old.”

“Wow!” I said. “How old are you now?”

“I am seventy years old.”

“And what service do you do in the monastery?” I asked.

“I study the scriptures,” he said. “Since my childhood I have studied the teachings of Master Lama Tsongkhapa who lived in the fourteenth century. He was the founder of the Gelug-pa School which I belong to, and a highly respected teacher of the Buddhist scriptures. My main service is to debate with others about the scriptures. It is an integral part of our tradition.”

“I am honored to meet such a learned scholar,” I said. “And I am sorry to see how people are treating you today.”

He shook his head, as if to suggest the mistreatment was of no concern or perhaps to dismiss my praise. “It has been my lifelong dream to visit Bodh Gaya,” he said. “It is the place where Buddha attained enlightenment. That holy site is here in India in the state of Bihar. Several months ago I said goodbye to my beloved disciples and set out on foot alone for Bodh Gaya.”

I wondered how many hundreds or even thousands of disciples such a man could have.

“When I arrived here in Delhi,” he continued, “two men invited me to spend the night at their home. I was exhausted from months of traveling, so I accepted their invitation. That night they fed me and gave me some tea to drink. The next thing I knew I was waking up on the sidewalk in a Delhi slum. It seems that the tea they gave me was laced with some drug that caused me to fall unconscious. I discovered that they had stolen everything I possessed: my clothes, my passport, my money, of course, and even my sacred chanting beads. I had been saving that money since my childhood for this pilgrimage, and suddenly it seemed impossible that I would make it to Bodh Gaya.

“Now I have nothing. I have been here at the airport for three days begging for money to complete my journey. Nobody has given me a single rupee, most likely because I look so dirty and disheveled.”

I took his hand. “I will help you,” I said.

“No, no,” he said. “I will not take money from a holy man like you.”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I am not holy yet. I’m trying, but I’m just a beginner, really. I have a long way to go. Believe me, you can safely accept some money from me.”

“What you say in humility is not true,” he said soberly. “I studied your face. I can see your true self through your eyes.”

“You can see me through my eyes?” I asked.

“Yes” he replied. “I have learned this from our Tibetan masters.” He looked straight into my eyes with a steady stare. Feeling uncomfortable, I looked away, but he caught my chin with his hand and turned my head toward him so he could study my face. His small hand had a powerful grip.

I also looked at his face. His dark brown eyes peered out from slanted eyelids that curved upward at the outer corners, reminding me of Tibetan art. He had a small flattish nose, and his thin lips, though fixed in a determined line, seemed to be slightly, almost imperceptibly, smiling. He obviously had not shaved for some days, and his golden skin bore a few small scars. He seemed to glow with a radiance that I could feel more than see, and the softly pungent fragrance of Tibetan incense still hovered about his stained, travel-weary clothes. Though his head barely came up to my nose, I had the feeling that I was standing in front of someone large and powerful, someone who could knock me over with the flick of a finger.

After some minutes he spoke. “You have served your master well in this life.”

“Well, I have done some service,” I said. “Like I said, I’m trying, but…”

“You have spread his glories through the written word, through discourses, and through festivals that you hold in distant lands.”

“Distant lands?” I thought. “How could a Tibetan monk know about the festivals in Poland?”

“But your service was interrupted last year by disease,” he said.

“Well, yes. I had a bout with cancer and…”

“In March,” he said.

I caught my breath. “Yes,” I said. “Yes. You are exactly right. It was in March of last year.”

“And there is more disease to come,” he said.

“Oh really?” I said. I could hear the disappointment in my own voice.

“But don’t worry,” he said. “I will help you.”

He got off the bench and sat down on the ground in a full yoga asana. He closed his eyes once more and quickly seemed to be transported to another plane. After a few minutes his eyebrows furrowed in the intensity of his meditation and his lips moved as he chanted mantras in the Tibetan language.

People stopped to stare at the unusual sight: a sannyasi sitting on a bench and a Buddhist monk meditating on the ground next to him. They looked at me as if asking for an explanation, but I had none. I could only sit silently while he offered prayers on my behalf.

Twenty minutes later he opened his eyes and turned to me. “I have removed the obstacles,” he said. “You will live a long life in service to your master.”

“Well, gosh,” I said. “Thanks so much.” I got up and helped him back onto the bench.

“Compassion is central to the teachings of Buddha,” he said.

“I know that,” I said. “But why are you being so kind to a stranger like me?”

“We are not strangers,” he said. “I am returning a favor you offered me several lifetimes ago.”

I felt the hair on my arms stand up.

“You mean… Are you saying we were together in a previous…?”

“Some things are better left unsaid,” he replied. “And I must go. I must try to fulfill my dream.”

“Wait,” I said. “Wait a minute. I want to help you.”

“No,” he said. “As I already told you, I would not accept money from you. You are using it to help people less fortunate than yourself.”

“But wait,” I said. “How do you know how I use money? We’ve only just met.”

“As I told you,” he said, “the eyes show the light of the soul.”

He turned and started walking away toward the terminal.

“No!” I said running after him. “I won’t let you be mistreated by those people again. Please take this donation. It’s enough to get you to Bodh Gaya and back to Tibet by train.” I pushed some bills into his hand.

He looked at the money for a long time. When he looked up his eyes were moist.

“I will accept your kindness,” he said slowly. “And I will not forget you.”

He started walking away again, but then stopped and turned back.

“We won’t meet again in this lifetime,” he said. “But I will leave you a special gift in the monastery in Lhasa. When you arrive, mention my name. The monks will direct you.” He took a small piece of paper from the sleeve of his robe and wrote down the address of the monastery. I felt goose bumps erupt on my body.

“Please make sure you go there,” he said. “What I am leaving for you will be a great asset in service to your master.”

“Do you mean money?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” he said. “Nothing like that. It is something more wonderful than anything money could ever buy. You will not be disappointed.” With that he disappeared into the crowded metro station.

I turned to Mahavan. “What just happened? Was that a dream?”

“No,” he said, looking as astounded as I felt. “I saw it with my own eyes. Will you actually go to Lhasa?”

“Yes, of course I will,” I replied. “I’ve always wanted to go to Tibet. And now I have the best reason ever: to increase my service to my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada.”

“Can I go with you?” Mahavan said.

“You must come,” I said, “just to remind me that I’m not dreaming when we discover what the monk has left us. And to confirm that service to a great soul never goes in vain.”

“One can attain the path of liberation from material bondage only by rendering service to highly advanced spiritual personalities. These personalities are impersonalists and devotees. Whether one wants to merge into the Lord’s existence or wants to associate with the Personality of Godhead, one should render service to the mahatmas. For those who are not interested in such activities, who associate with people fond of women and sex, the path to hell is wide open. The mahatmas are equipoised. They do not see any difference between one living entity and another. They are very peaceful and are fully engaged in devotional service. They are devoid of anger, and they work for the benefit of everyone. They do not behave in any abominable way. Such people are known as mahatmas.”

[ Srimad Bhagavatam 5.5.2 ]

The Singing Janitor – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 7

The Singing Janitor

February 21, 2016

– by Indradyumna Swami

chap8

Whenever I come to Mumbai I stay at the home of my disciple Narottam Dasa Thakur Das and his wife Manjari Devi Dasi. Today, Narottam had come with me to the hospital for my PET scan, a checkup for any recurrence of the cancerous skin cells I had had surgically removed last year.

“I’m doubly nervous,” I said to Narottam as we sat in the waiting room. “What if the cancer comes back? I’ll have to go through another operation and all the rest.”

“We’re all praying for you,” said Narottam.

“And I’m nervous about the scan,” I said.

“Why?” asked Narottam. “Scans don’t hurt.”

“I know,” I said. “But it gives me the creeps when they lay me out on the table and roll me into that machine. It’s as if they were feeding me into the mouth of some big monster.”

I looked across the room and saw a janitor pushing a broom across the floor. “And just look at that guy over there,” I said. “He’s talking loudly to himself and laughing at his own jokes. It’s annoying, and it makes everything worse.”

“Maybe he’s a little crazy,” said Narottam.

“He’s not crazy,” said the man next to us. “I come here often and always see him. He’s just eccentric.”

The janitor strode past us, his thinnish frame dressed in a khaki-colored uniform, his brown eyes darting here and there. He was pushing his broom in wild motions, seemingly unaware of the patients in the room. I could see that others were disturbed by him too.

“Now he’s singing to himself,” I said to Narottam. “And off key at that.”

The man next to us laughed. “He keeps the place pretty clean, though,” he said. “And he means well.”

The receptionist behind the desk called out to the sweeper. “Mahesh! Deliver this package to Doctor Agarwal. He’s in room sixteen on the fourth floor.”

Mahesh’s broom made a loud clattering sound as he dropped it on the floor and hurried over to the desk. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “Right away, Ma’am.” His voice was high-pitched and reedy. As he walked toward the elevator he read out the address on the parcel in a loud voice. “Doctor Agarwal, room sixteen, fourth floor. Wow! A big package of stuff for the doctor!”

As the elevator doors closed, obscuring his grinning face, I breathed a sigh of relief. “Eccentric is an understatement,” I said to Narottam. “Anyway, it’s quiet at last.”

But just ten minutes later the elevator door opened and he was back. “Done!” he shouted. He hurried to pick up his broom and began sweeping again in the same big strokes, all the while singing in his shrill voice. The noise was oppressive, but I managed to doze off for a few minutes till I heard my name being called over the loudspeaker. I walked into the examination room, where I saw several nurses and, to my surprise, Mahesh busily organizing items in a medical cabinet. “Oh no,” I thought. “What’s he doing here?”

“Mahesh,” said one of the nurses over her shoulder, “could you kindly take this bag to Doctor Reynolds in room 404.” Mahesh didn’t say a word as he danced across the room to collect the bag. He opened the door with a theatrical flourish and disappeared down the hallway.

“While we are preparing the solution for your scan,” the nurse said to me, “please put on this hospital gown and then come and sit in this chair.” I went into another room to put on the gown, then came back.

“Ouch!” The nurse was sticking a needle into a vein on my wrist. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Mahesh had come back into the room. Suddenly, my chair began to slip under the pressure of my weight and knocked against the table where the nurse had all her equipment. A glass bottle teetered on the edge, and as she reached out to grab it, she accidentally yanked the needle out of my wrist.

“Mahesh!” she called, “Quick! Help!”

Mahesh dashed across the room, caught the bottle and put it back on the table. The nurse picked up the syringe, which was now in my lap. “Mahesh,” she said, “could you please hold this gentleman’s chair while I inject him.”

“Yes,” he said. He gripped the chair with both hands, a serious look on his face.

“Ouch!” The nurse found another vein. Mahesh leaned over and, to my surprise, began to speak in fluent English. “Sir,” he said, “this is a most auspicious day for me. Somehow by dint of my past pious activities, I have the good fortune to serve a sadhu. Such opportunities are rare.”

Then he quoted a verse from the Padma Purana:

aradhananam sarvesam
visnor aradhanam param
tasmat parataram devi
tadiyanam samarcanam

“My dear goddess, of all types of worship, the worship of Lord Vishnu is the best, and even better than the worship of Lord Vishnu is the worship of His devotee, the Vaisnava.”

“What?” I said. “How do you know that verse?”

“I study sastra,” he replied softly, still gripping the chair.

“You’re a devotee of Krsna?” I asked.

“One day,” he said. “One day I hope to become a devotee of the Lord.”

“Are you from a family of Vaisnavas?”

“No,” he said. “I am an orphan. The devotees of the Lord are my family.”

Then he quoted a verse from the Bhagavad Gita:

mac-citta mad-gata-prana
bodhayantah parasparam
kathayantas ca mam nityam
tusyanti ca ramanti ca

“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss enlightening one another and conversing about Me.”

I suddenly realized that I had been so busy criticizing him that I hadn’t noticed his peaceful face and his moist, sparkling eyes.

“Sir,” Mahesh said, smiling slightly, “when I saw you in the reception room earlier, I knew in my heart that the Lord had sent you to give hope to all the unlucky people suffering in this place. Your presence alone brings joy.”

The nurse’s voice brought me back to the present. “The injection is done,” she said. “Please go to the next room to wait for your scan.”

“Sure,” I said. “But first let me ask Mahesh if –––” I turned back to him, but he had gone.

“Where did he go?” I asked the nurse.

“To sweep, probably,” she replied without looking up.

As I waited in the adjoining room, I felt a wave of guilt wash over me. “I misjudged that man,” I thought. “I was ridiculing him in my mind, but he is more of a devotee than I am. I’ve committed a serious offense. I’ll have to beg him to forgive me.”

Suddenly a sign flashed my name. It was my turn for the PET scan. A nurse welcomed me and helped me lie down on the scanning machine. “Stretch your arms over your head,” she said. “You need to lie completely still for a full ten minutes.” Although I had been nervous about the monster, I relaxed and slowly drifted off to sleep. I woke up when I felt someone touch my feet. I heard a voice singing softly: “Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

I opened my eyes. It was Mahesh. “Mahesh,” I whispered, “I need to talk to you.”

But again he vanished as quickly as he had appeared. The scan ended and the sense of shame came over me again. “I’m just an offender,” I thought as I changed into my clothes. I followed the exit signs until I came to the reception room, now twice as crowded as before. I was signing some papers at the reception desk when I heard the high-pitched voice of Mahesh singing. I looked up and saw him dancing across the back of the room pushing his broom.

I rushed across the room. “Mahesh! Mahesh!” I called out. “I need to speak to you!” But before I could reach him, he had disappeared through a glass door. As he danced down the hallway to another part of the hospital, I fell on my knees and prayed for forgiveness:

vancha-kalpa-tarubhyas ca krpa-sindhubhya eva ca
patitanam pavanebhyo vaisnavebhyo namo namah

“I offer my respectful obeisances unto all the Vaisnava devotees of the Lord. They are just like desire trees who can fulfill the desires of everyone, and they are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls” [Sri Vaisnava-pranati].

As I stood up, I suddenly remembered that I was in a crowded waiting room. Everyone was staring at me.

“Let them stare,” I thought. “At the worst they’ll think I’m crazy; at the least they’ll think I’m eccentric. But I’ll know I am paying my respects to the wonderful Vaisnava I unexpectedly met today.”

Srila Prabhupada has written:

“Your complaint is that you have met two of my young disciples in California and they appeared to you as having ‘a very negative outlook towards the people they meet.’ Of course, I do not know the case, what are the circumstances, but kindly forgive my beloved disciples for any un-kindness or indiscretions on their part. After all, to give up one’s life completely for serving the Lord is not so easy thing. And maya, or the illusory material energy, she tries especially hard to try to get back and entrap those who have left her service to become devotees. So sometimes in the neophyte stage of devotional service, in order to withstand the attack of maya and remain strong under all conditions of temptation, young or inexperienced devotees will adopt an attitude against those things or persons possibly harmful, threatening to their tender devotional creeper. To come to that platform of understanding things as they are, that is not a very common thing, and therefore such persons who attain to it, they are described as ‘great souls.’”

[Srila Prabhupada letter to Lynne Ludwig, April 30, 1973]