Diary of a Traveling Monk
Volume 9, Chapter 20
October 4 - November 14, 2008
In Her Own Handwriting
By Indradyumna Swami
For most people the New Year begins on January 1st. For me it comes in early October, when my yearly worldwide preaching tour finishes and I head to Vrindavan for spiritual rejuvenation.
Just before leaving for India this year, I sat down and made up my itinerary for 2009. When I finished, I saw there was hardly a day to spare, with visits to most continents and almost 100 full-scale festivals in Poland, England, South Africa, Hong Kong and Australia.
I looked at the itinerary and shook my head. “My dear Lord Krsna,” I said aloud, “please give me the inspiration, spiritual strength, and stamina for all the service ahead.”
Although I have visited Vrindavan many times in the past 38 years, I still feel a sense of mystery and expectation whenever I begin another trip there. As I boarded a flight from London to Delhi in early October, I was so excited it was as if I were going to Vrindavan for the first time. As the flight took off I thought about what India had been like in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In those days India was still considered a third-world country, and in the West, I would often hear people speak of India’s “starving masses.” Of course, there were no starving masses in India, but people had little knowledge of the facts, so the rumors persisted.
When our flight reached cruising altitude and the seat belt sign was turned off, I reached for a copy of the International Herald Tribune in the seat next to me and saw an article about President Bush signing an agreement to trade nuclear technology with India, ending a 30-year ban.
The agreement will give India access to civilian nuclear technology and fuel and will clear the way for American and European nuclear corporations to bid for contracts worth $27 billion to build 18 or 20 nuclear reactors in India.
“How times have changed,” I thought.
Unfortunately, India’s rise to a world power has affected even places like Vrindavan. The sleepy little town I went to in 1973 has grown into a small metropolis with guest houses, homes, and businesses being built at an alarming rate. Gone are the peaceful, quiet days when one could walk through Vrindavan without getting lost in huge crowds and having to dodge motor rickshaws, buses, and cars.
Nevertheless, Vrindavan remains and will always be a pure and sanctified place, untouched by material contamination. To deepen my appreciation for the dhama, I read selected verses from Srimad Bhagavatam as the flight continued to Delhi.
After landing, I caught a taxi to Vrindavan. As we entered the town, I asked the driver to stop, and I got out of the car and rolled in the dust, as is the tradition, much to the surprise of tourists passing by in another car.
I entered the room where I would be staying and set up my computer to check my email. Then I caught myself. “This is not why I’ve come here,” I thought and put the computer aside.
After settling in, I picked up my cell phone to call Jayatam dasa in Poland and get an update on his recent lunch with the Indian ambassador. Again, I stopped myself. “It can wait,” I said softly.
Minutes later, a devotee came by to greet me.
“Welcome to the holy dhama, Maharaja,” he said. “How was your trip?”
I told him about the flight.
Then he started talking about the news of the world. “What are your thoughts on the presidential race in the U.S.?” he said. “Do think Obama can win?”
“It’s hard to say at this point ...,” I began.
Then I caught myself once more. “Here I go again,” I thought.
I politely excused myself, saying I had other things to do. After my friend left I sat before my Deities and prayed They would give me direction on how to accomplish my purpose in coming to Vrindavan: to deepen my love for the Lord and get spiritual strength for the huge task that lay ahead.
Later in the evening I decided to go on Vrindavan parikrama. I picked up my japa beads and started barefoot on the two-hour walk along the perimeter of the town.
As I rounded the first turn, I saw a man come out of his home and climb onto a bicycle. As he began to pedal away, his five-year-old daughter burst out of the house and ran down the street after him. Crying, she called out to him again and again. But within moments, her father had pedaled out of sight.
The little girl stopped, fell to ground, and continued sobbing uncontrollably.
“Thank you for showing me that, my Lord,” I thought. “If I can learn to cry for You as intensely as that little girl cried for her father, my spiritual life will be successful.”
The next day devotees arrived from different parts of the world to take part in the parikrama that BB Govinda Maharaja and I would be leading. For the next three weeks we immersed ourselves in kirtana and classes in Vrindavan, Jaipur, and Hrsikesh. At every temple, samadhi, holy river, and kunda, I prayed intensely for the awakening of my love for Radha and Krsna and for the strength to preach in the coming year.
And by the Lord’s grace, inspiration continued coming. While on Govardhana parikrama with our group, I started feeling tired half way around. “Maybe I should give up,” I thought.
After some time I was walking at a snail’s pace, focusing on my aching muscles and tired feet. Suddenly a pilgrim walked briskly past me, chanting prayers to Govardhana Hill. I looked at him closely and was shocked to see that he was totally blind.
“Despite his blindness he’s as eager as everyone else to perform the 16-mile journey,” Ithought. “Who am I to complain?”
I caught up with him and spent the rest of the parikrama following in his footsteps, listening to his prayers and praying for the same determination.
Several days later, our parikrama party was to go to Varsana, where Srimati Radharani had lived with her parents, King Vrsabhanu and Queen Kirtida Sundari. Exhausted from the
previous parikramas, I got up late and rushed through my puja to be on time.
Then I scolded myself. “It’s not proper to do puja quickly, especially in the dhama,” I thought.
That day as we walked with our parikrama party up the winding road to Varsana, I saw an elderly woman carrying a Deity of Gopal in a small basket. At each holy spot on the way up, she would stop and show Gopal the sacred place. She handled the Deity with such care and attention it was obvious she had much love for Him.
At one point she laughed and shook the basket. “You naughty boy, Krsna,” she said to the Deity, “here’s where You stopped Radharani and the gopis and tried to tax them for their milk products.”
“Thank you again for another lesson, my Lord,” I said softly. “I can only hope one day I will worship Your Deity form with such love and devotion.”
I wanted still more inspiration, so I went to see my friend Caturatma dasa. “Prabhu,” I said, “could you recommend a book about the lives of great devotees who spent time in the dhama?”
“Prema Vilasa by Nityananda das,” he replied. “It’s filled with the pastimes of great devotees like Jahnava Mata, the wife of Lord Nityananda. And it describes the pastimes of Narottam das Thakur and Srinivasa Acaraya in great detail.”
“Is it authorized?” I asked.
Caturatma smiled. “Srila Prabhupada quotes it in the purport to verse 60 of the 13th chapter of Adi-lila in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta,” he said.
I found a copy of the book, published by ISKCON’s Isvara das from Touchstone Media. Day by day I became more enthusiastic as I read about the previous acaryas and their love for Vrindavan.
But as the month of Kartika was coming to a close I found myself still hankering for more mercy.
“I’ve never attempted 100 festivals in a year,” I thought. On my last day in Vrindavan, I prostrated myself in the
dust before beginning my final parikrama around the dhama. “My dear Radharani, Queen of Vrindavan,” I prayed, “I beg You, please send some special mercy my way.”
As I walked along, I made mental images of all the temples, Deities, and samadhis, hoping the impressions would stay with me throughout the entire year.
“Rupa Goswami says that if one cannot live in Vrindavan,” I thought, “then one should always remember the holy place. In this way one will always remain enlivened.”
Just before finishing the parikrama, I stopped off at a place where my Godbrother Kiran Prabhu had invited me for lunch.
Kiran has been living in India for almost 30 years. Much of this time he spent preaching in West Bengal. While there he wrote a detailed book on the holy places of Bengal and the pastimes of Lord Caitanya and His associates there.
After lunch we talked about having his book published. Then just before leaving, I went to his room to take darshan of his Deities. I was surprised when I found only a small frame on the altar with thin pieces of old wood inside. There appeared to be writing on the wood, though it was faded.
“What is this?” I asked Kiran.
He looked lovingly at the frame. “The handwriting of Gadadhara Pandit,” he said, “one of the members of the Panca Tattva.”
“The handwriting of Gadadhara Pandit?” I said. “The incarnation of Srimati Radharani in Lord Caitanya’s pastimes?” “Yes,” he said softly. “It’s part of a Bhagavad-gita he was copying.”
My eyes opened wide.
“It’s mentioned in our Gaudiya literature,” he said.
“But how did you get it?” I asked.
“I was serving with the Bhaktivedanta Charity Trust set up by Srila Prabhupada in the 1970s to restore old temples in Bengal,” Kiran replied. “One time I visited a temple in Bharatpura where that Bhagavad- gita is preserved and worshiped. Once a year, on Gadadhara Pandit’s disappearance day, the Gita is put on display for the public.
“I arrived just as the priest was taking the sacred text, written on thin pieces of wood, out of a box. As he turned around he bumped into a pillar, and a few brittle pieces of the text broke off and fell to the ground.
“We both stood there stunned for a few moments. Then I calmly reached down and picked up some of the pieces that had writing on them. Somehow the priest didn’t object. Since that day I’ve been offering bhoga and arati to these pieces of the book.”
I couldn’t control myself. “Oh Prabhu,” I blurted, “would you consider giving me just a small fragment? Even just one letter?” “How could I refuse you?” Kiran replied. “You’re doing so much service in the West.”
He reached for the frame and opened it. With a pair of tweezers he picked up a small piece of wood with a perfectly formed letter on it and carefully placed it in my trembling hands.
That night I lay in bed reading the final chapters of Prema Vilasa. I wanted to finish the book before leaving the dhama the next morning. I was struggling to keep awake when suddenly I came across the following passage, which confirmed what Kiran had told me:
“O readers, please listen carefully. One day as Gadadhara Pandit was making a copy of Bhagavad-gita, Lord Caitanya asked, ‘O Pandit, what are you writing?’
“’I am writing Bhagavad-gita,’ Gadadhara Pandit replied. “The Lord forcibly took Gadadhara Pandit’s writing materials, wrote a sloka, and then returned them. When Gadadhara Pandit saw the verse he became jubilant and offered prayers to the Lord. Lord Caitanya embraced Gadadhara Pandit, who then quickly completed his work on Bhagavad-gita.
“Just before his disappearance, Gadadhara Pandit called Nayananda Misra and said, ‘I have a Deity of Krsna that I always keep hanging around my neck. From now on you should worship Him with great care. Also, take care of the Gopinatha Deity. Now take this Bhagavad- gita and worship it with great devotion. Lord Caitanya wrote a sloka in it.’
“After saying this, Gadadhara Pandit left this world. Nayananda Misra performed the necessary rituals for the spiritual master’s departure and moved to Bharatpura.
“Desiring to serve the lotus feet of Sri Jahnava and Viracandra, I, Nityananda das, narrate Prema Vilasa.”
[Nityananda das, Prema Vilasa, 22nd vilasa]
When I finished the passage I was overwhelmed. “My prayers were answered,” I thought. “By the mercy of Srimati Radharani, I now have a tiny fragment of that sacred text. In fact, it is Her very own handwriting. What more inspiration and mercy could a preacher want in his efforts to serve the sacred mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu?”
The next day I left the holy dhama fully rejuvenated and ready for the services and challenges that lay ahead.