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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.

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 ]

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]

Touching the Feet of the Gods – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 6

Touching the Feet of the Gods

September 23, 2015

– by Indradyumna Swami

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Time passes quickly when you are doing something you love, and since the devotees love spreading Krsna consciousness, the summer flew by. Our schedule was intense—a festival every day—but the reward of seeing people smile and dance with us was enough to keep us going. And we got this reward every day.

One evening during harinam on the beach before the evening festival, an elderly woman came up to me. “I just love the way you people sing,” she said. “I can’t wait for the festival tonight.” We stood watching the devotees as they danced. The woman smiled a little smile. “I have a big desire in my heart,” she said. “I wish that all the people on this beach would jump up and start singing and dancing with you. Do you ever feel like that?”

“All the time,” I said.

“I have been watching you for many years,” she said. “I once read a book that explained that you are singing the names of God. Your singing is like a spiritual first-aid kit. People get cured of their awful ways.”

Farther on the beach another woman came running toward us. “It’s you!” she said, out of breath. “The Hare Krsnas! I found you!” She bent over to catch her breath, and then looked up with a smile. “No, actually you found me.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I was trying to decide where to go on vacation this summer,” she said, still out of breath, “but my co-workers told me not to go overseas. They said the weather in Poland was supposed be good this summer and that I should just come to the Baltic Sea coast. They said if I was lucky I might even run into the Hare Krsnas and be invited to your festival. Many of them have been to your festivals and they just raved about it. Are you having a festival here?”

“We sure are,” I said, handing her an invitation.

“Will there be samosas?” she asked.

“Oh? You already know about samosas?”

“Well, I’ve never actually had one,” she said. “But they are one of the things my friends told me about. They said I had to try one if I found you, and they asked me to bring some back to the office.”

“Well, yes,” I said. “We’ll have plenty of samosas. We make six hundred for every festival. We have a restaurant tent, and you’ll find them there.”

On our way back to the festival site we passed through the town. A man called out to me from a restaurant, “Hey Guru! Come here! I want to talk to you!”

I took the chance and walked over to the restaurant. The man took my hand and shook it vigorously. “Thank you,” he said. “My wife here said that if you shake hands with a guru you get lots of blessings. Thank you so much!”

“Um… no problem,” I said. “We’re having a festival this evening. Please come if you can. You’ll get lots of blessings there too.”

I was jogging to catch up with the harinama party when a woman rushed out of a store and ran up to me. “Stop!” she shouted. “Can you just stop for a minute! I want an answer from you, and I want it now. Why do you people only sing in this part of town? Why only here, huh?”

“This part of town?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

“Oh don’t act like you don’t know,” she said, looking me in the eye, her clenched hands pushing on her hips. “Years ago you used to come and sing in the other part of town where my store is. We used to look forward to it all summer. Don’t you care about us on the other side of town anymore?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Answer me!” she demanded. “Why should the people in this part of town be the only ones who get to hear your singing?”

“Well,” I began, “we came here to chant because…”

“Look,” she said, cutting me off, “if you don’t turn around right now and come to my part of town, I’m going to tell all my friends and neighbors not to go to your festival.”

I called out to the kirtan party and waved for them to come back.

“You lead the way,” I said to her. We chanted behind her as she led us to her part of town, and we stayed for an hour, chanting and dancing. She waved to us from the doorway of her store as we left. “See you tonight!” she shouted with a huge smile.

Our detour had made us late for prasada. The devotees ate a hurried meal and began preparing for the festival. Half an hour or so before the festival was to begin, I saw a man, a woman and their young daughter sitting in the front row of benches.

I walked up to them. “It will be a little while before things get going,” I said.

“That’s OK,” the man said. “We could use a little break. We just drove up from Warsaw. Our daughter was adamant that we come.”

“Oh, I see,” I said. “So is this your first time with us?”

“No, no,” the woman replied. “We were at another one of your festivals earlier in the summer. But when we got home our seven-year-old daughter couldn’t stop talking about it. She loved everything: the singing, the dancing, the puppet shows, the make-up tent, the food. Everything. And day and night she insisted on wearing the sari she had won at the dance competition.”

“She was pestering us constantly to come back,” the man said. “She just wouldn’t stop. It was driving us crazy. So in the end I asked my boss for another week’s vacation. Fortunately he understood the situation. He had been to one of your festivals himself, so he agreed. I had to take money from my pension fund to pay for the trip.”

“So here we are,” the woman said with a laugh. “And we’ll be at every one of your events over the next week.”

Forty five minutes later as Bada Haridas began the first bhajan on the stage, a woman walked up to me. “I just wanted to thank you for all you’re doing,” she said. “I know you have very high principles.”

“Thank you,” I said. “You must have read some of our books then.”

“No, not yet,” she replied. “I was speaking with my neighbor about you last summer. Her son had become interested in your movement and was thinking of joining. My neighbor was concerned and went to our local priest for advice, but the priest told her not to worry. He said her son probably wouldn’t stay long because your principles are so high and your discipline is so strict. Then he said that if her son did decide to stay it would be all the better for him.”

Hungry from the day’s activities, I decided to go to our restaurant. Inside the tent, a young teenage girl carrying a plate of prasada came up to me. “I’ve always wanted to thank you for how you changed my life,” she said.

“Five years ago I came with my parents to your festival. I put on a sari in the fashion tent, and when I came out you were standing there. You said I looked like an angel. I was just a child then, but I was touched by your words, and I decided I should actually become like an angel. I started going to church more, and every night I prayed to God.

“Then last year I found a Bhagavad-gita in our house. My parents had bought it at your festival. I started reading it and found many instructions about how I could become the angel you saw in me. I even became a vegetarian and I started learning English so that if I ever met you again I could thank you and learn more about your way of life.”

“I… I hardly know what to say,” I replied. “I am so moved by your story. Let’s sit and talk for a while.”

We had been talking for about twenty minutes when a young man interrupted us. “Are you the leader here?” he asked. “Someone told me you’re in charge of the show.”

“Yes,” I said. “I do help manage things.”

“I have a question about the big chariot that you have parked in the middle of the field out there. Man, that thing is gigantic! One of your people told me that it gets pulled through the streets with long ropes on special days.”

“Yes, it does,” I said.

“Well, my question is this: Where do you keep the slaves who pull it?”

“Uh… Did you say ‘slaves’?” I asked.

“Yeah. I figure it must take between fifty and a hundred slaves to pull that massive cart down the street. Do you keep them locked up somewhere?”

I had to try hard to keep from laughing. “Actually we don’t use slaves,” I said. “We pull the chariot ourselves. It’s said that by pulling that chariot one makes spiritual advancement. Everyone is eager to pull the ropes.”

“So there aren’t any slaves?” he said.

“Nope,” I said. “No slaves.” He shook his head and wandered off into the theater tent to wait with the others for the show to start.

As he left, another man came up to me. “Can you sign this Bhagavad-gita?” he asked. “I just bought it.”

“Sure,” I said.

“I’ve been attending your festivals each summer for fifteen years,” he said as I began writing. “But this time something just clicked, and I decided it was high time that I bought a book and went deeper into your philosophy.

Sorry it took me so long.”

I smiled. “Better late than never,” I said and handed the book back to him.

Then I saw a man dressed in a suit, wearing old-fashioned glasses and carrying a small briefcase. He looked like an old professor, and I could see that he wanted to talk to me. I excused myself from the young woman I had been talking to, and stood up to receive him.

“May I have a brief word with you?” he asked.

“Of course, sir,” I said. “I am at your service.”

“It’s only a quick question,” he said. “I just want to know when you will begin your lecture.”

I looked at my watch. “In about thirty-five minutes,” I said, “when the theater is over.”

“Very good,” he said. He turned to leave, but I called after him.

“Excuse me sir,” I said. “Is this your first time with us?”

“Oh no,” he said. “I have been attending your event for many years, as far back as I can remember. It’s been going on for twenty-eight years now, hasn’t it?”

A smile broke out on my face. “You have a great memory, sir,” I said. “Yes, it’s been exactly twenty-eight years.”

“Each time, though, I only come for one hour,” he said. “I come just to hear you speak. I write your words of wisdom down and try to imbibe them in my life throughout the year.” He opened his briefcase and showed me a notepad and pen. “I have become a much better person through the years and have gotten closer to the goal of life.”

“What do you mean when you say ‘the goal of life’?” I asked

“You know very well what that means,” he said with a smile.

When I was giving my talk from the stage that evening, I saw him on the last bench furiously writing. At the end of the lecture, I made my way over to where he had been sitting, but he had gone.

As I walked back toward my van, I saw a woman carrying an especially large plate of samosas. It was the woman I had met on the beach whose co-workers had told her to visit our festival. “Hey!” I called out. “I see you got your samosas!”

She turned toward me. “I can’t thank you enough!” she shouted back. “I love your festival! And my friends were right. These samosas are fantastic!”

“Everything about this festival is auspicious,” I thought. “I feel so fortunate to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord, delivering His message in such an attractive way.”

The last kirtan of the evening went on for about an hour. Everybody was dancing—children, parents, everybody. Afterwards, a middle-aged man came up to me, his eyes welling with tears, a gentle smile on his face. He stopped for a minute and took a deep breath. “Hearing you people sing,” he said, “is like touching the feet of the gods.”

“The people had fallen into the sinful life of this age of quarrel, being overwhelmed by grief and delusion, disturbed by anxiety to acquire money for family and relatives. Considering the situation, the Golden Lord took birth in order to protect them. Being very merciful, He made manifest His delightful form as the giver of His holy names.”

[Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Susloka-Satakam, text 4]

Our Happy Summer Days – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 5

Our Happy Summer Days

August 17, 2015

– by Indradyumna Swami

chap..

After a month of harinams and festivals and a mammoth three-day Woodstock festival, our tour devotees were exhausted. When I mentioned during a meeting that we had seventeen more festivals to go, I saw many devotees catch their breath and roll their eyes upward. “It’s our duty,” I said. “We can’t give up, we can’t give in. We’ve inherited a tradition that goes back five hundred years. Many great devotees have served selflessly for this very moment that we are living: when the holy names of Lord Krishna are being broadcast all over the world. We have to push on for this next month. So much can be achieved.”

There was a loud roar of approval. I felt proud of the devotees. They understood the responsibility we had and the mercy we could deliver. They were ready to push on despite their fatigue.

Krsna’s Village of Peace had been an astounding success at the Woodstock Festival in July, and whatever follows a large memorable event is usually anti-climactic, but not so with our festival tour. The smaller festivals afterwards along the Baltic Sea coast were no less remarkable.

While advertising our first post-Woodstock festival with a melodious and colorful harinam, I was stopped by a middle-aged couple just before we got to the beach. “We don’t want to take your valuable time,” the man said, “but we just wanted to thank you for bringing your festival back to our town this year.”

“It really is the highlight of our summer,” his wife added.

“You all look a bit tired,” the man said. “Must be because of your hard work at Woodstock.”

“How did you know we were at Woodstock?” I asked. They looked like middle-class people, not the kind who would go to Woodstock or even be interested in it.

“Your big chariot was on the evening news,” the man said. “It looked like hundreds of you were singing and dancing alongside it.”

“Really?” I said. “I didn’t know.” I felt so happy I almost started laughing.

When we reached the sand, we all stopped to take off our shoes. A few meters away, I heard a father and his young daughter talking as they looked at one of our festival posters.

“Daddy,” the girl said, “what is reincarnation?”

I saw the man look again at the poster. I knew there was no mention of reincarnation on it. “Tell me, Daddy,” the girl said again, “what is reincarnation?”

“Well,” he mumbled, “ummm… you see… uh… Let’s go get some ice cream, shall we, darling?” He took her hand, and they started walking away. She looked back at us. “Daddy,” she said, “what is karma?”

As they disappeared into the throng of beachgoers, a woman rushed toward us.

“Are you going to sing?” she asked.

“Yes, we are,” I said.

“Oh, wonderful!” she said. “Do you sell CDs of your singing on the beach?”

“Well, not exactly of our singing on the beach, but we have CDs of our singing in our centers.”

“No,” she said. “I am looking for a CD of your singing on the beach.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I have been hearing you sing on this beach every summer since I was a little girl,” she said. “It has always been a memorable part of my summer vacation. Now I have my own children and they also enjoy it. We want a CD of your singing on the beach so we can remember our happy summer days all year.”

Soon we were chanting and dancing down the beach while a number of devotees passed out invitations. Twenty minutes into the kirtan, three older couples approached us.

“Can we help distribute the invitations?” a man said.

“Well, sure,” I said. “Why not?”

A devotee pulled a large stack of invitations out of her bag, and the couples began giving them out with big smiles. One of the women walked beside me for a few minutes, and as she handed an invitation to a young mother and her children, she turned to me. “It would be sad if people didn’t get the opportunity to see your fine show,” she said. “We’ve seen it every summer for the last three years.”

A little further along the beach, a young man selling popcorn started making fun of our singing. He chanted the Hare Krsna mantra going between falsetto and low tones to make people laugh. I tried to move him along, but it was obvious he was enjoying the attention he got mimicking us. He followed us for an hour and a half, chanting Krsna’s name a thousand times, albeit in jest. At one point he even began dancing. Because he was in front of the kirtan party people thought he was one of us and asked him where and what time the festival was. I decided to stop trying to intervene because he began speaking respectfully. “The festival is just off the beach over there,” he said. “It starts at 5:30 pm. Be on time. You don’t want to miss it.”

I smiled and remembered a verse by Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya:

sankirtanarambha krte pi gaure
dhavanti jiva sravane gunani
asuddha cittah kim u suddha cittah
srutva pramattah khalu te nanartuh

“When the Golden Lord’s congregational chanting of the holy names had only just begun, the transcendental qualities of the name cleansed the ears of the living entities. Thus, astonishingly, those of impure mentality became pure in mind, and as they continued to hear, became intoxicated and began to dance.” (Susloka-Satakam, Text 32)

During our two-hour harinam, we covered the whole beach and gave out over seven thousand invitations. Towards the end of the kirtan, a rough-looking young man rushed in front of the kirtan party.

“Shut up!” he screamed. “Shut up! Just shut up and get off this beach!” He shouted at us again and again, his speech peppered with obscenities. When he took a swing at one of the boys playing mridanga, our security men jumped on him. After a short tussle, he was pinned to the ground, his face in the sand. I could see he was going to have a big black eye soon.

“Let me up!” he screamed. A crowd had gathered to watch the harinam, and some of the people shook their heads as if telling us not to let him up. One of the security men held him still for another minute or two until he calmed down.

“OK,” he said. “Hare Krishna. Now let me up.”

The security man holding him loosened his grip. “No!” I called out to him. “Not just yet!”

“Hare Krishna!” the boy yelled. “Hare Krishna! Krishna Krishna Hare Hare! Please let me go!”

The security man looked at me. “Not yet,” I said with a smile.

“Hare Krishna!” he screamed. “Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! And Hare Rama too!” Then he looked at me. “Please,” he said softly.

“OK,” I said. “Let him go.” He got up, brushed off the sand and walked away.

“Why did you wait so long to let him get up?” one of our boys asked.

I smiled. “It says in sastra:

eka hari name yata papa hare
kono paper sadhya nai tato papa kare

“‘One recitation of the Hare Krsna mantra is so powerful that unlimited sinful reactions in the heart are immediately removed.’ That was the most important moment of that boy’s life because he was chanting. I thought we should let him chant as much as he could.”

By the time we returned to the festival site it was almost time for the program to begin. The crowd got larger and larger, and I saw a woman who had been the mayor of the town many years ago. She was a good friend of ours.

“So nice to see you again,” I said.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” she said.

“You still remember us after all these years?”

“How could I forget you?” she said. “My daughter and I often wear the beautiful saris you gave us. And this year we’ve brought my new grandchild to your festival for his first time. Just imagine! Three generations of followers. I guess it’s a tradition in our family now.”

After speaking to her for some time I wandered over to one of my favorite spots at the festival: the book tent. I was surprised to see a furious argument going on between a mother and her teenage daughter.

“Just buy the book for me, Mom!” screamed the girl. “Buy me a Bhagavad Gita!”

“But it’s not the Bible!” her mother shouted back.

“Mom, I don’t understand you,” the girl said, shaking her head. “I’ve been an atheist most of my life, and now finally after speaking to the Hare Krishnas I think there may actually be a God. I thought you’d be happy about that. How can you deny me the chance to read their book where they say God explains himself? Do you want me to continue being an atheist?”

The mother took a deep breath. “We’ll take one Bhagavad Gita, please,” she said to the devotee at the book table.

Another woman walked over to the book table. “I would like to purchase the Srimad Bhagavatam,” she said.

I turned to her. “Maybe you’d like to start with the Bhagavad Gita?” I said. “The Bhagavatam is more advanced.”

“No,” she replied. “It’s not for me. It’s for my son. I bought him a Bhagavad Gita twenty five years ago at your festival. He’s read it at least fifty times and he wants to move on to something deeper now. He even has a website where he teaches Bhagavad Gita As It Is.”

“Really?” I said.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “It’s very popular. He says it’s because he never says anything different than the author, Swami Prabhupada.”

“My thanks to him and to you,” I said.

Passing by the gift shop I saw a woman coming out clutching a CD to her chest.

“I am so grateful to him,” she said to me.

“To who?” I asked.

“To Mr. Das,” she replied. “I can’t say his whole name.”

She held up a CD by Bada Haridas Das. “I bought another one of his CDs last year at your festival. When my father passed away later that year the CD gave me some solace. It was the most difficult period in my life. I played that heavenly music day and night, and that man’s soft voice gave me the comfort I needed. And today I was so happy to find a second CD by him.”

A short while later I gave my talk from the stage. For me it’s the highlight of every festival because it is where I can share the wisdom of Krishna consciousness. The large crowd listened attentively, even while sitting in the summer heat. When I finished, a man was waiting for me as I came down from the stage.

“Great talk,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said. “Whatever I know, I learned from my spiritual teacher.”

“My family and I have attended a number of your festivals over the years,” he said. “They’re special because all the entertainment has a message behind it. Most events these days have little meaning. Just today the hairs on my body stood on end several times during the singing at the beginning of the event.”

At the outdoor restaurant across the way, I suddenly saw the man who had had the tussle with our security men at the beach. He was sitting at a table eating a large plate of samosas and talking to a devotee. His eye was beginning to look badly bruised.

The devotee waved for me to come over. “Maharaja,” he said, “I’d like you meet Krzysztof. He’s had a hard life but he says things are changing now that he’s met us. He really likes the chanting.”

I smiled and pointed at the black eye. “That’s quite a shiner you’ve got there, Krzysztof.”

“Yeah,” he said with a little smile. “I got into some trouble earlier in the day.” As I walked away, he winked at me with his black eye.

The rest of the festival went on like this: one surprise after another. Actually, though, in one sense it’s not at all surprising: Our festivals are part of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement and His business is turning sinners into saints. I again remembered the prophetic words of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya who envisioned the mercy of Lord Caitanya spreading all over the world:

“Out of His spontaneous compassion He restored all people back to consciousness, and through the means of His holy names enabled them to pass beyond the impassable ocean of the age of Kali, the age of quarrel. Thus news of the names of Krsna was told from person to person.”

[ Srila Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Susloka Satakam, text 46 ]

Inspiring the Inspired – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 4

Inspiring the Inspired

October 12, 2014

– by Indradyumna Swami

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Our team of 300 devotees was exhausted. We had already done 24 festivals along the Baltic Sea coast plus a “Krsna’s Village of Peace” festival at Woodstock, and now we were faced with the blissful but daunting prospect of doing 24 more over the second half of the summer. But everyone took courage, knowing that the results of our efforts would far outweigh any austerities we encountered. The devotees needed some pepping up, I thought, so I shared with them something that has been one of my favorite sources of inspiration over the years. It was a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to my godbrother Prabhavisnu das in 1973:

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

[January 3, 1973]

I was hoping we could all share this inspiration with the festivalgoers, but ironically, it was they who became the source of inspiration while we became the receivers.

It began on the day of our first festival back on the Baltic Sea coast, when we turned our harinam around near the end of the beach. A woman called out to us: “Hey! Why are you turning back? There are more families further on down the beach. Why won’t you give them a chance to hear you sing and watch you dance? And how will they get an invitation to your festival?”

“Well thank you ma’am,” I thought. “Now wasn’t that just what we needed to hear to get us started again!” We turned back and continued down the beach.

After chanting on the beach, we made our way into town to the main street, crowded with tourists and locals. I was following behind the kirtan party when I felt a man behind me put his arm around my neck in a choke hold. All I could see were the tattoos on his sweaty arm.

“So you’re the festival guru, is it?” he said in broken English.

“Festival guru?” I said, squirming to get free.

“That’s right,” the man said. “We all know you. You’ve been coming for years.”

“You’re choking me,” I said. “I can’t breathe.”

He loosened his grip a bit. “Sorry ’bout that,” he said. “I just wanted to make it clear to my men that I’m the one protecting you this time.”

“Protecting me?” I said, feeling a bit nervous.

“That’s right,” he replied. “This is a bad town. Lots of muggings, robberies—even rape and murder. But I got your back, buddy.”

“Got my back?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said. “And I earned it.” He finally let me out of the headlock.

“See them guys over there?” he said.

I looked over at two men. One had a swollen eye and the other had blood running from his nose. It didn’t help me relax.

“Uh, yeah,” I said with a hard gulp.

“I fought with them,” he said. “I fought for the right to be your bodyguard the next few days.”

“Well, uh, that’s very nice of you,” I said.

“I’m the UFC champion for Europe,” he said, smiling.

“You mean you’re a cage fighter?” I asked. Now I was curious.

“That’s right,” he said. “Two years in a row. Nobody takes me down.”

“Is there some reason you are giving me this honor?” I asked. I was beginning to breathe easy.

“You people bring a peaceful atmosphere to the town,” he said. “Some color. Somehappiness. Me and my boys appreciate it. Changes the mood of the place, you know? And we always eat at your restaurant. Damn good food even if it’s vegetarian.”

“So you’ll come tonight?” I said.

“Tonight?” he said. “I’m by your side for the next 72 hours.”

“All right then,” I said. “Let’s catch up with the singing party.”

That evening, with the UFC champion by my side, I walked around the festival site checking whether everything was going smoothly. In the restaurant I saw a woman standing next to the glass counter where the take-outs were for sale. “This is a samosa,” she said to her friends. “And that is alu-patra. It’s made from potato and delicious spices. Over there is a sweet called burfi, made from milk. I recommend you try them all.”

“You seem to know our food very well,” I said to her, as her friends began buying.

“Yes, of course I do,” she replied. “I have come to least one of your events each summer since 1996. You might say I am addicted to your food. I also used to enjoy talking to one of your members while I ate. I don’t see him here this time.”

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“Hari Caran,” she said.

I hesitated. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but he passed away two years ago.”

Tears came to her eyes and began rolling down her face. She seemed unable to say anything more. She took up the prasadam she had bought and walked out of the tent.

As we were about to leave, a young woman in her early twenties walked into the restaurant carrying a large bundle of red roses. She was dressed in brightly colored traditional Polish clothes, even a head scarf. She looked poor, and I noticed her open money purse was empty.

“Anyone for a rose?” she said. “Only five zloty.”

When no one showed even the slightest interest, she stood silently gazing at the prasadam behind the glass counter.

“She must be hungry,” I thought.

“Excuse me,” I said with a smile. “If you’re hungry, you can have all you want for asingle rose.”

Her eyes opened wide and her eyebrows went up. Her head tilted slightly. “Really?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “As much as you want.”

She gave me a rose and began choosing her meal. She walked outside with a big smile on her face and sat down at one of the restaurant tables. The stage show had just begun, and I saw that she became absorbed in watching it as she ate. After an hour I sent her a fruit drink from the restaurant.

Later in the evening, she came up to me on her way out of the festival site. “Sir,” she said, “I came here to make money, but I feel like I’ve discovered something much more valuable. Thank you for noticing me and showing me some kindness.”

As I continued on my way I walked past a nearby tent, where a cooking demonstration was concluding. “That’s it, honey,” I heard an older woman say to her husband. “From this day on we are vegetarian. Not even fish or eggs.”

I wanted to see how the festival site looked from a distance, so I went outside the gate, where I noticed a live-butterfly exhibition next door. The woman selling tickets called me over.

“Why don’t you come in?” she said. I hesitated, but she smiled. “They’re God’s creatures too.”

“OK,” I said. “But only for two minutes.”

She brought me to the front of the line and ushered me inside. “Hey,” said a man in line, his eyebrows furrowed, his mouth bent in a frown. “There’s a line here, you know. And why doesn’t he have to pay like the rest of us?”

“When you do some good for the world like these people,” said the ticket seller, “then I’ll let you in free.”

Colorful and beautiful as the butterflies were, I was eager to return to the festival. As I entered the grounds, a middle-aged woman came up to me.

“I met you ten years ago to the day,” she said. “It was at a festival just like this, but somewhat smaller. When I showed an interest in the philosophy, you spent an hour speaking to me and convinced me to start chanting Hare Krsna on beads. You encouraged me by saying it was enough to chant one or two times around the beads each day. But I soon became attracted to the chanting and for the last 10 years I have been chanting 25 times around the beads each day. You also explained to me the importance of following the four rules. Since that day I have followed them strictly.

“You gave me a Bhagavad-gita. I have read it many times and memorized over 100 verses. I share the wisdom I have learned with whomever I meet, and as a result, a number of people in my town are also chanting and reading Bhagavad-gita. Some of us meet regularly and chant together. Except for those people, I don’t associate much with others. My dream is to go to Vrindavan before I die.

“In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says that to be successful on this path one has to accept a spiritual teacher. For the past 10 years I have thought of you in this way, and today I want to ask if you will accept me as your disciple. I have many friends who will vouch for me.”

“It’s not possible,” said a young male devotee standing nearby. “The GBC have established a rigid procedure to test the aspiring candidate. And you have to take what’s called the bhakti sastri course, and then a test…”

“Be quiet,” I interrupted, and turned back to the woman. “Have your friends contact me. And you please write to me every four weeks for the next six months. I’ll check with our leadership and see if I can give you initiation some time this year.”

It was time for me to give my talk on the main stage. As I talked about the basics of Krsna consciousness, I saw many people listening attentively. A number of them nodded their heads in approval whenever I made a significant point. Then I thought about last Kartika, when I prayed with all my heart to Sri Sri Radha Govinda, the presiding deities in Jaipur, begging Them to empower my words so that I could convince others about Krsna consciousness. When I saw the audience’s response, I remembered Sri Sri Radha Govinda again and felt Their presence.

After my talk, there was a line of people waiting for me to sign the books they had bought. The first man in the line handed me his Bhagavad-gita.

“I want to make it very clear,” he said, “that I don’t accept a single thing you said during your 45-minute talk.”

I stopped signing and looked up. “Well, OK,” I said. “But then why are you buying this book?”

“Because you presented the subject so well,” he said, “that I’m afraid you’ll convince those who are skeptical of God’s existence that He actually exists and that scientific arguments to the contrary are not valid.”

“Are you a scientist?” I asked.

“Yes, I am,” he replied, “and a well-known one too. I plan to study this book cover-to- cover to learn all your arguments.”

“Fine,” I said. “Maybe in the process you’ll become convinced of the existence of God.”

“That will never happen,” he said, but he gave me a smile as he walked off holding the book tightly under his arm.

Next in line was a family: grandparents, parents, and children. “We just want you to know how much we appreciate your festivals,” said the grandfather. He pointed to the young woman in the family. “This is my daughter Kinga, and these are her two children. She was 10 when we first met you all. Now she is 24. We have enough money to fly anywhere in the world for our vacations, but she insists we come here to the Baltic Sea Coast each summer to be part of your event. Last year we all became vegetarian, and now we read the Bhagavad-gita together every evening. We are in touch with devotees on the internet.”

Another woman handed me a photo album along with her Bhagavad-gita. The album contained photos of our festivals from every summer of the past 15 years. Next to each photo was the invitation we distributed that particular summer.

“We keep track of our happiness,” the lady said with a smile.

As the festival closed that evening, I felt a sense of deep satisfaction, knowing that thousands of people from all walks of life—young children, elderly couples, UFC champions, flower girls, and atheists—had had the chance to experience the wonderful world of Krsna consciousness. I began to wonder if I hadn’t even received more inspiration than I had given.

“If things continue like this,” I thought, “one day the whole world will be inundated by love of God. It’s not impossible. The saints have predicted it”:

“In every home throughout the world there is a tumult of hari-samkirtan. On every body are tears, hairs standing erect, and other symptoms of ecstasy. In every heart is the most exalted and sweet spiritual path that leads far away from the path of the four Vedas. All this has appeared now that Lord Gaura has descended to this world.”

[Srila Prabhodananda Sarasvati, Sri Caitanya-candramrta, text 114]

Forever Your Servant – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 3

Forever Your Servant

August 18, 2014

– by Indradyumna Swami

chap 4

Dear Srila Prabhupada,

Please accept my most humble obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet.

Once again, I stand before you on the annual occasion of your auspicious Vyasa Puja, the celebration of your appearance in this world. I take this opportunity each year to reflect on the great mercy you have bestowed upon me in the form of service to your mission. I am very happy to be a small part of your great legacy in fulfilling Lord Caitanya’s prophecy that His holy names would be heard in every town and village on this planet. I can report that beyond a doubt this is happening here in Poland, due in part to the festival program we have been maintaining for over 20 years.

The preaching you started nearly 50 years ago continues to grow and expand despite the rapid advancement of Kali Yuga portrayed in ominous headlines and photos of the world’s daily newspapers. This alone is proof of the blessings you received from your own guru maharaja, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. Once, when some of your sannyasi godbrothers complained to your spiritual master that he was giving you – a householder at the time – too much attention, he shot back, “Don’t complain. In the end he will do everything!” And indeed it has come to pass.

No one can contest your achievements in establishing Krsna consciousness around the world: your books, the farms you began, the gurukula system you introduced, the scientific approach you established for preaching Krsna consciousness—the list goes on and on. But no less amazing in my eyes was your ability to deliver me. Before meeting you I fully embraced all the dreadful activities that characterize this horrible age. Once my father chastised me saying, “Son, you’re a misfit! There’s no place for you in society. I shudder to think what will become of you!” Srila Prabhupada, what he said was true; there was no place for me in material life. But by taking shelter of your lotus feet I was elevated to the topmost transcendental position of being your humble servant, a destination for which even the demigods surely aspire.

yatha kancanatam yati
kamsyam rasa vidhanatah
tatha diksa vidhanena
dvijatvam jayate nrnam

“As bell metal is turned to gold when mixed with mercury in an alchemical process, so one who is properly trained and initiated by a bona fide spiritual master immediately becomes a brahmana.”

[Sanatana Goswami, Hari-bhakti-vilasa 2.12]

I have a long way to go before I attain perfection, but by serving you I am confident I can attain the supreme destination. The seeds of such service were sown in my heart when you accepted me as your disciple in a letter to my temple president on December 10, 1971. In that letter you mentioned the specific service that I would eventually take up as my life and soul. You wrote:

“I am very glad to accept these students as my duly initiated disciples and their names shall be as follows; Brian Tibbitts: Indradyumna Das, Ilene Tibbitts: Krpamayi Dasi and Heidi Paeva: Hrisakti Dasi. These are all very nice boys and girls and I have very much appreciated their attitudes of devotion and surrender as displayed in their letters to me. … I very much approve of your enclosed brochure, and I am pleased by your festival plan for colleges all over the state. I have received intimation from Rupanuga of a very large festival he is planning for Central Park. His conjecture is very nice and I want that many such festivals should be held in every town and city. I am always thankful to Krishna that I have somehow got so many wonderful boys like yourself to assist me in this way.”

It is through the festival programs I help organize, Srila Prabhupada, that I have established my deepest link with you. My constant prayer is that these festivals will please you as they bring hundreds of thousands of people into contact with Krsna consciousness each year. By such service I hope to achieve the goal of pure devotional service to the Lord. Srila Prabhodananda Saraswati made it very clear that the awakening of pure love of God is entwined with service to the samkirtan movement:

yatha yatha gaura-padaravinde
vindeta bhaktim krta punya rasih
tatha tathotsarpati hrdy akasmat
radha-padambhoja-sudhambu-rasih

“To the degree that we surrender to Lord Caitanya’s service, to that degree we gain qualification for the service to Radharani’s lotus feet in Vraja.”

(Caitanya-candramrta, verse 88)

Each year, the meaning of this verse becomes clearer to me, for whenever I work hard to spread Krsna consciousness a strong desire to visit Vrindavan awakens within my heart. Conversely, after spending time in the dhama an equally strong desire appears in my heart to spread the glories of the holy names far and wide. I am confident that one day I will become qualified to understand and serve the innermost desires of your heart. I must only remain loyal to you and continue to endeavor to share my good fortune with others.

param gopyam api snigdhe
sisye vacyam iti srutih
tac chruyatam maha bhaga
goloka mahimadhuna

“The Vedas say that to a loyal disciple one may speak the confidential secret. Therefore, O most fortunate one, now please hear the glories of Goloka.”

[Brhad Bhagavatamrta, Part 2, Chapter 1, text 6]

Srila Prabhupada, I am very happy in my service to you. I harbor no doubts, misgivings or illusions about my position as your servant. I would do anything for you. If you ordered me to go to hell and preach, I’d jump on the first train spiraling down to that lake of fire, happily chanting the holy names all the while. If you instructed me to preach in heaven, I’d arrive in that celestial abode with no other interest than to serve your order. This is because I’ve already seen heaven and hell in my many years of service to you in this world, and I’ve concluded there is no shelter other than your lotus feet.

Some time ago I had a dream in which you were sitting with a number of my senior godbrothers including Tamal Krsna Goswami, Giriraj Swami, Radhanath Swami, Vaisesika Prabhu and others. I was observing the scene from some distance away. At one point you smiled and said to them, “So all of you are going back to Godhead.” I was dumbstruck by your mercy, while at the same time wishing I could be as fortunate as them.

Suddenly Giriraj Swami noticed me and, being the dear friend that he is, he pointed me out to you. “Srila Prabhupada,” he said, “Indradyumna Swami is sitting over there. Can he come too?” You turned and looked at me and with a smile said, “Yes, he’s a nice boy. He can also come.”

Of course it was only a dream. However, you once said that although dreams are illusions, “dreams of the spiritual master are very nice.” Srila Prabhupada, I’ve never known your words to be untrue. It is one of the reasons that I have full faith in you and that my desire to assist your mission in this world becomes stronger day by day. You once wrote to me that you felt your spiritual master was always “watching over and protecting you.” Please also watch over and protect me as I assist you with your service in this world. Then at a suitable time, when you see fit, please grant me eternal service to you in the transcendental abode.

Forever your servant,
Indradyumna Swami

A Thousand Lectures on the Absolute Truth – by Indradyumna Swami

Volume 14, Chapter 2

A Thousand Lectures on the Absolute Truth

August 8, 2014

– by Indradyumna Swami

chap2

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

“Well yes,” I replied, “I am.”

“Where are you going?” he said.

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

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

“Well, no … ”

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

“Oh really?” I said feigning ignorance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That helps a little,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I braced myself for some harsh words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Keep walking!” I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, it is,” I replied.

“I want one too,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She handed me the letter:

“Respected Agnieszka,

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

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

“With Respects,

“The Mayor of Rewal”

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

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

“Sure,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Narada Muni, Brhat Bhagavatamrta 1.7.143 ]