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Diary of a
Volume 4, Chapter 14
By Indradyumna Swami
May 4, 2002–The day before leaving New York for London, I went into Manhattan with Bhakta Pankaj to puchase some sound equipment for our festival tour in Poland. It was a cold, drizzly spring day, and people moved somberly through the streets to their respective destinations making little or no eye contact with each other. Striding through the concrete canyons, engulfed by the enormous buildings that towered above us, I felt almost claustrophobic, as if cut off from the world of nature.
As we walked down Broadway and rounded the corner on to Fulton, we suddenly found ourselves standing adjacent to the former World Trade Center site. There was an eerie silence in the place, where at least 500 people stood observing the massive scene of destruction resulting from two hijacked planes slamming into the center's Twin Towers, at that time the tallest buildings in America, causing them to disintegrate and collapse with the loss of almost 3000 lives. People watching the clean-up crew, eight months after the terrorist attacks, were obviously on their way to work, school or errands, but no one could pass by the scene without stopping to contemplate the sheer force of the disaster. I saw that many were crying.
The entire area was cordoned by a long fence which extended for several city blocks and was covered with thousands of offerings to those who perished:
"Grace and Peace to you" — Church of the Advent, Spartanburg, South Carolina;
"Our hearts go out to you" — Greens High School, Georgia;
"We grieve for you" — Kelly's Football Team, Nebraska.
There were even offerings from other countries: "In Chile we care too."
Old teddy bears, T-shirts, flowers, and even money were stuck on the fence, none of which anyone took.
For a moment, I was also swept up in the emotion, until I controlled my mind by remembering the wisdom of Bhagavad-gita:
dehi nityam avadhyo 'yam dehe sarvasya bharata tasmat sarvani bhutani na tvam socitum arhasi
"O descendent of Bharata, he who dwells in the body can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any living being." [Bhagavad-gita 2.30]
This verse does not mean that a devotee of the Lord is hardhearted and callous to the suffering of others. No, the devotee feels genuine compassion for the misfortunes of the people and gives them solace when they lose loved ones by explaining the eternality of the soul. At the same time, a devotee is under no illusion about the actual nature of this world as a temporary place, full of miseries. Thus, when the material nature shows her ugly side, he is equipoised — even in the midst of the greatest danger.
yasmin sthito na duhkhena gurunapi vicalyate
"Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty." [Bhagavad-gita 6.23]
After purchasing the sound equipment in a nearby store, we headed back to the temple, but the few minutes we spent witnessing the sorrow wrought by terrorism had made our day even more somber than before. As the skies became darker and the rain started pouring, people began moving quickly through the streets. Everything merged in a greater shade of gray — the clouds, the people, and the buildings. Suddenly Pankaj and I heard someone call out to us, "Hey, I want to speak to you."
We looked around and saw a sandwich man standing on the curb, the two wooden sandwich boards hanging before and behind him advertising a local coffee shop.
Pankaj said, "Don't bother, he looks a little crazy."
New York is certainly full of displaced, homeless, sometimes crazy men, who often accept such humiliating jobs. But there was something in this man's voice that made me feel that he was normal.
"Hey, you guys," he called again. "Come on over. I have something to ask you."
Pankaj pulled my arm and said, "Let's go, Maharaja. We can't waste time."
The man called out again, this time pleading, "Please, I need to speak to you."
I turned around and pulled Pankaj with me towards the man. Dark-skinned and in his mid-40s, he looked weathered by the city street life. His hair was disheveled and his skin was burned by the wind. His clothes also appeared to have seen better days. As we got closer and I saw his face clearly, I got the impression that his nose had been broken a number of times.
"Thanks guys," he said. "I saw your robes and knew you were the ones who can help me. I've got a real problem."
Pankaj was impatient, probably thinking the man would ramble on and we'd be stuck there for some time, but there was something about him I trusted.
He said, "My sister just came back from Jamaica, and I think someone put a spell on her. She's haunted by a ghost. I've tried everything to cure her, but nothing works. Can you help me?"
Reflecting for a moment, I said, "Sure. We can help you."
As Pankaj looked at me incredulously, I continued, "You can get rid of the ghost simply by chanting God's name to her. God is all powerful and is present in the sound of His name. Nothing inauspicious or evil can remain where God's name is chanted."
Taking my hand, he said, "I believe you, sir. Do you have time to teach me that chant so I can give it to my sister?"
"Yes, of course," I said, while smiling to myself as I remembered how just last week, Amy, a security guard at Jacksonville Airport in Florida, had asked me the very same thing. "I'll also write it down so you won't forget."
Taking out a pen and paper, I carefully wrote the Hare Krsna mantra and then turned to show it to the man. Pointing to the words, I said, "Repeat after me."
Moving closer and squinting at the paper, he repeated: "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna . . ."
"Hey, I know that song," he said. "I've been standing on this corner for five years, and a group of people often come by singing that song. Is that you guys?"
"It must be," I replied. Pankaj was all smiles.
He continued, "You know, whenever I hear that song the whole world lights up. Whenever you people come by, I do a little dance, right here on the street corner. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. This is the song that will cure my sister. I believe in this song."
With sincerity, he then added, "You know, whenever I remember that song I just want to shout out, 'Hey everybody, here's a song that will change your heart, a song that will change the whole world!' "
Pankaj and myself stood there dumbfounded. I was thinking, "What's going on here? We tried to help this man, but he's helping us. If only I could have just one drop of his faith in the holy names."
"I thank you very much," he said, shaking my hand vigorously. "I think God sent you here today. I'm sorry that I'm a poor man and can't give you anything in return."
I paused for a moment, and then as we turned to go, I said, "Don't worry, you've given us more than you could ever imagine."
amhah samharad akhilam sakrd udayad eva sakala lokasya taranir iva timira jaladhim jayati jagan mangalam harer nama
"As the rising sun immediately dissipates all the world's darkness, which is deep like an ocean, so the holy name of the Lord, if chanted once without offenses, can dissipate all the reactions of a living being's sinful life. All glories to that holy name of the Lord, which is auspicious for the entire world!"
[Padyavali: Rupa Goswami, quoting Sri Laksmidhara]
© CHAKRA 7 May 2002
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