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Diary of a Traveling Preacher
By Indradyumna Swami

Volume 3, Chapter 1

January 18, 2001

I have decided to keep a diary again. Many disciples and friends have asked when I will be publishing another diary in book form, but for now I will simply send daily installments on e-mail. Perhaps at some stage they can be edited and compiled in a book.

If I get positive feedback from disciples and friends, it will encourage me to give the necessary input into this e-mail diary. My schedule is often so busy that I hardly have a minute to spare, but I know that disciples in particular are always eager to know where I am and what I am doing. I will send the installments daily on the ISM Disciples Conference on COM, a conference others can join if they desire.

Today I am traveling by train through the vast desert region of northern Kazakhstan in central Asia. I am alone in my compartment, and Sri Prahlad and his wife, Rukmini Priya, are in another. We are heading north to Russia. Our 34-hour ride will conclude in Barnaul, deep in the snows of Siberia, where we will have one-and-a-half days of programs with the local devotees. It will be the beginning of a four-week tour throughout Russia.

We left Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, yesterday. In Almaty we participated in the Vyasa-puja festival of my dear god-brother, Bhakti Bringa Govinda Maharaja. More than 200 devotees came from central Asia, Russia, and even Europe for the event.

When we arrived in Almaty we drove to Maharaja's developing farm project, Sri Vrindavan Dhama, 45 minutes outside of the city. Maharaja purchased the land three years ago. I was amazed at how much he has achieved in such a short time. Sri Vrindavan Dhama has a small but beautifully reconstructed house that serves as a temple, where the main Deity is a very large Govardhan sila. Also worshipped is a large Nrsimha salagram sila that I sent last year. He is probably the most terrifying Nrsimha salagram sila on earth, and Maharaja told me that since He arrived at the farm our movement has met with little resistance in Kazakhstan.

The property has a very large barn housing about 15 cows and bulls. It also serves as a base for small prasadam and candle-making businesses. There is a large area for cultivating fruits, vegetables and grains. I also noticed a large lake (renamed Radha-Kunda by the devotees), along the banks of which are many dachas, a type of cottage used as a retreat by Russians in the summer. Maharaja has purchased a number of dachas for housing his devotees.

Sri Vrindavan Dhama reminded me of New Vraja Dhama in Hungary. The Hungarian farm project manifested over 10 years by the strong desire of Sivarama Swami, and is already renown throughout Hungary. Obviously, Govinda Maharaja has started Sri Vrindavan Dhama in the same spirit, and no doubt it will eventually achieve the same fame within Kazakhstan. I know, however, how much blood, sweat and tears go into starting and developing such a community. Men and capital don't come easy in this world, but in Krishna consciousness we always have a special incentive: the mercy of Krishna. By His grace alone we can accomplish the great tasks that our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, has requested of us. Govinda Maharaja has shown his worthiness as a disciple of His Divine Grace by developing New Vrindavan Dhama practically from dust-covered fields. Srila Prabhupada once said that a project is "only as good as the man who heads it up."

We observed Maharaja's 50th birthday anniversary in a medium-sized hall on the outskirts of Almaty. We focused mainly on lectures and kirtans. Some of the kirtans went for as long as three to four hours. The devotees also did two excellent dramas of Krishna lila. I have always noted that devotees from Russia and central Asia are talented in music, art and drama. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says that He is the "ability in man," and surely the Lord's grace came through the beautiful dramas we saw at that festival. The dramas were taken from Rupa Goswami's play, Lalita Madhava. They were done so well that we all had the good fortune to experience what may have been genuine sentiments of affection for the Lord. I saw many devotees crying.

A snowstorm was raging when we left our apartment in Almaty to go to the train station. We barely caught the train. The devotees had reserved us first-class compartments, although by western standards they would have been rated much less. However, they are comfortable and, most important, warm. Rumors have been circulating that in Siberia they are experiencing a record cold front of minus 47 degrees. A week ago I was in Sydney, Australia, where the temperatures were around 32 degree ABOVE zero. I find temperature variations one of the most difficult things about being a traveling preacher. Generally the body becomes accustomed to the heat of summer or the harshness of winter by gradually going through the temperature changes of spring and autumn. But preaching calls us to places according to need, and we have to accept the austerity of facing the heat or cold head on.

As our train proceeds through the barren, desert-like area of northern Kazakhstan, the scene outside remains the same hour after hour; an endless horizon of snow. The land is flat and the monotonous view is broken from time to time by small settlements of old wooden houses. I can't imagine how people live out here! I see them shuffling from house to house bundled up in old coats and fur hats. The fur hats are typical of Russia and the countries that used to be part of its empire. Full fur coats are also quite common.

Sometimes the train stops at a station and a few people, waiting patiently in the snow and freezing wind, climb aboard. At these stops a few brave souls get off the train to buy refreshments from the elderly ladies on the platform. They sell mainly meat and vodka - and what appears to be a flat bread. These ladies are the poorest of all, judging by their attire which often consists of only an old coat and rags around their bodies. Their faces are red from the cold. Because Kazakhstan borders western China, the Kazakhstanis all have black hair and slanted eyes.

As none of us speak Russian we can't ask anyone when we will cross the border into Russia. I want to be prepared, because past experience has shown that it can be an ordeal. The border guards in the outpost crossings can be very difficult. They sometimes like to intimidate foreigners. They demand to see all the things in our bags, and create an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. We can't communicate with the lady in charge of our coach, so I place myself on "red alert" and have my bags and identity papers ready at all times. I also sleep with all my clothes on so I won't be embarrassed by border guards bursting into my cabin in the dead of night and shouting at me in Russian.

There's not much more to report riding in a small compartment through northern Kazakhstan. We finally cross the Russian border 27 hours into the journey. By some quirk of fate the knock on my door was surprisingly soft, and when I opened it the border guard was a rather shy young woman in military fatigues. She silently took my passport and came back a half-hour later with it stamped. She then looked briefly into the cabin, and left without a word. It was the easiest entry I've ever had into Russia.

We arrived in Barnaul at midnight in the midst of a huge blizzard. About 40 local devotees were having a rousing kirtan on the platform. My heart went out to them - it was 12 degrees below zero outside and the wind was raging! As I jumped off the train the cold hit me and I zipped my jacket up to the neck. When I tried to speak to a few devotees on the way to the car, my lips were so cold I couldn't say the words.

As we drove to a devotee's apartment, the Barnaul temple president, Visnu Tattva dasa, a disciple of Prabhavisnu Swami, told me that the morning program the next day was to begin at 7am. That meant only four hours of sleep! He had also scheduled a darsan with my disciples (who haven't seen me in three years) for the late morning, then Deity worship and japa, lunch, and a big evening program. Senior devotees rarely visit this isolated area, so devotees are really excited about the evening festival. They have invited many important people from Barnaul. Devotees from other regions of Siberia are also supposed to be coming, but Visnu Tattva says some may not make it because of the weather. The next day our train leaves for our next destination deeper into Siberia. I almost fainted when Visnu Tattva told me the journey will take 27 hours!

Your servant, Indradyumna Swami

Diary of a Traveling Preacher

Volume 3, Chapter 2

January 19, 2001

After only a few hours of rest, we awoke at 5am to prepare to do a program in a hall in downtown Barnaul. I had trouble sleeping last night because my body seemed to be still moving; an uncanny feeling which no doubt came from spending the previous day on a moving train.

However, I had an interesting dream. I dreamt I was walking along the Kali Gandhaki River in Nepal looking for salagram silas with my god-brother, Bimala Prasad dasa. I often dream that I am either on my way to the Kali Gandhaki or am along its banks. In fact, the dreams are so intense that I can attribute them only to the fact that I have actually traveled in the mountains of Nepal several times in this life. Or could it be that I was there in a previous life? In a purport in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.29.64), Srila Prabhupada confirms this possibility. He writes: "In dreams we sometimes see things that we have never experienced in the present body. Sometimes in dreams we think that we are flying in the sky, although we have no experience of flying. This means that once in a previous life, either as a demigod or astronaut, we flew in the sky. The impression is there in the stockpile of the mind, and it suddenly expresses itself. It is like fermentation taking place in the depths of water, which sometimes manifests itself in bubbles on the water's surface."

Two weeks ago I had an unusually spiritual dream. I dreamt that after a long time I was returning to New Mayapur, in France. In the dream I was surprised to see that everything was overgrown and falling apart. But from within the temple I heard a conch shell blowing and sounds indicating the altar curtain was about to open. I rushed in and sat for a few moments before the curtain, eager for darsan of Sri Sri Radha Govinda Madhava. Suddenly, the curtain opened and everything on the altar was shining beautifully like the sun. It was very clean and nicely decorated. My eyes searched for Sri Sri Radha Govinda Madhava, and when I saw Them I started crying. The more I looked at Them, the more I wept. When I awoke that morning, I found my pillow wet with tears. I got up from bed and looked in the mirror. My eyes were red from crying. I said to myself in the mirror, "You rascal! Why can't you cry for Krishna like that in real life!" But inside I was happy, knowing that somewhere in my hard, stone-like heart, there might even be a little glimmer of love for Sri Sri Radha Govinda Madhava.

Unfortunately, my dreams are not often so transcendental. Because of the unusual places I travel and preach, and because of the anxieties I have from many responsibilities, I often dream of war or trying to escape from unknown enemies.

After taking bath, myself, Sri Prahlad, Rukmini Priya and Visnu Tattva prabhu left the apartment building to go to the program. When we stepped outside I was shocked! In the few hours we had slept, a huge storm had blanketed everything with snow. Visnu Tattva told me that Siberia has had more snow this winter than any in the past 25 years. We were seeing the cold face of Siberia at its worst. We struggled to get to our car, and slipping and sliding through the roads of the city in our vehicle we somehow managed to get to the hall for the morning program. I couldn't imagine there would be many devotees there because passage through the city was so difficult, but as is typical in Russian ISKCON, when we entered the hall there were more than 200 blissful Vaisnavas eager for Krishna katha and kirtan.

As no book was available, I spoke about the importance of devotee association. I based my class on a verse from Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya Lila 22.128:

sadhu-sanga, name-kirtana, bhagavata-sravana
mathura-vasa, sri-murtira sraddhaya sevana

"One should associate with devotees, chant the holy name of the Lord, hear Srimad-Bhagavatam, reside at Mathura and worship the Deity with faith and veneration."

Rupa Goswami states in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu that these processes are so potent that just a small attachment for any one of these five items can arouse devotional ecstasy even in a neophyte.

After class we returned to our apartment, worshipped our Deities and took prasadam. I then conversed with a group of disciples. I must say it was quite an intense meeting. Because many of these disciples had not seen me in two or even three years, they were absorbed each second, watching my every move and listening to every word. I was tired and had a headache coming on, but I forced myself to ignore these conditions and sat up straight, attempting to be the proper representative of Srila Prabhupada I should be. By speaking philosophy and quoting appropriate verses from the Bhagavad-gita, I inspired the devotees - but as soon as they left I collapsed in bed for a half-hour rest before the evening program.

When we arrived at the hall there were twice as many devotees as were there in the morning - more than 400. They had come from numerous surrounding towns and villages. There were also many guests. The atmosphere was electric, in anticipation of class and kirtan. The mood somehow reminded me of Poland 12 years ago when I started preaching there. There were many teenagers in the audience exhibiting a type of innocence, which I attributed to the fact that Siberia remains to this day somewhat isolated from the materialism that is rampant in Eastern Europe and western Russia. Later in the evening, all these young people stood and chanted and danced without abandon. It left me with a sense of nostalgia.

More than 50 devotees participated in a wonderful drama about the appearance of Lord Caitanya. It was so well done that I imagined it took weeks of preparation. That they had gone to so much trouble and expense for me touched my heart, and when it came time for me to speak to the devotees and guests, I gave an impassioned lecture about the purpose of life, which I think was well appreciated. After the talk, Sri Prahlad led a wonderful kirtan. To conclude the evening, the devotees brought a huge cake on to the stage, which I distributed piece by piece to the now 500-strong congregation.

The numbers in the hall had swelled, because after our program the hall was to turn into a disco. As our program was finishing, many young people started showing up for the disco, standing on the perimeter of our festival and watching in amazement. Many were pulled into the kirtan by the devotees and guests and many came forward for a piece of cake. Overwhelmed by the ecstatic mood, a number of them showed signs of respect as they approached me for the prasadam, bowing their heads or folding their hands in namskara as they saw the devotees do. It was an unusual experience for me, as young ladies in short dresses and heavy make-up and tough-looking boys in designer clothing came respectfully forward for the Lord's mercy. All glories to Sri Krishna sankirtan!

Diary of a Traveling Preacher

Volume 3, Chapter 3

January 20, 2001

Today when we awoke we returned to the hall for a last program before leaving Barnaul. Although we had all taken rest late that night and the program was early in the morning, 200 devotees were there to greet us and listen to class. I spoke on Rupa Goswami's verse from Bhakti-rasamrta-sindu, which gives the standard for pure devotional service:

anyabhilasita sunyam
jnana karmady anavrtam
anukulyena krsnanu
silanam bhaktir uttama

"When first-class devotional service develops, one is devoid of all material desires, knowledge of impersonalism and fruitive activities. The devotee must serve Krishna favorably, as Krishna desires."

Our acrayas have said that this is the essential verse of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, upon which the rest of the book is based.

At 11.30am we rushed to the station to catch the train to our next destination, Krasnoyarsk. I was happy to see that four of my lady disciples had purchased tickets for a compartment on the train. They boarded the train with stockpiles of prasadam for the 27-hour journey. I settled into my compartment and happily sat finishing my rounds in a rare moment of peace and solitude. I watched the white, cold countryside flash by as the train proceeded into Siberia.

Darkness set in just as we arrived in Novosibirsk, the capital of the Siberian region. As the train pulled into the station, I saw on the main platform a neon sign that displayed the time and temperature. It is a curious thing that in each and every train station in Russia, there is a huge sign displaying time and temperature. I stared in disbelief - the time was 6pm and the temperature 20 degrees below zero!

Suddenly Uttamasloka, who is accompanying us as my Russian translator, entered my compartment and said the train would be delayed in the station for five hours. I immediately suggested paying a surprise visit to the Novosibirsk temple. When I asked how far away it was, another devotee innocently replied that it was only 15 minutes from the station. I told Uttamasloka to go on to the platform and telephone the temple to inform them that we were coming. We would walk the short distance. Little did I know what it is to walk even 10 meters in 20-degree below weather!

Within minutes our little band of devotees had jumped off the train and begun the short walk to the temple. A chilling wind had come up, driving the temperature down to 30 degrees below. I had never experienced anything like it. Any portion of exposed flesh on my body immediately experienced intense pain from the cold. After walking just 50 meters, I couldn't imagine going one step further. We were just outside the train station and so I asked Uttamasloka to order a taxi to the temple. He found a big taxi-van and we all piled in, thankful for the warmth inside. After half an hour we arrived at the temple. Luckily, we hadn't attempted to walk the "15-minute" distance!

Arriving at the temple, we were greeted by 20 enthusiastic devotees. Sri Prahlad led kirtan and I spoke on atiti-seva, receiving the unexpected guest. I mentioned that in Vedic culture the householder has five duties to perform: to honor the forefathers, the earth, the devas, the animals, and any unexpected guest. I told the story from Srimad-Bhagavatam of King Rantidev, who received three different guests in his home. He respectfully fed them according to their desires, but in the end had no prasadam left for himself and his family members. Later the three personalities revealed themselves as Brahma, Visnu and Siva, and blessed him for his proper etiquette in serving his guests. Sri Prahlad then led an amazing kirtan which sent the devotees to Vaikunatha.

After three hours we got back in the taxi and returned to the train station. As we entered all eyes were upon us! Here we were, dressed in dhotis and saris in one of the coldest places on earth. Besides that, our colorful attire greatly contrasted with the dark, heavy leather coats and fur hats that everyone else wore. The people of Siberia are a hardy bunch. All the men look to me like burley woodsmen. Many of them are bigger than me, and with all their dark furry, winter clothing come across a bit intimidating. Russian people in general have a tough demeanor. They don't easily smile, but that's deceptive because Russian people are generally soft-hearted.

As we walked through the throngs of heavy set men and women in their fur hats and skins, several people called out "Hare Krishna" in gruff voices. As we approached our train, I was thinking to myself that although it's austere to travel and preach here, I prefer it to other countries where life is more opulent and there are more facilities. Here in Russia everyone shares common austerities, and the only noticeable opulence I've seen is the bright-faced and colorfully dressed Hare Krishna devotees.

Finding our way to our train we settled in for the overnight ride to Krasnoyarsk. Earlier in the day, Jananivasa, my Russian secretary, had given me a mobile telephone that works throughout the entire country. It's expensive to use, so I'll have it mainly for receiving calls. But as I had not heard from Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda (the disciples in charge of organizing our Polish festival programs) in more than a week, I decided to call them. Both of these ladies have taken on an incredible amount of responsibility on the Polish tour. They are reorganizing it as a legal foundation, arranging all the festivals for the spring, summer and autumn tours, and handling all the initial preparations for the gigantic Woodstock festival in Zary. Recently they were in Zary looking for accommodations for the 400 devotees we expect to join us for our preaching at Woodstock in August.

When I called them they reported that the local priest in Zary is doing everything he can to place obstacles before us. During the past two Woodstock festivals we stayed in a large school, not far from the center of town. But when Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda visited the school to rent the facilities, the authorities adamantly refused. At every school they went to in the town they encountered the same cold mood. Finally one school authority informed them that the local priest had sent word that no school should cooperate with the Hare Krsnas in their attempt to get facility for Woodstock. The priests are very powerful in Poland, especially in small towns. People are afraid of them, because if they don't cooperate with the priests they may lose their jobs. Determined to find accommodation, Nandini and Radha Sakki Vrnda persevered and finally found two schools which agreed to rent facilities to us. Nandini said that the local mayor, who is our friend, had stepped in and used his influence.

Putting down the phone, my heart was pounding and I was back in the fighting mood I live in for six months of the year in Poland. I mentioned to Uttamasloka that I couldn't think of many places in the world, aside from China and Islamic countries, where our movement still faces so much aggressive hostility. He replied that he sees the aggression in proportion to the amount of preaching that we have done in Poland.

Poland is a devoutly Catholic country where countless numbers of Srila Prabhupada's books have been distributed. The hostility arises from the church due to our success in preaching, but it's not easy to live with that hostility year after year. It also means that we can't ease up on our preaching for a moment. If we were to slow down, the church would immediately appropriate any gains we have made over the years. We have to keep up a blistering pace, especially on the tour, but after 10 years of festivals my body is showing signs of aging. I pray the Lord will give me the strength to go on. But what can He do with this aging body? He can inspire us in the heart to do His service, but He can't bring back our youth.

I suppose the answer lies with disciples like Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda. As I looked out the window, I thought of their constant engagement and struggle to set up our festival programs. They are working day and night, even now in the winter season. I eventually drifted off to sleep, thanking the Lord for disciples like them and asking Srila Prabhupada to bless them.

Diary of a Traveling Preacher

Volume 3, Chapter 4

January 21, 2001

Throughout the night I tossed and turned, unable to get proper rest as our train wound its way through the Siberian countryside. Several times I woke up and peered out the window. Though it was total darkness the white snow acted as a contrast that seemed to shed light on the frigid, winter scene. Sometimes we would pass villages and I could see lights on in little wooden houses. Our "Trans-Siberian Express" would stop at larger towns and passengers would board. Several times I saw dogs on the platform looking for food. They had thick, furry winter coats, but I wondered how they survived the bitter cold. Anyone who was outside moved quickly from place to place, unable to bear the misery.

In one sense the passing countryside looked very beautiful, but that's the way maya works - she appears attractive, but in essence she is there to make us suffer. Lord Siva is called Rudra and his wife, Durga, who is in charge of the prison house of material existence, is sometimes called Rudrani, which means she who makes you cry forever. Once, Srila Prabhupada's secretary suggested that Srila Prabhupada take some much-needed rest in a chalet in the mountains of Switzerland. After spending only a few days there one December Srila Prabhupada wanted to leave, referring to the place as a white hell.

At noon our train pulled into the station in Krasnoyarsk. Within moments a strongly built man in his mid-forties was at the door of my compartment, offering obeisances in the hallway. He said loudly, "Srila Gurudeva, welcome to Krasnoyarsk!" He identified himself as my disciple, Guru Vrata dasa, the president of the Krasnoyarsk temple.

Within moments Guru Vrata's men had secured all our baggage and had it neatly lined up on the platform outside. Then he led myself, Sri Prahlad, Rukmini, Uttamasloka, Jananivasa and the four matajis accompanying us to waiting vehicles. We found four nice cars parked neatly in a row, complete with drivers standing at attention by the doors. Within seconds our bags were loaded in the trunks of the car and we were gone! The whole affair came off like a well-planned military procedure. It reminded me of Srila Prabhupada's purport to the thirtieth verse of the third chapter of Bhagavad-gita, wherein he says:

"This verse clearly indicates the purpose of the Bhagavad-gita. The Lord instructs that one has to become fully Krishna conscious to discharge duties, as if in military discipline."

In the car I inquired from Guru Vrata if he had ever been in the military. He smiled and replied with a resounding, "Yes!" He said he had been the personal driver and assistant to the commander of his army battalion. That explained his military precision in picking up the "troops" at the train station!

After a quick shower at the apartment, and a few moments of writing this diary, we were again on our way to a big hall for a program. On the way I asked Guru Vrata about the city of Krasnoyarsk and our preaching there. He said the city, which is literally in the middle of Siberia, is populated by more than one million people. The temple has only 12 devotees, but a large and active congregation. There are more than 20 Nama Hatta centers. Guru Vrata praised the area regional secretary, Laksmi Narayana dasa, a disciple of Nirajana Swami, for successful preaching in the region. Laksmi Narayana prabhu has made many devotees as he travels giving seminars on Krishna consciousness. As we entered the hall, I saw first hand the results of his efforts: there were 500 blissful devotees waiting for us!

I wasn't prepared for such an amazing scene. The hall itself was bright and beautiful by Russian standards, but the real light came from the effulgent devotees. I remembered the story when Srila Prabhupada was walking across the street in London, and a policeman grabbed the arm of one of his disciples and said, "Look! That man is glowing!"

As I proceeded to the stage, devotees made a clearing and bowed down as I came by. I felt unqualified to receive such respect, and kept in mind a similar scenario in a photo where Srila Prabhupada is walking into a temple and devotees are offering him respectful obeisances from all sides. I thought, "Srila Prabhupada, they're all your children. Let me help you by bringing them to your lotus feet." I was soon speaking from the stage about Srila Prabhupada's original visit to Moscow in the early 1970s, and how by his grace alone Krishna consciousness has met with success in Russia.

I recounted to the audience how I had gone in disguise a number of times to preach in Moscow in the late 1980s. In those days there were only about 50 devotees in Moscow and I never imagined the movement would grow bigger, considering the severe repression we were experiencing under the Communist government at the time. Brahmananda prabhu once said that when he was a devotee in ISKCON's first center at 26 Second Avenue in New York, he never imagined Krishna consciousness would go beyond the boundaries of the Bowery! But Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada have their plans for a worldwide movement, and so it was that I found 500 glowing devotees deep in Siberia.

We had kirtan and I gave a class about the glories of Lord Caitanya and the holy name. I felt happy with the class, but later on Jananivasa pointed out that many of the people in the audience appeared to be intellectuals. I think he was indicating that the class could have been deeper for them. The other day when I asked Uttamasloka if a class I had given was understandable by another audience, he also remarked that my classes are generally simple. He didn't mean it in a derogatory way; but after hearing from both these disciples that my preaching was simple, I felt a little uncomfortable. The fact is I never was an intellectual, and neither am I so advanced that I can deliver classes like Bhakti Caru Maharaja or Radhanatha Swami. In general it seems devotees are happy with my classes, but I took the remarks of Uttamasloka and Jananivasa to be from the Lord Himself, and resolved to study harder in order to become a better speaker.

I must also strive to become more pure, for that is the real potency behind preaching. If we are tinged with material desire, then certainly the Lord's message will not appear attractive as it comes down through us. Srila Prabhupada, please help me to become qualified. Traveling and preaching are my main services to you!

© CHAKRA 3 April 2001

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