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of a Travelling Preacher, Chapter 11
morning we went to the temple in Omsk for the program. The temple is a
100-year-old wooden house in a neighborhood just outside of town. The
entire area was covered in meters of snow. We walked into the temple and I
sat down on an old vyasasana to give class. As soon as I sat on it I was
attacked by bed bugs. Their method of giving a double bite in the same
area is indicative of their presence. I requested Uttamasloka to ask how
old the vyasasana was, and after inquiring he told me it was nine years
old and stored in the attic upstairs. I maintained my composure while
giving class, surrendering to the probability that the bites represented
reactions to past offenses to Vaisnavas who were more qualified than me to
sit on the seat.
class I saw a young boy and his sister whom I had met two years ago. They
had come to Omsk from southern Russia on a three-day train ride just to
see me. I am quite attached to them, for their story is one that breaks
the heart. In 1995 they lived with their Russian parents in Grozny,
Chechnya, when Russian forces invaded to crack down on Chechen militants.
It was a vicious and brutal war in which no one was spared, including
women and children. The fighting in Grozny was so fierce that practically
the entire city was leveled by daily bombing and shelling. Troops from
both sides of the conflict roamed the streets for months, engaging in
fire-fights and shooting innocent civilians at whim.
year old Amrta Keli and her 10-year-old brother, Vinode Behari, lived
underground in the cellar of their house (it was all that was left of the
building) for five months without going outside. The sounds of nearby
explosions shook their small shelter and the stench of death outside
entered within. The only thing that kept the family sane was their
practice of Krishna consciousness. Most of the day they would chant or
read from Srila Prabhupada's books.
times a week the mother and father took turns at venturing outside into
the mayhem to search for food and water. One day the mother left and
didn't return. The family waited for her in great anxiety, and when she
didn't come back the next day the father went outside to look for her. He
found her not far from their shelter, felled by a sniper's bullet to her
head. He returned and broke the sad news to the children. The glamour of
war is only in the minds of fools who have never seen the faces of such
because of Krishna consciousness did the family survive their ordeal. The
philosophy of Bhagavad-gita and the chanting of the holy names gave them
relief from the anguish of war. With the help of Russian troops they
eventually escaped, but the children were deeply scarred by the emotional
pain they had endured. By the time I met them in southern Russia, they
were receiving professional counseling to deal with the nightmares and
emotional outbursts they often experienced.
I spoke with them I was touched by their sincere attachment to devotees
and the holy names. They somehow seemed much older and more realized than
most children their age. No one needed to convince them of the miseries of
material existence and no one had to tell them to chant their rounds.
Because I gave them special attention, they opened their hearts to me . .
. and I gave mine to them. I spent a lot of time with them, knowing that
the real counseling they required was the love and affection of a
Vaisnava. We spent hours together walking and talking, and a deep
meeting this morning rekindled our feeling of love. For most of my
devotional career I have tried to give time and attention to the children
of our movement. They are our future and will one day continue with the
work we have done. Though young and innocent they are responsive to the
love we give them, and such attention serves as a foundation for their
faith in devotees and the Lord. The other day I received a wonderful
letter from a young lady in America, thanking me for the attention I gave
her as a child and asking for spiritual guidance now that she has grown
accept my humble obeisances. All glories to our beloved Srila Prabhupada.
allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sachi. My parents are Vamanadeva
dasa and Sangita devi dasi (a disciple of Srila Prabhupada since 1973). I
first met you in 1980 when you visited the Honolulu temple where we were
living. I was only a 3-year-old little girl at the time. You were so kind
to me and danced with me during aratis and even had me drive with you to
harinama in Waikiki. When you were leaving Hawaii, you gave me a photo of
your Nrsimhadeva Deity which I treasured. Growing up in Honolulu and the
Los Angeles gurukulas (not in the asramas), we were taught the zonal
acarya system which was in place in ISKCON at that time. Still, I somehow
always felt a connection to you. Even at a young age I told my friends
that I was going to someday take initiation from you. In retrospect, this
is surprising because we knew of and had only 11 initiating gurus in the
am now 23 years old, living with my parents and sister outside of the
Philadelphia temple and about to receive my Master's degree in Psychology.
As a teenager I went full circle, so to speak, in my spiritual life.
Having been born in ISKCON, I felt a need to explore other religions to be
sure that Krishna consciousness was how I wanted to live my life. After a
year-long search I came back to Srila Prabhupada. Just recently my mother
gave me a bhajan tape made by you. Hearing your chanting rekindled the
sense of connection I felt to you as a young child. I cannot fully
understand or explain this spiritual feeling. I am in no means feeling
qualified to approach you at this time for possible initiation. I
sometimes have questions regarding Krishna consciousness, and am asking
you if I can occasionally write to you with my inquiries. I approach you
and ask for this assistance with all sincerity and humility.
servant, Sachi dasi.
the other day a devotee asked me why I give so much attention to the
children in our movement. When thinking about it later, I remembered a
story from my own youth. When I was a young boy I loved American football
and was a loyal fan of the local professional team, the San Francisco
49ers. When I was 10 years old, my father took me to the city for a big
game they were playing that would decide if they would win the national
championships. The stadium was packed to capacity with fans rooting for
their home team.
father worked in the advertising business with a prominent organization,
BBD and O. He recently had been working on an advertising campaign with
the 49ers and had developed a close relationship with their quarterback,
Y. A. Title. Title was one of the best quarterbacks American football had
ever seen, and he was the pre-eminent hero of all American boys. We knew
everything about him, and his performance on the field was our constant
before the game was about to begin my father took me down to the field to
meet him. I was shaking like a leaf at the prospect of meeting the famous
Y. A. Title. I'd be a big man back in my neighborhood, especially if I
could get his autograph! The team charged out of the locker room on to the
sidelines to begin warming up for the game. My father approached Title,
who came over to meet me. A huge man, made even bigger by his padded
uniform, he got down on one knee and shook my hand. It was as if a demigod
had come down from heaven to meet me. Many years later my father recounted
to me my conversation with my childhood hero.
said, "I'm happy to meet you, son. Your father told me about you. He
says you like football."
said, "Mr Title, I love football and one day I want to be like
son," he replied. "Let me give you a few tips. In fact, I'll let
you in on a few secrets about how I make my touchdown passes. Keep it
between you and me and you'll lead this team one day."
proceeded to show me his special way to hold the ball and how he threw it
high in the air.
this trick and you'll be a winner," he said. "But remember, son,
football's not just about technique, it's about being a good person, too.
You have to do good in school and learn your lessons. And don't be
intimidated by guys who smoke. You have to be healthy to play good
I ask you one more question, Mr Title?" I said.
son, of course," he replied.
that moment the whistle sounded indicating the game was about to start,
and the rest of the players ran on to the field. But Title remained with
me on the sideline, down on one knee looking me in the eye. The 49ers'
head coach came over and growled, "Title, out on the field. The
crowd's waiting. Move!"
looked over at him and very coolly said, "I'm making an investment
here. This little boy wants to play football. I'm HIS coach, OK?" The
49ers' coach stormed off, and the multitudes waited for me to ask my last
Title, will you sign an autograph for me?" I said.
course," he replied. "Anything else?"
I said. "Can I write to you sometimes?"
said, "You sure can, boy. You're the next quarterback and you'll need
lots of tips! Your father and I are having lunch next Tuesday. Come along
and I'll give you the address then."
that he ran on to the field . . . and won the game.
gave me only 10 minutes, but he made an impression on me for life. He was
always in my thoughts as I practiced sports in high school and college.
His 10 minutes gave me the inspiration to become a star athlete in
football and swimming. I was the captain of my high school swimming team
for four years in a row, and I remained undefeated in the 200 meter
backstroke that entire time.
course, advancing in Krishna consciousness is infinitely more challenging
than athletic competition, and our children need inspiration from the
beginning of their careers in devotional service as well. So whenever a
devotee child approaches me I try to kneel down and give them that 10
minutes. I know it can go a long way. As Sachi wrote: "Hearing your
chanting rekindled the sense of connection I felt to you as a young child.
I cannot fully understand or explain this spiritual feeling . . . I
sometimes have questions regarding Krishna consciousness and am asking you
if I can occasionally write to you with my inquiries."
Sachi dasi, please do write back. You're the next generation and you'll
need lots of tips!
© CHAKRA 02 May 2001
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