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of a Travelling Preacher, Chapter 12
train left Omsk at 3pm headed for Chelyabinsk, a 12-hour ride west. On the
journey we passed through northern Kazakhstan. There was no immigration or
Customs, however, because the train made no stop there.
the way I was thinking about our last kirtan in Omsk, the night before we
left. There were about 200 devotees in the hall. Sri Prahlad was playing
an ancient accordion; aptly described by Uttamasloka as an old squeeze
box. I had a clay drum that had also seen better days. The best sound I
could get out of it resembled a thump on a wet cardboard box. Jananivasa
played the only pair of karatalas available, which sounded like two pieces
of lead banging together. But all that made no difference. Sri Pralad was
leading and had us diving and surfacing in the nectarian ocean of the holy
names. At one point the devotees swayed back and forth in unison, while at
other times they broke into small groups and spun around in eccentric
circles, smiling and laughing and sometimes rolling on the ground. It was
the type of kirtan where one loses any sense of time and wish it would go
on forever. It's often like that when Sri Prahald leads. He's a gifted
musician with a taste for the holy name. I couldn't think of a better
combination of qualities.
I stepped a little to the side, just to watch the bliss. Here we were with
200 devotees and only three old, useless instruments. It reminded me of
scenes from South Africa where, when passing through impoverished black
townships, I've often see small groups of little boys with no instruments
whatsoever just clapping their hands, happily absorbed in singing an
our kirtan was the most ancient of hymns, descending directly from the
spiritual sky and lifting us to the greatest heights of happiness and
the township boys sang:
on the corner, down on the street, Willie and the poor boys singing a song
that can't be beat!"
few hours into the journey, Jananivasa informed me that little Amrta Keli
and Vinode Behari were with their father on the train on their way back to
southern Russia. I immediately asked him to get them. He searched through
the long train, and an hour later brought the family to my compartment. I
proceeded to tell stories of Krishna and His devotees. When I began the
pastime of Bivamangala Thakur, Amrta Keli's eyes lit up and she took over,
telling the lila in much more detail than I. Afterwards, I asked their
father if they could all stay in Chelyabinsk with us for the program. He
replied that they had special tickets for disabled citizens of war that
couldn't be changed. To buy new tickets for the three-day journey home
would be more than he could earn in a year. In English I inquired from
Jananivasa how much such tickets would be, and he replied $150. When I
told the father and children that I'd be happy to pay for those tickets,
their mouths dropped open in disbelief. In fact I added a few more
dollars, so they'll be accompanying us all the way through Ekaterinburg,
Perm, and on to Moscow. "That's my investment - I'm their
one point in the journey, two young men who appeared to be close friends
met Jananivasa in the corridor just outside my cabin. They were rough
characters, but showed a little interest in what we were doing. Jananivasa
spent a few minutes explaining the philosophy to them. Eventually one of
the friends left, and $800 in bills dropped out of his pocket as he walked
away. The other so-called friend stooped over, picked the money up and
quickly put it in his pocket. Staring intensely at Jananivasa, he said to
him that if he told his friend that he'd found the money he'd "smash
him in the face!"
few minutes later the first boy returned in anxiety. He told his friend he
had lost his money and began desperately searching for it throughout the
corridor. His friend feigned sympathy and half-heartedly began to look for
the money as well. The first boy was practically in tears. After some time
they gave up and stood talking with Jananivasa again. Jananivasa very
carefully began explaining the law of karma, how for every action there is
an equal and opposite reaction. When he used the analogy that if one
steals from someone then in a future birth the same thing will happen to
him, the boy who took the money off the floor became a little nervous. As
Jananivasa went into more detail of the results of sinful acts, the thief
broke out in a sweat. Finally, he looked over his shoulder and blurted
out, "Oh look, there's the money on the floor!" In one careful
motion he took the money from his pocket, threw it on the floor, picked it
up and gave it back to his friend.
Jananivasa told me the story, I reflected how a real friend is one who
helps you in times of adversity, not abandons you - or worse yet takes
advantage of your misfortune.
mitram janiyad / yuddhe suram rne sucim
friend is tested in adversity, a hero in war, an honest man when in debt,
and relatives in time of distress." [Hitopanisad Part 1, Text 73]
a friend can help us solve our problems. But the very least he can do is
share or sympathize with our misfortune. In dealing with my own disciples'
problems, I can always offer the ultimate solution of going back to
Godhead, but sometimes I am at a loss to offer a practical solution to a
material difficulty. In such cases I just try to be a good listener.
Sometimes that alone is the best medicine.
vyasane caiva / durbhikse rastra viplave
who accompanies another during festivals, in misery, in famine, in
national calamity, in court, and finally in the crematorium is the real,
true friend." [Hitopanishad Part 1, Text 74]
arrived in Chelyabinsk at 3am. Upon arriving at Russian train stations, my
conditioned reaction is to first look out of the window at the neon sign
displaying the temperature. When I saw the temperature in Chelyabinsk I
thought, "Wow, it's warm here! It's only 10 degrees below zero."
Siberia has made me a veteran of Russian winters. Real cold means anything
less than 40 degrees below!
the weather wasn't too bad I wore only two coats (as opposed the three),
and jumped off the train with the other devotees. The Chelyabinsk devotees
had not arrived in time to pick us up, so we waited outside the station
for them to come. The temperature soon got the better of me, and I told
Uttamasloka to order a taxi to take me to the apartment where we would be
staying. As soon as he called for a taxi we were deluged by drivers
offering us their services. They were all screaming at the same time and
bargaining with Uttamasloka. Sri Prahlad said, "Mosquitoes sucking
blood. Standing in the middle of it all, I appreciated Guru Vrata's
military precision in "picking up the troops" in Krasnoyarsk. A
traveling preacher, however, should never expect, what to speak of demand,
any facility as he moves through the world. He is everyone's servant. But
if facility is offered, he should be thankful and express his appreciation
to his hosts by sharing the very best of his Krishna consciousness with
arrived at the apartment at 4.30am, and instead of sleeping I stayed up
and chanted my rounds. Then after studying a little, we left for the
morning program. A devotee must constantly be studying and learning in
order to make his preaching interesting. I'm giving class twice a day
during these tours, and although it's a routine of sorts for me, for most
of my disciples it's the class of the year for them, because many see me
only once a year. It's essential I deliver the philosophy in an authorized
way, while at the same time inspiring them in their progress. I can't
afford to be tired - a headache is no excuse to refuse class and I can't
even afford to be a minute late for the program. Every second counts for
the hall the devotees had a small reception for me, and then I gave class
on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.6.1. The verse spoke of the glories of Narada Muni.
I briefly told his history and emphasized that, like us, he became a
devotee by the mercy of a Bhaktivedanta, a pure devotee of the Lord.
Simply by taking the remnants of prasadam from such a pure Vaisnava, the
very nature of the transcendentalist became attractive to him.
enjoyed giving class and relished the long kirtan we had afterwards. In
fact, we could have been anywhere in the world, but really we were in
Vaikuntha. Although I sometimes hanker for the old days in Russia when we
preached in secret and literally ran for our lives from the KGB, I
appreciate the big movement here now and the many devotees who have come
as a result of those original seeds we planted. The ranks are still
swelling here. There are also more facilities.
sat for a few moments on the vyasasana before leaving, thinking how much
Srila Prabhuapa sacrificed for all of us to come to this stage. It was
very austere here when he came, but he didn't mind if he could spread the
message of Lord Caitanya. Once Govinda dasi wrote to Srila Prabhupada
inviting him to come to Hawaii to rest and work on his translations.
Knowing that he already had plans to visit Moscow, she attempted to
attract him by saying that it was mango season in Hawaii. Srila Prabhupada
wrote back, "Preaching in the snows of Russia is sweeter than the
as I thought that, a devotee came up and handed me a ripe red mango! I'd
never seen a mango in Russia! I laughed and said to myself, "Srila
Prabhupada, now we have the best of both worlds here - mangos and
preaching! We have no excuse not to work hard to push on this movement
here for your pleasure."
© CHAKRA 02 May 2001
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