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of a Traveling Preacher, Chapter 14
leaving Chelyabinsk yesterday we held a program in a small orphanage. The
local devotees have been visiting the orphanage several times a week for
the past six months, distributing prasadam, having kirtan and entertaining
the children in various Krishna conscious ways. They took on the project
as a way to win the favor of local city officials. The devotees are in the
process of completing construction on a small, but very beautiful temple
near the center of town. It has attracted much attention, and in order to
keep any opposition at bay the devotees have taken on charity work of a
orphanage readily accepted the devotees' offer of help. Like many
orphanages in Russia it is independent, surviving without government aid.
The 50 children, ranging from 7-14 years of age, were eagerly awaiting our
arrival. They were especially keen, as they were told foreigners would be
was a bit taken aback by the facilities the children lived in. The
building was quite old, there was little furniture, and from the way the
children were dressed it appeared their clothes were handed down from one
generation to another. However, they were well disciplined and clean - and
elated that we had come.
we entered all eyes were upon us. I stepped forward to give a short
introduction in English (which was translated into Russian), and some of
the kids' mouths dropped open. They were all sitting up straight in
chairs, and when I called them to come and sit with me on the floor there
was a stampede to see who could sit closest to me. I had a captive
audience and took full advantage of it, telling the children of my
adventures in the Amazon Jungle. Each time I brought up an alligator, a
piranha fish, a spider or a snake there were exclamations of surprise . .
. and several "Hare Krsnas!" At the end of the story, Sri
Prahlad led an ecstatic kirtan and the children danced blissfully, loudly
chanting the holy names. When I distributed fruit prasadam there was
another stampede. I suppose things that we take for granted are much
appreciated by those less fortunate than us.
embarked on a four-hour journey to Ekaterinburg in a caravan of cars at
3pm. We were on our way to do a small program there. I was a little
uneasy, however, as a snowstorm had started. I also noticed that the three
cars we were traveling in looked old and unreliable, but it seemed the
best our hosts could do, and as "beggars can't be choosers" I
didn't make any objection. One hour into the journey one of the cars broke
down. In the midst of the snowstorm we tried our best to get it started
again, but to no avail. So we divided the passengers and luggage between
the two remaining vehicles and, leaving the driver with the disabled car,
continued on our way. One hour later, in the middle of nowhere, one of the
vehicles ran out of petrol! With no recourse, we tied a cable to it and
towed it. At one point the police pulled us over and checked our papers.
The snowstorm made driving difficult, but we managed to hobble into
Ekaterinburg five hours later. It was a long and arduous trip. But when I
looked at my watch and saw the day and date, I realized our mistake - we
had begun a journey on Thursday afternoon!
to astrological calculations, it is inauspicious to begin a journey on a
Thursday afternoon. One of Srila Prabhupada's secretaries told me that
Srila Prabhupada himself was cautious not to travel at this time, to the
point of postponing a Thursday afternoon departure to Friday morning. It
is said that Srila Bhaktisiddanta Saraswati dealt with the problem of
having to leave on a Thursday afternoon by putting his shoes and baggage
outside the door the night before, indicating that the journey had already
that the workings of material nature are never fully auspicious, a devotee
is careful how he proceeds in life. Once, when a devotee sneezed at the
beginning of a journey, Srila Prabhupada stopped walking, until
Brahmananda explained that the devotee had a cold, after which Srila
Prabhupada continued. If someone sneezes for no apparent reason before a
journey, it is considered inauspicious.
hall program last night was a preview of a puppet theater being prepared
for the Polish tour by my disciple, Subhuddi raya. A talented artist, he
has put together an amazing production of Krishna's Vrindavan pastimes.
The 20 large puppets are skillfully and attractively presented. The entire
production covers more than 12 meters of stage. Professional, colorful and
dynamic, with a beautiful soundtrack, it came across as a major
production. It gave me confidence that this year we will have a wonderful
stage program that the Polish public will love.
arrived exhausted at our apartment at 11pm. To my surprise, 30 disciples
were waiting for me with a reception! Not wanting to disappoint them, I
sat and received their loving gestures of fruits and flowers accompanied
by a sweet kirtan. Then I gave a short lecture, several times catching
myself falling asleep. At the stroke of midnight they brought in a big
cake for me to distribute. At the same moment, however, a distraught young
lady appeared at the door and asked to see me. With tears in her eyes, she
came into the room and told me that her mother, my disciple, Gitanjali
dasi, who is gravely ill with cancer, was about to leave her body. She
begged me to come and see her.
up a pair of karatalas and a mrdunga, myself, Sri Prahlad, Rukmini Priya
and Uttamasloka quickly left the apartment for a waiting car. The journey
beyond the city took over an hour and a half. We finally arrived at
Gitanjali's apartment at 1.45am. Entering her room, we saw her frail, thin
covered by blankets. Hearing us, she opened her eyes and smiled. I placed
my garland around her neck, and sitting next to her began giving her final
instructions. It was not the first time I have been in such a situation,
so I knew what to do and how to proceed.
is really only one subject matter to dwell on at death, and that is the
beautiful pastimes of the Lord in Vrindavan. As Gaudiya Vaisnavas, that is
the specific goal we must fix our minds on at the moment of death. That,
of course, takes a lifetime of preparation. We must purify our hearts of
all material attachment and then awaken our love for the Lord. Srila
Prabhodananda Saraswati prays:
or tomorrow this worthless material body will leave me and all the
material happiness connected with it will also leave. Because material
happiness is temporary, it should be understood to be only a mirage of the
real happiness. O my mind, please abandon this false happiness and enjoy
the real, eternal happiness of devotional service within the land of
Vrindavan." [Vrindavan Mahimamrta Sakata 1, Text 24]
describing the beauty of Vrindavan and the pastimes of Radha and Krishna,
I first wanted to see if Gitanjali had any remorse about leaving this
world. If any attachments remained in her heart, I would encourage her to
let them go so she wouldn't become entangled again in this world of birth
and death. I gently inquired if she was ready to leave. She spoke softly
and said she had no reason whatsoever to remain here. So confident was she
that later on Sri Prahlad and I remarked how she was indeed fearless in
the face of death.
recounted a few pastimes of the Lord to help her fix her mind, and then
led kirtan. During the kirtan I was praying to Srila Prabhupada to please
give her the qualification to achieve an auspicious destination. By 4am it
was clear that she wasn't going to leave her body immediately, so I
stopped the kirtan and spoke a few last words to her. In a weak voice she
thanked me for coming, and said that now all her desires had been
fulfilled she would soon leave peacefully. Her eyes followed me intensely
until I left the room. Srila Prabhupada, please take her soon and place
her in your association! Grant her an auspicious destination. As you wrote
to Jayananda: "Krishna is very kind, for He has taken away your
diseased body and has now given you a body which is suitable to your
desires to serve Him in the spiritual world."
returned to our apartment at 5.30am and took rest, rising at 8am to
perform our sadhana. At 11am we went a hall to perform a wedding for 15
devotee couples. Most of the devotees were my disciples, many of whom I
have known since they were children. It is very satisfying to personally
help them through the various milestones of their lives. Of course,
traditionally it is not the business of a sannyasi to perform a marriage
ceremony. He is supposed to be aloof from such things, being in the
renounced order. Following in Srila Prabhupada's footsteps, however, we do
it to encourage our disciples. At a marriage Srila Prabhupada presided
over in Montreal in 1968, he said: "So I am a sannyasi. I have
renounced my family life. I have got my children, my grandchildren, I have
my wife still living, but I have separated from them. This is called
sannyasa. Why I am taking interest again, this family life of my students?
Because I want to see them properly progress towards spiritual life.
Therefore, although it is not the business of a sannyasi to take part in
marriage ceremony, in this country, just to save my students, both boys
and girls, from sinful activities, I am personally taking interest that
they may become good gentleman and lady by marriage."
evening the older children presented a theater of Krishna's Vrindavan lila.
For a number years, each time I visit Ekaterinburg these children have
performed theater for me. Under the guidance of my disciple, Subuddhi raya
dasa, they practice for months before I come. They memorize pages of lines
and carefully refine all their movements in the play. The dramas are
always straight from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Brhat Bhagavatamrta, or from Srila
Rupa Goswami's plays like Lalita Madhava or Vidagdha Madhava. The subject
matter is always very deep, the acting very professional, and the mood
permeated with love.
Prabhupada once said that the purpose of theater is to invoke spiritual
emotions in the audience. He related how he once took part in a drama
about Lord Caitanya when he was in school. He and his friends practiced
for six months before their first performance. When they presented the
play, he said many people in the audience cried.
we sat and watched the children's production in Ekaterinburg, many of us
also shed a few tears. It was clear that loving relationships in the
spiritual world are far superior to any of this world. The play made me
hanker to be back in Vrindavan, but I spent several months there recently
and now it's my duty to travel and tell others of that transcendental
abode. But it was a pleasant surprise to be transported there again for
two hours by the wonderful acting of these young adults.
"Where do all people automatically and effortlessly obtain pure ecstatic love for Krishna? Where does the Supreme Personality of Godhead manifest His supremely wonderful pastime form? Where is the empire of the bliss of devotional service to Krishna's lotus feet manifest? O brother, listen I will tell you a secret. All this is present here in Vrindavan." [Vrindavan Mahimamrta Sataka 1, Text 24]
© CHAKRA 07 May 2001
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