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of a Traveling Preacher, Vol. 3 Chapter 30
By Indradyumna Swami
March 29-31, 2001
On March 29, Dwijamani das, a disciple of Ravindra Swarupa prabhu, picked up our party in New York City and drove us to Philadelphia. Dwijamani prabhu knows sanskrit and is well versed in many Vedic scriptures. As we began the three-hour journey, I noticed that while driving, he was memorizing verses from the Vedanta-sutra which he had written on small index cards. He had five or six of the cards scattered across his lap, and would look down frequently, taking his eyes off the road, to study the verses. I was nervous that he wasn't paying enough attention to his driving, and when he had to brake suddenly because a car slowed down in front of us, I spoke up. I asked him to put the cards away and give his full attention to the road.
It is one of the austerities of being a traveling preacher that one has to depend upon the service of others who may not be properly experienced or qualified in activities like driving, cooking, organizing an itinerary, etc. I can tolerate discrepancies in most of these things, but I always speak up when a person driving me is not doing that service properly. I find that devotees in general drive too fast and too recklessly - often with too little sleep. It is a formula for disaster. It seems one naturally becomes more cautious with age. Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Nine tenths of wisdom consists in being wise in time. " But my adherence to the rules of safe driving have come in part because I have been involved in several serious accidents throughout the years. The unexpected shock of being hit by another vehicle, the resultant flying glass, the sound of crunching metal, and the screams of the injured do much to make one a sober driver. As the saying goes, "once bitten twice shy. " Personal experience is sometimes a very wise teacher.
srutih pratyaksam aitihyam
vikalpat sa virajyate
"From the four types of evidence - Vedic knowledge, direct experience, traditional wisdom and logical induction - one can understand the temporary, insubstantial situation of the material world, by which one becomes detached from the duality of this world. " [SB 11. 19. 17]
Dwijamani drove properly the rest of the way, and we arrived safely at the temple in Philadelphia in the late afternoon. The temple itself is actually two old buildings joined together by a terrace. One building was once a hunting lodge built in 1850 on the outskirts of the then smaller city of Philadelphia. As the city expanded a hotel was built near the hunting lodge in 1910, and later the two were joined via a terrace constructed by the family who purchased both to make a single home. The large building was ideal for devotees, who purchased it for a temple in 1977. Currently, however, the facility is not being used to its full capacity, as there are approximately only 20 devotees living there. Due to a shortage of funds, much of the building is in need of repair.
But, as we soon discovered, there is a pleasant and loving family mood among the devotees under the fatherly care of Ravindra Swarupa prabhu, who is the official temple president - although he is often away with GBC responsibilities in different parts of his zone and the world. Shortly after our arrival we took darsan of the Deities, Gaura-Nitai, Jagannath, Subhadra and Balaram and Radha-Saradi Behari.
Earlier, as we were coming into the city, Sri Prahlad had told me of a renown collection of old Rajasthani paintings on exhibit in the city museum. The theme of the show was the pastimes of Radha and Krishna. He suggested we visit the exhibition, if we found time. So after unpacking, I approached one senior devotee and asked if he could make arrangements for us to visit the museum. I immediately perceived that he became uncomfortable, because he obviously had many other more important services to attend to. A traveling preacher must be mindful of his hosts' commitments and humbly accept whatever is provided, learning not to put unnecessary demands on those who are taking care of him. Nevertheless, despite the inconvenience, the devotee kindly went out of his way to arrange for us to the museum the next day.
That evening on our way to a house program, I noted that Philadelphia is rich in American history. We passed by several places that I had studied about in school, among them Valley Forge where George Washington and his troops camped in the winter of 1777, during the American Revolution. Such places cause the chest of most Americans to swell with pride. With that in mind, I based my lecture on becoming free from the bodily concept of life, explaining how strongly the conditioned soul identifies with his body, family and land of birth. I used myself as an example: when I was young, my mother and father instilled a strong mood of patriotism in me. When I mentioned to the guests that one of my ancestors was a signatory to the American Declaration of Independence, a few eyebrows went up.
On Friday, a devotee drove us to the museum to see the exhibit on Radha and Krishna. It consisted of many old paintings of Their Lordships; as well as some ancient pots, rugs, and other items. The show was well presented, with a general atmosphere that reminded me much - perhaps too much - of Vrindavan. In fact, after a few minutes I felt "homesick" for the holy dhama and left the exhibit to sit outside and chant my rounds.
In the afternoon, we all went to a memorial service for a devotee named Siddha rupa das at ISKCON's restaurant and cultural center downtown. Siddha rupa had passed away three days earlier. There was kirtan and a feast, and that evening I spoke about the departure of a Vaisnava at the temple program.
I suppose Krishna was preparing me. After the program, when I went to my room to take rest, I received a call from my disciple Jananivasa das in Russia informing me that my own disciple, Gitanjali dasi, who had cancer, had recently passed away as well. In fact, Jananivasa told me that she had departed the very day after I had come to see her in Ekaterinburg in February. To my dismay, no details of her departure were given. It is important how one actually leaves this world. In one sense, a devotee's whole life is in preparation for that one moment. The consciousness at death determines one's next destination. There is a Bengali proverb: Bhajan kara sadhana kara - murte janle hoy, "Whatever bhajan and sadhana one has performed throughout his life will be tested at the moment of death. "
But what happens if a devotee cannot fix his mind on Krishna at the moment of death? A doctor recently told me that 80 percent of people are actually unconscious at the moment of death! The body "naturally" goes into a state of shock before the traumatic moment when the soul leaves the body. Perhaps it is for this very reason that the devotee prays in Isopanisad:
vayur anilam amrtam
athedam bhasmantam sariram
om krato smara krtam smara
krato smara krtam smara
"Let this temporary body be burnt to ashes, and let the air of life be merged with the totality of air. Now, O my Lord, please remember all my sacrifices, and because You are the ultimate beneficiary, please remember all that I have done for You. "
Once Ramanujacarya, after the death of Yamunacarya, was pensive with some questions. He requested Kancipurna, the servant of Lord Varadaraja (Krishna), to ask the Lord some questions on his behalf. One of the questions was, "What happens if a devotee dies suddenly and is unable to think of You at the time of death?" Lord Varadaraja replied, "Then I will think of my devotee. "
My dear Lord, I know that my bhakti is not anywhere near the level to merit your attention, but as Gitanjali's spiritual master it is my duty to appeal to you. Please take her to Your lotus feet - please take her home to Sri Vrindavan dhama!
"Today 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 Mamimamrta, Sataka 1, Verse 24]
© CHAKRA 6-July-2001
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