A lecture given by Kadamba Kanana Swami, 23 July 2013, Durban, South Africa
The young days in Amsterdam
The theme of today’s lecture was already on the poster before I knew about it. Life goes like that. Life is like a poster and you don’t always know what will be on it! A journey of faith – from Amsterdam to Vrndavana, is the theme of the evening. It is kind of using my life as a means of showing how an ordinary person, by mercy of great devotees, can be uplifted. The state of the world is such that where in this age, do we find a holy place? Where in this age, do we find people who practice their religion with true sincerity? Where do we find any religion at all? Where do we find honesty? Where do we find truth? All these kind of questions are difficult to answer because whatever one says might be challenged with reasonable argument by someone else. So, it is not so easy to answer these questions but something in me was asking those kinds of perennial questions about life…
I grew up not exactly in Amsterdam but just on the outskirts; much nicer than Amsterdam with nice hills and forests. My father and relatives were directors in various companies and such people lived in nice areas usually. Amsterdam was half an hour by train so it was not far. I did actually grow up in a town which had one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Nothing ever happened in my town; not that I can remember. I can’t remember any crime that I heard about or read about – no burglaries, nothing! Some boys threw stones on the window of an old abandoned house, maybe I was one of them, but I’m not sure if that can be called a serious crime. So, it was a very safe place, although a little boring sometimes, and everything was correct. I played with the right kids, went to the right school, I dressed in the right clothes until one day, I rebelled! You can guess what age that was. Yes at that stage, I rebelled because I saw that the youth of the world were going in another direction than the model that my parents were imposing upon me.
In 1965, the Beatles came to the Netherlands and it created a revolution. Overnight, barbers went bankrupt! No well-respecting boy ever went to the barber again after their visit! That was it! Hair was growing and the musical Hair followed. Somehow or other, in that musical Hair there was the maha mantra. Personally, I don’t remember that because all that I remember of the musical Hair was that at the end, all the musical actors took off their clothes! I did not remember the maha mantra but it was there. So, we see that in our life, the mercy of the Lord is there – knowingly or unknowingly. When it is unknowingly then we speak about ajnata sukriti, the unknown spiritual benefit. Unknown spiritual benefit came into my life in various ways – through a musical, through George Harrison who sang ‘My Sweet Lord’ which also has the Hare Krsna maha mantra
One day, I saw a grey van pulling into my town and too many ‘pink’ men came out of this van! Something was suspicious. Anyway, they came out and made a line in the street so no one could escape. Then they came in my direction, I quickly went into a shop, stared at them in disbelief and someone said, ‘It’s a dangerous cult!’ They sure looked dangerous! Three months later, I saw them on television and at that time they spoke a little of their beliefs and they explained that it was about no meat, fish or eggs; no gambling; no intoxication and no illicit sex. Then I knew that they were dangerous! So, my initial attitude towards the Hare Krsna movement was one of distrust and in keeping a safe distance. It just seemed over- zealous and just too religious! I was open to spirituality and I thought that spirituality should have a place in life but it seemed a bit too much of it; an overdose. I saw young devotees dancing in the street, in a circle, and I thought that was the ultimate emblem of religious fanaticism! And I thought, ‘Stay clear! Watch out!’ I did but the Hare Krsnas were very determined – they had a missionary spirit. They would dress up in regular clothing. Since they had bald heads, they would wear wigs and then on the street they would distribute Bhagavad-Gita. A man with a wig, you can spot at a mile distance and I saw it straight away! When I saw those wigs, I use to avoid them by giving a cold stare into space over their shoulder and no smile on my face. They never tried to sell me a book. So I got away, I thought.ver went to the barber again after their visit! That was it! Hair was growing and the musical Hair followed. Somehow or other, in that musical Hair there was the maha mantra. Personally, I don’t remember that because all that I remember of the musical Hair was that at the end, all the musical actors took off their clothes! I did not remember the maha mantra but it was there. So, we see that in our life, the mercy of the Lord is there – knowingly or unknowingly. When it is unknowingly then we speak about ajnata sukriti, the unknown spiritual benefit. Unknown spiritual benefit came into my life in various ways – through a musical, through George Harrison who sang ‘My Sweet Lord’ which also has the Hare Krsna maha mantra.
I thought that I had escaped the Hare Krsna movement effectively until I met a girlfriend who had a dog named Krsna! That created further complications in my life because the dog was not very obedient to begin with and at night, when I was walking with this dog, he wouldn’t come back. So, I would call out very loud, ‘Krsnaaaaa!’ every night, many times and in that way, I started harinam around the corner! My early encounters with Krsna were in the ajnata sukriti category, unknown spiritual benefit. This dog got the name Krsna just by some external arrangement – someone had read a book of Krsna murti just when my girlfriend had got the dog and said, ‘Why don’t you call it Krsna murti?’ She said, ‘No, that’s too long, just Krsna!’ I use to think that movies were more outrageous than real life but now I know that it’s the other way around. I know that real life by far exceeds what happens in any movie; you can’t imagine it! But a dog really had brought Krsna consciousness in my life and then from there it continued…
The connection builds
Little by little, Krsna came in my life. Music played an important part in my life. I had been in India and had searched for more spiritual depth but I had not yet found. I use to sing a song that I had written, ‘I am nothing but a stranger always around, I’m nothing but a seeker for what I’ve never found.’ That is what it was; I was looking for things. I wasn’t sure what it was but I knew that when I find it then I would know.
I was looking for the truth but I had no idea where to look. I had never thought that it would be Krsna but little by little, it came into my life. I came across this musician who invited me for some jam session based on ragas. We had both been in India and I learnt a few ragas on the sitar. Then he said, ‘Let us do some mantra.’ So I thought, ‘Yes, why not? Raga, mantra – all spiritual sound from India.’ Next moment, he sang the Hare Krsna maha mantra. His name was Burton Greene and later, I read in Srila Prabhupada’s biography that in the early days of his preaching in America, there used to be a musician who played on the old string board of a piano during the kirtan. His name was Burton Greene! So again, some connection. Somehow or other, these connections came into my life invisibly. A little Krsna here, a little Krsna there and each time, it came back in some form or another, until it began to form a net that was just everywhere.
In India, I had studied the philosophy as I studied some of the Vedic literatures. I had come across the explanation of the three gunas – sattva guna, tama guna and raja guna. I use to sometimes try to impress people with the explanations of the three gunas, ‘Have you heard about the three gunas?’ Then, I gave an explanation and most people were very impressed by what I had to say. So one day, there was a thirteen year old boy and I was nineteen; I just had explained the three gunas and I asked, ‘Did you hear about the three gunas?’ He said, ‘Oh, you mean the three modes of material nature – goodness, passion and ignorance?’ And he gave a very practical, clear explanation of the three modes of material nature; much better than I had given him. Then I casually inquired from him, ‘Interesting isn’t it? Where did you find out about it?’ He replied, ‘From the Hare Krsnas.’ These Hare Krsnas know their stuff!
Faith is the key
So little by little, I became purified by the name of Krsna and I became purified by hearing the mantra, then I became purified by chanting the mantra and then gradually, I developed some faith in the Bhagavad-Gita which was the central book. So little by little, faith was building-up and it is faith that is the key that will turn our situation in life. It is faith that makes us act! The living being is by nature pleasure seeking, ananda mayo byasat. Whatever we do, any living being will always look for pleasure. It is said that wherever we think that pleasure will be found that is where our faith will go; as simple as that! If we think it is in money then we will be collecting money. If we think it is in fame then we will try to become famous. If we think that it is in beauty then so much work! It’s not easy to be beautiful. So like that, wherever we think that happiness will be found, that is where our faith will be.
Little by little, I began to respect Krsna consciousness. I wasn’t really buying into it over night but I remained attracted to the spiritual culture of India. I could see that the Hare Krsna movement was genuinely representing that culture, in a very serious way. These two things I understood. So, these were very important and I could see that they were genuine, had genuine roots in India and they were very sincere about what they did.
I saw different ashrams in India, different groups but I also saw so many external displays just a show to impress others. Very few people were really dedicated to serving the Lord. I saw in the Hare Krsna movement, an incredible dedication! I couldn’t understand why that was and why it was so different. I suspected that it was kind of related to fanaticism. I was thinking that Hare Krsnas must be more serious because it attracted people of a more fanatic type therefore it was a movement of a much higher quality than the others. I didn’t quite understand at the time what the great inspiration behind the movement was. That part, I discovered later.
I read Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita As It Is . A friend of mine had it on his book shelf and I asked, ‘Can I borrow it?’ He said, ‘You can have it. I never read it.’ I was reading it while I was still smoking cigarettes, blowing rings through rings and smudging pages with ashes. Looking at the verses, I was thinking, ‘I know all this because I’ve been in India!’ Now I know that I’ll never know all this. Somehow or other things, have changed but still I could not understand the secret of the Hare Krsna movement and why so much commitment and why such quality.
An old friend of mine also became involved in the Hare Krsna Movement. When I visited him, he told me about Vrndavana. He said, ‘Next time you go to India, then you must go to Vrndavana.’ I already had a ticket in my pocket to go to India, so I did it. When I went to Vrndavana, first I went by train to Mathura. As I came out of the train station in Mathura, I asked, ‘Is Vrndavana very far?’ The local people said, ‘No, it is very near.’ I said, ‘Oh, can I walk there?’ They said, ‘Yes, you can walk.’ So, I walked twenty kilometres! I entered via the main road which is also known as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg; the road leading into Vrndavana. At that time, it was a much smaller road. It was evening and there was no traffic. The only ones that were walking on the road were cows and they were walking towards Vrndavana. So, I was walking with them. There was a gate that was like an arch, a gate dedicated to Prabhupada. I went through that Prabhupada gate and entered Vrndavana! I came to the Krsna Balarama temple and I saw how the temple functions. At first, things were difficult to understand like when everyone started to bow down to a plant then I thought, ‘Okay here we go. We are going to bow down to a plant!’ So, it took some time for my western upbringing to accommodate every aspect of Krsna consciousness.
The secret of the Hare Krsna movement
But I stayed for some time in the temple and as I was there, I began to see how much Prabhupada’s presence was felt in the Krsna Balarama Mandir. After some time, I began to appreciate that actually every inch of the place had a story of Srila Prabhupada connected to it. There was the bell and Prabhupada said that the bell should be rung on-the-hour and on the half-hour, by the security guards. That was very difficult. Srila Prabhupada said that he will judge the management by the ringing of the bell. The management was right on top of the security to ring the bell on the second! Later on, I became in charge of the bell. It was a serious thing! We had a satellite steered clock so that we had it on the second and we would hold the guards on the second. It was my job to make them do it and I used all my Dutch qualities, ‘I’ll cut your salary!’ Anyway, several times the rope broke and sometimes, we went up there with a hammer and rung the bell. Somehow or other, the bell was ringing and we kept the bell ringing; that was an art. That was Prabhupada’s desire and it is still going on.
In Vrndavana, by ringing the bell every day; by going into the samadhi, the place where Srila Prabhupada’s remains are kept in a temple; and to the house where Srila Prabhupada stayed when he visited Vrndavana, I connected with Srila Prabhupada more and more. In this way, I became very much aware that in Vrndavana the essence of Krsna consciousness was to do things according to the desire of Srila Prabhupada. During my stay in Vrndavana, initially I was very impressed by the deities in the temple and everything else but gradually, it dawned upon me that Prabhupada was more prominently present in Vrndavana than Krsna. Krsna is so much present everywhere in Vrndavana but I realised that in Krsna Balarama Mandir, Prabhupada was even more present than Krsna. Through satisfying Srila Prabhupada’s desire, we will attain Krsna! That became very apparent to me and suddenly I understood the secret of the Hare Krsna movement. The sincerity and the dedication that I had mistaken for fanaticism was actually found in the devotees love for Prabhupada.
At the time, the movement consisted mostly of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples who were very sincere and dedicated simply due to their love for Prabhupada. That was the unique feature which this movement had over others. This is why we see that it has brought about a much greater changes in peoples’ lives. Which other spiritual leader could get his people to live by such principles which are not simple: no meat, fish or eggs; no gambling, no casinos – it is difficult in Durban because there’s always some advertisement on the corner of Higginson Highway where you can win lots of cars; no intoxication – not even coffee or tea; and finally, no illicit sex! If one really looks at what that means – it is described in the Bhagavad-Gita that sexual activity is allowed only according to religious principles. It is further explained in the Manu Samhita which says that once a month, one may perform a garbhadhana samskara between the sixth and sixteenth day of the female’s monthly cycle. That is not very modern, that is archaic and that was kind of inconceivable, I was thinking. How is it possible?
Obstacles on the way
I saw that Prabhupada managed to create inspiration in people. At first, I didn’t understand it but later, I appreciated that Prabhupada was the driving factor, the one who inspired his followers by love and I also became inspired by that.
My visa ran out so I had to go back and then life was not so easy; I struggled! Krsna consciousness in Vrndavana had been nice and sweet. It had been very natural in Vrndavana because everyone was involved in Krsna consciousness. Suddenly, I was back to the Hare Krsna movement in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam. It was just one five-storey building and they would get four-hundred guests on a Sunday so it wasn’t bad – there was a restaurant, they had school programs, everyday a harinam party was going out and there were forty-five devotees going out distributing books every day. It was an active temple with devotees living in the temple but it was like the army. It was regimented and it didn’t accommodate human nature which seemed to be totally secondary. It was just about a higher goal and did not relate to anything that was happening to us here and now. It didn’t feel to me like something realistic and something that I could follow at the time. It was too impersonal and there was no consideration for personal circumstances. There was just a process and you should follow it! If you follow it, you’re okay and if not, then you’re in maya. That was very unfortunate so I couldn’t handle that.
But, there was one Afro-american devotee and he was a human being. He would ask, ‘How are you?’ Wow! Somebody asking how I was! So, suddenly there was some human interaction and that made it all possible for me.
At the end of my stay in India, I had picked up jaundice and as a result of that I had been ill for a little while. When I came into the temple in Amsterdam, I couldn’t eat all the ‘deep fried’ and all these things which made life difficult. Then, this devotee made some bread for me; he used to make this banana bread. It was pretty good bread and there were big trays of it. He would put it in my cupboard with a note, ‘Here is some bread for you. From, your dog servant.’
‘This is too much! How can any human being call himself a dog servant? This is no longer humility; this goes beyond human dignity,’ I thought. I heard devotees advertising humility as an important quality but I thought that this goes too far but anyway, he used to sign his notes like that. I had been a bachelor for a long time and I was just too lazy to cut breads so I just broke a piece of the bread and would just eat it like that. So then one day I saw a note from my ‘dog servant’ who wrote, ‘You eat like a mouse.’
Friendship is essential
I learnt something there that friendship is essential! I understood it then and the realisation remained with me. This is spiritual life – we are entering into a process and little by little, we are getting experience and little by little, we are beginning to realise some important matters. I realised that friendship is important and without it, the process cannot be done. We need it and it is not all about finding friends but it is also about being a friend.
In the very beginning, I was looking for devotees who inspired me. In Vrndavana I had one experience; they had asked me to help out in serving at the restaurant. After a few days, I found the manager of the kitchen embracing the cleaning lady! What to do! These things happen because people remain people after all. So, in every spiritual movement, you find human elements. It is not that we need to hang people off the highest tree or immediately write-off a whole institution just because some individuals are struggling. Naturally we are struggling, after all it is not so easy.
Unfortunately with this devotee (the manager of the kitchen), things got out of control and then he left. The next day, I became the manager of the restaurant! I was careful about the cleaner though! I was deeply disappointed because I didn’t expect that from a senior devotee, who had been around for a long time, to fall from his purity like that. I was greatly shocked because I had been looking up to others for inspiration and now suddenly it didn’t look like that.
I thought about that deeply and then came to the conclusion – there is no doubt that Prabhupada’s teachings are right, there is no doubt that his example is perfect and if some individuals are not really following, then what can be done!? I cannot just look for an example and adjust according to these examples. No, I should be an example! I should take it upon myself to be the example and from that day, I had made the adjustment.
Of course, I was new so I was not a very good example but I tried from that day to become an example, rather than looking everywhere for an inspiring model to follow. I thought, ‘Let me be the model that Prabhupada wanted us to be. Let me try for that,’ and I kept it. It is interesting how you get such informative realisations early in your spiritual life and it still stays with you until today. Still with me today is the importance for friendship and I’ve often emphasised it. I pointed out that friendship is not cheap. I’ve often said that our movement should not be a movement of colleagues but it should be like a family with genuine relationships. So the friendship idea stayed with me and also the idea that I should try to be an example.
The obstacles continue
Many things happened over the years. It’s not that spiritual life is a matter of following a hand book of Krsna consciousness and then after many years you become experienced about it. It wasn’t exactly like that. There were also so many difficult circumstances. In India, as a foreigner, I was always staying on a (temporary) visa and sometimes there was a little bit of suspicion about foreigners due to colonial history, which is understandable. So before I knew it, I had a letter from the local police that my visa was cancelled and I had three days to leave the country, with no appeal! I barely made it to Kathmandu in Nepal, I crossed the border by bus over winding roads and there I was in Nepal. Maha Vishnu das, in those days, was the temple president. When I first arrived at the temple in Kathmandu, he was leading the kirtan and he came in my direction with a mrdanga, looked at me and he said, ‘Chant!’
At the same time he hit me really hard with the mrdanga! I just felt this urge coming up from me, ‘Shall I give him one or shall I chant?’ (Laughter) But then I chanted. A few years ago here in Durban, I was coming up towards the door of temple and Maha Vishnu, now Swami, was here with his accordion and he came up to me and he just hit me with that accordion and said, ‘Chant!’ and I felt that urge again to just… (Laughter)
That is just our relationship; we go back a long way. He was the temple president of Kathmandu temple and sometimes, there was no money for the next meal and we would have to go out to collect some donations. Sometimes, we would also go sleep in the park or he would chant very long gayatris, I remember.
Anyway, it was a nice temple and somehow or other, they were buying a bus from some German person, not a devotee, a Mercedes bus. However, the temple didn’t have all the money to buy the bus. They had only half so the idea was take some passengers from Kathmandu to Europe, to Amsterdam. They asked me, ‘Do you want to go?’ Well, I had to stay out of India for a little while before I could get a visa again and it was some adventure, so why not and I did the trip overland before. So we left Kathmandu with a bus called, The chapatti express. We drove straight into Iran and just then, it was the time when Khomeini took over the country, in the same week! Suddenly, things had changed a lot and before we really realised what was going on, we were deep into Iran and there was a man dressed like Fidel Castro, with beard, a hat and the machine gun, and he was hitch hiking! He stopped the bus; machine guns are very convincing! So, we stopped and he said that we were going to the revolutionary headquarters, ‘Yes sir, of course, aye aye. We are going to the revolutionary headquarters.’ An hour away, we came to the revolutionary headquarters and there was a huge crowd of Muslims dressed in black kaftans and turbans. They were very rowdy so we decided to stay on the bus but ‘Fidel’ invited us to get down so we did get down after. The people opened up a pathway for us which was leading into some army. As we started walking between lines of people, they started to hit us on our back with fists. So, we started to run and we ran into a courtyard and we heard the machine guns on us and they said, ‘Line up against the wall!’
We stood there and as I stood there against the wall, with all these machine guns, then one considers that this might be the end. So, I was definitely chanting Hare Krsna but not too obvious since there were Muslims and I didn’t want to insight anything, so I was softly chanting the maha mantra, ‘Hare Krsna Hare Krsna…’ But, the interesting thing was that I didn’t have full faith in the mantra because instead of just relying on the Hare Krsna mantra alone, I did something else also. I was very slowly but very surely, almost not noticeable to the eye but if you looked carefully, I was moving behind my neighbour slowly! I know machine gun bullets go through people but still better something than nothing, I thought! I thought that if I survive it then I will act dead and then see what happens. So in this way, slowly, I was sort of half behind my neighbour already. I didn’t want to go any further; I thought that as soon as I see them flex a muscle then I’ll drop sideways. So, I had my plan of action and stood there in the hot sun. Then they started to take people out of the line and into little offices, and then it was my turn! They took me into this office; there was a chair and a light, and I thought, ‘Okay here we go – the interrogation!’ They said that I was an American spy and I said, ‘I don’t speak any Engels. I from Holland – no Engels!’ So finally, they said, ‘He is from Holland.’ Then they sent me back in the line and we stood there for four hours.
Then finally, the person that we were buying the bus from – a German – he just suddenly went out of the line like a mad man! He just ran out of the line like a mad man. There was a football and he just kicked it! Well, that created a lot of commotion and he almost got shot. Officers came and it became a big thing, in the end they just decided not to shoot and said, ‘Get out of here!’ So that was bold…
One cannot buy a ticket to Vrndavana
It was not always sweet but as you can see, realisations were coming on the way. I realised then that I did not have full faith in Krsna and that I was putting some of my faith in Krsna and some of my faith in material security. So it was a step by step process and I also realised what Prabhupada had said, that one cannot buy a ticket to Vrndavana. Vrndavana is not just a spiritual place in India but Vrndavana is actually a replica of the spiritual world which is covered by the material world. For the materialists, Vrndavana looks like a village in India but one with spiritual vision can see something of a spiritual nature. One with vision can fully see that Vrndavana is actually a transcendental place. I tried to stay in that place, remembering that it is the spiritual world and Krsna is present there. No matter what happens there, you take it as Krsna’s direct mercy.
Here in Durban, when something happens we can think it is karma – you think about karma and Krsna. When something happens in the life of a devotee, is it karma or is it Krsna? How do you know? Well, Prabhupada said that the devotee still get some karmic reactions, diminished karmic reactions – the fan is still spinning after the electricity is turned off. Then Prabhupada told Giriraja Maharaja an important point which Maharaja writes in his book, Watering the Seed that not only does Krsna give diminished reactions but Krsna also personally releases that karma and he personally supervises it. He may decide to change the sequence of it or he may decide to write-off something just like that. So in Durban, we may sometimes see things as karma and maybe Krsna behind it but still, we see an element of karma. But in Vrndavana, Krsna acts very directly it is said. Srila Prabhupada explains that in Vrndavana, one is on Krsna’s lap and Krsna personally makes all arrangements. Vrndavana is like that. So one has to accept everything and whatever comes as Krsna’s arrangement.
Well, we tried to do that but it wasn’t easy. I had rattling teeth from malaria. One Janmastami, I was in hospital with 41.8 degrees fever, with malaria. The doctors were fighting over my bed and there was one doctor on either side. One said, ‘It’s malaria!’ The other one said, ‘It’s typhoid!’
Typhoid- malaria! Typhoid- malaria! Typhoid- malaria! You had to send someone to buy your own medicine and they both gave a prescription and said, ‘If you take the other doctor’s medicine, you will die!’ Anyway I chose the malaria medicine and survived it. The next morning, somehow or other I walked out of the hospital. I was not leaning against the wall just to show that I could walk. If you leave voluntarily, you have to walk. I signed the paper at my own risk. It was more dangerous to stay in that hospital! The point was that we had to endure all this as Krsna’s mercy. So staying in Vrndavana was not at all easy. It wasn’t just sweet and inspiring but there were also many heavy times. There was a lot of Krsna and a lot of sweetness but the price for staying there was also intense. It required that only one who could remember that Krsna is behind everything, could tolerate and find the motivation to stay. Otherwise, one would leave. When it is fifty degrees and one’s brain begins to cook and then one is like, ‘I want to go home; to sweet old Durban.’ Vrndavana is very powerful in that way. It really forces us to always remember Krsna.
I guess since I’m telling a true story, I can’t leave out some of the heavier parts. In 1995, I was the temple president of the Krsna Balarama Mandir. It was a large project; I was running the asrama for quite a number of years and suddenly, one evening, in the bathroom, I got shot! That was a surprise and that was a big story. I will not get into the details too much, other than I had managed to get out of the bathroom, sitting on my knees in great pain, I was trying to communicate but I couldn’t speak. People couldn’t understand – they were at a distance looking at me and I could not tell them I was shot. I was severely injured and I realised, ‘I might just die.’ So at that point, I just had to let go. I prayed to Krsna and I said, ‘If I have to take another birth Krsna then maybe in Vrndavana? Or if not that then maybe I can go to the Gurukula?’ So many tests were also there. I did recover, I did survive all that and I was alright but then, I had to leave Vrndavana for some time.
What happened was that on the eleventh day after that incident, I was in a hospital in Mathura, I was in the room all alone and suddenly, I got a vision where I saw big machine gun towers. I got a shock and I thought to myself, ‘Now comes the trauma.’ Then suddenly, the picture changed to a high black tree and gradually the view came down and suddenly there were two drops in the trees! And suddenly a blue sky! And suddenly it was full colour! And suddenly the sun was glittering and millions of diamond-like drops! And suddenly as the image went down and I saw the tail of a peacock! It was Vrndavana! Next moment, the view went down further and further, until it came to the ground and I saw cows roaming around on the ground. Then, suddenly, I saw Krsna and Balarama between these cows. Krsna used his flute as his stick. At some distance, I saw Mother Yasoda standing at the edge of the village. I thought, ‘Is this it?’ I was still close to death and I thought, ‘Am I leaving this body now?’
Then, I became overwhelmed by a great feeling of sadness and suddenly I realised that I am not going back to Vrndavana anymore. My spiritual life had begun in Vrndavana; that is where my spiritual birth took place and that is where I had dedicated my life in service to Krsna. So my whole life, for many years was identified with Vrndavana. Now, I realised that I would not go back there anymore. From that day on, I had to leave Vrndavana and I started to travel around the world. From that day on, I had to internalise Vrndavana. I took Vrndavana with me, in my heart and that we find in the scriptures.
For example, in Bhakti Sandarbha, Jiva Gosvami explains that Vrndavana is not a place but a state of consciousness. That is exactly what had happened to me; rather than being so focused on the location, it became a state of consciousness. Of course, the location nourishes the consciousness but the two are non-different. As Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, ‘My mind is Vrndavana and since you like Vrndavana very much, why don’t you place your lotus feet there.’ So that was just another realisation, something that came in a strong way…
The journey continues
Over the years, I have realised that every situation that we are going through now in devotional service is an important contribution because whatever we do is to our eternal credit, in our eternal spiritual bank balance. At the same time, every service that we do now is a preparation for a greater service that we do in the future. I can see that in the arrangement by which I left Vrndavana which then seemed so intense and such a shock, but that arrangement is what actually freed me to do what I’m doing now – to go around the world, meet different devotees and inspire them. Vrndavana is still with me. Of course, I still go to Vrndavana, the Holy Dham; it is still the source of my strength as it always was. Since I couldn’t go so much to Vrndavana, I started going to Mayapur which also was a blessing because I had developed more of a relationship with Sridham Mayapur as well which is the main place of our worship actually.
In Vrndavana, there are three sets of altars – on the first altar is Gaura Nitai, then Krsna Balarama and then Radha Syamasundara. I use to position myself in a spot where I could see both Krsna Balarama and Radha Syamasundara. Then later, I would maybe spend more time with Radha Syamasundara but then in the end, I started to get more and more drawn to Gaura Nitai because I felt, ‘I’m falling short. I need mercy. I can’t really enter into Vrndavana without mercy. I’m trying to enter into Vrndavana, I’m trying to understand these activities of Radha and Krsna but I’m too far removed and I need to focus on mercy.’
So, I went to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and one day, I was leading a particularly powerful kirtan and at one point, I saw that Gaura Nitai were about to jump off the altar! And then they didn’t do it! Two days later, I had that incident by which I had to leave Vrndavana. I became sort of an agent of the mission of Gaura Nitai in spreading this harinam sankirtan all over the world.
So, we can see how everything in our life is unfolding according to a higher plan of the Supreme Lord. Sometimes it is sweet and sometimes it is strong but whatever medicine or whatever arrangement he desires to make, he is the Supreme controller! He is the one isvara, the one controller and all others are dependents. He makes all others dance like puppets in his hands. In this way, we simply see how our spiritual life is not just a mechanical process where we are following the book but actually, throughout our life, Krsna is directly guiding us and arranging everything. All we have to do, is try our level best to rise to the current occasion. There is always a challenge and we must rise to it fearlessly. We must not think, ‘But I’m not strong enough.’ No, the challenge given to us now will give us the strength. It was said that in the second World War, in Calcutta, they were trying to get people to join the army. There was uniform of the army on the billboard and under it, it said, ‘When you wear it, you will know what to do!’ So this principle is there in Krsna consciousness. When you ‘wear’ a situation, you will know what to do. In that way, in our life, it is not that we are left alone in this difficult process of bhakti yoga. Krsna is with us every step of the way, making all the arrangements. Sometimes he is smoothening out our path, other times putting a few obstacles for us so that we can grow but whatever may be, we should go forward with courage because he will protect us. There is no doubt about that. He will protect our Krsna consciousness. That is what we are certain of, that Krsna will protect our Krsna consciousness. He may or may not protect our body but he will protect our Krsna consciousness. With that faith, we can just go forward.
Alright, so that is my talk tonight. I have other versions of my life. Some are full of funny stories. Today, I told some funny stories but I tried to give it a deeper meaning. I am not speaking about my life because it is so special and so important but I am just using it because I know it very well. After all, I know what lessons came on the way and therefore in the limited time tonight, I thought let me share it.