October 23, 1996
By Indradyumna Swami
Today I accepted four new disciples: Gitä Mala dasi, Acintya Rupa dasi, Janaki Vallabha dasi, and Irävati dasi, bringing the total number of disciples to 622. During the initiation ceremony, I thought of the day in 1989, seven years ago, when I accepted my first disciples in New Mayapura, France.
Like many responsibilities one accrues in the service of guru and Gauranga, accepting disciples has had its sublime and difficult moments. The sublime moments are to see the disciples make advancement and become valuable assets to Srila Prabhupada’s mission. The difficult moments are when they waver and in some cases fall to the side.
After the ceremony I fell sick in my room with a terrible stomach ache, but I had to ignore it because we were leaving for Ekaterinburg in the Urals and had to be at the airport in two hours. The usual last- minute chaos in our departure routine had set in. I was packing, answering phone calls, meeting the leaders to evaluate the visit, and offering suggestions based on what I’d seen and heard. Devotees
were waiting outside to ask me questions:
“Should I accept his marriage proposal?”
“Should I give up my family and live in the temple?” “Should I continue to run from the army?”
All these were questions that “only I could answer.” Of course, in many cases I encourage the devotees to find the answers themselves. It is not that I can always be there giving answers. But in a number of cases they can find no solution and pray for a miracle with my decision.
But I’m not a miracle maker. I’m only the humble servant of Srila Prabhupada, and I pray to him for the intelligence and ability to guide my disciples in the best way possible, depending always on his mercy.
Miraculously, I did everything I had to do, saw everyone that needed to be seen, and I even had time to meet the children once more to encourage them. Their young eyes flooded with tears at the prospect of my departure and touched my heart.
“Get rid of them fast,” said one of the brahmacaris, “so we can finish
up all the business.”
“This is our business,” I replied, “ensuring the future of our movement: our children.” And I saw to no other business.
On the way to the airport, I stopped at Damodara’s apartment and went upstairs to quickly give him the gayatri mantra. Withering in pain on his bed, he sat up and gratefully accepted the divine mantra through his ears and into his heart. I was gone as quickly as I had arrived. How times have changed from days of yore, when disciples lived with their guru in the forest and learned Vedic knowledge from him in his personal association!
The plane was on time, and Uttama Sloka and I boarded for the five- hour flight over Siberia. Vrajendra Kumara saw us off with a smile. “This will be an easy flight,” he said. “It’s only five hours.”
He couldn’t have been more wrong. We boarded the flight in typical
Russian fashion: with all our luggage.
It’s something I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. At the ticket counter you have to check in only overweight bags. Your other luggage, you may carry on. Surprisingly, you can also carry on cats and dogs. On this flight I counted two dogs and three cats. It’s amazing, considering the seats are much smaller than on Western airlines. It’s also common to see luggage piled up next to the emergency exit or in front of the toilets. The safety standards on Russian airlines are horrendous.
Seats are not usually allocated, and it’s a question of first come first served. There is always a struggle as everyone jostles for seats after entering the plane. This time I considered myself lucky. I was one of the first on the plane, and found a seat at the back with a few inches more leg room. As I stuffed my bags under and around my seat, I collapsed into it in exhaustion.
“For once I’ve got a little room,” I said to Uttama Sloka, “even if it’s only a few extra inches.”
Suddenly a large man appeared from the bathroom and challenged me in broken English. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s my seat. I was here first. Please move.”
I was devastated. All I could do was close my eyes and hold on to the cushion of the seat. The only way I was going to go was if he removed me. There were a few moments of tense silence, and then he sat in the seat next to me. “Well, all right,” he said.
After five hours, I turned to Uttama Sloka, who was seated in front of me. “ Will we be landing soon?” I asked.
He went to ask the stewardess and came back with a grim look on his face. “Guru Maharaja,” he said, “this isn’t a five-hour flight; it’s a bit longer. There’s a stopover in Irkutz, Siberia. But the pilot just learned that the Irkutz airport is closed because of a blizzard. So we’re going to land in Ulan-Ude in half an hour and wait until Irkutz is open.”
I thanked Krsna for the few extra inches of leg room.
Ulan-Ude seemed the penultimate stop at the earth’s forgotten places. We were asked to leave the plane and walk through the snow to the terminal and wait inside. There was a pack of wild dogs on the tarmac. When we reached the terminal we discovered there was no heat in the building. I tried to sleep on a wooden bench. Four hours later Uttama Sloka woke me up and we boarded our flight to Irkutz, which took two hours.
There we waited another two hours for a five-hour flight to Ekaterinburg. The total trip took eighteen hours. If this had happened in any Western country, the passengers would have made a fuss about it, but Russians are used to such austerities. I appreciate them for their tolerance under such situations. In fact, I can honestly say I have learned a lot about tolerance and austerity from traveling and living with the people of this country. In a sense I feel indebted to them.
Srila Prabhupada once said that he was indebted to his American disciples. He wrote the following to one of them:
“From your report it appears that everything is progressing very nicely. What can I say? I am so much indebted to all you nice American boys and girls for helping me to execute the order of my guru Maharaja. May Krsna bless you American people for helping him in his mission.” (August 19, 1973)
As we were about to leave the plane, the man who had given me his seat in Vladivostok picked up my luggage, and with a smile indicated he would carry it to the terminal for me. I was surprised. He struggled with my bags through the aisles and on to the airport bus. I thanked him for the seat and for carrying my bags.
He smiled again. “I could see that you are a foreigner,” he said, “and you are not used to the austerities of my country.”
I was touched by his kindness. I couldn’t believe that once I had been taught to see him as my enemy. During the Cold War, Americans were taught by their leaders that the Russians were their enemies. Such are the ways of politics.
Srila Prabhupada spoke about this in a room conversation in Mäyäpura on March 23, 1973:
“Russian people are bad. That is a mistake. Some of them…are good. That I have experienced. Otherwise, how that Anatole came to become my disciple? And there are many like that, mostly they are like him. It is by artificial suppression that it has been advertised ‘the Russian people are all communists.’ That’s not fact. Most Russians, they want to leave that country, and some of them already done so…they don’t like this communist philosophy.”
Prahläda Maharaja also discusses the false idea of friend and enemy:
“Prahläda Maharaja continued: My dear father, please give up your demoniac mentality. Do not discriminate in your heart between enemies and friends; make your mind equipoised toward everyone. Except for the uncontrolled and misguided mind, there is no enemy within this world. When one sees everyone on the platform of equality, one then comes to the position of worshiping the Lord perfectly.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.8.9)