October 17-November 20, 2002
By Indradyumna Swami
“While wearing the loincloth and torn quilt of a renunciate, maintaining my life with fruits that have fallen from the trees, discussing transcendental topics, not wasting time in any manner, giving up all kind of false ego, and begging alms door to door, I will constantly reside in the forest of Vrindadevi following in the footsteps of those who are completely surrendered to Sri Radhika.”
[Sri Vrindavan-mahimamrta, Sataka 1, Text 64]
While on the road from Delhi to Vrindavan, I decided to write a mission statement of how I would conduct myself and what I hoped to achieve during my two-month stay in the holy dhama. I had experience from the past that unless one is focused on spiritual activities, precious time in holy places can be whittled away socialising and simply caring for bodily needs. I searched through the scripture and found a verse that seemed appropriate for one in the renounced order of life living in the holy dhama:
gramya katha na sunibe, gramya varta na kahibebhala na khaibe ara bhala na paribeamani manada hana krsna nama sada la’bevraje radha krsna seva manase karibe
“Do not talk like people in general or hear what they say. You should not eat very palatable food, nor should you dress very nicely. Do not expect honor, but offer all respect to others. Always chant the holy name of Krsna, and within your mind render service to Radha and Krsna in Vrindavan.”
[Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila 6.236-7]
Upon arriving at ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Asrama, just meters away from the sacred Govardhan Hill, I settled into my simple quarters and made plans how to apply my mission statement. Not hearing what people in general had to say seemed the easiest part, for there are no newspapers or magazines at Govardhan. Despite the fact that nearby Vrindavan has grown immensely during the past few years, being a popular destination for seekers of the truth and tourists alike, the area around Govardhan Hill remains much as it has been for centuries – simple and rural. Besides, any newspapers that might find their way to the area would be in Hindi, saving me from any temptation.
As far as eating was concerned, I decided I would eat only kichari and capatis for the month of Kartika. That also would not be so difficult as it is my preferred foodstuff, apart from an occasional subji or salad. Regarding my dress, because I would not be preaching in public I had brought along only two lots of old cloth, which would allow me to blend easily with the local sadhus.
As for honor, I was fortunate to find myself in the association of advanced godbrothers who were either residing or had come to spend time at the asrama, hearing and chanting – godbrothers like Jayadvaita Maharaja, Vaisesika das, Gopiparanadhana das and Kesava Bharati prabhu. To earn their respect would require my rising to their level of realization and service, something that would take more than the two months of purification I hoped to achieve living at Govardhan.
The most difficult part of my mission statement would be to constantly chant the holy names and render service to Radha and Krsna within my mind. Chanting rounds beyond the basic sixteen would require determination and practice, as well as a genuine higher taste, and rendering service to Radha and Krsna within my mind would mean nothing less than bona fide spiritual advancement. Both of these activities come only with great effort and perseverance.
pramanais tat sad acaraistad abhyasair nirantarambodhayan atma natmanambhaktim apy uttamam labhet
“The highest devotion is attained by slow degrees by method of constant endeavor for self realization with the help of scriptural evidence, theistic conduct and perseverance in practice.”
[Sri Brahma-samhita, Text 59]
I had come to Govardhan to pursue these goals. I wasn’t on vacation. I had come to perform the necessary austerities to purify my heart to enter deeper into my understanding of Krsna consciousness, and return to the West to share my newfound realizations with others.
I had purposefully come with only one servant, Radhe Syama das, to help me with practical affairs like cooking and cleaning. I felt that any more devotees would distract from my singular purpose of bhajan. But Giri-Govardhan had other plans. Srila Prabhupada once commented, “I have my plan, you have yours, but Krsna has His!”
Just two days after I began my fixed routine of chanting extra rounds, reading and eating once a day I received an unexpected email from a very old friend. It read: “Coming to India in two weeks. Looking forward to seeing you soon! Your friend, Craig.”
Craig Scott and I were acquainted in high school, but became close friends in our first year of college. We lived in a rented house near the campus along with a few other boys, and did all the wrong things together – activities which were typical of the hippie youth of the late 1960s. However, all of us held Craig in high esteem because he went beyond experimenting with mind-enhancing drugs to find spiritual truth. Indeed, he was an avid reader of spiritual books and often frequented lectures of various yogis and gurus.
When I moved away from San Francisco in 1969 I briefly lost touch with Craig, until I received a letter in which he wrote that a few days earlier he was meditating in a yoga asrama when someone announced that a large parade of a spiritual nature was about to start in Golden Gate Park. The person said that three big chariots would be the centerpiece of the occasion, and anyone who manned the ropes to pull them would be granted liberation from the material world. Craig said he immediately left the asrama and ran to the park, where he found the parade was just beginning. He grabbed the ropes of one of the carts and pulled for as long and hard as he could, convinced that he must have achieved liberation. But the real treat came at the conclusion of the event, when he heard the group’s spiritual master speak from the largest of the chariots.
Craig wrote: “I could tell he was a fully enlightened soul, and I honestly feel this is the path that you should follow. It’s called the Hare Krsna movement.”
At the time I knew nothing of the Hare Krsna movement, and his (in retrospect) prediction meant nothing to me. Little did I know that in the not-so-distant future one of my services to that “fully enlightened soul,” Srila Prabhupada, would be to organize similar Ratha-yatra festivals around the world!
That was the last time I heard from Craig until nine months ago, when I came across his email address on our high school website. I wrote to him, and he replied immediately. We met on my visit to the US last spring, during which I casually invited him to come to India. But his email to me in my bhajan kutir at Govardhan confirming his arrival came as a surprise.
Two weeks later we met at Delhi Airport. I didn’t know what to expect. Would Craig, who had never been to India, be able to adjust to the climate and the exotic cuisine? More importantly, how in the world would he fit into my strict schedule of bhajan? Only after many years of active devotional service had I attained a desire to sit and chant in a solitary place for purification. And that was only a desire – I had yet to prove to myself that I could actually achieve that platform.
But all doubts and apprehensions were dissipated when I saw Craig. He was wearing a japa bead-bag and had a Bhagavad-gita in his hand!
He said, “Before the trip, I visited the local Hare Krsna temple in San Diego to learn more about your faith. I guess they thought my inquiry was sincere enough to give me these beads and teach me how to chant. I love it!”
“And the book?” I said, still amazed at his devotional appearance.
“Well, that’s another story,” he replied. “As I was on my way through the terminal at Los Angeles Airport, a devotee approached me with the book. He began by asking where I was going. Boy, was he surprised when I told him that I was going to a place called Vrindavan in India to be with an old friend who is now named Indradyumna Swami! In fact, he was so shocked that he gave me the book!”
Craig took to Vrindavan like a duck to water. In particular, he immediately fell in love with what he called the “living mountain,” Giri-Govardhan. The scriptures say that 5000 years ago, out of His causeless mercy, Lord Krsna assumed the form of Govardhan Hill to accept the worship of His devotees.
“I have no problem accepting that the mountain is a manifestation of God,” Craig said one morning, “if only because there are so many holy men here bowing down to Him with all sincerity. Who am I to doubt such great souls?”
After the second day at our bhajan kutir, I would often see Craig paying full dandavats to Govardhan Hill. “Are you praying also?” I once inquired.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I’m praying to Him that I can become a lover of God. I always wanted to focus on God, but never knew the method. Here, God is manifest before my eyes. Also, unlike other temples I’ve been to, the curtain never closes!”
Soon Craig was following the same program as myself. We rose together at 2.30am to chant our rounds, read Srimad-Bhagavatam and relish the morning prasadam. “I love this thick soup (kichari),” Craig often said.
One of his favorite activities was doing parikrama around Govardhan Hill. But neither of us could complete the full 22km. One morning, halfway around the hill, he said, “We have to try. We’re getting older and we have little time.”
Seeing his newfound urgency in spiritual life gave me faith that Giriraja was bestowing His mercy on him.
But his most satisfying comment came while walking to the Krsna Balaram Mandir for Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance day festival. As we approached and saw the big pandal and thousands of devotees waiting for the ceremony to begin, Craig turned to me and said, “I feel very fortunate to be here. I think it’s a result of seeing and hearing Srila Prabhupada speak at that Ratha-yatra festival 33 years ago. It’s by his mercy that I am here. I wonder why it took me so long to come?”
I didn’t answer, but remembered Srila Prabhupada’s quote, “The best will come last.”
When it was my turn to speak at the festival, I came before Srila Prabhupada’s murti and paid my obeisances. As I rose and prepared to read my offering, I noticed Craig sitting nearby softly chanting on his beads. From the corner of my eye I saw him listening appreciatively as I began to read. It seemed natural, for we were indebted to Srila Prabhupada for the same reason: he had delivered both of us from material existence and revealed to us the glories of Sri Vrindavan Dhama, the spiritual world.
As I continued to read, my voice resounding over the sound system, I felt I was speaking for the two of us. It didn’t matter that I came first and had spent the most time in Krsna consciousness. By the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, the eternal seed of Krsna consciousness can sprout in anyone’s heart and fully blossom at any time.
Dearest Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept my most humble obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet. All glories to you!
Today, in this sacred abode of Vrindavan Dhama, we are observing the 25th anniversary of your deparature. In this world, love generally tends to fade after a long period of separation, but the opposite seems true in transcendental relationships, for since your departure your followers’ attachment for you has only grown. The answer to this apparent contradiction is given in your conclusion to the Caitanya-caritamrta. Referring to your own spiritual master you write: “He lives forever by his divine instructions – and the follower lives with him.”
This is the miracle of Krsna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada: that for those who follow your instructions, even death itself cannot restrict your association.
Srila Prabhupada, I have been following your instructions carefully ever since I met you, through the transcendental medium of your disciples. It was Visnujana Maharaja who introduced me to you, saying, “Come here young man and I will tell you the glories of my spiritual master!” His dedication and love for you was infectious, and within moments he accomplished what could have taken many lifetimes. Almost effortlessly, I also gave up my sinful ways and became your humble servant! It was only one of many miracles which you showed the world, Srila Prabhupada: that I, a lost soul, could become a devotee, with hopes of going back home, back to Godhead, in this very lifetime.
Srila Prabhupada, it was your instructions that attracted me to your lotus feet, your instructions that kept me close to you when you were present, and your instructions that have maintained and nurtured our relationship since your departure. And I have faith that by continuing to follow those same instructions, I will one day have your divine association again.
Srila Prabhupada, someone might think I deserve such mercy, for the little service I have done has somehow earned me recognition. But this is certainly maya’s joke, for in fact I am a bumbling, stumbling fool, maintaining my material desires, slow in taking up the process of devotional service in earnest, quick to revert to my past bad habits, and always struggling with the mind and senses. What hope is there for such a foolish pretender?
The answer lies in trying to fulfill your most cherished desire. I cannot claim to know the innermost recesses of your heart, Srila Prabhupada, where pure love for Radha and Krsna gushes like a beautiful mountain spring. But I do know of one special desire in your heart – a desire you shared openly with us and often expressed in your books:
“The duty of all devotees is to preach Krsna consciousness everywhere in the world, because all living entities are suffering the pangs of material existence. To preach Krsna consciousness is the best welfare activity. Indeed it is described by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as para-upakara, work for the true benefit of others.”
[Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.7.53, purport]
The task of delivering the conditioned souls suffering in this material world was your foremost desire while among us, Srila Prabhupada. I have spent the better part of my life trying to help you fulfill that desire, and on this auspicious day I want to dedicate the remaining years of my life to that very same mission. One could easily say it’s more appropriate to retire at this time, because such service has already brought me to my knees. My aging body has grown weary through years of organizing public festivals, performing thousands of hours of street sankirtan and traveling hundreds of thousands of miles to preach around the world. But how can I stop? The service I have rendered falls all too short of the debt I owe you for the priceless gift of Krsna consciousness you have given me.
evam janam nipatitam prabhavahi kupekamabhikamam anu yah prapatan prasangatkrtvatmasat surarsina bhagavan grhitahso ham katham nu visrge tava bhrtya sevam
“My dear Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, because of my association with material desires, one after another, I was gradually falling into a blind well full of snakes, following the general populace. But Your servant Narada Muni kindly accepted me as his disciple and instructed me how to achieve this transcendental position. Therefore, my first duty is to serve him. How could I leave his service?”
Besides, preaching your message is like drinking hot sugar juice: although it burns the lips, it is too sweet to stop!
The sweetness is in seeing the devotional transformations in the hearts of people, big and small, who receive your mercy. By your desire alone, such miracles seem to take place on a daily basis throughout the world. I see them continuously, day after day, month after month, year after year. Once, after a huge festival in Durban, our guest of honor, South African President Nelson Mandela, put his hand on mine and with tears in his eyes said, “Maharaja, this is the greatest day of my life!”
Just last year, again near Durban, when myself and a group of devotees were passing through a tribal village in Kwazulu Natal, thousands of children began defiantly chanting, “Zulu, Zulu, Zulu,” in complete bodily consciousness. But when I picked up the mrdanga and started to sing the maha mantra, suddenly all of them began chanting Hare Krsna and dancing alongside me. What is this great miracle of the holy names you’ve given that makes the whole world dance in ecstacy?
On another occasion, Somaka das told me of his trip along the Amazon River, ten years after I had visited the region. During his journey, he saw a 20-year-old man in a remote village who, to his astonishment, was chanting japa under a tree. When Somaka inquired how he had come in touch with the maha mantra, he said he had received it and the japa beads from me during my Amazon sojourn. He said the chanting had changed his life for the better, and so he sat on the bank of the river every day waiting for me to return. Srila Prabhupada, your mercy has inundated even the most remote corners of the earth!
Then, miracle of miracles as I witnessed a crowd of 350,000 young people at the Woodstock festival in Poland three years ago enthusiastically and continuously chant the maha mantra as Sri Prahlad and his band played on the main stage. No doubt the tumultuous sound created by the crowd’s chanting and the huge cloud of dust raised by their dancing inundated Svargaloka, causing the demigods to stand motionless in astonishment of your glorious accomplishments.
Certainly there are many more miracles to be witnessed by those who give their lives to your sankirtan mission, Srila Prabhupada. Please include me in whatever plans you have for such preaching from this day forth. Having tasted the nectar of spreading the glories of the holy name, I can never return to the burnt remnants of the so-called pleasures of this material world.
As far as my retirement is concerned, I pray to follow in your footsteps, my glorious master. May I retire from preaching only when I have breathed the last breath allocated to this body. And if it pleases you, let that be only a temporary respite, for I am prepared to serve your sankirtan movement birth after birth.
Your eternal servant,