May 5–20, 2002
By Indradyumna Swami
On the evening of May 5, I boarded a Virgin Atlantic Airlines flight from New York to London on the first leg of my journey to Poland. As I entered the cabin, I scanned the rows of seats from front to back, hoping there might be a row free so I could lie down and get some much needed rest. This would literally be the first opportunity I’d had in two months to sleep a full six hours—the duration of the flight. I often use flights to catch up on email, arrange study notes, or sort telephone numbers and business cards, little things I don’t usually have time to do when I am in the midst of my travels. This time I desperately wanted to sleep. However, as I walked through the cabin, it soon became apparent that the flight was full and that no extra seats would be available.
As I settled into my aisle seat, an airhostess approached and asked if everything was all right. Thinking she was simply doing her duty, I said quickly, “Yes, thank you.” But I noticed she didn’t go away. Instead she smiled and asked if she could ask a question.
“Yes, of course,” I replied.
“My husband and I recently went with a tour group to India. We visited New Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune. Something happened to me on that trip. It’s hard to explain. I was so touched by the experiences we had, especially when we visited the temples. I have a lot of questions about spiritual things. Can you answer them for me?”
She seemed so intent that she was prepared to drop her duties and focus on the questions. I said, “We can talk, but maybe now is not the best time. Perhaps later on during the flight.”
She looked around, collected herself, and agreed. She added, “Is there anything you require during the flight? A special meal or something?”
“Actually, there is something you can do for me. Please let me know if there is a row of seats free so I can rest. I’m really tired!”
“Sure,” she said, and she turned to show passengers to their seats.
A few minutes later, two women came up the aisle. Their eyes lit up when they saw they had the seats next to mine. As they sat down they smiled, and at the first opportunity one of them introduced herself. “My name is Peggy. From the way you’re dressed, it appears you practice yoga.”
“Yes,” I said. “I practice a form of yoga called bhaktiyoga, the yoga of love and devotion.”
Peggy said, “My friend Martha and I recently became interested in yoga, but we realize that there’s more to it that than just the exercises. Can you answer a few questions for us?”
I thought, “What about my rest?!”
Before I had time to reply, however, the airhostess reappeared and said, “Sir, I’ve arranged a row of seats for you at the back. Come quickly, the flight is about to take off.”
When Peggy heard that I was going to move, she grabbed my arm and pleaded, “No, please don’t move. We want to talk to you. We have some important questions to ask!” The airhostess added, “Actually, it would nice if you stayed here, because this is the section of the plane where I do my service. Later on in the flight, all of us can discuss together.”
I envisioned the row of seats and the sound sleep awaiting. It was already 10:00 p.m. and I was ready to crash. I couldn’t believe this was happening. But as I looked at the three women, each eager to learn about spiritual life, I realized I couldn’t let them down. I agreed to stay.
With that Peggy and Martha launched into a series of questions about the soul, God, and the spiritual world. They were so absorbed that they refused the drinks and meals served by our hostess, who took every opportunity to listen in whenever she walked by.
Two hours later, most people on the flight had fallen asleep. Taking advantage of the break in her routine, the airhostess came by and joined our satsaõga in the sky. In fact, she brought the discussion to an even higher level when she asked about how best to realize God according to the Indian scriptures. As I began to explain the glories of chanting Hare Krsna, all three women listened attentively.
By one in the morning, I could hardly keep my eyes open, and neither could the inquisitive souls huddled around me. As we sped through the air at eight hundred kilometers an hour, Peggy and Martha nodded off to sleep for a few moments. I thought, “Now is my chance to sleep.” But each time I began to fall asleep, one of them woke up and asked another question: “What about reincarnation?” or, “If God were all loving, why is there evil in the world?” or, “You said God was a person. Can you describe Him?”
We talked like that for more than five hours! Only during the last half hour of the flight did they fall silent—because they had to use the restroom. There was no time to sleep; I took out my beads and began to chant Hare Krsna. My condition could only be described as blissful exhaustion.
Just before deplaning, Martha turned to me and said, “I’ve never enjoyed a flight as much as this one. We learned so many new and wonderful things! I especially enjoyed your description of God and that place called Vrnda-something—what is it called?”
“Yes, Vrindavana,” she repeated.
“Will you have time to keep in touch with us by email?”
“Yes, of course,” I said, and I wrote down my email address for her. “I’ll make time. It’s the duty of a traveling preacher.”
mādhavyā madhurāńga kānana-pada-prāptādhirājya-śriyā
nottāpaḿ jagad eva yasya bhajate kīrti-cchaṭā-cchāyayā
citrā tasya tavāńghri-saḿnidhi-juṣāḿ kiḿ vā phalāptir nṛṇām
“O handsome, fragrant tamala desire tree [Krsna] blooming in Vrindavana forest and embraced by the madhavi vine of the goddess ruling this forest. O tree, the shade of whose glory protects the world from a host of burning sufferings, what wonderful fruits do the people find at Your feet?” (Sri Stavamala, “Utkalikavallari,” text 66)