Chapter-1: Friend of the Shelterless

November 17- December 24, 2004

By Indradyumna Swami

As my autumn preaching tour in Poland gradually came to a close, my thoughts began drifting towards Vrindavan and my forthcoming visit to that transcendental abode. Each year as the month of Kartika approaches, I hanker for the spiritual atmosphere of the holy dhama. It’s the natural place for a preacher to rest, recuperate and, most importantly, go deeper into Krsna consciousness.

As a devotee grows older and the attraction for material pleasures begins to fade (either because of spiritual advancement, or an aging body) he takes more seriously the opportunity to visit holy places. When I was younger, I would go to India for the excitement of seeing an exotic land, associating with my devotee friends from around the world and participating in big festivals.

But these days I go to India mainly to take shelter of Vrindavan, to chant the holy names peacefully in her sanctified atmosphere, to pray to the previous acaryas for mercy, and to contemplate the lord’s pastimes. Well into the autumn of my life, the cherished goal of pure love of god still eludes me. If there’s any hope of achieving that miracle of love, it’s in Sri Vrindavan Dhama.

Where do all people automatically and effortlessly obtain pure ecstatic love for Krsna? Where does the Supreme Personality of godhead manifest his supremely wonderful pastime form? Where is the empire of the bliss of devotional service to Krsna’s lotus feet manifest? O brother, listen and I will tell you a secret. All this is present here in Vrndavana.

[ Srila Prabhodananda Saraswati, Vrindavan-mahamrta, Chapter 1, verse 24]

Attaining such an exalted stage of Krsna consciousness also implies broadcasting the message of lord Caitanya throughout the world. Thus, for many preachers the formula equates to 11 months of preaching in the West and a single month of bhajan in the holy dhama. I was eager for those few precious weeks in the land of Krsna. What made the opportunity of going to Vrindavan even more exciting this year was that my younger brother, Pete, would be accompanying me. his story is miraculous in itself—how he came from the lowest depths of delusion and suffering to the land of love and bliss.

In August, Pete had decided to take his own life. A drug addict for more than 25 years, and destitute for five of them, he’d had enough. We had last seen each other six years ago at our mother’s funeral in America. I had not heard from him since. later I was to learn that the inheritance he had received from our mother had been embezzled by a devious accountant. he was left with no recourse but to literally live on the street. Nightly he would curl up to sleep on a cardboard box at the entrance to a store, or take refuge in the bushes near the railroad tracks in our hometown in California. he got food by rummaging through garbage cans on the street. he fell so much into the mode of ignorance that instead of washing his clothes he would wear them until they became filthy, and then before discarding them either steal more from clothing stores or obtain them as handouts from the Salvation Army.

 

Eventually he owned practically nothing. The child-size sleeping bag he had acquired (which went only up to his waist) and the clothes he had on his back all fit in into a small bag. he drifted from town to town, sometimes living with others in the same miserable condition as himself, or alone, where no one would notice the severe fits of depression that haunted him.

Often sick from living outside for years, even during winter, he contracted many infections and diseases. At one point a cancerous growth on his face became so prominent that a sympathetic doctor operated on it without charge, leaving him with a disfigured nose.

Daily he took shelter of the one thing that dulled the pain of his existence: drugs. His preference was amphetamines—or «speed» in street dialect. Because of his casual, happy-go-lucky nature he made friends easily, and drug pushers supplied him everything he desired for nothing.

But the apparent relief he experienced through drugs in reality only complicated matters, and so late last summer he decided to commit suicide. For the first time in years he was living in an apartment with a woman he had met several months earlier. Linda Sue had encountered a similar fate as Pete: a divorce had left her homeless and she, too, had turned to drugs. The government had taken away her two children, but returned custody to her when she managed to rent an apartment in a San Francisco ghetto.

One day she and Pete found an old computer in a garbage can on the street. Taking it to a local computer shop, they charmed the owner into repairing it as a favor. Pete was the first to use the computer. Linda Sue was shocked that night when she discovered he had ordered a number of deadly pills over the Internet. When she confronted him, he admitted he was contemplating suicide. Desperate, she asked him if he had any family, hoping one of them could convince him not to take his life. When he told her, he had an older brother, she persuaded him to search the Internet to find me and ask for help. The problem was that Pete couldn’t remember how to spell my name—although we had spent time together when I was a devotee in France. In 1983, I had brought him to Paris to spend a few weeks with me. It was a difficult visit. I had problems keeping him away from drugs and alcohol, and he had shown little interest in Krsna consciousness. Only on the last day of his visit did I see a glimmer of hope. he was late for his flight and I was looking anxiously around the temple for him.  Eventually, I found him paying dandavats on the floor of the temple room in front of Radha Paris-Isvara. He lay there for a long time, and when he rose, he stood respectfully before the Deities, his hands folded. I watched in amazement through a slightly opened door as he prayed feelingly to Radha and Krsna. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but it was obvious that he was taking shelter. After two or three minutes, he paid his obeisances again and left.

Now 21 years later, as Pete typed in various combinations of letters of my name in his google search, nothing came up. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning he typed in the correct spelling and came up with numerous hits. The first one he chose: www.traveling- preacher.com.

Amazed at what he found, he spent the rest of the night and the next day reading the diary chapters. In the evening he told Linda Sue, “I’d like to contact my brother,” before falling asleep exhausted.

Soon after I was down- loading my email in Poland, unaware that Pete was still alive. I had searched for him for years through the police, friends in America and the Internet. Well aware of his drug addiction, I had concluded he was dead. Thus, I was shocked when I received an email from Linda Sue:

“My name is Linda Sue Delaney. Peter is my boyfriend. I met him last year. I was homeless and the government had taken my two children and put them in a foster home.

“Peter was also homeless. he had been living in a tent up in the hills for three years. This is where I ended up. Recently I got my children back. We live in a ghetto in San Francisco.

“I worry about Peter because he lived outside for so long and it was such a hard life. It is very difficult to get him motivated. he becomes depressed easily. recently he has talked about suicide.

“he found your website and showed it to me. he was very happy to be able to read about your ministry and travels. I encouraged him to write, but he is too embarrassed. I am taking the liberty of writing to you myself. I would be grateful if you could email or phone him. Contact with you would mean everything to him.

Sincerely, Linda Sue.

I called back immediately. Linda Sue answered the phone and handed it to Pete.

“Pete, this is your big brother.”

There was no response. I could hear Linda Sue urging him on in the background.

“Pete,” I continued, “I’ve been looking for you for years. I never forgot you and I’m here for you now.”

I could sense he was working up the courage to say something. “Pete!” I exclaimed loudly.

“hare Krsna,” he said softly.

For the next hour we reminisced about our childhood and our brief association in France. I asked Pete to be frank with me and he told me of his life as a derelict.

“Why didn’t you call me?” I said after a while.

he paused. “I didn’t even have a dime to make a phone call,” he said, “that’s how bad it was. And I was embarrassed.”

“I’m your brother,” I said. “you can share anything with me.” As he continued to narrate his story I could hardly bear to listen. he related how on several occasions he was robbed of his meager possessions and beaten. Several of his street friends had died before his eyes, due to drugs or exposure.

“how did you tolerate it all?” I asked.

Again, he paused. “Whenever it got really rough,” he said, “I chanted hare Krsna.”

I was dumbstruck.

“Although I acted crazily when I was with you in France, I was always hearing that mantra and it stuck in my mind. I understood it was a sort of shelter. And it protected me. For all practical purposes, I should have died a long time ago.”

I couldn’t believe my ears!

“So, keep chanting,” I said, “and don’t take your life.” “I won’t now,” he replied. “Thanks for calling.”

“It’s only the beginning,” I said. “Krsna’s answered your prayers—and mine as well.”

lord Krsna, who is like a sun rising in the darkness, like a boat to the drowning, like a sweet rain cloud to those dying of thirst, like fabulous wealth to the poverty-stricken, and like an infallible physician to those afflicted with the most painful disease, has come to grant auspiciousness to us all.

[Sri Vyasa, Text 51, Rupa Goswami’s, Padyavali]

The next day I phoned and told Pete and Linda Sue that I was flying them and her two children to Poland for the Woodstock Festival in 10 days. They were speechless.

“We don’t have passports,” Linda Sue said. “We don’t even have money for a bus to the passport office to apply.”

“I’ll work everything out,” I replied, “don’t worry.”

“It’s a big gamble,” my servant said as I hung up the phone. “he’s a drug addict and so is she. It’s very hard for people like them to give up drugs. It could turn out to be a waste of time and money.”

“Where there’s life there’s hope,” I said with a smile.

When Pete and his family arrived 10 days later, my servant’s words echoed in my mind. And sure enough, as Pete and Linda Sue got out of the car, I saw their eyes were red from taking drugs.

 

“I’ll give it my best and depend on the lord,” I said softly as I walked up to Pete and gave him a big hug.

Over the next few days we smothered them in love and immersed them in an ocean of nectar: Krsna’s Village of Peace at the Polish Woodstock Festival. If they had any intention of taking drugs there was no time—not even a second! And why should they want to? We had brought them into the wonderful world of Krsna consciousness, where all walking is dancing, all talking is singing and there’s a festival every day.

They couldn’t believe their eyes: the huge tent, the prasadam distribution, the cultural exhibits, the devotee bands, the people, everything. My godbrother, BB Govinda Maharaja, kindly called it the greatest show on earth. It melted their hearts.

They stayed drug free throughout the festival and into the next week. Then we took them up north to the Baltic Sea coast for the last two weeks of our summer festivals. It was a blistering pace—but to my surprise they had no difficulty.

“I have always been attracted to India,” Linda Sue said one day. “Can you explain more of the philosophy to me?”

“Sure, I can,” I said with a smile.

At the end she said, “This is what I was always looking for. And you know what Maharaja?”

“No,” I replied.

“We were so down. We were suffering so much. you can’t imagine how grateful we are now.”

One day Pete came up to me and said, “Maharaja, do you think it would be a good idea if I started chanting on beads?”

“Of course,” I replied.

“I was thinking of doing two or three rounds a day,” he said. “Nothing less than 16,” I replied with a smile.

his jaw dropped.

“you’re 53 years old,” I said. “you have to make up for lost time.” he hesitated.

“Do you remember how you prayed to Krsna to help you 21 years ago in Paris? you stood before him with your hands folded, begging for mercy.”

Pete squinted and tried hard to remember.

“Well I remember,” I said. “And chanting hare Krsna is the lord’s answer to your prayer.”

Convinced, Pete said, “Okay, 16 rounds it is.”

But he couldn’t chant 16 rounds a day. Instead, he started chanting 32 rounds, experiencing so much relief and nectar from the holy names.

A few days later he came to me and said, “From this day on- wards, I swear I’ll never take drugs, drink alcohol or smoke another cigarette.”

“That’s a tall order,” I replied. “Some people say that to make it, you’ll have to go through a rehabilitation program and join Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s rare to just stop all those things in one day and not revert to them.”

 

Pete became serious. holding up his bead-bag, he said with conviction, “And rarer still to get the mercy of the holy names.”

What could I say? To argue otherwise would mean I had less faith in the holy names than he. And I wasn’t about to be outdone by my little brother!

At the end of the summer tour, Pete and Linda Sue went back to America, but not to San Francisco. They realized there was too much temptation there. Instead, I arranged for them to settle in the devotee community in Alachua, Florida. The devotees there kindly agreed to help them establish a home.

We maintained contact during their first month there and everything went smoothly. Then to encourage Pete I offered to bring him to India.

On the first day of Kartika we met in Vrindavan. he was still chanting 32 rounds a day and had read the Krsna book thrice, from cover to cover, to prepare for his pilgrimage. Walking around the village of Vrindavan, his eyes lit up as I showed him the transcendental places about which he had read.

After a few days, I asked him if it was too austere, referring to the early onset of winter and the unhygienic conditions in the crowded village.

He smiled and said, “The austerities here are nothing compared with what I’ve experienced. I am much better off undergoing those here than I was those back home! And I have gained more being intoxicated by the holy names of Krsna here than on the substances I took in the United States!”

The month of Kartika went by quickly. I enjoyed sharing with my brother everything I’d learned in my 35 years as a devotee. he was a good listener. he’d suffered as much as any man could and was thus appreciative of the positive alternative of Krsna conscious- ness. A devotee from the day he surrendered to radha and Krsna 21 years ago in Paris, his supplications to Them, though offered in the infancy of his spiritual life, were taken to heart by the lord, who eventually made all arrangements to bring Pete home, to Sri Vrindavan Dhama.

Such is the power of a single prayer in desperation—and such is the benediction moon of Krsna’s causeless mercy.

I am drowning in the painful, fathomless whirlpool of repeated birth and death.  O lord, O friend of the Shelterless, O effulgent moon of mercy, please, just this one time, quickly extend your hand to save me!

[Sri Rupa Goswami, Text 61, Padyavali]