Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am now on a plane, flying from Bali back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Then later tonight I’ll fly to Johannesburg, and then in the morning from there to Cape Town.
I last wrote to you from Auckland, where I was visiting my 91 year old mother. Her condition is quite pathetic and it was an interesting experience to see someone who I had known so well for so many years, and was always a strong person and a leader in our family, become reduced to this condition. Actually it was straight out of Srimad Bhagavatam, where, for example, Vidura addresses Dhrtarastra who, in his physically compromised condition of old age, was living as a dependent of the Pandavas, who his main son, Duryodhana, had tried to cheat and kill in many ways:
pratikriya na yasyeha
kutascit karhicit prabho
sa esa bhagavan kalah
sarvesam nah samagatah
yena caivabhipanno ‘yam
pranaih priyatamair api
janah sadyo viyujyeta
kim utanyair dhanadibhih
“This frightful situation cannot be remedied by any person in this material world. My lord, it is the Supreme Personality of Godhead as eternal time [kala] that has approached us all. Whoever is under the influence of supreme kala [eternal time] must surrender his most dear life, and what to speak of other things, such as wealth, honor, children, land and home.” (SB 1.13.19-20)
The devotees arranged that I do some preaching programmes in the Nama Hattas there in Auckland, and suddenly I found myself thrown into a whirl of programmes every day for the last three or four days of my visit. The Nama Hatta members were almost all Indian, either from Fiji or India itself, and they were very enthusiastic to hear about Krishna’s Vrindavana pastimes, so I focussed on the Damodara lila, Govardhana lila and Kalliya Damana lila.
Finally I flew to Kuala Lumpur on Sunday the 14th or March, and then the following day to Bali.
Bali is quite amazing. It’s part of Indonesia, which is officially a Muslim country, but it is staunchly Hindu. There are 4 million people living there, and virtually every single one of them is a Hindu, but not much like your typical Hindu from India. There are temples there, but none of them have any Deities at all. In the temples they have sitting places usually for Brahma, Siva and Visnu, and sometimes on the back of the sitting place one finds the carrier of the Deity carved. So for example where the Deity in the sitting place is Visnu you sometimes find on the back is Garuda.
Balinese Hinduism is, you could say, very defensive. By that I mean they have shrines all over the place dedicated to different Deities or the ancestors, and the idea is that these people will keep bad influences away from them. It doesn’t seem so much that they are trying to achieve the heavenly planets or anything like that, but rather they want to keep evil spirits out of their houses, out of their fields or businesses. It’s quite amazing. So literally all over the place are little altars where they put flowers, incense and fruit as offerings, and oftentimes statues of Yakshas or gargoyle type entities guarding entranceways and so on. Every bridge on the whole island has aggressive looking gargoyles at both ends, protecting you when you cross it.
Anyway, we arrived on the 15th evening, which just happened to be Balinese New Year’s Eve. The programme that evening was quite incredible. In every suburb of the main city, Denpasar, and in every village on the island, people had made statues of different demons who they wanted protection from, or to have driven out of their lives, and they carried them in processions around their areas, stopping here and there and dancing with them at cross roads and public places. And these were no small statues. Many of them were 3 metres tall or more, and groups of 10 or so local people would carry them and dance with them through the streets.
These things are called “ogo-ogo”, which literally means “demon”, but some of them were not demons, but rather auspicious people like Bhima, Lord Rama, Bhismadeva and we even saw one of Lolrd Nrsingadeva attacking Hiranyakasipu. Because of all of this, the one hour ride from the airport to our main temple in Bali took more than two hours.
I have included some photos of different ogo-ogo. You’ll find them fascinating.
Our translator, Sundarananda prabhu, a local Balinese devotee for more than 30 years, was suffering from dengue fever when we arrived, and was struggling with this health challenge, but still be came with us and
translated very nicely. It makes a huge difference when you have a good translator.
The next day was Balinese New Year, which is a total national holiday. When I say that I mean that they’re so serious about it that it’s illegal to even drive on the road the whole day, and the police are there and arrest anyone who comes out of their house, so we were forced to stay at the temple the whole and couldn’t go out for any programmes, and no devotees could come to the temple for programmes, so it was a day of rest for me, which was quite nice.
The following day, Wednesday the 17th was also a partial national holiday, and we went up one of the mountains to a beautiful park where we had a nice programme with about 200 of the local devotees. We talked about Govardhana lila and did parikrama of my Govadhana sila, given to me by Indradyumna Maharaja a couple of years ago.
That evening and the following evening we had programmes at different ISKCON temples around Denpasar. There are 4 or 5 ISKCON temples here, and perhaps 3000 devotees or so, plus about 5 Krishna conscious restaurants, so it seems Srila Prabhupada’s movement is doing well there.
The programme on the Thursday afternoon was a Vyasa Puja for Kavicandra Maharaja, one of the GBCs for Bali, who apparently has more than 1000 disciples here. I was asked to speak something, so I referred to Lord Caitanya’s relationship with this spiritual master, Isvara Puri. When Lord Caitanya was initiated He asked His guru what He should now do, and was told just to chant Hare Krishna and not worry about studying Vedanta. The Lord describes this in speaking to Prakasananda Saravati, the famous Mayavadi, as
described in Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi Lila, Chapter 7. Prakasananda asked Lord Caitanya why He was just chanting and dancing and not taking part in discussion with other sannyasis:
prabhu kahe-suna, sripada, ihara karana
guru more murkha dekhi’ karila sasana
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu replied to Prakasananda Sarasvati, “My dear sir, kindly hear the reason. My spiritual master considered Me a fool, and therefore he chastised Me.
murkha tumi, tomara nahika vedantadhikara
‘krsna-mantra’ japa sada,-ei mantra-sara
‘You are a fool,’ he said. ‘You are not qualified to study Vedanta philosophy, and therefore You must always chant the holy name of Krsna. This is the essence of all mantras, or Vedic hymns.
krsna-mantra haite habe samsara-mocana
krsna-nama haite pabe krsnera carana
‘Simply by chanting the holy name of Krsna one can obtain freedom from material existence. Indeed, simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra one will be able to see the lotus feet of the Lord.
nama vinu kali-kale nahi ara dharma
sarva-mantra-sara nama, ei sastra-marma
‘In this Age of Kali there is no religious principle other than the chanting of the holy name, which is the essence of all Vedic hymns. This is the purport of all scriptures.’
eta bali’ eka sloka sikhaila more
kanthe kari’ ei sloka kariha vicare
eta bali’-saying this; eka sloka-one verse; sikhaila-taught; more-Me;
kanthe-in the throat; kari’-keeping; ei-this; sloka-verse; kariha-You should
do; vicare-in consideration.
“After describing the potency of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, My spiritual master taught Me another verse, advising Me to always keep it within My throat.
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
‘For spiritual progress in this Age of Kali, there is no alternative, there is no alternative, there is no alternative to the holy name, the holy name, the holy name of the Lord.’
Lord Caitanya continued: “Since I received this order from My spiritual master, I always chant the holy name, but I thought that by chanting and chanting the holy name I had been bewildered. While chanting the holy name of the Lord in pure ecstasy, I lose Myself, and thus I laugh, cry, dance and sing just like a madman. Collecting My patience, therefore, I began to consider that chanting the holy name of Krsna had covered all My spiritual knowledge. I saw that I had become mad by chanting the holy name, and I immediately submitted this at the lotus feet of my spiritual master. ‘My dear lord, what kind of mantra have you given Me? I have become mad simply by chanting this maha-mantra! Chanting the holy name in ecstasy causes Me to dance, laugh and cry.’
“When My spiritual master heard all this, he smiled and then began to speak. ‘It is the nature of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra that anyone who chants it immediately develops his loving ecstasy for Krsna. Religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and liberation are known as the four goals of life, but before love of Godhead, the fifth and highest goal, these appear as insignificant as straw in the street. For a devotee who has actually developed bhava, the pleasure derived from dharma, artha, kama and moksa appears like a drop in the presence of the sea. The conclusion of all revealed scriptures is that one should awaken his dormant love of Godhead. You are greatly fortunate to have already done so. It is a characteristic of love of Godhead that by nature it induces transcendental symptoms in one’s body and makes one more and more greedy to achieve the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord'”
So Lord Caitanya took the position of disciple before his spiritual master, and took the relationship very seriously. He didn’t feel that as the Supreme Personality of Godhead He didn’t need to do this, but rather set a wonderful example of what a first class disciple is.
I have now arrived in Cape Town, and from here I’ll go to Durban for the annual Rathayatra. I will write to you again after that.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami