Writings

The “crime”

Dear devotees,

Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I last wrote a few days ago, but I thought I would write again as one particular incident has occurred which was quite important.

I flew to Kuala Lumpur on the 27th morning, and arrived there around 6am local time. The 28th of course was Gaura Purnima, and we had a nice festival at the Jagannatha temple there, and I got the opportunity to tell many pastimes of Lord Caitanya, including some of my favourites, like the different things which occurred during Lord Caitanya’s Mahaprakasa lila at Srivasa Angana, the house of Srivas Thakura.

Lord Caitanya had not revealed that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead up till that time, but that evening He approached the altar in Srivasa’s house, moved the salagrama sila to one side, and then sat on the altar Himself, calling the devotees one by one and revealing to them how they had relationships with him in various forms. One of the devotees he called was Haridasa Thakura. He asked Haridasa about the incident when he was beaten in 22 market places, and Haridasa replied that he remembered that, and found it amazing that despite being beaten to the point that the soldiers were  exhausted, he had not felt anything at all. Caitanya Bhagavata describes:

“Lord Caitanya then turned His benign glance on Haridasa and called out, ‘Look at Me Haridasa, your body and birth is superior to Mine and your class and caste is more elevated than Mine. Although those sinful Muslim tormentors inflicted great pain on you yet I hesitated in My heart to punish them for I knew it would disturb you, knowing your compassionate nature. Listen Haridasa, when you were lashed with the whip in the different market places. I took up My Sudarsana disc and descended to the earth from Vaikuntha intending to sever the tormentors’ heads.

‘When your tormentors were trying to beat you to death, all along you were thinking for their well being. You were unconcerned about your own pains, you had only compassion for them, and because of your merciful heart I could not use force. My Sudarsana disc weapon was rendered impotent. I could not strike those men because you were determined to forgive them, and so, unable to see your misery, I protected you from their lashes by placing My back on your back.

‘I accepted all those lashes meant for you on My back.’ Lord Caitanya then turned His back to Haridasa Thakura and said, ‘See the marks on my back, Haridasa. Know that I am not lying. Whatever other secondary reasons there were for My descent, the main thing was that I was unable to bear your sufferings, and so I hastened My advent to this world. My beloved Advaita Acarya fully recognized who you are, and I am totally bound by his loving devotion.'”

Vrindavana dasa Thakura continues: “Our beloved Lord Caitanya is very wonderful in expanding the glories of His devotees. He will say or do anything to glorify and protect His devotees. He will even swallow fire for
his devotees, and willingly become His devotee’s slave. Lord Krishna recognizes only His devotees and knows nothing else. To Krishna there is no one equal in position to His pure devotees.”

We did programmes here and there around Kuala Lumpur until March 3rd, when I flew to Singapore. I was meant to stay there till the 6th and do programmes on each of the three evenings. The first programme, on the 3rd evening, was at the Laksmi Narayana temple, having been arranged by Devakinandana prabhu, a disciple of Mahavishnu Goswami, who passed away a few weeks ago.

It was a nice programme with maybe 50 devotees, and we continued the theme of the appearance and pastimes of Lord Caitanya. At the end I was distributing cookies to the devotees, when someone told me, “The police are here. They want to know who you are and what you’re doing here.”

This was quite a shock, as I was well aware that the police in Singapore are very strict about everything, including having public gatherings. Actually for many years they have also been opposed to ISKCON, due to the foolish activities of the previous ISKCON temple president here, who is now a fanatical ritvik person, and who tries to upset ISKCON programmes whenever he can. Previously, when he was in ISKCON, he would report devotees to the police if they did anything he didn’t like, and this included Tamal Krishna Maharaja, who was banned from visiting Singapore, Gaura Govinda Maharaja and Lokanatha Maharaja, who was thrown out of the country as he tried to enter at the airport.

Actually they are so bad that they would not even allow Srila Prabhupada to enter. He had to sit in the airport for 10 hours, even though he had a visa, but then they finally refused to let him enter, and he had to continue on to Australia without being able to take a break.

There were seven plain clothes detectives, so it seemed they were taking it very seriously. My mind was racing. What is this going to mean? I thought. Are they going to arrest me? Will I be blacklisted? However I got a message that Devakinandana was speaking to them, and it seemed it would be settled quickly, so I could go upstairs and take prasadam with the other devotees.

Unfortunately that message was too optimistic, and the next thing that happened, while we were upstairs, was that they wanted my passport, which I didn’t have with me. It was at the flat I was staying in. We SMS’d my passport number and so on to Devakinandana prabhu, who was still with them, and got the message back that everything was all right. The police were satisfied and I would not have to worry about anything.

Unfortunately that also proved to be overly optimistic, and eventually, when everyone had finished prasadam I was still waiting upstairs with a few devotees, waiting for word from below. Finally the word came. Everything was all right. All I had to do was walk downstairs, past the police, get in the car, and I could go. So we tried to do that.

Unfortunately that also proved to be too optimistic. The police didn’t speak to me, but they told the devotees I had to wait in the car, and I couldn’t go anywhere. From now on the devotees stopped making optimistic predictions about the police letting me go, and it seemed clear that the point in their minds now was whether to arrest me or not. They were asking, “who is Bhakti?” and I understood that was me. They had come specifically looking for me!

Finally, an hour and a half later, after they had made many phone calls and talked to each other many times, they said I could go, but that Devakinandana prabhu had to go to the central police station with my passport and make a statement and let them make a copy of my passport.

Unfortunately that was too good to be true also, and about half an hour later we got a phone call from their leader that I had to come to the station also.

So at about midnight Devakinandana prabhu and I reported in at the central police station in Singapore and were questioned by a youngish detective for nearly three hours. Some people senior to him had put him on the case, and he had to take statements about the whole matter in writing from us. It actually seemed that he was quite bored with the whole thing, so he didn’t do anything radical like put us in different rooms and try to catch us out or anything like that, but it was clear that his seniors had a particular idea of what had happened, and had asked him to question us in particular ways.

Their idea was that this was a public programme, which had been advertised, and was intended to bring in new people and get them involved etc. In other words it was a preaching programme. We were proselytizing. Just what the government in Singapore hates. Of course we do programmes like that all over the world, but in this case the programme was an invitation only gathering of existing devotees, so we had to get this through to the detective, which took a long time, but finally he got the message.

At first he asked me how long I was staying in Singapore, and I told him I was leaving on the 6th to go to New Zealand, and he said that he didn’t know if I would be able to leave. That sounded really ominous. Then he asked me if I had another name. Under those circumstances I would normally say I don’t, and just stick with my karmi name, but I remembered hearing the other officers talking about “Bhakti” and I assumed they were talking about me and not about the process of devotional service, so I immediately told him, “Yes, I also have a Hindu name. Bhakti Caitanya Swami.”

He didn’t quite get it, so we had to repeat it a number of times, and then write it down for him. But when he looked at it, something clicked in his mind. He said, “Oh, are you the same person as in this advertisement?” We were quite stunned. He pulled out a printed copy of the email Devakinandana prabhu had had sent out to our congregation, informing them of our programme, which said I was the main guest. One of our own people had given them this! Who could it be? Some of our own devotees were spying on us!

Sometimes when we enter very extreme countries, like Muslim countries, we have to disguise ourselves and say we’re businessmen or whatever, and carefully hide that we’re devotees. If I had tried to deny I was Bhakti
Caitanya Swami then I would probably be writing to you from the prison in Singapore right now, but fortunately Krishna let me know to say the correct thing.

So finally after 2.30 in the morning the detective told me I could leave the country on the 6th, but after all this the devotees and I decided I should just get out immediately, before the police get any further bright ideas. The “crime” was really Devakinandana prabhu’s. He had organized a programme with a foreigner, without getting permission from the government. In the future he had to apply in writing and get permission, and then everything would supposedly be all right. For the time being the detective told him
that it would take two weeks to figure out if they would charge him or not. They might imprison him, or fine him, or just give him a warning.

The next day, from Kuala Lumpur, we called Devakinandana prabhu and he told us they had contacted him again and asked for a full list of everyone who was at the programme, and a recording of what I had said. They were really into it!

Anyway, I stayed on in Kuala Lumpur and did some more programmes there, and then on the 6th I flew to Auckland, where I am now. Every year I try to visit my mother, who is 91, and give her some Krishna consciousness, as she and my late father were always very supportive of my involvement in ISKCON, and often donated money for me to use in devotional service. Now she is in hospital and is obviously not going to live a very long time, so I’ve been trying to give her as much prasadam as possible.

Today I showed her a slide show on my computer of the different places I go in my travels, and I showed her Srila Prabhupada’s puspa samadhi in Mayapur. “This is a monument for Prabhupada” I told her. “Oh, Prabhupada!” she responded. It was pretty good considering she can hardly talk.

Now she’s immobile, but previously when she was in a retirement village I would visit and stay in a flat there, and go for walks with her. She had a standard route she would take, and at one point on the way there was a strip of the footpath which had been dug up and then resurfaced, and when the concrete was setting, someone had written in large letters in it “Krishna”. My mother had pointed this out to me and told me, “Every day, when I walk over this I see Krishna and I think of you.”

Today I took her some mangala arati sweets and some other maha prasadam, which she nibbled at with great relish. So let us hope that by the mercy of the Lord in the form of His holy names and prasadam, she gets a good destination shortly.

On Sunday the 14th I fly back to Kuala Lumpur, and from there on the 15th to Bali. I will write shortly further.

Hoping this meets you well.

Your servant,

Bhakti Caitanya Swami

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