Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Right now I’m in Kemerovo in Western Siberia. When I last wrote to you, about 10 days ago, I was on a plane en route to Novosibirsk, the main city in this part of the country, about half the way across Russia.
The weather is nice, and the devotees are very friendly, and we’ve been having a wonderful time. In the meantime I’ve been in Novosibirsk, Barnaul, Novokuznetsk (and nearby Prakopevsk), and now Kemerovo, and tomorrow we head to Tomsk.
Novosibrsk is a city of 2 million people, and the devotee population is quite big also, although it’s a little fragmented due to a lack of organization. But despite that we had a very nice time, with programmes every morning and evening. In the morning we had programmes in the flat where I was staying, belonging to Bhakta Vilayat. He’s a very nice devotee businessman, with a wonderful wife and two first class devotee daughters, and his flat is extremely comfortable, and he himself is extremely generous and a real gentleman.
One thing I’ve been trying to do as much as possible recently is chant japa with the devotees in the morning. We also did this at Vilayat’s. Devotees would congregate from about 6 in the morning onwards, and we would all sit there and chant, until eventually there were 20 or 30 of us gathered.
Chanting japa in the morning, preferably with other devotees, is one of the most important parts of Krishna consciousness, and I always try to stress it.
While I was there, two devotees wrote to me asking about chanting japa. One
said: “We have been having a debate recently about the issue of meditating on lila while we chant. …… Prabhu has been trying to convince us that we all have to meditate on lila while we chant although he has no reference from Srila Prabhupada. I feel that it that it is premature and that it will come naturally in due course. Am I correct?”
I responded: “Regarding chanting, as one becomes more advanced one will find that when one chants or serves in any way, the pastimes will spontaneously come to one’s mind. But when we are chanting our rounds we should concentrate on our chanting. Srila Prabhupada said once: ‘One should not artificially try to see the form of the Lord while chanting Hare Krsna, but when the chanting is performed offenselessly the Lord will automatically reveal Himself to the view of the chanter. The chanter, therefore, has to concentrate on hearing the vibration, and without extra endeavor on his part, the Lord will automatically appear.'”
I continued: “Then Srila Prabhupada said also: ‘One should not artificially try to see the form of the Lord while chanting Hare Krsna, but when the chanting is performed offenselessly the Lord will automatically reveal Himself to the view of the chanter. The chanter, therefore, has to concentrate on hearing the vibration, and without extra endeavor on his part, the Lord will automatically appear.’ So this is the basic idea. When we hear and chant we should hear and chant.”
Actually Srila Prabhupada made statements that might appear to contradict this, also, but if we analyze them we will see that the same point comes out. For example: “Regarding your first question, is it offensive to think of Krishna’s Pastimes while chanting, I think you should know that it is not offensive, but rather it is required. One must try for the point when he simply hears Krishna and immediately all of Krishna, His Pastimes, His Form, His Quality, are in his thoughts. So to always be immersed in thoughts of Krishna this is our process. When we are full in Krishna then where there can be any chance for maya in us? So this is our duty to remember Krishna’s Pastimes. One who cannot remember Krishna, let him always hear Hare Krishna and then when he has perfected this art, then always he will remember Krishna, His Activities, His Qualities, etc.”
So really the point is to hear and chant nicely, and when one becomes more expert in that, spontaneous recollection of Krishna and His pastimes will come, from within.
I have been travelling in this area with Svarupa Damodara, my senior disciple here and translator, Rukmininatha das and his wife Rukmini, who has kindly organized a nice car for us to travel in, Bhaktin Sita, an expert harmonium player, and Bhaktin Valentina, a book distributor from Krasnoyarsk. After a few days we went to Barnaul, which is one of the best organized yatras in Russia, and even for that matter in the world. The leader, Visnu Tattva prabhu, is a wonderful brahmana preacher, and he spends all his time organizing the devotees and the preaching programmes. The devotees have a small centre in the city, and every morning and evening they hold programmes with classes and kirtana.
The devotees in Barnaul, particularly the ladies, are some of the best kirtana dancers in ISKCON. I’ve included some photos of them dancing, and when I can I’ll send some video of them.
One evening at least 75 of us went on harinama, and I met Bhaktin Rita, a 2 year old girl who has to be one of the most advanced devotees of her age in the movement. The whole way she was dancing in ecstasy in her childish way.
I’ve never seen a child so absorbed in chanting the holy names and dancing for hours on end.
From Barnaul we went to Novokuznetsk, about a 5 hour drive away, including going into a different time zone. Novokuznetsk is smaller than Barnaul and there are not so many devotees, but every morning and evening we held programmes in the house of two aspiring disciples of mine, Nikolai and Galina. About 30 or 40 devotees gathered and we had nice kirtana and a class twice a day, plus our usual japa sessions. As well as chanting japa in the morning, before class, we also started chanting in the evenings, after the Bhagavad Gita lecture, and about 20 devotees would stay for that.
One evening we went to nearby Prakopevsk for a programme in the house of my disciple Rasesvari devi dasi, and her husband. They informed me that the city council in Prakopevsk is now dominated by Communists, and they are making it difficult for anyone other than Russian Orthodox people to preach.
The devotees are not able to rent a hall or do practically any preaching work. The same situation was there in Novokuznetsk – last year we had a nice hall programme in a public library, but this year the city authorities would not rent us any space, although there was plenty available. Such are the difficulties of preaching in Russia.
From there we have come to Kemerovo, and we have just finished a Saturday afternoon festival, fortunately in a rented hall. Despite lacking a good mrdanga player we did our best to have a lively kirtana. Rasesvari and her friends Bhaktin Lila and Bhaktin Natasha had come from Prakopevsk, and they got some of the ladies dancing nicely, and it all went well.
So tomorrow we are off to Tomsk. I will update you again shortly.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami