Writings

This is serious austerity!

I’m sorry that I haven’t written for a few weeks now, but I’ve been particularly busy.

The last time I wrote I was on my way back to South Africa for the Phoenix Rathayatra, which was scheduled for the weekend of July 10-11. The weather was excellent, and there was a good crowd of devotees gathered for the procession on Saturday the 10th. Kadamba Kanana Maharaja was there, and he led the kirtana most of the way, followed by Purusatraya Maharaja who had come from Brazil to go to Mozamibique with us.

During the procession we threw tons of sweets to the devotees, followed by different types of fruit. The pineapples were particularly popular, although
we had to be careful not to hit anyone who wasn’t watching carefully enough. At the end we got into a new practice – that of throwing water prasad from the top of the chariot out over the devotees who were hot from the long walk. They relished the cooling water splashing over their faces, although
it seemed to catch some of them by surprise! We threw about 10 litres over them.

On Tuesday July 13th Purusatraya Maharaja and I flew to Maputo, the capital of nearby Mozambique. There were already 3 devotees there who had gone to set things up for us, and a group of about 15 other devotees drove there from Durban and Pretoria to take part in a week long preaching expedition.

This is something we’ve been doing for the last several years. A group of us goes over and we do book distribution, Food for Life and different types of preaching programmes in this poor country, said to be among the 5 most impoverished places in the world. The main language in the cities is Portuguese, and previously I would use a translator for my lectures, but this year Purusatraya Maharaja, whose mother tongue is Portuguese, had come with us, and we want to maximise the use of his skills to develop our
preaching work there.

Maharaja did a number of preaching programmes, including a 35 minute radio interview on the national radio, and a 10 minute television interview. The
culmination was a hall programme we organized at the Medical School of the Mozambique University. About 60 people came and Maharaja delivered a
wonderful lecture on ”Spirituality and Sustainable Development”, and then led a nice kirtana. One middle aged European man got completely overwhelmed with the chanting, and was dancing wildly all over the hall as if he had been dancing in kirtana his whole life.

The people in Mozambique are very interested in Krishna consciousness, and even though only about 60 people came, still we managed to distribute about 60 of Srila Prabhupada’s books to them, and Bhakta Ricardo, our local Mozambiquean devotee managed to get plenty of names of people who wanted to attend programmes in the future.

Most days we did Food for Life in the poorer areas of Maputo. I wanted to focus on one area and see if a concentrated effort in one place might work
better than our usual programme, which is just to go anywhere and distribute prasadam and the holy names. We found one area and did harinama there for some time, and then began the prasadam distribution. However we found that the people were very reluctant to come forward to take prasadam, and even some of the adults were telling the children not to take it. On the first day, finally, after about an hour or more of trying to distribute the kitchri, we finally saw the last plate go out. Then the second day we went to the sam area, and this time we found the people more approachable. They chanted nicely, and some of them danced to the kirtana. Even some of the children had put on their own makeshift tilaka. This time the prasadam was distributed within 30 minutes. Then on the 3rd day the response was even stronger, and 50% more prasadam was distributed within 20 minutes. It just goes to show that if Krishna consciousness is presented carefully, the response can be wonderful.

Every day I was phoning Durban, as Bhadrasena prabhu, one of our long time devotees, was in a life and death situation in hospital there. He had gone into the hospital for a kidney stone operation, but when they applied the anesthetic his heart stopped beating, and now he was being maintained just by machines. So I was phoning his son Harideva prabhu, one of the Vice Presidents of the Radha Radhanatha temple in Durban, to keep track of how the situation was developing. Finally I changed my return ticket, to come back on Sunday the 18th instead of Tuesday the 20th, so I could see
Bhadrasena as it might be the last time I saw him alive.

We went in with Harideva on the 19th, and found Bhadrasena hooked up to many machines, and looking in a rather sad condition. However on Saturday his spiritual master, Giriraja Maharaja, had given him second initiation by telephone from USA, and even though Bhadrasena was barely, if at all, conscious, the devotees saw tears coming from his eyes as Maharaja gave him the Gayatri mantras over the phone. We left the hospital at about 7 in the evening, after chanting rounds next to Bhadrasena’s ears for some time, and then at about 10pm he left this world, aged 65.

The next day I went to Bhadrasena’s house at about midday, and spent the rest of the day with the family as they went through the funeral
proceedings. His wife and Harideva are initiated devotees, and his daughter is also a practicing devotee, so it was wonderful so see how they remained
calm and dutiful in Krishna consciousness despite being surrounded by a multitude of grieving relatives.

One time Srila Prabhupada was giving a class in Mauritius, and one man challenged that even though Krishna spoke Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, and
Arjuna was meant to be convinced at the end, still Arjuna became affected when his son Abhimanyu was killed. He said: ”The next day he goes on the battlefield and he hears that his son has been killed. He loses all his self-control and he said, ‘I am going to throw myself in the fire. I have
lost my son.’ Is that the action of a man who has heard God Himself speak to him?”

Srila Prabhupada replied: ”So Arjuna, he… Of course, sentiment… Just like theoretically we understand, na hanyate hanyamane sarire [Bg. 2.20].
Still, when my son dies I become affected. That is temporary. That is temporary. But if your conviction is that ‘I shall act according to the
order of God,’ that is final. That is final. He did not act against the will of the Lord. That is his victory. Temporarily he might have been disturbed
when his son was killed. That is a different thing. Everyone becomes. But that does not mean he stopped work. That is wanted. What was the final
conclusion? He did not leave the warfield because his son Abhimanyu was killed. No, he did not do that. He was affected for the time being. That is
natural. But finally he concluded and he said, ‘Yes,’ karisye vacanam tava [Bg. 18.73]. Nasto mohah smrtir labdha: ‘My illusion is now over. I shall
fight.” That is right conclusion.’

On the Thursday we held a memorial ceremony for Bhadrasena in the Radha Radhanatha temple. Different devotees and family members spoke and
remembered his good qualities and nice devotional activities. I recalled how he and I had done Govardhana parikrama together with other devotees during Kartikka 2001, and from the outset I had been asking him from time to time if he would like to take a rickshaw due to his age, but he had repeatedly refused. We walked on together, visiting all the sacred places, and even rolling in the dust in Kadambavana, where love of God is easily obtained if one rolls in the dust.

Finally at Uddhava Kunda, just before Radhakunda where we had begun our parikrama, and where we were going to finish it, we sat down and spent some minutes to regain our strength before the last couple of kilometers. When we got up and were about to begin walking again, Bhadrasena came to me, covered in the dust of Vrindavana, and looking like a tough old Vrajabasi sadhu, and said ”this is serious austerity!”

Serious austerity it certainly was, but Bhadrasena prabhu made it around Govardhana, and during his years with us did so much wonderful service. We pray to Lord Krishna to take care of him.

On Sunday the 25th of July I left Durban to fly to Lithuania, where the devotees were putting on their annual festival. Every year about 500 devotees from all over the Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland – gather together for 6 days of seminars, kirtana and sadhu sanga, in the company of some of ISKCON’s senior preachers. This year we had Niranjana Maharaja, who I am co-GBC with for the Baltics, Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja, Jayapataka Maharaja, Bhakti Visrambha Madhava Maharaja and Bhakti Vijnana Maharaja from Moscow giving seminars, along with Ladvamsi prabhu, an old Prabhupada disciple from America, and Anumanta prabhu form England.

This year there were at least 600 devotees attending, and the kirtanas were tumultuous. The highlight of the festival was when one of my disciples,
Pundarika Vidyanidhi prabhu, took sannyasa. He is 65 years old, and was one of the original devotees in Russia during the Communist period. He endured great difficulties, and helped spread Krishna consciousness undercover during those dangerous times.

He left his family shortly after becoming a devotee, and put on the saffron cloth of a vanaprastha. Since then he has been developing the Nama Hatta programme around Lithuania, and pushing the preaching tirelessly around this small country.

During lunch together the sannyasis would discuss what name would be most suitable for him. We felt that seeing he gives so much shelter to devotees around Lithuania, that this should be reflected in his name, and therefore we decided to include the word ”sarana”, and then we noted how peaceful a devotee he is, and decided that his name should include ”shanta”, which is Sanskrit for peace.

Finally on the day we performed the lengthy sannyasa initiation ceremony, and when it came time to give him his new danda I named him Bhakti Sarana Shanta Goswami Maharaja. The whole temple hall exploded in ecstasy as everyone saw the new sannyasi holding his danda, ready to challenge the illusions of the materialists and establish the eternal reality of Krishna consciousness for the benefit of all.

Now I’m back in Vilnius in Lithuania, and tomorrow I will be driving to Kaunas, the second city of the country. I’ll let you know what happens

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