On the 5th of May I arrived in Moscow, and went to the flat of Bhakta Garrick, one of the local devotees. I gave the morning class in the temple in Begovaya, near central Moscow, on the morning of the 6th, and then on the 7th morning flew to Saratov, where I was joined by Sri Gaura Hari prabhu, a disciple of Radhanatha Maharaja, who is traveling with me through Russia. Saratov is a fairly major city in the Volga region, about 1300 kms southeast of Moscow. The local community leader, Govardhana Gopala prabhu, and the regional secretary, Krishnacandra prabhu, met me at the airport, and we went to the ISKCON centre there, in a small house owned by a devotee couple who are now staying in Moscow. We discussed what my programme would be, and decided I should talk a little about Vaisnava Etiquette.
That evening we had a programme with the more active local devotees, a group of about 15 men and women who are trying to help Govardhana Gopala spread Krishna consciousness around Saratov. Govardhana Gopala is a PhD in psychology, and has a major practice in the city, and he is exceptionally expert in engaging people in Krishna consciousness.
Every morning we started the seminar on etiquette, and during the days I would meet devotees personally and discuss their spiritual lives with them. To my surprise I found that a significant percentage of them were chanting regularly, but not chanting 16 rounds, so in the evening programmes, which were held in a nearby hall, I tried to emphasize the importance coming up to the level of 16 rounds daily. Fifty to 60 devotees attended the evening programmes, and many agreed they would try to maintain that standard. The Sunday programme was particularly nice, and we had quite a roaring kirtana with about 100 people chanting and dancing enthusiastically.
Mother Parvati cooked the most exotic prasadam, of the highest conceivable quality, while we stayed in Saratov. She’s definitely a cook of world class.
We stayed in Saratov about 4 days, and then moved on to Penza, about 250 kms to the north. There’s a small group of devotees there, headed by a disciple of mine named Nikunja Seva dasi, a very intelligent and capable young woman, and they had arranged a hall programme at the city library. The nice little hall was full with about 60 or 70 people, including perhaps 20-30 newcomers, so I gave an introductory lecture about the need for Krishna consciousness in this difficult material world, and how this chanting of Hare Krishna takes out of these difficulties very easily. The audience was very appreciative, and after showing them the Russian version of the George Harrison multimedia show we finished off with a kirtana in which many of them danced and chanted very happily.
The next morning, the 13th, about 20 or 25 of the local devotees came to Nikunja Seva’s flat and we had a morning class on the different levels of devotional service, from sraddha to prema, and how we can identify which level we’re on, and then move forward from that level. This went from about 9 till 11.30, and then after lunch we drove about 500 kms to Samara, where Krishnacandra prabhu has his headquarters.
Samara has quite a nice temple, with a temple room of about 100 sq mtrs, which can hold quite a large crowd. The last time I had been there we would have crowds in the evenings of maybe 50-60 devotees, but this time I noticed there were about 100, showing that Krishnacandra prabhu, and the local Temple President, Saranagati prabhu, are developing things very nicely in their area. In the mornings we would have Srimad Bhagavatam class, and then in the evenings I did part of the seminar about “Lessons from the Pastimes of Lord Caitanya”, followed by an enthusiastic Gaura Arati, and then a slide show or video.
On one of the days the devotees took us to a little holiday resort on the Volga River owned by the parents of the husband of my disciple, Radha-nandini dd. The holiday resort turned out to be some rather broken down little sheds, and the weather by the massive river turned a little nasty. The wind picked up strongly, and we huddled in the huts for some time, looking out over the 2km wide Volga. Just shows that we can’t enjoy easily in this material world.
In Russia they have an interesting system that foreigners who are visiting the country must register somewhere with the police within 3 days of arriving. Unfortunately I had neglected to do that, and when we flew from Samara to Novosibirsk on May 15th, a young police officer walked up to us and demanded to see our identification. He noticed I wasn’t registered and started making a big scene about it, and then demanded that Krishnacandra prabhu and I go upstairs to see his senior officer. The time for boarding the plane was rapidly approaching, and we were getting a little panicky and argumentative with the young cop. Finally we had to go upstairs to the senior policeman, but he just looked at the front cover of my South African passport and immediately handed it back to me and shouted at the young cop.
We went down again and proceeded through security, but again they checked our identification and saw I wasn’t registered. This time it was two younger policewomen, and they started saying we had to go upstairs to see the senior not to take us up there again, as the chief man was probably still shouting at the young cop, and they would get the same, but still they were trying to insist! Finally he explained to them about the good work we’re doing. He told them: “We’re protecting cows, children and women!” The ladies laughed and let us go, and we made it onto the plane for the 3 hour flight to Novosibirsk, which is the capital of Siberia, about 3000kms east of Moscow.
We landed after midnight, and there was a group of about 10 devotees waiting to meet us. The first person we saw was a Major from the police, and Sri Gaura Hari prabhu told me to watch out, as he might want to check my ID. Fortunately though it was one of my disciples, Arjuna das, who is a leading policeman in the city, as well as being a very dedicated devotee.
We went to the flat of Vilayet prabhu, the local ISKCON community leader, and stayed there. The next day was Sunday, so we did the Sunday programme in a rented hall, and there were exactly 108 devotees there. I talked about the four types of people who may surrender to Krishna, based on Bhagavad-gita 7.16, stressing that if these 4 types get association with devotees then they may come up to the level of being fixed in devotional service, but otherwise, if they don’t come up then they will tend to eventually go back to material life, or at best remain stuck on some low level of God consciousness.
Every morning and evening we had programmes in Vilayet’s flat. He is a prominent businessman, originally from Azerbaijan, and his whole family are all very nice devotees. Generally about 30-40 devotees were attending each programme. They particularly liked the video of the Gauranga Rock Band of Bhakti Vallabha Puri Maharaja from Scotland.
On the 18th Sri Gaura Hari prabhu and I moved on 200 kms to the north to Kemerovo by car, driven by Bhakta Sergei. He’s a fairly new devotee, who has a taxi business with about 70 taxis. However, about 6 months ago he got the association of Rukmininatha, the husband of one of my disciples from Novosibirsk, Rukmini dd, and Rukmininatha inspired him to get into Krishna consciousness. We had interesting discussions as we drove, some of which focused on the “4th principle” or the principle of no illicit sex.
In Kemerovo we stayed with my disciples Krishna Jnana das, a devotee scholar, and is wife Anandamrita dd, and we did programmes twice daily in the local temple, which is a small cottage of the typical Russian style – very quaint and homely. The yatra there is being run by Laghu Hari prabhu, a senior disciple of Prabhavishnu Maharaja. We focused on the teachings of Prahlada Maharaja in the 18th Chapter of the 5th Canto, in which he prays as follows (SB 5.18.8-10):
om namo bhagavate narasimhaya namas tejas-tejase avir-avirbhava vajra-nakha vajra-damstra karmasayan randhaya randhaya tamo grasa grasa om svaha; abhayam abhayam atmani bhuyistha om ksraum.
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Nrsimhadeva, the source of all power. O my Lord who possesses nails and teeth just like thunderbolts, kindly vanquish our demonlike desires for fruitive activity in this material world. Please appear in our hearts and drive away our ignorance so that by Your mercy we may become fearless in the struggle for existence in this material world.”
svasty astu visvasya khalah prasidatam
dhyayantu bhutani sivam mitho dhiya
manas ca bhadram bhajatad adhoksaje
avesyatam no matir apy ahaituki
“May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living entities become calm by practicing bhakti-yoga, for by accepting devotional service they will think of each other’s welfare. Therefore let us all engage in the service of the supreme transcendence, Lord Sri Krsna, and always remain absorbed in thought of Him.”
sango yadi syad bhagavat-priyesu nah
yah prana-vrttya paritusta atmavan
siddhyaty aduran na tathendriya-priyah
“My dear Lord, we pray that we may never feel attraction for the prison of family life, consisting of home, wife, children, friends, bank balance, relatives and so on. If we do have some attachment, let it be for devotees, whose only dear friend is Krsna. A person who is actually self-realized and who has controlled his mind is perfectly satisfied with the bare necessities of life. He does not try to gratify his senses. Such a person quickly advances in Krsna consciousness, whereas others, who are too attached to material things, find advancement very difficult.”
In these verses Prahlada Maharaja shows his exalted nature as a pure devotee, with no attachment to his material comfort, but great concern for his spiritual advancement, and the well being of other living entities.
After Kemerovo we moved on, on the 22nd, to Tomsk, about 200 kms to the west. The leader of the Tomsk yatra is Carudesna prabhu, one of the most expert and dedicated of all the Russian devotees. He is a brahmacari aged 36, from a Muslim background, and we are hoping that next year his name can be put on the sannyasa waiting list, as he is one of the most qualified of our younger leaders in the whole movement.
Tomsk is one of the educational centres of Russia, and Carudesna is cultivating the students there very nicely. At the Sunday programme we had about 120 people, mainly younger, and at the end we had a roaring kirtana with all of them running around the rented hall like mad for at least an hour.
Sri Gaura Hari asked Carudesna how he had become so successful, and he gave an interesting answer, in two parts. The first thing he said is that we have to meditate. We have to meditate on what we want to achieve constantly, and when Krishna gives opportunities you will then be able to see them quickly. Secondly one has to give the devotees responsibility, and inspire them to develop things, rather than maintain control oneself in a centralized way. It was amazing to see how dedicated the devotees are to Carudesna. He is one of the most attractive and fixed leaders in Russia.
We were lecturing on different verses from Bhagavad-gita, selected by Carudesna prabhu, and trying to bring out the need to preach in order to become purified and advance in Krishna consciousness, and the need to have a strong sadhana, particularly getting up early in the morning and chanting nicely before getting into the day’s activities. As Maya has her simple programme for attracting us to sense gratification, so Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada have also given a simple programme of chanting and dancing and associating with the devotees, but in order to make the most of the programme we have to be awake and on our feet, otherwise we won’t get anywhere very fast.
On the 25th we took an overnight train with Carudesna prabhu and my expert translator disciple, Svarupa Damodara prabhu, to Novokuznetsk. I’ll let you know what happened there in a few days.