Day 1, Monday, 01/09/08
Asha, Prana Priya and I were waiting at the airport to fetch Gurudev when we saw Gaura das and the rest of the temple brahmacaris, who had come along to offer a warm welcome to Gurudev. They had been distributing books to the passersby and joined me in a kirtan at the arrivals doors. When we at last got a glimpse of Gurudev, the kirtan intensified and brought a very broad smile from Srila Gurudev. He said, “What a pleasant surprise.” Several devotees garlanded Gurudev, and we continued to perform kirtan as we walked through the busy terminal.
During the drive to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir, Gurudev asked about the welfare of Asha and Prana Priya. Then He asked about me about the goings-on at the temple. I was happy to report that our Sri Krsna Janmastami and Srila Prabhupada Vyasapuja Festival had been the most successful ever. Gurudev was also very pleased to hear that the Bhagavad Katha program with Lokanath Swami at New Jaganath Puri had been such a resounding success. We agreed that the forthcoming 4-day Bhagavad Katha at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath promised to be a grand event.
Gurudev had originally planned to go to the temple, but decided to go straight to Nelentharan Prabhu’s home to take lunch with H.H. Lokanath Swami.
We arrived at Neletharan Prabhu’s home well in advance. There were a group of devotees gathered on the driveway, and they welcomed Gurudev warmly. Gurudev was received by Haridev Prabhu and garlanded. When Gurudev heard that Lokanath Swami was on his way to the house, He decided to wait on the driveway as part of the welcoming committee for Maharaj. I felt that this was a very clear example of Gurudev’s humility. Whilst waiting, we began a kirtan, whilst Gurudev spoke to Haridev. When Lokanath Swami arrived, he embraced Gurudev very warmly, and they then walked up into the house together. As they walked up the driveway, I saw Lokanath Swami show Gurudev something in a book. I could see that it was a Caitanya Caritamrta, but couldn’t see where he was pointing. The Maharajas were ushered into the lounge and made to sit on a large couch. Nelentharan then asked permission to wash their lotus feet, which we did with great pomp. Shyamlal Prabhu declined to have his feet washed, out of his sheer humility. Ekalavya Prabhu chanted the Guru Vandana prayers as we bathed the lotus feet of our beloved spiritual masters. Then all the assembled Vaisnavas got a chance to offer some flower petals. The gurus were then requested to speak for a few minutes. Lokanath Swami spoke about Vaisnava etiquette and how to deal with senior devotees. Gurudev spoke about the Bhagavata, the book and the person. He referred to Lokanath Swami as a “catalyst” in our spiritual lives. Shyamlal Prabhu spoke about the preaching of the Holy Name, being the main thing in our lives.
The devotees were then requested to take prasadam. Both Godbrothers showed great concern that the other was being served properly. I had pre-arranged with the family that they cook for Gurudev according to His diet and they had obliged very sincerely. However, Gurudev ate some of the other preps too. This was very instructive to me. Gurudev was showing me how to be sensitive to other’s feelings. If He had decided to follow His diet rigidly, He would have been the cause of His Godbrothers’ feeling uneasy and self-conscious. Such is the state of consciousness of Srila Gurudev…
They all ate well, which pleased me very much. Gurudev was impressed with the cooks and complimented them, “Excellent srikand.” The katha at the table was about the goings-on in the South African Yatra. Gurudev spoke of the success of the recent inaugural Ermelo Ratha Yatra. Afterwards, the senior devotees retired to the lounge to speak further. Gurudev spoke with Neletharan about his Hare Krsna newspaper called the ISKCON Advantage. Nelentharan handed Gurudev a copy of the paper’s inaugural printing. Gurudev was very pleased with his efforts and said that it was a “wonderful service”.
I took the opportunity to ask Lokanath Swami about the nature of his conversation with Gurudev earlier on, and what verse he had shown to Gurudev from the Caitanya Caritamrta. Maharaj said that it wasn’t any particular verse, and that he was just telling Gurudev that he was learning Bengali. Then Lokanath Swami spoke to Gurudev for a while before asking to be excused. He was going to spend the night at Nelentharan’s house and retired to his room. The servants then took prasadam. Nelentharan then took Gurudev to see his altar. On His way back down the passage, Gurudev saw Prana Priya taking prasadam with the other matajis. He asked, with great concern, “Are you okay?” He was always showing such care and concern for His disciples. It was touching…
She was speechless, being so shy before her spiritual master.
There was a short wait for Asha, so the family made some spice tea for Gurudev. After He had His tea, we were off to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath.
Deva Deva and his team had been working on Gurudev’s room right up to the point He arrived. When Gurudev arrived at His room, He was given a “grand tour”. Gurudev was very impressed, and repeatedly said, “Wow!” This produced much smiling and blushes from these hard-working devotees.
After the devotees had left, I unpacked Gurudev’s bags. It was quite late by then. I made Gurudev’s bed, and greeted Him for the day.
Day 2, Tuesday, 02/09/08
Mayapurcandra Prabhu was leading a sweet kirtan for mangal arati when Gurudev entered the temple-room. After the first part of the morning program, Gurudev joined us in chanting our japa in the temple-room. After a while Lokanath Swami entered the temple-room. The Godbrothers offered their obeisances to each other, and then settled down to chant.
Gurudev told me that I should try and re-schedule an eye specialist appointment for another time of the day, or another day altogether since He would receive a conference call at around the same time. I made contact with the devotee who arranged the appointment and who was going to drive Gurudev to the doctor’s suites. I went down to clean Gurudev’s room at 06h30.
Gurudev gave the Srimad Bhagavatam class. It was deep and profound. Gurudev spoke about dreams and determination in the different modes of material nature. Determination in the mode of ignorance doesn’t go beyond day-dreaming (as stated in the Bhagavad Gita). I was receiving several messages from our driver wanting to know the latest developments with regards to the appointment. I couldn’t really communicate by sending a text message since I thought it would be rude to do so during Gurudev’s Bhagavatam class. On hindsight, I should have excused myself and phoned the driver to clarify everything. This lack of clarity became a source of disturbance for the devotee, and she became deeply upset. Class ended and Gurudev and I walked to His room. I immediately tried to get a hold of the devotee on the phone. When I was speaking to her mother, I could understand that she was very upset. Gurudev overheard the conversation and asked what the problem was. He showed concern that there was some disturbance caused by me to the devotee, and agreed with my suggestion that He speak to her. I got her on the line and Gurudev did His best to pacify her. I could imagine that her greatest anxiety was that she had lost the opportunity to serve Gurudev, but had also been confused by the lack of clear communication. I was very remorseful, and wrote a text message to her, apologizing for any disturbance I could have caused. Gurudev was happy to hear this.
Whilst this was all going on, Gurudev had set up for worshipping Giriraj. There hadn’t been any mangal sweets saved for Giriraj, so Gurudev offered fruit instead.
Gurudev, though, didn’t take any breakfast.
From about 11am, there was a long conference call by Gurudev to a devotee in England.The group included Lokanath Swami and Svarupa Damodara and went on for a few hours. I was getting into anxiety as to when Gurudev would take lunch. Asha had delivered the prasadam in good time. Now all that remains was to warm things up. This I did at the appropriate time, after the conference call was over. I warmed up all the prasadam in Gurudev’s new kitchen. I was very impressed with the new kitchen. Everything was very well arranged and very practical. After Gurudev had taken prasadam, I cleared up and then honoured some prasadam myself. Gurudev said that there were no programs that evening, because it would be His only rest day. His “rest day” was spent working long hours on His latest DVD, Preaching in Russia.
I had asked Gurudev if He wanted to do the Kwamashu nama hatta at Anandini Radhika’s house, but He declined. He did however give His permission and blessings for me to do the program. By His mercy, it went very well.
I returned later that evening to make Gurudev’s bed. He retired well after 21h00.
Day 3, Wednesday, 03/09/08
I went down to Gurudev’s room at 06h30, only to find Him getting dressed. He continued putting on His kurta as He let me in. Gurudev said, “Don’t touch anything on the desk.” I made sure that I didn’t. Gurudev then told me that the basin was clogged, reminding me of my assurance to Him on Sunday that everything was in working order. Although I was not actually doing, managing or directing the renovations, it was my duty to ensure that everything was a 100%. I had failed to do this. It weighed heavily on my heart…
I got busy with my cleaning, which now took me twice as long because there were two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom to clean. Twice as much service = twice as much mercy! Whilst I was cleaning, Gurudev went up to the temple-room for japa. I joined the devotees just after Deity greetings.
The Srimad Bhagavatam class by Gurudev this morning was very instructive. He spoke about how to react to reversals. He said acting in a negative way to a reversal, and failing to see it as Krsna’s mercy further implicated one. However, accepting even the most troublesome situation as an arrangement of the Lord for one’s purification will allow one to make rapid spiritual advancement.
As we walked to His room, Gurudev stopped at a cable across His path. It was for the live broadcast of the Sri Krsna Janmastami midnight darshan for the crowd in the marquee outside. He noted that the cable had been nailed into a tree to secure it. He asked me to remove it. As I yanked it out of the tree, Gurudev said, “That’s very bad. We should not do that to tree. It’s a living entity.” Of course, the work was probably done by some lighting and sound company hired by the temple for the festival, but the principle was still the same: Respect all life.
Gurudev then performed puja for Giriraj. He offered fruit once again, and honoured a little of the sliced pineapple that I had prepared. There were several darshans up to lunch-time.
Lunch was prepared by Krsna Prema, and Gurudev enjoyed her soup very much. He did request that I re-heat His prasadam up at least twice during the meal, re-affirming the fact that eating things hot is so important to Him. Namamrith came to help troubleshoot some problems we were having with Gurudev’s new treadmill. I had managed to get it working, but there was a funny whining sound, which caused us concern. After a few tweaks and adjustments, Namamrith had the treadmill working as good as new. Gurudev gave it a trial “run”. There were various dials and readings, including one for “calories burned”. When Gurudev saw the figure for the calories that He’d apparently burned off, He said, “That’s being extremely optimistic!”
There were more darshans after lunch, including Narushni, who came to chant japa. She is a qualified medical doctor, and Gurudev asked her a question about pulse rate during exercise. He had been using His new treadmill, and was impressed thus far with how it worked.
Tonight would be the first night of the Bhagavad Katha with Lokanath Swami, and Gurudev was looking forward to the event with great anticipation. Although scheduled for 5pm, there were many delays. Gurudev didn’t want to be distracted from His work, so asked me to call Him when they were really ready. At the time we were meant to start, my temple vice-president asked me to lead kirtan, taking the Srimad Bhagavatam on a parikrama of the temple. We met Gurudev and Lokanath Swami in the temple-room. (Gurudev had come up when He heard the kirtan party.) After taking darshan of Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath, Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Giri Govardhan, the two spiritual masters escorted Srila Prabhupada’s Deity out of the temple-room and into a massive marquee, where the Bhagavad Katha would be held. There were at least 800 – 1000 people assembled there. The program began with Guru-puja to Srila Prabhupada by Gurudev, whilst Lokanath Swami simultaneously performed arati to Srimad Bhagavatam. There were then some words of glorification spoken by Gurudev. The program then began. For those of you who have never attended a Bhagavad Katha by Lokanath Swami, I have included the following brief description: “The large stage was beautifully decorated with various exotic plants, exquisite bouquets and draped with lovely cloth. The large Deity of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was on the left, then the vyasasana of Srila Prabhupada, then the vyasasana of Lokanath Swami. Various talented musicians sat around Maharaj, like stars around the moon. Whilst Maharaj related the various glories of the Lord, the musicians played sweet music in the background, just perfectly suiting the mood. Occasionally, Maharaj would break into a kirtan, and the crowd would clap very enthusiastically. Some nights the katha went on for 3-4 hours, but not a single person budged. The mood was festive and joyous – a celebration of hearing, chanting and remembering about Krsna!”
After the last pastime and kirtan, Lokanath Swami and Gurudev were requested to sit on a little raised platform and hand put some prasadam sweets, which the devotees eagerly and generously accepted. Gurudev then spoke to Lokanath Swami as they walked down to their rooms together, followed by a whole entourage. They bade each other “Good night.”, and retired for the night. It was past 23h00 when Gurudev retired!
Day 4, Thursday, 04/09/08
Gurudev came into the temple-room a few minutes after Lokanath Swami. They sat next to each other and chanted japa. I situated myself nearby, and must confess that chanting in their combined association was a very powerful experience…
Gurudev performed puja immediately after Srila Prabhupada’s Guru puja. He requested some maha prasadam for breakfast, which I arranged and re-heated in His new kitchen.
After breakfast Gurudev instructed me to take care of a defective battery that I had bought. The shop had assured me that it was brand new, but it was a fake, and only held its charge for 30 minutes. We had then bought an original battery, at around twice the cost of the fake, and there were several features identifying what the genuine article is meant to look like. Gurudev said that the Laxmi we stood to lose wasn’t very much, but we should reclaim it as a matter of principle. When I approached the shopkeeper with all of the evidence, he tried his best to weasel his way out of it, but had to eventually concede and returned Gurudev’s Laxmi. Once again, this was a very instructive lesson: “Always exercise great responsibility when dealing with Krsna’s Laxmi.”
There were several darshans during the course of the day, including an hour of chanting japa with Narushni.
Gurudev would have loved to stay for the second day of the Bhagavad Katha, but had other obligations at a nama hatta in Phoenix. On the way to the car, Gurudev was joined by Lokanath Swami. They spoke about the evening’s topic, namely the subduing of Kaliya. Gurudev unintentionally revealed what a great authority He is on these lilas, by quoting evidences from various sources. The details He described were unheard of by Maharaj, who was very impressed. Gurudev said that He had many more details if Maharaj wanted. Maharaj declined, explaining that he was addressing mostly a general audience. Maharaj asked about the anartha that Kaliya represented, and Gurudev said that by hearing the pastime we can be free from the tendency to talk critically and be envious of others. Towards the end of their conversation, Lokanath Swami revealed how sad he was that he only had just a few short moments to discuss these topics with Gurudev. Gurudev promised that He would see Maharaj later, if not then the next morning.
Bhakta Rakesh drove Gurudev and I to Maran Prabhu’s house for prasadam. On the way, Gurudev told us how He didn’t have a drivers licence. He had been in New Zealand, and had even hired a car when He realized that His licence had expired! He resolved not to get it renewed, since He didn’t really need it.
I asked Gurudev about a point He had made in the previous day’s Bhagavatam class. He had said that the trees and birds, although looking very happy and beautiful, were actually in an abominable situation, deeply conditioned and suffering terribly. I asked Gurudev if this was pessimism or realism. Gurudev said that its realism, but Prabhupada said that “devotees have a healthy pessimism about material life in general.” Most of the living entities are deep in tama guna. I asked further, “I have a realization. You can please correct me…If somebody has an understanding that the material world is temporary and full of such suffering conditional life, and thus becomes detached from it, will he thus be able to detach himself from his own material body and the bodily concept?” Gurudev answered, “Yes. They are two parts of the same understanding.”
At Maran’s asram, the devotees welcomed Gurudev very warmly and performed a foot-bathing. Gurudev was then served His lunch. Everything was prepared very tastefully and Gurudev appreciated the prasadam. Rakesh and I then took Prasad. Prabhanu Prabhu was meant to meet Gurudev and arrived just a few minutes before left to the nama hatta. Gurudev decided to travel to the nama hatta with Prabhanu so that they could talk.
At the nama hatta, Prabhanu and Gurudev sat in the car for some time before He came into the temple. He performed arati first before giving a class on Bhagavad Gita Ch. 12. 13-14.
He spoke about tolerance even in the face of great adversity.
After class, Gurudev lead a kirtan, and although there were not more than 40 devotees there, it rocked!
Gurudev then granted darshan to a few devotees before we headed back to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Bhagavad Katha was still going on!
Gurudev took His seat and heard the conclusion of the katha, as well a very well-presented drama about Kaliya. Afterwards, the Godbrothers sat down together and distributed prasadam to the crowds. Gurudev and Lokanath Swami spoke at length to each other after the program. Gurudev took rest after 22h30.