Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
The GBC meetings have come and gone, and some interesting things happened. Two devotees were approved to take sannyasa – Devamrita prabhu from Chowpatty (who used to be the Temple President in Vrindavana) and Nitai Caitanya prabhu from Russia.
One of our South African devotees, Campakalata dd, was appointed head of the international Child Protection Office.
We have 6 standing sub-committees dealing with strategic planning issues:
- Establishing Srila Prabhupada’s Position: To clarify the special role Srila Prabhupada plays as the Founder-Acharya of ISKCON and work to pass the theological and practical implications of Srila Prabhupada’s unique position to future generations.
- Succession Committee: To identify, inspire, and train future ISKCON leaders.
- Constitution Committee: To formulate a constitutuion for ISKCON.
- Devotee Care: To educate and develop systems to assist in meeting the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of devotees.
- Parallel Lines of Authority and Finances: To create a balance between various levels of leadership in ISKCON, such as GBC members, initiating spiritual masters, and sannyasis. Also, to develop job descriptions and financial guidelines for leaders at various levels.
- Core Preaching Strategies: To identify and promote the main preaching activities, such a book distribution, varnasrama, education of children, etc. as outlined by Srila Prabhupada.
They met for three days and worked their ways through their subject matters nicely. I’m in the Team Building sub-committee, a seventh committee, and we produced a Code of Honor for the GBC members to regulate the functionings of the GBC meetings. We also did a rather extraordinary exercise, called “ajnata sakha” or “unknown friend”, in which each GBC member was assigned an unknown friend who they had to serve every day, without the friend knowing who they were. I was assigned to be the friend of Hrdaya Caitanya prabhu and had to use some imagination to see how to serve him.
The first and main thing I did was to volunteer to act as the Secretary of the Sannyasa committee, which we are both members of. He’s the Secretary, but he told as in our first meeting that due to being on the GBC Executive Committee he would be too busy to do his secretarial duties for the committee. I immediately volunteered, probably to his surprise, in my capacity as his unknown friend. On the days there were no Sannyasa committee meetings I sent him some prasadam, and on the final day the complete Radha Madhava maha plate.
We also arranged for the GBC members to come together to hear and chant one evening. The meetings tend to be very intense, and some focussed spiritual activity is always very much appreciated.
We all took part in an inauguration programme for the Temple of Vedic Planetarium, which began officially some months ago, under the direction of Ambarisa prabhu (Alfred Ford). We went out into the vast area the temple will occupy, and laid vastu plates in strategic positions in some of the main corner points of the structure. For further information you can visit www.tovp.org.
One of the rather extraordinary things that happened during the meetings was that I was again place on the GBC Executive Committee, which I had been a member of in 2002-2003. So that will keep me very busy for the next three years.
On February 18th the Navadvipa Mandala Parikrama began. I decided to join the Russian group of 700 or 800 devotees, many of whom I know, while there was also an international English language group of about 1500 devotees, and a Bengali Nama Hatta group of about 2500 devotees. On the first day our group went from the Mayapur Candradaya Mandir through Godrumadvipa, to the south of the ISKCON campus. We initially visited Gauradaha, where Lord Caitanya delivered a crocodile who in his previous life had been a young demigod. Unfortunately for him, as a prank he tried to cut the jat of Durvasa Muni. A jat is the large bun of hair that some yogis and others keep on top of their heads, which is kept in place by mixing glue-like tree resin in it. The boy tried to cut Durvasa’s jat when Durvasa was meditating, but Durvasa suddenly came to external consciousness and cursed him to be become a crocodile.
Next we went to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s house, Svananda Sukhada Kunja where Bhakti Caru Maharaja joined us and told us some wonderful nectar about Bhaktivinoda. We then went to Surabhi Kunja. After the Govardhana lila Lord Indra was feeling very bad that he had offended Lord Krishna so horribly by sending the storm to inundate Vraja. Even though he had apologized to the Lord, still he could not get over his dejection. He then approached the surabhi cow on his planet, who took him to Navadvipa, to this place. The cow stood under a large banyan tree there, and encouraged Lord Indra to chant the name “Gauranga” there. After he had been chanting for some time Lord Caitanya appeared to him and gave him His mercy.
This Surabhi Kunja is a special place for the forgiveness of offences, and when Lord Nityananda started the Nama Hatta movement in Bengal He made His headquarters here. After some time the movement deteriorated, and when it was re-established by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura he also made his headquarters here.
At the end of the day we went to the Svarupa Ganj asrama of ISKCON, where I spent a couple of hours talking with Sankarsana prabhu, Srila Prabhupada’s nephew and initiated disciple, who runs the place.
On the second day we walked from Godrumadvipa into Madhyadvipa, and first stopped at Hamsa Vahan. When Sukadeva Goswami was going to recite the Gaura Bhagavata at nearby Naimisaranya, Lord Siva wanted to go there to hear the nectar, but his carrier, Nandi the bull, was too slow, and it seemed he would miss it. He therefore asked his father, Lord Brahma, if he could borrow his swan carrier, and Brahma agreed. So Lord Siva went flying through the uiniverse to the recitation and made it just in time. He was going so fast that he was lying down on his back, almost being blown off the swan, and therefore when we see the Deity we see that Lord Siva is lying down like that. He is normally so hot through being so fired up to hear the reading that they keep water dripping on him all the time.
We also visited Puskara, Kuruksetra, and then went by boat across the Ganga to Navadvipa town, where we visited the bhajana kutir and Samadhi of Srila Jagannatha das Babaji Maharaja and the Dhamesvara Mahaprabhu temple, where there is an exceptionally beautiful Deity of Lord Caitanya, running forward with His hands extended in the mercy mudra, giving His mercy to the fallen conditioned souls.
On the third day we had a long boat ride to Samudra Garh, right in the southern part of Navadvipa Mandala, on Koladvipa. Here the ocean (Samudra) came all the way up the Ganges to get the dust from Lord Caitanya’s feet, and even to this day, the water here is somewhat salty, and affected by sea tides.
We then went to King Samudra Sena’s palace, where he fought so strongly with Bhima of the Pandava brothers that Lord Krishna was forced to come to protect him. Samudra Sena was a great devotee and he wanted to have the darsana of the Lord, and he knew if he fought like that Krishna would be forced to appear to protect Bhima and sure enough that happened. When he saw the Lord, Samudra Sena fell on the ground in ecstasy, but Bhima could not see Him at all. Bhima thought that somehow Samudra Sena had become
frightened and wanted to give up fighting, but actually the fact was quite different.
We then went to Campahatti, where Campakalata comes every day to pick campaka flowers for Radha and Krishna, even today. She is described by Srila Rupa Goswami as follows: She has a complexion the colour of a blossoming campaka flower (yellow) and garments the colour of a blue-jay’s feather. She is the third of the asta-sakhis, and is one day younger than Srimati Radharani. Her parents are Arama and Vatika devi and her husband is named Candaksa. Her qualities are very much like those of Visakha. She can carry out her activities cloaked in great secrecy, and is expert in the art of logical persuasion and is a diplomat skilled in thwarting Radharani’s rivals. Her special service is fanning the Divine Couple with a camara and offering Them jewelled necklaces. She is accomplished in the art of fashioning things from clay; and is an expert cook knowledgeable in all the literature describing the art of gourmet cooking. She is famous as “Mistahasta”, sweet hands, because of her expertise in making different kinds of candy. She is a specialist at collecting fruit, flowers and roots from the forest. Campakalata is the leader of the gopis appointed as the
protectors of the trees, creepers and bushes of Vrindavana and her maidservant is Guna-Manjari.
From there we went to Vidyanagara, where Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya was born.
On the fourth day we walked through Mamagachi, where Vrindavana das Thakura was born. This day we had seven sannyasis on our party, which was a little overwhelming, as somehow I had to organize that everyone got a chance to speak. We had Lokanatha Maharaja, Gopala Krishna Maharaja, Navayogendra Maharaja, Candramauli Maharaja, Bhakti Vaibhava Maharaja and Bhakti Dhira Damodara Maharaja.
We then crossed the Ganga again and walked through Shankarapura, where Lord Caitanya instructed Shankaracarya not to bother people in Navadvipa and finished for the day in Baelpukur.
On the fifth day we walked from Baelpukur to the Jagannatha temple, where we had breakfast. On the way we stopped at the place of Simantini devi, who is Parvati, the wife of Lord Siva. Lord Nityananda explained to Srila Jiva Goswami when He took him on the great parikrama of Navadvipa Dhama the once Parvati saw Lord Siva chanting the name of Gauranga in great ecstasy and asked him who is Gauranga. Lord Siva explained that He is a wonderful form of Lord Krishna who was going to appear in Kali Yuga in Navadvipa, so
Parvati came to the Dhama immediately and starting chanting, “Gauranga! Gauranga! Gauranga!” and then Lord Caitanya appeared in front of her.
Lord Nityananda said to Srila Jiva Goswami: “Parvati fell at the lotus feet of the master of the universe and with an agitated mind explained her sorrow: ‘O Prabhu Jagannatha, life of the universe, though You are merciful to all, You have deceived me. O deliverer of the fallen, You have appointed me to bind up all the living entities in the material world who are averse to You. I have come into the material world to do this work, and have thus been cheated of Your unlimited prema. People say that wherever Krsna is there is no Maya. I am therefore forced to always remain outside Your spiritual realm, in the material world. So how will I ever see Your pastimes? If You do not offer a way, I am without hope.’
“Saying this, Parvati put Gauranga’s foot dust on her simanta (part in the hair) in great distress. From that, the name of Simantadvipa came. Ignorant people call the place Simuliya.
“Gauracandra was pleased, and He said to Parvati, ‘O supreme goddess, listen carefully to My words. You are My energy, you are not separate or different from Me. My one energy has two forms. Within the spiritual kingdom, My original energy has one form as Sri Radha, but for carrying out activities in the material world She has expanded Herself as you. Without you, My lila could not be accomplished, for in the form of Yogamaya, you are necessary in My pastimes. In Vraja, you are eternally present as Paurnamasi, and in Navadvipa you are present as Praudha Maya along with Ksetrapala Lord Siva, guardian of the dhama.’
“Saying this, Gauranga disappeared, and Parvati became overwhelmed with love. Parvati stays in one form as the goddess of Simantadvipa, and in another form as Praudha Maya in Mayapur.”
We then walked on to the Jagannatha temple where we had breakfast, and then visited Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s headquarters at the Caitanya Matha, then Srivasa Angan, where Lord Caitanya had His nocturnal kirtanas, and then to Murari Gupta’s house and the Chand Kazi’s Samadhi.
On the sixth day we crossed back over the Jalangi and visited Nrsingapalli and Harihar ksetra, and then on the seventh day we concluded the parikama by walking back to the Yogapitha and meeting up with the thousands of other devotees from the two other parties.
On the 26th morning I left Sri Mayapur Dhama and drove to the airport in Calcutta, where I met Bhakti Marga Maharaja, who was taking the same flight as me to Chennai (previously Madras). We had some nice association talking about ongoing ISKCON issues, and then he went to Tirupati and I went to our ISKCON Chennai temple and did a programme in the city that evening.
Somehow we arrived at the programme early, and one of our devotees suggested I visit the nearby Partha Sarathi temple of the Sri sampradaya, which is the most famous temple in Chennai. We went there and one of the younger pujaris, named Sarathi das, showed us around, and to my surprise he was talking to us very much in ISKCON vernacular, and presenting philosophical points using ISKCON concepts, and I was wondering what was going on. After some time though he explained that he had lived in Canada for six years, in Ottawa, and had regularly attended all the programmes in our ISKCON centre there, and knew Bhakti Marg Maharaja well.
We discussed some interesting points about the evolution of the Sri sampradaya, particularly about how the Sanskrit based part of the sampradaya separated from the Tamil based part, and how he had managed to go to America but then, when he returned, take up his pujari service in this ancient and very important Sri temple. They are known for being very strict and very concerned about rules and regulations, and generally I had heard that if someone crosses the ocean they are rejected from their position in the Sri caste system.
He told me it wasn’t so strict, and that when he returned all he had to do was some prayascitta (atonement) and in a few days he was able to go back on the altar there. He took us right to the main altar, where the Deity is Krishna as Partha Sarathi, the driver of Arjuna’s chariot, along with Balarama, Rukmini, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, along with the utsava (festival) Deities of Partha Sarathi. I noticed that Krishna had a moustache painted on His face, and Sarathi das confirmed that every year they paint the moustache on again, as they take it that Krishna is the son of Vasudeva, and is therefore a ksatriya.
We got stuck in traffic and finally arrived back for the programme at about 8.15, and I had to leave for the airport at 9pm, so it was a little rushed. Now I’m in Kuala Lumpur again, and on the 3rd I’ll go to Singapore, and then on the 7th to New Zealand.
I will let you know shortly what happens further.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami