Dear devotees and friends,
Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
The last report we made was around August 10th, when I was on my way back from the Baltics to South Africa for Janmastami.
I arrived in Durban on the 11th afternoon and got to the temple and relaxed that evening. Traveling so much is very taxing, and there’s definitely a need to unwind when you arrive.
I spent Janmastami in the Sri Sri Radha Radhanatha temple in Durban. Dina Bandhu prabhu from Vrindavana was there, and gave the best Janmastami class I’ve ever heard, full of nectarean stories as only he can present them. He told one about Krishna being laughed at by the cowherd boys.
Krishna approached the cowherd boys and they were pointing at Him and laughing, so He asked them what was so funny. But they were laughing so much they couldn’t even reply. As Dina Bandhu prabhu was telling this he was laughing, imitating the cowherd boys, and almost falling off the vyasasana.
Finally one boy told Krishna: “Just see, Mother Yasoda is golden coloured! Nanda Maharaja is golden coloured! But you’re black!” Then that cowherd boy almost collapsed laughing. “So what?” said Krishna.
“That means that you’re not their son!” another cowherd boy exclaimed. And all the other boys roared with laughter, pointing at Krishna.
Krishna became deeply disturbed. He went back home to Mother Yasoda, unable to say anything, and crying. “What’s wrong?” Mother Yasoda asked. But Krishna would not reply. He just sat and quietly cried to Himself.
Mother Yasoda begged Krishna to tell her what had happened, and then Krishna explained everything. Mother Yasoda embraced Him and said “No, no, no! It’s not like that! You’re definitely the son of Nanda Maharaja and me!” But Krishna would not accept it.
Then Mother Yasoda took Him in front of their family altar, where they worship Laksmi Narayana and salagrama sila. She told Krishna “I take a vow in front of Laksmi Narayana and in front of salagrama sila that you are directly the son of Nanda Maharaja and myself.”
In Vrindavana everyone loves Krishna, but on the level of religious ceremonies they are all staunch worshippers of Laksmi Narayana, and have great faith in Them, and this is one of the subtleties of life for the Vrajavasis. So when Krishna heard His mother vow like that in front of the family Deities He immediately accepted that it was true, and became completely satisfied. He went back to the cowherd boys and told them “my mata took an oath in front of Laksmi Narayana and salagrama sila that I amd definitely the son of her and Nanda Maharaja!”
When the cowherd boys heard this they accepted it also. Such are the extraordinary ways of life in Goloka Vrindavana.
Janmastami is very nice, but very long, day. I spent the whole time at Sri Sri Radha Radhanatha temple, as Dina Bandhu prabhu was doing the programme in New Jagannatha Puri, our temple in Phoenix, in northern Durban. Svarupa Damodara prabhu the co-National Secretary for South Africa told me that the decorations for the midnight arati would be in the theme of the pearl pastime, described by Srila Raghunatha das Goswami in his Mukta Carita.
Once on the Diwali day Krishna saw Nanda Maharaja decorating his animals with jewels and ornaments, and He wanted to do the same thing Himself. so He approached Srimati Radharani and the gopis and asked them if he could have some of their pearls as He wanted to decorate two of His cows, Hungsi and Harini. Lalita replied very boldly that “oh, these pearls which are fit for a king’s queens, are deemed suitable for Your cows and she buffaloes? Well perhaps we should just give all our pearls if that’s the case.”
Not affected by her sarcasm, Krishna replied “No I only need enough pearls for my two favourite cows. That will do.” Lalita picked up some of the finest pearls and waved them in front of Krishna and said “I don’t find one pearl fit for your cows. You’ll have to ask someone else.”
Disappointed, Krishna approached Mother Yasoda and asked her for some of her pearls, saying He would plant them and grow pearl trees and replace her pearls in a few days. She told him that you don’t produce pearls in this way, but Krishna insisted, so she let Him have some, which He then planted
around this kunda. He then sent some of the cowherd boys to ask the gopis for some milk to water His pearl plants so they would grow, but Lalita sent back the message that the milk of their cows was not of a sufficient quality to be suitable for His pearls.
Four days later, Krishna’s pearls began to sprout, to the amazement of everyone. In the space of a few more days, they produced pearl fruits which were amazingly beautiful, and flowers which produced a heavenly scent which drove the bees mad, pervading the whole of Gokula with their fragrant perfume.
The gopis felt that if Krishna could grow pearl trees, they could certainly do so also, so they stole their mothers’ pearls and planted them around a kunda at Dhavaro, the village of Tungavidya. After a few days they noticed some sprouts coming up, but then a few days later it became clear that these
were actually thorn trees, and were completely different from Krishna’s pearl trees. Then their mothers realized that the gopis had stolen their pearls and demanded them back, and Srimati Radharani and the gopis were forced to go to Krishna and beg Him for some of His. After much laughing and joking about how the gopis couldn’t compete with Krishna, He finally gave them some, and the situation was settled.
The next day of course was Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa Puja day, and we had an amazing festival for the whole day. In the morning we had Vyasa Puja in New Jagannatha Puri, and then we raced back to take part in the festival at Sri Sri Radha Radhanatha, which started around 1pm.
The programme there went on the whole afternoon, and only finished about 6pm, by which time I was pretty exhausted. Svarupa Damodara prabhu had said there would be an evening Prabhupada katha programme in the temple room with Dina Bandhu prabhu, Syamalal prabhu and myself, if there were any devotees who wanted to take part. I was kind of hoping everyone would be tired and we could then avoid having the programme, but then about 7.15pm, during the evening arati, I got the message that there were a few hundred devotees in the temple room, and they were all looking forward to the Prabhupada katha, so up I had to go to the temple.
It turned out to be one of the nicest Prabhupada evening’s I’ve every taken part in. both Syamalal prabhu and Dina Bandhu prabhu were just pouring out the Prabhupada nectar, and we only stopped around 10pm.
The next day we had a boat festival in the moat of Sri Sri Radha Radhanatha temple. The weather was cold and windy, but still we went in the moat and took little Radha Radhanatha for a boat ride in front of at least 1000 devotees.
On the 16th of August I flew to Cape Town for a few days. Typically for this time of the year Cape Town was cold and incredibly wet, with the rain pouring down in sheets. Despite everything we had some programmes and helped install Jyotirmaya prabhu as Temple President.
On the 21st I flew back to Durban for a house programme with my disciples Vaisnava das and his wife Syamalata devi dasi, and then on the 22nd morning at 6.30am I flew to Johannesburg for my (so-called) Vyasa Puja festival. Normally we celebrate on the actual day according to the western calendar, but this year, for the first time ever, Janmastami was on the same day as my birthday, August 14th. Every year Janmastami falls on a different solar day, but there is a trend of the days becoming earlier in the year. For example, I checked, and in 2050 Janmastami is on August 10th.
Anyway we had a wonderful programme and the devotees very kindly expressed appreciations for my humble services. Despite my lack of qualifications in so many ways, still we see that through the system of parampara devotees are becoming inspired and are progressing in Krishna consciousness through our following the system Srila Prabhupada gave us, including his wish that his disciples initiate disciples of their own.
That very evening I flew out of Johannesburg, through Doha in the Middle East, through Moscow in Russia, to Irkutsk in East Siberia. It was a very long trip, and altogether I was traveling for about 30 hours without a break.
When I landed in Irkutsk we immediately drove for about an hour to the festival site near Angarsk, a small city near Irkutsk. About 500 devotees had gathered there, and we had an amazing festival. My old friend Prabhavisnu Maharaja was there. We first met in the Bury Place temple in central London when I joined there in January 1973, and he was already one of the stalwart leaders of the yatra at that time. When I joined he was on traveling book distribution with a group of other brahmacaris. Srila
Prabhupada had written to him about traveling sankirtana just a couple of days before I joined:
“In this way remain always without anxiety for destination and comfortable situations, always relying only on the mercy of Krishna for your plan, just go on preaching His message and selling His books, wherever there is interest. We shall not waste time if there is no interest or if the people are unfriendly, there are so many places to go. But I understand from your letter that practically everyone is taking some interest. That means you are presenting the thing in a very nice manner, they can detect that here are some persons who are actually sincere and nice, let me hear them, let me purchase one book. So I can understand that it is not an easy matter to travel extensively over long periods of time without proper food, rest, and sometimes it must be very cold there also, and still, because you are getting so much enjoyment, spiritual enjoyment, from it, it seems like play to you. That is advanced stage of spiritual life, never attained by even the greatest yogis and so-called jyanis. But let any man see our devotees working so hard for Krishna, then let anyone say that they are not better than any millions of so-called yogis and transcendentalists, that is my challenge! Because you are rightly understanding through your personal realization this philosophy of Krishna Consciousness, therefore in such a short time you have surpassed all the stages of yoga processes to come to the highest point of surrendering to Krishna. That I can very much appreciate, thank you very much for helping me in this way.”
Maharaja gave class every day in Russian. He is the only non-Russian devotee in ISKCON who can give a full class in Russian, and listened to him very carefully every day. My own Russian is nowhere near as good as his, but by straining my brain I was able to understand 90% of what he was saying, which was very nice.
Also at the festival was Caitanya Candra Carana prabhu, a disciple of Jayapataka Maharaja, who is now an initiating guru in ISKCON. He’s a wonderful devotee, although unfortunately he doesn’t speak English, but when he speaks the Russian devotees become completely captivated. Along with him
was Aditi Dukhaha prabhu, another one of the most senior devotees in Russia, and one of ISKCON’s greatest kirtana leaders.
The festival ran from August 24th evening till the 29th afternoon. On a few days I went on japa walks with some of my disciples from East Siberia, headed by Subala prabhu, my translator for that part of the country. The weather was nice and we decided to sit in the grass one afternoon, but just
as we were about to sit down Subala stopped me. “The devotees say there are ticks here,” he told me.
Ticks are an incredible phenomenon throughout the former Soviet Union. Practically wherever the are trees and grass there are ticks – small insects that bite. When they bite the head normally breaks off from the body and then somehow burrows into the body and stays there and often infects. The
thing is that the infection is sometimes fatal, and every year quite a number of people die from tick fever, during summer.
So the purport is that it’s very dangerous to walk in any forest area in the former Soviet Union. Actually Russia has some of the most beautiful forest areas in the world, having 60% of the world’s trees, but during the summer, which is practically the only time one can go outside, one can’t walk in the forests much, otherwise there’s a serious danger of being bitten.
Some years ago Subala was bitten and ended up in hospital for weeks with tick fever. He couldn’t even travel with me and translate, and the doctors practically locked him in his hospital room so he wouldn’t escape, the condition is so extremely dangerous.
Then on the 30th I flew to Lithuania, where I visited the Kaunas and Vilnius temples, as well as spending a day with Krishna Katha and his family in the New Gaudadesh community. Krishna Katha had worked out a programme of exercise for me, involving kayaking down some of the local rivers and lakes,
culminating with a sauna. We set out in the morning on September 1st, with a group of other devotees, and took six kayaks onto the river.
Certainly it was very nice for a change not to have to worry about anything, and just cruise down the waterways, although manipulating the paddle for 4 hours eventually took its toll on my arms.
Then on Friday the 4th of September I flew from Vilnius, Lithuania to Moscow and then from there to Johannesburg, landing in the afternoon of the 5th.
I’m in Durban now, and will let you know what happens here shortly.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami