Dear disciples and friends,
Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am writing to you from a plane, flying from Vilnius, Lithuania, to Tallinn in Estonia. It’s a cold winter’s night outside, but the hearts of the Lithuanian devotees are always very warm, so I’ve been having a nice time while here.
I arrived in Lithuania on January 8th. As I flew in from Frankfurt, having left Johannesburg on the 7th, I saw the ground was completely covered in snow. The pilot announced that the temperature was minus 2, so I braced myself for the freezing cold. I passed through the immigration and customs with no delays, and came out to see a large group of devotees gathered in the foyer waiting to meet me, and immediately I felt at home. Actually there were more devotees waiting for me than people waiting for everyone else on the flight, so we more or less took over the scene in the airport for a few minutes.
I was intending to continue my studies of the Russian language, and on the 9th morning my teacher, Gendrick, a professor from Vilnius University, arrived at 9am and we got into our study programme for 3 hours without break. That night I did a programme in the Vilnius temple, one of the first in the former Soviet Union. Actually we are still using the same building we used during those times – a flat previously belonging to one of the devotees.
The next day, Thursday the 10th, Gendrick came again at 9 and we got into Russian, and then in the afternoon we left for Kaunas, 100kms away, for the annual Baltics Winter Festival. About 200 devotees from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia attended, and we had a wonderful time, particularly with some ecstatic kirtanas during which the devotees were running back and forth and spinning like mad. We need to have big kirtanas as often as possible, as they refresh our minds in Krishna consciousness practically more than anything else.
I’m trying to get a more detailed account of the festival written by one of the devotees, and if we’re successful I’ll post it shortly.
The next week, on Monday morning, we got a phone call from Gendrick. He had come down with a severe flu, and was not able to teach. So what to do? Then we had an idea. Ananda Caitanya prabhu, who was with me as my translator and general assistant, is fluent in English and Russian (as well as Lithuanian) and he offered to try to teach me. Sure enough, as soon as we started everything clicked nicely and from then till now I’ve learnt a lot more Russian than in any period before. Actually now I’m reading the Krishna book in Russian, and even though it’s very slow and I have to use the dictionary regularly, still there’s a great feeling of progress, and that’s important in Krishna consciousness.
During the week I did a programme in the Vilnius temple on Tuesday, and then went to the Vedic Cultural Centre in Kaunas on Wednesday evening, the 16th, to do a programme with about 40 or so younger people who have fairly recently taken to Krishna consciousness. We talked about “Transforming Lust into Love”, based on the Caitanya-caritamrita verse:
atmendriya-priti-vancha-tare bali ‘kama’
krsnendriya-priti-iccha dhare ‘prema’ nama
In the purport Srila Prabhupada refers to how the love of the gopis was completely pure and spotless, whereas material so called love is really just lust in disguise. This is one of the most important aspects of our philosophy, and I like to discuss it as much as possible.
The next day we did another programme at the Vilnius temple, and then on Friday afternoon, after Ananda Caitanya prabhu and I had completed our Russian session, we set off for Minsk, the capital of Belarus, the next door country of Lithuania to the east, which is still very much under the political influence of Russia, and not very favourable to the West. Because they’re like that I had to get a visa as a tourist rather than as a devotee, and I had to go in in karmi clothes. If I tried to go in dressed as a devotee they would not allow me in.
As we drove Ananda Caitanya prabhu explained to me that the government of Belarus has been giving the devotees great difficulty for years, practically like in Communist times. “They even sometimes come to the temple and do a raid to see if there are any foreigners there,” he said, “if they raid the temple while you’re giving class they’ll arrest you!”
That was a little discouraging! But anyway we continued and arrived in Minsk around 8 that evening. Some devotees were meant to meet us on the highway as we entered the city, but they were nowhere to be seen, so Ananda Caitanya prabhu started making phone calls, and eventually gold hold of someone who told him we should just stop on the highway and they would come and find us there. So we stopped on the side, by one of the exits, and waited. However, about 5 minutes later, who should pull up but a car full of police with machine guns, and they screamed at us to “Get off the road!!! Get out of here!!!”
Even with my very basic knowledge of Russian I could tell what they were saying!
So we pulled off the highway and stopped about 100 metres away, and who should we run into but another group of police with machine guns who repeated the message of their colleagues, although slightly more politely.
Quite a welcome!
I stayed over the weekend in Minsk and did programmes each morning and evening. On Saturday afternoon the owner of the house we were staying in, Vikshara prabhu, a successful businessman, asked us to have a sauna with him downstairs. We went down and found the temperature to be 90 degrees Celsius, which was too much for me. However we stuck it out, and I was reminded of my previous sauna experience in Kazan in Russian, during which I asked my translator “what’s the Russian word for torture?” This time I asked Ananda Caitanya prabhu “what’s the Russian word for hell?”
Somehow I survived the sauna, although only just, and managed to do the programmes, and we left on Monday morning the 21st back to Vilnius, after the morning programme in Minsk. That night I did a programme in the Vilnius temple, and then on Tuesday we set out for Shauliai (pronounced Show-lay) for an evening programme, organized by my disciple Malati Manjari, aged 16, and her mother Radharani devi dasi, a disciple of Niranjana Maharaja.
It was a nice programme, and Malati Manjari did very well, especially considering her young age. Even though she’s so you she chants all her rounds faithfully every day and doesn’t get into any nonsense, despite the atmosphere at school, and she preaches as much as she can.
Nearly 100 people attended the programme, and many of them danced very nicely in the final kirtana.
The next day we went to Kaunas and did a programme at the Kaunas temple, and then the next morning we did the morning programme there, and then, after our Russian session we set off for Kelme a nearby town, to do an evening hall programme.
There were about 50 or 60 people there, maybe half of them devotees, but the visitors got into it nicely and we had a lively questions and answers session after the class. One man asked a number of questions, and it became clear that he’d read Bhagavad Gita. I asked him from the stage if that was the case, and he said “yes, scrutinizingly!”
Again we had a lively final kirtana, and some of the girls from the Kaunas temple danced very rhythmically during it, as Malati Manjari played harmonium. She came with us for that little trip through Kaunas and Kelme, and every night she would take the clothes I had worn during the day after I had taken rest and wash them, and then usually be there for mangala arati at 4.30 the next morning. It’s so nice to see young people become devotees and seriously try to perform service to their spiritual master. She may also submit a little more detailed report of that trip in a few days, so keep your eyes open for it.
We stayed overnight at Vaikunthanatha prabhu’s farm, New Gokula, outside Kelme, and in the morning had a morning programme, and then set out for Vilnius to catch the flight we’re on now. Shortly we’ll land in Tallinn, and then I’ll be there for Saturday and Sunday.
I’ll let you know what happens there shortly.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami