Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
When I had arrived in Moscow initially on April 28th I was picked up at the airport by my disciple Jai Sacinandana das, who is also know as the famous Russian DJ, DJ List. He and his friend Marina, a well known television personality in Moscow drove me from the airport to the flat of Talavana das and told me how they had been on holiday in Thailand andhad met devotees there. Now Jai Sacinandana was back in Moscow and was finding that due to the financial crisis, work was not as easy to get as before.
They drove me to the airport in the afternoon and I spent two days in Izhevsk and then returned to Moscow on May 1st, a famous holiday in Russia – “Workers’ Day”. I arrived there in the morning, and spent the day again in the flat of Talavana das, one of my disciples there, and then flew to Omsk at 11.40 at night, and after a three hour flight landed there at about 6am local time, having not really had any sleep.
We had an evening programme at the temple that night, and then a morning programme in a big yoga studio the next morning, and then went to the Sunday programme in the temple again.
At about 6pm we started driving to Novosibirsk, from where I was to fly at 8am the next morning to Krasnoyarsk, the official start of my East Siberian tour for this year. It was a truly austere experience, and we finally arrived in Krishna Kaneya’s flat there at about 2am, and then at 5 had to get up to prepare for the flight. What a life!
Svarupa Damodara, my chief disciple in West Siberia, which Novosibirsk is the capitol of, came with me to the airport, along with Krishna Kaneya, and I checked in for the flight. We went upstairs to the security check, and the police there told them they had to get out, as they weren’t flying.
So there I was, just me and these really mean Russian police who didn’t speak any English, and they started firing questions at me in Russian. My Russian is very poor, but somehow by Krishna’s grace I managed to follow what they were saying. The flight was going first to Krasnoyarsk and then to some other town, and they asked me which place I was going to. I answered them correctly and they accepted it and let me know without further interrogation. One of them said quietly to the other “on gavarit po Russkie” (he speaks Russian). Little did they know how far from the truth that was, but still by Lord Krishna’s mercy they thought I could handle them and stopped trying to bewilder me with their aggressiveness.
The flight was uneventful, and I arrived in Krasnoyarsk at about 8.30am local time, to find the temperature was 3 degrees above zero. I was met by Subala and Nityananda, two of my leading disciples from the area, and on the way to the temple they filled me in on the local ISKCON politics. The temple is in the name of an individual devotee, as according to Russian law an organization cannot own a building unless it is completely built. If it is not built yet, or is partially built, it has to be owned by a private person. This is certainly a crazy law, and now they were experiencing how mad it was here.
So now the devotee in whose name the property is registered is refusing to sign it over to ISKCON, unless the whole management is changed to suit him.
We met with him a day or two later, and he was adamant that he would not sign it over, even though it is ISKCON’s building, until the changes were made to the management, and it appeared to us that there was no guarantee he would do it then, either.
A devotee who is a lawyer was there trying to help us resolve the situation, and I asked him “if someone demands something like this under these circumstances, what do you call that?”
“Blackmail!” the lawyer replied.
The “owner” responded “yes, I am blackmailing you”. Very honest of him to admit that!
Such are the problems we encounter sometimes in our service as GBCs around the world. Actually we encounter all sorts of extraordinary things.
On the 7th of May we went to Achinsk, a town about 2 hours drive from Krasnoyarsk, to do a Deity welcoming programme with the devotees there. Achinsk was one of the main places affected when Murali Krishna das came to the area a couple of years ago. Suddenly we found that more than half of the ISKCON devotees had left us and joined him, before we could do anything about it, due to the divisive preaching of Murali Krishna.
Still now most of that group of devotees are still following him, although through the efforts of the local ISKCON members, now our numbers and programmes are building up again. The wife of the main person who was assisting Murali Krishna in those days came and apologized to me and asked if she could be in ISKCON again, and we were very happy to welcome her home.
We celebrated Lord Nrsingadeva’s Appearance Day on May 8th, there in Krasnoyarsk, and that evening Subala and I flew to the next town, Ulan Ude. We flew out of Krasnoyarsk at about 8.30 in the evening, but due to the flight going through another city, Irkutsk, we eventually only got to Ulan Ude at about 2am the next morning.
As we were standing on the bus to go out from the terminal in Krasnoyarsk to the plane two very drunk businessmen got on the bus, shouting and generally overflowing with liquor driven ecstasy. They had apparently just completed a successful business deal that afternoon.
When they saw me, dressed as a devotee they called out “Hare Krishna!” Then they discussed among themselves whether I was a Hare Krishna or a Buddhist, but fortunately they didn’t bother me. When we went into the terminal in Irkutsk, in between flights they again had an friendly drunken outburst of “Hare Krishna” but fortunately then got sidetracked by something else and didn’t bother us.
In Ulan Ude the devotees had been renting a kindergarten for about 10 years, which was a very nice facility, but then late last year they lost it, and are now trying to build a temple outside the town, which will take some years. In the meantime they are renting a hall for holding programmes, and we got together with the devotees there on the Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Ulan Ude is in a region known as Boryettia, which is really part of what used to be Mongolia. The majority of the population are known as Boryettis, and look like typical Mongolian people, and they’re all Buddhists. They’re the majority of the population in that area and near the city is the headquarters of Buddhism in Russia.
On my first visit there in 1994 the local Regional Secretary, Laksmi Narayana das (at that time Bhakta Leonid) took me to meet the leader of Buddhism in the country. I spoke to the man for a while and he was quite
friendly, but when I mentioned Shankaracarya, the original acarya of the Mayavadi line, who drove Buddhism our of India, his mood changed and he became disturbed.
He told me “we don’t accept Shankaracarya as an authority!”
At our programmes, to my surprise I found that there were more devotees in attendance than there had been when we had the temple before. On Sunday there were probably 100 devotees present and we had a nice programme for Lord Nrsingadeva.
Previously the Ulan Ude temple had been vibrant, and when I would come we would have some of the most amazing kirtanas I’ve ever been in. I used to call them “The Ulan Ude Kirtanas” and had wanted Jai Sacinandana to record them when he came with me one year. Unfortunately he was not able to do so very well, so it has been lost, but still the memories are there.
Then on Monday, May 11th we flew early in the morning from Ulan Ude to Irkutsk, where I am now, and that evening we had a nice programme in the temple there.
I will write again shortly when we move on further.
Hoping this meets you well.
Bhakti Caitanya Swami