Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am writing to you from the Rome airport. Since I last wrote I have spent some days in Omsk, in Siberia, and then come to Prabhupadadesh near Venice in Italy, where a special meeting of the GBC Body was held.
The flight to Omsk was during the afternoon, and was quite pleasant as there was hardly anyone else on the plane. However as we flew I noticed that for the whole 3 hour flight, under the plane there was solid cloud cover over the ground, meaning unpleasant conditions below. Sure enough, when we landed it was raining, and was only around 10 degrees Centigrade…
As I walked in I heard the familiar ching-ching-CHING of karatalas. There were some devotees there having kirtana to welcome me. As the sound became louder the other people walking in from the plane were looking at me and smiling, understanding what was going on, it seemed. I was met by Vrindavana das, a disciple of mine from Omsk, and about 12-15 other devotees, and we drove off to Vrindavana’s flat.
The next morning I got up and took bath. It was still dark outside, and when I went out on the balcony to hang out the towel I was met by a freezing wind in the face. That was something I didn’t expect. I immediately dived back into the room and looked out the window. There was snow everywhere. The Siberian winter was coming.
We went to the temple for Srimad Bhagavatam class. The devotees there in Omsk didn’t have an English Srimad Bhagavatam, so I took my computer, and turned it on before I started singing Jaya Radha Madhava. By the time I finished singing it seemed to be ready, so I tried to access Srila Prabhupada’s books on it. However the computer had decided not to co-operate, and the books would not come up on the screen. The thought came into my mind that maybe I should try to say something in Russian, but before I started I realized that that was not going to work, as my Russian is a very long way from the standard required for anything other than the most rudimentary conversation. It appeared we were stuck.
A couple of minutes later though, the books appeared on the screen and we were able to continue, although the whole experience was rather disturbing.
After the class the devotees insisted on taking me to a high class Russian sauna house. It was actually quite spectacular, with a Finnish sauna and a Turkish steam bath, and in the middle a nice swimming pool with a big waterfall at one end, and Jacuzzi type effects in different parts of the pool. All in all it was a nice way to suffer and be reminded that bodily existence is not very satisfying.
I was there for two full days, and each morning we would have Srimad Bhagavatam class in the small temple, and then in the evenings we had programmes in a hall, attended by about 75 people, including some newcomers.
These programmes were very nice, and at the end of the second one I showed the video of the kirtanas from the Durban Rathayatra, 2006, and the devotees got really inspired and wouldn’t let me leave without having a final kirtana.
It wasn’t quite the same as the final kirtana in Durban, but it was still wonderful, and the devotees danced and jumped in ecstasy.
One of the men was jumping so wildly that his dhoti fell off! Sometimes it happens that the tail of a man’s dhoti may come out behind him, but this was different. Suddenly the whole piece of cloth fell to the ground, and he was left standing with only his kurta on, although he was towards the back and fortunately no one really noticed him too much.
The on the 6th I flew back to Moscow early in the morning, and then to Munich and then from there to Venice. The connection in Muncih was particularly tight, and it was made worse by the fact that the flight left Moscow 35 minutes late. I rushed off the plane and was about to run to the boarding gate, when I came around the corner and found a big security check.
That took about 5 minutes, and then I started running again, but around the next corner was an immigration check. Finally I ran through the airport and just made it onto the flight to Venice.
Prabhupadadesh is about an hours drive from Venice itself, and is a beautiful big building the devotees bought some time ago from the Catholice Church. It has beautiful big temple room, all recently fitted out with wonderful marble, plus it has many guestrooms and a nice garden.
About 20 GBC members had gathered for a special meeting, to be led by Gopala Bhatta prabhu, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada who has become a very successful businessman, and has recently become more involved again, and has helped temples in America tremendously in streamlining their management systems.
He took us through an exercise in which we evaluated the main things we needed to do to improve the functioning of the GBC Body, and its effectiveness in dealing with the activities of Srila Prabhupada’s movement.
Many things were discussed, including how to make Srila Prabhupada’s position in ISKCON more prominent, how to strengthen the guru system, how to develop better preaching strategies and resolve different questions which arise in regard to our preaching. One of the things that has come up has been the question of where we stand in relation to Hinduism, as it can sometimes be comfortable to say that we’re Hindu when we deal with the outside world, as it enables outsiders to place us in the scene of the material world, but at the same time Srila Prabhupada said many times that we aren’t Hindus, and certainly there are many parts of modern day Hinduism that we don’t want people to think we’re connected to.
Then there was the subject of how to help the devotees of ISKCON to feel more closely connected to the GBC Body, other than through their local GBC representatives, and how to help the members of the GBC Body to work together more cohesively as parts of one team, rather than just as individuals. I was asked to be a member of the group of devotees who looked into that, so up till the Mayapur meetings in February we will be putting together some programmes to help in this regard. One very nice thing is that we will organize a one day retreat for all the GBC members during GBC meetings, in which we will all go to an important pilgrimage place and have a day of hearing and chanting together, culminating in swimming and water sports in the Ganges.
We also will try to organize a one week or ten day retreat during Kartikka 2007, probably at Govardhana Hill, in which we will do parikramas together, have in depth philosophical discussions, lots of bhajanas, japa workshops and so on. The future is looking very bright for the GBC Body!
So now I’m going to be flying to Dubai for a couple of days, and then from there to Sri Vrindavana Dhama, where Svarupa Damodara prabhu from Novosibirsk and a group of my disciples are already in the process of videoing the Vraja Mandala Parikrama. I’ll let you all know what happens there shortly.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami