Day 1,Tuesday, 18/12/07
Asha, her friend Michelle, Bhakta Itumeleng and I arrived at the airport well before Guru Maharaja was due to land from Johannesburg. Although we were well on time, I was feeling a bit nervous, because Guru Maharaja had contacted me twice that morning. First, Krsna Balaram Prabhu phoned on behalf of Guru Maharaja, and later Guru Maharaja phoned me Himself. I thus made 100% sure I was on time to receive Guru Maharaja this time… The airport was quite busy, so Itumeleng and I jumped off earlier, letting Asha find a parking whilst we went inside to receive Guru Maharaja.
There was a struggle to get through to the baggage claim, since the security official was being completely uncooperative. Eventually we caught sight of Guru Maharaja. Still, the security guard wouldn’t let me assist Guru Maharaja, who I could see had already loaded some of His hand-luggage onto the trolley Himself. As Guru Maharaja walked past my line of vision, I could see that He was smiling to Himself, obviously amused at the obstinacy of the security official. He gestured for me to come to Him, and in fact I walked in His direction.
This seemed to really agitate the security person, because he said that he would call the police. I looked straight into the fellow’s eyes for a few seconds. I could see that I was not going to get anywhere with him, so I reluctantly left the baggage claim area to wait for Guru Maharaja outside. There was an unbearably long delay before we saw Him again. As soon as Guru Maharaja walked through the sliding doors, Itumeleng garlanded Him and we offered our obeisances. He was happy to see us, and asked about our welfare as we walked through the busy terminal.
He explained that He had taken so long because one of the wheels of His bag had been broken during the flight from Johannesburg and that He had to fill in some papers. These papers He handed to me, saying that the bag would have to be taken to a baggage shop, where it would be fixed at the cost of the airline. Nitai and Bhaktin Narushni were also at the airport to greet Guru Maharaja and He asked about their well-being with great affection. As we walked along with Guru Maharaja, I asked about His flight and about His general health. He said that He was “as well as can be”. He then turned to Asha and said, “In your official position as My secretary, I have a service for you. During the flight the wheel of my bag broke off. Can you see to it that it is taken to the baggage shop and repaired before I leave?” Asha was more than happy to oblige. She had taken the responsibility to arrange the booking of all of Guru Maharaja’s flights through His travel agent. She also had to follow up on these to make sure the itinerary was fixed definitely. As Guru Maharaja walked through the terminal, He spoke to each of the devotees who had come to see Him. It was very heart-warming, yet not surprising, to see Him have such a personal manner with the devotees.
As we drove Guru Maharaja to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir, I informed Him of the goings-on at Durban Yatra. I specifically mentioned about the Srila Prabhupada Summer Book Marathon that was in full swing, and the recent visit of H.H. Bhakti Brnga Govinda Swami. We then discussed Guru Maharaja’s upcoming engagements. At the temple, we were received by Bhakta Vaisnava, who helped Itumeleng and I unpack Guru Maharaja’s bags. The boys were soon dispatched to do some services such as washing and ironing whilst I remained with Guru Maharaja. It took over an hour to complete my service, but I relished every second. Afterwards, I went to the post office to fetch Guru Maharaja’s new glasses that He had got made in Port Elizabeth by Bhakin Sherine, a devotee optometrist. That evening, Guru Maharaja was due to do a program at Cheron Harrychund’s house. Bhakta Rakesh drove us there. When we stopped at the red lights at one busy intersection, we saw one beggar beating up another. Guru Maharaja said, “It’s a tough life, I tell you what…”
Upon arriving at Cheron’s, Guru Maharaja was warmly greeted by her family and Bhakta Yauvan’s family, who had also come earlier to assist. Guru Maharaja was garlanded and then escorted to the lounge, where He sat on His seat. Whilst Guru Maharaja waited for the prasadam to be warmed up, Cheron’s musically-inclined daughter, Sarisha, sang a beautiful bhajan for Guru Maharaja while playing a harmonium. Guru Maharaja appreciated her playing very much. Guru Maharaja was then served His prasadam. When I went to the kitchen to assist with the serve-out, I saw that the arrangements were most elaborate. There was even a sheet of paper describing, in detail, the menu that would be served. Cheron was a bit hesitant, thinking that Guru Maharaja may not understand her writing, but I insisted, knowing that Guru Maharaja would appreciate this gesture. (Cheron is very special person, who loves to serve the devotees. She is exceptionally talented in baking cheesy biscuits, which she sends to Guru Maharaja regularly.) As it turns out, Guru Maharaja appreciated the “menu” very much.
The devotees had prepared a 5-course meal for Guru Maharaja! Guru Maharaja was impressed, but not overwhelmed. He respected a substantial amount, at a very deliberate pace. He was joined by Sri Hari Prabhu, a very senior devotee in Durban Yatra shortly after He’d begun. Whilst Guru Maharaja ate, Sarisha played her guitar and chanted softly in the background. After Guru Maharaja had taken to His full satisfaction, He adjourned to the lounge. Looking at the time, I calculated that there wouldn’t be enough time to take prasadam. Also, I was feeling a bit queasy and my stomach was a little uncomfortable. The devotees, out of their genuine affection, requested that I eat, but I told them that I really couldn’t.
After ten minutes, Guru Maharaja walked down into the marquee that had been set up around the pool ouside. Everything was very nicely arranged. There was even a kind of swing, which would serve as Guru Maharaja’s vyasasana! Guru Maharaja appreciated everything very much. Once He had sat on the swing, He chanted a lively kirtan, and then spoke from BG. 4.31, speaking of the different types of sacrifice that may be performed either as a brahmacari or as a grhasta. It was a real eye-opener. After class, Sarisha rendered another bhajan, playing her guitar. It was very professionally done and Guru Maharaja enjoyed it tremendously.
Then there was an arati which Guru Maharaja performed. I was trying with great difficult to hand Him the various paraphernalia from the arati tray. We realized that all the items like lamp, incense holder and acaman cup were fixed onto the tray! Guru Maharaja decided to offer the whole tray as it was. Afterwards, Guru Maharaja sat and gave darshans to some devotees, whilst the rest of us honoured a grand feast. Thankfully, my nausea had settled down and I could do justice to the prasadam. We left immediately afterwards, and reached the temple after 22h30. I made Guru Maharaja’s bed and then took rest. It was the first day of three weeks’ association of Guru Maharaja, and if today was anything to go by, it would be pure bliss…
Day 2, Wednesday,19/12/07
Guru Maharaja entered the temple-room after Tulasi arati. Bhakta Bongani had seen Guru Maharaja through the windows and had set up Guru Maharaja’s cushions where He would sit and chant japa. All the devotees present offered there obeisances as Guru Maharaja walked regally through the temple-room and took His seat. Guru Maharaja had been requested to give SB class that morning. It was nectar! Some points He made were about “our true needs”and “alternative relationships”. Guru Maharaja opted not to have any breakfast that morning. As I had promised the previous day, I went to do some banking for Guru Maharaja “first thing” that morning. For the rest of the morning Guru Maharaja worked on His editing whilst I chanted my rounds.
At around 1pm, I drove Guru Maharaja to His lunch program at Radha Vinod’s. Whilst waiting for the prasadam to be warmed up, Guru Maharaja spoke to Namamrith Prabhu. Namamrith is an authority on computers, since he sells, repairs and upgrades them. Guru Maharaja, as we all know, is a computer boffin, so when they started to talk about the different types of computers available and the latest hardware and software Guru Maharaja was using, the conversation was taken to another level. The matajis indicated that prasadam was ready. Guru Maharaja took a fair amount. I was happy to give Namamrith the opportunity to also serve Guru Maharaja. Namamrith’s young son, Yadav, was playing in the lounge, and it was amazing to see how Guru Maharaja was able to relate to him in a friendly way, just like a benevolent grandfather.
When Guru Maharaja had taken to His satisfaction, we took prasadam. Guru Maharaja spoke to the family for a while before we drove back to the temple. On the way, I discussed with Guru Maharaja the wonderful experience I was having on sankirtana during the SP Summer Book Marathon, which was giving me so much of bliss. Guru Maharaja told me to become more consistent, and then I would feel this bliss always. I also told Him about my current asram situation. Having just come out of a rather rough experience, I wasn’t going to rush into anything new. I preferred to be “just a devotee”, and not be labeled with any particular designation. I felt that absorption in the sankirtana yajna was the secret to unraveling my life’s dilemma. Guru Maharaja echoed my sentiments and encouraged me to forge ahead with full determination. My resolve was gradually becoming iron-clad…
When we got back, I excused myself and chanted a major portion of my japa. Dashen Prabhu came to the temple, and was surprised to learn that Guru Maharaja was at SSRR. I offered to take him and his family to see Guru Maharaja but he declined, since they felt that they were not properly dressed and there was also a specialized shop they had to get to on time. Guru Maharaja was having a japa session with Nitai and Bhaktin Narushni at this time. Dashen accepted the offer to drive Guru Maharaja to Pietermaritzburg on Saturday. Bhakta Yauvan had been pressing me to be engaged in some service to Guru Maharaja, and I eventually thought of something for him to do. There was a large number of DVD’s that had to be sorted out and put in boxes, and a stock take done. We worked on this together for more than an hour in Guru Maharaja’s room, whilst He worked on His DVD-production. Half of His floor was covered with DVD’s, but Guru Maharaja tolerated patiently.
During this time, Guru Maharaja had several visitors, including Prana Priya. She had just returned from a pilgrimage to Vrndavana and was brimming with excitement. While we were engrossed, Guru Maharaja worked on His Radha Kunda DVD. At some point, Guru Maharaja walked out of His room and, pacing in the corridor outside, chanted japa. When He returned, He said to me, “Let’s do an experiment.” I was very curious about what He meant. In the meantime Yauvan’s father, Mukesh, kindly agreed to store the boxes of DVD’s at his home. After we had loaded everything into the car and Yauvan had left, Guru Maharaja asked me to go next door to the restaurant kitchen and borrow the fan that He had seen there. I complied immediately. I discovered that the fan wasn’t clean at all, but fortunately enough Mother Nikunja Seva volunteered to lend Guru Maharaja her own fan. When I returned to Guru Maharaja’s room, He began setting up the laptop on top of this newly-acquired fan. It was a great balancing act, and I had to assist. The result was successful, though, and the necessary cooling of the machine was achieved. The “experiment” was a success, but the machine was not as cool as it could be.
Whilst we were working on our DVD stock-take, Guru Maharaja was watching the Radha Kunda DVD on His big-screen TV. So, by the mercy of Srimati Radharani, I got to have a sneak preview of Guru Maharaja’s latest production! I tell you what, this is a truly wonderful production, using new filming styles and amazing kirtan. You are going to love it! Although we had finished our service, we sat there and relished several minutes of the DVD in Guru Maharaja’s association. The removal of the boxes cleared up a lot of space in Guru Maharaja’s room and this pleases me very much. At this point, I asked Guru Maharaja if I could make His bed. When I had finished this service, I retired to my room.
Day 3, Thursday, 20/12/07
Guru Maharaja joined us during mangal arati, and lead the chanting of the Nrsmhadev Prayers. After Guru Maharaja had chanted His Gayatri, I approached Him and inquired about the day’s program. Guru Maharaja said that He would have just yoghurt and dates for breakfast. Puja would be immediately after class. There was no message sent to either Guru Maharaja or me about Him giving SB class. Guru Maharaja took the initiative and sat upon the vyasasana and gave class Himself. I had been caught unexpected, and had to run to my room to fetch my recorder and Guru Maharaja’s water. The class was held in the temple-room because Krsna das Maharaj was staying in the quarters in SP’s room. Maharaj’s health was frail, so the devotees opted to give him some privacy. Guru Maharaja’s class was nectar, and the devotees relished the katha. After class, Guru Maharaja did His puja to Giriraj. Before we went down, He told me that He was unsure if the yoghurt had thickener in it. This would mean that it had grain, which He couldn’t have because it was Ekadasi. I followed Guru Maharaja after some time, since I had to clear up Guru Maharaja’s clothing and cup etc.
When I arrived at Guru Maharaja’s room, Bhakta Bongani was already there speaking to Him. Guru Maharaja had begun the puja, so I waited for Him to finish then I took the Lord’s paraphernalia for washing since I could see that Bongani wanted to be alone with Guru Maharaja. When I returned, I asked Guru Maharaja if there was any service for me to do. He told me that He was fine. I told Him that I was planning to go out on book distribution in the afternoon after serving Him lunch since it was the most auspicious day of Gita Jayanti. This pleased Guru Maharaja very much, and He gave me His blessings. Guru Maharaja asked me to contact Bhaktin Nutan and Bhakta Kumaran who wanted to host Guru Maharaja at their home. Guru Maharaja suggested a few dates. Somehow or the other I couldn’t get a hold of them though I tried my hardest. I spent the rest of the morning completing my rounds and doing Guru Maharaja’s laundry.
By the time I was done, Guru Maharaja’s lunch had been delivered. The mataji who had cooked insisted that the prasadam was hot enough, because it had been delivered in a bag that retained it’s heat. I hesitatingly took the prasadam, knowing that Guru Maharaja liked His meals served piping hot. Guru Maharaja ate well, and this pleased me very much. He noted that almost all the preps were liberally coated with cheese.
When Guru Maharaja was done, He said that He would like to go back to His old diet of soup, salads and baked veggies. He asked me to inform the cooks. I ventured to ask Him about the meal He had just had. He said that it was “very nice”, but not all the preps were hot. In truth, most of the preps in the food in the heat-retaining bag were still quite warm, and I appreciated the mataji’s service very much. Still, we have to serve somebody as they would want to be served, not as we think they should be. I learned this lesson myself with own experience serving several senior devotees. When I told the mataji about the changed diet, she kindly agreed to change her cooking style.
After clearing up, I asked Guru Maharaja if He needed anything else. He said, “No thanks. So, what time are you going out?” “Right now.”, I said, “Please give me Your blessings.” Guru Maharaja raised His arms in the air and said, “Hare Krsna!” I felt greatly empoweredi I always pray to Guru Maharaja before going out, but having Guru Maharaja’s vapu association was especially inspiring. By Guru Maharaja’s mercy, I was able to distribute several Bhagavad gitas. I fell just short of my quota of 50 books because I was called back to the temple to set up for the program that evening with Krsna das Swami and Guru Maharaja to honour Gita Jayanti and Ekadasi.
Guru Maharaja and KDS arrived in the temple-room shortly after Gaura Arati. KDS’ health was very weak and he had to be assisted to walk. Out of his genuine humility, he asked Guru Maharaja to speak first. Guru Maharaja’s address was no more than an introduction of KDS. KDS thanked Guru Maharaja for His “blessings” and proceeded to give an elaborate description of the particular Ekadasi we were observing. Although he was very physically weakened from his illness, he seemed to grow stronger and more potent as he spoke, until he was roaring like a lion. Guru Maharaja sat on His vyasasana, which was next to KDS’ and simply gazed at Maharaj as he spoke his powerful message. One very good point that Maharaj made was in regards to false pride and the need for humility. After the class, the swamis remained on their vyasasanas and chatted for a while. I excused myself from Guru Maharaja’s service and went to make His bed.
When I returned, I saw that KDS was being helped sown the stairs with assistance from Guru Maharaja. He walked very slowly down the stairs with one of his arms holding onto Svarupa Damodara’s arm, and the other arm being supported by Prabhanu Prabhu. Guru Maharaja followed in close attendance. As I watched the sad scene, I was filled with a deep sense of apprehension. I fear that our association with Krsna das Swami will soon come to an end…
Dr. Umesh Ravjee was one of the people who came to see KDS off, and took the chance to speak to Guru Maharaja about His health. Guru Maharaja told Umesh that He needed more of His chronic medication He also told him about His desire to change His diet. Umesh said, “But I thought that You had been following that diet for some time now.” Guru Maharaja said, “I try, but you know…the devotees… they make it so hard.” We all had a good laugh at this, then Guru Maharaja and I walked to His room. After making His bed, I bade Him good night and chanted some extra rounds.
Day 4, Friday, 21/12/07
Guru Maharaja walked into the temple-room just as I was taking around the ghee-lamp from the mangal arati. I put aside the lamp and offered my dandavats. After Guru Maharaja had chanted His Gayatri, I approached Him to ask what the plan for the day would be. He told me that me that He would like to have a fruit breakfast today. Guru Maharaja would be giving the SB class that morning. It was a very wonderful class indeed.
Towards the end of His talk, Guru Maharaja picked up on the theme of humility from Krsna das Maharaj’s talk the previous night. Guru Maharaja said something quite amazing, quoting the Brhad Bhagavatamrta, “Krsna-prema is humility. And humility means Krsna-prema. They’re synonymous ” It was a very deep point, and Guru Maharaja drove it home emphatically. He went on to discuss the condition of the devotee who develops pride. “Krsna can tolerate any fault in a devotee except pride.” He presented this point very strongly and it registered very deeply in my consciousness.
After class, Guru Maharaja performed His puja. Whilst setting up the cushions on the floor in readiness for Him to take prasadam, I decided to ask a question about this morning’s SB class. “Guru Maharaja, can I ask You a question please?” , I ventured to ask. Guru Maharaja replied, “Hmmm?” “How can I overcome this quality of pride? I feel that I am so full of this pride. What can I do to get rid of this?” Guru Maharaja said, “I’m in the middle of puja. Please.” What a reply! The disease of false pride that I was afflicted with was treated with a large dose of extra-hot, red chillie sauce by Guru Maharaja! My head was spinning… I didn’t say much after that. I slowly continued to set up for breakfast.
When Guru Maharaja had finished the puja, I took away Giriraj’s paraphernalia for washing. I then went to fetch Guru Maharaja’s prasadam. Sheena had went all out, cutting up at least 7 types of fruit for Guru Maharaja. Guru Maharaja took a healthy serving, and especially liked the litchis. I then took prasadam, chanted the remainder of my rounds and got some laundry done. This took me up to 1pm, when I prepared to serve Guru Maharaja His lunch. Guru Maharaja took very little. I was prompted to offer to get Him a katchori from the 7pm maha, but He declined. After cleaning up, I wanted to head off on sankirtana as soon as possible. Namamrith was with Guru Maharaja when I returned with His plates. Namamrith was returning Guru Maharaja’s PC tower that he had been working on. I asked Guru Maharaja for His blessings, telling Him that I was going out on sankirtana. He said, “Very good!” , and raised His arms in a sign of blessing. This encouraged me tremendously. It was my last day on the marathon, and I returned to the temple with an empty sankirtana bag! By Guru Maharaja’s mercy, many a fortunate soul became owners of a brand new Bhagavad gita.
During the course of the day I had asked Hemalata to paint Giriraj’s eyes, and she was extremely grateful for the service. She said that it would take time for the paint and varnish to dry though, but when I relayed this message to Guru Maharaja, He said that it was fine. When I returned from sankirtana, Guru Maharaja wasn’t in His room but was in the temple chanting japa. I decided to get some prasadam. When I returned, Guru Maharaja was speaking to a guest. He spent a further 35 minutes with this person, and this didn’t bother me one bit, since I got to finish my quota of rounds. Upon entering Guru Maharaja’s room, I asked if I could make His bed. He said I could, but should first get Him some milk with which He could take His medication. He took His pills, and continued to work on His computer whilst I made His bed. I retired soon afterwards.
Day 5, Saturday, 22/12/07
We had just completed Tulasi arati when Guru Maharaja entered the temple-room. Guru Maharaja told me that He would take fruit for His breakfast. He inquired about the program He would doing in Pietermaritzburg, specifically about transport arrangements for the temple devotees. I had to pester our transport manager for practically the whole day, including during Guru Maharaja’s drive to the program to ensure that the arrangements were made. After cleaning Guru Maharaja’s room at 06h30, I raced up for greetings and class. Guru Maharaja spoke from the 10th canto, chapter 69 about the visit of Narada Muni to the 16 108 palaces of Krsna’s queens in Dvarika. The way Krsna received the great sage is very exemplary on how we should relate with seniors. Also the unique position of Krsna as svayam bhagavan is clearly illustrated in this pastime.
After class, Guru Maharaja worshipped Giriraj. He offered the Lord the last of the dates that Nityananda Pran Prabhu had kindly bought. Guru Maharaja then took His breakfast, and after clearing up so did I. I asked Guru Maharaja when would be the most suitable time to pack His bags, firstly an overnight bag for Pietermaritzburg, and also the bag for Cape Town, where Guru Maharaja was leaving for on Tuesday, for their Ratha Yatra. I would be leaving on Monday, so this would be the only feasible time to pack. It was decided that I should pack for Pietermaritzburg at around noon. With that decision taken care of, I headed off to the temple-room and dived into my chanting.
The SP Summer Book Marathon was officially ending the next day, so I decided that I would hand all outstanding Laxmi and settle my account. This took far longer than I expected, and I was running late to pack Guru Maharaja’s bag. With about 20 minutes left before we departed for the program, I was on another “marathon”! I managed to pack Guru Maharaja’s bag, then my own with lightning speed. There was no room for error, and I had to concentrate hard, because I could see that Guru Maharaja was busy at His computer and I didn’t want to trouble Him unnecessarily. I also, managed to arrange a plate of maha-prasadam for our driver, Dashen. He had driven all the way from Pietermaritzburg to take Guru Maharaja to His program, which was in that same city, and bring Guru Maharaja back to Durban before driving back. A great sacrifice indeed…
All this while, Guru Maharaja worked incessantly on His two current projects, viz. the Radha Kunda and Guru Maharaja’s preaching in Russia. Dashen’s enthusiasm to serve Guru Maharaja was so boundless, that He always arrived half and hour earlier. Whilst Guru Maharaja worked away at His computer, Itumeleng and I loaded our bags into Dashen’s spacious Chrysler Voyager. When I returned to the room, Guru Maharaja was putting Giriraj into a locket on a chain that He would wear around His neck. He pointed to a small red bag on His table and indicated that I should pack the Lord’s paraphernalia into it. Whilst was doing this, Guru Maharaja put His small frame of Srila Prabhupada into another small case and handed it to me. “Take this”, He said. However, He didn’t give the items to me immediately, saying, “Keep this very carefully in a safe place. Do you have something like a shoulder-bag?” I said that it was already packed into the car, and Guru Maharaja placed the treasured items into my grateful hands. We were packed and ready to roll.
Dashen was waiting patiently at the car for Guru Maharaja with a beautiful garland for Him. Just then Guru Maharaja came into our vision, looking as effulgent as anything in the afternoon sun. As we walked towards the car, Guru Maharaja received a call from Svarupa Damodara Prabhu, the temple president. He was soon engrossed in a deep conversation with Svarupa. Guru Maharaja was aware that we were running 30 minutes late for our program, so He got into the car whilst still talking to Svarupa. Picking up on His mood and intent, I told to garland Guru Maharaja immediately, and that he should start driving. Even while we were just leaving the temple, the devotees from Pietermaritzburg called, in which the devotees were voicing their concern over what time Guru Maharaja would be arriving. I explained that we were running rather late, and they kindly accepted this.
As we drove along the national road, Guru Maharaja inquired from Dashen about his family’s wellbeing. Dashen spoke in a soft voice, and with tremendous respect for Srila Gurudev. I must tell you, I have observed Dashen’s behaviour for some time now, and I am most impressed with his mild and humble disposition. He is an exceptionally good driver, and he is most eager to serve Guru Maharaja and all the devotees in general. We had not traveled far when Guru Maharaja turned around and said to me, “You know what we forgot? My sun-hat.” There would be a harinam in Pietermaritzburg that afternoon, and Guru Maharaja was thinking ahead. Before anybody could say anything further, Dashen was on the phone with his wife, asking her to buy Guru Maharaja a new hat!
I had not slept very much the previous night and succumbed to the mode of ignorance halfway through our journey, leaving one round of 16 not done. When I woke up 15 minutes later, I finished my rounds, feeling more refreshed and attentive. Guru Maharaja was still chanting, though, rock-solid and fixed as ever. I have witnessed on my occasions that Guru Maharaja has such boundless energy to do so much for Krsna, yet at the same time is always chanting the Holy Name with great relish. What I would not give to taste what He tastes…
When we arrived at Mother Reshi’s home, Guru Maharaja was welcomed with great pomp and much excitement. There was kirtan sung and flower petals strewn on the path. As we walked up the staircase, we saw the source of the transcendental conch-blowing. It was Lokabandu Prabhu, our local Bhismadev. He had just returned from pilgrimage to Vrndavan, and was obviously happy to see Guru Maharaja again. The fact that Guru Maharaja was extremely well-loved was quite evident. As I looked around at the devotees’ faces, I saw tears in Mother Reshi’s eyes. What I would not give to feel the love she feels… Guru Maharaja was ushered into the the spacious lounge, and seated on a large sofa. As I lead kirtan, the devotees bathed Guru Maharaja’s lotus feet, and performed Gurupuja. I had sat down next to Guru Maharaja to remove His socks and assist with the foot-bathing, and I remained there whilst singing the Guru Vandana during the Guru puja. At one point, Guru Maharaja turned to me and said, “You should stand up.” I felt humbled…my false pride in tatters.
Then Guru Maharaja sat back in His chair and, smiling, began to speak to the devotees in a very relaxed mood. He was speaking in particular to Lokabandu Prabhu and his family,who had just returned from Vrndavana. Those of you who know Guru Maharaja, know that He is calmness personified. Seeing Him this relaxed made me feel greatly pleased… The ladies who had cooked lunch indicated that they were ready to serve prasadam. When this was reported to Guru Maharaja, He responded, “I am ready for action. Lead the way.” Guru Maharaja asked some devotees to join Him at the table.
Lokabandu and Dashen were requested to sit with Guru Maharaja. Dashen was very hesitant to sit with Guru Maharaja, explaining that he was the servant ad wanted to serve. He also was in doubt as to whether a disciple can sit with the spiritual master and take prasadam at the same table at the same time. I said, “That is probably true, but taking prasadam right now, on Guru Maharaja’s request, is also a form of serving Him.” Only then, and that too with great hesitation and tremendous veneration, did he sit down. His sweet nature and genuine humility touched my heart. Alakananda was managing the serve-out, and I was satisfied to be an assistant.
At one point, I was told by Alakananda to serve more baked veggies to Guru Maharaja. I said that I would re-heat it because I know that Guru Maharaja likes His prasadam served hot. She said that I should serve it regardless of the temperature since Guru Maharaja’s plate was empty. Thinking that I would “show her a point”, I asked Guru Maharaja if He wanted the prasadam re-heated. To my utter dismay, He said, ” That’s ok. I’ll take it as it is.” I could see out of the corner of my eye that Alakananda was smiling to herself. As I served Guru Maharaja, I felt a little annoyed and my false ego was bruised.
At this point, Mother Reshi suggested that all the servers dish out their prasadam and start taking because we were running late for the harinam. After checking if Guru Maharaja needed anything, I dished out a plate for myself. I was just about to sit down when Alakananda said that Guru Maharaja wanted to wash His hands. I leapt into action, and in a flash I was standing next to Guru Maharaja, jug in hand. Guru Maharaja, however, took several more minutes to wash His hands. I felt some feelings of resentment rising in my heart against Alakananda. Immediately though, I checked myself. This was just another opportunity for my monumental false ego to be further pulverized. More and more I was seeing that my different interactions and altercations with the devotees was Guru Maharaja’s and Krsna’s causeless mercy upon me to make me a better devotee. After we had honoured prasadam, and Guru Maharaja had finished His walk in Reshi Mataji’s large and exquisite garden, we left for the harinam.
There was a fair crowd assembled inside a large hall that Vrajadevi Mataji was using for the evening program. Guru Maharaja was ushered inside by our hosts. Guru Maharaja announced over the PA system that we would be going on an a harinam “for just a few minutes”, and encouraged everybody to join in. Everyone, unfortunately, did not. Notwithstanding this fact, we formed a formidable pack as we followed Guru Maharaja out of the hall. Just as we were walking down the stairs out of the hall, the Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath temple devotees arrived. Guru Maharaja had been so concerned that they be at the program, and greeted them warmly. In particular, I noticed that Bhakta Bongani was present. This was very good, since he is a competent mrdanga player.
As Guru Maharaja walked along, chanting very melodically, the devotees sang and danced in merriment. Many a curious face peeped out from the doorways and windows, but only a few people were inspired to join us. The harinam was too short for my liking – only 20 minutes – but very energetic, so we returned to the hall feeling surcharged. Guru Maharaja took His seat on a vyasasana onstage.
The MC, Bhakta Preven, introduced Guru Maharaja, and glorified Him most wonderfully. He even quoted from Srimad Bhagavatam. I was impressed, and complimented him afterwards. The first part of the program was arati by Guru Maharaja accompanied by kirtan by myself. Guru Maharaja then spoke from BG 7.7. He spoke about the rule of Lord Ramacandra and how glorious it was, compared to the corruption we have to put up with nowadays. He spoke about doing our duty under all circumstances, like Arjuna had to do. Then there was Gurupuja to Srila Prabhupada, and Guru Maharaja lead kirtan. I must say, it was like an explosion! We danced with gay abandon. Then, while all the guests took the feast, Guru Maharaja gave darshans to many an eager devotee. Vrajadevi had made some sweetcorn bake, which she gave to Guru Maharaja to honour with some juice. Guru Maharaja just had the juice, and honoured a piece of sweetcorn bake. We left for Reshi’s place at around 19h30, which sounds a bit early but the night was not over yet…
When we arrived, Guru Maharaja asked for some hot milk so that He could have some medication. I used this as an opportunity to give the young sons of Reshi a chance to serve Guru Maharaja. Guru Maharaja said that He would have some sweetcorn bake, when He was offered some by our hosts. He was happy to see the boys trying to serve, and encouraged them with a warm smile. Guru Maharaja honoured some prasadam, had His medication and then washed His hands. Guru Maharaja then started chanting on His japa beads. Slowly, one by one, the members of the household congregated in the lounge and sat around Guru Maharaja, chanting along with Him. It was totally unplanned and completely natural. It was well past 20h30, but nobody was interested in sleeping. We all simply immersed ourselves in the nectar-sweet association of Guru Maharaja. I was very astonished by the amount of taste these devotees had for the Holy Name. At some point, I asked Guru Maharaja if I could be excused so that I could make His bed. Guru Maharaja gave His consent. After completing that service I made my own bed and tried to sleep. Perhaps five minutes passed before I heard Guru Maharaja greet the devotees and bade them “Good Night”. I felt a twinge of guilt as I realized that I had left His side prematurely. Also, this was a clear indication of how little taste I actually have for the Holy Name…
Day 6, Sunday, 23/12/07
Guru Maharaja entered the lounge at 5am and chanted on His japa beads, beginning the new day as He had ended the old one. We were joined by more and more devotees until the lounge was quite full. Everybody was eager to get the special mercy of Guru Maharaja’s association. At 05h30, we had mangal arati. We filled up the medium-sized prayer-room and chanted enthusiastically as Guru Maharaja sang the Guruvastakam. We then adjourned to the lounge for Tulasi arati. All of us settled down to chant our rounds.
Before we began, Guru Maharaja said something very instructive: “At the japa retreat at Varsana recently, the devotees were chanting very intensely for 8 to 10 hours. One technique which was suggested was to say to oneself before each mantra, ‘I will hear this mantra from beginning to end.’ Lack of attention is the first obstacle we must overcome. From inattention all other offences follow. Material desires develop. The mind starts acting up.” Guru Maharaja continued, “You’ve heard of ‘chanting japa’? Well, if all we do is talk whilst trying to chant our rounds, then it is called ‘chatting japa’. And you’ve heard of a ‘japa walk’? If we simply talk away, it is known as a ‘japa walk’.” The devotees were in stitches. We made a concerted effort to follow Guru Maharaja’s instructions and to chant with “focus and attention”. Unfortunately, several devotees could not manage it.
At around 7am Guru Maharaja announced that we should go for a japa walk. Guru Maharaja set a cracking pace and the route was quite hilly, so we had several stragglers. Guru Maharaja was very concerned about those who lagged behind, and several times He would stop, turn around and ask how everybody was managing. When we got back to Reshi Mataji’s house, there was Gurupuja to Srila Prabhupada, then Guru Maharaja gave SB class in Reshi Mataji’s beautiful garden. Guru Maharaja spoke from SB 3.25.21. He discussed mercy and tolerance, and how preaching Krsna Consciousness brings these qualities out very naturally. Whilst class was going on, the morning sun became excessively strong. I fetched an umbrella from the house and held it for Guru Maharaja. Initially, it didn’t help at all because it was incorrectly positioned. Guru Maharaja remarked about this, into the microphone, and everybody laughed. I was very embarrassed.
We then honoured a few devotees with a small party, since it was their appearance day. Guru Maharaja then took a wholesome breakfast of fruit and some yoghurt. He was joined at the breakfast table by Lokabandu Prabhu. The Pietermaritzburg devotees were most eager to have Guru Maharaja stay there the whole day, but He indicated that He had obligations in Durban.
Whilst the servers viz. Itumeleng and I, took breakfast, Guru Maharaja granted darshans to many a devotee and well-wisher. I had packed up Guru Maharaja’s bags earlier and we were ready to leave. It was a very sad scene though, because these devotees are so attached to Guru Maharaja. They all came outside to see Him off, and walked besides His car until we were practically on the road. Dashen Prabhu then drove us back to Durban. When Guru Maharaja arrived at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath Mandir, He went straight into His editing, whilst I unpacked His bags.
I had arranged for Guru Maharaja’s lunch to be cooked by Hemalata, but He indicated that He wasn’t that hungry. Still, He would take some prasadam to honour the efforts of the cooks. A time of 13h30 was agreed upon. Whilst the cooks were rounding up their preparations, I showed Guru Maharaja all His cloth, so that He could do a comparison. This meant that Bhakta Vaisnava was on an “ironing marathon”, and he pulled off, with efficiency. When I returned to the kitchen, Hemalata and Sheena were ready with the prasadam, so I served Guru Maharaja His lunch. Guru Maharaja ate sparingly, although He liked the mint chutney and baked katchoris very much. When I saw there was baked potato liberally coated with cheese, I hesitatingly served it to Guru Maharaja. He took this preparation at the very end, but He honoured a very little out of respect for the endeavours of the cooks. I apologized to Guru Maharaja for the “deviation” from His diet. “Should I tell Hemalata?” Guru Maharaja asked, “Is she aware of the diet I am following?” “To my knowledge, she is Guru Maharaja.” Guru Maharaja shrugged His shoulders. “Is she cooking again?” “No.” Guru Maharaja:”Then there’s no need to tell her.” Here I could clearly see how compassionate Guru Maharaja is and how careful He is of not hurting the feelings of others. It was probably an innocent oversight by Hemalata, who simply wanted to serve Guru Maharaja…
Whilst Guru Maharaja was honouring prasadam, He told me that He would be going to New Jaganath Puri with Krsna das Swami. This came as a complete surprise to me, since I was under the impression that Guru Maharaja would be speaking at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath. I asked Him about this. He explained that He would do a brief talk here, and leave for New Jagannatha Puri immediately thereafter. He added that the program at New Jagannatha Puri started an hour later than ours so there was no difficulty. I was very concerned about how Guru Maharaja would go to New Jagannatha Puri, but He explained that an arrangement had already been by Svarupa Damodara Prabhu. Guru Maharaja gave the talk at Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath from BG 11.1. Guru Maharaja spoke about “serving according to our interests”. It was quite a brief presentation and Guru Maharaja apologized to the devotees for “rushing off”.
Svarupa Damodara Prabhu himself drove Guru Maharaja and Krsna das Swami to New Jagannatha Puri. I followed in another vehicle with some of Maharaj’s disciples. When our convoy pulled in at New Jagannatha Puri, a kirtan party was waiting to receive the swamis. Krsna das Maharaj, holding onto Guru Maharaja’s arm, climbed up the stairway with great difficulty. Whilst offering his respects to Srila Prabhupada, he experienced some pain in his chest and back region. He was seated on a chair beside Srila Prabhupada, whilst Svarupa Damodara and some of Maharaj’s disciples gently massaged his chest and back. After several minutes, he was able to stand up, and with assistance of the other devotees headed by Guru Maharaja, he made his way to the altar of Sri Sri Nitai-Gaurasundar and Sri Sri Jaganath, Baladev and Subhadradevi. As he was getting to his feet, in obvious pain, I looked straight into his eyes. I have never seen such a fire of determination in anybody’s eyes in my entire life as I saw blazing in the eyes of Krsna das Maharaj that day…
Once seated on their vyasasanas, the swamis were presented with several garlands by the devotees. Krsna das Swami asked Guru Maharaja to speak first. Guru Maharaja’s address was exclusively an introduction of Maharaj. Guru Maharaja described how, when He first met Maharaj, He heard Krsna das Swami “roaring like a transcendental lion”. Krsna das Swami then began his address. He began speaking very softly, almost inaudibly. He spoke from the 18th chapter of the BG. He said that if we read the 18th chapter together with great attention and focus, it would be as good as doing the entire Gita in a Gita Maha-Yajna. Then he began reading. As he read verse by verse, we responded with “svaha” three times.
During the course of the reading of the chapter, we saw Krsna das Swami transform before our very eyes. From a feeble, convalescing elderly person, who had to be assisted to walk around, he was mystically changed into transcendental lion, roaring as strongly as ever. Guru Maharaja turned to face His Godbrother, and simply listened with rapt attention.
After the chapter was completely read, with in-depth explanation, the swamis remained seated in their asanas and granted darshans to the devotees who thronged around them. Guru Maharaja and Krsna das Maharaj were then driven back to Sri Sri Radha-Radhanath by Svarupa Damodara Prabhu. Our car arrived at the temple a few minutes later, and I raced to get to Guru Maharaja’s room. I arranged some hot milk for Guru Maharaja to take His medication. I asked Guru Maharaja if I could make His bed. “Yes, thank you” , He said in His typically gentlemanly way. I asked Guru Maharaja if there was anything else I could do for Him. He asked me distribute the remainder of the maha-prasadam that Deva Deva had sent from New Jaganath Puri. I offered my obeisances to Him and left. I relished the maha-maha-prasadam with the rest of the milk. I then packed my bag for my trip to Cape Town the next day, where I would be going to assist Guru Maharaja during the Ratha Yatra Festival to be held there in a week’s time.
Your insignificant servant,
Caitanya Carana dasa