Please accept my blessings. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
It has been more than a month since I last had time to write to you. Life has been quite busy, but now I’m administering a test for a course I’ve conducted in Cape Town on Nectar of Devotion, and I have some time to myself at last.
Quite a few things have happened in the meantime. The last time I wrote I was in Kazan, south of Moscow, around July 23rd, about to leave for Lithuania where we were going to have the annual Baltic festival. I went there, and stayed for the whole programme, which was about a week. There were about 400 devotees attending, mainly from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland, with a few also attending from other neighbouring countries…
We had quite a nice lineup of speakers. Bhakti Vijnana Maharaja came from Moscow, Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja came, and Jayapataka Maharaja came for about a day and a half. A special treat for the devotees was having Hari Sauri there for the whole festival. Every evening he talked about his experiences with Srila Prabhupada, which everyone relished deeply. There was also Mother Laxmimoni from Florida, one of the most senior ladies in the movement, and her friend Mother Akuti, so it was a very balanced programme of classes.
Recently I have been developing a seminar on Lord Nityananda, and this festival was about the first time I systematically tried to present it, or at least part of it. We focused on some of Narottama das Thakura’s songs about Him, and some of His main pastimes, like the deliverance of the dacoit brahmana. In Caitanya Bhagavata Srila Vrindavana das Thakura gives the following benedictions to those who hear that pastime nicely: “Anyone who hears these stories of Lord Nityananda will someday see Lord Caitanya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Anyone who with an attentive heart hears this pastime of the thieves’ deliverance is assured to someday meet Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda face to face.”
There is great potency in these narrations, and we should have faith that benedictions such as the one above are factual and not just some over enthusiasm. Hearing and chanting about the Lord and His devotees is the first part of the process of devotional service, and practically have more potency than any other aspect. So we must regularly hear the philosophy and pastimes of Krishna and His many incarnations, plus of course we must chant our 16 rounds properly every day. About our rounds, Srila Prabhupada said:
“Unless one has come to the platform of spontaneous love of God, he must follow the regulative principles. Thakura Haridasa was the living example of how to follow the regulative principles. Similarly, Raghunatha dasa Gosvami was also such a living example. In the Sad-gosvamy-astaka it is stated, sankhya-purvaka-nama-gana-natibhih kalavasani-krtau. The Gosvamis, especially Raghunatha dasa Gosvami, strictly followed all the regulative principles. The first regulative principle is that one must chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra loudly enough so that he can hear himself, and one must vow to chant a fixed number of rounds. Not only was Raghunatha dasa Gosvami chanting a fixed number of rounds, but he had also taken a vow to bow down many times and offer obeisances to the Lord.”
Srila Prabhupada also says in Caitanya Caritamrita Antya Lila 3.100 purport:
“Haridasa Thakura used to chant the holy name on his beads 300,000 times daily. Throughout the entire day and night, he would chant the sixteen names of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. One should not, however, imitate Haridasa Thakura, for no one else can chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra 300,000 times a day. Such chanting is for the mukta-purusa, or liberated soul. We can follow his example, however, by chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra on beads every day and offering respect to the tulasi plant.
This is not at all difficult for anyone, and the process of chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra with a vow before the tulasi plant has such great spiritual potency that simply by doing this one can become spiritually strong. Therefore we request the members of the Hare Krsna movement to follow Haridasa Thakura’s example rigidly. Chanting sixteen rounds does not take much time, nor is offering respects to the tulasi plant difficult. The process has immense spiritual potency. One should not miss this opportunity.”
Lord Nityananda is a very special person, and His pastimes are often full of exuberance and excitement, plus He is extremely merciful. Narahari Cakravarti, the author of Bhakti Ratnakara sings:
The elder brother of Krsna and the son of Rohini, Rama was the husband of Revati and Varuni.
He blessed the Kaliyuga by appearing as Nitaisundara, the elder brother of Gauracandra and son of Padmavati.
By His supernatural qualities, Nityananda Prabhu, the husband of Vasudha and Jahnavi, bestowed His mercy upon mankind.
Being mad with affection for Gauracandra, He purified the world with His divine love.
He satisfied everyone by revealing the ecstasy of of pure love for Gauracandra.
His bright golden complexion shone like the glowing red sun.
Ornaments bedecked His beautiful ears
and His long arms touched His knees.
His beautiful mouth always chanted, “Gaura, Gaura”
as streams of tears flowed from His eyes.
He was always floating in the endless ocean of sankirtana, dancing elegantly along with His followers.
He was extremely kind to the helpless and distressed fallen souls.
This is a song I appreciate a lot.
On the 31st I returned to Russia and took one of the horrible overnight flight to the east. They’re horrible because they are about 3-4 hours long, and they leave Moscow at about 11 at night, but then they land in Siberia, and it’s already day time, but one has not been able to sleep much at all.
Then of course after that one has to swing into action and be ready to give classes and lead kirtanas as if everything were normal.
The devotees in West Siberia have an annual festival in the Altai Mountains, about two hours drive from Barnaul. This year there were about 350 devotees attending, and Prabhavisnu Maharaja was there for the whole event. He is one of my old friends from the days in the original temple at Bury Place in London, and is one of Srila Prabhupada’s most dedicated men, and I enjoyed his association very much. Jayapataka Maharaja also came, this time for two whole days, which is a very long time by his standards.
From there Prabhavisnu Maharaja and I flew together to Irkutsk in East Siberia, to take part in their annual festival. This was a bigger occasion, with about 700 or more devotees gathered from all over the region. I really enjoyed this festival, as we had some amazing, roaring kirtanas in the evenings, and I surprised myself by someone finding reserves of energy for them that I didn’t think I had. I was jumping and running like a young boy, and I felt very energetic and lively, all of which I attribute to my special diet (plus a good dose of the Lord’s mercy).
I’ve been following this special diet almost six months now. Basically I avoid grains, dairy products and oils and fats, at least as much as possible, although not rigidly. I have mainly baked vegetables with spices sprinkled on them, lots of salads, and some soups, and this seems to be doing wonders for my physical body, in ways I didn’t even expect. Of course we know that we’re not these bodies, but still, when the body is relatively fitter it helps in many ways.
I was only able to stay in Irkutsk for 3 or 4 days, and then I had to head off for Johannesburg, South Africa, for my birthday celebrations on August 13th. First I flew from Irkutsk to Moscow, a 6 hour flight, then from Moscow to Doha, a 5 hour flight, and then the next morning to Johannesburg, an 8 hour flight. Somehow I survived, and arrived there on the 11th afternoon.
On the 12th we went to Ermelo, about 2-3 hours drive east of Johannesburg, to install a life size Deity of Srila Prabhupada in the house of Prabhupada Priya, and Lila Mohini, disciples of mine who live out there. They have extended their house and made quite a large temple room, in which they want to have regular Nama Hatta programmes. There were about 30-40 guests for the programme, and it just shows what sincere grhasthas can do if they make their best efforts to preach in their spare time. If we had more devotees like them it would really make a difference.
We returned to the Lenasia temple in Johannesburg on the 13th morning for my birthday party. As usual it was quite an amazing event, and some of the devotees wrote really wonderful offerings, plus there were about 200 food preparations I had to taste. Somehow I survived all of that (I don’t know what was harder to survive – the flight or the prasadam), and then the following day, the 14th, which is my actual birthday, we installed Gaura Nitai Deities in the house of Umesh and Rajeshree, aspiring disciples of mine from Midrand, Johannesburg.
It was a very nice programme, with about 50 or more devotees in attendance.
In my previous letter I quoted Srila Prabhupada on Deity worship, and this time I expressed some of the realizations I have got on the subject, based on what I’ve heard from him. The thing is that in this material world we are very prone to become attached to bodies – our own and others – in different ways, and in this way our material existence continues, on and on.
But if we can transfer that propensity to the body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then it will become purified, and will help us become free from our entanglement in the material world. There is a saying “one can take a thorn out with a thorn” and this applies in this case. When we bathe, worship, dress and decorate the transcendental form of the Lord it cleanses our hearts and strengthens our feeling for the Lord in very personal ways, and gradually we find that our interest in people’s material bodies subsides. This is one of the most important parts of Krishna consciousness.
I observed Janmastami and Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa Puja in the Sri Sri Radha Radhanatha temple in Durban, and then I came down here to Cape Town to teach Nectar of Devotion. I have taught it many times, but each time I have felt I have come closer to the book and gained more than the previous time I went through it, and this time was no exception.
So now the devotees are finishing the test and handing in their papers, so I have to take care of them. But I will try to write again as soon as I can.
Hoping this meets you well.
Your ever well wisher,
Bhakti Caitanya Swami