October 2001 (United States, Russia)

Indradyumna Swami in the News

Last Stops Before Vrndavana

Because of the threat of war in Afghanistan and unrest in the surrounding region, Indradyumna Swami Maharaja decided to postpone his trip to India until the situation cleared. Instead, he flew to the United States to visit one or two temples and associate with several godbrothers. His flight out of London was one of the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean after the five-day government-imposed ban on international flights into the U.S. following the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. Maharaja’s flight was delayed two hours because security at London’s Heathrow Airport treated each passenger as a potential terrorist and searched them three times before they were allowed to board. The passengers on my flight were tense. The swami was seated next to an African woman, who began to shake uncontrollably just before take-off. He called an airhostess over, who asked him to leave my seat while she spoke to the woman. When the airhostess left Indradyumna Swami returned and asked the woman if she felt better. She said, “They know why I’m nervous, but they won’t let me tell anyone.”

To allay her fears Indradyumna Swami Maharaja said, “It’s okay, you can tell me the problem. After all, we’ll be sitting next to one another for the next twelve hours.”

Leaning over, she whispered softly, “Two Arabs tried to hijack the British Airways flight I was on from Nairobi to London yesterday. They came aboard just before we left, pulled out guns, and threatened to kill us. Several men wrestled them to the ground. Minutes later the police arrived and took them away. The cabin crew on this flight asked me not to mention the incident to anyone, but I’m terrified!”

Indradyumna Swami told the woman that this world is a dangerous place, but if we are conscious of God and pray for His shelter, He will protect us. Seeing him fingering his japa beads she asked, “Is that what you’re doing there?”

“Yes,” the swami replied. “I’m chanting God’s names.” She asked if she could listen.

“Of course.” Indradyumna Swami Maharaja began to chant louder. She gradually calmed, and by the time the flight took off, she had become peaceful.

An hour later she turned to him and said, “Your prayers are powerful. Can you teach them to me?” he then taught her the words to the mahå-mantra, which she carefully noted on a piece of paper.

As their flight was landing in San Diego, California twelve hours later, Indradyumna Swami watched as she took the paper from her purse and softly chanted the mahå-mantra to herself. Observing her newfound faith in Krishna’s holy name reminded him of his own experiences when he first began to chant Hare Krishna thirty-two years ago. Although he knew little or nothing about the holy name’s glories, chanting quickly awakened in him a keen interest in spiritual life. His awakening has sometimes reminded him of Nårada Muni’s amazing experience recorded in Srimad-Bhågavatam, where he became interested in Krishna consciousness after only one bite of prasådam received from merciful devotees.

ucchi߆a-lepån anumodito dvijai˙

sak®t sma bhuõje tad-apåsta-kilbißa˙

evaµ prav®ttasya viΩuddha-cetasas

tad-dharma evåtma-ruci˙ prajåyate

“Once only, by their permission, I took the remnants of their food, and by so doing all my sins were at once eradicated. Thus being engaged, I became purified in heart, and at that time the very nature of the transcendentalist became attractive to me.” (Bhåg.1.5.25)

Seeing the distraught woman’s faith in the holy name increased Indradyumna Swami’s own desire to chant and to continue to seek new realizations in service to the holy name.

Indradyumna Swami’s son Gaura-Ωakti met him at the San Diego airport and drove the swami to his home to rest. His wife had recently given birth to a baby girl, whom they had named Amara-kelî. One evening Gaura and Maharaja were reminiscing about his own growing up. He expressed his disappointment that he had been born too late to have met Srila Prabhupåda. He was pleasantly surprised when the swami told him that he had in fact received Srila Prabhupåda’s mercy through a personal exchange they had had when he was barely twelve months old.

During the summer of 1974, Srila Prabhupåda was visiting the New Måyåpur community in France. One afternoon Indradyumna Swami was walking around the Chateau, carrying Gaura on his shoulders. He didn’t notice it at first, but Srila Prabhupåda was watching us from his window. When Gaura saw Prabhupåda, he waved his arms and kicked his legs, eagerly calling the only word he knew: “Prabhupåda! Prabhupåda! Prabhupåda!” Seeing his enthusiasm, Prabhupåda’s eyes widened and he waved at Gaura, causing the boy to become so excited that he almost fell off the swami’s shoulders.

Prabhupåda referred to the incident that night while talking to the devotees. “Today one young boy become so excited when he saw me that it was as if we were old friends!”

After a few day’s rest in San Diego, Gaura drove him north to the Laguna Beach temple, where Indradyumna Swami Maharaja planned to stay for a few days. On the way, they stopped at a roadside stall next to a farm to buy fruits and vegetables. As Gaura was choosing the items, Maharaja noticed the woman who owned the farm watching him as he paced back and forth, chanting japa. Gaura took his time, and in the end brought a large supply of vegetables up to the cash register. The woman totaled his purchase. It came to $120. As Gaura reached for his wallet, the woman said, “Take it for free. These fruits and vegetables are a gift for the man you’re with.”

Surprised, Gaura told her, “That’s my father!”

“I’ve been watching him. The world needs more people like him.”

Indradyumna Swami Maharaja was embarrassed by her remarks, which caused a number of other shoppers to look at him. Maharaja realized that the recent events in New York had made Americans more God conscious and respectful of spiritual values. In the few days Maharaja had been in the United States, a number of people had approached , asking him to explain why such terrible things had happened. He usually receive such philosophical inquiries only when he is visiting world trouble spots such as Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, or the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. Suddenly Americans are inquiring about the temporary and miserable nature of this world and searching for positive alternatives.

Indradyumna Swami wonders if their interest can last? Material nature easily covers whatever minute spiritual knowledge we glean. The scriptures call this ΩmaΩåna vairågya, the detachment we feel when we attend funerals. Such detach-ment tends to disappear as soon as we leave the crematorium and again take up our activities.

It’s unfortunate that it often takes tragedy to awaken us to our existential purpose. People tend to be more pious when they are distressed. Haridåsa Êhåkura once explained this while sharing a prison cell with criminals. Knowing a saint’s ability to bestow mercy, several criminals approached Haridåsa Êhåkura and asked, “O great sådhu, please give us the blessing that we may quickly be released from this miserable place!”

Haridåsa Êhåkura replied, “My blessings are that you remain in this prison cell for many years to come.”

The prisoners were shocked. “Dear sådhu, what kind of blessing is that?”

Haridåsa Êhåkura replied, “I have given you this blessing because you are usually disrespectful to saintly persons. Being in such a miserable con-dition now has humbled you and made you respectful to sådhus. Now you have a good opportunity to attain spiritual emancipation. Better, then, that you remain in this miserable condition for as long as possible.”

In Laguna Beach Indradyumna Swami Maharaja had the opportunity to thank Tukaråma Prabhu, the temple president, for all the help he gave the Polish tour over the past year. He organized our fundraising drive in the United States last spring, and the money he collected gave us the opportunity to hold the festivals for a full five months.

In Laguna Beach, the Lord also instructed the Indradyumna Swami Maharaja  in an unusual way. One evening as Maharaja sat in his room, he overheard the brahmacårîs in the next room comparing the classes of several sannyåsîs who had recently visited. When the swami’s name was mentioned, there was a brief pause, and then one brahmacårî said, “I like his classes, but he’s not very erudite.” The boy’s words pierced Maharaja’s heart, but he managed to swallow his pride and admit that had he put as much time into studying Prabhupåda’s books as he had into preaching, the boy might have been able to speak differently. How do we find the balance between bhajana and preaching? The boy’s words deepened Indradyumna Swami’s  resolve to focus on hearing and chanting when the swami went to Vrindavana.

Just after this incident, Tukaråma entered Maharaja’s room and asked Indradyumna Swami  to give the Sunday feast lecture. Maharaja hesitated, still stung by the brahmacårî’s words, and then agreed. By the time he went downstairs to lecture, the temple room was packed with both devotees and guests. Preaching to non-devotees comes easily to him— he has been doing it for most of his devotional life— so feeling relaxed and confident the swami presented the basic Krishna conscious philosophy, quoted verses, and told simple stories to illustrate his points.

Afterwards, Tukaråma told Indradyumna Swami  that it was the best Sunday feast lecture he had ever attended. His words eased the pain of his not being “erudite.” This back-to-back condemnation and praise reminded Indradyumna Maharaja of Srila Prabhupåda’s advice to the gurukula teachers in Dallas: a good teacher knows the art of reprimand and encouragement. If a child makes a mistake, the teacher should first reprimand him, then quickly smother him with love and attention. On this occasion Krishna scolded Maharaja for neglecting his study, then quickly embraced him through Tukaråma’s kind words.

From Laguna Beach Indradyumna Swami traveled north to the home of his dear godbrother, Giriråja Mahåråja, who is still recovering from the major heart surgery he underwent about two years ago. Mahåråja is one of his closest friends, and Maharaja look to him for inspiration. The swami is especially inspired by his deep love for Srila Prabhupåda. He also admires his unique ability to draw from memory personal stories about Prabhupåda to illustrate the philosophical points he makes while preaching. Giriråja Swami merits the most prestigious title any ISKCON devotee can achieve: he is a “Prabhupåda man.”

On October 1 Indradyumna Swami Maharaja flew to London and caught a connecting flight to Mos-cow. The next morning, he flew with his disciple Jananivåsa to Dinamorsk in southern Russia to attend a festival for devotees. During the flight they were seated next to a Russian army officer. He had recently returned from fighting guerrillas in Chechnya. The officer observed us in silence for some time, and then exclaimed, “I am sorry that I killed so many men in the war.” A discussion ensued, during which Jananivåsa explained the law of karma and how suffering is caused by our past impious deeds. With Indradyumna Swami ‘s coaching, he told how we can become free from karma by engaging in devotional service to God. The officer listened carefully, and at the end of Jananivåsa’s discourse, thanked them for the knowledge he had received.

Dinamorsk is a resort town on the Black Sea coast. The festival there had attracted three thousand devotees and twelve sannyåsîs. Indradyumna Swami was so jet-lagged, though, that he missed much association and a number of seminars. Still, he made it a point to spend time with the children who had come to the festival to see him. Every morning, thirty of them walked along the beach as Maharaja told them stories of his travels and listened to the problems they are experiencing as they grow up. Helping ISKCON’s children and inspiring them in their Krishna consciousness is another thing the swami likes to do, perhaps because he saw what a lasting effect Srila Prabhupåda’s mercy had on my own son when he was young.

But during the relaxing days in Dinamorsk, Indradyumna Swami Maharaja found himself thinking more and more about his upcoming Vrindavana pilgrimage. The swami knows he will soon have to meet the challenge of self-discipline as he sits and studies for hours a day. Maharaja has already decided to reduce his eating and sleeping while he is there so he can spend a maximum amount of time hearing and chanting. The swami also plans to decrease his social life. This comes easily for some devotees, but such an austere lifestyle may prove challenging for someone like him. Maharaja is accustomed to always being on the move, surrounded by people. He prays he will succeed. The swami has a vision of giving class to the young brahmacårîs at the Laguna Beach temple, Sanskrit verses flowing easily off his tongue as he elaborates on Prabhupåda’s purports. Maharaja is using numerous analogies and citing commentaries by the previous åcåryas. All of this will be the fruit of months of disciplined study, time well spent in the holy abode of Vrindavana, watered by the critique of an unknowing boy. The moment of change is at hand, because the swami leaves for the sacred dhåma in twenty-four hours.

“If people criticize me, what is that? If I become the poorest of the poor, barely able to eke out a living for my family, what is that? If all calamities befall me, what is that? If I do not serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead, what is that? I will patiently remain in Sri Vrindavana. My greatest desire will be fulfilled.

“Dressed in a kaupîna and kanthå, living by eating fruit fallen from the trees, not speaking useless words, not passing time in useless deeds, aban-doning all pride, going to each house to beg a little alms, and following those for whom Sri Rådhikå is their entire life, I will live in Vrindavana.” (Sri Vrindavana-mahimåm®ta, Ûataka 1, texts 64–65)


This news article has been adapted from Indradyumna Swami’s Diary of a Traveling Monk, Volume 4 Chapter 1, entitled Last Stops Before Vrindavana, dated September 16 to October 8 2001.