October 2014

October 12, 2014: Inspiring the Inspired

The team of 300 devotees was exhausted. They had already done 24 festivals along the Baltic Sea coast plus a “Krsna’s Village of Peace” festival at Woodstock, and now the devotees were faced with the blissful but daunting prospect of doing 24 more over the second half of the summer. But everyone took courage, knowing that the results of their efforts would far outweigh any austerities they encountered. The devotees needed some pepping up, Indradyumna Swami thought, so he shared with them something that has been one of his favorite sources of inspiration over the years. It was a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to his godbrother Prabhavisnu das in 1973:

“I can understand that it is not an easy matter to travel extensively over long periods of time without proper food, rest, and sometimes it must be very cold there also, and still, because you are getting so much enjoyment, spiritual enjoyment, from it, it seems like play to you. That is advanced stage of spiritual life, never attained by even the greatest yogis and so-called jnanis. But let any man see our devotees working so hard for Krishna, then let anyone say that they are not better than any millions of so-called yogis and transcendentalists; that is my challenge! Because you are rightly understanding through your personal realization this philosophy of Krishna Consciousness, therefore in such a short time you have surpassed all the stages of yoga processes to come to the highest point of surrendering to Krishna. That I can very much appreciate; thank you very much for helping me in this way.”

[January 3, 1973]

Indradyumna Swami was hoping the devotees could all share this inspiration with the festivalgoers, but ironically, it was they who became the source of inspiration while the devotees became the receivers.

It began on the day of the first festival back on the Baltic Sea coast, when the devotees turned their harinam around near the end of the beach. A woman called out to them: “Hey! Why are you turning back? There are more families further on down the beach. Why won’t you give them a chance to hear you sing and watch you dance? And how will they get an invitation to your festival?”

“Well thank you ma’am,” Indradyumna Swami thought. “Now wasn’t that just what we needed to hear to get us started again!” The devotees turned back and continued down the beach.

After chanting on the beach, they made their way into town to the main street, crowded with tourists and locals. The Swami was following behind the kirtan party when he felt a man behind him put his arm around his neck in a choke hold. All Indradyumna Swami could see were the tattoos on his sweaty arm.

“So you’re the festival guru, is it?” he said in broken English.

“Festival guru?” Maharaja said, squirming to get free.

“That’s right,” the man said. “We all know you. You’ve been coming for years.”

“You’re choking me,” Maharaja said. “I can’t breathe.”

He loosened his grip a bit. “Sorry ’bout that,” he said. “I just wanted to make it clear to my men that I’m the one protecting you this time.”

“Protecting me?” Maharaja said, feeling a bit nervous.

“That’s right,” he replied. “This is a bad town. Lots of muggings, robberies—even rape and murder. But I got your back, buddy.”

“Got my back?” Maharaja asked.

“Yep,” he said. “And I earned it.” He finally let the Swami out of the headlock.

“See them guys over there?” he said.

Indradyumna Swami looked over at two men. One had a swollen eye and the other had blood running from his nose. It didn’t help him relax.

“Uh, yeah,” Maharaja said with a hard gulp.

“I fought with them,” he said. “I fought for the right to be your bodyguard the next few days.”

“Well, uh, that’s very nice of you,” Maharaja said.

“I’m the UFC champion for Europe,” he said, smiling.

“You mean you’re a cage fighter?” Maharaja asked. Now Indradyumna Swami was curious.

“That’s right,” he said. “Two years in a row. Nobody takes me down.”

“Is there some reason you are giving me this honor?” Maharaja asked. He was beginning to breathe easy.

“You people bring a peaceful atmosphere to the town,” he said. “Some color. Some happiness. Me and my boys appreciate it. Changes the mood of the place, you know? And we always eat at your restaurant. Damn good food even if it’s vegetarian.”

“So you’ll come tonight?” Maharaja said.

“Tonight?” he said. “I’m by your side for the next 72 hours.”

“All right then,” Maharaja said. “Let’s catch up with the singing party.”

That evening, with the UFC champion by his side, Indradyumna Swami walked around the festival site checking whether everything was going smoothly. In the restaurant he saw a woman standing next to the glass counter where the take-outs were for sale. “This is a samosa,” she said to her friends. “And that is alu-patra. It’s made from potato and delicious spices. Over there is a sweet called burfi, made from milk. I recommend you try them all.”

“You seem to know our food very well,” the Swami said to her, as her friends began buying.

“Yes, of course I do,” she replied. “I have come to least one of your events each summer since 1996. You might say I am addicted to your food. I also used to enjoy talking to one of your members while I ate. I don’t see him here this time.”

“What’s his name?” Maharaja asked.

“Hari Caran,” she said.

Indradyumna Swami hesitated. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but he passed away two years ago.”

Tears came to her eyes and began rolling down her face. She seemed unable to say anything more. She took up the prasadam she had bought and walked out of the tent.

As we were about to leave, a young woman in her early twenties walked into the restaurant carrying a large bundle of red roses. She was dressed in brightly colored traditional Polish clothes, even a head scarf. She looked poor, and Indradyumna Swami noticed her open money purse was empty.

“Anyone for a rose?” she said. “Only five zloty.”

When no one showed even the slightest interest, she stood silently gazing at the prasadam behind the glass counter.

“She must be hungry,” Maharaja thought.

“Excuse me,” the Swami said with a smile. “If you’re hungry, you can have all you want for a single rose.”

Her eyes opened wide and her eyebrows went up. Her head tilted slightly. “Really?” she said.

“Yes,” Maharaja said. “As much as you want.”

She gave him a rose and began choosing her meal. She walked outside with a big smile on her face and sat down at one of the restaurant tables. The stage show had just begun, and Indradyumna Swami saw that she became absorbed in watching it as she ate. After an hour he sent her a fruit drink from the restaurant.

Later in the evening, she came up to him on her way out of the festival site. “Sir,” she said, “I came here to make money, but I feel like I’ve discovered something much more valuable. Thank you for noticing me and showing me some kindness.”

As he continued on his way he walked past a nearby tent, where a cooking demonstration was concluding. “That’s it, honey,” the Swami heard an older woman say to her husband. “From this day on we are vegetarian. Not even fish or eggs.”

Indradyumna Swami wanted to see how the festival site looked from a distance, so he went outside the gate, where he noticed a live-butterfly exhibition next door. The woman selling tickets called him over.

“Why don’t you come in?” she said. The Swami hesitated, but she smiled. “They’re God’s creatures too.”

“OK,” Maharaja said. “But only for two minutes.”

She brought Indradyumna Swami to the front of the line and ushered him inside. “Hey,” said a man in line, his eyebrows furrowed, his mouth bent in a frown. “There’s a line here, you know. And why doesn’t he have to pay like the rest of us?”

“When you do some good for the world like these people,” said the ticket seller, “then I’ll let you in free.”

Colorful and beautiful as the butterflies were, Indradyumna Swami was eager to return to the festival. As he entered the grounds, a middle-aged woman came up to him.

“I met you ten years ago to the day,” she said. “It was at a festival just like this, but somewhat smaller. When I showed an interest in the philosophy, you spent an hour speaking to me and convinced me to start chanting Hare Krsna on beads. You encouraged me by saying it was enough to chant one or two times around the beads each day. But I soon became attracted to the chanting and for the last 10 years I have been chanting 25 times around the beads each day. You also explained to me the importance of following the four rules. Since that day I have followed them strictly.

“You gave me a Bhagavad-gita. I have read it many times and memorized over 100 verses. I share the wisdom I have learned with whomever I meet, and as a result, a number of people in my town are also chanting and reading Bhagavad-gita. Some of us meet regularly and chant together. Except for those people, I don’t associate much with others. My dream is to go to Vrindavan before I die.

“In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says that to be successful on this path one has to accept a spiritual teacher. For the past 10 years I have thought of you in this way, and today I want to ask if you will accept me as your disciple. I have many friends who will vouch for me.”

“It’s not possible,” said a young male devotee standing nearby. “The GBC have established a rigid procedure to test the aspiring candidate. And you have to take what’s called the bhakti sastri course, and then a test…”

“Be quiet,” Indradyumna Swami interrupted, and turned back to the woman. “Have your friends contact me. And you please write to me every four weeks for the next six months. I’ll check with our leadership and see if I can give you initiation some time this year.”

It was time for Maharaja to give his talk on the main stage. As he talked about the basics of Krsna consciousness, he saw many people listening attentively. A number of them nodded their heads in approval whenever Indradyumna Swami made a significant point. Then Maharaja thought about last Kartika, when he prayed with all his heart to Sri Sri Radha Govinda, the presiding deities in Jaipur, begging Them to empower his words so that he could convince others about Krsna consciousness. When he saw the audience’s response, Maharaja remembered Sri Sri Radha Govinda again and felt Their presence.

After his talk, there was a line of people waiting for Indradyumna Swami to sign the books they had bought. The first man in the line handed the Swami his Bhagavad-gita.

“I want to make it very clear,” he said, “that I don’t accept a single thing you said during your 45-minute talk.”

Maharaja stopped signing and looked up. “Well, OK,” he said. “But then why are you buying this book?”

“Because you presented the subject so well,” he said, “that I’m afraid you’ll convince those who are skeptical of God’s existence that He actually exists and that scientific arguments to the contrary are not valid.”

“Are you a scientist?” Indradyumna Swami asked.

“Yes, I am,” he replied, “and a well-known one too. I plan to study this book cover-to-cover to learn all your arguments.”

“Fine,” Maharaja said. “Maybe in the process you’ll become convinced of the existence of God.”

“That will never happen,” he said, but he gave the Swami a smile as he walked off holding the book tightly under his arm.

Next in line was a family: grandparents, parents, and children. “We just want you to know how much we appreciate your festivals,” said the grandfather. He pointed to the young woman in the family. “This is my daughter Kinga, and these are her two children. She was 10 when we first met you all. Now she is 24. We have enough money to fly anywhere in the world for our vacations, but she insists we come here to the Baltic Sea Coast each summer to be part of your event. Last year we all became vegetarian, and now we read the Bhagavad-gita together every evening. We are in touch with devotees on the internet.”

Another woman handed Indradyumna Swami a photo album along with her Bhagavad-gita. The album contained photos of our festivals from every summer of the past 15 years. Next to each photo was the invitation we distributed that particular summer.

“We keep track of our happiness,” the lady said with a smile.

As the festival closed that evening, Indradyumna Swami felt a sense of deep satisfaction, knowing that thousands of people from all walks of life—young children, elderly couples, UFC champions, flower girls, and atheists—had had the chance to experience the wonderful world of Krsna consciousness. He began to wonder if he hadn’t even received more inspiration than he had given.

“If things continue like this,” Indradyumna Swami thought, “one day the whole world will be inundated by love of God. It’s not impossible. The saints have predicted it”:

“In every home throughout the world there is a tumult of hari-samkirtan. On every body are tears, hairs standing erect, and other symptoms of ecstasy. In every heart is the most exalted and sweet spiritual path that leads far away from the path of the four Vedas. All this has appeared now that Lord Gaura has descended to this world.”

[Srila Prabhodananda Sarasvati, Sri Caitanya-candramrta, text 114]