Volume-4 Chapter-16: Into the Belly of the Beast

By Indradyumna Swami

May 20–30, 2002

As my flight circled Warsaw airport, awaiting permission to land, my heart beat strong in anticipation of the great adventure ahead. This year marks the twelfth anniversary of our Polish tour. Most of the two hundred devotees who attend the tour from fifteen countries had assembled at our spring base several weeks ago, and had been cleaning and repairing our thirty-two tons of festival equipment, including the fifteen-meter stage, the sound gear, lights, tents, kitchen paraphernalia, and trucks.

When the plane landed and I was waiting in line for immigration clearance, I called Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda on my cell phone. They have been busy organizing festival venues for months. We were in touch throughout the year, but during the past month we had had little contact due to my intense travel schedule. When I reached Nandini, I asked her for an update.

“We’ve managed to arrange only four of the eight two day festivals planned for the spring tour. Town officials are generally interested, but our opposition has been active and is causing numerous problems. The deputy mayor of Swiecie, who happens to be the head of a political party in the region called Catholic Action, is particularly against us. When we approached him to do a festival in his town, he laughed and said he would not grant us permission in a hundred years. We are almost certain that due to his influence, Chelmno, the second-largest town in the region, has also refused.”

As I waited, my mind raced with ideas how to counteract this man’s opposition. I said, “I think you should approach him again. Show him the many references and appreciations we have from mayors throughout the country.”

Nandini said, “We did approach him a second time. When we told him that many people in the region know us because they have attended our summer festivals on the Baltic coast—and that elections are pending— he fell silent.”

“Do we have that many sympathizers?” I asked.

“Of course, Gurudeva,” Nandini replied. “We’ve covered most of Poland with our festivals during the past twelve years. Just last year we hosted more than 750,000 people, if we include Woodstock. Almost all of them went away with a favorable impression of Krishna consciousness. It means we have many sympathizers throughout the country. However, we don’t expect Swiecie’s deputy mayor to remain silent for long.”

As I presented my passport to the immigration officer, I realized I was back on the battlefield. For a traveling preacher, Poland offers a unique blend of friendliness and hostility. People either love us or they despise us. When they love us, they do so with all their hearts, and when they despise us, they have a similar intensity.

The immigration officer entered my name into the computer, then hesitated. He was obviously not one of our sympathizers. Taking his stamp, he gave me a hard stare, then with a scowl, granted me permission to enter the country. As if to add insult to injury, as I walked into the airport’s arrivals hall, I was reminded of the Catholic Church’s ten year campaign that depicted Krishna consciousness as a cult: almost everyone was staring at me with a distrustful look. Was I in fact walking into the belly of the beast, as the astrologer had warned?

My hopes rose, however, when I met the devotees at the far end of the hall. Then several people looked and me and smiled. One man in particular was friendly. He said heartily, “Hare Krsna!” He filled me with the confidence that even if I was walking into Aghasura’s belly, Krishna would be there to rescue me.

When I arrived at our hotel base, the devotees greeted me with a rousing kirtana. We had all been waiting for the moment when we could begin this year’s festivals; many of us had been preparing for it since last year’s festivals were complete. A part of my preparation was to purify my heart by spending a few months in holy Vrindavana, hearing and chanting. Successful preaching depends more on purity than on elaborate planning, capital, or facility. When preparing to preach, I try to consider the formula Srila Prabhupada gave: preaching is the essence, books are the basis, utility is the principle, and purity is the force. While in Vrindavana I became attached to that transcendental abode. I thought the only reason to leave was to preach in Western countries and thus receive the full mercy of Vraja’s queen, Srimati Radharani:

yatha yatha gaura padaravinde

vindeta bhaktiµ krtapunyaraSi˙

tatha tathosarpati hrdy akasmad

radhapadambhoja sudhambu raSi˙

“To the degree that we surrender to Lord Caitanya’s service we gain qualification to serve Radharani’s lotus feet in Vraja.” (Vrindavanamahimamrta, Sataka 8, text 88)

In my arrival lecture to the festival devotees, I emphasized that we had all inherited a great responsibility from Srila Prabhupada to continue his preaching mission. Generally such responsibility is entrusted only to the Lord’s most confidential servants. When Lord Caitanya wanted to liberate Bengal, He sent His dearmost Lord Nityananda. In time, the deliverance of Orissa was entrusted to Syamananda Pandita. More recently, it was our beloved Srila Prabhupada who had been awarded the task of saving the whole world. Now, however, Prabhupada’s mission had been entrusted to his followers, his disciples and granddisciples. What qualifications do we have in comparison to those who have borne the torch of transcendental knowledge in the past? Srila Prabhupada once said that just as Lord Rama conquered Ravana with monkeys and bears, Prabhupada was conquering the world with his own monkeys and bears. But monkeys and bears can be made into pure devotees by the Lord’s mercy. Mahaprabhu demonstrated this in the Jharikhanda forest. There is hope for the world if we, as Srila Prabhupada’s followers, adhere to his lotus footsteps.

After my lecture, Nandini, Radhasakhivrnda, and Varanayaka dasa, the internal affairs manager of the festival, came to see me. They asked if I wanted to hear more about the recent victories and setbacks. “ayurveda recommends bitter before sweet,” I responded.

Radhasakhivrnda’s face became grave. “Someone is calling the towns where we have already organized festivals saying he is the mayor of Szczecinek, which is more than two hundred kilometers away. This man is informing the town councils that he allowed our festival in his town last year, and that it was not well received by the citizens. He is telling them we are a dangerous cult and that they have evidence that we put drugs in the food we distribute. He is strongly recommending that the other town councils cancel our festival.”

I began to tremble with anger. “This is the same nonsense someone tried last year. But they didn’t get away with it!”

“But this time it’s working. The council in Czluchow has informed us that it has canceled our festival. It’s such a shame, because it is a beautiful town.”

I remembered a quotation from my high school days as an antiwar demonstrator: “In time of war, the first casualty is truth.” (Boake Carter) I said, “You have to go back to Czluchow and tell the council the truth.”

Within minutes, Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda were on their way to Czluchow. By Krsna’s arrangement the town council was in session when they arrived, and after pleading with the secretary, the two women were allowed to enter. Coming before the assembly of twelve councilors, they explained that the telephone call from Szczecinek was a fraud, and that we are representatives of a bona fide spiritual tradition. We simply want to share the Vedic culture with the people of their town. It didn’t take long to convince the councilors that the call was phony—a call to the actual mayor of Szczecinek was sufficient to clear that up—but just when Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda thought they had won, the plot thickened.

When Radhasakhivrnda asked, “Will you give us back the permission for the festival?” confident that the councilors would comply, she was met with silence.

“What’s the problem?” she asked. “The Mayor of Szczecinek said he loved our festival last year. Why are you hesitating to grant us permission?”

Still no response. Nandini said, “You must tell us why you are hesitating. We can answer any doubts you have. We have nothing to hide.”

Finally, the mayor said, “There’s another, more important reason why we cannot allow this festival to take place in our town.”

“What could it possibly be?” Nandini demanded.

“It’s Indradyumna Swami,” the mayor replied.

Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda were shocked that the mayor knew me by name—he even pronounced it properly.

“We can’t allow your leader to come to our town.”

Gathering herself, Nandini asked, “Why not? He’s simply a priest representing the spiritual culture of India.”

“That may be so,” the mayor said, “but he’s also a charismatic American preacher. Many of us have heard his lectures and we don’t want him speaking in our town. We are Christians.” Surprised, Nandini said, “You’ve heard his lectures?”

“Of course. He’s been lecturing at your festivals in Poland for over a decade, and you know as well as I do that your festivals are famous throughout this country. I heard him speak personally in Kolobrzeg two summers ago.”

Thinking quickly, Nandini inquired if the mayor had liked the festival.

“Yes, I did,” he replied, “it was run very professionally.”

Sticking to this tack, Nandini asked, “What if we bring Indradyumna Swami to a council meeting? He can tell you personally what he will say in his lecture at the festival. Surely he can speak on cultural matters if you prefer he didn’t address spiritual matters. If you don’t find anything offensive in what he presents, you can grant us permission for the event.”

The mayor thought for a moment, then asked the councilors if they would agree to this proposal. Eventually each member raised his or her hand in confirmation. They decided that I should come to the council offices on the morning of the festival. Nandini’s quick thinking had saved the day.

I was waiting for the women when they returned to the base. I was amazed by Krsna’s mercy—and their diplomacy. When they asked if I wanted to hear more good news, I agreed and quoted a part of Lord Caitanya’s Sikshash†akam: paraµ vijayate SriKrsnasankirtanam—“Let there be all victory for the chanting of Lord Krsna’s holy names!”

Nandini continued, “You remember how we told you that the deputy mayor of Swiecie refused to grant us permission even in one hundred years?”

“Yes, how could I forget?”

“Well, yesterday we met a lady who came to one of our festivals on the coast last summer. She told us how much she and her husband had enjoyed the event. It turns out that she’s a wellknown psychologist in Poland and highly respected in Swiecie. When she discovered that the deputy mayor had denied us permission, she personally visited the mayor in his office and complained. The mayor then sent us a message that he wants to speak to us early next week. It appears there is still hope for the Swiecie festival.”

“This is excellent news!” I replied.

“But we should never underestimate our opposition,” Radhasakhivrnda cautioned. “Who knows what they are planning next? The more success we have, the more determined they become.”

“Yes,” I said, “let’s see what happens tomorrow when we hold the first festival of the tour in Tuchola.”

Our caravan of trucks, buses, and cars drove the forty kilometers from the base to Tuchola. As a crew of thirty devotees set up the festival site, our harinama party chanted and danced through the town, handing out invitations. This was the third time we had performed harinama in the town, and the people were warm and friendly. I envisioned a successful festival.

My dream came true when that afternoon a crowd of more than six thousand attended. It was a bright, sunny spring day, and people were happy to browse through our twenty tents packed with displays, shops, and restaurants. As always, the stage show captivated people for more than five hours. The director of the Culture House in Tuchola, who helped organize the festival, later told us that our stage show was the biggest event anyone could recall in the town. It wasn’t the first time I have heard such comments.

We savored our victory as we drove home. I told Sri Prahlada, “So much mercy went out, so many books were sold, so many people heard the holy names, and so many people took prasadam. It seems it will never end. We just keep going year after year.”

“Yes,” Sri Prahlada replied, “anandambudhivardhanam: Krishna consciousness is blissful whenever it’s expanding.”

When we reached our base, none of us could stop talking about the festival’s sweetness. Our opposition seemed so far away all of the sudden, unable harm us.

Suddenly Varanayaka ran into my room. “Gurudeva, we found a microphone in the wall in Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda’s room. Someone has been eavesdropping!” He handed me a professional miniature microphone and radio transmitter. Varanayaka told me that a devotee had been listening to the BBC on her radio and was shocked to hear Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda discussing the festival’s success. Curious, she rushed to their room. When Radhasakhivrnda was told that their voices had been transmitted over the radio, she and Nandini searched their room for almost an hour. Eventually, they found the microphone and transmitter hidden behind a raised piece of wallpaper and disconnected the device.

Our elation at the success of the Tuchola festival ended suddenly as we pondered who could have bugged the women’s room and why. When we approached the hotel owner about the incident, he said, “It seems someone is intent on learning of your plans. During the past few days I have received a number of calls from someone asking questions about your group. When I demanded to know to whom I was speaking, the person hung up. You’d better be careful.”

We stayed up until early the next morning to discuss our strategy. Our opposition obviously had stepped up its efforts and had begun using sophisticated technology to derail our program. We would have to use extreme caution. It occurred to me that the next few months of blissful preaching would be mixed with the anxiety of pondering the opposition’s next move and responding accordingly.

Nevertheless, we realized that devotees have one advantage over this type of opposition: we have the Lord’s mercy. The Lord protects His surrendered servants. If we remain pure in habit and focused on our preaching mission, we will always be successful. We should not doubt that.

durgeshv atavyajimukhadishu prabhu˙

payan narasimho ’surayüthapari˙

vimuncato yasya mahattahasam

diSo vinedur hyapatamS ca garbha˙

“May Lord Narasimhadeva, who appeared as the enemy of HiranyakaSipu, protect me in all directions. His loud laughing vibrated in all directions and caused the pregnant wives of the asuras to have miscarriages. May that Lord be kind enough to protect me in difficult places like the forest and battlefront.”