Chapter 19: Sirs, This Is the Problem

June 14–27, 2002

By Indradyumna Swami

The punch sent me reeling and knocked me senseless. When I came to, my U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor was straddling me. He was as angry as a hornet. He had caught me relaxing in my foxhole as a rival platoon overran our position in the hills of Camp Pendleton, California, during an exercise in 1968. He yelled, “Never, and I repeat, never assume the enemy is sleeping. While you are taking a break in your foxhole, the enemy has attacked your flank and overrun you.”

Last week, his instructions rang true. I was discussing with several devotees the success of the festival in Chelmza and how it appeared our opposition was sleeping. Then my cell phone rang. It was Radhasakhivrnda. “Gurudeva, we have a serious problem. We’re receiving reports that a group of priests are traveling along the Baltic Sea coast, campaigning against us among town officials and school administrators. We’re afraid we may lose the school facility in Swierzno, the only one we’ve been able to rent for a summer base.” As she spoke, I remembered how last year another group of priests had made a similar move, convincing all but that one school not to cooperate with our tour. “They’ll be in Swierzno soon,” Radhasakhivrnda said. “We fear the worst. What should we do?”

“Never, and I repeat, never assume the enemy is sleeping,” I said, more to myself than to her.

“What, Gurudeva?”

“Oh, nothing. But as for losing the school in Swierzno, I would say that you should go there and be frank with the director. Explain our concerns. He knows us well.”

Reflecting on the school problem, I realized it was only a matter of time before the school succumbed to the Church’s pressure and our annual tour would be jeopardized. If we don’t have a school for a base, we are forced to rent hotel rooms, which is too expensive. We had to find a solution.

I decided to take a walk. There is a lake near this base, and a colony of beavers living on that lake. I walked past their dam and into the beautiful forested area. As pressure mounts, I need such places to reflect on the situation. I sat on a rock near the dam and considered the priests’ strategy. They know how dependent we are on using the schools for bases. As hard as I tried, though, I couldn’t figure out a way to stop them from stirring up trouble for us. Negotiating with them is not an option, because every time we approach the Church they refuse to speak to us. I thought of a few friendly priests we know, but realized they would prove ineffective in such a situation. I recalled Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to his disciples in Vrindavana in 1975 to pray to Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai to ask them to do the needful. So I bowed my head and folded my hands. I prayed as Prabhupada advised: “Sirs, this is the problem.”

A while later, I walked over to the beaver dam. I saw it provided a formidable protection for the beavers’ dens within. The sun was just setting, and the beavers were beginning to swim around the lake under the cover of descending darkness. As they swam away from the dam, I moved closer to it. I realized that to build such a dam, the beavers would have had to fell many trees with their sharp teeth. Only the previous day I had overheard some local people calling them a menace because of the damage they inflict on the environment. I laughed and thought, “Nevertheless, no one can remove them now. They’re here to stay—and their home is so interesting that even the locals come to marvel!”

Suddenly I wheeled. “That’s it!” I cried.

That evening at a tour management meeting, I offered a solution to our problem of a summer base: we should purchase property somewhere along the Baltic Sea and build a permanent base for the festival. “If we have our own land,” I said, “no one will be able to remove us, and if we gradually develop the project as an attractive extension of the tour, even our opposition will come to marvel.”

Understanding that next year we may not have an alternative, we decided in favor of purchasing land. Nandini and Radhasakhivrnda left immediately for Swierzno to speak to the school director—and to look for land.

Two days later we held our festival in Swiecie. To recognize the psychologist friend who had worked to get us permission, we asked her to open the event. Standing before the large audience she thanked us for sharing India’s culture. Addressing the concerns of those who did not approve of us, she said that “with Poland on the verge of joining the European Union, we need exposure to other cultures so we can prepare for integration. We are indebted to these people for helping us.”

The next day we held harinama to advertise our festival in Czluchow. This is the town where the councilors had insisted on hearing what I would say in my festival lecture before we would be allowed to stage the event. Czluchow is an ancient town; the castle ramparts were built more than a thousand years ago and provide a major tourist attraction. Occupied at various times by Crusaders, Swedes, Austrians, Germans, and Poles, the castle was the scene of many battles. There is an inscription at the castle’s entrance that states that the castle was so formidable that upon seeing it, many armies would refuse to attack it.

At the time of our festival, Czluchow was preparing to celebrate its City Days, a tradition in Poland where for one week each year, every city honors its history with a festival. By Krsna’s arrangement, the authorities had planned our festival to coincide with their own. Our colorful festival posters hung alongside the town’s announcing the week’s events. Workers were busy hanging banners and streamers throughout the streets.

With celebration in the air, people eagerly took our invitations. I told Sri Prahlada that we wouldn’t have to worry about people coming to our festival—we had distributed ten thousand invitations in a town with a population of twenty-one thousand!

But disaster almost struck before our festival began. Just as we arrived back at our base to prepare for the festival’s setup, the woman in charge of cultural affairs in Czluchow called Varanayaka dasa and said, “I’m sorry, but you are no longer welcome in our town. The mayor has officially canceled your festival.”

Varanayaka has had plenty of experience in dealing with such situations. He asked calmly, “What possible reason could there be for canceling us?”

“The priest has just informed the mayor that you are spreading religious propaganda in the town. He said your leaflets encourage people to leave their religion and join yours.”

Varanayaka replied, “That is simply not true. The only thing we distributed today were invitations to our festival—the same invitation we showed you when we first discussed the event months ago.”

“Really?” the lady asked. “If that’s so, I’ll contact the priest and the mayor. I’ll call you back in half an hour.”

We waited anxiously for her call. Once again I folded my hands and prayed to Gaura-Nitai, “Sirs, this is the problem . . . ”

Thirty minutes later, Varanayaka’s cell phone rang. After a few moments we saw him smile. He told us, “The woman from the Culture House apologized and the mayor has invited us to be official participants in the town parade tomorrow.” Gaura-Nitai had indeed done the needful.

The next morning nearly one hundred devotees and I left early to join the town parade. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when we arrived I was amazed at the opportunity the Lord was providing. There were more than four hundred people (including many children) ready to march, all dressed as medieval kings and queens, armored soldiers, jesters and jugglers, musicians and dancers. Their costumes were so real that it was as if we had been transported through time. The parade organizers were surprised when they saw us, but greeted us warmly and directed us to our position in the parade. When I asked if we could play our instruments and chant and dance during the parade, they happily agreed.

When the parade started we began a soft kirtana, which grew louder and more enthusiastic as we proceeded through the streets. We were the only participants who had amplification, and soon our kirtana engulfed the entire parade. No one complained. In fact, after a while, many of the parade participants were dancing along with the devotees. People lining the streets and watching from their apartment windows appeared to love it, and many were clapping in time with the Mrdangas and karatalas. At one point, I left the parade and joined the spectators lining the street. To my astonishment, it appeared that the parade was one gigantic harinama party winding through the town’s streets. All I could hear was the holy name, and every movement seemed to coincide with the kirtana. All the while, the devotees were moving through the crowd, distributing invitations to our festival. I imagined that whoever hadn’t received an invitation the previous day would surely have received one today.

By the time the parade reached the center square, our kirtana was bouncing off the town’s old walls. I couldn’t distinguish between the kirtana and its echo. The holy names were crisscrossing the square in all directions, and the devotees were twirling and dancing. Everyone loved it, and when the parade came to a halt in front of a large platform full of dignitaries, the organizers told us to keep chanting! So we did as the entire town looked on. For a few moments I stood watching in amazement, enchanted by Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s incredible mercy.

tribhuvanakamaniye gauracandre ’vatirne patitayavanamürkha˙ sarvatha spho†ayanta˙

iha jagati samasta nama saõkirtanarta vayam api ca krtarha˙ KrsnanamaSrayat

“When Lord Gauracandra, the most attractive personality within the three worlds, advented in this universe, many fallen souls began to wave their arms in the air, excited by the chanting of the holy names. We also were completely fulfilled because of our taking shelter of those same names of Krsna. O my Lord!” (SuSlokaSataka, text 44, Sarvabhauma Bha††acarya)

When we finished our kirtana, a roar of applause from the parade participants and the huge crowd in the square rose into the air. The medieval soldiers then blew on long trumpets as the crowd surged forward to see the mayor ascend the stage and take his seat. In Middle Ages’ fashion, a town crier stepped up and eulogized the town’s history, reading from a parchment. He spoke about the founding of the town, the members of the first town council, the construction of the town hall and first church, the battles fought, and other important events. When he spoke about the significance of today’s festival, I thought he should have mentioned the most significant event of the day: how Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana party had inundated Czluchow with the holy names.

Groups of school children were then called forward to offer praise to the town and the mayor. Each group would sing, dance, or recite poetry before the stage, as the mayor, the city councilors and the citizens watched. We stood patiently for well over an hour until, to my surprise, an official called, “The Festival of India will now address the mayor!”

Thinking quickly, I assembled ten devotees. We walked onto the dais in front of the mayor and councilors. Within moments, Sri Prahlada was leading a kirtana while the devotees danced enthusiastically. I then had our two Indian dancers from South Africa perform a classical Kathak dance. The crowd roared with approval and the mayor smiled broadly. With the help of a translator, I then addressed the mayor and councilors through the public address system:

“Your Worship the Mayor, members of the town council, and respected citizens of Czluchow, it is with the greatest pleasure that we, members of the Festival of India, take part in the festivities honoring your great town. We are so happy to be able to share with you this culture of India, in particular the chanting of God’s holy name, which has given so much pleasure to the citizens of this town. We look forward to your participation in our part of the festivities tomorrow in the central park, where we will continue to share with you this colorful culture of singing, dancing, and feasting. We extend a special invitation to the Lord Mayor to dine with us in our vegetarian restaurant in the afternoon. May God bless your beautiful city. Hare Krsna!”

With that, the town crier blew his trumpet, announcing that the parade had officially ended. As we turned to leave, people surrounded the devotees to ask questions. It took great effort to return to our bus.

The next day twenty thousand people attended our festival—a number of whom sang and danced with us late into the night. Perhaps historians will mark the day in the annals of Vaishnava history. For me, that practically the entire town of Czluchow came and received Lord Caitanya’s mercy is a source of astonishment and wonder.

Gauranga˙ premamürtir jagati yad avadhi prema danam karoti papi tapi surapi nikhilajanadhanasyapahari krtaghna˙

sarvan dharman svakiyan visham iva vishayam sampartiyajya Krsnam gayantyuccai˙ pramattas tad avadhi vikala˙ premasindhau vimagna˙

“From the time that Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu, the sacred form of love for Krsna, gave out His gifts of love, the sinner, the ascetic, the drunkard, the dacoit, the rogue, and the thief, all very grateful to Him, completely abandoned their materialistic ways as if they were deadly poison, and then intoxicated, loudly sang the holy names of Krishna until they sank exhausted into the ocean of Krsnaprema.” (SuSlokaSataka, text 49)