Chapter-2: Far from the World’s Woes

October 9–25

By Indradyumna Swami

O brother! When you close your eyes in death, where will your loving wife, children, brothers, and relatives be? Where will your good qualities be? Where will your fame be? Where will your pride, wealth, education, control over others, powers, and opulence be? O learned and intelligent friend! Why do you not renounce these things and run to Vṛndāvana?”

(Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta, Śataka 1, text 81)

I have been deluged by e-mails, phone calls, and faxes warning, advising, and even pleading with me not to go to India. The devotees are afraid of possible terrorist attacks and the developing tensions between India and Pakistan. Many of their arguments are logical, but yesterday morning I came across a relevant purport in the Bhagavatam. Reading Prabhupada’sclear advice convinced me to go.

Sometimes the members of the Kṛṣṇa Consciousness Society are afraid of the impending danger of world war and ask what would happen to them if a war should occur. In all kinds of danger, they should be confident of their protection by the Viṣṇudūtas or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati). Material danger is not meant for devotees. This is also confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadāṁ na teṣām: in this material world there are dangers at every step, but they are not meant for devotees who have fully surrendered unto the lotus feet of the Lord. The pure devotees of Lord Viṣṇu may rest assured of the Lord’s protection, and as long as they are in this material world they should fully engage in devotional service by preaching the cult of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Lord Kṛṣṇa, namely the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

—Bhag. 6.3.18, purport

On October 8 I flew from Warsaw to New Delhi with Sri Prahlada and his wife, Rukmini-prîya dasî. After a brief stopover in Vienna, we were the first passengers to reboard the airplane. It was a full flight, so I settled into my seat and watched the other passengers board, curious to see who might sit beside me for the nine-hour journey. I noticed one woman, who appeared extremely nervous, coming down the aisle. Upon seeing me, she seemed to calm herself, and then appeared relieved when she discovered that her seat was next to mine. We exchanged a few pleasantries, but otherwise did not speak during the flight.

Nine hours later as we landed in Delhi and were preparing to deplane, the woman asked, “Can I share something with you?”

“Of course.”

“I have a phobia about flying, which has increased due to the recent terrorist attacks in America. I was anxious as I boarded the flight, but when I saw you, a monk, I prayed to God, ‘Please, Lord, let me sit near him and everything will be all right.’ And it was! Thank you for being my guardian angel.”

Surprised, I managed only a “You’re welcome” as we joined the flow of passengers leaving the plane.

As we were walking down the stairs to Immigration and Customs, a man and his wife stopped me and also thanked me. Amused, I asked, “For what?”

“For being on that flight,” the man said, and they walked on. Again I saw how nervous people had become due to the terrorist attacks, and how ready they were to appreciate the shelter spiritual life offers.

It was well after midnight by the time we cleared customs. As soon as we were through, we left for Vrndavana in a Tata Sumo van. I knew we had at least two hours to go before arriving in the dhama, but I was so excited I couldn’t sleep. I found myself counting the minutes until our arrival.

We pulled in at 4:00 a.m. Even at that hour Vrndavana bustles with activity. Unlike Westerners, most Brijbasis are up before sunrise either on their way to one of the seven thousand temples or simply to begin the day’s work. As we stepped out of the van, the sweet smell of night-blooming jasmine enlivened my senses, and I could hear the sound of ringing bells. Only the humidity was unpleasant. I was drenched in perspiration within moments.

But I am not complaining. I have been to India many times and am familiar with the heat and cold, the simple food, the crowded streets, the occasional loss of electricity, and how difficult it can be sometimes to get water. These austerities afford little opportunity for sense gratification and ultimately serve to make us callous toward material existence. Among other things, visiting a holy place allows us to perform austerity and decrease our bodily demands. Krishna says clearly in Bhagavad-gîta (18.67):

idaṁ te nātapaskāya
nābhaktāya kadācana
na cāśuśrūṣave vācyaṁ
na ca māṁ yo ’bhyasūyati

“This confidential knowledge may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.”

Of course, the rewards of visiting as wonderfully auspicious a place as Vrndavana far outweigh the austerities we have to perform while we are there! The benefits of devotional service performed in the land of Vrnda-vana are magnified one thousand times. And Vrndavana is so beautiful. Srila Prabhupada describes Vrndavana’s beauty in his Krishna book. One brief passage in particular has, for me, always captured the essence of this transcendental land: “Vrndavana is such a nice place. Flowers are always blooming, and there are even various kinds of decorated deer. Birds are chirping, pea-cocks are crowing and dancing, and bees are humming. The cuckoos there sing nicely in five kinds of tunes.”

After settling in, I visited the Krishna-Balaram Mandir and Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi, then took a long walk through Vrndavana. I felt carefree and happy as I visited the various temples. This was the moment I had been anticipating for so long. I often thought of Vrndavana during the Polish festival tour and had mentally visited a number of holy places. Such meditation relieves me from the pressure of the constant opposition we face in Poland and provides divine inspiration. Now walking the streets of Vraja, I realized that while it helps to meditate on Vrndavana from a distance, regularly taking darśana of the holy sites is what gives me the strength to go on in devotional service year after year.

On this, my first day, I wanted to make it a point to visit the five personalities that bestow the greatest mercy upon aspiring devotees in the holy dhama: Gopîśvara mahadeva (Lord Śiva), Vrndadevî, Yogamaya, the Yamuna River, and Govardhana Hill. I prayed to each of them that my stay in Vrndavana would be transcendentally fruitful.

I also met many old friends as I walked, including temple püjarîs, shopkeepers, sadhus, and rickshaw wallas. What impressed me most in these encounters is that in each case, we simply talked about Krishna consciousness. The püjarîs told me of the outfits the Lord had worn during the recent hot season, the shopkeepers talked about the festivals they had observed, the sadhus spoke of the Lord himself, and the rickshaw wallas—well, they bargained for higher prices. All of it was music to my ears. Nowhere did I hear about terrorism, which is all that’s being discussed everywhere else in the world. Although the threat of evil is real, because of advancements in information technology, the world is now able to focus on a single event in human history. Like all world events large or small, however, the war on terrorism will come and go no matter how many people are aware of it. In the meantime, we are losing valuable time. We should be using that time to inquire about eternal, spiritual matters.

We have to take mundane news in small doses if we don’t want to become preoccupied with it and become uncertain and afraid. Devotees should give more time to śastra than to the newspaper. Srila Prabhupada was clear on this point: “Caitanya Mahaprabhu has advised, grama-katha na śunibe, bhala na khaibe na bhala na paribe—don’t indulge in gramya-katha [village talk]. Therefore we always advise, ‘Don’t read newspaper. Don’t read any other book,’ because it is full of gramya-katha. Avoid it as far as possible. There is no need. What is the news of a gramya-katha newspaper?

The same thing repeated. ‘Here there is flood, where there is train disaster, where there is accident, where one politician is giving speech, another politician is giving speech.’ This externally very attractive news—we should avoid it completely. We shall simply talk of Krishna. That is the safest method.” (Lecture, September 1, 1975)

The beauty of Vrndavana is that the “village talk” is mostly about Krishna. Of course, if we remain determined to hear news of the outside world even while in Vraja, we can tune into the BBC on the radio. There are also plenty of newspapers available in Vrndavana.

But Srila Prabhupada explains that meeting saintly persons in the dhama is the purpose of pilgrimage; the saintly persons living in the dhama are as important as the dhama itself. We shouldn’t waste our time discussing mundane news with them. During my first few days in Vrnda-vana, I was fortunate to meet a number of Krishna conscious persons in unexpected ways. For example, while performing Govardhana parikrama with a small group of devotees, I visited the Dauji temple, which is not far from Govinda-ku∫∂a. As our party entered the temple, an eleven-year-old girl encouraged us to come forward to see the Deity. After offering our obeisances, we sat before the Deity, marveling at His transcendental form. Noticing that the girl was carefully observing us, I spoke to her through my disciple, Dauji Krishna dasî.

I asked, “Do you live here?”

Looking fondly at the Deity she replied, “Yes, my father is the priest here and I help him worship the Deity before I go to school. Every morning I bathe the Lord, then serve Him prasadam.”

I was impressed. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I will do whatever Dauji desires. We are not independent—we cannot do anything without His sanction.”

Amazed that such a young girl had so much devotion for the Deity, I continued, “Do you want to live in this village all your life?”

“Yes, of course. I never want to leave Vrndavana. This is where Krishna and Balarama play.”

By this time, I was not only impressed but embarrassed. This girl was displaying so much natural affection for the Deity and the spiritual land of  Vraja that it seemed disproportionate. After all, although I have been practicing Krishna consciousness for thirty-one years, I still struggle to muster sincere sentiment for the Lord. This young girl’s love for Krishna seemed spontaneous and natural.

“Would you like to visit America?” I blurted.

“Why would I want to go to America? If it were so nice there, why have you spent so much money to come to Vrndavana?” Then answering her own question she said, “Because Dauji is here, and He’s the most attractive person.”

I wondered, “Who is this little girl?” Then I remembered Jesus Christ’s words: “And a little child shall lead them.” This girl won my heart completely by her response. Recognizing her as a real devotee, I asked her if she needed anything for her service.

“I’d like a book from which I can learn English so that when foreigners come I can tell them everything about Krishna.”

“Is that all you want?” I asked.

Instead of replying, she simply raised her gaze to Dauji. I thought, “Of course she doesn’t want anything more. She has everything here. She has Krishna. I hope in my short stay in Vrndavana that I can obtain just a little of the devotion she has for the Lord.”

As she continued to look at the Deity, we quietly offered our obeisances and left. The hair on my body was standing on end. That little Brijbasi girl was no ordinary soul. Does it matter that she has never heard of the world’s woes? “I pray that I may engage in the service of the moving and nonmoving residents of Vrndavana. What are Brahma and the other demigods in comparison to them? The residents of Vrndavana are more glorious. They are very dear to Vraja’s king. Their forms are eternal, spiritual, and full of nectar. Their glories are limitless. They are the roots that sprout into the bliss of the Upanishads.”

“Don’t do anything! Don’t say anything! Forget everything you’ve seen! Remember the fair and dark couple that pains Kamadeva, flee the common people, and go to transcendental Vrndavana!”

(Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta, Śataka 1, texts 61 and 32)