Chapter 7: A Living Gita

A Living Gita

Volume 11, Chapter 7

Aug 5, 2010


When I flew from the United States to Warsaw at the beginning of July, Poland was still grieving the loss of President Lech Kaczynski, who had died in a plane crash in Russia in early April. His wife and scores of other senior Polish figures died with him. The run-off to the election to replace him was to be held on July 5, the day of our first summer festival on the Baltic Sea coast.

The next day I boarded a small plane for the town of Szczecin, near our base on the coast. It would be an eight-hour journey by plane and car, and I was suffering from jet lag, so I had put on non-devotional clothes, hoping to avoid discussions on the plane. As I sat down, I could feel a somber mood among the passengers.

About fifteen minutes into the flight, the man seated next to me spoke. “Are you aware that people are staring at you?” he said.

I looked around and made eye contact with several passengers, who were indeed staring at me. They quickly looked away.

“I wasn’t aware of it,” I said.

“Just who are you?” he asked.

“My name is Tibbitts, sir,” I said. “I’m on my way to the coast for a little vacation.”

“You’re not on vacation,” he said. “I’ve been watching you too. You’re a man with a purpose. What are you really up to?”

I couldn’t help smiling at his intuition. “Actually,” I said, “I’m a Hare Krsna devotee and a participant in the annual Festival of India along the coast.”

“Oh, the Festival of India,” he said. I know it well. I went to three of your festivals in the 1990s. They were very nice.”

“Thank you,” I said. “We’ve come a long way since then. You should visit us again.”

“I will,” he said.

“But tell me,” I said, “how did you know I have a purpose in life, as you put it?”

He smiled. “I’ve been a lawyer for forty years,” he said. “It’s my job to know people’s real intentions.”

In Szczecin I was picked up by Amrtananda dasa and driven to our base, which was a beehive of activity.

I immediately searched out Nandini dasi, whom I hadn’t seen in ten months.

We exchanged greetings and then got down to work. “I haven’t received any urgent emails from you,” I said, “so I assume everything is going smoothly.”

“I didn’t want to bother you,” she said. “You have enough on your mind with so many other responsibilities. But we have had some very close calls in organizing several of this year’s events. It was only this morning that we were given a venue in Dzwirzyno for our first festival of the season.

“What?” I said. “The festival in Dzwirzyno is this evening.”

“There were a lot of politics in the towns along the coast this year,” Nandini said. “Many of the people who used to help us lost their jobs or moved on.”

“Last month,” she continued, “when I visited the town hall in Dzwirzyno, no one knew me and they showed little interest in hosting this summer’s festival. I kept trying, but to no avail. This morning I tried one last time. I sat among a throng of people waiting for the receptionist. Two hours had passed when a man walked out of his office and recognized me.

“‘Oh hello,’ he said. ‘What are you doing here?’

“I said, ‘I’m trying to get permission to put on the Festival of India.’

“He turned to the receptionist and said, ‘This lady and her associates have been staging events in our town for many years. You should immediately help her.’

“Suddenly I was at the front of the line. The receptionist said, ‘How can I help you?’

“I said, ‘We need a venue for our program. It’s quite large. We average five thousand people a show.’

“She stared at me in amazement. Then she checked her computer and said, ‘I’m sorry. All the venues are taken.’

“It seemed I’d hit another brick wall, but I decided to make one last try. I said, ‘Could you ask the director of cultural affairs in the town?.’

“Just to appease me she picked up the phone and called the director. She said, ‘I’m sorry for disturbing you, sir, but there’s a lady here who wants to hold a show for five thousand people.’

“She looked at me and said, ‘He wants to know what show.’

“I said, ‘The Festival of India,’ and she told the director, ‘It’s the Festival of India.’

“Her face went white. She told the director, ‘Yes, immediately. I’m so sorry. Here she is.’ And she handed me the phone.

“The director knew me from a previous visit, and he started apologizing. He said, ‘I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, so sorry. Your event is one of the highlights of the summer in my town. I was wondering why we hadn’t heard from you this year.’

“I said, ‘I’ve been trying to arrange a venue for a month, but no one in the administration seems to know us anymore. The receptionist here says there are no venues available.’

“He paused for a moment, and then he said, ‘We’ll give you the small park right in the center of town. You won’t even need to publicize the event. Everyone will walk right into it.'”

Nandini smiled. “So that’s how it went, Srila Gurudeva,” she said.

“That’s an amazing story, Nandini,” I said. “At least the director remembered us.”

That evening it seemed the entire town came to our festival, well above our normal crowd of five thousand.

“Just see, Srila Gurudeva,” Nandini said as we walked around the site. “Look how Lord Caitanya is helping us.”

“I’ve often witnessed His mercy on this tour,” I said, “but it never ceases to amaze me.”

Nandini laughed. “Something else happened this morning,” she said. “I’ve been battling for a venue in Ustronie Morskie for a long time. We’re supposed to have a festival there next week. The site we use every year was purchased by a disco bar. They plan to put tables there so people can sit outside the disco and drink beer. I approached them many times asking if we could rent the place, but they just laughed at me.”

“Last night I made my final attempt,” she continued. “I spoke to the man who had bought the site. He laughed and said, ‘A cultural event? You’ve got to be kidding. Our culture is drinking beer and dancing with sexy women.’

“This morning I got a call from him at six a.m. He said, ‘You can have the venue.’

“I was stunned. I said, ‘Thank you so much. What made you change your mind?’

“He said, ‘I had a dream last night, an amazing dream. When I woke up I told my wife I wanted to have that spiritual festival in our town. She said we’d lose money, but as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t matter.'”

Nandini shrugged her shoulders and looked upward. “So you see, Srila Gurudeva,” she said, “it’s only by inconceivable mercy that it’s all going on.”

Ten days later we presented the festival in Ustronie Morskie. I relished it more than the others, knowing that it was only by higher decree that it went ahead. Thousands of people poured in throughout the evening enjoying our stage show, the tents, and the vegetarian restaurant.

As I walked around the grounds a man came up to me and started telling me a remarkable tale.

“Thirty years ago,” he began, “I was traveling through India. I was on my way from Delhi to the Taj Mahal in Agra when my taxi driver turned off the road to a small country town. As we drove around I was attracted to the many temples and holy people and asked him to drop me off.

“I wandered about and came to a temple with three large altars. There were lots of people, Indians and Westerners, singing and dancing in front of the statues on the altars. The mood was very nice. I just couldn’t pull myself away. I returned to that temple every day for a week. The whole atmosphere was heavenly. I even considered living there for a while, but family and business took me back to the West. I’ve thought of that temple and the atmosphere there ever since.

“Then the strangest thing happened today. I saw you people singing on the beach, handing out invitations to your festival. Somehow, your singing reminded me of that temple in India. I decided to come to your event, and now I’m overwhelmed. I’m feeling the same happiness and joy here that I experienced at that temple in India. I can’t understand it.”

“Do you remember anything specific about the altars in that temple?” I asked.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “On the altar furthest to the left were statues of two young men dancing with their arms upraised. On the middle altar were two boys standing in a relaxed pose, one black and one white, and one had a flute. On the altar to the right was a beautiful couple. The man also had a flute.”

“That temple is called the Krsna-Balarama Temple,” I said. “It’s one of our most important centers. This festival is an expansion of that center. Ours is like a traveling temple.”

He put his hands to his head. “Amazing!” he said.

I smiled. “Maybe you shouldn’t leave this time,” I said.

A moment later a devotee came along and introduced me to another man.

The man shook my hand. “I still can’t believe it,” he said.

“Believe what?” I said.

“I’m a professor of philosophy,” he said. “Several months ago I became interested in Eastern religion. I came across the Bhagavad-gita online and ordered a copy. I brought it with me on my vacation and was reading it on the beach, when suddenly you people appeared chanting along the sand. When I first saw you I just laughed. I thought you were a cult. I said to myself, ‘These people should read the Bhagavad-gita and learn what Indian culture is really all about.’

“As you passed by I was given an invitation to your festival in Dzwirzyno last week. Just for laughs I decided to go. But I got the shock of my life when you came onstage to give your lecture. You started by saying that your movement is authorized because it’s based on an ancient scripture, the Bhagavad-gita. I almost fell over when you held up the very same book I had purchased online: Bhagavad-gita As It Is by Swami Prabhupada. I came to Ustronie Morskie just to tell you that your festival is like a living Gita.”

“Thank you very much,” I said. “I can’t think of a higher compliment.”

Just then Braja Kishor dasa, our stage manager, came running up to me. “Maharaja,” he said, “you’re late for your lecture and the final kirtana.”

I rushed to the stage with the professor in tow, and as I began my twenty-minute talk, he made himself comfortable in the front row. When I finished, the large audience applauded, and I sat down to lead the final kirtana.

“Thank You, Lord,” I thought. “These people almost missed their chance to hear the holy names. Thank You for intervening.”

I started off slowly but picked up the rhythm as devotees and guests began dancing on the field with abandon, young and old swaying in a circle in front of the stage. It was nothing new – it happens every night – but somehow it always gets better.

I was unaware of how long we’d been chanting when Jayatam dasa came in front of the stage and motioned to his watch. “It’s past ten p.m.,” he mouthed. “We have to stop.”

I brought the kirtana to a close and watched sadly while the crowd left the grounds. As I came down from the stage, a man came up to me.

“I have to speak with you,” he said. He paused for a moment, and then pressed fifty zlotys into my hand.

“Can you give blessings?” he said. “Please, I beg you, take this money and bless me that I will never forget the words to that song you were singing. I want to remember it and sing it every day of my life so I can be happy like you people. I’ve never experienced such joy as when I sang along with you tonight.”

A small crowd started to gather.

“Bless him!” said a man.

“You can’t refuse him!” said a woman.

I smiled. “OK, sir,” I said. “I bless you to always chant the holy names of Krsna and be happy forever.”

The onlookers applauded.

As I drove back to our base with several devotees, we were silent. Everyone was absorbed in remembering the mercy that had flowed that evening. Finally, Amrtananda spoke. “Srila Gurudeva,” he said, “were you satisfied with the festival?”

“These are Mahaprabhu’s modern-day pastimes,” I said. “There’s no other way to explain the incredible transformation that is taking place in the hearts of so many people. It’s only by special grace that we are assisting Srila Prabhupada in this way.”

I went to bed that night feeling deep satisfaction in my heart.

Srila Prabodhananda Saraswati writes: “The splendid path of pure devotional service, which bewildered the great sages in the past, which material intelligence has no power to enter, which Sukadeva Goswami was not able to understand, and which merciful Lord Krsna never revealed even to His closest friend, is the place where the dear devotees of Lord Gaura happily enjoy pastimes.”

[Sri Caitanya-candramrta, Chapter 4, Text 1]