I Could Do This Forever
I settled into the science classroom in the school that would once again be our base for our summer festival tour. The walls were crowded with test tubes, microscopes and colored bottles filled with liquid. Guru Kripa das laughed out loud as he looked around the room.
“Gurudeva, you’ve stayed in this room for three months every summer for last fifteen years. That means you’ve lived in this science lab for a total of four years! Have you ever noticed the monkey brain in the jar of formaldehyde?”
“Well, yes I have,” I said. “But I try not to look. Srila Prabhupada once said that sometimes a preacher lives in a palace and sometimes in a simple hut. But he never mentioned a science lab!”
The next morning we held a meeting with the 250 devotees who had joined us for the summer tour. There were many new faces; a number of the veterans from previous tours had not returned this year, either because they had to work, were recently married or had other responsibilities. Scanning the crowd, I suddenly realized I was the only devotee present who had been on the first Polish tour twenty six years ago.
I welcomed the devotees and gave a talk requesting them to give everything to Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement for the next three months. The tour, I explained, is a unique kind of festival within Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Temple festivals provide devotees with the opportunity to enjoy kirtan, katha and prasadam, but our festival program is specifically for non-devotees. Our job is to work in the background in order to give them the chance to experience the kirtan, classes and prasadam that we enjoy. It means a lot of self-sacrifice on the part of the team, but the reward is seeing others happily experiencing Krsna consciousness for the first time.
“Our festival is part of the sankirtan movement,” I concluded, “and thus it is part of the modern day pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. His movement did not conclude when He left this planet. He Himself predicted that the holy names of Krishna would one day be heard in every town and village of the world. That being the case, we should look for present day miracles happening in our midst. This will help us to remain inspired during our three-month sacrifice.”
“Do you mean miracles like seeing our guests walking on water?” one devotee asked.
“Not miracles like that,” I replied with a smile. “Just look for a change of heart in people when they come to our festival. That’s the real miracle. To have a genuine spiritual experience is no ordinary thing in the age of Kali!”
The devotees didn’t have to wait long to see such changes of heart. The next day, within minutes of our harinam party entering the crowded beach to advertise our first festival, a gentleman began enthusiastically taking photos of us. That he was taking photos wasn’t unusual in and of itself; what was unusual was that he didn’t stop. He continued following us for forty five minutes, shooting frame after frame of the brightly dressed matajis, the mrdanga players and the synchronized devotee dancers. Finally I walked over to him.
“Sir, why so many photos?” I asked.
“My daughter recently started practicing your faith,” he said, still shooting away. “She has been trying to explain it to me. I wasn’t very understanding of her choice and so she was becoming quite upset with me. When I saw you all – so many people who are obviously from different countries and backgrounds – singing and dancing happily in unison down the street I was convinced there could be nothing wrong with your movement after all. So I am taking all these photos to send to her to show my approval.” He shook my hand and waved as we continued on.
A few minutes further down the beach, a lady jumped up from her towel and came over to me.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” she said. “We are so happy to see you! Each year when you people come to town it means summer has finally arrived!”
That evening the crowds flooded into our festival grounds. I watched, spellbound; even after twenty six years, the sight still amazed me.
As I watched some festival goers settled down to enjoy the continuous stage show, while others milled around the restaurant, the shops, the book stalls, the yoga classes, the face painting, and the many other attractions.
“These are the most precious moments of my life,” I thought, as I began my customary walk around the festival site, Guru Kripa and Mathuranath by my side. “So much endeavor goes into collecting for and planning these events, but when I see so many hundreds and thousands people enjoying Krsna consciousness I feel full satisfaction.”
As I was walking, I noticed a woman in her twenties with a sad look on her face standing at the perimeter of the festival. She was holding a big basket of flowers.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I’ve been trying to sell these roses for nine hours,” she said. “I’m hungry and tired and I’ve only sold two. My boss is going to kill me. And while I’m feeling bad, all the people at your festival are having a great time. I just wish I could come in, but I can’t. I really depend on this job, and I can’t afford not to sell the flowers.”
“How much do they cost?” I asked.
“They’re two zlotys each,” she said.
“I’ll make a deal with you,” I said. “I’ll buy the whole basket if you promise to come to the festival and stay until the very end.”
There was a long pause. She regarded me with wide-eyed amazement.
“Really?” she said at last. “You’re not joking?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “I can ask someone to take you to the fashion booth where you can put on a sari for the evening. Then you can have your face painted with beautiful flowers and you can go to the restaurant and eat for free. And then you can just sit in the front row and watch the show.”
Her eyes filled with tears as I pulled out 100 zlotys, took all the flowers, and handed them to Mathuranath.
“The pujaris were looking for some nice flowers for the deities this afternoon. We can give these roses to them.”
One of the lady devotees took the flower girl towards the stalls. Guru Kripa turned to me.
“Gurudeva,” he said, “this festival is free, but you just paid that girl to come. It’s so unusual.”
“There’s a saying in Sanskrit,” I said. ‘Phalena pariciyate’. It means ‘judge something by the result.’ Let’s see how she’s doing at the end of the festival.”
I continued my walk around the festival site. On the stage, our new theatrical performance “Vrindavan” was in full swing, the audience mesmerized by the performance of the thirty two actors. Meanwhile, all sixteen tents that bordered the festival area were full of people soaking up the various aspects of Vedic culture on display. In the book tent, people were browsing through Srila Prabhupada’s books and asking the devotees behind the counter questions. I saw an elderly woman concluding her purchase of Bhagavad-Gita at the cash register.
“It’s a wonderful book,” I said to her.
“Oh yes, I know,” she said. “I’ve read this edition several times. I come to your festival every year and purchase four or five copies.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, I am 85 years old and lots of my friends are beginning to pass away,” she said. “When each one does, I give a Bhagavad-Gita to their relatives so they can understand what death actually is and that the soul is reborn.”
“Now that’s a little miracle,” I thought to myself. “An old woman who has never lived in a temple or been formally trained in Krsna conscious is sharing the wisdom of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita with others!”
It was time for me to head to the stage to give my lecture.
“How many times have I given this talk?” I asked Guru Kripa.
“At least 108 times,” he said.
“More like at least 1008 times, if not double that,” I said.
With Gita in hand I walked onto the stage and went straight to the front, my translator Mondakini dasi by my side. As a young boy I was always shy about speaking in public, but I’ve never experienced fear when delivering a lecture on Krsna consciousness. The reason is simple: the philosophy is perfect and complete. For a person who studies it and lives it, the philosophy is attractive because it provides a logical explanation of spiritual life and a positive alternative for solving all problems by returning to the spiritual world.
At the end of the lecture, I descended the stairs to find a small group of people with Bhagavad-Gitas in their hands, waiting for me to sign them.
The first to approach me was a sixteen-year-old girl who said that it was the eighth summer festival she had attended.
“Since my first festival I have had a special attraction to your food. I also love your theatre shows. I’ve watched all the shows you’ve ever produced; my favorite is the one about Lord Rama. As I was sitting listening to your lecture today, it dawned on me that it’s about time I started studying your philosophy, so I ran over to the book tent and bought this Bhagavad-Gita.” She blushed and looked at the ground. “Sorry it has taken me eight years to come to this point.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” I said. “That’s how the process works.”
Next two girls approached me with a Bhagavad-Gita.
“It’s for our parents,” one of them said. “Our family is going through a difficult time. We were listening to your lecture and realized that your philosophy solves so many problems, so we’re hoping the wisdom in this book can guide our family to happier times.”
“I’m sure it will,” I said.
I signed ten Bhagavad Gitas, and as I was finishing two boys ran up to me.
“When’s your talk?” one of them said, gasping for air.
“Well, actually, I already spoke,” I said. “It was about an hour ago.”
“Oh no!” he said. He turned to the other boy. “You were eating your dessert too slowly. I told you we’d be late!”
“How old are you boys?” I asked.
“I’m twelve”, said the taller boy, “and my brother is ten.”
“And you came to hear my lecture?” I asked.
“Yes!” said the older boy. “We’ve come to your festival for the last three years and our favorite part is your talk. So much knowledge.”
“Yep,” said his younger brother. “As you always say, ‘Out of 8,400,000 species of life, the human form of life is the most important.’”
I shook my head in amazement. “Yes, I do say that.”
“Every lecture,” the older boy said, and they both laughed.
“But there’s always something new for us to think about too,” said the younger one. “We’re very grateful to you.”
“Why don’t we go and talk in the restaurant?” I suggested. “Because you guys missed the talk you can have whatever you want to eat.”
Their eyes lit up. “Great idea!”
Walking to the restaurant beside the boys, I marveled at how Srila Prabhupada’s movement appeals to people of all ages. “Even to very young philosophers,” I thought.
Outside the book tent I saw the flower girl emerging with a big smile on her face and one of Srila Prabhupada’s books under her arm.
“So there’s the result!” I said aloud.
“What did you say?” asked the younger brother.
I gave a huge smile. “I said I could do this forever!”
siddhim kurusva prabhu gaura candra
samuj jvalam te pada padma sevam
karomi nityam hari kirtanam ca