October 18, 1996
By Indradyumna Swami
Uttama Sloka and I arrived early at Moscow Airport for our flight to Vladivostok, in far-eastern Russia. I thought that by arriving early I could ensure a good seat for the eleven-hour flight. I was in anxiety contemplating the long journey in a Russian plane, but things became complicated even before we took off: the flight was delayed by four hours. I should have known. In Russia it’s typical for flights to be delayed for hours, sometimes even days.
We decided to wait at the airport. I was restless and couldn’t concentrate on reading or chanting in such an environment. Suddenly about twenty of my disciples arrived. They had been informed of our delay. They crowded around us and began asking questions.
Gradually, a number of curious onlookers also gathered around. Most of the questions were too difficult for outsiders to understand, so I dovetailed the opportunity and replied with basic philosophy, so our guests would benefit. It was invigorating to preach to fifteen guests at our impromptu program, and time soon passed by.
Before our curious guests had gathered, I had been speaking to my disciples about the importance of distributing books. I mentioned that I had done almost twelve years of book distribution. The eyes of the disciples who are full-time book distributors lit up with excitement.
One of my disciples handed me some books. “Please,” he said, “show us how you did book distribution, Guru Maharaja. We would be very happy to see you distribute these books to our guests.”
I was on the spot. I couldn’t say I was a bit rusty. That wouldn’t fit their understanding of guru. So I asked a few of the guests to come forward and gave them books.
“These books will elaborate on what we’ve discussed,” I said. “Take them home and read them. They will make you happy.”
The first man to whom I gave a book, a lawyer, skillfully avoided the sale, but another man, a PhD in chemistry, eagerly accepted my offer. Within minutes he paid for a Bhagavad-gitaand Srila Prabhupada- Lilamåta in Russian. After doing so, he shook my hand vigorously and had his wife take a photo of us together. We exchanged addresses, and then he brought his friend over to meet me. Then they left.
My disciples were wide-eyed. “Was it always like that for you, Gurudeva?” they asked.
I smiled. “Oh yes,”I said. “Let me tell you. When I was young…”
Uttama Sloka and I checked our baggage and went upstairs to a large lounge with the other passengers to await boarding. There were no seats, but I was tired, so I sat on the floor. Uttama Sloka went into a nearby office and asked a woman for a chair for me. At first she refused, but when he said it was for his spiritual master, she came outside, looked at me, and gave him a chair.
Such a small consideration on her part was most welcome, according to the time and circumstances, and I sent Uttama Sloka back to her with my package of dinner prasadam, which she greatly appreciated.
The flight to Vladivostok was nothing short of torture. The dim lights in the cramped Aeroflot plane, the dirt and grime, and the austerity of flying through three time zones made me feel uneasy. I thought death must be something like this, giving up the sure for the unsure, while being completely disoriented. I prayed that at the moment of death I would have the ability and strength to focus my mind on the holy names and be dhéras tatra na muhyati (‘sober and not bewildered by such a change’), as explained in Bhagavad-gita.