FAMILY MOOD AT PHILADELPHIA TEMPLE
M a r c h 2 9 – 3 1 , 2 0 0 1
ON MARCH 29, Dvijamaëi däsa, a disciple of Ravéndra Svarüpa Prabhu, picked up our party in New York and drove us to Philadelphia. Dvijamaëi knows Sanskrit and is well versed in many Vedic scriptures. As we began the three-hour journey, I noticed that while driving he was trying to memorize Bhagavad-gétä verses he had written on index cards. He had five or six cards scattered across his lap and was frequently looking down at them, taking his eyes off the road. I became nervous that he wasn’t paying enough attention to his driving, and when he had to brake suddenly because a car slowed down in front of us, I asked him to put the cards away and give his full attention to the road.
It is one of the austerities of being a traveling preacher that one has to depend upon the service of others who may not be properly experienced or qualified in activities like driving, cooking, organizing an itinerary, etc. I can tolerate discrepancies in most of these things, but I always speak up when a driver is not doing his service properly. I find that devotees in general drive too fast and too recklessly—often driving after too little sleep. This is a formula for disaster. It seems we naturally become more cautious with age. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nine tenths of wisdom consists in being wise in time.” My adherence to the rules of safe driving have come in part because I have been involved in several serious accidents throughout the years. The unexpected shock of being hit by another vehicle, the resultant flying glass, the sound of crunching metal, and the screams of the injured do much to sober one. As the saying goes, “Once bitten, twice shy.” Personal experience is usually a wise teacher.
çrutiù pratyakñam aitihyam
vikalpät sa virajyate
“From the four types of evidence—Vedic knowledge, direct experience, traditional wisdom and logical induction—one can understand the temporary, insubstantial situation of the material world, by which one becomes detached from the duality of this world.”
Dvijamaëi drove properly the rest of the way and we arrived safely at the Philadelphia temple in the late afternoon. The temple itself is actually two old buildings joined together by a breezeway. One of the buildings once served as a hunting lodge, and was built in 1850 on the outskirts of the then much smaller city of Philadelphia. As the city expanded, a hotel was built near the lodge in 1910, and later the two were joined by a breezeway, constructed by the family who purchased the buildings to make them into a single home. The joined building was ideal for devotees, who purchased it in 1977. Currently, however, the facility is not being used to its full capacity, as there are approximately only twenty devotees living there. Due to a shortage of funds, much of the building is in need of repair.
However, as we soon discovered, there is a pleasant and loving family mood among the devotees under the fatherly care of temple president Ravéndra Svarüpa Prabhu (although he is often away performing his GBC responsibilities in various parts of the world). Shortly after our arrival we took darçana of the Deities, Gaura-Nitäi, Jagannätha, Subhadrä, and Balaräma, and Rädhä-Saradbihäri.
Earlier, as we were driving into Philadelphia, Çré Prahläda told me of a renowned collection of old Rajasthani paintings on exhibit in the city museum. The theme of the show was the pastimes of Rädhä and Kåñëa. He suggested we visit the exhibition, if we found the time. After unpacking, I approached a senior devotee and asked if he could make arrangements for us to visit the museum. But I saw immediately that he was uncomfortable with the idea; he obviously had other more important services to which to attend. A traveling preacher must be mindful of his hosts’ commitments and humbly accept whatever is provided, learning not to put unnecessary demands on those who are caring for him. Nevertheless, despite the inconvenience, the devotee kindly went out of his way to arrange for us to visit the museum the next day.
That evening on our way to a home program, I noted that Philadelphia is a city rich in American history. We passed several places I had studied in school, among them Valley Forge, where George Washington and his troops camped in the winter of 1777 during the American Revolution. Such places cause the chest of most Americans to swell with pride. With that in mind, I based my lecture on becoming free from the bodily concept of life, explaining how strongly the conditioned soul identifies with his body, family, and land of birth. I used myself as an example. When I was young, my parents instilled in me a strong mood of patriotism. When I mentioned to the guests that one of my ancestors was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, a few eyebrows were raised.
On Friday, a devotee drove us to the museum to see the Rädhä and Kåñëa exhibit. It consisted of many old paintings of Their Lordships, as well as some ancient pots, rugs, and other items. The show was well presented, with a general atmosphere that reminded me (perhaps too much) of Våndävana. In fact, after a few minutes I felt homesick for the holy dhäma and left the exhibit to sit outside and chant my rounds.
In the afternoon we all went to a memorial service for a devotee named Siddha-Rüpa däsa at ISKCON’s downtown restaurant and cultural center. Siddha-Rüpa had passed away three days earlier. There was kértana and a feast, and that evening I spoke about the departure of a Vaiñëava at the temple program.
I suppose Kåñëa was preparing me. After the program, when I went to my room to rest, I received a call from Jananiväsa in Russia informing me that my own disciple, Gétäïjali däsé, had recently passed away. Her death was caused by cancer. In fact, Jananiväsa told me that she had departed the very day after I had come to see her in Ekaterinburg in February. To my dismay, no details of her departure were given. It is important how one actually leaves this world. In one sense, a devotee’s whole life is in preparation for that one moment. The consciousness at death determines one’s next destination. There is a Bengali proverb: bhajana kara sädhana kara—murte janle hoy, “Whatever bhajana and sädhana one has performed throughout his life will be tested at the moment of death.”
But what happens if a devotee cannot fix his mind on Kåñëa at the moment of death? A doctor recently told me that eighty percent of people are actually unconscious at the moment of death! The body naturally goes into a state of shock before the traumatic moment when the soul leaves. Perhaps it is for this reason that the devotee prays in Çré Éçopaniñad, “Let this temporary body be burnt to ashes, and let the air of life be merged with the totality of air. Now, O my Lord, please remember all my sacrifices, and because You are the ultimate beneficiary, please remember all that I have done for You.”
Once Rämäëujäcärya, after the death of Yamunäcärya, was pensive. He then asked the servant of Lord Varadaräja (Kåñëa), Käïcépura, to ask the Lord some questions on his behalf. One of the questions was, “What happens if a devotee dies suddenly and is unable to think of You at the time of death?”
Lord Varadaräja replied, “Then I will think of My devotee.”
My dear Lord, I know that my bhakti is not anywhere near the level that would merit Your attention, but as Gétäïjali’s spiritual master it is my duty to appeal to You. Please take her to Your lotus feet. Please take her home to Çré Våndävana-dhäma.
“Today or tomorrow this worthless material body will leave me and all the material happiness connected with it will also leave. Because material happiness is temporary, it should be understood to be only a mirage of the real happiness. O my mind, please abandon this false happiness and enjoy the real, eternal happiness of devotional service within the land of Våndävana.”
—Våndävana-mahimämåta, Çataka 1, Text 24