Chapter 20: On a Razor’s Edge

On a Razor’s Edge

Volume 3, Chapter 20

September 02, 2001, Moscow, Russia.


On the way to visit the Moscow gurukula this morning, we received an impassioned call from Sakatara das, who was at the train station purchasing our tickets to St Petersburg. In a distressed voice he said that a powerful bomb had exploded in the station on the level just below him. A number of people appeared to have been killed and many more injured. People were panicking and running everywhere and the police were heading to the scene. We discussed the situation, and I told him to leave immediately. We would fly to St Petersburg rather than take the train. A number of bombs have gone off in Moscow during the past year. Though no one has been arrested, the government blames the Chechen rebels and uses that suspicion to pursue the war in Chechnya. Many people believe, however, that it is the government itself planting the bombs. Some time ago, four KGB agents were found under an apartment complex setting up explosives. When questioned by the police they said they were practicing. Few believe them. The people say that the government plants the bombs and kills its own people, while blaming the Chechen rebels in order to get financial support for the war. Disgusted with the possibility of such government involvement and fearful for their lives, a number of people have moved out of Moscow.

“One should always deal cautiously with fire, water, women, foolish people, serpents, and members of a royal family, for they may, when the occasion presents itself, at once bring about our death.

[Canakya Pandit – Niti Sastra, Chapter 14, Text 11]

Such unfortunate situations were predicted in the Twelfth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, describing the symptoms of the coming of the age of Kali:

praja hi lubdhai rajanyair

nirghrnair dasyu-dharmabhih


yasyanti giri kananam

“Losing their wives and properties to such avaricious and merciless rulers, who will behave no better than ordinary thieves, the citizens will flee to the mountains and forests.” [SB 12.2.8]

The people of Russia have a long history of oppression by their rulers. The change to democracy has not really altered things. Actually, the only effective change will come when the leaders are Krsna conscious. A Krsna conscious leader is satisfied in and of himself, and thus has no reason to exploit others; and the people are happy with him because he knows the art of fulfilling their material and spiritual needs. The fact is, if the leaders encouraged the people to simply chant Hare Krsna en mass, the world would quickly become heaven on earth.

saha yajnah prajah srstva

purovaca prajapatih

anena prasavisyadhvam

esa vo ‘stv ista kama dhuk

“In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Visnu, and blessed them by saying, ‘Be thou happy by this yajna [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you everything desirable for living happily and achieving liberation.” [BG 3.10]

This afternoon we went to the airport to catch our flight to St Petersburg. While waiting in the departure lounge, I spotted a Tibetan Lama, sitting alone, peacefully waiting for the flight. I was attracted to his apparent simplicity and renunciation. He was dressed in traditional Buddhist robes and carried only a small bag. My emotions on seeing him were similar to the first time I ever saw someone in the robes of an Eastern religion. When I was 19, I flew on a plane from Cairo, Egypt, to Beirut, Lebanon. I was on a pilgrim’s journey, searching for the goal of life. I had been in Egypt studying the ways of the ancient Pharaohs and was on my way to Lebanon to inquire about the Islamic faith. While I was adjusting my seat belt and readying myself for the flight, I looked up and saw a Caucasian boy about my age coming down the aisle. He had a shaven head and was dressed in light saffron robes. He also carried a small bag, and he had a book in his hand. I was mesmerized by his peaceful countenance and effulgence.

I studied him carefully throughout the flight. The entire time he had his eyes closed in meditation, opening them only as the plane began its descent into Beirut. I thought to myself, “I want to be like him.”

After we landed and passed through immigration I tried to find him to speak to him; but he had already gone. He had no possessions to collect and cleared Customs quicker than I. Years later, I reflected that my not being able to meet him was Krsna’s mercy. Most likely he was an impersonalist, and meeting him may well have sent me down the wrong path. But his spirit of renunciation impressed me and stayed with me. Seeing the Tibetan monk again brought forth feelings of admiration. It is not easy to renounce this world in any way, means or manner. But my appreciation was soon mixed with doubt, when I saw a middle-aged woman in a fur coat come to collect him from the departure lounge and take him to the plane. After a few moments, I could understand that she was traveling with him and helping him in various ways. They didn’t appear to be transgressing religious principles, but the idea of a woman in a fur coat helping an elderly Tibetan monk didn’t sit right in my mind. Once seated on the plane, I was again impressed when he took out his beads and began chanting. A few minutes later, however, I noticed him reading a magazine and studying the advertisements containing women and intoxication. I still feel he was sincere in his own way – but not careful enough about how he carried himself. I thought to myself that I must be more careful in my travels, for I also sometimes pick up a Newsweek magazine and read it in-flight. It’s of no benefit to me, and I can only imagine what other passengers must think of the monk in saffron reading the worldly news.

uttisthata jagrata

prapya varan nibodhata

knurasya dhara nisita duratyaya

durgam pathas tat kavayo vadanti

“Please wake up and try to understand the boon that you now have in this human form of life. The path of spiritual realization is very difficult; it is sharp like a razor’s edge. That is the opinion of learned transcendental scholars.”

[Katha Upanisad 1.3.14]