– FEBRUARY 13-15, 2001 –


ON FEBRUARY 13, Çré Prahläda, Rukmiëé Priya and myself arrived in New Delhi from Moscow. I will be spending ten days in India, resting and recuperating from our trip to Russia, before embarking on a preaching tour of Africa.

After spending one precious day in Våndävana, I traveled south to Udaipur to join my son, Gaura Çakti däsa, and two of his business associates, Mickey and Sherry Goldman, all of whom are on a business and recreation trip in Rajasthan. After meeting Mickey and Sherry, I was a little apprehensive about spending a planned five days with them, as our initial conversations didn’t go much beyond the daily news and the weather. Mickey and Sherry are both older than me and come from conservative Jewish backgrounds. I could sense they felt a little uncomfortable around a Hare Kåñëa devotee in saffron robes. However, it appeared that Kåñëa had a plan for them, which gradually unfolded as the days went by.

When Mickey and Sherry inquired from me as to what sites would be interesting to visit in Udaipur, they seemed a little surprised by my detailed reply. I have been interested in Rajasthan for a long time, as much of its history concerns Våndävana Deities, many of whom were moved to Rajasthani locations such as Jaipur and Nathdwar to save Them from the wrath of India’s Moghul rulers. Nathdwar, near Udaipur, has thus been home to Mädhavendra Puré’s Deity, Çré Gopäla (Çré Näthjé), for more than three centuries.

In his book, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, an extensive diary written in the early 1800s, British Colonel James Todd describes Udaipur as “the most diversified and romantic spot on the continent of India.” Even today, with its grandiose palaces, hilltop forts and beautiful temples, Udaipur looks as if it has been lifted straight from the pages of a fairy tale book. When I suggested to Mickey and Sherry that they begin by visiting Udaipur Palace, they asked if I would come along. Though the palace is of little spiritual interest, I agreed, hoping to develop a deeper relationship with them in which I might be able to inspire them in Kåñëa consciousness.

At the palace we began making our way through the inner chambers. When Mickey asked why the hallways were so narrow and the entrances to the rooms so low, I explained that they were built like that as a strategy to deal with enemy soldiers attacking the palace. Invading soldiers could advance only one at a time through the narrow hallways, and bowing their heads low upon entering the rooms gave an advantage to the palace soldiers on the other side who would easily behead them.

When we reached the renowned Room of Mirrors, a young American man, seeing my saffron cloth, approached and asked if he could speak with me. Folding his hands and saying “Hari Oà,” he asked if I had ever read the Bhagavad-gétä. When I replied that I had, a lively conversation began, wherein we debated whether God were a person or an energy. Mickey and Sherry listened intently as I presented arguments for the existence of a personal God. I took advantage of the situation more to preach to them than to my impersonalist acquaintance. Although the young man would not concede defeat, my arguments seemed to impress Mickey and Sherry, who as the day wore on began to ask me questions of a spiritual nature. Last night over dinner we had discussed a number of spiritual topics, and our conversation seemed to make them more relaxed in my presence. In fact, at the end of the evening Mickey concluded by stating that in America it is unfortunate that Kåñëa consciousness is sometimes thought of as a cult when in fact it is an ancient religion. On the way home, I reflected that although I wasn’t giving class to hundreds of devotees as I had been a few days earlier in Russia, at least I was able to convince one gentleman about the authenticity of Kåñëa consciousness. Even small doses of such spiritual welfare are beneficial.

Let not a single day pass without your learning a verse, half a verse, or a fourth of it, or even one letter of it; nor without attending to charity, study and other pious activity.

—Néti Çastra, Chapter 2, Verse 13

Pleased with our venture to Udaipur Palace, Mickey and Sherry again asked my advice about where else they should go. I was planning to visit the temple of Çré Näthjé in Nathdwar, about 50km south of Udaipur, and I offered to take them along. They were excited about the opportunity, as it was a journey off the general tourist route, but afterwards I wondered if I had made the right decision to invite them along. How would they, as members of the Jewish faith, relate to Deity worship?

I decided to explain the principle of Deity worship to them before we left. As we sat waiting for a car to take us to Nathdwar, I asked them if in the Jewish faith a material object can be accepted as spiritual due to its association with God. I gave the example of the holy cross in the Christian faith, and the wine and wafers given to the faithful in the Catholic Church. Although obviously material by nature, those items are accepted as having taken on a spiritual quality due to their being used in God’s service. Mickey and Sherry couldn’t think of any such example in their faith, until I suggested the Torah, the sacred book of the Jews. I said it was only paper, but it was revered by the faithful and given a special place in any home or synagogue because of its spiritual content. When they agreed, I explained that in the Vedic tradition, the Deity is carved from stone, marble, or wood, and after installation according to authorized scriptures, is accepted as nondifferent from the Lord.

At first Mickey and Sherry seemed confused. Mickey said, “We were taught that worshipping such statues is idol worship.” Then to my surprise, Sherry spoke up and said that because God is present everywhere, there is no reason why He couldn’t be in the Deity while at the same time not being limited to that form. Mickey nodded in agreement. Confident that my new friends had made a little progress in Kåñëa consciousness, I opened the taxi door and we began our journey to Nathdwar.

Mickey and Sherry were obviously pleased with Nathdwar’s exotic atmosphere, its colorful flags, banners, and shanai bands that welcome thousands of pilgrims. I did note, however, that there were far less pilgrims present than during my last visit three years ago. Obviously the recent earthquake in nearby Gujarat has had an effect on the number of pilgrims visiting Nathdwar. Çré Näthjé is the worshipful Deity of most Gujaratis, but with Indian officials putting the earthquake death toll at more than 30,000 (locals say 100,000), many more people homeless, and relief work making travel difficult, most Gujaratis are not making the pilgrimage to Nathdwar at present.

A curious thing happened as we approached the temple. It surprised all of us. As I stopped in a shop to purchase a small silver box for my Deities, a poor sädhu approached me and held out his hand for a donation. I don’t generally give Lakñmé in such situations, but I relented and decided to give the poor man ten rupees. Not having any small bills with me, I asked the shop owner to change a large one. To my surprise, he gave the bill to an equally poor woman who happened to come by begging at that same moment. Without a word, she reached into her old cloth and pulled out a wad of bills and a large bag of coins, and right there on the street changed the large bill for the shop owner!

The incident reminded me of Çréla Prabhupäda’s instructions about giving money to beggars in India. When his disciples first came to India, they didn’t know how to respond to the repeated requests for Lakñmé from the poor and the sädhus on the streets. Çréla Prabhupäda replied that they could give, but only to sädhus, and in particular to those sädhus who sat calmly on the ground, as is customary, waiting for mercy from others.

Approaching the Çré Näthjé temple we saw many pilgrims waiting for the doors to open. The men were waiting outside one set of doors, the women by another. It is customary at the temple that upon opening the doors the pilgrims charge forward to have the best vantage point for seeing Çré Näthjé. The ladies are directed to the front of the temple and the men to the back. I told Mickey and Sherry that it would be “every man for himself,” and that they should try their best to get inside the temple and see the Deity. We would meet outside after the thirty-minute darçana. There wasn’t much else I could do. I knew from past experience that darçana of Çré Näthjé is like a transcendental football match, with thousands of pilgrims pushing and shoving to see Him in a limited space.

Sure enough, when the conch shell sounded and the doors opened, thousands of men and women surged forward to get Çré Näthjé’s darçana. Sherry’s eyes opened widely as she was suddenly swept into the temple with a wave of women. I grabbed Mickey by the arm as the men’s group tumbled into the darçana hall. As the crowd pushed, Mickey and I were shoved backwards and forwards, while simultaneously being spun around as everyone clamored to see Kåñëa.

Knowing I would have only a few precious moments before Çré Gopäla (Çré Näthjé), I had memorized Mädhavendra Puré’s prayer to the Lord that I had read recently in Çré Caitanya-caritämåta. Although it is a deep prayer, beyond my realization as an aspiring devotee, Çréla Rüpa Goswami has stated that if we don’t have the desire for pure devotional service, at least we should “desire to desire” to have it. I felt that if I was going to see this special Deity for only a few moments, I might as well pray to Him in the mood of His most beloved servant who is training us to approach Kåñëa without material aspirations. When suddenly I got a glimpse of Çré Gopäla, I managed to stand still for a few moments and, folding my hands, made my supplication to Him:

ayi déna-dayärdra nätha he

mathurä-nätha kadävalokyase

hådayaà tvad-aloka-kätaraà

dayita bhrämyati kià karomy aham

O My Lord! O most merciful master! O master of Mathura! When shall I see You again? Because of My not seeing You, My agétäted heart has become unsteady. O most beloved one, what shall I do now?

—Çré Caitanya-caritämåta, Madhya 4.197

In this prayer Mädhavendra Puré is praying in the mood of separation, the highest sentiment of love of God. It is rare to attain such love, but it’s certainly possible if we strictly follow Çréla Prabhupäda.

I once asked Çréla Prabhupäda about the mood of separation. He was visiting our New Mäyäpura community in France in 1974 and was giving darçana on the lawn outside the Chateau. He was speaking about how the pure devotee sees Kåñëa everywhere because of his deep love for the Lord. When he asked for questions I raised my hand and said, “Çréla Prabhupäda, if the pure devotee sees Kåñëa everywhere, why does Lord Caitanya, who is in the mood of a devotee, say in His Çikñäñöakam prayers that He is feeling so much separation from Kåñëa?”

Çréla Prabhupäda looked at me for what seemed an eternity, then replied, “That is difficult to know, but someday you will understand.”

Çréla Prabhupäda, I’m still far from that realization, but I have faith that by menial service to your lotus feet, all these things will be revealed to me in time.

My brief meditation on Çré Gopäla was broken when the huge crowd, heaving with hundreds of devotees, suddenly spilled Mickey and me out onto the stone steps in front of the temple. We gathered ourselves and I looked anxiously at Mickey, wondering how he had fared with his first darçana of the Lord in a temple. Buttoning his shirt and rearranging his disheveled clothes, he looked at me and said with a surprised look, “I made it!” It wasn’t exactly the reaction I had hoped for.

A few moments later Sherry emerged with a blissful look on her face. Smiling she said, “Mahäräja, I got some of the sacred water and I also ate the little green leaves the priest gave me!”

As we walked back to the car she excitedly told us how she had been “right in front of the Deity,” and she explained in detail how beautiful He looked. As she described His large eyes, charming smile, and curious form “bent in three places,” I smiled, remembering my apprehension as to how she and her husband would understand the Deity. A few days ago they had come to India as simple tourists, but by the Lord’s mercy had already begun to understand some aspects of the Absolute Truth.

smeräà bhaìgé-traya-paricitäà

säci-vistérëa-dåñöià vaàçé-nyastädhara-

kiçalayäm ujjvaläà candrakeëa govindäkhyäà

hari-tanum itaù keçi-térthopakaëöhe mä prekñiñöhäs

tava yadi sakhe bandhu-saìge ’sti raìgaù

“My dear friend, if you are indeed attached to your worldly friends, do not look at the smiling face of Lord Govinda as He stands on the bank of the Yamuna at Kesi-ghata. Casting sidelong glances, He places His flute to His lips, which seem like newly blossomed twigs. His transcendental body, bending in three places, appears very bright in the moonlight.”

—Çré Caitanya-caritämåta, Adi 5.224