Chapter Twenty-Four


F e b r u a r y 2 0 – 2 3 , 2 0 0 1


May my eyes become overwhelmed with ecstasy by seeing the nectar waves of Våndävana’s beauty. May my intelligence drown in the nectar ocean of Våndävana’s glories. May my body become agitated by the swiftly moving currents of ecstatic bliss and thus roll about on the ground of Våndävana. Falling down like a stick, may I offer my respectful obeisances to all the residents of Våndävana.

—Våndävana-mahimämåta, Introduction, Text 14


OUR SMALL PARTY OF PILGRIMS entered Våndävana early on the morning of February 20. After all I had told them about the holy dhäma, Mickey and Sherry were all eyes as the unique


scenes unfolded before us. Bullock carts lumbered slowly through the small streets loaded with clay pots, vegetables, hay, and cow patties. Sädhus, their faces decorated with tilaka of various sampradäyas, walked happily on their way to see Kåñëa in any one of Våndävana’s five thousand temples. Monkeys scampered here and there, engaged in their eternal mischief. The atmosphere was vibrant with the bright cloth of the markets, the sounds of bells ringing from the temples, and the villagers greeting each other with “Jaya Rädhe!”


No doubt it is a spiritual abode, but I was anxious that Mickey and Sherry would perhaps focus on the thin veil of matter covering the dhäma to keep ordinary tourists away. Pigs and dogs were everywhere, overflowing sewers created a filthy stench, dust covered everyone and everything, and the loud noises of tractors, cars, and three-wheeled scooters competed with the dhäma’s sweet, transcendental sounds. Depending upon one’s consciousness, one can see either matter or spirit in Våndävana.


One time Çréla Prabhupäda was walking in Våndävana with his disciples and describing the dhäma’s spiritual glories. His description was so detailed, so vivid, that devotees were convinced he was seeing the Lord’s pastimes before him. At one point, a disciple politely interrupted and said that despite Çréla Prabhupäda’s wonderful description, he could see only rickshaw drivers, old buildings, sewers, pigs, and dogs. Çréla Prabhupäda smiled and said that his disciple could not see the spiritual nature of the dhäma because there was a “speck” in his eye. The devotee responded by rubbing his eyes, causing Çréla Prabhupäda to laugh. Çréla Prabhupäda then said, “No, not like that. The ‘speck’ is your material desires. When you remove those desires from your heart, then you will see Våndävana as it is.”


In a sense, Mickey and Sherry had come to Våndävana as pilgrims. Although they were tourists in India, they were no longer interested in going to the spots tourists generally go. On the way to Våndävana, they had taken a side trip to India’s ultimate tourist destination, the Taj Mahal, but upon entering Våndävana, they could immediately perceive the difference. As we neared the Våndävana-Våndävana Trust facility, where they would be staying, Mickey offered his first assessment of Våndävana: “The Taj Mahal was dead compared with Våndävana. There’s a special atmosphere here!”


Our first darçana was with Çréla Prabhupäda in his samädhi. While they walked around looking at the samädhi’s intricate design, I sat before the large brass mürti of my spiritual master, as I always do upon first entering Våndävana, and gave a report of my devotional service since I had last been there. I spoke of my successes and failures in my recent attempts to preach in Russia. I had managed to visit more than twenty temples and had helped to inspire the devotees in their service, but I had once again failed to relinquish the material desires in my heart that keep me from offering pure devotion to the Lord. I revealed my plans for service until next Kärttika, when I would return to Våndävana, and asked for Çréla Prabhupäda’s blessings.


After taking darçana of Rädhä-Çyämasundara, we took rickshaws into town to visit the Rädhä-Dämodara temple, where I proceeded to tell Mickey and Sherry about Çréla Prabhupäda’s pastime of coming to the West. The story so touched their hearts that when Çré Prahläda led kértana in Çréla Prabhupäda’s room they enthusiastically chanted Hare Kåñëa with us. It was the first time they had chanted, and it seemed to me to be the beginning of the end of their material existence.


O Lord, is Your impersonal spiritual effulgence not always present everywhere? Even so, it has not been able to break even a single small leaf from the tree of repeated birth and death. On the other hand, the moment Your holy name is taken by the tongue it thoroughly shatters the tree of birth and death down to its roots. Of these two [the spiritual effulgence or the holy name], which should be served?

—Padyävalé, Text 28


In the evening we visited the temple of Vraja Mohan, Narottama däsa Öhäkura’s Deity. After kértana, Mickey turned to me and said that he had heard that Vraja Mohan was a special Deity for me. I said He was and told him that I was helping to reconstruct the temple. I mentioned that my Russian disciples, eager to help me in my service, had recently donated more than $1000 to paint the entire temple and make three new outfits for the Lord. I explained to Mickey that this is the real meaning of Deity worship: it allows us to render personal, intimate service to the Lord. Looking at Vraja Mohan, Mickey said, “I think I understand now.”


When we left the temple Mickey wasn’t around, so I went back inside to find him. From a distance, I saw him with the priest. He was handing him a $100 bill, pointing to the Deity and indicating that it was for His service.


On February 21, we visited other prominent temples. As we headed into town in the morning I didn’t see Sherry and asked Mickey if she would be coming. He smiled and pointed to the group of ladies that were accompanying us. There I saw Sherry in a silk sari with a bindi on her forehead. She kept her head covered the whole day and offered her respects to all the Deities in the temples we visited, folding her hands and sometimes praying. I also prayed to those same Deities, amazed by Their potency to transform the hearts of my guests:


pratimä naha tumi——säkñät vrajendra-nandana

My dear Lord, You are not a statue; You are directly the son of Mahäräja Nanda.

Cc. Madhya 5.97


February 22 was Lord Siva’s appearance day, and I decided to spend the day alone, going on pilgrimage to Govardhana Hill. I was particularly eager to visit Chakaleçvara Mahädeva, a Çiva temple on the banks of the Manasi Gaìga lake. It is one of the five principal Çiva temples in Våndävana. As Gauòéya Vaiñëavas we don’t worship Lord Çiva in his capacity as a demigod but take shelter of him as the greatest devotee of the Lord. Specifically, we ask him to allow us entrance into Våndävana, as he is the guardian of that holy place.


When I reached the temple, I found more than a hundred Brijbasis sitting in front of the Çiva-liìga, absorbed in an enthusiastic bhajanaa. One man was singing the glories of Chakaleçvara Mahädeva while playing harmonium, another was wildly beating a mådäìga, and many more were playing karatälas. They were all dressed in colorful clothing as a way of marking the occasion. The men had on either white or yellow dhotis, with wide red, blue, or green sashes around their waists. The ladies wore colorful saris and danced joyfully on the perimeter of the bhajana. Upon seeing me, the men beckoned me forward and sat me down in their midst. Although I didn’t know any of the bhajana’s words, I remained among them for well over an hour, fascinated by the atmosphere and praying to Lord Çiva for mercy.


From the Chakaleçvara Mahädeva temple I proceeded to Uddhava-kuëòa, where Uddhava had prayed to the Lord to take birth as a blade of grass in order to receive the mercy of the Vrajavasis, whose lotus feet traverse that holy place. In Kärttika, the elderly püjäré there, whose heart is pure, had given me an ancient çälagräma çilä, I now brought him a donation for the temple. When he saw me he smiled and called me forward. When I gave him the Lakñmé, he was very surprised and immediately turned to the Rädhä-Kåñëa Deities on the altar and said, “Öhäkurajié just see what mercy has come! Now You will get some new clothes! This devotee has brought You a donation. Öhäkurajé, look!”


Watching his personal dealings with the Deity, I hankered to one day have the same relationship with mine.


As he continued to talk to Them, coming up with different ideas how he would use the money in Their service, I quietly offered my obeisances and started to leave. However, when the püjäré saw me going he quickly grabbed my arm and asked me to wait. Going to the altar, he picked up a small Govardhan çilä and then returned to put Him in my hand. I politely refused, telling him that I already had a Govardhan çilä, but he wouldn’t listen. He looked at the Govardhan çilä and said, “Can’t you see? He wants to go with you! He doesn’t want to stay here anymore. He wants to go with you.”


The truth is, I couldn’t see, but I had a strange feeling that the püjäré could. I thought, “This is a special day, a special place, and this püjäré seems to be a special devotee. Perhaps I should accept the çilä.” When I looked closely at the Deity I saw that He too was special. He was a dark red-brown color, with an amazing streak of white quartz on His head that formed a perfectly natural crown. He was gorgeous.


The püjäré kept insisting and mildly chastised me, “Prabhujé, He wants to go with you. Are you going to refuse Him?”


Looking at the püjäré I said, “No, Prabhu, I won’t refuse. If you say He wants to come with me, then I will accept Him.”

As the “two” of us departed, the püjäré stood up and happily waved goodbye.


What wonderful mercy can be had in the transcendental land of Våndävana! What great fortune I obtained that day in my solitary wanderings at the foot of Govardhana Hill!


O brother, what kinds of enjoyment have you not already experienced in this world of birth and death? What kind of fame and worship have you not already attained in this world by scholarship, charity and sacrifice? For today, O friend, simply accept whatever food comes unsought, look to see the good qualities in others but not their faults, do not put yourself forward, but remain obscure and unbeknown, and continually wander, without any companion, in this beautiful forest of Våndävana.

—Våndävana-mahimämåta, Çataka 2, Text 14


I spent the rest of the afternoon at Çréla Raghunätha däsa Goswami’s samädhi mandira chanting and reading. In the evening I returned to Våndävana to make final preparations for my departure to South Africa the next morning. When I arrived, Mickey and Sherry came to see me. When they asked where I had been all day, I told them I had gone to Govardhana Hill and Rädhä-kuëòa. Apparently, some devotees had told them about the glories of those places, and they lamented that they wouldn’t have a chance to see them before leaving India. Upon hearing their enthusiasm, and considering that such a visit would be the crowning glory of their trip to India, we decided to go to Rädhä-kuëòa on our way to Delhi to catch our flights.


Rising early the next day, Gaura Sakti, Mickey, Sherry, and I packed our belongings into the Tata Sumo van that would be taking us to the airport. I was already feeling separation from Våndävana.


To drink: the freely flowing streams are filled with clear sweet water as nectar. To eat: the dried leaves from the trees are foods as palatable as one could desire. The warm breezes are just as one would have them. To reside: there are clean mountain caves and other suitable residences. Alas! Alas! How unfortunate I would be if I wished to leave Våndävana!

—Våndävana-mahimämåta, Çataka 1, Text 15


Actually, there is only one reason to leave Våndävana, and that is to preach Kåñëa consciousness in foreign countries. And by that preaching, one becomes qualified to actually live in, and one day see, the real glories of Våndävana-dhäma.


Now that Lord Caitanya, His heart filled with mercy, has descended to this world, those living entities who had formerly never practiced yoga, meditated, chanted mantras, performed austerities, followed various Vedic restrictions, studied the Vedas, performed spiritual activities, or refrained from sins, have become able to easily plunder the crest jewel of all goals of life.


Now that wonderfully powerful Lord Caitanya has descended to this world, the materialists, who had fallen into the raging river of fruitive deeds, have been rescued and are situated on firm ground, even the great boulders have melted, and even those whose hearts were fixed in non-devotional yoga are dancing in the ecstasy of love of Kåñëa.


The whole world is now suddenly flooded by the nectar waters of the ocean of pure love for Kåñëa. Now there is suddenly a great wonder of symptoms of ecstatic love never seen or heard of before. All this has suddenly appeared now that Lord Kåñëa has descended in a form as splendid as gold.

Caintanya-candrämåta, Chapter 12, Prabodhänanda Sarasvaté


We were running late, but Mickey and Sherry were determined to see Govardhana Hill and Rädhä-kuëòa. After a quick darçana of Lord Giriräja, we proceeded to Rädhä-kuëòa, the most sacred of all holy places. Situated in a small rural village, Rädhä-kuëòa can be truly appreciated only by those advanced souls whose eyes are anointed with the salve of love of God. Beginners can have some appreciation of this place by studying çästra, but nondevotees can only be bewildered as to why someone would be eager to visit two small ponds at the foot of Govardhana Hill.


But I could see that I didn’t have to worry about Mickey and Sherry. They were eager to see Rädhä-kuëòa and appreciated that it was special mercy for them to go there. They had been groomed for this moment by the devotees and no doubt by the Lord Himself. What tourists ever get darçana of Çré Näthjé in Nathdwar, Çré Çré Rädhä-Govinda in Jaipur, and Çré Çré Rädhä-Çyämasundara in Våndävana? What tourists live for ten days on the Lord’s mahä-prasädam? What tourists get the opportunity to give their hard-earned money to Vraja Mohan, Narottama däsa Öhäkura’s beloved Deity? The cumulative effect of all that mercy was seen in the awe and reverence Mickey and Sherry displayed when they approached Rädhä-kuëòa and placed Her sacred waters upon their heads.


On the way back to the van, Mickey said, “Mahäräja, you’ve been so kind to us these ten days here in India. In particular, you and Çré Prahläda have answered each and every one of our questions to our full satisfaction. But I have one question left, and this time I’m afraid that neither of you will be able to answer it!”


Thinking that a doubt lingered in Mickey’s mind despite the mercy he had received, I said, “What’s that question, Mickey?”


“How will I be able to explain all of this to my friends back home? How does one put into words the wonders of what we’ve seen and done? How do you explain Våndävana to those who’ve never met devotees like yourselves?”


“It’s not easy, Mickey, but devotees of the Lord carry Våndävana in their hearts, and wherever they go they share that mercy with others. My spiritual master in particular took Våndävana to the West. If people read his books, they’ll get an idea of the special mercy that is available here.”


As we got into the van, everyone felt the emptiness caused by our departure. All of us felt we were leaving our real home. As we drove down the road and out of Vraja, both Mickey and Sherry looked back. From the look in their eyes, I knew they’d return.


I am not strong enough to go to the far shore of the great nectar ocean of Våndävana’s glories. Who can go there? However, because I love Våndävana I will now dip into that ocean. I pray that this endeavor may become successful and bring an auspicious result.


Day and night I glorify Våndävana, which is filled with the wonder of Çré Çré Rädhä and Kåñëa’s pastimes, the wonder of the greatest sweetness, the ultimate nectar of Lord Hari, the sweetest, most beautiful auspiciousness and a flood of virtues Ananta-çeña, Çiva, and a host of others cannot cross.


Think of Våndävana with love. Roll in its dust. Love it ardently. Please its moving and non-moving residents. Worship Çré Rädhä’s birthplace. With all your heart take shelter of Çré Våndävana, the best of all holy places.

—Våndävana-mahimämåta, Çataka 1, Text 5-7