Chapter Thirty-Three


A p r i l 1 2 – 2 3 ,  2 0 0 1


ON APRIL 12 OUR PARTY LEFT DETROIT for the New Ramaëa Reti community in Alachua, Florida. On the way I visited my sister Anne, who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We had last seen each other five years earlier at our mother’s funeral in California.

Mother’s passing away was especially difficult for my sister, and at that time we talked a lot about death, the soul, and God. As a result we had kept in touch, and her faith in Kåñëa consciousness had deepened. We spent the day in Chattanooga continuing our discussions, and at one point I asked her what she saw as her ultimate goal in life. She surprised me when she replied, “To remember Kåñëa at the moment of death.”

As we were saying goodbye, she handed me an old piece of paper that had become yellowed with time. “I thought you might be interested to see this. I was going through Mom’s things the other day and found it in her papers. It’s a school assignment you wrote when you were nine years old. Mother always said you were different.”

November 10, 1958

Orinda Elementary School

Fruits and Vegetables for Thanksgiving Holiday

Once there was a family named Wiggins. Thanksgiving was coming up, but the stores were out of turkeys. So the father went to the woods to shoot one, but he missed every time and returned empty-handed.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving a man in a truck came by and said, “Package for the Wiggins!” Mr. Wiggins took the box into the house. The whole family came to see what it was. To their amazement there was a turkey inside, and he was as hungry as a bear! The father said to the two boys, “Make a cage for this bird and feed it so we can have a nice fat turkey for Thanksgiving.”

Every day the boys fed the turkey and played with him. Then one day Mr. Wiggins came out of the house with an ax. He went over to the cage where the turkey was. The boys saw him and said, “No, Father! Please don’t kill him! Please!”

The father replied, “Well then, what will we eat for Thanksgiving?” The boys said, “Fruits and vegetables! They’re good enough.”

The father agreed, and the Wiggins had fruits and vegetables for Thanksgiving. They all thought it was just fine.

In Alachua we stayed with Dharmätma Prabhu and his good wife Divyapriya däsé. Along with their three teenage boys, Dhruva, Devala, and Raktaka, they were the perfect hosts, providing everything we needed for our four-day visit. The New Ramaëa Reti community is made up mostly of families who have personal businesses or who work in the local towns. With such responsibilities, there weren’t a lot of devotees at the morning programs in the temple, but the evening sessions were packed and we enjoyed some of the best kértanas of our American tour. The youth of the community were especially eager to chant and dance—so much so that several times I called out, “All glories to the kids!” during the prema-dhvani prayers.

On our final day in Alachua, Dharmätma suggested we float down a nearby river to relax. When I brought up the point that there were a lot of alligators and water moccasin snakes in the rivers and swamps of Florida, Dharmätma laughed. “There may be a few water moccasins in that river, but I’ve never seen a gator.” Off we went.

It was nice floating down the picturesque river. I lay on my back in the water and let the current gradually take me downstream. Many people passed us by in small boats and canoes. The water was as clear as a bell. I did relax—a little bit. I must admit I was nervous. I just couldn’t understand how alligators were everywhere in Florida, but not in that river! Halfway down, I asked Dharmatma again, “Are you sure there are no alligators here?”

“I’d be real surprised if I saw one.”

“So would I. Real surprised!”

Two hours later, we got out of the river and climbed up a small wooden platform with a couple of boats tied to it. A big sign hung on the front of the platform. We read it as we dried off. I don’t know who was more surprised by what it said, me or Dharmätma:

Beware! Swim with Caution!

Alligators live in most of Florida’s waterways, typically eating fish, turtles, and other small animals. Large alligators, however, attack bigger animals, such as deer, and may sometimes attack humans. Therefore follow these rules:

Swim only in designated areas

Be watchful for alligators

Never feed the alligators

Report all alligators to a park ranger.

I’m always one for following rules. Next time I’ll take a boat!

As we were leaving New Ramaëa Reti, Dharmätma’s eldest son, Dhruva däsa, presented me with a wonderful gift of an ancient Tibetan kavaca, It is to be worn on the arm. Dhruva had recently come back from a pilgrimage to more than eighty-five Nåsiàha temples in South India, including Ahovalam, the appearance site of Lord Nåsiàha, and Rakta-kuëòa, where Lord Nåsiàha washed His hands of Hiraëyakaçipu’s blood after killing him. At every temple he had requested sandalwood paste and tulasé leaves from the feet of the Nåsiàha Deity, and each time had put a little in the kavaca. He also took a small red stone from Rakta-kuëòa and placed it inside the kavaca. Rakta means “red” and kuëòa means “pond.” The stones in Rakta-kuëòa are dark red because of the daitya’s blood. One might find it surprising that a devotee would decorate his body with the blood of an asura, but çästra says that Hiraëyakaçipu’s body became purified by the touch of the Lord’s hand.

oà aà hréà kñrauà oà phat tattaka

hataka keçägra jvalat paduka locana

bhadrädika nakha sparça divya-siàha namo ‘stu te

O my Lord, O transcendental lion, I offer my obeisances unto You along with Mother Lakñmé. Sometimes flying in the sky, sometimes moving on foot, Your mane hairs blaze with a golden brilliance. Your glance and the touch of Your nails are the source of all auspiciousness.

—Source unknown

I visited Ahovalam and Rakta-kuëòa in 1979, just after taking sannyäsa at the Mäyäpura festival. The priest acting as my guide to the nine Nåsiàha temples told me that by bathing in the sacred, blood-red water of Rakta-kuëòa, my body would become invincible. Remembering Siegfried, the hero of the medieval German epic Nibelungenlied, who gained invulnerability by smearing his body with the blood of a dragon he had killed, I plunged into the kuëòa. Nibelungenlied was fiction, of course, but Lord Nåsiàhadeva’s pastimes are authentic. I hoped that by bathing in the sanctified waters of Rakta-kuëòa I would be protected in my service to the Lord.

Devotees require protection because this is the world of inimical souls. From Brahmä down to the insignificant ant, everyone maintains a spirit of independence from the Lord. Preaching Kåñëa consciousness is therefore never easy. Once after returning from a harinäma in Paris, Çréla Prabhupäda called all of us into his room and asked how our street chanting had gone. I told him of a lady who had come in front of the kértana party and purposefully blocked her ears with her fingers. Çréla Prabhupäda asked me what I had done about it. I hadn’t done anything. He smiled and said that I should have taken her fingers out and loudly chanted the holy name. When I mentioned that saìkértana that day had been somewhat difficult, Çréla Prabhupäda leaned over his desk and said in a serious tone, “When did I ever say that preaching was easy?”

A preacher naturally has to face opposition. A devotee recently remarked to me, “If there is no opposition, that means there is no preaching.”

To protect His devotees from opposition, Kåñëa appears as Lord Nåsiàhadeva, the half-man, half-lion incarnation. In 1983 I was fortunate to receive Lord Nåsiàhadeva’s mercy in yet another way. I was at the Mäyäpura festival when a devotee approached me saying that a Gauòéya sannyäsé, Çréla Bhakti Pramoda Puré Mahäräja, felt he was going to pass away soon and wanted to give the Nåsiàha mantra to a sannyäsé before he left. Puré Mahäräja had inquired of that devotee if he knew any ISKCON sannyäsé who would be willing to accept it. I was definitely interested, and after getting permission from several GBC men, went to Mahäräja’s äçrama and inquired about the nature of the mantra. Puré Mahäräja told me a story. He said that Çréla Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura had once been experiencing opposition to his preaching in Bengal. One night, Lord Nåsiàhadeva appeared to him in a dream and gave him the Nåsiàha-mantra. Years later, Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura gave that mantra to his son, Bimala Prasada, who later became Çréla Bhaktisiddhänta Saraswaté Öhäkura. Çréla Bhaktisiddhänta subsequently gave the mantra to ten of his most prominent sannyäsés. By the time I met Puré Mahäräja, he was the only sannyäsé of the ten still living.

I begged him to give me the mantra, and after a small ceremony he whispered it into my right ear. When I inquired about the benefit of chanting it, he replied, “It will protect you from death itself!”

When I asked Puré Mahäräja if I could ever give the mantra to someone else, he mildly chastised me by saying, “Yes, but don’t think you are special!”

I chant the mantra daily, but I have called upon it on only three occasions. In April 1996, just after the war in Bosnia had ended, a large group of us were chanting on the streets of Sarajevo. The area was littered with the debris from recent bombings, and the people were still in a state of shock from years of fighting. In retrospect, it wasn’t the proper time to go out singing and dancing. Also, in our naiveti, we chanted as we passed the city’s largest mosque on a Friday afternoon, the Muslim day of worship. Almost immediately, an angry group of freshly returned servicemen burst out of the mosque and attacked us. As I saw the soldiers coming I calmly chanted the Nåsiàha-mantra, and although we fought hard and many devotees were hurt (three seriously cut with knives), I escaped injury.

A couple of years later, I was swimming in the ocean at Split, Croatia. Suddenly a huge storm appeared, whipping the water into a fury. As I was being swept out to sea by the strong current, I chanted the Nåsiàha-mantra. Slowly but surely, I felt myself drifting to the side of the current, and I was eventually able to swim back to the beach.

The third time I called on the mantra was two years ago when our Polish festival tour was attacked by skinheads. Standing on a small ridge next to our festival site, they threw Molotov cocktails (incendiary devices consisting of a corked bottle filled with gasoline and a piece of rag to serve as a wick). As the bottles exploded, I again called upon the Nåsiàha-mantra. Immediately, the skinheads ran away. By Lord Nåsiàha’s mercy, no one was hurt and the damage to our festival paraphernalia was minimal.

etad vapus te bhagavan

dhyäyataù paramätmanaù

sarvato goptå santräsän

måtyor api jighäàsataù

“My dear Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, You are the Supreme Soul. If one meditates upon Your transcendental body, You naturally protect him from all sources of fear, even the imminent danger of death.”

Purport: Everyone is sure to die, for no one is excused from the hands of death, which is but a feature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When one becomes a devotee, however, he is not destined to die according to a limited duration of life. . . . a devotee’s lifetime can be extended by the mercy of the Supreme Lord, who is able to nullify the results of one’s karma. . . . even a devotee’s scheduled death can be avoided by the causeless mercy of the Supreme Lord.

—Bhäg. 7.10.29

Now with the added protection of Dhruva’s Tibetan kavaca, I wondered what might be in store for me in the future. I reflected that I was in America to preach and raise funds for our festival tour in Poland. The collection was going well, and I was enjoying the association of so many wonderful devotees, but was this the “calm before the storm”?

As fate would have it, that evening, upon arriving at Prabhupäda Village in North Carolina, the final stop on our American tour, I received a call from Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä with an update on their efforts to organize this year’s Polish tour. They explained that they were meeting stiff resistance on several fronts: the region near the city of Lodz, southwest of Warsaw, where we plan to do the spring tour, the Baltic Sea coast, where we’ll hold the summer tour, and the town of Zary near the site of August’s Woodstock Festival.

Under pressure from the Catholic Church, many town councils in the vicinity of Lodz are debating whether to grant us permission to hold festivals in their towns, while on the coast Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä are still struggling to find schools which will allow us to use their premises as a base, as we have done every other year. In Zary, where we entertain many of the 300,000 Woodstock participants with our Festival of India program each year (and distribute more than 80,000 plates of prasädam), clerics have been waging a campaign of misinformation about us and warning the local people not to cooperate with us during the festival period. In previous years the locals have helped us in many ways by bringing in equipment to make ditches for water and sanitation at the site, digging holes for electrical poles, transporting the twenty-two tons of bhoga we prepare, and regularly emptying the one hundred garbage bins. With this new development, I requested Nandiné to go to the local army base. The army has also been instrumental in helping us at previous Woodstocks. However, Nandiné surprised me when she said that the devotees had approached the commander of the base that morning and he had already told them that his orders were to not cooperate with us during the festival.

I looked out the window and thought, “With that option gone, it looks as if we’ll have to do it alone this year.”

Or will we?

yatra yogeçvaraù kåñëo

yatra pärtho dhanur-dharaù

tatra çrér vijayo bhütir

dhruvä nétir matir mama

“Wherever there is Kåñëa, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power and morality. That is my opinion.”

—Bg. 18.78