ANXIETY TAKES OVER
M a y 2 8 – 3 0 , 2 0 0 1
THE DAY AFTER THE ATTACK WAS A SUNDAY. That morning we started our morning program a little late. I wanted to give the devotees a chance to rest. Many had been shaken by the events of the previous night. Devotees had not seen our injured men, most of whom had returned late from the hospital, and as each of them entered the temple room covered in bandages and in some cases bare stitches, it was obvious that our people had suffered. A number of men had black eyes and bruised knuckles. My heart went out to them. These devotees are front-line soldiers, risking their lives to spread Lord Caitanya’s message. They mean more to me now than they ever did.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me;
Shall be my brother.
—Henry V, William Shakespeare
I could only imagine the karmic reactions awaiting those who attacked these devotees of the Lord. There’s a German proverb: “In time of war, the devil makes more room in hell.”
If someone asked me what was the best day in my life, I’d have to say it took place two years ago. On that day, I stood on the main stage at Woodstock and watched 250,000 young people chant Hare Kåñëa and dance in ecstasy as Village of Peace played on the main stage. If I were asked about the saddest day of my life, I would have to say it was the Sunday morning a small group of us returned to the Tomaszow festival site to inform the public that we had decided to cancel the second day of our festival due to inadequate security. As we stood in the empty field where we had entertained huge crowds only the day before, I watched in sorrow as thousands of people poured into the festival grounds expecting to participate in another day of festivities with us. With each look of disappointment as we informed people we were canceling, I felt my own sadness deepen until finally I was unable bear it any longer. As devotees continued to approach groups of people to inform them of the situation, I returned to my car. Even there, people I could see passing by on their way to the festival grounds. It was too much for me, and at one point I broke down and cried out of frustration and anger. The only solace I had was that we were on our way to hold a festival in another town the next day.
Early Monday morning we were off to Ozorkow, the second town on our spring tour. The devotees were nervous with the attack still fresh in their minds. I tried to encourage them while we rode the bus. I reminded them that we would have a professional security group at the Ozorkow festival.
But it wasn’t just the attack that disturbed them; they were now aware that there was an organized effort to stop our festival programs in this part of Poland.
It was difficult not knowing when and how the opposition would attack next. Such opposition is always evasive—they have to be, because they know that they can do nothing legal to stop us. We have been a registered religion in Poland since 1991, and we work closely with Poland’s Department of Religious Affairs. Whenever anyone has been foolish enough to accuse us directly of criminal activity, we have always defeated them in court. Therefore, the opposition’s tactics have had to change. Now they spread false propaganda about us through the media without identifying themselves as the source of the information. When they see that their tactics are not having much effect and do not really discourage attendance at our festivals, they revert to the tactics the Nazis used on the Polish Jews after the German occupation in 1939—they beat us with iron bars and chains to drive us out of their towns.
But who are these people? And where are they? In Vedic culture, opponents fought on equal terms, face to face. Our opposition is invisible. It is difficult to defeat an invisible opponent. As Sun Tzu says, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”
Any apprehension we had about the Ozorkow festival, however, was dissipated when we began to set up our site. The city council had given us the main square, and setting up there was, in effect, big advertising. Crowds of curious people passed through the square all day long, guaranteeing a substantial attendance that evening. As soon as our hired security team arrived (huge men dressed in uniforms and armed with sticks), the devotees relaxed.
Unfortunately, as the day wore on, the sky filled with big black clouds. It began to rain an hour before the program was to begin. This appeared to be yet another reversal in our plans. But amazingly, people began to arrive, despite the rain, carrying colorful umbrellas. By the time the show began, the square was a sea of umbrellas.
One hour into the program I went to my van to make arrangements for the next festival, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, in Zgierz. Suddenly the phone rang. It was Nandiné with bad news. The Zgierz authorities had canceled the festival after a telephone call from their counterparts in Tomaszow. They were told that our festival was terrible, that we were a band of gypsies with nothing to offer, and that we had been caught selling drugs behind our tents. Nandiné immediately telephoned the councilors in Tomaszow and inquired if they had, in fact, made such a call. They replied that they had not and that, to the contrary, they had loved our festival. It was obvious that our invisible enemy had made the call to Zgierz. Although the councilors in Tomaszow phoned the Zgierz authorities to clear the misunderstanding, the Zgierz council remained skeptical and refused to permit the festival.
The rain continued to fall on the sea of umbrellas before our stage in Ozorkow, but the people remained undaunted. They were mesmerized by the expert dancing of our artists from South Africa, the professionalism of the puppet theater (which caused some kids to laugh so hard they fell over), and the kértanas (which made even the elderly dance). The rain and cool weather gave people an appetite, and the restaurant was packed throughout the festival.
As usual, I made my rounds through the tents, shops, and exhibits to ensure that everything was going well. A number of people stood before the displays on vegetarianism and reincarnation thoughtfully pondering the philosophy. Others browsed through the gift shops, often staring in amazement at the exotic items on sale, many of which they had never seen before.
At one point I felt that someone was following me. When I looked behind me, I saw a man dressed in black. When I looked at him, he looked away quickly. Seeing my concern, one of the devotees approached and said, “Mahäräja, that man has been following you for some time. I’ve been watching him. He’s been taking photographs of you from all angles.”
I decided to question the man, but as soon as I started toward him he disappeared. Devotees stayed near me for the duration of the festival. I also dug through the trunk of my car and found of a big stick and a canister of CS tear gas. I used to carry such things in the early years of our festival tour.
Toward the end of the evening as our reggae band was performing, the rain subsided and hundreds of people gathered before the stage. Our professional security team took up positions in front of the stage, a move that raised a few eyebrows among the mellow teenagers ready to dance, but which was much appreciated by the devotees.
The evening ended peacefully at 10:00 P.M. Our hired security left, and our own boys would stay to guard the festival. Just as the rest of us were about to leave, Nandiné received a call from a member of the city council in Zgierz. To her surprise the councilors had changed their minds. They had called back to give us permission to hold our festival. When Nandiné inquired what had made them change their minds, the man laughed and said they had sent a member of the council to the festival in Ozorkow that evening to see what it was actually like. He had phoned back with a glowing report. Could that have been the man who had been photographing me?
The next day we chanted and distributed invitations in Opoczno, where we plan to hold the festival on Friday and Saturday. As usual, we distributed more than five thousand invitations and looked forward to yet another blissful program. On harinäma, a drunkard approached me, wanting to talk. He was wild and talking so loudly our security boys tried to restrain him. Still, he was determined to speak to me. As he became more insistent, they finally dragged him away. Somehow he escaped them and returned. When the security caught him again, I decided to defuse the situation by asking him what he wanted. I was amazed when I heard what he wanted to say. Pulling out my Chant! Chant! Chant! bhajana tape, he said he wanted to thank me for making “such a beautiful cassette.” Apparently he had purchased it at the Tomaszow festival, and he had known it was my tape because the label has my picture on it. Then he really took me by surprise by saying that he was enjoying reading Bhagavad-gétä, which he had also purchased at the festival. Then he bowed respectfully and walked off, smirking at the security boys.
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.
—Çré Caitanya-candrämåta, Chapter 10
On Tuesday morning on the way to the second day of the Ozorkow festival, Nandiné received a call from Opoczno, where we had performed harinäma the day before. It was the town secretary, and she called to tell us that the mayor had just canceled the event. Nandiné was shocked and asked for an explanation. The secretary said that if Nandiné wanted, she could come and speak to the mayor herself. Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä immediately drove to Opoczno and confronted the mayor in his office. He was pleasant but firm: there would be no festival. When asked why, he said, “Because we are having problems with the site.”
Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä asked the mayor if there was a more specific reason for the cancellation. He paused, then opened our festival brochure and pointed to my name. “You can’t have your festival because of him,” he said. “The festival is led by this person, who is a world preacher and guru in the Hare Kåñëa movement. The higher authorities in our town [the Church] will not allow him to come here.”
And that was that. The festival was canceled.
On their way back to Ozorkow, Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä decided to pass through Tomaszow to officially thank the authorities for allowing us to hold our festival there and to apologize for the attack on the guests and devotees. The Tomaszow officials in turn apologized for the incident, which they said investigations had revealed had been perpetrated by a nationalist group of young men under the direction of “higher authorities.” The town secretary said that we should be extremely careful, because the group was targeting us in this area and could again become violent. They told Nandiné that only that afternoon the group had managed to convince the regional television network via another false telephone call that all the Festival of India programs scheduled in the area for the next month had been canceled. The information was broadcast on all the news programs that day. Nandiné was stunned. All her work preparing festivals in the region had just been destroyed, and she and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä would have to begin again.
Now we must take even more precautions. If it wasn’t for the fact that we are getting such an overwhelming response to our festivals (averaging three thousand attendees a day), I might consider moving them elsewhere. But we’ll depend on Kåñëa and go on as planned. I know it won’t be easy. We’re the underdog here, with fewer resources than our opposition. Material calculations would indicate that we cannot win. As Jean-Paul Sartre stated,. “When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.”
But spiritual calculations indicate that if we remain faithful to the Lord and take shelter of His lotus feet, we might triumph.
May the wide-eyed and auspicious nails of the lion-faced Lord, Nåsiàha, who is in the company of His consort Lakñmé, protect us. His nails are like thunderbolts in tearing asunder the lofty mountainlike heads of the herds of strong and intoxicated elephants in the forms of demons, the foes of Indra.
“O consort of Lakñmé! Although I have made an all-around study of the çästra, I don’t find anything superior to You, my master. There is nothing superior to You. Brahmä, Çiva, Indra, and their hosts are reduced to ashes by the sparks of fire resembling sparkling glowworms issuing from the curved edge of Your right eye filled with masses of wrath.”
—Çré Nåsiàha Naka Stuti, Madhväcärya