HOLY NAMES BRING CHANGE OF HEART
J u n e 1 2 – 1 8 , 2 0 0 1
ON JUNE 12, we packed up the festival program in Gorzow Wielkopolski and headed back toward Lodz to begin final preparations for our festival there. Gorzow Wielkopolski had been a picnic for the devotees—we had been special guests in the city and the authorities had made all the arrangements for our festival program. Devotees had had time to relax, and had enjoyed the preaching. The light mood gradually changed as we drove south. The attack on our festival in Tomaszow was still fresh in our minds, and word had spread among them that our hired security felt that Lodz was the most dangerous city in Poland. Although the harinäma parades held in Lodz before leaving for Gorzow Wielkopolski had been well received, the writing was “on the wall” in Lodz. Literally. The all-pervading graffiti in the city revealed the hate mentality of many of the young people there. Slogans such as, “Poland for Poles,” “Death to Jews,” and “Nazis Rule Here” were common.
Lodz is an industrial town with many factories, but still a good number of people are out of work. Boredom and frustration give rise to xenophobia (extreme nationalism), and such feelings cause people to attack events like our festival in Tomaszow.
The further south we drove the worse the weather became. Black clouds hovered overheard as we passed Lodz and neared our base.
After looking out the window, one devotee turned to me. “Mahäräja, some devotees feel we’re asking for trouble by doing a festival in Lodz. They say the same people who attacked us in Tomaszow may come back.”
I replied, “We shouldn’t worry. Devotees are not afraid to defend themselves if necessary.” I quoted Çréla Prabhupäda: “ . . . Vaiñëavas do not simply chant Hare Kåñëa. If there is need, they can fight under the guidance of Viñëu and become victorious . . . Generally, a Vaiñëava is nonviolent [however] if Kåñëa wants we shall be prepared to become violent also.” (Lecture, London, 1973)
I added, “But if there’s trouble we won’t have to do the fighting ourselves. We will be well protected by our hired security team for the entire three-day festival. Don’t worry. Their presence will act as a deterrent to anyone who would want to harm us. We must go ahead with the festival. Many people are expressing a desire to attend. All the big local newspapers have written articles about the festival. If there’s anything we should worry about it’s those dark clouds. They’re our most formidable enemy right now.”
Not wanting to worry the devotee, I didn’t share with him the advice our security firm’s manager gave at a recent meeting: “Despite all the security we’re offering you, there remains one way your enemies can stop this festival for good.”
“What’s that?” I said.
Looking at me intently, he said, “Take you out.”
Coming closer, he continued, “You have to take precautions from now on. From the attack in Tomaszow, it’s obvious that some people will go to any extreme to try to stop your festival. Here’s a brochure describing different types of bulletproof vests. You’d be wise to place an order.”
I was taken aback. “Wear a bulletproof vest? What would the sannyäsés of yore think of that? They carried water pots and staffs, and here I’ll be wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a can of CS tear gas, a fighting stick tucked into my dhoti!”
I was going to tell him that Kåñëa protects His devotees, but I realized that Kåñëa expects His devotees to use their intelligence as well. The story of Närada Muni initiating a cobra flashed through my mind. Närada had accepted the cobra as a disciple, and at his initiation ceremony the snake had promised to follow the four regulative principles. But Närada Muni requested one more discipline of him: “Don’t bite anyone.”
Having heard that the snake had been told not to bite, children started throwing sticks and stones at it. The snake returned to Närada Muni’s äçrama that evening and complained about being taunted by the children. Närada Muni chastised his unique disciple, saying, “I instructed you not to bite, but I didn’t tell you to give up your intelligence! If the children come near you again, simply show your hood as if you are going to bite. Then they’ll run away!”
The security team manager added, “It’s your decision, of course, but don’t underestimate your enemies.”
I pushed the brochure back across the table and he pushed it back again. “We’re not playing games here,” he said. “Give me your measurements.”
Back at the spring tour base we received a letter from the police in Tomaszow informing us that they had discovered that on the day of our program a priest had rented a van in Czestochowa, 50km south of Tomaszow. That van had transported fifteen, tough-looking boys to a parking lot not far from the festival site. Witnesses had seen the boys hurrying to the site near the end of our program and twenty minutes later running back to the van, which then sped off. Further evidence indicates that these boys may have been responsible for the havoc that night. The investigation is continuing and legal action is to be taken at its completion.
The night before the first day of the Lodz festival I tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep. I was anxious about the event. I knew this could turn out to be a wonderful festival with a huge attendance if only because we had done more advertising for it than for any festival before. We had distributed almost 50,000 invitations, put up more than a thousand posters, and been featured throughout the media. The stage was set. But two things weighed on my mind: the frustrated youth of Lodz and the rain clouds continuing to hang over the city. Finally, I fell asleep.
When I awoke, the first thing I did was look out the window. The clouds were darker than ever, and I could feel the air thick with moisture. I asked a devotee to buy a newspaper, and when it came my fears were confirmed: rain was predicted.
But my eye caught another concern which hadn’t been brought to my attention. Not far from our festival and scheduled simultaneously was to be a major soccer match, a sure sign of trouble. I offered püjä to my Lakñmé-Nåsiàhadeva with all the devotion I could muster, then attended the morning program with the devotees. After prasädam, we boarded the buses to the festival site.
We worked under the ominous clouds for hours setting everything up. At 4: 30 P.M. we opened the festival to a small crowd. An hour later, the crowd had grown to only two thousand people. Of course, many yatras would consider such a crowd a success, but our problem is never getting too few people—it’s how to deal with the huge crowds we often get of ten thousand or more. I attributed the poor attendance to the possibility of rain. But the rain held off. Things were going smoothly, but the fifteen men on the security team appeared nervous. They understood the nature of the youth in Lodz and that any trouble at the nearby soccer match could easily spill into our festival. Personally, I couldn’t see how these men had anything to worry about. Each of them was over 200cm tall and built like a fighting machine—huge muscles, fierce eyes, and angry scowls! All of them were dressed in black and well armed.
Finally, I approached the man in charge of security and asked him if everything was all right. He said he had no worries but that he did want to speak to me about something. “Mahäräja, I don’t want my men eating your food anymore. During the festivals your devotees have been giving them all kinds of things to eat from your restaurant.”
“Are you worried there may be drugs in the food?”
“No, I know your pure standards. The problem is that your food has a special effect on my men. It makes them like everyone.”
“What do you mean?”
“It makes them smile all the time. It makes them soft and loving and compassionate. These men have to be tough to do this job. Your food is turning my lions into lambs! Just look over there.”
I glanced toward the restaurant and saw two of his men eating samosas and laughing and joking with the devotees.
“They were never like that before,” he said. “It’s the food, the singing, and the whole atmosphere!”
“OK,” I consented, “when the festival season is over we’ll give them prasädam to take home.”
I wandered over to the stage just as Çré Prahläda and Village of Peace began to play. Darkness was falling, but I could still see the security men in black guarding the stage. As Çré Prahläda and the band broke into a number in which they chant Hare Kåñëa, I looked closely at the security men and saw the truth of their chief’s words: the men were swaying back and forth, chanting the holy name! I left it to the chief to tell them not to sing on the job; for me it was once again confirmation of the power of the holy name to turn hearts of steel into hearts of butter. “As the rising sun immediately dissipates all the world’s darkness, which is deep like an ocean, so the holy name of the Lord, if chanted once without offenses, can dissipate all the reactions of a living being’s sinful life. All glories to that holy name of the Lord, which is auspicious for the entire world!” (Padyävalé, Text 16)
I felt myself relax. After days of worrying about the festival, nothing had happened and I could see the fruits of the preaching. Then suddenly I saw them coming. A gang of youths appeared on the field out of nowhere. I recognized them as skinheads by their attire. Dressed in black boots, tight Levi’s, and T-shirts, they moved slowly toward the crowd. They were as angry and hateful as the skinheads who had attacked us previously and as the youth I had seen on the street. I remembered the devotee’s query on the bus, “Mahäräja, some devotees feel we’re asking for trouble by doing a festival in Lodz. They say the same people who attacked us in Tomaszow may come back.”
I saw our security men move in closer, bracing themselves for trouble. The skinheads wandered slowly through the festival area, keeping in a big group as they always do. As people saw them, they backed away, and I even saw some leave, fearing violence. I looked again toward the security men and saw them hastily planning a strategy if a fight broke out. The situation was tense and my adrenaline was flowing. I touched my jacket to make sure that my tear gas and fighting stick were still there, and then it happened.
The skinheads moved quickly into the crowd of dancing young people and stood there for a moment, as if waiting for a signal. The security men moved toward them. Çré Prahläda and the band, oblivious to the danger, were singing another song which contained the mahä-mantra and the drummer played a driving beat. I jumped onstage—it would be a good vantage point if there was a fight—when to my amazement, I saw some of the skinheads begin to tap their big black boots to the music. Then, as our powerful sound system carried the mahä-mantra far and wide, some of the skinheads stood there as if dazed, then slowly but surely repeated the words of the mantra. After a few minutes all of them were chanting and swaying back and forth—a little self-consciously at first. As soon as the kids saw them chanting, they grabbed them and pulled them into the kértana where they too started dancing wildly! Eventually they were absorbed in kértana, chanting Hare Kåñëa at the top of their lungs and twirling and dancing with abandon. I sat down at the front of the stage in astonishment. As I did so, I saw the security men back off to their original positions, smiling to themselves.
I said to myself, “What is happening here? How is it that these boys who came here to fight are now laughing and dancing with the devotees? How has this sudden change of heart come over them?”
I looked at Çré Prahläda. He was perspiring as he chanted the holy names with his deep faith from the stage. He leapt and twirled through the air. I looked at the audience and saw skinheads, teenagers, children, and adults holding hands and dancing in a circle. The lights from the stage illuminated them and made them appear like a firebrand being twirled around. As the kértana went on I sat there in amazement. At one point I thought, “My God, this is what it must have been like during Lord Caitanya’s kértana—the gentle and the ruffians all chanting the holy name together in ecstasy by His unfathomable mercy.”
Knowing it to be one of those rare occasions we experience only once in a great while in Kåñëa consciousness, I decided to simply relish it. Then suddenly the band stopped and the kértana was over. The skinheads, still laughing, turned around and began to walk out of the festival grounds. In a moment they were gone, although we could hear them in the distance singing Hare Kåñëa. I immediately thought of the pastime of Haridäsa Öhäkura living in a cave with a dangerous snake. People hesitated to come to see him, so one day the snake (being inspired by the Supersoul within his heart) slithered away. It seemed to me that these hooligans had been directed by the Lord within their hearts to chant Hare Kåñëa. Then the Lord sent them away.
All glories to the holy name! All glories to our most merciful master, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is the shelter for the whole cosmic manifestation and the actual protector of His devotees!
Chanting the Hare Kåñëa mahä-mantra, His own holy names which bring auspiciousness to the world, His hand trembling with love as He touches the knotted string about His waist to count the number of names, His face bathed in tears as He comes and goes, eager to see His own form of Lord Jagannätha, and bringing great delight to the eyes of all, may the golden form of the Lord protect you all!