CRY FOR HELP UNHEARD
J u l y 1 1 – 2 2 , 2 0 0 1
MIEDZYZDROJE IS ANOTHER POPULAR RESORT on the coast that attracts the Polish elite. In particular, it is the favorite place for Polish filmmakers and movie stars, whose bronze handprints decorate the most prestigious part of the boardwalk along the main beach.
Unfortunately, it is another of the places where certain members of the town council don’t like us. When Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä approached them last winter to reserve a spot for our summer festival, they were given the cold shoulder, especially by the head of the Cultural Affairs Department. However, by Kåñëa’s mercy, the owner of a large amphitheater on the boardwalk became sympathetic to them and gave us permission to use his place, which we did two weeks ago. After a couple of days of advertising with harinäma, we managed to fill the two thousand-seat amphitheater to capacity and hold a wonderful program.
Because every two weeks a new crowd of tourists replaces the previous crowd, we decided to try to get permission to hold another program in Miedzyzdroje. Fearing the town council would reject us, and knowing that the amphitheater was booked for the rest of the summer, Nandiné approached the manager of a large hotel to request the use of the hotel’s parking lot off another part of the boardwalk. It turned out that he had been to the previous festival and had enjoyed it very much. He immediately agreed to our proposal. As soon as word reached the council, however, he received a telephone call forbidding him to allow us to use the space. “Parking lots are for cars. They are not places where sects can propagate their doctrines,” the councilors said.
Kåñëa decided to intervene. Our friend with the amphitheater called to tell us that due to a cancellation, he could allow us to use the amphitheater for two days later in the week. Accepting “mercy which comes of its own accord,” we immediately signed the contract. When the town council heard about our securing the amphitheater, they called to tell us that permission to hold harinäma would be withheld. Harinäma is method of advertising our festivals, so this caused a dilemma. Hearing of our dilemma and taking our side, we took the advice of the man who ran the parking lot: “Call the chief of the City Guards, a special police force that patrols the streets. Don’t tell them you’re from Hare Kåñëa, just say you want to advertise the Festival of India.”
When Nandiné called the chief and introduced herself as representing the Festival of India, he replied, “Oh, you’re from Hare Kåñëa! I know you are an authentic religion. I was at your last festival and I appreciate you people very much. How can I help you?”
Nandiné explained that we wanted to advertise our festival, but that the council (and one woman in particular) would not grant permission. The chief became furious. He asked Nandiné to hold the line. By Kåñëa’s arrangement he happened to be at the Town Hall, so he walked straight upstairs to the office of the woman opposing the harinäma. Bursting in, he chastised her loudly—Nandiné could hear all this while she waited on the other end of the phone—demanding how this woman could possibly want to stop us. “Do you know how much our citizens enjoy their festivals? They’re bringing real culture to our town! You may order that they can’t sing in the streets, but my men will not take any steps to stop them.” With that, he stormed out of her office, slamming the door behind him.
The next day I sent out an especially large harinäma party on the streets of Miedzyzdroje, complete with drums, karatälas, accordion, trumpets, and a saxophone. But by far, the most popular member on the harinäma team was Raju, the gigantic ox who pulls our padayatra procession cart through the streets each day, advertising our festival in his own unique way. Peaceful and accommodating, Raju is the talk of the town wherever we go. Leaving his cart behind, we even take him on the beach when we go on harinäma there. It is quite a sight—Raju bedecked with beautiful cloth and ornaments leading seventy-five chanting, dancing devotees down the crowded beaches. Every 50m we stop and give a short talk, inviting people to the festival. People always crowd around us to hear the chanting and hear our talk, but Raju always steals the show as he poses peacefully for unlimited photographs with the children.
It rained so heavily on the first day of the Miedzyzdroje festival that I almost cancelled it, but when people arrived carrying umbrellas, I told Vara-näyaka to let them in. I told him to let the attendees know that I had been about to cancel, but their show of umbrellas convinced me otherwise. Within minutes the amphitheater was packed with seven hundred umbrellas, all tilted slightly upwards so that the people underneath could see the show taking place on stage. The people stayed for five hours in the rain, watching with pleasure each item of the stage program.
On the second day in Miedzyzdroje, the skies cleared and we had one of the best programs of the tour. But it was marred by an incident (known only to me) caused by an impurity in my heart. An older gentleman approached me at the beginning of the festival, just as I was making the final preparations for the stage program. As I was busily writing the schedule on my clipboard, he said, “I’m a homeless person.”
Not wanting to be distracted from my work, I looked up at him briefly and, seeing his disheveled clothes and unshaven face, concluded that he must be a down-and-out looking for a meal. I pointed in the direction where the devotees were just finishing their prasädam and said, “If you’re hungry, you can eat over there.”
“That’s not why I’ve approached you. I know my appearance is not good, but believe me when I say I’m an educated man. It’s just that fate has not treated me well.”
Not paying much attention because our stage show was about to begin, I said without looking up this time, “I’m sorry. I hope things work out for you.”
He paused for a moment, then said, “I’ve been to three of your festivals. I walk from town to town to get to them. My main attraction is your lectures. I’ve never heard anyone speak like you before.”
I was barely listening as I called out orders to various devotees during the final seconds before the first bhajana. Devotees were late and I was becoming upset, as a large crowd stood waiting for the festival to open. When I looked up again, the man had a gentle smile on his face. He said, “Please help me to correct my ways and approach God. You’re a learned man and I know you can help me. Please, sir, I beg you.”
The stage was only half full of devotees, and I was becoming impatient. I turned around and called out to Vara-näyaka to get the mådäìga player and the flute player onstage in sixty seconds. As the two last devotees reached the stage and the bhajana began, I relaxed a little. Then the man’s words hit me. I realized he was genuinely calling out for help and that I was ignoring him. I whirled around, but he was gone.
I felt terrible! I sat on one of the benches and chastised myself for my insensitivity. It takes the conditioned soul millions of lifetimes to call out to the Lord for help. Like all preachers in Kåñëa consciousness, I am supposed to be the Lord’s representative. How could I have acted so callously? I felt fallen and useless, having ignored that man’s genuine plea for Kåñëa’s mercy. As I remembered his words, I thought of Çréla Rüpa Goswami’s prayer to the Lord in the same mood of appealing for mercy:
vivåta vividhä bädhe bhränti vegäd
agädhe balavaté bhava pure majjato me
vidure açaraëa gaëa bandho ha kåpä
kaumudindo sakåd akåta vilambaà
“I am drowning in the painful, fathomless whirlpool of repeated birth and death. O Lord, O friend of the shelterless, O effulgent moon of mercy, please, just this one time, quickly extend Your hand to save me!”
–Padyävalé, Text 61
I spent the next two hours looking for that gentleman. I even neglected my duties at the festival, and several times devotees came to me confused about the schedule. But I had to find him and rectify my offense. I searched our tents and displays. I carefully looked at the people sitting on benches. I even walked outside the amphitheater and checked the cafes and shops in the area. I searched the crowds, but I did not find that man anywhere—that man whose fate I could have changed if I had only been being more attentive to my real duty.
O Çréla Prabhupäda, please forgive me. I failed as your representative. To not show compassion to the fallen conditioned souls at that rarest of moments, when after millions of years they call out for Kåñëa’s mercy, is the greatest sin. Please be merciful and give me the chance to rectify myself by meeting that jéva again, help him “correct his ways,” and approach the Lord. I beg you to help me imbibe the real mood of sannyäsa so that I will never again make the mistake of ignoring such a plea. Please help me to understand my duty. In the words of Çréla Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura, “When will my compassion for all fallen souls manifest and with a lowly heart I will go out to preach the divine command?” (Çaraëägati)