VILLAGE OF PEACE RULES
A u g u s t 2 – 1 5 , 2 0 0 1
ON AUGUST 2, a disciple (Jayatam däsa) and I left our festival tour on the coast and headed south toward the town of Zary, the site of the Polish Woodstock Festival. I knew the road to Zary well. We have participated in four other Woodstocks. It was hard to leave our summer tour, but I was eager to get to Zary to begin preparations for our involvement there. Woodstock is scheduled for August 10-11.
Woodstock organizer Jurek Owsiak puts on the event every year in appreciation of the many young people who help him raise money for Poland’s underprivileged children. By means of a telethon each January, he raises more than $7,000,000 a year. Apart from the small salary he receives, the entire amount is spent on disabled children. As a result the people of Poland love and respect him. Because the Catholic Church also prides itself on humanitarian work, they are envious toward him, which they manifest by placing strict government controls over the festival. Everyone knows that the controls are ultimately meant to suppress the festival, and last year the State Governor actually succeeded in canceling the event. As a result, Jurek and his staff were more determined than ever to put it on this year. However, it won’t be easy. Our participation was one of the main complaints the Church had about the event. Jurek told me a few weeks ago: “Their main opposition to the Woodstock Festival is that Hare Kåñëa will be there. But I can promise you, I wouldn’t do this festival without you.”
Jurek has told me on numerous occasions that he wants us at Woodstock to share our philosophy and way of life with the kids. He also wants us to keep the kids engaged and peaceful. He doesn’t want violence. In fact, the theme of Woodstock is always “No Violence—No Drugs.” In line with that mood we set up our Kåñëa’s Village of Peace tent each year on a hectare of land not far from the main stage. This year I ordered several large tents for our village. It would take the tent company five days to erect them, with large cranes to lift them into place and a team of thirty-five men working around the clock. I wanted to be the first person at the Woodstock field to see that the task went efficiently.
Arriving on the evening of August 3, I didn’t see a single soul present on the vast expanse of land designated for the festival. I saw only a sea of grass blowing in the wind. I stood on a small ridge overlooking the site and surveyed the area carefully. Jurek had shown me on a map where everything would be located, and I visualized everything in perspective to our own location. Kåñëa had favored us, and I saw that our situation couldn’t be better: we were 75m from the main stage and only 60m from the principal festival entrance. My heart pounded in anticipation of the huge yajïa about to take place. Of course, it wouldn’t be a yajïa as in days of yore, with purified brähmaëas chanting mantras around a sacred fire while kings in royal dress and pious men looked on. Rather, it would consist of the loud chanting of Kåñëa’s holy names in an assembly of wild, intoxicated youth, and mass distribution of prasädam to multitudes of people ignorant about the existence of the soul. Nevertheless, the great yajïa on the plains of Zary would be no less significant and purifying than those performed in ancient times.
kåte yad dhyäyato viñëuà
tretäyäà yajato makhaiù
kalau tad dhari-kértanät
“Whatever result was obtained in Satya-yuga by meditating on Viñëu, in Treta-yuga by performing sacrifices and in Dvapara-yuga by serving the Lord’s lotus feet can be obtained in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the Hare Kåñëa mahä-mantra.”
Just before leaving the ridge, I noticed a single tractor enter the field and turn on its lights as dusk descended on the scene. It was beginning the arduous job of cutting the huge field’s grass, a task that no doubt would take days. The tractor was starting work on the spot our village would be located, so I drove onto the field to meet the driver. As I approached, the tractor stopped and a man who was obviously eager to see me jumped out.
“Hare Kåñëa,” he called out. “You’re back! The whole town of Zary is waiting for you.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “We’re happy to be here.”
“Woodstock wouldn’t be the same without you people,” he said. “But with all the controversy about Hare Kåñëa coming again to the festival, they told me not to bother cutting the grass where you always set up your village. But I knew by God’s grace you’d come, so I thought I would start here first.” With that he got back into his tractor and continued his work.
Early the next morning, as I sat on the cut grass waiting for the trucks carrying our tents to arrive, I heard a loud rumbling sound on the western side of the field. To my surprise, I saw seven semi-trailer trucks and a bus moving across the field, each raising a cloud of dust as they approached our site. As I looked closer, I saw that they were carrying our tents and the team of workers that would put them up. Within an hour, the main team had begun construction on the large tent, and a smaller group of men had begun to erect twelve 20m by 10m tents. As the tents went up, I was surprised to see how large they really were. I had ordered them over the Internet and had no idea how they would appear once they were erected. I joked with Jayatam, “It will look more like Kåñëa’s City of Peace than Kåñëa’s Village of Peace.”
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed their size. That afternoon an official car from Zary pulled up and a representative of the town council, designated to oversee the festival, approached me. He said, “Excuse me, sir. Who is a part of this festival? Are you a part of the Woodstock Festival, or is it a part of your event? These tents are too big!”
“Actually, sir, they’re too small for what we really want to do. They look so large only because nothing else is on the field. When the main stage is erected our village won’t look so large anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but they are too large. You’ll have to move 50m back. That’s an order.”
Defending our precious position on the field, I continued to argue as to why we weren’t going to move. In the end, however, he simply repeated his instruction, “It’s an order.” That was that.
The men spent the rest of the day dismantling the tents they’d begun to erect, and the next morning we began setting them up 50m back. Although I was initially upset, days later when the festival was in progress, I realized that this was Kåñëa’s plan. Our area was actually more secure than it would have been, and the extra 50m didn’t stop people from coming to our site. In fact, because we created such a peaceful atmosphere in our village, many kids told me that once they came, they never returned to the mayhem at the main stage.
Five days later, the tent company finished the construction. Many of the tents were over 10m high, and the Food Distribution tent stood out among the others with its huge banner reading: “Hare Kåñëa Food for Peace.” Besides our main tent it would be the busiest of all the tents, as we planned to distribute prasädam for only a small donation to cover our costs. We had collected thirty-five tons of bhoga, including seven tons of vegetables, five tons of rice, three tons of semolina, two tons of sugar and two tons of butter. Eighty devotees would be cooking around the clock in three different local school kitchens to provide prasädam for the kids.
Just as we began to put up the decorations in the tents, I saw a police van approach. “Oh no, more problems!”
As the van got closer I sent a devotee out to greet the police. The van drove past him without acknowledging him. Stopping in front of me, I passed a tense moment. Then suddenly the door opened and a police officer leapt out with a smile on his face. Shaking my hand, he said, “Mahäräja, welcome back to Zary!”
I was taken aback, because police officers don’t usually approach one in such an amicable fashion, but I smiled and said, “Thank you, officer.”
“Your festival in Meilno on the coast this summer was great! My whole family enjoyed the stage program, and my three daughters especially liked the designs your ladies painted on their faces. They wouldn’t wash their faces for days! I thought your lecture was especially nice. Do you remember how we talked afterwards?”
“Um, of course I remember. It’s so nice to meet you here in Zary. Where will you be stationed during the festival? I know security will be tight.”
“I won’t be working during the festival,” he said. “I’ve taken three days off so my family and I can spend the whole time with all of you here in Kåñëa’s Village of Peace.”
Later that day, the devotees from our regular festival program arrived from the coast, and by the time Woodstock began, we numbered over four hundred devotees, many of us from different parts of the world. Special guests from America like Candramauli Mahäräja, Dharmätma Prabhu and his wife, Divyapriya däsé, and Tejiyas Prabhu joined our ranks for the special event in the annals of Lord Caitanya’s saìkértana movement.
Traditionally, our village opens one day before Woodstock officially begins, so on August 9, as tens of thousands of young people converged on the Woodstock site and began setting up their tents on the field, we began our cultural stage show in our large tent. As nothing else was happening on the field, we drew an enormous crowd, and by the time our three bands began to play that evening, our tent was filled to capacity. Fifteen thousand people attended the show, most of them intoxicated and some who had not bathed in days. Çré Prahläda’s band, Village of Peace, played first. Then, just as Spain’s Undrop was about to play, Jurek Owsiak arrived and officially opened Kåñëa’s Village of Peace. When the kids saw him on our stage, they went mad and danced wildly throughout Undrop’s set. Finally, the American band Shelter performed and brought the house down. Outside the main tent, thousands of people were swarming through our site on a scale I had never seen before. The Food Distribution tent alone handed out fifteen thousand plates of prasädam.
The next day, the first official day of Woodstock, Jurek invited a few of us to the main stage to open the festival, along with dignitaries such as the Mayor of Zary, the local police, firefighters and well-known musicians. Two hundred thousand young people stood before the stage. After Jurek spoke to them and officially opened the festival, he handed me the microphone and said, “Greet them!”
As I stepped forward, I laughed, remembering that when I first joined the Kåñëa consciousness movement thirty-one years ago, I was nervous to speak before a group of ten devotees. Now here I was about to address two hundred thousand young people who would be listening to my every word. I thought, “Make it short, sweet, and to the point.”
“Hare Kåñëa!” I began. “Woodstock is a great opportunity for all of us to come together and have a good time. But let us do so according to the theme this great festival represents: ‘No Violence—No Drugs.’ In Kåñëa’s Village of Peace, just to the left of this stage, there will be no violence, because as devotees of Kåñëa we’re taught to respect each person as part and parcel of God. Therefore, we love you all.”
At that, a roar of approval went up from the audience.
I continued, “And we don’t use drugs in Kåñëa’s village, because we’re happy chanting Hare Kåñëa and eating delicious vegetarian food offered to the Lord. When you have something nice and you have a lot of it, you want to share it with others. Please visit us often during the next two days. We have enough food to feed eighty thousand people over the next forty-eight hours.”
Again the crowd applauded, as many chanted in unison, “Hare Kåñëa! Hare Kåñëa! Hare Kåñëa!”
As I stepped back, Jurek came forward and embraced me, confirming in the minds of those hundreds of thousands of youths that Hare Kåñëas were once again playing an important part in Poland’s biggest event of the year.
Throughout the day our village continued to be the place where young people found relief from chaos. At any time, hundreds of kids could be seen relaxing on the grass at our site, discussing with devotees or simply reading books they had bought in our Book tent. Rämabhadra Prabhu and his team made it a point to keep our festival site always clean, with no litter, in contrast to the rest of the festival, which quickly became an ocean of garbage. As the evening wore on, Zary’s local people also began to come to our village, making the area even more crowded. Our security team estimated that up to twenty thousand people were walking around our village at any one time, enjoying a variety of spiritual activities. While that gave me pleasure, it was naturally a cause of concern to their team of sixty men who were keeping a watchful eye on everyone.
At 8:00 P.M. the cultural side of our stage show (comprising bhajanas, theater, discourses, and the dazzling performances of our twenty Indian dancers from South Africa) ended, and the numbers in the crowd swelled in anticipation of the three bands that would play on our stage. Word had spread quickly that Shelter was at Woodstock, and when the lead singer, Raghunätha däsa, began his set, the crowd went wild. Fortunately, we had put up a large steel barricade in front of the stage to keep the crowd under control, but that didn’t stop Raghunätha at one point from diving into the audience and being carried away on their outstretched arms. When they brought him back and lifted him over the barricade to finish his song, the security grabbed him and placed him back onstage.
We finished our program at 1:30 A.M., and all the devotees boarded our buses to return to our base for a few hours of sleep. Just as Çré Prahläda and I were about to fall asleep, we received a report that we had distributed twenty-six thousand plates of prasädam. Exhausted from weeks of work and hardly able to acknowledge the good news, Çré Prahläda fell asleep with a smile on his face. What news could give greater joy to the devotees than the fact that tens of thousands of Kali-yuga souls had received the causeless mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahäprabhu?
“I pray that the splendid moonlight of Lord Caitanyacandra, which violently uproots the darkness in the hearts of the entire world, which brings limitless tidal waves to the nectar ocean of pure love for Kåñëa, and which cools the universe burning day and night in the threefold miseries of material existence, may shine in your hearts.”
–Çré Caitanya-candrämåta, Text 75
The next and final day of the festival was the best of all. Visitors packed every tent throughout the day. Even the face-painting tent was packed as thirty-five devotee ladies painted gopé dots on guests from 10:00 A.M. until 1: 00 A.M. the next morning. Hundreds of kids sat and asked questions in the Questions and Answers tent, and at one point, Jayapätäka Swami made a surprise visit and stayed for several hours. The real guests of honor that day, however, were the large marble Deities of Rädhä and Kåñëa we had brought from Warsaw. Ordered in 1994 for the Warsaw temple, Çré Çré Rädhä-Govinda have been waiting in storage all these years for the temple to reach the proper standard for Them to be installed. Temple president Kaçi Miçra agreed that we could use Them at Woodstock to celebrate Kåñëa Janmäñöamé with the kids. Thousands of spectators stood mesmerized as the devotees conducted a bathing ceremony and, after dressing the Deities, a full ärati on our stage. Hundreds of people joined in as the devotees threw rose petals during a puñpäïjali ceremony. Kåñëa’s Village of Peace became even more sanctified as the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared in His most merciful Deity form. Many kids said to me afterwards, “Now I understand who Kåñëa is.”
Given the prime spot that evening in the schedule of fifty-four bands on the main Woodstock stage, Shelter played to an estimated crowd of 320,000. Just before they began, a security guard approached me on the main stage with a message from the head of the entire Woodstock security force. The message read that the police had intercepted several telephone calls throughout the day indicating that a group of men, aligned with the Church, were planning to start a riot in the crowd during Shelter’s performance. The police were taking the plot so seriously that every security man at the festival had been placed on “red alert” and police backup forces notified. As I looked to the far end of the festival grounds, I saw (unknown to the kids) police in riot gear. They had moved from their concealed positions in the adjoining forests to the festival’s perimeter. I sent a message by cell phone to our own security men at Kåñëa’s Village of Peace to brace themselves for possible trouble, and instructed them that should anything happen, all devotees should gather on our own stage where our security could protect them. I then received another message from the security control center that the most likely place for the riot to begin would be Kåñëa’s Village of Peace. I wanted to go back to our village, but by that time the gates to the main stage were closed. Shelter’s concert had just begun. Throughout their performance I kept my eyes fixed on our Village, clearly in view from the main stage. The only time I smiled was when Raghunätha däsa paused after a song and said to the kids, “The next song is dedicated to Kåñëa’s Village of Peace. Hare Kåñëa!”
When Shelter’s concert finished at 1:30 A.M., the security men breathed a sigh of relief. There had been no trouble. I watched the riot police disappear silently back into the forests. At that point, Jurek approached me and said that Shelter was by far the best band at Woodstock. He invited them to return the next year.
Returning to our village, I found that all the devotees had returned to our base. I made a final check of all the tents before returning to the base myself. I was surprised to discover fifty-four pots of hot prasädam that had arrived an hour earlier from our kitchens. I managed to find four devotees (including Çanti Paräyaëa däsa from Australia) lingering at the festival site. Together we opened the sides of the tent and continued to distribute prasädam throughout the night. In fact, we distributed prasädam until the last person left at 4:00 the next afternoon. That evening we calculated the number of plates distributed. Although it fell short of our goal, the figure of 73,230 plates nevertheless satisfied the hearts of all the devotees.
The next day, along with the crew from the tent company, the devotees began to dismantle our festival site. Nandiné and Rädhä Sakhé Våndä went off to thank the various people in Zary who had helped us in so many ways. They visited the police department, the fire department, the garbage department, and the health services, all of which had gone out of their way to make Kåñëa’s Village of Peace successful. Wherever they went, they were greeted with, “Hare Kåñëa!” and “Haribol!”
The result of any yajïa can be seen by the effect it produces. The effect of the constant chanting of Kåñëa’s holy name and the distribution of thousands of plates of prasädam during Woodstock was evident in the Mayor of Zary’s departing words to us in his office. A member of the President of Poland’s personal advisory board, and en route to becoming a member of Parliament in the forthcoming elections, he told me: “Thank you once again for coming to Woodstock. I’ll soon be leaving here as mayor, but you can be certain that after all you’ve done for us in Zary, you’ll have a real friend in the government in Warsaw. I look forward to helping you in the future.”
As we drove out of Zary we passed the field where Woodstock was held. There was nothing left on the site. It looked much as it did when I had first arrived two weeks earlier. I thought, “I was the first to come here and I’m the last to leave. Everything went smoothly by the plan of the Lord.”
Suddenly, a police car pulled up behind us and turned on its flashing lights. “Well, almost smoothly.”
I pulled over and rolled down the window as a policeman approached our car. I tried to figure out what I might have done. Had I been speeding? The officer came to the window and, breaking into a grin said, “Can I have your address? I’d like to keep in touch with you. My wife and I would like to travel with the Hare Kåñëa festival for a few weeks next summer. Do you allow police officers to join your festival tour?”
Feeling joy and relief, I replied, “Of course, officer. No one is exempt from Lord Caitanya’s mercy. Here’s our telephone number. We’ll be waiting for you.”
As we drove away I chanted Hare Kåñëa at the top of my lungs. I felt fortunate to have once again witnessed the great mercy available in Lord Caitanya’s saìkértana movement. My earnest prayer is that I may have the strength to swim in this nectarean ocean of love for as many years as there are left in my life.
“O Lord Caitanya, O merciful one, O supremely generous one, O Lord who fills the hearts of the living entities with the different mellows of devotional love, O wonderfully splendid Lord, O golden-complexioned Lord, O ocean of transcendental virtues, O personified nectar of devotional love, O Lord who is fond of chanting His own holy names, I pray that without ever becoming fatigued I may pass my life always chanting Your holy names in this way!”
–Çré Caitanya-candrämåta, Text 67