Vol 7: Chapter 10: The New Site

| July 23 – 26, 2006 |


Our festivals continued, unaffected by the deceitful anti-cult campaign of the government. At least for the time being, we had the upper hand: our programs were entertaining tens of thousands of people every week, giving us good publicity. Still, I had learned long ago never to underestimate the enemy.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt.”

[The Art of War, Sun Tzu, Chapter 10, Text 31]

So it came as no surprise when we received what appeared to be a blow to our plans for the upcoming Woodstock festival. One morning Nandini dasi had a call from the organizer of the event, our good friend Jurek Owsiak.

“I’m getting pressure from higher up,” Jurek said, “so I’m going to have to ask you to decrease the size of your village at Woodstock this year. You’ll also have to move from the hill over-looking the festival where you were last year to a corner of the site.”

Nandini was struck. “What happened?” she said. “Why such a big change?”

“You know the present political climate, as well as I do,” he said. “A big site like you had in previous years attracts too much attention and puts the whole Woodstock festival in jeopardy. Don’t forget, we have a common enemy.”

Nandini came to me and told me about the call.

“Do what he says,” I told her. “When selling an elephant one shouldn’t haggle over the price of the trident for controlling it.”

The next day Nandini, Jayatam das, and Bhakta Dominique drove 300 kilometers to Kostrzyn, the town where Woodstock would be held. Jurek’s secretary showed them a small spot near the entrance to the festival.

“You have 50 meters by 50 meters,” he said.

The devotees stood dumbfounded, looking at the tiny area. Nandini, with her usual sharp intelligence, came up with an idea. “It’s not practical from the point of security,” she said. “You know how much the kids love our village, especially the food distribution. Last year we distributed more than 110,000 plates. There’s not enough room here. There will be a riot for the food.”

“Hmm,” said the secretary, “that’s true. All right, 100 meters by 100 meters, but not a centimeter more.”

Nandini called me as they drove back to our summer base. “Guru Maharaja,” she said, “I know we like to do our festivals in a big way, but we’ll have to resign ourselves to something smaller this year. Nevertheless, Jayatam, Dominique, and I think the location and size of the new site are not so bad. All the kids will see us as they come into Woodstock. What’s more, our site will be packed. It will be an intimate mood.” Two weeks later, we finished the first half of our program along the Baltic Coast. We packed up everything, and with all 250 devotees, drove to Kostrzyn. I went straight to the new site. Dominique had already set up the main tent, one-third the size of last year’s.

I was impressed, and I could not help smiling. “Actually,” I said to Dominique, “I think this spot is better. We’re right in the thick of things with the kids.”

As I walked around inspecting the site and the preparations, Jayatam came up to me.

“Guru Maharaja,” he said, “the elderly man over there is asking if he can buy the large painting of Radha and Krsna, the centerpiece in the backdrop behind the stage.”

“It’s huge,” I replied.

“He doesn’t mind,” Jayatam said. “He wants to put it in his home. He said we come once a year and then go away. He misses us all year, but if he has the painting, he’ll always feel close to God.”

“Tell him he can pick it up it the day after Woodstock,” I said.

“What’s the price?” Jayatam asked.

“Give it to him,” I said. “Who can put a price on love of God?”

As we drove away from the site, I saw a young man in his 20s with long hair walking in with a backpack.

“He’s arriving early,” I said to Amritananda das.

Then I noticed he had a japa bag in his hand and was chanting.

“Look,” I said to Amritananda, “he’s chanting. Is he one of our men?”

Amritananda looked closer. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“Call him over,” I said.

The young man came up to the car. “Are you a Hare Krsna devotee?” I asked him.

He looked puzzled. “I… uh… like to read Bhagavad-gita,” he said.

“Do you live in a temple?” I asked.

“A temple?” he said.

“Well,” I said, “where did you learn to chant on beads?” “From Bhaktivedanta,” he said. Amritananda and I looked at each other.

“Some time ago,” he said, “I went on the internet looking for spiritual knowledge and came across the Bhagavad-gita As It is. I ordered it and began reading. Several times Bhaktivedanta mentioned the importance of chanting Hare Krsna. I eventually discovered that chanting means chanting on beads. So that’s what I do.”

“And you’ve never met devotees?” I said.

“Devotees?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “You see over there? There’s a whole village being erected called Krsna’s Village of Peace. For the next week you can meet devotees of Krsna and learn more about chanting Hare Krsna.”

“Well… Okay,” he said.

“We’ll speak more over the next week,” I said as we drove off.

For the next few days we worked feverishly to construct the village. I was tired from a month of festivals along the coast, but the fatigue soon vanished as I thought about the prospects ahead.

“Three hundred thousand people will get a strong dose of Krsna consciousness,” I said excitedly to Amritananda as we helped unload 22 tons of foodstuffs from a truck into a kitchen. “One may have to wait many lifetimes for such an opportunity.” Nandini saw a hint of the success ahead when she went to a public school where we wanted to board our devotees and to cook for the festival. Nandini was apprehensive. Last year she had received a cold reception from the headmistress of the school.

But this time the headmistress greeted her warmly. “I am so happy you have come back to Kostrzyn,” she said to Nandini.

“You are welcome to use the school facilities during the Woodstock festival.”

“Thank you,” Nandini said. “But you are very different from last year. What made you change?”

The headmistress smiled. “I visited your village at Woodstock last year,” she said. “When I came, one of your leaders was speaking on the stage. After listening to his talk, I understood that the values you uphold are everything we try to impress on the children we teach. But the real change came when I walked through the whole Woodstock festival. I quickly went back to your village, grateful for the atmosphere of peace, tranquility, and cleanliness.

“The next day I returned to your village, but for a different reason. My father had recently died, and I was deeply affected. I was looking for answers to many questions about life. I ended up in the yoga tent, and the instructor taught us about asanas as well as philosophy. I found much relief from my difficulties. Since then I practice yoga three times a week and have introduced yoga classes in the school.”

“That’s wonderful,” Nandini said. “I’m glad to hear we made such a difference in your life.”

“Can I ask one more favor?” the headmistress said. “I am looking for an English teacher for the school, but I want someone high-class, with spiritual values. Out of love for the children, I can’t imagine employing anyone with lower standards. I’ll provide a good salary, a nice house, insurance – everything. Just get me a Hare Krsna to teach the children.”

Nandini laughed with pleasure. “I’ll try my best,” she said. The headmistress walked Nandini to the door. “I’m looking forward to this year’s festival,” she said, “and I’d like to compliment you on your new site. It’s perfect, right at the entrance of the festival, a good place for spreading your message. From what I’ve heard, the whole town of Kostrzyn will be visiting Woodstock, or better yet, Krsna’s Village of Peace.” Nandini could not help smiling and laughing the whole way as she drove back to the festival.

“People are praising our activities,” Srila Prabhupada once said. “If we keep our standard, then they will appreciate. They’ll say, ‘Oh, it is very nice, these people are good.’ Sometimes in [news]papers they say, ‘These Hare Krsna people are nice. We want more of them.’ ”

[Srimad-Bhagavatam class, Los Angeles, December 7, 1975]