May 1 – June 21, 2006
By Indradyumna Swami
Much of my year is spent in preparation for our Festival of India in Poland. The festival lasts only two and a half months, but because of its size it needs much planning, organization, and fundraising.
On the first of May, I flew out of the United States to England and on to Ukraine for my Vyasa-puja celebration. I was excited at the thought that the festival tour was just six weeks away. After Vyasa-puja, I would take only two short trips before the festival, one trip to England and one to Russia.
But as I got off the plane in London, Krsna gave me a warning that I might be extending myself too much. As I approached an inbound security control, I suddenly felt faint, and I dropped to one knee. I was able to stand up before anyone noticed, and I held on to a handrail as I slowly walked to the checkpoint.
An hour later, I boarded my flight to Kiev. As the plane took off, I thought about how much effort the other devotees and I have put into preaching Krsna consciousness in Poland. “And we’re still facing opposition after two decades,” I thought. “With a new conservative government in Poland, this year may not be much better.”
Tired, hungry, and still reeling somewhat from my short faint, I let my mind get the better of me and I became a little despondent. “I hope one day the Polish people will appreciate Krsna Consciousness,” I thought.
I decided to read my email, which I had downloaded in the airport lounge, and I found a message that lifted my spirits. It was from an 11-year-old devotee girl whose family I had recently visited in New Jersey. I’m a bit embarrassed to include it here because the girl seems to be glorifying me, but in reality she is glorifying the mercy that Lord Caitanya has spread far and wide, and these deep insights of a child have touched my heart.
“Dear Indradyumna Maharaja,
“Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
“I know this is a little early, but I wanted to send you my Vyasa-puja offering today.
“This morning in violin class, my teacher, Mrs Kowalska, asked whether I would like to participate in a summer music camp. When I said I was going to Poland she looked surprised.
” ‘Poland!’ she exclaimed. ‘I was born in Poland. Why are you going there?’
” ‘To join the Festival of India,’ I replied. ‘Do you know that festival?’
” ‘Of course,’ she replied. ‘I have been to one of them.’
” ‘And do you know Indradyumna Swami?’ I said.
” ‘Oh, yes,’ she said. ‘He’s the organizer of the festivals. I greatly admire him.’
“Guru Maharaja, I was astounded, especially that she knew you. She told me I should take my violin to Poland and play some Hare Krsna tunes at the festival. If you permit me, I will. And if it’s any help to you, I have also been learning Bharatnatyam dance for eight years. Anyway, your preaching has already yielded great success if a violin teacher in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, knows you.
“Please bless me so I can give better service to you, to Srila Prabhupada, and to the Lord.
“Aspiring to be your servant,
I read the letter again. “Thank you, Krsna,” I said softly. “And thank you too, Sridevi.”
In Kiev, I took a connecting flight to Dnepropetrovsk where the Vyasa-puja festival was to be held two days later. By the time I arrived at the local temple I had been on the road for 37 hours. I fell asleep quickly that night.
The next morning, as devotees drove me to the day’s program, someone told me that Niranjana Swami would not be coming because of ill health. We had planned to do our Vyasa-pujas together, and I suddenly realized that except for BV Madhava Maharaja, who would arrive two days later, I was going to be the only older devotee present to lead the others.
At the hall I walked up the back stairs onto the stage and sat on the asana. The stage lights were bright, and I couldn’t see the audience.
I turned to one of the organizers. “How many devotees are here?” I asked.
“Two thousand five hundred,” he said.
I asked for a harmonium, but there was none. I asked for a mrdanga, but there was none. I asked for karatalas, and I was given a pair of small ones. I closed my eyes and prayed to Srila Prabhupada for spiritual strength. How could I, armed with only a set of tiny karatalas, inspire 2,500 devotees?
Two days later the devotees celebrated my Vyasa-puja. This is always the worst day of the year for me as I sit listening to praise and honor bestowed upon me by my disciples. I usually keep my eyes closed as they read their offerings, thinking of Srila Prabhupada and a number of my Godbrothers who inspire me.
But one offering in particular made me open my eyes. A blind devotee, Kunja Kishori dasi, was revealing her innermost feelings of love for her spiritual master as well as for Srila Prabhupada and the holy land of Vrindavan.
I first met Kunja Kishori dasi in 2001, when she was a guest at a public program in St Petersburg. During my lecture I noticed her sitting motionless, staring straight ahead.
Later, she came on the stage to meet me, and I mentioned how she had appeared so attentive during the talk. “Yes,” she replied, “through your words I see everything clearly.”
I looked closer and saw that she was blind. Later she told me that a childhood disease gradually caused her to go blind by the time she was 17.
“It was a mixed blessing,” she said. “Now I am not distracted by seeing the things of this world, and I can focus on understanding God and the spiritual sky.”
The next day I spent hours with her describing the glories of Vrindavan, the Lord’s abode in the spiritual world. At one point, I mentioned again how she seemed especially attentive. “Yes,” she said, “if one loses one’s sight, one’s hearing becomes keener.”
When I told her that Goloka Vrindavan had appeared on earth as Gokula Vrindavan, where Lord Krsna sported 5,000 years ago, she said she wanted to go there.
“How can she go?” I thought. “It will be difficult for a blind person to move around a rural village like Vrindavan. And besides, she won’t be able to see anything.”
The next year I initiated her, and soon after, by her strong determination, she went to India and spent months in the association of devotees traveling all over the country to holy places, including Vrindavan.
Now, in Dnepropetrovsk, I marveled at the Lord’s mercy: although she was blind, she had developed a deep appreciation and understanding of Vrindavan. This blind devotee made me see that there is no handicap in achieving pure devotional service to the Lord if one is eager for it.
“Dear Srila Gurudeva,” she began.
“Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
“I am very happy to be here at the celebration of your Vyasa-puja and to have the opportunity to thank you for everything, especially for sharing with me the most intimate treasure of love and affection for Sri Vrindavan Dhama.
“The scriptures state that we awaken an attachment to Goloka Vrindavan in the spiritual world by developing an attachment to Gokula Vrindavan in the material world. You, my dear spiritual master, love Vrindavan so much that you spread this infectious love to all of us. As a result, we cannot but appreciate Vrindavan and give our hearts fully to that holy place.
“I remember clearly the second day I met you. You asked, ‘Have you heard of Vrindavan? It’s a most amazing place. One day I will take you there.’
“Obviously I knew nothing of Vrindavan at the time, but your description made me want to run there. After some time the dream came true, and I went to that sacred place. Through your words, based on the Vedic scriptures, I was able to understand the transcendental abode.
“My dear spiritual master, by your grace I could see Vrindavan. Krsna is forever performing His pastimes there, but we cannot see them because of our conditioning in the form of our material desires, resulting in lust, anger, and greed.
“I remember how we were on parikrama at Kaliya-ghat. You were telling us the pastime of Lord Krsna chastising the Kaliya serpent. I was thinking, ‘How wonderful it is that we, people born in Western countries in the age of Kali, are able to sit in Vrindavan under a kadamba tree that was touched by the lotus feet of the Lord!’
“How was it possible? Only by your mercy and that of Srila Prabhupada.
“Srila Gurudeva, I am grateful to you for giving me back my sight, allowing me to appreciate the most precious things in life: the all-attractive Lord and His eternal abode of Sri Vrindavan Dhama.
“Forever your servant,
“Kunja Kishori dasi.
As she spoke, I could not hold back my feelings, and I bowed my head so the devotees would not see the tears in my eyes. When she finished I thanked her.
Later, when I gave my Vyasa-puja address, I told the devotees that I was happy serving as a spiritual master. Then I paused. The statement might be misunderstood, I thought, so I added that what I relish is the sweet, loving exchanges between guru and disciple.
The next day I flew back to Warsaw and on to London for a two-week preaching tour of the British Isles. I was exhausted, and as the days passed, I began thinking I would need a break after the forthcoming tour of Russia, so I emailed my dear friend Giriraja Swami in California, asking if I could spend time with him. He kindly agreed.
At the end of my tour of Great Britain, I arrived at Heathrow Airport for a flight to Warsaw and on to Moscow. But as I walked to the boarding gate, I fainted again. This time I fell to the ground, and several people rushed to help me. I regained consciousness quickly and declined their offer to call a doctor.
I sat alone on a chair for 20 minutes and then emailed Giriraja Maharaja. I told him I was canceling my trip to Russia and asked if I could come straight to California and stay until the festival tour began. He agreed, and I was soon on my way to the United States.
As I boarded the flight, I thought about how painful it would be to retreat from action for so long. I had already taken a break earlier in the year for the same purpose.
But it was necessary. It would be an investment in my two most important services: taking care of my loving disciples and continuing with festival programs for many years to come.
“You should take rest. If you don’t take care of your health, then later, even if you are enthusiastic to preach, you won’t be able to.”
[ Srila Prabhupada, Room Conversation, November, 1977 ]