Chapter 2: AN OLD FRIEND


|  J a n u a r y  1 6  –  F e b r u a r y  1 6 ,  2 0 0 7  |


I went to India for the second time in several months, hoping to find new performers for our annual festival tour in Poland. This coming summer will be our 18th year of festivals along the Baltic Sea coast, and because many people return, we need to keep a high standard of entertainment.

First I attended rehearsals for India’s annual Folk Dance Festival in Delhi, where 45 colorful groups from around the country were getting ready to perform for the president of India.

Then I went south to Mumbai, where Suradasa, who is in charge of cultural affairs at our Juhu Beach temple, brought many classical singers, dancers, and artisans to meet me.

Now I had a long list of possible performers for our sum-mer tour. I phoned Jayatam and Nandini. “I think the summer stage show this year will be the best ever,” I told them.

“That’s good,” Nandini said, “because we’re already being flooded with calls about the summer programs.”

“Times have changed,” I thought. “I remember when we had to fight tooth and nail to get permission for our events.”

I thought about how the festivals had turned the tide in our favor. Indeed, Srila Prabhupada had said that we could conquer the world with culture:

“People are hankering after this culture, Krsna cul-ture. So you should prepare yourself to present Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Then India will conquer all over the world by this Krsna culture. Rest assured.”

[ Lecture, Mumbai pandal program, March 31, 1971 ]

Next I flew to Mangalore in South India for the wedding of Drdha-vrata dasa, the son of my godbrother and godsister Dharmatma dasa and Dwijapriya dasi.

The ceremony was to take place the next day at a resort several hours away. A local ISKCON devotee, Sujal, picked me up.

“Have you been to this part of India before, Maharaja?” he asked as we began driving towards the coast.

I looked around. “Well,” I said, “I think so. It looks famil-iar. This region is called Parasurama-ksetra, isn’t it?”

“Correct,” Sujal replied. “Millions of years ago, after killing twenty-one generations of deviant warriors, Lord Parasurama asked Varuna to give a special piece of land at the bottom of the sea to the brahmanas. He attached the land to this mountain-ous coastline and invited the brahmanas to live here. He blessed them to enjoy life in harmony with everyone in these beautiful surroundings.

“The temperature here is pleasant throughout the year. It varies only eight degrees between summer and winter. The land is fertile and abundant with all kinds of herbs and spices. The local people say that one day a year, all the herbal medicines enter a special tree nearby. If someone tastes the sap of that tree on that auspicious day, he will have perfect health for the whole year.”

We drove through a big village. “This town is called Mulki,” Sujal said. “It’s a nice example of Parasurama’s benediction that people in this area would live together harmoniously. In Mulki, Muslims and Hindus are the best of friends.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yes,” replied Sujal. “Several hundred years ago, a Muslim merchant was taking his goods by ship down a nearby river. Suddenly the vessel became stuck on a sandbar. Days passed, and the merchant became more and more desperate. Suddenly, Mother Durga appeared before him and said that she was bur-ied under the sandbar in her deity form. If the merchant would rescue her, she said, she would free his boat. He quickly dug the deity out from the sandbar and his boat mysteriously broke free.

“After selling his goods he came back to Mulki and built a large temple for the Durga deity, whom he had handed over to the local Hindu people. Since that time Hindus and Muslims have coexisted peacefully here. Sometimes they even attend re-ligious ceremonies in each other’s homes.”

I looked out the window and saw Muslim girls dressed in black burkas, with only their eyes showing, walking down the street holding hands with Hindu girls dressed in saris.

“That’s something I’ve never seen before.” I said.

As we drove along, I studied the countryside and the small villages we passed through.

“It’s clean here,” I said. “You don’t see the garbage and open sewers we often find in north Indian villages. It’s a part of India many ISKCON devotees aren’t aware of.”

“And this area is rich in Puranic lore and pastimes,” Sujal said. “Nearby is a cave where Sita devi, while being carried away by Ravana, left a ring hoping Lord Ramacandra would find her. Also, the Mohini-murti incarnation left the world in this region. The exact spot is now a range of colorful rocks.

“In addition, your godbrother, Tattva-darsana dasa has a farm community near here. On top of a hill near property, the great Sankaracarya practiced austerities for many years and at-tained full mystic powers. Lord Rsabhadeva left this world in a valley at the base of that farm. And the sacred town of Udupi, where Madhvacaraya lived, is nearby.”

“Udupi?” I thought. I sat up straight. A flood of memories came to mind.

“Udupi?” I said. “We’re near Udupi? Sujal, now I remember. I came to this region twenty-seven years ago on pilgrimage.”

“Twenty-seven years ago!” Sujal said. “I wasn’t even born then.”

“It was 1979,” I said. “I had just taken sannyasa at the Mayapura festival in Bengal. I wanted to travel to holy places around India to get inspiration for the services ahead of me. I didn’t know much about India at the time, so I asked sev-eral Indian devotees where to go. One devotee suggested south India. He told me many great acaryas like Madhvacarya and Ramanujacarya came from the south. He suggested I begin by visiting Udupi because it’s the place where Madhavacarya lived and boldly preached Krsna consciousness, delivering many conditioned souls from illusion and ignorance. The next day I was on a train to Udupi. Will we be passing by Udupi?”

“Yes, we will,” Sujal said.

I looked out the window. “Then we must stop there,” I said. “I have to visit an old friend.”

“Of course,” Sujal said.

A few moments later Sujal turned to me. “If you don’t mind, Maharaja,” he said, “who’s the old friend you want to visit?”

“Udupi Krsna,” I said softly.

“The Deity of Madhvacarya?” said Sujal. “Forgive me, but isn’t it a little familiar to refer to a Deity as a friend? Generally we approach the Deity in a mood of awe and reverence.”

“That’s true,” I said, “but in Nectar of Devotion, Rupa Goswami says that a devotee should also think of the Deity as a friend. It’s listed as one of the sixty-four items of devotional service.”

I was tired from my long journey. I sat back and closed my eyes, trying to recall my first visit to Udupi. I remembered ar-riving there after many days on a train, going straight to the temple, walking inside, and quietly paying obeisances. The Deity stood on the altar with a staff for herding cows in one hand and a ball of butter in the other.

I remembered an elderly pujari who came up to me and kindly told me how the Deity had been carved by Visvakarma, the architect of the demigods, 5,000 years ago for Rukmini, Krsna’s first queen in Dwarka. In time the Deity was hidden in a lake formed by the gopis’ tears of separation from Krsna. The pujari told me how thousands of years later a sailor took a large block of clay from the lake to act as ballast on a boat. The Deity was hidden in the clay. One day as the ship was plying through the sea near Udupi, a storm appeared and the vessel ran into difficulty. Madhavacarya, who happened to be on the beach, waved his saffron cloth as a beacon for the boat.

In gratitude, the captain offered Madhavacarya whatever merchandise he desired from the ship. Madhavacarya request-ed the sacred block of clay being used as ballast. When the sail-ors tried to lift it, it broke open revealing the beautiful Krsna Diety. Although the Deity was heavy, Madhacaraya, who was an incarnation of Vayu, the wind god, carried Him to Udupi, where he installed Him in the temple.

Hearing the pastime of Udupi Krsna from the pujari in-creased my appreciation for the Deity, and I remembered pray-ing fervently to Him for the privilege of always being engaged in the sankirtan mission of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. I remembered also praying for protection in the discharge of my duties as a new sannyasi. I was twenty-nine years old and had been a devotee for only eight years. I knew that many stalwarts on the path of devotion had fallen down due to the allurement of women, wealth, and false prestige.

Suddenly I heard Sujal’s voice. “Maharaja,” he said, “we are entering Udupi.”

“Oh, great!” I said and sat up.

As we drove through the streets I took out a pen and paper and started writing.

“Are you writing something for your diary?” Sujal said. “No,” I said, “I’m writing a report for Udupi Krsna.” “A report to the Deity?” he said.

When we finally arrived at the temple, my heart was pound-ing. I jumped out of the car and made my way through the thick crowd of peo-ple to the exact spot in front of the Lord where I had stood twenty-seven years ago. I bowed down quickly, knowing I wouldn’t have much time in front of the Deity. I stood up and looked carefully through a small lattice window where pil-grims see the Deity.

“He’s so beautiful!” I exclaimed out loud.

Collecting myself, I stood up straight and began reading my report.

“My dear friend,” I began. “Millions of pilgrims come be-fore You each year, so I don’t expect you to remember me. I was a young devotee when I first met You. I was a new sannyasi with an entire life of devotional service ahead of me. Now I’m in the autumn of my life, with just a few short years left to serve You in this world.

“I stand before You today somewhat embarrassed. I don’t feel I’ve made much progress in spiritual life since we first met. But I’m proud to say I’m still Your devotee, and I hope to be so until the end of time.

“I’m very grateful that You have protected me in my duties throughout the years, and I thank You again and again for blessing me with many wonderful opportunities of service to the mission of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. I would consider myself most fortunate if You would continue engaging me in such service until my final breath.”

By this time the pilgrims in line behind me were becoming impatient and several told me to move along.

“I don’t want to take much of Your time, my Lord,” I con-tinued. “There are other pilgrims waiting. But such moments as these, when a devotee can reveal his heart to You in such auspicious circumstances, are few and far between.

“Through eons of time I had forgotten You, but You have never forgotten me, not even for a moment. Your greatest act of kindness was to lead me to my spiritual master, my savior, who is kindly teaching me the art of loving You. Please help me to act in such a way that he may always be proud of me.”

By now the pilgrims were shoving me, but I held my ground.

“Finally, my Lord,” I said, “I pray that my service to You will gradually purify me of all selfish desires. It is my great hope that one day I can return to Your abode in the spiritual world and serve You in ecstatic love, in the association of Your most beloved servants. I offer You my most humble prostrations at Your lotus feet. All glories to Your beloved Madhavacarya! All glories to my beloved spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada! By his grace alone could I find You again in this far distant place.”

I put the paper in my kurta pocket and bowed down. Some pilgrims fell over me, but I took it as the Lord’s mercy.

As Sujal and I walked back to the car, I told him the visit felt like an important milestone in my life.

“I had forgotten about this special part of India,” I said. “And I’d almost forgotten an old friend. But as always, the Lord makes arrangements to give us darsan of His lotus feet again and again.”

Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur writes:

Sakhyam, making friendship with the Lord, is the eighth limb of bhakti. As a friend of the Lord, the devo-tee is always attentive to take care of the Lord’s needs. Sakhyam refers to the attachment and friendship a devotee develops towards the Lord whilst worshiping the Deity.

[ Jaiva Dharma, by Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, Chapter 9, Part 7 ]