Diary of a Traveling Monk: Volume 14, Chapter 16
“He Did His Time”
I arrived in America on Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day is reserved for remembering the American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in the wars over the centuries. I had just come from a similar event in Moscow, Russia, where the day is called Victory Day. Every year, the Russian people remember their victory over the Nazis in World War II by holding a military parade in Red Square where thousands of soldiers and endless weapons are paraded to patriotic songs. Displays of nationalistic fever occur throughout the entire country.
I was dressed in my devotional attire when I arrived at Newark airport en route to the Sadhu Sanga Retreat in Boone, N.C. I reflected that the mood in America on Memorial Day was markedly different than it was in Russia on Victory Day. Although there were some official ceremonies in Washington D.C. and others scattered throughout the country, most people seemed bent on enjoying a weekend in the warm spring weather. I heard people speaking of the relief they anticipated from getting away from work, and of the parties and family reunions they would be attending.
A voice from behind me interrupted my thoughts on the divergent nationalistic spirits of America and Russia.
“Hey man, what’s with the dress?”
Experience has taught me to ignore such rudeness, especially when I’m alone. I didn’t even turn around.
“Hey! I’m talking to you! You with the bald head and the
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw a group of eight well-dressed young men plus one older man.
“So?” said one of the young men. I gathered he was the one who had been speaking all along.
“I’m a monk,” I said. “I follow a spiritual tradition from India.”
“Frankie,” said one of the young men to my interlocutor, “he must just be one of those Hare Krsnas who sing on the streets in New York.”
“The ones who beg for money,” said another.
“You don’t work?” said the first young man. “Pay some taxes. Do something for your country.”
I considered whether or not to engage with his defiance. Then I said, “I served my country. I was in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam war.”
“So you were in Nam?” he asked. He looked surprised.
“No. I didn’t fight in Nam in the end,” I replied. “But I gave a
good couple of years for my country. What about you?”
“Me, well I ….”
“Leave him alone.” The older man spoke up in a thick Italian
accent. “He did his time.”
He gestured casually with his head to the corner. “Come over here,” he said to me.
“I appreciate what you did in the military,” he said, once we were standing separate from the group of young men. “You got the right to choose the religion you want.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
“You’re on your way to board your flight?” he said.
“Correct,” I replied. “My flight’s in two hours.”
“Then come with us,” said the man. “There’s an Admirals’ Club
lounge just around the corner. You can sit with us there for a
At the club desk, the receptionist asked each of us for our
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t have one.”
“Then you can’t come in,” she said.
The older man spoke up. “What do you mean he can’t come in? This is Memorial Day weekend. He did time in the military. How’s that respecting our soldiers?”
“I was only in for two years,” I said
“You wore the uniform, right?” the older man said. “That’s more than can be said for these lazy boys with me.”
Turning to the receptionist he said, “Let him in.”
“I’m really sorry, sir,” she said, “It’s company policy that I can’t let anyone in without a membership card unless a member pays for the person to enter.”
“100 dollars,” she said. Without missing a beat, he handed her a hundred dollar bill. We were in.
“You want some coffee?” the older man asked me.
“No thank you,” I said.
“Some bagels?” he asked.
“Frankie, run over there and get him some bagels.”
When Frankie jumped up and ran over to the buffet, I got the
sense my host was someone important.
“May I ask who are you?” I said. “What do you do?”
The group of young men looked over at the older man, who gave a little smile.
“You don’t wanna know,” he said in his Italian accent.
I thought maybe he was being humble, so I said, “No, I really
would like to know.”
“The boss said you don’t wanna know!” said one of the young
men a little too loudly.
“Boys, boys,” the older man said. “You go over the there. I want to have a talk with this gentleman.
“Now,” he said, turning to me, “what do I call you?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t introduce myself. You can just call me Swami.”
“Swami?” he said. “That’s your name?”
“It’s my spiritual name.”
“Your Hare Krsna name?” When I nodded he said, “I know the
Krsnas. When I was young they used to come to the market in
their robes to collect fruits and vegetables. My father took a liking to them and told all the sellers to give them whatever was left over at the end of the day. It went on for years.
“When I was 10 years old, we saw them singing on the streets
downtown. Curious, I started walking over but my father grabbed me and said, ‘That’s not for you. You have your family.’ But now we’re here, and I’ve got some questions I need to ask.”
“Sure, go ahead.” I said.
“I’ve lost a lot of friends through the years,” he said. “Some of
them good, most of them bad. I wanna know where they went.
You know, like reincarnation.”
“You believe in reincarnation?” I was taken aback.
“Yes,” he said. “As a matter of fact I do,”
“OK,” I said. “Well, it all starts by understanding we’re not these bodies. We’re the soul in the body, like a passenger in a car. When the body dies, the soul moves on. Depending on our actions during our life and our desires at the moment of death, we take birth in another body within another family.”
“What about the bad souls?” he asked.
“Well, they take birth in unfortunate circumstances,” I said.
“What kind of unfortunate circumstances?” he said.
“Like in impoverished conditions,” I said. “Or with little or no
chance for education. Or they may be subject to disease or
traumatic situations throughout life.”
He sat silently as if mulling this over.
“It’s called karma,” I said. “Reaction to our actions. But such
reactions can be dissipated by chanting God’s name.”
“You can remove reactions though God’s name? What is His
“One of God’s names is Krishna,” I answered.
“That’s what you people sing outside the subway,” he said. “But why do you all sit on the ground?”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Why do you sit on the ground? The ground is so dirty. It forces everyone to look down on you. If you gotta a message you gotta look people straight in the eye. Tell whoever’s in charge that I said that.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Excuse me for a minute,” he said. “I gotta go to the men’s room.”
In his absence, the young men drifted back towards me.
“Frankie here wants to know if you got any proof you were in the military,” said one of the boys. “We just wanna be sure you’re not spoofing the boss.”
“Why would I do that?” I said.
“Just show us some proof.”
“Like what can I show you?” I said.
“A card,” he said.
“A card?” I had to smile, although the young man looked serious. “It was 48 years ago!”
“This isn’t a joke,” he said.
Then I remembered something.
“Hold on,” I said. I opened my computer and searched through my email until I found what I was looking for.
“Look at this. It’s a message from the Marine Corps for my birthday. They get in touch every year on May 20th without fail.”
I read aloud:
“’Hello Swami. We at Marine Corps, USMC Community, would
like to wish you a very happy birthday today! Semper Fie!’”
Frankie looked impressed. “What does Semper Fie mean?” he
“It means ‘Faithful to God, country, family and your fighting
unit’,” I said.
“Hang on, but you weren’t a monk then. So why do they address you as ‘Swami’?”
“I guess they follow my life,” I said with a smile. “It’s family. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I know what you mean. We say ‘Omerta’. It means that we are bound by the code of silence and secrecy. A code of honor.”
The hair on my arms stood on end and a chill ran up my spine
because I knew that term. It was from the Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian Mob.
Frankie came closer and looked at the email. “It’s the real thing,” he confirmed to the others.
When the boss came back, all the young men except Frankie
scuttled away again. While he hovered on the edges of our
conversation, the boss and I talked philosophy for another hour until it was time for me to leave.
“I have to catch my flight,” I said.
“OK,” he said. “Before you go I want to apologize for the way my boys spoke to you.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It happens sometimes.”
“Look, if you ever need help just call me.” He held out a piece of paper.
“ I mean it.” he continued. “If anyone causes you trouble, I’ll
help you out.”
“We don’t really work that way,” I said.
“Take it!” said Frankie. “You don’t argue with the boss!” He shook his head in disbelief as I accepted the piece of paper.
“Memorize the number,” the boss said, “and then throw it away.”
“Sure,” I said. “It was nice meeting you.”
“The pleasure was ours,” said the boss
Walking out of the Admirals’ Club, I memorized the number and threw the piece of paper in the trash.
“Wow, that was far out,” I thought.
When I reached my gate, an announcement was made that the
flight was delayed half an hour.
I was chanting softly on my beads when I noticed Frankie watching me from 30 meters away. I motioned for him to come over.
“What’s up, Frankie?”
“Boss told me to watch over you until you board your flight,
Swami. He’s got your back.”
“A Vaisnava is always a well-wisher to everyone. The Six
Gosvamis, for example, are described in this way: dhiradhira janapriyau. They were popular with both the gentle and the ruffians. A Vaisnava must be equal to everyone, regardless of one’s position. Atmavat: a Vaisava should be like Paramatma. Isvara sarva-bhutanam hrd-dese ‘rjuna tisthati. Paramatma does not hate anyone … As the moon never refuses to distribute its pleasing rays even to the home of a candala, a Vaisnava never refuses to act for everyone’s welfare.”
[Srimad Bhagavatam 7.4.32, purport]
Our Festival of India in Poland will begin towards the end of June and continue until August 20. It will be our 27th year of hosting large festivals along the Baltic Sea coast. All glories to those devotees who spend their summers with us, giving their lives and souls to spreading the glories of the holy names far and wide.
“The devotees of Krishna are the most exalted persons on this planet, better than kings, all of them, so we should always remember that and, like the bumblebee, always look for the nectar or the best qualities of a person.”
(Srila Prabhupada letter to Atreya Rsi; February 4, 1972)
Anuraga-vali – The Vine of Love
1. O Lord, please give me millions of bodies and millions of mouths in each body. By your mercy place millions of tongues in each mouth. O Lord, may Your millions of transcendental qualities dance on those tongues!
2. What is the use of a soul that does not have millions of bodies? What is the use of a body that does not have millions of mouths? What is the use of a mouth that does not have millions of tongues? What is the use of a tongue that does not chant Your millions of names?
3. O Lord, may I perpetually have hundreds of bodies and may each body have thousands of mouths. May each mouth have millions of tongues, and may each tongue chant millions of Your Holy Names.
4. O Madhava, whenever, wherever, or whoever chants Your names and pastimes, there may I with millions of ears eternally drink Your nectar.
5. May I have millions of ears and millions upon millions of tongues. Then, O Lord, I will eternally and happily hear and chant Your pastimes.
6. May I have millions of ears, millions of eyes, millions of hearts and minds, and millions of tongues. Hearing about, seeing, and embracing the ocean of Your handsomeness, I will drink its sweetness.
7. May I have millions of eyes, ears, noses, tongues and chests, so that I may continually taste the nectar of Your handsomeness, Your sweet sounds, sweet fragrance and Your embrace.
8. May I have millions of feet to go to Your side. May I have millions of hands to serve You. May I have millions of intelligences to teach that service. O Lord, please grant me these boons!
[ Srila Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur ]
June 10, 2018: A Prayer
1. O Lokanatha Gosvami! O my master! I beg for the shelter of your lotus feet. If you are satisfied with me then please place your merciful glance upon me.
2. If you are pleased with me then all the wishes of my mind will be attained and my thirst for happiness will be satiated. Then I will attain the association of Lord Caitanya and Sri Sri Radha and Krsna.
3. O master, if you do not become merciful to me then what will become of me? Please fulfill my mind’s desire at least this one time.
4. In the entire world there is no one as much in need of your mercy as me. Please be merciful to me and give me shelter at the soles of your lotus feet.
5. Although he spends all his days and nights glorifying the transcendental pastimes and virtues of Sri Sri Radha and Krsna, Narottam dasa knows that his desire to attain Their association cannot be fulfilled without your mercy.”
[ Srila Narottam das Thakur, Prarthana, Song 20 ]
This year’s Sadhu Sanga Retreat in Boone, North Carolina, USA was the best ever. Over 2,000 devotees from all over the world attended and there were 150,000 views of the livestream videos. Prasadam was served 3 times a day which amounted to 20,000 plates served over the entire event. There were 14 kirtaneers – some of the best in ISKCON – who melted the hearts of everyone who attended. Everything was 1st class: the organization, the facilities, the prasadam, the decorations, the sound system and the transcendental atmosphere.
One of my samkirtan heroes, Vaisesika Dasa, distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books at the St. Louis Airport in 1986 … 32 years ago. He’s still distributing those books, as well as inspiring others to do so. Under his direction, every Saturday over 100 devotees in ISKCON Silicon Valley go out to sell these most valuable literatures. Vaisesika Dasa is exemplary in every regard. God bless him!
Dear disciples, friends and well wishers: We are now officially opening registration for our month-long Kartika parikrama this year. The special feature of this year’s parikrama is that we will spend two weeks in Vrindavan and two weeks in Mayapur. We are limiting the parikrama party to 300 devotees on a “first come, first serve” basis. So don’t delay! You can find all information about the parikrama and registration in the following link:
“Sri Radhika, the lovely queen of Vrindavan’s bowerhouses, makes all spiritual goals and practices worthwhile when She bestows upon one the festival of Her eternal service. In doing so, She inundates the whole world with news of Her nectarian beauty and Her face shines like innumerable autumnal moons.”
[ Srila Prabodhananda Saraswati, Sri Radha Rasa Sudhanidhi, verse 62 ]
For All Book Distributors – Past, Present and Future
Adapted from Srila Narahari Chakravarti Thakur’s: Śrī Bhakti-ratnākara
After studying for a prolonged period in Vrindavan under the guidance of Srila Jiva Goswami and in the association of many exalted associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Srinivas Acarya along with his dear friends Shyamananda Prabhu and Narottam Das Thakur have been ordered to leave Vraja to preach and distribute the writings of the Six Goswamis. The following is a description from the night before they departed.
That night Srinivas remained in his bhajana-kuṭira while Narottam and Shyamananda went to theirs. Although Srinivas had spent the entire day having darshan of many vaiṣṇavas and deities, in the night he began to lament. Lifting his hands to the sky, he called out, “Providence has deprived me of this pleasure. Shall I, a worthless person, ever again see the deities of Govinda, Gopinath, Madan Mohan, Radha Vinod, Radha Mohan and Radha Damodara? Will Prabhu Sri Gopal Bhatta ever bring me back to Vrindavan or give me the opportunity to serve his feet again? Shall Lokanath Goswami, the incarnation of kindness, bestow his grace on me again? Catching hold of the hair of this sinner, will the gracious Bhugarbha Goswami ever bring me back again? Will Raghunath Das Goswami, the embodiment of kindness, ever again fulfil my desires? Srila Jiva Goswami is the light of the poor and the unfortunate people. Will I ever see his feet again? O associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, will you ever again bring such an unfortunate soul as me to Vrindavan and allow me to enjoy your company?”
His voice became choked with lamentation and tears flowed down his face. The similar lamentations of Narottam melted even the wood and stone. And who can describe the lamentation of Shyamananda? The thought of impending separation made each of them restless, and they could not sleep. By the will of Govinda, that night Srinivas fell asleep in the late hours. He had a dream in which he saw Rupa Goswami’s deity Sri Govinda leaving the temple and walking to Srinivas with the gait of an elephant. Defeating the beauty of the lotus flower, Sri Govinda’s beauty put hundreds of gods to shame. He was adorned with jewelry and wore the feather of a peacock on his head. He had long eyes and his body was well designed. The beauty of his face defeated the beauty of hundreds of moons.
Govinda Dev smiled and said:
ohe śrinivasa! kheda kara sambaraṇa śunite nā jani prāṇa karaye kemana
“O Srinivas, stop lamenting! You don’t know the pain that hearing you brings to my heart”
tumi mora prema-mūrti, nā jāna tā’ tumi nirantara tomāra nikaṭe āchi āmi
“Do you not know that you are the embodiment of my love and I am always with you?”
mora mano-‘bhīṣṭa ye tā’ aneka prakāre karilu prakāśa rūpa-sanātana dvāre
“My numerous desires have been manifested through Rupa and Sanatana.”
tomādvāre grantha-ratna kari vitaraṇa haribe jīvera duḥkha diya prema-dhana
“Through your distribution of these books I shall destroy the grief of mankind and give them the wealth of ecstatic love.”
ye jana la-ibe asi’ śaraṇa tomāra tāre āmi avaśya kariba aṅgīkara
“I promise I shall accept anyone who takes shelter of you.”
ha-iba tomāra śiṣya bhāgyavanta-gaṇa tā’ sabā la-iyā āsvādibā saṅkīrtana
“Whoever becomes your disciple shall be very fortunate; you should take them with you and perform congregational chanting.”
konamate kichu cintā nā kariha cite madhye madhye aiche more pāibā dekhite
“Don’t worry about anything. From time to time you will see me in this same way.”
After consoling Srinivas, Sri Govinda transformed himself into Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Srinivas could not contain himself as he begged for a hundred eyes to see the form of the Lord. He worshiped the Lord’s feet by falling on the ground and Chaitanya placed his feet on Srinivas’ head. The Lord embraced Srinivas and bid him farewell for his journey to Gaudadesh. Then he abandoned his Chaitanya form and returned to the temple. Upon the disappearance of Govinda, Srinivas became emotionally torn and when his sleep broke he saw that it was dawn. After performing his morning duties, grief-stricken Srinivas exercised his patience and sat alone in a solitary place.
[ Srila Narahari Chakravarti. Śrī Bhakti-ratnākara. English translation by Sripad Kusakratha Das. Published by Krishna Library. Alachua, Florida. — Srila Narahari Chakravarti. Śrī Bhakti-ratnākara. Gaudiya Mission. Calcutta. 501 Gaurabda. Bengali. ]
[ Printed in Sri Krsna Kathamrita Bindu, issue 427, published by Madhavananda dasa with the scholarly input of Hari Parshad das Adhikary ]
“My heart cannot be satisfied if those devotees who, being indifferent to any other spiritual practice and spiritual attainment, desire only the personal service of Srimati Radhika, and who perpetually sing Her glories and are immersed in love for Her, attain residence in merely the same Vaikuntha as so many other devotees do. This is a matter of great sorrow! And I cannot tolerate that this must be the final destination for devotees like Sri Nandaraya and Sri Yasoda. There must certainly be a suitable abode for them that is superior to Vaikuntha. If there is such a place, then please describe and deliver me from doubt.”
[ Uttara to her son, Pariksit Maharaja, Brhat Bhagavatamrta, 2.121-22,24 ]
The Festival of India – the Polish Tour – begins in a few days. It will be our 28th year of performing along the Baltic Sea coast. Three hundred devotees are arriving at the base. I can’t wait for the nectar that comes from sharing our good fortune with others!
“The result of Krishna consciousness is that one becomes increasingly enlightened and he enjoys life with a thrill, not only for some time, but at every moment.”
[ Srila Prabhupada, Bhagavad Gita 18.76, purport ]