Diary of a Traveling Preacher
Throughout the night I tossed and turned, unable to get proper rest as our train wound its way through the Siberian countryside. Several times I woke up and peered out the window. Though it was total darkness the white snow acted as a contrast that seemed to shed light on the frigid, winter scene.
Sometimes we would pass villages and I could see lights on in little wooden houses. Our "Trans-Siberian Express" would stop at larger towns and passengers would board. Several times I saw dogs on the platform looking for food. They had thick, furry winter coats, but I wondered how they survived the bitter cold. Anyone who was outside moved quickly from place to place, unable to bear the misery.
In one sense the passing countryside looked very beautiful, but that's the way maya works - she appears attractive, but in essence she is there to make us suffer. Lord Siva is called Rudra and his wife, Durga, who is in charge of the prison house of material existence, is sometimes called Rudrani, which means she who makes you cry forever. Once, Srila Prabhupada's secretary suggested that Srila Prabhupada take some much-needed rest in a chalet in the mountains of Switzerland. After spending only a few days there one December Srila Prabhupada wanted to leave, referring to the place as a white hell.
At noon our train pulled into the station in Krasnoyarsk. Within moments a strongly built man in his mid-forties was at the door of my compartment, offering obeisances in the hallway. He said loudly, "Srila Gurudeva, welcome to Krasnoyarsk!" He identified himself as my disciple, Guru Vrata dasa, the president of the Krasnoyarsk temple.
Within moments Guru Vrata's men had secured all our baggage and had it neatly lined up on the platform outside. Then he led myself, Sri Prahlad, Rukmini, Uttamasloka, Jananivasa and the four matajis accompanying us to waiting vehicles. We found four nice cars parked neatly in a row, complete with drivers standing at attention by the doors. Within seconds our bags were loaded in the trunks of the car and we were gone! The whole affair came off like a well-planned military procedure. It reminded me of Srila Prabhupada's purport to the thirtieth verse of the third chapter of Bhagavad-gita, wherein he says:
"This verse clearly indicates the purpose of the Bhagavad-gita. The Lord instructs that one has to become fully Krsna conscious to discharge duties, as if in military discipline."
In the car I inquired from Guru Vrata if he had ever been in the military. He smiled and replied with a resounding, "Yes!" He said he had been the personal driver and assistant to the commander of his army battalion. That explained his military precision in picking up the "troops" at the train station!
After a quick shower at the apartment, and a few moments of writing this diary, we were again on our way to a big hall for a program. On the way I asked Guru Vrata about the city of Krasnoyarsk and our preaching there. He said the city, which is literally in the middle of Siberia, is populated by more than one million people. The temple has only 12 devotees, but a large and active congregation. There are more than 20 Nama Hatta centers. Guru Vrata praised the area regional secretary, Laksmi Narayana das, a disciple of Nirajana Swami, for successful preaching in the region. Laksmi Narayana prabhu has made many devotees as he travels giving seminars on Krsna consciousness. As we entered the hall, I saw first hand the results of his efforts: there were 500 blissful devotees waiting for us!
I wasn't prepared for such an amazing scene. The hall itself was bright and beautiful by Russian standards, but the real light came from the effulgent devotees. I remembered the story when Srila Prabhupada was walking across the street in London, and a policeman grabbed the arm of one of his disciples and said, "Look! That man is glowing!"
As I proceeded to the stage, devotees made a clearing and bowed down as I came by. I felt unqualified to receive such respect, and kept in mind a similar scenario in a photo where Srila Prabhupada is walking into a temple and devotees are offering him respectful obeisances from all sides. I thought, "Srila Prabhupada, they're all your children. Let me help you by bringing them to your lotus feet." I was soon speaking from the stage about Srila Prabhupada's original visit to Moscow in the early 1970s, and how by his grace alone Krsna consciousness has met with success in Russia.
I recounted to the audience how I had gone in disguise a number of times to preach in Moscow in the late 1980s. In those days there were only about 50 devotees in Moscow and I never imagined the movement would grow bigger, considering the severe repression we were experiencing under the Communist government at the time. Brahmananda prabhu once said that when he was a devotee in ISKCON's first center at 26 Second Avenue in New York, he never imagined Krsna consciousness would go beyond the boundaries of the Bowery! But Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada have their plans for a worldwide movement, and so it was that I found 500 glowing devotees deep in Siberia.
We had kirtan and I gave a class about the glories of Lord Caitanya and the holy name. I felt happy with the class, but later on Jananivasa pointed out that many of the people in the audience appeared to be intellectuals. I think he was indicating that the class could have been deeper for them. The other day when I asked Uttamasloka if a class I had given was understandable by another audience, he also remarked that my classes are generally simple. He didn't mean it in a derogatory way; but after hearing from both these disciples that my preaching was simple, I felt a little uncomfortable. The fact is I never was an intellectual, and neither am I so advanced that I can deliver classes like Bhakti Caru Maharaja or Radhanatha Swami. In general it seems devotees are happy with my classes, but I took the remarks of Uttamasloka and Jananivasa to be from the Lord Himself, and resolved to study harder in order to become a better speaker.
I must also strive to become more pure, for that is the real potency behind preaching. If we are tinged with material desire, then certainly the Lord's message will not appear attractive as it comes down through us. Srila Prabhupada, please help me to become qualified. Traveling and preaching are my main services to you!