Diary of a Traveling Preacher
Upon rising today, I spent 10 minutes organizing my paraphernalia. I first rolled up my sleeping bag and mat and placed them in a corner of the room. Then I neatly folded my dirty clothes and placed them in a plastic bag near the door for washing later. Afterwards I put away my clock, flashlight, drinking cup and glasses in their respective places in my bag. I even organized some of my host's belongings. I've realized over time that one cannot think of Krsna in an unclean, untidy atmosphere. It's a little difficult living "out of a bag" for 32 years, but the secret is in Srila Prabhupada's formula: a place for everything, and everything in its place.
Each day I take the time to clean and organize things around me, even if I'm there for only a day.
During the past year I've also tried cutting down on several things: my eating, my possessions, and unnecessary talk. For his own benefit, a sannyasi should carry only the basic necessities of life and depend on the mercy of the Lord.. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu gave several instructions to Ragunath das Goswami that I strive more than ever to imbibe as guidelines in my life as a sannyasi:
gramya-katha na sunibe, gramyavarta na kahibe
bhala na khaibe ara bhala na paribe
"Do not talk like people in general or hear what they say. You should not eat very palatable food, nor should you dress very nicely."
amana manada hana krsna nama sada la'be
vraje radha krsna seva manase karibe
"Do not expect honor, but offer all respect to others. Always chant the holy name of Lord Krsna, and within your mind render service to Radha and Krsna in Vrindavan."
At one point, I was down to a single, small traveling bag, but out of necessity (and for service) the list of possessions seems to have grown again. For this diary I require my computer; for my bad back I need my traveling sleeping mat; for cleanliness I take my own sleeping bag; and because I often cross through different time zones and seasons, I'm obliged to carry summer and winter gear. The best I can do in the spirit of renunciation is to carry the smallest version of whatever I need. Thus I have a compact Sony Vio computer; a tiny sleeping bag; a winter jacket that rolls into a bag the size of my fist; and, believe it or not, a collapsible danda. Lord Caitanya, please count me among your followers in the renounced order, despite my extra luggage!
Although many ISKCON sannyasis don't use their dandas any more, I try to. Last year I was becoming negligent in carrying it, then I had a dream of Srila Prabhupada wherein he chastised me severely for not carrying a danda. Not taking the dream seriously enough I continued to travel minus a danda, when I had the same dream again! After that I began to think seriously about carrying a danda and was planning to make a small one for traveling purposes. Two nights later I again dreamt that Srila Prabhupada was admonishing me for not carrying the mark of a sannyasi, a tridandi staff! Since that very morning I carry a danda wherever I go!
At 7am myself and Uttamasloka left for the temple to perform an initiation ceremony. On the way I saw many young ladies hitch-hiking. As I had never seen this in Russia, I asked my driver, Kailash Candra, why the girls were taking such a risk. He replied that they were prostitutes. He said the city is rampant with prostitution, drugs and crime. Vladivostok has degraded rapidly in recent years. It's a prime target for these vices because it's a port and it shares a border with China. It certainly appears as a rough-and-tumble city to me, the only shelter being our temple perched upon one of Vladivostok's many hills.
It was the first time I had seen the particular building we now have for a temple here. The city officials, who are very appreciative of our Food for Life program, arranged that we could have this facility for free. Formerly it was a kindergarten. The devotees are repairing the spacious building and developing the small park that surrounds it. The temple room is complete and Gaura-Nitai and big Jagannath Deities grace the altar.
I gave a one-hour lecture on the 10 offenses to the holy name, giving particular emphasis to inattention. In the Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Srila Prabhupada lists inattention as one of the 10 offenses. Srila Jiva Goswami has written that inattention while chanting is the most serious offense, because from inattention one commits all the other offenses to the holy names.
As the ceremony proceeded I accepted new disciples, giving them the names Jivdoya das, Gaura Karuna das, Visnu Smaranam das, Anuttama das, Satyavati dasi, Vraja Kumari dasi and Nirasraya Krsna dasi. This brings the number of my spiritual sons and daughters to 1158.
After the ceremony I met all my disciples from the region. The mother of one of my disciples came to me with a unique problem. She has two sons. Her devotee son recently moved to western Russia, but her second and younger son lives with her. Her problem is that last year the younger son entered the local College of Parapsychology and Magic. When she said this, I looked at Vrajenda Kumara to see if what I heard was real. He told me that many Russian people have a fascination for these subjects and the college is very popular. It is accepted as a bona fide institution. She complained that her son is majoring in Black Magic and stays up all night chanting strange sounds and calling all kinds of weird spirits and ghosts into the apartment. I got goose bumps just hearing the story!
She went on to say that he's the best student in his class, but she was terrified by his results. She was the first mother I ever heard who was disappointed that her son was achieving exemplary grades! She asked for advice and I told her to try to convince her son to give up school! I also told her to take shelter of the holy names. I asked for a Krsna book, and read Srila Prabhupada's advice from the chapter "Putana Killed." I often quote this passage when people ask me how to deal with subtle spirits.
"Thus mother Yasoda chanted different names of Visnu to protect child Krsna's different bodily parts. Mother Yasoda was firmly convinced that she should protect her child from different kinds of evil spirits and ghosts - namely Dakinis, Yatudhanis, Kusmandas, Yaksas, Raksasas, Vinayakas, Kotaras, Revatis, Jyesthas, Putanas, Matrkas, Unmadas and similar other evil spirits, who cause persons to forget their own existence and give trouble to the life airs and the senses . . . no such ghosts and evil spirits can remain where there is chanting of the holy name of God."
This evening I gave Bhagavad-gita class in the Hare Krsna Cafe in downtown Vladivostok. The small store-front was packed with more than 100 devotees and guests. I spoke on Bhagavad-gita 2.59 for over an hour and a half, emphasizing the importance of strictly following sadhana in order to have the strength to resist the temptation of maya. I offered my own theory that many devotees leave Krsna consciousness simply because they don't chant the holy names enough. I remember in the beginning of the movement when I joined, besides our strong commitment to chanting japa in the temple room in the association of other devotees each day, we would also go for street chanting for up to five or six hours a day. In the evening we would return for arati and then have class. We were literally absorbed in the holy names for as many hours as possible each day. Of course, the method of sankirtan changed and with it harinam sankirtan became a weekend affair at best. That may well have been necessary. Nevertheless, we did lose a lot of association with the holy name, which is our savior and redeemer. I feel that if devotees found time to chant more now there would be less personal and collective problems in our movement.
"The name is the purest form of knowledge, the best of all vratas or vows and the highest meditation. It gives the ultimate auspicious results and is the most sublime renunciation. Chanting is a matchless spiritual activity, the holiest of pious activities, and the supreme path of self-realization. It offers the greatest liberation and goal. The holy name is divine and situated in the paramount spiritual realm, it is super-excellent devotional service and the best purifying agent, showering love of Godhead. It is the essence of all scriptures, the cause of everything, the supreme Absolute Truth, the most worshipful object, and acts as the supreme spiritual instructor and guide." [Sri Harinam Cintamani]