Diary of a Traveling Preacher
Today I asked Sri Prahlad to go to the temple and give the Srimad-Bhagavatam class. I remained behind, mainly so I could sit peacefully and chant my rounds. Afterwards, I read from Sivarama Swami's book, Venu Gita. The book is my constant companion on my travels. Maharaja has expertly assimilated and presented the teachings of our previous acaryas in regards to the Lord's pastimes in Vrindavan. The Six Goswamis in particular have written extensively on the subject, to the degree that some of their writings are very confidential and not meant for the masses, or even neophyte devotees.
In Venu Gita, Maharaja has selected those teachings and pastimes that are suitable to our ears. Because such information is found in a wide variety of sastras, Venu Gita is certainly the fruit of many years of research. For those of us who don't have access to the Goswamis' writings, or the time and qualification to read some of them, Venu Gita is most welcome nectar. I read it daily to be immersed in the mood of Sri Vrindavan Dhama.
"I meditate on Vrindavan, where the cuckoos sing the fifth note, the flute plays splendid melodies, peacocks sing and dance, vines and trees bloom, splendid and charming forests are wonderful with many birds and deer, and there are many splendid lakes, streams and hills." [Vrindavan Mahimamrta Sataka 1, Text 7]
After reading Venu Gita, I checked my e-mail mail on my computer. In my inbox there were three days of briefings on world news. I subscribe to an Internet service that daily sends out the top news stories. They are broken down into three categories: World, USA and European news. There are generally about eight news items in each category. In this way I can be in touch with the world, but not have to read newspapers and sift through so much garbage. This is authorized, as Srila Prabhupada writes:
"One should avoid ordinary topics of novels and fiction, but there is no injunction that one should avoid hearing ordinary news." [Teaching of Lord Caitanya, Chapter 12]
A traveling preacher must be aware of what is happening in the world around him. I often use current events as examples in my preaching. They help the audience to understand a philosophical point, eg, the recent earthquake in Gujarat, India, demonstrates the miseries of material existence. However, there is a fine line as to how much of the current world news we need to hear. Because it is all tinged by the modes of passion and ignorance, too much can agitate the mind and distract us from meditation on our services. I sometimes find that even selective reading of the news is too much for my mind. After all, it's all "chewing the chewed" - there's nothing new. It's always "old wine in a new bottle," another trick of maya to keep us entangled in the material world. It's one of those attachments that may be authorized for service but which in the end we must let go of if we really want to go back home, back to Godhead. I much prefer to read Venu Gita and become enchanted by the eternal news of the spiritual sky.
"Don't even glance at the external things of this world, whether they belong to you or to others, whether they are as splendid as millions of suns and moons, or whether they possess a great flood of good qualities. Renounce them! Give up all conventional peaceful composure and without caring for anything else, always remember Sri Sri Radha-Krsna and reside in Vrindavan." [Vrindavan Mahimamrta Sataka 2, Text 7]
As today was Lord Varaha's appearance day, I also remembered Lord Varaha's instructions:
"Lord Varaha tells the men of earth, 'Any person who becomes attracted to places other than Mathura will certainly be captivated by the illusory energy!' " [Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 12, "Residing in Mathura"]
Before leaving for the airport to catch our two-hour flight to Moscow, we stopped off at the temple to say goodbye to the devotees. I was surprised to see more than 200 devotees packed into the small temple room waiting to see me off. Because it was a festival day, the Gaura-Nitai Deities had a new outfit. I sat down, led a short kirtan and then spoke. I explained that as fallen souls we must all take shelter of Lord Varaha, as He is capable of uplifting that which has fallen into a filthy place. Currently our consciousness is contaminated by the bodily concept of life, but by His mercy we can be elevated to the transcendental platform. I also explained that as He is capable of killing the greatest of demons, most notably Hiranyaksa, He can also destroy the most formidable obstacles of lust, anger and greed that are within our hearts.
On the way to the airport, our driver was taking all sorts of turns, going in and out of different sections of the city. A local devotee in the back seat was directing him. As we had a deadline of two hours to reach the airport and didn't seem to be getting anywhere, I inquired if either of them knew where they were going. To my surprise they replied in unison, "Not really Maharaja!" One of them humbly explained that neither of them had ever been to the airport. Thinking we might miss our flight I momentarily became angry, but controlled myself by thinking that only people with money can fly. These Siberian devotees don't enjoy the luxuries of someone like myself - if they have to go to Moscow they take the two-day train.
Somehow we made it to airport with time to spare, and there I found yet another group of disciples waiting to say goodbye. We had only five minutes before we had to check in and I was quite tired, but I thought, "Let me give them a few minutes. It will mean a lot to them."
I know the few moments that Srila Prabhupada gave me personal attention are forever engraved as precious jewels within my heart. In 1971, on my way to preach in Europe, he called me into his room in New York to give me some instructions. Reaching into his dresser he pulled out his own dhoti, and handing it to me said strongly, "Preach boldly and have faith in the holy names!" Srila Prabhupada, I'm doing my best, and following in your footsteps I'm trying to inspire my disciples to do the same. May you be pleased with our combined efforts to serve Your Divine Grace.