Diary of a Traveling Preacher
The Moscow temple, located near the center of the city, has served a steadily growing community of devotees since 1991. There are currently more than 1000 initiated devotees in Moscow and probably twice as many aspiring devotees. The temple is the nerve center of ISKCON Russia, brimming with offices housing ISKCON Communications, sankirtan, a big bhakta program, a Vaisnava University, and a Deity department. Well managed by Syama das, it is also the base for Vaidyanath das, the local GBC representative. The temple is always busy, with many devotees coming and going on their various duties. Each week a number of school groups visit the temple room, watch a fire yajna, hear a talk and take prasadam. Recently, however, city officials informed the devotees that they will have to move, because a highway is planned through the area where the temple is situated. At the moment, Vaidyanath and the other leaders are doing their utmost to find another location.
It won't be easy. Moscow is no longer the impoverished capital of communism I first came to in 1989. Although much of Russia is still struggling with the economic reforms initiated by the transition to democracy 10 years ago, Moscow seems to be booming. I can hardly recognize the city, compared with what I saw then. New buildings have sprung up all over the downtown area, with many businesses and organizations within. Men and women in suits and chic clothing walk busily throughout the city. Shops are brimming with clothes, appliances, furniture and food. Billboards advertise everywhere and bright neon signs pulsate from the buildings.
But the new buildings and bright lights are only a facade, because behind them all so many sinful activities are going on. With the feeedom of democracy have come also the sins of western society and Moscow, like all big cities in Kali Yuga, is now paying a heavy price for the prostitution, drugs, and gambling that goes on. Crime is rampant and corruption is common at the highest levels.
A stranger asked a brahmana, "Tell me, who in this city is great?"
The brahmana replied, "The cluster of thorny palmyra trees are great."
The traveller then asked, "Who is the most charitable person?"
The brahmana answered, "The washerman who takes the clothes in the morning and gives them back in the evening is the most charitable."
He then asked, "Who is the ablest man?"
The brahmana answered, "Everyone is expert in robbing others of their wives and wealth."
The man then asked the brahmana, "How do you manage to live in such a city?"
The brahmana replied, "As a worm survives while even in a filthy place so do I survive here!" [ Canakya Pandit - Niti Sastra Chapter 12, Text 9 ]
The devotees of the Lord, however, are not averse to living in such conditions. I remember while traveling on samkirtan in my earlier days, whenever we would drive into a big, polluted materialist city for the first time, we would jump with joy. We didn't notice the tall buildings, the shops, the lights and the sinful activities, we only saw thousands of conditioned souls about to get Lord Caitanya's mercy!
prayena deva munayah sva-vimukti kama
maunam caranti vijane na parartha nisthah
naitan vihaya krpanan vimumuksa eko
nanyam tvad asya saranam bhramato 'nupasye
"My dear Lord Nrsimhadeva, I see that there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence [mauna-vrata]. They are not interested in delivering others. As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krsna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore I wish to bring them back to shelter at Your lotus feet."
Vaidyanath wants to purchase land on which to construct a temple in Moscow.
Liaising with the Indian Embassy and the Indian congregation, he's working on the angle of a Center of Indian Culture. Shooting for the rhinoceros, he has met Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee twice - in New York at a United Nations Summit of Religions, and in New Delhi. Under Vaidyanath's direction, Russian devotee Madana Mohan met Russian President Vladimir Putin on his recent visit to New Delhi. Madana Mohan informed him of ISKCON's desire to obtain land in Moscow to build a center in cooperation with the Indian community.
Moscow devotees say that President Putin is well informed about our movement. I'm sure there is no reason to doubt that. He was formerly head of the KBG, the Russian Secret Service. Devotees say that he was recently at an important function when someone offered him a glass of champagne. When he refused, the person said, "Mr President, do you not drink?"
President Putin replied, "Of course not. I'm a Hare Krsna!"
Sri Prahlad gave class at the temple this morning. The devotees were as happy to see him as they are to see me. He spoke nicely and devotees were more than satisfied. This afternoon I went to the temple to address the 20 regional secretaries of ISKCON Russia, who were concluding a four-day meeting. When they asked for advice on leadership, I said the most important quality of a leader is purity. His essential duty is to inspire his followers in Krsna consciousness, and therefore his leadership begins by attending the full morning program. I also quoted Srila Prabhupada's advice to Giriraja Swami. When Srila Prabhupada was departing, he called Giriraja Swami to his side and asked him if he thought the movement would continue in his absence. Giriraja Swami replied with confidence that it would if devotees remained strict in chanting their rounds and following the regulative principles. Srila Prabhupada nodded, and asking Maharaja to come closer whispered in his ear, "Intelligence and organization."
When I came out of the room one of my disciples approached me and requested I meet his parents, who had just arrived at the temple. I was exhausted from meeting the regional secretaries and I hadn't taken prasadam all day. Trying to get out of it, I suggested I could meet them the next day, but he insisted and I reluctantly agreed. However, instead of doing the proper thing and sitting with them in the guest room, I said I would meet them on my way to the car.
As I neared the shoe room, my disciple's parents came forward and warmly shook my hand, thanking me for all the help I have given their son. They were nicely dressed and spoke articulately. I immediately realized my mistake, but it was too late to backtrack. I did my best to cover for my foolishness by chatting with them; but the time and place were uncomfortable - we were surrounded by shoes and socks. After a few minutes they graciously went with their son into the guest room. As I proceeded to the car, Syama approached me and asked if I knew who the father of my disciple was. When I said I didn't he replied, "He's the chief engineer in the biggest nuclear plant in Russia. Even big American scientists come to consult with him."
Srila Prabhupada, when will this coarse fool ever be the gentleman you wanted me to be?
This evening I met Suddha das and other leaders from southern Russia. We made plans for the big festival we'll be holding in Divnomorsk, near Krasnodar, in May, honoring the appearance of Lord Nrsimhadeva. We expect that more than 2000 devotees will attend. At the meeting, Suddha told me how the Deity of Lord Nrsimhadeva in Krasnodar was recently stolen and eventually rescued.
Five years ago the Krasnodar devotees installed a large Nrsimhadeva murti sitting in a lotus posture. Yoga Nrsimha has become well known in the region - even non-devotees come to see His beautiful, but ferocious form.
On December 9, an intruder entered the temple unnoticed when most devotees were out on sankirtan. The person grabbed the Deity off the altar and quickly disappeared. When the devotees discovered the theft several hours later they were devastated and heartbroken. They called the police, who said that with no evidence little could be done. Local television, radio and newspapers covered the event, showing pictures of a bare altar.
The devotees contacted the local underworld, and several gangsters suggested the culprit could be part of a Russian Mafia which specializes in stealing relics from churches and mosques and then selling them back to the followers. They hinted that the Mafia may approach devotees in another city and try to sell them the Deity. Suddha sent an e-mail warning all Russian temples to be alert for anyone selling the murti.
Sure enough, six days later a man approached some devotees in St Petersburg with the Deity of Lord Nrsimhadeva. The devotees had not been informed of Suddha's letter - nor even suspected the Deity might be stolen. With enthusiasm, they collected enough money to purchase the Deity and made the transaction at their apartment. Just after the man left to catch a train south, the devotees went on COM where they discovered Suddha's e-mail. Though fuming, there was little they could do - the man had disappeared into the night. Suddenly there was a knock on the door, and when the devotees opened it there stood the man! He explained that he had missed his train and wanted to know if he could stay the night. Keeping their cool, the devotees agreed and made a comfortable arrangement for him. When he was sound asleep, they called the police who immediately came and arrested the man. He faces a minimum five-year prison sentence if convicted.
The devotees had a huge festival welcoming the Lord home. Suddha said it was like the residents of Dwarka welcoming Lord Krsna back to His city. When the car carrying the Deity approached the Krasnodar temple, devotees burst into tears and offered obeisances from all directions. As they carried Lord Nrsimhadeva back to His altar, hundreds of devotees clamored to get a view of Him, unable to believe that their ista deva, their worshipful Lord, had actually returned. A big abhiseka ceremony was held and the devotees lovingly bathed the Lord, more with their tears than with water. At the conclusion, the whole temple community chanted and danced in ecstasy in front of the same television, radio and newspaper reporters who had originally covered the theft. The next day Lord Nrsimhadeva was the talk of Krasnodar. Many people came to see the Lord who was stolen, but in the end Himself stole the hearts of His loving devotees!
ugro 'py anugra evayam
sva-bhaktanam na kesari
kesariva sva potanam
anyesam ugra vikrama
"Although very ferocious, the lioness is very kind to her cubs. Similarly, although very ferocious to non-devotees like Hiranyakasipu, Lord Nrsimhadeva is very, very soft and kind to devotees like Prahlada Maharaja." [Srila Sridhara Swami]