Diary of a Traveling Preacher
"May my eyes become overwhelmed with ecstasy by seeing the nectar waves of Vrindavan's beauty. May my intelligence drown in the nectar ocean of Vrindavan's glories. May my body become agitated by the swiftly moving currents of ecstatic bliss and thus roll about on the ground of Vrindavan. Falling down like a stick, may I offer my respectful obeisances to all the residents of Vrindavan." [Vrindavan Mahimamrta, Introduction, Text 14]
Our small party of pilgrims entered Vrindavan early on the morning of February 20. After all I had told them about this holy dhama, Mickey and Sherry were all eyes as the unique scenes unfolded before us. Bullock carts lumbered slowly through the small streets loaded with various wares of clay pots, vegetables, hay and cow patties. Sadhus, their faces decorated with tilak of various sampradayas, walked happily on their way to see Krsna in any one of the 5000 temples in Vrindavan. Monkeys scurried here and there engaged in their eternal mischief, and the atmosphere was vibrant with the bright cloth of the markets, the sounds of bells ringing from the temples, and the villagers greeting each other with "Jaya Radhe!"
No doubt it is a spiritual abode, but I was anxious that Mickey and Sherry would perhaps focus on the thin veil of matter covering the dhama which keeps ordinary tourists away. Pigs and dogs were everywhere, overflowing sewers created a filthy stench, dust covered everyone and everything, and the loud noises of tractors, cars and three-wheeler scooters competed with the sweet transcendental sounds of the dhama. Depending on one's consciousness, one can see either matter or spirit here. Once Srila Prabhupada was walking in Vrindavan with his disciples, describing the spiritual glories of the dhama. His description was so detailed, so vivid, that devotees were convinced he was seeing the pastimes of the Lord with his very eyes.
At one point a disciple politely interrupted and said that despite Srila Prabhupada's wonderful description, he could see only the rickshaw drivers, old buildings, sewers, pigs and dogs. Srila Prabhupada smiled and said that his disciple could not see the spiritual nature of the dhama because there was a "speck" in his eye. The devotee responded by rubbing his eyes, causing Srila Prabhupada to laugh. Srila Prabhupada then said,
"No, not like that. The 'speck' is your material desires. When you remove those desires from your heart, then you will see Vrindavan as it is."
In a sense, Mickey and Sherry had come to Vrindavan as pilgrims. Although they were tourists in India, they were no longer interested in going to the spots that tourists generally go to. On the way to Vrindavan, they had taken a side trip to India's ultimate tourist destination, the Taj Mahal. But upon entering Vrindavan, they could immediately perceive the difference. As we neared the MVT buildings, where they would be staying, Mickey offered his first assessment of Vrindavan: "The Taj Mahal was dead compared with Vrindavan. There's a special atmosphere here!"
Our first darsan was with Srila Prabhupada in his samadhi. While they walked around looking at the intricate design of the samadhi, I sat before the large brass murti of my spiritual master, as I always do upon first entering Vrindavan, and gave a report of my devotional service since I had last been there. I spoke of my success and my failures in my recent attempts to preach in Russia. I had managed to visit more than 20 temples and help inspire the devotees in their service to the Lord, but had failed, once again, in relinquishing the material desires in my heart that keep me from offering pure devotion to the Lord. I revealed my plans for service until next Kartika, when I would return to Vrindavan, and asked for Srila Prabhupada's blessings.
After taking darsan of Radha-Syamasundara, we took rickshaws into town to visit the Radha-Damodhar temple, where I proceeded to tell Mickey and Sherry about Srila Prabhupada's pastime of coming to the West. The story so touched their hearts that when Sri Prahlad led kirtan in Srila Prabhupada's room, they enthusiastically chanted Hare Krsna with us. It was the first time they had chanted, and it seemed to me to be the beginning of the end of their material existence.
"O Lord, is Your impersonal spiritual effulgence not always present everywhere? Even so, it has not been able to break even a single small leaf from the tree of repeated birth and death. On the other hand, the moment Your holy name is taken by the tongue it thoroughly shatters the tree of birth and death down to its roots. Of these two (the spiritual effulgence or the holy name), which should be served?" [ Padyavali - Srila Rupa Goswami ]
In the evening we visited the temple of Vraja-Mohan, the Deity of Srila Narottam das Thakur. After kirtan, Mickey turned to me and said that he had heard that Vraja-Mohan was a special Deity for me. I replied that it was true and that I was helping to reconstruct the temple. I mentioned that my Russian disciples, eager to help me in my service, had recently donated more than $1000 to paint the entire temple and make three new outfits for the Lord. I explained to Mickey that this is the real meaning of Deity worship; it allows us to render personal, intimate service to the Lord. Looking at Vraja-Mohan, Mickey said, "I think I understand now." When we all left the temple Mickey wasn't around, so I went back inside to find him. From a distance, I saw him with the priest. He was handing him a $100 bill, pointing to the Deity and indicating that it was for His service.
On February 21, we visited other prominent temples. As we headed into town that morning I didn't see Sherry, and I asked Mickey if she would be coming. He smiled and pointed to the group of ladies that were accompanying us. There I saw Sherry in a silk sari with a bindi on her forehead. She kept her head covered the whole day and offered her respects to all the Deities in the temples we visited, folding her hands and sometimes praying. I also prayed to those same Deities, amazed by Their potency to transform the hearts of my guests:
pratima naha tumi-saksatvrajendra-nandana
"My dear Lord, You are not a statue; You are directly the son of Maharaja Nanda." [CC Madhya 5.97]
February 22 was Lord Siva's appearance day and I decided to spend the day alone, going on pilgrimage to Govardhan Hill. I was particularly eager to visit the temple of Chakaleswara-Mahadeva, a famous temple of Lord Siva on the banks of the Manasi Ganga lake. It is one of the five principle Siva temples in Vrindavan. As Gaudiya Vaisnavas we don't worship Lord Siva in his capacity as a demigod, but rather take shelter of him as the greatest devotee of the Lord. Specifically, we ask him to allow us entrance into Vrindavan, as he is the guardian of that holy place.
When I reached Chakaleswara-Mahadeva temple, I found more than 100 Vrajavasis sitting in front of the siva linga absorbed in an enthusiastic bhajan. One man was singing the glories of Chakaleswara-Mahadeva while playing harmonium, another wildly beat the mrdunga drum, and others played karatalas. They were all dressed in colorful attire to mark the occasion.
The men had on either white or yellow dhotis, with big red, blue or green sashes around their waists. The ladies wore a multitude of colored saris, and danced joyfully on the perimeter of the bhajan. Upon seeing me, the men beckoned me forward and sat me down in their midst. Although I didn't know any of the words of the bhajan, I remained there for well over an hour, fascinated by the atmosphere and praying to Lord Siva for mercy.
From Chakaleswara-Mahadeva temple I proceeded to Uddhava Kunda, where Uddhava prayed to the Lord to take birth as a blade of grass in order to get the mercy of the Vrajavasis, whose lotus feet traverse that holy place.
In Kartika the elderly pujari there, whose heart is very pure, had given me an ancient salagram sila, and I was bringing him a donation for the temple. When he saw me he smiled and called me forward. When I gave him the laksmi he was very surprised, and immediately turned to the Radha-Krsna Deities on the altar and started speaking to Them: "Thakurji, just see what mercy has come! Look! Now You will get some new clothes! This devotee has brought You a donation. Thakurji, look!"
Watching his personal dealings with the Deity, I hankered to one day have the same relationship with mine.
As he continued to talk to Them, coming up with different ideas how he would use the money in Their service, I quietly offered my obeisances and started to leave. But when the pujari saw me going, he quickly grabbed my arm and asked me to wait. Going to the altar, he picked up a small govardhan sila and came back, putting Him in my hand. I politely refused, telling him that I already had a govardhan sila. But he wouldn't listen. He looked at the govardhan sila and said, "Can't you see? He wants to go with you! He doesn't want to stay here any more. He wants to go with you."
The truth is I couldn't see, but I had a strange feeling that the pujari could see. I thought, "This is a special day, a special place, and this pujari seems to be a special devotee. Perhaps I should accept the sila." When I looked closely at the Deity I saw that He, too, was very special. He was a dark red-brown color, with an amazing streak of white quartz on His head that formed a perfectly natural crown. He was gorgeous.
The pujari kept insisting and mildly chastised me, "Prabhuji, he wants to go with you. Are you going to refuse Him?"
Looking at the pujari I said, "No, Prabhu, I won't refuse. If you say He wants to come with me, then I will accept Him."
As the "two" of us departed, the pujari stood up and happily waved goodbye.
What wonderful mercy can be had in the transcendental land of Vrindavan! What great fortune I obtained that day in my solitary wanderings at the foot of Govardhan Hill!
"O brother, what kinds of enjoyment have you not already experienced in this world of birth and death? What kind of fame and worship have you not already attained in this world by scholarship, charity and sacrifice? For today, O friend, simply accept whatever food comes unsought, look to see the good qualities in others but not their faults, do not put yourself forward, but remain obscure and unbeknown, and continually wander, without any companion, in this beautiful forest of Vrindavan." [Vrindavan Mahimamrta, Chapter 2, Verse 14]
I spent the rest of the afternoon at Srila Raghunatha das Goswami's samadhi mandir, chanting and reading. In the evening I returned to Vrindavan to make final preparations for my departure to Africa the next morning. When I arrived there, Mickey and Sherry came to see me. When they asked where I was during the day, I said I had been to Govardhan Hill and Radha Kunda. Apparently, some devotees had told them about the glories of those places, and they lamented that they wouldn't have a chance to see them before leaving India. Upon hearing their enthusiasm to go there, and considering that such a visit would be the crowning glory of their trip to India, we decided to go to Radha Kunda on our way to Delhi to catch our flights.
Rising early the next day, myself, Gaura Sakti, and Mickey and Sherry packed our belongings in the Tata Sumo van that would be taking us to the airport.
As I loaded my things in the back of the van, I was already feeling separation from Vrindavan. "To drink: the freely flowing streams are filled with clear sweet water as nectar. To eat: the dried leaves from the trees are foods as palatable as one could desire. The warm breezes are just as one would have them. To reside: there are clean mountain caves and other suitable residences. Alas! Alas! How unfortunate I would be if I wished to leave Vrindavan!" [Vrindavan Mahimamrta, Chapter 1, Verse 15]
Actually, there is only one reason to leave Vrindavan, and that is to preach Krsna consciousness in foreign countries. And by that preaching, one becomes qualified to actually live in, and one day see, the real glories of Vrindavan dhama.
"Now that Lord Caitanya, His heart filled with mercy, has descended to this world, those living entities who had formerly never practiced yoga, meditated, chanted mantras, performed austerities, followed various Vedic restrictions, studied the Vedas, performed spiritual activities, or refrained from sins, have become able to easily plunder the crest jewel of all goals of life.
"Now that wonderfully powerful Lord Caitanya has descended to this world, the materialists, who had fallen into the raging river of fruitive deeds, have been rescued and are situated on firm ground, even the great boulders have melted, and even those whose hearts were fixed in non-devotional yoga are dancing in the ecstasy of love of Krsna.
"The whole world is now suddenly flooded by the nectar waters of the ocean of pure love for Krsna. Now there is suddenly a great wonder of symptoms of ecstatic love never seen or heard of before. All this has suddenly appeared now that Lord Krsna has descended in a form as splendid as gold." [Caintanya Candamrta, Chapter 12]
By the time we left we were running late, but Mickey and Sherry were determined to see Govardhan Hill and Radha Kunda. After a quick darsana of Lord Giriraja upon arriving, we proceeded to Radha Kunda, the most sacred of all holy places. Situated in a small rural village, Radha Kunda can be truly appreciated only by those advanced souls whose eyes are covered by the salve of love of God. Beginners can have some appreciation by the study of sastra, but non-devotees can only be bewildered as to why someone would be eager to visit the two little ponds at the foot of Govardhan Hill called Syama Kunda and Radha Kunda. However, I could see that I didn't have to worry about Mickey and Sherry. They were eager to see Radha Kunda and appreciated that it was indeed special mercy for them. They had been groomed for this moment by the devotees, and no doubt by the Lord Himself. What tourists ever get darsan of Sri Nathji in Nathdwar, Sri Sri Radha-Govinda in Jaipur and Sri Sri Radha-Syamasundara in Vrindavan? What tourists live for 10 days on the maha prasadam of the Lord? What tourists get the opportunity to give their hard-earned money to Vraja-Mohan, the beloved Deity of Srila Narottam das Thakur? The accumulative effect of all that mercy was seen in the awe and reverence Mickey and Sherry displayed when they approached Radha Kunda and put her sacred waters upon their heads.
On the way back to the van, Mickey said to me, "Maharaja, you've been so kind to us these 10 days here in India. In particular, you and Sri Prahlad have answered each and every one of our questions to our full satisfaction.
But I have one question left, and this time I'm afraid that neither of you will be able to answer!"
Thinking there may be a lingering doubt in Mickey's mind despite all the mercy he received, I said, "What's that question, Mickey."He said, "How will I be able to explain all of this to my friends back home? How does one put into words the wonders of what we've seen and done? How do you explain Vrindavan to those who've never met devotees like yourselves?"
I replied, "It's not easy, Mickey. But devotees of the Lord carry Vrindavan in their hearts, and wherever they go they share that mercy with others. My spiritual master in particular took Vrindavan to the West. If people read his books, they'll get an idea of the special mercy that is available here."
As we got into the van, everyone had an empty feeling inside them. All of us felt we were leaving our real home. As we drove down the road and out of Vraja, both Mickey and Sherry looked back. From the look in their eyes, I knew one day they would return.
"I am not strong enough to go to the far shore of the great nectar ocean of Vrindavan's glories. Who can go there? However, because I love Vrindavan I will now dip into that ocean. I pray that this endeavor may become successful and bring an auspicious result.
"Day and night I glorify Vrindavan, which is filled with the wonder of Sri Sri Radha and Krsna's pastimes, the wonder of the greatest sweetness, the ultimate nectar of Lord Hari, the sweetest, most beautiful auspiciousness and a flood of virtues Ananta-sesa, Siva, and a host of others cannot cross.
"Think of Vrindavan with love. Roll in its dust. Love it ardently. Please its moving and non-moving residents. Worship Sri Radha's birthplace. With all your heart take shelter of Sri Vrindavan, the best of all holy places." [Vrindavan Mahimamrta, Chapter 1]