Diary of a Traveling Preacher
On April 12 our party left Detroit for the community of New Raman Reti in Alachua, Florida. On the way I visited my sister, Anne, who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We had last seen each other five years ago at our mother's funeral in California. Mother's passing away was especially difficult for my sister and at that time we talked a lot about death, the soul, and God. As a result we had kept in touch, and her faith in Krsna consciousness had deepened. We spent the day in Chattanooga continuing our discussions, and at one point I asked her what she saw as her ultimate goal in life. She surprised me when she replied, "To remember Krsna at the moment of death."
As we were saying goodbye she handed me an old piece of paper that had faded yellow with time. She said, "I thought you might be interested to see this. I was going through Mom's things the other day and I found it in her papers. It's a school assignment you wrote when you were nine years old. Mother always said you were different."
November 10, 1958
Orinda Elementary School
Fruits and Vegetables for Thanksgiving Holiday
"Once there was a family named Wiggins. Thanksgiving was coming up, but the stores were out of turkeys. So the father went to the woods to shoot one, but he missed every time and returned empty handed.
"Two weeks before Thanksgiving a man in a truck came by and said, 'Package for the Wiggins!' Mr. Wiggins took the box into the house. The whole family came to see what it was. To their amazement there was a turkey inside, and he was as hungry as a bear! The father said to the two boys, 'Make a cage for this bird and feed it so we can have a nice fat turkey for Thanksgiving.'
"Every day the boys fed the turkey and played with him. Then one day Mr Wiggins came out of the house with an ax. He went over to the cage where the turkey was. The boys saw him and said, 'No father! Please don't kill him! Please!'
"The father replied, 'Well then, what will we eat for Thanksgiving?'
"The boys said, 'Fruits and vegetables! They're good enough.'
"The father agreed, and the Wiggins had fruits and vegetables for Thanksgiving. They all thought it was just fine."
In Alachua we stayed with Dharmatma prabhu and his good wife, Divyapriya dasi. Along with their three teenage boys, Dhruva, Devala and Raktaka, they were the perfect hosts, providing everything we needed for our four-day visit. The New Raman Reti community is made up mostly of families who have personal businesses or who work in the local towns. With such responsibilities, there weren't a lot of devotees at the morning programs in the temple, but the evening sessions were packed and we enjoyed some of the best kirtans of our American tour. The youth of the community were especially eager to chant and dance - so much so that several times I called out, "All glories to the kids," during the premadvani prayers after the kirtans.
On our final day Dharmatma suggested we float down a nearby river to relax. When I brought up the point that there were lots of alligators and water moccasin snakes in the rivers and swamps of Florida, Dharmatma just laughed. "There may be a few water moccasins in that river, but I've never seen a gator," he said. So off we went.
It was nice floating down the picturesque river. I laid on my back in the water and let the current take me gradually downstream. Many people passed us by in small boats and canoes. The water was clear as a bell and I did relax . . . a little bit. I must admit I was nervous. I just couldn't understand how alligators were everywhere in Florida - but not in that river! Halfway down, I asked Dharmatma again, "Are you sure there's no alligators here."
He replied, "I'd be real surprised if I saw one."
"So would I," I said. "Real surprised!"
After two hours, we finally got out of the river and climbed up a small wooden platform with a couple of boats tied to it. A big sign hung on the front of the platform and we went over to read it as we dried off. As we read the sign I don't know who was more surprised, myself or Dharmatma!
"Beware! Swim with Caution! Alligators live in most of Florida's waterways, typically eating fish, turtles and other small animals. Large alligators, however, attack bigger animals such as deer and may sometimes even attack humans. Therefore follow these rules: Swim only in designated areas; Be watchful for alligators; Never feed the alligators; Report all alligators to a park ranger."
I'm always one for following the rules. Next time I'll take the boat!
As we were leaving New Raman Reti, Dharmatma's eldest son, Dhruva dasa, presented me with a wonderful gift: an ancient Tibetan kavaca, to be worn on the arm. He had recently come back from a pilgrimage to more than 85 Nrsimha temples in south India. At every temple he had requested sandalwood paste and Tulasi leaves from the feet of the Nrsimha Deity and each time put a little in the kavaca. He had also visited Ahovalam, the appearance site of Lord Nrsimha, and had taken a small stone from Rakta-kunda and placed it inside the kavaca. Rakta means red and kunda means pond. Rakta-kunda is the place where Lord Nrsimha washed His hands of the blood of Hiranyakasipu after killing him. The small stones in the kunda are a dark red color from the blood of that daitya. One might find it surprising that a devotee would decorate his body with the blood of an asura, but sastra says the body of Hiranyakasipu became purified by the touch of the Lord's hands:
om am hrim ksraum om phat tattaka hataka kesagra jvalat paduka
locana bhadradika nakha sparsa divya-simha namo 'stu te
"O my Lord, O transcendental lion, I offer my obeisances unto You along with Mother Laksmi. Sometimes flying in the sky, sometimes moving on foot, Your mane hairs blaze with a golden brilliance. Your glance and the touch of Your nails are the source of all auspiciousness."
[ source unknown ]
I had also visited Ahovalam and Rakta-kunda in 1979, just after taking sannyasa at the Mayapur Festival. The priest who was acting as my guide to the nine temples of Lord Nrsimha told me that by bathing in the sacred blood-red water of Rakta-kunda, one's body becomes invincible. Remembering Siegfried, the hero of the medieval German epic poem, Nibelungenlied, who gained invulnerability by smearing his body with the blood of a dragon he had killed, I plunged into the kunda immersing myself in its waters. Nibelungenlied was fiction, of course, but Lord Nrsimhadeva's pastimes are authentic history, and I hoped that by bathing in the sanctified waters of Rakta-kunda I would be protected in my service to the Lord.
Devotees require protection because this is the world of inimical souls. From Brahma down to the insignificant ant, everyone maintains a spirit of independence from the Lord. Therefore, preaching Krsna consciousness is never easy. Once after we came back from a harinama party in Paris, Srila Prabhupada called all of us into his room. He asked how the chanting in the streets had been that day. I told him of one lady who had come in front of the kirtan party and had purposefully put her fingers in her ears. Srila Prabhupada asked me what I did about it. I replied that I hadn't done anything. He smiled and said that I should have taken her fingers out of her ears and loudly chanted the holy names! When I mentioned that sankirtan that day was somewhat difficult, Srila Prabhupada leaned over his desk and said to me in a serious tone, "When did I ever say that preaching was easy?"
A preacher naturally has to face opposition. A devotee recently remarked to me, "If there is no opposition, that means there is no preaching." To protect His devotees from opposition, Krsna appears as Lord Nrsimhadeva, the half-man, half-lion incarnation. In 1983 I was fortunate to receive the mercy of Lord Nrsimhadeva in yet another way.
I was at the Mayapur Festival when a devotee approached me saying that a Gaudiya sannyasi, Srila Bhakti Pramoda Puri Maharaja, felt he was going to pass away soon and wanted to give the Nrsimha mantra to a sannyasi before he left. He had inquired from that devotee if he knew any ISKCON sannyasi who would be willing to accept it. I told that devotee that I was definitely interested, and after getting permission from several GBC men I went to Maharaja's asrama, where I inquired about the nature of the mantra. Puri Maharaja told me that once Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was experiencing opposition to his preaching in Bengal. One night Lord Nrsimhadeva appeared to him in a dream and gave him this special Nrsimha mantra. Years later Bhaktivinoda Thakur gave that same mantra to his son, Bimala Prasada, who later became Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati subsequently gave the mantra to ten of his most prominent sannyasis. By the time I met Puri Maharaja, he was the only sannyasi still living.
I begged him to give me the mantra, and after a small ceremony he whispered it into my right ear. When I inquired about the benefit of chanting it, he replied, "It will protect you from death itself!"
When I asked Puri Maharaja if I could ever give the mantra to someone else, he mildly chastised me by saying, "Yes, but don't think you are special!"
I chant the mantra daily, but have called upon it on only three occasions. In April 1996, just after the war in Bosnia was over, a large group of us were chanting on the streets of the capital, Sarajevo. The area was littered with the debris from recent bomb explosions and the people were still in a state of shock from years of fighting. In retrospect, it wasn't the proper time to go out singing and dancing. In addition to that, in our naiveté we chanted as we passed the city's largest mosque on a Friday afternoon, the Muslim day of worship. Almost immediately, an angry group of freshly returned servicemen burst out of the mosque and attacked us. As I saw the soldiers coming I calmly chanted the Nrsimha mantra, and though we fought hard and many devotees were hurt (three seriously with knives), I escaped injury.
A couple of years later, I was swimming in the ocean at Split in Croatia. Suddenly a huge storm manifest, instantly whipping the water into a fury of waves. As I was being swept out to sea by the strong current, I chanted the Nrsimha mantra. Slowly, but surely, I began to drift to the side of the current and was eventually able to swim back to the beach.
The third time I called on the mantra was two years ago, when our festival tour in Poland was attacked by skinheads one evening. Standing on a small ridge next to our festival site, they started throwing Molotov cocktails (crude incendiary devices consisting of a corked bottle filled with gasoline and a piece of rag serving as a wick that is ignited). As the bottles exploded around the ground, I again called upon the Nrsimha mantra and immediately the skinheads ran away. By the mercy of Lord Nrsimha no one was hurt and the damage to our festival paraphernalia was minimal.
etad vapus te bhagavan
sarvato goptr santrasan
mrtyor api jighamsatah
"My dear Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, You are the Supreme Soul. If one meditates upon Your transcendental body, You naturally protect him from all sources of fear, even the imminent danger of death." [SB 7.10.29]
"Purport: Everyone is sure to die, for no one is excused from the hands of death, which is but a feature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When one becomes a devotee, however, he is not destined to die according to a limited duration of life. . . . a devotee's lifetime can be extended by the mercy of the Supreme Lord, who is able to nullify the results of one's karma. . . . even a devotee's scheduled death can be avoided by the causeless mercy of the Supreme Lord."
Now with the added protection of the Tibeten kavaca that Dhruva had given me, I wondered what might be in store for me in the future! I reflected that I was in America to preach and raise funds for our festival tour in Poland. The collection was going well and I was enjoying the association of so many wonderful devotees of the Lord, but was it all a "calm before the storm?"
As fate would have it, that evening, when I arrived at Prabhupada Village in North Carolina, the final stop on our American tour, I received a call from Nandini dasi and Radha Sakhi Vrnda dasi with an update on their efforts to organize this year's festival programs in Poland. They explained that they were meeting stiff resistance on several fronts: the area of Loch, where we plan to do the spring tour; the Baltic Sea coast, where we'll hold the summer tour; and the town of Zary near August's Woodstock Festival site.
Under pressure from the Catholic Church, many city councils in Loch are debating whether to grant us permission to hold festivals in their towns, while on the Baltic Sea coast Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda are still struggling to find a single school which will allow us to use their premises as a base, as we have done every year.
In Zary, where we entertain many of the 300,000 Woodstock participants with our Festival of India program each year (and distribute more than 80,000 plates of prasadam), clerics have been waging a campaign of misinformation about us and warning the local people not to cooperate with us during the festival time. In previous years the locals have helped us in many ways: bringing in equipment to make ditches for water and sanitation at the site, digging holes for electrical poles, transporting the twenty-two tons of bhoga we prepare, and regularly emptying the 100 garbage bins.
With this new development, I requested Nandini to go to the local army base, for the army has also been instrumental in helping us at previous Woodstocks. However, Nandini surprised me when she said that the devotees had approached the commander of the base that very morning, and he had told them his orders were to not cooperate with us in any manner during the festival.
I looked out the window and thought, "With that option gone, it looks as we'll have to do it alone this year."
Or will we?
yatra yogesvarah krsno
yatra partho dhanur dharah
tatra srir vijayo bhutir
dhruva nitir matir mama
"Wherever there is Krsna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality. That is my opinion." [BG 18.78]