Diary of a Traveling Preacher
On Sunday morning, the day after the attack on our festival in Tomaszow, we started our morning program a little late. I wanted to give the devotees some extra rest. Many had been shaken by the events of the previous night. Devotees had not seen our injured men, most of whom had returned late from the hospital, and as they entered the temple one by one, covered with bandages and in some cases bare stitches on their heads, it was obvious the damage that had been done. A number of men had black eyes and bruised knuckles. My heart went out to them. These devotees are front-line soldiers, risking their lives to spread the message of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They mean more to me now than ever before.
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me;
Shall be my brother." [Shakespeare - Henry V]
I could only imagine the karmic reactions awaiting those who attacked these devotees of the Lord:
"In time of war, the devil makes more room in Hell." [German proverb]
If someone asked me what was the best day in my life, I'd have to say it was two years ago when I stood on the main stage at the Polish Woodstock Festival and watched 250,000 young people chant Hare Krsna and dance in ecstasy as our reggae band, Village of Peace, played on the main stage. If I was asked what was the saddest day in my life, it would certainly be Sunday morning, when a small group of us returned to the sight of Saturday's festival to inform the public that the second day of the festival was canceled due to inadequate security. As we stood in the empty field where we had entertained huge crowds the day before, I watched in sorrow and grief as literally thousands of people poured into the festival grounds expecting to participate in another day of festivities with us. With each disappointed look on their faces my sadness deepened, until finally I was unable bear it any longer. As devotees approached different groups of people and informed them of the situation, I slipped away and went back to my car. Even there, people passed on their way to the festival ground talking excitedly about the programs. The only solace I had was that the next day would be a festival in another town.
Early Monday morning we were off to Ozorkow, the second town of our festival tour. With the attack still fresh in their minds the devotees were a little nervous, so I gave a short talk in the bus to encourage them. I reminded them that we would have a professional security group at the festival. But it wasn't just the attack that was disturbing them - they were now aware that there was an organized effort to stop our festival programs in this part of Poland. The anxiety was created by not knowing when and how the opposition would attack next.
The difficulty is that such opposition is evasive. They have to be, because they know that legally they cannot stop us. We have been a registered religion in this country since 1991 and we work closely with the Department of Religious Affairs. Whenever anyone has been foolish enough to accuse us directly of any criminal activity, we have always won in court. So the opposition's tactics are to spread false propaganda about us in the media without identifying themselves as the source of the information. When they see it is not having full effect, because so many thousands of people continue to attend our festivals, they revert to the tactics used by the Nazis on Polish Jews after the German occupation in 1939: beat us with iron bars and chains. But who are these people and where are they? In Vedic culture, two opponents always fought on equal terms, hand to hand, sword to sword, or knife to knife. Our opposition is invisible. It makes war, and victory, difficult.
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." [Sun Tzu]
Any apprehensions we may have had about the second festival in Ozorkow, however, were dissipated as we entered the town and began setting up the festival. The city council had given us the main square, and setting up there was in effect big advertising. Crowds of curious and inquisitive people passed through the square all day long, guaranteeing a substantial attendance that evening. As soon as our hired security team arrived (huge men dressed in uniforms and armed with sticks), the devotees breathed easy and relaxed.
Unfortunately, as the day wore on big black clouds gathered in the sky, and an hour before the program was to begin the rain poured down. I became despondent with yet another apparent reversal in our plans, when to my amazement people started coming into the square from all directions, each and every one of them carrying a colorful umbrella. By the time the show began there was literally a sea of umbrellas throughout the festival site.
One hour into the program, I was sitting in my van making arrangements for the next festival in Zgierz, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, when the phone rang. It was Nandini dasi with bad news. She said that the city authorities in Zgierz had just canceled the festival after receiving a telephone call from the city council in Tomaszow, the site of our first festival. The Zgierz authorities had been told that our festival was terrible, that we were simply a band of gypsies with nothing to offer, and that we had been caught selling drugs behind our tents.
Nandini immediately telephoned the city council in Tomaszow and inquired if they had, in fact, made such a call. They replied they had not and that, to the contrary, they loved our festival. It was obvious that it was our invisible enemy that had placed a phony call to the authorities in Zgierz.
Although the town council in Tomaszow then phoned their counterparts, the Zgierz authorities remained skeptical and refused to hand back permission to hold the festival.
The rain continued to fall on the sea of umbrellas before our stage in Ozorkow, but the people remained undaunted. They were mesmerized by the expert dancing of our artists from South Africa, the professionalism of the puppet theater which caused kids to laugh so hard they fell over, and the kirtans which made even the elderly dance alongside us. The rain and cool weather made many people hungry and, therefore, the restaurant was packed throughout the festival.
As usual, I made my rounds through all the tents, shops and exhibits, making sure that everything was going well. A number of people stood before the displays on vegetarianism and reincarnation thoughtfully pondering the philosophy. Others browsed through the gift shops, often staring in amazement at the exotic items on sale, most of which they'd never seen before.
At one point I had a strange sensation that someone was following me. When I looked behind me, I saw a man with a camera who quickly avoided eye contact with me. Seeing my concern, one of the devotees came up to me and said, "Maharaja, that man has been following you for some time. I've been watching him. He's been taking photos of you from all angles."
I decided to approach the man and question him, but as soon as I started towards him he disappeared into the night. For the duration of the festival devotees stayed close to me. I also dug out of the trunk of my car a big stick and a canister of CS tear gas that I used to carry in the early years of our festival tour.
Towards the end of the evening when our reggae band came on, the rain subsided and hundreds of people gathered before the stage. Our professional security team took up positions in front of the stage, a move that raised a few eyebrows among the mellow teenagers ready to dance - but which was much appreciated by all the devotees.
The evening ended peacefully at 10pm, when our hired security team left our own security boys to guard the festival. Just as we were about to depart, Nandini received a call from a member of the city council in Zgierz. To her surprise, the council had changed their minds and agreed to give us permission for the festival in their town on Wednesday and Thursday. When Nandini inquired what had made them change their minds, the man on the phone laughed and said that they had sent a member of the council to the festival in Ozorkow that evening to see what it was actually like. He had phoned back with a glowing report. Could it be that was the man who had been taking photos of me? Or was the camera man from our opposition?
The next day we chanted and distributed invitations in Opoczno - the town where we will hold our festival on Friday and Saturday. As usual, we distributed more than 5000 invitations and were looking forward to yet another blissful program. While on the harinama a drunk man approached me wanting to talk. He was acting wildly and speaking loudly, so our security boys tried to restrain him. But he was determined to speak to me. As he became more insistent, they had to drag him away. Somehow he escaped their grip and came running back towards me. When the security caught him, I decided to defuse the situation by speaking to him. I was amazed when I heard what he wanted to say to me! Pulling out one of my bhajan tapes, "Chant! Chant! Chant!" with my picture on it, he wanted to thank me for "making such a beautiful cassette" that he had bought at the Tomaszow festival. Then he really took me by surprise when he said that he was enjoying reading the Bhagavad-gita, which he also purchased at the festival. With that, he bowed respectfully and walked away smirking at the security boys.
"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 mantra, 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." [Sri Caitanya-candramrta - Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati]
Tuesday morning, on the way to the second day of our festival in Ozorkow, Nandini received a call from Opoczno, where we had been on harinama the day before. It was the town secretary, who said that the mayor had just canceled the event. Nandini was shocked and asked why? The secretary said that if Nandini wanted, she could come and speak to the mayor about it. Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda dasi immediately drove to the town and confronted the mayor in his office. He was pleasant, but firm: there would be no festival. When they asked why, he said, "Because we are having problems with the site."
Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda then asked the mayor if there was a more specific reason for canceling the event. He paused for a moment, then opening our festival brochure pointed to my name: Indradyumna Swami. "You can't have your festival because of him," he said. "The festival is led by this person, who is a world preacher and guru in the Hare Krsna Movement. The higher authorities in our town (ie, the Church) will not allow him to come here."
And that was that. The festival was canceled.
On their way back to the festival in Ozorkow, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda went via Tomaszow to officially thank the authorities for allowing us to hold our festival there and to apologize about the attack on the guests and devotees. The Tomaszow officials themselves apologized for the incident, which they said investigations revealed was perpetrated by a nationalist group of young men under the direction of "higher authorities." The town secretary said that we should be extremely careful, because the group was targeting us in this area, and they could again be very violent. They told Nandini that only that afternoon the group had managed to convince the regional television network, through another phony call, that all the Festival of India programs scheduled in the area for the next month had been canceled. The information was broadcast on all the news programs that day. Nandini was stunned. All her work preparing festivals in the region had just been destroyed, and she and Radha Sakhi Vrinda would have to start over.
Now we must take even more precautions than before. If it weren't for the fact that we are getting such an overwhelming response to our festivals (averaging 3000 people a day), I might consider moving them elsewhere. But we'll depend on Krsna and go on as planned. I know it won't be easy. We're the underdog here, with fewer resources than our opposition. Material calculations would indicate we'll lose.
"When the rich rage war, it's the poor who die." [Jean-Paul Sarte]
But spiritual calculations indicate that if we remain faithful to the Lord and take shelter of His lotus feet, we might very well triumph:
"May the wide-eyed and auspicious nails of the lion-faced Lord, Narasimha, who is in the company of His consort Laksmi, protect us. His nails are like thunderbolts in tearing asunder the lofty mountain-like heads of the herds of strong and intoxicated elephants in the forms of demons, the foes of Indra."
"O consort of Laksmi! Although I have made an all-around study of the sastra, I don't find anything superior to You, my master. Brahma, Siva, Indra and their hosts are reduced to ashes by the sparks of fire resembling sparkling glow worms issuing from the curved edge of Your right eye filled with masses of wrath." [Sri Narasimha Naka Stuti - Madhavacarya]