Diary of a Traveling Preacher
Miedzyzdroje is another popular resort town on the Baltic Sea coast that attracts the Polish elite. In particular, it is the favorite place for Polish film makers and movie stars, whose bronze hand imprints decorate the most prestigious part of the boardwalk along the main beach. Unfortunately, it is another of the places where certain members of the town council don't like us. When Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrnda approached them last winter to reserve a spot for our summer festival, they simply got the cold shoulder - especially from the lady in charge of cultural affairs. But by Krsna's mercy, the man who owns a large amphitheater on the boardwalk became sympathetic to them and gave us permission to use the amphitheater, which we did two weeks ago. After a couple of days advertising with harinama, we managed to fill the 2000 seat amphitheater to capacity and had a wonderful program.
Because every two weeks a new crowd of tourists replaces the previous crowd, we decided to try for permission for another program in Miedzyzdroje. Fearing the city council would hear nothing of it, and knowing that the amphitheater was booked out for the rest of the summer, Nandini approached the manager of a big hotel to ask if we could use the hotel parking lot just off another part of the boardwalk. It turned out that he had been to the previous festival and enjoyed it very much, so he immediately agreed to let us use the parking lot. But as soon as word reached the city council, he was telephoned and forbidden to allow us to use it for our festival. "Parking lots are for cars - not places where sects can propagate their doctrines," the council said.
However, Krsna stepped in just at the right moment, as we received a call from our friend in the amphitheater saying that because of a cancellation that morning, two free days were available later in the week in the amphitheater. Accepting "mercy which comes of its own accord," we immediately signed a contract for the amphitheater.
But when the city council heard about our securing the amphitheater we were again contacted and told permission would be withheld for a harinama procession to advertise the festival. Hearing of our dilemma and taking our side, the man who runs the parking lot told us to call the chief of the City Guards, a special police force that patrols the streets. He said, "Don't tell them you're from Hare Krsna. Just say you want to advertise the Festival of India."
However, when Nandini called the City Guards chief and introduced herself as
representing the Festival of India, he immediately replied, "Oh, you're from Hare Krsna! I know you are an authentic religion. I was at your last festival and I appreciate you people very much. How can I help you?"
Nandini went on to explain that we wanted to advertise our festival, but that the city council (and one lady in particular) would not give us permission. Hearing that he became furious and asked Nandini to hold the line. By Krsna's arrangement he just happened to be in the Town Hall, and walked straight upstairs to the office of the lady who was opposing our harinama. Bursting in he began to loudly chastise her - while Nandini was listening on the phone. He said, "How can you possibly stop these people from singing on the streets of our town? Do you know how much our citizens enjoy their festivals? They're bringing real culture to our town! You may order that they can't sing in the streets, but my men will not take one step to stop them." With that, he stormed out of her office slamming the door behind him.
The next day I sent out an especially large harinama party on the streets of Miedzyzdroje, complete with drums, karatalas, accordian, trumpets and a saxophone.
But by far the most popular item on the harinama was Raju, the gigantic oxen who pulls our padayatra procession cart through the streets every day, advertising our festival in his own unique way. Peaceful and accommodating, Raju is the talk of the town everywhere we go. Leaving his cart behind, we even take him on the beach when we go on harinama there. It is quite a sight - Raju the oxen bedecked with beautiful cloth and ornaments, leading 75 chanting and dancing devotees down the crowded beaches. Every 50 meters we stop and give a short talk, inviting people to the festival. Hundreds of people always crowd around us, enjoying the chanting and the short lecture. But Raju always steals the show as he poses peacefully for unlimited photos with the kids on the beach.
On the first day of the festival in Miedzyzdroje it was raining so heavily that I was about to cancel the whole event, when suddenly people started arriving carrying umbrellas. I told Vara-nayaka to approach the first few who came in and tell them that we were going to cancel the show, but when I looked outside the gate and saw a huge procession of umbrellas approaching the amphitheater, I changed my mind. Within a few minutes the amphitheater was packed with 700 umbrellas, all tilted slightly upwards so the people underneath could see the show. To my amazement everyone stayed for five hours in the rain, watching with great pleasure every item of the stage program.
On the second day in Miedzyzdroje the skies cleared and we had one of the best programs of our tour. However, it was marred by one incident (known only to me) caused by an impurity in my heart. One older gentleman approached me at the very beginning of the festival, just as I was making the final preparations for the stage program. As I was busy writing the schedule on my clipboard, he said, "I'm a homeless person." Not wanting to be distracted from my work, I looked up at him briefly, and seeing his disheveled clothes and unshaved face, concluded that he must be a down-and-out looking for a meal. I pointed in the direction where devotees were just finishing their prasadam and said, "If you're hungry, you can eat over there."
He replied, "That's not why I've approached you. I know my appearance is not good, but believe me when I say I'm an educated man. It's just that fate has not treated me well."
Not paying much attention because our stage show was about to begin, I said without looking up this time, "I'm sorry. I hope things work out for you."
He paused for a moment, and then said, "I've been to three of your festivals. I walk from town to town to get to them. My main attraction is your lectures. I've never heard anyone speak like you before."
I was barely listening to him as I impatiently called out orders to different devotees in the final seconds before the first bhajan was about to begin. Devotees were late and I was getting upset as a big crowd awaited the opening of the festival.
When I looked up again the man had a gentle smile on his face. He said, "Please help me to correct my ways and approach God. You're a learned man and I know you can help me. Please, Sir, I beg you."
The stage was only half full of devotees and I was becoming impatient. I turned around and called out to Vara-nayaka to get the mrdunga player and the flute player in the bhajan in 60 seconds. As the two last devotees reached the stage and the bhajan began I relaxed a little. But at that moment the man's words hit me as I realized that he was genuinely calling out for help - but I was ignoring him. In a delayed response to his urgency I suddenly whirled around only to find that he was gone. He had left. I felt terrible! I sat on one of the benches and chastised myself for my insensitiveness. It takes the conditioned soul millions of lifetimes to call out to the Lord for help. Like all preachers in Krsna consciousness, I am supposed to be the Lord's representative. How could I have acted so callously? I felt fallen and useless having ignored that man's genuine plea for Krsna's mercy. As I remembered his words I thought of Srila Rupa Goswami's prayer to the Lord in the same mood of appealing for mercy:
vivrta vividha badhe bhranti vegad agadhe
balavati bhava pure majjato me vidure
asarana gana bandho ha krpa kaumudindo
sakrd akrta vilambam dehi hastavalambam
"I am drowning in the painful, fathomless whirlpool of repeated birth and death. O Lord, O friend of the shelterless, O effulgent moon of mercy, please, just this one time, quickly extend Your hand to save me!" [Sri Rupa Goswami - Padyavali, Text 61]
I spent the next two hours looking everywhere for that gentleman. I even neglected my duties at the festival, and several times devotees came to me confused about the schedule of events. But I felt I had to find him to rectify my offense. I searched throughout our tents and displays. I carefully looked at all the people sitting on the benches in the amphitheater. I even walked outside the amphitheater and looked in the cafes and shops in the area. I searched the huge crowds passing by, but nowhere could I find that man whose fate I could have changed that day had I been more attentive to my real duty.
O Srila Prabhupada, please forgive me. I failed as your representative. To not show compassion to the fallen conditioned souls at that rarest of moments, when after millions of years they call out for Krsna's mercy is surely the greatest sin. Please be merciful and give me the chance to rectify myself by meeting that jiva soul again and help him "correct his ways" and approach the Lord. And I beg you to help me imbibe the real mood of a sannyasi so that I will never make the same mistake again. Please help me to understand my duty in the words of Srila Bhaktivinoda
"When will my compassion for all fallen souls manifest and with a lowly heart I will go out to preach the divine command?" [Saranagati]