Diary of a Traveling
HH Indradyumna Maharaj
Memories of my two-month pilgrimage to Vrindavan were still fresh in my mind as I boarded a flight from Moscow to Barnaul, deep in the Siberian countryside. As the old Russian plane lumbered down the dark runway at midnight, the dirty seats, the stench of perspiration, and the unfriendly attitude of the stewardesses all served as a stark reminder that I had, indeed, left the haven of Vrindavan's spiritual atmosphere.
In accordance with our acarya's instructions to remember Vrindavan while living outside that holy abode, I closed my eyes and tried to meditate on Manasa-ganga, the beautiful lake at the foot of Govardhan Hill where Krsna performs His boating pastimes with His beloved gopis. But after a few moments, my meditation was rudely broken by the copilot searching for several bottles of wine he had stowed under my seat. After retrieving the bottles, he went behind a curtain where, to my horror, he poured glasses of wine for himself and several of the stewardesses.
I turned to my disciple, Uttamasloka das, who is accompanying me as my Russian translator in Siberia, and asked if such activity was common on Russian airlines? He replied, "It's the national pastime in the air, on the ground, or at sea. We should be thankful they're not drinking vodka!"
Many passengers began drinking as well, and combined with the fact that we were flying in the early hours of the morning, everyone was soon sound asleep. I saw that even the stewardesses were napping in seats at the back of the plane. In the uncomfortable environment, I drifted off to sleep while consoling myself that I must have made some spiritual advancement in Vrindavan: in my early days as a devotee, I used to experience culture shock going to India; nowadays, I experience culture shock leaving India and returning to the West!
I was still dozing when, hours later, the plane began its descent into Barnaul. I awoke as a stewardess was announcing the weather conditions at our destination. I shuddered as I thought I heard her say the temperature on the ground was minus 14°C. I cringed at the thought of getting out of the plane and boarding a bus waiting to take us to the terminal (a typical procedure at Russian airports), but I was hardly prepared for the reality of the situation. When the plane landed and we were walking down the aisle, I asked Uttamasloka to confirm the outside temperature with another stewardess. She responded by saying, "We didn't announce minus 14°C, sir, we announced minus 43°C! This is Siberia, not Moscow."
As we disembarked, a blast of wind drove the temperature even lower and I gasped for air, causing a sharp pain in my lungs as the freezing air entered. Slipping and sliding on the icy tarmac, I groped my way in the darkness towards the waiting bus, as the hardy Siberian passengers made their way past me without any difficulty. As we walked the short distance (which seemed to take eternity), I thought to myself, "What in the world am I doing here?" Just at that moment, a young man walked up alongside me and said, "Sir, may I ask you a question?"
Trying to move my lips to form words in the freezing temperatures, I said, "Yes, of course, what is it?"
"I've been watching you and your friend," he said. "It seems you're part of a religious tradition. Is that true?"
His words shattered my illusions and quickly reminded me of why I had come to Siberia. I said, "Yes, we're practicing an ancient spiritual tradition that's over 5000 years old. It's part of India's great religious heritage. We've come to Siberia to share it with the people here."
As the passengers started to board the bus, the young man asked, "What is the difference between your faith and Christianity?"
As time was short, I quickly explained the similarities and the differences. Noticing my gloved hand in my bead-bag, he asked what was inside. I showed him my beads and explained to him the meaning of the Hare Krsna mantra. A big smile came over his face when he heard it, and I thought to myself, "That is his first step in Krsna consciousness."
As we exchanged more questions and answers, I became oblivious to the cold. When he asked what the spiritual world is like, I began explaining the glories of Vrindavan and the pure love the devotees there have for Krsna, and his eyes opened wide in amazement. Suddenly, he looked over and saw that all the passengers had boarded the bus. He said, "We have to be quick now, but thank you so much for answering my questions."
I stood there alone on the runway for a moment before moving towards the bus. I thought to myself that Krsna had sent that young man to remind me of my purpose in this inhospitable land. The bliss of sharing Krsna consciousness suddenly far out-weighed the austerities.
After Uttamasloka and I had gathered our bags we left the terminal, and to my surprise were greeted by a kirtan party of fifteen devotees! I was amazed that they were having kirtan outside in the freezing conditions. One of the devotees came forward and put a garland of flowers around my neck. But the flowers were completely frozen, and when I bumped into another devotee the garland broke into hundreds of little pieces onto the ground! A car picked me up and we went straight to an apartment where I showered and changed clothes, and then went to a big hall in the center of the city.
As I walked in, I was greeted by more than 400 devotees having a rousing kirtan. In my lecture, I spoke about the mercy of Lord Caitanya, who gave the people of the world - regardless of race or religion - an opportunity to go back home, back to Godhead in this very lifetime.
Inspired by the lecture the devotees then had another kirtan, dancing, leaping, twirling, jumping, and laughing all the while in great happiness. The atmosphere was very much as it had been in Vraja. I smiled to myself as I thought, "No doubt I am in Siberia, but by swimming in the nectarian ocean of Lord Caitanya's sankirtan, I am again experiencing the blissful atmosphere of Lord Krsna's Vrindavan-dhama!"
"I pray that my mind may always remember Lord Gauranga, the sannyasi whose eyes are like two bumblebees drawn to the glistening lotus flower of Lord Jagannath's face in the festive city of Nilacala, who is tossed by great waves of ecstatic love of God, and who is the same Lord Krsna who appeared like Cupid to the doe-eyed girls of Vraja."
[Prabodhananda Saraswati: Caitanya-candramrta, Chapter 7, Verse 70]