Diary of a Traveling Preacher
HH Indradyumna Swami Maharaj
After nearly two months spent resting and recuperating in Durban, South Africa, I realized the time was at hand for me to continue traveling and preaching. I have arranged to do a two-month preaching tour of America, and to that end I had made a reservation on a flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, Georgia, on March 2.
Of the many things I had to concern myself with before leaving the country, I was most interested to pick up a small piece of jewelry I was having made for my Deities. Two days before my flight, I tried to telephone Cookie, the sister of my aspiring disciple, Suren Vallabjee. For many years the Vallabjee Family has owned a jewelry store in the Durban suburb of Tongat, and Cookie had been instrumental in ensuring the piece I ordered would be ready in time. After repeatedly getting a busy signal, I decided I would drive to the shop to see how the work was progressing. As I got into the car I told the driver to head north to Tongat, calculating that we would arrive at the shop about 11:00am.
As we were driving out of the temple driveway, I received a call from Classic Eyes, an optometrist at which I had placed an order for a new pair of glasses. I was surprised to learn that the glasses, including a prescription lens imported from London, were ready for collection. "That's odd," I thought, "those glasses aren't supposed to be ready until the day after tomorrow, the day I'm leaving."
Deciding that we would pick up the glasses first, I told the driver to change direction and make for the optometrists in the south of Durban. He replied, "But Maharaja, it makes more sense to go to Tongat first. If we do that we'll miss the traffic."
I hesitated, then said, "Let's pick up the glasses first. That way, if there's something wrong with them there may still be time to have it corrected."
We arrived at Classic Eyes at 11am and spent the next fifteen minutes determining that the glasses were suitable and paying the bill. As we left the shop ready for the drive back through Durban to Tongat, my cell phone rang. The news I received sent a chill up my spine: "Maharaja, this is Sukamari dasi. A terrible thing has happened. There was an armed robbery at the Vallabjee's jewelry shop fifteen minutes ago. Ten African men armed with AK-47s burst in and made everyone lie on the floor. When Suren's 28-year-old nephew, Vishal, stumbled into the scene, one of the gunmen shot him dead. They stole all the cash in the safe and many items of jewelry. The family is in shock."
I said, "Phone them and say I'll be there in one hour."
It was only when we were racing to Tongat that I realized I had originally planned to be in the shop at 11am, the exact moment the holdup took place.
Vishal's funeral was held on the morning of my flight to America. He was a pious man who left behind a wife and two children. More than 5000 people attended, and I was asked to speak. I emphasized the temporary nature of material life and how we must all be prepared to die. Death often comes unexpectedly - and is never welcome. We must prepare ourselves by always remaining Krsna conscious. I spoke from the heart, because I feel close to the family. I also spoke with a sense of urgency born of knowing that, had it not been for Krsna's mercy, it could easily have been myself who was being mourned. At the funeral I experienced a deepening conviction to take full advantage of all opportunities to become Krsna conscious before my own departure.
"Friend, when you will die? Do you know? Do not even infants sometimes die unexpectedly? With clear intelligence, without attachment to the body and senses, and without stopping to think, run to Vrndavana." [Vrindavan-mahimamrta, Chapter 1, Text 78]
Two hours later I was on my way to Johannesburg to make my international connection. When I had checked in for my flight and cleared Customs and Immigration, I relaxed in the departure lounge. It was a large area, with hundreds of passengers awaiting their flights. As I sat there, I suddenly felt a sharp pain on my right cheek. It stunned me, and when I looked around I saw a group of three rough young men about 20m away. They were all laughing. The next moment one of them put what looked like a small metallic ball into his mouth. He then placed a metal straw to his lips and blew the object towards me. It came fast, and before I could react it hit me in the temple. I immediately got up, and when I did the young men motioned for me to come forward. Instead I stepped back, picked up my bags and moved to another part of the lounge. They followed me, unnoticed by the other passengers, and the young man blew another projectile at me. This time it missed. Not wanting to be detected, the young men pretended as nothing had happened. No one else in the lounge was aware of what was going on, and I was unsure what to do. I wished I had another devotee with me. Since Sri Prahlad and his wife stopped traveling with me and moved to Mayapur in September I have been traveling alone, and this wasn't the first time I'd found myself in an awkward situation.
Suddenly two policemen appeared nearby, so I picked up my bags and walked quickly towards them. As I approached them I looked over my shoulder at the young men, but they had disappeared. When the policemen asked me what I wanted, I told them that a group of young men had been harassing me. The officers said they would keep a look out for them. As we were talking my flight was called, and I excused myself to board the plane.
As a result of the incident I was one of the last to board, and when I entered the cabin I saw that the section was full except for my seat. As I headed for my place and put my bags in the overhead compartment, I noticed that all eyes were upon me. At first I thought it must have been my cloth (which I had dyed a bright saffron the day before), but it was unusual that every single person in that section of the plane was studying me.
When I had sat down I took the opportunity to look around, and I noticed that everyone in my section was in their 60s or 70s. I sensed they were part of an organization. After we took off and people started speaking freely, I realized that they were all Americans. I thought, "Oh no, there's going to be a real party spirit as we cross the Atlantic. I probably won't get a moment's rest!"
Traveling on long international flights is difficult enough, associating with so many materialistic people as they drink alcohol and eat bhoga while movies depicting various kinds of sinful activities absorb their consciousness. It had already been a tough day, and I didn't look forward to being in the middle of a group of Americans celebrating the last day of their vacation. I was longing for the association of devotees with whom I could read and chant peacefully.
Soon the hostesses came around with drinks. As I watched, I was surprised that no one in my section wanted anything alcoholic. One after another they ordered fruit juices. I thought, "I've never seen this before!" I also ordered a fruit juice, and as I did the gentleman next to me smiled.
When the hostesses served the meals half an hour later, all the passengers in my section took the food but didn't begin eating. When everyone had the food in front of them, one of the men stood up and said, "Now we will all say grace together." With that, everyone said a prayer thanking God for the food and then began to eat.
By now I realized I was in the midst of a group of devout Christians, and taking advantage of the beneficial association I unpacked my prasadam, said a quick prayer, and began to eat along with everyone else. They may not have had shaved heads, but I was certainly happy to be in their company.
After we had eaten the cabin crew began showing a movie. Suddenly, everyone in my section took out Bibles and began reading to themselves. Taking my cue, I took out my pocket Bhagavad-gita and, with a smile on my face, began reading as well. My wish for hearing and chanting was coming true!
I eventually turned to the man next to me and asked with which Christian denomination they were affiliated. I didn't catch the name of the group, but he said they were fifty members of the "faith" returning from missionary work in Africa. When I said I was thankful for their association, he smiled and asked if I was a Buddhist. I replied that I was a Hare Krsna devotee and that I was also engaged in global missionary work. We spoke briefly about the need for God consciousness in the world, and then drifted off to sleep.
Sastra states that there are two kinds of men: divine and demoniac.
dvau bhuta sargau loke smin
daiva asura eva ca
visnu bhaktah smrto daiva
asuras tad viparayayah
"There are two classes of men in this created world. One consists of the demoniac and the other the godly. The devotees of Lord Visnu are the godly whereas those who are just the opposite are called demons." [Padma Purana]
After a brush with the demoniac and hankering for the association of the pious, I was thankful that Krsna placed me in that situation for the 20-hour flight to Atlanta. It seemed an auspicious omen before my tour of America that I pray will give rise to more good association and opportunities to preach the glories of the Lord!