Diary of a Traveling Preacher
HH Indradyumna Swami Maharaj
On the evening of May 5, I boarded a Virgin Atlantic Airlines flight from New York to London on the first leg of my journey to Poland to join this year's Festival of India tour.
As I entered the cabin I scanned the rows of seats from front to back, hoping there might be a row free so I could lay down and get some much-needed rest. It would literally be the first opportunity I'd had in two months to sleep a full six hours - the duration of the flight. I often use flights to catch up on email, arrange my study notes or sort out telephone numbers and business cards people have given me, little things I don't have time to do because of my intense schedule as a traveling preacher. But this time I desperately needed to sleep. However, as I walked through the cabin it soon became apparent that the flight was full and no extra seats would be available.
As I settled into an aisle seat, an air hostess came up and asked if everything was alright. Thinking she was simply doing her duty, I quickly said, "Yes, thank you," but I then noticed she wasn't going away.
She smiled and said, "Can I ask you a question?"
"Yes, of course," I replied.
She said, "My husband and I recently went with a tour group to India, visiting New Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. Something happened to me on that trip. It's hard to explain. I was so touched by the experiences we had, especially when we visited the temples. I have a lot of questions about spiritual things. Can you answer them for me?"
It seemed she was so intent that she was prepared to forget everything else for the moment, including her duties on the flight, so I had to say, "We can talk, but maybe right now is not the best time. Perhaps later on in the flight."
She looked around, and collecting herself said, "Yes, you're right." She then added, "Is there anything you require during the flight - a special meal or something?"
I said, "Actually, there is something you can do for me. Let me know if there is a row of seats free so I can take some extra rest. I'm really tired!"
"Sure," she said, as she turned to show the other passengers to their seats, "I'll do my best."
A few minutes later two ladies came up the aisle, and their eyes lit up when they saw they had the two seats next to me - a window seat and a middle seat. As they sat down they smiled, and at the first opportunity one of them introduced herself. "My name is Peggy. From the way you're dressed it appears that you practice yoga."
"Yes," I said. "I practice a form of yoga called bhakti-yoga - the yoga of love and devotion."
Peggy said, "My friend, Martha, and I recently became interested in yoga, but we realize there's more to it that than just exercises. Can you answer some questions for us?"
I thought to myself, "O my gosh! What about my rest!"
Before I had time to reply, the air hostess reappeared and said, "Sir, I've arranged a row of seats just for you at the back. Come quickly, the flight is about to take off."
When Peggy heard her, she immediately grabbed my arm and pleaded, "No, please don't move. We want to talk to you. We have some very important questions!"
Then the air hostess said, "Actually, it would nice if you stayed here because this is the section of the plane where I do my service. Later on in the flight all of us can discuss together."
In my mind I envisioned the row of seats and the sound sleep awaiting me. It was 10pm and I was ready to call it quits. I couldn't believe what was happening. But as I looked at the three of them, eager to learn about spiritual life, I decided I couldn't let them down, and said, "OK, I'll stay here."
With that Peggy and Martha immediately launched into a series of questions about the soul, God and the spiritual world. They were so absorbed that they refused the drinks and meals served later on by our air hostess, who took every opportunity to listen in whenever she walked by.
After two hours most people on the flight had fallen asleep, and taking advantage of the break in her routine the air hostess came by and joined our little sat-sanga in the sky. In fact, she brought the discussion to an even higher level when she asked about the best method for realizing God according to the scriptures of India. As I began explaining the glories of chanting Hare Krsna all three women listened attentively.
Halfway through the flight I could hardly keep my eyes open, and neither could the inquisitive souls huddled around me. As we sped through the air at 800km an hour, Peggy and Martha would nod off to sleep for a few moments, and I would think, "Now is my chance to sleep," when all of a sudden one of them would wake up with another question: "What about reincarnation?; If God is all loving - why is there evil in the world?; You said God is a person. Can you describe Him?"
So it went on for more than five hours! I was left with only the last half-hour of the flight, because the ladies had to use the rest-room. During that time, I took my beads and chanted Hare Krsna. My condition could only be described as blissful exhaustion.
Just before we got off the plane, Martha turned to me and said, "I've never enjoyed a flight as much as this. We learned so many new and wonderful things! I especially enjoyed your description of God and that place called Vrinda something - what is it called?"
"Vrindavan," I said.
"Yes, Vrindavan," she repeated.
She then asked, "Will you have time to keep in touch with us on email?"
"Yes, of course," I said, as I wrote down my email address for her. "I'll make time. It's the duty of a traveling preacher."
madhavya madhuranga kanana pada praptadhirajya sriya
vrndaranya vikasi saurabha tate tapiccha kalpa druma
nottapam jagad eva yasya bhajate kirti cchata cchayaya
citra tasya tavanghri sannidhi jusam kim va phalaptir nrnam
"O handsome, fragrant tamala desire tree [Krishna] blooming in Vrindavan forest and embraced by the madhavi vine of the goddess ruling this forest. O tree, the shade of whose glory protects the world from a host of burning sufferings, what wonderful fruits do the people find at Your feet?"
[Sri Stava Mala - Volume 2, "Utkalika-vallari" Text 66]