Diary of a Traveling Preacher
HH Indradyumna Swami Maharaj
As my flight circled over Warsaw Airport waiting for permission to land, my heart beat strongly in anticipation of the great adventure ahead. This year marks the 12th anniversary of our Festival of India tour in Poland. Most of the 200 tour devotees from 15 countries had already assembled at our spring base in the northwest of the country. For several weeks they have been cleaning and repairing our 32 tons of festival equipment - including a 15m stage, sound gear, lights, tents, kitchen paraphernalia and trucks.
After the plane had landed and I was waiting in line for immigration clearance, I called Nandini dasi and Radha Sakhi Vrinda dasi on my cell phone. They have been busy organizing festival venues for months. We had been in touch throughout the year, but during the past month we have had little contact due to my intense travel schedule. When I contacted Nandini, I asked her to give me an update.
She replied: "We've managed to arrange only four of the eight two-day festivals planned for the spring tour. Town officials are generally interested, but our opposition has been very active and is causing numerous problems. The Deputy Mayor of Swiecie, who happens to be the head of a political party in the region called Catholic Action, is particularly set against us. When we approached him to do a fesitival in his town, he laughed and said he would not grant us permission in 100 years. We are almost certain that due to his influence, Chelmno, the second-largest town in the region, also refused."
As I continued waiting in line, my mind was racing with ideas how to counteract this man's opposition. I said, "I think you should approach him again. Show him the many references and appreciations we have from mayors throughout the country."
Nandini said, "We did approach him a second time. When we told him that many people in the region know us - having been to our summer festivals on the Baltic coast - and that elections are pending, he fell silent."
"Do we have that many sympathizers?" I said.
"Yes, of course, Srila Gurudeva," Nandini replied. "We've covered most of Poland with our festivals during the past 12 years. Just last year we hosted more than 750,000 people, if we include the Woodstock Festival. Almost all of them went away with a favorable impression of Krsna consciousness. It means we have many sympathizers throughout the country. However, we don't expect Swiecie's deputy mayor to remain silent for long."
As I gave my passport to the immigration officer, I thought to myself, "I am back on the battlefield." For a traveling preacher, Poland offers a unique blend of friendliness and hostility. People either love us or despise us. When they love us they do so with all their hearts, and when they despise us it is with a similar intensity.
The immigration officer entered my name into the computer, and then looking up at me hesitated for a moment. He was obviously not sympathetic to our movement. Taking his stamp, he stared at me again then, scowling, reluctantly stamped my passport granting me permission to enter the country.
As if to add insult to injury, as I walked into the airport arrivals hall I was reminded of the Catholic Church's 10-year campaign depicting Krsna consciousness as a cult in Poland: almost everyone was staring at me with a distrustful look in their eyes. Was I, in fact, walking back into the belly of the beast, as an astrologer had recently warned me against?
My hopes rose, however, as I walked to meet the devotees at the far end of the hall. Several people looked and me and smiled as I walked by, and one man in particular said heartily, "Hare Krsna!" He gave me confidence that even if I was walking into the belly of Agasura, Krsna would be there to rescue me.
When I arrived at our hotel base the next day, the devotees greeted me with a rousing kirtan. We had all been waiting for the moment when we would begin this year's festivals, many of us having worked on preparations since we completed last year's tour in September.
A part of my preparation had been to purify my heart by spending several months in the holy land of Vrindavan, hearing and chanting. Successful preaching depends more on purity than on elaborate planning, capital and facilities. When preparing for preaching, I always consider the formula given by Srila Prabhupada: preaching is the essence, books are the basis, utility is the principle, and purity is the force.
While in Vrindavan I became very attached to that transcendental abode. I thought the only reason to leave was to preach in western countries, and by so doing receive the full mercy of Vraja's queen, Srimate Radharani:
yatha yatha gaura padaravinde
vindeta bhaktim krta punya rasa
tatha tathosarpati hrdy akasmad
radha padambhoja sudhambu rasih
"To the degree that we surrender to Lord Caitanya's service, we gain qualification for the service of Radharani's lotus feet in Vraja."
[Srila Prabodhananda Saraswati, "Vrindavan Mahimamrta" Chapter 8 - Verse 88]
In my arrival lecture to the festival devotees, I emphasized the point that we had all inherited a great responsibility from Srila Prabhupada to continue with his preaching mission. Generally this responsibility is entrusted to only the most confidential servants of the Lord. When Lord Caitanya wanted to liberate Bengal, He sent His dearmost Lord Nityananda. In time, the deliverance of Orissa was entrusted to Syamananda Pandit, and more recently that of the whole world to our own beloved Srila Prabhupada. That mission has now been entrusted to his followers, his disciples and grand-disciples. But what qualifications do we have, compared with those who have borne this torch of transcendental knowledge for thousands of years? Srila Prabhupada himself once said that just as Lord Rama had conquered Ravana with monkeys and bears, he was conquering the world with his own version of monkeys and bears - his disciples! But monkeys and bears can be made into pure devotees by the mercy of the Lord, as Mahaprabhu demonstrated in the Jarikanda forest. So there is hope for the world if we, as followers of Srila Prabhupada, adhere closely to his lotus footsteps.
After my lecture, Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda, along with Vara-nayaka das, the festival internal affairs manager, came to see me. They asked if I wanted to hear more of the recent victories and setbacks while organizing this year's festivals. "Ayurveda recommends bitter before sweet," I responded.
Radha Sakhi Vrinda's face became grave as she said, "Someone is calling the towns where we have already organized festivals saying he is the Mayor of Szczecinek, which is more than 200km away. This person is informing the town councils that he allowed our festival in his town last year, and that it was not well received by the citizens. 'They are a dangerous cult, and we have evidence that they put drugs in the food they distribute. I strongly recommend you cancel the event in your town,' the so-called mayor says."
I began trembling with anger and said, "This is the same nonsense someone else tried last year. But they didn't get away with it!"
"Yes," Radha Sakhi Vrinda replied, "but this time it's working. The council in Czluchow has informed us it has cancelled our festival there. It's such a shame, as it is a very beautiful town."
I immediately remembered a quotation from my days as an anti-war demonstrator in high school:
"In time of war, the first casualty is truth."
"You have to go back to Czluchow and tell the council the truth," I said.
Within minutes Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda were on their way to Czluchow. By Krsna's arrangement the town council was in session, and after pleading with the secretary the ladies were allowed to enter. Coming before the assembly of 12 councilors, they presented their case that the telephone call from Szczecinek was false and that we are representatives of a bona fide spiritual tradition who simply want to share Vedic culture with the people of their town. It didn't take long to convince the councilors that the call was phony - a call to the actual Mayor of Szczecinek was sufficient - but just when Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda thought they had registered a victory, the plot thickened.
When Radha Sakhi Vrinda asked, "Will you give us back the permission for the festival?" confident that the councilors would comply, she was met with silence.
"What's the problem?" she asked. "The Mayor of Szczecinek said he loved our festival in his town last year. Why are you hesitating to grant us permission?"
Still there was no response. Nandini said, "You must tell us why you are hesitating. We can answer any doubt you have. We have nothing to hide."
Finally, the Mayor of Czluchow said, "There's another, more important reason we will not allow this festival to take place in our town."
"What could it possibly be?" Nandini demanded.
"It's Indradyumna Swami," the mayor replied.
Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda were momentarily stunned that the mayor knew me by name - and even pronounced it properly.
"We can't allow your leader to come to our town," he said.
Gathering herself, Nandini said, "Why not? He's simply a priest representing the spiritual culture of India."
"That may be so," the mayor said, "but he's also a charismatic American preacher. Many of us have heard his lectures and we don't want him speaking in our town. We are Christians."
Surprised, Nandini said, "You've heard his lectures?"
"Of course," the mayor said, "he's been lecturing at your festivals in Poland for well over a decade, and you know as well as I do that your festivals are famous throughout this country. I personally heard him speak in Kolobrzeg two summers ago."
Thinking quickly, Nandini inquired if the mayor had liked the festival.
"Yes, I did," he replied, "it was very professional."
Sticking to this tack, Nandini said, "What if we bring Indradyumna Swami to a council meeting? He can tell you personally what he will say in his lecture at the festival. Surely he can speak on cultural matters if not those of a spiritual nature. If you don't find anything offensive, you can grant permission for the event."
The mayor thought for a moment then asked the councilors if they agreed with the proposal, and eventually everyone raised their hand in confirmation. They agreed that I could come to the council offices on the morning of the festival to address them. Nandini's quick thinking had saved the day.
I was waiting for the ladies when they returned to the base, and was amazed at Krsna's mercy - and their diplomacy. When they asked if I wanted to hear more good news, I agreed and quoted a part of Lord Caitanya's Siksatakam: param vijayate Sri Krsna sankirtan - "Let there be all victory for the chanting of Lord Krsna's holy names!"
Nandini continued, "You remember how we told you that the Deputy Mayor of Swiecie refused to grant us permission for a festival in his town, even in 100 years?"
"Yes," I replied, "how can I forget?"
"Well, yesterday we met a lady who came to one of our festivals on the coast last summer. She told us how much she and her husband had enjoyed the event. It turns out she's a well-known psychologist in Poland and is highly respected in Swiecie. When she discovered that the deputy mayor had denied us permission for our festival, she personally visited the Mayor of Swiecie in his office and complained. The mayor then sent us a message that he wants to speak to us early next week. It appears there is still hope for the festival in Swiecie."
"This is excellent news," I replied.
"But we should never underestimate our opposition," Radha Sakhi Vrinda cautioned. "Who knows what they are planning next? The more we're successful, the more determined they become."
"Yes," I said, "we'll see what happens tomorrow when we hold the first festival of the tour in Tuchola."
The next morning our caravan of trucks, buses and cars drove the 40km from the base to Tuchola. As a crew of 30 devotees set up the festival site, our harinam party chanted and danced through town handing out colorful invitations. It was the third day of harinam in the town, and the people's attitude was warm and friendly. I envisioned a successful festival.
My dream came true when that afternoon a crowd of more than 6000 attended. It was a bright, sunny spring day, and people were happy to browse through our 20 tents packed with displays, shops and restaurants. As always, the stage show kept people captivated for more than five hours. The director of the Culture House in Tuchola, who helped organize the festival, told us afterwards it was the biggest event anyone could recall in the town. It wasn't the first time I had heard such a comment.
As we drove home we savored the victory. I said to Sri Prahlad, "So much mercy went out, so many books were sold, so many people heard the holy names, and so many people took prasadam. It seems it will never end. We just keep going year after year."
"Yes," Sri Prahlad replied, "anandam bhuddi vardanam - Krsna consciousness is blissful when it's expanding."
When we reached our base, none of us could stop talking about the sweetness of the festival. Our opposition seemed temporarily far away, unable to do us harm.
Suddenly Vara-nayaka ran into my room. He said, "Srila Gurudeva, a microphone has been found in the wall in Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda's room. Someone has been eavesdropping!"
Handing me a professional minature microphone and radio transmitter, Vara-nayaka said a devotee had been listening to the BBC on her radio and was shocked to hear Nandini and Radha Sakhi Vrinda discussing the success of the festival. Curious, she rushed up to the ladies' room. When Radha Sakhi Vrinda was told their voices had been transmitted on the radio, she and Nandini searched the room for almost an hour. They eventually found the microphone and transmitter hidden behind a raised piece of wallpaper and disconnected the device.
Our elation with the success of the Tuchola festival came to a close as we pondered who had bugged the room and for what purpose they were using the information. When we approached the hotel owner about the incident, he said, "It seems someone is intent on learning your plans. During the past few days I have received a number of mysterious telephone calls from someone asking details about your group. When I demanded to know who was speaking, they hung up. You'd better be careful."
We stayed up until the early hours of the next morning discussing our strategy. Our opposition has stepped up its efforts and is using sophisticated technology in its attempts to derail our program. We will have to use extreme caution as we proceed. The thought crossed my mind that for the next few months the bliss of spreading Krsna consciousness will be mixed with the anxiety of pondering the opposition's next move, and responding accordingly.
Nevertheless, we have one advantage: the mercy of the Lord, who grants protection to His surrendered servants. If we remain pure in habit and focused on our mission of spreading the glories of the holy name, we will be successful. Of that there is no doubt.
durgesv atavy aji mukhadisu prabhu
payan nrsimho sura yuthaparaih
vimuncato yasya mahatta hasam
diso vinedur nyapatams ca garbhah
"May Lord Nrsimhadeva, who appeared as the enemy of Hiranyakasipu, protect us in all directions. His loud laughing vibrated in all directions and caused the pregnant wives of the asuras to have miscarriages. May that Lord be kind enough to protect us in difficult places like the forest and the battlefront."