Wednesday, April 30, 2008

travel journal#4.8: The Only Happy People in London!

  Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 4, No. 8
By Krishna-kripa das
(April 2008, part two)
The Only Happy People London!
(Sent from Amsterdam on 4/30/08)
Where I Am and What I Am Doing
I spent almost five weeks in London doing three hours of harinama almost every day. Then by the invitation of Kadamba Kanana Swami, I went to Amsterdam for Queensday, a mammoth street celebration which the devotees do harinama at on April 30. That I will describe in my next issue as it would make this one too large and too late.
Devotional Notes

"Such a false conception [of I am the enjoyer and all I possess is mine] can be given up by thinking, 'I belong to Krishna and Krishna belongs to me.'"—Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura on Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.17.54 from Uddhava Gita

Mukunda Dasa, a devotee from 1974 in Amsterdam, once walked to the temple with the desire to help out with Food for Life and another favorite service. When he arrived he found that Food for Life was not happening that day and neither was the other service, so he returned home, having done no service at all. The next day when he went to the temple, he asked the devotees what they needed done, and he was given some service which he happily did.

Harinama in London

Saturday night always has a lively harinama in downtown London. Parasurama Prabhu plays ukulele and Mother Ratnavali plays jdembe, along with the usual Hare Krishna instruments. We have some very enthusiastic female dancers who smilingly grab ladies from the crowd watching our performance, and pull them into the center to dance with them. It is entertaining both for the ladies and their friends and family who watch the fun from the side. Many of the induced dancers and their spectators take invitations. A guy with a British flag medallion stuck to his suit danced erratically through our party at one point. You really never know what will happen on the London Saturday harinamas. A few weeks back Superman and his friends danced with us.

For me the high point was when a respectably dressed man in his fifties, a little pudgy, with glasses and a round face, joined us in a very jovial mood for the last few blocks to the temple. In our conversation after the harinama, he said, "You know what I like about you Hare Krishnas. You are the only people in London who are happy!" We talked briefly. He had come to Govinda's Restaurant sometimes and read our books. Because he is attached to eating meat and drinking liquor, he says Krishna consciousness isn't for him, but he appreciates what we are doing. The most amazing thing for him, however, which he restated several times as I talked with him, is his realization that the Hare Krishnas are the only people in London who are happy.

On Sunday, Prabhupada disciple, Gaura Prabhu, a nice drummer with dozens of delightful Hare Krishna tunes, lead kirtana and Mother Sukhayanti, bouncing from person to person in her youthful enthusiasm, distributed flyers and a book. I was pleased that although our party was small, the two devotees were so enthusiastic it was a great experience nonetheless. We walked to King's Cross where we have a small center with a food distribution program and a weekly kirtana, lecture, and prasadam program. On the way back, Sukhayanti brought one lady she met to the Sunday feast. I suggested to the London devotees that they could make a Sunday harinama a regular event, gathering up people with nothing to do and bringing them to the Sunday feast, as we have done at some of our other temples in our ISKCON history.

The next Saturday evening, when our harinama party was stopped, I was passing out flyers to people who appeared to enjoy watching us dancing. I encouraged one young couple to dance with us, and amazingly enough they did, and their friends did, and then a whole group of ten people was dancing, some imitating the devotees and some doing their own thing. It was so lively, and I was happy, for once, to be an instrument in inducing their participation.

A Feast to Remember

Mother Gopi Bhava who works at Soho's Govinda's Restaurant is credited with cooking a notable feast—the only Sunday feast I recall, in twenty-five years, with two curd subjis. It is also the only one with trifle, a typical British dessert made with cake, custard, fruit, jelly, and whipped cream, which was very tasty. Gopi Bhava felt the devotees always see the trifle at the restaurant but never get to eat any, so she affectionately wanted to treat them.


Book Distribution

I hardly ever go out on book distribution. I do not like to talk to people. I never know what to say. I never have. Somehow Jai Nitai Prabhu, the temple president, made such an earnest entreaty to get everyone to go out on maha-Saturday, the last Saturday in the month, when everybody in the temple and congregation is encouraged out, that I decided to surrender. I meant to do an hour before the 3 p.m. Harinama, but I spent the day doing computer work and only had fifteen minutes left. I was intimidated by the prospect of stopping the people on bustling Oxford St. and sought those on side streets who were not moving. One person give me 18 pence for a book, less than half its printing cost. I felt a little bad but decided to go out more later. A devotee suggested I try selling books on the evening harinama, and so I did. The first people I talked to, a Russian couple, also gave less than the printing cost. I mentioned to the man about one of the devotees in our party who spoke Russian, a hard working devotee from the Polish tour, and I noticed the couple followed us to Chinatown. I talked to one middle-aged man who was a Buddhist practitioner. He asked about our philosophy. As a true Buddhist, he rejected the necessity of God. I asked where the creation came from and the system that governs karma. He ascribed those functions to material nature herself, which I said sounds a little hard to conceive. He and his friend who had spent time together at Buddhist asramas talked with me for a while, and his friend, claiming he was impressed by my sincerity, give me all his change, as had the others who had bought books from me, although this time it amounted to about 9 British pounds ($18), and thus made up for the previous two people who had given too little. That was Krishna kindness on me. I had not been in anxiety about the previous poor donations, but I was happy to see it balance out. Later a lady took another book for a pound.

Srila Prabhupada's book distribution ki, jaya!

Friends and Enemies

Gadagraja Prabhu, a key participant in Soho temple's Krishna Community Shop, told nice real life stories in class. Before he became a devotee, there was one person he just hated, and that person hated him. Whenever they saw each other, they would fight, calling each other ill names and punching each other out. After he become a devotee, in the course of distributing Srila Prabhupada's books, Gadagraja spied his former enemy. Surprisingly, he now felt no enmity in his heart toward him, although he was apprehensive about the man's reaction to him. The man saw him, but now that Gadagraja had the shaven head of a devotee, he didn't recognize him. He asked if he was a Hare Krishna, and he said he was. Apparently Gadagraja's former enemy had received a Perfection of Yoga from another devotee and wanted some explanation as to what it was about. They had a nice exchange, and the former enemy even offered to watch Gadagraja's stash of books whenever he distributed in that area!

On the other hand, before he became a devotee, Gadagraja had a close friend who he did a lot of activities together with. As Gadagraja was becoming a devotee, however, the friend said negative things about the devotees and tried to discourage him, and the two became more distance.
We can learn from this that we cannot always see who our real friends and enemies are, in the ultimate issue. An apparent enemy can assist us in our service to Krishna while an apparent friend can hold us back. We can also see that devotional service can purify our hearts from deep rooted enmity toward others.
My Favorite Holiday
(a submission to Back to Godhead's "In Your Own Words")

Srila Prabhupada's appearance day is my favorite holiday because then devotees reveal through their heartfelt offerings the inspiration behind their life of devotional service to Srila Prabhupada and his mission. It's also special because you hear Prabhupada stories you never heard and relish again those you have heard many times. Prabhupada brings everyone together. His Vyasa Puja Day brings out the best in all of us more than other holidays and pools our inspiration, giving us spiritual strength for another year of service. Not only that, but the feast, cooked with great devotion and frequently one of the most opulent, often features his favorites like kacauris, karela, and laddus, another very pleasant way to remember Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada's Vyasa Puja Day ki jaya!