Thursday, May 22, 2008

travel journal#4.9: Holland and Belgium Adventures

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 4, No. 9
By Krishna-kripa das
(May 2008, part one) 
Holland and Belgium Adventures
(Sent from Radhadesh, Belgium on 5/22/08)

I am sorry that this one is so long. I will try to reform by next time. If you can read only part, check out my Queen's Day blog and read the Amsterdam harinama stories.

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

I was invited by Kadamba Kanana Swami to Amsterdam to take part in Queen's Day, a mammoth street festival attended by over a million people, where the Hare Krishna devotees chanted for ten hours. For those who are interested, I wrote a whole article on it, including some links to a variety of videos that will give you an idea of what it was like. Janmastami Prabhu, a Lokanath Swami disciple, who is an enthusiastic preacher who played accordion before becoming devotee, nicely reciprocated with my desire to do three hours of daily harinama in Amsterdam for the rest of the week. Next weekend I went to Rotterdam for Saturday harinama and to do the Sunday feast lecture. The next week, seeing the beautiful weather, the devotees decided to try chanting in the park in Amsterdam, and it was a great success. The next weekend I did Saturday harinama in Brussels with the Radhadesh devotees, and a Sunday harinama and feast lecture in Antwerp. Finally after many devotees have described and invited to me to Radhadesh, I finally visited, and was struck by the beauty and serenity of that spiritual place and the enthusiasm of the devotees to hear and chant about Krishna. From Mayapur and the Polish tour, I had many friends now residing in Radhadesh, and it was a joy to see them. We did another harinama in Antwerp, and a nama-hatta program at the place of Krishna Priya, a very devoted preacher. After returning to Amsterdam for a final chanting in the park, we leave to go to Simhacalam, Bavarian Germany's rural home of Lord Nrsimha, to celebrate His appearance, along with devotees from all over Europe. The car broke down, and we stayed over night in the Cologne, Germany, temple, where Nikhilananda Prabhu assisted us in repairing the car and continuing on our journey.

Devotional Notes

Gems from Kadamba Kanana Swami in a Bhagavatam lecture in Amsterdam:

Austerity is never the goal. Nor is austerity one of the 64 items of devotional service. Out of prema, Vaishnava acaryas reduce eating and sleeping to focus on devotional service.

Although we can engage the products of passion and ignorance in the service of the Lord, they still have a demoniac features, so we must be careful.

Spiritual life is like going to Badrinatha (in the Himalayas). You go up and then you go down, but not as far down as you went up!

Comment [by me]: It makes senses that since Lord Caitanya has come to give love of Krishna, He would first give it to those assisting in His mission.

Response [by Kanamba Kanana Swami]: Yes. But also Lord Caitanya was very strict with Chota Haridas, Krishna Das, and Damodar. He did not want His followers to act loosely. Still, although we are incomplete, He gives us His blessings. All the acharyas (previous spiritual teachers) are full of compassion and desire our welfare. I envision the Panca-tattva dancing, followed by the acharyas.

Commenting on a lecture on Rama's appearance day, describing Sita being kidnapped when she stepped out of her protective circle, Mother Lila-avatara said that Prabhupada has drawn a protective circle around us, and Maya cannot reach us as long as we stay within the circle—the four regulative principles.
   --from "Tachycardia" by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami.

We do not worship cows as being the Supreme Lord but because of their relationship with the Supreme Lord.
  --Shyamasundara Prabhu from Bhaktivedanta Manor in a Bhagavatam lecture at Radhadesh

In the lyrics of a song [I think it was by Bob Dylan] the point was made that whether you serve the devil or the Lord, you have to serve somebody. That is also our understanding.
  --Gaura Prabhu in a Bhagavatam lecture in Amsterdam

Krishna can be compared to an expert herdsman who nicely takes care of his animals needs, thus we do not have to worry if we take shelter of Krishna.
  --Gaura Hari Prabhu, temple president in Oslo, Norway, in a Bhagavatam lecture in Amsterdam

When Srila Prabhupada said we go back to Godhead if we just chanted sixteen rounds a day and followed the four regulative principles, devotees were surprised it was so easy. Now after many have left, we realize it is not so easy. Thus the people who are still endeavoring to follow are very special souls.
   --Gaura Hari, in a Bhagavatam lecture in Amsterdam

From Hari Sauri's Diary:

Balavanta Prabhu said one American politician said Krishna consciousness was spreading like an epidemic and could even take over the government. Srila Prabhupada mentioned if Krishna consciousness became popular with the masses they could elect a Krishna consciousness consciousness government.

We have many jungles to pass through so we have to sharpen our knife by studying the sastra so we can cut through them all.
  --Caitanya-lila devi dasi in a Srimad-Bhagavatam class in Cologne, Germany


Adventure in Rotterdam

I went to Rotterdam for the weekend since Kadamba Kanana Swami suggested I visit other places besides Amsterdam. Every Saturday they have a harinama for two and a half hours. They chant to the Rotterdam Central train station, a convenient five-minute walk from their temple, and stay there for half an hour while more devotees gather. Many of the enthusiastic participants were Indian-bodied devotees from Suriname, formerly Dutch Guiana, whose enthusiasm for helping with the harinama and the temple programs reminded me of the Guyanese devotees I knew from Alachua who were similarly enthusiastic. A couple senior brahmacaris also came from Den |Haag, a town 15 minutes away. Some devotees distributed invitations and books. We chanted in a mall crowded with people checking out the different shops. A good number of people took the invitations. After the harinama was an incredible feast including pizza, spaghetti, curd sabji, and the best sweet rice I have had in months. The delicious sweet rice was simply flavored with toasted coconut, a new and pleasant experience. Having a tasty feast after harinama is a great idea that might be introduced in other temples to encourage reluctant souls to turn out for the event. Everyone likes a good feast.

Although one devotee makes daily offerings to their Pancatattva Deities, they have no morning program there. I took advantage of the situation of being alone with a computer with an internet connection, and caught up on my work before the Sunday lecture.

I talked about chanting the holy name in the form of japa as temple president, Mother Narayani advised. One regular invited a couple friends for the first time as it was his birthday, so I had to summary the main points of the philosophy for them.

They asked me to lead the kirtana which I did for a while and then one of the regulars took over. They put on YouTube:

For me the significance of the kirtana was the enthusiastic dancing of all the devotees, a nice feature of that temple. Although I am not a real kirtana leader, they were still able to enthusiastically get absorbed in chanting the holy name and dancing.

They are intent to keep their web page current and Michel, their vice-president, did a whole photo article on my visit.

Harinamas in Amsterdam

Back in Amsterdam, we resumed our daily harinamas. One girl passed us, smiling and moving her body in time to our music. When I gave her an invitation, she said she saw us at Queen's Day. Later I told Bhakta Nir from Israel to try to sell her a book, and she ended up taking one. On Sunday, a couple people came to the temple from seeing us at Queen's Day. It is nice to see so soon some favorable results from our attempts at that awesome street festival.

We chanted in the park in Amsterdam which was very crowded, even on a Wednesday, due to the incredibly beautiful spring weather. Different people who had some relationship with the devotees came by for the cold ginger tea and sweet balls and to hear the mellow bhajanas. New people also came by as well. We were successful in that, despite our mrdanga, we did not get stopped for illegally playing a drum in the park for the three hours we were there. It was such a nice experience that we decided to go for the rest of the week if the weather holds out. Bhakta Nir pedaled me and the instruments, books, and prasadam, all packed into a wagon in front of the bike, back to the temple. I was reclining my back and playing the harmonium and chanting the whole way, Many people smiled and laughed at us because it was such an odd sight, but they also benefited from hearing the holy names.

I talked to one devotee who met Srila Prabhupada in Bury Place in London in 1968. He never got initiated during Srila Prabhupada's presence, but when he went to Vrindavana recently, one day the devotees asked him to lead the temple parikrama kirtana after guru puja and the next day they asked him to do the arati itself. That night he had a dream in which Srila Prabhupada initiated him and gave him a name. He had some doubts that had previously blocked him from coming forward for initiation, but that experience resolved them.

One guitar player, who also liked Beatles music, had a nice conversation with Gaura Prabhu at the park, and lent Gaura his guitar to play Hare Krishna before the other devotees had arrived with the instruments. The next day, the boy came for the second half of the morning program and Gaura Prabhu talked with him and taught him to play the Govinda prayers on the guitar. He left with a set of japa beads. Gaura Prabhu said the park was a preachers' paradise, and it reminded him of the 1970s.

One girl from Brazil chanted and danced with us for nearly an hour. She said she will try to come by on Sunday. She heard the mantra on a CD of Indian music she bought on the Internet. Once her parents had gone to Rio de Janeiro to celebrate some holiday, but it was too crowded to find a place to stay. They ended up meeting the Hare Krishnas and spending the whole time with them.

A periodic attender, Smiles, also came by, with his female friend, and they also participated in chanting and dancing. Now that we had four dancers, others took more interest in our performance, some taking pictures.

Janakinatha Prabhu talked with a couple boys, one with a degree in philosophy. Other people came by as well, and between people he would play karatalas while watching our book, drink, and halava table. He sees chanting in the park superior to walking harinama as persons who are attracted can come forward and associate with the devotees. I tend to agree. In fact, last Sunday another person came to Amsterdam's Sunday feast from seeing us in the park.

We did a final harinama in Antwerp as Janmastami Prabhu's van was repaired and then dashed off for one final harinama in the park in Amsterdam. Although we got there at 7:00 p.m., the other devotees were still there, some singing and passing out tea, as Janakinatha Prabhu, walked around with the tray of halava cubes, meeting with interested people.

I met a girl named Natalie, a junior in cultural and physical anthropology at University of Florida, who regularly attends the Krishna Lunch program. She loves the peaceful atmosphere with the great food and the devotees chanting. I told her last year my service was to chant at that very campus lunch program in the spring. It is indeed a small world. Since she was an anthropology student, I told her a couple friends of mine wrote an amazing book called Forbidden Archeology that describes many artifacts reported by scientists themselves that are too old for theory of human evolution. She was interested and took down the name and authors. She asked if we had a lunch program in Amsterdam, and I told her about our Sunday Feast, with its special festival for Lord Nrsimha's appearance, but she and her sister were only staying another day. I asked their itinerary and when I found they were going to Prague, I told her about our three restaurants there, giving her flyers for two of them. I told her we also celebrated the special festival there and she could find the address at It was amazing to find a Krishna Lunch enthusiast in a park in Amsterdam.

One girl, buying some water for a friend, happened by our setup. She said she left Isreal on a spiritual search about nine months ago. She took only one book--one by Srila Prabhupada. She mentioned how she went to our program at Soho St. in London once. She asked about our community in Belgium, and I understood she meant Radhadesh. I told her I was just in Radhadesh and found it very beautiful and serene. I gave her an explanation of the Hare Krishna mantra with the addresses of both our Amsterdam and Radhadesh centers on it, so she can follow up on her interest in Krishna consciousness.

It is amazing the interesting people you meet at Amsterdam's Vandel Park. Janakinath also met some nice people who had some touch with Krishna consciousness and were ready for more. He is excited to continue the program on all the sunny days in the summer.

Harinama in Brussels

We joined a busload of devotees from Radhadesh and a few local Indians to go on a very lively two-hour harinama in Brussels, Belgium's capital. With forty-five devotees, we attracted a lot of attention. Once, when Janmastami Prabhu was leading and we were chanting in one place, about sixty or seventy people surrounded us to watch.

Sesa Prabhu, who was teaching ethics in Radhadesh, came on the harinama, and nicely took part in the dancing at one point, with the encouragement of the devotees. He was so surprised to see me there in Brussels, but I was less surprised to see him, as I know he goes to Radhadesh regularly.

Janmastami Prabhu was so enthused by the harinama that he continued for an hour and a half after the Radhadesh devotees departed, with myself and a three local Indian devotees, one of whom, Ratan, kindly bought us some drinks.

All these Europeon cities have many people on the streets and many restaurants with seating on the sidewalk in front, ideal for sharing the chanting of the holy names with the populace. On Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we did small harinamas in the Belgian city of Antwerp.

Antwerp Harinama and Sunday Program

During the Sunday feast lecture in Antwerp, I asked if there were any new people. There was one person who said it was his first time at the temple, but he had seen the devotees before at their festivals in Poland. I talked with him later and found he was named Piotr and had gone to two festivals, one in the town of Rewal, and another in the city of Kolobrzeg. He lives in Gdansk, four hours from Kolobrzeg by train, and I gave him the web site of our Polish festival which includes the summer schedule so he can come this year when he returns to Poland for summer vacation. Now he is studying organic chemistry in Antwerp. He was so happy to be in the association of devotees, he came to the nama-hatta program we did two days later at the home of Krishna Priya, a former resident of Poland herself.

Krishna Priya Devi Dasi, a disciple of B. B. Govinda Swami, is a colorful personality with great faith in the name, form, and mercy of the Lord. Her front room is glorified by the presence of several sets of deities and few statues of Jesus Christ and Mary, and her walls are completely covered with devotional pictures--a truly incredible sight. She tells that once she was chanting in public, playing harmonium, when a drunk man who hated the chanting threatened to break her harmonium and hurt her. She prayed to Lord Nrsimha. Within a one minute, a group of tourists from Nepal came by, amazed to see Krishna's glories chanted on the sidewalk of Belgian city. They sat down and joined her, playing some instruments she had. They stayed for two hours, and the drunk man, frustrated at not being able to do his mischief, left after an hour. She also told stories of materialistic people who had miraculously gained some faith in the holy name by her prasadam and her words. Inspired by her deities and her devotional art filled asrama, at her nama-hatta I spoke on Bhagavad-gita 8.14, which tells how Krishna can be easily attained by those who always remember Him, in anyone of His incarnations, in one of five relationships. One devotee from Ukraine especially liked it. Krishna Priya kindly supported my travels by giving a donation. I was thinking of passing up Janananda Goswami's invitation to go to France for lack of funds and decided than morning not to go unless some one gave me a donation, so I took it as a clue to I should go there after all.

Just the first half of May was filled with harinama in four cities and the joy of seeing many people coming in touch with Krishna. I hope the rest of the warm season continues in this way.