Thursday, June 19, 2008

travel journal#4.11: Harinamas in Six Cities

Harinama in Brno, Czech

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 4, No. 11
By Krishna-kripa das
(June 2008, part one)
Munich / Prague / Brno / Modra / Bratislava / Sofia
(Sent from Prague, Czech Republic on 6/19/08)

Correction: To see more Eiffel Tower harinama pictures, click on this link:
that does not work, then click on the link and then on the album named "HarinamTrocadero31Mai2008WithJananandaGoswamiMaharaj".

Addition: Previously on the way to Simhacalam, our car died near Bonn and we took a train to Cologne, Germany, where we have a temple. While on the train, we did a harinama, led by Janmastami Prabhu. Bhaktin Elaine, from near Amsterdam, shares these two videos of the harinama on the train:

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

The first half of June has been very exciting for me, traveling to new cities and old favorites to do harinama: Munich: 2 days, Prague: 3 days, Brno (CZ): 3 days, Bratislava (SK), 3 days and Sofia (BG): 1 day; 12 days in a row without a break, and only 3 days without harinama. Those days also were special, as I got to hear from Janananda Swami in Paris before going to Munich and Bhaktivaibhava Swami in Sofia the last weekend.

Devotional Notes

Jiva Goswami writes in the Bhakti Sandarbha regarding the glories of nama-sankirtana:
"In the Javali Samhita the process of nama smarana has been described. Those who are desirous of obtaining unlimited varieties of spiritual bliss should always perform japa, meditation (dhyana) singing (gana) and kirtana of the topmost names of Sri Hari. But in the practice of nama smarana one cannot obtain spiritual bliss as long as the heart remains impure. Whereas the practice of nama sankirtana does not depend on purification of the heart. Therefore nama smaranam is less effective than nama sankirtanam, and nama sankirtana has greater importance."
--contributed by Janananda Goswami

Wise words from Bhaktivaibhava Swami in Sofia:

"Bhagavad-gita is the art of living in this world."

"If you think this body belongs to you, try to keep it. Actually everything belongs to Krishna."

"People who take to Krishna consciousness are very fortunate to be giving up the stubborn materialistic mentality, and we should encourage them by all means."

"We should not tell people who like to work in a passionate way to act more in the mode of goodness, but rather to work passionately for Krishna."

"People who like to work to acquire wealth should not be discouraged. Rather they should be encouraged to engage their wealth in Krishna's service."

Gems from Kadamba Kanana Swami in Munich:

"Spiritual life is difficult, but material life is impossible."

"We see that Krishna puts the purification of an individual devotee ahead of using him as an instrument in His mission."

"'Sannyasi life is simple. Wherever the women go, go in the other direction.'
—Jayadvaita Swami"

"To go deep into our spiritual consciousness can help us benefit other people."

"Krishna decides what your role will be, and you have to accept that."

"Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Thakura explains that true empowerment means to be empowered with both spiritual knowledge and spiritual happiness."

"Krishna wants to benefit all living beings, and so if you want to please Krishna, you also have to want to benefit all living beings."

Kadamba Kanana Swami said he saw someone with a self-designed T-shirt, "I have heard it all, I have seen it all, and I have done it all. But I cannot remember it all."

That struck me as the epitome of this famous verse spoken by Prahlada Maharaja, "Because of their uncontrolled senses, persons too addicted to materialistic life make progress toward hellish conditions and repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed. Their inclinations toward Krishna are never aroused, either by the instructions of others, by their own efforts, or by a combination of both" (SB 7.5.30).

Wisdom from Priti Vardhana Prabhu who teaches at Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami's asrama:

"The Vedic process is to hear from the teacher in the morning and to apply the knowledge during the day."

"If the students do more than is required, we praise them, but not publicly, as that would breed competition which promotes working for rewards [not working in devotion]."

"Children should be given some responsibility. Without exception, they must do their duty before they play. Then they will learn to use their intelligence do their duties quickly so they can play."

"When the parent is busy, and the child comes by, the parent should try to think of how the child can assist, rather than tell the child to get out of the way. In this way, the child feels useful."

"Even primitive societies that worship some aspects of the Lord's material form (virat-rupa) last for centuries, while atheistic societies are short-lived."

--Prana Natha Prabhu (from Brazil) in Brno

An Extra Harinama in Prague

My friend Jaroslav from Prague, who loves harinama and helps organize the Happy Days festivals in Czech Republic as well as their Ratha-yatras, organized a four-hour harinama in Prague on Thursday. Thirteen devotees attended. A couple friends, Prana Natha Prabhu, from Brazil, and Bhakta Tom, from Slovakia, who did harinama with us in Mayapur this winter were there—a nice treat. To see the enthusiasm of the devotees, and the bystanders as well, made me so happy. One young lady watching the party surprisingly gave me a book of Vedic saying in Czech that she takes pleasure in distributing. It is rare to encounter people already attracted to Vedic philosophy. Another promised she would dance with us but remained watching from a distance with her boyfriend. I went to interest her in some books, and she asked me to tell the leader of the band to play faster so she could dance. When he did, she came over and danced for awhile with great delight. I encouraged her to come to the evening programs at Govinda's, where she sometimes dines. In Prague there is a positive attitude among the people in general because of the steady harinama program and three prasadam restaurants, and when you add to that the enthusiasm of the devotees to chant in public, it makes it a great place for harinama. In 2004, when I asked Lokanath Swami the best place to do harinama, he told me, "Prague." People from all over the world see us there. Even my mother saw the devotees chanting there when she visited once.

Surprising Appreciation in Brno

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to travel around and give class as my classes are not any better then anyone else's and probably worse than a lot of people's. Therefore I was very surprised that two bhaktins from Brno decided to stay for my evening class although it meant taking a bus leaving at midnight to go to Prague to attend mangala-arati and Kadamba Kanana Swami's class the next day. I guess one can argue that they are so devotional that they can find merit in even my classes. They expressed gratitude about the extra harinama and the evening programs we had in Brno, and it sort of validated my whole traveling and preaching program, in which I am trying to promote an increase in harinama and evening programs wherever I go.

Among other things, I try to go through the words of our standard songs with the new devotees, as the songs are so much more meaningful when we know the words. I also try to read a little Krishna book in the evening after Bhagavad-gita, so both myself and the audience will increase our attachment to Krishna's pastimes. It is nice to encounter enthusiasm for hearing and chanting about Krishna among the younger and newer people. It makes one feel the mission will continue and flourish.


I did a nama-hatta program at Peter and Jana's in Modra, Slovakia, near Bratislava. They are aspiring disciples of Kadamba Kanana Swami, and some of their friends came, who like to get to together and hear and chant about Krishna. Our gathering reminded me of a great verse:

naham tisthami vaikunthe
yoginam hrdayesu va
tatra tisthami narada
yatra gayanti mad-bhakta

Krishna explains to the great sage Narada that He is not to be found in the spiritual world nor the hearts of the yogis but where His devotees are chanting His glories. This also calls to mind a Biblical saying where Jesus Christ tells his followers, "Whenever two or three of you are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of you." These references reveal the truth that we can experience the Lord's presence when we get together to chant and talk about Him, an important clue in spiritual life.

After our talks, we had prasadam which made mostly with fruits and vegetables from Peter's own garden, and the strawberry halava was the best I have ever had. We had some nice discussion as we had dinner.

We hoped to do harinama in Bratislava on Sunday, but our hosts were not feeling well and the weather was uncooperative, so Bhakta Tom and I chanted kirtana at the bus station, as we waited for our respective buses. I'd hoped to give the Sunday feast lecture there, but the Sunday program was cancelled due to temple renovation, so I returned to Brno where I knew I had friends to do harinama with. In Bratislava the devotees are fully engaged both in their Govinda's Restaurant, which served a record 248 customers one day that week, and in doing book distribution. The Bratislava restaurant, which is quite successful, has made the local people, who are very much from a traditional Christian background, much more open to the devotees than they originally were. The devotees are committed to their weekly harinama on Wednesday, which I returned for. The enthusiastic party of five devotees chanted in a nice section of town with lots of people and different restaurants with outside seating. The people are less open to getting the invitations than in many places, and I had to really smile at them a lot, and hand them the invitations in a very dramatic way for them to finally accept. Harinamas require permission from the authorities, but not individual musicians, so on Thursday, I played the drum and chanted and passed out invitations to Govinda's for a little over an hour before catching a bus to Vienna to get my flight to Sofia.

Sofia Harinama
The weather was truly miserable, but the devotees have a backup location one floor under the street level. Many teenagers were skateboarding there in the beginning, an odd audience for harinama. Bhakta Stoyan is very enthusiastic at both organizing harinamas and during them, continuously distributing invitations and one page summaries of our philosophy to anyone and everyone, and it was inspiring to see. One group of teenaged girls sitting about twenty feet from us for over an hour finally got enough courage to dance along with us at the end and the devotees gave them prasadam. Another couple of teenaged girls took pictures of the chanting devotees from many different angles. Many people spend several minutes watching us before continuing on their way.
Nirjala Ekadasi

About Ekadasi, Srila Prabhupada writes in Nectar of Devotion, "The basic principle is not just to fast, but to increase one's faith and love for Govinda, or Krishna. The real reason for observing fasting on Ekadasi is to minimize the demands of the body and to engage our time in the service of the Lord by chanting or performing similar service. The best thing to do on fasting days is to remember the pastimes of Govinda and to hear His holy name constantly." I mentioned to the devotees in Sofia that I was willing to stay up all night on Nirjala Ekadasi if anyone wanted to. Bhakti Efi from Israel volunteered. He suggested we read Caitanya-caritamrita, but in light of the above quote we decided on Krishna book instead. We took turns choosing which chapter to read and took turns reading, and when we got tired of reading, and it was past midnight, we chanted four rounds toward the coming day's japa quota, and then returned our Krishna book reading, alternating between the activities in that way. Sometimes I nodded out while either reading or listening and a few times I felt like quitting because staying awake seemed so artificial, but in the end it proved to be quite a manageable austerity. After breaking the fast at sunrise with water and some khira, I took an hour nap before greeting of the Deities. A two-hour nap midday facilitated almost normal functioning of the body on the Dvadasi. Bhakti Efi, amazing enough, only took an hour nap. I write this to inspire others that it is not so hard. In his evening lecture, Bhaktivaibhava Maharaja encouraged such fasting and minimizing of bodily needs because at the end of life the body often cannot digest properly and so we may be forced to fast and to be practiced to remember Krishna in such awkward circumstances can greatly benefit us.