Saturday, October 11, 2008

travel journal#4-17: Finland and Ukraine

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 4, No. 17
By Krishna-kripa das
(September 2008, part one)
Tampere and Helsinki, Finland & Kharkov, Ukraine
(Sent from Gainesville, Florida on 10/11/08)

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

I spent the first week of September in Finland, researching an article on the Finnish yatra, especially its programs for academia, for Back to Godhead and meditating on speaking on the glories of Radharani for Radhastami. Then I went to Kharkov where we had a couple harinamas, including a very nice one at the college, and where Bhakta Andre kindly replaced eight fillings in my teeth.

Devotional Meditations

Notes on Kavicandra Swami’s recorded class on Caitanya-caritamrita:

"Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink" from Rime of the Ancient Mariner describes the nature of the material world. We are looking for enjoyment, but if we try to enjoy that which surrounds around us, we will just suffer, just as if one drinks the sea water to quench his thirst.

We want to go from lust to love, and from passion to compassion.

In this ISKCON movement we are doing the same things that Lord Caitanya did, so this is also Gaura-lila.

Notes from a recorded lecture by Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami:

In making emotional presentations, a pleasant background has to be created before the point is made, so the point is likely to be accepted. In intellectual presentations, the point is made in the beginning, and the presentation uses intelligent arguments to show the wisdom of the point.

If one foolishly drives off the road, one does not blame the road, the car, or the tires, but oneself, why then does one who has difficulty in a relationship, always blame the other person? If we could learn to refrain from doing this, we could improve our relationships among devotees considerably.

Academic Outreach in Finland

I have written an article for Back to Godhead, on Finland’s academic outreach, but I want to say a little about it here. The "Krishna religion" is an official religion in Finland. If three or more kids in a city worship Krishna, then if their parents request, the school is obligated to teach a weekly class it in.

Tapo Divyam Prabhu teaches a class of Nepali boys about Srila Prabhupada.

Thus one devotee, Tapo Divyam Prabhu, teaches seven such courses in the Helsinki area schools.

Tattvavada Prabhu gives a lecture to a class of high school students.

In addition a team of five devotees headed by Tattvavada Prabhu, ISKCON’s regional secretary for Finland, gives lectures in 100 high schools and colleges and in six of the country’s ten universities. Besides this, at least two or three classes visit the temple each week. One teacher of religion teachers brings his entire class once a year, and a class of nurses visits the temple once a year, as nurses need to be familiar with the different practices of their patients. Recently, a professor at the Helsinki University asked the devotees to write a curriculum for a course in the Krishna religion. Thus in the country of Finland the devotees are well respected for the knowledge that they share.

Harinama in Finland

We did harinama in Tampere with the book distribution and college lecturing party, which they occasionally do midweek.

We also did weekly two-hour harinama in a busy section of Helsinki. There they distributed hundreds of invitations to the Radhastami festival. They kindly let me lead the kirtana part of the time both place, and they had the cut-off harmoniums that Aindra Prabhu has especially made for harinama. It is three cities in a row that they have had those harmoniums, and I am happy to have the practice using them.

Book Distribution Stories from Finland

While researching my article on the academic programs done by ISKCON in Finland, I traveled for three days with their book and prasadam distribution devotees who worked Tampere, the same town as Tattvavada Prabhu gave his academic lectures in that week. Every day Avadhutacandra Prabhu, the party leader and one of the leading book distributors in Europe had a nice story to tell.

The first day he met a respectably dressed man who showed surprising interest in Prabhupada’s books. It turned out, when the man was a student, he had heard a lecture by Tattvavada Prabhu and even stayed after class to continue speaking with him. Now he eagerly discussed the philosophy with Avadhutacandra and ultimately bought a book.

In front of the library, Avadhutacandra talked with a student who had a heart condition so bad that he could actually die at any moment. He was convinced about the worlds’ miseries, and Avadhutacandra sold him both the Gita and the Bhagavatam, Canto 1. When the man made the payment for the books, Avadhutacandra threw in the Mahabharata for another five euros.

One boy really had an interest in Prabhupada’s books, but he had no money. Just then a girl who had previously purchased the books came up and told Avadhutacandra how much she liked them. Seeing her enthusiasm for the books, he asked her if she would be willing to buy a book for the boy who had no money. The boy was a little shy at first to take help from the girl, but ultimately he did, and received the book. Avadhutacandra also sold another book to the girl at
a discounted price.


I gave two lectures on Radhastami—one in the morning to the temple devotees, and one for the general Sunday feast crowd. In the morning, I talked about the feelings of separation of Radharani and how Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada taught that devotees must learn how to love Krishna through feelings of separation following in the footsteps of the gopis. This is largely over my head, but I supported it with Prabhupada’s statements from Krishna book. It is the right time to talk of such esoteric topics. If not on Radhastami, when? We cannot neglect such an important part of the philosophy. I read my poem about Radha and the bumblebee, which is based on Krishna book, and it went well. In the evening I stressed how Srila Prabhupada would often say that it is easy to attain Krishna by the mercy of Radharani, and we should beg for Her mercy in this connection, especially on this day.

During the Radhastami feast I talked to a young couple who had hitchhiked from Germany to Finland. I could see they were not so interested in religion, but they did like music. I talked with them about mantras and the purifying power of the Vedic sound vibration, and they seemed interested. The boy was a guitar player, and I showed him the chords for the simple tune that Srila Prabhupada often chanted, demonstrating with the harmonium. He said that they like to sing while they hitchhike, and I hope they experiment with the maha-mantra, and that it wins their hearts. One enthusiastic devotee gave them two liters of halava to take with them on the road. That it itself might prove an inspiration for devotional service. I learned from the girl that there is a bus that you can take to India from Instanbul for forty euros. Apparently, you do not need visas for the intervening countries as you don’t get off the bus. She had never taken it but heard that it leaves from the main bus terminal there in Istanbul.

Harinama in Kharkov

Each venue we do harinama has a special flavor. I love the ones we do on the sidewalk near the university in Kharkov, Ukraine. What’s special there is the devotees roll out about 15 meters of carpet on the curb across from us for interested people to sit and hear the transcendental sound. Usually between five and twelve people are sitting listening at any one time, and for at least half an hour during the three or four hours we chanted there, twenty people listened. This time we came out with four devotees. Two more devotees, who attend the university, later joined us. We played the harmonium, the mrdanga, karatalas, whompers (the big karatalas), a tambourine, and a djembe. The devotees, headed by brahmacari preacher, Krishna Dvaipayana Dasa, display a table of books, DVDs, incense, sweets, temple invitations, and a photo album of devotional pictures for people to look through. [The DVD distribution program is interesting. The DVDs, which are either for sale or to borrow, include kirtana, lectures, and movies of India and devotional topics, and create an interest in the people receiving them.] One new Kharkov devotee, a university student in technology, told me that he hears the passersby the harinamasay things like, "These Hare Krishnas are very powerful. They pass out sweets and incense, and make you feel like you don’t want to go anywhere else." In Kharkov the devotees chant six days a week, at least three hours a day, either at the university, park, or downtown, depending on the day. I like to go there every year and become inspired. Sahasra Jit Prabhu, the temple president, tells me that each year they teach an introductory course to about twenty to thirty newcomers to Krishna consciousness, most having developed an interest as a result of the harinama program.

Some People I Encountered in Kharkov

There is Sahasra Jit Prabhu, the temple president, who always gets me at the train station, translates my Bhagavatam classes, finds a place for me to stay, and makes sure I can go on plenty of harinamas. There is Krishna Dvaipayana Prabhu, who is always jolly, and is a dedicated preacher. There is Drumila Dasa, who on harinama, closes his eyes and chants lively tunes with his whole heart. There is Bhakta Andre, the dentist, who kindly spent four hours replacing the fillings for eight of my cavities as a service, because he found my dancing inspiring at the Ukraine festival one year. There is householder Alexi, who invited the harinama party to lunch two days in a row. There was a five-year medical student from Malaysia who went to the Sunday feast there as a ten-year-old kid but decided to take devotional service seriously in Kharkov a few months ago and came out with us on harinama. There was a lady from Iran who teaches Farsi at the university, who developed an interest in Krishna consciousness in Kharkov, and came out on harinama along with her daughter. An English teacher from the university visited the harinama and decided she had to talk with me as I was an American. She blessed me to think good thoughts, say good words, do good activities, and to find God in my heart—all nice sentiments.

Bolo ‘krishna,’ bhajo ‘krishna,’ koro ‘krishna–siksa’.

Chant "Krishna!" worship Krishna, and follow Krishna’s instructions.

(from Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Gitavali)