Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Travel Journal#5.11: Harinama, Wroclaw Ratha, Feast in Park

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 5, No. 11
By Krishna-kripa das 
(June 2009, part one)
Antwerp, Amsterdam, Wroclaw, and Leipzig
(Sent from Leipzig, Germany, on 6/18/09)


A Prabhupada Story
Harinamas in Antwerp and Amsterdam
First Annual Wroclaw Ratha-yatra
Sunday Feast in Leipzig’s Mariannen Park
Spiritual Encounters
Insight from Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, Kadamba Kanana Swami,
Dhananjaya Prabhu, and Others
Personal Reflections

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

I left France, with many nice harinama adventures behind me, and the blessings of the devotees to return. I went by bus to Antwerp, where I did the Sunday feast lecture, other lectures, and many harinamas, and then onward to Amsterdam, for another Sunday feast lecture and more harinamas. Next I went to Leipzig, and took a day trip six hours each way by train to Wroclaw, Poland’s first Ratha-yatra, and returned to Leipzig for great kirtana, prasadam, and the association of Kadamba Kanana Swami. 

A Prabhupada Story

In Amsterdam, Dhananjaya Prabhu told us that one time Srila Prabhupada, although he wasn’t feeling well, agreed to see George Harrison, who had a recording which he wanted Srila Prabhupada to hear. The song was entitled “Krishna, Where are You?” George had written the lyrics and arranged the music, and Ravi Shankar’s sister, Laksmi, was the singer. Prabhupada said it was in the mood of the Goswamis, and that if George Harrison continued writing songs like that he would quickly advance in spiritual life.

[Curious about the song, I did a search on the internet, finding a couple videos with pictures of Krishna accompanying the song: ]

Harinama in Antwerp

My friend Janmastami Prabhu, a disciple of Lokanath Swami, makes Antwerp a happy place for me. He’s been playing accordion for years, even before he met the Hare Krishna devotees, and he loves harinama. Last year we chanted in Amsterdam, but now he is back in Belgium, his home. Also here is Amita Krishna Prabhu, who I met in Chowpatty and again in Tirupati, who is a native of Antwerp, and loves Krishna kirtana andkatha. We went chanting in Antwerp, which like many European cities, is blessed with an abundance of cafes with seating on the sidewalk. We passed out many invitations to their upcoming Ratha-yatra.

One day we came across two young Oriental men who are Christian by faith. One had an interesting T-shirt that said on it, “Say Your Prayers.” My camera was temporarily not working, and they emailed me a picture they took for our party.

Harinama in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is full of tourists and a great place for harinama. The devotees do harinama on Thursdays at 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. for two hours each day, and about ten or twelve show up. I tried to have additional harinamas Monday through Wednesday, but no one came except for a bhakta from Slovakia, also a guest, but he did book distribution most of the time. I made some halava with chick pea flour and rolled it into balls for distribution, and tried to go out each day for three hours, with invitations, sweets, and books.

First Annual Wroclaw Ratha-yatra

Although Indradyumna Swami’s festival tour has put on many Ratha-yatras in Poland, none of the three Polish temples had done a Ratha-yatra in their home towns until June 13, when the congregation of the Wroclaw temple put on their first Ratha-yatra. I heard about the festival last September and had been cultivating a desire to attend. As I was traveling the six hours by train from Leipzig to Wroclaw, I was thinking the journey to be an insignificant austerity to have the pleasure of once again dancing for Lord Jagannatha, Lord of the universe.

One boy on the train was favorably impressed by seeing the devotees at Woodstock in Zary, his home town, and recalled eating the rice and halava. I invited him to take a Polish book I brought for the occasion, but he declined saying he did not believe in God. I told him the story of what Ravinda Svarupa Prabhu once said to someone who did not believe in God, “Tell me about the God you do not believe in.” When the man described God as an angry person who takes pleasure in making people burn in hell forever for a finite number of a offenses, Ravinda Svarupa Prabhu replied, “I don’t believe in that God either!”

As I was trying find the location of the Ratha site, I met another young man who had seen the devotees at Woodstock. Since then, he became vegetarian and has been vegetarian for five years. Jananivasa KCS, one of my translators from the tour, told me that in the art school his friend attends in Wroclaw, half of the students are vegetarian, a high percentage, especially for Poland.

Both the  parade and festival were held in Rynek Square, a large rectangular area, surrounded by many cafes with outdoor seating. Because it was the first time the city gave permission, they were restrictive, and the Ratha-yatra could go round within the square several times for a couple of hours but not go into streets, however, since the square seemed to be the most happening place in town, that was not so much of a problem. Many of my friends from the Polish summer Festival of India tour were there, playing their characteristic roles as MCs, kirtana leaders, Jagannath pujaris, translators, chefs, and organizers. The whole festival seemed like a beautiful way to begin a summer of festivals in Poland, and both the devotees and the observers were very happy.

I saw one lady in a café holding her fork motionless in midair as she watched Lord Jagannatha and His associates pass by with their cart.

A friend saw two Polish men staring at the cart and the devotees from a café, leaving their ever present beer mugs idle, at least for some time. Officials did not let the devotees distribute invitations or books, but I did not learn that till the end so distributed about a dozen Polish Hare Krishna mantra cards to people whose smiles, glances, and photography, made their interest obvious, and all but two of the people accepted them. A few observers danced along to the kirtana at the stage show afterward, but not as many as sometimes.

The Deities were made just for this festival, being painted for the first time just three days before, and Krishna Ksetra Prabhu did their installation ceremony on their Ratha cart. I praised him later for demonstrating Deity worship as well as writing books about it. Consistent behavior of the leaders strengthens the faith of the people in general. For me it is interesting to see the variety of jolly smiles on the different Jagannatha Deities, expressing the varying realizations of those blessed to be allowed be vehicles for their appearance. I thank Madhai Jivana Dasa for the picture.

Siva, a resident of Bangalore, visiting Wroclaw for a few days for a Hewlett Packard convention, was very happy to come across Lord Krishna’s devotees and their Ratha-yatra procession. He is a worshiper of Balaji, the famed Krishna Deity, of Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, and he stayed with us six hours for the whole Ratha-yatra and stage show. He said he had once heard in an ISKCON temple it is very important to chant the “Hare Krishna” part of the mantra first, and not “Hare Rama”, and he couldn’t understand why the devotee was so forceful about it as Krishna and Rama are the same. I answered the best I could and suggested the Krishna Ksetra Prabhu, who has studied Vaishnavism from the academic point of view as well as the devotional point of view may give a better answer. Krishna Ksetra Prabhu stressed the important principle is the Krishna and Rama are the same, so it does not really matter the order it is chanted in the mantra, and he told the story of how Lord Caitanya advised His devotee, Murari Gupta, the unalloyed Rama bhakta, to change his allegiance to Krishna. Not wanting to displease Lord Caitanya nor forsake Lord Rama, He stayed awake the whole night in a state of despair. When he revealed his mind to Lord Caitanya, Lord Caitanya accepted his devotion to Rama, saying it was just befitting him, as he was the incarnation of Hanuman. Siva was happy with Krishna Ksetra Prabhu’s answer, saying he could tell he was an elevated person by how he answered the questioned. We parted ways inviting him to the Wroclaw’s Sunday feast, and promising to keep in touch by email.

To see two albums of photos of the Wroclaw Ratha-yatra 2009, click on Album 1 and Album 2.

Sunday Feast in Leipzig’s Mariannen Park

I have heard that in the early history of ISKCON, sometimes the devotees would hold the Sunday feast in the park. In Leipzig, the devotees do that even now, on sunny days in the summer.

They bring an altar and Deities of Srila Prabhupada, Gaura Nitai, and Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra, and well as Giri-Govardhan. They do the bhajana, kirtana, and lecture in the park, and if the weather remains good, the feast as well. One benefit of this is that passersby get a chance to see what a Hare Krishna Sunday feast program is like, and become attracted. The day I was there, at least five new people came for the feast.

In the picture above, you can see one onlooker watching from behind the pujari.

Another benefit of being in the park is there is more room to dance!

I thank Bhakta Karl for the video and thank Bhaktin Sasha for the pictures. For more of Sasha's pictures of the Sunday feast in the park, go to:

Spiritual Encounters

David of Antwerp is doing a video on the spiritual search, and the local Hare Krishnas are featured in it. He explained that early in his life he was not interested in religion, but now it had become an important concern of his. In his search he has discovered one characteristic that religious people have which he appreciates. No matter what religion they are with they, be it Christianity, Buddhism, or Hare Krishna, they tend to keep their appointments, an admirable trait. Those who callously ignore promises to others frustrate him.

   A young man from Niagara Falls, Canada, noticed the Bhagavad-gita on display as I chanted in a square in Amsterdam. He told me he met the devotees in Antwerp and bought a small book because he didn’t have enough money for a big one. Now he came across Bhagavad-gita when he had enough money to buy it and so he did.

   A jolly middle-aged lady, who was accompanied by her sister of a similar age, did a few dance steps along with my singing. I gave them sweets and invitations which they accepted. They said they were Christians. After one of them commented on my happiness, we had a brief conversation in which I made the point that our real pleasure is to glorify God, which they also agreed with. They ended up praying for me and continuing in a happy mood.

   One young lady from Ukraine just enjoyed listening to our singing, and after ten minutes or so, we stopped and talked to her. She had enjoyed seeing the devotees in several places in Ukraine, such as Kiev and Dnepropotrovsk. I told her how I liked chanting in Ukraine, in both Kiev and Kharkov, because the people were so receptive, and how we have big festival every year near Simferopol, attended by four thousand people, and with three hours singing in the evening. Tomas introduced the Isopansad to her and she decided to buy it.

    One lady from Tennessee asked if she could take a picture of me. She was developing an interested in Hinduism and already had a copy of Bhagavad-gita. I mentioned how I appreciated from that tradition the idea that all creatures, even plants and animals of living souls, and deserving of respect. 

   On a flight from Cologne to Leipzig, the lady who had the seat in the same row as mine knew very little English. As she said she was from Cologne, I decided to show her the invitation to their temple’s Sunday feast, which tells a little about the philosophy on it. She asked if our group originated from India, and I said “Yes.” She took a book from her bag, and in the white space on the back of the back cover, she wrote down the details about our program and returned the invitation card to me. When leaving, I gave her my business card and asked her to write me if she attends the temple and to let me know what she thinks. Perhaps she will go and have a wonderful experience. The Deities are beautiful and the devotees are friendly, why not?

Insight from Lectures and Reading

Satsvarupa Dasa GoswamiYellow Submarine, #91: “There are so many valuable devotees who render their service to guru and Krishna without being heralded and given great attention. But Krishna loves them, and He has room for them in His heart. You don’t have to be a superstar to be appreciated by Radha and Krishna. Just render steady service, and you’ll be deeply appreciated.”

Kadamba Kanana Swami:

When we chant we feel something uplifting but not the full manifestation of what is there, Krishna Himself. So much mercy is there, but we do not all realize all of it. Vaishnavas meditate on all all-attractive, wonderful features of Krishna. When we serve Krishna, He reveals His attractiveness. Because Krishna manifests in the Deity, we can easily serve Him.

Many people are religious but not happy because they worship God out of fear. We do not spend our daily meditating on giving up bad qualities but rather meditate on positive activities in relationship with Krishna and find the bad qualities gradually disappear. Actually the greatest Vaishnavas, although thinking themselves fallen, glorify the greatness of the Lord’s mercy for He can easily deliver them. Bhaktivinoda Thakura talks about receiving an auspicious desire tree from our guru but not properly caring for it. By properly caring for it, we can make to bloom. Some punish themselves in the name of bhakti saying they have made the greatest blunder, and can never progress, but this is not a proper meditation. As we absorb ourselves more in Krishna’s service and pastimes, the more we experience the spiritual world.

Kadamba Kanana Swami asked his disciple to pose a question on the lecture and answer it himself, an interesting teaching strategy.

Dhananjaya Prabhu, Amsterdam temple president:

In Alalanatha, at a temple of Vishnu said to be millions of years old, there is an impression of Lord Caitanya in the floor, where the stone melted in ecstasy, when Lord Caitanya had offered prostrated obeisances before the Deity.

Narottama Dasa Thakura states that simply by accepting that the associates of Lord Caitanya are perfect, one can attain the service of Krishna in Vrindavana.

Shyamananda Pandita spoke Krishna-katha so nicely that atheists, agnostics, and blasphemers became moved by hearing his words, and became his followers.

Time is running out for all of us. Therefore, we should approach Krishna.

If we existed before this creation, and we will exist after the annihilation, that means that we have nothing to do with this cosmic manifestation.

Janmastami (LOK) Prabhu:

In “Suddha-bhakati,” Bhaktivinoda Thakura mentions observing Vaishnava holidays with care and attention. Similarly in “Guru Vadanam,” Narottama Dasa Thakura mentions one must bow down to the guru with great care and attention.

Direct smaranam is when we remember the form of the Lord, and indirect smaranam is when we remember Krishna as the taste of water.

In the beginning faith is the driving force in our spiritual life. When we reach the stage of ruci [taste], rati [attachment] is the driving force, and at prema [love] love itself is the driving force.

If we chant Hare Krishna, while trying to give up offenses, we will experience devotional service to be a happy experience.

Amita Krishna Prabhu:

Lord Caitanya is our only friend because He has the medicine to cure our disease.

The best service to help others is to give the holy name.

Lord Caitanya told Srivasa Thakura that by not disturbing my kirtana when your son died, you purchased Me, but still, next time you should tell Me.

Initially some people may reject the sankirtana, but if we persist, we will break through the resistance.

If your religion is for real, you can spread it by changing the people’s hearts. Other methods, such as politics, are bogus. 

If people come to understand that the Hare Krishna movement has relevant contributions to knowledge of religion, politics, medicine, and family relationships, they will appreciate us.

Mother Bhagavati:

When I prepare to give a lecture, I always listen to lectures by Srila Prabhupada’s disciples because they often illuminate aspects of the purport, which I completely miss.

Knowledge is to know the living entity, the material nature, and the Lord who controls the other two.

Chanting Hare Krishna offensively is like taking a shower with dirty water.

Q: How can we explain that Krishna’s quality of nirguna does not mean He has no qualities?

A: We have qualities and we emanate from Krishna, so Krishna must also have qualities.

Personal Reflections

I served out the Sunday feast in Amsterdam. After serving, I ate alone as the others were finished and on their way. It reminds me of long ago, before doing the book tables at the Alachua feast, when I would have the same experience—sitting, and eating alone. Now, as I did then, I pray to Krishna, who always remains when our other friends go, and who we can thus realize is our supreme friend—always ready to pay attention to us, as we pay attention to Him.

The temple president in Antwerp invited me to give a series of lectures on the holy name, and I did four, but after that I decided I would rather hear the realizations of my friends, Amita Krishna and Janmastami Prabhus. You have to be really advanced to be able to give so many lectures to the same people without hearing them speak as well. For me it seems artificial.

When I chant japa while traveling, I tend to worry about my different travel connections. Noticing that I began preaching to myself , “Listen to the Krishna’s names, and He will made your travel connections work out.” I think that helped both my chanting and my traveling to go smoother.

As I took the train from Leipzig to Wroclaw, I noticed in the all small East German towns I passed, the tallest building was always the church, reminding us of a day when religion was given more importance.


"If even a candāla [dog-eater], simply out of curiosity, sees the Lord on the cart, he becomes counted as one of the associates of Vishnu." (The Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 9)