Monday, June 01, 2009

Travel Journal#5.9a: Antwerp, Munich, Switzerland

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 5, No. 9a
By Krishna-kripa das
(May 2009, part one, section a)
Antwerp, Munich, Zurich, Bern, and Langenthal
(Sent from Antwerp, Belgium, on 6/1/09)

Spiritual Encounters
Harinamas in Munich and Switzerland
Personal Reflection
Insights from Sacinandana Swami, Kadamba Kanana Swami, and Navina Nirada Prabhu

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

After Queen’s Day, we did harinama with five devotees headed by Yadunandana Swami in a square in Antwerp, Belgium, on two consecutive days. Then I returned to Amsterdam, where Dhananjaya Prabhu engaged me in giving the Sunday lecture on the “lamp in a windless place” verse in Bhagavad-gita to their packed little temple. Earlier I went out on harinama by myself on that gray day with sporadic rain. Eager to attend a public sankirtana program with Sacinandana Swami in Munich and the Nrsimha festival at Simachalam, I spent an hour finding a flight for just 55 euros from Brussels on Brussels Airlines for the following day. After a great five-hour harinama in Munich, we went to Simhachalam for the Nrsimha festival which I describe in a separate issue. Kadambda Kanana Swami suggested I go to Zurich, and I got a ride there with devotees from the festival. I did harinamas there and in Bern and Langenthal while on my first trip to Switzerland as a devotee, which turned out to be a very pleasant experience because of the friendliness of the devotees.

Spiritual Encounters

I talked to one photography student who asked permission to photograph our party in Antwerp, Belgium, and proceed to take many pictures. When I heard his assignment was to take pictures that give evidence of devotion, I smiled thinking how nicely Krishna arranged for him to stumble across the harinama party that day. He was excited as his other pictures were of the local Catholics, and he was glad to include other traditions as well.

I met three families from Nepal who had moved to Antwerp, one at the temple and one on each harinama. So many encounters with people from a single country was a surprise for me.

I also talked to a local Belgian who has been attending different religious services, including Hare Krishna ones, for years. The man likes Krishna consciousness because the programs include a spiritual service, socializing, and good food, while others often leave one with unfulfilled needs. As we talked, he mentioned that each Belgian province maintains one psychiatrist specifically assigned to counsel priests whose minds are troubling them, often with feelings of loneliness. Later I mentioned that to Lokanath Swami who used it in Srimad-Bhagavatam class as an example of the degradation of the age. Formerly, when the varnasrama social system was functioning, the religious leaders would give counsel to the governmental leaders, but now the government is making arrangements to counsel the religious leaders because of their lack of realization.

Harinama in Munich

Sacinandana Swami chants for Four Hours in Munich

The devotees set up a stage and a couple booths at Karlsplatz, a fairly crowded downtown square.

During most of the program, at least thirty and sometimes as many as seventy people stood, watching with curiosity, about half of them taking invitations. Some of the people bought books, danced with us, and took some Ekadasi prasadam. There was also face painting and hand painting. When the devotees dance, Sacinandana Swami observed, the people in general are more inclined to stay.

Between songs Sacinandana Swami would speak, and during the lecture the crowd would even increase. The weather was cold and windy, but despite that, many people participated. The devotees in Munich, headed by Doyal Gauranga Prabhu, have such programs every two weeks. Come sometime and add your enthusiasm.
[For more pictures of Sacinandana Swami in Munich, click here.]

Harinama in Switzerland

Of the seven days, I spent Switzerland, I did harinama on six of them, twice going out alone. In Zurich, a harinama counts as a demonstration and requires special permission, but it is possible to sit down by the lake, a favorite place for people to take a stroll, and to chant bhajanas there. I went with temple president Krishna Prema Rupa Prabhu and two book distributors, Bhaktas Dirk and Martin. Krishna tested our determination by making it rain just as we began to set up. I suggested that we chant in the van for fifteen minutes and see how the weather looked. The storm came and left, and the so we got out and chanted for two hours. One man obviously liked us as he spent practically the whole time nearby. A middle-aged woman looked at us with a big smile for sometime and one of the sankirtana devotees in our party sold her a Science of Self-Realization. Then she sat on a nearby bench to continue to listen.

One little girl and her grandmother stopped for quite a while. The grandmother asked the girl if she wanted to go several times, but she just wanted to stay and watch and listen. She told a devotee that the whole day the girl had been wanting to return to her mother, but now she just wanted to stay and listen to the Krishna music. The grandmother gave the girl a 10 Swiss franc ($9) donation to give us.

Devotees based in Langenthal chant in Bern every Wednesday and have a public program at Good Day, a small storefront Indian import shop owned by a friend of the devotees. Bern is a center for alternative people in Switzerland. Bern’s regulation is that two musicians can play for half an hour at a single spot but then must move on. We had five persons for an hour at a time before we changed locations but it was not a problem. At one point a little boy and his mother watched for sometime, and Dirk, who is number three among the European book distributors, talked to the mother. Apparently she had decided the night before that she wanted to get into the philosophy of yoga and even made a prayer about it. Thus she was very happy to meet the devotees, and bought two books.

At the evening program, there were a couple young devotee ladies who love to sing. One of them, Radha Govinda Dasi, has a program every Friday there in Bern, and she invited me to give the lecture. I stayed overnight in Bern with the book distributors from Zurich and the prasadam distributors from Langenthal and did harinama by myself for three hours the next day. I passed out a few invitations and collected 15 Swiss francs, but I did not get a chance to talk with anyone. The devotee we stayed with invited me to move there and do harinama fulltime. At this point, I am not thinking of sticking in one place, and if I did, it would not be in a cold climate!

Radha Govinda’s attendees had some commitment to spiritual life, and to kirtana, which they all seemed rather absorbed in. One young man sang the Gaura arati song playing a guitar. She gets from three to fifteen people at her program each Friday.

We had a half hour harinama in Langenthal (Long Valley), about 40 km from Bern, where the devotees bought a sizeable building for a temple. Bhaktin Sobina, the other lady who likes to sing, did a good job playing my small accordion.

Sunday is lively in Zurich temple with two Sunday feast programs, one for the Tamil community, mostly refugees from Sri Lanka, and another for the Swiss, a japa class, an evening arati and two hours of bhajanas often by Madhava, a talented and popular Vaishnava youth with a friendly and encouraging disposition.

Personal Reflection

One recurrent theme in different lectures I heard recently is that we should find some way we can contribute to Srila Prabhupada’s movement. I proposed to Kadamba Kanana Swami that I try to serve by traveling and endeavoring to increase the faith of the devotees, especially in the holy name and in Srila Prabhupada’s teachings in general. Kadamba Kanana Swami liked the idea. He said that with the fall of many gurus in the 1980s, there was general lack of faith among the devotees, and that the current problems existing in many temples were symptoms of the lack of faith. He cited The Nectar of Devotion as differentiating between the three classes of devotees based on degrees of faith, and that advanced devotees were simply those with more faith. I reflected that recently I had given three classes on the holy name, with many excellent quotes by the previous acaryas, and that lectures like that can help to build faith. I also have encountered many examples from my travels showing the power of Krishna prasadam and the holy name. It is an exciting direction for me, and I attribute the breakthrough in finding a place in our society due to the association of Kadamba Kanana Swami, a very serious, practical, and compassionate devotee. He is like my guru for European preaching, and my activities here are going on under his direction. It is always useful to work under the direction of an authority. By Krishna’s grace, my encounter with him in Zurich is the third time in my three and a half week stay in Europe thus far. Last year our paths crossed five times during the six months I spent in Europe.

Insight from Lectures

Sacinananda Swami:

Caitanya Mahaprabhu blessed new people, “Krishna matir astu. [May you become Krishna consciousness.] He blessed experienced devotees , “Krishna matir rahu. [May you remain Krishna consciousness].

The heart of a Vaishnava is not just a pump but a resting place for Govinda.

Srila Prabhupada said that some of his followers had met Lord Caitanya when the Lord was personally present.

Prabhupada told a group of lawyers, “You have to understand that everything belongs to Krishna and nothing belongs any of us.” How do we understand that nothing belongs to us? Because we cannot take anything with us.

To illustrate this point, Sacinandana Swami told the story of the tailor and the millionaire. A dying tailor gives his son a needle and whispers something in his ear when he leaves this world. When it came time for the millionaire to also leave this world, the tailor’s son approached him, saying my father left this world just last year. He wanted you to take his favorite needle with you and give it to him. The millionaire said, “Yes, of course.” Then he began to reflect on how he could carry the needle with him to the other side of death. After sometime it suddenly occurred to him, “Nobody takes anything with him.” He asked a sadhu if there is anything that we can take with us to the next world. The sadhu said, “Your actions.” Thus with his few remaining days he performed many good deeds with his wealth and left this world a very satisfied man. The result of our actions is all we can take with us. So if we really want to become rich, we must perform many nice devotional activities now.

Kadamba Kanana Swami:

Regarding the guru:

Should the spiritual master be just obeyed or be really satisfied in the heart? To catch his heart is something that is complete different from mere obedience. We have to do something more. And the same is true with Krishna. Krishna does not give the same with each one, but according to His mood. We have to individually satisfy the guru. It may not be enough to just to the standard duties. The guru may want more from us. The attitude of the gopis and sakhas are all based on service, dasyam. Kinkara means personal servant of guru or Krishna. This means you do what he likes. Generally you offer anything vegetarian to Krishna, but practically to please Krishna we offer him certain foods at certain times. The mentality to personally serve is higher mentality. If you serve the guru in this way, you will please Krishna.

Prabhupada’s guru told him to preach in English. Prabhupada understood he should actually go the West, and furthermore, he preached, through translators, in many, many other languages, all beyond the guru’s original order.

Srila Prabhupada said to a disciple, “I am waiting six hundred lives for you to become really sincere.”

Some disciples, erroneously do not keep their commitments to their guru, thinking after so many years and life changes, they are not applicable. If we let the guru’s instructions remain in our heart, we will be attracted back to the path of devotion. The guru is eternal, past, present, and future, and so it is not that we select a guru, but Krishna reveals our guru. The guru remembers his commitment to deliver his disciples, although serving Krishna intimately back in the spiritual world. He is still personally working in the life of his disciples. Prabhupada, through his murti and books, is still present.

Kadamba Kanana Swami:

It is more difficult to fix the mind on the holy name than to pick a bar of soap that slips out of hand in the shower. Many people propose different techniques, but my realization is that the more we hear about Krishna, the more we will feel like chanting his holy name.

Krishna is very pleasant in his dealings, even in his chastisement of Kaliya, he spoke so politely to him.

If we hear of the qualities of Krishna, we become attracted to Him, and then we will want chant his name.

How long can you hear? Therefore have to become creative. Sometimes Lord Caitanya and associates would have spontaneous plays, enacting Krishna’s pastimes. Culture is necessary.

We make Krishna consciousness difficult for us by doing everything in the same way every day. Jagannatha has sixty festivals a year. That is more than once a week.

Krishna consciousness is a cultural conquest.

We talk about how all results of spiritual activities increase our spiritual bank account. This is based on Krishna’s statement nehabikrama-naso sti . . . In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Bg. 2.40) But I always wondered about the interest. Then I read in The Nectar of Devotion that Krishna said, “When I was away from Draupadi, she cried with the words, ‘He Govinda!’ This call for Me has put Me in her debt, and that indebtedness is gradually increasing in My heart!” Then I thought, “Eureka! That’s the interest!” Now the question is, how much is the interest? The answer is infinite. That is because Krishna is eternal. Therefore, Krishna consciousness is the best investment, and therefore I am eager to invest. How about you?

How long can you maintain if Krishna consciousness is unnatural? With this large temple facility we can do so many things, dramas, retreats, etc. Our problem is that the Deity is transcendental, Srila Prabhupada is transcendental, the temple is transcendental, but unfortunately I am not transcendental, so I cannot appreciate! We have to find a situation in which we feel satisfied.

Personal darshan with Kadamba Kanana Swami:

Fifty years old means time to invest in the next life. Not this one. That is what vanaprastha life is all about. That makes perfect sense. There is no sense in getting married at fifty. That means you are still investing in this life.

Kadamba Kanana Swami in Zurich:

Q: If I want to invite to someone to my home, is there a good way to introduce Krishna consciousness to them?
A: Giving them
is a good thing. Coming to a temple is a big thing for some person, but perhaps they will go to a restaurant. Sometimes, if someone is interested in you, they will become interested in Krishna consciousness because you are. Pictures in your home may be attractive. That we cannot do this and that, but we are still happy, that generates inquiry. 

Q: A sannyasi, according to Srimad-Bhagavatam, stays at a householder for long enough to milk a cow. In ISKCON a sannyasi might rather read the Bhagavatam but some grhasthas are inviting him for pizza. What about this?
A: According to the
the sannyasis have no such social obiligations, although due to affection for the householders, they may fulfill their desires in pursuit of developing spiritual relationships. It is important that we give sannyasis the time to really be sannyasis and not entangled in management or social obligations.

Navina Nirada Prabhu:

I have a friend who is distributes books and does congregational preaching in Italy. He had been corresponding for years with one industrialist who once took some books. After some time the businessman showed some interest in inquiring about spiritual life. The devotee asked what induced him to become more interested. The man said that all the letters the devotee wrote were signed “Your servant,” and nobody else signs letters like that.


etam sa asthaya paratma-nistham
adhyasitam purvatamair maharsibhih
aham tarisyami duranta-param
tamo mukundanghri-niseveayaiva

“I shall cross over the insurmountable ocean of nescience by being firmly fixed in the service of the lotus feet of Krishna. This was approved by the previous acaryas, who were fixed in firm devotion to the Lord, Paramatma, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.23.57)