Monday, November 02, 2009

Travel Journal#5.18: Ukraine and Paris

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 5, No. 18
By Krishna-kripa das
(September 2009, part two)
Ukraine and Paris
(Sent from London on November 2, 2009)


Wisdom from Dhirasanta Prabhu
Harinama in Kharkov
A Day in Dnepropotrovsk
A Day in Lviv
Warning for Travelers to South Africa
 Unexpected Paris Visit

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

After the Ukraine festival, Dhruva Prabhu and I visited Kharkov, Dnepropotrovsk, and Lviv, in Ukraine, and stopped to see Adam in Katowice, Poland, enroute to Berlin, where Dhruva would return to America, and I would then go to South Africa. I was happy we could do harinamas in Kharkov and Lviv, and a house program in Lviv as well. By the mercy of Air France, I ended up staying in Paris for four days, enroute to South Africa.

Wisdom from Dhirasanta Prabhu

The process of Krishna consciousness is easy, but we come into Krishna consciousness with all our conditioning, our various designations, and imagining a variety of things about our identity. From Krishna’s point of view, we are either a devotee or a nondevotee. It looks like a there is a lot of similarity between the devotee and the nondevotee. We eat, they eat, we drink, they drink, we drive cars, they drive cars, but actually there is a world of difference between them.

The swan is a symbol of renunciation because it does not have a home but spends some time in one part of the lake and then later in another part of the lake. Also the swan is always cleaning itself and is very peaceful. It is very white. The crow is just the opposite. It is black and always making noise. It is very much attached to its abominable place. We have decided to give up the crow-like mentality and adopt the swanlike mentality.

We read the Vedas but only accept the cream, the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.

[Dhirasanta Prabhu has a novel program of bringing toys with him when he gives the Sunday feast lecture to keep the children engaged so they do not cause disturbance, as well as bringing props to illustrate different points.]

To illustrate the covered nature of the conditioned soul, he asked for a volunteer from the audience, who he dressed in a black poncho, handcuffs, a ball and chain, extra long nose, a golden wig [symbolizing false ego], glasses with eyeballs that spring out of them, a rope attached to the tongue, extra big ears, and a few others. At the end, as everyone chanted Hare Krishna, a young girl removed all the coverings, one by one.

Nondevotees talk about the past, which they glorify, and the future, which they hope will be better. But they do not talk about the present because nothing special is going on.

It takes a long time to break free from our conditioning. Even while chanting Hare Krishna, we are half a devotee and half a nondevotee.

Srila Prabhupada says that the first twelve years in Krishna consciousness, what we say and do does not have much effect, because we do not have much faith. Our philosophy is a little for Krishna, a little for me.

There is a secret for dealing with the mind. This is what you should do. Say to your mind, "Mind, come here. Sit down. I am going to practice Krishna consciousness for the next thirty years, and I do not care what you think. You have done nothing for me. I have just followed you around. Now I am doing something for me. Now get lost. Go away." After thirty years, call your mind back. And ask your mind, "How do you feel?" "I feel so peaceful. Remember how crazy I was. Now I even sometimes think of going back to Vrindavana and Mayapur. Sixteen rounds ki, jaya. Mangala arati ki, jaya!"

Because the Srimad-Bhagavatam deals with past history, devotees have difficulty placing their faith in it, and nondevotees have an even more difficult time.

Situations like this make us ask if I really want to be a devotee, not just once, but regularly every day. Do you have enough faith that if I become a devotee of Krishna that I will attain everything I need to be happy in this life? Actually it takes many years to develop our faith to this point.

Even if our faith is not mature but is only blind faith, still by acting with blind faith in Krishna consciousness, we will progress. We will get some get some realization by doing the right thing.

Because our friends, our relatives, and our own mind are always offering reasons with we should go back to our previous lifestyle, it is difficult to practice long enough to acquire mature faith.

We should acquire faith gradually, not too fast and not too slow. If we try to fast, we may burn out and retreat from the path. If we are too slow, we may not attain success in this life.

In 1973 a boy joined in Scotland who had problems with his mind to a much greater extent than others. When the devotees were returning from a festival, the driver fell asleep, and that one boy was killed in the accident but the other devotees were unharmed. He had received initiation one week before, and when we wrote Srila Prabhupada about the incident, rather than chastising us for driving at night or driving carelessly, he said that the boy would take a better body in the next life. There is one lady in the British yatra who is convinced she is the incarnation of that boy. She is very enthusiastic to go out on harinama and play the drum. She went to the house of the boy’s mother and could explain about every room in it and identify the boy’s own room. The timing of her birth and the death of the boy is consistent with the idea.

We get knowledge and we give knowledge, and the reward is that we get more realization of the knowledge, and then we have more conviction to continue this process and realize more and more.

There are devotees who think they do not have to come to the temple, do not have to come to class, do not have take maha-prasadam, etc. They are sitting in their homes and chanting Hare Krishna, but they are like birds that are gliding. They are going slower and slower. We do need these different devotional practices and devotional association to maintain our forward momentum.

Q: If I am ignorant, how do I know where I can get enlightment?
A: Krishna is the Supersoul. If we are sincere, Krishna will make sure the right person gives us instruction.

Harinama in Kharkov

I go to Kharkov every year. I can count on the devotees to have harinama every day I am there, and I am never disappointed. The day I got there, we chanted for three and a quarter hours at a park with a natural spring where people are steadily coming to bathe and fill up their water jugs. There are more crowded places, but the people who come there are more interested in self-improvement and less rushed. Different people were attracted, children, people who came to bathe, etc. I chanted at one point, and one young lady, who had come by the temple Sunday program before, danced with great pleasure. I later talked to her. She said her philosophy was "God is everywhere." I encouraged her to come to our programs. She obviously liked to dance, and I told her we dance every morning and evening for half an hour or an hour. "In the ancient Vedic writings it is described in the spiritual world every word is a song and every step is a dance, and we are practicing to go there. At least once a week, you should come and dance with us." One solid middle-aged man, who watched for quite a while and talked with a devotee, gave an apple as a donation before he left. One lady who was bathing and had come to the nama-hatta programs talked with one of the devotee ladies for over an hour. Just by coming out we had different positive interactions with the public.

One unique feature of Kharkov is that in addition to rolling out some carpet for the devotee musicians to sit on, the devotees also roll out some carpet for the passersby to sit down and hear the kirtana. Actually that makes a lot of sense, Lord Caitanya recommends that His holy name chanters be humble like the straw in the street, and a simple expression of humility is giving others a place to sit, in addition to oneself. The next day, on the Saturday harinama at a downtown park, at once point, I counted thirty people sitting down listening to our kirtana, many on the carpet the devotees had rolled out. At the same time another thirty stood and listened. About twenty-five devotees attended, and half the devotees danced. Once we even had nine devotee men dance at a point when there were only four women. It is rare the male dancers outnumber the females. Usually we had about six of each, the men on one side of the singers and instrumentalists, and the women on the other side. They have one really good singer and a good mrdanga player who form the core of party. In addition to the Friday and Saturday evening harinamas, they do several weekdays on the sidewalk before the university.

A Day in Dnepropotrovsk

In Kharkov we learned that one of the more prominent temples in Ukraine, the one at Dnepropotrovsk was just three hours away. Dhruva Prabhu, who was traveling with me, had a strong desire to go there. I was doubtful I could convince them to do a harinama there, while I was sure we would do harinama in Kharkov, so I was not so eager to go, but I agreed to go away. Both Dhruva and I knew many people from the Polish Festival tour who are based there, and it was nice to see them. Dhirasanta Prabhu, who was a presenter at the Ukraine festival, gave some nice classes while we were there. During my visit, I developed a desire to go to the Dnepropotrovsk Ratha-yatra next year which occurs a week before the Ukraine festival. Then after the Ratha-yatra I could go to Kharkov and do harinama for a few days before the festival. Sounds like a plan!

A Day in Lviv

Although I crossed the Polish/Ukrainian border about seven times near the Ukrainian city, Lviv (Lvov in Russian and English), I never interacted with the Hare Krishna devotees there. This year, my friend Maksim, a Lviv resident, who was once Dhanesvara Prabhu’s translator for quite awhile, invited me to do a home program there, on my way back to Poland. The Ukrainian devotees have a very good service attitude toward guests. Vijaya Prabhu, who did driving for us, even drove us an hour and a half to the Ukraine border as we were leaving.

In the afternoon about seven devotees did harinama for an hour and a half or so in a park near a university. It was a nice location with a good amount of people. One older devotee lady enthusiastically distributed prasadam the whole time. One Greek Orthodox priest who taught religion in a military academy saw us and invited the devotees to speak about their religion
in his class at a future date.

After harinama we had some kirtana in the very large temple room of one devotee in Lviv. One new disciple of Niranjana Swami, who had cancer and couldn’t come to the Ukraine festival, needed someone to give her the beads he chanted on, and accept her vows, on behalf of her guru. I did a lecture on the importance of initiation, avoiding the ten offenses (which I explained), and remembering Krishna at the end of life. Maksim translated. In the talk, I mentioned I had great faith in Niranjana Swami, as he prayed to Krishna that I might stay in the New York temple thirty years ago when I first visited and thus I had ended up doing so. Maybe ten or twelve devotees were there. We then had Gaura arati, a half-hour Gita class, and light prasadam. It was a happy occasion.

I never had programs with the Lviv devotees before, but it was such a nice experience from now on I plan to do it whenever I come through.

Warning for Travelers to South Africa

As I prepared to board my flight from Paris to Johannesburg, the staff of Air France refused to allow me on the plane, as I did not have an entire blank page in my passport for my South African visa, a regulation I had not encountered ever before. They claimed that South African immigration agents would send me back to France, and the airline did not want to risk that. I suggested agents might put the South African visa on the inside back cover of the passport or on some of the inside pages that had nonessential writing on it, but they did not want to risk it. Thus at 11:30 p.m., I was stuck in De Gaulle International Airport near Paris, and I missed the Soweto Ratha-yatra, one of my main reasons for going to South Africa. I used the Internet to find the location of our new temple in France which had opened since my May visit there, and I slept behind a counter for a couple of hours, as the trains to Paris did not run till morning. As it was Friday night flight, I had to wait until Monday to get twenty-four complimentary additional visa pages added to my passport at the American Embassy in Paris. When I returned to the airport Monday afternoon, the ticket agent said because I did not use the Friday evening flight, my unchangeable ticket was thus altered and therefore invalid and I would have to buy I new one. That day and the following day, I asked four ticket agents and two supervisors at two ticket offices to adjust my ticket, and finally one supervisor who could identify with my plight amended my ticket for later that day. I gave a maha-prasadam sandesa to her and a mantra card to her employee. It was really Krishna’s mercy as I had already given up hope of getting the flight and was just stopping by the lost and found to look for the notepad I left in the airport the previous day when I noticed the second ticket office and ultimately met with success. And so I warn you from my personal experience. Do not try to go to South Africa without an entire blank visa page in your passport, or you may find yourself in a similar jam.

Unexpected Paris Visit

New Paris Hare Krishna Temple

Although I had not planned to visit Paris, because I know the devotees there, and some of them like to do harinama, it worked out OK. Gadadhara Priya Prabhu, the main harinama leader, was experimenting with chanting on the metros in Brussels and did not return for two or three days. Somehow or other I was able to gather a seven-person party, with devotees from India, Mexico, and Italy, as well as France, and we chanted at a local park before the Sunday feast. There was playground in the park, and the kids were fascinated to see our party. The two devotees ladies danced with three of the kids for a while. The community surrounding the temple is more culturally mixed and the devotees are not viewed with as much suspicion as at their previous location. The final day, just before leaving for the airport, since Gadadhara Priya had returned we could do harinama on the metros (metroyoga) as we usually do in Paris, and it was nice as always. Omkaranatha Prabhu, visiting from Czech Republic, kindly took some pictures.

Gadadhara Priya Prabhu on harmonium, Krishna-kripa das on karatalas, and Bhakta Raul on mridanga drum chant on train from temple to downtown Paris.

Gadadhara Priya Prabhu on harmonium, Krishna-kripa das on mridanga drum, Bhakta Raul on karatalas, and Bhaktin Sara of Italy, who distributes prasadam, flyers, and books, chant in the streets of downtown Paris.


patrapatra-vicara nahi, nahi sthanasthana
yei yanha paya, tanha kare prema-dana

In distributing love of Godhead, Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates did not consider who was a fit candidate and who was not, nor where such distribution should or should not take place. They made no conditions. Wherever they got the opportunity, the members of the PaƱca-tattva distributed love of Godhead (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila 7.23).