Thursday, November 19, 2009

Travel Journal#5.19: South Africa

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 5, No. 19
By Krishna-kripa das 
(October 2009, part one)
 South Africa

(Sent from London on November 19, 2009)


Bhakti Yoga Societies
Harinama Story
Insights from Partha Sarathi Goswami, Kadamba Kanana Swami,
and Bhakti Nrsimha Swami

Where I Am and What I Am Doing

On my fiftieth birthday, September 30, I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, a new city, a new country and a new continent for me. Srila Prabhupada so much stresses using the end of life to absorb oneself in devotional service and sharing it with others, I considered doing harinama in such an exotic new venue as Pretoria to be Krishna’s special birthday present to me.

South Africa was a mixture of reassuring and disturbing elements. At the airport, all the signs were in English only, a refreshing difference from the last five months I was in Europe. Yet doing harinama in downtown Pretoria, I realized I was a member of a very small racial minority. It was like going to parts of Philadelphia or Atlanta. Also, all the properties were surrounded by walls that were topped with barbed wire, an eerie reminder that there was a criminal element one must protect oneself from. Although I’d never been to far off South Africa, in Pretoria I met a devotee who remembered me from Mayapur, and in Durban I met Laksminatha Prabhu, an Indradyumna Swami disciple who I knew as a cook on the Polish tour.

I visited our Pretoria temple, the two temples in the Durban area, Chatsworth and Phoenix, and two temples near Johannesburg, one in Soweto and one in Lenasia.

I have more details about the outreach programs in South Africa, especially to the natives of that land, and the lives of many sincere devotees there, which I am saving for a Back to Godhead article I am writing on the subject.


Vraja Vallabha Dasa, Pretoria temple president, leads a lively harinama party.

The devotees in Pretoria are mostly in their twenties and are like a family. They go out on harinama at least three days a week, and often do book distribution. Demographically the temple residents are mostly blacks and the congregational members mostly Indians, but it does not seem to present too much of a problem. Both groups love kirtana and the young black Africans especially engage their youthful energy in it, prompting Bhakti Nrsimha Swami to say, “Pretoria is the best temple in South Africa, not the biggest but the best.”

I enjoyed going on harinama with them. You would see employees behind the counters of their fast food places swaying in time to the music, or a hairdresser, styling tools in hand, moving to the sound. Occasionally some people would dance like they do to contemporary music.

The man in the striped shirt, decided he would dance with the devotees. The young lady devotee dancing nearby, Manu Kanya Devi Dasi, is the organizer of the harinama party.

The authorities are not restrictive. Only if we stayed in front of a store too long, were we considered a problem, as in many places.


The Chatsworth temple in Durban is truly beautiful, and it can be seen from a good distance. Traveling to and from Durban, and even changing money in Johannesburg, I met people who knew about our famous Durban temple. I learned of the four-day Ratha-yatra festival they have in April and developed a desire to go. One year they had thirteen sannyasis attend. It is said to be the biggest Ratha-yatra festival outside of India.

Kadamba Kanana Swami did many home programs at the homes of Indian devotees and members, who were very respectful, hospitable, and well organized.

Bhakti Yoga Societies

While in Durban I went to a couple college programs. They have a very active Bhakti Yoga Society in all the major cities in South Africa and in Durban they do six college programs a week, four during the day and two in the evenings. I attended one at an almost exclusively black school. I was surprised that 95% of the attendees were ladies. In explanation, devotees told me in that part of South Africa, the natives are Zulus, who do not like to bow down to anyone, and thus there were few males interested in attending. My friend, Dhruva, who traveled with me this summer, demonstrated one technique at the Czech Woodstock, which I tried in this class. You ask for a volunteer to come up to the front of the room. You ask the name of the person. Then you tell the audience to call out the person’s name with great affection, and you ask the person how it feels. The people always like it. Then you explain that God is also a person and has a similar psychology. He likes it when we chant His name, and we can easily please Him in this simple way. You give a gift to the volunteer to thank them for being brave enough to come up before the class. In this case, I gave the girl a garland.

We did lots of kirtana as the devotees who did that program before said the students had very short attention span. I alternated between speaking and chanting several times. In the final kirtana, a group of three young ladies sitting together near the back were swaying to the music. I spoke to them afterwards, telling them that we do this singing and dancing in our temple on Sunday, and giving them an invitation. One of them said she would come. Later Kadamba Kanana Swami told me that there are people in the schools that are seriously interested in the philosophy, and it would have been better to have a longer class, so I decided to do so at the next program.

The other school was one that Srila Prabhupada visited on his one and only trip to South Africa in autumn of 1975. The devotees say that room we have the weekly program in is the same room that Srila Prabhupada spoke in. When I arrived just about on time, three Indian students involved in the organization of the program had a lively kirtana going, accompanied by harmonium, mridanga, and karatalas. I chanted a little more and then began to speak on the day’s topic, “Unlocking Your True Potential.” In the course of my talk, I explained how spiritual pleasure is actually the highest pleasure, and our true potential. I gave different examples of empiric evidence that support the Vedic conception of the soul, like Ian Stevenson’s studies on past life memories and Michael Sabom’s study on out-of-body experiences. I also mentioned evidence showing our practice of bhakti has positive results. I told about the University of Florida student who found he never got angry in the afternoon on the days he ate the Hare Krishna lunch. And then there was the story of the Tirupati public schools, where the daily problem of two or three cases of injuries by one student to another disappeared, when the devotees served the students Krishna prasadam for lunch. I told of Dhira Govinda Prabhu’s thesis for a Ph.D. in social work, where he showed that chanting Hare Krishna reduces stress, depression, and anxiety. The people found it sufficiently interesting that eight competed to get the five sponsored copies we had of The Science of Self-Realization. Another ten or so took Life Comes from Life. The leaders told me that usually the students do not take so many books. This reminded me that Hanumat Presaka Swami once told me he distributes books by giving informative and entertaining lectures at colleges then encouraging people to take books at the end. Perhaps I should adopt that strategy. We had a short kirtana  to complete the program, while prasadam was being distributed. Three enthusiastic young black girls sang, smiled, and moved their heads and hands in time with the music. They looked so happy! One of them did not even take her prasadam until the kirtana was over! Now that is rare for a such a new devotee!

Haladhara Prabhu, a black devotee, who joined from a Bhakti Yoga Society program in Capetown and who plays a leadership in the Durban society, says that roughly 70% of the student attendees are Indian, 20% black, and 10% white. This year two of the students showed a serious interest in Krishna consciousness, one Indian and one black. While in South Africa, I talked to devotees of all three racial backgrounds who had developed an interest in Krishna consciousness as a result of such college outreach programs, and thus they play a key role in outreach that country.


Mahaprabhu Prabhu has been doing Food for Life practically since he met the devotees in the mid 1980s, serving thousands of school students prasadam each day. He is a very liberal person who makes arrangements to benefit others. His home in Soweto has a temple room which he fills up on Sunday at his feast program. I was surprised to see half the attendees were children, probably many who eat the prasadam he prepares for school lunches. We decided to do a harinama after the kirtana and before offering candles to Damodara, and everyone was very enthusiastic, especially the kids. We just went around the temple, down one street before it and up one street after. One man who had never come before joined the program from the harinama. It was a very nice experience.

Harinama Story

Nrsimhananda Prabhu, of the Bhaktivedanta College of Education and Culture, told me a harinama story from the early 1990s in Johannesburg. The devotees would go chanting twice a day, for half an hour before breakfast and then at 4:00 p.m. There was one man who every time would stand at the window of his apartment, a couple floors up, and curse at the devotees. For years he went on with his offensive yelling and screaming. But the amazingly result of that contact was that the man later became a devotee himself. Such is the power of the holy name and the association of devotees!

Insights from Lectures

Partha Sarathi Goswami:

[Partha Sarathi Goswami came to South Africa in 1975. He played a leading role in outreach to the Indian community with an ambitious tent program campaign in many of the Indian townships, especially in the Durban area. He was also instrumental in fund raising for the Durban temple and developing their elaborate Ratha-yatra festival. I attended his Vyasa-puja, which filled the entire Phoenix temple with devotees, many from an Indian background. He honored the disciples of his godbrothers on that occasion, giving them all garlands. I got the first one, as I was in front. He engaged a senior female disciple in garlanding the ladies.]

We should always follow the Vaishnava etiquette because it is pleasing to Lord Caitanya.

The legacy of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and Bhaktivinoda Thakura is one of love, giving without considering return. Their hearts are overflowing with prema (love of God). The nature of love is selfless. The letter of the law (sadhana regulations) is needed to attain the spirit of the law (prema).

“If you feel at all indebted to me, preach vigorously like me,” said Srila Prabhupada in a 1975 letter.

Please appreciate how fortunate you are and consider how you can reciprocate by doing some service to Srila Prabhupada’s mission and by doing your personal sadhana. By taking some role in the preaching mission, you will attain the legacy of love (prema).

Kadamba Kanana Swami:

On Kartika: When Krishna awoke He was hungry and his mother, Yasoda, forgot everything while breastfeeding Him. Then the pot of milk boiled over. Yasoda had seven or eight cows which she fed special grasses to make sweet milk, the yogurt from which she would churn into butter, because she was concerned that Krishna was stealing butter.

Although Yasoda had pure devotion for Krishna, she could not bind Him without special endeavor. Kartika means making a special endeavor to capture Krishna, not just to stay out of maya. It is practicing to be a pure devotee for a month so that we ultimately attain that stage. Each year we can take great leaps ahead in advancement during Kartika.

Q: How do we maintain our vows over time?

A: If our desire for Krishna is strong enough, then our determination is strong. If we have no faith in material desires then it is possible. Wherever we think we will find happiness, there we place our faith. If we have material desires, we are in maya (illusion), but if we have faith in our material desires then we are in even more maya.

The pastime of Ambarisa forgiving Durvasa Muni exhibits a mood rarely seen in this world. If we forgive we do so with great difficulty, and we do not forget the offense. Ambarisa treated Durvasa so nicely, he was completely satisfied.

Once on a japa walk, I passed a cemetery and saw that every grave had an American flag on it. I smiled—American from cradle to grave—an American corpse.

Srila Prabhupada did not have to think of a strategy to give Krishna consciousness to people. He knew if they contact the name of Krishna and the words of Krishna they would be purified. If there is any strategizing, it is how to bring them in contact with the name and words of Krishna.

Purity was the cause of Srila Prabhupada’s success, and indeed, only cause of success anywhere in the world. The purifying potency comes from the Bhagavatam and the holy name. The packaging may change but the contents of the package does not change. It we make the packaging too indirect, people may not take the time to unwrap the package.

The Kali play that devotees have performed for years in ISKCON is based on a play by Kavi-karnapura, an associate of Lord Caitanya, called Caitanya-candrodaya-nataka. Srila Prabhupada gave instructions to the early devotees to do a play based on ideas from this historical drama. Hindus know some of their culture, but not the real Hindu culture. Similarly the Africans only know traces of their African culture. The Muslims and the Christians have also lost their culture. We are trying to revive the original spiritual culture that was lost.

When Krishna appears, He does not come alone. He brings the spiritual world with Him. We also like to bring our paraphernalia when we travel. Krishna brings the spiritual world within the material world to show the maximum mercy. It is said that pastimes of Krishna in the material world are even more brilliant than in the spiritual world. When a jewel is on a black background, it appears more brilliant.

Material life is just like an elephant. Sometimes you are on top of the elephant, and sometimes the elephant is on top of you. The art is to climb back on top of the elephant again.

Chanting is like meeting with Krishna. When we are chanting, we can put a sign on our door, “Meeting with Krishna.” When we meet with Krishna we can set aside our preoccupation with the reactions of the material energy—the friction of our contact with the material.

Lord Brahma prayed to the dust of the lotus feet of the gopis for 60,000 years to understand their selfless love for Krishna.

Pray to Krishna, “I do not deserve to be before You, but somehow or other I am here. Please accept me.”

In this Kartika time we are trying to attain one-pointed focus on Krishna. We are talking about Vrindavana, and by this talking, we are going to Vrindavana. The question is, “What are we bringing with us?” The trouble is that we are in Vrindavana, but we are still thinking of South Africa. But we are only in transit in South Africa. Our activities are in relation with Krishna.

When I traveled overland to India, at the border I saw the customs office sitting at a desk under a tree, because of the hot sun. He asked why I came to India. I said I heard India was a very spiritual place. He smiled, and said, “Very good. You should go to Benares. You will go tonight. I will buy you a ticket.” And so he did.

The demigods see the Lord in relationship with this world because they are concerned with improving their condition in this life in this world. Lord Caitanya’s movement is different, and we are not concerned with improving our condition in this life but rather engaging Krishna’s property in His service and blessing the fallen conditioned souls. Even in mundane life, welfare workers are glorified.

Because everything is controlled by the Lord, He can give us factual protection. Now we live in a palatial temple. During festival time it is very easy to remember Krishna. But sometime, everything will be taken away, and we will see how much we remember Krishna.

When we are suffering, we are OK. When we are enjoying, we are in trouble. This is because our enjoying spirit causes us to forget Krishna, but when we are suffering, we call out to Krishna.

In the material world, we are all being cooked. Some are cooked faster, and some slower, some at a high temperature, and some at a lower temperature.

Birthdays: You are one year closer to death, and you get gifts to make you feel better about it.

Q: What about celebrating birthdays?

A: The appearance day of a Vaishnava is glorious. If we see a birthday as a hidden Vyasa-puja, that is good. I am all for placing a Vaishnava on a vyasasana and glorifying him.

[More from Kadamba Kanana Swami’s programs in South Africa in the next issue.]

Bhakti Nrsimha Swami:

When we understand that Krishna is unlimitedly powerful, we can take full shelter of Him. Ambarisa Maharaja had this realization and was not disturbed by the demon sent by Durvasa Muni.

Because we only believe in tangible things, it is difficult to have faith in God or even in the soul. 

By his surrender, Ambarisa became protected by Krishna. Similarly, the cowherd boys in Vraja were fearless of demons because they knew Krishna could kill any demon who appeared there.

Fear is a manifestation of the modes of nature nature. Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.7.7 states, “Simply by giving aural reception to this Vedic literature, the feeling for loving devotional service to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, sprouts up at once to extinguish the fire of lamentation, illusion and fearfulness.”

On the Damodara pastime: Krishna’s mischief does not affect just one house but the whole universe, so it is appropriate that Yasoda bind Him. But we should not bind our kids.

Krishna’s pastimes of stealing butter are eternal, but the demon killing pastimes are only occasional.

Krishna does not have to come to the gym to work out. He is the gym Himself.


atah sri krishna namadi

na bhaved grahyam indriyaih

sevonmukhe hi jihvadau

svayam eva sphuraty adah

“Therefore material senses cannot appreciate Krishna’s  holy name, form, qualities and pastimes. When a conditioned soul is awakened to Krishna consciousness and renders service by using his tongue to chant the Lord’s holy name and taste the remnants of the Lord’s food, the tongue is purified, and one gradually comes to understand who Krishna really is.” (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.2.234)