Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Travel Journal#6.5: Chanting In North Florida Cities

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 6, No. 5
By Krishna-kripa das
(March 2010, part one)
Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Saint Augustine

(Sent from Lewes, Delaware, USA, on April 13, 2010)


Chanting at Florida State University (Tallahassee)

Chanting at University of North Florida (Jacksonville)

Chanting in Saint Augustine

A Prabhupada Story

Insights from Hridayananda Goswami, Niranjana Swami,
and Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu

Where I Am and What I’m Doing

I promised Kalakantha Prabhu that I would assist in his center in Gainesville for the month of February, and on the last day of that month, I realized I should continue my traveling program. I promised the GBC of Tallahassee I would spend some time there, and the best time would be when my friend Frank would be there, which in March was just its first week. Thus at 5:00 a.m. on March 1, I went with Frank to Tallahassee. There I daily did morning and evening programs and three hours of chanting on the campus, and I chanted at a street festival called First Friday, and read devotional poetry at an open mic night at Amen Ra.

The state universities in North Florida all have their spring breaks at the same time, except for University of North Florida which is the next week, so as I did last year, I decided to chant there during the Gainesville and Tallahassee spring breaks. I met a lot of positive students and a friendly professor on the campus, and I describe that wonderful experience below.

We planned to go to the Tallahassee Rainbow Gathering to distribute prasadam and sing, but on the night before we checked the directions and found that because it is on the other side of Apalachicola Park that it would take four hours to get there! We decided instead to go chanting at Saint Augustine, and some of us sang there for four and a half hours.

Chanting at Florida State University (Tallahassee)

Sarah, who interviewed me at our Gaura Purnima festival in Alachua the day before for her documentary on kirtana, told me she got a couple nice additional interviews and enjoyed the festival.

Codey saw us at the Rainbow Gathering in Tallahassee and was hoping we were coming again.

Manda became vegetarian for thirteen years. As a young girl in the summers she would take care of a calf at a relative’s farm in Wisconsin. One day her relatives’ feed her meat from the calf, which they had butchered without telling her. When she found out she became vegetarian.

Basil, a Quaker girl, tells me they sing spiritual songs for half an hour before the Tallahassee Quaker meeting, which is not very common. I had her sing some songs as I was brought up as a Quaker and knew some. She is vegetarian and did not know about our Hare Krishna lunch program on campus, so I told her. She was excited about it as vegetarian options on the campus are slim.

Cittesh, a Nepali boy said he would come to the Sunday program when he heard we worship Krishna and study Bhagavad-gita.

Pat, who works in the administration, came by to get another carob coconut sweet, liking the first one from a previous day. I got her email to send her the recipe.

Grace remembered us from the Ocala Rainbow Gathering last month. She is majoring in psychology, and explained to her that Bhagavad-gita has a lot to say about psychology. She ultimately bought aPerfection of Yoga.

Stan who attends our programs in Tallahassee suggested I read my poetry at an Afro-American book store, which has open mike night on Thursday. He even gave me $7 for the cover charge. I rewrote one of the poems to make it appreciated by a more general theistic audience. Some others performing there were experienced poets and musicians, but others had never read in public. Some girls, also from Gainesville, later said they liked my reading. The person who drove me home saw my harmonium and asked me to play next time, so perhaps I will. I did lots of my personal writing while waiting to do my reading, but I also heard some of the poems. Here are some lines with spiritual messages.

“Eternal things didn’t reach me much. I was too selfish.”

“Success is not measured by how many material possessions you have . . . , but whether your words are being heard.”

“God and fear cannot reside in the same place.”

“The choices you make determine whether you live in heaven or hell.”

Chanting at the First Friday, while Daru Brahma Prabhu distributes dinner, was especially inspiring because of a new instrumentalist. It was the Friday before spring break, and fewer students were around. One older man, who had brought his djembe to play in the drum circle, decided since there was no drum circle, that he would play with us. He played for an hour and a half. He explained that he had known about the Krishnas from when he had attended the Mantra Rock Dance in the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco back in 1967. This was a rock concert arranged by the devotees to raise money for the new Radha Krishna temple there, and Srila Prabhupada appeared at it.

Chanting at University of North Florida (Jacksonville)

I lived in Bhakta Frank’s condominium, a short walk and 25 minutes by bus from the campus at University of North Florida in Jacksonville. For four weekdays I chanted about three hours on the campus. In Tallahassee, I found some people were allergic to coconut and would not take my sweets, so in Jacksonville I made peanut butter sweets. When I found people were allergic to those also, I made some more coconut sweets to give them a choice.

The most amazing experience I had was one young man watched me playing for about half an hour, sometimes on a nearby bench, and then to get even closer, sitting on the sidewalk. Then he came up to me and asked if he could bring his class to listen to me play. I said it was quite alright, although I was surprised because he appeared to be the age of a student and not a teacher. He introduced himself as Nick, and said he was professor of music and philosophy. I explained briefly about the harmonium and played an attractive tune of Bada Hari Prabhu’s. One student knew how to play the keyboards, and I showed him a simple Hare Krishna tune that he picked up immediately. I sang and danced as the student played. The professor asked me some questions and had his kids ask me some questions. I lamented that I did not have some expert mrdanga and kalatala players to give a more complete and exciting presentation. I had a couple of friends who said they would come on Wednesday and who knew the drum, so I invited the class to come again which they did, although neither of my mrdanga friends were able to come. The second time, I explained about mantras as linking sound and philosophy. By chanting the mantras, which were sung, one could get realization of spiritual philosophy, so in ancient Vedic understanding there was a connection between music and philosophy. I told Professor Nick as much as I knew about ragas, the Vedic science of sound, but he wanted more. Tim told me there is a interview with Aindra Prabhu talking about them, and I found it posted on Danish Krishna web site krishna-online.dk. To download it, click here: Aindra Prabhu Interview. So I passed it on to Professor Nick.

I met some nice students as well. Samson played guitar along with me as I sang. Briana, who had been to programs where devotees sang and distributed spiritual food, filled up my water bottle on three occasions. On the fourth day, despite the pouring rain, Tim, Matt, and Vrindavan came all the way from Gainesville to chant with me. Krishna really reciprocated with us for chanting despite the conditions. Tipped off to the bad weather on the previous day, I got permission to chant in a protected area near the Student Union, in case we needed it, and we ended up playing there, ten feet from the campus bookstore for three and a half hours, without being harassed. I emailed all the people whose addresses I had collected so far that week about our new location on the last day. One girl, receiving an email via cell phone during a class with the subject heading “Krishna Band Plays at Student Union,” rushed to the Union after her class, hoping we would still be playing. When she was a kid in Colombia, her mom, who was into yoga and meditation, would take her to a Krishna temple to play on the weekends, and she had promised she would chant with me earlier in the week. She listened to our kirtana for a whole hour. I could see two hippy-like girls, moving in time to our beat even as they approached our blanket. They sat down and sang, clapped, smiled, and moved their bodies in time with the music for half an hour. They only left because it was time for their next class. They suggested we chant at a rural venue in Georgia that Tim and Vrindavan knew about. One guy who had a cynical attitude about life and human nature, took the peanut butter sweets three days in a row, and put his email on my list the final day to my surprise. Of the four schools whose campuses I have chanted at, Orlando (UCF), Gainesville (UF), Tallahassee (FSU), and Jacksonville (JAX), I always meet the nicest people at Jacksonville. Of course, in Gainesville, there are many favorable people, but that is largely because the devotees have been feeding them prasadam for years. In Jacksonville, however, even without feeding them, the students have some attraction to the chanting and curiosity about our ideas. Last year during the University of Florida spring break, we chanted two days in Jacksonville at University of North Florida, but this year we did four.

Chanting in Saint Augustine

Bhakta Tim and I, and about ten friends decided to chant at Saint Augustine the final Sunday of spring break. I was surprised that Vrindavan, usually a mild mannered, shy girl, was so enthusiastic she invited two of her friends to come. We chanted at the Castillo De San Marcos National Monument for two and a half hours. When the police saw me handing out a flyer, they gave me a warning. One can hand out only approved items, and the office granting approval was closed on Sunday. One Columbian man smiled as he watched our chanting for ten minutes. He went to our Krishna Lunch at the University of Florida in Gainesville in the 1980s when getting his undergraduate degree in biology. Later he received a medical degree in his country, and he now practices medicine in Tennessee. He has some devotee friends in Spain. Another couple from Columbia, also enjoyed the chanting for some time. The man was familiar enough with the devotees that he knew the food we have offered is called prasadam.

Some of us wanted to find something to eat, but Marco, Sophia, and I continued chanting, this time in the park at the end of St. George’s Street, for another two hours. Some high school aged kids sat down and listened for fifteen minutes. I know a five-part harmonium Hare Krishna tune with chords, and I taught Marco how to play it on his guitar, while I played harmonium, and Sophia played thekaratalas. It was a little dynamic and some people stopped to take pictures of us. We invited everyone we talked with to the Ratha-yatra in St. Augustine which was scheduled for the next weekend. It was inspiring to be chanting in another place with a very spontaneously formed kirtana party. I feel thankful to all the devotees who played a role in it.

A Prabhupada Story

I like to hear about Srila Prabhupada guiding people in their lives in different ways, because it makes us appreciate that he is still presently looking after us. At the Ukraine festival, Candramauli Swami, gave me a lead on this interesting story by Nidra Dasi, a longtime book distributor in Denver.

Nidra Dasi writes, “I met my husband at the airport in Denver while distributing books. He approached me because he had been collecting Srila Prabhupada’s books for a number of years. I was trying to distribute a ninth canto Srimad-Bhagavatam to him; he told me that he already had that book. He was dressed like a businessman, so I assumed that he must have already received a Bhagavad-gitaand was thinking that this was the same book (because most people do that, they insist that they already have the book, but it is the Gita that they have, not the Bhagavatam). Much to my amazement, he reached for his wallet, took out a piece of paper, unfolded it and showed me a list of all of the Bhagavatams and CCs that he already had and those that he was missing and pointed to the eighth canto, part two and said that this was one of the missing volumes that he was looking for.? I just happened to have my own personal copy of 8.2 with me (because I was reading that during break time), so I gave him my own copy as a gift, but he insisted that I take a donation for the book. The funny thing was that he thought that the Hare Krishnas were no longer active and this led to a nice conversation about Srila Prabhupada. At this point we talked about which volunes he still needed to complete his set and decided to write and arrange for the volumes to be sent in the mail. Over the course of the next year, I was able to help him complete his set of books as well as send gifts to him and his family. Due to the nature of his business, he was sent to Colorado a few times that year, and we would meet at Govinda’s buffet and discuss Krishna conscious philosophy and topics. At this point, neither of us were interested in marriage. Our relationship was simply based on exchanging Krishna consciousness and discussions about Srila Prabhupada.

“During the next year on one of his two visits, he proposed that we should consider getting married, but I totally rejected it. I explained to him my situation as a renunciate and let it go at that. Then he said before he left that I would change my mind, and that he would ask me again next year. I thought that this was crazy that he insisted in such a way as if he knew the future! The third year, he proposed marriage again, and again I refused. But I went through a transformation in my heart because I had a dream or “visit” of Srila Prabhupada telling me to get married! That was a shock because he was asking me to renounce being renounced! It was amazing that my husband at that time was so confident that we were going to get married (when I was a determined renunciate). It was not until after we were married that he told me that Srila Prabhupada had also “visited” him and told him to marry me at which time he also thought that it was crazy, but he felt he should follow the order of Srila Prabhupada. Now twenty years later we are still going on as a team to help spread Krsna consciousness, based on the special transcendental way that Srila Prabhupada communicated to both of us at different times to marry and serve together.

“Sometimes I hesitate to explain this because some take it in a wrong way about how Srila Prabhupada communicated this to us. Some may see it as speculation, just the mind alone dictating, or some cheap bogus sentiments like an hallucination or something. But, as some Vaishnavas say, “on the pretext of a dream” the guru appeared and gave instructions. So we do not feel that we are special and concocted this mystical arrangement. Rather we know that Srila Prabhupada is special and can communicate as he likes since Krishna empowers him to talk with anyone that Krishna wants him to, including the Christian lady at Srila Prahupada’s Palace of Gold in New Vrndavana who was told by Srila Prahupada to take his shoes! We are just insignificant aspiring servants of his servants, and we had this unusual experience because of the desire of the Lord and His representative, in order to help us get purified and to serve in a way that Srila Prabhupada felt would be favorable. Many times he had his daughters and sons (disciples) marry to help them to progress in Krishna consciousness. Sometimes he would have a daughter (disciple) marry if she were having difficulty with health or whatever. Srila Prabhupada always has our welfare in mind and takes care of us accordingly. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!”

Insight from Lectures

Hridayananda Dasa Goswami (from a tape):

We cultivate good qualities for Krishna’s satisfaction not for the sake of being virtuous. Enjoying being virtuous is a refined way of enjoying separately from Krishna.

Ignoring the principles and following principles externally are both causes of fall down.

If you want to feel good about yourself, try being a good person. Too often people just want to feel about themselves regardless.

Krishna gives us enough enjoyment but not so much it ruins our spiritual life.

We should be frugal. Wasting is sinful. Whatever I waste could have helped someone. Once I heard Srila Prabhupada chastise a disciple for wasting some Indian postage stamps although he was spending millions of dollars to spread Krishna consciousness.

Q: If our motives are mixed, what is the best way to purify them?

A: You should not stop your service. Chanting Hare Krishna and serving Krishna is the purifying process. But still externally people do both of these but some advance more than others, so there must be an invisible third thing. Recognizing you are mixed helps you to move in the right direction. Keep the sincerity to improve and move in the right direction.

The difference between neurosis and psychosis is that a person with psychosis thinks he is fine.

This world is a gym. Srila Prabhupada is our personal trainer. There is a tolerance machine and a vanity machine. Every experience is just another test in the gym.

Srila Prabhupada told me that when he got off the boat in New York City he did not know whether to go left or right, but he had 200 sets of his three volume Srimad-Bhagavatam, and those books were his confidence.

Niranjana Swami [from a tape]:

Srila Prabhupada told a disciple the best way we could help him is to chant Hare Krishna, to embrace the whole process of Krishna consciousness, and to tell other people about Krishna, for that is what Lord Caitanya wanted.

Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu [from his weekly conference call lecture]:

If we say the material world is spiritual so that we can enjoy it, then we have turned it back into material.

There is the spiritual energy, the material energy, and the spiritualized material energy. The spiritualized material energy is as good as the spiritual energy.


darśane ’vaishnava haila, bale ‘krishna’ ‘hari’
premāveśe nāce loka ūrdhva bāhu kari’

“Just by seeing Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, everyone became a devotee. They began to chant “Krishna” and “Hari” and all the holy names. They all were merged in a great ecstasy of love, and they began to dance, raising their arms.” (Caitanya-caritāmrita, Madhya 7.116)