Travel Journal#6.7: Tallahassee, Pennsylvania, and Delaware
Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 6, No. 7
By Krishna-kripa das
(April 2010, part one)
Tallahassee, Pennsylvania, Delaware
(Sent from Radhadesh, Belgium, on May 1, 2010)
Where I Was and What I Did
I spent the first week of April in Tallahassee, where I chanted at First Friday, did a prison program with Daru Brahma Prabhu, and attended a telephone lecture with Hridayananda Goswami, arranged by Garuda Prabhu at his Peace on Earth Center. I also attended Quaker meeting on Easter and distributed prasadam. The second week I assisted my diksa guru, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, and his assistant, Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu in Delaware. That week I also went on harinama on South St. in Philadelphia, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and New Hope, Pennsylvania.
I was impressed with the large number of people coming to get Daru Brahma’s spiritual vegetarian dinner at First Friday. At some times there were thirty and possibility even forty people waiting in line, the biggest crowd I had seen in my five times coming to First Friday. For me it was a little austere as I did not find anyone to chant with me, so I just played the harmonium and sang by myself for about two and a half hours. The highpoint of the experience for me came later when Daru’s assistant Joey told me about a girl, who he talked to, who really loved both the food and the singing. She told him she could not get the song out of her mind, and to prove her point, she sang it for Joey. Now I have a very mediocre voice and a budget harmonium with a few keys that sound a little off, and for me it is amazing that despite those disqualifications, that the song would stick in someone’s mind. I think it is just that Lord Caitanya wants to give his holy name to everyone, and He is willing to engage any people volunteering to help and bless them with some success, just as Lord Ramachandra engaged the monkeys.
Daru Brahma Prabhu does a monthly program in Graceville prison, nearly two hours west of Tallahassee. There was a lot of security to go through to get in, and the environment was sterile. Some of the workers seemed despondent about their work situation. The prisoner most enthusiastic about Krishna consciousness, who originally wanted the program was transferred to another prison, but a few others still come. The day I went with Daru to Graceville, three men attended, one for just part of the time. Before our program, I was impressed to see in the chapel library the entire Srimad-Bhagavatam as well as many of Srila Prabhupada’s other books. It was the brightest spot in the prison.
We started by chanting for ten minutes. Daru Brahma Prabhu thought that was a little long, but for me it was the absolute minimum as we had almost two hours for the whole program. Then we gave them the choice of books to read, and one chose Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita, so we took turns reading from it. One of the men made a brave attempt to pronounce the Sanskrit, while the other skipped it. One of the men, who was very respectful, had some work to do in the prison library and could be with us only part time. He mentioned he liked the chanting best, but he missed the chanting that day. So Daru led a shorter but very devotional kirtana for him, and he was very grateful.
One of the attendees at the program mentioned someone was killed not long ago in the prison. Daru asked if that happened often. One of the men said that in the seven years he had been there, it happened perhaps ten times. When asked why, the prisoner explained it was either because someone did not pay their gambling debts or because someone cheated in a sexual relationship, and then he summarized it, “Gambling and illicit sex,” with new realization of their danger. These, he knew, were two things we as Hare Krishnas avoid.
We and the prisoners both benefited from hearing and chanting about Krishna together. It was good I came along with Daru. For me, the more devotees, the more powerful chanting and hearing, and the more likely the people will be positively affected. I look forward to doing the program again next time I visit Daru in Tallahassee.
I was brought up as a Quaker and usually attend the Quaker meetings with my mother when I go home to Albany. This was the first time I went to one in another city, since I became a Hare Krishna devotee. Usually the Quakers meditate on God in silence in a group, and occasionally those who are inspired stand up and break the silence to share some realization. Perhaps two or three times, some speaks during the hour-long meetings. When I go, I usually listen to a least one realization, and after a few minutes, say something relevant from the Vedic knowledge that I have encountered. This time, Elizabeth, who I had met both at the Tallahassee temple and the Ocala Rainbow Gathering, spoke about maintaining a list of people to forgive in her mind. It was an interesting idea. Ideally we should forgive people immediately, but in reality it often takes some time to bring ourselves to that point. The idea of a list of people to forgive appears to deal with this reality. Forgiveness is one of many qualities valued both by Quakers and devotees of Krishna.
One reason I was a little inspired to attend this Quaker meeting was I heard from Basil, a vegatarian Quaker girl on the campus, that they sing every Sunday in addition to their silent meeting. I had been to other Quaker meetings as a kid, but never did I see singing as regular part of the worship, though I do recall singing Christmas carols with them was a joyful experience. As Hare Krishna devotees we learn that the congregational glorification of the Lord is the best way to connect with Him in this age, so for me it was interesting to see some of the Quakers moving more in that direction. About ten or so people, perhaps a third of the total who come for the silent meeting, for half an hour before it, stand in a circle and take turns singing songs from their song book, most of which praise God, the Son of God, or saintly qualities. I suggested a couple I recalled from my youth, one about the life of Christ and the other about the divine quality of simplicity. The one about Christ they sang previously, as I was late, so they sang the one about simplicity for me. I brought my harmonium, and I and a couple others tried to accompany the tunes.
I had brought a tray of cake from Daru’s lunch program, because from experience I know there are opportunities to distribute spiritual food at such meetings, and it turned out to be the week that they have a pot luck lunch, so it was very much welcome.
Seeking spiritual truth is a value among Quakers, and I enjoyed speaking to some of the people over lunch about different topics such as empirical evidence for existence of the soul being beyond the body and how one can argue that faith is present, even in the materialistic scientists who claim there is nothing beyond matter.
After the meeting, I went to Garuda’s Peace of Earth center, hoping to find some people there who might be willing to chant Hare Krishna with me. Sometimes people stay after his programs and help decorate his place, and once I had chanted as the others decorated. This time Garuda was there alone and was too busy to sit down and chant. Elizabeth decided to come, and so I ended up chanting as Garuda cleaned up his place and Elizabeth painted Lady Subhadra’s garland, and they both chanted the response along with me for twenty minutes.
The last program I did in Tallahassee was the Wednesday Bhagavad-gita class which was on verse 4.10. I was amazed because six guests came, a rarity. Two came from Daru’s cooking class on Sunday. The other four who came were three participants in a rehabilitation program, along with the leader of the program. Some of those had seen us at the Tallahassee Ratha-yatra and then again seen us and received invitations to our programs the next Saturday, when we did harinama, at the farmers market / art show. That harinama was at a new venue and Daru, Kruti, Ajay, and Ajay’s visiting sister had come. Daru saw the in charge person who he knew, and we decided to get his blessings for being there, rather than risk irritating him, and being kicked out. He suggested we walk around and not chant in a fixed place, and so we did. Some people clearly were happy to see us there.
After the Gita class and prasadam we all went to Garuda’s Peace on Earth Center for his telephone lecture with Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, who is Daru’s guru. It was nice to see that program really brought both Daru’s group and Garuda’s group of people together. Notes on the lecture are below. It was nice to see the new guests seemed to appreciate the program. I encouraged Garuda to do it monthly, as everyone benefited from the experience.
Reflecting on the three harinamas, I went on in Pennsylvania and Delaware, I was amazed to note the great differences both in the locations of the events and the background and lifestyles of the devotees involved.
South Street: One Friday night on South Street, where there is a lively strip of restaurants and bars in central Philadelphia, we had a party of ten devotees, three men, three woman, and four children. It was cold and windy, but we still stayed out for almost two hours. I played the harmonium and sang for most of it and for part of that time one of the ladies played karatalas. At the end, Anindita Prabhu, who distributed books while I sang, sang beautifully herself and played the karatalas. Because of the presence of the women and children, people were less alienated than usual by the unusual appearance, language, and music they were encountering. I was pleased to see Ganga (Varuni), who attended some of my extra Saturday harinamas in Florida, happily came out although she was responsible for taking care of three children at the same time.
Rehoboth Beach: Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu’s great kindness upon me was to organize a harinama at Rehoboth Beach, when our godbrother, Mukta Vandya Prabhu, who also likes harinama,was visiting. It was a new location for all of us to do harinama, and the day was a beautiful, sunny and warm Sunday with many people out. I mostly played harmonium and led, while Mukta Vandya played drum very vigorously, and Baladeva played the karatalas. We are all in our fifties, and Baladeva observed that people our age took more notice of us than the younger people, perhaps because of encounters with the devotees earlier in the movement’s history in America when they were more prominent in public. Still, a few younger people did smile and move with the music. One couple in their fifties or sixties, sitting near us, listened for at least forty-minutes. The man asked if they could get any of our music, which was certainly very flattering, as we are not a professional bhajana band. I gave them a flyer and told them they could download some music from the Krishna.com website. The flyer told a little about the philosophy and the chanting, and when Baladeva shook the man’s hand as we were leaving, the man said, “We’ll have to practice this.” The whole harinama was a wonderful unexpected experience, and it was especially nice to meet that couple who really appreciated it.
New Hope: New Hope is a small town about an hour north of Philadelphia. It has a lot of specialty shops and a few restaurants and bars. I wished to do another harinama on South Street in Philly where we would encounter more people, but this one in New Hope the already scheduled. Lord Caitanya wanted to give people in every town and village the chance to awaken their love for Krishna, so it is easy to see it was His mercy and that of His devotees, that the residents of New Hope were being given new hope in the form of a chance to become Krishna consciousness and live in the indestructible spiritual abode. Balabhadra Bhattacarya Prabhu, who was temple president in Atlanta for a number of years, has done a few programs in New Hope recently, and the devotees there decided to engage him in leading a harinama. This group was ten devotees, all adults, mostly from Indian background, with a couple Afro Americans, and myself, the sole Caucasian. I was surprised to see such a nice reception in a small town in Pennsylvania, as small American towns tend toward conservatism. Many people waved, smiled, and danced a little with us, although you could tell it was quite a new experience for them. We were a little challenged as rain sprinkled down part of the time, and we had to take shelter underneath an overhang. I was happy that Balabhadra Prabhu was able to use my harmonium for part of the time. Later Laksmi Nrisimha Prabhu mentioned he had good experiences in New Hope earlier in his life, and he recommended that the devotees also chant in two similar towns near to New Hope, across the New Jersey border.
I had a desire to render personal service to my diksa guru for a long time, but previously I was working full time with a devotee computer business or with Sadaputa Prabhu, so I did not really have a chance to play the role of his servant for a month like some of the other brahmacaris did. I planned to do so in December of 2008, but I think his other servants felt I was an unnecessary addition. This time, however, there was only Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu, who had to do everything by himself, so I was a little bit of an asset. I began by waking up Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami’s deities, Radha-Govinda, Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra, Nrsimhadeva, Gaura Nitai, and Srila Prabhupada at 2:30 a.m. in the morning. Since Baladeva does not really relish waking up at 2:30 a.m., I definitely could help him that way. As it turned out, I did not really relish waking up at 2:00 a.m., but I could do it for a week. I have done my spiritual practice despite odd sleeping schedules, so I knew I could do it for a brief period without any difficulty. Baladeva would cook, and I would do all the dishes. I also got to read Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, my favorite book, to my Guru Maharaja as he ate his morning and evening meals. The real project was the scanning of his many books and manuscripts, thirty-five of which I completed while I was there, with a very nice scanner, that would accept forty pages at a time and scan both sides of them at once. I think the thirty-five books should keep his production people busy until I return from Europe in six months. He has many unpublished books of a months-worth of accumulated writing from at least as far back as the mid-1990s.
Satsvarupa Maharaja impressed me by his infallible program of rising by 2:30 a.m. at the latest each day, and usually earlier, for the purpose of chanting his sixteen rounds at a peaceful time of the morning. I hope when I am seventy years old, that I am so enthusiastic. He also writes daily in his journal, The Yellow Submarine, which is published on the internet at www.sdgonline.org and on Facebook. At present, he usually includes something on chanting (japa), a meditation on a Prabhupada picture, and some poetry, and some other writing also based on a picture. Although he has written about Srila Prabhupada for forty years, he still tells some new details and has some new realizations about Prabhupada’s greatness.
I did get to do one special service for him. From reading his journal I understood he was curious to understand Srila Prabhupada’s situation now as a liberated soul. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura gives some interesting information on the situation of the great liberated Vaishnava spiritual masters, which is quoted in Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava:
“When asked to disclose his svarupa by Srimad Bharati Maharaja, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati replied that the svarupa of paramahamsas like Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Gaura Kisora dasa Babaji is as they appear in this world, for their bodily features are transcendental and eternal. Such devotees are gaura-nija-jana (personal associates of Lord Caitanya). Gaurangera sangi-gane, nitya-siddha kori’ mane: “Gauranga’s associates should be understood as eternally perfect, eternally established in service to Krishna as His eternal associates.” He explained that devotees of Lord Caitanya have two eternal forms: in Gaura-lila they appear in male bodies, and in Krishna-lila as females. The form they manifest in Gaura-lila is also their eternal svarupa. Even their apparent physical imperfections are transcendental. For instance, Lord Caitanya’s associate Bhagavan Acarya appeared as lame because in Gaura-lila he
is eternally so. Similarly, the ostensibly non-Vaishnava names of certain devotees of Lord Caitanya, such as Jhadu Thakura, are their eternal designations.”
I had sent him that quote I found while proofreading the book, but he wanted the page reference so he could see it in the printed volume, so I was able to provide that for him.
When Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami had some difficulty a few years back it really split up his family of disciples, some rejecting him completely, some remaining loyal, and some becoming confused. For myself I went through different stages of being unforgiving and disappointed but ultimately decided his case is one to which verse Bhagavad-gita 9.30 applies perfectly. Because he is presently rightly situated performing his sadhana (spiritual practice) and preaching service to Srila Prabhupada, he should be considered a sadhu (saintly person). Our tradition supports rejecting gurus who become Mayavadis, who deny the personal form of God, or incorrigible hedonists who cannot control their senses, but not someone Krishna characterizes as a sadhu. Moreover many sincere followers of Srila Prabhupada continued to maintain a high regard for him. Bhakti Tirtha Swami would accept calls from Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami during the last few days of his life, when he wasn’t accepting the calls of any others. And he wanted Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami to write an essay for the Vaishnava community on the occasion of his disappearance from this world. Jayadvaita Swami is impressed with Satsvarupa Maharaja’s continuous dedication to improve the quality of his daily chanting of japa, Srila Prabhupada’s most important instruction, through his various stages of life, ever since he met him over forty years ago. Several Prabhupada disciples told me they consider that Srila Prabhupada forgave him, and that was my intuition as well. Srila Prabhupada forgave so many people for so many things, as long as they were repentant, and they again took up following his instructions in earnest. As disciples, we all benefited from Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, being freed from karma, linked to the chain of spiritual teachers, admitted into ISKCON, gaining faith in the holy name, and gaining faith in Srila Prabhupada, through his many books about him and remembrances of him. Because I am indebted to Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, I feel it is still appropriate to serve him, and I was glad to have the opportunity, although, of course, my contribution is not very great.
Insights from Lectures
Lord Caitanya has taken the word “sankirtanam” and expressed everything in the same form, as for example, “marjanam”, “jivanam”, “snapanam”, etc. Lord Caitanya is using the same analogy that Krishna does in the Bhagavad-gita (3.38) about the mirror being covered by the dust of lust. “Darpa” is used in the Gita as pride, a demoniac quality, and Lord Caitanya uses the word “darpanam” for mirror, which means that which creates pride. “Becoming” and “bhava” are the same. “Bhava” means material existence because everything is “becoming” something else and is thus temporary. Forest fire is referred to because it is so completely devastating to all living beings. “Nirvapanam” means extinguishing like “nirvana.” “Candrika” means the moonshine, which makes the lotus spread its petals. The bride of knowledge is enlivened by the sankirtana movement. Thus Lord Caitanya compares the joy of derived from “sankirtana” to a newly married bride. It gives a cleansing bath to every soul. Vijaya indicates victory.
In the second verse of the Siksastaka, Krishna says He has placed all His infinite power in His name, if we can access it. He does not restrict or limit the time we can chant the name. You can chant all day, any time of the day or night. All this power is available to you at any time. “Arpitam” indicates an offering as in Bhagavad-gita 9.27. Here Krishna is making an offering of Himself. When we love someone, they may not want to give their love to us. But here Krishna is giving Himself.
Japa is our personal quality time with Krishna. With kirtana there is music, your friends are there, and there are other incentives. Japa is our individual private time with Krishna, and it is our time to develop our relationship with Him.
Krishna is patient. He is not a serial torturer, giving you just one life.
Struggle makes life interesting. If the other team does not really push you, the game is less exciting. You have to find a happy medium where you are basically happy but also get a good work out.
Q: Suppose one follows another religious process.
A: Let’s take the analogy of the parents. The real point is the child is crying out to the parents, not exactly what they say. If our real intention is the Supreme God, he knows that, and He will respond.
Q: What of those with post-traumatic stress disorder, who have been neglected by their parents? How can they cry out to God?
A: The Lord can appreciate whatever sincerity the people can manifest. We just have to try to encourage them to do whatever they can.
Q: Can someone attain God without the institution of religion?
A: I would approach it in a different way. If someone desires to love God, he will naturally seek the association of others who also desire to love God. You develop compassion, as your love of God is developing, because you want to love others. When we reach the stage you want to help other people, you naturally organize. Ultimately to love God, you just have to love God. It is not some commandment is coming down from the sky, “Thou shalt join an institution.” “The community of the wise, is the welfare of the world.” For me it is just a practical thing, we have to organize.
Q: How do you know if you are going in the right direction?
A: Just as for a person who is eating, with every bite, he feels satisfaction, he gains strength, and his hunger goes away, similarly if one is really approaching God, there are symptoms of bhakti (devotion). Just like if you are falling in love, you know you are falling in love. You should feel God’s presence everywhere, and you become more and more detached from material things. There are all kinds of stuff we do, not because it is our most noble spiritual intention, but just because it’s our conditioning. As our bhakti develops these other things diminish.
Srila Prabhupada said of the scientists, “Give them credit for what they have done, but why do they have to say there is no God?”
When you read, try to think, “Srila Prabhupada is personally speaking to me.” Then carefully consider what Srila Prabhupada is trying to tell you. Even if you just read one sentence, consider how it applies to you and act accordingly, and you can attain perfection.
sei loka prema-matta haña bale ‘hari’ ‘krishna’
prabhura pache sange yaya darsana-satrsna
“Whoever heard Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu chant ‘Hari! Hari!’ also chanted the holy name of Lord Hari and Krishna. In this way they all followed the Lord, very eager to see Him.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 7.98)