Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Travel Journal#6.24: Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Albany, Gainesville

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 6, No. 24
By Krishna-kripa das
(December 2010, part two)
Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Albany, Gainesville
(Sent from Gainesville, Florida, on January 25, 2011)

Where I Went and What I Did

For the Christmas break, I decided to attend the Vyasa Puja (appearance day [birthday] ceremony) for my initiating guru, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, which was held in Govinda's Restaurant in Philadelphia. We also did two harinamas there in Philly, including a spontaneous additional one happening because the enthusiasm of the devotees. On Sunday in Philadelphia temple, they celebrated Gita Jayanti, and devotees shared realizations about Bhagavad-gita. My Godbrother, Caitanya-candrodaya Prabhu, who was visiting from Ireland, had rented a car, and after Vyasa Puja, we drove to New York, where we did harinama and saw the Hare Krishna tree in Tompkins Square Park and original Hare Krishna temple site at 26 Second Avenue. Next we drove to Boston, where Niranjana Swami, who originally invited me to live in the New York temple back in 1979, was doing an evening program with lots of chanting. The next day, Caitanya Mangala Prabhu (Charles Sullivan), a longtime Boston resident and a Facebook-friend of Caitanya-candrodaya, took us on a tour of where the Jaladuta, the boat Srila Prabhupada came to America, originally landed at Commonwealth Pier, and where Srila Prabhupada wrote a beautiful poem about his mission of distributing Krishna consciousness in America. We also saw the sites of the two previous Hare Krishna temples in Boston and the famed universities, Harvard and MIT. I brought my harmonium, and we chanted a little at every place. Next we went on to Albany where I stayed with my relatives for Christmas, and Caitanya-candrodaya stayed with Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami and his health care assistants. After Christmas, I returned to New York to do harinama and to attend two more programs with Niranjana Swami. The roads were so snowy on the trip there, Caitanya-candrodaya abandoned the attempt to drive me and put me on the train at Hudson, a train delayed three times because complications arising from the snow. On New Years Eve, I returned to Gainesville hoping to go on harinama with a lot of my friends, but at least was able to go to on harinama with a few of my friends. I thought more people realized how great a day New Years Eve is for harinama. People are in a jolly mood and are much more willing to participate. The holiday spirit, and probably the alcoholic spirits, break down barriers.

I share lots of great realizations from Niranjana Swami, and some as well as from other devotees.

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami Vyasa-Puja

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami spoke nicely to a group of perhaps twenty-five or so followers on the second floor of Govinda's Restaurant on December 18. I recall a greater attendance in 2008 when I was there. In 2009, I was in Mayapur. This year some devotees came from Gitanagari, Boston, and Queens, but I was the only one from Florida. He told the story of his buying the three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam personally from Srila Prabhupada, and how Srila Prabhupada was later pleased when he inquired about Srila Vyasadeva's despondency after writing so many Vedic literatures. He also told how because he was a typist for Srila Prabhupada, he heard all the Bhagavatam stories before the other devotees, and he would eagerly sharing them when he gave class. Once, in Srila Prabhupada's presence, he was telling how Krishna would feed the monkeys so much butter they could not eat any more, then He would tell His mother that her butter was no good and that even the monkeys would not eat it. He was surprised to see the broad smiles of all the devotees, until he turned and saw Srila Prabhupada's oceanic smile. After the Vyasa Puja lecture, there was only time for four offerings, one each by Haryasva, Haridas, Bhakti Rasa, and myself. I said I was impressed that during the week I visited him he was always sitting in his chair at 2:30 a.m. chanting on his beads, despite the infirmaties of old age and his chronic headache condition, showing by his example that importance of that instruction. Also I was amazed that he took half an hour out of his afternoon to talk with my relatives, although they do not have a serious interest in Krishna consciousness. Bhakti Rasa read a couple nice poems accompanied by music. Despite Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami's physical challenges he delivered a good talk and participated in the kirtana later, and took prasadam with the devotees. An audio recording of the lecture is on his web page at:

Harinamas in Philadelphia

I decided to try for a harinama the night before the Vyasa Puja ceremony we had for Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami. I was very happy that five of my godbrothers came out along with three Philadelphia devotees making a party nine strong. Caitanya Candrodaya, Bhakti Rasa Prabhu, and I had chanted together for three days in Newcastle, England, in June, and it was nice to be together in a new place. Mother Anindita, the Philly temple secretary, made cookies for us to distribute, and although there were not so many people on the streets and we did not stay out more than an hour because of the cold and some people liking to take rest early, still we distributed over sixty of them. I would tell the people we were giving out cookies for Christmas, which made it is easier to distribute them. Many people happy to see the devotees, especially the young people. Haryasva Prabhu, the manager of Govinda’s restaurant, who I remember being the most enthusiastic of the brahmacari dancers when I lived in the Philly temple in the mid-1980s, was very happy to be out on harinama again. I hope he will come out more often in the future. Ganga dd, although she could not come as she usually does, kindly lent me her car so I could take the instruments and devotees from the temple downtown for the event.

Amazing for me was that we did another harinama the next day, after the Vyasa Puja event. This time we had eight devotees, four devotees from the previous day, including Navin Shyam Prabhu who would chant with me every week at University of Florida in Gainesville while working on his masters degree and in Nabadwip while doing bhakti-sastri. Amit, who also came out twice, is involved in our club at U. Penn., where he advised us to chant, as students had not yet completed finals and still populate the campus. Many of the students were happy to see us, although it was clear, that for many, it was their first encounter with devotees. We found a popular student hangout and chanted there for some time. Some of the students danced along with us.

The devotees all were happy to go out chanting, although because of the cold, we did not stay out long. It is good to go out regularly just so the devotees remember how nice it is.

Gita Jayanti in Philadelphia

In Philadelphia temple they have a buy-one-get-one-free sale on Bhagavad-gita to encourage people to buy Bhagavad-gitas as gifts in this Christmas season.

From 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. a group of fifteen or so devotees chanted all the verses of the Gita in English. I came for the end of the eighteenth chapter. Gita Jayanti is always Ekadasi, and it is too hard to chant my extra japa quota and the Bhagavad-gita both.

Sraddha dd asked me to give a class on the Gita. I shared key themes and favorite verses, but lost my notes, so I cannot share them. After that individual devotees spoke:

Jahnava dd (formerly Janice from San Diego): If we speak Krishna-katha [words by and about Krishna], we will automatically speak words that are “truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others” as Krishna recommends in Bg. 17.15.

Dr. Nair: “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) That devotion service is an eternal credit is a great solace.

Bhakta Israel: Everything I was searching for was in Bhagavad-gita. What Krishna is saying is timeless. It is like Krishna is speaking to us now, just like he was speaking to Arjuna.

Ganga Varuni dd:

We all have our own battles in our lives. Our challenges are not as severe as Arjuna’s, to fight his relatives, but they nonetheless seem serious to us. We can choose to fight our own battles, and Krishna will support us.

We just have to accept what Krishna said as he said it, and present it to others. We have to transcend ideas of political correctness.

Bhaktin Saumya:

People in general say as long as you do good, that is all that is required, hinting that worship of God is not necessary, but Krishna contradicts this in Bg. 9.30 when He says even if you do bad by accident, if you are fixed in the determination to please Him, you are still a saint. In fact, he says that such a person quickly becomes righteous.

Bhakta Aravind:

There are so many ideas of dharma, if one studied them to find the ultimate one, he would be confused. Krishna makes it clear what is the dharma.

Christmas in Albany

For Christmas, I brought my relatives doughnuts from the Hare Krishna-owned Doughnut Plant in Manhattan, Wonder Bars (Krishna.com's line of prasadam fruit-nut bars), and a few Krishna related books: The Hidden Glory of India, Diary of a Traveling Preacher, Prabhupada Nectar, and The Twenty-six Qualities of a Devotee. I also made prasadam waffles with strawberry sauce for breakfast on Christmas dayt. My sister, and her friend, Victor, gave me socks and gloves, which really came in handy for my harinamas the next week in New York. My mother gave me dried figs, one of my favorite treats.

Because of burning out on my relatives habit of tasting things I am cooking before they are offered to Krishna, I finally took the trouble of explaining to my mother that our desire to enjoy things without offering them to the Lord is the root cause of our residing in the material world, where people put their own selfish desires in the center. Until we perfectly understand that the Lord is the enjoyer of all our activities, we have to accept birth after birth in this world, and miss attaining the kingdom of God. Tasting the unoffered food, therefore, although appearing to be a minor detail, is a symptom of a philosophical misunderstanding, one so severe that it prevents our entry into the spiritual world, a place where all the residents agree that the Lord is the original enjoyer of all our offerings. It was a little heavy, but I was glad I said, even if only from the philosophical point of view, so she could understood why it bothers me so much. I only make such points every few years, otherwise it would create too much tension.

I distributed prasadam twice at the Quaker meetinghouse in Albany (coconut sweets and oatmeal cookies), and I played a wise man from the East in the Christmas drama. I found they sing hymns the last Sunday in the month, for the half hour prior to their hour of silence, a new feature not present in my youth, and one more consistent with the Vedic idea of the best dharma being the congregational glorification of the Lord. I spoke briefly in the meeting about the universality of chanting the glories of the Lord and how we can experience that it brings spiritual pleasure to the soul. I recalled that the Christmas caroling that we did in my Quaker youth was a joyful experience, and mentioned how I like the Hare Krishna practice of singing morning, noon, and evening. I praised the Quakers for increasing the glorification of the Lord in their service by adding the half hour of singing monthly. The singers in the meeting were especially happy with my words and my presence.

New York Harinamas and the Book Marathon

I emailed the devotees who came on our October harinama in Tompkins Square Park, and told them I would be in New York on the Monday before Christmas and would like to do harinama. We settled on 5:00 p.m., which turned out to be the time we arrived from Philadelphia. Mother Ekayani and Bhaktin Michaelle agreed to come. While putting our belonging in the ashram, we met Ananda Vidya Prabhu, who had just come back from selling over twenty Bhagavad-gitas and other books at the subway stations. He decided to come with us and bring some Chant and Be Happy books to distribute. We chanted to Tompkins Square Park, as my friend, Caitanya-candrodaya Prabhu, who was visiting from Europe had never been to that place with its sacred Hare Krishna tree, where Srila Prabhupada and his devotees began chanting regularly in October of 1966. I was surprised to see that in New York the parks are open to midnight, while in London they close at dusk. Just as we got to the park, a lady donated to us six bags of dried fruit and nuts. After visiting the park, which was not very crowded, we went toward St. Marks Square. At one point a girl, who was hanging out with some friends, yelled at us from across the street, “You guys sound great.” And she and her friends, some guys and girls, danced with the devotees for some time. Michaelle, in particular, swung some of the girls around in circles. At one point, my hands were too cold to play the instruments, so Ananda Vidya took over, and I distributed books. Somehow I ended up distributing four books for five dollars. I had a desire to distribute some books during the Prabhupada Christmas marathon, but I never actually got around to do it, but by the mercy of Krishna and Ananda Vidya, I did participate in the marathon after all. For me, the best experience was when I saw a cab driver waiting at a stop light. While looking at the devotees chanting and dancing, he smiled brilliantly. I approached him, saying that the book explained what we were doing, and he took it and gave a three dollar donation. One math major at NYU was intrigued with the harmonium, and we let him jam with it for a while. He liked the Beatles and was eager to get the Chant and Be Happy. Everyone had a great time on the harinama which lasted for two hours, and Michaelle told me she was so inspired she is thinking of organizing some more herself.

The week after Christmas, I did five harinamas in New York City, a place where there are always people on the street. My favorite day was when I did two harinamas in one day, went out on book distribution, and attended a kirtana and lecture by Niranjana Swami, one of my main instructing spiritual masters. Let me tell you about it:

The classes in the Bhakti Center were all about distributing Srila Prabhupada's books, and many devotees were going out for five or six hours a day. Even new devotees, like Rasaraja Prabhu, who has not been initiated even a year, were regularly distributing twenty softbound Bhagavad-gitas. The enthusiasm was so great, even I decided to go out for one hour one day, although I usually do such a bad job, I do not like to go out. I ended up staying out almost an hour and a half, and I distributed four Perfection of Yogas, two in English and two in Spanish. I did enjoy trying to convince the people about the literature, although just a few took it, and then, just the smallest books. I met one sincere person who was looking for such literature, and that was a special bonus.

Immediately, upon returning from book distribution, we did a harinama for almost an hour, just before Niranjana Swami's evening program. Later, during the prasadam after his lecture, one girl told us she received the email about the program but forgot all about it until she us chanting at St. Marks Place! Niranjana Swami led kirtana for almost two hours and also talked about perfecting our chanting of the holy names. Devotees were so enthusiastic from the program that seven of us went out on an hour-long harinama after prasadam which concluded the program at 9:45 p.m! One devotee in the party had a shirt with the whole mantra printed on the back, and one of the ladies in the party encouraged a favorable group of people walking behind us to sing along with the mantra and so they did! Bhakta Alex attempted to distribute a book to almost everyone he met. Bhaktin Ika took some pictures and put them on Facebook:

Jagadish Chaitanya, Bhaktin Ika Danielson, Bhaktin Michaelle Kalinowski, and Krishna-kripa Das

New Years Eve Harinama

Three friends and I had a great time doing harinama New Year's Eve in Gainesville. As soon as we started, three girls wanted us to sing for their New Years video, and so we did. We invited them to dance along, and one of them did. Then we gave them mantra cards, and the one who danced, sang the response for ten minutes. Two guys came by, and she gave mantra cards to the guys and told them to sing along. When they asked about who we were, she excitedly told them about our Krishna lunch program. Everyone was in a joy mood the whole evening, and many uttered names from the mantra and danced. Adi Karta Prabhu came out with his accordion and amplifier and really added a lot to the party. New Years Eve one of the best days for harinama because people are in a jolly, festive mood. I hope I can convince more of my Gainesville friends to come out next year!

Insights from Lectures

Niranjana Swami:

program at Bhakti Center in New York:

It is beneficial to talk about our purposes in chanting in order to keep them mind.

Prabodhananda Saravati likens the senses to serpents but says that the effect of mercy of Lord Caitanya, the chanting of Hare Krishna, is to break the fangs of these serpents.

Srila Prabhupada would quote the verse that says devotion, direct experience of the Supreme, and detachment occur naturally as a result of bhakti, just as pleasure, nourishment, and freedom from hunger come with each bite of food. You do not have to ask anyone, “Is my hunger going away?”

Srila Prabhupada explained the importance of using analogies by using the analogy of seeing the moon moving through the branches of the tree.

Chanting Hare Krishna is pleasurable, but we must understand the ultimate goal, spiritual perfection.

If we want the chanting of Hare Krishna to be at the center of our lives, we must cultivate the state of consciousness advised by Lord Caitanya, one of humility and tolerance.

If one wants to realize the ultimate benefit of chanting he must hear the truths about the holy name from the Vaishnavas.

To get Lord Caitanya’s mercy we must chant without blaspheming any living entity. We must respect everyone.

Piyari Mohan was telling me that Tamal Krishna Goswami asked Srila Prabhupada the difference between calling a spade a spade, faultfinding, and blaspheming. Srila Prabhupada said to say to you, “You are insignificant as a fig is calling a spade a spade. Faultfinders are like flies looking for filthiness while bees look for nectar. Blasphemers manage to find a fault when a person only has good qualities.

from a New Jersey home program:

Our dealings with others, devotees and nondevotees alike, affects our consciousness.

We do not change hearts. We turn peoples’ attention toward Krishna, and He changes their hearts. Faith in the devotees, faith in the holy name, etc., are necessary to advance.

Only the pure devotees can be peaceful because they have no material desire. As long as the two witches of bhukti (sense enjoyment) and mukti (liberation) are haunting us, we cannot taste the sweetness of devotional service.

Visvavanatha Cakravati Thakura says it is essential to hear about the pastimes, instructions, and qualities of the Supreme Lord in the association of devotees from the beginning of sraddha to the end of Krishna prema.

Faith is the only currency for purchasing the holy name. If we wish to distribute Krishna’s name, we must eager to offer the people's faith to Krishna.

Lord Nityananda does not consider a person’s material qualifications but the presence of a little faith. Srila Prabhupada was also accepting just a little faith. In a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.16, he told his disciples, “I have given you your faith.”

Srila Prabhupada appeals in the Gita, if you can’t accept Krishna as the Supreme Lord, at least theoretically accept Krishna as the Supreme Lord.

Srila Prabhupada’s selflessness awakened faith. His only aspiration was to awaken and to nurture faith.

When Haridas Thakura heard the glories of Ananta Sesa from the snakebite physician, he went unconscious in spiritual ecstasy, thus increasing the faith those who witnessed him. The physician showed all respect to Haridas, understanding his spiritual position. Later an envious brahmana feigned ecstasy, rolling on the ground. The physician, understanding the pretense, hit the brahmana, who stopped his act and ran away.

We should protect people’s faith by giving instruction and by our own proper action.

Lord Caitanya says if one worships Me but neglects My servant, such worship cuts Me to pieces.

If a sannyasi blasphemes an innocent person, he falls down, and his piety perishes.

Lord Caitanya says, “I will personally deliver anyone who chants Krishna’s name and does not blaspheme others.”

Speaking on the “sadhavah sadhu-bhusana” verse, Srila Prabhupada said, “A sadhu never does anything to provoke enmity in another.” Sometimes a people may become angry hearing a sadhu due to a material attachment, but the sadhu does not intend that.

Jiva Goswami makes the point that because a kanistha-adhikari does not know how to respect others, he is useless as far as practical preaching work is concerned.

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura says one who proudly considers himself a Vaishava, a devotee of the Lord, yet is not merciful to others attains only the three-fold miseries but not devotional service.

Q: Is staying at a certain stage too long detrimental in our devotional service?
A: It can be. Srila Prabhupada explained that we are in the middle of the ocean of material existence, and we can be affected at any moment. He said that maya is always testing to see if we want to serve Krishna or disturb Krishna. If we accept the association of devotees who are more advanced, then we will not remain complacent. We need strength to overcome the unwanted desires in our heart, and we must associate with people who give us that strength.

Q (by me after the program): It seems to me that it would be best for me to do whatever will create faith in the greatest number of people.
A: But to create faith in people, you have to have faith yourself.
Q: So I should try to seek that association by which I get the greatest faith?
A: Yes.

That was a powerful statement. My computer was not powered up to record it at the time, but I recalled it two and a half weeks later, and wrote it down. I was thinking I had some faith to share, but he could see from his point of view, that I have to gain a lot more faith to really be able to benefit people, so that appears to be my direction for the coming year.

Baladeva Prabhu:

Studies show that reading electronic books is 10% slower than reading ordinary books of paper, so that is more reason to buy books.

Yajna Purusa Prabhu:

When I did the marathon in Boston, seeing the happiness of Madhava, the head cook, who was cooking for the pleasure of the sankirtana devotees, really touched my heart and inspired me.

There is nothing more inspirational than taking a break from sankirtana and reading Srila Prabhupada's Bhaktivedanta purports.

Caitanya-candrodaya Prabhu:

The Vedic idea is that religion comes before sense gratification and economic development, but in the west we think the sense enjoyment and economic development come before religion.

You will never become pure if you use religion for your sense gratification. If we are not completely pure, we will not enter the Bhagavatam and the Bhagavatam will not enter our hearts.

We encourage people to follow the regulations prohibiting sinful activity because it is required to attain a higher state of consciousness, not just because we like to repress people.

I can understand I am falling away from dharma when I judge a devotee because of his past activities rather his desire to go back to Godhead.

If we trust people, we empower people, and they go on to empower others. But if we do not trust people, we can end up disempowering them, or in other words, making them feel that they cannot represent Srila Prabhupada or Lord Krishna.

You have to have faith in the association of devotees to attract others into that association.

Srila Prabhupada gave only one lecture on the Tenth Canto and thousands of lectures on the others cantos.

Knowledge is important for our conviction in spiritual life. You may experience a loss of taste at some point. That is very common, but if you are fixed in knowledge, you will continue and progress.

"Jagannathastaka" was written by Sankaracarya.

In puja we offer the five elements beginning with ether, with the blowing of the conch shell.

Someone asked Jananivasa what substance the deities were made of, and he replied that it depends on what your heart is made of. If you are materialistic, the deity is made of material elements, but if you are spiritually realized, the deity is the fully spiritual Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Merging into the brahman is a very bad deal. In the material world, at least we can offer something to Krishna, however imperfect it may be, and thus can have some relationship with Him, but that facility is not existing when one's consciousness is fixed brahman.

Ether is not merely the three-dimensions of space that we know.

You have to be very advanced in self-realization to explain Mayavada philosophy without becoming contaminated by it.

If you understand the limitations of sense perception and interference, it will change your life forever.

The “Bhisma Parva,” consists of the instructions of Bhimadeva, is the largest section of the Mahabharata. Bhisma makes the point that a logician can always be defeated by a greater logician, and thus logic cannot reach the ultimate truth. Therefore we have to accept knowledge from authorities who have direct experience of the truth.

Dualities, such as that which we want and that which we do not want, are so natural it is difficult to imagine a state that is beyond dualities. We must follow a path that can give us a realization of transcendence.

Attaining peace is an initial result of a spiritual practice.

Kaustuba Prabhu:

Tolerance is a qualification necessary for spiritual understanding.

To give up family, possessions, enjoyments, etc. is easier than giving up one’s false conception of himself.

One has to pray really hard to enter into the association of the Lord within in the heart, and being alone on sankirtana [distribution of Srila Prabhupada's books] is a great opportunity to be inspired to do that. If you are fortunate, you can bring people into that association with the Lord, and benefit them.

In Vrndavana on parikrama, some children were teasing us and causing commotion, and some of the devotees were agitated. Mother Srimati asked us not to be disturbed saying, “They are just testing our determination to hear.” We did as she said and soon after the children left us alone.

When I was preparing to go on book distribution, I would prepare like an athlete preparing for a big game or a priest preparing for a Vedic ritual.

If your mind is well prepared, entering into the arena of book distribution is an exhilarating experience.

Gadadhara Pandit:

We must become free from the disease of material contamination to taste the nectar of Krishna consciousness.

If we are able act ideally with the devotees in our association, then and only then, can we have an impact on society.

Lord Siva showed ideal Vaishnava behavior in the arena of the Daksa sacrifice by tolerating being insulted in an assembly of all the most important people in the universe.

Sometimes we dream that we will attain a situation where there are no provoking situations, but that is not a reality. Even if you become a leader or a guru, Krishna will send just the right person to help you remove the last traces of your material attachments.

How to please the Lord? It is simple. We do not have to be an intellectual to understand it. Just spread Krishna consciousness to others.

Bhakta Mauricio:

Disciple is based on the word discipline, and discipline is based on obedience. Our claim to be advanced has no meaning unless we are obedient to the guru.

Radhanatha Swami makes the point that to think that you cannot do something is a manifestation of false pride because it implies that when you do something which you think you can do, that you are thinking that you are the doer.

If a pure devotee accepts what you are doing as [devotional] service, then it becomes [devotional] service.

Notes Mauricio took on a class by Niranjana Swami:

The force was the purity of Srila Prabhupada's desire. Not that he was yelling do it do it.

There was nothing sweeter than the conviction that we were doing something for Srila Prabhupada.

If I did not get that opportunity to push pass the limits of his body to do something to please Srila Prabhupada, I would have really missed out on something very valuable.

Comments by Brahma-tirtha Prabhu: In the early days, there was no one who did not perform austerities. In retrospect, we could have done austerities more intelligently, but the austerities were good.

We learned different things, like “never go out as Santa Claus in a Jewish community, especially if you look Jewish.”

Karen [my sister, teacher of mindfulness]:

Stop before resentment begins.


pātrāpātra-vicāra nāhi, nāhi sthānāsthāna
yei yāńhā pāya, tāńhā kare prema-dāna

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 Pañca-tattva distributed love of Godhead.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila 7.23)