Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Travel Journal#9.1: New York City

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 9, No. 1
By Krishna-kripa das
(January 2013, part one
New York City
(Sent from Tallahassee, Florida, on February 19, 2013)

Harinama in Times Square Subway Station, January 10, 2013.

Where I Went and What I Did

For the first two weeks of January 2013, I continued chanting in Manhattan with Rama Raya Prabhu and his harinama party, and I continued living in our Brooklyn temple, Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir, attending the morning program there, and spending two hours afterward chopping vegetables for the temple and its weekday restaurant program, Govinda’s Vegetarian Lunch. Every afternoon from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. I would chant with Rama Raya Prabhu and his harinama party, consisting of from three to seventeen devotees, at Union Square Park, or on the cold days, in various subway stations at Union Square, Grand Central, Times Square, and Columbus Circle. Sometimes, especially on weekends, we would begin at 3 p.m. or even 2 p.m., and still continue till 8:00 p.m. By the influence of Rama Raya I spent an extra week in New York City with his harinama party, missing the first week of the spring semester at Gainesville’s Krishna House.

I did not hear so many live lectures in New York City, but I have some notes from the many Prabhupada recordings I heard while chopping vegetables, the Prabhupada books I daily read, the articles I proofread for both Back to Godhead magazine and Viraha Bhavan, the daily journal of Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami. I did hear one morning lecture by Romapada Swami, whose informative points I also share.

Harinama in New York City
New Years Day, the 76th anniversary of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Thakura’s disappearance according to both the solar and lunar calendars, was auspicious for us on harinama.

Elizabeth, who just graduated from college in New Paltz and who is originally from New Jersey, listened over an hour to us chant in the Times Square subway station. She explained that she had once lived for two weeks in our ashram in Wellington, New Zealand. She was happy to encounter the Hare Krishnas for the first time in the New York City area, and we told her about our Manhattan and Brooklyn temples and their programs.

Supervisor Nandan Vyasadev, originally from Gujarat, was very happy to have the Hare Krishnas chant in the Time Square subway station where he is in charge. We gave him prasadam cupcakes and laddus, which he appreciated, and we were happy to have found a place indoors where the authorities like us.

Rama Raya Prabhu, the leader of the Manhattan harinama program asked me to stay another week on the party, as he did not have three people committed to the full four-hour harinama. I told him I planned to go to Gainesville for three months and return to New York City for a week of harinama in April, but he preferred that I do that week of harinama in January. The weather is better in April and my friend, Ekalavya Prabhu, may also be back on the party in April, so April was my preference. I decided to ask Kalakantha Prabhu if he cared whether I came back a week later and stayed an extra week in April. He said it was better for him if I came back when I planned to and not week later, but he liberally said that I could decide for myself. During our harinama in the Times Square subway station, I was thinking about the dilemma and I decided that I should pray to Krishna for a sign indicating what I should do. While I was thinking in that way, a young lady passed our party with a bright smile on her face, her eyes fixed on the party as she walked by. I thought she definitely looked interested and offered her a pamphlet on chanting, so she came over to me. I thought she was so attracted she must have some previous experience with Hare Krishna so I asked her. She replied that she had just heard some people singing in Union Square Park a few times but that was all. I smiled and explained that we were the same people singing at Union Square and that we chant in the subways in the cold weather. She explained that she loved the chanting, and concluded with a smile, saying “that sound is pure joy!” “Wow!” I thought, it is not often that someone says, “That sound is pure joy!” We know that Krishna is eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss, and that His name is similarly qualified, but it is not often that people in the crowd have the realization that “that sound is pure joy!” Then and there I decided to stay in New York City another week, and give thousands of New Yorkers each day a chance to hear the “pure joy” of the Hare Krishna mantra. That was sign I was looking for!

At Union Square Park, I talked to a lady who was videoing our chanting, and asked her if she knew about Hare Krishna. Yes, she replied, saying she frequently goes to Govinda’s Restaurant in Stockholm, where she was visiting from. I gave her an invitation to Govinda’s in Brooklyn, and she promised to go on her next visit to New York, as she was returning home the next day.

One girl from Arkansas was videoing the party at Union Square with a big smile on her face. She said she likes to come to New York and see cultural opportunities not present in Arkansas, despite its pleasant scenic natural beauty. From that I could understand the harinama gives people from all parts of the USA, and even the world, a chance to come in touch with Krishna in the course of their pursuing the adventure of a New York City vacation.

Sally, who lives a block from Union Square, and looks to be in her sixties, comes for an hour or two to chant with the devotees each day and throws a donation in the basket before returning home. One day she spontaneously said about the daily kirtana, “This is the best thing that has happened in Union Square since I moved here over forty years ago.”

In Times Square subway station, just above the platform for the “7” train, we were chanting peacefully when a Christian preacher decided to pace back and forth across the hallway from us, giving his hell, fire, and brimstone speech to anyone who could hear him over the kirtana. After I while I decided to advise him that if he moved down the hallway a few yards, it would be easier for people to hear his message. He protested that he has been coming here for years, and it was his place. Then he began to criticize our philosophy. I could see I was not going to get anywhere with him, so I returned to dancing and giving out invitations to people with obvious interest. After a few minutes a well-dressed Afro-American gentlemen convinced the Christian to move down the hallway a few yards, and continued talking with him for some time. Then that man who relocated the Christian came up to where I was standing, and I thanked him for helping us out. He told me he saw from the staircase above how the Christian was harassing us, and thinking that it wasn’t right, he came down to tell the man so. He explained to me that when dealing with Christians, you just have to ask them two questions, “When was the Bible compiled?” and “How many books does it have?” Usually they do not know, and it is embarrassing for them and they are humbled, and then you are able to deal with them. He told me his name was Carlos, and he was a trumpet player for years in that subway station and he knew the Christians well. Then he surprised me by asking for some karatalas, and he played with us for awhile, throwing a donation in the basket as he left.

On the hallway from Grand Central Station to the Times Square shuttle, a man passed by our party, smiling and speaking a few friendly words. Then having a second thought, he returned to look at our books on display. I showed him Bhagavad-gita, and he said he had one. I decided to show him the Krishna book, explaining it was a biography telling of Krishna’s activities in this world. He glanced through it and decided to buy one for ten dollars. He told me he was retired professor with a doctorate in world religions and has been a Christian Brothers monk for fifty years. Then he offered respect with folded hands to each and everyone in our chanting party as he left with a smile.

One night at Union Square, as I taking a breaking from our chanting party to warm my body and to use the rest room, I noticed a young lady who was standing not far away for quite a while and watching us for part of the time. I asked her if she liked the music, and she said she did. She went on to explain that several times she visited a Hare Krishna restaurant when she lived in Arizona. I asked if it was the one in Tucson, and she said it was. I told her how I had spent two months in Tucson, singing three hours a day at the University of Arizona, and eating at our restaurant Govinda’s, and that I really liked the whole experience. I asked her what she was doing in the city, and she said she worked at Carnegie Hall on 57th Street. I told her we had a Krishna lunch program in at our temple in Brooklyn and that it was just 5 stops on the “Q” train to get there from 57th Street. She said she had an hour off for lunch, and she would like to go and check it out sometime, so I gave her an invitation. Usually we do not talk to people unless they are obviously very favorable, so I took a risk talking to that young lady, but she was very happy to hear she could get some Krishna food in New York, so I felt happy about it.

Special thanks to Rasika Gopi dd and Bhakta Alex for their wonderful pictures of the harinamas in Manhattan.

Srila Prabhupada:

from Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.14.38, purport:

sadhu-sanga, sadhu-sanga— sarva-shastre kaya
lava-matra sadhu-sange sarva-siddhi haya
(Cc. Madhya 22.54)
Even by a little association with devotees, the conditioned soul can get out of this miserable material condition. This Krishna consciousness movement is therefore trying to give everyone a chance to associate with saintly people. Therefore all the members of this Krishna consciousness society must themselves be perfect sadhus [saints] in order to give a chance to fallen conditioned souls. This is the best humanitarian work.

from a lecture on Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s appearance day in Gorakhpur on Feb. 15, 1971:

Except the devotee of Krishna, everyone is simply giving Krishna trouble, trouble, trouble. . . . Don’t make any plan. Accept Krishna’s plan. . . . A devotee’s principle is not place any plan to Krishna. Let Krishna do . . . . As far as possible our business is to induce persons how to become Krishna conscious. That’s all. For that reason you can make your plan, because that is Krishna’s plan.”

from a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.7 in Delhi on November 13, 1973:

A mahatma (a great soul) is not under the control of the material energy. He is under the the shelter of the spiritual energy. . . . He has no other business than to serve the Supreme Lord.”

We are reminding people that ‘you are son of such great personality, of Krishna, why don’t you go back to your home?’”

People are searching after God. . . . . God may be like this, God may be like that. Why ‘may be’? Why not say you don’t know? Just admit that you do not know. Why are you cheating.”

Scholars claim to be searching for God, and although the Lord appears as Krishna and is accepted by great spiritual authorities, the scholars foolishly continue to search for Him elsewhere, making different theses.

from a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.2 given in Hyderabad on March 15, 1975:

Is it very difficult to constantly remember Krishna? You can do it. You are remembering something. The mind is occupied always with something. Just practice occupying the mind with Krishna. That’s all. Where is the difficulty?”

from a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.8 in Hyderabad on April 22, 1974:

Anyone who accepts the supremacy of God, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his process of worship has to be considered in the category of bhakti-yoga.

You cannot say, “Let us all become technologist sudras. Then you can get money for wine and meat but the ideal life is lost.

from a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.11 in Vrindavan on October 22, 1972:

That the sunshine spreads all over the universe does not make it more important than the sun globe. Similarly the all-pervading Brahman is not more important than the Personality of Godhead from whom it emanates.

By chanting Hare Krishna we immediate contact Krishna, while by other yogic processes that can take many births.

from Sri Caitanya-caritamrita Adi 9.50 verse and purport:

When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the great gardener, sees that people are chanting, dancing and laughing and that some of them are rolling on the floor and some are making loud humming sounds, He smiles with great pleasure.”

This attitude of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is very important for persons engaged in the Hare Krishna movement of Krishna consciousness. In every center of our institution, ISKCON, we have arranged for a love feast every Sunday, and when we actually see people come to our center, chant, dance, take prasadam, become jubilant and purchase books, we know that certainly Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is always present in such transcendental activities, and He is very pleased and satisfied. Therefore the members of ISKCON must increase this movement more and more, according to the principles that we are presently trying to execute. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, thus being pleased, will smilingly glance upon them, bestowing His favor, and the movement will be successful.”

from Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.16.3, purport:

If one rigidly observes the regulative principle of chanting sixteen rounds of the maha-mantra every day, his dealings with the material world for the sake of spreading the Krishna consciousness movement are not different from the spiritual cultivation of Krishna consciousness.”

from Back to Godhead, Vol. 47, No. 2, March–April 2013, “Protected by Krishna”:

This is the crucial point. Dehantara-prapti: one has to accept another body. If you can find a means so that you do not accept another body, then you are safe. Otherwise, as soon as you take another birth, then you must die also. And between birth and death are disease and old age.”

How are these European and American boys and girls advancing, realizing? Simply by using the tongue to chant Hare Krishna and take prasada. You can introduce this process all over the world. Give people a chance to chant the Hare Krishna mantra. But it is difficult also. There was a cartoon. One old lady is requesting her husband, “Chant chant, chant,” and the husband is replying, “Can’t, can’t, can’t.” [Laughter] We are requesting everyone, “Please chant,” and they are replying, “Can’t.” They will not chant. That is the difficulty. Otherwise, we can deliver all the people on this earth back home, back to Godhead, simply by this process: chanting and taking prasada.

They cannot give up that small piece of meat. The same thing can be made from milk. Prepare cheese and fry it, and you’ll get the same taste. Let the animal live, take its milk, and prepare so many milk preparations. But these rascals will not do that. They will kill simply for the tongue.”

from Back to Godhead, Vol. 47, No. 2, March–April 2013, “Prabhupada Speaks Out”:

[From a conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples which took place in September 1975 on an early-morning walk in Vrindavana, India.]

But how have you become embodied if you are the Supreme? What made you embodied? You don’t like to be embodied—the body is bringing so much suffering—so you want liberation. But whoever made you embodied—He is the Supreme. You are not the Supreme.

Romapada Swami:

Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explained that in the pastime of the cursing of Jaya and Vijaya, the Lord accomplished several purposes. He satisfied Laksmi, Jaya and Vijaya, and the Kumaras. Here is how:

Once Narayana wanted to rest so he posted Jaya and Vijaya to guard the door to his room and not let anyone in. When Laksmi, the eternal consort of the Lord, arrived, they turned her away, and she did not say anything, but she was not happy about it, and later she let Narayana know that she wanted them punished for that mistake.

Jaya and Vijaya knew that the Lord had a chivalrous nature and liked to fight but had no suitable combatant, and so they had a desire to play that role for the Lord.

When Narayana arrived on the scene, He pleased the brahmana Kumaras by supporting the position of the brahmanas by His words and actions.

In steadiness, there may be some residual materialistic inclination, but the bhakti is so powerful it overshadows that slight material tendency.

In disagreements between devotees, it is best not to take sides but to understand the Lord has some plan in that.

The Lord rules the hearts of the residents of Vaikuntha so there is diversity but no conflict and thus no fear, just as there is no conflict between the different organs of the body.

In Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s autobiography, he tells of a scholar who wrote a book of fictional stories about Krishna and showed it to him before publishing. He spent four days without eating or sleeping, explaining to the scholar why one could not write a fiction book about Krishna, and finally the scholar agreed and rewrote the book. Later that scholar recalled, “Whenever I was in his association, very quickly Bhaktivinoda Thakura would begin to talk about acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva [the truth that the living entities are inconceivably and simultaneously one and different from the Supreme Lord].

Recognizing the majesty of the Lord and being satisfied simply to serve Him in that mood is the qualification to live in Vaikuntha.

The love that the residents of Vrindavan have for Krishna is what Lord Caitanya came to give and what people are receiving from Him, step by step, whether they know it or not.

You can be steady in faith, but not steady in the execution of bhakti only because of external circumstances beyond your control.

It is my experience that once a person has regulated his life in a spiritual way, if he again takes to an unregulated life, it is very, very difficult to become regulated in spiritual life again.

The Kumaras generally agree, but occasionally express their individual non-conflicting views.

Q: Is it enough to understand bhakti is the essence and not absorb oneself in all the details?
A: It is certainly good to understand that bhakti is the essence, but appreciating the details we can increasingly relish the pastimes.

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami:

from an online poem:

Radha controls Krishna, yet He is the independent Supreme Personality of Godhead.”

from Qualities of Sri Krishna:

The Nectar of Devotion speaks of Krishna offering obeisances to Maharaja Yudhisthira before the rajasuya sacrifice as an example of His gentleness, but His most amazing act at the rajasuya sacrifice was His volunteering to wash the feet of the arriving guests. How gentle Krishna is. What other great and powerful king would be willing to overcome his own arrogance to touch the feet of so many people? Krishna did not agree to bathe the guests’ feet out of political motivation; He bathed their feet as an exchange of love. Krishna is both father and mother to all living beings. He likes to care for them in a way that eases their hearts. Certainly, His washing the guests’ feet is an example of His quality of gentleness.

Urmila dd:

from Back to Godhead, Vol. 47, No. 2, March–April 2013, “Offering Dandavat”:

One Sanskrit word Srila Prabhupada translates as “surrender” is prapadyate, which literally means “to throw oneself down at someone’s feet.”

Caitanya-carana Prabhu:

from Back to Godhead, Vol. 47, No. 2, March–April 2013, “The W.R.I.T.E. Service”:

Though different people may be able to forget worldly miseries by absorption in various activities, devotees know that the transcendence attained by absorption in Krishna is unique because it comprises a this-worldly glimpse of the eternal, ecstatic absorption that awaits them in the next world.”

Vamsi Vihari Prabhu:

from Back to Godhead, Vol. 47, No. 2, March–April 2013, “Sickess: A Friend and Teacher”:

One of my devotee friends shared his realization that Krishna takes the risk of being blamed: “Oh! I am trying to serve You, Krishna, and You are giving me problems. What kind of God are You?” But as a true well-wisher, Krishna is concerned not about being blamed but about ending our material existence as soon as possible.

Sickness can reveal the true level of our spiritual connection by showing whether our foundation is shallow or deep—that is, based on a genuine desire to practice Krishna consciousness in any circumstance. If we are open, we may find the revelation humbling, which in spiritual life is helpful. So, illness can be a turning point in our life. We may understand that we have forced Krishna to put us into this predicament to take us out of the illusion that life in the material world is “the good life.”

Years ago I read the poem “Reduced,” by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami:

My list of Things to Do
falls to the side.
All I do is rest.
Yet one cry to Krishna
is worth a hundred days
of marching in pride.

Sickness can become a golden opportunity for us to realize our smallness and helplessness and take shelter of Krishna. We have to remember that if Krishna is allowing something to happen to us, it must be good. I have met devotees who feel that the best time of their Krishna conscious lives was when they were going through some difficulty. Not finding any other shelter, they intensely took Krishna’s shelter and felt His presence more evidently than at any other time. That’s why Kunti Devi, the glorious mother of the Pandavas, prayed to Krishna for more and more calamities. “Because,” she reasoned, “calamities inspire me to see Your lotus face, which means I’ll no longer see the face of repeated birth and death.” We need not imitate Kunti Devi by asking for more hardship, however; our destined calamities should be enough for us to turn to Krishna.


tasmat sankirtanam visnor
jagan-mangalam amhasam
mahatam api kauravya
viddhy aikantika-niskrtam
Sukadeva Gosvami continued: My dear King, the chanting of the holy name of the Lord is able to uproot even the reactions of the greatest sins. Therefore the chanting of the sankirtana movement is the most auspicious activity in the entire universe. Please try to understand this so that others will take it seriously.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.3.31)