Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Travel Journal#10.24: New York City, Albany, Puerto Rico, Gainesville

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 10, No. 24
By Krishna-kripa das
(December 2014, part two
New York City, Albany, Puerto Rico, Gainesville
(Sent from Gainesville, Florida, on January 13, 2015)

Where I Went and What I Did

I spent my last few days with the New York City Harinam party in mid December, chanting six hours a day at different subway stations. On December 21, I visited my family for one day in Albany and distributed prasadam at the monthly potluck of the Friends Meeting (Quakers) I attended in my youth. Then I flew from Albany to Puerto Rico via Orlando, where I met my Vaishnava youth friend, Dhameshvar Mahaprabhu, who assisted me in doing harinamas before and after the first ever Ratha-yatra in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, on December 27. The day after the Ratha-yatra we attended a twelve-hour kirtana at our temple in Gurabo, high in the hills overlooking San Juan. I returned to Gainesville on the last day of the year to spend the last two hours of the year chanting with my friends in the streets of that city to give the New Years Eve partiers a spiritually auspicious New Year.

I share an excerpt from a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote to Tamal Krishna Goswami. I have some notes on Tamal Krishna Goswami's memoirs which we were reading in the Harinam Ashram in New York City. I have notes on a class by Radhanath Swami at the Bhakti Center in New York City, and notes on a class by Laksmi Nrsimha Prabhu at the Harinam Ashram On Christmas Eve, Arisudana Prabhu, temple president of the ISKCON temple in Gurabo, Puerto Rico, invited the visiting Prabhupada disciples, to tell pastimes of Srila Prabhupada. Thus I have notes on the pastimes that Laksmimani, Akuti, and Sankha Prabhus told. I also have notes from classes by Adikarta Prabhu, who has been distributing Srila Prabhupada's books since the 1970s. In additional, I have notes on a class by Malati Devi the day before Ratha-yatra on the wonderful story of how Lord Jagannath and His Ratha-yatra came to San Francisco in 1967. There are words of appreciation by Puerto Rico GBC Virabahu Prabhu for devotees who helped make the first ever Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico happen. I also share my recollections of all the new adventures I had in 2014.

I would like to profusely thank Namamrita Prabhu, a pilot for Airtran, who donated two extra complimentary tickets he had left at the end of the year so that Dhameshvar Mahaprabhu and I could go to Puerto Rico to advertise and attend the first ever Ratha-yatra there. Because round trip tickets are over $500 during the peak Christmas season, we would not have been able to go otherwise. Thanks to Hladini for the maha-prasadam and incense she brought back from India for the New York City Harinam party and the tilaka for me. Thanks to Dhameshvar Mahaprabhu for additional photos of Puerto Rico. Thanks to Caitanya Jivan, Jaya Sita, and Bhakti Shakti Prabhus for their wonderful hospitality at their yoga center, Yoga Cultura Puerto Rico, in Rio Piedras.

New York City Harinam

I spent my final five days on the New York City Harinam from December 16 to 20, 2014.

Two days a week we chanted in the largest subway station in New York City, 42 Street Times Square.

Ananta Prabhu lead a lively kirtana, getting a couple of the ladies dancing, and a few people watching (http://youtu.be/j-psFv4rbdg):

Bhagavatananda Prabhu, who spent about a month with us, distributed invitations, pamphlets, and books.

We also chant at the 14th Street Union Square subway station two days a week.

Here Natabara Gauranga Prabhu sang a sweet kirtana, and one kid who regularly stops when he sees us, had a great time playing the shakers and dancing (http://youtu.be/wjNSTIKrXzU):

Later Ananta Prabhu lead some lively harinama there beneath Union Square, and people played shakers and moved with the music (http://youtu.be/_3orXDQenMc):

We get the best response at Roosevelt Avenue Jackson Heights, where we chant one or two days a week.

Here Ananta Prabhu led a fired up kirtana that got a bunch of devotee ladies dancing, including an young Indian lady, who was passing by (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGerEnGdI0xJnHu4WdqqXMdMMCTj4BDRE):

On some Fridays we chant in the Delancey Street subway station by the uptown F train.

Here Rama Raya Prabhu, the truly fearless leader of the party, leads an enthusiastic kirtana getting a bunch of devotees dancing and causing wonder among the passersby (http://youtu.be/jsC0Zgd7tTM):

I have great respect for devotees for the New York City Harinam party for their dedication to chant six hours every day in New York City. It was a great benediction to live with and work with people with such faith and dedication to the holy name. It is nice to see they have their own place in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, just about 35 minutes from Union Square by subway. I hope Krishna continues to send serious people to join their party. I look forward to chanting with them for a couple days in April on my way back to Ireland, the gateway to the UK and Europe for me, and to rejoin them for three months in the autumn.

My Visit to Albany

My mother told me the day I chose to visit home before Christmas was the day they have a potluck lunch at the Quaker Meeting I attended in my youth, so I got up early so I could make a carrot coconut rice dish for it before mangala-arati as I had a 7:00 a.m. bus to Albany. I also had some coconut burfi I made the previous day and some doughnuts that my friend Kana, who works at the Doughnut Plant, had obtained for me. Thus the Quakers got a lot of prasadam. One lady at the Meeting named Crystal remembered that rice dish from my previous visit and wanted the recipe. Another named Barbara, who I met both in Albany and New York City, where she goes once a month for training as an interfaith minister, interviewed me about why I became a Hare Krishna devotee. 

At the meetinghouse there was a poster with a quote about spiritual outreach by Quaker founder George Fox that seems to have significance beyond that particular tradition.

For dinner, we made spinach and paneer with dal and capatis. My mother, my sister, Karen, my niece, Fern, my sister's boyfriend, Victor, and I also cooperated together in the cooking, and everything came out nice. I offered it all to a picture of Panca-tattva in Mayapur I got back in April.

Fern took a picture of the rest of us, including her dog, Farlo.

I looked in the meditation room at the Albany Airport as I awaited my flight to Orlando, on the way to Puerto Rico. I saw a book shelf and thought, “They should have Bhagavad-gita As It Is.” When I looked closer, I noticed they did.

They had meditation cushions and a natural scene to facilitate prayer and meditation, and I chanted on my beads there for awhile.

Harinamas in San Juan Before the Ratha-yatra Festival

The very night we got to San Juan, Dhameshvar Mahaprabhu and I did harinama from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Rio Piedras, near Jaya Sita dd's yoga center. We did not meet many people, but almost everyone we met was willing to take an invitation to Ratha-yatra.

On harinama in the Rio Piedras area the next day, one man asked me if I was in New York. He had returned from there on Thursday and thought he remembered seeing me. He probably did.

Bhaktin Paula took us to Old San Juan the first time we went there on harinama. We met an Indian family on vacation who joined us for some time, helping to distribute invitations.

The next day we went to Old San Juan via public transportation, and we found that we could play our instruments and chant on the train and bus without being restricted which is not true everywhere, even in other parts of America.

The third day full day was Christmas Day. Adikarta Prabhu wanted to distribute books. Dhameshvar wanted to rehearse the play. Mother Akuti did not want to go out with so few people on harinama. Thus at 4:00 p.m., realizing there was no one to come out with me, I decided to go out by myself for three hours, playing the harmonium, chanting Hare Krishna, and distributing invitations to the Ratha-yatra. I would chant one mantra and then distribute invitations to nearby people, and then chant another mantra and do the same.

One man was selling small toy drums, and he played in perfect time to my music with great delight.

After chanting in Old San Juan for a couple hours, I chanted in the bus station as I waited for the bus home. I offered everyone an invitation. One man asked me to sing a song for him. I chanted one tune for him for a while, and he gave me a dollar.

I found a bus that went all the way to Rio Piedras, the region of San Juan I was staying in, but when we got to the final stop, I could not understand where I was in relation to where I was going. I explained to the bus driver that I knew where the church and the train station were but not the bus station, and after everyone got off the bus, the bus driver kindly drove me within walking distance of the church and explained how to get there, and thus I was able to get home.

First Ever Puerto Rico Ratha-yatra

One of the most visible and popular festivals celebrated by Hare Krishna devotees, Ratha-yatra, came for the first time to Puerto Rico, on December 27, 2014. 

In this festival, the Krishna deity known as Lord Jagannath, rides through the streets of the city on a cart, accompanied by His brother, Baladev, and sister, Subhadra. Devotees pull the cart with ropes, chanting the name of the Lord with musical instruments and dancing in procession. The venue was Paseo de la Princesa in Old San Juan. The weather was ideal, sunny and warm.

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, when considering how to spread Krishna consciousness to the Western countries thought that the worship of Lord Jagannath, because of His nature as patita-pavana, the uplifter of those fallen away from spiritual Vedic culture, would be appropriate to introduce. When Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought this Hare Krishna movement to the West, Jagannath was in fact the first deity to appear. The day before the Puerto Rico Ratha-yatra, Malati Devi, disciple of Srila Prabhupada, gave a wonderful class telling about the appearance of Lord Jagannath and His Ratha-yatra festival in the Hare Krishna movement in San Francisco in 1967.

Malati told us that in March 1967, she was shopping at Cost Plus Imports in San Francisco, and was attracted by some carved wooden figures that were made in India. After all, Swamiji was from India and Hare Krishna was from India, so that was only natural. She spontaneously popped a blackish one in her bag. Later when Shyamasundara and Mukunda showed the figure to Srila Prabhupada, he surprised them by greeting the figure with joined palms in obeisance. He inquired about the origins of the figure, and Malati explained. He asked if there were more, and she said there was a white one and a yellow one. Srila Prabhupada asked that she get them. He explained about Lord Jagannath, who was a form of Krishna, Lord Baladev, His brother, and Lady Subhadra, His sister, and expressed his desire that a devotee carve a larger replicas of them for worship.
Malati explained, Shyamasundar liked wood and worked with wood, but he had not carved anything before. Still when Srila Prabhupada wanted someone to carve a large Jagannath from wood, he immediately agreed to do it. We were able to do things beyond our normal scope by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada. Because Prabhupada told us the story about how the original Jagannath was carved from a log from the ocean, we decided to find a log from the ocean to carve Lord Jagannath. There was a salvage company that sold things found in the San Francisco Bay, so we went there. We told the guy in charge what we wanted, and he said to look around for it, and so we did. We found a large log, and were ready to go, but the guy in charge was no longer around, so we just left with it.
Prabhupada said he would remain in San Francisco until Shyamasundar finished carving Jagannath. So Shyamasundar decided he would carve very slowly so Srila Prabhupada would stay with us longer.”

When Srila Prabhupada unexpectedly came by our apartment to inspect the carving work, on the head of Subhadra was a pack of cigarettes. Shyamasundar said with genuine feeling, ‘I am sorry about the cigarettes.’ Srila Prabhupada said, ‘Yes, smoking is so hard to give up, but don’t let such a small thing as a stick of tobacco stand between you and your relationship with Krishna.’ With a flick of his walking stick he knocked the cigarette pack off the head of Subhadra. Then he gave Shyamasundar a practical strategy – to smoke one less cigarette each day until he was finished, and so he did.

Their painting was the dress of the first Jagannath deities. Now we have elaborate deity ceremonies last three or five days, but ours was very simple. It must have pleased Lord Jagannath because He immediately reciprocated with us. Janaki was crying in the kirtana, and I asked her what was wrong. She said, ‘He is here. He is really here.’

Srila Prabhupada explained that now the Lord Jagannatha had come they should observe the Ratha-yatra festival. The Skanda Purana gives a fixed date for Ratha-yatra, the second day of the bright fortnight in the month of Ashada [June-July], and the first one in 1967 in San Francisco was done on that day.”

Malati shared some of Srila Prabhupada instructions about the festival:

Srila Prabhupada wanted profuse prasadam distribution. He said, ‘The cart is not different from Lord Jagannath. By decorating the cart, we are decorating our heart.’ He also explained, ‘Just looking at the cart is auspicious or touching the rope, touching at the cart.’

Seeing Srila Prabhupada’s happiness hearing the report of our Ratha-yatra, we were overjoyed and became convinced about the festival’s great importance.”

Malati advised the devotees participating in Puerto Rico, “During the Ratha-yatra, interact with the public, smile at them, wave at them, and inspire them to take part.”

Paseo de la Princesa was a good place for the festival because it is part of a tourist section of Old San Juan and tourists both from Puerto Rico and abroad stroll through that area of the town.

The authorities gave us a less crowded time to pull Lord Jagannath on His chariot, but Bhadra Prabhu made up for it by doing a harinama, a street procession of congregational chanting of the Holy Names, through a larger area later, at a busier time. Fortunately we had just enough invitations still left to invite people to partake of the spiritual food and the stage show.

On both processions several onlookers were enchanted by the singing and dancing of the devotees, and began dancing themselves with great enthusiasm and it was beautiful to see. 

Many copies of the Spanish version of “On Chanting Hare Krishna” were distributed. We had a book table at our festival site that was practically always busy throughout the day.

For the stage show we had music, bharat-natyam dances, and a short play. Bhadra Prabhu invited devotees from Alachua who perform at the Florida Ratha-yatras to come for that event. Bali and Dhanya lead kirtana, along with some of the local Puerto Rican devotees. Students from Bhakti Kalalayam Dance Academy came, along with their director, Anapayini dasi, and they did bharat-natyam dances that depict pastimes of Krishna. For over an hour there was a final kirtana that was very lively which Bhadra Prabhu and others led. Several people danced in the crowd, and passersby were attracted to stop and watch.

The play was a rendition of the ISKCON classic about the fool who polishes the bird cage without tending to the bird inside till it reeks of death.

After the festival, Virabahu Prabhu, the Governing Board Commissioner for Puerto Rico, thanked everyone who took part in a very heartfelt way that was impressive to me:

It is a very sweet moment to glorify devotees. We pray to the Lord to bless everyone who took part in making this Ratha-yatra festival happen. We want to thank everyone. Nothing is small if it is offered to the Lord.

I am moved that you [visiting devotees] who have great love for the holy name, Lord Jagannath, and these festivals, were inspired to come here. You have made this festival.

If you ever had any doubts about miracles, now you can believe.

Everyone has made a sacrifice. Thank you making such a nice sacrifice.”

Virabahu Prabhu told the story of how the festival came to Puerto Rico:
The story started with Caitanya Jivan being brought in by Jaya Sita. Jaya Sita, although she met the devotees elsewhere, is from Puerto Rico. Prabhupada wanted the locals to do the preaching. We have to thank them for many more things than just Ratha-yatra. They encouraged a bhaktin to donate enough to pay the entire mortgage for the temple property on Janmastami in 2011. And before, that Caitanya Jivan donated a restaurant. I was very grateful and thanked him and asked, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’
Caitanya Jivan said, ‘Yes. I just want there to be Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico.’”

Bhadra Prabhu, spoke up, “You mentioned to my wife a couple of years ago to do something with Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico. I thought of December because it is cold in the north. There are many tourists, especially between Christmas and New Years. Thus I came in February to meet with the devotees and discuss it. When I was in Alachua, Jaya Sita would communicate with me three, four, or five times a day about Ratha-yatra organization. Arisudana Prabhu, temple president of our ISKCON temple in Puerto Rico, encouraged me saying, ‘I am glad you are doing Ratha-yatra. If you did not do it I would not be happy.’ We did 1,500 plates of prasadam.

Some devotees were doubtful that it was practical to do Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico in 2014, but Bhadra Prabhu pointed out that whenever they encountered an obstacle, that Krishna had always shown a way to overcome it and so they should be optimistic. Emanuel, one of the devotees who believed it possible, had a dream of Srila Prabhupada walking down Paseo de la Princesa, expectantly surveying the site and smiling.

I was impressed to see how Jaya Sita, who I had known for her competence as a cellist and yoga instructor, in Gainesville, Philadelphia, and Mexico, and for her faith in her guru, Hridayananda Goswami, had really developed into a festival organizer. Krishna describes a yogi to be one who is always equipoised in the face of all dualities, and she really seemed to be in that spirit, dealing with all the issues arising the day of the festival and those leading up to it. Caitanya Jivan Prabhu played a humble role behind the scenes, with plenty of energy, always ready to do whatever was needed to make it happen. Bhadra Prabhu, who is the leader of a team of devotees who do eight Ratha-yatras in Florida, contributed his great experience and a lot of time, and he engaged many devotees in doing the needful to make it happen. Damodar Krishna Prabhu left his family in Alachua for several weeks to work on the Ratha-yatra cart.

It was beautiful that different senior devotees came there to help to make it a successful festival, Virabahu Prabhu, Adikarta Prabhu, Sankha Prabhu, Malati Devi, Laksmimani Devi, and Akuti Devi. Sankha Prabhu missed the Ratha-yatra because he was cooking the whole time. It was a worthy sacrifice as none of the preparations, rice, chickpeas, sabji, or halava, ran out during the over five hours prasadam was served.

I was involved with doing harinama and distributing invitations before the festival. One morning Adikarta Prabhu, Dhamesvar Das, Leo, and I did harinama in the Rio Piedras area of San Juan for almost two hours. I was impressed that at least 95% of the people took Ratha-yatra invitations, far beyond what I experience anywhere, except with Indradyumna Swami’s festivals in Poland. Later we went to Old San Juan and found although the Puerto Ricans continued taking many invitations, the mainland American tourists were very reluctant. Only those from India were very interested. When we returned the next day via public transportation, Mother Akuti was impressed with the positive attitude of the people on both the train and the bus, who would tap to our music or even try to follow the words. The day before the Ratha-yatra, as Keshava Prabhu, Abhayananda Prabhu and I were taking the bus to Old San Juan, the city bus driver asked us to sing, and we sang the whole rest of the way! In most places, bus drivers are among the people who tell you to stop singing, but in Puerto Rico the people are so friendly, the bus drivers invite you to sing! When our harinama party encountered Adikarta Prabhu distributing books, he stopped and joined our kirtana party. Being invited by proprietors or customers, we chanted in a jewelry shop, a clothes shop, and a bar, and we also chanted with a street musician. You can see in this video our party chanting on the bus, in the shops, and with the street musician (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGerEnGdI0xJbi8eRhvMhb54CZGvTJaFk):

All the devotees on the party were so enthusiastic to invite people to the festival, we would stop playing our instruments or singing to hand out the invitations to anyone who looked a little interested. Adikarta would even pass out the invitations when he was leading the chanting, and other devotees had to take over for him temporarily. I was so happy to see everyone’s enthusiasm to invite people to the Ratha-yatra!

Virabahu Prabhu advised the devotees about the Ratha-yatra deities: “You can consider the new Jagannath, Baladeva, and Subhadra deities to be installed by the enthusiastic kirtana and participation in yesterday’s Ratha-yatra festival. Srila Prabhupada wrote in his Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.3.25 purport, ‘Recently, when we established a large Krishna-Balarama temple in Vrindavan, we were obliged to have Vedic ceremonies enacted by brahmanas because the inhabitants of Vrindavan, especially the smarta-brahmanas, would not accept Europeans and Americans as bona fide brahmanas. Thus we had to engage brahmanas to perform costly yajñas. In spite of these yajñas, the members of our Society performed sankirtana loudly with mridangas, and I considered the sankirtana more important than the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies.’ The next time a householder says that his deities are not installed, I will say, ‘Did you chant Hare Krishna before them?’”

The day after Ratha-yatra devotees had a twelve-hour kirtana in their temple in Puerto Rico, in a town called Gurabo, about 40 minutes outside San Juan on a mountain over looking the city and the ocean. Different devotees led for a half-hour or an hour. In particular, Dhanya’s kirtana was so lively it got everyone up dancing at one point. If you have Facebook, you can see it in this video at the link below:

Although many of us were wiped out from the Ratha-yatra, it was a good idea to do the sustained kirtana. It is always good to give people the chance to experience the higher taste the comes from being absorbed in the congregational chanting of the holy name of the Lord. Lord Caitanya has said it is the nectar for which we are always anxious. Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami says, “The Absolute Truth is Sri Krishna, and loving devotion to Sri Krishna exhibited in pure love is achieved through congregational chanting of the holy name, which is the essence of all bliss.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi 1.96)

I was happy to go to the first ever Puerto Rico Ratha-yatra. I think Srila Prabhupada, who induced his father to do Ratha-yatra in their neighborhood, as a five-year-old child, feels some special joy to see the festival of his beloved Lord Jagannath come to another city. I went to the first Ratha-yatra in Brno, Czech Republic, in 2007, in Wroclaw, Poland, in 2009, in Fredrikstad, Norway, in 2011, in Passau, Germany, in 2012, and in Sheffield, England, in 2014, and I feel fortunate that by my friend Jaya Sita’s invitation and my friend Namamrita’s complimentary air tickets, my friend Dhameshvar Mahaprabhu and I could advertise and attend the first ever Puerto Rican Ratha-yatra.

This year I got to go early and do harinama and distribute invitations to the Ratha-yatras in Sheffield, London, Manchester, Dublin, Philadelphia, and Puerto Rico. Just the single day I spent promoting Dublin or the two days I spent in Philadelphia I felt was too short, so I went on six harinamas in five days in Puerto Rico. My realization is that the devotees put so much time and energy to organize festival programs to benefit the people in general, it is good if we become enthusiastic to promote them. On Indradyumna Swami’s Festival of India tour in Poland, for each festival site, he has three harinamas with fifty or sixty devotees, and each time in three hours, his eight distributors pass out seven thousand invitations, and nightly several thousand people attend his festivals. Such a commitment to advertising Ratha-yatras in ISKCON would really boost our popularization of Lord Krishna and His message of divine love.

Bhadra Prabhu hopes to make Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico between Christmas and New Years a yearly event. For information on this coming year’s Ratha-yatra in Puerto Rico and those in North and Central Florida, check out his web site: www.festivalofchariots.org.

Harinamas in San Juan After the Ratha-yatra Festival

After the whole Ratha-yatra festival, we helped clean up for half an hour, and then did harinama to the taxi stand.

One lady wanted to have her picture taken with us.

Finding too few taxis, we took a bus, and Adikarta Prabhu led kirtana on the bus, all the way to the train station. And then we chanted on the train all the way to Rio Piedras.

I had a feeling it would be difficult to get devotees to chant with me in Gainesville over the winter break, as well as to find populated places to chant, so I stayed in Puerto Rico until my ticket expired on December 31. I was glad I did because we got six devotees to chant together on harinama on December 29 in Rio Piedras and on December 30 in Old San Juan.

Krishna Keshava, Abhayananda, Atavi Krishna, Dhameshvar, and Sita Wolf chanted with me for about three hours in a busy shopping area on the streets of Rio Piedras near where Jaya Sita has her yoga center. 

One boy danced to our music.

Sita, though not famous among the Hare Krishna kids as a kirtana leader, had a pleasing and loud voice and sang well.

Many people were happy to see us, like this street vendor. 

One man, speaking to passers by his shop with a microphone, let us sing Hare Krishna into his microphone for as long as we wanted to, something that does not happen very often at all. Krishna Keshava started off.

Then Sita chanted into the mic.

The devotees chanted and danced in a circle in the middle of the street, where people were sitting on benches.

Bhakti Shakti dd, wearing green, who cooks for Jaya Sita's yoga center, joined us in the kirtana. She is well known as a experienced vegetarian cook in Santa Domingo, where she got to cook for visiting guests like Bill Clinton and the Prince of Spain. We were all satisfied with her cooking, especially the pizza on the final day.

One woman played her tambourine with us.

Several people gave us donations although we had no donation box.

We even chanted in an indoor market with many vendors and many stalls, but no one complained.

In that market Krishna Keshava bought coconuts to drink for everyone in our party, and we continued chanting as we drank the coconuts. 

After the others had left, as Dhameshvar, Sita, and I chanted back to the yoga center, Billy, on the left of the above picture, came up and asked me, "Are you from Gainesville?" Turns out Billy grew up in Gainesville but now summers in NYC and winters in Puerto Rico. He also said he saw me in Union Square in the fall! He eats at the Bhakti Cafe and attends kirtanas at the Bhakti Center, and wondered if we had prasadam and kirtana in Puerto Rico! I gave him the details. Thanks to Sita for the picture.   

The final day we returned to Old San Juan.

This time we went to another tourist attraction, El Morro Fort (officially Castillo de San Felipe del Morro). Thanks to Jaya Sita for the picture.

The Trip Home to Gainesville

As we were flying standby, we decided to try for the early morning flight, which had four or five free seats the last time I checked. Turns out there when we arrived there were only two free seats and we were number seven and eight on the waiting list. Thus we did not make that flight and had to wait almost seven and a half hours for the next flight. As it was Ekadasi and I just wanted to chant extra japa of Hare Krishna on my beads and Dhameshvar Mahaprabhu just had to do some studying, because we could do both in the airport, we just stayed at the gate until the next flight. While waiting we also booked a Megabus for the evening from Orlando to Gainesville as we missed the Greyhound we previously booked.

When we got to Orlando, we still had to wait four and a half hours for the Megabus, but because the Orlando Airport has free wireless internet, we spent most of the time there.

New Years Eve Harinama in Gainesville

We arrived just before 10 p.m. in Gainesville, just in time for me to go on the New Years Eve Harinama which we had scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Krishna Keshava Prabhu kindly brought prasadam for me because all I had was tomato juice and peanuts on the airplane, and I was starving.

I was so happy we had thirteen devotees altogether. Some years I could only convince two or three people to come out on harinama on New Years Eve. This year I told Krishna Keshava Prabhu to organize it as I was out of town, and I asked Mother Mukhya, the temple president of Alachua, to advertise it, so we were much more successful.

Often passersby are too shy to participate in singing or dancing with us but on days like New Years Eve, and also Halloween, there is such a mood of celebration, many more people interact with the party, and knowingly or unknowingly get the benefit of serving the Lord by participating in His sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the holy name of the Lord.

You can see passersby in the video below were attracted to celebrate with the Hare Krishna devotees in Gainesville (http://youtu.be/5nv4mghcbdU):

Recalling New Adventures in 2014

Every year has some special new adventures for me, and I like to recall them at year's end. The day after Gaura Purnima in 2014, I did harinama with Abhiram Prabhu in Bagru, Rajasthan, with the deities and sound system riding on camel driven carts. I did harinama all the way around Govardhan Hill for the first time with two friends from Ireland. I went to the first ever Ratha-yatra in Sheffield, England, and San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2014. In fact, I did harinama in Puerto Rico for the first time as well. I went to our Scottish temple, Karuna Bhavan, and did harinama in Glasgow, the city nearby, both for the first time, and also attended a kirtana program in Findhorn in the north of Scotland. Our harinama at the Green Festival in Newcastle, attracted participation by devotees from Scarborough and Leeds, and one of my Newcastle friends joined in our harinama in York. We also did harinama in a new city, Chester, England, for the first time, and also did an evening program there as well. These were so good we did both a second time this year too. It is nice to see the devotees in The North of England cooperating together to do more harinama. I was denied entry into the UK on August 25, the first time any country had denied me entry. I went couchsurfing in Lille, France, for the first time and ended up staying one night with a young Indian man, who had attended our temple in Hyderabad and who had gone to our Janmastami festival at Radhadesh the previous week, and a young lady from France, who had danced in our Mantra Yoga tent at the Polish Woodstock festival. I chanted in the Brussels Central Station for the first time. In Brooklyn we chanted in the Atlantic Avenue – Barclay's Center subway station for the first time. In San Juan, a bus driver told our harinama party to sing on the bus for the first time. 

I went to the Brooklyn Doughnut Plant for the first time to get prasadam doughnuts for my relatives. I flew out of the Islip MacArthur airport for the first time in order to get to Jacksonville in time to chant at the campus. I took the Chinese bus from Jacksonville, Florida, to New York City for the first time, to save Krishna's money, and lived to tell about it. I got a Smartphone for the first time from my friend Dorian, and it is great having all Prabhupada's main books in the palm of your hand. I made coconut burfi with saffron, cardamom, and rose water for the first time. I have a computer with the Linux operating system for the first time, thanks to Jiva Goswami Prabhu, and it is a pleasant change from Windows.

To see the photos I took but did not include in this journal, click on the link below:


Srila Prabhupada:

from a letter to Tamal Krishna Goswami written in Bombay on November 21, 1974:

Yes, train up the brahmanas very carefully. Many Indians and foreigners criticize us how we can create brahmanas. They are under the impression that brahmanas are born like horses and asses are born. According to Bhagavad-gita brahmanas are according to guna and karma. So the training of brahmanas should be so nice that people will be forced to accept them as brahmanas by guna, quality, and karma, action.”

Tamal Krishna Goswami:

Srila Prabhupada told us that if we give up sense gratification and dedicate our life to serving Lord Caitanya, He will take us back to Godhead at the end of our life.

Book distribution is the most powerful service to make spiritual advancement because it forces one to take full shelter of guru and Krishna.

Radhanath Swami:

Kunti says that aspiring for wealth, parentage, beauty, and education blocks our spiritual progress, but if these assets are engaged in service to God, they become blessings.

In the Bible it is said it is easier for a rich man to get into heaven that to put a camel through the eye of a needle. If the rich man uses his assets in God's service, then God who is full of inconceivable power will help him put the camel through the eye of the needle, and then the impossible becomes possible.

Advice to businessmen: Earn with integrity; spend with compassion.

I was with Srila Prabhupada in Vrindavan and just about six people were in his room. Someone asked him, “Are you guru of the whole world?”
Srila Prabhupada replied, with tears in his eyes, “No, I am servant of everyone.”
Hearing that, I thought within myself, “He is guru of the whole world!”

Compassion gives ecstasy to the soul. Sense gratification cannot.

Laksmi Nrsimha Prabhu:

You get lots of realization from book distribution, even if you do not do so well at it. You notice that you do not do so well, and so you pray to Krishna, and then someone asks, “Do you have any Bhagavad-gitas?”

Even from the mundane point of view, if people see you do not really want to be there, they will not get into it. But if we are smiling and looking at the people, they will respond.

We are Caitanya Mahaprabhu's instruments, and we should let Him play us through our chanting and dancing. People will be attracted because they are experiencing dissatisfaction in life.

The Vedas actually describe how the Lord is everything. Krishna expands as Ksirodakasayi Vishnu and is situated in everyone's heart.

According to the degree of our purification we can see Krishna more and more.

Destiny is the language of God. One who is advanced see that everything is happening by the will of God. Things are happening for us not to us.

One psychologist says, “All suffering occurs because of resistance to what is.”

Bhakti is a yoga system and must be practiced with strictness.

A few words from a pure devotee can determine our life's mission. Srila Prabhupada was able to speak in that way.

If a person can say a few words that inspires a country they are glorified, what to speak of a worldwide revolution of consciousness that challenges every kind of sense gratification. Unless we make a commitment to participate in his mission, we will not be able to understand. We must contact as many conditioned souls as possible and give them the opportunity.

Laksmimani dd:

There was a program in Buffalo toward the end of 1968 where different “spiritual” leaders were asked to speak, Timothy Leary, Ram Das, people from a group of people called the Hog Farm, that advocated unrestrained sense gratification, and His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Timothy Leary and Ram Das were preaching that drugs were the way to spiritual realization. Srila Prabhupada was outstandingly different. He was genuine and there, over the next couple of years, 35 people became devotees as a result of hearing from Srila Prabhupada. These included Prahladananda Swami, Trivikrama Swami, Kusakratha Prabhu, etc.

I was always impressed by his conviction about the importance of worshiping Krishna. His compassionate desire to give Krishna to everyone and his sense of urgency, that we had no time to waste, were his most striking qualities.

In 1970, just three weeks after I became a devotee, we traveled to go to Ratha-yatra.

Comment by Akuti: That was the festival where Srila Prabhupada lay flat before the Jagannath cart, and then got up and starting dancing. That year, we walked six miles and ended in a auditorium, with ten thousand people. Srila Prabhupada was so happy to see all the people. He told them to dance and when they get tired to take prasadam.

My son was born while Srila Prabhupada was on that cart. Because my husband, Jagadisa, was a GBC, the devotees gave Prabhupada a note telling Srila Prabhupada about it. Prabhupada named him Nirmala Chandra.

Once Srila Prabhupada walked by the kitchen when a team of ladies were rolling chapatis. He told us that any of the ladies who were not wearing neck beads should leave. He told us we should put at least one strand of neck beads of those in the kitchen.

Once Srila Prabhupada asked us, “Is there anyone not chanting 16 rounds?” No one responded, and he repeated the question. They he said, “Is there anyone lying?” Finally some devotees raised their hands. Srila Prabhupada said, “It is not a difficult thing. One hour in the morning and one hour in the evening and you can chant 16 rounds. Somehow or other you must chant 16 rounds.”

I was in Mayapur in 1974, and the devotees were cooking outside under a tent. It came to Srila Prabhupada's attention that another lady and I were pregnant, and he had a devotee make sure the two of us got hot milk every night.

Srila Prabhupada's sister would never visit Srila Prabhupada alone, even if the room was full of people. One day she took me into Srila Prabhupada's room. Srila Prabhupada was explaining how in the Vedic society you could understand a persons role in society by how they were dressed. He gave some examples, and then he said but we try to dress simply. One lady asked, “Does that mean if our husband buys us expensive saris we cannot wear them.”
Prabhupada replied, “You can wear them but only when your husband is present. Otherwise who are you trying to attract? Krishna is not attracted by expensive saris.”
We have to give people engagement so they feel they have a place in Krishna consciousness.

Srila Prabhupada was not locked into a particular paradigm. Therefore he was able successfully spread Krishna consciousness in the Western world.

Akuti dd:

I was often in the kitchen when Srila Prabhupada was visiting the temple. The poor person who carried Prabhupada's plate was always harassed by everyone who wanted to grab Srila Prabhupada's remnants, even his salt or pepper.

Once I bowed down to Srila Prabhupada, and I noticed I was right next to his feet. I was a new devotee, but I knew I was not supposed to touch men. I decided to just lightly touch his slippers, and I am glad I did as it was my only chance.

We must control our anger or it will work its way to our tongue, and we will commit offenses in our speech.

There is a game where you take an ordinary material word and then have people use the word in connection with Krishna.

Sankha Prabhu:

In 1974 they asked me to make samosas for Srila Prabhupada. I made 34 large samosas and sent them to Srila Prabhupada. Three days later I asked Brahmananda if Srila Prabhupada liked them. He said they never made it to him. A few days later one Indian devotee was cooking a special feast and he made very small dainty diamond samosas. Srila Prabhupada came in the kitchen and saw the samosas, and asked, “Did you make these samosas? I said, “No, Srila Prabhupada.” He replied, “You do not how to make samosas! You only know how to make footballs!”

Palika was Prabhupada's cook, but she was sick, so she sent me to buy fruit for Srila Prabhupada. I bought all kinds of fruit, then I saw an orange vendor. I tasted an orange, and it was so good. I bought a huge bag. Later on a morning walk, in the middle of a conversation, he suddenly said, “Who has bought all these oranges?” As a proud brahmacari I run up to him, and said, “I did.” He said, “These oranges are tenth class just like you!”

Adikarta Prabhu:

On his last visit to London, although Srila Prabhupada was very emaciated and hardly said anything, you could see he very much appreciated the kirtanas the devotees had instead of Bhagavatam class. He also liked the new Balaram drums that the devotees had made. Tamal Krishna Goswami once glorified different events in Srila Prabhupada's life in his presence, and Prabhupada, in his feeble condition, pointed out that he got a date wrong.

In the midst of a conversation, where the devotees were praising Srila Prabhupada for a past brave act, Srila Prabhupada told the devotees, “I am still very brave. How could I go to New York without any money?”

Once Srila Prabhupada was praying to Krishna, and devotees asked him what he was praying for, and he said he was praying to be protected from maya [illusion].

The insulation for the devotee is to be constantly hearing about Krishna.

The Smithsonian Institute had to formally apologize for destroying the bones of some humans found to be 8 to 10 feet high.

Prabhupada wanted us to get up early, 1½ to 2 hours before sunrise. That is why you see all the older devotees get up early and go to mangala-arati in Alachua, except for Sita [who is in her early twenties]. I tell Sita, “Why don't you invite your friends?”

Comment by Sita: I don't have any friends anymore. You guys are my friends.

If you can sit in one place and chant your japa, that is best.

Book distribution is a humbling experience because people reject you. But it is very sweet taste, if you can tolerate the austerity.

A disciple desiring Srila Prabhupada stay in India offered him the best mangoes hoping to convincing to remain. Srila Prabhupada replied, “Preaching in the snows of Russia is sweeter than any mango.”

About a year ago, Bill Clinton embraced one devotee who was distributing books, and said, “Hare Krishna.”

One lady I met on book distribution said she was a Hindu and knew about Krishna and knew Bhagavad-gita. I asked her what chapter two was about, and she did not know. Ultimately, she ended up buying a book and giving a donation.

Q (by Sita): You say it is important to chant japa, and it is important to do book distribution. How are we to understand what is more important?

comment by Sita: So japa is like eating, everybody has to eat.

Doing book distribution is not a sign of advancement. There could be cooks or pujaris who are more advanced. Occasionally someone who has done book distribution for 15 years suddenly leaves.

Malati Devi:

We served 100 people a day prasadam in San Francisco, but we did not ask for money. We would ask stores for leftover produce. We would trade in soda bottles we collected for food at the supermarket. And we would also go into the supermarket and just fill up a bag with food and walk out. And there was a convenience store across the street which would get deliveries every morning. Every day, while the delivery man was in the store, I would take two pounds of butter from the back of the truck. Once Srila Prabhupada saw me getting it. He asked me about it, and when I explained I was taking butter from the truck, Srila Prabhupada said, “Krishna was also a butter thief.” I understood after he said that, that we cannot imitate Krishna, and so I stopped doing it.

Srila Prabhupada explained to me that Lord Jagannath should have His own plate, one that has not been used by others, one that was silver, with a goblet and two small bowls, and that from then on everything prepared should be offered to Him, and the curtains should be closed while He ate.

We chanted the first line of Prabhupada pranama mantra because that was all we had, and the Panca-tattva mantra, and “namo brahmanya devaya . . .

Some hippies thought we closed the curtains to put drugs in the food. That was their explanation for the good feeling they felt from eating it. We explained that we closed the curtains because God likes to eat in private.

We would tell people to come to the temple and see God. They would come and we would show them Lord Jagannath. Some would accept and others would wonder, “What is going on here?”

There is a little YouTube clip of this first Ratha-yatra in San Francisco (http://youtu.be/tRV6lOie5Nk?t=4m27s) [at 04:27 minutes into the video]:

Srila Prabhupada wanted profuse prasadam distribution at the Ratha-yatra. I decided to make capatis. I realized I needed more help. I enlisted anyone who walked by. We did not have enough rolling pins. So I had people find empty wine bottles, rinse them out, fill them with water, and use them as rolling pins. Because we made them the day before, and we did not have enough money for butter, they were quite dry. Still we had such faith in prasadam, we would tell people it was spiritual food and they would eat it completely, without throwing any away.

To decorate the cart, went to the park and picked all the flowers. Even though the policemen later became aware that the park was stripped of flowers and that those flowers were decorating our cart, they did not say anything.

Although the cart is small, when the Lord is on board, it seems great.

In Puri the cart of Lord Jagannath has a name which means “tumultuous blissful sound.” It has 16 wheels with 45-foot canopy. Balarama's cart has a name meaning “significantly powerful rhythm.” Subhadra's cart has a name meaning “destroyer of pride.” Jagannath is 5 feet and 7 inches, Balaram is 5 feet and 5 inches, and Subhadra is just under 5 feet.

Virabahu Prabhu:

The holy name is sweetest, most auspicious, and the deliver of all.

Srila Prabhupada's aura is “Do more!” You can see this from that fact his appearance day is the day after Janmastami. After staying up to midnight, and then having an arati and a feast, we have do another festival the next day as if nothing happened the day before.

Vaisesika Prabhu:

We should always consider that Krishna knows what we need better than we do.

Rama Raya Prabhu:

The real neglected deity is the holy name.


This beautiful verse reminds us how 
unforgettable the experience of Krishna-bhakti is:

na vai jano jatu kathancanavrajen
mukunda-sevy anyavad anga samsritim
smaran mukundanghry-upaguhanam punar
vihatum icchen na rasa-graho janah

[Narada Muni said:] “My dear Vyasa, even though a devotee of Lord Krishna sometimes falls down somehow or other, he certainly does not undergo material existence like others [fruitive workers, etc.] because a person who has once relished the taste of the lotus feet of the Lord can do nothing but remember that ecstasy again and again.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.19)