Excerpts from a Travelling Preacher Dairy - Volume 5 - A Lesson from an Old Cleaning Man
Since the christmas marathon has started‚Ä¶
Indradyumna Swami: Then I visited the public restroom near the festival grounds, and I complimented the old cleaning woman. ‚ÄúThis is the cleanest public toilet I have ever seen in Poland,‚ÄĚ I said. ‚ÄúThank you very much.‚ÄĚ
She was struck. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been working here 10 years,‚ÄĚ she said, ‚Äúand you‚Äôre the first person to ever thank me. But I‚Äôm not surprised. You‚Äôre good people. I‚Äôve watched your festival from a distance for years now. Everyone leaves your program smiling.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCan you come also?‚ÄĚ I said.
She looked surprised. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre inviting me?‚ÄĚ she asked. ‚ÄúYes,‚ÄĚ I said, ‚Äúto dinner. I‚Äôll come get you at 6 p.m. and we‚Äôll have dinner together in our vegetarian restaurant.‚ÄĚ
She looked down. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm an old woman,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúNo one has ever asked me. You know, I ‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
She stopped. Her eyes had welled up with tears.
I took her hand. ‚ÄúI‚Äôll be back at six,‚ÄĚ I said.
But ! ! at 5:30 p.m., just an hour into the festival program, our big seven-ton generator broke down. The maintenance crew told me that it appeared to have been sabotaged. ‚ÄúIt seems someone poured water into the fuel tank,‚ÄĚ Niti-laksa das said.
Not everyone appreciates our programs. We have to be always on guard against the envious. So I was 20 minutes late for picking up the old woman. I went with Gaura Hari das and Nandini dasi.
She wasn‚Äôt there. An old man was sitting in her chair, bent over preparing a bucket of water to clean the toilets. ‚ÄúShe went home,‚ÄĚ he told us. ‚ÄúShe wasn‚Äôt feeling well.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI‚Äôm sorry to hear that,‚ÄĚ I said. I looked at the thin, gray-haired,poorly dressed old man, and I felt sorry for him.
‚ÄúDo you know the old woman?‚ÄĚ I asked.
‚ÄúOh yes,‚ÄĚ he replied, ‚Äúshe‚Äôs my wife. We‚Äôve worked together here for years. Can you imagine that?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúNo,‚ÄĚ I said, ‚ÄúI can‚Äôt.‚ÄĚ
I immediately regretted my answer. I was afraid I had insulted the old ! ! man, so I tried to smooth things over. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think there‚Äôs anything wrong with working here,‚ÄĚ I said. ‚ÄúI meant to say I ‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúDon‚Äôt worry,‚ÄĚ said the old man. ‚ÄúI know it‚Äôs not the best work, and it doesn‚Äôt pay well, but we get by.‚ÄĚ
He paused. ‚ÄúAnd do you know how?‚ÄĚ he asked.
I was afraid I would put my foot in my mouth again, so I didn‚Äôt answer.
‚ÄúBy reading the Gita,‚ÄĚ he said slowly.
Gaura Hari, Nandini, and I looked at each other in amazement.
‚ÄúYes,‚ÄĚ he continued, ‚Äúyour Gita makes sense of everything. You can clearly understand the soul by reading the Gita. No other religion has such a concise explanation of the soul, reincarnation, and karma. If a man kills someone and then himself dies soon after, how will he be punished unless he‚Äôs born again? Reincarnation explains why some people are born into misery and others into good fortune.‚ÄĚ
For a moment I thought I was dreaming. Was the old cleaning man really speaking Vedic philosophy?
‚ÄúTake the material body,‚ÄĚ he continued. ‚ÄúIt is only dead matter. How can it be activated unless there is the presence of the soul? That‚Äôs why it‚Äôs wrong to kill animals. They also have souls. God created beings so they could live, not so they could be killed.‚ÄĚ
I was struck by his clear logic.
‚ÄúA man works all his life,‚ÄĚ he continued, ‚Äúand he gets a pension to live out his remaining days, but the cow gives milk all her life, and then people kill her. It‚Äôs wrong. And the whole world is suffering the reaction in the form of wars. Therefore God sends messengers at different times to enlighten us to these truths, but people just don‚Äôt listen. What can be done?‚ÄĚ
Gaura Hari turned to me. ‚ÄúSometimes I think you exaggerate in your diaries,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚Äúbut I‚Äôll never think that again.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou know,‚ÄĚ I whispered to him, ‚Äúthat‚Äôs the same thing Dharmatma prabhu said after we survived a serious car accident near Jagannath Puri.‚ÄĚ
I turned t! ! o the old man. ‚ÄúBut there is an answer,‚ÄĚ I said. ‚ÄúWe can have festivals like these to help people understand.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYes,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚Äúyou‚Äôre right. Go on with your festivals. Let people hear the truth.‚ÄĚ
I had to return to the festival to give my stage lecture. ‚ÄúOne more thing,‚ÄĚ I said. ‚ÄúCan you and your wife be my guests for dinner tomorrow evening at the last night of the festival?‚ÄĚ
He looked surprised.
‚ÄúPlease,‚ÄĚ I continued. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôd be honored.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAll right,‚ÄĚ he said, ‚Äúthank you.‚ÄĚ
He stood up and picked up the bucket. ‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt know what real religion was until I read the Gita,‚ÄĚ he said softly, half to himself, as he disappeared into the toilets.
Srila Prabhupada‚Äôs words came to my mind: ‚ÄúTherefore we stress so much in the book distribution. Somehow or other, if the book goes in one hand, he will be benefited ‚Ä¶ If he reads one sloka, his life will be successful‚Ä¶Therefore we are stressing so much, ‚ÄėPlease distribute books, distribute bo o! ! ks, distribute books.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ
[Lecture, January 5, 1974, Los Angeles]
Excerpts from a Travelling Oreachers Dairy - Volume 5 - A Lesson from an Old Cleaning Man