One Step Closer to the Goal
Diary of a Traveling Preacher – Volume 10, Chapter 6 – May, 2009
By Indradyumna Swami
“One Step Closer to the Goal”
I arrived in Moscow last May for my annual Russian preaching tour. I had recently visited the United States, and as devotees drove me to the apartment where I’d be staying, I could see that Russia had also been much affected by the global recession. A sharp decline in the price of oil, maturing debts, a nosedive in industrial output, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs had made for a dramatic downturn in the country. In a desperate attempt to revive the economy, President Medvedev had injected the equivalent of 250 billion euros into the financial sector.
Along the way I saw the same massive factories I’d seen before, but during the communist regime the smokestacks were bellowing smoke. Now nothing was coming out of them.
“The economy is bad,” I said to Uttama-sloka Dasa, “but not as bad as it was during the communist era. In those days there was no free enterprise.”
“That’s true,” he said.
“Remember in the early ’90s?” I said. “That propaganda mural on a train station wall in Siberia? It showed the communist idea of the evolution of prosperity in society. It began with a scene of cavemen, then people tilling the soil, then families praying in churches, and finally the perfection: men and women working happily in factories.”
Uttama-sloka nodded. “Yes,” he said, “but capitalism and free enterprise have brought greed and corruption. They are building a ring road around Moscow costing seven million dollars every kilometer, twice as much as in the United States, and much of it going for bribes. That’s why it’s so expensive here. Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are trying to curtail the corruption in Russia, but it’s endemic here.”
“In the West we often hear negative things about Putin,” I said.
“A lot of that is politics,” said Uttama-sloka, “but at home he’s perceived as trying to make the country a powerful international player again after it struggled with communism’s demise. Russians are a proud lot.
“I’ve heard he respects our movement,” he continued. “At least he respects our principles, and he doesn’t drink. He joked about it a couple of years ago at an important function. Someone offered him a drink, and he said, ‘No thanks, I’m a Hare Krsna.’
“And Medvedev practices yoga every day. During a television interview, someone asked him how deeply he was interested in yoga, and he said that he had memorized all the Patanjali Sutras. I’m not saying they’re devotees, but they are anti-corruption.”
The next morning we drove to Vladimir, a city of 400 thousand people three hours to the east.
In the evening we had a hall program with more than four hundred devotees. They listened carefully to my lecture and danced blissfully in kirtana at the end. On the way back to our apartment I thought about how Krsna consciousness continues to grow with leaps and bounds in Russia.
I saw something similar in America during the ’70s and ’80s, but in Russia it just keeps on going. I could only attribute it to the piety of many of the Russian people. It may also have something to do with the fact that life in Russia has often been difficult. Now, with the recession, things have become even harder. That’s fertile breeding ground for making devotees, whichever faith or denomination one chooses to follow.
The next day I asked Uttama-sloka to arrange a walk in the woods beyond the city. My schedule in Russia is so busy with giving classes, counseling devotees, and answering e-mail that I rarely get an opportunity to go outdoors. We dressed warm and drove with several other devotees to a forested area near a village. We had walked and chanted for forty-five minutes when I looked up and to my surprise saw the ruins of a large castle.
We stood staring at what was once an opulent estate. “In the West,” I said, “something like this would have been restored long ago.”
“Lucky it’s still here,” said Uttama-sloka. “In the revolution the communists destroyed many things connected to the bourgeoisie.”
A local devotee spoke up. “It belonged to a Russian noble two hundred years ago,” he said. “It consisted of eighty rooms, with hot running water and central heating. There was even a private railway coming to the castle.”
“This area must be rich in history,” I said.
“It certainly is,” Uttama-sloka said. “Vladimir was established in 990 AD by King Vladimir Svyatoslavich the Great, making it one of the oldest cities in Russia. Historians say he was a pagan king who later converted to Christianity and built the first church in the city. Some say the so-called pagan culture was the remnant of Vedic culture, which flourished in Russia for some time.”
“That’s interesting,” I said.
“There are a number of signs that Vedic culture existed here,” Uttama-sloka continued. “We have several rivers in Russia with Vedic names, for example Indra, Kama, and Moksa.”
“And in 2007,” said Mahavan Dasa, “archaeologists unearthed a Visnu deity in Staraya Maina, an ancient town in the Volga region. They say every square inch of the place is filled with antiques.”
Uttama-sloka went on: “Historians who support the idea of Vladimir’s Vedic culture say that after conquering the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, Vladimir asked Emperor Basil II for his sister Anna’s hand in marriage. But she was a devout Christian and said she would marry him only if he converted to Christianity. Madly in love, he agreed and was baptized in Kherson.
“After they were married Anna convinced him to convert all in his kingdom to his new faith. Those who refused were beheaded. Some historians say Vladimir ultimately destroyed all traces of Vedic culture, including a Visnu temple on the site where he built a large church, and to this day that church is revered as one of the most sacred places in the Russian Orthodoxy.”
“That’s an amazing story,” I said.
“It’s history,” Uttama-sloka said, “although many scholars contest it.”
“Well,” I said, “Srila Prabhupada did say that Vedic culture once thrived all over the world. Just the other day during class we read about this in the Caitanya-caritamrta, in Madhya-lila, chapter 25. It mentioned that Vedic culture once dominated the earth but gradually broke up because of religious and cultural divisions.”
Uttama-sloka continued. “And there is further support that Russia once embraced Vedic culture,” he said.
“What support?” I asked.
“The city of Arkaim,” he said. “It was discovered in the Urals in 1987. Archaeologists call the site Swastika City or Mandala City, and they say it is an ancient capital of the Aryan civilization, as described in the Vedas. They found many articles there related to Vedic culture. The name Swastika refers to the city’s layout, which looks like a swastika, a symbol of auspiciousness in Vedic culture, and there’s other evidence even more compelling.”
“And what would that be?” I asked.
“The Russian Veda,” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “I know that book. Several years ago I met the chairman of the religious affairs committee of the Urals region, Professor Alexander Medvedev, who told me that many Russian scientists agree that Vedic culture once flourished in Russia, notably in the Volga River region. And he confirmed the existence of the Russian Veda. He said it is as old as Russia and the stories are exactly like those in the Vedic scriptures.
“Years ago I mentioned in my diary that the central figure in the Russian Veda is a person called Krishen. He is the upholder of spiritual truths and the killer of many demons. His killing of a witch and snake are exactly like the child Krsna killing the Putana and Aghasura demons in Srimad-Bhagavatam.”
“Gurudeva,” said Mahavan, “your disciple Jananivasa Dasa recently obtained a copy of the Russian Veda.”
“Wow!” I said. “Get him on the phone.”
“You mean now?” said Mahavan.
“Yes,” I said, “now.”
Within moments Mahavan had Jananivasa on the line.
“Jananivasa,” I said, “I’m curious to hear something from the Russian Veda. Can you just translate the first few sentences for me, so I can get an idea what it’s like?”
“Sure,” he said. “It’s just in front of me on the table.”
I turned the cell phone speaker on so the other devotees could hear, and Jananivasa began reading: “This great knowledge, the Vedas, was imparted to the Russians, the grandsons of Dazhbog [the god of rain], by the Almighty Himself. The Russians carefully keep this knowledge that He gave to them. It is the essence of everything. It is the very blood of Russia and the revealer of our divine path.”
After the call to Jananivasa, Uttama-sloka turned to me and sighed. “Gurudeva,” he said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow revive Vedic culture here in Russia?”
“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” I said.
“It seems impossible,” another devotee said, “at least on the scale it may have been before.”
I smiled. “There’s a proverb,” I said. “The difficult is done at once; the impossible takes a little longer.”
“But,” said the devotee, “how do we know we’re making progress toward that goal?”
“Whenever we make a new devotee,” I said, “we’re one step closer to the goal. Remember that: one step closer to the goal.”
Two days later we drove back to Moscow to catch a flight to Ekaterinburg, where my disciples were to hold my Vyasa-puja. After checking in we waited a little distance from the departure gate for the boarding announcement.
After a few minutes a young woman walked by quickly, intent on reaching the gate in time. When she noticed us, she looked surprised. She stopped for a moment and studied us carefully. Then she smiled and moved on. After taking a seat she glanced our way several times.
“Uttama-sloka,” I said, “would you ask the young woman sitting by the departure gate to come here? I’d like to talk to her.”
“Yes, Guru Maharaja,” he said. He walked over and began speaking with her. After a minute or so, the two of them came to where I was sitting.
“Hare Krsna,” I said. “My name is Indradyumna Swami.”
“Hare Krsna,” she said. “I’m Tanya.”
“Oh?” I said. “You know us?”
“A little,” she said. “Four months ago, when I received my Ph. D in philosophy, my professor gave me a set of your spiritual master’s book as a present.”
“Really?” I said.
She smiled. “I wasn’t particularly interested in them at the time,” she said, “so I put them on a shelf in my apartment. Two months ago I picked up the Bhagavad-gita out of curiosity and began reading it. Once I started, I couldn’t put it down. After finishing it I realized I’d just read the most perfect philosophy.”
I smiled. “That’s really saying something for a person with a doctorate in philosophy,” I said.
She nodded. “It also awakened within me a desire to practice yoga,” she said, “so I found the nearest yoga school and enrolled. It turned out the teacher was a Hare Krsna devotee. After the course finished he moved with his family to Mayapura in India. I took two weeks leave from my teaching position at a local university to visit them.”
“That’s wonderful,” I said.
“I’m on my way back home now,” she said. “I loved it in Mayapura. Just before I left, your disciples invited me to your birthday party which they were going to celebrate in a few days. But I had to leave.”
“Oh?” I said. “So you know me?”
“I met your disciples in Mayapur,” she said, “and they told me about you. I saw pictures of you in their homes. That’s why I was so surprised to see you when I walked by a few minutes ago.”
“We call the birthday party Vyasa-puja,” said Uttama-sloka. “We’re going to Ekaterinburg for the same celebration. Why don’t you join us tomorrow?”
“Oh, I’d love to!” she said.
Uttama-sloka gave her directions to the hall in Ekaterinburg where the program was scheduled, and we boarded the flight.
We arrived in Ekaterinburg late that night and went to bed. The next morning at the hall we were greeted by five hundred devotees having a rousing kirtan. They escorted me to the vyasasana where I sat and took over the kirtan, playing the harmonium. We chanted for a long time.
At one point I opened my eyes and suddenly saw Tanya enter the hall. When she saw the kirtan she stood mesmerized. After a few moments one of the women pulled her in, and within no time she was dancing in great happiness.
After I brought the kirtan to a close and was saying the prema-dvani prayers, I saw Tanya bowing like all the devotees, repeating “Jaya!” along with them after each line. When she finally sat up, her face was radiant.
As is customary at Vyasa-puja, devotees came onstage one by one to read their offerings. With each offering I remembered the lotus feet of my own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, and begged for his mercy to guide my disciples to those lotus feet.
An hour passed and we were about to finish, when suddenly I saw Tanya walking up the steps to the stage. I asked Uttama-sloka what was happening.
“She wants to read an offering,” he said.
“All glories to Lord Caitanya,” I thought. “It is simply His causeless mercy that this girl has come so far so quickly.”
Tanya walked up to the microphone and spoke. “Please forgive me if I’m a little nervous,” she said.
Then she began reading her offering:
“After we spoke at the airport yesterday, a devotee suggested I bring you some flowers on this special day. Last night I was wondering what kind of flowers to bring, and I decided I would bring you the lotus of my heart. After reading the Bhagavad-gita last month, I prayed to Lord Krsna to help me become His devotee. Now He has clearly revealed the path, and I pray I will become His worthy servitor. Thank you so much for giving me your kind attention yesterday and for becoming such an important part of my destiny.
“On this special occasion I feel it would also be appropriate to glorify your spiritual teacher, Srila Prabhupada. You know him much better than I do, but I would like to share my feelings about him with you today. Nearly four months back, I came in contact with him through his books. I realized that he was a person I could take shelter of and become purified. Since that time I have met many devotees, and most important, I have met you.
“It seems amazing how this process works. I learned about you during my pilgrimage to India. I had a strong desire to attend this celebration in Mayapur, but I had to leave. Then I met you and the other devotees in Moscow, and now, somehow, I am present at your Vyasa-puja in this remote city in the Ural Mountains. I can only attribute this to the mercy of Lord Krsna, and I thank Him from the bottom of my heart.
“I teach philosophy every day. I am never at a loss for words. But on this special day I cannot fully express my feelings. Let me say only that one day I pray to become a petal in the lotus flower of the devotees who help you in your devotional service to Srila Prabhupada.
“With respect and reverence,
I struggled to hold back my tears. “How fortunate I am!” I thought. “I am part of this movement, inundating the world with loving sentiments in service to the Lord.”
I gave a lecture thanking all the devotees for their heartfelt offerings and then left the stage. There was a large group of devotees waiting at the bottom of the steps to greet me. Suddenly, Tanya pushed through the crowd and stood in front of me.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Please give me just one more moment of your valuable time.”
The force of the crowd then pushed me forward, and I lost sight of her. A few moments later, as we surged on, she reappeared.
“Please,” she said, “I know it may seem early, but everything I’ve ever learned tells me I should not pass up the opportunity to ask you the most important question of my life.”
I managed to stop. “Yes, of course, Tanya,” I said. “What is your question?”
She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “Would youR,” she started, “would you please accept me as an aspiring disciple? I promise to follow all the rules and chant sixteen rounds every day.”
I wasn’t prepared for this. The devotees closed in, eager to hear my answer.
“But you’ve just come …” I started to say.
She stood with palms joined in front of me.
“You need to learn more philosophy …” I continued.
“There are other spiritual masters,” I said.
“I respect them all,” she said.
I thought for a moment. “All right,” I said. “I accept you.”
The devotees cheered.
As we walked away Uttama-sloka turned to me. “Guru Maharaja,” he said, “that was very kind of you.”
“Yes, Uttama,” I said happily, “and we’re one step closer to the goal.”
Srila Prabhupada says:
“I have been in Russia also. It is not that they are godless. The population is as good as in other country, but the government is suppressing. So that is another chapter. We have some devotees in Russia, very young men. They are very much interested in Krsna consciousness, and they are chanting, although silently, so that [the] government may not hear. So Krsna consciousness is so nice, and it is a great science.”[Art-gallery lecture, April 16, 1972, Auckland, New Zealand]
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