Friends and Enemies in High Places
Diary of a Traveling Preacher – Volume 10, Chapter 10 – July 7 – 13, 2009
By Indradyumna Swami
On Monday the Polish police raided our school base looking for drugs. The next day, the devotees went for harinama on the beach. Most of the devotees went by bus, and I was in a van with a few others.
Amritananda das turned to me as we drove. “You know, Gurudeva,” he said, “it makes my blood boil just to think that some people are trying to stop our festivals. Can’t they see how much we’re contributing to the summer festivities? Can’t they see how happy we’re making thousands of people?”
“They see everything,” I said, “but their reaction is different from ours. The Padma-Purana says:
dva bhuta sargau loke smin daiva asura eva ca visnu bhaktah smrto daiva asuras tad vipar yayah
“‘There are two classes of men in this created world. One consists of the demoniac and the other the godly. The devotees of Lord Visnu are the godly, whereas those who are just the opposite are called demons.'”
“Most people are nice,” I continued. “It’s the envious few who cause us trouble.”
Our kirtana party of sixty devotees descended onto the beach, creating an impressive sight with our golden fans and our colorful umbrellas and flags. People looked up and smiled, and a number of them ran forward to take pictures with us.
While we stopped to let people take their photos I overheard two families sitting in the sand arguing. “It’s a cult!” screamed a woman. “They’re dangerous! We should call the police!”
A man from the other family laughed. “They’ve been doing this for twenty years,” he said. “Do you think the police would allow a cult to come here every year? Be reasonable.”
As we went along the beach we had to stop every so often for the throngs who came forward to take photos. “Another aspect of the brhat mrdanga,” I said with a chuckle. “These photos will go much further and say much more than the beat of our drums.”
After forty-five minutes we had advanced only seventy meters. “Let’s keep moving!” I shouted to the devotees. “We have eight thousand invitations to give out today! We’ll have to hold back on the photos!”
But people followed us with their cameras, patiently waiting for the right moment. After some time, there was such a large group behind us that we had no choice but to stop. As people jostled for their turn to take photos I overheard another conversation.
“It must be pre-recorded music they’re playing from their speaker,” said a man to his wife. “It’s simply not possible for them to sing so nicely while walking through all this sand.”
The next day we put on the festival. As I was helping cook papadams in the restaurant tent, a woman waiting in line spoke to a friend. “I closed my cafe this afternoon to come to the festival,” she said.
“Really?” said her friend. “Aren’t you going to lose money?”
“There aren’t many people on the coast this summer,” the first woman said. “I had only a few customers. Most of the town was here, so I came too. I didn’t want to miss it.”
Just then a couple in their eighties entered the restaurant. When the woman saw me her eyes lit up. “There he is,” she said to her husband, and they came over to speak to me.
“We want to thank you so much,” she said. “Two years ago we became vegetarian after hearing your talk from the stage at the festival. Since then we’ve become so healthy.”
“That’s right,” said the man. “All our friends are sickly and dying, but we feel rejuvenated.”
“Is there anything else you feel we should do?” the woman asked.
I thought for a moment. “Yes, there is,” I said. “You should offer all your food to Krsna.”
“Sure,” the man said. “Just show us how to do it. We’re sure that whatever you tell us will work.”
“The process is here in this book,” I said, and I handed them Adiraja’s cookbook. Later in the evening I saw the couple sitting in the middle of the front row during my lecture.
As always, I based my thirty-minute talk on the Bhagavad-gita. After I finished I walked down the steps of the stage and saw a well-dressed elderly man waiting for me.
“Can we speak?” he said in English.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
“In your lecture you said that your Bhagavad-gita is the first edition ever in the Polish language,” he said. “That’s not true. There are six other editions.”
“I stand corrected,” I said.
“Thank you,” he said.
“How do know about the Gita?” I asked.
“I’ve been teaching it for forty years,” he said. “I’m a lecturer in Indian philosophy and culture in a number of universities. By the way, your talk was excellent. I like the way you present the ancient teachings of India in a contemporary way that people can understand.”
“I appreciate that,” I said. “It means a lot coming from someone of your caliber.”
“Oh, I defend you people sometimes,” he said. “Whenever someone criticizes you in the academic world, I speak on your behalf.”
“So you know us,” I said.
“I haven’t been to any of your centers,” he said. “I get my impressions from your spiritual master’s books.”
“Does that mean you have our Gita?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. “It’s one of the editions I teach from. I also teach from your guru’s Srimad-Bhagavatam. One of my specialties is Jainism, so I lecture from the chapters on Lord Rsabhadeva. My focus, however, is Buddhism.
“When I went to India as a young man 1971, I became interested in the Mahabharata. I wanted to translate it into Polish, so I visited a university in Delhi, and I met a professor who agreed to help me. He was Buddhist, and with his encouragement I became a specialist in that field of religious studies.”
He paused. “But after seeing your festival and observing your devotees,” he continued, “my desire to understand bhakti has been rekindled. Please, I would like to learn from you, Swami.”
I nodded. “I feel flattered that a man like you wants to learn from me,” I said. “And I will be happy to share with you anything I have learned from my spiritual master.”
We exchanged cards and agreed to keep in touch. Just as he was about to leave he turned around and took a set of japa beads from his pocket.
“Swami,” he said, “I got these beads in the shop here. For my first lesson you can teach me how to chant on them.”
I spent several minutes showing him how to chant. Then we embraced, and he left.
On the way back to the base that night I spoke to Amritananda. “That was the best festival ever,” I said.
“Srila Gurudeva,” he said with a laugh, “you say that after every festival.”
I smiled back. “I suppose when you’re engaged in preaching, then Krsna consciousness just gets better every day,” I said.
The next day, I was relaxing with a few of the men as we laughed and talked about the success of the previous day. Then my cell phone rang. It was Nandini dasi.
“Srila Gurudeva,” she said, “we have a serious problem.”
I sat up. “What is it, Nandini?” I asked.
“I received a call from the mayor’s office in the town where we’re doing the festival tomorrow,” she said. “They say we are missing an important document. If we don’t get it by this afternoon the festival will be canceled.”
“Is there a problem getting that document?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “The office that issues it closes in sixty minutes.”
“Why did they notify us so late?” I said.
Nandini was silent for a moment. “I think we both know the answer,” she said.
“What sort of document is it?” I said.
“Clearance from the sanitation department,” she said.
“What?” I said. “We’ve never needed that for any event.”
“I know,” said Nandini. “What’s more, when I called the department the woman told me it would take two weeks to get the authorization.”
“I smell a rat,” I said.
“Me too,” said Nandini. “It seems our opposition is at work again.”
I looked at my watch. “So what’s our sixty-minute strategy?” I asked.
“I’m off to the sanitation department with Jayatam right now,” she said.
“How long will it take you to get there?” I said.
“Fifty minutes,” she said.
I retired to my room to chant japa. “Each of these festivals is like gold,” I thought. “We can’t afford to lose even one to our opposition. So many people’s hearts are touched, just like the professor’s.”
Then I prayed. “Please, Lord Caitanya,” I said, “protect Your very own movement so we can continue distributing Your mercy to one and all.”
Ninety minutes later Nandini called. I grabbed my cell-phone. “Nandini,” I said, almost shouting. “Did you get it?”
“Yes, Guru Maharaja,” she said. “Mission accomplished.” She sounded exhausted.
“Really?” I said. “That’s great. How did you do it?”
“When I arrived at the sanitation department the secretary was not helpful,” Nandini said. “The secretary told me, ‘The rules are the rules, and they must be followed. You need the department’s authorization two weeks in advance of any event.’
“So I said, ‘Then why wasn’t I informed? No one told me any clearance was needed when I made the application.’
She just looked at me.
“Then I said, ‘Let me see the head of the department.’
“And she said, ‘Sorry. He doesn’t see just anyone and everyone, madam. He’s in charge of sixty workers and staff. I deal with these matters.’
“‘I insist on seeing him,’ I said.
“And she said, ‘No. I told you, he doesn’t handle these affairs.’
“Then I folded my arms and looked her in the eye. And I said, ‘Then I’m not going to move until you ask him if he’ll see me.’
“She snorted indignantly, but she picked up the phone and made the call. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ she said, as coldly as she could, ‘there’s a lady here from the Festival of India who just insists on seeing you. I told her I would inform you, and now I’m going to send her away.’
“The department head said something to her, and then she swallowed and said, ‘What’s that? You say you will see her? Yes. I’ll send her in right away.’
“She directed me to the man’s office. I knocked on the door, and he opened it with a smile.
“He said, ‘Please come in,’ and I went in.
“‘What can I do for you?’ he said.
“I said, ‘I need your help, sir. Tomorrow we are holding the Festival of India in your town. An hour ago, the town hall told me that we need clearance from your department; otherwise, the event will be canceled.’
“And he said, ‘That’s unusual. You should have been told when you made the original application. Why was that withheld?’
“I paused. Then I said, ‘I suppose everyone has friends and enemies.’
“He said, ‘I see,’ and he nodded in acknowledgement.
“Then he said, ‘But don’t you worry. I’m going to bend the rules a little and give you the document right away even if a few eyebrows will be raised, including those of my secretary.’ And he started filling out the form.
“I thought he was really nice, and I said so. I said, ‘It’s so kind of you. You don’t even know our event, but you’re going to such lengths to help us.’
“He looked up and said, ‘Huh? I don’t know your event?’
“He put his pen down and sat back in his chair. ‘Oh, I have been to your festival more than once,’ he said. ‘The first time, I sat all afternoon in the questions-and-answers tent. The second year I enjoyed the cooking classes given by Kurma from Australia. And the last time I came I very much appreciated the talk by the Indian Ambassador.'”
“Srila Gurudeva,” Nandini continued, “I was astounded. Then as he picked up his pen again he said, ‘Thank God that just as you have enemies in high places, you also have friends there.'”
Srila Prabhupada writes:
“We have no business creating enemies, but the process is such that non-devotees will always be inimical toward us. Nevertheless, as stated in the sastras, a devotee should be both tolerant and merciful. Devotees engaged in preaching should be prepared to be accused by ignorant persons, and yet they must be very merciful to the fallen conditioned souls. If one can execute his duty in the disciplic succession of Narada Muni, his service will surely be recognized… Let us continue preaching the message of Lord Krsna and not be afraid of enemies. Our only duty is to satisfy the Lord by this preaching, which will be accepted as service by Lord Caitanya and Lord Krsna. We must sincerely serve the Lord and not be deterred by so-called enemies.[Srimad Bhagavatam 6.5.39, purport]
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