Diary of a Traveling Preacher - Volume 10, Chapter 15 - August 24 - September 1, 2009
By Indradyumna Swami
The day after our last festival in Poland, I boarded a flight for India and landed the next morning in Delhi. I was going down a flight of stairs leading to Immigration and Customs when my knees buckled and I began to fall. A large man grabbed me from behind in the nick of time.
“You OK, buddy?” he said as he helped me down the last few steps.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’m fine. It’s probably from the long flight.”
It wasn’t true. I knew that two and a half months on the Polish festival tour had taken their toll. On the last day of harinama I stopped the chanting party early and told everyone to go back to the festival site. For the first time in thirty-eight years, I couldn’t go another step. It was then that I decided not to go to Russia, as I had planned, but to go to Vrindavan and recuperate as well as read and chant.
I continued walking toward Immigration and Customs. “It’s just a fact of life,” I thought shrugging off my mishap. “I’m getting older.”
Srila Prabhupada spoke about getting older while walking with his disciples on the beach at Jagannatha Puri.
“‘I was jumping here,’ he laughed. ‘In 1920 or ‘21 I came here… I came after appearing for my B. A. examination. And because I was jubilant, I was jumping. When the waves came I was jumping. Now it is fifty-seven years after… Now I am walking with stick… the body has changed.’”
[Srila Prabhupada-lilamrita, Volume 6, Chapter 7]
I was met at the airport by my disciple Narottama Das Thakura das. “It’s still early,” I told him, “but I don’t feel like sitting in a car for another four hours on the way to Vrindavan. I’d rather walk and chant my rounds in a park in Delhi. Besides, I need to pick up some supplies before we continue.”
An hour later we were strolling through a scenic park. It had been raining for a week, so everything was fresh and green. Exotic birds flew here and there, and the ponds were full of yellow and pink lotuses. Some people were walking, others were jogging, and several were doing various kinds of group exercises.
“This would be called a botanic garden in the West,” I said to Narottama, “and it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain each year. But here it’s simply part of the natural beauty of India.”
After walking for a while we came to a small grove of trees. I looked at it and then quickly looked again. “Narottama,” I said, “is that someone meditating in that little grove?”
Narottama squinted. “Looks like it, Srila Gurudeva,” he said.
“It’s a classic picture,” I said, reaching for my camera, “the old trees, the lake with the lotuses… ”
As I focused my lens and composed the shot I could see that the person doing yoga was not a casual practitioner but someone serious. The pose he was doing was extremely difficult, and his demeanor made him look like a sage of antiquity. He was thin, with long white wavy hair, and his piercing green eyes seemed to be focused within, not outwardly.
Fixed in his position, he didn’t move an inch, and he seemed oblivious to everything around him. Slowly he changed asanas, going through what appeared to be a long and practiced routine. After taking several photos, I waited until it seemed he had finished his exercises and walked over to the grove.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said as he slowly opened his eyes. “Do you practice yoga here every day?”
“Yes,” he replied, “for eight to ten hours a day.”
“How long have you been practicing here?” I asked.
He thought for a moment. “For forty years,” he said.
“That’s amazing,” I said. “Forty years for ten hours a day. And do you work?”
“This is my work,” he said, “getting free from samsara, the cycle of birth and death.”
“I understand,” I said, “but generally yogis live in the Himalayas, not big cities like Delhi.”
“It makes no difference if you go within,” he said.
“Have you been to the Himalayas, to Hrsikesh or Haridwar?” I said.
“No,” he replied. “I’ve never been outside of Delhi.”
“That’s interesting,” I said, glancing at Narottama, who stood next to me with his mouth open. “And how did you start practicing yoga?”
“I met my guru when I was nine, at this exact spot,” he said. “He had come out of the Himalayas and was on his way to the Kumbha-mela in Prayag.
“I was playing here with my friends when I saw him meditating. My friends made fun of him, but I was curious. After they left I sat with him and discussed spiritual topics. I had always been interested in such things, even as a small child.
“He kindly stayed here for several weeks and taught me much of what he knew. I mastered many yogic asanas very quickly. It came naturally to me. He told me if I was serious and continued practicing, one day I would see the Paramatma, the Lord within my heart. Since then, I have come every day to this park and meditated.”
“Did you finish your education?” I said.
He laughed. “No,” he said. “I never went back to school. I live in a small room nearby. Sometimes I walk to other parts of Delhi to teach yoga.”
“Have you seen the Paramatma?” I said.
“Not yet,” he replied, closing his eyes to begin meditating again.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I am interested …”
He opened his eyes again.
“What scriptures do you study?” I said.
“The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” he said. He relaxed for a moment.
“And you?” he said. “What scriptures do you study?”
“The Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam,” I said.
“Can you quote them?” he said.
“Yes, of course,” I said. I thought for a moment to choose a verse relevant to our meeting. Then I quoted this verse:
vadanti tat tattva vidas tattvam yaj jnanam advayam brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate
“Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this non-dual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.”
“I read that recently,” he said.
“In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras?” I said.
“No,” he replied, “in the Bhagavatam.” He picked up a book that was lying nearby. “It was given to me by another sadhu several months ago. I’m enjoying it. In fact, I had a dream of Lord Krsna last night.”
He laughed. “And now Lord Krsna’s devotees have come,” he said
“Baba,” I said. “What is your name?”
“Om Prakash,” he replied.
Just then I got an inspiration. “Om Prakash,” I said, “why don’t you come with us to Vrindavan? We’re leaving in a few hours. Vrindavan is one of the holiest places in India, and it’s only ninety miles from here, on the way to Agra. I can’t imagine you haven’t been there in all these years.”
“Here or there, it makes no difference,” he said, preparing to return to his yoga.
“True,” I said. “One can be spiritually enlivened anywhere if one knows the process, but at the same time, places where the Supreme Lord appeared and performed His pastimes are spiritually surcharged, especially Vrindavan. One can easily obtain pure love of God there.”
Om Prakash’s thick gray eyebrows went up.
“I’ll take care of you while you’re there,” I said. “I would consider it service to a sadhu.”
He stood up. “All right,” he said. “I am going there now. Which direction is it?”
“This very second?” I said. “If you can’t wait for us, here’s three hundred rupees. There’s a bus stop just down the road.”
He took the money in his chaddar. “I guess he doesn’t want to touch it with his hand,” I thought.
“We have some errands to do in Delhi before we go,” I said. “We’ll meet you there this afternoon. This is Narottama’s cell phone number. You can call us from a public phone when you arrive.”
I wrote the number on a piece of note paper and handed it to him. He bent down, picked up his few belongings, wrapped them carefully in a cloth, and started walking out of the park.
“That’s India,” I said to Narottama as we watched him leave. “Only here can you meet people like him, who on a moment’s notice can just pick up and go without any prior arrangement. It’s incredible.”
When the stores in Delhi opened at 10:00 am, we began our shopping. An hour later Narottama’s cell-phone rang. It was Om Prakash. “He’s already in Vrindavan,” said Narottama. “He went straight there.”
I smiled. “He’s a focused person,” I said.
“He’s using the public phone opposite the ISKCON temple,” Narottama said. “He wants to know what he should do next.”
“Direct him to the Krsna-Balarama tree on the parikrama marga and have him wait there until we arrive,” I said.
We met Om Prakash in Vrindavan that afternoon. As I expected, he was absorbed in meditation. “Arrange a room for him in the place where you’re staying,” I said to Narottama, “and some prasada.”
I called Narottama the next morning. “How’s it going?” I asked.
“We’ve been up since before dawn,” Narottama said, “and we’ve already visited the seven main temples in Vrindavan.”
“Great,” I said. “How does Om Prakash like Vraja?”
“He’s in awe. Now we’re off to bathe in the Yamuna,” Narottama said.
That afternoon during lunch, Om Prakash was studying me carefully. “You’re not in good shape,” he said. “You look exhausted. You’re bent over, and you have circles under your eyes. Why?”
I thought for a moment. “You’ve been sitting in one place doing yoga for forty years,” I said. “I’ve been traveling and preaching the Gita in the West for the same amount of time.”
“Then I will teach you yoga,” he said. “It will improve your condition dramatically.”
I had never desired to practice yoga, but when Om Prakash offered to teach me I accepted. That evening on the veranda, he gave me my first lesson. It soon became apparent that he was as enthusiastic to share the process of astanga-yoga with me as I was bhakti-yoga with him. One by one, he took me through the classic yoga asanas. But I could not keep up with him, and I fell back against a wall. He seemed disturbed.
“Be patient,” I told him. “You started at nine years of age. I’m starting at sixty.”
Later, as we were resting after taking prasadam, I spoke to him. “Om Prakash,” I said, “you’re accomplished in astanga-yoga, but in the Gita, Krsna says:
“‘yoginam api sarvesam mad gatenantar atmana sraddhavan bhajate yo mam sa me yuktatamo matah
“‘And of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me - he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion.’”
“Through jnana-yoga and astanga-yoga one can obtain divine knowledge and mystic powers,” I said. “But that’s not enough to satisfy the heart. The soul yearns for love, or bhakti, and Krsna is the supreme lover. That’s why pilgrims come here to Vrindavan, to find Krsna.”
Om Prakash sat up straight in a yogic posture, his eyes closed.
“Om Prakash,” I said, “did you understand?”
He opened his eyes and looked around at the beautiful Vrindavan scenery. Temple bells were ringing in the background, peacocks were calling, and some sadhus were having a bhajana nearby.
“Be patient,” he said with a smile. “You started on the path of bhakti when you were young. I’m starting at fifty.”
The next day, Narottama continued taking Om Prakash around Vrindavan to the holy tirthas. They visited many temples, as well as Rasastali, the place of the Rasa Dance, and Vamsivat, where Krsna called the gopis to the forest with His flute. When they returned in the evening I could sense that Om Prakash was deeply touched by his pilgrimage.
But the following morning during breakfast he was silent. Afterwards I asked him to come to my room. As we sat, I took his hand. “Om Prakash,” I said, “you’re reaching old age. You have no family and no possessions. You’re renounced, austere, and accomplished on the path of yoga. I’d like to help you find a room here in Vrindavan where you can live and become Krsna conscious. You can associate with Krsna’s devotees and chant the holy names. It’s a natural step for you. I’ll help maintain you.”
To my surprise Om Prakash started chanting Hare Krsna for a few minutes. Then he stopped. “It will take me some time,” he said.
Then as quickly as he had come, he started leaving. He picked up his few possessions and headed toward the door with the same detachment he showed when leaving the park in Delhi.
“Om Prakash!” I called out. “Where are you going?”
“Back to the park,” he replied without turning his head. Then he paused and looked over his shoulder. “But I’ll be back some day,” he said. “Your Vrindavan is a special place. I’ve never known anything like it.”
jnatam kanabhujam matam paricitaivanviksiki siksita mimamsa viditaiva sankhya saranir yoge vitirna matih vedantah parisilitah sa rabhasam kintu sphuran madhuri dhara kacana nandusunu murali mac cittam akarsati
“I have carefully understood Kanada’s paramanuvada philosophy. I have studied Gautama’s nyaya philosophy. I know Jaimini’s karma-mimamsa philosophy. I have already traveled on the path of pseudo-Kapila’s sankhya philosophy. I have applied my mind to Patanjali’s yoga philosophy. I have ardently studied Vyasa’s Vedanta philosophy. None of these attracts me. It is the flood of sweetness from Lord Nandasunu’s flute that attracts my heart.”
[Sri Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, quoted in Padyavali, by Srila Rupa Goswami, verse 100]
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