Diary of a Traveling Monk – Volume 11, Chapter 10 – October 11, 2010
By Indradyumna Swami
Life on the festival tour in Poland this summer was austere – the cramped living facilities, the long hours, and the hotter-than-normal weather – but our three hundred devotees kept their spirits up all the way through. Many said that it had been our best tour, as proved by the largest crowds ever.
But mostly it was the appreciation that the guests showed, saying it in many loving ways, that set this year’s tour apart from all the others. It was never more obvious than at Rewal, our last festival.
As we had only one harinama to advertise the event, I gave the devotees a little pep talk before we started.
“It’s a beautiful day,” I told them, “and everyone is on the beach. At this moment not a soul in town knows we are having a program tonight. Over to the right you can see the setup crew starting to put up the tents on the field. There’s a German word, ‘blitzkrieg,’ that refers to an army invading a town with lightning speed. So we’re going to blitzkrieg Reval this morning and let everyone know about the festival tonight.”
The devotees cheered and quickly set about readying all the sankirtana equipment: the accordions, mrdangas, djembe drums, karatalas, flags, banners, and festoons. Within minutes, a hundred and sixty devotees descended onto the beach joyfully chanting and dancing.
As we wove our way through whatever little space was left on the beach, people grabbed invitations right out of our hands. After half an hour we stopped, and Tribhuvanesvara dasa gave a short talk to invite everyone to the festival. Afterwards people raised their hands and asked questions. People who had never seen us before stood dumbfounded by the keen interest others showed.
“Do you have a new theater this year?” asked a man.
“Is the Sankhya dance group from Mumbai performing again?” said another.
“Will there be a dance contest for the children to win a sari?” a woman called out.
The kirtana party continued down the beach, and I walked a little behind to be with some of the devotee children.
“Guru Maharaja,” a boy said, “we have a question. We want to ask if you ever cry.”
I stopped. “What?” I said.
“We want to know if sometimes you cry,” he said. “We always hear how devotees are supposed to cry for Krsna. You know, like the gopis cry for Krsna or how tears should come to our eyes when we chant Hare Krsna.”
I laughed. “I’m not on that level,” I said.
“So you never cry?” a girl said.
“Never,” I said.
As we continued down the beach, a middle-aged woman jumped up from her sunbathing and ran over to me. She wore a respectable swimsuit, and her jewelery and watch looked expensive.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said. “May I speak to you for a moment?”
“Sure,” I said, glancing at the children who gathered around us to hear what she had to say.
“I wanted to thank you for helping me so much,” she said. “I feel very much indebted to you.”
I tried to remember where I might have met her.
“I attended your lecture at the festival in Kolobrzeg the other night,” she continued. “My psychiatrist recommended that I go hear you. He had heard you speak earlier this summer and told me that listening to you would solve the problems I was having.”
I could feel my face blush. “Oh, thank you,” I said.
“After listening to your talk,” she said, “I feel I can cope now with the problems I am dealing with in life. In particular you inspired me when you spoke so convincingly about the spiritual world. I truly believe now that it exists.”
She took my hands. “I just cannot thank you enough,” she said. “I’m so grateful.”
As she returned to her spot on the beach, I was overwhelmed by her appreciation, and I felt so grateful to my spiritual master that my eyes become moist and one or two tears rolled down my cheek.
I quickly brushed the tears aside and turned to continue following the kirtana party, but the children had seen me. “You do cry Guru Maharaja!” a boy shouted. “Just see! You’re crying! Look!”
That evening over five thousand people came to the festival. As they poured in and wandered through the tents, a young couple approached me panting for breath with their little daughter in tow.
“We made it!” the husband said. “We finally made it!”
I chuckled. “It’s only fifty meters from the beach to the festival,” I said.
“No,” said the husband. “Let me explain. Last year we came to your festival here. Our daughter was four years old, and she had the time of her life. Since then all she talks about is your festival. She talks about it constantly.”
“It’s true,” said his wife. “She talks about the Indian dancers, the puppet shows, the singing, the magic show, the food, and the saris, especially the saris. Each night before she goes to bed she insists on practicing her dancing so she can win a sari at the next festival.”
“That’s right,” said the husband, “And every morning when she wakes up, her first question is, ‘How many more days until the Festival of India?'”
The wife laughed. “So you can just imagine how relieved we are to finally be here,” she said.
As the stage show began I made my way around the festival site watching people enjoy themselves in the tents and at the outdoor attractions. I was soon joined again by the same group of devotee children. As we strolled around, a young girl ran up to us.
“Hare Krsna!” she said excitedly. “I’m Ania. I’m happy you’re all back.”
“Hare Krsna, Ania,” I said. “So you’ve been to our festival before?”
“Yes,” she said with a big smile. “The first time I came I was only two weeks old. I’m nine now, and I have come here every year since.”
“Huh?” I said. “You were two weeks old the first time you came to our festival?”
“Yes,” she said. “My house is just across the street. The first time you came here I had just been born. My mother saw your festival from the window and brought me along. I got my first gopi dots at that festival when I was a tiny baby.”
“And you even know the right name for the face painting,” I said.
Just then another girl came running up.
“This is Dorota,” Ania said. “She’s my best friend, and she lives next door to me. She’s been coming to the festival since she was two.”
“And I win a sari every year,” Dorota said proudly. “I’ve won seven of them, but I gave four to my grandma because she likes to wear them around the house.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “And what do you like best about our festival, Dorota? The dancing? The puppet show? The food?”
“No” she said. “The best part of the festival is your lecture at the end. That’s my favorite part. Grandma likes it too. She hardly ever goes outside now because she’s too old, but when it’s time for you to speak at the festival she has my mommy bring her. She said you’re her favorite priest in the whole world because you know how to make religion fun.”
I was about to continue my stroll when another girl ran up.
“This is Ewa, my other best friend,” said Ania. “She’s been coming to the festival since she was three years old.”
“I see you every day on Facebook,” said Ewa, shaking my hand.
“You do?” I said. “Your mother lets you go on Facebook? You’re so young.”
Ewa laughed. “Yes,” she said. “She lets me use Facebook because I only have one Facebook friend: that’s you. You gave me your garland when I was four, and it’s still hanging on the wall of my room. When I was six I broke my arm and you signed my cast, and that’s also hanging on my wall. I love my mommy, daddy, uncle and aunt, my grandpa, and even my music teacher, but you’re my favorite person in the whole world because you’ve shown me the most love, even though I only get to see you once a year.”
“Oh really,” I said, my voice quivering slightly and my face flushing. The devotee children looked at each other.
“See?” a girl said smiling at another. “He’s going to cry again.”
I scratched my head and cleared my throat. “What do you like most about the festival, Ewa?” I said.
She thought for a moment. “Krsna,” she said.
“Amazing,” I said. “And you, Ania?”
“Radharani, Krsna’s girlfriend,” she replied.
I started to say, “How do you know about Radharani?” but I stopped.
“Why don’t we all walk over to the restaurant and have something to eat?” I said.
“Yeah!” Ania shouted. “Some burfi!”
“And samosas!” shouted Ewa.
After our little party at the restaurant I finished my tour of the festival grounds and went backstage to see how the performers were doing. I thought I could use a little nap, so I lay down. Forty-five minutes later a devotee was shaking me. “Haribol, Maharaja,” he said, “You’re on. Time for the lecture.”
I jumped up, threw some water on my face, and walked onto the stage just as the master of ceremonies, Tribhuvanesvara, was introducing me. The audience of five hundred looked at me in expectation.
Though I’d just woken up I had no difficulty speaking. I’d given the introductory lecture a thousand times before, but each time it felt as fresh as the first. It was the highlight of the evening for me: everything about the festival culminated in this opportunity to speak the sublime philosophy of Krsna consciousness to our guests.
After the talk, we had a rousing forty-five minute kirtana and gave away saris to the best dancers (Dorota won her eighth). The show ended, and as I walked slowly down the stairs I saw a woman waiting for me with a Bhagavad-gita in her hand.
The devotee children were waiting for me as well, and they surrounded me as the woman stepped forward to hand me her Bhagavad-gita. “You said in your lecture if we bought a Bhagavad-gita you would sign it,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, “and I will.”
“And could you also write down your email address?” she said. “I have many questions I’d like to ask you.”
“Yes, of course,” I replied. “Everything I know I’ve learned from this book and my spiritual master.”
I started to sign the inside cover, then looked up. “May I ask what your profession is?” I said.
“I’m a judge in one of Poland’s high courts,” she said.
I slowly and carefully signed the book and wrote my email address.
The children were walking with me towards my van when a young couple stopped me and asked me to sign their newly purchased Bhagavad-gita.
“I have been waiting seventeen years to buy this book,” the man said.
“Seventeen years?” I said.
He chuckled. “Yes,” he said. “Your festival came to our town fifty kilometers from here in 1993. I was seven years old at the time. I was running around your event with the other kids, having a good time, but when you came onstage and spoke I remember how the whole atmosphere changed. Even all the kids stopped to listen.
“I didn’t understand a thing you said, but I remember that it was a special moment. I remember seeing so many people buying the book afterwards, and I thought someday I’d like to get one too.
“My future wife was at the festival as well, but we were just children and didn’t know each other. Years later, when we married, we were talking one day and discovered that we had both been at your festival and that we both remembered the special moment when you came on stage with that book. Just yesterday we heard your festival was being held here in Rewal, so we came to see it again and buy the book after all these years.”
I wrote a long dedication in their Bhagavad-gita.
“Amazing,” I thought. “Something wonderful happens at just about every step on this tour.”
But the wonderful things were not yet finished.
As the children were helping me into the van, a young man in his early twenties ran up. “Excuse me,” he said. “I know you’re busy and you must be tired, but I wanted to share something with you before you leave.”
“No problem,” I said and stepped out of the van. “My time is yours.”
“Last year I came to your festival with my younger sister,” he said. “She was sixteen. It was our first time at your event. My sister was especially attracted by the singing of Hare Krsna at end of the program. She memorized the song and would often sing it around the house.
“Six months ago we found out she had cancer. It was at a very advanced stage and nothing could be done. She had already started dwindling away. I was at my university when she called me one evening. She could no longer talk properly, what to speak of singing, so she asked if I could sing Hare Krsna to her each night as she fell asleep.
“Every evening I would call and sing the Hare Krsna song to her from six o’clock until nine. It went on like that for two months. One night she passed away as I was singing. I didn’t even know until I heard my mother on the other end of the phone saying that she had died. I cried for days. My sister was my best friend, and now my whole world has become gray.
“My sister loved that song, and it was the last thing she heard. I have a feeling deep in my heart that it took her to a very special place, a place far beyond this world of suffering and pain, a place where people are happy all the time like all of you are. Do you think it could be true?”
I tried to answer, but my voice choked up, so I nodded to assure the man it was true. I closed my tearful eyes and embraced him.
Then I remembered the children and waited for them to tease me again. But they did not say anything. When I opened my eyes I saw they were crying too.
Sri Prabodhananda Saraswati writes:
prema namadbhutarthah sravanapathagatah kasya namnam mahimnah ko vetta kasya vrndavanavipina mahamadhurisu pravesah ko va janati radham paramrasacamatkarmadhuryasimam ekascaitanyacandrah paramkarunayah sarvvamaviscakara
“Had anyone even heard of something known as prema, as the ultimate goal of life? Did anyone know of the divine power of the holy names? Had anyone entered the sweet charming forest of Vrndavana? Did anyone know Sri Radha, the embodiment of the highest ecstasy? Only because of the unfathomable compassion of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu were these rarest gems discovered, found shimmering in the darkness of Kali Yuga, lit by the moonlight of His benevolence.”[Caitanya-candramrta, verse 130]
Indradyumna.firstname.lastname@example.org www. travelingmonk. com Audio lectures: www. narottam. com Facebook: Indradyumna Swami