The other day I was walking around, chanting, and daydreaming.
It is a sign of an advancement in devotional service to desire to live in holy places so I had myself a solid excuse to imagine living in Mayapur, Vrindavan, or Jagannatha Puri.
A real devotee would simply want to be there, a real devotee puts his full faith in Krishna and he doesn’t take any obstacles on his devotional path seriously because he knows they are all insignificant comparing to his Lord and Master.
I was thinking of visas and passports and residence permits and such, couldn’t help it, couldn’t imitate a mood of a real devotee, which is a good thing, I guess.
Mayapur, especially ISKCON temple there, looks like a squeaky clean place, governance wise. Unless you are properly invited and all your paperwork in order you just can’t stay there, I thought. Maybe I am wrong but that is my impression.
One must be fully embraced and accepted by Lord Chaitanya’s servants and associates to reside there, it’s by invitation only, or so I think.
Vrindavan is a pretty loose place comparing to that. Anyone is welcome there. Maybe not everyone but there seems to be a lot more options to sneak in. I don’t know about the town itself but Govardhan sounds like a place for any kind of renunciate to feel at home and I seriously doubt the police run regular checks on all the people there.
This is where I got myself in a bit of a twist. As a white person I would stand out as a sore thumb unless I hang out with other white people. It will be years before I can pass as one of the local whites.
If I ever decide to go native there the first thing that would confront me is my past – every white person arrives from somewhere, has a life back home, has a government and consulates to help, has family to send money, has a return ticket, and has a two month visa.
Forty years ago HH Radhanath Swami entered India on foot with only twenty six cents to his name and a passport. Now you need to get a visa first, however easy the process is, it proves that you DO have a place to go back to.
That’s why I can’t imagine myself just going to Vrindavan to chant for the rest of my life. White people like me are just visitors, playing devotees for a short while.
I’m sure there are ways to get around all these obstacles but the main one is in my heart, I know I’m just a pretender, I know all my dreams of Vrindavan are nonsense.
Then I thought of Jagannatha Puri. Jagannath has always held a special place in my consciousness. The very first festival that I ever attended was Ratha Yatra, from there I tailed the devotees and found the temple.
The first place in India I ever visited was Puri, not counting Calcutta.
We arrived late in the afternoon and found a place to stay in some Math, it was very close to the ocean so we went for a bath/swim first. After the ablutions were settled for the temple, except no one in our group had any idea where it was. We thought we had to follow the beachfront and soon we’d see the way, but we went in the opposite direction.
We walked and walked and walked, it was twilight already and it looked like we were leaving the town altogether. Then I turned back and there I saw the marvelous domes and the Nilachacra and the flag. It was nearly dark around us but the temple, very far away by then, was brightly lit and the contrast reminded me of material and spiritual worlds.
We almost ran then, I don’t remember the rest of the evening but I can’t forget my fist impression of the temple.
Then we visited Tota Gopinath and Siddha Bakul and the house of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and we walked to the Gundicha temple and it is all blurry now. I’ve been to those places many times since but today I discovered I can’t locate them on Google maps anymore.
What I remember most clearly, though, is the all pervasive feeling of being on Vaikuntha. All the troubles always seem non-existent in Puri, daily life is just a dream there, underneath the dark, sun baked skin of local people there are four armed forms of Vainkuntha residents visible to demigods.
Somehow or other I’ve never been so out of touch with reality anywhere else. In Mayapur I always felt like I had to toe the line, in Vrindavan I couldn’t shake the desire to buy cheap dhotis and incense and have my palm read. In Puri I didn’t want anything from this world at all.
I’ve tried browsing the market there and I’ve tried scoring cheap prasadam but it didn’t take. It was like trying to run on the bottom of the ocean, wearing deep diver’s suit and boots.
I don’t know if Jagannath would ever welcome me there, I doubt so. For Lord Chaitanya and His associates it was their destination after the Lord took sannyasa. For Haridasa Thakur, on the other hand, it was special only in the sense he wasn’t allowed to see the Lord.
He could see Lord Chaitanya everyday, though, and he could see the Lord in the sound of Holy Names. I don’t have even that, and maybe it’s a good thing.
The other day I lighted up an incense and I had no one in particular to offer it to except the image of Jagannath on my japa bag. Suddenly my heart melted and I had no power to complain about Jagannath excluding us from seeing Him. He is still the sweetest Lord in the whole universe. If He wants us to stay outside and wait, it’s His merciful order and it’s very sweet to carry out.
The best part about Puri is that it’s reachable by sea. I’m not in my best years but I’m still pretty good in the water and if someone dropped me in the sea in sight of the Puri temple I’m sure I can easily make it to the shore. That way I would avoid all this nonsensical visa business and I would have no return tickets and no money to save for the rainy days, I would have no phone or a camera or a wallet or a watch. I would have only wet clothes and I would surrender all my future to the will of the merciful Lord Jagannath.
Sweet dream, huh?
Before I go to bed I want to break with my tradition and include an image in my blog.
Personally, I never thought Jagannath would be so big. Look at Him, He is huge, and He’s got a nose. I’ve never seen noses on our ISKCON Jagannathas.
Well, with Him being so big and with a nose, I don’t mind staying outside at all – He is so intimidating, and yet so liberating at the same time.
Jaya Jagannath! I hope I’ll have read dreams about Him, too, it’s time now.