After waxing lyrical over new Russian offense on the world’s stage I should not forget the devotees there, too. I don’t know how much they contributed to Putin’s new agenda (which isn’t totally new, but still), probably not a lot. Indirectly, however, the impact of distributing so many books must manifest itself one way or another.
Millions of books were distributed there in the past twenty years, millions of people listened to devotees presenting them and many of them opened the books to see what the big deal is for themselves. Many have become devotees, probably more than in any other part of the world, but we can’t expect too much from general Kali Yuga population there.
What I’m personally sure of is that anyone who read even one paragraph in our books will register awe and respect for Śrila Prabhupāda’s presentation and his absolute, selfless honesty. We ourselves can’t live up to his standards even after many years of practicing so we shouldn’t be disappointed when regular people put their books away and never open them again, but nothing can erase the memory of Absolute Truth from their hearts.
Their eyes have been opened, they have seen it, they felt it, they can’t do anything about it at the moment but next time someone comes along they are going to judge their presentation against their faint memory of what Absolute Truth feels like. They might not even acknowledge it consciously but these things don’t need rational explanation, you just feel what is right and what is wrong, and I would argue that even brief acquaintance with our books can set people straight for the rest of their lives.
Maybe I give Russians too much credit and their traditionalism can be attributed to something else, maybe old Communist values, maybe Orthodox church, but if my little illusion helps me see Kṛṣṇa consciousness in people where no one else notices any, it’s an illusion for a good cause, because that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is always there anyway, it’s their constitutional position.
We don’t usually believe that everyone we meet is a devotee and we act according to this belief, we see people as separated from Kṛṣṇa and their hearts as full of lust, but that’s not the vision of paramahaṃsas. We can’t imitate it but we should be aware of the possibility and if something helps us to see ordinary people this way I don’t see why we should object.
I’m trying to justify attributing all good features of contemporary Russian character to Śrila Prabhupāda’s books. Being called naive for this is not an important consideration here. Better be naive and follow paramahaṃsas than to be wise and follow your own whims.
Anyway, stories of book distribution in Russia are like an ocean of transcendental bliss. If Lord Śeṣa ever gets tired of glorifying the Lord and spares a few mouths for glorifying Lord’s devotees, He will never cover transcendental saṅkīrtana pastimes of Russian devotees.
Just recently I heard that once they stopped an airplane there. They bribed a guard, drove up on the tarmac, got out of the van, and offered daṇḍavats in front of the taxiing plane. Pilots were in shock and stopped, devotees got on board and explained the situation to the captain – spiritually liberating books were absolutely needed in some remote town in Siberia and it’s such an important matter than nothing can wait.
We can say that in the post 9/11 world they can’t pull anything like that again but the point is not the rules of the material society, it’s the degree of faith and enthusiasm of the devotees. When we really see the importance of our message nothing can stop us. We just have to believe in our mission ourselves.
Or think of some other important things in life. Animals don’t kill each other when they are at the waterhole. Soldiers used to avoid shooting enemies who came for water, too. We stop everything for women giving birth, we stop everything when a child is in danger – some things we value so much that our usual life needs to stop. Our books are just like that, only more important.
I don’t know if it’s possible to maintain this sense of urgency throughout one’s whole life. Some Russian devotees still do, even after everything that happened to Russian yātrā. Well, on the scale of New Vṛndāvana nothing bad happened there but at one point their entire BBT, the heart of our movement, just got up and split – their best, most mature devotees, the ones who went through lengthy jail sentences for printing books in Soviet times.
If some outlier devotee murders someone we all know it’s just an isolated case. When one guru falls we all know it’s his personal problem, when the core of the society splits right in the middle it’s a question of validity of our entire existence. And yet some devotees there remained steadfast in their dedication and their sense of urgency in saving conditioned souls never went away. If necessary, they might still stop the plane even now.
Even if they can’t, there are plenty of new devotees with same kind of faith and enthusiasm. What we do is really really important, more important than anything else in this world, certainly more important than airport security.
After all, who provides security in this world better than Kṛṣṇa? If we use an airplane in His service there’s no better protection, so security considerations is also a matter of faith and perspective. If we listen to the guards, police, air marshals etc they’ll tell us how important their mission is. If our faith is not strong enough we will believe them rather than Śrila Prabhupada, it’s as simple as that.
If we stay strong and loyal to our books and our ācāryas, nothing can stop us. There’s absolutely no door that can hold devotee on his mission to serve the Lord, especially a mission as important as saṇkīrtana.
Once there was a devotee there distributing books somewhere in Siberia and he got in trouble with a local policeman. It as a small place, one policeman for the whole village, no transport out, no trains, just snow and trees for hundreds of miles in every direction.
So, the devotee was locked up and interrogated as if he was an enemy of the state. Perhaps the policeman wanted to play Gulag there. Devotee, however, managed to sneak away, except there was nowhere to run – he couldn’t return to his hotel room and nothing else was open. So he spend the entire night outside in the woods, just behind the treeline, dressed only in kurta and pants, in freezing Siberian cold. How he did not freeze to death is a mystery, he said he just chanted all night long, that’s all.
Early in the morning, when everyone was still asleep, he sneaked back in, gathered his things, and hitchhiked out of that place. No demons can kill our devotees when they go on a saṇkīrtana mission, nothing can stop us, that has been decisively proven time and time again, all we need is our personal faith.
My point today is that there are some truly transcendental souls living in Russia, souls unseen anywhere else in the world, and because Russia is perceived as highly demoniac, very hostile to Kṛṣṇa consciousness place, I say that all good that is there is due to our devotees’ preaching.
I wish I had just a small particle of their determination, I won’t need anything else