This whole series of posts about pioneering came out backwards. At first I wanted to write something about a conversation on the value of these memories but then realized that retelling the memories themselves would be useful, too, so that’s what I have been doing for over a week now.
Once a had a chance to talk to one of ISKCON’s traveling sannyasis and initiating gurus. It was a little weird because I was sitting next to him while his disciples came in and offered full obeisances. It was some sort of a spiritual fair where ISKCON got a booth so I thought it would be okay if I don’t offer obeisances on seeing a sannyasi for the first time during the day, which is the rule best followed inside temples or dhamas, I think.
Because it was a fair I remembered Kirtiraja’s story of Moscow International Book Fair of 1979, which I covered here in one of the previous posts. I showed up there on a weekday, which was slow, and so there were only few devotees there, hardly any visitors, and there was no prasadam. The plan was to bring prasadam for distribution on weekend.
One story led to another and pretty soon I told maharaja everything I ever heard of those days, though sometimes he’d say “Oh, yes, this was told by Bhakti Vaibhava Svami” so I didn’t repeat that which he already knew. I genuinely thought he’d be impressed but all he said afterwards was “That was pioneering days, now our mission is different”. This has struck me.
At first I tried to argue: “But there are no official ISKCON temples in China, isn’t preaching there pioneering, too? – I’ve been going there for thirty years,” maharaja replied. Okay, what about this country and that? “Been going there for twenty years.” Okay, but China is such a large country, how many places have you visited? “About a hundred.” It was impenetrable so I had to think about this back at home.
Is there a value in these memories when tasks and goals of our society have changed? I’m not sure we are doing very well with nurturing existing devotees but that is also beside the point – what is the current value of our old preaching efforts?
I realize that people reading this blog might be bored to death with stories about Russia and sankirtana devotees they’ve never met and whose names I didn’t disclose on purpose. It’s not something I think about day and night either. Should I just let it go and concentrate on our current lives instead, talk about something relevant to people of this day and age?
I don’t think I will ever abandon my memories, or even memories I received from other people and which I cherish as if they were my own. There are two ways I justify this attachment.
One is that these pastimes are as transcendental as those of Lord Caitanya and His associates, and later of their followers. Someone might find it somewhat blasphemous but that’s how Lord Caitanya’s mercy has been manifested before my eyes and so to me it feels even more transcendental than pastimes from several hundred years ago I can’t easily relate to.
Anything related to spreading Lord Caitanya’s mission and attracting people to Krishna is legitimately transcendental. I didn’t see much of it this way when I lived through it myself but appreciation has been growing gradually over the years. It might be the case of me romanticizing my past but I think it’s a wrong way to look at it.
When we romanticize the past we assume that there’s past as it really happened and past as it has been reconstructed. What “really happened”, however, does not exist as objective reality. We are still talking about personal perceptions, either as they are remembered or recalled by others and stored as memories. When we access them now we decode meanings that exist either in these memories or existed at the time of the events themselves and this process is subjective, too, and the perceptions we recreate now are as real as any other. It’s these current perceptions that carry value to us which we want to share, not the events themselves.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what “real past” was, what matters is whether we are able to see it as transcendental now and whether we can share these realizations in the present, whether we can make them inspirational. The ability to inspire others depends not only on us but on their reception, too. If we are making stuff up and others clearly see that we are exaggerating than we can’t expect them to be inspired, so memories need to have firm foundation in actual events. It’s complex theory of how much you can get away with and you can spot it in some storytelling about Krishna or some other well known events. I swear my stories are all true, however.
Another way I see value in these “pioneering memories” is because they make an excellent object for meditation and, all said and done, I don’t mind being reborn in the same position of service to sankirtana again. I hope next time I’ll appreciate it even more.
It’s a pet theory of mine – do we really expect to become closer to Lord Caitanya after death? What about our gurus and all the acaryas between us? Are we going to become closer to the Lord than them? Isn’t our position in hierarchy of Lord Caitanya’s army permanently fixed? If these were just temporary roles of no significance then positions could be changed but does anyone see Srila Prabhupada’s position as temporary, for example? I hope not.
In retrospect, I see those days as the best service of my life, I haven’t done even remotely close to that since. How can it ever lose value then? It’s unthinkable to me. Maharaja that made me think about all this is busy spreading Krishna consciousness despite his advanced age but I’m not as lucky or as pure. He is like Uddhava who was with Krishna until the very end and I’m like.. Wait, this comparison is inappropriate. What I wanted to say is that there were plenty of devotees who had only a few moments of service to the Lord, both in Krishna and in Caitanya lila, and recollecting these moments for the rest of their lives is a perfect meditation. We are even taught that such meditation in separation is more intense than when being in Lord’s presence. Which is another argument why recalling these memories might feel sweeter than living through them in real time.
As I was typing this my blood test came in – all clear, I’ll have another round of chemo soon and on that my treatment should be over. I expect full recovery, that is recovery from chemo and all related side effects, to be complete by March. Whether I’ll have my old energy levels back or not I don’t know. I’ve been out of it for so long I don’t envision my new healthy life yet.