Vanity thought #1783. Pioneering success

Yesterday I wrote about Kīrtirāja’s Prabhu efforts to penetrate behind the Iron Curtain and place our books into the hands of Russian (Soviet) people. One event that was truly seminal in nature in this regard was Moscow book fair of 1979 and it deserves its own mention.

First Moscow International Book Fair was held in 1977 and Gopāla Kṛṣṇa Gosvāmī went there on behalf of Indian BBT. It was the first time for everyone and so no one had a clear idea how to extract most benefits out of it. I mean even the potential buyers didn’t know how it would all work. In retrospective it could be said that all Gopāla Kṛṣṇa (not Svāmī yet) got was a certificate of participation, which he presented to Śrīla Prabhupāda, but the real benefit was in laying preparation for the next visit. That’s where Kīrtirāja came in.

Second fair was in 1979 and he was representing Indian BBT again so as not to look like spreading American propaganda. He also knew the rules and how to use them to full advantage. One such rule was that publishers couldn’t sell books at the fair but the workaround was that they could take orders so Kīrtirāja had BBT supply him with order forms with prices printed in roubles. During the fair he would collect the money and BBT filled this orders later, totally legally. Hundreds of books were sent into USSR that way.

Another rule was that there had to be an official interpreter but Kīrtirāja protested that our books contain so many technical terms that an ordinary interpreter wouldn’t be able to translate them correctly. He persuaded the organizers that his own interpreter, Ananta Śānti, was already perfect and their official interpreter can take a break. It worked.

Ananta Śānti brought half a dozen devotees to help him and it’s them who did most of the talking. They were preaching there non-stop even if they hadn’t read the books themselves yet.

Another rule was set by Kīrtirāja himself and it was that their booth should always have prasādam to distribute. He told the devotees to prepare “simply wonderfuls” and they rolled them day and night in shifts. Somehow they rolled them into small balls the size of M&Ms, they would wake up before sunrise, roll the sweets, and bring them to the fair with their hands covered in blisters.

Kīrtirāja’s rule was that there was only one ball per person and when they run out of sweets and new trays weren’t in yet he’d collect crumbs on small pieces of paper and people would eat them with a great deal of respect. To fully appreciate the kind of impact it had consider this – by Kīrtirāja’s own calculations they had distributed 26,000 thousand sweetballs. Twenty six thousand, roughly four-five thousand per day. Can you imagine what king of buzz was going on around their booth?

It certainly attracted organizers attention – so many people and instead of one official interpreter there were half a dozen Russian speakers. To smooth things out Kīrtirāja gave the boss a gift of Bhagavad Gītā. At that time they only had English books and this Bhagavad Gītā came from a special pack Kīrtirāja brought with him which will feature in the story a little bit later.

Another rule was that all the books presented at the fair had to be either taken back out of the country of given to some official Soviet charity. None of the devotees knew of any charity that would take a set of English books so it was a kind of a problem – Kīrtirāja didn’t want to go back, well, full-handed. Towards the end of the fair, however, a shy but inquisitive woman showed up, asking about this and that but never stating her purpose. Turned out she was a representative for Lenin’s Library, which was like a Library of Congress for the Soviet Union. They certainly had the means to purchase the books but she wanted to get them for free as charity.

Once Kīrtirāja realized what was going on he thought that it was a perfect charity placement of all – in the biggest library of the entire Soviet Union and they quickly organized the official transfer. There was only a small matter of that pack of Bhagavad Gītās, originally there were twelve there but now there were eleven, and Kīrtirāja was not in the mood to take them back either. They were specifically meant for distribution among the devotees, translation etc.

He and Ananta Śānti came up with a plan.

On the day of leaving they went to the airport together with Bhagavad Gītās packed in a separate bag. Ananta Śānti took a strategic position in a cafeteria right outside customs and Kīrtirāja went to the farthest custom officer and tried to make himself noticeable.

He had custom’s declaration with a set of BBT books and so he had to produce his charity paperwork and explain everything that happened. His customs form also had twelve Gītās on it but there were only eleven left so Kīrtirāja had to plea with customs agent that it was a gift to the fair organizer, there was nothing sinister about it etc etc. It worked.

As soon as Kīrtirāja passed the customs and got his stamp he quickly ran around the row of customs booths towards the end of it that was next to the cafeteria and begged the guard there to let him out because he was so thirsty and his papers were already in order and he loved Russian tea and that worked to.

When he entered the cafeteria he left his book bag at the table and went to get his drink. Ananta Śānti picked it up and hurried outside, just like in spy novels. Kīrtirāja waited until Ananta Śānti was in the taxi and taxi left the airport and returned to the custom agent who checked him in only a few minutes ago. “You again!” he exclaimed, and Kīrtirāja gave him the same excise about tea and the officer couldn’t be bothered to go and check with the guard on the other end whether Kīrtirāja had his bag when he was going out for tea or not. Everything worked perfectly.

That fair marked exponential growth in Soviet community. Before that visiting devotees had programs with less than ten people attending but after the fair, on their next visit, they were already hundreds, but that is a story for another day.

Vanity thought #1782. Pioneering days

I once watched a long video of Kīrtirāja Prabhu telling stories of the time when they tried to open up the Soviet Union. I’ve never heard these stories before, nor did I have any idea of the extent to which he was involved. I’m not going to retell them all, the video was several hours long, but a short recap is in order anyway.

In 1973 Śrīla Prabhupāda visited Moscow and met with a young man who later got initiated and who became the first Russian devotee. It’s so easy for to say “Russia” nowadays and it’s hard to remember that modern day Russia had something like half the population of Soviet Union and that many Hare Kṛṣṇa communities sprang up in places like Armenia or Latvia. To reduce them all to Russia now would be unfair to history.

There was no stable channel of communication between western devotees and that Ananta Śānti but devotees from Europe would often fly to India via Moscow and meet him at the airport. Better idea was to arrange a marriage with a female devotee who would then be able to live in or at least and visit USSR freely. One of the French devotees accepted the service, got the blessings of Śrīla Prabhupāda, but the marriage didn’t work out and only a couple years later she wanted out.

Meantime, Śrīla Prabhupāda initiated a Hungarian devotee in Germany in 1974 and that devotee learned Russian at school like any Hungarian of his generation would. He translated Easy Journey to Other Planets into Russian, and also into Polish, I think, and then BBT published it in the US. That’s where Kīrtirāja started his service in promoting Hare Kṛṣṇas in Soviet Union. I think his family has Russian roots or something but he had a natural interest and affinity for all things Russian. He couldn’t speak the language well but didn’t need an interpreter for simple tourist talk either. So he went to LA where BBT offices were.

LA has a huge port, of course, and plenty of Russian cargo ships docked there. At first Kīrtirāja tried to approach Russian, sorry Soviet, sailors while they were on leave but Soviets were prepared – they let them out in groups of three with one older guy chaperoning two younger ones. There was no way those older dudes would be duped into looking at American books, it was not going to happen.

Kīrtirāja then found another way in – he would approach the ship and ask for a tour, feigning a genuine interest in Soviet shipbuilding. After a short consultation with authorities he would be usually let in and taken around by a guide. Kīrtirāja had his coat pockets stuffed with that Easy Journey and he would leave copies in hidden places, behind TVs or radar screens, or he would take a book from a bookshelf, flip over few pages, try to read something aloud, and then would put it back in with an Easy Journey tacked behind it. Someone would eventually find our books, he thought, maybe a week or maybe a month later, but the books will find their readers. And then he got caught and kicked out of the ship.

If he found cargo crates getting loaded on Soviet ships he’s sneak in and stuff the books under plastic wraps, but that wasn’t very effective, obviously.

He became a member of some US-Soviet friendship society and that gave him access to visiting Russian dignitaries who went to the States on official trips. That way he could even give them prasādam but talking about straight Kṛṣṇa consciousness was still off limits.

Then he moved to London and eventually Sweden. From Europe it was easier to visit Russia as a tourist and he could even go on camping trips there but that was done by other devotees. He still continued his “book distribution” program, though. In Sweden he’d hunt Soviet cargo trucks, overtake them on highways, turn emergency lights on and wave them down to stop. Drivers were very scared that they did something wrong and stopped. Kīrtirāja then would approach them and start in his broken Russian: “Have you watched a documentary about Indian yogis?” Drivers could not believe what was happening but by the time they figured out there was no danger they were happy to receive a small gift of a book.

Meanwhile, other books got smuggled in and properly translated into Russian and then BBT published a compact Bhagavad Gītā As It Is. They were printing them in Germany, I think, and Kīrtirāja arranged for an extra run of “primer” or what it was called, but the result was that he had thousands printed copies of Introduction where Prabhupāda presented the essence of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. From the days in the US Kīrtirāja got a list of Soviet organization from some Soviet dissident and he thought it would be a good idea to mass mail this Introduction in ordinary envelopes.

It was a big operation with devotees in several countries buying different colors and sizes of envelopes, putting the Intro in, and then sending them to Soviet addresses from different post offices in different cities. The idea was that even if KGB found some of these subversive letters they wouldn’t be able to find all of them, coming from different countries and all different from one another. It’s hard to say how effective this campaign was but they did get some replies asking for more. KGB couldn’t stop it all.

How they smuggled copies of Gītā and other books for translation is another story but I don’t think Kīrtirāja was a part of it. Devotees went on a camping trip through Russia and put dozens and dozens of books all around the van in plain sight – in glove compartments, under the seats, in the back, everywhere they could think of. Custom’s agent was curious about that but it wasn’t illegal to bring books for personal reading. When in Moscow devotees swapped these books for those bought in Russia and exited from a different location altogether. Their customs declaration only had “63 religious books” with no list of titles so to the officer on the exit it looked all legitimate. Otherwise their car was practically taken apart and they even dismantled the fuel tank. I can’t even imagine how devotees felt through this ordeal.

Hmm, this is getting longer than expected and so I should leave the rest for tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1781. Tribute to devotion

My previous post was actually typed up before New Year but with holidays sapping away my energy and time I was able to publish it only yesterday. I think I’ll say a few words before I continue.

Cancer visibly affects the extent of my prāṇa, which manifests in how far my interests in the world go. The effect was prominent when I started the treatment and it was heavy and when I physically felt that I had to grow up into my normal persona. For weeks my consciousness was confined to hospital bed and then I was driven home and the city seemed alien. Roads, grass, buildings, other cars, neighborhood, people, too – I had to indict all these things back into my consciousness and arrange them in some sort of order.

As I recovered my prāṇa extended itself, too, but one thing is clear – my overall universe has shrunk and it will never recover. There will be no mountain climbing or sky diving or traveling to far out places. At this point I realize that I won’t ever visit any new shopping malls in the city, nor will I ever go and see newly completed tallest building here. I don’t even want any of that.

I don’t know what will happen if I fully recover, I can’t see myself restarting a career, for example. I just don’t have that much interest in the world. I can’t even fully resume my usual blogging because it requires energy, time, and dedication. Donald Trump is seventy and he wants to be a president. I feel like I’m ninety compared to him.

It’s not that my senses have become weaker, if they did I haven’t noticed, but my prāṇa, my interest it the world, the extent to which I want to express myself here and sense objects I want to consume has diminished greatly. At this point I can see how one’s prāṇa might start withdrawing from outsides of one’s own body, losing control and awareness of limbs and senses, and it’s not that you become any less alive, it’s just that you are withdrawing from the world and kind of curious what will happen next.

In any case, next week I’ll have new tests and it will be clear whether I’m on the path to full recovery or cancer got a winning hand.

Back to the topic.

There were two devotees in our saṅkīrtana ashram who were out of this world and functioned on devotion alone. One was a disciple of a guru I couldn’t understand at the time. There was nothing wrong with him but I just couldn’t understand what other people saw in him. This guru wasn’t very inspirational, he wasn’t good looking, he wasn’t charismatic, he was a bad singer. So what if he said all the right things – everybody else said them, too, and so I couldn’t understand why people devoted their lives to him no matter how I tried. It took me years to get over this offensive attitude and now I think I can look past all that and see people’s devotion only.

This book distributor was very austere looking, which wasn’t generally attractive at all, and he was objectively a bad speaker. I don’t think he ever produced a long, complicated sentence, usually taking a break after every few words to think what to say next. How could he ever sell books was a mystery, but he did and he still does. The key was devotion to the orders of his guru, nothing else worked for him.

He was a kind of disciplinarian in the saṅkīrtana ashram. You would never see him leaning against the wall after a Sunday feast, for example. He always finished fast, never talked about anything, and when he got up everybody felt that they should stop their sense enjoyment, too. It worked for everybody – we felt glad that somebody straightened us up and he felt that his attitude towards sense enjoyment was validated – there’s no time for this in our lives, we should think only about saṅkīrtana.

I don’t know how people reacted to him on the streets. His pitch was very simple, he could read their minds and say what they needed to hear, but the main point was that he was absolutely convinced that he had to sell them books on the order of his guru. He wasn’t doing it for fun and he wasn’t promising the Moon, he just had this air of supreme importance of the mission that he carried. People could sense that urgency below small talk and usual sales pitch and they had no power to say no.

If you asked him why and how he was selling so many books for so many years he would say that it was the order of his guru and that’s what Prabhupada wanted and that was that. He had no other considerations in his life. Later he got sannyāsa, too.

Another devotee, our absolute best, was similar in his dedication but he was a very different person otherwise. They plucked him out of a math department of a big university and there was some nerdy look about him. Like Harinama Nanda I talked about in the previous post, you’d never notice him in a group photo but if you get to look at him closely you’d notice that he was not only shy and naturally humble but also very beautiful. He had beautiful eyes with long eyelashes, perfect skin, nicely rounded cheeks and do on. He also didn’t have any macho air about him like many others in our ashram.

I can’t say that he was austere, he never seemed to be making any conscious efforts for it and never forced anyone around him to cut on their sense enjoyment either. What we consider as austerity came naturally to him and he was actually very happy about it. For most of us, when it’s time to finish the feast and go read some books, we know that it’s not what our bodies want to do but for him the very thought of it was inspirational.

He distributed tons of books and so he had to have a helper team and there was a stiff competition to get a place on that team so devotees who served with him were similarly excited and enthusiastic and didn’t need anyone to whip them up to keep with their sādhana and this created an atmosphere very conducive to ecstatic service and no one ever left disappointed.

People often asked him how he distributed books but he never had solid answers, save for one, which he rarely shared. One should always, always pray to the lotus feet of his guru in his heart. By the mercy of the guru one can get mercy of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityānanda and together they will make the books look very attractive and inner voice in people’s hearts impossible to resist. They also will take control of you body and mind and they will put right words on your tongue or direct your feet to go in the right places.

As a saṅkīrtana devotee you have only one job to do – pray to your guru. Your mind, your eyes, your mouth, your feet – forget about trying to control them, leave this to your guru. When your prayers are sincere then, by his mercy, the Lord will become the owner of your prāṇa and the Lord will take care of everything. You are not this body, you are a tiny spirit soul, and lotus feet of your guru is your only treasure.

That devotee was the embodiment of this principle. That was the only secret, and somehow or other no one else could come even close to his level of samādhi in this regard.

Vanity thought #1780. From personalities to transcendence

Yesterday I talked about various personalities in our old sankirtana department. There were many devotees there, it’s impossible to describe every successful book distributor but there were remarkable in that their personality traits were distilled and I think that’s what made them relatively better distributors than others. This is only half of the story, though, so I’ll continue.

In those days the best in the world were Navina Nirada and Harinama Nanda and they were used as a point of reference in our sankirtana ashram. We shared stories about them but never had them visiting us personally until a couple of years later.

Navina Nirada was young, tall, handsome, and Swiss. It was a lethal combination and the word “charisma” doesn’t even begin to describe the effect he had on people. He was like a celebrity and everyone who saw him fought for the opportunity to do something for him and get noticed. If he said people needed to buy books they couldn’t refuse. Of course he said lots of other words as well but that was just a small talk around the real connection he established by simply paying attention to people.

Three kinds of attractive traits I mentioned yesterday were basically of the same type – something given to us by karma and something that would work in any circumstances, not limited to sankirtana. In that sense you looked at these devotees or at Navina Nirada in particular and your mind would tell you that if you had his looks you could distribute thousands of books, too, try to do it in your wretched and unattractive body.

Personality wise, Harinama Nanda was the opposite. He was smaller, somewhat hunched from carrying heavy books clutched to his chest for many years, and you would generally not notice his presence in the crowd. Navina Nirada was a natural center piece of any group photograph and Harinama Nanda was that forgettable face in the back row.

I’m exaggerating the contrast, of course. Navina Nirada also happened to embody “sankirtana is the soul of ISKCON” we adopted in our temple. It was he who taught us that every devotee in the temple was a sankirtana devotee, they just served in a different capacity.

We had one kitchen devotee who was handicapped. He didn’t just have a limp, he had to drag his leg like no person I’ve ever seen in my life. Walking for him was a big challenge and he had his share of mental problems, too, but when it was decided that book distributors need to eat bread to keep their stamina and not get hungry half an hour after a meal he too this task personally and started baking bread program in the temple, eventually getting a professional oven and everything.

And yet every time he had a chance he would load a traveling bag full of books and drag it out even as he could barely walk himself. This could fill one’s heart with pity but it was the moment when he had the happiest face in the world because finally he had a chance to bathe in the ocean of sankirtana. He didn’t distribute much but that time was his and his alone, between him and Lord Caitanya and everyone saw that it was REAL. Navina Nirada and his sankirtana seminars were one of the main sources where he received this attitude, so it’s not just looks, far from it.

Harinama Nanda was/is not the man of this world. Whatever body he got is irrelevant, his consciousness was never here and people could sense it right away. Turns out I don’t remember many actual sankirtana stories about him but the strength of his dedication is still vivid for me. It gave him a real mystic power of controlling other people. One story I do remember (probably wrong) was that he was standing outside and hunching over books in his car, putting dust jackets on them or something, when he sensed someone passing by. He straightened up, turned around, and told that man that he needs to buy these books right now because it’s more important than life or death, and the man obliged without a question.

Harinama Nanda was the one who revealed to us that “I don’t have money” is not an acceptable excuse to avoid buying books. Everybody has some money, they just don’t want to give it to us. The way to overcome this is to convey to the people the importance of donating money for knowledge about God, and the only way to impart this realization is to fully understand it yourself. It’s not even a matter of belief – because people might think “you believe this but I don’t”, but a matter of realized knowledge.

Srimad Bhagavatam verses spoken by a pure devotee reveal the Superme Personality of Godhead and so words uttered by a pure book distributor reveal the spiritual beauty of our books. It’s not a game, it’s not an empty promise. People could see God in Prabhupada’s instructions and people can see God in the presentation of a book distributor. The power is there, we only have to become perfect conduits.

When people see this spiritual light engulfing their souls they will give you everything they have for these books, it’s not an exaggeration. The key, however, is to remember that you are not in control of this process, Lord Caitanya is.

Just recently I read another sankritana story on Dandavats. A devotee was going door to door and met a nice gentleman, a Christian with appreciation for others devotion to God, too. When it was clear that the man wanted the books the question of price came up and suddenly the man’s face lit up. “You know,” he said, “I was driving today and for some unknown reason I felt compelled to stop by the ATM and withdraw some cash. I never keep cash in the house and I had no idea what it was until I met you but now I know!”

Perhaps the bigger lesson here is that we are only participants in Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana pastimes, we do not cause them, they already weaved into the history of the universe. We just have to beg to be placed in the right place at the right time, to be given the opportunity to be engaged in this service, which, incidentally, is the meaning of our Hare Krishna mantra.

Vanity thought #1779. Casting

Yesterday I discussed how physical reality affects our ability to distribute books, to conduct saṅkīrtana. There’s a lot more to this relationship between nature and our lives and our service, too. Eventually I’ll get to a chapter from Mystic Universe which explains importance of physical features of certain places and why scriptures pay so much attention to it. I won’t go into it today, however, but expand on our “old school” saṅkīrtana.

To recapitulate – our temple then was physically structured in such a way as to keep everyone in their perfect spiritual position as servants of the saṅkīrtana mission. There was no fraternizing, there was always physically enforced respect, there was no familiarity to breed contempt, and saṅkīrtana devotees themselves were forced to be no more but servants of their master – their saṅkīrtana leader.

A couple of words here – one would normally expect saṅkīrtana leader to be an inspirational figure, one to give speeches and pep talk, like a football coach or something, but in our case it was different, and that difference proved helpful, too. Incidentally, his name was Yamarāja and it fit him very well – strict, feared, but respected for his fairness, and you’d always want to keep your distance, and Yamarāja is not known as an inspirational speaker either. By delegating philosophy and speaking to gurus, visiting devotees, and Prabhupāda, our saṅkīrtana leader firmly established himself as no more than a servant so no one could really challenge him on anything – he was just doing his job making sure that saṅkīrtana spirit found its full manifestation within his domain. He also never failed at anything we expected him to do. One can put it down to his personal qualities but the arrangement where you must be a servant at all times helps, too – Lord Caitanya’s mercy stops flowing the moment you think you are the boss and no one in the temple at the time could reasonably claim that position, not even the temple president.

Temple president’s position was curious. On one hand he was officially the boss, on the other hand saṅkīrtana department was so big and important and financially profitable that his own service seemed utterly insignificant by comparison. He could not control or direct saṅkīrtana so he naturally saw himself as its servant, too.

All in all, it was a perfect physical and administrative arrangement for facilitating book distribution in every possible way. Is it possible to repeat that? I don’t think so, I think you need to start from scratch – make book distribution your main goal, build a community of like minded people, and then hope that a suitable temple manifests itself. Our current temple was not designed for that purpose and I don’t see how it can be reconfigured. It does what it does well, though.

My main point today was to describe prominent saṅkīrtana personalities of that time. Their names are not important, some are no longer with ISKCON, and I don’t mean it as a comprehensive catalog of book distributors qualities and characters. These were the guys who were at the top, it just happened, and they were all attractive in their own ways but it doesn’t mean that these are the only options and one must always emulate one of them.

I happened to be with the guy who was intellectual. He had dark eyes and his stare would drill into people’s souls while he delivered one unbeatable argument after the other why we are not these bodies, why God is not Indian or Christian, and why everyone needed to buy our books. I’ve never seen anyone successfully challenge him on anything even as many tried. Perhaps people were not yet familiar with Hare Kṛṣṇas, perhaps they didn’t know winning arguments yet, perhaps they didn’t know our history, but whatever they did know he could immediately refute and leave people stumped.

I’ve tried that myself, having heard his presentation so many times, but it didn’t work for me. Why? Looking back I think it’s because I didn’t have firm faith in these arguments myself yet and people sensed it, and maybe because my voice and demeanor didn’t convey that sense of urgency, no could I stare down into people’s eyes without blinking and my mind wondering off somewhere else. There was no single-mindedness in me so “intellectualism” didn’t help.

Another devotee was just a bundle of joy. When he talked about Kṛṣṇa consciousness he could barely contain himself, he was so excited. People couldn’t pass on that kind of happiness and wanted to experience it, too. I don’t remember how he preached, I doubt anyone could – it was his emotional state that attracted people and they forgot anything else. You can’t imitate this kind of excitement, I certainly could and still can’t, and it’s probably impossible to maintain it for a prolonged period of time. Maybe so and maybe later story of this devotee turned very different but he WAS very excited then and it lasted for several years during which he distributed hundreds of thousands of books. So if you have some temporary personality trait that helps – use it to the full advantage while you can. That would be the best possible service for it ever.

One of the top distributors had a similarly attractive personality but of a slightly different kind. He was a kind of man you expect to come to rescue any time something goes wrong. He’d show up to change you tire or pull your car out of mud or catch you when you slip and fall or pull you out of the fire. It’s the kind of man that when you are in trouble and you see him you think “Thank god, now I’m safe.” When he talked to people they could instantly relate to him and trust him in every way and when he told them that they needed to buy his books they obeyed unquestionably. If he said so it must be true.

These three devotees had some personal traits that helped in their book distribution, one had a strong intellect, a broad knowledge base, and quick thinking, another had a contagiously joyous personality, and the third immediately elicited trust. You can’t emulate that, you either have it or not, but then everyone has these qualities to some degree anyway and any saṅkīrtana devotee can utilize them in his preaching. Trust, happiness, and knowledge – these three qualities will always attract people no matter how they are mixed together, hopefully enough to sell them a book.

There were two other devotees who always stood apart from the rest of saṅkīrtana crowd and they deserve their own post, so tomorrow, holiday schedule permitting.

Vanity thought #1778. Reality matters

As I was watching Prabhupāda marathon pledging procedure at our local temple and wondering why we can’t bring back years of record saṅkīrtana numbers I realized that the situation is completely different today and our current reality is simply not conducive. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and see what I mean.

First, most our temple devotees then were brahmacārīs. Gṛhasthas were only in management positions, like temple treasurer and temple president. They didn’t live in the temple, couldn’t come to maṅgala ārati, left before the evening program, and so weren’t really part of temple life, plus their rank kept them above the main body of devotees, too. That way everybody had a brahmacārī spirit in them and there were no gṛhastha contamination at all. To book distribution this mattered a lot.

We tend to think that gṛhasthas are allowed to associate with women and have sex but that’s not the difference here. For the purposes of saṅkīrtana the main problem with gṛhasthas is that they had to make money. Brahmacārī, on the other hand, is completely transcendental to money matters. Book prices were set by the temple, the book distributor didn’t even think about keeping anything to himself, and his only concern was that collected lakṣmī matched with the number of sold books exactly. There was no question of discounts, no free giveaway materials, every book had its price and that was it, it was non-negotiable.

When a gṛhastha is expected to make profit from books all sorts of things enter into his consciousness and pollute it. People sense that a mile away and they see buying a book as a typical trade – I want this, you have a weakness for that, so let’s exchange something to mutual satisfaction. Late in the day, for example, both the buyer and the seller think that it’s time to give a discount. The buyer senses that he can get something cheap and the seller thinks that he can reduce his price so that he doesn’t have to carry books back. This reduction in profit is the price he is ready to pay for the comfort of not having to carry books back and look like a bad distributor, even to himself. The buyer senses this desire for comfort and this is what he wants to trade on – you get your comfort and I pay you less money. It’s tempting, and temptations pollute our minds, we lose the focus and single mindedness of our service.

Sometimes a book distributor might forego the profit altogether and chalk the books up as his personal donation to the temple where he got them from. He might then choose to give them away or keep them until next time, or practically forever. This correlation between personal well-being, well-being of the family, and saṅkīrtana does not help at all. Brahmacārīs don’t suffer from that.

Next, our temple at the time was a large two story building which previously housed some offices, I think. The point was that it had many completely separate units with separate entrances and they have been converted to āśramas. BBT had it’s office there, too, and it was completely off limits to ISKCON devotees. They shared a ground entrance but had a lock with a door code even before you got to second floor landing. You couldn’t walk in there unless you have been invited in and most of temple devotees have never been inside, like ever. BBT had its own kitchen and they brought their supplies separately, too.

To us, temple devotees, it was a practical demonstration that BBT is the heart of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s movement and serving there is more important than anything else. Printing books comes first, distributing them comes later.

Book distribution for us was the heart of ISKCON and saṅkīrtana āśrama (well, we called it “ashram”, not “ashrama”, so I’ll drop diacritics here) was the biggest ashram among temple departments. Temple room was the single biggest room in the temple, of course, but pūjārīs quarters and paraphernalia rooms behind it were incomparable in size to saṅkīrtana ashram, though it wasn’t much bigger than others. It had a door and, unless you lived there, you’d have to knock, but it was never locked, like BBT’s, and they didn’t have their separate kitchen. They did have their separate prasādam room, however, which helped book distribution.

Temple prasādam was a long drawn affair and in marathon times saṅkīrtana prasādam was served during Bhāgavatam class, for example, so that saṅkīrtana devotees could leave for book distribution right after the class was over rather than wait until temple room was prepared for serving and then wait until everybody is served. All in all, they left for saṅkkirtana a full hour earlier and their lunch time wasn’t fixed either, unlike lunch in the temple room, so they didn’t have to worry about making it back on time.

This physical separation and privileges made everyone treat saṅkīrtana mission as special and superior. The rest of the temple thought of themselves as no more than servants to that mission. Temple itself was more like a service pit on race tracks – saṅkīrtana devotees stopped there to recuperate and recharge themselves spiritually, their real life was on the streets, not in the temple.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in that ashram and the atmosphere there was very different from the rest of the temple. The kind of topics they raised during prasādam, the small talk they made while waiting in line for a shower, it was all strictly Kṛṣṇa conscious, there was no prajalpa whatsoever. Down in the temple room and temple devotees ashram it was free for all, even saṅkīrtana drivers had to be given their own place where they could let themselves go, like drivers do. These devotees formely drove taxis and trucks and those habits were always with them. They were free to enter saṅkīrtana ashram at any time but they had to restrain themselves there.

It’s not like saṅkīrtana devotees thought of themselves as gods, they had their saṅkīrtana leader for that role. They obeyed him unconditionally, they were his subjects and did not even think about going against his instructions. Even temple president wouldn’t dare to approach them without consulting with saṅkīrtana leader first. They were his servants in every practical sense and he was the only person responsible for their maintenance – he made sure they had food, shelter, clothes, cars – everything. If he didn’t provide something they had to accept it as austerity and no one has ever rebelled, in my memory. It was unthinkable.

The point is that this physical arrangement was the key to growing healthy spiritual relationships between devotees in different departments. Everyone then knew his role, who he had to serve, and who he had to take care of. Every relationship was personal on the spiritual level, not on some mundane character compatibility, and everything worked like a clock. That’s how we were able to break records then.

With current setup at our temple it would simply be impossible. We don’t have a single brahmacārī there, for starters, only visiting ones. Most of the congregation is visiting, too. There’s simply no place for cultivation of single-mindedness there, no facilities for maintaining a proper inner attitude necessary for successful saṅkīrtana. I’ll write more about attitudes of saṅkīrtana devotees tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1777. Missing things

One more important holiday that happened during my absence here was Gītā Jayanti. I don’t think I’ve ever paid serious attention to it in my life and I missed it this time around, too. It’s big in India, sure, but ISKCON temple where I grew up had Prabhupāda marathon taking up all energy and focus on this day. It was never a time to celebrate anything, only work our socks off trying to distribute as many books as possible.

I also must admit that I have never been a Gītā man. I know devotees who read Bhagavad Gītā every day just as they chant their rounds. My daily requirement is to read something from Bhāgavatam, which I, personally, consider the book of all books. I also feel distance from Lord Caitanya if I don’t read something about him, but another must is something about Śrīla Prabhupāda, either his biographies or devotees reminiscing about him. Bhagavad Gītā, I’m sorry to say, comes last on the list. Apart from that I read other books, like that Mystic Universe. Recently I also got Rāmāyaṇa by Bhakti Vikasa Swami – never knew he had a translation and it’s not on vedabase website. I was told that it’s more Prabhupāda-like in its approach rather than general story telling. The book starts with discussing personality of Rāma as the Supreme Lord, for example. Other storytellers simply state it once and move along but Bhakti Vikasa Svami really dwells on the subject of tattva there. That’s as far as I have progressed so far, sorry.

Still, the importance of Bhagabad Gītā cannot be overestimated. I remember once, many many years ago, I opened it on a random page and it said that reading even a few words from it can free oneself from the burden of all his karma, and at that moment I really felt like my accumulated karma disappeared from the back of my consciousness. Like a heavy weight you carry on your shoulders for so long you don’t even realize it’s there anymore, and then it’s lifted and you suddenly feel so light you feel you are a different person now.

There was a time when I tried to memorize Gītā verses, got to the middle of the second chapter, and then abandoned the idea when I had to move to a new place for while. I “pirated” Gītā content from vedabase and tweaked it to show Sanskrit and translation and collapse purports – it’s easier to read for memorizing that way. During that time I used to recite the verses from the beginning several times a day but now they are all gone from my memory and it’s this memory loss that stops me from resuming it again. What can I do? I tried, but that approach was clearly not for me.

I’ve also got to participate in book distribution this year and I helped to sell two Gītās. Not much but I’ll remember it for much longer than verses themselves, that’s for sure. I’ve also attended Marathon evening program at my local temple where they encouraged devotees to distribute books. I still don’t understand how it’s supposed to work, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

They’ve asked everyone to make “pledges”, that is to take a certain amount of books and pledge to give money for them. Some gave money upfront, most had their names entered into a ledger. The books were immediately put into their custody and they transferred them to their cars. As far as I understand, the temple doesn’t care whether they sell these books or give them away, all the book distribution for that (this, actually) month was done in the space of half an hour it took them to take the pledges. Maybe someone would pledge more later but overall that was it. “I pledge fifty Bhagavad Gītās” – “Jaya!”

I really don’t know how this shift in book distribution happened. I understand in India they get businessmen to give huge amounts of money and then book count goes to a devotee who took it. The second part is then to go out and give the books away. I don’t know how it works – if they collect donations before December and only give the books away during the Marathon – should they be counted for December or for November, too? What if they only collect donations during the Marathon and give away actual books after New Year?

It used to be individual devotees going out with books, meeting individual people, taking their money and giving them books immediately. The end result might be the same – money comes into the treasury and books are going to people, but this change of method changed how benefits are distributed, too. I mean when Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira conducted sacrifices he was supposed to be the main beneficiary and he got all the credit. It was HIS rajāsūya sacrifice, not anybody else’s. Many people have helped to collect the money for it, there were priests who conducted it on his behalf, there were brāhmaṇas who got gifts at the end and they all got something out of it, but it was still Yudhiṣṭhira’s sacrifice, not theirs.

When we sell a book to an individual and he pays his own money it’s HIS sacrifice and we are more like priests assisting him. All the main benefit goes to him according to how much he gave in proportion to his abilities. Who is the main beneficiary when one man gives the money and another gets a book? Obviously the donor, but the recipient will get a benefit later if he reads it and takes its instructions to the heart. A devotee in this case benefits twice – first when he assists the donor and then again when he puts a book in someone’s hand, but then again – these might be different devotees working as a team. It would certainly make more sense because collecting thousands of dollars/rupees in donations requires different skills then finding thousands of people ready to take the books.

The main point to consider here, however, is whether the books will have the same effect or not. If people take them like they do with “lose fat” pamphlets given out on the streets – carry them until they find a nearest bin, then what is the benefit of the whole sacrifice from start to finish? Donor’s money will all be wasted because his sacrifice isn’t actually complete until people start reading and become devotees, even if for a minute of their lives. As far as I remember, Prabhupāda’s instructions on this were clear – do not give books away for free, people should value them and this will force them to treat them with respect and try to extract as much benefit from reading them as possible to recoup their “investment”.

Having paid for the books isn’t a requirement for becoming a devotee, of course, but I have another post in mind to discuss how this physical arrangement matters, too. So, tomorrow.

Vanity thought #1583. Lines of authority

For a week now I’ve been talking about the departure of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, his last public address, his last days, and his actual last words. However, despite knowing all this I still stick by the version I’ve heard many many years earlier from a devotee whose name I don’t even remember. Lines of authority are funny that way.

Modern people pride themselves on being logical and rational but one of the most obvious areas where logic fails them is their irrational allegiance to their first authority on any subject. Everything they hear after that is viewed through the prism of their first “guru”, turns out I’m not an exception.

One can easily find confirmation of this phenomenon in people’s mundane lives, I don’t want to waste time on proving that. One’s political views on the value of the free market, for example, are usually so long held that it’s impossible to actually trace them to the first person who asserted that capitalism is good, or capitalism is evil, both utterances pronounced with the air of the authority around the speaker. Everything else that comes after that would still be forever judged according to that first premise. Another example would be one’s opinion of historical figures – you hear it once and it will stay with you for the rest of your life. Unless it’s something you take a keen interest in and mentally prepare yourself for fundamental changes in your understanding you are stuck with your guru forever, it’s just how our minds work.

What interests me more is how this phenomenon manifests itself in people’s spiritual lives. Sometimes you just need to hear a few words from a person to determine where he comes from and how far he can possibly progress in a foreseeable future. You can also easily determine how much interest he takes in the subject and how important it is to him, but more importantly – how it will affect his next life.

If you talk to Indians you can spot traces of “yata mata tata patha” planted in their minds so long ago they are not going away – all paths are good, all are spiritual, and you can worship all gods equally. The plus side is that they are less offensive at least in their external behavior. Likewise, they have absorbed their knowledge of Kṛṣṇa with their mothers’ milk, no matter what anybody ever says about Him they will still see Him as God.

If you talk to non-Indian Hindu wannabes then the first thing they know is that you are Brahman and God doesn’t really exist, Kṛṣṇa being simply a tool to achieve higher understanding. No matter what they read after that they’ll always think of themselves as Brahman and as being above such silly concepts as devotion. It just doesn’t wash off.

On the plus side there are people who got their first spiritual lessons from our books and you can spot them a mile away, too. The way they might talk about māyāvādīs is a dead giveaway, and also the way they talk about things like reincarnation or yoga, or Sanskrit, or elements of varṇāśrama. We, the Hare Kṛṣṇas, are known for having immutable and easily recognizable views on such topics. The way Śrīla Prabhupāda presented them makes them unique even so many years later and in people who can hardly remember his name. These things stick.

Sometimes I wonder why it is so and whether it has any spiritual value behind it. With Śrīla Prabhupāda it’s easy – even a small knowledge attained on our path can save one from the greatest danger, but what about this subconscious allegiance to all kinds of bogus gurus? Does it make people spiritually crippled for the rest of their lives?

In some cases it does because it makes people carry their attachments and upādhis. Eventually they have to overcome those but it takes a very long time, which is obviously not good. OTOH, this allegiance can be seen in a positive way, too – a guru is a guru. You surrender and he teaches you and you can never ever give him up. Objectively speaking he might be a bogus guru but it’s the one given to you and so you have to stick with him no matter what.

“Stick with him” doesn’t mean you can’t recognize errors in his teachings but it means you should never ever lose respect. It’s like with your father – no matter what he does he is still the one who gave you life, nothing will ever change this simple fact. So yes, I’m prepared to appreciate people allegiance to frauds like Ramakrishna if it’s done with the spirit of always honoring your ācāryas. I believe one can, and should be encouraged to, keep this gratitude in their hearts even if they moved on to better understanding of God and devotional service. More likely they will never be able to move on but if they did gratitude is still in order.

Oh, and about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s last words – I was told by a devotee, in great confidence, that he said that we should always chant the holy name and it will save us no matter what happens in our lives. Things will get messy, mistakes will be made, falldowns will be experienced, relationships torn, institutions ruined – but if we keep chanting through it all our lives will be spiritually successful. Chanting is the only thing that matters.

As it’s recorded in Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s biography, the actual last words were: “All of you, present and absent, accept my blessings. Remember that our sole duty and dharma is to propagate service to the Lord and His devotees.” Not exactly what I was told, but I still stick by my remembered version. How? By explaining it away, by refusing to see the contradiction.

Fine, he didn’t say “..our sole duty and dharma is to chant the holy name”, but I didn’t understand it to mean only chanting and not saṅkīrtana either, and saṅkīrtana is nothing else but “propagate service to the Lord and His devotees.” There’s no contradiction here. He didn’t say build temples, distribute food, or even distribute books, he meant perform saṅkīrtana in a broader sense – as preaching, which is discussing the Lord in the company of others, chanting the holy name is included. This is what “propagate service” means – talk to others about glories of the service to the Lord. It’s still the same thing as chanting.

I’m not going to give up my eternal gratitude to that unknown devotee just because there’s an apparent inconsistency. Spiritually, the message is the same, it’s advaya jñāna, which is another great subject taught by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta.

Vanity thought #1581. Really old school

While talking about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s disappearance and last instructions it would be very appropriate to discuss his views on saṅkīrtana and his contribution to book distribution and preaching in general.

My starting point in this series of posts during Prabhupāda marathon is an “ideal” saṅkīrtana temple where everything is centered on book distribution and where saṅkīrtana means book distribution first and foremost. We don’t have those anymore for many reasons and resurrecting them would probably be a Utopian idea but saṅkīrtana is not an arrangement for this world, it’s not supposed to fit here. Those who are after its nectar do not belong to this world either, they are just passing through. Consequently, this series of posts is not about how to make our lives here easier, but to remind us of a perfect life that exists in eternal service to Lord Caitanya, not in this world. It’s not about how to reconcile Vedas with science or evolution, or how to reconcile Kṛṣṇa consciousness and Christianity, or about any of the subjects concerned with worldly phenomena. Our only goal should be the mercy of Lord Caitanya which manifests in service to His mission, too bad if we do not live up to it.

In history of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism we had saṅkīrtana as led by Lord Caitanya, then saṅkīrtana as led by Lord Nityānanda, then the Six Gosvāmīs, then the period of Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, then we had dark ages until Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and his revival of Gauḍiyā tradition. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta continued that and then Śrīla Prabhupāda took it all over the world. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta then appears as just a link in a chain but he was so much more than that.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote many books and started the bhakti vṛkṣa program but after his retirement from public preaching it practically stopped so Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had to start literally from scratch and he did it on a scale never seen before. He didn’t just cultivate small groups of devotees, he built temples and entire communities around them, all around India. His reach was unprecedented, he got the ear of biggest political and government leaders and he had festivals attended by millions of people. He put saṅkīrtana on an industrial footing, so to speak.

It wasn’t about the books, though, he hardly printed any and he wasn’t a prolific writer himself. Nevertheless, he “discovered” bṛhat mṛdaṅga, before him it was just a printing press. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda had various publications going on during his life and he also printed his own books but that had all stopped and to revive it Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta needed new material, again starting from scratch.

Mostly he published periodicals, the main one being Gauḍiyā in Bengali. He also had Harmonist in English and a Hindi periodical as well. He published those in great numbers and had thousands of devotees go out and distribute them to the public, something Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura didn’t have in his time. Someone might correct me but the idea of investing all the money into printing books, the famous order given to our Śrīla Prabhupāda, occurred to him in last years of his life, he didn’t have time to put it in practice.

What I mean to say is that saṅkīrtana for him didn’t mean book distribution as it came to mean in ISKCON. Still, saṅkīrtana was the only life and soul of Gauḍiyā Maṭha, it just manifested differently.

Remembering Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s speeches and instructions, he always talked about Hari-kathā, which was his preferred manifestation of saṅkīrtana. He hardly ever sang the holy names but he always talked about Kṛṣṇa. He also used terms like Hari-bhajana, śuddha Hari-bhajana, Hari-seva-katha and the like. In simple words – we must always talk about Kṛṣṇa and of nothing else. This was saṅkīrtana in its purest form, free from all other motivations.

Devotees followed his example, too, and gave speeches everywhere they went, that’s how their mission had grown, just as we did in ISKCON half a century later. This is the heart of saṅkīrtana – talking about Kṛṣṇa to appreciating audience, to devotees. Every other form must not undermine this main principle. Find devotees and talk to them, if there aren’t any around – make people into devotees and talk to them. If you are alone – find devotees and talk about Kṛṣṇa in their association. There’s no other way. Even when we do japa we do it Haridāda Ṭhākura’s style – outloud so that there’s always some living entities who can hear it.

Every devotee in Gauḍiyā Maṭhas was expected to go out and preach every day just as they were required to chant their rounds. They were supposed to do it “Nityānanda style” – approach people and beg them to consider the message of Lord Caitanya. Devotees also asked for donations, which is an old tradition. People saw them as sādhus and hearing spiritual instructions and then giving donations was a part of the ritual.

What pleased Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta the most, however, was when devotees persuaded people to buy the magazines. That’s how he eventually got the idea of Bṛhat Mṛdaṅga – don’t just talk, leave something to read later, too. This is what our Śrīla Prabhupāda did as well – asked devotees to distribute Back To Godhead magazines along with harināma and prasādam. It was only later that the devotees figured out that they could distribute big books, too.

Eventually we got around to the idea that books can be what cows were to people in Vedic ages – foundation of the entire society and expression of wealth and prosperity. It’s a Kali yuga solution, though. If we want to build a varṇāśrama we need to go back to land and cows but if you do not worry about settling down and putting roots then books are the best. They are also not wealth per se, you can’t eat them, but they can be converted to money. Most importantly, they give everyone a chance to serve saṅkīrtana mission.

Some devotees in Gauḍiyā Maṭha got the wrong idea that donations were the basis, just like some of our devotees thought that books were the basis because they brought in money, but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta cut them short. Preaching is the basis, as well as the goal and the method, money is just something that the universe provides to oil the wheels. Saṅkīrtana is never about the money, if one thinks like that he immediately looses all spiritual realizations.

One time Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta told the entire temple to stay in and wait and he left for saṅkīrtana all alone. He didn’t collect anything substantial, as far as I remember, but someone suddenly showed up with a big donation of foodstuff on his own and everybody was immediately convinced. As long as preaching is going on the universe will cooperate in this regard, we don’t need to make any separate efforts. This is another principle we should never forget if we talk about book distribution.

I wish I remembered something more on this topic but I don’t, so I’ll give it a rest.

Vanity thought #1580. Last words

Let’s look closer at Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s last public address I posted yesterday in full. It was jotted down by one of his disciples and then published in Gaudiya magazine, which was Gauḍiyā Maṭha’s main publication. The English translation from Bengali can be easily found elsewhere on the internet. A book by HH Bhaktivikāsa Svāmī has several footnotes that deserves to be included, too, but let’s start at the beginning.

Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī never in his entire life took any medicine, he put his health solely in the hands of Kṛṣṇa. We are not advised to imitate him in this but we should at least know that it’s a possibility and only our immaturity as aspiring devotees is stopping us from following his footsteps in this regard. Our conditioning puts us at the mercy of the material energy, if she tells us to take medicine than we should not act as if are liberated, we depend on her and on her help but Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta didn’t.

Having said that, he still behaved as a conditioned living being – experiencing pain, old age, constant battles with his mind etc just like the rest of us. For him, however, all those troubles were external because he didn’t identify himself with his body. We do, we think it’s us who get old and sick, and we hardly ever notice our mind wondering away from Kṛṣṇa’s service, we just happily go along for the ride, only occasionally catching ourselves on deviations. When we think of liberation we expect that all these troubles would stop but from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s life we can see that it won’t be the case. Birth, death, old age, and disease will continue but we won’t take it personally and to outsiders the advantage provided by Kṛṣṇa consciousness will be impossible to detect.

So, even if Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta was aware of his imminent departure he continued with his service without interruptions. He left his body in the morning of January 1, 1937, yet he spent whole of November giving daily lectures on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in Purī which lasted for several hours each. When he was returning to Calcutta in the beginning of December quite a few people realized that they were seeing their guru for the last time. He became bedridden on the 18th of December, only two weeks before departure, and the last public speech was given on the 23rd. After that he just didn’t have the power but regularly listened to devotees singing songs by Bhaktivinoda and Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākuras.

A couple of doctors approached him but devotees joked that instead of treating him they got a treatment themselves – spiritual treatment, that is. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s arguments were simple – this body is given to us for engagement in Kṛṣṇa kathā and so harināma is the only suitable medicine. The doctor in Purī whose main proposal was to restrict Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s lecturing got it the heaviest and was left completely bewildered that all his learning was completely blown to pieces. He didn’t expect that a patient would be so clear in his dedication to Kṛṣṇa’s service that he’d forgo his personal bodily comfort even when threatened by death. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta wasn’t fanatical either, it’s just that the condition of his body had no effect on the condition of his consciousness, mind, or intelligence.

His last speech began with asking forgiveness from those who were thought to be his enemies. Our Śrīla Prabhupāda did that, too, and some have misconstrued it to mean that he abandoned his disciples and took shelter in his godbrothers instead, finally realizing the error of his ways. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s apology, however, makes it clear that all this enemy making business was for people’s own benefit and he hoped that one day they will surely realize it. That’s how we should see our Prabhupāda’s
apology, too, even if it was worded differently, as far as I remember.

    I have upset many persons’ minds. Many might have considered me their enemy, because I was obliged to speak the plain truth of service and devotion toward the Absolute Godhead. I have given them all those troubles only so they might turn their face toward the Personality of Godhead without any desire for gain, and with unalloyed devotion. Surely some day they will be able to understand that.

He then told his disciples to propagate the message of Rūpa-Raghunātha and become particles of dust at the lotus feet of rūpānugas. That they should live only for Hari-bhajana and nothing else, completely ignoring the opposition and lack of appreciation. Several Sanskrit terms probably need clarification here. Aśraya-vigraha that he asks us to take shelter of (and it was a message to all aspiring devotees everywhere, not just to those present at the time) could be understood to be either guru or Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. The advaya-jñāna that we are supposed to serve is the realization of transcendental nature of Kṛṣṇa’s form, qualities, pastimes etc – that they are non-different from Kṛṣṇa Himself. It is a transcendental, fully spiritual platform as opposed to our mundane vision of duality. It doesn’t mean advaita.

Then he implores us: “Let our bodies, which are like those of aged oxen, be offered into the saṅkīrtana-yajña of Lord Caitanya and His associates.” Aged oxen were the ones that were offered in Vedic sacrifices, their bodies considered useless for anything else and fit for rejuvenation through a yajña. This is a very fitting description of our condition regardless of our age – we are no good for anything but saṅkīrtana. All our other achievements are only an illusion. Once again Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta reminds us that “..our constitutional position and all in all is to in every birth to become dust at Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha’s lotus feet.” Note “in every birth” – he is not telling to go back to Kṛṣṇa and be done with it. Being of some use to Śrīla Rūpa and Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmīs is not only superior utilization of one’s soul but our only goal, this blog’s name not-withstanding.

He also speaks of Bhaktivinoda-dhārā, which is “the line of Bhaktivinoda”. It will never stop and it is our duty to make sure it is so. He then again stresses importance of serving Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī by quoting a verse by Śrīla Raghunātha: “Taking a blade of grass between my teeth, I fall down and pray again and again to become dust at Śrīmad Rūpa’s lotus feet, birth after birth.” He can’t stress this enough – devotional service is not about making sure we are spiritually alright but it is service to our ācāryas. He doesn’t say “go play with Kṛṣṇa in any rasa you like”. That’s not our goal, it’s a proposition for the neophytes, we should know better.

Then comes the part about dealing with inconveniences and his solution is not to worry about it. We should not be overwhelmed by troubles not desire to overcome them. That’s the answer to the question why he apparently didn’t do enough to save Gauḍiyā Maṭha from disintegration. It was certainly an obstacle in the mission of Lord Caitanya but the instruction is to simply carry on with service, not aim to overcome the obstacles, which would make us attached to the result. Kṛṣṇa-sevā-rasa does not arise in those who are still concerned with attachment and detachment.

He admits that such an understanding might be baffling because every human being in this world wants to overcome various difficulties. However, as devotees our only requirement is to transcend this platform, go beyond dualities, and “enter the kingdom of eternal necessity”. Once again he reminds us: “we have no love or hatred toward anyone in this world. All arrangements made herein are but temporary.” It’s impossible to make enemies in the course of devotional service, people might think that way but they’d be wrong, and we ourselves certainly should not see anyone as our enemy, nor should we love anybody either. Not mothers, not fathers, not wives and husbands, not children – nobody. All these are only material forms covering the essence, which is that they are all sparkles of Kṛṣṇa’s energy.

In his concluding paragraph he again asks us not to feel dejected while engaged in seven-tongue flame of saṅkīrtana-yajña – a reference to seven auspicious qualities mentioned in the first verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka, and he concludes by once again imploring us to preach Rūpa-Raghunātha-kathā. He repeats the importance of this service to Rūpa-Raghunātha so many times that we should finally get it in our heads that it’s the only thing that matters in our lives. I hope it registers but we should also know how to differentiate the real service from lip service given by many pseudo-devotees, but that’s the whole other topic, extensively covered by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta himself. Just not for today.