Archive for January, 2001

Vrindaban Unlike Navadvipa-dhama, offenses in

January 21st, 2001

Vrindaban

Unlike Navadvipa-dhama, offenses in Vrindaban are not pardoned so easily. The devotees feel more pressure here. I am confident, however, that if the devotees
maintain their sincere mood of approaching the dhama, they will enter?although it may take time.

Actually there is no difference between Navadvipa-dhama and Vrindaban-dhama. It is the same entity manifesting different moods, just as even an ordinary man can sometimes be sweet, sometimes magnanimous, and sometimes be sad. Bhaktivinoda Thakur gives a great explanation of this in his Nabadvipa
Mahatmya:

“Krsnaloka exists in two states of emotion. Rasa expands there in the form of madhurya and audarya, sweetness and munificence. Audarya exists within madhurya in fullness, and madhurya exists within audarya in fullness. But, that place where madhurya is the chief state is known by fortunate persons as Vrindaban. And that place where audarya is eternally predominant is called Nabadvipa in all the Vedas. There is no difference between Vrindavan and Navadvipa, only the different manifestations of rasa make them different.? (Navadvipa-dhama Mahatmya)

A few of the devotees became ill the last day in Mayapur and, therefore, the trip to Vrindaban was difficult for them. We will take it easy today and only visit Srila Prabhupada’s house in the ISKCON’s temple compound. As this was Srila Prabhupada’s residence in Vrindaban, many wonderful pastimes were enacted here including his glorious passing from this world. Although I never considered myself fortunate to have had much personal association with Srila Prabhupada, I was surprised by how much I remembered of what I personally witnessed here.

I spoke of the time when Srila Prabhupada had a dream that he would be cured by a rare type of medicine made with crushed diamonds and prepared by a kaviraj with thick white and red ramanuja-tilak. I remembered how devotees were sent to somehow find him. I was also there when one of the devotees returned and excitedly told Srila Prabhupada that he had found the kaviraj. He explained that while searching for the doctor in Delhi he just happened to have met a friend in Delhi who had just seen a local kaviraj. When he inquired from his friend what the kaviraj looked like, it became apparent that he was the kaviraj in Srila Prabhupada’s dream?a Ramanuja-kaviraj making the rare medicine Srila Prabhupada wanted!

Tamal Krishna Maharaja was sitting at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada at the time. I remember his reaction. He looked at Srila Prabhupada and exuberantly exclaimed, “Srila Prabhupada! This is like living the Caitanya-Caritamrita! ?

What Maharaja said was so true. The world around Srila Prabhupada’s room had a very mystical sense?like a stage for a divine drama. It seemed as if it was something you only read about, but we were there as personal witnesses to Srila Prabhupada?s lilamrita.

I spoke for several hours and it brought my consciousness back to the mood of intense devotion that was manifest when Srila Prabhupada lived there. Actually, a magic still pervades his rooms. Srila Prabhupada said that Vrindaban is his home, so visiting his home in Vrindaban and meditating on his mood here was the proper way for us to enter Vrindaban and begin our parikrama.

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Calcutta/Delhi/Vrindaban- -Ekadasi Up very early

January 20th, 2001

Calcutta/Delhi/Vrindaban- -Ekadasi

Up very early as we need to leave Mayapur by 4AM to catch our plane. A last thought:

Since I have lived in Vrindaban for over twenty years and have my heart there, devotees who go on pilgrimage with me usually also become more inclined to Vrindaban than Mayapur. I think this year it may be different. A strong sentiment of gaura-bhakti has been aroused by our pilgrimage here, and my sentiments have also been significantly stirred.

I?ll never travel on Ekadasi again. We caught our plane on time. That was no problem. We were conveniently picked by four Sumos (Indian SUVs) that I had ordered before I left Vrindaban. Going quite well so far. The trip from Delhi to Vrndaban, however, was nothing but trouble. A third of the way there, one of our vehicles sped up to us to say that one of our trailing vehicles accidentally almost brushed a motorcycle and that a skirmish was started. The two men in the motorcycle were local thugs and they beat our driver severely. I have the driver of our car turn around and rush to the scene only to find Caitanya Bhagavat walking along the highway. He leads us to the driver who is in a state of shock, his face covered with blood. I?m anxious to return, but we have no choice but to go to the local police?especially since the driver is insisting on reporting it.

Our caravan winds through a few dirt roads and arrives at a typical UP police station: a few brick rooms on half acre of sandy land. A fairly pious looking police chief, not more than 35 years old, is sitting behind his simple wooden desk filled with a few papers and files in the sandy courtyard of the station. A few jolly pot-bellied assistants surround his desk. Surprisingly, the two hapless thugs?who bear remarkable resemblance to what I envision Jagai and Madhai to look like?have been miraculously apprehended. They stand ten feet behind the police
chief by the two feet brick wall surrounding the property.

I plead with the police chief that now that the offenders have been caught he should let us take the driver and go, but he insists that there are a few formalities that need to be completed and it won?t be long. The police chief then gets up along with his assistant, walks calmly over to the accused, grabs them forcibly by their hair, drags them to the middle of the courtyard, and then?as a small crowd of local citizens congregate in a circle?gives the two accused a good beating. I look over to our newcomers to India?Andrew, Justin, Scott, and others?and can?t imagine what they think of their introduction to the ?wild west? of UP, India?s most populous state.

The police chief then again calmly sits at his desk, has our driver fill out some papers, and orders the culprits, who will spend the night in jail, to apologize to our driver. He then, to our surprise, stands up, walks over to me, and very respectfully with folded hands apologizes, ?Please excuse us. Our people are uncivilized.?

The only thing I can think of at the time is ?there?s a method to their madness.?
Luckily Patricia?s a professional nurse and Shaun, a paramedic. Between the both of them the driver?s wounds are expertly dressed. They assure me that his injury looked worse than it was, and he is fit for the rest of the journey.

We continue on the road. We are on the GT highway, the main road that goes from Amristar in the North all the way to Calcutta. Up until five years ago, it was a just a two-lane highway (one lane each way), so to pass a car you had to treacherously navigate against the traffic. It now has four lanes but it is still a strange mixture of cars, old trucks, bicycles, and buffalo carts. It blows Sesasayi Visnu?s mind that, despite the heavy cement dividers between the up and down traffic, we occasionally confront cars and trucks whimsically coming toward us the wrong way.

Just ten minutes after leaving the police station we hit a bicycle that cut us off without looking. Luckily, no one is hurt seriously. Still, by Indian law, if you hit someone, somehow it is your fault, so the police confiscate our driver?s papers. Our driver, a nice brijabasi, asks me if I drive, because if we wait for him, he says, it may be several days. It?s a long story, but after an hour we are somehow off again.

I think of mantra for the day??You can?t by a ticket to Vrindaban??and begin to wonder if we will ever get there.

We take no chances. ?Jaya Radhe, Jaya Krishna, Jaya Vrindaban.? It?s Vrindaban bhajan all the way back. We pass Kosi, the border of Vraja. We taste the sweetness of the dhama. We finally arrive after seven hours. Home at last!

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Mayapur Tomorrow we will leave.

January 19th, 2001

Mayapur

Tomorrow we will leave. I plan an easy day. I therefore saved for today the visit to Nandana Acaryas house as it is right next door to ISKCON and takes only a few minutes to walk there. We have a short kirtan and read from Caitanya Bhagavat about the first meeting of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda at the very spot we are now sitting. No time to waste. We quickly cross the road and then cut across the fields for a quick bath in the Ganga. Still, we are running late for our next program. We rush off to Srila Prabhupada?s rooms to meet Jnanivas Prabhu, ISKCON?s head pujari, to hear about the Deities in Mayapur and his personal association with Srila Prabhupada.

I have heard wonderful things from the day I first came to India in 1974 about Jnanivas, the saintly devotee who never leaves Mayapur, and who has accepted Radha Madhava as his life and soul. He still hasn?t left Mayapur, and he still serves Radha-Madhava with the same devotion?probably more. He is humble and very deep. With rapt attention we hear about his association with Srila Prabhupada when ISKCON Mayapur was just one straw hut. He also shares some of his realizations about Radha-Madhava. His twin brother, Pankajanghre, also joins us. We also hear his realizations about the temple?s powerful Nrsimha Deity, the Lord he worships daily. It?s 2:30 PM and we?ve been sitting for nearly three hours. It our second bath of the day, but I am inclined to Narottama dasa Thakura?s opinion?darsane pavitra koro ei tamara gun?that sadhu-sanga is more potent than ganga-snana (bath).

Our visit with the saintly pujaris of the Sri Mayapur Chandradaya Mandir is not over yet. We are invited to the veranda outside Srila Prabhupada?s room. The two brothers personally serve us a memorable feast of Radha-Madhava?s maha-prasadam. By their exemplary service I should take the dust of their feet on my head and serve them, but instead they serve us so unassumingly. I am humbled.

By the time we finish it is almost 3:30, which gives us a less than two hours before our next program at Mother Srimati?s room. We have entered the dhama in the mood of service, and the dhama is reciprocating. We are inundated by sravanam kirtanam. My plans for a Sabbath, a day of rest, have been washed away.

We did not have time to go to Ekachakra this year. Mother Srimati has traditionally been our guide there, so I ask her if she could organize a manasa-parikram in her room. She has occasionally done this at times, once for a group I took to Mayapur several yeas ago. It?s very absorbing to shut one?s eyes and visit the dhama by sound only. This year she even prepared a very tasteful and well done dramatic script for the parikram, beginning with a very potent description of Niyanananda?s position, including very vivid descriptive descriptions of the main lila-sthans of Nitai?s activities, along with dramatic accounts of the sweet lilas the Lord performed there. She also involved us a lot in speaking at the various pastime places and in leading the kirtans between them so that by the time the presentation was finishing we had definitely suspended the conception of our present space. Instead, we were visualizing and relating among ourselves as if we were there in Ekachakra-dhama.

Although the parikram became very spontaneous it was so well scripted and organized that it also finished exactly on time, as I had requested, so that we could all attend the evening arati. It was our last evening in the Sri Mayapur-dhama, and especially after association with Jnanivas and Pankajanghre, the devotees were anxious to attend gaura-arati, and take a last darshan of Sri Sri Radha-Madhava, Panca-tattva, and Lord Nrsimhadeva. The day was not as relaxed as I had planned, but nobody cares. Days off are for work, not from devotion.

Godrumadvipa, Koladvipa It?s our last

January 18th, 2001

Godrumadvipa, Koladvipa

It?s our last real day going out to see the lila-sthans of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates because, tomorrow, I want the devotees to have a day back before going to Vrindaban on the twentieth. We have a lot of ground to cover because we still haven?t seen Godrumadvipa and Koladevipa. We go first to Godrumadvipa, to Sukhada Svananda Kunja?the house of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. I ask Yajna Purusa to speak here. I learned something new. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, Srila Gaura Kisora das Babaji, and Srila Jaganatha das Babaji had all met together here to discuss Krishna consciousness, and that even Lord Nityananda Prabhu led his preaching from Godrumadvipa.

Yajna?s talk inspired me to speak about how the internal and external activities of the dhama are often mystically connected. I started by relating the internal significance of Svananda Sukhada Kunja for our guru parampara by explaining that in aprakat-lila, the eternal unmanifested activities of the dhama, Bhaktivinoda Thakura everlastingly resides in as Kamala-manjari, a young maidservant of Srimati Radharani in the group of Lalita-devi. I further explain that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati also resides here as Kamala Manjari?s assistant, NayanaManjari, and that although Srila Prabhupada has not revealed his siddha-svarupa, the sentiment is not wrong that he may also eternally reside here with his spiritual master and his param guru.

I then highlight my original thesis that the Lord?s aprakat-lila at certain lila-sthans is linked to the preaching of Lord Caitanya followers thousands of years later?at least inspirationally?by recounting Yajna Purusa?s description of the manifest history of Sukhada Svananda-kunja. So many of the predecessor acaryas practiced and discussed Krishna consciousness here, Bhaktivinoda commanded his nama-hatta preaching from here, and 500 years ago, Nityananda Prabhu also spread the holy name throughout Bengal from his base in Godrumadvipa.

I also brought up the possibility of a similar connection at Vraja Sukhada Svananda-kunja?Srila Bhaktivinoda?s house in Radha-kunda which later became the residence in Vrindaban of his son, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur?by pointing out the crucial instruction for spreading Krishna consciousness that Srila Prabhupada received there. ?If you ever get money, print books.?

In the same manner, I spoke about Radha-Damodar, which is located in Seva Kunj, the center of the rasa-mandala. In the daily pastimes of Radha and Krishna, seva-kunja, as the name seva indicates, is of paramount importance as a place for arrangement of the intimate service of Radha and Krishna. I conjecture that it is not coincidence, but divine arrangement, that thousands of years later the Six Goswamis also chose Radha-Damodara as the central meeting place for discussing Krishna consciousness among themselves and planning the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Similarly, it is no accident that five hundred years later Srila Prabhupada was able to procure a room at Radha-Damodar to plan and gain inspiration to continue that mission.

Our parikram for the day ended with a memorable kirtan before taking darshan of the stunning, if not the most beautiful Deity of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in this world, Dhamesvara Mahaprabhu?a tall neem wood Deity that Visnupriya, the widow of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, worshiped for eighty years after her eternal Lord took sannyasa. I pray, O Lord, may these remembrances of kirtan remain always in my heart so that my faith in the Holy Name is eternally nourished.

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Modadrumadvip I write my journal

January 17th, 2001

Modadrumadvip

I write my journal in the evening before bed, but again I am exhausted and can just barely scratch my pad with some notes to be expanded later. Again I reflect on the kirtans here. I start and they are off. Full shelter in the holy name and it goes on for hours. When I think that we too tired to continue we become further absorbed. Saintly Mother Srimati met the group yesterday and then told me that this is this best group I?ve brought yet. My instinctive reply: ?That?s because we are the most the fallen and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is patita-pavana.? The same point rises again like a reoccurring theme. Many of the devotees this year are normally stressed out, so to speak, but their somewhat helpless condition allows them to approach Mahaprabhu and his devotees with need?the best qualification for approaching the mercy of the dhama.

We assemble at the Ganga for today?s parikram at the island of Modadrumadvipa, a forty-five minute boat ride up the Ganges. It?s scenic and we even see an occasional dolphin leap out of the water. We finally disembark by a small forest with many tall trees and climb fifteen feet to shore where we begin kirtan through a small dirt path lined by an occasional forest dwelling, quickly leading to the center of the small village of Mamagachi. This is a very special place containing the residence of Lord Rama (Mamgachi is non different than ayodhya) and many wonderful Vaishnava associates of the Lord such as Malini Devi, Vasudeva Datta, and Saranga Thakur.

Our kirtan quickly passes the center of town and crosses the railroad tracks, and as happens every year, empties a lower secondary school of hundreds of students who run wildly out of their classrooms enchanted by the kirtan of foreign devotees.

Another half kilometer and we are at the Modadruma Gaudiya Math, one of the 64 Gaudiya Maths founded by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. This particular Math was established to mark the birthplace of Vrindaban dasa Thakur, the author of Caitanya Bhagavat. We take darshan of his Deities, Sri Sri Nitai-Gauranga, and the small white murti of Vrindaban dasa Thakur established in his honor. It?s inspiring, especially as Sri Vrindaban Thakur is Sri Veda-Vyasa incarnate in gaura-lila and I consider my main devotional service to study and teach Srimad Bhagavatam.

We continue and in a few minutes reach the Saranga Deva Gausiya Math. Vasudeva Datta?s home was nearby and His deities, Radha Madan Gopal, are worshiped here, as are Radha Gopinatha, the worshipful Lords of param-vaisnava Saranga Murari, the foremost disciple of Saranga Thakur, the seventy-seventh branch of the Lord Caitanya tree of bhakti.

Often our stay in Nabadvipa is too short to visit all of its nine islands. I therefore always make it a point to visit Modadrumadvipa specifically for the sanga of Jagat Bandhu, the 73 year-old lone sevite of the Saranga Deva Gaudiya Matha. He bounds up with enthusiasm as soon as he hears the kirtan of the visiting Vaishnavas and heads immediately to the kitchen to prepare them prasadam. Unfortunately, today we cannot stay for lunch, but still he quickly arranges for us some tasty sweets. Our hearts are captured by his simplicity, friendliness, and boundless energy for vaisnava-seva.

Jagat Bandhu?the friend of the world?is a fitting name for this unpretentious man-of-the-people-type saint, who is anything but ordinary. His guru had instructed him to worship the Deity with love, but more important to serve all Vaishnavas?especially with sumptuous prasadam. Taking the order of his preceptor on his head he has been serving Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha and the Vaishnavas in Mamagachi for over 65 years, since he was eight years old, a time when the area was mostly a wild jungle. If within the whirl of his service you can get him to sit down, he excitedly tells the adventures of his jungle seva to Gopinatha, packed with tales of tigers, wild boars, and pythons. Every year he shares a new adventure.

Last year he told the story of how he fell and seriously hurt his back when climbing up a tree to pick fruit for Gopinatha. The injury was so debilitating that he could hardly walk, but somehow he still managed to continue his Deity seva. Unfortunately, for the first time in over sixty years he was unable to fetch the Deities water from the Ganga?almost two kilometers away. He was astonished the next morning to see some of the local forest monkeys dragging a bucket filled with Ganga water into the ashram.

That same year one of the monkeys stole the Bhagavad-gita right from his hands while he was sitting on veranda in front of Gopinatha during his usual late evening studies. When he returned to trade some bananas for his book, he was astonished to see the monkey sitting in his seat holding the Bhagavad-gita and over fifty monkeys sitting before him apparently attentively listening.

Do I believe him? Yes, When a person has no other ego than ?I am the servant of Gopinatha and the Vaisnavas,? I implicitly trust that person and honor their words although I can?t always confirm exactly how those words are true.

Caitanya-Caritamrita literally means ?the character of the life force in eternality.? That character?s affectionate surrender to the Supreme Lord is expressed through a loving relationship with the Lord and His devotees. We are reading Caitanya-Bhagavata every evening and relishing the descriptions of perfected souls expertly exchanging and nourishing loving relationships between themselves and with the Lord. Such love is real happiness, unending pleasure without misery. It is unlike material pleasure, which can only give temporary satisfactions, and invariably leads to some form of misery that eventually eclipses that pleasure. Living together as Vaishnavas on parikram, centering our lives on the Lord?s glorification, enables us to not only constantly hear about the loving relationships among the associates of Lord Caitanya, but also, live them to some extent. With that we can glimpse, if even only shadow, real happiness based on spiritually centered relationships.

A friend in Vrindadan sent me a copy of an unfinished paper he is writing on ?the philosophy of Caitanya and his followers? for a volume on ?systems of Vedanta? for a project called ?Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy, and Culture.? It?s a very comprehensive sixty-page summary of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy. I read his description, of prayojana-tattva this morning, where he describes the characteristics of priti, or love. A few paragraphs were relevant to my thoughts today:

?In the material world, people are also hankering for love. As a result they seek out relationships so that they can exchange love. If their love is unfulfilled with one person, they seek someone else. When they become frustrated with human relations, they try to repose their love in a pet or even inert objects. For the sake of love one can sacrifice everything, including one?s life, which is most dear. Nothing gives more satisfaction and happiness than love. One manifests one?s best character toward the object of his love. There is no cheating or crookedness involved in true love. Even the cruelest person acts favorably towards his beloved.

?Love in the material world, however, is ephemeral and impure. It is tainted with selfish motives and the object of one?s love is not eternal and perfect. Nobody has the perfect qualification to be the object of love, except Bhagavan. Love is a two-way exchange, and such a perfect exchange is not possible between human beings because of their inherent limitations and imperfections. Therefore, people keeping changing the objects of their love in search of the perfect person. In childhood one loves one?s mother, then friends and later a sweetheart, and in this way one goes on changing the objects of love. In one lifetime after another, a person tries to love parents, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, friends, relatives, children, wealth, nation, name and fame, his or her own body and so on but never attains lasting peace. He or she has not attained the real object of love. After which the search will come to an end. That object is Bhagavan. As described earlier, Bhagavan means that person who is the fountainhead of all good qualities in their utmost perfection. He is eternal, all pervading and full of love. He has the unlimited capacity to reciprocate with everyone?s love simultaneously and He has no personal motives to fulfill.?

Simantadvipa, Navadvipa By the end

January 16th, 2001

Simantadvipa, Navadvipa

By the end of the day I am totally exhausted from the full day of parikrama, kirtan, and katha, but I feel enlivened. This type of exhaustion is good for Krishna
consciousness, as it does not leave one with time for anything but Krishna, and it definitely makes my sleep totally devotional service. I don?t know, however, how I will write this journal as I can hardly lift my hands from the keyboard and my brain is too fatigued to think. I?m that worn out. I?ll just scribble a few notes and finish later.

When people arrive from the West, they often are not steadily practicing Krishna consciousness, filled with anxiety, and have little taste for chanting and hearing. The guide may initially have to carry the group by his own enthusiasm until, by the mercy of the dhama, the devotees become peaceful and thus more spontaneous in their attraction for chanting. It sometimes can become an austerity. This year, however, the devotees are enthusiastic from the very beginning of the parikram. It is surely the mercy of Sri Nabadvipa-dhama.

Today also we begin our parikram at the Yoga-Pitha. Again, full absorption in the holy name and unbounded enthusiasm with the sense we can chant forever. I only stop the kirtan to explain a little about the place we have visited and because there are many other places to visit today. Following the path of Sri Caitanaya Mahaprabhu we again walk to Srivas Anga, and then a half-kilometer to the Caitanya Gaudiya-Math, which marks the forest of Vraja in Mayapur. There we take darshan of Radha and Shyama kundas, Govardhana Hill, and the samadhis of Srila Gaura Kishor das Babaji and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. Each holy place has a distinct personality and mood that can be easily detected by an experienced visitor. For those of us who have visited Vrindaban before, it?s uncanny how much the Caitanya Gaudiya-Math, established personally by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvat Thakur, mirrors the mood of Vraja.

We proceed another two kilometers down the road to the island of Simantadvipa. According to the Nabadvipa-dhama Mahatmya, a very long time ago, and for the only time in history, Lord Jagannatha left Jagannatha Puri for the purpose of seeing Sridham Mayapur?all on the pretext of a great demon that had attacked His abode. Lord Jagannatha is still being worshiped at Simantadvipa in a beautiful open-air temple in heavenly tropical surroundings that is now well managed by the ISKCON Mayapur?s pujari department. Like Jagannatha Puri-dhama, Lord Jagannatha here is offered chapan bhoga?56 items at one offering. Unlike Puri, however, there are no restrictions in entering the temple. We have audience of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra and then take the remnants of Lord Jagannatha?s noon chapan bhoga. I overhear comments from several members of our party that the feast was by far the best they ever tasted.

Born and bred, anxiety-filled, New Yorker Deva Dhrita, from the Lower East Side, comments in unbounded appreciation at every place we visit?in a New York accent that even makes my Brooklyn brogue sound like a British School teacher??It ain?t normal!?

As Deva Dhrta has been awe struck with appreciation at every place we?ve visited, it?s obvious that by this unusual phrase he is not criticizing the places we?ve visited, but praising them. I thus ask him, ?Why do you keep on saying at each place that ?It aint normal!??

He replies with typical city logic that somehow twists to a crystal clear point. ?It aint normal! Da world is jus sufferin. It ain?t normal!?

It is our second day and I conclude that without Nabadvipa parikrama it is difficult to understand the concept of mercy. Sure, there is a sincere effort by our pilgrim group to serve the dhama by kirtan, but the reciprocation is way beyond our effort and expectations. By the practice of Krishna consciousness something may come by a sustained effort, but when our effort wanes, the fruit of our practice usually also soon fades, at least externally. Here, however, after our initial effort on parikram the flow of mercy seems to hover over us like a cloud, a companion of shade, that comforts us from the misery of Kali Yuga, follows us throughout the day and even welcomes us the next morning. The mood of Nabadvipa is magnanimity. We can feel it. Once accessed by nama-kirtan it almost seems to pour like a floodgate without much further exertion.

Is this just by own bubbling enthusiasm and insane optimism? I don?t think so. The others also share my sentiments, although they are generally the more pessimistic types, the hard to impress city folk from the West.

Are the residents here experiencing what we, as pilgrims, are? I can?t say, but there is something to the common phrase that ?familiarity breeds contempt.? We have an advantage. We are here for a short time, without any other business then chanting and hearing, and for most of us, too new and in awe to create offense. Lord Caitanya instructs us that by humility one gains taste for the holy name and is able to chant incessantly. New pilgrims can be at advantage as the unknown creates a mood of humble dependence and thus creates receptivity for genuine sentiments of devotion.

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Mayapur ?All important holy places

January 15th, 2001

Mayapur

?All important holy places are situated in Navadvipa-dhama, and if there is any holy place that is not situated here, it has certainly lost all of its piety. Whatever is obtainable after spending one hundred years in places like Prayag, Ayodhya, Haridwara, Kasi, Kanci, Avanti, Puskara, etc., can be obtained by spending one night in Nabdvipa-dhama. One who walks through Navadvipa achieves with each step the merits of ten million asvamedha sacrifices? One never has to take birth again. Simply by eating the food grown in Navadvipa-dhama, one gets love of Godhead, and while one is sleeping one is offering dandavats (obeisances). By taking shelter of Navadvipa-dhama all souls easily cross over Kali-Yuga.? (Gauradesa, p.22)

Vraja Kumar, the building manager, is a great host?very competent, but soft-hearted. A real Vaishnava. Along with his wife he organizes and personally cooks our breakfast in the new kitchen adjacent to a small clean open-air prasadam hall that sits about fifty people and overlooks the Jalungi. We sit in rows facing each other behind small wood chokis (sit down tables) and are served a home-cooked breakfast that includes freshly baked German bread and fresh lettuce from the guesthouse gardens. It?s not quite yet Bengali fare?that will come?but we are eating as Vaishnavas, sitting together, being served nicely, and sharing krishna-prasadam.

These simple aspects of Vaishnava culture are so important for spiritual life, but unfortunately often rare in modern devotee life?especially in the West where the buffet style is prominent, and the traditional serve out, when done, is often by passionate and famished newer devotees.

Our parikram begins. We leave for the Yoga-Pitha, the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, which is just one kilometer down the road. We opt, however, for the scenic back path, so we can pass through the villages of Mayapur. Due to the long plane ride and the general spiritual malaise of Western living, I expect little from the group on the first day?especially in terms of wholehearted kirtan. I am wrong. There is not a single straggler here. The kirtan is full of enthusiasm and the fervor increases as we enter Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu?s birthplace.

A perfected soul has two manifestations in perfection: a siddha svaraupa, an eternal associate of Lord Krishna in Goloka Vrindaban, and a sadhaka rupa, a practitioner of Krishna consciousness in Navadvipa-dhama. The latter seems attainable. Chanting through the villages of Mayapur and entering the Yoga-Pitha, absorbed in nama-kirtan, we glimpse our eternal identity?associates of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, kirtaneers in Nabadvipa-dhama.

Thirty feet south of the appearance of Lord Caitanya, which is still marked by a neem tree, is a very small temple with two Siva-lingas. The smaller one on the left is Gopisvara-Siva. The larger one on the right is Ksetrapala-Siva, the protector of the dhama. At the beginning of Navadvipa parikram, devotees pray to these Deities to reveal the dhama and to manifest gaura-prema within their heart since Lord Siva is in charge of the false ego.

Our false egoist conception as the enjoyer and controller cover our understanding of God as the master and our identity as His servant, naturally impelling us into seeing everything as separate from Him. One thus imbued by false ego is naturally incapable of perceiving the abode of the Lord, which is directly the Lord?s internal potency, and moves singularly for His supremacy and pleasure. As Lord Siva protects the dhama from non-devotees by the covering of false ego, sincere pilgrims pray to Ksetrapal-Siva to help them access the glories of Sri Navadvipa-dhama. We take a moment of silent prayer and beg for a successful parikram.

250 meters from the Yoga-Pitha, on the Bhaktisiddhanta Marg, we enter Srivas-Angam, the house of Srivas Pandit, the place where the sankirtan movement began. The chanting explodes and we chant with abandon. It is a spiritual experience. Although the intensity of the kirtan increases, it does so without degrading into passion, as so often is the case when the youthful, or passionate, become enthusiastic in kirtan. I can?t help but feel our prayers at the Yoga-Pitha have been answered; the false ego is diminishing, we?re tasting the holy name, and the dhama is gradually being revealed.

I was in Vrindaban in 1976 when Srila Prabhupada asked the devotees to also attend the noon arati commenting that Vrindaban is meant for bhajan. Mayapur is also meant for bhajan. We therefore congregate in the late afternoon for more kirtan and to hear more gaura-lila. I read from Caitanya Bhagavat. We sit in rapt attention and hear how the sankirtan movement began in the very place that we chanted this morning.

I am so inspired by how things are going, I decide to book the guesthouse the same time next year for our pilgrimage. I am hoping that if devotees know the dates of the tour well in advance it will help them to makes plans to attend.

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Mayapur ?He who lives in

January 14th, 2001

Mayapur

?He who lives in Nabadvipa-dhama is very fortunate, for he achieves attraction for Krishna. He who happens to go there becomes freed from all offenses. What one attains by traveling to all the holy places is attained just by remembering Nabadvipa. In this way the scriptures sing. He who sees Nabadvipa-dhama gets ecstatic love of Krishna birth after birth. Even one who goes to Navadvipa desiring to gain material comforts through pious activities will not take another birth. The sastras say that one who walks around Nabadvipa attains the fruit of millions of asvamedhas-yajnas at every step. And one who lives in Nabadvipa and chants mantras obtains the sound of Caitanya as his mantra and easily gets free from maya. What yogis obtain after ten years at other tirthas is obtained in three nights at Navadvipa.? (Nabdvipa Mahatmya, Parikrama-Khanda, Chapter 1)

The facilities for our group are ideal. We have all to ourselves a small but spacious new guesthouse/conference hall in a rustic setting next to the temple goshalla and its pastoral gurukula, but only five minutes from the bustle of the temple by a scenic, tree-lined and winding dirt road raised over acres of the temple?s paddy fields. A few hundred feet behind our guesthouse flows the Jalungi River. From the window of my room I can even see across the river to svananda-sukhada kunja, Bhaktivinoda Thakur?s residence.

Everything is perfect, but where is our group? They were to arrive at 7AM. It is past 2PM.

I remember hearing a Bhagavatam class over twenty years ago years where the speaker described waiting as the greatest surrender. Surrender means to accept Krishna?s will. That?s hard to do when Krishna?s will is delaying the arrival of your friends. I am anxious to see all the new pilgrims and I struggle to surrender and wait patiently.

The group finally arrives after 3PM. Their plane was turned back to Delhi because of the heavy fog in Calcutta. It?s a nice mix of devotees, from recent high school graduates to working people, from newcomers to seasoned devotees. Many have longstanding friendships, but everyone feels welcome.

Several members of the tour had written to me independently with the same concern?they feel unqualified to enter the dhama and have some trepidation about going. Although many are not the strictest practitioners they are approaching the tour seriously in a humble mood. That makes them qualified to receive the mercy of the dhama and good association for me.

They settle in quickly. Not really knowing what to expect, I can sense their relief when they see that the facility is suitable in terms of their comforts, but also in terms of the setting in rustic India.

After prasadam we walk five minutes to Srila Prabhupada?s samadhi, a spectacular and powerful Vatican-like sacred space that appropriately communicates Srila Prabhupada?s stature. We are then surprised to find ourselves unexpectedly right in the middle of the temple?s colorful Sunday Deity procession, which happens to be circumambulating the samadhi at exactly the time we finish our darshan. The kirtans, the mantras, the flaming torches, and the beautiful Deities on Their huge elephant carrier? We are enchanted. It?s an exotic entrance into Mayapur that more than makes up for the tiresome journey to get here.

Calcutta/Mayapur Met Kaustubha, Jai Nitai,

January 13th, 2001

Calcutta/Mayapur
 
Met Kaustubha, Jai Nitai, and Joe at the airport. Kaustubha and Jai Nitai agree to wait until tomorrow morning to pick up the devotees arriving from America so that I can go with Joe to Mayapur to make sure everything is ready for the tour.
 
Joe, as many devotees know, is a professional comedian in New York. We talked on the way about my theory of the philosophical basis of comedy based on Bhagavad-gītā, 3.27. To paraphrase, “The spirit soul bewildered by the three modes of nature thinks himself the doer, but is forced to act helplessly according to the three modes of material nature.”
 
With a straight face I tell him what a serious subject it is. Of course, I’m only half-serious. It’s a long and very bumpy four-hour ride to Mayapur, and it’s really hard to concentrate on much else then a good conversation. I think, however, I’m onto an interesting realization and it leads to a thought-provoking discussion. We even discussed the different types of comedy and how they fit into my theory.
 
My premise is that everything in this world moves by God’s will for the purpose of liberating those souls who have turned away from Him and have adopted ahaṅkāra, the false egoist conception of being the doer or controller. This platform is foolish and laughable because, on this platform, one is not acting intelligently but indiscriminately by the force of his nature. Humor is the process of parodying non-malicious conditioned activities and thus discouraging them. This was my basic analysis of the purpose of humor based on the above Bhagavad-gītā verse where Kṛṣṇa calls the conditioned souls mūḍhās, or fools. In other words, a person with a good sense of humor can sense the passions of people and, in an indirect or subtle way, make comments or tell stories that mock and hopefully deter such conditioning. In contrast, when one controls his impulses and his actions are guided by intelligence, it is sober, respected, and thus generally praised and encouraged. Of course, everything has its useful and inappropriate application, but humor definitely has a place in spiritual life, even in the spiritual world.
 
We also developed my thesis in fun ways. For example, it came to light that the more one is under the modes of nature, surrendering his freewill and his ability to act with discernment, the more humorous his actions are. We concluded that that’s why a lot of comedy is based on people from New York, which is such hotbed of insane, passionate, and impulsive activity. We also thought that’s why New Yorkers often make good comedians: they somehow also have the smarts to recognize and appreciate such madness.
 
We also discussed the idea of me giving a seminar to his comedy group about the philosophy of humor. We had a laugh about how funny that could be and how difficult it would be to do with a straight face.
 
Of course, this was not a fully developed thesis, just some philosophical fun, but Joe caught the idea and the discussion was Kṛṣṇa conscious. We thus concluded that humor, appropriately applied, can serve a liberating purpose for a somewhat discriminating person by discouraging actions that are passionate or ignorant, and by not acting impulsively or foolish oneself.
 
An hour from Mayapur we see the sign for Śāntipura, the home of Śrī Advaita Ācārya. Time to get serious. We begin kirtan and prepare ourselves for entering the dhāma.
 
Audārya-dhāma! We immediately feel the magnanimity of Lord Caitanya. We enter and receive a warm welcome from many of my friends there.
 
 

Vrindaban/Delhi I leave as scheduled

January 12th, 2001

Vrindaban/Delhi

I leave as scheduled to Delhi to pick up my train to Calcutta, where I will meet the devotees coming from the US for pilgrimage. As usual, when traveling out of Delhi, I stop for prasadam at the house of my friend, Ghanashyama. They are exceptionally hospitable. With a phone call and a few hours notice I can send anyone there to take prasadam or stay the night.

Ghanashyama left home when he was ten years old to go to Vrindaban to be a sadhu. His father finally found him and told him that he didn?t mind if he didn?t want to get married, but he should help his family until he reached maturity. On the request of his father he completed his education and became a civil engineer to help support a joint family of his five brothers. However, he still remained somewhat of a sadhu and never married. He is renown in his community for his beautiful brajabasi bhajans?especially about Giriraja.

He is now working on a construction project in Nigeria, but his brothers always welcome me. When he is informed that I am staying at his house in Delhi, he often sends me a message by email. Last year he shared with me a thought-provoking realization:

?I think Vaishnavas sometimes get all their remaining karmic reactions for several lives in one lifetime so that they can finish up their business in this world and return to Godhead at the end of this life.?

This year, as planned, he retired to Vrindaban at fifty.

I can only stay a few hours and rush to catch the late afternoon Rajadhani to Calcutta. I am eager again to see Mayapur.

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