Posted under Diary
On the morning of June 10th we landed at Yakutsk airport and were met by Arjuna Vallabha prabhu, the leader of the community here, and Bhaktin Tanya, one of the local devotees. Tanya drove us in to her brother’s flat, where we were going to stay, and we settled in. The devotees here are not so active in preaching Krishna consciousness – they don’t do harinamas or appear in public in Vaisnava dress – so the general population are not used to devotees dressed in dhotis and kurtas at all. As we moved around a little here and there, many people were staring in astonishment.
The devotees explained that this is one of the coldest inhabited places in the world. The lowest recorded temperature here was minus 67 degrees centigrade, and one questions whether it is really fit for human habitation. Everything was completely flat and quite windswept, but the hearts of the devotees were very warm, and we soon started preparing for the evening programme.
Arjuna Vallabha prabhu and his wife, Ananda Vallabhi, have been preaching here for 10 years, and have built up a network of about 12-15 active devotees, and a larger number of Friends of Krishna. There is one Indian family living there who have become very wealthy dealing in diamonds from the region, and they have established an Indian Cultural Center in the local university. Arjuna Vallabha is very expert in dealing with the local authorities and other officials, and has managed to get free use of the facilities there any time he wants, and for more than 18 months he’s held a Saturday afternoon programme in the Centre, which is attended by up to 30 people.
We began at 6pm, and about 35 or 40 people came. They were mainly friends of the devotees, so they all had a nice interest in Krishna consciousness, and in spiritual life in general, so the class was very well received, and we could have gone on talking for hours. We gave an introductory class, based on Bhagavad-gita 2.20:
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato ‘yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire
“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.”
I gave the class with a slant on meditation and fixing the mind on the spiritual platform, in this way becoming free from anxiety and the stresses and strains of modern day life. At the end there were quite a number of questions, and the people were even vying with each other to see who would be able to ask the next question. At the end we showed my George Harrison multimedia show. I asked the people if they had heard of George, and one lady said in perfect English “of course we have!”
I noticed that about half of the people in the programme were Oriental, and Arjuna Vallabha told me that traditionally this had been an area of the Saha people, who look very similar to Mongolians.
The next day we went a local museum and saw displays of the history of the region, which is actually one fifth of the entire area of Russian, although there are only about a million people living there. The Sahas were living there quite peacefully for centuries, worshipping nature spirits, when in 1632 the Russians arrived and proceeded to take over and sideline the local people completely. Now about half of the region’s population is Saha and half white Russian.
In the museum there was even the skeleton of a mammoth.
Interestingly enough, Bhaktin Tanya went to the Phillipines last year and became Miss Asia Pacific 2003. It seems that many different types of people come to Krishna consciousness!
On the 11th evening we had a programme in Arjuna Vallabha’s flat, a typical one roomed Soviet style apartment, and the more active devotees from the community attended. We talked about the importance of practicing sadhana bhakti and being committed to the process, rather than taking it casually or in a merely social way. The devotees asked many questions about typical household problems. One boy in particular is married to a woman who is quite opposed to Krishna consciousness, and in this way he finds it very difficult to practice. I referred to Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.29, which talks about the duties of a chaste wife:
apramatta sucih snigdha
patim tv apatitam bhajet
“A chaste woman should not be greedy, but satisfied in all circumstances. She must be very expert in handling household affairs and should be fully conversant with religious principles. She should speak pleasingly and truthfully and should be very careful and always clean and pure. Thus a chaste woman should engage with affection in the service of a husband who is not fallen.”
In his purport Srila Prabhupada says: “Anyone who is a devotee is sinless. One who is not a devotee, however, is the most fallen and condemned. It is recommended, therefore, that a chaste wife not associate with a fallen husband. A fallen husband is one who is addicted to the four principles of sinful activity-namely illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. Sp
ecifically, if one is not a soul surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is understood to be contaminated. Thus a chaste woman is advised not to agree to serve such a husband. It is not that a chaste woman should be like a slave while her husband is naradhama, the lowest of men. Although the duties of a woman are different from those of a man, a chaste woman is not meant to serve a fallen husband. If her husband is fallen, it is recommended that she give up his association. Giving up the association of her husband does not mean, however, that a woman should marry again and thus indulge in prostitution. If a chaste woman unfortunately marries a husband who is fallen, she should live separately from him. Similarly, a husband can separate himself from a woman who is not chaste according to the description of the sastra.”
In this way I encouraged him to try to save the family from breaking up if possible, although if it became too much of a strain on his Krishna consciousness then he might have to take some more drastic action.
The 12th morning was clear but cold. It was only 8 degrees, and there was a strong, biting wind blowing. We went to the airport and Sri Gaura Hari prabhu and I took a 5 hour flight from Yakuskt to Ulan Ide. Ulan Ude is the capital of the Boryetti Republic. The Boryettis are another Mongolian type of race that became absorbed in the Russian empire as history unfolded itself, and the population is also about 50/50, although everyone speaks Russian and they are all typically materialistic.
Laksmi Narayana prabhu has established a nice temple here in what used to be a kindergarten, and whenever we come we have very nice kirtanas with the local devotees, who love chanting and dancing. In the mornings we read from Srimad Bhagavatam 1st Canto, Chapter 11, which describes the entrance of Lord Krishna into Dvaraka when He returned after the great Battle of Kuruksetra. We began with Verse 2:
sa uccakase dhavalodaro daro
yathabja-khande kala-hamsa utsvanah
“The white and fat-boweled conchshell, being gripped by the hand of Lord Krsna and sounded by Him, appeared to be reddened by the touch of His transcendental lips. It seemed that a white swan was playing in the stems of red lotus flowers.”
We discussed how, when one makes contact with Lord Krishna and becomes a devotee, one becomes “Krishnaized” by one’s contact with Him. In this way one becomes beautified, and one’s whole existence becomes more blissful and auspicious. But not only that, when Krishna is served by the loving devotees, He becomes more glorious Himself. We referred to Srila Prabhupada’s purport to Bhagavad-gita 9.29, where he says: “When a diamond is set in a golden ring, it looks very nice. The gold is glorified, and at the same time the diamond is glorified. The Lord and the living entity eternally glitter, and when a living entity becomes inclined to the service of the Supreme Lord he looks like gold. The Lord is a diamond, and so this combination is very nice.”
On Sunday the 13th we held another initiation ceremony outside in the temple grounds. As we began the wind blew strongly and a little rain fell and it seemed that maybe Lord Krishna didn’t want our sacrifice to go on outside. However as we began the programme the weather cleared, and 9 devotees received first initiation, and 2 received second.
One day we visited a local museum park displaying remnants of the previous Boryetti Buddhist culture. In it we found rocks with inscriptions carved in Sanskrit on them.
Every evening we had nice kirtana in front of the Sri Sri Nitai Gaua Hari, the presiding Deities of Ulan Ude, and then on June 15th Sri Gaura Hari, Laksmi Narayana and I took an overnight train to Chitar, which is 700 kms further east.
We arrived on the morning of the 16th and went to stay in a local guest house, as the devotees do not have very good facility yet in Chitar. That evening at 6pm we all gathered in a theatre named “The Theatre of the Puppets” and had a programme together with about 140 local devotees. As we talked about how Krishna appreciates the efforts the devotees make, we referred to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s commentary on the Damodara lila, and how Mother Yasoda made a special effort to serve Krishna by tying Him up, and how He then reciprocated with her unlimitedly. There our acarya makes the point in his beautiful purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 10.10.18, which describes the struggle Krishna’s mother had to tie him up:
“‘As you cannot bind Krishna with all the ropes in the house, then it must be concluded that it is His good fortune that it should not be. Listen Yasoda, give up this attempt.’ Though the village women advised in this way, Yasoda was determined ‘Even if evening comes and I tie together all the ropes in the whole village, I must find out just once the extent of my son’s waist’. Yasoda wanted to teach a lesson to her son. In her persistence, she would not give up the attempt to bind the Lord. In the competition between Krishna and His devotee, the devotee’s determination always prevails. Thus, seeing His mother’s fatigue, Lord Krishna gave up His own persistence, became merciful and allowed Himself to be tied.
“Krishna’s mercy, which reigns as the king of all His potencies and illuminates all others, melts the heart of the Lord and turns it into butter. The appearance of Krishna’s mercy made His satya sankalpa sakti (potency of transcendental determination) and vibuti sakti (opulent potency) immediately disappear. The distance of two fingers was filled with the devotee’s effort and hard work and the Lord’s causeless mercy. The bhakti nistha (firm faith of the devotee) seen in the devotee’s tireless efforts to serve and worship the Lord, and the sva nistha (the steady quality in the Lord) which brings forth His mercy upon seeing the devotee’s effort and fatigue caused Krishna to be bound. In the absence of these two, the rope will always remain two fingers too short. But when bhakti nistha and sva nistha are present, the Lord can be bound. In this pastime, Krishna showed Yasoda and the whole world that only love can bind the Supreme Lord.”
In this way Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura explains one of the most important points in Krishna consciousness. We have to make our best effort to please Krishna, and not be too easily disappointed if there is some struggle in doing that, and if we endeavour in this way Krishna will be especially merciful to us.
At the end of the programme we distributed prasadam to all the devotees, in the form of two gigantic “torts”, or rich Russian cakes. Everyone came forward and took some tort very sedately until right at the end, when I took two pieces and pushed them into the mouths of the devotees who had been helping cut the cakes and put them on plates. Suddenly dozens of the devotees came running forward to have some cake pushed into their mouths by me, which I did to the best of my ability, although quite a few of them got cake all over their chins and even up their noses!
The next day was Thursday the 17th, and we gathered at 10am at another hall in the centre of the city at 10am for a programme with the more serious devotees. Despite it being a working day, about 70 or 80 devotees came , and we had another nice programme with them, culminating in a blissful Guru Puja kirtana to Srila Prabhupada. So many of the Russian devotees are ready to just put aside their work responsibilities to participate in programmes.
That afternoon we flew back across Lake Baikal to the west, to Irkutsk. When we landed we went to a programme in a nearby city named Angarsk. At least 100 devotees greeted us there, and we focused our programme on Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Sri Gadadhara Pandita of the Panca Tattva, who both disappeared on this day many years ago. At the end we had another roaring kirtana.
So now it is the morning of June 18th, and Sri Gaura Hari prabhu and I are on a flight from Irkutsk to Moscow. The flight is 5 hours and 40 minutes, and took off at 8 in the morning. However we will be gaining time as we fly, and will land in Moscow at 8.40am. Then we will part our ways for the time being and I will fly at 11.45 to St Petersburg, on the northwestern boundary of Russia. Sri Gaura Hari is not my disciple, but he has rendered invaluable service helping me move around the country and keep my things together despite constantly being on the move – what to speak of doing very nice translating for me. May Lord Krishna bless him.
Posted under Diary
It’s 8.30 in the morning on June 10th. Sri Gaura Hari prabhu and I are flying from Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia to Yakutsk, which is near the eastern coast of Russia. It’s less than 1000 kms from the coast, and maybe 400 kms south of the Arctic Circle. If you have a detailed map of the world you may be able to find it there. We’re flying over snow capped mountains as we head towards this obscure town, which is known for its diamond and gold mining. But there’s also a small community of devotees there, headed by Arjuna Vallabha prabhu, a disciple of Prabha Vishnu Maharaja, and Maharaja has asked me to visit and see if I can give them some association.
No disciple of Srila Prabhupada has ever been here, other than Maharaja, who only stopped here once for a couple of hours while in transit on a flight 12 years ago. In fact over the last 10 years perhaps 6 or 7 devotees from places outside of Yakutsk have been here. But despite that Arjuna Vallabha and his team are trying to spread Srila Prabhupada’s message to the population of about 250,000.
When I wrote last we were on a train going from Tomsk to Novokuznetsk, in West Siberia. Sri Gaura Hari and I were accompanied by Carudesna prabhu, the Regional Secretary for the northern part of West Siberia, and Svarupa Damodara prabhu, my disciple from Novosibirsk. We slept through the night on the train, and around 11 the next morning we arrived at our destination.
Novokuznetsk is a smaller city, based on the iron smelting industry. In fact the name of the town means “the new iron smelting worker”, literally. Despite the rather unusual connotations, there is a very nice community of devotees here, headed by Krishna Kunda prabhu, a disciple of Prabha Vishnu Maharaja. We went from the station to the house of Bhakta Nikolai and his wife Bhaktin Galina, two very sincere devotees living in the suburbs of the town. Their house is actually a 3 storey villa, and we held programmes there morning and evening till the 28th, attended generally by about 30-40 devotees. Even though they were working days the devotees took the trouble to take time off their jobs and come for a 2 hour morning programme at 9am.
In the evenings I continued the seminar “Lessons from the Pastimes of Lord Caitanya”. We again discussed Ramacandra Puri and Isvara Puri from the 8th Chapter of the Antya Lila of Caitanya-caritamrta. Srila Krishnadas Kaviraja Goswami states:
mahad-anugraha-nigrahera ‘saksi’ dui-jane
ei dui-dvare sikhaila jaga-jane
“Isvara Puri received the blessing of Madhavendra Puri, whereas Ramacandra Puri received a rebuke from him. Therefore these two persons, Isvara Puri and Ramacandra Puri, are examples of the objects of a great personality’s benediction and punishment. Madhavendra Puri instructed the entire world by presenting these two examples.” (Caitanya-caritamrta Antya Lila 8.32)
We explained how Isvara Puri was such a dedicated and humble disciple of Madhavendra Puri that he would even clean up his guru’s stool and urine when Madhavendra Puri was in the final days of his life in this world. While doing this Isvara Puri would chant Hare Krishna very happily, and in this way he pleased Madhavendra Puri, who blessed him that he would become a great devotee and lover of Krishna.
However Ramacandra Puri was not so Krishna conscious. He was also a disciple of Madhavendra Puri, and in those last days he came to see his spiritual master. At that time Madhavendra Puri was absorbed in a deep mood of separation from Krishna, and was lamenting as if he had wasted his life. He was chanting:
ayi dina-dayardra natha he
dayita bhramyati kim karomy aham
“O My Lord! O most merciful master! O master of Mathura! When shall I see You again? Because of My not seeing You, My agitated heart has become unsteady. O most beloved one, what shall I do now?” (Caitanya-caritamrta Antya Lila 8.34)
Unfortunately Ramacandra Puri mistook his spiritual master’s prayers to be sentimental grievings, and he took it upon himself to try to “serve” his guru by giving him some “good advice”. So he told Madhavendra Puri “If you are in full transcendental bliss, you should now remember only Brahman. Why are you crying?” Madhavendra Puri rebuked him strongly, saying: “Get out, you sinful rascal! O my Lord Krsna, I could not reach You, nor could I reach Your abode, Mathura. I am dying in my unhappiness, and now this rascal has come to give me more pain. Don’t show your face to me! Go anywhere else you like. If I die seeing your face, I shall not achieve the destination of my life. I am dying without achieving the shelter of Krsna, and therefore I am greatly unhappy. Now this condemned foolish rascal has come to instruct me about Brahman.”
On the evening of the 27th some of the devotees put on a drama of the pastime of the deliverance of Jagai and Madhai. As with so many devotee plays it was full of humour, along with the deep transcendental message. Jagai and Madhai were played in truly authentic style by two of the local boys, and it seemed they might be more of a danger to each other than to Lord Nityananda! They fought wildly and poured wine all over themselves before they finally got the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
On the 28th Mayapura Candra prabhu from Novosibirsk kindly drove us all the way to our next stop, Barnaul, a city in the southern part of West Siberia. The leader here is Visnu Tattva prabhu, and like Carudesna he is one of the most dynamic devotees in Russia. He is a householder with a wife and child, but despite this he is fully engaged in preaching work, heading up his community of perhaps 350 devotees, which he has developed since coming here in 1997.
He has preaching programmes every day of the week. One night a week all the community’s 10 Nama Hattas have their weekly programmes. Another night he meets with all the leaders of the Nama Hattas, and has a programme to guide and inspire them. Every Wednesday the whole community gets together for a 3 hour maha kirtana together, and every Saturday afternoon they all go on harinama. Then on Sunday they have a big festival together, and the other nights of the week are completely full also. No wonder the whole devotee community is completely dedicated to him, and feel fully sheltered by him.
And all of this without any temple or any property of any sort.
We met in the evenings in a rented hall and held our programmes. Sunday the 30th was Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi, so some devotees gathered in the flat we were staying in and chanted japa with us, and then we went to the Sunday programme. There were at least 300 devotees there, the majority of whom were dry fasting as we were. I also fasted completely, although over the last few years I have been doubting the necessity of doing this, as Srila Prabhupada never did it, nor did he even refer to such practice. I wrote to Giriraja Maharaja, my sannyasa guru and the devotee I regard as being best versed in Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on anything, and asked him what his experience with Srila Prabhupada was. He replied:
“Regarding Nirjala Ekadasi, you know we did not observe it as such during Srila Prabhupada’s presence. If we happened to break Ekadasi, he would advise us to fast the next day (or the day after). Many of Srila Prabhupada’s followers now are in the mood to return to Srila Prabhupada’s more simple mood of Krishna consciousness as we practiced it when he was here. Srila Prabhupada never set the example for us to observe Nirjala Ekadasi. Further, when the Nectar of Devotion first came out, Mother Yamuna asked Srila Prabhupada if we should ‘remain fasting throughout the night and continuously chant the glories of the Lord,’ as stated in Nectar of Devotion. Srila Prabhupada replied, ‘No. We have too much service.’ In conclusion, I would say it could be left to the individuals to decide. Personally, I will be in LA for the Prabhupada Festival, and I shall give more importance to glorifying Srila Prabhupada and associating with his devotees than to fasting. And in general, I share your concern about devotees’ placing more emphasis on externals than on the essence.”
Anyway, we did the whole fast, and it was beneficial I suppose, as I chanted lots of rounds. Svarupa Damodara chanted 72, and Sri Gaura Hari 70.
While in Barnaul we gave first initiation to seven devotees, and second to one. After that we went on harinama. One thing about the Barnaul yatra, and some of the other Siberian yatras, is that the ladies are some of the best dancers in the world. It’s quite amazing.
On the 31st we drove from Barnaul to Novosibirsk, as Sri Gaura hari prabhu and I were to take a train to Krasnoyarsk, in East Siberia. As Rukmininatha was driving us he went straight through a police check point without stopping in his big Land Cruiser, and the police gave chase in their little Lada. We had to stop for them, but fortunately Arjuna das, my policeman disciple from Novosibirsk, who is actually a Major in the force, and was in uniform that day, jumped out and spoke to them very strongly. He told them not worry, as we were driving a little fast as we had a General with us who was on urgent business. They immediately became frightened, saluted, and got back in their car and drove back to the check point!
As Arjuna climbed back into our vehicle he realized he didn’t have any socks on!
We took the overnight train to Krasnoyarsk and arrived there on the 31st morning. The devotees there, led by Guru Vrata prabhu, a disciple of Indradyumna Maharaja, have just bought a new building which they are renovating and converting for use as a temple. It’s a typical 3 storey “Novo Russky” house, (New Russian) as built by successful businessmen all over the country, and has nice facility for the temple devotees.
Every morning and evening we had programmes in the old temple, a kindergarten the devotees have been renting from the City Council for the last 11 or 12 years. On the Friday the 3rd of June we went to Acinsk, a nearby city wear Vaisnava Carana, a disciple of mine for many years, and the main cameraman for my video productions, lives with his wife. We had a programme at 3 in the afternoon in a rented hall, and about 40 devotees attended. At the end we had a wild kirtana, the most ecstatic of the whole tour so far, and I succeeded in partially losing my voice and hurting my left leg by jumping too much, along with my old friend Vidyanidhi prabhu, one of the senior devotees in East Siberia.
The next day, Saturday the 4th, we had a festival with the congregation in Krasnoyarsk to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my visiting Krasnoyarsk. About 300-400 devotees attended, and again we had a nice kirtana, and at the end distributed a huge tort (amazing Russian cake).
Early on the morning of the 5th, Sri Gaura Hari prabhu and I flew to Irkutsk. It was Sunday, so we had a big programme in a hall in the afternoon, attended by about 400 devotees. Everyone was chanting and dancing very nicely, and at the end we distributed another huge tort.
Every morning we were reading from the 6th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, Chapter 16, where King Citraketu offers his prayers to the Supreme Lord. He
kama-dhiyas tvayi racita
na parama rohanti yatha karambha-bijani
guna-ganato ‘sya dvandva-jalani
“O Supreme Lord, if persons obsessed with material desires for sense gratification through material opulence worship You, who are the source of all knowledge and are transcendental to material qualities, they are not subject to material rebirth, just as sterilized or fried seeds do not produce plants. Living entities are subjected to the repetition of birth and death because they are conditioned by material nature, but since You are transcendental, one who is inclined to associate with You in transcendence escapes the conditions of material nature.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 6.16.39)
We discussed examples of devotees who were materially attached, but despite that they managed to come to the level of pure devotional service. Dhruva Maharaja was very attached to getting a kingdom bigger than his father’s, and Kubja was lusty, but still, by the mercy of Lord Krishna and His devotees they managed to become purified and become pure devotees. There is hope for almost anyone in Krishna consciousness.
The yatra in East Siberia is led by Laksmi Narayana prabhu, a very strong manager, and one of the most effective preachers in Russia. He does a 5 day introductory lecture programme in halls titled “Timeless Culture”, and these are attended by up to 400 people. Gradually he introduces Krishna conscious philosophy and brings people into spiritual life in a very scientific way, and 1000′s of people have become devotees through his preaching.
On Tuesday the 6th we went to Baikal for a little relaxation. Baikal is one of the biggest lakes in the world, and is actually one of the wonders of the material nature. It’s 640 kms long, 80 kms wide, and up to 1600 metres deep, containing 20% of the world’s fresh water. And fresh the water is. I tried paddling for a few minutes, but it was so cold it was intolerable, although it was absolutely crystal clear. If it wasn’t that the water was so extremely cold it would certainly be one of the most heavenly places on the planet. We sat in the sun and chanted there for 2 hours, and I marveled at the genius of Krishna.
Now the plane has landed in Yakutsk. The weather is fine, but only 18 degrees, although the local devotees told us it was quite warm. All the buildings here are built on stilts as the ground is always in a state of permafrost, and if they contact the ground for any time they become affected and eventually collapse. Even now, more or less in midsummer, the ground 1 metre beneath the surface is permanently frozen, so it’s very difficult to grow much. The materialistic people are so enthusiastic for sense gratification that they have settled even in such a remote place as this, but the devotees are also here. There are about 12 active devotees here, and a small community of friends. Tonight we’ll be doing a public hall programme with them.
We’ll let you know how it goes shortly.