New York City: I was the last passenger to board the flight from Portland, Oregon, USA, to Newark, New Jersey. As I approached my window seat, a passenger sitting in the middle seat of the row behind me hopefully enquired, “Would you mind trading seats? I would like to sit next to my wife.” He then showed me his copy of Bhagavad Gita As It Is. With a warm smile and a sparkle in his eye, he then offered, “Perhaps it was meant to be!!”. I calmly replied, “I can’t argue with that.” I motioned that he could have a seat next to his wife by the window. Then I smiled and shared, “I hope you have a happy and pleasant journey.”
By Lord Krishna’s grace, an alert stewardess promptly offered me an empty isle seat, so I had plenty of space to stretch out. During the flight, I met with the gentleman and his wife, Cornelius and Jamie. Cornelius is deeply absorbed in the Christian Faith, and about to become a Chaplan. He also has a background in Kundalini Yoga. We had some delightful discussions, and I shared a book with him, “Easy Journey to Other Planets”.
When we landed, he and Jamie helped me collect my luggage, included my oversized “Holy Staff – Sannyasi Trdanda.” When we found it, we thought to take a picture together to commemorate our special “Interfaith moment”. We plan to meet up again during my visit to New Jersey this weekend.
I have been staying at Radha Govinda Mandir, ISKCON New York in Brooklyn. I am happy to say that it is a vibrant atmosphere with more than twenty five devotees attending the morning programs and going out for chanting and book distribution.
I am in the Greater New York Area till Jan. 28th, when I plan to fly out of Washington DC, back towards UAE and India. Here is my tentative Schedule:
Thursday, Jan 19: 7 pm – 8 pm: Kirtan at The Bhakti Center, 25 1st Ave., New York, NY 10003
Friday, Jan 20: 7 pm – 9 pm: Bhakti Vrksa at the home of Motwanis, 39 Jamie Court, Morris Plains, NJ 07950
Saturday, Jan 21: Private Meetings
Sunday, Jan 22: 6:30 pm – 9 pm: ISKCON of Central New Jersey, 1020 W 7th St, Plainfield, NJ 07063 https://iskconnj.com/
ISKCON India has approximately 400 registered centers. Last week, on Sunday, March 20th, I was fortunate to attend the grand opening of the latest one – the ISKCON Kada Extension Center. Jagannatha Prabhu from Ahmednagar invited me. His father, HG Mukundsanjay Prabhu, is one of the main organizers of this new center. The center is in a village in Ashti District, on the highway between Ahmednagar and Beed.
My long-time associate, HG Dharmaraj Prabhu, accompanied me as a translator. We’ve known each other for more than twenty-five years. He was a great dancer. Now he has issues with his back and limited mobility. Please pray for him to recover quickly.
We left our base at ISKCON Pandharpur after breakfast. After four hours of driving, we saw a signboard advertising the program.
There was a traditional warm welcome with kirtan, flowers, and smiling devotees. After taking a bath and lunch prasadam, we proceed to the stage. The sound system was very simple. We did our best to have a soundcheck. I played the harmonium, and we rehearsed the Marathi Bhajan “Sundara Te Dhyana” – “Oh Beautiful Meditation’ – about the beautiful transcendental form of Lord Vitthala in Sridham Pandharpur.
“The object of my meditation is stunning. Lord Vitthala is standing on a brick with His hands placed on his waist. Around His neck gracefully hangs a garland of Tulasi leaves. He has a brilliant yellow silken dhoti wrapped around His waist. I adore this vision which is my constant meditation. Hanging from His ears are brilliantly shining crocodile-shaped earrings. The famous Kaustubha jewel regally bedecks His chest. Tukaram Maharaja, the author of this song, says, “My only happiness is to constantly meditate on the face of this beautiful form with ever-increasing attraction.”’
The program opened with a ribbon-cutting by the Village Chief, the “Sarpanch,” Anil Tattya Dhobale, and the principal donor for the project, Mr. Rajusheth Pokharna, and myself. Around 50 devotees came from Ahmadnagar, including HG Girivaradhari Prabhu, the community leader. Bhakta Mahadev Prabhu donated the land for the Extension Center. HG Mukundsanjay Prabhu and HG Aditisuta Prabhu are Co-Managers for the new Extension Center.
Later, the response was overwhelming when we performed “Sundara Te Dhyana” for the 1000 villagers that turned up for the event. They were pleased to see someone from America singing in their local language, Marathi. I gave a lecture in English and spoke about Shivaji Maharaja, the great king who rid the land of India of the foreign mogul invasion. Shivaji Maharaja was spiritually inclined and received the shelter of his guru, Tukaram Maharaja. I encouraged the audience also to seek that spiritual shelter. Thanks to Dhamaraj Prabhu’s expert translation, no one left during the lecture and the lively question and answer session. We distributed thirty-five Bhagavad Gitas from the stage to eager recipients.
The festival shifted to the new Extension Center, with beautiful photos of Sri Sri Radha Vrndavana Chandra (ISKCON Pune). We had blissful kirtan for more than an hour and a half. The devotees playing the drums had to keep rotating. At the conclusion of the program, the devotees offered me a cake to celebrate my one-year anniversary.
Dharmaraj Prabhu and I stayed overnight in a computer coaching facility. The next morning, local devotees shared that as Aditisuta Prabhu was heading home the night before at 12:30 am, he saw someone drunk was trying to steal the hoarding on the road. Aditisuta Prabhu chased him away. Devotees came and secured the hoarding in the Extension Center. The next morning Aditisuta Prabhu returned by 5 am to the Extension Center, after sleeping only 2 hours! Devotees were all praising him for all the hard work he did to arrange the new Extension Center.
It was a beautiful festival and I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in it. After meeting all the devotees in the morning, Dharmaraj Prabhu and I got in the car and traveled to an international school nearby to see the students, and their cows. The students are taught Sanskrit and vedic mathematics along with academic subjects. I took a refreshing dip in their swimming pool. Then we started the 4 hour journey back to Sridham Pandharpur.
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of my sannyas. I am grateful for this opportunity to serve. I find that I have become more influential. Lord Krishna is arranging for me to meet influential people. The people are inspired to serve Lord Sri Krishna by becoming attached to ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada, and His devotees. I a grateful for this opportunity to become an instrument of His will and compassion.
My initial inspiration to become a sannyasi (renounced monk with lifelong vows of celibacy) was when I read the book Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), had become my hero. I had joined ISKCON only two months earlier and had moved into Bhaktivedanta Manor, a Hare Krishna Ashram just outside of London. My day was spent washing pots, kitchen floors, peeling potatoes, cutting cauliflower, cleaning staircases, toilets, and even the temple room. In the afternoons, there were often outings to dance and chant in the shopping streets of nearby towns. I crammed Bhagavad Gita As It Is every chance I got. I wrote the verses on little recipe cards and kept them next to me while washing the pots and cutting vegetables. As I cut, washed, and showered, I repeatedly chanted the verses until they were embedded into my thick skull, glad to have something of value there.
Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta contains the incredible story of how a man, towards the twilight days of his life, in 1965, embarks on a remarkable journey, against all odds, to cross the Atlantic Ocean and transplant the eternal culture of Sanatana dharma into the foreign soil of the United States of America. In the late 960s, America was ablaze with “Flower Power “! Hippies roamed the streets and congregated in the parks of the major cities. They had long hair, smoked pot and hashish, took LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs, and freely had sex with seemingly anyone and everyone. This was the atmosphere vividly described in Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita that Srila Prabhupada found himself.
When Srila Prabhupada’s steamship, The Jaladuta, landed on Commonwealth Pier, Boston Harbor, on September 17, 1965, Srila Prabhupada went out of the boat. He took a long walk along with the ship’s captain, Mr. Arun Pandia. Srila Prabhupada was shocked at the degradation that he saw. He returned to the boat and penned a beautiful heartfelt poem called Mārkine Bhāgavata-dharma.
The poem contained the following stanza:
rajas tamo guṇe erā sabāi ācchanna
bāsudeb-kathā ruci nahe se prasanna
Most of the population here is covered by the material modes of ignorance and passion. Absorbed in material life, they think themselves very happy and satisfied, and therefore they have no taste for the transcendental message of Vāsudeva. I do not know how they will be able to understand it.
As Srila Prabhupada settled into a compassionate, focused outreach effort in the heart of New York City, he began to collect followers. Srila Prabhupada said that he hoped to make brahmachari Brahmanas (celibate priests), but he got them all married because they lived with their girlfriends.
When I read this section, I meditated on Srila Prabhupada’s desire. I remember one mo ing, chanting, and meditating on my prayer beads in the early morning hours. I thought, “I Srila Prabhupada wanted “Brahmachari Brahmanas” why don’t I try to do that? If I can do that, p haps Srila Prabhupada will be pleased with me.” As this thought passed across my consciousness, a strong feeling of being attuned with Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna arose in my heart. I knew that this would be the future that I would strive for. There were many tests throughout the years, and I know there will be more tests. But I will continue to thrive with the mercy of my guru, Srila Prabhupada, and the Supreme Lord Krishna. I appeal to all of my readers to kindly pray for me that I can be successful in my endeavor and remain a sannyasi till my last breath on this planet.