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Walking the groves, hills, and valleys in the intimate surroundings of Krishna’s dearest devotee, I contemplated the wearisome burden of pride. Conditioned life imposes this deadweight pack on our back--what a burden of stone.
Mules of samsara, piled high with self-esteem and self-worth, we trudge from birth to death, back and forth, repeating the same bleak journey endlessly.
Dangled before our nose is the rotting carrot of appreciation, recognition and adoration. “Can’t you see my abilities, don’t you know my uniqueness, won’t you praise me--and not others? Come on, just talk about me--let’s hear it for me!”
The mind broadcasts to our consciousness the conclusions manufactured by the false ego: “I am good; I am expert; in fact, I’m awesome, in my own way. Just chatter about my glories, and I’ll be so happy.” How oppressive is this filthy load.
While I trod barefoot in the holy dhama, spiritual pridelessness revealed its alluring charms to me. How ambrosial and free! “This is pure delight,” my soul sighed. “O what a life!”
As I rose and sank, moving up one holy hill and down another, I knew I was beyond heaven. The fragrance of spiritual selflessness pervaded the air. Heaven is for pious sense gratifiers; Varshana is for the servants of the servants of the servants.
Standing on a crest, overlooking Sri Radha’s world, this lowly soul detected what his heart longs for.
“I offer my respects to Radharani, whose bodily complexion is like molten gold and who is the Queen of Vrndavana. You are the daughter of King Vrsabhanu, and You are very dear to Lord Krsna.”
O daughter of Vrishabanu, please recommend me to Your Krishna. Bless me with the real freedom of unmotivated service at the lotus feet.
Caitanya-caritamrita is my perennial shelter and solace. Srila Prabhupada, observing the mentality of contemporary enthusiasts of Vrindavan-dhama, lucidly instructs his followers in what is possible and pragmatic, for this day and age of Kali:
“Although it is very difficult to enter into the Radha-Krsna pastimes, most of the devotees of Vrndavana are attracted to the radha-krsna-lila. However, since Nitai-Gauracandra are direct incarnations of Balarama and Krsna, we can be directly in touch with Lord Balarama and Lord Krsna through Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu. Those who are highly elevated in Krsna consciousness can enter into the pastimes of Radha-Krsna through the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It is said, sri-krsna-caitanya radha-krsna nahe anya: "Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu is a combination of Radha and Krsna." (Madhya 16.281)
Those words, to the wise and mature, are sufficient.
One footstep after another, though most undeserving, this creature , deep in thought, traversed the sacred ground of Varshana. I meditated upon Lord Caitanya’s own report of his first meeting with Rupa and Sanatana. He described them as great devotees and suitable candidates for Krishna’s mercy. The Lord observed that although they were amply endowed with vidya, bhakti, buddhi, and bala—education, devotion, intelligence, and strength—they thought themselves inferior to straw in the street.
"Indeed, the humility of these two brothers could even melt stone. Because I was very pleased with their behavior, I told them, ‘Although you are both very much exalted, you consider yourselves inferior, and because of this, Krsna will very soon deliver you. (Madhya 16.263–264)
This is the self-conception that attracts the attention of Lord Caitanya or Lord Krishna, Prabhupada comments in the purport. After years of devotional striving, this mentality beckons the servitor. Have no doubt—it’s more than worth the tears shed and the litres bled along the bhakti path. Continuing with precious career counseling for his ISKCON movement, the founder-acarya explains that a devotee with this type of self-worth is eligible to return home, back to Godhead.
The brain chemistry of attachment—this is the scientific explanation for love as commonly known. The latest research shows that when romantic passion strikes you, certain areas of the brain surge with an increased blood flow. Scanning the brains of people who have just fallen madly in love, scientists have concluded that love is all about electro-chemicals, hardwired into our brains by evolution.
It is not an emotion, they say; it is a powerful biological drive like hunger or thirst. Well, as I flew from Johannesburg to Durban, South Africa, I decided to do some research of my own. Turning to the engaged couple traveling with me, I read them the cutting-edge scientific list of love symptoms. “What about it?” I innocently inquired. “Elation, mood swings, sleeplessness, and obsession. . . . Do you two feel this way . . .?”
Never one to turn the other cheek, Guru Vani dasi immediately responded, “We’re not that type of couple, Guru Maharaja . . . .” The future husband, Bhumna Krishna das, gave a look of apparent agreement.
The secret of love finally revealed? It’s all in the biochemistry, right? A prominent American professor of psychology begs us to swallow it: “Learn some of the most important lessons anyone can achieve: how and why we—and other living things—love.”
Sorry, no chemical love for me. . . . I’d rather read Caitanya-caritamrita. I urge you to focus attentively whenever the author of Caitanya-caritamrita reminds us that the exquisite nectar of divine love he pours into our head and heart is quite unfathomable—far beyond the reach of material comprehension.
Consider, for example, Lord Caitanya’s efforts to leave Jagannatha Puri and visit Vrindavan. When, despite the loving impediments put in His way, Mahaprabhu finally left, a devastation of separation hit His intimate associates.
Gadadhara Pandit, desperately seeking to accompany Lord Caitanya, broke two solemn vows. Not only did he abandon his declaration of lifetime service to the Gopinatha Deity, but he also tossed away his ksetra-sannyasa, a form of spiritual retirement that forbids its adherent to ever go outside the holy place where he resides.
As Gadadhara Pandit walked along with Mahaprabhu, the Lord requested him to return to the holy dhama, Jagannatha Puri, to maintain his vow of residency. Gadadhara’s response: “Wherever You are staying is Jagannatha Puri. Let my so-called ksetra-sannyasa go to hell.” Then, upon the Lord’s reminding him of his service to Gopinatha, Gadadhara countered, “One renders service to Gopinatha a million times simply by seeing Your lotus feet.”
Lord Caitanya, pointing out that if Gadadhara abandoned his vows, the fault would directly fall upon His head, implored him, “You stay in Jagannatha Puri and serve the Deity—that will please Me.” Gadadhara had an answer for that too: “Don’t worry. All the blame is on me. You see, I will not actually directly accompany You—in this way You’ll not be implicated. I’ll travel separately. We’ll just happen to wind up at the same destination . . . “
This artificial separation continued for some distance, but then Lord Caitanya, relenting, summoned Gadadhara Pandit to His traveling party. Kaviraja Goswami explains:
“No one can understand the loving intimacy between Gadadhara Pandit and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Gadadhara Pandit gave up his vow and service to Gopinatha just as one gives up a piece of straw.” (Cc. Madhya, 16: 137)
In the commentary Prabhupada elaborates: “This kind of loving affection can be understood only by very confidential devotees. Ordinarily, no one can understand its purport.” Lord Caitanya, in His heart, was pleased by Gadhadhara’s attachment. At the same time, He obviously felt responsibility for upholding dharma, lest whimsical devotees imitate Gadadhara’s behavior. Finally therefore, catching Gadadhara’s hand, and exhibiting the nonmaterial, pure anger of nonmaterial, pure love, the Lord firmly declared that enough is enough:
"Your wanting to go with Me is simply a desire for sense gratification. In this way, you are breaking two religious principles, and because of this I am very unhappy.
"If you want My happiness, please return to Nilacala. You will simply condemn Me if you say any more about this matter." (Cc. Madhya 16.140-141)
Then Lord Caitanya climbed onto a boat to cross a river. Gadadhara immediately fell to the ground unconscious. As the boat departed, the Lord called out to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya that he take Gadadhara back with him to Jagganatha Puri. "Get up!” the Bhattacarya told Gadadhara Pandita. “Such are the pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.”
The Lord is simultaneously controlled by His devotees’ love and free from any dependency. These two co-existing dynamics make for infinitely all-attractive pastimes.
Is real love, spiritual love, so easy to understand? Just think: when was the last time your beloved partner, child, spouse, or friend walked out the door for a journey, and you immediately crashed to the floor. How long did you lay there unconscious, stunned by the sudden onslaught of separation?
Therefore, is it really inappropriate to dare suggest that no real love exists on the material plane? Tell the scientists they can keep their neuro-chemical origin of love. We’ll exult in the pure rasa of Caitanya-caritamrita--emanating not from a laboratory but directly from the spiritual world.
The Cape Town weekend retreat was a great idea to refocus the entire devotional community. Expertly organized by the grhastha couple Dhruva das and Parijata dasi, we all headed down the coast two hours, where a modest seaside resort became the yatra’s rented headquarters. Fifty devotees attended for three days of Krishna Conscious camaraderie. More devotees came just for the day, Saturday or Sunday.
A great way to escape the city, the retreat also enabled devotees to share with each other in a relaxed atmosphere. Besides the mainstays of kirtan, prasada, and seminars, there were also recreational activities designed to bring devotees together. Communal sessions were held in the meeting hall, while the beachlands facilitated contemplative wanderings and japa walks.
My seminars addressed the need to apply Krishna Consciousness in our daily life with a cool head and sincere heart. Also, Saturday was the disappearance day of Raghunatha das Goswami, Raghunath Bhatta Goswami, and Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, so I spoke of them and their extraordinary contributions.
In other seminar sessions, I directly addressed the problems and needs of the devotional community. On a whiteboard I listed the assets or advantages of the Cape Town yatra, and then the liabilities or negatives.
The advantages included an outstanding location, a spacious building, impressive achievements in previous years, and a supportive congregation willing to pay off an outstanding debt. Although these working grhastas were certainly not responsible for this debt of approx 90,000 USD, nevertheless without bitterness they banded together to tackle it. I told them I hadn’t seen such a noble, positive attitude anywhere else in the world. Often, when financial problems somehow arise, the congregation becomes cynical: “Why throw good money after bad money; no matter who's in charge, the financial problems will remain.” But the Cape Town grhasthas responded with admirable tolerance and devotion. I was deeply impressed.
Liabilities especially had arisen in the outreach programmes — all sagging as compared to recent golden years. The previous temple president was quite talented and industrious, and he had expertly attracted many competent persons. But after his transferral to important service in the USA, the book distribution plummeted, and the once booming student clubs at the universities were declining in membership. Moreover, ISKCON Cape Town’s financial bread and butter programme — university prasada catering — was ailing. In reaction to the present leadership vacuum, several key devotees were set to head overseas. And last but not least, there was no proper arrangement for receiving and cultivating guests.
I pointed out that Cape Town ISKCON had an identity crisis: did they have a temple or preaching centre? A temple has as its main focus gorgeous Deity worship. Certainly a successful temple reaches out to its city with vigorous preaching; yet if the Deity worship is substandard, the temple has failed in a core purpose. A preaching centre, however, completely focuses on dynamic outreach and cultivation — Deity worship may not even be there at all. I recommended that the devotees decide exactly what was Cape Town.
Finally I pointed out that the devotees living in the building should not see it primarily as their home -- where they were automatically entitled to live, if they so desired. Rather, they should mainly see the building as a reception and cultivation centre for guests. That means for the proper servicing of these guests, some staff or hosts resided in the building. Devotees should have the attitude that they are living in the building for the sake of the guests.
After ventilating all the key issues, I left the ball in their lap. Later, devotees said that if any one of the local devotees had brought up any one of these points, a grand battle would have erupted. Some weeks after the retreat, I received a nice letter from a devotee who had attended: “All the devotees greatly appreciate the way Maharaja made us really think about what it is that we are doing. So that we don't just do it for the sake of doing it, or because that's what we are told to do, but that we try to understand the reality of devotional practice and how to apply it practically in our lives. This has always been a great challenge for me, and I still feel that I need to develop this way of thinking.”
Besides Cape Town (see photos) and Durban, while I was in South Africa, I also visited Lenasia and Pretoria — both adjoining Johannesburg. The Lenasia temple is in the former Indian-only sector of apartheid days. True to its locale, its congregation is almost completely Indian. Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, has a very active preaching center in the embassy and educational section of the city. (see photos) The enthusiastic congregation of both Indians and Africans is led by Syamasundara das, a householder who by day is the corporate division head of Daimler-Chrysler in South Africa (the auto-industry conglomerate of Chrysler and Mercedes Benz). A selfless, humble yet dynamic devotee, Syamasundara is a model householder and ISKCON leader, who is seeking to reach all South Africans with the message of Lord Caitanya.
Before departing the Johannesburg Airport, down-under bound, I stopped off at a devotee’s preaching centre and home in the formerly notorious Soweto ghetto. (See photos) During apartheid days, Soweto was the largest African “township”--as the old regime called such forced concentration areas. By law then, each Soweto house had to have an adjoining corridor on its side wide enough for a military tank to squeeze through, so that in case of any African uprisings, the army could not only control the streets but also get in between the houses, to root out rebels. Nowadays those corridors alongside the houses have gardens or garages in their place. After lunch prasada at Mahaprabhu’s house, Bhakta Carlos and I left Soweto for the Jo-berg airport and the 20 hours or so traveling time to Christchurch, New Zealand.