Flying to India. I am going to do research for the biography of Srila Prabhupada. My head is groggy from sitting fifteen hours in the plane seat. Suddenly the plane starts jerking up and down. A little bell rings, and the "Fasten Seat Belt" sign lights up. "Meal service will be delayed," the stewardess says. "We are experiencing slight turbulence." The slight turbulence increases, and the cups of juice fall from her tray. The steward grabs her arm, and both of them brace themselves, with rigid hands and feet.
At any moment, by too much shaking, or from one good poke, the life can run out of this vessel, the body. And when it runs out, we go to another body. We may take birth in a horrible species, where life is stunted as an insect, or a clump of grass and in all forms of life there is suffering. Only the spiritual world is free of anxiety.
The air turbulence passes, but it's just a matter of time before each of us faces his last hour.
My own mortal anxiety: when it comes, will I pass the test? Will I think of Krsna at the time of death and pass over to the side of freedom?
* * *
We arrive at 1:00 A.M. in New Delhi. Half a dozen devotees meet us, with garlands and a big chanting session. A crowd gathers as we sing with drums and hand cymbals. Only in India can this happen; no official will think of stopping us from chanting Hare Krsna. It is two in the morning, but no one is disturbed. They stand around watching the chanting and dancing, and listen when Lokanatha Swami gives a little speech.
It is still dark night as our car heads out for the two-hour drive to our destination: Vrndavana, the town where Lord Krsna performed His pastimes five thousand years ago, the town where Srila Prabhupada lived as a sannyasi before coming to America in 1965. As we pull out of Delhi, I see groups of homeless humans asleep on the cement walkways of a bridge. Our car lights wake three blinking calves lying in the middle of the road. Trucks approach us head-on. We veer to the left, almost off the road, and thus pass each oncoming truck. But tonight there are not many trucks. We see dozens of them lined up by the roadside (there is a national shortage of diesel fuel, Lokanatha Swami tells us they have to wait sometimes two days in line). At least in that respect, it's hardly different here from the United States.
* * *
It is 6:00 A.M., and we are sitting at the base of the red sandstone tower of Madana-mohana temple in Vrndavana. We have just paid our respects at the bhajana-kutira of Sanatana Gosvami, who five hundred years ago wrote philosophical devotional works based on the Vedas and confirming the conclusions of Krsna consciousness. Old men who live here watch us peacefully; one is pulling the rope to a well that Krsna was supposed to have used to draw water for His devotee Sanatana when Sanatana had grown invalid. Peacocks abound in Vrndavana; their often-heard sound is a beep and a loud, catlike meow. The dawn is growing lighter. Now in the sky, a faint red smudge appears, like a fire burning through an opaque wall soon the sun will be bright and hot.
Vrndavana appears rundown; the five-hundred-year-old temples are falling down in disrepair. There are few modern amenities here, but the Western style of lawless violence, the constant sex lure, the TV demand, the "necessity" to work for more and more material enjoyment, or to steal, to take drugs, to always read newspapers these are not much developed here. The average man is poor by Western standards, but he wears Vaisnava markings and chants "Jaya Radhe" and Hare Krsna. Years ago the Moghuls took the jewels away from the temples, and what they didn't take, the British took later. But they could not take away the people's bhakti, their devotion to Lord Krsna. "But" my mind suddenly challenges "what is the purpose of this town? Why Vrndavana?" The purpose first and last is remembering God. If you do not think this is a reason for a town to exist, then you will not be able to understand Vrndavana.
Vrndavana is real. The other day we saw a human corpse. Vrndavana is not like a fantasy land where pretty, sex-indulgent youth is falsely glorified, or where the people still believe in unlimited human progress through technology, or in finding happiness in godless leisure. We have much to learn from a peaceful, bhakti-saturated town like Vrndavana.
* * *
In The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada has quoted a statement about living in Vrndavana by Srila Rupa Gosvami:
"I remember Lord Krsna standing by the banks of the Yamuna River, so beautiful amidst the kadamba trees, where many birds are chirping in the gardens. And these impressions are always giving me transcendental bliss." "This feeling," Srila Prabhupada comments, "can actually be felt even by nondevotees. The places in the eighty-four-square-mile district of Mathura are so beautifully situated on the banks of the River Yamuna that anyone who goes there will never want to return to this material world. These statements by Rupa Gosvami are factually realized descriptions of Vrndavana. All these qualities prove that Vrndavana is situated transcendentally. Otherwise, there would be no possiblity of invoking our transcendental sentiments in these places. Such transcendental feelings are aroused immediately and without fail after one arrives in Vrndavana:"
* * *
We are finding out about Srila Prabhupada's activities here. He renounced his family life in 1954 and came to Vrndavana and lived in a room in a Kesi-ghata temple. For ten years he remained in Vrndavana, a lone figure. He had very few visitors to his room. All witnesses say, "He was always typing," or sometimes reading, or singing and chanting about Krsna. He was writing his first books books that have now been distributed by the millions all over the world. Few realized then that he was preparing himself and making a decision (in his seventh decade) to come to America and attempt to spread Krsna consciousness all over the world, as he had been ordered by his spiritual master. Most people of Vrndavana didn't understand his great broad scope, although now they acknowledge him and have named the main road "Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg." But most people of the world outside Vrndavana do not understand him even today. Already, through his writings and his disciples, he has delivered Krsna's message liberation from birth and death by means of chanting Hare Krsna to almost every town and village in the world, but the value of that message is not yet appreciated. To help the world appreciate Srila Prabhupada and to purify ourselves and increase our attachment to this great soul, we are trying to find the places of his activities in Vrndavana from 1955 to 1965. We hope our research will help us all remember him. SDG