May 11, Vicenza
THE PADUA TEMPLE MOVED since I was here last year. The devotees purchased a three-hundred-year-old villa. They call it Prabhupada-desa, "Srila Prabhupada's estate." They have already done lots of work to make the place habitable and modern, but lots of work remains to be done. There isn't much money. Twenty-four devotees live here, including an eight-man traveling party who supply the only income by distributing books.
The project here is worth working for eighteen acres of farmland and a beautiful old building (a former monastery). The unmarried men have their rooms where the monks used to live. The temporary temple is located in the old chapel. The room still looks ready for a Catholic Mass, but now Gaura-Nitai Deities stand on the high altar, and Srila Prabhupada's seat is located where the pulpit used to be.
Spring is beginning to take hold. The trellises for grape vines are covered in new green. The Roman land is lush. For centuries, people have been stuck in maya because of their attraction to these beautiful gardens, with their fountains and statues and beautiful men and women and the banter of Italian conversation la dolce vita. There is beauty here, but I find myself turning away from it and instead thinking of another beautiful land, the land of Vraja, Krsna's abode, where Krsna tends His cows beside the meandering Yamuna. I pray to fill my ears and mind and heart with that sight and be transported from Italia to Vraja.
The church bells are ringing seven o'clock. Time to pray.
The Bhagavatam verse this morning told of King Nabhi. When the king performed a sacrificial rite, Lord Visnu appeared in His beautiful transcendental form. Although the king had performed the proper rituals, only because his heart was filled with devotion and faith did Lord Visnu appear. Love was the ingredient that attracted the Lord.
We want to engage ourselves in chanting and hearing such narrations and in this way develop our own devotion to Krsna. But here we are at Prabhupada-desa, trying to renovate buildings and develop a spiritual community. We have little time to simply sit and practice our quiet devotions. Prabhupada wanted to see us work also. In all our work, how can we cultivate faith and devotion? We have to start with our present distracted condition and pray to Krsna that He help us connect our work with Him. And we have to associate with devotees who are successfully doing this and who can inspire us.
May 13, travel day
We chanted in the early morning in the temple room at Matsya Avatara's home in Perignano. Now we are back on the road. Tonight, an overnight ferry to Sardinia.
Noon, at port to embark for Sardinia
Traveling means keeping simple, not just in our physical comforts but in our minds. Whatever material assets we have will be taken away at the end. So in any condition, we have to depend on Krsna. The essence of life is the chanting of the holy name.
Mastya Avatara Prabhu said that there is no injustice in this world. Everything happens by karma. Devotees should be ready to help anyone. No one should be neglected by Krsna's devotee.
Simplicity also means detachment from comforts. Whatever our standard of living, we have to recognize that everything will at the end be taken away. What is the loss? Chanting and hearing don't depend on carpets and sofas.
Sailing time is less than half an hour away, and a gusty wind has started up. The trees and bushes sway in the rain. The sailing will probably be rough. The image comes that my mind is like a rainy, windy sea. I want to chant regardless of the storm, like an experienced mariner in the sea of the mind.
As our van rolls onto the ferry, I can see a young soldier wearing a black beret and carrying heavy bags. There are countless human scenes like this throughout the fourteen worlds: people in line, acting according to the modes of nature children, young people, middle-agers, old people, men and women, all riding out their karma against the backdrop of water, land, and sky. Can I philosophize about them from the passenger seat of our van? This is not Vrndavana, where the modes of nature hold no sway. This is Italy. I am here to preach. But I am also meant to see these scenes. They should awaken feelings of separation from Vrndavana. Yes, I am supposed to feel separation from Vrndavana, even in the midst of this Italian branch of our human family.
Our host, Gaudacandra Dasa, told us that Sardinia has always been isolated and has retained a pious culture. But European tourists have staked their claim, and things are changing. People are interested in yoga and the New Age. From the ferry, we drove by beaches filled with bathers under umbrellas and went straight downtown to the ISKCON center. It's a private house converted into a temple.
In addition to half a dozen full-time devotees, twenty people more were present for the Wednesday evening lecture and feast. I spoke on Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Afterwards a schoolteacher asked me, "If someone was a Christian and became interested in Krsna consciousness, what would it do for him?"
I replied, "He'd be a better Christian."
The devotees in Sardinia are about to open a beautiful restaurant. Although it is located down a narrow street, the decor is high class. We went with Gaudacandra to visit the not-yet-opened place. Merchants on the block observed us as we went in, and Gaudacandra waved back to each of them. He wants to live with them in peace.
Tonight we will be back in line, waiting to go to Sicily.
May 23, Palermo, Sicily
When I arrived in Palermo, I told the devotees about Prabhupada's first visit to Rome, in 1974. At that time the temple president apologized to Prabhupada for the noisy street out-side the temple. Prabhupada said, "The noise means you have a good location." By that standard the Palermo center is also in a good location. It is surrounded by newsstands, high-rise apartments, and heavy traffic. Only five or six devotees live here, but the party of traveling book-distributors from Florence were also visiting, and the temple was full.
We spoke of Prabhupada's instruction that we should sacrifice to help others, but we also recognized that we have to protect ourselves against maya. By following our spiritual practices and by fully engaging in devotional service, we can be saved. Then from that safe position we can work to save others.
One devotee asked me how we can develop compassion. Krsna will give us whatever we want in Krsna consciousness. If we pray for compassion and try to practice it, Krsna will award it. He gives us the intelligence by which we can come to Him and serve Him.
Another question: "How can you desire something from Krsna before you have deserved it?" I translated that to myself into How can I desire to feel separation from Vrndavana or taste the bliss of chanting Hare Krsna when I am still full of impurities? I gave a long reply, but then added, "I may not deserve the nectar of the holy name, but I must have it. We have to be hungry for Krsna's mercy."
The tour through Italy encourages me to go deeper, to become hungrier for the holy name and for Krsna's association, wherever I may be.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.