A simple act of devotion changed
the course of an entire nation.
(Continued from last issue)
Srila Prabhupada had confidently predicted an imminent nuclear war between the USSR and the USA. It did not happen. Prabhupada was asked why. His response: Krishna had changed His mind.
In 1975 the world’s accumulated burden of misdeeds had reached a point that nuclear destruction was imminent.
This was the world’s future. So Prabhupada foresaw. Then Krishna changed his mind. The world had another future.
The war did not happen, and ten years after Prabhupada’s prediction Mikhael Gorbachev was elected Premier of the Soviet Union, and his programs of glasnost (political openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring), unleashed an uncontrollable cascade of events. The Berlin Wall was dismantled in 1989, and the Soviet Union itself in 1991.
My attempts to understand why Krishna changed his mind always lead me to consider the extraordinary devotees from the Soviet Union. They must have had something to do with it, and when I finally was able to talk to some of them at the end of the 80s, they told me a story that convinced me of their role.
Srila Prabhupada had visited Moscow in June of 1971, and in spite of state restrictions and KGB supervision he was able to initiate one Russian devotee. This devotee was in turn able to bring many others to Krishna consciousness. Gradually books were translated into Russian and smuggled behind the Iron Curtain. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust gained a place in the 1979 Moscow Book Fair, from which more books somehow made their way into the country. Following the Russian samizdat system for propagating state-suppressed literature, devotees copied the books by hand, and those copies were circulated and recopied. The Russian devotees practised and preached in increasingly difficult circumstances. Their numbers still grew. By 1982 the New York Times was reporting “Hare Krishna Chant Unsettles Soviet.” The government stepped up its persecution, incarcerating more and more devotees in psychiatric hospitals and labor camps to undergo vicious abuse and torture. When Gorbachev became Soviet Premier, ISKCON began an international human rights campaign to secure basic civil right for the Soviet devotees.
In 1987 the Soviet Government gave permission for fifty-four Russian devotees to travel to Mayapur for the annual festival. Every year after that more and more Russian devotees came. During one festival I accompanied a large group of them on parikrama, traveling by foot and boat all around the Mayapur District countryside, visiting the many pilgrimage sites, camping out each night in a different place. I got to know the Russian devotees well, and I was warmed again by that particular emotional fire I had known from my Russian grandmother and her relatives.
One evening a group of Russian devotees told me this story: They all worked together on a kolkhoz, a collective farm, in Soviet Georgia near the Black Sea. In this case, the farm was a gigantic orchard of citrus trees. The life suited the devotees. It was peaceful, and in the huge orchard there was ample opportunity to gather by themselves to chant and read together.
The fruit they harvested was not for everyone only select people called the nomenklatura, well-placed in the Communist hierarchy, could have access to their harvest. It was sold in exclusive stores reserved for this privileged group.
The devotees serving in the orchard came to know whenever there was a meeting of the Politburo, the governing body of the Communist Party. At that time they would get a special order for the best quality of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and so on. And at that time the devotees carefully made their own special arrangement.
After picking all the choice fruit, they would gather it together and take it to a secluded area of the orchard. There they would arrange their harvest nicely, and with an arati and a long kirtana, they would offer it all to Krishna. Then they would carefully pack it up and deliver it to be flown off to the Kremlin. They were delighted to be able to regularly feed the Politburo with Krishna’s prasadam. I listened with growing amazement as I heard them relate this story, laughing and occasionally interrupting each other in Russian. Looking at them, I thought of all that the Russian devotees had suffered at their government’s hands. As I sat with them, gratefully basking in the intensity of their devotion, it dawned on me that Krishna must really have relished their citrus offering.
And then, of course, I remembered Prabhupada’s declaration that Krishna had changed his mind. The nuclear war between the USSR and the USA was called off. Now I had what seemed a very concrete reason for it. Perhaps it was not just this act of causeless mercy to the Politburo, but the dedication of the Soviet devotees to Lord Caitanya altogether, a dedication that this particular fruit offering epitomized to me.
An addendum. It is said that when, because of devotional service, a devotee is relieved of the future suffering karmically due him, he may still experience that reaction on a subtle level usually in the form of a dream.
In a similar way, World War III may also have made its appearance on a subtle level. In 1987 the American writer Tom Clancy published the techno-thriller Red Storm Rising. The author had many contacts in the military, and they had apparently made available to him what they knew of the NATO and the Warsaw Pact plans for World War III. Military forces rehearse constantly for the next war, and they develop their weapons system with the coming conflict in mind. They continually update their plans. And of course, they try to find out what the enemy is planning for next. Paradoxically, in the course of these activities, the enemies gradually come to resemble each other more and more, to unite together in increasing intimacy, mirroring each other in their dance of death like performers in a balletic pas de deux. Thus the war becomes as thoroughly and carefully choreographed as Swan Lake or Petrouchka.
Tom Clancy took all of this in and made his novel out of it. As one who had grown up in perpetual anticipation of that war, I could not resist reading Red Storm Rising. And there it was: the war that did not happen, manifest harmlessly as a best selling techno-thriller, a day dream, a fantasy.
That particular danger may have been avoided, but it seems to me that we may want Krishna to change his mind again and soon.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, is a guru and member of ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission. He holds a Ph.D. in religion from Temple University.