I AM IN VANDAVANA. It is night. The pigeons are roosting, crickets chirping. A man is intoning some sastra, fulfilling a vow by broadcasting scripture under the distant stars. They stand as cold witnesses.
I want to complain that I am being forced to stay awake and listen to his recitation, but being in Vrndavana means learning to adjust. One cannot simply call the police and complain, "Some guy is broadcasting his prayers over a loudspeaker. He is disturbing my rest." No policeman would dream of interfering with the sadhu any more than he would round up dogs or hogs or thieving monkeys. All creatures in Vrndavana from the sadhus to the monkeys have somehow gained shelter in Radharani's earthly Vrndavana.
It is we Westerners, our minds spinning over petty ambitions, who are an anomaly to Vrndavana's live-and-let-live mood. We, who think we are better than the residents of the dhama, the Lord's abode, are the ones who need to adjust.
* * *
A friend just entered the room. I could tell he had just come from bathing in the Yamuna by the soft gray color of his feet. He goes twice a day. I told myself, "As a water buffalo must enter the water regularly, you should also bathe in the Yamuna whenever your mind becomes troubled." Then I offered him my obeisances.
What will happen today? This is the question one always asks while residing in Vrndavana. Will I be able to hear of Lord Krsna's most wonderful friendships with His dear ones? Will I go into chanting and hearing in the right frame of mind? A disciple told me, "In Vrndavana there are no demons, so I know my troubles here are my own manufacturing." Everything is so much clearer in Vrndavana, even the source of one's troubles. Our troubles always arise from the mind, but in the West we tend to blame them on others or on the cold or the heat or the high cost of living or the seemingly all-pervading material energy. Vrndavana teaches us to chant and hear, to see Radha-Syamasundara, to see Srila Prabhupada. We do not go to Vrndavana to study logic or world religions or to make some plans for living in the material world; we come to culture transcendence. Vrndavana is the domain of Srimati Radharani. By Her mercy, we will learn to adjust.
* * *
Tomorrow is Ekadasi. My head is newly shaved, the breeze is pleasant. I am living on a transcendental college campus, ISKCON Vrndavana. I will start teaching a seminar in a few days.
Sometimes I observe all this as an outsider. Here is the group of sannyasis, staffs held high, standing before the closed altar doors just before greeting the Deities. I am among them when the conches blow and the doors slide open. The Deities givedarsana as the "Govindam" prayers ring out over the loudspeakers. We stand worshiping Gaura-Nitai.
I observe this, but standing apart from it doesn't seem right. It occurs to me that I can choose whether I want to be part of the deeper meaning of Radha-Krsna's darsana. This same act devotees waiting for the Lord to appear has been going on for hundreds and thousands of years, but what does it mean? What are we supposed to be doing here? How can we keep doing it eternally? I pray to know my true self, the self who is Krsna's eternal servant, the self who is free from birth and death. I pray to still be here tomorrow, waiting for the Lord's darsana.
* * *
Days leaf like calendar pages. The flapping snap sound of pigeon wings permeates the air. Every day I go into Srila Prabhupada's room in the early morning. Although I cannot expect to be alone with Prabhupada for long, at least it is quiet for a few minutes and I can come close to Prabhupada's desk and prostrate myself before him. I feel only a semblance of his presence, but I take it as better than nothing. As with everything else in Vrndavana, I am learning to adjust to the reality of my devotion. The adjustment comes in learning to be patient with myself and in trying to improve by approaching Prabhupada again and again. In the West everything is won by revolution, but in Vrndavana change evolves quietly and deeply.
I read this passage from Bhaktivinoda Thakura's Kalyana-kalpataru (Upadesa, Texts 5-6):
My dear mind, you are falling into the illusory mistakes of the insensitive world of matter, and so your own real self has been transformed into an entirely different, false personality. Now just heed my advice, dear friend, and don't cheat your own soul any longer. From now on, please keep yourself in the company of the devotees of the Lord.
By the power of the Vaisnava's compassion, all your doubts will be long gone, and your soul will become yours once again. You will attain the transcendental abode of Vrndavana, and there you will wait upon Radha-Syama in your eternal spiritual body, shivering in ecstasy and shedding torrents of joyful tears. Thus the real wealth of Bhaktivinoda is to keep continuous, intense absorption in the beautiful lotus feet of Sri Radha-Krsna.
This is what Vrndavana can culture in us this desire to reclaim our souls from the world of passion and ignorance. Vrndavana frees us from doubts in God's existence by standing as witness to Radha-Krsna's pastimes. And Vrndavana assures us that real wealth is to "keep continuous, intense absorption in the beautiful lotus feet of Sri Radha-Krsna."
Srila Prabhupada and all the previous spiritual masters have insisted we learn to keep Vrndavana in our hearts and minds, no matter where we are in the world. To do this, we have to imbibe deeply the Vrndavana mood when we are present in thedhama. We have to allow Vrndavana to work on us, to adjust and shape us. We have to have faith that Vrndavana will allow us to reclaim our real selves and leave our false selves behind. Then we have to go back to our duties in the West ready to be a little freer, more dependent on the dhama, and more responsive to working on ourselves in ways the dhama taught us. Everything is possible by the mercy of Srimati Radharani, the queen of Vrndavana.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of more than two-dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.