Experiences of an Itinerant Monk (2)

June 1st, 2010 § 0

Spain and United Kingdom, 28 April to 15 May 2010

As a rule of thumb I choose to simplify my life as much as possible. As Srila Prabhupada used to say: ‘Simple living, high thinking’.  It is my personal experience that minimization of selfish desires and aspirations makes me happier and allows me to pay attention to spiritual activities aiming to better connect with  and to serve Krishna, the Supreme Soul.  In this regard there is an interesting verse found in the Srimad Bhagavatam, the ripened fruit of the Vedas. It reads as follows:

Parigraho hi duhkhaya, yad yat priyatamam nrinam/ anantam sukham apnoti, tad vidvan yas tv akincanah

‘(The saintly brahmana said) Everyone considers certain things within the material world to be most dear to him, and because of attachment to such things one eventually becomes miserable. One who understands this gives up material possessiveness and attachment and thus achieves unlimited happiness’. Srimad Bhagavatam, 11.9.1

Although this verse inspires me to live simply, nevertheless, I perceive that having desires for the spiritual benefit of others does not obstruct the development of inner peace and happiness. Rather, such desires increase the joy of the self. In this regard, I have a wish to see that in each and every of the 52 provinces of Spain centers and communities of Vaishnava devotees are developed.  In order to contribute to the fulfillment of this desire, I like to visit people in their homes and to contribute in whatever way I can to their spiritual life. I have many shortcomings and lots of areas for improvement. To practice spirituality on a daily basis and to share the message of God with others is, nevertheless, the best course of action to attain self-improvement and to please the merciful Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya.

This tour started in Santander. Krishna Shakti Dasa received me at the Santader airport and hosted me in his house for two days.  Afterwards, he kindly drove me around Spain with his car. We went to Pontevedra, Madrid, Nueva Vrajamandala (Brihuega) and back to the Bilbao airport, from where I flew to London.

Krishna Shakti Dasa, a patient friend and driver

Krishna Shakti Dasa, a patient friend and driver

I have known Krishna Shakti since childhood. We used to live in the same town, Mataro (Barcelona). During my first years living in ISKCON ashramas, I used to visit Mataro and I would sometimes meet Krishna Shakti. He liked to philosophically challenge me in a friendly way. Later on he confessed that he felt attracted to the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. He wanted to hear me speak about Krishna, but I was somewhat reserved.  The fact that I was not trying to convince him, increased his eagerness to learn about Krishna.  He knew that sooner or later he would commit to Krishna consciousness. It was too good to avoid it. Finally Krishna Shakti and my elder brother, who became Gundicha Dasa, visited Nueva Vrajamandala, the Spanish ISKCON farm, and decided to dedicate their lives to the practice of Vaishnavism.

In Santander I visited Dharma Vatsala Dasa and his wife Arantxa. They live in their 9 ha. Farm located in a very remote mountainous area of Cantabria. I was impressed by the big amounts of organic fruits and vegetables two persons are able to produce. In addition they have a small factory of delicious marmalades made with the fruits they produce.  They offer them to Krishna and then sell them all over Spain. The name of the brand is ‘Yagannath’.

During the weekend Krishna Shakti and I travelled to Pontevedra and stayed in the house of Caitanya Priya Dasa and Mohini Murti Dasi, who hosted us excellently. Caitanya Priya and Mohini Murti’s house reminded me of the palatial Indian houses, with stone columns, ample halls and sitting places, and beautiful pieces of art in every corner of the house. They also have a beautiful temple room where the family gets together for spiritual singing, reading, and worship.

A group of Portuguese devotees joined us for the spiritual weekend. We had kirtans, readings from Sri Caitanya-Bhagavata, and delicious prasadam feasts.   Perhaps the highlight of this visit was a Harinama (public singing) we had in downtown Pontevedra on Sunday morning. We sat on a carpet we put on a raised platform located in a main plaza. We sang the maha-mantra Hare Krishna for more than two hours. Many curious and interested passersby stopped to look at the colorful group of performers. Some of them bought books such as Bhagavad Gitas, Science of Self-realization, and other smaller books. More than twenty books were distributed by Nityananda Dasa, Caitanya Priya Dasa, and Locana Dasa.

Hare Krishna Kirtan in downtown Pontevedra

Paurnamasi Dasi, Mohini Murti Dasi, Caitanya Priya Dasa, Rupa Vilas Dasa, Locana Dasa and Yadunandana Swami

Nityananda Dasa distributing Srila Prabhupada's books

After the joyful weekend we headed to Madrid. Krishna Shakti stayed in his sister in law’s house. I stayed at the ISKCON temple in Madrid. During my stay in Madrid I liked the best to visit the University Complutense of Madrid, where I gave two lectures on Hinduism, Vaishnavism and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Professor Miguel Lopez Coira invited me to speak to his students. Miguel is an anthropologist who likes to confront his students with worldviews that differ from the conventional. The first day I spoke to a group of 40 first level undergraduate students of Sociology. The second day it was a group of 80 third level undergraduate students of Social Work.

Lecturing at the University Complutense of Madrid

Social Work students learn the maha-mantra Hare Krishna

Classroom Hare Krishna Kirtan: Yadunandana Swami, Bhakta Marcos, and Jagamohana Dasa

Next we drove to Nueva Vrajamandala, the Spanish Hare Krishna farm in Brihuega (Guadalajara). We had very productive meetings, in which we discussed several projects to develop this community. Particularly I’m committed to develop an educational institute for the Spanish speaking world. We intend to launch the first series of residential courses from April to September 2011. At the moment we are doing the necessary groundwork to prepare for a successful first year.

The day I intended to leave Spain, I was blocked by the Iceland volcano ash cloud, which forced to cancel many flights in Madrid and South Spain airports. I had scheduled a very important meeting at the University of Winchester for the next morning.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss cooperation between Winchester University and Bhaktivedanta College, where I am the Principal.  I was ready to do what it takes to avoid missing the meeting. Early in the morning, I drove with Krishna Shakti and his wife Bea (who joined us in Madrid) to North Spain with the hope to find some trains from Irun to Paris and then to London. During the few hour drive to the North I realized how limited our plans in life are. A little smoking from a remote place can create havoc in airports and upset the lives of literally tens of thousands of people.  Even if I was determined to reach my destination on time, I had no power to decide. There was no certainty that I would find transportation because many other people who would be in a similar situation would be demanding a place through some other public transport.  I was dependant on the circumstances, and ultimately on Krishna. I decided not to worry too much but simply trust Krishna and his divine influence over everything that exist. Suddenly an inspiration came to check flights from North Spain. As I see it, in no time I found a ticket from Bilbao to London, which will make me reach London as early as I was going to reach with my cancelled flight from Madrid. Although this may seem a trivial life experience, for me it reflects a principle that we can apply in each and every challenge we face. This principle is a blend of detachment, a happy endeavor to complete our duties, and trust in God.

karmany evadhikaras te, ma phalesu kadacana/ ma karma-phala-hetur bhur, ma te sango ‘stv akarmani

‘You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty’.                                             Bhagavad Gita, 2.47

Finally, by Krishna’s grace, we had productive meetings at Winchester and at Oxford, where the Bhaktivedanta College Faculty Council met. We also visited the Krishna Avanti School, an excellent Hindu school, which I may write about in another entry.

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