EXPERIENCES OF AN ITINERANT MONK (3)

July 9th, 2010 § 0

3rd June 2010, Lisbon

I’m writing this at the end of the day to retain some of the experiences I went through today. I am visiting Lisbon for the next four days. The main program I’m scheduled to do here is teaching a ten hour seminar on the Six Indian Philosophies (Sad-darshanas) in the University Lusofona of Humanities and Tecnologies, a private Jesuite University, which is present in Portugal and in the old Portuguese colonies around the world. Besides Portugal, the University has educational centers in Brasil, Angola, Cabo Verde and Mozambique. The seminar has been arranged by Professor Luis Filipe Figueiredo from the NEVO (Nucleo de Estudos Vedicos e Orientais), a research centre for Vedic and Oriental Studies linked to the University Lusofona.

During my two and a half hour flight I had an interesting experience. I read from the Uddhava-Gita in the 11th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam for half an hour. I was feeling very tired and slept for some time. I had an unusual bad dream. Some thorny leaves were erupting from my feet. I was taking them out and they would erupt again. Then I saw that a worm was coming out of my arm flesh. I woke up and wondered if there was anything on my sitting place or the plane provoking such a ghostly dream. I did not pay much importance to it, but then when I continued reading the Uddhava Gita, I found the following verse comparing illusory material existence to a dream:

soka mohau sukham duhkham, dehapattis ca mayaya/ svapno yathatmanah khyatih, samsrtir na tu vastavi

‘Just as a dream is merely a creation of one’s intelligence but has no actual substance, similarly, material lamentation, illusion, happiness, distress and the acceptance of the material body under the influence of maya are all creations of My illusory energy. In other words, material existence has no essential reality’. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.11.2

I was reminded that material life is like a dream. There is not substance in it. Real substance lies in the eternal loving relationship the self has with Sri Krishna, the Supreme Self. I need to wake up to this reality.

On my arrival I was received at the airport by the Professor, Luis Filipe, and Naresh, a devotee from Gujarati background who is part of the Lisbon congregation for more than twenty five years. He is a Rama bhakta, always telling lilas (divine activities) from the Ramayana, and spontaneously glorifying Sita, Rama, Laksmana and Hanuman. His natural devotion is inspiring.

During the day I met several devotees and we had what Portuguese devotees call a ‘picKrisnic’. It is a picnic with Krishna in the centre.  We sang for about two hours in a beautiful park located in the city of Lisbon. Different kirtan leaders took turns making Krishna’s Holy Names reverberate all over the sky. One incident that caught my attention was that for most of the kirtan there were three people, one young man and two young women, who were practicing some type of dance. I asked my good friend, Nityananda Dasa, if they belonged to the temple congregation. When he told me that they did not, I told him that they were performing bhakti-unmukhi-ajnata-sukriti, or unconscious devotional service to Krishna’s Holy Names. Their dancing will not go in vain. It will award them eternal spiritual credits beyond anyone’s imagination.

4th to 7th June

The rest of my stay in Lisbon was joyfully and intensely busy. So much so, that I did not manage to write any entry in my diary. I’m now flying back to Brussels and taking a little time to recollect the highlights of my stay.

I spent Friday morning preparing a power point presentation and preparatory reading for the seminar I was going to present on the Six Indian Philosophies (Sad-Darshanas). In the afternoon I met some devotees individually. The seminar was well advertised and organized by Professor Luis Filipe Figueiredo. He arranged a nice auditorium, which was well equipped with everything we needed (e.g. microphones and projector). Almost 30 people participated during the two days 10 hour course (6 sessions altogether, Friday from 6 to 10 pm and Saturday the whole day, from 10.00 am to 1.30 pm and from 3.00 to 5.30 pm). For the opening Luis Filipe invited Professor Teotonio de Souza, the Head of the Department of History at the University. I learned that Teotonio de Souza had been a Jesuit priest who married later on. He was born in Goa and he has been living in Portugal and working at the University Lusofona for many years.  He was welcoming and yet serious. We spoke for a few minutes while people arrived before the seminar.  Firstly, the two Professors spoke some welcoming words and an introduction to the activities of the centre for Vedic and Oriental Studies, NEVO. They informed the seminar participants about related courses and programs they could consider for the future. Then, they handed over to me. I was a little concerned in the beginning because Portuguese is not my mother tongue and particularly because Professor de Souza spoke with sophistication and erudition. After a few minutes I ‘broke the ice’ and felt at ease. It was a challenge to present such a broad philosophical topic within one day and a half. In order to make it more accessible I included some variety in the presentation such as question and answer sessions, group work, and short sessions of kirtan, which the participants liked because most of them were yoga teachers and practitioners.

We ended the seminar by handing every participant a certificate of attendance. While Luis Filipe Figueiredo individually called the participants I handed one after another the certificates. A happy kirtan with many participants spontaneously dancing was a climax note to close what I think everyone considered a rewarding seminar.

Group participants at the end of the Six Indian Philosophies seminar

Most of the participants at the University Lusofona programme were Yoga teachers and practitioners

On Saturday 5th, I ended going to sleep after 12.00 midnight. During the morning I had been preparing the second part of the power point presentation and did not manage to chant most of my Hare Krishna Japa (meditational recitation of mantras). In addition, after the seminar I spent some time with Radha Govinda Dasa, the President of ‘Oriente no Porto’, an alternative cultural center and vegan restaurant located in Porto, which also hosts regular Hare Krishna programs, including the traditional Sunday Feast. He and his wife Gopala Priya are running this centre for the last 20 years. They are committed Hare Krishna devotees, who have taken a leading exemplary role in the Hare Krishna Portuguese community.  Radha Govinda came for the second day of the seminar and he was due to return to Porto that very night, so there was no other time when we could speak. Finally I was able to relax a little by chanting Japa while feeling blissful after a very busy day.

On Sunday 6th I spent time with Rama Raghava Dasa, the temple president of ISKCON Lisbon, who shared some of the challenges they are facing. There are not many devotees committed to develop the temple and there is a feeling of lack of unity among the congregational members. I listened the best I could and tried to offer some helpful ideas, but the real challenge is for Rama Raghava and for the Portuguese devotees who live there. I’m now traveling to other places and soon will forget about what’s happening in Portugal, but they stay.

In the afternoon I visited the main Lisbon centre of the Portuguese Confederation of Yoga. I had met the President, Master Amrita Suryananda, in the Parliament of World Religions last December in Melbourne. He sent two of his students to the University who invited me to visit their centre.

Afterwards I lectured to a group of 30 or 40 people at the ISKCON centre in Lisbon. I spoke about Chapter 12 in Bhagavad Gita, verses 8 to 12, in which Sri Krishna recommends different paths for spiritual advancement by order of priority. During my lecture I emphasized the practice of bhakti-yoga.

mayy eva mana adhatsva, mayi buddhim nivesaya/nivasisyasi mayy eva, ata urdhvam na samsayah

‘Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt’.

atha cittam samadhatum, na saknosi mayi sthiram/abhyasa-yogena tato, mam icchaptum dhananjaya

‘My dear Arjuna, O winner of wealth, if you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga. In this way develop a desire to attain Me’.

abhyase ‘py asamartho ‘si, mat-karma-paramo bhava/mad-artham api karmani, kurvan siddhim avapsyasi

‘If you cannot practice the regulations of bhakti-yoga, then just try to work for Me, because by working for Me you will come to the perfect stage’.

athaitad apy asakto ‘si, kartum mad-yogam asritah/sarva-karma-phala-tyagam, tatah kuru yatatmavan

‘If, however, you are unable to work in this consciousness of Me, then try to act giving up all results of your work and try to be self-situated’.

sreyo hi jnanam abhyasaj, jnanad dhyanam visisyate/dhyanat karma-phala-tyagas, tyagac chantir anantaram

‘If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. Better than knowledge, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for by such renunciation one can attain peace of mind’.

Note: Unfortunately I have not received the photos of this visit, so I finally decided to publish only the text.

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