March 7th, 2012 §
March 2, 2012: Summary of the Year 2011
My blog has been practically inactive for one full year. Despite the fact that some of my colleagues regularly reminded me to write, I have not managed to do it. It is a fact that 2011 has been an especially busy year. Besides my responsibilities as principal and teacher at Bhaktivedanta College, I accepted the role of rector for a Krishna conscious educational institute in Spain. It is named ‘Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta’, and it aims at contributing to the need for spiritual education of ISKCON devotees in the Spanish speaking world. The Instituto is located at Nueva Vrajamandala, the 300 Ha. Hare Krishna farm in Spain. By Krishna’s grace the first year has been successful, with a good number of students and teachers. I guess that this new project is a good excuse to justify my inability to keep up with the writing. One of the duties of a sannyasi monk, however, is writing: hence, my decision to review my priority list and to schedule quality time for sharing with others through this means.
In order to ‘catch up’ I will simply reflect on the experiences I had in 2011. As an itinerant monk, I visited eleven countries, some of them many times. Here goes a list of figures and places:
a. Spain: 145 days (11 times): Nueva Vrajamandala, Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga, Tenerife, the Sankirtana Party in Avila
b. Belgium: 139 days (16 times): Radhadesh and Antwerp
c. Cabo Verde: 21 days (1 time): Praia and Mindelo
d. United Kingdom: 17 days (4 times): Bhaktivedanta Manor, Leicester, London, Manchester and Chester University
e. India: 16 days (3 times): Mayapura, Mumbai, and Bangalore
f. United States: 10 days (1 time) Viraha Bhavan (Satsvarupa Dasa Gosvami´s ashram) in Upstate New York
g. Portugal: 6 days (2 times) Lisbon
h. Middle East – Mathuradesh: 3 days (1 time)
i. Germany: 3 days (1 time) Wiesbaden
j. Italy: 3 days (1 time) Villa Vrindavan
k. Holland: 2 days (1 time) Amsterdam
- In Spain I gave priority to establishing the Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta. The institute has operated fully from April to September. It has been a notorious success. More than 20 residential students participated, which contributed to increasing the temple program participation by more than four times. Many teachers also participated and enlivened the community. During the winter the institute operated one weekend every month. It has also been successful on a smaller scale (an average of 12-14 students per weekend).
- Belgium: Bhaktivedanta College is continuing to operating nicely with an average of 25 residential students. We plan to open a new academic programme in education, which should contribute to training teachers for ISKCON schools. We are targeting to increase the number of students in order to consolidate this project.
- Cabo Verde: Cabo Verde was a highlight this year. We were the first sankirtana party ever to visit this country. The party was composed of 4 devotees. We stayed 20 days in two main cities (Praia and Mindelo). We distributed nearly 1500 of Srila Prabhupada’s books, conducted 10 Harinamas and 19 public programs in universities, secondary schools, and cultural halls. We also met several authorities in the country, such as the Minister of Culture, and the Roman Catholic Bishop. People responded very favorably. We also distributed japa malas and taught people how to chant Hare Krishna japa.
Lecturing to students in Calheta, Cabo Verde
- United Kingdom: It was inspiring to see how well-organized and developed ISKCON Britain is. At Bhaktivedanta Manor, the temple authorities are headed by Srutidharma Prabhu, who along with the brahmacharis, organized programs in some homes, and a Diwali program at the Home Office (the government department dealing with police, immigration, and multi-cultural affairs). I also invested time in building relationships with leaders of the Krishna Avanti schools, a growing family of government-funded Hindu schools, whose faith organization is ISKCON. I’m interested in providing career opportunities to Bhaktivedanta College graduates. Krishna Avanti will need many new teachers in the coming years. Their needs match well with Bhaktivedanta College’s need to find placement for its graduates.
- In India I participated twice in ISKCON educational development meetings. These meetings were connected to the Strategic Planning work of ISKCON’s GBC (Governing Body Commission), the highest managerial ISKCON authority. My third trip was sponsored by the Portuguese Yoga Confederation so I could participate in an international Yoga conference. Radhanath Swami Maharaja was also present on behalf of ISKCON. Many influential yoga teachers of India, such as R.K.S. Iyengar, Ramdev Baba, and Sri Ravi Shankar, were present in the conference. It was agreed that a proposal would be brought to the United Nations and UNESCO to establish the summer solstice, June 21st as the World Yoga Day. Both Radhanath Swami and I lectured about bhakti-yoga during this event.
During the World Yoga Day conference in Bengaluru (Bangalore) at the Heardquarters of the Art of Living Foundation
HH Radhanatha Swami during his speech at the Yoga conference in Bengaluru
Yadunandana Swami's speech at the World Yoga Day conference
- In the US I mainly worked on finishing my academic paper (MA dissertation) focusing on issues related to sannyasa in ISKCON. It was very pleasing to spend time in the association of my beloved spiritual master, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, and the devotees who live with him.
- In Portugal I lectured at the ISKCON temple and at an international Yoga conference organized by the Portuguese Yoga Confederation.
- Mathuradesh is a thriving yatra. I was very inspired to see the excellent missionary work that has been developed by Jayapataka Swami, Vijaya Venugopal Prabhu, and his wife Prema Padmini Devi. The number of devotees is big, and they are very enthusiastic. I visited two cities in the country.
- In Germany, Dina Sharana Devi, the GBC representative, and Maha Vidya Devi, the national coordinator for Educational Development, organized workshop with leaders and educators. Rasamandala Prabhu and I facilitated the workshops. The German leaders and members who attended agreed on developing a team of educators and increasing the focus on Krishna conscious education as part of their strategy to spread Krishna consciousness and to consolidate the ISKCON communities in Germany.
- In Italy I attended the European ISKCON organizational meetings and took the opportunity to discuss educational development with Parabhakti Prabhu (temple president at Villa Vrindavana) and other Italian leaders and educators .
- Holland: I attended the Amsterdam Ratha Yatra festival. It was very successful, well-attended, and nicely organized.
The lifestyle of an active itinerant monk can sometimes be demanding. Nevertheless, when I reflect on how the services I have the good fortune to offer contribute to the spiritual lives of others, and on my own experience of inner satisfaction, I realize that it is worth the endeavor thousands of times. May Sri Krishna and His devotees bless this poor monk with a life of continuous service until his last breath.
February 17th, 2011 §
Cabo Verde, January 15, 2011
Today was the first day of our Sankirtana mission in Cabo Verde. Cabo Verde is a young country. It was a Portuguese colony for several centuries until it became independent in 1975. As far as I know this is the first time that a Sankirtana party comes to this small African country. The four team members for this mission are: Radha Govinda Prabhu, Rupa Vilasa Prabhu, Dina Sarana Prabhu and myself. Radha Govinda runs a centre in Porto (Portugal) together with his wife, Gopala Priya Devi Dasi, for the last 20 years. He is one of the pillars of ISKCON Portugal. Rupa Vilasa is a Portuguese brahmachari, who likes spiritual adventure and has enthusiasm to share Krsna Consciousness with others. He has a friendly gentle nature. Dina Sarana was born in Ukraine and is living in Lisbon for several years. He is married to a devotee from Gujarati background, Damodara Priya Devi Dasi. Both of them are kind souls and very sincere devotees. I am very happy to be in the company of these three wonderful devotees.
We reached Cabo Verde late last night. During our flight we distributed our first Bhagavad Gita and three small books. We gave the Bhagavad Gita to Mr. Godinho, the general manager for Cabo Verde Airlines in Lisbon, who helped us to get the cheapest fares possible. I gave the three small books to the stewardess team. Particularly, there was one Cabo Verdian stewardess, Myléne, who expressed appreciation for India when she saw me wearing Indian robes. It turned out that she knew about Krishna and yoga. She has arranged a contact with a lady who has been teaching yoga. Today Radha Govinda fixed an appointment with this yoga teacher for tomorrow, Sunday evening, in order to explore what we can do for them.
Our flight from Lisbon was delayed for a few hours. Radha Govinda has made several preparatory arrangements. There was one Mr. Alcides waiting for us at the airport. Mr. Alcides is the president of a youth association named Youth Association Black Panthers. Mr. Alcides came with Eduardo, a young man who belongs to this association and who, so far, has been very capable and helpful. We stayed the first night in a nice Eurolines hotel and today at noon time Eduardo brought us to a football association related to the FIFA. We are renting two rooms in this place. We can also use a shower room, kitchen, and refectory. No other people seem to be occupying rooms these days. So we have our own space. The facilities are austere, but not extreme.
We used the first day to settle and to start getting a feeling for our field of action. Eduardo, Mr. Alcides’ right hand man came punctually at noon time to help us move from the hotel to our fixed base for our first leg of the trip in Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde. When we reached our place, many things were missing and it took time to make the practical arrangements. There were no proper facilities for cooking. In the kitchen we had been promised, for example, the gas bottle was empty and some pieces that connect the stove with the gas bottle were missing. In addition, we lacked ingredients and it was Ekadasi day. It took a long time until Dina Sarana and Rupa Vilasa managed to prepare a subji with sweet potatoes, squash, and few other vegetables. We ate lunch at 5.00 pm.
After lunch we decided to go for a walk to the “Plateau”, the central part of Praia, in order to inspect the area before having an evening meeting in which we intended to define our strategy. Our place is very well located. The Parliament is across the street, and the Plateau is located only five to ten minutes walk distance. The National Library and a cultural centre are also very close. We were told by Mr. Godinho to be careful at night, that is from 6.00 pm onwards, as it seems that there are active thieves around the city after sunset. We walked around the main plaza and a main pedestrian street. National elections are scheduled to take place on February 6. We found that in the main street a group of people had started campaigning in favor of one of the candidates for the post of Prime Minister. The way of campaigning had some similarities to a Harinama party, but with a different object of glorification. People were dancing, playing drums, and singing. Seeing this I thought that people of Cabo Verde would easily relate to public Kirtan. During our walk we distributed four small books to people who approached us to inquire. In the main pedestrian street, there was also a group of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art developed during the slavery period, which is disguised as dance and musical performance. The leading person in the singing group called me and complimented us by saying that he was very happy to see us in Cabo Verde. He gladly accepted a small book I offered him. Nadine, a journalist of a weekly journal, also stopped us and asked for how long we plan to be in Cabo Verde. She wants to interview us for the next issue which will be published next Friday. We exchanged contact details and will fix an appointment tomorrow or day after tomorrow by phone. Luckily Dina Sarana brought a mobile phone and bought a local phone card so that we can use it when we need it. I purposely avoid having a mobile phone, but I must admit that sometimes they are really useful.
First contact with the people of Cabo Verde
One of the first recipients of Prabhupada's books in Cabo Verde
Some people were greeting us by saying “Namaste” and folding hands, which, in the beginning, was both pleasantly surprising and puzzling for us. Shortly after, we found out that, by Krishna’s arrangement, we have reached Cabo Verde in an excellent time. The main TV channel is showing a Brazilian novel entitled “Caminhos Da India” (“Paths of India”). It is very popular and has made people very receptive to Indian culture. It seems that Krishna is mentioned regularly in the film and that it also includes many traditional Hindu ways, which makes people feel at ease with and attracted to us.
After our first exploratory evening walk, which gave us anticipation and enthusiasm, we made a general plan for the next twenty days and a specific one for next day, Sunday. We have calculated that in order to distribute the 1600 small books and 100 Bhagavad Gitas we have shipped beforehand, we should distribute an average of 100 small books and 5 Bhagavad Gitas per day. We decided that tomorrow we will go out on Harinama and distribute more than 100 small books we brought in our suitcases. Hopefully on Monday we will be able to collect, from the port of Praia, the sixteen boxes of shipped books.
Sunday, 16th January 2011
After our morning program and breakfast at our base, we went to the Plateau full of anticipation for our first Harinama in Cabo Verde. We carried mrdanga, kartalals, and a harmonium that, according to Dina Sarana, was personally made by Aindra Prabhu, the outstanding 24 hour kirtaniya of ISKCON Vrindavan. We took also more than 100 books “Krsna the Reservoir of Pleasure”. We had planned that we will sing for awhile and when people would gather around us, Dina Sarana and Rupa Vilasa would pass around books to the people. While they distribute the books Radha Govinda, our best Portuguese speaking mission member, would speak a few words and request that those who have money should contribute for the books. What it really happened, however, was quite different. Firstly, there were not many people in the street, at the beginning. We found out that people were attending the church. Only children were around. We were told that the Mass will end at 11.30 am and that then more people will come out. We decided to start singing and “warm up”. Gradually people started to come; most of them showed genuine interest. At some point we stopped the kirtan and tried to put into practice our plan. Radha Govinda started to speak according to what had been decided the previous day. It became evident, however, that these persons were extremely eager to receive what we were offering –they were literally taking the books from our distributors´ hands by force. In addition, we noticed that the vast majority of them were not able to contribute. All of us unanimously agreed that, considering the limited time we have, the poverty of the people, and overall, their enormous interest, it was best to adjust the strategy. We decided to freely distribute the small books, kindly sponsored by European devotees, to everyone who shows genuine interest. We trust that no books will be wasted.
First street Harinama
Many young people felt attracted to the Hare Krishna Sunday street Kirtan
Many people expressed interest and curiosity for what we were doing
At the end of the morning Harinama we met a nice couple, Sanza and Susana. Sanza teaches philosophy to students in their last years of Secondary (16 to 18 years old). As many people of Cabo Verde do, Sanza was studying outside his country in order acquire knowledge and skills that he can use in developing his homeland. Susana, his wife, is from Coimbra, Portugal. Both of them were extremely amicable and they accompanied us from the Plateau to the place we are staying. We have agreed that next Friday we will go to the school where Sanza teaches and that we will speak to his students about our tradition. He is enthused about the idea and so are we. It seems that we will speak to two groups of 60-70 students each time, and that next week we can speak to another two groups, if we like.
On the way to our place, Sanza took us to see a statue of Amilcar Cabral, a powerful personality in Cabo Verde and Guinea, who is credited for having achieved that Cabo Verde and Guinea Bissau are respectively recognized as independent countries. Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in 1973. He did not manage to see the results of his work and ideals, as Portugal granted independence only in 1975. It is still a mystery who was behind the plot that caused his death: whether the Portuguese, the Cape Verdians, or his own countrymen from Guinea Bissau.
In the afternoon we went out on Harinama again. As soon as we sat on the floor (we are using a nice blanket given to us by Krishna Puja Devi Dasi from Portugal), and before we started to sing, many curious people came to us and asked permission to sit with us. Radha Govinda Prabhu briefly introduced us and what we were going to do, taught them the maha-mantra, and invited them to sing along, which they did with gusto. The afternoon was even better than the morning. More numbers came who expressed interest. Many of them were personally welcoming us to Cabo Verde and expressed happiness that we were playing nice music. At the end of this Harinama session we had finished the more than one hundred books we carried in our luggage.
Radha Govinda and I had to stop at 5.30 pm because we had a couple of appointments at 6.00 pm which had been arranged my Myléne, the Cabo Verdian stewardess we met when entering the country. We walked to an area named Achada de Santo Antonio, a medium to high class neighborhood. There we met with Myléne and two educated mature ladies who have opened a yoga cultural association named Prana. Any and Dulce are cousins of Myléne and they asked us many favorable questions. At the moment their association is not very active because it is expensive to rent a suitable place to teach yoga. They told us that there are many people in Cabo Verde who are interested in yoga, but that what they can contribute is too little to maintain their own place. We agreed that we will inform them when we have fixed our public programs and Dulce will circulate the information among their people. During our meeting, Susana, the philosophy teacher´s wife, also joined us. She came to make sure that we reached our appointment safely. She also wanted to take us to meet one of her friends, a Spanish lady who owns an Indian restaurant, “Lotus” along with her husband, Aju, an Indian man born in the Canary Islands. After our meeting with Myléne and her cousins we took a taxi in order to reach the restaurant safely. Susana told us that at this time of the evening it was risky to go by walk. Recently she had been robbed by some men who carried knives.
We had a very nice meeting with Emilia, Aju, and Susana. We broaden our perspective on the reality of Cabo Verde by hearing the views of three foreign people who are living and working in Cabo Verde for many years. Their main challenge was to cope with the general low moral standards, the lack of family responsibility of the people, their insufficient cleanliness habits, and the shortage of water and electrical power some times. I thought that they were too negative, but it gave us another perspective of the local social situation, so that we do not become unrealistically optimistic. Emilia asked us if we can bring her a japa mala, which we promised to do as soon as we can.
We reached our base by taxi at 10.00 pm, where we had an analysis of the day with our colleagues Rupa Vilas and Dina Sarana.
July 9th, 2010 §
June 17 to 23, Bhaktivedanta Manor, Watford, United Kingdom
During the last six days I have attended the II European Brahmachari Conference at Bhaktivedanta Manor. Sixty five brahmachari monks, most of them from Europe, and seven sannyasis have participated. The purpose of this conference is to inspire European brahmacharis in their spiritual responsibilities. In the long term the goal is to revive the brahmachari-ashrama in Europe.
According to the ancient spiritual tradition of the Vedas, the practice of brahmacharya is highly recommended for young men. The same principle applies also to women, but in the classical Indian tradition it was formally practiced mainly by men. Brahmachari means celibate student. The student learns from early age to focus his attention on the essential spiritual wisdom revealed in the Vedas. In order to develop a high moral and spiritual character, students practice celibacy, sacred textual study, selfless service, and austerity. Traditionally, students would practice brahmacharya starting at the age of 5 until they became 25. After an established period of brahmacharya, the student would decide to start a family or, sometimes, would continue living as a monk for the rest of his life. The values of brahmacharya are in sharp contrast with the greatly promoted present lifestyle of sense indulgence. Therefore, for young brahmachari men an annual conference in which they can reaffirm their values is greatly appreciated.
Brahmacharis from all over Europe performed Kirtan with great enthusiasm
The conference included many seminars, lectures, and profound discussions
Eagerness to hear spiritual wisdom and to learn
Janananda Goswami inspired everyone to swim in the blissful ocean of Kirtan
The conference included seminars, lectures, panel discussions, kirtan sessions, and the famous London Ratha Yatra festival, which was celebrated on Sunday June 20.
Many thousands participated during the Ratha Yatra parade
Devotees sang and danced with full spiritual happiness
London Ratha Yatra is a wonderful tribute to Srila Prabhupada, inspirer of Ratha Yatras around the world
The programme culminated in Trafalgar Square
July 9th, 2010 §
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.
June 1st, 2010 §
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
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.
April 18th, 2010 §
This is a first entry of a series of recollections I intend to write narrating some of the external and internal experiences I go through during my travels. I may write them step by step in the places I visit, or take some time to write them at the end of a specific tour, as I’m doing in this initial text.
Spanish Tour, 23 March to 12 April
As Spanish is my mother tongue and I have many friends in Spain, I frequently travel around Spain. As a sannyasi monk, I have an inner call to meet people and tell them about the importance of spiritual life. I like to share whatever wisdom I have received from my teachers, from spiritual study and practice, and from life itself. I feel grateful that God, Sri Krishna, is always offering many gifts through all these means and people. Nothing happens by chance, but everything has a particular purpose for each and every living being involved. I pray to be able to always remember this fact and to also positively contribute to the lives of others. Sometimes I think that I would like to be able to decipher Krishna´s teachings in everything and through everyone. On the other hand, many times I just desire to be able to accept Krishna´s generous offerings without necessarily understanding the specific meanings of every incident.
During this trip I visited Barcelona, Mataró, Nueva Vrajamandala (the Hare Krishna farm in Brihuega, Guadalajara), Madrid, Málaga, and Ceuta. I did most of the travelling by car with Visnu Dharma Dasa, a devotee friend who kindly drives me once a year to different places in Spain where I lecture and meet different kinds of people. During the second part of the trip Prema Pradip Dasa joined us. Prema Pradip is a kind and peaceful Spanish Hare Krishna devotee who is presently living in the UK. He works as a part-time teacher and also is an active member of the RadhaKrishna Deaf people Association (RKDA) in the UK. The RKDA aims to communicate the Vaishnava teachings to deaf people through the sign languages. It also helps these persons to practice bhakti-yoga by adapting the practices to their needs. For example, they chant the mantra Hare Krishna by signaling with their hands.
- From Left to Right, Krishna Kripa Dasa, Prema Pradip Dasa, Visnu Dharma Dasa, and Chaitanya Chandra Dasa
Some highlights of this trip were participating in successful meetings for the development of Nueva Vrajamandala, a joyful festival event and teaching a four day intensive course on communications skills, also at Nueva Vrajamandala; teaching a seminar on ‘Narratives of Death and Eternal Life in the Srimad Bhagavatam’ at the Cultural Centre Hare Krishna in Madrid, and lecturing at the Dharma-Yoga centre in Ceuta.
I taught the above mentioned Communications course together with Krishna Kripa Dasa, the Communications Director of ISKCON Spain and Director of the Dharma-yoga centre in Ceuta, where I later lectured. This lecture was entitled ‘The Yoga Ladder and the Yoga-sutras’. It was attended by an audience of 30 persons.After the lecture there were an aratika (worship) ceremony and Kirtana (singing of mantras, spiritual songs). Finally, a delicious feast cooked by Radhapriya Dasi, Krishna Kripa’s wife, was distributed to all the participants, who left the event in a happy mood. A one page article on this programme was published in the local newspaper ‘El Faro de Ceuta’.
In Ceuta I also was fortunate to spent time with Hari Narayana Dasa and his family. Hari Narayana is an excellent example in terms of long life spiritual commitment as a Vaishnava devotee, caring and responsible householder, and generosity for good causes. He is active in ISKCON since the late 70s and has pioneered Krishna conscious programmes in Ceuta since the early 80s. In addition, his wife Krishna Rupa Dasi, and daughter in law, Ana, are excellent cooks. They fed us deliciously and sumptuously when we visited their home.
- Hari Narayana Dasa (right) and Yadunandana Swami (left) embrace in Ceuta
- Lecture at the Dharma Yoga Centre in Ceuta
- A practical demonstration during the Communications course
- Group work at the Communications course in New Vrajamandala
- Group picture at the end of the course with Radha-Krishna mudras