Written by Nandan
Srimad Bhagavatam 7.8.19-24
The temple deities were stunning as always. It never fails to astonish me how the pujaris can dress the deities so beautifully every day! It is like there is never an off-day, the deities are on form, every day, day after day. And this is not just in Radhadesh, every Iskcon temple one sees the same phenomena. The most attractive deities one can imagine, in the most striking clothes, every day, all year around. No wonder, even followers of other spiritual groups come to visit our temples and seek advice on deity worship.
On this morning (26 April), the temple room was full but not overflowing like yesterday. No doubt, many devotees were still resting from the previous night’s kirtan. Following on from yesterday’s morning class, Maharaj continued with his outstanding exposition on Hiranyakashipu’s consciousness.
Hiranyakashipu may be the prototype demon but the Lord outdid Hiranyakashipu not just in terms of strength but also in intelligence. And he appeared before Hiranyakashipu neither as a human or an animal, not during the day or night or inside or outside….that’s supreme intelligence. And Krsna gifts us our intelligence as he declares in the Bhagavad-gita.
But then Maharaj had enough of talking about Hiranykashipu and wanted to focus on Prahlad Maharaj. We have to really embrace Prahlad’s mood, he said. It is not just trying to conquer lust and anger but about positive engagement. Prahlad was always fully absorbed in ecstasy despite all the trials and tribulations. This state is not found through determination but through building up of taste by sato vritteh (following in the footsteps of the acharyas) and regularity of spiritual practice. Of course, sato vritteh does not mean we imitate the Goswamis but we embrace their spirit. Maharaj said in this regard, “… like when I had shingles, I was only sleeping one hour a night and I realized I ain’t no Goswami!!!” But regularity must be there. So we need to get absorbed like Prahlad and if we feel a vacuum; then we know we have to put in more. But Maharaj made it clear that to get ecstasy from Krsna, we have to make the first step.
Vyasa Puja Ceremony
Finally, we got to the event of the day. We were in the community room and it was packed to the brim and beyond, as expected. Tulsi Prabhu started of singing the Guruvastakam prayers in a melody that no one but he and Maharaj seemed to know of. Right till the end of the prayers, a lot of the devotees were still trying to get a handle on how the melody was going! And during the melody, Sesa Prabhu went to present the Vyasa Puja book to Maharaj which he had so painstakingly put together. Everyone had that mood of reverence and sobriety. Maharaj himself was actually looking pretty chilled out with his limbs casually stretched out.
Gurudas soon came to the front and started off with a few jokes just to relax the atmosphere. He went onto recollecting various life experiences and crisscrossing paths with Maharaj. After the introduction, Krsna Kirtan Prabhu came on and narrated a sober, deeply touching Vyasa Puja offering made by HH Sacinandana Swami. Sacinandana Swami spoke of how he loves and cares for Kadamba Kanana Swami and also told him not to neglect the needs of the body. Really moving and tender and so inspiring to see the loving feelings exalted vaishnavas have towards each other. It was like being privy to something precious that you are not really qualified to witness.
Gurudas then recited a beautiful Celtic prayer in honour of Maharaj. It was gifted to him by a Scottish church. Soon the offerings by the disciples were being shared one after another. Too many to count but all full of sincerity and heart. Srila Prabhupada disciple, Jaya Badhra Mataji mentioned how she pictured Maharaj as this principled, exuberant but kind personality who was boldly leading a battalion of fearless, exhilarated kirtaneers. It was a nice image to conjure.
Then young Nimai (Maharaj’s plucky, German servant) came up and recalled how he was making a right ‘balls up’ of putting up a mosquito net and then he quoted Maharaj’s priceless response… every German isn’t an engineer after all! This brought out some hearty chuckles, particularly from the European devotees. Nimai went onto reminisce how Maharaj was in poor health once and promised that he would lead a kirtan for only 45 minutes in Soweto. Of course, he believed Maharaj and Maharaj ended up leading the kirtan for 2 hours and everyone started dancing on stage, so the stage effectively became a trampoline!! He then finished off by saying, “Traveling with you has been the best experience of my life!”
To hear a lot of the offerings was quite humbling and not always easy for a reprobate like myself to relate to. There was talk of seeing his holy feet, thanking him for giving them life, taking the sacred dust of his feet and living to please him! Scripturally one understands this is the mood but to hear it from a modern day devotee is something else. If anything, it made me realise I have nowhere near that level of devotion!
One offering that particularly stood out for me was Sutapa Prabhu’s. He started off by stating that the Guru disciple relationship is like a tennis match. He hits the ball in your court and you have to work with it. Otherwise if you don’t hit it back, the match will become a little stale.
After the offerings Gurudas announced the commencement of Maharaj’s kirtans and speech.
Vyasa Puja Address to Disciples
Maharaj then started explaining that when Rama and Sita crossed the river, the bees were also crossing the river but after being intoxicated with honey. Hence they couldn’t fly straight. But there was one bee who wasn’t intoxicated, he didn’t drink the honey but simply took them across, like a Guru. That was what he was, the Guru…..
Our purpose is to become residents of the spiritual world, to bee with the gopas, gopis, the cows and the dust. We hear these things again and again. We serve and we hear and little by little we start to get familiar with the pastimes. Then the weight starts shifting from our material leg to the spiritual leg… As the weight shifts to the spiritual leg, the entire world becomes spiritual and then we realize we were already there.
Maharaj pressed upon the need to give to the community of the devotees. Initially we come to the movement and we start hoarding the prasadam but eventually, we must turn around and give to others. Then that recurring theme came out in Maharaj’s message about caring for each other. He confessed to burning out a few devotees in the past and the problem is that there are only a few devotees in the world as it is. We may call ourselves the “international society” but really, after a year you start to recognize everyone! Like in a village, so it’s imperative that we make a contribution to the vaishnavas….
Maharaj elucidated on the topic of real freedom, stating that he was born a Dutchman with a rebellious spirit and he seems to attract a bunch of rebellious people. So naturally rebellious people need space, so he is here to create that space for us in Lord Caitanya’s movement.
But this was balanced with the principle that one who wants freedom must take responsibility for themselves. So ultimately the ball is back in our court. Particular stress was given to not getting attracted with pretty things like sex desire. Let’s be real; it won’t fulfil us. So let’s not make too much of it. The world is oversexed now and makes far too much of it… Maybe some people need a bit of romance but then keep it within the boundaries Krsna lays for us. Don’t go beyond that; as it’s the same script again and again…
In reference to the recent health scare, Maharaj expressed how he would like to be with us for many more years. Even though he could not attend the Kingsday parade the next day, he heartfully requested all of us to go for it in the harinam and to pass on the message to Lokanath Maharaj to really ‘cook it up’ in the tunnel….
The talk was followed by the ceremonial flower offerings and the Guruvandana prayers keenly led by Gour Mohan Prabhu (a young, witty sankirtan devotee from Germany) and then we were off to the tent for the famous Vyasa Puja feast…
Due to the difficult weather, the tent was quite chilly and it took some getting used to. But when the feast came, such discomforts were easily overlooked. The feast was magnificent. Even after being vegetarian for six years now, I am still sometimes amazed at how delicious vegetarian food can be. Notwithstanding the spiritual effect of it being prasadam; this feast really bought out that feeling. There weren’t so many dishes as other Iskcon feasts, but this was a good thing. It meant one could focus on and relish what was there instead of getting bewildered by too many items. There were these fried, squidgy, lentil cubes with tamarind chutney; fried rice with herbs and creamy vegetable sabji. But the dish that really smashed it was the spinach and paneer curry. The paneer chunks were huge – the size of babies’ fists and so soft and succulent. For dessert there was an assortment of sweets such as the Vyasa Puja sponge cake with cream and srikand with sweet fritters. The one thing that could’ve been better was the drink. Frankly, it was too sweet a but it was an incredible feast regardless… and thanks to Pradyumna and Mahibarta Prabhus for their effort.
Later there was more revelry as devotees from the British yatra put on a drama based on the famous ‘Narada Muni and the cobbler’ pastime. It was a hoot! Soon after, Maharaj decided to retire to his room and practically those same devotees who were in the drama decided to follow him back! Everyone was feeling quite relaxed in Maharaj’s room. There was that feeling of just being with Maharaj that was nice. Not asking loads of questions or having deep, intense conversations but just being in Maharaj’s company. That was nice. There wasn’t even that much talking, the conversations were quite sporadic, a few words here and there, then gaps of comfortable stillness where Maharaj would just lean back on his chair and the devotees would quietly meditate on what Maharaj had said or simply bask in his association.
Tulsi Prabhu’s Guruvastakam prayers came up. Maharaj joked how no one got the melody… at all! But he really appreciated it, being familiar with that melody. In fact, he clarified that it was the correct Guruvastakam melody to be sung at that time of day. While on the subject, Maharaj clarified another thing; during the foot wash there is no need to sing the Guruvandana prayers. Instead that is the time to be singing the Guruvastakam prayers!
Another topic that was raised was how Maharaj would boldly stop a kirtan if the devotees were not singing the melody properly or missing some beats etc. Whilst devotees had a little giggle at this, Maharaj did assert that the deeper issue is of not listening properly. As a movement, we are trying to transfer knowledge and communicate with others. At the same time, good listening is also required. This applies to following instructions and listening to classes as well. A lot of the time Maharaj noticed that people just associate what they are hearing with their own pre conceived notions. For example, if there is a class on varnasrama; they wouldn’t actually hear what was being said. They would go away, just knowing that the topic was varnasrama and their own stereotypical version of it. A very relevant point which a lot of us have to be mindful of….
Before winding down for the night, Maharaj encouraged all the disciples assembled to have fun tomorrow. He admitted that for such an event, some spiritual leadership is certainly required. But even though he won’t be there, there will be other stalwart devotees such as Lokanatha Swami to build up the energy and strength.
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HH Kadamba Kanana Maharaj ki Jai!