Written by Sesa Das
At around 5:30 am on Tuesday 11 July, Kadamba Kanana Maharaj set off from Radhadesh to catch a flight from Brussels to Newark, USA. After few hours in Brussels airport, 7.5 hours in the air flying & an hour or so going through immigration and picking up bags, Maharaj was received by Vasudeva Prabhu & a few other disciples who took him to the Bhakti Centre, in the heart of New York City (The Big Apple), the location where Srila Prabhupada first began publicly spreading his mission to the masses!
Adi Purusa Prabhu (ACBSP) kindly accommodated Maharaj at his studio apartments which usually he rents out to university students or travellers. Conveniently, the apartments are only two streets away from the Bhakti Centre & neighbouring with the NYC Hell’s Angels!
First day in New York
The next morning, Maharaj led an ecstatic Guru-puja that had everyone dancing within minutes & went on to give the Srimad-Bhagavatam class on the 5th Canto, 19th Chapter, Verse 26. He mentioned that the immigration officer stamped his passport and said, “Enjoy,” which made Maharaj think about the marshmallow test where a child is put in a room alone with a marshmallow in front of them. The child is told that they have the option of eating the one marshmallow now or if they wait for 10 minutes, they could have two marshmallows. Interestingly, later in life, they checked up on the children from the experiment and found out that those who controlled themselves turned out to be more successful in their careers, education, family life, etc…
Shaking our worlds as he does, Maharaj then stated this whole world is a massive marshmallow! Everyone is controlled by lusty desires. If there is no happy ending then what is the point in all the temporary benefits that we want!? A more intelligent person looks at the long-term benefits & how to ‘control against the marshmallow’. But knowledge isn’t the only thing we need, also regular spiritual practice really anchors our character. Our only real option is to develop attachment to Krsna. Unknowingly we are attached to Krsna in many ways. Imagine for a moment someone came up to you and said you are not allowed to chant Hare Krsna! Yes, life is hard but refraining from that would be even more difficult for us now.
Tompkins Square Park
Later that morning, Maharaj took a group of us to the Tompkins Square Park, the first place in the West that Srila Prabhupada began chanting the Holy Name in public. On the way Maharaj was giving a whole seminar explaining the Gaudiya lineage to Syamasundari dd. One-to-one he was teaching her about various personalities such as Madhavendra Puri & how he was able to spread love of Godhead before Lord Caitanya had even come. As we arrived in Tompkins Square Park and sat down by the original Hare Krsna tree that Srila Prabhupada sat under to chant, Maharaj continued to speaking on the lineage and how it’s crucial for everyone in this movement to know & understand it fully.
Then a lady from New York came and sat next to us. She was extremely friendly and told us how she finds this tree & area so special as she can feel a different type of energy surcharged in this area! Amazing! As we were leaving, Maharaj told her & us how actually it is a desire tree! Once Maharaj had thought to himself, “I have seen tree hugging a lot but never done it mysel, but this is a special tree,” so he went up to it, gave the tree a hug & prayed to become an instrument in spreading this Movement. Right there and then as he turned around a young American boy was said to Maharaj, “What do I have to do to become a monk like you?” So it’s a real desire tree! Then the lady said, “Wow! That’s amazing! But first I guess I have to align & have the right desires,” & this was very thoughtful of her to say, so we all appreciated it. As we were about to leave, the thought came to me, “Mhmm, Maharaj hugged this tree and prayed so I should too.” As everyone was going off, I quickly sneaked to an angle where I was hoping no-one would be able to see me do this. Then suddenly Vishvambhar Caitanya Prabhu saw and then Maharaj also. Vishvambhar decided it was a good idea & came over to do it too. As I tried to style it out and act like I wasn’t doing anything Maharaj then got his phone out to take a photo and said, “Go hug it again, I’m telling you to!!!” What could we do. Anyways, it is the Hare Krsna Tree.
After lunch Maharaj then took a handful of disciples to Matchless Gifts on 26th 2nd Avenue, the first Hare Krsna Temple Srila Prabhupada opened in the USA. Amazing to see how close the Bhakti Centre is to both these spiritual hubs (Matchless Gifts and Tompkins Square Park) of early ISKCON. As we walked to the Storefront, it felt surreal that New York is a real place. We all felt as if on a chaotic movie set. How to even imagine what it was like 50 years ago… We entered the storefront & it was as if we had been transported to a completely different abode! It was not New York, inside was completely vibrating with transcendental energy. The whole place was just buzzing with Srila Prabhupada’s presence. Maharaj led a kirtan & then began to speak about how Prabhupada brought us here & asked us to pray for his blessings to live up to this difficult path he revealed to the world. It is one thing to believe in something but how much do we believe that we can live up to it? We don’t doubt what Srila Prabhupada said but rather our ability to live them out. Just as Sanatana Goswami got many instructions and then humbly fell down to pray to Lord Caitanya that these instructions may manifest in him, similarly we have the same instructions that Srila Prabhupada gave in Matchless Gifts & more information than they had back then. In this way, Maharaj made us understand and appreciated the depth of Krsna Conscious energy in this Hare Krsna Storefront. Then to help us all reflect deeper he went around the room and make each individual say a few words of their experience here, which was enlivening to hear.
That evening Maharaj spoke at the Bhakti Centre from the Caitanya Caritamrta drawing out lessons on how to become empowered. Maharaj spoke on the need to go beyond the material identity and world, to connect to Lord Caitanya our saviour and that real empowerment gives happiness beyond temporary happiness. What a first day in the heart of USA!
Day 2 in New York
The next morning Maharaj continued giving the Srimad-Bhagavatam classes on the 5th Canto. Maharaj was mainly speaking on the points of how Krsna is directly behind everything and doing everything for our benefit. Sometimes we are in a good pious position and become a little proud & other times we are forced to become a mouse again. We question, “What did I do? Why this reaction?” We break our leg and then break our head trying to figure out why… so to us, karma seems blind; we are used to instant explanations, solutions & answers. But karma is like training an animal, it is needed because it reduces our power to enjoy & Lord it over things. This reduction is humbling and purifies us & we must know for certain that Krsna knows what is needed for us!
Later that day, Maharaj decided to take a few of us on a walk to the Central Park, a beautifully scenic park which has a total area of around 340 hectares. Known as an urban monument for decades, the park now has over 25 million visitors per year! It was quite a japa walk! Maharaj took us on the scenic route, but none-the-less we got to see people playing baseball, musicians busking, people electronically driving small motorboats in ponds, a variety of trees & much more. It was quite a vigorous walk, & Alok was sweating, starting & stopping throughout the walk but he pulled through.
The following morning’s Srimad Bhagavatam class was about how Vedic culture has been lost but still the remnants of the culture, like respect, is still there in India. Maharaj told us the story of when he was going to the Kumbhamela in Haridwar & the police stopped the bus & made everyone get off in the middle of the night & so people just began walking to Haridwar instead & they didn’t even know which direction to go but just began. Then finally when they arrived after hours of walking they became so excited to see the Ganga that even the old, fragile ladies jumped into the ice-cold Ganga! They were really relishing it. So we see, India and people of India are like dry-grass, ready to be ignited! The spiritual world’s culture & love is reflected in India. Maharaj ended the class on an eye-opening pointed stating that Krsna will scare off people who aren’t ready to go the extra mile for Him. Krsna makes us but He really tests us too!
Later that day I was invited by some devotees to go to the Doughnut Plant & Maharaj said to me, “You’ve come all this way! You must go there!” Thanking him, I went & had an amazing feast of doughnuts! You must experience them if in NYC!
Every Thursday evening the Bhakti Centre opens their doors for their weekly kirtan evening. HH Bhakti Rasayana Sagar Swami also was there, having just landed in NYC. Maharaj began around 7pm and the room began to fill up, everyone easing in to the night ahead of kirtans. Ananta Govinda Prabhu took over playing mrdanga and you could see Maharaj was now eager to build up atmosphere a notch. Maybe on the recording you will hear Maharaj also playing the harmonium keys with funky beats like a mrdanga. The intensity in the atmosphere was building up. People looked shocked as the ecstasy of the kirtan began taking over more and more. Suddenly people began dancing, letting lose & constantly singing. Then towards the end, Maharaj just couldn’t hold it in even one moment more! He put the harmonium aside and just jumped up & the whole room was just vibrating with the chanting of Hare Krsna and everyone dancing! What a transcendental night that will never be forgotten by all that were there or who hear the recording!
Meeting HH Jayadvaita Swami
After the year we know he’s had, Maharaj really desired to spend some time with HH Jayadvaita Swami. The two of them met & it was wonderful for a few of us to see such a close relationship of Guru-disciple but also of deep trust & love. One evening, they were in the New Jersey temple for a Q&A & afterward Kadamba Kanana Maharaj led an ecstatic kirtan in which the majority were up dancing & he had 5 mrdanga players all playing in sync & attempting to keep up with him.
The next day, Maharaj went to Vasudeva Prabhu’s family house, where his mother-in-law had cooked an amazing lunch that Maharaj was looking forward to. Seeing their beautiful deities Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha, Maharaj remembered Radhadesh as Vishvambhar Caitanya Prabhu was also there. It was a wonderful lunch meeting to bring an end to Maharaj’s visit to NYC as he was set to fly back to Brussels few hours later.
On the way to the airport, many things were highlighted in my mind. The USA tour was a surreal tour. It was like being in a very weird movie set, completely lost in another world. It was wonderful to see the real jewels and mercy Srila Prabhupada had given were still accessible to us all now, today!
Visit Flickr to see all the photos.