Another post by Indresh.
Below are 4 pictures from ISKCON Laguna Beach. A while back I was in Anaheim on a business trip, had not touched my rounds, did not feel like doing them in the hotel and had a strong desire to go see Gauranga in Laguna Beach since it had been a couple of years.
I drove with my business clothes still on and took wonderful darshan. Gauranga and His devotees are merciful and a devotees asked me to do kirtan. Afterwards, a mataji came with a heaping plate of maha prasadam and although tempted I realized it may be a lot of the maha and there were other devotees and just took a bit. I got what I came for...darshan of the Lord.
As the sun sets I chant my rounds on the beach almost feeling my rounds got done too fast.
I loved the prasadam serving sign as well...simple...straight forward and things that make you go hmmmm :-)
A few weeks later I am back in Toronto and we are approached by an integrator from Laguna Beach of all places! Perhaps next time I will personally make that customer visit and get more darshan...
All glories to Srila Prabhupada and his caring and merciful devotees.
As promised this segment of the travel journal needs to wrap up in time for Putrada Ekadasi. The post describing the glories of this Ekadasi will be posted next.
As you will see in the pictures below, the next stop was New Kulina Gram, ISKCON Baltimore. Gaura-Nitai deities were absolutely gorgeous and reminded me of Gaura-Nitai at Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan. We enjoyed more devotee association, hospitaility and of ourse prasadam.
The real story is how fortunate we are that Srila Prabhupada has given us so many of HIS houses. We are all connected because of Srila Prabhupada and without him we would not even know each other, what to speak of sharing in sravanam kirtanam. Through the travel journal I have mentioned many names but we have the deepest appreciation for all those sincere souls that are carrying on Srila Prabhupada's movement with Prabhupada's instructions and interests in mind. We are also very humbled and grateful to all the devotees who welcomed us, were so hospitable, showed us so much regard and provided us their valuable association.
It was a Krishna pilgrimage but we did sneak in a day to show the kids around Washington as typical tourists.
As we marveled at the Capitol building I could not help to think about the story of how Srila Prabhupada closely observed the Capitol building when devotees took him there on July 4th to see fireworks. I am not sure how it all happend but I could not help to imagine Srila Prabhupada on a blanket surrounded by a few close devotees intimately watching fireworks on the lawn. What a scene that must have been and how fortunate those devotees were to get this type of association.
So I looked up that particular story and will end this journal segment with the words of the uttama-adhikari, Srila Prabhupada...
During 1976 Srila Prabhupada spoke frequently about the Mayapur planetarium. He was in Washington DC for the bi-centennial celebrations.
On July 4 the devotees took him on a tour of the city and afterwards they sat with him for some time on a lawn at the end of the Mall, looking towards the Capitol building waiting for the fireworks display.
Srila Prabhupada seems to have been meditating on the Capitol building dome and liked what he saw because on July 6, he called in Yadubara prabhu and his wife Vishakha and asked them to take photos of the Capitol Building:
Prabhupada: … I wanted both of you to take various detailed photographs of that Capitol.
Yadubara: The Capitol Building. For what purpose, Srila Prabhupada?
Prabhupada: We shall have picture, planetarium in Mayapura. (aside) That’s better. [break] …spiritual world, material world, and so on, so on. Planetary…succession of the planetary systems, everything. A building like that.
Prabhupada: …to attract people from all the world to see the planetarium.
[A reminder note that this article series is being written by Indresh, so references make sense].
For the most part, we were finding hotels as we drove. However we had the bright idea to book through Expedia before arriving into Washington. When we arrived we found a hotel in the middle of construction and after multiple room changes we got a room with light fixtures missing in the bathroom. So between the hotel and Washington traffic we made it to the temple in Potomac about an hour later then we were planning but just in time for aratik.
There is something very tranquil about this temple and over the years we have popped in for quick deity darshan but the last time we spent significant time there was during the ISKCON Foundation and Srila Prabupada Centennial planning meetings in Autumn of 1993. I remember it fondly since I had the great fortune to sit with His Holiness Sridhar Swami and Jolly Swami is an understatement. He was always laughing and bringing humour and inspiration in so so many ways, especially on how to glorify Srila Prabhupada. I was humbled to present to so many of Srila Prabhupada's "noble sons" and thier loyalty to Srila Prabhupada can only inspire us to strive to serve more.
So we took darshan of Srila Prabhupada on his original Vyasasana which he sat on when he was physically present with us. We then paid obeisances to the beautiful Gaura-Nitai, Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohan and Ram-Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman.
Chaitanya Nitai Prabhu graciously arranged for an intimate evening with devotees to share nectar. After the talk some devotees wanted more and more stories about Srila Prabhupada and my dad shared a few that were sweeter than the raas that falls off a raasgulla. One devotee from New Goloka made it just in time for these stories. My dad was really touched by Saci Suta Prabhu from Detroit who came all the way for sravanam kirtanam.
After some nice piping hot prasadam it was time to leave Vaikuntha to go the hotel I branded "Yam-loka" :)
The travel journal continues...
Saurabh, a close friend (yet another IBMer) moved to Charlotte with his family a couple of years back. After Bir Krishna Maharaj's Krish-mas party, we were planning to take a quick jaunt to Charlotte for Christmas dinner, but I guess Krishna had other plans. We called this a Krishna pilgrimage and a detour was not in the cards. The whole region was getting nailed with a big storm and without the coping mechanisms we have up in Canada.
It is amazing how nice snow looks when you don't need to drive in it. So we settled in to enjoy the first white Christmas Durham had in decades!
That evening we went to New Goloka Dham where Sri Sri Radha Golokananda was dressed in.....you guessed it...white (I am sure the picture gave that away). After a nice aratik and very warm intros by Bir Krishna Maharaj, they had my dad give the Sunday lecture.
The lecture was about the gifts Srila Prabhupada has given us and loving Srila Prabhupada. I really relished the lecture and so did Maharaj and the devotees with rapt attention and laughter. It makes you realize that the dynamic of a lecture depends on the audience and the speaker....and of course you can't beat the subject...showing gratitude to Srila Prabhupada!
After a delicious feast a devotee came out with a still warm sumptuous carob cake and I was reminded that it was my wife Kishori's birthday...oh! oh! She is a Boxing day baby (big shopping day in Canada) and usually spends tons shopping followed by a family birthday party.
We had to drive for a couple hours to start towards our next destination. After we checked in to the hotel I made a quick stop at Walmart and picked up some candles and ice cream and she lit up almost as much as the kids faces. So a quick save on my part since it is too early for me to take Sanyas :-)
The pictures will tell the rest. Hope you are enjoying this series on the blog.
So after leaving Prabhupada Village we made it to Durham, our destination and southern most driving point. We had no hotel reservation and our devotional clothes were still on, so we drove up to Homewood Suites and after a couple of "double takes" from the registration desk and inspecting the tilak on my dad's forehead we got our rooms and a great deal to boot.
Kishori was happy to see the stove top so we decided to get some groceries at the local Walmart to do some cooking but we forgot it was Christmas eve and as we drove into the parking lot, Walmart and pretty much everything around was closing for the Christmas holiday. So back to the hotel we went to rummage through the magical bag of potatoes and crates from home :) [See Saturday's post to make sense of this]
The next morning we headed to New Goloka Dham and took darshan of the stunning and adorable Sri Radha Golokananda and Srila Prabhupada in a unique dome structured temple which sort of reminded me of the Montreal Expo or the Ontario Place Ball.
After a few japa rounds we headed next door and Maharaj had just made it back from his walk. Maharaj and my dad exchanged a very warm embrace. Although Maharaj has been to our house around a dozen times, it has been a few years since we all saw him. There was a lot of catching up and they say you learn something new every day. I did not realize that my dad and Maharaj knew each other back in the 70's. I also learned that Maharaj literally built up this community and when I mean literally, he was actually hands on laying bricks for New Goloka's temple and structures. After some recollections and Maharaj recounting some extremely interesting tidbits from the morning lecture about Christmas and Christ's history, it was onto some kirtan.
I have always noticed that Maharaj is very personal, hands on and caring. As the room filled up he was asking the devotees where is "this prabhu" or "that mataji" to make sure everyone was there. He knew about everyone's circumstances, health and attendance. Also, earlier on he quickly stepped out to get freshly baked bread that he had made for the devotees.
Some matajis were piling up tons of wrapped gifts for the devotees. Me and my wife Kishori looked at each other, both thinking about pacification techiques for our kids, especially our younger two who are 4 and 5 years old, when they saw gifts being opened all around them. So, Bir Krishna Maharaj started giving gifts out to all the devotees and they were all Vedic gifts individually chosen for the unique devotee. One devotee got Forbidden Archeology and another young devotee got a Narshimadeva deity and by their reactions and comments you could tell it was not a random selection. Then Maharaj gave gifts to our kids, Krishna story books which they all loved and the crisis was averted :-)
Now of course who does not like gifts and I know most people take my mom and dad seriously but they can act as kids sometimes as well. Maharaj gives a box to my mom and she was thrilled when out pops Gaura-Nitai deities, just perfect and needed for our quick offering altar in the home kitchen. Now for those who know my dad they know his favorite 2 subjects are...Srila Prabhupada and Braj Dham/Vrindavan...so he gets a poster of Krishna's pastimes bubbles around Braj Dham locales. I am chuckling as I write this but how appropriate of a gift.
Of course, the Krish-mas party wrapped up with a delicious feast. It was very nice to see that the party was anchored in our Vedic roots, with all Vedic gifts and everyone in devotional clothes. It was also nice to see the multiple generations all together in Krishna's service. Older devotees and Prabhupada disciples with middle age devotees and parents as well as kids and a few Gurukuli alumni all in the mix. I had the pleasure of having prasadam with another former NV Gurukuli and as he said you need to remember and focus on the positives...and I could not agree more...
After a scenic drive through the mountains and a night in Wytheville, Virginia we are ready to go to Prabhupada Village. So I punch in Sandy Ridge, North Carolina into the GPS and then enter Prabhupada Road and voila, there are directions to Prabhupada Village!
A few days earlier we had called Madhuha Prabhu and he encouraged us to come on the planned festival to honor the disappearance day of our grand-guru, Sril Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thankur. So that morning I had uploaded a blog post with a video clip of Srila Prabhupada speaking of his guru's instructions at Radha Kund and how he took these instructions to heart and the importance of book distribution. During the drive the discussion was of how great Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasavati Thankur was and his zeal to preach and write. He opened up 64 Maths/temples. The conversation drifted to Vaishnva aparadha and how gossips use this currency often right inside the temple, in "meetings" and back rooms/hallways. The conclusion was that devotees that run into this from anyone including "seniors" or "leaders" should turn their back on the gossip and aparadhi. This conversation and the reason I include this in the post will make sense in a minute....
We arrived and turned onto Prabhupada Road. Since this was our first time here, that in itself was a thrill...we are driving on Prabhupada Road! As we drove past Seeta Drive a young devotee chanting japa greets us on the road with his hands up. We park the van and Madhuha Prabhu is outside in a jiffy. We are so used to seeing him in his Festival of India gear but today is a dressed a Vrindavan pujari :)
We enter a sun drenched, almost complete temple and it is serene and perfect for a few rounds of japa which the kids do without needing even reminding. Devotees are busy cooking and preparing. Karnamrita Das does the pushpanjali offering but before he starts he takes the time to explain to the kids and then he does the offering in total patience so you can feel the sincerity in each verse. A true offering to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur.
Madhuha Prabhu does aratik and Mitrasena Prabhu leads kirtan. There is something absolutely estatic with the simplicity and you can feel the sincerity. It may sound "sappy" and it is hard to describe but it is there.
Sarva-Drik Prabhu did a wonderful lecture singing the glories of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thankur. In the temple a couple of matajis were sewing what looked like deity dresses. Sarva-Drik Prabhu was taking multiple excerpts and snipets into the lecture and what was interesting is that he basically took the conversation we were having in the van earlier and elevated it. He ended the lecture with the exact quote I had uploaded onto the blog earlier and even somewhere in the middle of the lecture he also turned to the topic of Vaishnava aparadha and blasephamy and how we should walk away when this occurs. As one mataji said, "that was good, that was really good." Our sentiments exactly.
It was time for prasadam. And it was a FEAST. The food was truly cooked in devotion for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaj, and you could taste it. It was not spicy and it was not oily...it was how prasadam used to taste. I did conclude that there is truly a difference between Gulab-jamans and ISKCON bullets and we all ate ISKCON bullets that day.
As prasadam was wrapping up my mom exclaimed to the devotees that this felt like the "Old days in ISKCON". The devotees really liked that comment and I could not have said it better myself. It was like a time machine and we were back to those golden "old" days of ISKCON.
But what represents those old days? Personally for me, it is no pretension. True sincerity and devotion. Coming together and leaving the petty stuff and egos at home. Matajis sewing during the lecture. Simplicity. Being brotherly and united as a family. Good prasadam with ISKCON bullets. And most importantly loving Srila Prabhupada!
Madhuha das and the devotees were very kind and my mom and dad shared some of their memories of Srila Prabhupada with their Godbrothers and Godsisters. Madhuha Prabhu and the devotees wanted us to stay. He even told me that we had 4 flat tires :-). We had to mozy along to Bir Krishna Maharaj's Krish-mas party the next day. We did not get a chance to see Krishna Road or Radha's Way but we promised to come back soon.
Even the oxen were friendly and they came over for a picture. After a couple of quick snaps including my parents in front of the Prabhupada Road sign we were off...
Thank you Madhuha Prabhu and the devotees of Prabhupada Village for the hospitality and memories!
[Note: Please see yesterday's post to make sense of this one. Also, as a disclaimer the next few days of blog posts are written by Subhavilasa's son, Indresh.]
The morning of the next day we packed up from the hotel and loaded up the van and kids and through the dark curvy roads made our way to Palace Road. Of course over the last many years we have made trip to New Vrindavan a few times but this would be the first time we have gone to a morning program or during the winter since the 80's.
As I drove over the dark, icy and curvy roads, the memories are bitter sweet. The sweet memories of when we attened the Palace opening in '79 and my sis getting 2nd initation at the time at the Palace. The sweet memory of me leading kirtan as a kid on the bus from Chicago and as we got closer the dancing and chanting reaching a crescendo. The sweet memory of taking multiple buses over many summers from Toronto full of devotees, Indians and once whole group of university students that made for an impressive convoy. The memory of me in a saffron dhoti dancing in the front at mangala artik. Even when Radhanath Swami, Kuladri Prabhu, and so many NV devotees came to stay at our home in Toronto...
Unfortunately, those memories are mixed with some bitter memories as well. Most of which is history that does not need to be explained to ISKCONers reading this blog. I remember my dad flying into Piitsburgh to be picked up to go to NV for some meetings and this coincidentally happened during the "pipe in the head" incident and a trip that was supposed to be for a couple of days got extended as he helped out. I remember during the "off limits period", me, my dad and sis heading to the Prabhupada Centennial and ISKCON foundation meetings in Potomac and us deciding to take a detour to see Sri Sri Radha Vrindavan Chandra. At that time we felt Sri Sri Radha Vrindavan Chandra were crying and shook our head at the Budha like enormous statue of Srila Prabhupada and thought that perhaps that was the last visit. But with Srila Prabhupada's and Sri Sri Radha Vrindavan Chandra's mercy all of this changed.
So it was with some of these memories playing in my head that I drove to what was expected to be a quiet morning program in the hills of West Virginia. As we entered Srila Prabhupada sat there in traquility. Then of course came darshan of Sri Sri Vrindavan Chandra and all you can do is soak up their effulgence. Of course they are not crying, but rather They are happy, smiling and twinkling.
As expected the temple was not bustling with hoards of devotees like I remember it during Christmas holiday visits in the 80s. During Guru-puja I realized that this is not important. The temple was bustling with sincerity. Nityodita das (president) was chanting to Srila Prabhupada the same as he would on a festival day with a packed house. There were 4 pujaris doing service, one for Jaganatha's altar, one for the main Sri Vrindavan Chandra's altar, one for Lord Narshimadeva and another for Srila Prabhupada.
I was reminded about the 3 modes of nature. Destruction is in the mode of darkness (Tamo-gunna), building up is done is done in the mode of passion (Rajo-guna) but maintenance is in the mode of goodness (Sattva-guna). I realized this was the case here and thus the title of the article.
So in the hills of West Virginia on a cold December morning we were immersed in Sattva-guna and could see why Srila Prabhupada was so tranquil and Sri Sri Radha Vrindavan Chandra was smiling. Sincere devotees were carrying on Srila Prabhupada's movement, through thick and thin. This sincerity will ensure the fulfillment of Srila Prabhupada's instructions and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's precepts shall take place.
With humility and honor, Nityodita Prabhu and the devotees of New Vrindavan had my dad give morning class and also share in some memories of Srila Prabhupada. During a time of gift giving over the holidays, what better way to remember the person who gave us the greatest gift of all, Srila Prabhupada.
One devotee gave garlands to all the kids and they were thrilled. And then we had huge dosas for breakfast prasadam which would fuel us for rest of the day's travels.
Of course, with the kids in tow, the trip would not be complete without seeing Prabhupada's Palace of Gold. Of course the Palace remains remarkable and Srila Prabhupada is in his rightful place inside a nice warm temple room. However, outside the main temple room the rest of the Palace was freezing cold to the point that after about 5 or 10 minutes the kids wanted to run and get back in the warm van. However, what stood out was the lone devotee doing her duty and service. This Mataji will be there for hours ready to give a warm greeting to all thouse who want to take Srila Prabhupada's darshan and see what devotion to one's guru can build. So Krishna sees this sincerity and like my mom often reminds me, devotional service is like bank and many have made deposits and many continue to make deposits.
Recently over the holiday break we took a Krishna pilgrimage through half a dozen temples in America. As promised, we will recount the trip over the next week of posts. This is to share the experiences, appreciations and nectar
This trip was a bit of nostalgia since every summer and on many long weekends we would be travelling to different temples, Ratha Yatras and homes of devotees. Somehwere along the way this type of association waned as we got older, got busy in business and family life. My dad (Subhavilasa das) wanted to make a short trip to the U.S. mid-west but Krishna had other plans and we happily went along...
Bir Krishna Maharaj, a long time mentor and friend of the family has made numerous trips to our home over the years, many times flying in just after actual Janamastami to attend our annual Janmastami funtion for Sri Sri Radha Shyamasundar. After numerous promises to come and see him and numerous invites on his part, this time we were going to make good of it. Bir Krishna Maharaj is in the Durham region of North Carolina and at first we were going to fly in but after some pressure from the ladies of the house it was decided to do a roadtrip. So a roadtrip it was and that was part of the nostalgia along with apprehension for me to drive so many hours with small kids.
So a small trip turned into a pilgrimage of multiple temples as we headed to and from North Carolina. We got a off to a bit of a late start since 1/2 the van was full of food. As we all know, when travelling that is one of the biggest issues for devotees and it multiplies with hungry kids. Kishori had enough bhoga and equipment to prepare a Sunday feast. I loaded the 4 crates, but when I saw the bag of potatoes I was almost at the breaking point. But she knew what she was doing...
Actually, right after the birth of our first child, I had to spend a few months in my Bay area office (California) so on a bit of whim I decided to take Kishori (my wife) and Brinda (my first born and now 1 of 3 kids). Kishori was on maternity leave from her stressful life as a Biochemist and I had planned to take some time off in between so we decided to drive to California (including a couple of days on route 66 heading west and a day on the pacific coast highway heading south on the way back). We routed it in such a way that we hit almost every temple as we headed west or back east. During that trip we learned a lot about survival on the road including how to prepare prasdam on the way and luxurious microwave cooking once we hit a hotel...thus chapatis and the magical bag of potatoes :)
So the wheels on the van went round and round all the way to the temple... The kids were remarkably well behaved and our first stop was Wheeling, West Virginia. It was late when we checked into the hotel and we asked them what there was to do locally. They pointed us to 2 brochures on the travel stand....the first was Prabhupada's Palace of Gold :)
The second reccomendation was the Winter Festival of Lights. One of the largest and most beautiful light displays in North America, right there in Wheeling. So off we went for a short drive and there it was...the very best Holiday light display I have ever seen complete with lighted flower gardens, Holiday scenes and of course a life size Nativity scene which I appreciated along with the kids. Perhaps something about going to private Christian school for all those years plus listening to Srila Prabhupada's instructions on Jesus Christ. (See the earlier blog post from Christmas day http://radhashyamasundar.com/2/post/2010/12/merry-christmas-if-one-loves-krishna-he-must-love-lord-jesus-also.html)
So this was the start of the trip. Stay tuned for the next week as I blog about the various temples we hit along with darshan and association. Thank you sharing in the nectar.
One week ago...
Had to go to Ottawa so we brought the kids for a weekend outing. The kids had never been to ISKCON Ottawa so looked up the website and decided to take them on the Sunday program to take darshan. On Sunday a storm hit with some freezing rain and cleared out by late afternoon. We were staying outside the city centre, so we made the trek and with a bit of slipping and sliding found some parking and walked to the temple. The kids are excited and covered from head to toe with winter gear. After some careful walking we get to the front door and to our disappointment the door is locked. We peek here and there and see no one and to our incredible disappointment do not get to take darshan of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai.
So that has left us hankering...
So hopefully we will get to see Them soon on another trip...
[this is the Sunday, December 19th post and refers to a visit on December 12th]