"The tree's still alive!" My old friend greeted me to another day of book distribution on Pacific Garden Mall in Santa Cruz [see last installment]. To add to the hallucinatory ambiance that the Cruz has to offer, one gentleman walked up to me just after i had parked my cart of books and asked me if i was from another planet? I replied that i wasn't. Though i did take the precautionary measure of asking him if he was from one? He reassured me that he was from Earth but added that he had met many people from different planets during his sojourn on this planet. I rapidly bid farewell to him and braced myself for re-entry into reality.
Luckily i met Christopher soon after. The first thing he asked me was, "Are you with ISKCON?" These days whenever someone asks that question i brace myself for what's about to come. Many times people are favorable but once in a while you have to buffer yourself from a rabid-anti-christ-style assault or a "monkey on a stick" wala. When i told Christopher that i was representing ISKCON he told me "I've got some questions for you." My defenses were still primed for i've heard all too many reports of law suits or bad sales techniques (a few Gaudia Math devotees who reside in Santa Cruz have been distributing literature saying that they are from ISKCON and have consequently not been too worried about the public relation damage done when they insult or burn people — which they don't mind doing). I tentatively asked Christopher what his questions were? He then proceeded to ask me what the relationship between the "purusa" and "prakriti" is and how we take on a material body. Well — that kind of disarmed me!!! I asked him if he had ever read Bhagavad Gita? He had read bits of it so i decided to put one in his hands. We began discussing the five main areas that the Bhagavad Gita covers but as we were talking one man who was hovering around us finally couldn't hold his toungue any longer and gave his profound rationale that the books i was handing out were false teachings, the work of the devil and that Christopher shouldn't read any if he desired to be saved. Christopher looked at him and told him that he likes the Bhagavad Gita. Our friend awkwardly merged back into the backdrop of trees and men from other planets. Christopher then turned to me and told me that he is a Christian too and that he unfortunately also passed through a fanatical phase in his life. He now studies History at UCSC and is currently doing his thesis on the History of religion. He told me that this is because there is less bigotry and sectarianism over religion in the History department and in this way he can study and write whatever he wants. He gratefully took the Gita, bought me a bottle of water, and went on his way. I keep in touch with him over e-mail.
One fateful and memorable Sunday, Vaisesika Prabhu gave us his transcendental association in the Cruz. After watching him distribute books in such a gentlemanly and profound way he left me looking at my style and how hollow and bereft of Krsna Consciousness it is — and subsequently — i am. I therefore hassled and hassled him to write something of his experiences for this forum which he kindly submitted to. The following is in Vaisesika's own words…
There was Dave. Just after we had jumped out of the van and were unloading our books, Dave happened to walk through the parking lot. I asked him if he was from the Santa Cruz area. He said that he was. So I put out my hand to shake but he withdrew saying, "I don't shake hands." Instead, I offered him a Journey of Self Discovery and told him that it was the science of Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of gratitude and love. I explained that the more gratitude we express towards others, the more it comes back to us. He was happy to donate for the book and apologized afterwards about not shaking my hand. He said that he was just about to eat lunch and he didn't want to touch anyone.
Later on the street I was stopping some people by saying, "Excuse me sir, we're picking out the best dressers." I said this to one young man. He stopped and with a smile said, "Actually, you're the best dresser out here today." With this he pointed to the dhoti I was wearing with obvious appreciation. He gladly accepted a Journey of Self Discovery and gave a donation after hearing about the science of Bhakti, the yoga of gratitude and love.
I had stopped a couple of men who were originally from Taiwan. I put a book in each of their hands and explained what the books were about. They were asking many questions and seemed dubious about taking the books or giving a donation. In the middle of my beseeching them to accept the books, a middle aged man riding a bicycle rode up and intervened. Since he had approached us suddenly, all three of us had turned our attention to the cyclist. He looked at me and demanded to know, "What's the difference between compassion and dispassion?" Seeing no way out I gave my best spontaneous definitions. "Compassion" I said, "means to understand the sufferings and enjoyments of others based on one's own experience and to reach out to help them based on that realization." (Interestingly, I had just been studying verse 3.32 of Bhagavad gita a couple of days before in which Krsna — and Srila Prabhupada in his purport — discuss this very issue.) "Dispassion," I said, "is the ability to maintain one's equilibrium even while there is cause for disturbance. "The ocean," I continued — thinking of the penultimate verse of Bg. ch. 2, "even while being filled by millions of rivers keeps its balance and does not overflow." Our bicycle-riding quizmaster smiled and said, "pretty good!" He then looked at the two gentlemen holding the books and said, "You should get these." They did!
[Back to Aisvarya's monkey business…]
Suzan stopped and looked at a couple of books as young Russ gazed up from his pram (baby carriage) at the two of us. I don't normally associate myself with baby-kissing politicians but in this case i felt like one as i hoochy-koochied with Russ while Mum indecisively perused the books. Normally i invoke the fear of God in any child under the age of six and make them at best bawl and scream for their mother if i get too close to them for comfort, but in this case i can only say that Krsna smiled on Russ and ordered the demigod in charge of noses to allow his nose to curl up and sniff. Suzan then proudly told me that that is the way Russ expresses that he likes someone so on superior advice she took the books.
"What are you pitching?" Dave's of the old school and for some reason had stopped when i showed him a book from a distance. The book was the "Perfection of Yoga" and for some unbeknown reason Dave was all for it. Beyond all my reasoning he took it.
Clark is tall, wears long hair, and has a very gentle character. He is often mistaken for a Canadian as (excluding Vaisnavas of course) Americans have been know to be ever so slightly recognizable for their outgoing personalities. So Clark told me that he had just left the woman he loves in Iceland. Many people are so willing to discuss such personal issues with devotees they meet. I guess it's due to the highly personal nature of 21st Century human relationships [this morning i went to a store with Madhukantha Prabhu and we eventually realized that we couldn't understand what the cashier was saying to us because, even though he was dealing with us and looking at us, he was talking to someone else]. When people meet a person they become personal all of a sudden and because they are not used to it they become very personal. Good by me! Clark had met his lady in Scotland but due to the passing of time and an expired visa had to leave her to return to America. She had gone back to her native Iceland and even though Clark had repeatedly tried to get her to come to America she won't do it. She says that it's all too complicated. As we spoke Clark suddenly came to his senses and suddenly admitted to me, and himself, "She ditched me!" He had finally given up the battle. With that he fell silent. It just happened that Old Aish had read the third chapter of Bhagavad Gita that very morning and so with full gusto and a dignified London East End accent "Detachment" issued forth uncontrollably from his locust like mouth. Normally i clumsily try to force a Gita into someones hand but in this case it was so natural it was even hard for me to put my foot in my mouth. I simply told Clark that i had been reading about detachment in the Bhagavad Gita that morning and that this seemed like a good time for him to implement it in his life. His mood changed as he lovingly embrased the Gita and placed it in one of the big pockets in his cargo pants. He had heard about it before and had wanted to read it so Krsna had created the perfect situation for him to receive it.
Stephanie was carrying a map of the world. When she saw Prabhupada's name on the cover of the book i handed to her she told me that right now she is reading the pamphlet "On Chanting". It's her bedtime reading. On the cover of that pamphlet is a picture of the devotees chanting on the street. One of the ladies is Nirkula, Vaisesika's wife. When i told her that most of the recipes in the "Higher Taste" are Nirkula's, Stephanie pictured Nirkula in her mind and took the recipe for success.
When i asked Vern where he comes from he took a while to figure out that he's from Sacramento. Fortunately he remembered that i was talking to him and took a book.
One young man took a couple of books from me and in parting offered me a "namaste" in his best Sanskrit. He had received a book from Caru Candra the week before and had remembered the parting linguistic lesson he had received from that nice Vaisnava. He told me, "See… i was listening!" First step of devotional service.
When someone with a large build walks past Caru he normally asks them how much they bench-press and then proceeds to guess the weight — big numbers of course. I normally ask them if they lift trucks for a living? We all have buttons that connect the false ego with our legs and if those buttons are pressed all the power of motion is completely knocked out of us as we revel in our significance. For a change i asked Derrick how much he bench-presses. It turned out that Derrick lifts 350 lb while sporting his soul-patch and tattoos. He works all around Santa Cruz tinting windows so that when the local-yokels tag (graffiti) shop windows by scratching them, the shop owners only have to replace the tinting rather than the glass — another reminder of those wonderful kali yuga qualities. As Derrick is a thoroughly honest hardworking person he had no problem with taking a couple of books.
Caru stopped one man who was interested but there was some blockage. He finally came out with it and informed Caru that he doesn't agree with organized religions. I normally tell people that they have nothing to fear from us as we're totally disorganized. But Caru told our friend "That's great! You don't have to join me! Keep the book with you and practice it at home." This unclogged the drain.
Mum was a Christian. She made that known to Caru as he tried to stop her while walking with her daughter. But mum's young daughter was adamant that she was not a Christian, "I'll see what you're doing!" After Caru explained a little of what we are doing she took a book to the horror of mum who couldn't do anything about it.
No matter the faith, Krsna is behind it. Just add some colour and a lot of variety and you have Santa Cruz. So many respect Srila Prabhupada's books — from Christians to TMers to Sai Babajis. It's never a dull moment.
Sometimes this is a tough service though. Especially when one is tired or not in a good mood. In those cases it can be a slog to un-entrench the mind from its cesspit of indolence. This was the case one day as i stood on my corner under my live tree. There are times when all goes quiet on the western front. Not much movement on the street for a minute or two. During one of those times i was wallowing in my loathing of every living entity except myself when i noticed a very business orientated looking couple walking towards me with their child. In a moment of complete detachment i decided to completely ignore them as i knew that they would just wave their hand at me as if they were chasing off an annoying fly. Such was my ignorance. It was Geoff who noticed the book with the word "Yoga" Emblazoned on in my hand and he immediately began to enthusiastically point at it, showing his wife Lisa who is a Hatha Yogini. I saw this obviously provoking behavior and thought, "Just see their insolence. Now they're publically ridiculing me. The Fools! They don't know who i am! My greatness is so immense and yet in their ignorance they can only taunt me." My bubble was burst when Geoff called over, "Are they Yoga books?" By Krsna's sweet mercy my revulsion of them had been solely internal, without facial expression, so i had no problem striking up a conversation with them, disguising the jackass that i really am. Geoff told me he tries practicing yoga but he cant quite touch his toes yet. He leaned over and just touched his knees. Lisa was into the books. They both bought a couple on the value of their covers — that's a step further than where i'm at.
For some reason Rachael and Christine were half way across the street walking away when i called to them to come over to me. Rachael came back but Christine kept walking. When i mentioned yoga to Rachael she mentioned that she takes yoga classes. This is common in Santa Cruz but since she had made the effort of coming back such a distance to answer my call i decided to show her the copy of Bhagavad Gita i had brought out with me that day. The moment she heard the name "Bhagavad Gita" she began reminiscing her class a few days ago in which her teacher had mentioned Patanjali. Old Aish had just been reading the fourth chapter of Bhagavad Gita the day before in which Prabhupada talks about Patanjali in a couple of the purports [This reading/distributing correlation thing is getting to be more than a coincidence]! By this time Christine had got bored looking in the store window and at the graffiti on it across the street and had returned to join in the fun. She's also a yogi and both her and Rachael were excited to take the Gita.
Nico came up to me and asked me in Greek whether i spoke Greek. I must have met him before but due to my razor sharp brahmacari memory i couldn't for the life of me recall his face. Maybe i didn't meet him? Maybe Krsna in Nico's heart told him to go speak Greek with the strange man in the street. Who knows? In order to not ruin the flow i began dredging up as much Greek as i could muster and we became friends on the spot. Nico is probably in his mid-fifties and was interested that i had become a monk. He took a Science of Self Realization and began reading it next to me as i continued to distribute.
Presently, time is running short for me as i leave for India in a few days. I beg the blessings of all the assembled Vaisnavas and pray for your service now and in the future eternally.
Hoping this meets you all well, i beg to remain…