Close Encounters by Vanamali Dasa
From apprehension to confidence to bliss a devotee's
first day distributing Srila Prabhupada's books.
Being a devotee of Krsna and a follower of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brings with it certain responsibilities: rising early, bathing regularly, maintaining regulative principles (including abstinence from meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling), and of course daily chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. But as well as these basic principles of spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada's followers have inherited a great mission, a mission that has been handed down throughout the millennia in our line of disciplic succession. That mission, which epitomizes the mercy and compassion of Krsna and His pure devotees, is the respiritualization of a godless society.
Srila Prabhupada showed by his own example how to spread Krsna consciousness, and he left countless instructions on how to do it. Most important, he told us that his books translations of Vedic literature with his commentary could revolutionize human thought. He encouraged his followers to distribute his books profusely in order to redirect people's attention from materialistic endeavors to spiritual life, or service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna.
Desiring to assist in Srila Prabhupada's mission, I find myself on a cold and blustery winter morning in Sydney rather nervously picking up a box of books and making my way to the van and the awaiting devotees. This is my first attempt to distribute Srila Prabhupada's books, and my mind is a kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions as I take my place in the back with the other men.
There is Bhakta Richard, a strong but gentle young man from Tonga. He left the simple life of his tropical-island home and came to Australia looking for the pleasures of a technologically advanced society. He found only frustrated and disappointed persons who had all the modern conveniences but had lost touch with their spiritual dimension. Then one day he read one of Srila Prabhupada's books and found Krsna, the reservoir of all pleasure.
Then there's Bhakta Brett, a fresh-faced university student who found the answers to the really important questions of life at the Hare Krsna club on campus. Now, with freshly shaven head and rosy cheeks, he looks like the picture of innocence and vitality.
Our driver and party leader is Krtagama dasa from Germany. He was traveling around the world when he stumbled upon a Hare Krsna restaurant, and his spiritual life began.
I settle back to chant on my beads as we wind through the early-morning traffic. Praying for strength and purity of purpose, I find solace from the pangs of apprehension I'm feeling on my first day with the book-selling team. In a somber state of mind, I reflect on the present condition of "humanity" a strangely alien term when compared with the activities I know are going on around me: abortion, drug abuse, prostitution, murder, rape, cow slaughter, and so on. It's a civilization gone awry, forgetful of its spiritual identity and its responsibility to obey the laws of God, spiraling downward into the dark abyss of atheistic, materialistic doom.
I remember the words of Srila Suta Gosvami in the Srimad-Bhagavatam: ThisBhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krsna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this Purana." Fortified by this knowledge, I wait peacefully as we park the van. I then set off with humble confidence and determination.
Sam is a barber who for the last forty years has conversed with clients on every conceivable topic of public interest from the opening of the harbor bridge to the World Expo. His conclusion: "God don't exist. Science and hard work that's the answer to all our world problems these days. It helped us in the past, and it will help us in the future. We don't need any belief in God."
He likes me, though, because I'm smiling and I seem to be working hard. So I get a chance to explain to him that although science has made many changes in the world, it hasn't eradicated the problems of birth, death, old age, and disease. We suffer from these problems today just as others did in the past, and we will continue to suffer from them into the future. Though scientists claim they'll solve these problems in time, they never will, because science can't change the powerful laws of God that control the universe.
I show him the Bhagavad-gita and explain how it gives real scientific knowledge for understanding our eternal, spiritual nature, and how our suffering is due only to misidentification with the body as the self. I explain that actions on the spiritual platform don't create bad reactions, and so they reduce our suffering. This can be confirmed, I explain, by anyone who seriously practices spiritual life.
He likes the philosophy but doesn't buy a Gita. He takes a Back to Godheadmagazine, though, and an invitation to our restaurant He says he'll bring his wife along for a "fancy Hare Krsna meal." As I leave, he waves and wishes me well in my endeavor.
Sally and Joan are bank tellers. I find them two floors up in their morning tea room. I introduce myself and the books. Joan tells me she's had a long interest in vegetarian cooking, and she takes a cookbook and starts to look through it Sally's father has an interest in reincarnation, and Sally is full of questions as she leafs through the Bhagavad-gita. They are pleased to meet a Hare Krsna devotee, and they inquire at length into the way devotees live.
Eventually Joan decides our cookbook is just what she needs to revitalize her diet, and Sally is convinced that the Gita is the most authoritative book on reincarnation. They each buy a book and agree to come to our next Sunday Feast.
Down the street I enter a locksmith shop. The two men behind the counter are a little shocked to see a Hare Krsna devotee complete with shaved head and robes right there in their premises. I tell them I'm presenting Bhagavad-gita, the oldest and most comprehensive spiritual guide known to man. It contains complete information on the soul, God, karma, and reincarnation.
They look more stunned now and begin to slowly shake their heads, indicating that they have no real interest in such things. Before I can counter with our vegetarian cookbook which strikes a little closer to home with most people a voice from behind me says. "What's that you said about reincarnation?" I turn around and see a small man in his late fifties sitting on an old safe in the corner. I show him theBhagavad-gita and explain some of the sublime knowledge contained within it, especially that pertaining to the transmigration of the soul from one body to another.
He is extremely interested and asks me to walk outside with him. We exit, passing the two storekeepers, who are still staring blankly in shocked disbelief. He tells me that last year he suffered a major stroke and was taken to the hospital, where the doctors worked for several hours to keep his heart beating. On three occasions during that time, he felt himself to be floating in the room, looking down on the scene of doctors and nurses trying to revive his malfunctioning body.
This profound experience started him on a voyage of discovery, to unearth the true nature of the self. So far his questions had not met with satisfactory answers, but now, in the presence of the glowing knowledge of the Gita, he is feeling that his journey in search of the truth has ended. Obviously experiencing great emotional relief, he buys a copy of the Gita and gives me his name and address. I promise to visit, and we sit and talk until it's time for me to go back to the van.
As we drive back to the temple, we relate our experiences. We are all happy, feeling satisfaction in our small attempt to fulfill Srila Prabhupada's pure desire to eradicate nescience from human society.
Yes, being a devotee of Krsna brings responsibility, but that responsibility brings transcendental bliss, which is not available in even the most exalted material posts. When a devotee goes to sleep at night, he is not plagued by memories of a trouble-filled day. Rather, he is filled with great confidence in his chosen mission of life. and he knows there can be only one thing better than the day he has just spent and that's tomorrow.