Keller’s Flea Market, Savannah, Georgia

Posted on January 24, 2017 by vasantidasi

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Submitted by Sudevi dasi

Despite secret fantasies of becoming a storm chaser (Jamuna Oceanflower and Visnupriya Boyd can relate) Vasanti, Larli and I swiftly changed our weekend roadtrip plans upon hearing of tornado threats in Western Florida, heading north to Savannah, Georgia instead. Setting up two book tables early on Saturday morning, Keller’s Flea Market (the largest one in the coastal empire, apparently) became the epicenter of our Savannah adventures, despite the ignored warning that the storm would be following us. We weren’t sure what to expect of this repurposed cattle farm decorated in rusting tractors, and we weren’t entirely sure how we’d really ended up in Georgia either. But there’s a beautiful kind of magic in uncertainty, in being guided on the road, swept along by a storm that reminded me of something my mother told me decades ago: these books are personalities, and they will choose who they want to go to.

People passed, we kept our plate of prasadam cookies stocked up and everyone was incredibly friendly. By the end of the day we left feeling like we’d bonded with our neighbours and that there was a sort of home for us in those long open-air halls. It might only be about that one person, Vasanti told us before we arrived, that one soul who needed a Bhagavad-Gita to come their way and we were sent here for them. There’s no way to know who was really touched by the books they walked away with, or how, but for myself, the day leant me two potent interactions that made Gurudeva’s presence peacefully clear.

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The first took place at the market stall of a Muslim man from New York. He noticed our beadbags and immediately had questions for us, excited to talk about his own prayers and I was glad to hear of them. Somehow or other, because how could it not, the topic moved into the realms of Krsna’s form – who was Krsna? How could God really have a form? If God takes a form then aren’t you removing his Godhood? Wasn’t Krsna just a prophet like Jesus? How can Christians says that Jesus is God? His questions were passionate and challenging, but when I was led to tell him that we made a distinction between God and the devotee of God, his tone changed, something softened, and we were hearing each other. I visited his stall two more times that day. Once to gift him a Journey of the Soul – to which he asked if all his questions would be answered by that book – and on the third occasion, after more questions, he responded in likeness to our answers – “Yes, we believe that too.” We bade farewell with great kindness and gratitude for the encounter. He said he hoped to see us again, and if not, he told us we’d all be reminded of this conversation at the time of our judgement, and then we’d know who had understood things better. It seemed that in our exchange the only obvious difference was the details, and I was reminded of how Bhaktivinoda Thakura revealed that bhakti is at the heart of every religion. My interaction with him was exhilarating – his voice was strong and I didn’t know how to best answer his questions, but there’s something very sweet in that space of feeling one’s own incapacity, and then feeling Gurudeva standing with you, and the growing realisation that this experience is as much for you as it is for them.

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That sentiment repeated itself in an encounter I had with a man who’d grown up in Georgia, the 8th child of 11 under the care of a mother who had suffered greatly, but who held a deep conviction in her relationship to God. He’d been in the army for 36 years and after being severely injured and almost dying in a helicopter crash, life had taken on a new light for him. He spoke his story in a great deal of warmth, with tears in his eyes and a relentless smile on his face. His personality was unrecognisable from the man he was five years ago, he told us, and having faced death he now approached life with a gravity and respect for all living beings, all walks of life. He talked to us for over an hour, clutching on to the Bhagavad-Gita I handed him, and we ended our conversation with his advice for me based on the depths of his own experience. It settled in me and again I saw that giving is always an exchange – I may have handed him a book, but he in turn spoke aspects of the very philosophy contained in that book. In those moments it was clear that Krsna isn’t any more with you or I than He is with anyone else, and He moves with and through us in ways that we might all help each other to recognise and love Him. The man and I parted ways with his sincere prayers for my own development in this life and I was thankful for them.

And as if we needed a confirmation of how perfectly directed everything is, moments after we finished packing up our all books to go home, thunder broke the skies and the tempest’s torrential rains hit. We danced down the halls, yelling as we ran, feeling that something magical had occurred that day, and we might never know what it was, but we were a part of the storm.

Submitted by Larli dasi

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I have always had a block to distributing Gurudeva’s books, even though I grew up  hearing him lovingly speak how Harinam and book distribution makes him very happy. My relationship with Gurudeva and what I knew from the philosophy has always been something I hold dear to my heart, in a place that is sacred and delicate within myself. I grew up as a devotee since birth, with Gurudeva mercifully coming into my life at the age of 5. However, living in a world where believing and talking about ‘God’ and ‘religion’ is seen as naive and unintelligent, I always felt challenged by others in my expression of my spiritual life. I never felt able to express that side of myself, especially through language and conversation. So the idea of having to do that, with my own misconceived idea of ‘preaching to’ and ‘converting someone’ with book distribution filled me with dread. So when I came to Alachua to help Syamarani Didi and the devotees in anyway small way I could, I had no idea that a week later I would be doing just that.

It’s funny, or not funny at all, but deeply beautiful, how Gurudeva uses every possible means to connect and guide us, even if we are not aware of it. So when Vasanti, Sudevi and I left to a program in Florida, we were literally diverted by warnings of a tornado and found ourselves on the way to Savannah, Georgia instead. We found a local flea market online and arrived at dusk to an old cow shed, which had been rustically turned into a communal place for selling such things as second hand appliances and camouflage clothing. Rusted, worn signs clung to the main building and the land was adorned with 1950’s cars grounded by stolen wheels. Growing up in England, the Deep Southern accent and culture was a new exciting experience for me, being shown a glimpse of generic outback USA. We were guided to our table and given instructions for setting up the next morning. Afterwards we drove away, past the giant cow adorned in jewellery at the entrance of the market, to our campsite for the night. Although excitement ran within me, I was also very self conscious of the process to come, not understanding it was not about me at all.

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The morning came and to our gratitude the expected rains did not. We set up the book and art table with Giriraja andd Salagram taking the head. Our neighbouring sellers were lovely people, shouting “Ten dollar sweaters” and shining pre-used shoes in an effort to make a living.  Our first person of the day was a military man in his 30’s who was based nearby. He noticed how we came from California by the van number plate and came to talk to us. He had some experience of Buddhism and meditation, and happily spoke with us and received a ‘Way of love book’. More people passed the stall, some looking briefly, others helping themselves to a mahaprasadam cookie, or some stopping to talk and be given a book or painting. Everyone came with an open heart, and those that didn’t come passed with a smile or a “how d’ya do?” Vasanti was amazing. She approached everyone like she knew them, relating to them personally and creating a space where she was able to gently and considerately give them a book. One man didn’t take a book, but when he heard some of the donations went to the IPBYS Prison Seva Program, he donated $6, empathising as he himself had been in prison some years ago. Another couple walked past, but were drawn back, attracted by the art. They bought two paintings to hang on their wall, and were immediately attracted to ‘The Way of Love’ and ‘Harinam Maha Mantra’ books. One of the main people who reached my heart was a man who had nearly died in a helicopter crash. He recounted his story of being in the Army for 36 years, being shot and stabbed, yet still feeling invincible and going back to the front line. However, when he finally came close to death, he realised how this life was a gift which could be over at any moment, giving thanks to his mother’s prayers and faith for all his luck in life. It was amazing to see everyone who walked by, living their lives yet guided by their own internal journey with Krsna.  How it isn’t about ‘preaching’ or ‘converting’ but about relating to someone, empathising with the hardships that life brings and the suffering our soul feels in the search for Krsna or ‘something deeper’, whether it is knowingly or unknowingly. My first experience of distributing Gurdeva’s book was one I am grateful for. It was not about my own ability to speak the philosophy or bring people to the table, but to allow Gurudeva to bring people to the books, and for us just to be there and give them the opportunity to come in contact with Gurudeva and Krsna, even briefly.

I came to the Georgia Keller’s Flea Market, guided by a storm and with my own misconstructed and self conscious ideas of book distribution. However, I left feeling elated,  having connected deeply to others, Gurudeva and the books, and seeing how Gurudeva is always ours, and everyone’s, forever well wisher. I look forward to the other chances I may have to distribute the books, and am thankful for the devotees who have been able to donate to the GVP Book Sponsorship Program as many books were distributed to people who may not have bought them themselves.

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This man said, “I’m realizing that all religions are pointing to the same Godhood.” He was elated getting these Eastern gems

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He spontaneously cleaned his counter before putting the book down, intuitively knowing it was sacred.

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At our campsite…

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