Manali mid-tour report

Posted on July 9, 2015 by navalatika

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get while distributing books, and it’s not surprising, is “what is this all about, and why are you doing it?”  They see our international group of men and women, young and old, storytellers, salesmen, and musicians, and can’t help but stop and wonder, who the heck are these people and what are they up to? How did they all wind up here in India, so far from their own countries?  They stare at us like circus clowns, as we smile back at them and hand them a book.

We tell them our story. Albeit, usually just the short version: that we do it for our gurudeva, Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Mahraja.  Somehow, by his causeless mercy we have developed some attachment to him, and the natural by-product of that is attempting to please him. We try to understand and carry out the mano-bhista, the innermost heart’s desire of our gurudeva, which is synonymous with our guru-varga, our disciplic line of teachers following in the line of Rupa Gosvami and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. What is their mission(1)? To spread this divine knowledge, this Krsna conscious movement, and to try as much as we can to give the highest conception of what our eternal nature is: service to the divine couple Sri Radha Krsna. We also want to understand their teachings and make progress on our own spiritual path practically, by incorporating their instructions (2) in our lives.

And so service is both the means and the goal of spiritual perfection; of realizing our identity  (3)and we try our best to engage as much of our time as we can in this process  (4)of self discovery.

Most people understand us when we say we are doing guru seva. Most people have already heard about Bhagavada Gita,

Mahabharata, and Ramayana. They studied it in school, or already practice the teachings themselves. This is the unspoken understanding that comes only when preaching in india. Allot of the times there is no pushing, the jungle has already been cut, so to speak. People already want more. People actually come up to us, and ask for the Bhagavada Gita, or even books like Vedanta Sutra.

Imagine, the most famous story of your whole country, say Romeo and Juliet for a crude example. Now imagine if I told you I had a whole table of books all based on the characters, plotline, psychology and morals, of Romeo and Juliet plus all the other works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. This is what book preaching in India is. Instead of having to explain who Shakespeare is, we point you to something familiar, yet new. Say, you’ve already read Romeo and Juliet, but have you heard about A Mid Summer Nights Dream?

It poses its own advantages and disadvantages. As is preaching everywhere, people approach us with their preconceived notions and opinions of the philosophy. Many times people write us off, because “they know all that already” or “I’m already a member of so and so group.”  But then there are also many who truly admire us for what we do. They see it as an honor that their Indian culture has been adopted by foreigners. It gives them pride in the beliefs and culture that they were born with. But some of us were born with it to. And there are also those who understand how difficult it must be coming from a western background but living in an eastern culture. 

Most of the time, mother India understands and welcomes us. We also remind these people, as well as ourselves, that it doesn’t matter what country you grew up in, your gender, or other bodily designations, or even life’s situations. We are followers of sanatana dharma, trying to reach beyond our minds to the soul and its nature, and that is anything but regional or skin deep.

So everyday (weather permitting, and sometimes even when not) we not-so-quietly infiltrate our way through the crowds of honeymooners, families on vacation, street performers, beggars, masseuses and fruit sellers. And so we find ourselves to sometimes be tourists catering to the other tourists. We always encourage others we meet to actively engage with us, whether it’s a conversation, a book, or a musical collaboration. Sometimes we let people take photos of us when they take a book. Some people approach us for only the novelty of being a foreigner (as if we were a local yak or an exotic bird), while others come every day, or just stop for a little while, to listen to the kirtan. Either way, whether we are approached by the superficial or the genuine seekers, we try to share with them as much as we can, even if it’s only a passing friendly smile and a “Hare Krsna.”
Whether you’re wearing a local hat, a hood, or a turban, everyone seems to enjoy participating in the yuga dharma. It’s not uncommon for a large crowd to form, and dance group to start in the middle (usually starring our very own Anita dasi!). Some are older, getting into the more spiritual side, while others are young and enthusiastic (and sometimes drunk), enjoying the beat and the crowd’s energy.
Sometimes people even join us with their own instruments. So far we’ve had a flute player and a group of drummers join in with their jimbays. We even handed the mike over to them and they enthusiastically lead a string of more common Hindi Radha Krsna bhajans. Another day, the kirtan was so enlivening and attractive that both sides of the street were almost blocked, and it ended in a finale when a troupe of the local police showed up to settle down the commotion. (Warning: none were harmed or arrested in the making of this seva project.) Luckily, the local town mayor is a friend of ours, who is very devoted, and supports our endeavors. Kirtan reminds us again, that everyone can be a participant in reawakening the soul. Whether you’re a Jaghai and Madhai, or a Ghandhi, kirtan is a healing process that attracts all to Krsna.
This year, we’ve been fortunate to have teamed up with some unexpected people along the way.  For a few weeks we were joined by Srila Bhagavata Maharaja, who give many impromptu discussions on bhakti and joined us in leading soulful kirtan. Besides the few passing musicians, we’ve also recruited the help of two younger local boys who have been increasingly reading books and joining in with us over the past few weeks.

They both now come with us almost every day. Madhan, a street vendor and Shashi, a young twenty year old on break from university, comes after working his summer job at one of the many surrounding hotels. With no prior experience, they both enthusiastically sing and play the mrdanga and karatalas with a tabla style beat, and also help distribute books.

Sometimes we leave the kirtan up to just them while the others from our group distribute books. Through this, we get a firsthand look at the transformation that kirtan and books have on the people whom they find; bringing people together, giving them joy, and forming bonds that would otherwise have never existed, regardless of experience level.

Which brings us to the other reason why we’re out here with our books and karatalas.  Preaching (outreach) forms a symbiotic relationship with our own sadhana (in reach). We are here just as much to relieve the suffering of others as we are our own. Preaching give us the opportunity to share what we know, and also reiterate it for ourselves, creating deep impressions for both the hearer and listener. As you well may know, we often preach what we ourselves need to hear. While this endeavor is mainly internal, seeking out the highest forms of love and servitude, it is also an external affair.  Manali, being up in the mountain regions of India, provides us with an opportunity to engage in seva in a more climate friendly environment. Love (relationship) and happiness is the driving force of the universe, so we don’t forget to take some time to work on our own inter relationships with each other, our japa, and other interests we might have.

When we’re not out on the street, we’re working on our other seva projects (geared to our individual skills), having group picnics, and counting our blessings that we aren’t scorching ourselves in india’s summer heat! (note: man pictured below is wearing a jacket.)

To some people in the streets of Manali, we’re just another performance, just another person trying to  sell something. To some, we are warriors, we are a nuisance, or we are an oddity. But to us, everyone is a sister we haven’t met yet, a brother we haven’t run into for awhile, or a friend we don’t know very well. Each person is a new opportunity for us to develop our relationship with gurudeva through service. And so we also try to encourage all we know to develop their own relationship with gurudeva through service to his mission.

Book distribution is not only a branch but one of the main roots of the seva tree. Our Srila Gurudeva has over and over again told us what his desire is, and how we can assist and please him: “One thing I will request all of you. Whatever I have told, you should try to follow exactly. The second thing is that I want to preach, and so you should also preach—in two ways.  First realize all these things, and then preach hari-katha to others. Also, you should try to give out the books which are published by us. In Srila Swamiji Maharaja’s time so many young girls used to do this, and all the boys did it. That is why, very quickly, Krsna consciousness spread all over the whole world. So, again I want this.  Nowadays these leaders are not doing nagara sankirtana, hari-nama, but I want that all my disciples should do it.  Even if there are 2, 3, or 4, no harm.  You should go out with a mrdanga and kartalas. If there is no mrdanga, no harm, you can do it with only kartala. Oh, haribol, haribol, Hare Krsna Hare Krsna. And regarding my books, each devotee should take at least 10 sets and distribute them. I have told this so many times. You can also do this—to serve and please Gurudeva and Krsna.  And go on doing it.  Thank you.”[5]

Another point that Gurudeva enumerated on continually is that first bhakti will come, and then anarthas will disappear. So we should not wait around, thinking that we are not qualified to preach and we will start when we are more qualified. He has said many times that we should preach what we know already. Even if we feel like we are complete babies, gurudeva says “The books should be distributed everywhere, and preaching should also be in that spirit [of Swamiji]. Don’t think, “I don’t know anything, I am so weak.”  Krsna will give intelligence. I was also very weak, like dry straw. But then I became so strong to preach and serve my Gurudeva, om nitya lila pravista visnupada astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Goswami Maharaja. All qualifications are gradually coming and helping me, even though I am now in old age. So you are not weak.”[6]

So with a sincere heart we should try to engage in this seva, to the best of our ability. Distribute books. Endeavor to understand. Preach. Perform nagara sankirtana. The beautiful thing about book distribution (accompanied by kirtan) is that it beautifully harmonizes these instructions given by Srila Gurudeva. And so we hope that everyone will participate in this with their time or energy according to their means and join us in our endeavor to please Srila Gurudeva, spreading his message of eternal happiness and peace.

On behalf of the Manali seva team,

Mallika Dasi

Photocredits : Mallika Dasi

Life experience credits: guru kripa

[1] anarpita-caréà cirät karuëayävatérëaù kalau: (Chaitanya Caritamrita adi 1.4)

May the Supreme Lord who is known as the son of Çrématé Çacé-devé be transcendentally situated in the innermost chambers of your heart. Resplendent with the radiance of molten gold, He has appeared in the Age of Kali by His causeless mercy to bestow what no incarnation has ever offered before: the most sublime and radiant mellow of devotional service, the mellow of conjugal love.

[2]Tad viddhi praëipätena paripraçnena sevayä: [Bg. 4.34] Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.

[3] jévera ‘svarüpa’ haya—kåñëera ‘nitya-däsa’: [Cc. Madhya 20.108] It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Kåñëa because he is the marginal energy of Kåñëa and a manifestation simultaneously one with and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire.

[4] çravaëaà kértanaà viñëoù smaraëaà päda-sevanam: (SB 7.5.23) Prahläda Mahäräja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Viñëu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one’s best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words)—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Kåñëa through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge.

[5] May 25, 2000  Maui, Hawaii

[6]Jan 20, 2000 Australia Fare-well


One Comment

  1. Venu Gopal das
    3 years ago

    Nice article! I would like to come next year.