New York Ratha Yatra is a special occasion for many devotees all over the world. I remember His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja mentioning in one lecture how he had to miss the NY Ratha yatra once against his wishes, because of his having to attend the GBC (Governing Body Commission of ISKCON) meetings. It is indeed a very special event for him as he has been regularly attending it for many years!
Certainly being present for New York Ratha Yatra in the association of Maharaja for me is one of the best moments of life! Despite having no qualifications or ability to appreciate the wonderful spiritual qualities of Maharaja, I would like to make an attempt here to share some anecdotes from my recent visit to NY on the occasion of Lord Jagannatha’s Ratha Yatra. This will provide a glimpse of the many qualities of a pure devotee as described in the scriptures, exhibited here by Maharaja and as observed by me.
Friday evening, June 10th:
One of Maharaja’ s event at Sri Sri Krishna-Balarama temple in Queens, NY, was attended by a person new to Krishna consciousness who had come all the way from Pennsylvania. Not only did Maharaja spend quality time with the guest, but he provided this person a ride back to the Brooklyn Temple and arranged for another devotee to ensure that this person reached his hotel safely. I was touched by Maharaja’s example of giving his personal attention to a newcomer in the midst of his hectic schedule. Attending so personally to the needs of someone who is visiting the temple for the first time shows his genuine care and compassion for everyone and, of course, how personal he is in his dealings. It also shows how he takes every soul seriously whether they are just visitors, neophytes or experienced devotees!
Ratha Yatra Day Saturday, June 11th morning:
The auspicious day began with participating in Mangala arati in the presence of Maharaja. After Mangala arati, it was japa time and I was very happy to get the precious opportunity of being in the temple room and chanting in the presence of Maharaja. Apart from showing by example how one should be eager to attend Mangala arati, he also stayed in the temple room during japa time, emphasizing the need to give utmost priority to chanting right in the morning.
At this time, the temple room had fewer devotees. There were some chairs lying around the temple room randomly placed. I noticed Maharaja, very silently lift them and place them at their respective places, ensuring the sanctity and cleanliness of the temple room is not disturbed. Similarly, there were some sitting mats lying on the floor unattended. Maharaja, again in a very humble and inspiring manner, simply gathered them one by one, arranged them neatly and placed them in the corner, not causing any inconvenience to anyone. Furthermore, a board on which the lyrics of Mangala arati were written was also left in the middle of the temple room unattended and Maharaja, although he could have asked one of us to put it in the right place, did it himself. His humility, respect for other’s chanting japa (he did not disturb any one or ask anyone to place things in the right place), respect for the temple room and his organizational skills were all very prominent by these seemingly simple actions!
Later, it was time for Darshana arati and Guru Puja. After very reverentially taking Darshana of Their Lordships, Sri Sri Radha Govinda and Sri Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra Maharani, Maharaja, walked towards Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasasan. At this point, he could have placed the garland around Srila Prabhupada and continued the arati without waiting for anyone. But there were still some devotees taking Darshana of Sri Sri Radha Govinda who had not assembled near Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasasan. So Maharaja, very patiently with the garland in hand, waited for the devotees to complete taking Caranamrta and assemble near Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasasan. Thus, very beautifully, he showed the importance of respecting the presence of the attendees by waiting for everyone to assemble.
Every year during the New York Ratha Yatra, Maharaja arranges for a booth for book distribution. I noticed that though some of his disciples were taking care of it on his behalf, Maharaja didn’t just abandon the booth, but personally came and attended to it for a while with a lot of love and devotion in service to Srila Prabhupada. He could have carried on with his other services, yet he made sure that he gave quality time for the booth, exhibiting very clearly his dedication to this book distribution in service to Srila Prabhupada!
Sunday, June 12:
NY Ratha Yatra days are exceptionally long, and perhaps tiring too. By the time we got done with the program, all of us were exhausted! However, Maharaja still seemed fresh and full of spiritual energy; very clearly showing that he is on a spiritual platform! Today, it was Nirjala Ekadasi and yet none of us dared to attend Mangala arati, since we decided we all needed rest. Taking this into consideration, I came to the temple during japa time, still feeling I could have gotten more rest, and there I saw Maharaja chanting; he was probably there way ahead of us. It is very inspiring to see how Maharaja is certainly above the bodily conception of life and exhibits no sign of bodily discomforts.
On Sunday morning, he gave a very inspiring class on Queen Kunti’s prayers. Maharaja’s prominent quality of humility was exhibited as follows: before his class, there was still kirtan going on, but the class had to begin on time, since it was Sunday and there was a particular schedule that had to be maintained. This resulted in the kirtan leaders being requested to pause for class. Maharaja, though he was only following the schedule, very humbly apologized to the kirtan leader for the interruption. There didn’t seem any need for him to do so, but through his actions, he inspired us to always respect another’s service – whatever the service may be!
During the class, he covered several wonderful and important topics like: time is relative and unstoppable, spiritual conception, circumstances come from one’s past free-will choices, the role of destiny and importance of taking responsibility for the choices that we make. Furthermore, He added Srila Prabhupada’s point that just by clapping our hands in a kirtan, we can change our destiny. He mentioned that even difficult circumstances can be used in service to Krishna. Our attention should be focused on Krishna and we should try to fulfill our responsibility as much as we can. Often we are faced with some tough situations leading to indecisiveness about what course of action we should choose. However, quite often, in such situations we observe that if we keep our focus on Krishna, with the passage of some time, by Krishna’s mercy, the situation seems to resolve mysteriously into a simpler, more manageable one! Trying to sink these beautiful points into our hearts, we left the temple room feeling grateful for being in the association of and hearing from a pure devotee of the Lord on such an auspicious day.
Soon, it was time for more mercy! We had the wonderful opportunity of driving with Maharaja to his next lecture in Towaco, NJ at Sri Sri Gaura Nitai’s temple. It just seemed to me that the more we receive, the greedier we become for nectar! His association is incomparable and most valuable! As Maharaja entered the car, he noticed two bottles of water kept beside him. He very humorously, yet with great gravity remarked, “What were the water bottles doing here on Nirjala Ekadasi, as if it was kept there to create temptation?” He then quickly removed the bottles and passed it over to us sitting behind. Now, it is obvious that Maharaja is in full control of his senses. Placing bottles of water near him can in no way create temptation for him. But being so humble and an exemplary acharya, he showed by example that we should never take risk or flirt with Maya even if it is the smallest thing. We need to be very cautious, no matter how experienced we may be in our devotional service! This was truly remarkable for me and reminded me of his lectures on Maharaja Bharata’s pastimes; emphasizing about how we have to be very cautious!
Maharaja is always in the present! As we were driving to New Jersey, he noticed that the car was running low on fuel and indicated to the devotee who was driving that he needs to refuel when coming back. Later, when the program was over and we were driving back, none of us would have remembered that we needed to fill fuel if it was not for Maharaja. Just on time, at the exact gas station that probably had better service than others, Maharaja indicated that we need to drive into the place to refuel. His memory matches his presence of mind in all ways! How wonderful is Maharaja.
When we went to the Towaco center, to our surprise the evening class was a special one where both Maharaja and his godbrother, HH Bhakti Caru Swami Maharaja gave a combined class! It was nectar for both the eyes and the ears. Maharaja very humbly addressed the audience and said that they had all come expecting to hear HH Bhakti Caru Maharaja give a class and that he was only the add-on. Wow! Maharaja’s humility is amazing. The appreciation that the elevated Vaishnavas have for each other was further made obvious when HH Bhakti Caru Swami Maharaja glorified Maharaja by saying how methodical, organized, thoughtful and profound he is. He thanked Maharaja for taking his valuable time out his busy schedule and coming all the way to New Jersey. Maharaja very humbly responded saying it was Krishna’s arrangement and that Krishna grabbed Him! So beautifully he teaches us that the focus should always be Krishna at the center!
The topic for the class itself was amazing: ISKCON in the future. Both Swamis addressed various topics that concerned what will keep ISKCON going in the future, specifically the importance of Srila Prabhupada and his teachings! The highlight was cooperation; a statement made by Srila Prabhupada, “Your love for me will be shown by how much you will cooperate in my absence.” This statement further softened my heart when I heard Maharaja say that they were passing on the legacy and our love for them will be shown by how much we cooperate with each other in their absence. It was too moving a moment for me to describe it in this article. Perhaps meditating on this one point can change the life of many of us!
I beg forgiveness for any offense caused due to my feeble attempt to bring across the wonderful qualities of Maharaja! Hare Krishna!