When I looked at our BBT Vaishnava calendar for signs of auspiciousness during the week of Nov 14th, I was quite disappointed. Usually, there is always something going on, but, this week was completely barren! - There was nothing auspicious about it – no ekadasi; no appearance or disappearance days of the Supreme Lord and His avatars or that of His pure devotees or mention of any Krishna conscious events. To make things worse, a relative of mine reminded me that Nov 14th was the birth anniversary of one of India’s famous (yet corrupt and controversial) politicians – Oh well - that made things even gloomier for me! What can one achieve other than material entanglement by remembering such days or glorifying such mundane personalities.
Amidst this gloom, fortunately, I was hearing a lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam 4.30.37 (http://vedabase.net/sb/4/30/37/en) and my despair turned into hope; the barren week was about to transform into an oasis. His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja was to visit and stay at our new home through the entire week of Nov 14th – I was thrilled in anticipation of Maharaja’s pure and loving association. As Srila Prabhupada notes in the purport to the above verse:
Because the devotee always carries the Supreme Personality of Godhead within his heart, wherever he goes becomes a place of pilgrimage, a holy place for understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is therefore the duty of everyone to associate with a pure devotee and thus attain freedom from material contamination. Everyone should take advantage of the wandering devotees, whose only business is to deliver conditioned souls from the clutches of māyā.
The following are some anecdotes from Maharaja’s visit to Boston from Nov 14-18. I wish to share these for the pleasure of the devotees.
Sannyasa and Time
I was waiting in the car ready to drive Maharaja to a massage therapy session. Maharaja has always had a very busy schedule, but, in recent times, his schedule has become extremely hectic. He sat in the car, looked at me with a smile and said, “It’s funny, you take sannyasa (renounced order of life), and there is less time.”
We, householders, often think that sannyasa life is much less cumbersome. This may be true with respect to renunciants (bhajanandis as mentioned in SB 4.30.37 verse) who are focused on their own realization and don’t care to travel to deliver others, but, not for the traveling preachers. While householders may enjoy some leisure or recreation time, a fully Krishna conscious traveling preacher sannyasi like Maharaja is always engaged in serving others and thus, there is hardly any time for such persons. They don’t stop for a moment in their selfless acts of sacrifice.
Serving Others Brings Peace
While driving to the massage therapist (his name is Charles) for the second session, Maharaja remarked that the massage therapist had dedicated his life to serving others and relieving their physical pain, and so, he was peaceful.
Although, the scriptures declare that serving others on the spiritual platform was far more beneficial and Maharaja himself was engaged in such service, Maharaja was never judgmental about others and thus, was able to share heartfelt appreciation of Charles’ service. Often, due to our judgmental and self-righteous attitudes, we look down upon others. I was inspired by Maharaja’s example of appreciating others even if they are not ‘devotees’ i.e. in their appearance and behavior. I was also happy for Charles, my friend, therapist and well-wisher, for having gained the association and appreciation of a pure devotee.
Exchange of Gifts
I was quite excited that Maharaja had agreed to meet my massage therapist. I asked Maharaja if he would be willing to gift Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. To my joy, he said yes. After Maharaja and Charles met and exchanged plesantries, Maharaja gifted Charles the Gita and said, “Here’s, a guided tour”, and explained to him the layout of the verses. Charles thanked Maharaja for the gift.
During the massage session, I opened the Gita that Maharaja had given to Charles and saw the following message:
May this text bring the light of transcendental knowledge into your daily life
Signed: Romapada Swami
After the massage session, Charles gave Maharaja a Zafu pillow. Maharaja had mentioned about knee pain and Charles, thoughtfully, gifted the pillow and demonstrated how to sit on it. Maharaja, in turn, thanked him for his kind gesture.
Generally, the homes of Krishna conscious devotees are clean with minimal stuff. But, sometimes, areas like the garage are not given much attention. When Maharaja entered the garage of our home, he remarked that it was nice and clean. I told him that my in-laws, especially my mother-in-law had cleaned it (removing the fallen leaves from the trees and cleansing the place with water), Maharaja exclaimed, “Really!” He appeared to be pleased with their example.
When we left the program at Tufts University and were on our way home, my father-in-law informed that he had left his jacket at the venue. And, we also realized that we had left Maharaja’s water bottle. I tried to call the devotee, who had organized the program, several times, but, I couldn’t reach him. While I was about to give up (after all it was just an old jacket and a water bottle), Maharaja suggested that I request my wife to get on the internet and to call the Campus center and have them send someone to find the devotee. My wife was successful in reaching them, but, they called back saying they couldn’t find the devotee or the jacket. Later, the devotee informed me that a student had found those items and given to the lost and found department. I informed Maharaja and he was happy to hear the update. Maharaja saw everything as a property of Krishna and he was also sensitive to my father-in-law, who was in anxiety in having lost his jacket.
Pleased by Outreach Programs
After the Mantra Yoga Retreat program at Tufts University, Maharaja seemed visibly pleased and said, “Nice group of students.”
At a similar program in Northeastern University, Maharaja appreciated the appearance and ambience of the venue called Sacred Space and the good student turnout.
After his MIT lecture on Consciousness, the Missing Link, several students approached Maharaja with questions. Boarding the car, Maharaja remarked, “That student, he was sitting in the back patiently waiting for his turn to speak, and he comes and asks me what is the path to enlightenment. Times have changed. Times have changed. Another lady came and asked how to maintain spiritual consciousness at workplace. It’s nice. Really nice.” And, Maharaja mentioned that one student reminded him of Bhakta Drew at Illinois.
After coming back from a late night college program, we were in our living room eating our dinner when we suddenly heard the sound of the dryer upstairs. We wondered who had started it. When I went up to check, I noticed that Maharaja had put one of his clothes to dry. To do so, he had probably removed some of our clothes (none of us were sure about whether the dryer was empty or not). In any case, we were appreciating how Maharaja was always self-sufficient – as a pure devotee of Krishna and as a sannyasi, he was never dependent on anyone. If he accepted the services of others, it was only for the benefit of the persons who offered such services.
Offering Clear Guidance
The president of ISKCON Boston had a couple of management-related questions for Maharaja. Despite his busy schedule, Maharaja sat with him in the car and addressed his questions thoroughly. Although, Maharaja was not the GBC for Boston area, he patiently addressed the temple president’s questions. In fact, earlier, he had given me his responses when I had presented the questions on behalf of the temple president. But, instead of just telling the devotee to talk to me, Maharaja spoke again. I thought Maharaja reciprocated in this way because, the devotee valued Maharaja’s opinions and was eager to hear.
His Approach to Obstacles to Service
After we came back late at night from the program at Tufts, Maharaja called me into his room and informed me that his laptop wasn’t able to open any webpage. I’m not a computer expert, but, I suggested him to re-start his laptop. He said that was a good suggestion and he would try that. I left the room.
Next day morning, Maharaja came down (with his food tray – usually, devotees pick this up after he finishes his breakfast) and approached me at the dining table. I was having breakfast with a few devotees. There was a fair amount of commotion with about 6-8 of us in that area. Undisturbed and with his eyes completely focused on mine and a look that conveyed urgency, he put his hands on my shoulder and told me that he tried a few things he knew but the computer issue persisted and requested me to call a devotee in NY to troubleshoot and solve.
It was clear that Maharaja wanted to access some webpage(s) for the purpose of executing his devotional service. I immediately went upstairs, Maharaja gave his laptop to me and soon, the devotee and I were on call trying to figure out the issue. In the meantime, Maharaja met with a devotee and provided him spiritual guidance on some matters. While the laptop was essential to Maharaja’s many services, Maharaja wasn’t dependent on it and he didn’t waste a moment while it was not available. Once, I looked at him and indicated that we were making progress. He smiled. I realized that it is important that we update Maharaja while we are working on some service. After 10-15 min, the problem was solved and I returned the laptop to Maharaja, who immediately resumed his services. Afterwards, when we were traveling, Maharaja asked me what the issue was. I thought he wanted to know so that he could avoid the same issue or deal with it in a more efficient and swift manner next time. He values every moment!
The whole episode, apparently a minor one, taught me several lessons and helped me understand how Maharaja deals with obstacles to his devotional service. He doesn’t ignore, he doesn’t procrastinate or he doesn’t try to figure it out all by himself. He is completely focused on the issue, however minor it is. When there are experts, Maharaja reaches out to them. Ultimately, he wants to please Krishna and his spiritual master by his devotional service. And, whatever it takes to do it efficiently and nicely, Maharaja espouses it. In the process, devotees, who are alert and willing to assist him gain transcendental benefit and they come to recognize their own shortcomings and how they could serve Maharaja better the next time around when such golden opportunities arise. The whole process of Krishna consciousness is thus a series of beautiful loving exchanges when Krishna and His pure devotees are at the center of our lives.
All glories to His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja! All glories to Srila Prabhupada!