Monday, April 28, 2008
Day 1 of my conference in Chattanooga, TN and it was 8.00 pm and I was scouring for vegetarian food. I was hungry and was preparing for a possible starvation that night. I already walked about 2miles and couldn’t find anything. Hence I finally decided to step into the hotel restaurant and check out my luck. I was greeted by a nice young woman. Before she could say anything more, I interjected saying, I am vegan and do not eat meat, eggs, and any dairy products. She was not sure if there was anything for me to eat. However, she advised I directly talk to the chef for he may “fix” something for me. Anyways, I sat next to chef work area (it was an open kitchen) and requested for something vegan. After some deliberations, I got French fries and overly salted veggies.
The chef was very inquisitive as he said he rarely sees vegans as customers and so he probed more into my meat free diet. As we discussed, we invariably ended up in philosophy, soul, body and God. I explained to him ch 2 of Bhagavad Gita where Krishna chastises Arjuna for his apparent weakness of heart based on bodily designations and his instructions on the eternal science of the soul. I repeated the essence of that chapter and argued with him based on Srila Prabhupada’s arguments. I was forceful at times but at the same time accommodating his arguments (I was practicing my tolerance factor, apparently it is non-existent to very low).
While he could not respond to my questions, he also was sticking to his argument as truth. Anyways, after a lively conversation for about 20 to 30 mins, he left for other engagements. But I was happy I talked about Krishna Consciousness and challenged his mundane intelligence. I don’t think I made any dent in his consciousness, but at the least I tried to question his assumptions of life and hence made him to think. He agreed with me and listened intensely on the explanation of soul, matter and supersoul. Finally, I ate about 40% of my food and left to my room.
I have sent him the “Science of Self- Realization” book along with a long letter from me again stressing the aspect of the soul, body and supersoul.
Srila Prabhupada said that just by seeing and touching a book, one gains sukriti (devotional credit), what to speak if one actually reads the book. So sending the book is sending the message of our parampara to one more lost soul who is aimlessly wandering in this universe.
Hope he takes this message seriously!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Krishna Consciousness as per taught by our Sampradaya (Gaudiya Vaishnava) acharayas is pure unalloyed devotional service. It is not mere “devotion” to God but “devotional service” to God free from fruitive mentality and mental speculation. The stress is given on service without mundane expectations (gross or subtle).
H.H.Radhanath Swami in one of his lectures said that a pure devotee is one who is absolutely free from any tinge of material desire (even at the atomic level). He also mentioned that a pure devotee is also one who desires to be a pure devotee. In other words, even if our aspirations are pure, in the sense that we are sincerely and honestly striving to achieve the pure devotee platform completely free from any fruitive or speculative mentality (even though we may be far away from it currently), maharaj said that we can be considered pure devotees. So this is the essence. Even if we are not pure devotees, aspiring to be one is the standard set by our previous acharyas.
We come in the line of Srila Rupa Goswamis who got instructions directly from Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who is Lord Krishna Himself. Therefore, if we want to sincerely follow in the footsteps of our previous acharyas, then we should (no compromise) aspire for the highest platform of pure devotion.
Unfortunately, I have seen and heard many devotees aspiring to fulfill their mundane plans and actually approaching Krishna for fulfilling their own material desires. While this is not wrong, this is also not in line with our acharyas. Devotees who seek material favor directly or indirectly from Krishna have mixed devotion in their hearts. Mixed devotion means devotion mixed with a mentality to fulfill our material desires (karma misra bhaktas) and/or mixed with mental speculation (jnana misra bhaktas).
Srila Rupa Goswami clearly made the distinction between mixed devotion and pure devotion.
In his Bhakti Rasamarta Sindhu (1.1.11), he states,
anukulyena krsnanusilanam bhaktir uttama
Uttama bhakti, or unalloyed devotion unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, involves the rendering of devotional service in a way that is favorable to the Lord. This devotional service should be free from any extraneous motive and devoid of fruitive karma, impersonal jnana and all other selfish desires
Srila Rupa Goswami clearly states anyabhilasita sunyam which literally means to make all other desires zero. Srila Prabhupada, to this verse, particularly said that we are not dead stone, therefore by dovetailing our desires for the Lord, we can perform devotional service. Therefore, this is our standard. We should be free from karma and jnana and approach Krishna only for rendering devotional service. Krishna, seeing our sincerity will award us opulence (material and spiritual) accordingly.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
But when we seek the higher dimensions, then the concepts of humility and submission has to come into place. With this humility and submission, living earthly lives will benefit our spiritual makeup. In other words, with humility and submission, we will evolve to higher spiritual strata ultimately culminating at the Lotus Feet of Krishna. This spiritual progress and evolution can happen successfully within India because we have multiple access points in the form of temples, saintly people and scriptures. Unfortunately, majority of the Indian populace have shifted to a style of living which was once considered alien and abominable even. Today, all these things are considered “cool”.
It is so funny…you see before (some 100 to 150 years), the British wanted to force their western culture on us and we revolted…however, today, we are begging the same western world to miserably accept us as part of their culture…this aping we can see among the elderly and the young people of India living in all parts of the world.
Really…the only way to reverse this situation is when western people come to India and remind and even teach the Indians of their own spiritual heritage…otherwise I don’t see any other option. The only majority of western people who follow the Vedic tradition in a proper guru-parampara manner are the Hare Krishnas. So I think all the western Hare Krishna devotees should go to India at some point or other and preach far and wide and wake up the intoxicated Indians (who are running behind a drop of water in a desert when there is nectar in their backyards!).
Monday, April 21, 2008
I learnt from a taxi driver that Tennessee is part of the “Bible belt” in the US. The term “Bible belt” means Evangelical Protestantism (socially conservative) as being a dominant part of the culture. In plain terms, this area is where Christians are very dominant. Therefore, I could not find anything “vegetarian” to eat. A vegan restaurant very close to my conference center saved my trip. People in this part of the world like their cows so much that it ends up in their dinner plate more times than one…that’s right, the main food here is beef and beef products. Pretty depressing especially if one wants to eat alternative food. But the vegan restaurant really came to my rescue (although the soy based food upset my stomach and I still feel uncomfortable).
It was Ekadasi day and my trip was scheduled on that day. I fasted and travelled to Chattanooga for my conference. On the trip, I tried to engage my senses in Krishna’s pastimes and holy names. I cranked my mp3 player on and listened to the lecture and the kirtan. I took my Bhagavad Gita with me and managed to read a few slokas. I also chanted along the way. I tried as much as possible to absorb in Krishna so I do not feel the fatigue of the travel and fast. To my amazement, at the end of the day, around 10.00 pm Chattanooga time, I was alive (fortunately), and brisk at the same time. I could see my fellow passengers weary and tired.
Anyways, I headed out the airport for a taxi on my way to the hotel where my conference was to be held. The taxi driver was an African American male in his middle age and with his thick African American southern accent tried to strike a conversation with me. I could barely understand his accent and English but some how I managed. One time, he asked me “business or pleasure”…and I responded with silence. I could not understand his English. After about 1 min of awkward pause, I realized he was asking if I was in Chattanooga for business or for pleasure. We continued with our conversation and as I was immersed the whole day in hearing about Krishna, all that was in mind were topics about Krishna. So I asked him…is there a “Hare Krishna” temple in the hope that he would repeat the word “Hare Krishna”. To my amazement, the only word he understood was temple. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue the conversation. But somehow Krishna inspired me to talk more.
So I took this opportunity to probe his ignorance. I went like “how can you not know Hare Krishna….?” And I insinuated like Hare Krishna is a household word. I saw that he was feeling a little uncomfortable so I just plainly asked him if he has ever heard the Hare Krishna mantra before. He said “no” and I told the maha-mantra to him. I also told him that this mantra can solve all problems of life (social, economical and spiritual). He felt so happy to hear that he was eager to know the mantra and memorize it. He started to learn the mantra and repeated it a few times to get the pronunciation correct.
I, further, explained the meaning of the mantra and what Krishna and Rama means and who Krishna is and so forth. To my surprise, he was very eager to hear more. I stressed that he should chant the mantra at least 5 mins everyday and give it to his son and wife and his relatives. I stressed that chanting can solve all problems of life and will give us happiness.
I reached my destination and his enthusiasm peeked that he wanted to know the mantra by heart and hence requested me to write down the mantra. I wrote down the mantra for him and stressed that he has to chant everyday to solve all his problems. He was so grateful for my gesture that he was profusely thanking me for my kindness. He felt so grateful that he offered the return journey to the airport for free. I was happy because Krishna used me to help this sincere soul and that it was Ekadasi day that he started his chanting.
After three days, on my way back, I further explained the significance of the Holy name. I reached the airport and requested his address so I can send a book. He happily gave his home address and said he will be happy to read Srila Prabhupada book. I gave him my Krishna picture with the mantra on it as a souvenir and asked him to keep it at all times in his wallet as it can protect him from the dangers of this world.
He was happy and offered a free ride but I paid him anyways and promised to mail him the book. We parted and went our ways.
Krishna has his plans for saving sincere souls. From my conversations with him, I could see he was appreciative of Krishna and sincere in his approach towards God and for him God played a role in his life. I hope he continues to chant.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Why do we make such a big deal out of everything? Why do we make a mountain out of a mole about everything? Let us look at some numbers.
Lord Brahma is the secondary creator of this universe. He lives for 100 years.
Satya yuga - 1,728,000 earth years; Treta yuga - 1,296,000 years; Dwapara yuga - 864,000 years ; Kali yuga - 432,000 years
All these 4 yugas combined lasts for 4,320,000 years.
One thousand cycles of these yugas constitute one day of Brahma (equivalent to our 12 hours) and another one thousand cycle of yugas constitute the night of Brahma. So our 24 hours is equivalent to 8,640,000,000 earth years.
One day and night of Brahma is 8,640,000,000 years. (8.6 trillion earth years).
Multiplying the above value for one year (360 days) - 3,110,400,000,000 earth years (311 trillion and 40 billion earth years).
Lord Brahma lives for 100 years, hence multiplying the above value (311 trillion years) by 100 will give Lord Brahma’s total lifespan for 100 years.
Srila Prabhupada in his purport (BG 8.17) states “By these calculations the life of Brahmā seems fantastic and interminable, but from the viewpoint of eternity it is as brief as a lightning flash. In the Causal Ocean there are innumerable Brahmās rising and disappearing like bubbles in the Atlantic”
In a lecture H.H.Radhanath swami states “Lord Brahma’s life is less than the nimesh of Lord Vishnu” (nimesh is defined as the time taken for an eye-blink)
So from the above two statements, we can infer that even Lord Brahma’s life is like bubbles in the ocean and less than an eye blink’s time. What to speak of our lives?
An average life span of a human is 100 years and if we compare this to the cosmic calculations, our life at the best is atomic.
In this time scale, our life span is absolutely meaningless…and it is all the more paradoxical when we waste it on mundane pursuits.
Whatever total insignificant time that has been allotted by Krishna to us in this life, engaging it in His service will make that insignificant time highly significant.
Friday, April 11, 2008
- Srila Prabhupada
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Lord Nrsimhadeva Reciprocates Instantly in Sri Mayapura Dhama, ISKCON’s World Headquarters in West Bengal, India
By Pankajanghri Dasa
The fact that people just love to hear stories is one reason why some of the Vedic codes were gradually transmitted in story form, like the epic histories Mahabharata and Ramayana and the Puranas. When such stories concern the pastimes of the Lord and His devotees, they are called lilas.
Being labeled Lord Nrsimhadeva's pujari in Mayapur, I have been asked to recount some stories in connection with Him, but unlike the shastras, these lilas have no authority except for the testimony of the devotees who told them. In most cases there were no other witnesses.
Although I am generally quite skeptical when it comes to accepting other people s mystical experiences as truth, just too many things started happening recently, not to sit up and take notice. For instance, during the last Gaurapurnima festival, I called over a mataji in the crowd and asked her to distribute the Lord's charanamrita to the ladies, which she did. Later, when she brought the charanamrita pot back, she remarked that Lord Nrsimhadeva was very merciful to reciprocate so quickly. I was praying this morning that I might be able to offer some direct service to Him, and now you have given me this service. Yes, I said, desires are quickly fulfilled in the dhama. Just see, the same day you desire, it happened. No, not the same day — the same moment! she replied. The very instant I expressed that desire to serve Him, you called me over. Wow! That is amazing! I acknowledged. Did you hear about how one mataji's eye problem was cured at the same time that Lord Nrsimhadeva s original eyes were placed back, after one donor had bought Him new eyes? (Please click I Want My Eyes Back!) Oh, yes, she told me. As a matter of fact, I was staying in the same building when Lord Nrsimhadeva spoke to her, she added. You know, there was so much energy around that night that nobody could get any sleep.
Just a few days later, another devotee revealed how Lord Nrsimhadeva helped him:
"I was suffering intensely. I could not even stand without supporting myself on the column in front of Lord Nrsimhadeva's altar. I prayed, 'Please help me, take away this suffering condition, so that I may serve You fully!' I then felt all my pain moving up and flowing out of my body. It just left."
While I was hearing this, I noticed another devotee who had come for the darshan of the Lord. Earlier in the morning this mataji had asked my advice what to do, for she had been afflicted for about two weeks with a severe problem that contaminated her body, which wouldn t allow her to paint some Deities in Assam, although she had already been commissioned to do it and had an air ticket to go.
"Mataji," I exclaimed while walking over to her, "Lord Nrsimhadeva is giving instant benedictions. Why don t you ask Him to remove your problem?"
The very next morning, when she saw me, she said, "Thank you so much for the advice! You know, when I arrived home from the temple yesterday, my problem had completely disappeared."
Some days later, another mataji came to the pujari room and told us about a dream, wherein Lord Nrsimhadeva walked and talked with her just like a father. When she asked how she could serve Him, He told her to offer Him some mangoes. It wasn't the mango season, but she managed to get some, and we offered them for her. This was the year that Sripada Gaura-Govinda Swami, one of ISKCON's gurus, passed away in Mayapur. A few days after this tragedy she came again and said, "Actually, I only told you half of the dream. Lord Nrsimhadeva also said to me, My pujari is very dear to Me, and I am going to take him back with Me."
"Oh, don t do that, please," I fearfully exclaimed." We want him to stay here."
"No, I think I will take him back."
And after my pleading with Him for a long time, the Lord firmly announced, "All right, then, I will take one of the gurus instead."
She concluded by saying, "I told my spiritual master about this dream, and he advised me not to tell anyone. But now, because it has come true, I think I can tell you."
When I repeated this story to my friend Visvambhara from Carolina, USA, he said,
"This is amazing! My wife also dreamed about Lord Nrsimhadeva and mangoes. You see, yesterday, while she was walking outside the Mayapur campus, she saw a jar of mango pickles in a shop and desired to buy them for Lord Nrsimhadeva. But doubting the purity of the contents, she refrained. However, last night, Lord Nrsimhadeva appeared in her dream and asked, 'Where are My mango pickles?'"
When Lord Nrsimhadeva first came to Mayapur, all the pujaris were reluctant to worship His awesome form. One American devotee, Bhava-siddhi dasa, was particularly frightened and always very nervous worshiping Him. One night, after putting the Lord to rest, he was leaving the altar, when he heard such a tremendous sound that it made his hairs stand on end. Looking back fearfully, he saw that everything was in place. So he quickly left, locked the door and paid his obeisances, praying for forgiveness for any offense he might inadvertently have committed. At the end of that night he was awakened by the shaking of his bed. Bhavasiddhi was sleeping on the top of a bunk bed. So he thought it must be the pujari below him, getting up for mangala-arati. However, when he opened his eyes, he saw Lord Nrsimhadeva sitting on his bed. That fortunate pujari became very fearful, practically to the point of panic. As he tried to get up, Lord Nrsimhadeva placed His two hands, which felt like the weight of the universe, on his shoulders.
"Be peaceful, be calm," the Lord consoled him. "I have just come to tell you that when you worship Me in the temple, there is no need to fear Me. Please, give up this fear." The Lord then disappeared, but Bhava-siddhi began to run up and down the veranda of the Long Building, where he slept.
"What happened?" asked some concerned devotees. But they received only incoherent replies. They started to think may be he had gone mad or become haunted by a ghost. Finally, Bhava-siddhi ran over to the temple and prostrated himself before the door where Lord Nrsimhadeva is worshiped and offered heartfelt prayers. After some time, he became a little pacified and began walking back to his room. "I wonder why everyone is staring at me," he thought. When he looked down the answer was obvious: he had gone to the temple in his night dress. I saw Bhava-siddhi at last year's Gaurapurnima festival - he is living in America now - and asked him about that incident.
"Yes," he said, "I still have those two marks from Lord Nrsimhadeva on my shoulders. They are almost gone now, but they are still visible." (after two years)
He wasn t the only one to claim to have seen Lord Nrsimhadeva. Once, a devotee from a nearby Gaudiya Matha temple came to offer worship to Lord Nrsimhadeva and told our head pujari Jananivasa, that on Nrsimha Chaturdasi (the appearance day of Nrsimhadeva) he had been staying up all night chanting. Then, at the end of the night, Lord Nrsimhadeva manifested Himself in his room. It was the form of Nrsimhadeva from the ISKCON temple, and He appeared to be smiling very sweetly at me. My Guru Maharaja said I was very fortunate and should come here and worship Lord Nrsimhadeva. Another time, the frantic parents of a runaway boy, after searching all over the country, finally heard that their son was at our Mayapur center. They immediately came and spent the whole day looking for him, inquiring at the reception desk and from individual devotees, but they were not at all lucky in tracing him (over 1,000 devotees live in Mayapur's ISKCON complex).
At the end of the day, during the sandhya-arati (evening puja) of Lord Nrsimhadeva, his mother was praying with folded hands:" My dear Lord, the last time I came here, I happily participated in the chanting and dancing, but now my heart is broken because of my lost son, and I find no pleasure in life anymore. My Lord, if only my son could be returned to me, then I would also raise my hands and chant Haribol, Hare Krishna."
As these words left her mouth, a figure passed and stopped before her and Lord Nrsimhadeva: it was her lost son. Both parents have now accepted Vaishnava initiation, started a ISKCON Nama-hatta center in their village, and are enthusiastically preaching the Lord's glories.
There are other stories - some I would be hesitant to repeat, and others that I can't, having been told them in confidence. The devotees who told me these stories have had their faith and conviction strengthened, and certainly mine was, too, by hearing them. So if others derive the same benefit from reading them - even though they are not shastra it will be most beneficial. They help us advance in Krishna consciousness.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup cake flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar (can add more if you want a sweet biscuit)
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
1/2 cup cold sour cream
1/4 cold whole milk
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, preferably toasted
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Then add the brown sugar to it and mix well. You can add more brown sugar (half cup) if one desires a sweet biscuit. To this dry mixture, add the butter (preferably in room temperature) and massage it well with the dry ingredients to get a coarse meal. Don’t worry too much about the small lumps. It is perfectly fine.
Then in a separate bowl, add the sour cream, and milk and combine well. Add this wet mixture to dry ingredients and knead to soft dough. Add some more milk if required to get smooth dough. After 2 or 3 mins of kneading, add in the pecans and knead again till the pecans are comfortably embedded in the dough.
Take a rolling pin and roll the dough to half inch thickness. Using a cookie cutter, cut out the dough into shapes and place it on a baking sheet. Insert the baking pan in a pre-heated oven of 425 degrees F. After 15-20 mins, puffed up biscuits are ready.
Wait…not yet, offer it to the Lord and then taste the sweetness of Prasad
It makes about 20 biscuits, and took me about 50 mins overall to prepare and bake and 10 mins to offer, in 60 mins, we have biscuits from heaven!
Thursday, April 3, 2008
The answer is very simple, our desire to be the enjoyer, our desire to lord over material things, our desire to be sense of controller and doer. This mentality is so deeply entrenched in our consciousness it is practically impossible to get out of it. This enjoying mentality vacillates within the three modes of material nature. Therefore we are kicked by maya here and there, up and down and we are running behind that “promised” enjoyment that we have been incubating and seeking for eons and eons of lifetimes. But yet…what we get is just a farthing. We start out for a treasure hunt but end up with scrap metal…that is all we can find in this wretched place called “mrtyuloka”…that’s right, the scriptures call this place earth a place of death and rightly so…simply because we are eternally caught up in this samsara of birth and death.
Therefore, with our memory bewildered, intelligence lost, there is no chance for us to untie the hard knots of maya. The only way we can be untied is by a person who is not tied or in other words who is free or liberated. That person is our spiritual master. By submitting and taking shelter at the lotus feet of our spiritual master, we can cross this ocean of material distress and go back home back to godhead.
So, please everyone, this is a call for emergency, we can be saved to the degree we take shelter of Guru and Krishna.
Krishna says in the Gita
daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante
māyām etāḿ taranti te
This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.
This is our only hope, surrender unto the Lotus Feet of Lord Krishna can save us from all dangers of this world.
samāśritā ye pada-pallava-plavaḿ
mahat-padaḿ puṇya-yaśo murāreḥ
bhavāmbudhir vatsa-padaḿ paraḿ padaḿ
padaḿ padaḿ yad vipadāḿ na teṣām
For those who have accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Murāri, the enemy of the Mura demon, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf's hoof-print. Their goal is paraḿ padam, Vaikuṇṭha, the place where there are no material miseries, not the place where there is danger at every step.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Prabhupad:.....This material world, padam padam means step by step there is danger. So one who takes shelter of the lotus feet of Krishna, mahat-padam punya-yaso muräreh samäsritä, for him there is no more danger. Abhaya-caranäravinda re. How it is possible to take complete shelter of Krishna, which is fearlessness, no anxiety, vaikuntha? Durlabha manava-janama sat-sange. This is possible if you associate with devotees. If you think that "Now I have become very much advanced. Now I shall live alone and chant Hare Krishna, imitating Haridäsa Thäkura,'' this is nonsense. You cannot imitate Haridäsa Thäkura. You have to associate with devotees. Durlabha manava-janam sat sange. Sat-sange. Satäm prasangän mama virya-samvido [SB 3.25.25]. If you remain with the devotees, then by their association, by talking with them, you'll get real understanding of God consciousness. It is very practical to understand. Just like in material world there are many associations, societies. Businessmen, they have got their stock exchange association, those who are dealing in exchange. They have got an association. They go there, and their business facility is very good. Similarly, so many clubs. If you want to drink and enjoy sense, you go to so many clubs and associate with them and you'll learn how to drink, how to mate very nicely. So association is very important. Therefore our Krishna consciousness society are giving chance people to associate with us, so that he'll be able to understand what is Krisha, what is Krishna consciousness....
Srila Prabhupada, spoken at Los angeles May 27 1972
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
In early March, I boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta, where I would catch an onward flight to Santiago, Chile. It had been three years since my last visit to the Chilean yatra, and I was excited about seeing the devotees there again.
When the flight landed in Atlanta, I went to the boarding gate for Santiago. The boarding area was crowded, and the only seat available was in front of a television screen showing a news report about a woman who had become ill on a recent flight across the United States.
When the woman asked a flight attendant for oxygen, she was apparently refused. Minutes later the woman asked again, and seeing her desperate condition, the stewardess tried to administer oxygen, but the oxygen bottle malfunctioned. Shortly afterwards the woman died.
The broadcast continued to say that the airline was defending its actions, but it seemed obvious that there was negligence on the part of the cabin crew. The report concluded with advice on what to do should a passenger fall ill in a similar situation. “Call the flight attendant, administer oxygen, and try to keep the patient calm,” said a special guest on the show.
“It’s awful,” I thought. “I can only imagine how horrific such an incident would be during a flight.”
I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
I boarded the plane and took my seat, chanting quietly on my beads. I had been upgraded from economy to business class because of my frequent-flyer points. The passengers seated around me all appeared affluent and had paid thousands of dollars for the flight.
I could sense that my presence made several of them uncomfortable. Nearby, a woman who was filing her nails looked at me suspiciously. When the man seated next to her, who was reading the Wall Street Journal, glanced up at me, he shook his head disapprovingly. The lady next to me didn’t reply when I asked if this was her first flight to Santiago.
So as not to attract more attention, I put my beads aside and took out a book to read. As the last remaining passengers boarded the plane, the cabin crew went about their final duties before closing the cabin door. I smiled politely as several stewardesses from our cabin passed by to attend to something in the rear of the plane.
Suddenly, the man seated across the aisle from me started shaking uncontrollably. His eyes rolled back and he started foaming at the mouth. My first thought was that he was having either a stroke or a heart attack. I quickly looked around to see if there were any cabin attendants present, but they had all gone to the back of the aircraft.
The passengers around me sat frozen in shock. The woman filing her nails held the file motionless above one finger. The man reading the newspaper stared in horror as the sick man started to fall out of his seat.
I remembered the advice given on the television report. I jumped up and grabbed the man and carefully laid him down in the aisle, straddling him. I tried to calm him, but he was quickly losing consciousness. I looked around at the other passengers, who continued to stare in shock, their comfortable reality having been shaken by the ugly scene before them.
“Somebody call a flight attendant!” I shouted.
The woman who had been sitting next me just closed her eyes in fear. Others turned their heads away and looked out the windows.
I looked at the man’s wife who was crying uncontrollably.
“Is he epileptic?” I asked.
“No! No!” she said frantically. “He’s not.”
“Is he on some kind of medication?” I asked.
“No! No!” she said, shaking her head.
“Does he have a history of heart problems?” I said.
“Please save him!” she screamed.
Her husband began gasping for breath. I tried to position him so he could breathe easier. I also began to chant, softly at first but louder and louder as it appeared he might die.
I looked up at the nearby passengers, who were still sitting motionless and staring. “Oxygen!” I yelled.
No one moved.
I had to do something to get their help.
“For Christ’s sake!” I screamed. “Somebody get a Goddamn oxygen bottle or this man is going to die!”
It worked. Two men jumped up and ran towards the galley. Seconds later they returned with an oxygen bottle. As all three of us struggled to get it working, I put the mask on the man’s face. Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I saw several flight attendants racing down the aisle.
Within moments they arrived and took control of the situation, administering the oxygen and calling for medical assistance on their cell phones. The captain arrived and called for a defibrillator, a device used in emergency treatment of heart attacks.
Because of the cramped space, I was unable to move out of the way and sat pinned in the middle of the frantic scene. The man continued shaking, flailing his arms and grimacing in pain. Unable to offer any more practical help, I continued chanting clearly so he could hear every syllable of the holy names. At one point he briefly came to consciousness and our eyes met.
I wanted to tell him that everything was going to be all right, but I sensed this wasn’t the case. I leaned forward and chanted even louder hoping that, should he leave his body, he would be fortunate enough to hear the names of the Lord.
I continued chanting while the flight attendants tried to help him. I kept wondering when a medical team would arrive. Periodically, the flight attendants moved the man into different positions to try to make him more comfortable. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a medical team arrived.
I stood up and then sat in the man’s seat while the rescue team put him on a stretcher and quickly took him away. His wife followed. By that time he was almost motionless. “He may not make it,” I overheard one of the attendants say.
I returned to my seat and started chanting on my beads again. My heart was still beating strongly, and my adrenaline was surging. A stewardess came and offered me a glass of water.
After I had calmed down, I looked around the cabin. The woman who had been filing her nails smiled at me gently as if to indicate she was grateful for what I had done. When I glanced at the man with the newspaper, he nodded his head in approval. The lady sitting next to me finally spoke up. “Thank you,” she said.
Soon the cabin door closed. I was exhausted from the ordeal and soon fell asleep. By the time I woke up we were well on our way and most of the passengers around me were sleeping.
I sat up in the dark and thought about the incident. “We never know,” I thought. “We never know when such a thing will happen to us. Generally we only see situations like this on the news, and we always assume it only happens to others. I pray that when my time comes, there will be somebody to chant the holy names for me as well.”
The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that because I often travel alone, I may very well be by myself or with a group of strangers when I leave this world. The thought was unsettling.
“What if I suddenly passed away from a heart attack on an airplane 37,000 feet up in the air?” I thought. “Or in bed at night alone in some far-off country? But even the most well-planned departure, surrounded by loving devotees, can be an embarrassing affair. Death is difficult for everyone. When that day comes, I hope I’ll be remembered for my service and not for the way I died.”
I thought about a story I had heard recently. A person was asked how his friend had passed away. “Don’t ask me how he died,” he answered. “Ask me how he lived.”
Nine hours later our flight landed in Santiago. As the passengers disembarked, the head purser approached me in my seat and asked if I could remain behind for a few minutes. I sat patiently, and when all the other passengers had left, she returned with several other flight attendants.
“We wanted to thank you for your quick action in helping that man,” she said. “You may have saved his life.”
“I’m happy I could help,” I replied, “although I didn’t do that much. It was all of you who gave him the medical attention he needed.”
“What we really appreciated,” said another stewardess, “was the calming effect you had on everyone. When you were singing, it felt like everything was going to be all right.”
“Yes,” said another stewardess. “It was very special, so comforting.”
“What exactly were you singing?” asked another stewardess.
“I was singing the names of God,” I replied. “I follow a faith from India where God is called Krishna. India’s ancient scriptures say that wherever God’s Name is chanted there’s nothing to fear.”
“Well, we certainly understand that now, don’t we, ladies?” the head purser said.
“Yes, we do,” they replied.
“And we have you to thank for that,” a stewardess said to me.
“It wasn’t me,” I said with a smile. “It was the Lord’s Holy Names. So the next time something terrible happens, remember to sing Hare Krishna.”
“Can you write the song down for us?” said another stewardess.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
After giving them the paper with the mahamantra on it, I reached for my carry-on items. But the attendants picked them up first and then escorted me to the door. While going through immigration and walking to the baggage area, I couldn’t help but marvel at the pastimes of the holy names.
Srimad Bhagavatam states:
tasmat sankirtanam visnor jagan-mangalam amhasam mahatam api kauravya viddhy aikantika-niskrtam
“Sukadeva Gosvami continued: My dear king, the chanting of the holy name of the Lord is able to uproot even the reactions of the greatest sins. Therefore the chanting of the sankirtana movement is the most auspicious activity in the entire universe. Please try to understand this so that others will take it seriously.”
[Srimad Bhagavatam 6.3.31]
Diary of a Traveling Preacher - Volume 9, Chapter 3 -March 1 - 15, 2008 - By Indradyumna Swami