“Our Bus Driver”

Diary of a Traveling Monk

Volume 15, Chapter 20

August 28, 2022


Our summer tour was coming to an end, and I noticed a mixture of joy and sorrow pervading our tour base. We had spent the best part of summer sharing our good fortune with others, so there was a great deal of joy. But it was late August and autumn was in the air; the summer was almost over and some sadness began settling in. It had been a tough summer with a lot of hard work for the devotees, but the reward was seeing the smiling faces of people as we handed them invitations to our festivals on harinam — and then to see their delight in experiencing the festival itself.

For me, the greatest pleasure of all was seeing interest develop in unexpected quarters.

Our bus driver, Mr. Artur, is a good example. Every year we have a bus driver who stays with us throughout the whole summer. Most of our bus drivers over the years have done their job reluctantly and have showed little or no interest in who we are and what we do.

Mr. Artur seemed to fit this model at first. But one morning on the way to harinam, something happened that revealed him to be far from typical. Every day devotees would begin the bus ride with loud kirtan calling upon Lord Nrsimha for protection on the road. On that particular morning, though, we didn’t have the usual kirtan. Mr. Artur’s eyes were glaring at us through the rearview mirror as he pulled out onto the motorway.

“Am I deaf or something?” he shouted. “Why aren’t you singing? Remember this for tomorrow: if you don’t sing, I don’t drive!”

“Wow,” I thought, smiling to myself, “the chanting of the holy name has brought about a change in his heart!”

From that day on, Mr. Artur showed more and more changes. Instead of sitting in his bus during the festivals, he started attending the events. I could see him from the stage when I was giving my lecture, sitting off to the side of the crowd and listening intently to my 40-minute talk.

About halfway through the tour, Jahnavi dasi told me he had confided in her.

“He told me that he had been very sick, and the doctors said it could be cancer,” she said. “While he was waiting for the test results, he was so terrified he might die that he bought a place in the cemetery for his grave. But the results were negative. Mr. Artur said he felt tremendous relief, but the experience made him realize that he had to find answers. He was left wondering about the purpose of life and what happened after death. He feels like he’s found the answers now. There were tears in his eyes when he told me, ‘You all have given me hope.’”

As the summer went on, Mr. Artur came to feel like one of us. He became friends with the devotees, chanted and danced in the kirtans, and had ice cream waiting for us at the bus when we came back from a long, hot harinam. He became addicted to prasadam, consuming a large plate every evening at the festival. He seemed determined to try everything the restaurant had to offer.

One evening, he came up to me. “Mr. Guru, can I speak to you?” he asked. I saw he was holding a Bhagavad-gita.

“Of course, Mr. Artur. What’s up?”

“I don’t have much money,” he said, “but I have saved enough money to buy this book, the book you speak from every night. I’m really enjoying it! I want to learn more about your way of life. I can see the world has forgotten the values that you keep and maintain. I’m a simple man but I understand that without faith and without people like you, the future of this world is quite dark.”

I felt he wasn’t a simple man at all. He had lived a hard life that had afforded him realization, and his association with devotees had brought that out.

“I read somewhere that a holy man was once asked what surprised him most about humanity,” Mr. Artur said. “The holy man answered: ‘I am most surprised that people sacrifice their health to make money. Then they sacrifice money to recuperate their health. Then they are so anxious about the future that they don’t live in the present. They live as if they will never die, and then they die having never really lived.’

“I never understood what any of that meant until I came into contact with all of you. I was a sinner. Your lecture on the Bhagavad-gita each evening has made everything clear to me. I’m really going to miss all of you when this is all over.”

“We’re going to miss you too, Mr. Artur,” I said, and hugged him.

“Mr. Guru, can you write a dedication in my book?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“Mr. Guru,” he said as I wrote, “if the bus company doesn’t give me this job next year would it be OK if I came with my car and drove you around? What I mean is that I’d like to be your driver and continue on this path.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll be waiting for you!”

That evening at our festival, I saw him carrying his Bhagavad-gita around the festival site. He was chatting to other festival-goers, and I could see that he was talking about the book. Watching him, I was reminded of Srila Prabhupada’s words I had read the previous night:

“When one searches for a devotee and fortunately gets a devotee’s association one actually begins to study and understand Bhagavad-gita. By advancement in the association of the devotee one is placed in devotional service, and this service dispels all one’s misgivings about Krsna, or God, and Krsna’s activities, form, pastimes, name and other features. After these misgivings have been perfectly cleared away, one becomes fixed in one’s study. Then one relishes the study of Bhagavad-gita and attains the state of feeling always Krsna conscious. In the advanced stage, one falls completely in love with Krsna. This highest perfectional stage of life enables the devotee to be transferred to Krsna’s abode in the spiritual sky, Goloka Vrndavana, where the devotee becomes eternally happy.”

(Bhagavad-gita 8.28 [purport])

I pray that by the mercy of Lord Caitanya, Mr. Artur comes to the stage of falling completely in love with Krsna and is transferred to Krsna’s abode in the spiritual sky, where he will become eternally happy. After all, isn’t that why we spent the entire summer holding festivals along the shores of the Baltic Sea with the people of Poland?

kalinā sadṛśaḥ ko ’pi yugo nāsti varānane
tasmiṁs tvāṁ khyāpayiṣyāmi gehe gehe jane jane
anya-dharmāṁs tiras kṛtya puras kṛtya mahotsavān
yadi pravartaye na tvāṁ tadā dāso harer nahi
tvad-anvitāś ca ye jīvā bhaviṣyanti kalāv iha
pāpino ‘pi gamiṣyanti nirbhayā hari-mandiram

[Seeing the pitiable condition of Bhakti Devi at the beginning of the age of Kali, Narada said to her], “O beautiful faced lady! There is no age equal to Kali. In this age, I will personally preach your glories in each and every home and establish you within the hearts of every individual. Hear my vow! Giving priority to devotional festivals over all other forms of religiosity, if I do not spread you everywhere on earth, then I shall no longer be known as a servant of Hari. The living entities born in this age of Kali who become devotees will attain the abode of Lord Hari without hinderances, even if they are sinners.”

[ Translated by Hari Parshad Das from Padma-purāṇam, Uttara-khaṇḍa 194.14 – 16, Vol 6 and 7, pp. 625. Gurumandal Series No. XVIII. Calcutta (Kolkata) 1946 ]

Diary of a Traveling Monk, Vyasa Puja Offering 2022 * * * Подношение на день явления Шрилы Прабхупады – 2022

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Dear Srila Prabhupada,

Please accept my most humble obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet. All glories to you!

In mid-August in the midst of our summer tour in Poland, I was surprised to see that many trees were already turning to their autumn colors. Generally, they don’t change color until mid-September.

“They will start losing their leaves soon,” I thought.

Watching the bright colors blur together through my window as we sped towards our next festival site, two thoughts came to my mind. First, I thought about how I am in the autumn of my life and soon you will call me to another service, somewhere here in the material world or perhaps even in the spiritual world. The second thought I had was that I am fortunate to have lived as long as I have!

You said on a morning walk on February 21, 1975 in Caracas, Venezuela:

“Instead of contemplating what will happen to this world, you have got a short duration of life, say fifty, sixty years. You chant Hare Krsna and go back to home, back to Godhead.”

Fortunately, I’ve lived 13 years past the sixty-year deadline, but unfortunately, I have yet to shed a tear while chanting the holy names. I am not discouraged, though, because you said in a lecture in Los Angeles on May 4, 1973:

“This is called firm faith, that ‘Now, because I am engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness business, so I must be able to face Kṛṣṇa, face to face, see Kṛṣṇa face to face. That I must have.’ So don’t be disappointed. Go on with your Kṛṣṇa consciousness activities. Time will come when you’ll see Kṛṣṇa, just like Kuntī is seeing, face to face. There is no doubt about it.”

So, I don’t doubt that I will see Krsna one day, and I’m certain that that will happen only by your grace. Thus, whatever time I have left in this body I will fully dedicate to your mission of delivering the fallen conditioned souls. I realized long ago that it is only by serving your mission in this world that I can qualify myself to participate in your pastimes in the spiritual world. This means preaching the message of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu with full vigor just as you did!

yatha yatha gaura-padaravinde
vindeta bhaktim krta punya-rasih
tatha tathot-sarpati hrdya-kasmad
radha-padambhoja-sudhambu rasih

“As much as one can devote his full attention to the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya, to that extent he will be able to taste the nectarine service of the lotus feet of Srimati Radharani in Vrindavan. The more one engages in the service of Sri Caitanya, the more one finds oneself in Vrindavan, tasting the nectar of the service of Sri Radha.”

(Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati, Caitanya Candramrta, Verse 88)

There are many excuses I could use to stop preaching: I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’ve done my part. But nothing I’ve done can equal even one iota of what you’ve done for me. My dear spiritual master, my debt to you can never be repaid.

Recently, I watched again the heart-wrenching video of your last hours in this world. On your deathbed, you were using your final breaths to speak your Bhaktivedanta purports into a dictaphone held close to your mouth by a disciple. May I embrace those words to my heart and share them with the unfortunate people of this world!

I pray that nothing will ever distract me from your mission and from my desire to join you in your nitya-lila pastimes in Goloka Vrindavan. The present world is overrun with unlimited distractions. On the same morning walk on February 21, 1975 in Caracas, Venezuela, you warned us against becoming infatuated by these distractions:

“Don’t consider what will happen to this world. Nature will take care of it. You don’t puzzle your brain with these thoughts. You utilize whatever time you have got in your possession and go back to home, back to Godhead. You cannot check it. Best thing is that you mold your life and go back to home, back to Godhead. Because people will go on with their material civilization, natural consequences will be there. You better take advantage of whatever time you have got and become fully Krsna conscious and go back to home.”

That I will do, my beloved spiritual master, and knowing your compassionate heart, I will try to bring as many conditioned souls with me as I can. Like you, I will try my best to preach until my last breath, whether it comes today or tomorrow. If I am to be remembered, let it be only for my attempts to render service to your lotus feet. The Samurai warriors had a code: “Don’t ask me how he died. Ask me how he lived!”

I am early in my awakening as a servant of the Lord, so I can’t claim to know Krsna. But I am confident that I will reach the goal because I know you. It is you who will one day bring me face to face with the Lord.

One time the great Ramanuja Acarya asked Ranganath, the presiding deity of Sri Rangam, “My Lord, what will happen if for some reason Your devotee cannot remember You at the moment of death?”

Ranganath replied, “If My devotee cannot remember Me at the moment of death, I will remember My devotee!”

In my case, Srila Prabhupada, this could only happen by your causeless mercy. It is only because I am always remembering you that Krsna might remember me.

My dear spiritual master, you are my life and soul, the most cherished element of my existence. You are everything to me, my “saksad hari,” the Lord’s representative in this world. I surrender myself totally unto your lotus feet.

As the sun sets on my life, I am not afraid of what lies ahead, for it can only be service to your lotus feet. I have experienced in this life that I am happy serving you in any condition, at any time, in any place—in the jungles of the Amazon, the freezing steppes of Siberia, the deserts of Mongolia, the favelas of Rio di Janeiro, the ruins of Sarajevo and the concrete jungles of New York, London and Paris. I have always been happy sharing your message with others.

This is especially true when I am on the Baltic Sea coast with our festival, where, for the last 30 years, thousands of guests have been in attendance every summer evening. When the audience gives us a resounding standing ovation, tears come to my eyes and I look up to the sky and wonder, “Srila Prabhupada, are you watching?”

I hope that you are and I feel that you must be. Please know that by holding these festivals in my remaining years, I want to reciprocate with your tireless efforts in establishing this movement in the pioneer days of ISKCON. My life is coming to a natural conclusion and I often dream of where I will serve you next. Every day I am trying to improve myself so that I will be a real asset to your mission. Forgive me for using a mundane phrase I learned in the military, but I want to “hit the beach running.”

One time a godbrother of mine said to you, “Srila Prabhupada, I want to be just like you!”

The assembled devotees were shocked. One devotee chastised that person saying, “It’s offensive to say that. You can never be equal to the spiritual master!”

But you took it differently. You said, “That is the proper sentiment because the spiritual master is acarya – he is setting the example what kind of devotee the disciple should be.”

I still have time left: a few days, a few months or perhaps even many years. I will use this time to try to become like you, to serve with the same determination as you did.

You once wrote to me that I should “always follow in the footsteps of advanced devotees.” That instruction has guided me throughout my life. I have always honored my godbrothers and godsisters, understanding them to be more advanced than me. Most importantly, Srila Prabhupada, I have honored you as the most advanced devotee I will ever know, either in this life or the next. I look forward to meeting you again one day in the spiritual world. You told one of my godbrothers that when we return to the spiritual world our spiritual master will be waiting for us. He will take our hand and lead us into the forest of Vrindavan where he will introduce us to Krsna, our beloved Lord. I shall keep that vision in my heart as I wander the world attempting to bring fallen souls to your lotus feet, for you are Prabhupada, the master at whose feet all masters sit.

All glories to you on this occasion of your divine appearance in this world!

Your servant,
Indradyumna Swami