The Fire That Time

By Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

I have to go back now … back to before … to how I learned to want the taste of Devotional Service.

At that time, ‘77 / ‘78I did not know the Columbus Temple, in Columbus Ohio, was a satellite Temple of the New Vrindabana Community. I’d never heard of New Vrindabana, in fact. At the Columbus Temple, where I first had the good fortune to meet and associate with Devotees, New Vrindabana was talked about as if it was some kind of super heaven.

“So and so” (A New Vrindabana resident) is going to be here. And “This weekend we’re going to New Vrindabana.”   it was all, “New Vrindabana this and New Vrindabana that.”  In fact, Columbus was adjunct to New Vrindabana.  I did not know. I was trying to take shelter from the bitter rigors of material life. New Vrindabana might as well have been Pittsburgh (Another satellite temple) for all I knew. As you will read shortly, I did not even know the proper way to chant Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. But the preliminary exposure at the Columbus Temple turned out to be kind of ideal for me, in the matter of getting the hang of the ambiance, as it were, if I may, with your permission, Dear Reader!

Satellite Temples were for New Vrindabana, a kind of out reach staging platform, where Sankirtan Parties could refresh and re-launch, for example, and where “civilians” could approach by degrees. For me, it was like a sensitive boot camp. I didn’t get braced for push ups, but I did learn fundamentals like “Don’t chant on your left hand …”


“Don’t interrupt someone when they are chanting Gayatri …”

But most important of all, I believe, is the learning which took place with regard to that bedrock of Spiritual Life in the Hare Krsna Community: Devotional Service.

It did begin for me in that Satellite Columbus Temple. Krpa Maya Prabhu was physically younger than me. Narada Muni had given me, as a Bhakta, the Service of cleaning the Temple Floor … after the Morning Program.

“Cleaning the Temple Floor is like cleaning your heart …” I was advised. Early on, I responded, “I’ve heard that before already.”

“That which is Spiritual is Eternal,” came the Transcendental Rejoinder. “It is Ever Fresh. We can hear it again and again.”

The fact is of course, I hadn’t really HEARD it, because I didn’t want to do it: Clean the floor every day.

Fill the bucket, the trays to carry, the mopping, what? And the stairs? Please. How long am I supposed to be doing this?

“That’s not the way,” Krpa Maya said to me very quietly. I had been glowering at the bucket and mop and trying to think of some way not to do this every morning. Mop the Floors.

Krpa Maya looked at me without much expression. He seemed to be thinking of something else. Just stating a fact: “That’s not The Way.” Sort of … in case you might be interested.

Alright. Not the way? “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Service.” Krpa Maya responded. It is a great opportunity. Direct Devotional Service not only to the Supreme Lord, but to His Devotees. That’s what you should be thinking.”

I was thinking … “yah yah.” I said something about I shouldn’t have to be the one to do this every morning. I’d tried simply abrogating, going back to sleep in the Bhakta Ashram, across the street from the Temple, after the Morning Program.

The Devotees had come for me then, and reminded me that I was expected to perform this Service. “I really don’t want to do this,” I said to Krpa Maya.

“You don’t have to,” Krpa Maya said.

“I do,” I returned. I was sopping the mop in the soapy water already.

Krpa Maya had been wall papering the Temple, which is how I happened to be interacting with him. Narada Muni told Krpa Maya, one morning, that he should put wall paper on the Temple Walls, and Krpa Maya had gotten approval on a selection, read up on the process and begun to paper the Temple with truly beautiful Red and Gold Paper. And, though he’d never wall papered before, he was doing a wonderful job. He seemed to enjoy it.

I felt like he was expecting me to like the same things he liked. That wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t like mopping. I didn’t like wall papering or painting. Raking and sweeping turned me off too.

“No, Bhakta Jesse,” Krpa Maya said. “I’ll do your Service for you.”

“You can’t do that,” I said.

“Yes I can,” Krpa Maya returned earnestly.

“You already have a Service,” I offered. I felt like some trick was in the air.

“Give me the mop, and I’ll show you how to do it,” Krpa Maya said.

“Fine,” I answered, readily enough. To myself, I thought, “How childish! I read ‘Tom Sawyer.’ I know that trick. Krpa Maya thinks I’ll be after him because he’ll be pretending what he is doing is so much fun. These Devotees!” (I thought) “Imagine someone trying a Huck Finn like trick in real life!”

“Here here, then,” I said, and I passed the mop over. I was inwardly laughing, and shaking my head. “You’re going to do my whole service?” I asked.

But Krpa Maya was already into it. Obviously he was, because the Temple Floor, the section where we took Pasadena, was already nearly half done.

I watched Krpa Maya for a while, actually just wondering if he was going to go so far as to even do the rich wooden steps in that fraternity row building near High Street in Columbus Ohio back around 1978.

Krpa Maya said not a word to me, but rendered the Service with quick efficiency. Indeed he did go on and clean the stairs.

I saw that he was not paying attention to me. He seemed, as he often did, to be really thinking of something else. It was as if I did not exist, I thought.

Still, I was glad not to have to “do” the floors for a change. Was it fair that Krpa Maya wall paper the Temple AND do the floors? Of course not … I saw this as just some lightweight and temporary trick.

Well intentioned, I thought, but totally off the mark.

Next morning, I tried again to chant all my rounds. I hadn’t yet chanted a full 16 rounds. No one told me I had to … just that that is The Standard.

I’d appeared at the Temple from New York, invited by Vahna, whom I’d met in Woodstock, and having read the Bhagavada Gita as It Is, I’d begun chanting. I’d walked in one day, chanting on my left hand. That way, I explained to Narada when he noticed, I was able to do chores around the house and chant at the same time.

“Shyamakunda!” Narada Muni called in that gushing voice he sometimes uses when he is happy. “Take Bhakta Jesse out for a japa walk and teach him how to chant.”

Shyamakunda had come forward, pushing his thick glasses up on his nose with a thumb. “Whaddaya mean?” he asked. Not everyone had noticed that I chanted with my left hand.

Outside in Columbus that morning it was warm and raining lightly. Shyamakunda very kindly taught me to chant on my right hand and the Pancha Tattva Mantra: “Jai Sri Krsna Caitanya Prabhu Nityananda Sri Advaita Gaudadhar Sri Vasa Adi Gauri Bhakta Vrinda.” The exchange then was electric.

At those times when I’ve ever found myself doing something arguably 100 % spiritual, the sensation has always been like being at the top of the mountain. Or linked with the center of the universe. Or in that zero G moment at transfer between apogee and perigee, it is like falling up, like floating, but always, at those times, there is a notion close to realization, that I am without any significance but for the Amazing and Literally Miraculous Attention of the Supreme Lord.

So it certainly was as Shyamakunda Prabhu taught me how to chant properly, with rain flecking his thick glasses. The gentle earnestness of one advanced soul reaching out and assisting another, in so fundamental a way … the deep humility in the manner in which he nodded me off when I tried to thank him … claiming I was doing him the favor … such is all the stuff of the Transcendental Encounter.

Then having that particular process (the mechanics of chanting Hare Krsna hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare) explained, I’d begun to try to chant a full 16 rounds, as I understood the Devotees around me to be doing.

The morning after Krpa Maya had begun interacting with me, I got up to a full 16 rounds for the first time. That did feel very good. I felt safe, somehow. At one point I’d been exhausted, and I’d leaned on the wall of the Temple, though I’m generally sternly against leaning on any walls … and I’d noticed Krpa Maya had been striding back and forth, chanting and moving quickly, and it seems to me now, in retrospect, that he most certainly supported my efforts to chant Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

At another time, I was sitting on the floor, and chanting, and looking over, I saw Krpa Maya regarding me, looking down at me, as  I thought, from a very great height.

Then, after the morning program I was curious to see if Krpa Maya was angry with me, and how he was going to now get out of doing that which I had somehow seen myself out of: Cleaning the Temple Floor.

But Krpa Maya was certainly not angry, and he served out to the Devotees and to me. He was gracious as always, Serving, and thinking it seemed, of something somewhere else. Something else seemed to be on his mind. But whatever he did was rendered most expertly.

I hung out to see what he would do after the Devotees had taken Prasadam.

I needn’t have wondered, oh Reader, you know of course that Krpa Maya went immediately to the broom closet and basement stairs and assembled the tools to clean the floor again.

What? Did he actually believe I was going to go, “Oh no, let me clean the floors again?” This I asked Krpa Maya, directly, over the watery roar of the bucket filling with hot soapy water.

Krpa Maya regarded me calmly, the way one might look upon a tree, or a wall. The bucket was filling. He was getting rags. He tied his dhoti up over his knees. Writing this now, I recall that it was actually Krpa Maya who first taught me how to put on a Dhoti. I’d had no idea.

Krpa Maya was on the floor now, cleaning already. “I’m not going to ask you to give me back my service,” I offered.

Krpa Maya was absolutely undaunted. The sopping rag moved back and forth over the floor seemingly of its own volition. Krpa Maya seemed to be on the Service the way a kid is taken by a really great amusement park ride.

He looked back over his shoulder up at me. I was easy moving, toward the doorway, thinking, “I’m not going to do this, and I don’t care.”

Krpa Maya said, “Would you like me to show you what you should be thinking?”

“Sure,” I said. I just didn’t get it.

“You should be thinking,” Krpa Maya continued, “‘Oh my Dear Krsna! Thank You so much for allowing me to Clean Your Floors!’”

“Yeah, right,” I said to myself.

“Thank You Thank You, Oh Hare Krsna!” Krpa Maya said loudly. Already, again, more than half of the downstairs was done. “Mmmm!” he actually called out as he moved the cleaning rag into a corner and tended to the smallest pieces and items of dirt. The care and attention he took reminded me of a loving devoted mother, cleaning the ears of her child. Or a jeweler. He was taking the care and pride a jeweler might take with a diamond display.

“Thank You Thank You!” Krpa Maya called. It wasn’t any more like he was showing me, as much as letting himself just declare his true state of mind. “For the Service!” I heard him call as he bounded up the stairs.

You always wanted to start at the top and clean your way down.

Ok OK. Krpa Maya completed the wall papering, and it was truly beautiful. It looked like a professional job. Not only was the papering smooth, but all the seams matched most perfectly … in fact, it was hard to even find a seam. There were no lumps or bumps and the selection was gorgeous.

And he was still doing the floors. After three days, that was enough. I wasn’t “fooled” but fair was fair.

“I can do the floors today,” I told Krpa Maya as I was serving out. Again I’d chanted 16 proper rounds. It took me about two hours, I’d discovered. I was slow. But, without the Floor Service, there wasn’t much to do, and I could go for it, after all, once in a while.

Krpa Maya waved at his plate so I would Serve more of the wonderful substance the Devotees called Yoghurt. Yoghurt and rice; Prasadam breakfast. I worked the ladle and said again, quietly, “I can do the floors this morning.”

Krpa Maya looked down, over his shoulder. Not at me, but at the floor. Then he looked at me. His glance was very warm, but his response was totally unexpected. “No,” he replied.

I had to laugh out loud. He really did think this was like white washing the picket fence. “Fine,” I agreed.

Vindictive? Not at all. Krpa Maya really DID like cleaning the floor. I really did want to help after a while. Maybe I could just fill the buckets … get the tools … clean it with him?

“No. You have given me your Service.”

“Well, OK then, I’ll take it back now.”

“It can’t be that way, Bhakta Jesse,” Krpa Maya informed me. “You’d just end up not wanting to do this again, and that is you know …” He lowered his tone “… offensive.”

“Krpa Maya,” I said. “How about if I promise to keep this service if I start doing it again?”

He regarded the soapy rags. “I will think about it,” he answered finally. “I’ll let you know later. A Devotee never volunteers to give up his Service,” he said. “Devotional Service is the life and soul of the Devotees.”

Once again, that day it was Krpa Maya who beautifully cleaned the Temple Floors.

Let me know later? What was this? Some kind of big contract at a bank?

Still, trifling as that exercise seemed to me by my old standards, by any measure, nothing else of any value at all seemed to be happening anywhere. I had in fact, come to the Temple in search of respite from material rigors as I had begun to see them, after turning to The Bhagavada Gita as It Is. Those activities outside of the Temple? I’d tried for many years and found no satisfaction or even justice there.

That afternoon, I approached Krpa Maya as he moved about in his upstairs store at the Columbus Temple.

“I want my service back,” I told him.

Krpa Maya regarded me very seriously. He did not seem to be thinking of anything else at that time. He was working with his set of gleaming scoop weights and a tri beam scale, measuring out graham flour into little bags for subsequent sale.

His glance had a kind of iron in it. Super Somber. Focused. “I have thought about it, Bhakta Jesse,” Krpa Maya declared formally. “You can have the Service back but only if you promise to do it properly.”

This matter was so serious to one whom I admired without reservation that I felt compelled to learn. I could try to learn. I agreed to take it up again. Cleaning the Temple Floors.

The next morning, I resumed that Service.

Before, I’d finish after what seemed to be a long horrendous encounter, and everything looked pretty awful. Now, the job wasn’t a job, it was a process to be surrendered to. It was kind of a way of being. I didn’t feel the “Oh my Dear Krsna” business, but I did see that it was not difficult at all to clean His Floors, and there was a stability and serenity to it. And when the job was complete, it was a lot like chanting the full 16 rounds: A safe sensation. An inkling that one had been doing the right thing, no doubt or negative repercussions in the wings.

Most wonderful of all, suddenly the Floors I had been allowed to interact with actually looked good, and it was as if I’d done it in a way … though in truth, I felt more like a passenger … a rider on a wonderful attraction at a super and magical yes, even let me say it: Transcendental Park.

So it was that virtually yesterday, I was mercifully exposed to the desire for the taste of Devotional Service.


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