Wood Smoke and Winter

by Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

One great thing about New Vrindaban then to me was the wood smoke. The hot wood burning stove, glowing up in back of the little temple. The cook kettles and oat water, long before sunrise.

The Wood Smoke was everywhere upon the vibration, Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

The first morning I was there for Mongol Arotika, I was taken to the outdoor kitchen, where I got to meet Pippalahda. He was working a huge ship’s rudder looking paddle in a vast tub of an iron kettle. The hood of his sweatshirt was up against the wind and I could only see flashes of his face in the flicker of reflected fire.

He was introduced to me by Vahna. “This is Pippalahda,” he said to me, “a great Devotee.”

Pippalahda’s response to me was enthusiastic and open. The timbre of his voice made my ribs want to rattle.

I liked the winter there. For one thing, then I was “just visiting?” I did not have to LIVE there, so it was relatively easy to reflect in a detached way about the metaphor of the coldness without, and the wood smoke Hare Krsna Fire wherever righteous activity was performed within.

In the temple, before the curtains opened, it would be crowded. There was an ante room, where devotees chanted together. There was a silence to it. You may understand: with thirty people in an average size room, all chanting Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, you don’t get the cacophony of say, pre-concert or reception chatter.

In fact, any deviation from the Maha Mantra sort of temporarily breaks that super silence; someone talking, for example. Anything other than the Maha Mantra stands out. The tinkle of even a small bell.

My first morning there, I wore after shave … that stood out. It was not … wood smoke. I was no Brijabasi.

To enter the Temple, which had one of our first learning curve type Marble Floors, one would knock, and then enter, making obeisances. Then you’d find a place … either walking about and chanting or sitting somewhere and chanting.

I particularly remember Murlidhara Prabhu, who chanted with one hand cupped over his ear, the way a radio announcer might hold his hand when broadcasting.

The intensity of the Devotees Chanting Together collectively and individually was inspiring. The goal was to chant all 16 rounds before the curtains opened. But the goal was to chant those rounds correctly. To me, that meant hearing each syllable, or at least pronouncing each syllable.

To me, some Devotees were not pronouncing each syllable correctly, but I understand that, to them, it could well have also sounded like I was not pronouncing carefully. Not enunciating.

The bottom line is that we all tried, each in our own way, and at various times, we all succeeded … again, each in our own way.

I am sure the warm light and wood fires from our Hare Krsna Temple Building did a lot against the dark and cold of external winter.

There was a time, between the initial Greeting of the Deities, and Mangala Aortik, when more and more Devotees piled into the little Temple Room, and the chanting grew louder and louder, or, depending on your willingness to accept my “silence” perspective, the quiet became greater and greater … and then when you’d think you could stand it no longer, when practically everyone seemed to be levitating or about to levitate, and there was a weight to the anticipation and the wood smoke everywhere, then the big bell down in front would set to clanging and each stroke of that bell seemed to me a virtual peeling …a focus for sound the way a magnifying glass may focus light upon a kindling leaf, so that bell would combust the Hare Krsna Maha Mantra Brijabasi Spirit Wood Smoke Morning Air and light might explode into the darkened heart. You could feel it.

Later, I was glad to go back, at least temporarily, to where I’d come from; my house in Woodstock. That stripping away, oh no! Yet would I cling.

I continued to read Prabhupada’s books, and chant, alone, I thought, in the morning, outside, under the stars, wearing the dhoti I’d acquired. It was frightening: That which made sense was … there: New Vrindaban. Yet I persisted for the while that I could.

One morning, while I chanted so, I smelled that familiar burning wood.

I turned and thought I saw a cloud of smoke in the winter air down by the creek in back of my house. I kept chanting and I watched. I thought I heard New Vrindaban Devotees, chanting on air,

I envisioned Murlidhara, what he was certainly doing at that very moment, with one hand cupped over his ear, and the transcendental tension growing and swelling with the smoke and all the mighty silence of the power in the chanting together: Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna! Krsna! Hare! Hare! Hare Rama! Hare Rama! Rama Rama! Hare Hare!

And then came, I thought, that grand old focusing big bell, that New Vrindaban open the curtains’ bell, peeling away, and the Devotees crying, crying because because … the pain, the pain, and the joy of the glimmers we were all a part of the glimpses of a way, a way for freedom as us.

… I thought I saw these things in the air before me in the stars around me in Woodstock.

I thought I sensed Devotees at New Vrindaban, making obeisances, doing the right thing and I knew, then, as I joined them once: That is where I belong.

Information and Links

Join the fray by commenting, tracking what others have to say, or linking to it from your blog.

Reader Comments

Sorry, comments are closed.