Purity and Circumstance

by Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

One of my “jobs” at Old New Vrindabana was the “Town Run.” An aspect of that Service was to ferry Devotees to and from various places: A particular store, a doctor, a Satellite Temple, like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, or our college towns such as Athens, Morgantown and Columbus.

With your permission here I will recount an enlightening, enlivening experience I had on one such run. I was assigned to take “my” truck, known as Dodge Rama Dasa, down to the Morgantown Temple to pick up and bring back Radhanatha Maharaja.

Devotees all particularly honored Radhanatha Maharaja, even then. I reckoned this was because of his steadfast Devotional Service through the years, and his very even, unpretentious and humble disposition. I thought I detected a little transcendental jealousy when I appeared in Morgantown to pick up Beloved Radhanatha and his gear. The Temple President there begged my new transcendental passenger to allow him to be the one to drive Radhanatha back to Old New Vrindabana.

Radhanatha’s program at that time involved, among other things, giving Transcendental Cooking Classes at the University of West Virginia, there in Morgantown. Most Devotees who have done Sankirtan can whip up wonderful preparations, even in a space no bigger than the floor of a Ford Van. Radhanatha Prabhu was no exception. To him, the cooking classes he gave at Morgantown and Athens were nothing but pure delight.

I was one of those who “dressed like a Karmi” in the rendering of my Service. I regularly had cause to interact with non-devotee merchants and others we called “Karmis.” Generally, after the morning program, with 16 rounds, the Super-Beautiful New Vrindabana Deities, and the wonderful Devotees all spinning in my head, I put on jeans and some shirt or other and climbed up into my truck, the aforementioned Dodge, in order to perform my Service.

To drive down to Morgantown, we had a short cut, almost as the crow flies, which eschewed the interstate. We’d go south on 250, then before Cameron, there was a turn off, to Route 891, which is always distinguishable by the country store which marked the fork in the road. Those roads were fraught with hills and turns. In fact, Road and Track Magazine has listed Route 250 as one of the ten most rewarding and challenging drives in the country. One example of such joy is that very intersection of 250 and backwoods Route 891 Overland short cut to Morgantown, for there, that country store, the branch to Route 891 appeared after 250 had wrapped around in an amusement park like nearly 360 degree descending turn. It was like a pin wheel, and Route 891 was one of the spiral arms.

After making the turnoff, the road went on as a two-laner, and brought new meaning to the term, “winding.” It was very picturesque, that country way. Known as the “Mason Dixon Highway,” this old Cumberland Route sometimes zoomed up so high in the back hills as to make you think you were on a small airplane. On the ridges of those hills, you’d go so far up you could look out and away, over the big bowl valleys below and see for miles, to the far horizon.

Then clusters of what appeared to be cauliflower and broccoli headed trees, seemed pasted on the undulating grass carpet, threaded through with winding creeks and steep ridge sides.

Sometimes, you’d whip around a bend in the path and have to bring your vehicle down to an immediate halt because some farmer’s son or daughter was herding cattle across the little road. At other times, you’d pop into a little town along the way, pretty as a Disney creation. It was a very enjoyable run, that drive between Morgantown and Old New Vrindabana. It was rich with variety and challenge. I really liked it. You didn’t find such scenes out on the ever uniform and very humdrum interstate highway.

In such villages, you’d find perhaps only one traffic light in the center of the burg, and the facades of the newest buildings looked no more recent than the ‘20’s.

With the speed limit invariably at 25 mph, you’d paddle through the town in second or at most, third , and I’d get a feeling sometimes, that I was just acting on a stage, so removed did the environment of West Virginia State Route 891, seem from the generous and giving activities experienced at the Morning Program.

And so I dressed like a Karmi, on the perceived principles of “When in Rome,” and “Not causing a disturbance.” Also, I sought to avoid one of the Ten Offenses: “To Preach the Glories of the Lord to the Faithless Demon.” I dutifully and routinely presented myself as one of “them.”

It was that on the day I bring to you now, Dear Reader, that I found myself coming back north on Route 891. It was early evening. The sun was about to set, sending pink, red, and blue backlit streaks all over the darkening charcoal sky.

It was summer. Radhanatha Prabhu sat beside me on the bench seat. His gear was fastened down in the back. I was enjoying the ride, as I almost always did. Radhanatha Prabhu and I chanted Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. We sang songs too.

We climbed the hill up into pretty little Waynesburg. I took the truck down from 4th to 3rd, and we continued on, following the back and white state route signs, which compelled us to turn at several corners, winding our way towards the dead center in one particular small town.

We turned a corner, and there, at the top of the hill, the single major intersection awaited. I dropped down to 2nd and began climbing. Radhanatha Prabhu broke off his chanting and said, “Jiva Goswami, do you know where I can get change?”

I did not know or wonder why Radhanatha might want change. “How much you got?” I inquired.

Radhanatha Prabhu gave me that half smile of his and fanned some large denomination bills at me. “A one hundred dollar bill is the smallest I’ve got,” he said.

Pshew! A hundred? In these parts? That would be like cashing a check! I wouldn’t have been surprised if the bearer of such a bill would be asked to produce two forms of picture identification.

At the four corners ahead, we could have sailed right on through the intersection, but there was a Convenient Store right there. I pulled in and shut off the motor. “Nothing to lose by trying,” I said to myself.

“I don’t know if we can change a hundred here,” I said to Radhanatha. “And I don’t want these people making offenses by insulting you.” I held out my hand for one of the big bills. Radhanatha handed me a one hundred dollar bill, and I took it. I put on my big cowboy hat, pulled up my boots, and swung down from our high stepping pickup.

As hoped, in the store, I caused no commotion or disturbance. Though it probably should have, it did not disturb me at all that I seemed to blend right in. I figured I’d buy something, some little meaningless item, and endeavor to pay for it with Radhanatha’s bill. Then I’d make up the difference out of my own pocket.

I was looking around; speculating about what would be OK to buy. There were a few other customers in the store. “Maybe a pack of gum,” I thought.

I was about to go towards the register when I heard a mild happy kind of commotion over by the magazine rack. Peering over the top of the aisle, I saw a small crowd had gathered, and they were centered upon the graceful saffron dhotied form of Radhanatha Prabhu. Far from making offenses, these people were fawning and ogling and asking Radhanatha were he was from. I heard him say something about The Palace of Gold, and his little audience was practically taking notes.

After a little preaching, which seemed to leave these new fans breathless and ecstatic, Radhanatha produced another big bill and mildly inquired as to the possibility of getting change. The cash register was ringing practically before Radhanatha Prabhu had expressed his desire.

When we left the store, I held the passenger door open for Radhanatha Prabhu, and sheepishly handed him back his original one hundred.

I climbed up on my side and turned the key. The 318 engine coughed to life and I carefully returned our rig to the highway and our mission.

Radhanatha and I did not talk about what happened, but from that moment to this, I am stunned by the profound impact of purity which Radhanatha illustrated so gracefully and casually.

I believe I was not wrong to dress as a Karmi under those circumstances. My motivation was correct. But for Radhanatha to dress as a Karmi, or to tarry in the “safety” of the truck, THAT would have been incorrect.

Krsna saw to it, as we drove away that early evening. Radhanatha Prabhu and me, on the road back to Old New Vrindabana.

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Jiva Goswami prabhu was New Vrindaban’s first, and only, legally blind driver!