Learning to Fly

By Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

As a Bhakta, in the Columbus Temple, I had a hard time dealing with visitor’s questions. I was afraid to give the wrong answer. When anyone asked me anything at all about Krsna Consciousness, my response was always, “Just a minute.” Then I’d run and consult Narada Muni or some other Temple Authority. It seemed to me that everyone knew more than me. When a genuine Devotee was given an inquiry it looked and sounded , to me, like that Devotee lived for the question, got up and rode, no, flew upon it. “Preaching is the highest Service,” the Devotees always said. They were very very good at it too. I saw that. Why not avail myself of that certain correctness and skill?

This approach quickly wore thin, and I believe it looked kind of fishy to our guests, as if I was, perhaps, not completely brainwashed. Narada Muni Prabhu took to shooing me away with the instruction to cope with questions on my own.

“I can’t,” I warbled.

“Yes you can,” Narada Muni asserted.

For your entertainment, let me share how I believe this capacity to respond to questions was developed in me.

A large part of our program focused on having guests come to us, as opposed to going out and interacting in the field, as it were, via Sankirtan, for example. To that end, at the Columbus Temple, we had fabulous Sunday Feasts. During the week, I, for one, walked around Columbus with Back to Godhead magazines and yellow “Free Feast” cards. Come Sunday, guests would be hanging from the rafters. You’d find people of all sorts; sitting virtually anywhere there was even a little space. After Kirtan and a lecture, the feast was served out, and then guests and Devotees circulated and mingled. It was a wonderful, transcendental party.

After one feast, I was on the front porch of the Temple, just sitting around in my dhoti, when a couple of brothers broke away from the milling happy crowd and approached me. They seemed to me to be just like OSU students. One was far taller than the other. “What are you doing here?” the shorter of the two asked without preamble.

“What do you mean?” I was careful not to give a snap answer, such as, “Sitting on the porch.” Not everyone thinks such responses are funny and, particularly in the early stages, the wrong flavored answer can sour a relationship through and through. I wanted to come across the way the Devotees came across to me: Clear, forthright, earnest, and humble.

“Why are you, a Black Man, hanging out with these people?” The taller guy asked. For half a second, I thought of excusing myself and running to Narada Muni but then I realized, if ever there was a question particularly within my personal bailiwick, this had to be it.

I mentally threw out an answer which went into the philosophy: I’m NOT actually a “Black Man” I only seem to be. I said instead that the racial and ethic population in the Temple was very much reflective of the mixing proportion in our country.

“But how do you feel, dressed like that?” the shorter one wanted to know.

“Very comfortable,” I responded. “You should try it.” I shared the simple personal Truth.

The two guys were apparently satisfied. They nodded and moved off. That was it. I did not think the encounter had any significance at all. I did not think I had particular answered well either. Suddenly, Ajeya Prabhu and Loka Prabhu appeared from around the corner. They were beaming broadly. I nodded at them. I was always glad to see them.
“We heard you preaching,” Ajeya announced.

“What?” I was surprised.

“Your preaching,” Ajeya said. “It really enlivened us.”

“I wasn’t preaching,” I responded.

“Yes you were,” Loka chimed. “It was great. We were listening.” Loka pointed with his chin at the place down on the walk just under where I’d been sitting. “We stood there to hear what you would say,” he said.

“It made us happy,” Ajeya declared.

“I wasn’t preaching,” I said. “I only was saying that I like it here. I wish I did know how to preach.”

“That was preaching,” Loka insisted.

“It was?”

Ajeya nodded and gave me one of his contagious checkerboard style smiles. To me, this salutation from Ajeya and Loka was encouragement of the highest order. I was emboldened, from then on, to practice answering questions from guests and visitors.

Years later, I was participating in one of those Gold Leaf Parties at the Palace. Again, I was wearing the Devotee Regalia, and I think I looked a lot like the Devotees. I was trying to act like the Devotees too, but my success in that department was not as definitive to me as the external resemblance factor. I believed what kept me in that glowing association was the Service I was allowed to render here and there.

It was a bright and sunny Sunday. Three or four tour buses were parked on the other side of the Palace Wall, their air conditioners roaring like the Pratt and Whitney engines of B-17s. I had one of those matchbook like pads of gold leaf and I was half way up the main steps, applying the feathery thin gold and daubing it with the soft dry brush. Mainly, I was concerned about the wind, and not losing a precious sheet of the thinner than tissue material. I wondered at the cost of what we were doing, and considered how we’d come by those funds, (Sankirtan) and the purpose of the Palace … how we were engaged in furthering the Feast Principle, whereby we brought “them” to “us.” To me, that was part of the glory of being there at Old New Vrindabana. Wherever I looked, I saw Devotional Service and I swam in Pastimes, current and historical, as presented and lived by the Devotees around me.

A fresh gaggle of tourists came in through the gates by the buses at the wall. This group, like many that came our way, was made up of older folk. Their number was replete with even a smattering of the blue hair type ladies. The wind ruffled all our garments like flags. The new group began to make their way up the stairs. For a moment, we were all together, we, Gold Leafers, and the fresh guests.

One of the blue haired ladies stopped and looked at what I was doing. “May I ask you a question?” she said. She had those glasses stereo typically worn by librarians: Pointed tips, like a kitty, the clips attached to a chain around her neck. I liked her immediately.

“Sure,” I said. “Please ask a question.” I smiled at her. My teeth were as crooked and jagged as the pipes of a calliope. I had a feeling … a certain inclination that I knew what the lady was about to ask.

She smiled back at me. “It is Sunday,” she said. “How can you people be working today if you claim to be religious, yet, in our Bible, Sunday is a day of rest?” She had spoken quickly, as if to guard against interruption or antagonism.

The fact is, her question was precisely that which I’d anticipated. I actually knew of a very good answer. But I wanted to put some impact on it. I wanted to impart some lasting mustard, because the answer was and is true, and importantly, very helpful. I’d answer, but with meter.

“That’s a very good question,” I told the lady. I waited a bit, considering the timing. “It is true,” I affirmed. “Sunday is not a day for working, but ‘work’ is the key here.”

“What do you mean?” The lady patted at her wind blown metallic blue colored hair. Her eyes were friendly but narrow behind her glasses.

“Well, the thing is, none of us here are working, per se.” I swept my hand around at all the Assembled Leafing Devotees. “If we were working, there would be a salary involved. This is Devotional Service. What we are doing here, on this beautiful Sunday, is actually a Religious Activity.”

I saw her eyes widen for a second. Her question had been sincere. The answer was more than satisfactory. I felt that she would remember. “Thanks,” she said.

“You are more than welcome,” I returned.

The lady and her group moved on up the steps and into the Palace where they would be taken on The Tour.

Before returning to the leafing I was doing, I took a good look and listen about me. Just beyond the wall, those air conditioners on the big tour buses continued to roar. The Flower Gardens bloomed with a beautiful fury that everywhere cast stunning reverberations of awe and respect. In the fluttering wind there on the Palace steps, Devotees bent to the Service of applying the Leaf. What I’d said about not working was absolutely true. I’d been on work crews before. Here, there was no arguing or competing or even looking around and hesitating because there was so much to do. So much ahead of us. We all understood not only that we were not working, but that we were not The Doer.

The Dome of the Palace with its bright tilok pattern was beautifully silhouetted against the deep blue sky. Even high up there, perched at the tip of a long ladder, I saw a Devotee Leafing. It was Kuladri. I waved. Though we were far apart, Kuladri saw me and waved back. On the wind I heard him say my name the way he does, “Jeeeeeeeva!”

I heard but did not see a bird far away and above … a call in the sky that seemed to take my heart up in full joy. Never have I been happier and more aware of the always encompassing sheer great good fortune which is the answer all, do all blessing of Krsna Consciousness. I had learned to answer questions about Krsna Consciousness.

Here is the key! Let us say it. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

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Reader Comments

I found this most inspiring. thanks for bringing some light into my day 🙂 A labour of true love indeed is one of the most highest forms of religious activity. And while I may bow before the beauty of Shakti and celebrate my own absurdity few chants are more beautiful or powerful then the chant of a Krishna devotee. Hare Krsna indeed.