There to Learn (Part 1)

By Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

From child hood, I harbored a longing to operate construction machinery. The Heavy Equipment Department at Old New Vrindabana really whet my whistle. The passing of Pippaladha up on the huge Road Grader, or Varshana Maharaja for example, carefully moving along the road with a medium size house suspended intact between the jaws of two of his powerful bulldozers, always drew my wistful gaze.

Witnessing their Service was like hearing the chanting of Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

“Yeah,” I can drive, I assured my friend Pip. (Pippaladha Prabhu of the Heavy Equipment Department) “Can I operate the Payloader?”

We were over by the recently installed huge water tower, which was big enough to provide for the small town Old New Vrindabana was becoming, behind the house where Srila Prabhupada had once stayed on a visit. I was thinking and talking about something I wanted to do because it looked like fun.

Pippaladha was in listening mode. “I don’t see why not,” he said after a while. He stood up straight and dusted off his hands. Pippaladha sometimes manifested the laconic manner of a Gary Cooper.

In New York with me on a Mission, when Pippaladha Prabhu had met my Mother, She’d felt the Brother like bond between the two of us. Standing next to him in the sun on the sidewalk outside 935 St. Nicholas Avenue as if rekindling the ambiance of a common ‘50’s Kodak shot; the kind that accrues in value over subsequent years, She’d put Her head on Pippaladha’s honor-filled chest and smiled back at me. I was twirling a hand truck, the way I’d learned as a pastime back in The Service. Up on one wheel and spun by a single handle; the flash from the spin and the scrape of the dish on the concrete was kind of a call to get … Back to Work.

My Mother had been giving Pippaladha Prabhu the clothes She’d been saving for me. Excessive Pakoras precluded me from having a hope of a fit. Pippaladha graciously accepted my Mother’s offerings.

“Why couldn’t you have been more like him?” my Mother sang. She looked up at Pippaladha Prabhu and fluttered her lashes.

Pippaladha smiled sheepishly. “Well,” he murmured sweetly. His voice had that Johnny Cash Tremolo. His modesty was more attractive than pure gold. I could have jumped up into his arms myself, I was thinking.

Indeed, why wasn’t I more like Pippaladha? Certainly, of all people, I thought my own Mother might have a clue.

Pippaladha is stoic. Pippaladha is taciturn. Pippaladha is better than any Gary Cooper: Pippaladha is a Devotee. Asking him if I could join the Heavy Equipment Department was like trying to take advantage. I thought so much of what I wanted that I forgot the fact that Krsna always protects His Devotees.

Moreover, Pippaladha is actually also a fine driver, in every real sense. Not a flash bucket the way I was, but a regular, rock steady measured hand; good for any machine in the Heavy Equipment Department and of course for operating the highway vehicles too.

That Big Wheeled Payloader, hinged in the middle, with a bucket in the front, looked easy to me. I’d plenty of experience with all kinds of what we called MHE (Materials Handling Equipment) back when I’d been in the military. I was soon to learn that the Payloader is not a Forklift, a job in an Air Force Warehouse is not a symptom of Devotional Service, and I, yours truly Dear Reader, had a long way to go in the process of learning how to render Devotional Service.

The fact is I really was a more than competent driver on the more concrete-karma flavored low ways of life. I was a stereotypical city boy. Taking up my style of street tooling for The Community via our Town Run was an easy step off from the streets of New York, where for years I’d been pushing a Medallion Cab.

Now, based in Wheeling, West Virginia, the very worst of local traffic never fazed me. I’d cut, slash and zip in order to make lights or prevent others from getting ahead of me. Down the country roods, I hugged the yellow line in the middle. That was how I guided.

I had a physical feel for handling the truck. I didn’t have the beginning of a clue with regard to handling my own persona. My state of mind then, looking back now, is, at best, a symbol of how not to be. I was in it for the fun.

That I was in it at all was accepted and processed in what we called “The Fire.” The Transcendental Benefits came despite my participation, and I am much better for it.

Mechanically, physically, materially, I was, by my own lights, very good and even very lucky. For example, one evening I was bringing Dodge Rama Dasa down an Interstate exit ramp. I was towing a heavily loaded literally used Sankirtan Van. My truck was light in the back, as empty three quarter ton pick ups will be, and as I came down the incline and tapped the brakes, I could feel the push at my back: The Sankirtan van did not want to stop.

The rear wheels of Dodge Rama Dasa started to break away, the front end was trying to grab. That rubber was setting up to howl. On the other side of the “wishful thinking” stop sign at the bottom of the hill, hustling oblivious cross traffic down across my path seemed suddenly all made up of hurtling Peterbilt Tankers, and bellowing, multi wheeled Kenworth Cement Trucks. I’d been coming in too fast. I was going to get creamed. The error was compounded by the weight of the van pushing behind me. The brakes of Dodge Rama dasa would have been hard pressed to stop the heavy Sankirtan Van alone. Here, due to my carelessness, I had set up something impossible.

I gave it the heavy foot, and then I came back off. The speed came down, but not enough. I needed more room. I angled across the road and straightened out again. More brakes. “Oooo. Oooooop oooo,” The rubber made a horrible, dumb shuddering sound. I let off the brakes and angled across again. We were coming more slowly but still way way too fast. I repeated the process, but it looked like I was going to end up with my face literally in someone’s grill.

“Krsna, help me!” I yelled out. I’d heard Narada Muni yell like that a few times. “Krsna, Help!” And the tires hollered, “Ooooop oooop oooooooo.”

I did barely come to a trembling stop then. I ended up just inches beyond the stop sign, as if I’d deliberately pulled out a little, in order to see left and right. To me, it was just fun; an adventure. Calling Krsna? That made sense, but my mood was more, like, “Hey, aren’t I good?

I drove practically every day for The Community. There were lots of exciting driving incidents which I felt showed my skill, prowess and feel for a vehicle. I spoke The Mantra, but only by rote: Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. The chanting of the Maha Mantra supersedes any intent or state of mind.

Similarly, the Association of the Devotees pulled me to a gentler, more considerate place.

Yes I thought I was great, and that my good fortune was a result of my own propensities. There was the time a pin had fallen out of the steering linkage on the left front wheel. With one wheel virtually loose, I drove over hill and dale as I could, into Wheeling for the Town Run. On that day, however, I made an emergency stop at Wheeling Spring, one of our major patrons. Up on the lift, the problem Dodge Rama dasa was having became obvious as a missing front tooth. I’d been steering with just one wheel. No wonder things had felt “funny.” To me, this was but another sign of my skills as a superb driver.

The wisdom of Janalada in selecting this simple and earnest powerful work truck paid off time and time again.

(to be continued)

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