“WE WANT TO GLORIFY SRILA GURUDEVA FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR US AND FOR WHAT WE KNOW HE CAN DO FOR OTHERS.”
In our attempt at surveying the worldwide landscape of Śrīla Gurudeva’s sanga, Team Centennial caught up with the devotees down under in Christchurch, New Zealand – a spirited group of home grown country folks, mostly in their mid or late fifties, bubbling with enthusiasm to go out there and preach as an offering for Śrīla Gurudeva‘s cenntenial. Although this was on their minds for some time, the trigger for getting down to it was the centennial launch communication on Aksaya Tritiya. They immediately got together and contacted us with their possible ‘Roadmap for the centennial’.
This team of about 10 devotees is planning a grand country wide preaching effort throughout the centennial year, with hari-katha festivals, vyasa-puja festival, japa retreat, book distribution, harinama-sankirtana, prasadam distribution, camping and outreach preaching at prominent locations across the two Islands.
Needless to say, their simplicity and mood of surrender was very inspiring as well as contagious. In many ways, this interaction was a sweet reminder of how Śrīla Gurudeva is still very much casting his magic spell – captivating, encouraging and inspiring each one of us. The wheel is already set in motion and around Śrīla Gurudeva’s centennial we can expect a lot of unprecedented action.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: You’ve got a wonderful sanga down there. How do you intend to infuse your individuality, as well as join together in a collective effort in your proposed tour of the Islands in 2021? In other words, how are you aiming at ‘unity in diversity’?
Vanamali Prabhu: It is really an interesting concept, because within our sanga Gurudeva established so much love and affection. He loved all our individual talents, our quirks, every little thing that we had. And he encouraged us to be individuals and to use our individual talents in serving him and in glorifying Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Yes, he validated our individuality.
Vanamali Prabhu: So, as individuals we are helping each other and encouraging each other to serve Srila Gurudeva, just like we did when Srila Gurudeva was around.
We want to organize preaching programs, grand hari-katha and vyasa puja festivals for Srila Gurudeva up on the North Island, where everyone can go. Festivals of this scale can really be achieved only when the whole sanga comes together to help each other.This is just one of the beautiful things within our sanga. That we have this mood of encouragement, this mood of helping each other, this mood of coming together to glorify Srila Gurudeva.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: It’s wonderful.
Hari Kanta Prabhu: We had a meeting at Uttama Prabhu’s place and there was tremendous energy. There were ideas being passed around, amongst the whole group. It was very evident that there was room for individual glorification of Srila Gurudeva and group activities as well. And it was all about working with each other.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: How would you go about managing the funds? Obviously, you need the facility and the resources to put this initiative together.
Hari Kanta prabhu: My intention for the next year is to do prasadam distribution with my bus and a trailer and raise funds solely for Srila Gurudeva’s centennial.
Vanamali Prabhu: Hari Priya and I also have a fund that we are setting up for putting money aside on a regular basis for Srila Gurudeva’s centennial year, so that we can personally cover a lot of the costs. And I am sure other devotees are also thinking in the same way, that this is a big financial effort that we have to all put in. But ultimately, we are relying completely on Srila Gurudeva and Krsna and the mercy of the Vaisnavas, for everything to happen.We certainly have that faith. We will make the effort to the best of our ability, and Krsna will provide whatever He thinks we need.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: What is your schedule going to be? Are you going to be 6 months on one Island and 6 months on the other? Or are you going to change from Island to Island?
Vanamali Prabhu: Our initial idea was to do the vyasa puja ceremony on the North Island where the majority of the devotees reside [around 100 of them].
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: That would be a wonderful focal point for your preaching on the South Island. Telling the people, “We are going to have a festival up on the North Island.” Then canvassing up there and putting out a lot of propaganda for the festival.
Vanamali Prabhu: Yes, definitely because they have a temple up there, they have some facilities for people who really take a serious interest in developing their spiritual life. We’ll definitely be emphasizing that a lot. Then we will do festivals on the South Island. We want to coordinate these festivals with the sannyasis who are visiting us during that year. At the moment we have Sripad Tapasvi Maharaja, Sripad Madhava Maharaja and yourself who are scheduled to visit during that year. So we want to have at least three big hari-katha festivals on the North and South Islands. The logistics of when and where, needs to be worked out over the coming months.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Maybe we could have a japa retreat as well during that year.
Vanamali Prabhu: Yes, definitely. That would be marvelous.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: How will you focus on Srila Gurudeva in general through that year? How will you demonstrate that it is about Srila Gurudeva, to the public?
Vanamali Prabhu: This is an interesting point as Srila Gurudeva obviously gave the highest; he gave us Radha dasyam, which is the highest understanding of the nature of the soul, the nature of the soul’s relationship with Krsna through service to Radha.
And I remember when Srila Gurudeva came to Cessnock in Australia for the first time he was giving a class about this, speaking about Radha dasyam, the soul’s relationship with Krsna through service to Radha and to Rupa Manjari. He was speaking about raganuga bhaktiand rupanuga bhaktiin particular. As he was giving that class one of the local newspaper journalist wanted to do an article on Srila Gurudeva and one of their questions was, “What is your mission here?” And Srila Gurudeva responded, “I am here to tell them that they must leave the animals alone.”
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Yes, from top to bottom.
Vanamali Prabhu: So Srila Gurudeva had different strokes for different folks.
My aim and object of these preaching programs is to establish the uniqueness of Srila Gurudeva and what he came to give.
That spiritual life is blissful, that the spiritual world is full of joy, and there is so much love and affection in the spiritual realm. It is not a matter of austerity. It is not about just rules and regulations. It is not simply a dry process. So I really want to get this across to the people in general, that Srila Gurudeva came to give something which is very unique and very rare.And if they really want to understand what is spiritual life, then they should take this process very seriously.
He gave us this deep insight of what the spiritual world is like, a very intimate understanding of what is Vrndavana.What are the loving relationships existing there and what is our position in Vrndavana? So this uniqueness is there. I know this is a long way away from someone who is just coming initially to Krsna consciousness. But it is a presentation of the blissfulness of Krsna consciousness, of the rarity of Krsna consciousness and of the beauty of the spiritual world. We can work it like that and we will have beautiful artworks there, beautiful posters of Hari Priya Didi and Syamrani Didi’s paintings for sale.
So our attempt is to present it in that way, this is the gift Srila Gurudeva came to give. What greater thing can be given in this world than what Srila Gurudeva came to give?So we’ll try and present it in that way, that he is the focal point of all spiritual realizations and of all spiritual realities and all its bliss. We will try and present something like that.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: What you have just described is so incredibleand beautiful. I am really inspired. You know it is amazing, just the ten of you and yet you’re going to undertake, to convince the whole of New Zealand of these truths.
Will you be ordering quantities of books? Or can you print yourselves?
Vanamali Prabhu: Yes, that is one of the options we are looking at, to print some very basic, small pieces of literature which can be distributed freely on the streets and here and there. Just to give a basic understanding. But of course, we need big books and we will also need some of Srila Gurudeva’s smaller books. That’s another aspect we need to look at. We are looking for funding for the books. We want to distribute a lot of books and we want the book distribution as an ongoing basis here in Christchurch.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Fantastic!
Vanamali Prabhu: We are working on that as an offering to Srila Gurudeva, that we will distribute his books during his centennial year, but we will make this an ongoing thing. We are working with the local council. Premananda Prabhu [from NZ] has some understanding of these sorts of things, how the council works and how to set up a little book table in town etc. Together we will work with the local council, setting up an ongoing book table there to have a presence in the city regularly.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: And also prasadam initiatives?
Vanamali Prabhu: Yes, that’s Hari Kanta’s forte.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Yes, he’s got that covered completely.
Vanamali Prabhu: Yes, we’ll do that because people come and if they don’t have any inclination to buy a book or to read it, at least they can take prasadam and their spiritual life has begun.And Hari Kanta Prabhu is expert, the prasadam he makes is just so wonderful, it is incredible.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: So you will have a procession with the bus and your own cars going from location to location and camping? Where do you plan to stay, while moving around? What is the length of the South Island for example, approximately? How many miles?
Vanamali Prabhu: About1000 km… At the moment we are thinking logistically it will be very difficult for us to stay out there and just go from town to town and preach, because we all have different commitments. So we think we will just go to the major centers and do preaching programs in those centers, just travelling down there then back. Hari Kanta Prabhu has a bus, with a kitchen that he takes with him on a trailer hooked to the bus. Then we can go down there, do a program and devotees can travel down in their cars. It’ll be quite simple.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Would you stay a day or two in those places?
Vanamali Prabhu: Initially we planned on spending a couple of weeks there. So Hari Kanta Prabhu and I might go down there to Dunedin or Invercargill for example. We would go down there for a couple of weeks beforehand, advertising the programs, doing some book distribution and then the other devotees can come down for the actual program itself. Depending on who’s got the time, and facility to do that.
Hari Kanta Prabhu: The best advertising is for us to be out there on the streets and be seen.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Fantastic.Have you got any words of encouragement for the rest of our global sanga in regards to following your example or anything like that?
Vanamali Prabhu: It is just a matter of looking into the heart. We all have this great debt and great relationship of love with Srila Gurudeva.We want to glorify Srila Gurudeva for what he has done for us and for what we know he can do for others. So it is just a matter of whatever you can do, just give that, even if it might be some simple thing, some small thing. Whatever we’re capable ofand just do whatever we can to glorify Srila Gurudeva. To bring Srila Gurudeva to the world, in a more clarified way. Just go out and do whatever you can.
Because Srila Gurudeva is very dear to us, how much dear is he to Krsna? How much dear is he to Srimati Radharani? They have so much love in their hearts for Srila Gurudeva. So whatever little attempt we make, they will magnify that attempt. They will help us, they will give us everything that we require for these things. If we pray to their lotus feet, “Please allow us to do something to glorify Srila Gurudeva, at least in his centennial year.” Then some success will be there. It must be there.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: 100 percent. Totally. Does anyone have any concluding words to offer?
Hari Priya Didi: I have Maharaja.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Go ahead Hari Priya.
Hari Priya Didi: As a starter to get inspiration I’ve actually decided to do something on an individual level, it can be a small thing. Just by gradually increasing the number of rounds that I can maintain. Simply knowing how much Srila Gurudeva would be pleased when you increase your rounds.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: So you would be doing a lakh by the time I come to New Zealand?
Hari Priya Didi: I am hoping so, honestly. And also when Srila Gurudeva was present, I was helping Syamarani Didi with paintings for Srila Gurudeva’s books.But since I can’t visually see him anymore, I’ve lost that enthusiasm to paint. I am going to try to get back on track with that, to feel more connected with Srila Gurudeva.Because that’s what I was doing when I did feel very connected with him, when I was performing sevas for him.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Of course.
Hari Priya Didi: I was thinking if I was doing some drawings or paintings of Srila Gurudeva and they came out nicely then anyone likes to buy them, the money I get from that I can give for the publications of his books.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: You could copy them and pass them out on the tour as you go around.
Hari Priya Didi: Yes I could do that. I wrote quite a few letters to Srila Gurudeva over the years and there are a lot of personal instructions to me and I really enjoy re-reading them. It gets more in depth as to what he instructed me personally and I can take them to heart and follow them as carefully as possible.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: So you are going to collect those letters and make them public?
Hari Priya Didi: Maybe some of them, but not all of them, no. A lot of them have to do with the art, some of them have very beautiful things he said. Srila Gurudeva always said something beautiful, he was always encouraging me to do my art. Maybe, yes, I will have to have a look into that.
Sripad BV Tridandi Maharaja: Well done Hari Priya didi. Beautiful. It’s nice you put forward the emphasis on our own sadhana bhajana. Because at the end of the day this is really what’s going to be our greatest success, when our hearts, personally, are flourishing more with the Vrndavana flavors that Vanamali Prabhu so beautifully described. That is what will resonate with the public, if we are on top of our sadhana while we are doing these initiatives. That will be the attracting feature.
To put emphasis on making sure that balance is going to be there, our sadhana is going to be strongly increased by the centennial. So this is actually the key to all of what we are doing, it is a wonderful message which you’ve just described. To make sure that inner process is in harmony with the outer process. It’s a remarkable opportunity. And it really is, ‘Once in a lifetime.’ Isn’t it? There will never come another 100th birthday. It is now or never. 125, 120, 110, nothing will be the same as a 100. A 100 is really special. While we have a little bit of youth left in our body.