Bringing the Temple to the Street
I gave class this morning at the temple. The subject was the ninth chapter of the Antya-lila portion of the Caitanya Caritamrita, the life and teachings of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. We study it every weekend. The ninth chapter is all about an incident that took place while the Lord was living in Jagannatha Puri, the seaside pilgrimage place in the present state of Orissa, east India. In those days the region was known as the kingdom of Utkal.
A man had five sons and two of them had become great devotees of Krishna. The other, a tax collector named Gopinath, was squandering his life - and the taxes - on parties and going to see dancing girls. He’d run up a huge debt and now the king wanted his money back. Unable to pay immediately, he offered twelve horses in lieu of payment. The king’s eldest son came to value the horses. The prince had a nervous tic, which caused him to twitch his head up to the sky every so often. When the prince underestimated the value of the horses the tax collector angrily said: “You should have given me a much better price, at least the horses don’t twitch their heads all the time.”
This was too much for the prince and he arrested Gopinath and prepared to have him executed the following morning. A huge, noisy crowd gathered outside Chaitanya’s rooms. They explained what had happened and he was reluctant to intervene.
Eventually, by a process of diplomacy involving several messengers, a more than peaceful solution was reached. Gopinath was forgiven, restored to his position, and the king was able to render some indirect service to Chaitanya. Everyone concerned fully understood that even though he’d taken no direct action, by the compassion of Chaitanya all things had become possible.
After class, and hoping for my own personal blessings from Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, I went to Ilford in east London to try to sell a few books. The support team could not have been better.
At the side of the pedestrian walkway was a full altar set up, with colourful displays of leaflets, books and sweets for the public to look at and taste. Next to that, a group of Vaishnavas, sitting down on blankets singing the Hare Krishna mantra to the accompaniment of hand cymbals, clay drum and harmonium. There must have been around ten devotees - some of whom had only done this sort of thing a few times. The atmosphere was just like a temple - outdoors.
Although it was bitterly cold we managed a few hours and passers-by took a fair number of books on the subject of Krishna consciousness. At least enough to make our efforts worthwhile!
Feeling that warm glow that always happens when you distribute books for Krishna, we were all taken a few levels higher when we looked up the street and heard the unmistakable sound of a sankirtan party coming towards us through the crowded street. Dressed in bright yellow scarves with the maha-mantra written in red Sanskrit writing they looked as if they’d just stepped out of mediaeval Jagannatha Puri themselves. They sang, danced, smiled and played the accordion and drums. People gathered round, clapped their hands, took the sweets from the table, bought more books, and generally warmed to the Hare Krishnas for bringing something bright and happy to cold streets of Ilford.