Calcutta, India — Saturday, August 14th

Amazing grace

Srila Gurudeva is in the preliminary planning stage of his proposed trip abroad next month. Even at this late stage, the details of the trip — the itinerary, the number of countries visited, the duration of each visit — are still provisional, because Srila Gurudeva must decide on a schedule that will not be too stressful.

For instance, due to his delicate health, every effort is being made to ensure that Srila Gurudeva's flight itinerary is as short and as direct as possible; flights that involve stopovers or deplaning en route are avoided or minimized.

This tour, it must be emphasized, will not be like Srila Gurudeva's other "world tours." This will not be an extensive preaching tour; rather, Srila Gurudeva is going abroad for a "change of climate," to recuperate from some of the minor, but nevertheless accumulatively enervating illnesses that His Divine Grace has suffered over the past few years.

When Srila Gurudeva decides to go on these trips abroad, his motivating desire is always to encourage and enthuse the devotees in their service. It is hoped, however, that the local devotees realize that this particular "tour" is primarily to give Srila Gurudeva an opportunity to convalesce. His Divine Grace's delicate health will not permit him to attend big public programs or meet thousands of people.

Of course, we are all genuinely concerned about Srila Gurudeva's health — and these concerns and considerations must be voiced so that the devotees can take them into account — but if I am starting to sound a little too gloomy, let me also say that there is a definite air of excitement building up here...

The other morning, amidst the maps and pens and papers — and between calls to the travel agent querying which flights are direct and which entail a stopover — Srila Gurudeva reminisced about some of his previous world tours, like the time he spent in the departure lounge at the airport in Miami, Florida.

At the airport, Srila Gurudeva says that he saw "a thin lady, with a thin baby, eating a thin biscuit— with tomato sauce." It made an impression on Srila Gurudeva. Of all the people in the hustle and bustle of the airport, this woman and her child caught his attention and evoked his sympathy.

"Perhaps her husband had gone somewhere, to get something, or perhaps she had no husband." She looked emaciated, and even though the airport was crowded, she looked lost and all alone except for her equally emaciated-looking baby.

"She was alone," Srila Gurudeva says. "I was thinking, how will she manage her hunger?"

I am simply amazed at that poor woman's good fortune. Whoever she is, I am sure she has no idea how fortunate she was that day: to have come into the purview, to have evoked the sympathetic glance, the empathy, the goodwill of a pure Vaishnava.

In her relative world, even if she noticed something special about Srila Gurudeva, she could have had no conception (ya nisa sarva-bhutanam) of the absolute plane that he was privy to (tasyam jagarti samyami). Srila Gurudeva is always absorbed in that joyful plane of reality (sa nisa pasyato muneh) and is generally indifferent to the hard struggle for existence in this world of suffering (yasyam jagrati bhutani), but somehow or the other she was able to draw his merciful attention from that realm, to attract his compassionate glance.

On that fateful day, the vacillating ups and downs of her wandering existence in this world (abrahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino) inexplicably brought her within the orbit of a pure Vaishnava — the embodiment of goodwill for every living being — and that gravitational pull, exerted almost imperceptibly as ajnata sukriti (unconscious spiritual merit), must forever change the course of her life as she goes through the stages of jnata sukriti (conscious cooperation) and sraddha (firm faith) and gets drawn into an ever-decreasing circle, until she is eventually captured by that all-attractive force and inspired to consciously seek the association of the Vaishnavas (sadhu-sangha) and begin a life of devotional service (bhajana-kriya) under the direction and guidance of Sri Guru.

And if that "thin lady, with a thin baby, eating a thin biscuit" can get so much good fortune from the mere glance of Srila Gurudeva, how can we even begin to try to calculate the good fortune of the devotees who attract Srila Gurudeva to their country by their service?

tamasi ravir ivodyan majjatam aplavanam
plava iva trsitanam svadu-varsiva meghah
nidhir iva nidhananam tivra-duhkhamayanam
bhisag iva kusalam no datum ayati saurih

"Like the sun ascending through the darkness, like a boat for the helplessly drowning, like a rain cloud of sweet waters for the parched, like a treasure for the impoverished, like a physician for the deadly afflicted — our Lord is now coming to bless us with all good fortune."

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Layout by iMonk — August 14th, 2004.