Calcutta, India — Monday, August 23rd

Early memories

I get up a little before midnight and take a prearranged taxi to Calcutta's Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose international airport to meet Yudhamanyu Prabhu Seva Vikram, who is arriving on an early 1:15 a.m. flight from China, via Bangkok.

While I wait for the plane to arrive, it occurs to me that the last time Yudhamanyu Prabhu and I were together at this airport in the wee hours of the morning was almost twenty-one years ago, way back in October 1983...

When I first began searching for a guru after reading Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad's Bhagavad Gita—As It Is in the jungles of Africa, Yudhamanyu Prabhu steered me unerringly towards Srila Sridhar Maharaj by giving me some audiocassette tapes and a copy of Search For Sri Krishna—Reality The Beautiful. He recommended me for harinama initiation, and literally brought me to the lotus feet of Srila Guru Maharaj.

We arrived here at the Calcutta airport at two o' clock in the morning, from Johannesburg, South Africa, travel-weary after a five-hour layover in Nairobi, Kenya, and an eleven-hour flight delay in Bombay. It was my first trip to India, and I did not see much of it from the back of the taxi as we drove through the darkness to Nabadwip dham, crossing the legendary Ganges River at dawn and arriving a few minutes later at the gates of the celebrated Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.

As we alighted from the taxi, I was very excited at the prospect of finally meeting the inspiration for my search for Sri Krishna and being in the presence of Sri Guru and his grace. We paid our obeisances in the dust of the holy dham of Nabadwip and went upstairs to see Srila Guru Maharaj...

Was it really only twenty-one years ago?

Calcutta, India — Tuesday, August 24th

Seva Vikram in China

Yudhamanyu Prabhu's flight from China via Bangkok arrives about twenty minutes ahead of schedule and the streets of Calcutta are empty at this hour so it's only 1:30 a.m. by the time the taxi drops us off outside the gates of the Sree Chaitanya Saraswata Krishnanushilana Sangha.

The gates are locked and everybody is asleep, but I have a key. We enter quietly, and walk past the darkened devotee quarters above the nat mandir because Srila Gurudeva wants us to stay on his veranda in the two rooms that are vacant now that Ashram Maharaj has left for Mexico and Goswami Maharaj is in Russia.

We tiptoe up the stairs to Srila Gurudeva's quarters, tap ever-so-lightly on the door of the veranda for Ranajit Prabhu to let us in, but despite all our precautions to be as quiet as possible, before we can cross the veranda to our rooms Srila Gurudeva comes out of his room to joyfully welcome Yudhamanyu Prabhu with a smile, a hug, and a garland!

For the next hour — until 2:30 a.m.! — Srila Gurudeva sits on the veranda, happily conversing and inquiring about the mission in China. To our great surprise, Yudhamanyu Prabhu reaches into his bag and produces the latest edition of the Chengdu Weekly, which contains an op-ed piece, The Civilized Jungle of Nationalism, which he wrote for the Chinese/English newspaper!

We are further astonished and delighted when Yudhamanyu Prabhu shows us an earlier April edition of the Chengdu Weekly with an article, Serving Beauty, by one of his Chinese students! It is an exceptionally well-written article, in English, that encapsulates our Krishna conscious philosophy, without — for obvious reasons — mentioning Krishna.

This is an extraordinary propaganda coup! Chengdu is one of China's oldest cities (founded circa 770 B.C.) with a population of 13,000,000, and since the Chengdu Weekly (published by the Chengdu Daily) is the major Chinese/English newspaper in the city, its circulation must be enormous.

Srila Gurudeva is extremely pleased with Yudhamanyu Prabhu's seva vikram (courageous service) in China, and the remarkable progress that he has achieved in such a short time. "It is a miracle!" he says.

Calcutta, India — Monday, August 30th

Unprecedented service

Yudhamanyu Prabhu Seva Vikram, who courageously served Srila Guru Maharaj and pioneered his mission in South Africa twenty-five years ago, is now valiantly pioneering the mission in China for Srila Gurudeva.

Most of us think of China as a remote, exotic, mysterious land, because its history and culture has always been hidden behind an impenetrable Bamboo Curtain. Yet a peek behind that so-called curtain reveals an amazing civilization: for the greater part of its 5,000-year history, China has been one of the largest, wealthiest, mightiest, and most populous nations on earth.

When Marco Polo wrote about the wonders that he had seen during his twenty years in China, most Europeans were reluctant to accept his descriptions of a civilization that rivaled their own. Marco Polo described China as a civilization so advanced that its wonders were thought to be lies. Indeed, his fellow Venetians contemptuously referred to the book in which he shared his adventures as "The Millions" — the number of lies they believed it contained!

Contemporary Western history teaches us almost nothing about how the betrayal of China after World War I by the Allies at Versailles led to the riots in Beijing and the subsequent emergence of the Chinese Communist Party, and very little about the role its founder, Mao Tse-tung, played in the Long March, the proclamation of the People's Republic of China, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution.

For most of us, the Chinese Revolution can be summed up in the lyrics of the Beatles Revolution:

But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow...

But China, like India (as the students in Yudhamanyu Prabhu's English class like to remind him!) also has a rich 5,000 year history: it developed agriculture and writing independently of outside influence; by 200 B.C. it had already been ruled by three classical dynasties; when the Roman Empire was at its zenith, China's Han dynasty ruled over an empire that was superior in almost every way, including technological advancement.

The great philosophers, Confucius and Lao Tzu, were as influential in China as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle were in ancient Greece, and their philosophy and teachings still permeate many aspects of Chinese thought and culture today.

Yudhamanyu Prabhu has an almost impossible task: to change the individual and collective consciousness of a proud people and culture. It is a daunting assignment: to introduce bhakti — the revolutionary conception of a personal God — into a society dominated by the impersonal and nihilistic philosophies of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

There is really no precedent within the mission of the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math for preaching in China. It's not like you can open up a book or consult with any of our devotees to get some specific advice about how to present our philosophy in this inscrutable country and culture with a long, rich tradition of its own...

So Yudhamanyu Prabhu has come to the lotus feet of Srila Gurudeva to get instructions and advice on how to proceed in China. Srila Gurudeva meditates deeply on Yudhamanyu Prabhu's questions before giving specific answers, devotional insights, and general encouragement to our intrepid pioneer.

Earlier, when Srila Gurudeva was discussing his travel arrangements to London and California next month, Yudhamanyu Prabhu started to apologize, saying, "Unfortunately I won't be in California for your upcoming tour..." but Srila Gurudeva interrupted him: "It is not 'unfortunate,' because you are going to China for service to Guru and Gauranga."

Srila Gurudeva has full confidence in Yudhamanyu Prabhu Seva Vikram, and has bestowed his blessings, his goodwill, and his divine backing upon him, so his mission cannot but be ultimately successful.

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