Somewhere over the Pacific — Sunday, February 19th

Return to India

It is drizzling shortly after midnight when my plane takes off from San Francisco: I am on my way to Navadwip, India (via Taipei and Bangkok). In a few minutes I shall be above the clouds, beyond the jurisdiction of rain; in a few days I shall be with Srila Gurudeva, beyond the jurisdiction of maya (illusion).

If only it were so!

Because maya is everywhere, we cannot escape the lure of illusion, the influence of our misconceptions, simply by changing our environment: it is our consciousness that must be changed. I know better than to blame the environment for the circumstances that I find myself in; I have faith that when my consciousness is properly adjusted (in the association of Srila Gurudeva) I shall be able to see just how it is that the environment is always friendly.

While it is true that the association of the pure Vaishnava is a panacea for all that ails us (lava-matra sadhu-sange sarva-siddhi haya) I am also mindful that mere physical proximity is not association: a louse on the head of the guru is very close, physically, but that does not mean that it has Srila Gurudeva's association!

Real association takes place on the plane of consciousness. If the words from Srila Gurudeva's lotus mouth (guru-mukha-padma-vakya) do not revolutionize my consciousness (cittete koriya aikya) and become the exclusive goal of my life (ara na koriho mane asa) then how can I claim to have had Srila Gurudeva's association? How am I any better than that louse?

As I fly over the seemingly endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean in the darkness below, I am conscious of the vastness and the overwhelming blackness of my own delusions... but I am also conscious that I am flying towards the sun, towards the light, towards Srila Gurudeva.

Navadwip, West Bengal, India — Tuesday, February 21st

End of a rough ride

I arrived safely in Calcutta late yesterday afternoon, and was met by Sripad Jitendriya Maharaj, who took me to the Math in Dum Dum Park to take some prasadam and to rest for the evening.

Early this morning, immediately after mangala-arati, Sripad Mangal Maharaj arranges a taxi to take me to Navadwip, to see Srila Gurudeva. Jitendriya Maharaj again accompanies me.

Traveling by road in India is always a traumatic experience! Cars, buses, motorcycles, scooters, rickshaws, bicycles and animal-drawn carts barrel pell-mell down the roads and nobody ever seems to keep within their traffic lanes (where there are traffic lanes).

The primary rule of the road in India is that smaller vehicles give way to bigger vehicles. Our driver does not seem to be familiar with this rule. It is difficult to drive very fast in India because of traffic congestion, but our driver manages to do so. Twice Jitendriya Maharaj tells him to slow down when he recklessly swings out into oncoming traffic and hurtles through momentary gaps between lumbering lorries and beat-up buses.

I have a bad feeling about this trip, but I try to maintain the studied air of insouciance exhibited by the driver.

As fate would have it, just a few miles outside of Calcutta, a big dog runs across the road. The driver swerves one way then the other but the dog does the same. There is a tremendous — bang! — and the hood flies up, obscuring the windshield as the driver pumps the feeble brakes and eventually stops the car about twenty yards down the road.

Ugh! The poor dog! I don't look back.

The car cannot continue: the radiator is leaking, and is now pushed back into the fan. Stupid driver! He could have killed us, or a child (then the villagers would have killed us).

Jitendriya Maharaj (thank goodness he is with me) arranges for another taxi, and we continue our journey to Navadwip. I reflect on Yudhisthira Maharaj's statement:

ahany ahani bhutani / gacchantiha yamalayam
sesah sthavaram icchanti / kim ascaryam atah param

"Day after day we see all kinds of living entities rushing blindly into the jaws of death yet, even though we see this, we think that we shall not die. Amazingly, even after witnessing this, we still try so hard to make a permanent place for ourselves in this world of mortality!"

Soon we come to the banks of the holy Ganges River, with the nine white domes of the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math clearly visible in the distance, on the other side.

"It is like the boundary between two worlds," I muse. "On this side, the world of exploitation that leads only to death; on the other side, the prospect of everlasting life in the land of service and dedication."

Srila Gurudeva is on the other side, and he is living on the plane of reality (jnaninas tattva-darsinah). I know that if I surrender exclusively (pranipatena) to His Divine Grace, that if my only inquiry (pariprasnena) is how to faithfully serve him (sevaya), he will show me how to live in that plane beyond mortality (upadeksyanti te jnanam).

When we arrive at the Math I go up to Srila Gurudeva's quarters and prostrate myself his holy lotus feet. In the presence of those holy lotus feet all fear vanishes (abhaya-caranaravinda) and the outside world — the world of repeated birth and death — begins to fade away, like the scary shadows of a bad dream chased away by the morning sun...

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