Smolensk, Russia — Saturday, November 11th

Warm welcome

Last night we took the midnight train from Moscow to Smolensk, the hometown of Sripad Madhav Maharaj, for a brief weekend tour of the city. It is snowing lightly as we pull in to the railway station: it looks like somebody dropped a giant bowl of talcum powder onto the tracks...

Smolensk is a city in western Russia, on the Dnieper River, about 400km (250m) west-southwest of Moscow, close to the Belarus border. It is one of the oldest cities in Russia (founded in the ninth century) and has a population of 400,000. It has been destroyed several times throughout its long history, and was captured during the invasions of both Napoleon and Hitler.

Madhav Maharaj and six other devotees are waiting on the platform to welcome us, with garlands. They also have a mridanga and kartals, and we hear the lively kirtan even before we step off the train. People stare incredulously as we walk along the platform and through the car park — at six o'clock in the morning, in the snow! — joyously singing the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.

"Who are these guys?"

Smolensk, Russia — Sunday, November 12th

Real welfare work

Rama Sundar Prabhu came from India to study here at the prestigious Smolensk Medical Academy. While attending classes at the university, he met Sripad Madhav Maharaj and our devotees, was attracted to our philosophy, helped to organize regular sankirtan parties on the campus, and eventually received initiation from Srila Gurudeva here in Russia.

Yesterday evening he brought about thirty of his compatriots — fellow students from the medical academy — along with him to attend my lecture. I look over the eagerly attentive, bright-faced doctors-to-be, and begin by congratulating them on choosing such a noble profession and praising their altruism and desire to minister to the sick and the suffering, but remind them that to really help mankind they must be able to treat the cause of suffering and disease, not just the symptoms.

I explain that as medical doctors they can only treat the symptoms of disease (the reactions of karma), but a spiritual doctor (guru) treats the cause of suffering (the reactions to our exploitation of the environment and other living entities). The body is a biological expression of the soul's delusion: when the delusion is removed and the soul is restored to pure consciousness, all suffering ceases.

Only when you understand the true nature of the self and the cause and effect of suffering, I continue, will you be able to do real welfare work: to free yourself and others from birth, old age, disease and death. If you really want to help others you must first understand who you are, and purify your consciousness by becoming an intern (disciple) of a genuine spiritual professor (guru): "Physician, heal thyself."

The students ask all sorts of questions about karma and duty, life and death, and the qualifications of a guru and a disciple, and seem satisfied with the answers. The evening ends with a short kirtan, and everybody enjoys a heaping plate of prasadam and a hot cup of kompot (compote) before it's time for the students to return to their campus.

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Layout by iMonk — November 12th, 2006.