Yaroslavl, Russia — Friday, November 24th
Yesterday afternoon we took a four-hour train journey from Moscow to Yaroslavl, a small city with a population 640,000, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) northeast of Moscow, situated on the Volga River. On my last visit to this city three years ago I was reminded that appearances can be deceiving, and I learn a similar lesson on this trip.
Our annual Vaishnava festival is attended by hundreds of devotees so it is impossible to talk to them all individually. On the short tours to some of these smaller cities, however, I get to know them personally, and I am invariably impressed by their understanding of our philosophy, their dedicated service mood, their unique talents, and how hard they work — designing and distributing posters and flyers, hiring halls, and advertising in the local newspapers — to make these tours a success.
Case in point: my conversation with Nanaratna Devi Dasi and Tulasirani Devi Dasi, two feisty elderly women who are the de facto leaders of our mission in Yaroslavl. Don't make the mistake (that I did) of dismissing them as two old age pensioners!
When they went to the local institutions to put up posters advertising my one public lecture, they were often challenged by the secular staff. When Nanaratna sought permission to display her Journey to the East poster, a curious librarian asked, "Does this have anything to do with spirit?" Nanaratna replied: "Is there anything that comes from east that is not connected with spirit?"
Similarly, the custodian of the House of Culture (where the lecture was to be held) had reservations about the picture of Krishna on the poster that Tulasirani wanted to display, and suspiciously inquired, "Is this a religious cult?" Her answer was astute: "Of course not! Krishna says, 'Sarva-dharman parityajya — Give up all varieties of religion!' so how can this be a religious cult?"
Don't mess with these old ladies! If you see them making garlands or sweeping the floor of the temple room at our Vaishnava festival in Saint Petersburg you might be forgiven for thinking that that was all that they were capable of, but when you get to know them better, you will be amazed at just how well-versed they are in the practical application of our philosophy.
With devotees like this, we can have confidence in the future of our mission here in Russia.
Layout by iMonk — November 24th, 2006.