While writing this blog I am sitting on an airplane heading towards Brussels. My final destination is Radhadesh, one of the most beautiful ISKCON projects in Europe. Kirtana Festival? Retreat, Seminar? No, I am traveling all the way, spending money and time, to attend a meeting. A meeting? Yes, a meeting! Even after years of management I am still not so enthusiastic about meetings. I remember how I came here around ten years back. That time I did not know anyone and I felt a bit like the four-headed Brahma who is surrounded by all the much greater Brahmas from different universes. After all, who am I? Just a small Temple President from a small temple. Sitting on a big table together with all these Prabhupada Disciples, GBC Members and Sannyasis I was often wondering, what am I actually doing here?
Influenced by my critical mind I started to analyze the different leaders: „So these Devotees are the leaders of our society. Are they just institutional managers or are they also spiritually advanced? How much can we trust them? I am not so convinced about their purity, just see this one, he doesn’t really look like a sadhu, he looks more like a gross materialist. This one reminds me more of a businessman, and just see this devotee and the way he dresses, such a strong desire for recognition. That guy might be ok, but he does not seem to possess much Shakti, so he can’t be such a good leader!“ Writing down these memories (and sharing them!) makes me feel embarrassed and sad, but that's what was going on in my mind!
But there is another part of the story. That same afternoon my glasses broke in two pieces and I had to fix it in the middle with some tape. It looked really stupid. I felt embarrassed to wear it like this. It became very obvious to me, Krishna was not pleased with the way I viewed his dear devotees. My vision was wrong, it was broken. Therefore my glasses deserved to be broken, as a wake-up call! And while fixing the glasses I understood, to fix my vision was the really important task.
In his Upadesamrita, Text 6, Srila Rupa Goswami warns us to not see the devotees of the Lord with a material view but should understand their spiritual position. Srila Prabhupada comments on this as follows: „One should, therefore, avoid observing a pure devotee externally, but should try to see the internal features and understand how he is engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. In this way, one can avoid seeing the pure devotee from a material point of view, and thus one can gradually become a purified devotee himself.“
We may have a certain idea how a sadhu, a saintly person, should look like, how he should behave and speak. When we meet new people we often judge them by their external appearances and immediately have some prejudices in regard to their personality and level of spiritual maturity. But this can be very harmful to our spiritual life, risking to commit Vaishnava aparadha. Krishna consciousness is not limited to a certain section of people, a certain nationality or race. The Lord has all kinds of different Devotees. In the scripture, we find examples of Devotees having even very unusual appearances, like that of a monkey, in the case of Hanuman, or that of a Bird in the case of Garuda. So, therefore, Srila Prabhupada's instructions that we should not give so much emphazis on the external, but try to see how a devotee is engaged in the loving service of the Lord is very important.
The Stewardess reminds me that it is time for landing and that my laptop needs to be closed now…Well, I am almost done and I am looking forward to meeting many of my friends. By now I am not new anymore and other younger devotees have joined this group of European leaders. Many have become good friends. And over the years I also got to know the senior Vaishnavas more closely and realized how dedicated they are to serve Srila Prabhupada's Movement. How fortunate I am to be in their association and learn from them!
And what about the meetings? I am not sure whether I will ever really like them. But hopefully, I will learn someday that these meetings are also devotional service. I guess another change of vision is required, as in so many other aspects of my life…