All glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga

Italian Tour Diary, Autumn 2005
(Excerpts, part one)

Sripad Bhakti Swarup Tridandi Maharaj

Wed 2 Nov
I arrived at Rome's Ciampino Airport, from London, just after midday and was met by Atula Krishna Prabhu at whose house I would be staying. Mohita Krishna Prabhu drove us the 1+ hours north to our destination, Terni, a thriving town of 120,000 on the Black River, famous for its ironworks.
After lunch prasad expertly prepared as usual by Atula Krishna Prabhu's wife, Lasamayi Devi Dasi, I rested for a while after the long and tiring journey which had started at 4 a.m.
In the evening we had bhajans in the presence of Her Divine Grace Tulasi Maharani, a recent and divinely welcome (and luxuriantly growing) addition to the home (her sweet name shared incidentally by Atula Krishna and Lasamayi Didi's only daughter).
The family had elected to stay with Lasamayi's mother over the nights, kindly giving their small but comfortable house over to Mohita Krishna Prabhu and myself for the duration.
Thurs 3 Nov: morning
Armed with some small books in English still in my book-bag from London (Home Comfort, etc.) and plenty of leaflets advertising locally the two day 'Conferenza' to be held on the Saturday and Sunday to come, I ventured forth after breakfast about 9.30 a.m. into the streets of the town for distribution and preaching - or as I prefer to say, sharing.
Now, if I may digress a little, I had sometimes found it a bit difficult to connect satisfactorily with the general folk in Italy, in the preaching field (i.e. not our devotees), despite the fact that as generally Catholic, in line with my own upbringing, and as a people, by their nature, I found myself quite 'sympatico' with them. This was somewhat baffling me and it was as if I had been searching for some trick, some technique or some key, perhaps, to break through the barrier. But it seemed to me I was trying too hard and wasting energy worrying that they could not understand me, etc. This time my realisation was that behind all this, of course, was the fear of failure and of rejection, which though partly a trait of character, nonetheless stemmed from my attachment to the result. And it was this which was making everything much heavier than it needed to be.
And taking that further, I realised that one can only be attached thus, if one is thinking of himself as important:
“Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy and vain. To be a warrior one needs to be light and fluid” (Don Juan Mateus)
So in this way a practical lesson was brought in front of me, again, from the basic teaching of the Lord in Bhagavad-gita; and so, depending on the Lord, and trying in a very relaxed, open way (but still with full energy and determination) to do the service, things turned out better all around. (In any case, experience will tell us that people respond much better when approached in this way.)
In Italy, the shops and offices all close for lunch at 12.30 or 1 p.m. and remain so during 'siesta' time, opening again at 4 or 4.30 p.m. But the evening period takes on a more 'festive' mood as folk come out for a little relaxed 'retail therapy' to meet up with friends in the 'piazzas' and bars, or apparently to just come out and be seen (style being quite important here. I always make sure my shoes are polished, at least...!) Consequently I would be going for 'bhiksa' during the morning session.
About 7.30 p.m. I came downstairs to a programme in-house, at which a few guests were present, including Virginia, a second cousin of Lasamayi D.D., who had been reading the Bhagavad-gita over a period of 1+ years, and asked many pertinent questions; this kept me on my toes (or rather blessed me with the opportunity to be Krishna conscious by trying to answer them!).
Friday 4 Nov: Morning
Mohita Krishna Prabhu accompanied me on the train to Rome (1 hour) and after we had some 'panini' breakfast, I went out for sharing in the area around the main station, while he went off checking various wholesalers for his family business. This district is packed with mainly souvenir-type shops, religious and otherwise (in Rome, nothing is 'very far' from the Vatican) or Chinese/Pakistani/Bangladeshi retailers. My Urdu and Bengali-speaking is not up to much, not to mention my awful Mandarin/Cantonese, but I always like to remember the story Srila Sridhar Maharaj tells of how when he was preaching in South India, the King of a particular province asked him: "Swamiji, how will you preach here, not knowing the language?" To which Srila Guru Maharaj replied to the effect: "Suppose I am walking along the road in some foreign country and I see a boy drowning in a pond, flailing about and shouting, will I first have to go to the local school or university to learn his language, and only then I will be able to help him? Because he is desperate, and in that time he will have drowned; no, by any means, by gesture, by posture, or any words, etc. I must have to immediately try to save him."
So Mahaprabhu's message of divine love does not wait for any particularly favourable context to be preached; it is in fact the people's heart's own property, and we are only going to remind them of that.

Around 1 p.m. Mohita Krishna Prabhu met me at the Central Station (Termini) again and we boarded a packed bus to Via Argentina, to Govinda's Restaurant (run by Iskcon) for lunch. It is simpler in design and menu than its Milanese counterpart, but includes the Rome Iskcon Temple complex. After a simple lunch we chatted briefly with the devotee staff there (the President is a long-time Srila Swami Prabhupada disciple originally from New York) and then took another 'standing-room only' 'nectar-bus' back to Termini. I had suggested the possibility of a taxi, but when Mohita Prabhu explained the notorious circuitous route and consequent exaggerated fare of the Roman Taxi.... in some ways, Italy is (and this I mean not in a derogatory sense) 'half-way to India;' the telephone and ticketing systems may be other examples....
From Termini we took a local train ('regionale') to Ciampino (yes, the same one where the airport is!) to visit the house of Syamasundara Prabhu and Jaya Sri Devi Dasi. Their apartment is only two minutes from the station; we had phoned ahead so Jaya Sri met us at the station. In fact Syamasundara Prabhu himself was not home until late so we had a kirtan before their Deities, Lords Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra, followed by a nice snack (Didi had baked an apple strudelji) and talked about the Italian yatra. In fact the couple's few possessions were all packed in bags in the hallway, as they were preparing to move apartment the very next day. (Later Syamasundara Prabhu phoned me and expressed his appreciation that we had visited their apartment before they left; it was fortuitous also, in that they were unable to attend any other programmes on the Terni tour due to Jaya Sri Didi's stage of pregnancy....)
This evening was quiet, as we were tired after the day but still we managed a small arati programme back at Atula and Lasamayi's house. Vijaya Gauranga Prabhu, with his daughter, also arrived from Citta di Castello, a town 50 km or so north, to stay the next couple of days, along with our trusty translator, Paolo.

Sat 5 Nov: Morning
It had rained heavily during the night and was maintaining a steady drizzle through most of the day. I went out about 10 a.m. to 'cover the ground' remaining in Terni with my books and pamphlets but after some time the damp seemed to penetrate my body and I returned to base camp a little early. After lunch it was rest time in preparation for the first evening of our two day 'seminar.'
At 5 p.m. we arrived at the venue, La Salle in via Carrara, part of the new Town Hall complex. (I learned later that it had previously been the local prison buildings, also that one of our congregation had experienced it at that time on the inside!) After the kirtan quite a few questions began coming in from the thirty or so guests; one man I noticed was jotting everything down. Several older devotees had also managed to come some distance for the event. As is often the case, the talk gravitated to the vital point of the Spiritual Master: why he is a must for the spiritual seeker, how he can be the representative of God, how to recognise him.
We had again this year a most able translator in the person of Paolo, mentioned earlier. He is an older devotee who is very affectionate with us. (As my own Italian improves I can understand more and sometimes had to correct him a bit when I knew he was not giving exactly the sense on some more subtle points, or was getting a bit carried away; but mostly I was happy to let him preach according to his inspiration also, I am sure it was just as valuable as what I could say....) About 9.30 p.m. we had to draw to a final reluctant close, and sweet samosas and laddus were distributed to all.
Sun 6 Nov

Ouch! The phrase 'a bear with a sore head' comes to mind, as this morning I was feeling the result of my exertions last evening. I had to engage in an emergency mind/body rejuvenation programme with nutrition, massage, pranayama and meditation to offset the horrible suspicion that I would not be fit for this evening's event. (As Srila Sridhar Maharaj writes in 'Golden Volcano,' speaking about Krishna consciousness requires utmost concentration, and writing perhaps even more so because it is being recorded in black and white as a testament-in-time that anyone can see and examine, so it must be 'on the mark' as it were; so please excuse the deficiencies in the present account....)
After lunch I went out for a walk with Mohita Krishna Prabhu. It was quite rejuvenating in the ozone-fresh air after the rain; and then we discovered a little chapel dedicated to San Giovanni and spent a delightful half-hour chanting there. There was beautiful organ music playing there also and, unable to find the human source of it anywhere, I was just beginning to wonder if I was having 'an experience,' that the ethers had somehow opened and I was blessed with hearing the sounds of paradise... when I discovered it was piped, i.e. a CD playing! Well, whatever gets the people in, I suppose....By 4 p.m. or so I was feeling considerably better and ready for the programme; and I decided to approach it a little differently this time, i.e. to try to keep things shorter and to the point. If you will allow me a small observation here: one of the things noticeable in public programmes, which I am sure can only increase as Kali-yuga progresses - and this is quite apart from any lack of skill (or divine inspiration!) in the speaker, as in my case, to keep the audiences interest - is people's generally amazingly short attention span. ( I heard that in the MTV training school in the U.S., one of the first principles of video-film making there is that you cannot hold any camera shot for more than three seconds.) This of course is one of the symptoms of the present age recorded in the Srimad Bhagavatam 5,000 years ago; it is no surprise, then, that the yuga-dharma is Harinam-sankirtan and not studying or hearing philosophy. (Of course in the case of a purely-realised devotee, whatever he speaks, though apparently philosophy, ontology, etc. is actually Hari-katha - a different case no doubt....)
So, to our story: some beautiful flowers had come from somewhere this morning and one young devotee visiting from Naples, Haridas Prabhu, busied himself making garlands for our Sri Guru-varga pictures at the programme. The programme flowed in its own way, yet seemed to have a radically different atmosphere than last evening. Afterwards I met informally with the audience and we had a group photo taken. I talked particularly with one guest, a Mr. Gupta from Delhi, who seemed to be having a marvellous time and praised my Sanskrit (I told him truthfully I didn't have any but that after being around these Scriptures a few years, some of it had probably rubbed off on me) and I encouraged him, and his (Italian, Catholic) wife, who wanted to know if being a vegetarian was a must for making spiritual progress....
Returning to the house, we had a lovely supper and swapped stories of the day's events.

Mon 7 Nov

The family saw me off with my packed lunch at the Terni train station; Mohita Krishna Prabhu accompanied me as far as Rome Termini, where he was being met by his daughter, Devaki Devi Dasi, in her car, and from there they returned to his house near the beautiful village of Montone (which, as its name suggests, is situated on the top of a small mountain! Usually I would stay at least some time there with him but he apologised on this occasion that his house was being entirely refurbished...).
I was bound for Genoa, a historic city (which place in Italy is not?) on the Italian Riviera. The journey here was about five hours so I had plenty of time to reflect on life, death - and also write this diary.
Sitting in the train it struck me, not for the first time, the sad fact of the pathos and predictability of most human beings' lives. This is not meant as a value judgement, merely an observation. Here, they just mainly stared out of the window, stuck in their minds, thinking, thinking... and many times I have observed, for example, people sitting together for a long time in a cafe or restaurant, say, not saying anything or even looking at each other. It seemed to me this silence is not because they are so at home in each other's company - that would be rather nice - rather that their lives are so empty, in the real sense, that there is actually nothing to say. How sad that is. As Berkeley said (it is mentioned by Srila Sridhar Maharaj in 'Subjective Evolution'), "The world is in the mind" - not that the mind is in the world. A description I read recently puts it well:
"Human beings are perceivers, but the world that they perceive is an illusion: an illusion created by the description that was told to them from the moment they were born. So, in essence, the world that their reason wants to sustain is the world created by a description and its dogmatic and inviolable rules, which their reason learns to accept and defend." ('The Wheel of Time')
But without the grace of a peep into the subjective evolution of consciousness, what can they otherwise do? They are helpless. Death, as Srimad-Bhagavatam says, like a lion is waiting to devour the man but he is unconscious of the fact, so all his acts are insipid, pointless. We, if we have been blessed with some light to see, despite whatever mountains we have ourselves to cross, must surely feel, as human beings, a natural wish to help our human family as Mahaprabhu's order declares: yare dekha, tare kaha, Krishna upadesa....

Italian Tour, Part 2 to follow.....

- BS Tridandi Swami

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