Radhika Devi Dasi of USA reports on the recent visit by herself and Madhumita Devi Dasi to China
Dandavat pranams to all the devotee readers from Madhumita Devi Dasi and myself as we send this report of our travels so far. The car is already here to take us to the airport and I wanted to send it before we leave.
Our trip to China
Day One: After spending a few too many hours in the Hong Kong airport stuck in the transit zone and becoming slightly delirious we were able to board our flight to China. When we emerged from customs Yudhamanyu Prabhu Seva Vikram and Sunanda eagerly greeted us and Sunanda placed garlands around our necks.
Devirani Didi had previously arranged a taxi for us to return to Yudhamanyu’s apartment, although she wasn’t counting on our four “American” sized suitcases, so Sunanda happily rode in a separate taxi to accommodate our bags. We learned along the way that Yudhamanyu was taking us to what is known as his “big apartment” which he pays rent on solely for the purpose of preaching programs.
When we arrived many students were waiting in the apartment. Victoria, Ananda and Ona all greeted us like long lost friends, and Yudhamanyu surprised us with the news that we would be celebrating the divine appearance of Srila Govinda Maharaj that very same night.
At this time we celebrated by giving Yudhamanyu all the wonderful gifts Jivana Didi and many other devotees had sent for him. A new winter coat, many new clothes, movies, a cake made especially to his taste by Swarnangii Didi, lots of American snacks, and of course sour cream sent by Vidura Prabhu. The students were taken aback by the affection for Yudhamanyu from the devotees in California and hopefully could see a little clearer now how lucky they are to always be in his association.
By this point we were (in Yudhamanyu’s words) “fired up” and ready to go and then something happened that no one could foresee. We settled into our room and showered and at that moment jet lag set in. During all this Sunanda went shopping and along with her friend Cherry started cooking the feast, then suddenly the water line broke, the kitchen flooded, a plumber arrived to fix it, and Yudhamanyu began to fret.
As we heard guests arriving we knew we should go and greet them, but when we emerged from our room Yudhamanyu took one look at our faces and fret turned to full blown panic! As he described it we had “hit the wall”. But as more guests arrived and we felt their sweet mood and enthusiasm to meet with us we slowly backed away from the wall and the festivities began.
There must have been at least thirty guests honoring Srila Govinda Maharaj’s appearance, including Devirani Didi, Kit, Nectar and Uma Didi, and we were all witness to Yudhamanyu Prabhu offering the prasadam and serving Gurudev. Everyone was served a plate of prasadam China style, with stir fried vegetables, rice, some sort of white noodles, potatoes, cucumber salad, peanuts and more. We tried to speak to the guests a little about Srila Govinda Maharaj and the importance of celebrating his holy appearance day. We did all this although we are unqualified to begin with, then add delirium and jetlag to the mix so in the end we could only ask forgiveness from Yudhamanyu Prabhu for any offences we might have made, and go to take rest.
We awoke early, refreshed and rejuvenated from the celebration last night. As Madhumita and myself made breakfast American style: scrambled tofu with veggies, soy dogs, and cheese, then topped with sour cream, and French toast with butter and syrup. Yudhamanyu was so excited and we joked about the last trip to China when he couldn’t believe I made French toast.
We were lucky to participate in Yudhamanyu’s morning program singing Kali Kukkura, Yasomati nandana, and Jaya Sachinandana. Already students were coming to visit including Sita, Sunanda and Victoria. While Madhumita went with the students to print pictures for the apartment, Yudhamanyu and I went to the “small apartment” that the university supplies for him, so I could send some emails to let our families know we arrived safely and Yudhamanyu had the incredible seva to ask Srila Govinda Maharaj for three devotional names for the new devotees we would be meeting soon. Yudhamanyu was informed earlier that morning by Srutasrava that Skype would be a good way to call so I set about trying logging in and calling a number Yudhamanyu had at his apartment.
As the computer screen started to ring my heart was beating wildly and I can’t even imagine what Yudhamanyu must have been feeling. An Indian man answered and Yudhamanyu introduced himself and that he is in China and please can he speak with Govinda Maharaj; then we were informed we had the wrong number and the line went dead. Still in shock, I tried to Skype Mahananda Prabhu, Jamuna Priya Didi, Janardan Maharaj anyone who could be near Govinda Maharaj or help our situation, but to no avail. The next course of action was trying to Skype my dad who was not online, so next we Skyped his cell phone which was not answered and then we Skyped the house phone and what a relief when my mom answered the phone. We got Govinda Maharaj’s cell phone number and the adrenalin kicked back in full force. As the screen started ringing once more I was overcome with emotions.
Srila Govinda Maharaj answered and Yudhamanyu gave his dandabats and few sweet words were exchanged before the line went dead. We tried again. Again Govinda Maharaj answered and was trying to tell Yudhamanyu about another phone number when the line went dead. After hearing Srila Govinda Maharaj’s sweet voice for even a few moments there was no way we could be discouraged, so we called my dad again and he gave us a number to a land line in Nabadwip. We called this number and an Indian man answered where Yudhamanyu hurriedly asked for Govinda Maharaj and then we were given ANOTHER number to call. At this point Yudhamanyu and I were both completely on edge and again I was completely overwhelmed when Srila Govinda Maharaj answered the phone. Many sweet words were exchanged and if I wasn’t so overwhelmed I would probably remember more.
What I do remember was Srila Govinda Maharaj telling Yudhamanyu Prabhu “I am very happy to hear your voice Prabhu” and when Yudhamanyu said to Gurudev how wonderful Gurudev is he replied “You are wonderful Yudhamanyu Prabhu” and he gave three new names (I will tell later) and gave Yudhamanyu his blessing to be ritvik Guru and initiate them and said “give my blessing to Jayavati Didi”. WOW!! WOW again. Yudhamanyu was “on cloud nine” pacing his very small apartment expressing how amazing this is and how he cannot even describe it and how impossible this is and even now I can't express in words what it felt like to sit next to him while Gurudev spoke and how fortunate I am to be in China with him while he is making history. I am in awe.
We were met at the apartment by Sunanda, Victoria, and Madhumita, and Yudhamanyu took us to one of his favorite restaurants for lunch. After exiting West gate we arrived at Tex-Mex where we had quesadillas, French fries, and milkshakes. The staff there already knew to give Yudhamanyu a side of sour cream and I began to realize why he liked this place so much!
After lunch we returned to the university where the language studies institute was putting on a Christmas concert. We got a real Chinese cultural experience watching all the performers and hearing them sing. The highlight of the concert however came when all the foreign teachers took the stage (guess who is a foreign teacher!) to sing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”, “Jingle Bells”, “Silent night”, and then a rendition of “Jingle Bells” in Chinese at which point Yudhamanyu (who didn’t go to the rehearsal) stood shuffling through the papers in his hands and looking from side to side then quickly composed himself and looked as if he knew the song by heart!! He must have done a great job because he was invited to go back up a little later to sing “Twelve days of X-mas” with some students!!! He was in the group in charge of the Third day of X-mas.
We returned to the “big apartment” where we were met by Ananda. We decided to do a little window shopping, at which point Yudhamanyu said he would see us later for dinner. We left by taxi with Victoria and Ananda as our guides and with strict instructions to be at meet up for dinner by 7:30pm. Amongst ourselves we joked that this would be our third meal for the day of which none was Chinese food!!
After looking around, Yudhamanyu called us and we made our way to our rendezvous for dinner where Sunanda, Yudhamanyu, and Sudevi Didi were waiting for us. I was overjoyed to see Sudevi Didi again and lots of hugs were exchanged and she presented me with a gift to bring to Srila Govinda Maharaj. Soon it was time to return to the apartment. We said our goodbyes to Sudevi Didi and made her promise to see us again before we left for the next city.
At the apartment we made plans for the next day to go see the Panda Park with Ona and Victoria while Yudhamanyu was teaching. We were hoping Ananda would be able to join us to the park but she said she had classes to attend. We said goodnight to Yudhamanyu and then in our room that night we discussed how affectionate and sweet these students are and how after such a short time we already felt so connected with them. Although they don’t know it, they are already involved doing so much service for a Vaishnava and even after only two short days we could see visible progress in their moods towards Krishna Consciousness. Around 11pm exhaustion took over and we fell asleep.
We awoke even earlier today (4am) and after a few unsuccessful attempts to go back to sleep we gave up and began chatting about the day. It was the disappearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and we began talking about the disciplic succession and the order of Acharyas which we got confused at one point so we took the Kirtan Guide from the living room hoping to find some answers. Reading through the Kirtan Guide inspired us so we grabbed one of Yudhamanyu’s Bhagavad Gitas from the mantel. Madhumita asked me to read aloud from chapter 9 — The Hidden Treasure of Devotion — and we continued for almost 45 minutes reading and many times re-reading the purports and discussing what we could. Our minds felt very relaxed and centered while reading and discussing it and we both realized the importance of association when studying the scriptures.
At this time it was maybe 7am and we heard Yudhamanyu Prabhu waking up so we decided to start breakfast. It was now a ritual that Madhumita and I prepared something to eat and drink, so after many make-shift operations I was finally was able to heat the beautiful cake that Swarnangii sent with us. We sang morning bhajans with Yudhamanyu and then I offered some cake and fruit to the deities, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and Srila Govinda Maharaj.
We began our new morning ritual of watching a slideshow of pictures from the previous day with Yudhamanyu while we honored our breakfast prasadam. During these times we would discuss each student and the conversations Madhumita and I were having with them about Gurudev and Yudhamanyu and how encouraged we were by some of the things they would say.
While eating, Yudhamanyu revealed that one of the things he missed from America was a good breakfast like this, so we made mental notes to at least show the students how to make some of these preparations. Then we went over our plan for the day and Yudhamanyu made us promise to call him at every stage to make sure we were alright. Yudhamanyu left for his class and we got ready for the Panda Park.
Victoria arrived first and informed us we would be meeting Ona at the North gate on our way out. We were almost ready when Ananda showed up unexpectedly and we were all so happy she was joining us. The car was honking for us so we hurried downstairs and we were off. Only Ona and I had been to the Panda Park before, so Victoria, Madhumita and Ananda were all jumping around and squealing and generally very excited. Even I was surprised because there had to be at least triple the amount of pandas that I saw two years ago. Our favorite was the panda kindergarten (big surprise) where they had playgrounds and climbing gyms and they were wrestling each other and just having a good time.
Madhumita got to hold and feed one of the red pandas or “lesser” pandas while I took pictures, and the rest of the time at the park she was on cloud nine! I really wanted to go back to the Buddhist restaurant where I celebrated my birthday on the last trip so we called Yudhamanyu, who called Devirani, who told Nectar, who called Victoria and gave her directions. Yudhamanyu and Nectar would meet us there for lunch.
On the taxi ride to the temple Ona and Madhumita were in a heavy conversation about Krishna consciousness, and I could see Ona felt something right but was struggling to accept it. She described Chinese people struggling so much in their lives and explained that it is hard for them to have “higher thought”. When we asked her if she wanted higher thinking she replied that she did! Madhumita was fielding questions very well just by describing her own experiences coming to the temple and meeting devotees, and “feeling” this was the right place for her without anyone pressuring her into taking initiation. After the conversation we thanked Ona for opening up to us and listened to what we had to share.
Where we were dropped off was very old, with traditional Chinese architecture, shops and markets. We immediately decided to do some shopping after lunch (we had been up since four and had eaten only a piece of cake so we were starving!). We arrived in front of the Wenshu Temple just as Yudhamanyu and Nectar we getting out of their taxi and we all entered the temple together.
A little towards the back of the temple grounds is the restaurant which is all vegetarian and completely delicious. I already knew I wanted to order the crispy sweet and sour dish, and Ona ordered an unbelievable amount of food on top of that. There were dumplings, sautéed broccoli, salty dishes, soups, fried bean curds and vegetables, noodles, braised soya, and more that I can’t even remember. During lunch Madhumita and I decided we would like to have a party that night since we would be leaving the next day and weren’t sure who we would be able to see again.
We set about inviting people with Yudhamanyu’s help and pretty soon we had a decent sized guest list. Yudhamanyu had to teach class that night so all the pressure was on us, but we were so overwhelmed with the kindness of the Chinese students that we didn’t think anything could go wrong.
After lunch Victoria took Yudhamanyu home while Nectar, Ananda, Ona, Madhumita and I all went shopping. It felt like a pre-requisite to India, haggling the prices in every shop, only the girls had to do all the haggling for us! We were able to purchase a few gifts to bring home and we had each girl pick something that we could buy them as a gift for all they had done for us. We headed home gift bags in tow and excited to plan for our party.
At the apartment Yudhamanyu Prabhu was excited to step out of the picture and let us handle it, so he packed the things he would need at his small apartment and for his class. During this time Nectar, Ona, Ananda, Madhumita and I were in the living room when Ona asked very pointedly to Madhumita “Why Krishna?” Madhumita then described her spiritual journey through Christianity, Catholicism, and finally feeling so much relief when she met the devotees.
She told them how before she knew anything about the conception she liked coming to the temple where everyone hugged her, was happy to see her, and treated her like family. She explained that before this she didn’t have a loving family experience, which made the idea of having a devotional family so much more attractive. Madhumita Didi described how she would come and have the opportunity to do service with Vaidehi, and that she slowly realized she wanted to take initiation and make it official.
Ona then asked “Can we serve Krishna directly?” and at this point we took the opportunity to try and explain what Yudhamanyu Prabhu is doing here in China. I told Ona that to make Krishna happy we have to make our Gurudev (Teacher) happy and to make him happy we have to make his devotees happy. That is why we came to China. If we can come here and help Yudhamanyu in the slightest and serve him French toast then maybe we can please our Guru.
We told them how much service they are doing helping Yudhamanyu every day. Then we a little jokingly told them that is one reason Yudhamanyu won’t learn Chinese because then they wouldn’t have any service to do.
After this Yudhamanyu and I went to the small apartment so I could check emails. Ona and Nectar went to pick up pizza for the party, and Ananda and Madhumita had another breakthrough conversation. Madhumita asked Ananda if she liked hearing about Krishna. She replied “Yes I do. I see how happy you and Radhi are, and how happy you make Yudha. Because of this I can accept Krishna. I think Krishna is good for all human kind and globally. But there are so many different religions in China, I think it will just take progress.”
After this Madhumita quickly borrowed Ananda’s phone so she could immediately call Yudhamanyu about this conversation to which he replied “unbelievable”. By this time barriers had been broken and we were feeling real connections with the Chinese students and were happily “hanging” during our party as people arrived. When Ona and Nectar arrived with the pizza they started putting it on the plates and I had them stop. Ona asked me will I offer it to Krishna and I said yes and also to “Teacher”. As the guests watched, I offered the pizza to the deities and to Srila Govinda Maharaj on the disappearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. Then Ona served out the pizza and we all were happy to be in each other’s association.
At one point Sita asked me if we have parties in America and I took that opportunity to explain that it was a festival tonight, and showed them a picture of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur (earlier Ona helped me make a garland for the picture) and explained how important he was to our temples and to our “Teacher”. Although it was by no means a lecture and it lasted maybe only five minutes, when I later asked Yudhamanyu about it he said just mentioning what day it was is enough.
The highlight of the party for me was that both Devirani Didi and Sudevi Didi showed up and I was able to have their association one last time before leaving. The party started winding down and many guests had left when Yudhamanyu Prabhu showed up. He ate some pizza prasadam and said goodnight as the last few guests left.
In the end only Sudevi Didi, Madhumita and I were awake, and we talked about my last trip here and how many things have changed, and Sudevi was sad that she wasn’t with Yudhamanyu so much. We gave her all the pictures from our trip and said heartfelt goodbyes promising to see each other again. Sleep came very easily.
Madhumita made hot drinks and upon her request I made French toast for our last day here. We continued our ritual of slideshowing pictures and showing Yudhamanyu all the photos from our party. He asked us questions about everybody, who helped, who asked questions, how long did they stay, and was excited to hear that some Chinese boys were there asking questions and interested.
Sunanda, Victoria, Ona and Ananda all came to the apartment to see us that morning. They brought us gifts and brought gifts for us to give to Srila Govinda Maharaj. During the morning we packed and talked and did last minute errands, trying to soak up as much time as possible with our new friends. For lunch I made veggie-burgers with all the fixings, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado (that Vidura sent) and of course sour cream, ketchup, and mustard. This time it was a huge hit, with Yudhamanyu especially, but we were all enjoying it.
After lunch Yudhamanyu Prabhu ran a few errands and then it was time to go to the airport. We said goodbye to Victoria, Ona, Ananda and Uma, promising we would return. Sunanda rode with us to the airport and Madhumita cried the whole way. We checked in and then had to say goodbye to Sunanda at which point Madhumita cried even harder. Yudhamanyu was politely ignoring us!!
While we waited to board, Yudhamanyu Prabhu told us how happy he was with our trip and told us many other sweet things about our time with him saying that Madhumita especially has some connection with China and we must return and stay for longer. At which point Madhumita and I decided we should quit our jobs, live in China and work in the kindergarten around the corner from Yudhamanyu’s apartment!!
We were all nervous, anxious, and excited about our journey the following day, and we talked a little about how incredible it is that this is happening. The plane ride was, well, a plane ride, but nice and short and Madhumita was still crying when we landed. After picking up our luggage we were met by Jayavati Didi, Ketty, and Jimmy (future god brother and god sister). We all exchanged hugs, told Jayavati how excited we were, and praised her for the amazing preaching she is doing there. She informed us we were staying in a two bedroom “cozy” hotel, very near to her apartment. She explained that she lived with six people otherwise we could have stayed with her.
The taxi ride was almost an hour from the airport to our hotel, which I think she got the word “cozy” mixed up with “fancy” because this place is nice. Were on the 27th floor in a two bedroom suite with a living room and a kitchen!! We hung out with Jayavati for a short time and discussed the schedule for the next day.
Aimee arrived and Jimmy showed us what they described as a “silly” video that they made to welcome Yudhamanyu. What we saw was a beautiful video capturing each person’s mood of devotion and the reasons they wanted to be initiated and join our “international family”. This trip just keeps getting better! They all had to work in the morning so Jayavati had arranged for us to meet for lunch. We said goodnight and tried to sleep thinking about the exciting day ahead of us.
Today is the day!! Yudhamanyu is already pacing when we get up. Madhumita made some warming hot drinks and we ventured downstairs to find some breakfast. No luck. We end up with lots of toast and I can tell Yudhamanyu is disappointed but he’s putting up a good front! Yudhamanyu goes to check out the sights, Madhumita gets showered, and I am furiously trying to write this report. Madhumita emerges to go sightsee as Yudhamanyu returns and still I am typing. What started as a little journal I believe is turning into a novel! I apologize.
Soon Elephant and Aimee show up to take us to meet Jimmy, Ketty and Jayavati for lunch. We talk about what will happen tonight, and everyone is getting completely anxious. We talked about the offering plates and Madhumita and I offered to go shopping to help pick everything out.
After lunch Yudhamanyu, Jimmy, Ketty and Elephant go back to the hotel and Jayavati, Aimee, Madhumita and I go shopping. We buy cloth for the offerings, spaghetti, vegetables, bread and drinks for dinner. We go back to the hotel to gather all the things we brought for the initiations: saris, a kurta, a picture of Srila Govinda Maharaj, a picture of the deities in Nabadwip, saffron cloth, japa mala, bead bags, tulasi beads, tilak, a Kirtan Guide, a Bhagavad Gita and more. At this time Jayavati and I go to the printers to print the Glories of the Holy Name and the ten offences booklet that Sripad Janardan Maharaj previously emailed me, and we also print the chapter ‘The Hare Krishna Mantra’ from The Search for Sri Krishna requested by Yudhamanyu for the initiations.
During this time Aimee and Ketty go to buy flowers for the garlands, and offering plates. When we return from the printers, Jayavati, Madhumita, and I go to the apartment to prepare the altar and the offering plates, and to get the initiates dressed. At the apartment Jimmy and Elephant have already started preparing dinner and a few guests arrive.
We set-up the living room covering the coffee table with saffron cloth, using it for the altar and arranging the pictures of Srila Govinda Maharaj and the deities. We clear the floor and remove all the purses, backpacks, and miscellaneous things lying around to make the space feel clean and simple. We set out a large cushion next to the altar for Yudhamanyu Prabhu to sit on, and pillows for the new initiates. When we are satisfied with the living room we go to the bedroom to get dressed. As Ketty and Aimee put on their slips I apply tilak to their foreheads and bodies using the Kirtan Guide as a reference for the order and mantras to use. Next I do Jayavati and Madhumita and then myself. As I do this I am thinking I should really wear tilak more often! Madhumita and I dress them in saris and then we get dressed ourselves.
Jimmy is next although it’s much easier since he only had to change into a kurta, and I showed him how to apply his tilak. Jimmy asked me about the Kirtan Guide and if there are any devotional books in Chinese and I was so excited to have learned the day before that Devirani is currently translating the Subjective Evolution of Consciousness and told him about it.
We are all ready now and Elephant is sent to the hotel to bring Yudhamanyu back so we can begin. There was nothing lost in translation about the eagerness and sincerity that could be felt in Jayavati’s apartment that night.
When Yudhamanyu showed up we all took our formal places around the altar and Yudhamanyu sang Sri Guru Charana Padma, and a little chanting following with everyone joining in. Jimmy, Ketty, and Aimee were singing Hare Krishna and I could only be amazed even more. Next Yudhamanyu said he would like to say some words. He spoke a few words at a time, then Jayavati would translate.
What he spoke about I cannot repeat with enough accuracy to do it justice but I hope I can get the gist of it through. One thing that really struck me that he said is China has a population of 1.3 billion and you, the new initiates, are here because you are special. Like cream rises to the top of milk, you few are the cream of China. He told them that he personally talked to Gurudev and he has already accepted them.
Yudhamanyu Prabhu explained that Gurudev already knows who they are even though he hasn’t seen them, and that Gurudev cannot be in China himself so that is why Yudhamanyu is giving the initiation for him. Jimmy was the first initiate and Yudhamanyu gave him so much attention. He explained everything in such detail, really connecting with him and even put on his Tulasi beads. He then told Jimmy that he called Srila Govinda Maharaj who has given him a new name Jayendra Das and then with Yudhamanyu’s prompting I said “Jayendra Prabhu ki jaya!!” And everyone said “Jaya!!!” At this point Urmila Didi arrived with her parents and rushed in to see the rest of the initiations.
Aimee was next to be initiated and Gurudev gave her the name Indumukhi Dasi. Again: “Indumukhi Dasi ki jaya!!” Then Ketty came up and with each initiate Yudhamanyu Prabhu stressed the importance of association with each other and especially to help Jayavati and follow her instructions. He then told Ketty her new name would be Krishna Lata Dasi. Krishna Lata Dasi ki jaya!!! Afterwards Jayavati offered prasadam made by Elephant — and the rest as they say is history! What an incredible program to be a part of. As Yudhamanyu said: “Now I’m done if I die it’s been done.” We are going to the airport now.
Please accept my dandavat pranams,
~ Radhika and Madhumita