Part 4 – Entering the brahmachari ashram
By the time the evening lecture came to an end, it was pretty cold outside. For me, freezing. I am a great fan of the heat. I need about 38 – 42 C for optimum functioning. So, at the farm, I was on the outlook for anything that would keep me warm. My desire was blazing like wild fire ! And some guests shared the same view.
As the rooms inside were being prepared for prasadam, many of the new comers to the retreat decided to set up a natural heater outside. Many went around in the night and gathered twigs and branches. Someone got a matchstick and a little bit of fuel. And boom ! Fire. Like fireflies, many began to gather around the newly set up fire place. There is only one thing you can do when you are at a bonfire. Like sea waves, you just gaze at it.
After prasadam, many quickly decided to retire to bed. It’s been a long day and we all had to wake up early the next morning. Many of the devotees and guests had been assigned rooms at the cottage designed for overnight stay. But I would be staying elsewhere with the experienced devotees. At the brahmachari ashram. My first time ever !
The brahmachari ashram is a short walk from the main lecture hall at the farm. And walking to it in the dead of the night with no lights anywhere except for the stars up above, can be quiet an experience in itself. Had it been India, a few snakes and dogs would have had something to sink their teeth into.
When I entered the cottage, there was only one another devotee inside. Mani prabhu, whom I was meeting for the first time, was reading a book on Bhaktisiddhantha Swami. In front of him, a few meters away, was a very black and active fire place. And the entire room was hot. Not warm. But hot. It was lovely. There was a kettle seated above, which was slowly boiling some water.
Brought back memories of home when I saw the clothes line. Some of the brahmanas in India, in whose home I would turn up to eat delicious food, many many years ago, had the same set up to dry clothes during the rainy season. The clothes were placed on bamboo rows and then hoisted up to the sealing. The hot room would dry it up by morning.
Adjacent to the heater was a shelf full of books. Vaishnava Charan prabhu, who shortly turned up after me, warned me that no one was to touch the shelf or the books. One can only observe it. That was the rule. It was meant for use by Keshava prabhu, the caretaker of the house, who had neatly arranged the books on period and theme. For example, one of the rows featured books on the parampara, another shelf featured books by ISKCON devotees while another carried the Srimad Bhagavatam. Plenty of vaishnava literature there which I didn’t even know existed.
The room had 3 doors. Two were deity rooms and another was a bedroom. They were off-limits as well. The toilets were outside. Since it was freezing outside, that too was off-limits for me. So, we all pretty much stayed indoors pulling each others legs. Another 3 devotees joined us and now we had a total of 6 people in the room to spend the night with. I spent a lot of time in front of the fire and wondering why the place felt so special.
I put forward the question to the devotees. They said that over the years, the initially run down cottage was home to early devotees of the Hare Krishna movement. “Blessed souls“, they said. This made the cottage special. Those devotees and many who came afterwards had committed their lives fully to serve Srila Prabhupad and his mission. They wanted to create Vrindhavana for him everywhere. They knew if they could make him smile by their hard work to spread Krishna Consciousness, it would be their highest achievement. But I was feeling something else?
For many hours, I couldn’t figure it out. I kept thinking to myself, “I have felt this particular vibe before…but where?”. Then, as I walked to get a glass of hot water, I noticed the below picture on the wall, hidden behind one of the bedsheets hanging from the ceiling.
Yes ! That was it.
I had visited the Sri Radha Damodar temple many times in Vrindhavan dham, during my two trips there. And in my second trip, I submitted a heart felt prayer or maybe a conversation to Srila Prabhupad in that very room, seen above. He had lived here for many years writing his Bhaktivedanta purports to Srimad Bhagavatam and planning how to spread the name of Lord Krishna to every town and village in the world. It was a very special room for him. And equally special for all ISKCON devotees.
He had said, “I eternally reside in my rooms at the Radha Damodara temple” and he had considered the Radha Damodar temple to be the centre of the spiritual world. I spent close to an hour there. Just sat there, gazing at Srila Prabhupad and the many other photos in the room. The atmosphere was peaceful and healing. And now I was going through the same emotions, here in a farm in Australia.
Contended very much, I slipped into my sleeping bag and had a very sound sleep surrounded by devotees of the present and the past. The fire kept blazing well into the early morning.
Part 5 – Goat Attack !