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May 17, 2002

Harish, Israel I thought the

Harish, Israel

I thought the devotees here lived more toward the middle of Israel, not less than three kilometers from the border of the Palestinian-controlledd West Bank. I can see the settlements of the Palestine Authority clearly from my window, meaning that most of the suicide bombings occur in thee towns and cities near Harish, the village where I am staying. If I knew the geography of Israel better—if I knew that I'd be so close to the border—I might not have come. Harish, however, is a very small development with a few hundred attached houses in the middle of the wilderness. There are no markets, malls, or hospitals for people to assemble, so the devotees feel safe that it is a very unlikely target for a terrorist attack. "If someone is going to sacrifice their life," they say, "they want an adequate return of carnage. They will only attack places where masses of people assemble, not here."

I am the guest of Gunavatar Prabhu and Varshabhanavi-devi, the mainin preachers in Israel for over twenty years. Gunavatar is an Israeli, but he joined ISKCON in Amsterdam in the mid-'70s when Locanananda Prabhuu was president. He soon left with him to initiate the Hare Krishnaa Movement in Israel and Varsabhanavi was one of their first recruits. I first met them in 1988 at the Maha-Kumbha Mela in Prayag where I was in charge of preaching to the Westerners at the ISKCON camp. We becamee friends and they invited me to Israel. I went that year, and then again in 1996. This is my third visit.

Preaching in Israel is especially difficult. Since enemies surround thee country on all sides, the very survival of Israel depends on a strong sense of national identity as Jews. Because Krishna consciousness is a cultural revolution, it threatens that identity and thus subtly threatens the country's survival—at least in the mind of the common citizen. Thus to become a devotee in Israel, one must not only overcome one's philosophical doubts, but also a sense of betrayal to one's country. Because of this,few people here commit themselves to Krishna consciousness, even when they accept its philosophy. I remember at that same Kumbha-Mela in 1988 convincing a young and dynamic couple from Israel to take to Krishna consciousness. They even returned with me to Vrindaban for a month of training and studies under my direction. I was certain they were fully convinced. So I was surprised when I later inquired from Israel about their welfare that such apparently sincere devotees had soon joined the Yeshiva (a school where one studies the Torah). Although I had convinced them about devotional life, apparently the pain of giving up Krishna consciousness was not yet greater then the pain of the seeming treachery to their identity, family, and people. When I inquired from Gunavatar about this he described it as a common phenomenon in Israeli preaching. He then related a meeting that he had with a dynamic and progressive rabbi who, to his surprise, was actually very favorable to Krishna consciousness—even to the extent of inviting the devotees into his community. Gunavatar was amazed to find out how many of the rabbi's followers had some previous contact with Krishna consciousness. A few of them were actually members of ISKCON in the late '70s, and one even told him his initiated name!

The people in general, however, except for a minority of Orthodox Jews, are very secular. When I first came to Tel Aviv in 1988, I was expecting the people to be reserved and conservative, but instead, was shocked to see how immodestly the ladies presented themselves in public—more so than in New York or any other city I have seen. The common Israelis, who are quite secular, do not even like the more Orthodox Jews except for the fact that these religious Jews exemplify the national purpose of Israel to the citizens. This prejudice against Jewish Orthodoxy by the common Israeli is another reason why the obviously fundamental convictions of other sects, and certainly those by the Hare Krishnas, are abhorred. They've had enough self-righteousness to deal with in their own orthodoxy to tolerate other apparently fundamental groups that do not even represent the national interests of the country.

As if it wasn't hard enough to spread the doctrine of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the face of such opposition, the Hare Krishna Movement in Israel has also had a series of serious internal crisis caused by the fall of their guru, Bhagavan dasa, and a consequent succession of weak leadership. By the time I first visited Gunavatar and Varshabhanvi in 1988, the Hare Krishna Movement had been reduced to a single couple in a rented house in Osafia, an obscure Druze village.

From that small rented house, however, Gunavatar and Varshabhanavi
determinedly translated and published most of Srila Prabhupada's important books into Hebrew, personally distributed them, maintained an outpost of Krishna consciousness for the remaining devotees scattered over Israel, and eventually recruited and trained some new people to assist them. I am so happy to see that fourteen years later, despite almost insurmountable obstacles, Krishna consciousness is now again flourishing in Israel with a good core of committed devotees, a progressive Vaisnava community in Harish, a growing congregation of intelligent Israelis throughout the country, and a general acceptance of the devotees in the society in general. How is it possible for one couple to do so much against all odds? Purity and surrender breeds a type of efficiency and competence. Because Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has much work to do all over the world, when he finds such sincere and competent souls he naturally works through them to do His unlimited work. I am happy to be here in their association and pray to become such a devotee.

I meet the devotees today at 6:30 and spoke from the Brhad Bhagavatamrta.

May 18, 2002

Ariel, Israel There is another

Ariel, Israel

There is another substantial Vaisnava community in Israel located in Ariel, the largest settlement on the West Bank. It is spearheaded by Jagadish and his wife, Jugala-Priti, and serves a growing community of devotees from Russia who immigrated to Israel to escape the severe economic oppression in the CIS. I met Jugala-Priti in 1996 when she joined the ISKCON center in Tel Aviv, established and guided by Gunavatar and Varshabhanavi. Although we met only a few times, she has become one of my best students, having gone through my Bhagavad-gita series of tapes over ten times and regularly teaching Bhakti-sastri in Ariel. Today over 70 devotees have congregated to hear me speak in a large hall in her basement that serves as the temple for their growing congregation. I am staying overnight after the lecture because the devotees have advised me to avoid driving to Harish at night.

During the Palestinian uprising, several people were shot on the road from Ariel to Tel Aviv where it swerves through a few Arab villages in the West Bank.

Before the class I am shown to my quarters next to the temple room. They are quite comfortable and also re-assuring; my room also serves as a bomb shelter common to all houses in Ariel. I lecture on an appropriate topic—the existential basis of fear, real or apparent. It's a great audience. They like to hear and after three hours I stop, even though I sense no sign of impatience from the audience. They would gladly sit for more.

May 19, 2002

Harish, Israel I very much

Harish, Israel

I very much enjoyed my stay in Ariel. I ride back, however, to Harish for lunch.

Israel is the land of "milk and honey," and Varshabhanavi is such a wonderful cook that I am only eating once a day at noon. I asked Gunavatar how the youth in such a religious-based country have become so degraded. His answer was simple: "Television!" He explained that although Israel has a national identity as Jews, the people have surprisingly little culture or tradition because most of the residents, or their immediate ancestors, had to leave the culture of their birth to
settle here. For example, there are black Jews from Ethiopia, Indian Jews from India, Iranian Jews from the Middle East, and New York Jews from New York. Although they are all Jews, they are extremely culturally different from one another because their culture has more to do with their country of origin than their place of birth. Gunavatar explains that this consequent void in culture caused by a country of uprooted citizens has left a vacuum conveniently filled by frivolousness and immorality promoted by TV.

Tejyas Prabhu once shared with me his insight that the root of all social problems are communities that are not static. A static community is a community where one's ancestors have lived, where one lives, and where one's children will likely live. A static community naturally creates a sense of responsibility in the citizens that a community of transients cannot duplicate. A static community also provides tradition as a vehicle to communicate among the citizens a set pattern of living based on principles.

May 20, 2002

Harish, Israel Harish, one hour

Harish, Israel

Harish, one hour from Tel Aviv, is now the center of Krishna consciousness in Israel. Initially, the government laid the structure for a nice city to develop there, but since the city is so close to the violence coming from the West Bank, it has never become a popular place. As a consequence, its development has been stalled. The houses are therefore very cheap and the devotees can easily afford to settle there.

The devotees living in Harish all work at outside jobs except for Gunavatar and Varshabhanavi, who are maintained by the growing congregation of devotees that they have developed throughout Israel. As such, they are free to preach and constantly travel throughout Israel, teaching seminars on philosophy and establishing nama-hatta centers—each traveling separately and covering different places.

I like the missionary spirit here. Although the devotees have careers and work outside, they are very active in the development of Srila Prabhupada's mission—especially the devotees from Harish. Several times a year they organize a strong devotee presence in several of the country's alternative retreat festivals. I asked Varshabhanavi how she was able to maintain such a spirit of preaching among the householders. She thought that perhaps because there is only one small community for preaching Krishna consciousness in Israel, the devotees feel more responsible for the mission, as compared to America where there are so many centers and communities.

May 21, 2002

Harish, Israel I introduced Gunavatar

Harish, Israel

I introduced Gunavatar and Varshabhanavi to Tamal Krishna Maharaja and, naturally, the devotees they introduced to Krishna consciousness also became his disciples. I thus spoke for more than two hours tonight on my association with Maharaja.

May 22, 2002

Harish, Israel I read on

Harish, Israel

I read on the Internet about a wave of suicide bombings, but I feel very peaceful here. Preaching can be a very potent form of surrender. One of the six symptoms of surrender is the experience and confidence that Krishna is one's protector. I thus feel safe in the mood of a preacher.

I have a small house to myself in Harish with Gunavatar. I study, chant, and write during the day and, at night, I do a program at a different devotee's house in Harish. For me, that's the perfect life so I am very happy in Israel.

May 23, 2002

Tel Aviv I spoke at

Tel Aviv

I spoke at their weekly Tel Aviv program, at an apartment that the devotees maintain for such gatherings. Almost half of the people attending are my age and were attracted to Krishna consciousness by Varshabhanvi's saintly qualities and by her thoughtful and potent preaching.

One becomes satisfied by his dharma or duty. I am a sannyasa so this opportunity to travel and preach vigorously in a foreign country is very satisfying to that side of me.

The Israelis are very intellectual so it is also a good field for my style of lecturing. One lady, a student of Indology at Jerusalem University, came up after the lecture crying. She told me that she accepts the knowledge I shared with her as a valuable gift. I have had good response since I came here. I also gained a realization of what excites intelligent and sincere people about good philosophy:

One's conceptions are intertwined with one's attachments. We are in this world to enjoy, so we need to justify our comforts and pleasures because real enjoyment needs to be free from guilt. The truth, therefore, not only challenges our conceptions, but our attachments as well. It is thus often strongly resisted. When tattva, or truth, however, is presented thoughtfully and with clarity and force—especially to a sincere listener—it breaks through that resistance, opening up new areas of perception and giving one a liberating experience.

May 24, 2002

Harish, Israel By speaking here

Harish, Israel

By speaking here for a week my relationship with the devotees has grown. It is my next to last day, so the day is mostly spent meeting with various devotees.

A middle-aged lady who has been coming to my evening classes introduces me to her daughter—a 19-year-old who is not a devotee. The lady says that her daughter has questions. With very deep sadness her daughter cries, "I find no meaning in life. What is the meaning of life?" Her desperation and utter sincerity certainly invokes a deep compassion within me. With urgency, I try to help her. I explain the principle of what gives things meaning. I explain that in all bona fide traditions, saints and mystics have dealt with this question. I describe the Krishna conscious view of life. I give her a "Science of Self-Realization" and ask her to read it with an open mind and to write me if she has questions. I lament that I can't always see all those forgetful of God with this compassion. I glorify Srila Prabhupada whose fathomless compassion imbued him at all times with the urgency to preach and help others.

May 25, 2002

Harish, Israel -Narasimha Caturdasi In

Harish, Israel -Narasimha Caturdasi

In the morning I speak in Ariel for more than three hours on the pastime of Lord Nrsimhadeva, describing the story from beginning to end and attempting to touch most of its important messages. I then return to Harish for a very nice festival where the Harish devotees are hosting their congregation—devotees from all over Israel. There is a full program with an elaborate drama and not much time for speaking. I emphasize just one theme,based on Hiranyakasipu's failure to achieve perfection despite unprecedented material power: Perfection can only arise by a change in consciousness.

May 26, 2002

Harish, Israel The Israeli airport

Harish, Israel

The Israeli airport security is unprecedented. Last time, I was thoroughly searched and my tulasi leaves for Giriraja were mistaken for marijuana. Only after they were chemically analyzed was I released from security. This time I wore nondevotional clothing, including a hat, to avoid attention. Like all passengers, I am asked a few questions before they x-ray my luggage. I am not sure why—maybe it's because my place of stay was an obscure village near the West Bank or because I am not used to wearing anything but devotional clothing and what I scrape together to wear still looks somewhat out of the ordinary—but I was casually pointed to the special security line. My computer was tested and I was asked if I sent any emails from Israel. I said yes, and they asked to see them. My screen opened up to my suspicious looking opening journal entry:

"There are no markets, malls, or hospitals for people to assemble, so the devotees feel safe that it is a very unlikely target for a terrorist attack. 'If someone is going to sacrifice their life,' they say, 'they want an adequate return of carnage. They will only attack places where masses of people assemble, not here.'"

Fortunately, she just glanced to check the origin of the entry and didn't focus on what it said. Otherwise, I am sure there would have been further interrogation.

I leave Harish at 4:30 for the long flight back to the U.S. Sitting next to me on the flight are a young American couple—typical young, rich,liberal, Jewish college graduates in jeans, t-shirts, and sandals. The husband, however, has a very small yarmulka (a traditional Jewish skull cap) pinned by a hairpin to the top of his bushy, disheveled, and fairly long hair. He is friendly and I find out that he has just been in Israel for a year studying to become a rabbi at the Hebrew Union—a reformed (liberal) Jewish seminary. He is a very nice person, but sentimental. I am surprised that despite his studies his philosophical conceptions are very shallow. My mood,however, is respectful. Over the years I've grown to a more accomodating view of religion, and I appreciate those who are devoted to God regardless of their faith. I listened patiently to his understanding but it was obvious that his understanding of his own tradition was not only unsubstantial, but also very much affected by his own new age liberal prejudices and conceptions. I patiently asked questions that might help him think more deeply about his convictions, Finally I asked, "What is the attainment of your practices in reform Judaism?"

"Every reform Jew has his own attainment," he responded. I was shocked by his lack of reasoning for a group is defined by its common practices and goals. I was not in devotional clothes, but I did share with him that I was a Hindu monk. When he asked me if I still considered myself Jewish, recalling his statement about how every Jew has his own attainment or spiritual goal, I responded, "Yes. I'm in your group, but my attainment is Krishna."

About May 2002

This page contains all entries posted to Waves of Devotion | Journals in May 2002. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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