“My Lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.” (Maharaja Yudhishthira speaking to Vidura, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.10)
One more stop to go. Lakshmi and her husband decided to take a different sort of vacation this year. They went to India, where Lakshmi’s parents were originally from. She and her husband booked a tour package that included visits to many of the famous sacred spots. So far in her trip she had visited places like Rishikesh, Jaipur and Haridwar. She and her husband entered many different temples and looked at so many religious figures, about whom they didn’t know much.
Their last stop was Vrindavana. Lakshmi had heard that this is the land of Krishna, and that name she then heard constantly while in that sacred town. Again, she and her husband visited many different temples, saw various rivers and ponds, and walked past famous sites dedicated to saints from the past. She also did her fair amount of shopping, picking up shawls, bangles, and different religious paraphernalia. Her husband complained that she was buying too many things, that they didn’t have room for it all in their home, but she ignored him.
On the last day of their trip, Lakshmi decided to walk around Vrindavana by herself. Her husband stayed back at the hotel, as he was tired from all the walking. At one point in her touring, Lakshmi came upon a somewhat large gathering. She had been drawn in by the sound of chanting. “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” is what she heard from a distance. Upon locating the source of that sound, she found a group of people seated in front of a person dressed in religious attire. That person was leading the singing, and the crowd was responding.
Getting caught up in the festive atmosphere, Lakshmi decided to stay. She noticed that the men and women were divided, so she took her seat amongst the other ladies. When the chanting stopped, the person in front, an elderly man who seemed to be of Indian descent, began to speak. To her surprise, the discourse was in English. Lakshmi then heard information with which she was not familiar. In fact, these were teachings that went beyond sectarian boundaries. The teachings seemed logical to her; not simply Hinduism.
Among the things she heard from this man were that the soul is eternal, that it never dies. It never takes birth, either. That which we lament for at the time of death is simply an external covering. She listened as the speaker described how people come together at nature’s direction and then are separated in due course. She was instructed to not lament for either situation, for the attachments and aversions were only rooted in illusion. This illusion was described by the term “maya.” The true reality, this man said, was spirit. She then heard that Krishna is the name for the Supreme Spirit, and that the smaller collections of spirit are meant to serve Him in a mood of love. She learned that what they had been chanting previously was a mantra directed to Krishna. The chanting was a way to please Him and serve Him.
When the discourse was over, another chanting session began. When that ended, Lakshmi spoke to some of the participants. They told her that this saintly person lived in Vrindavana, and that he discoursed on bhakti-yoga regularly. He had an ashrama there, which was like a school or spiritual institution. Lakshmi very much wanted to approach the speaker and ask more questions, but she realized that it was time for her to return home. She and her husband were taking an overnight drive to the location of their next hotel stay, which was in the city that their flight back was going to take off from. Meeting up with her husband later on, she described all that she had witnessed. On the flight home and over the next few weeks, she kept repeating the mantra she had heard that gathering sing.
As fate would have it, a few months later Lakshmi and her husband decided to eat out at an Indian restaurant for dinner. Lakshmi did not feel like cooking that night, and so her husband suggested a new spot that had just opened up. After a satisfying meal at that establishment, on the way out Lakshmi noticed a flyer on the wall. It was an advertisement for a Hare Krishna program with a certain guest speaker, a swami whose picture was featured. She told her husband that they had to go, and so the next week they went to the program.
To her delight, Lakshmi found that the group was singing the same mantra, Hare Krishna, over and over again. The guest speaker touched on topics similar to what was discussed by the saint living in Vrindavana. “How wonderful this is,” Lakshmi thought to herself. “That amazing knowledge which I found so far away from my home is now being spoken in my own backyard.”
After the program, during the time when food was served Lakshmi got to chatting with one of the other ladies in attendance. Lakshmi told her about the trip to Vrindavana and how the chanting of the holy names had caught her attention. She also told this woman about the unique knowledge she heard in that lecture.
“So how did you find this place?” Lakshmi asked, as their conversation continued.
“Actually, I ran into a person on the street. They handed me a Bhagavad-gita As It Is and a card inviting me to their program,” the woman responded.
“I heard the speaker mentioning that book. Have you read it? What’s in it?”
The lady then explained what she knew about the Bhagavad-gita. She directed Lakshmi to a table in that temple that had all sorts of books. As she was walking out, Lakshmi took one copy of the Bhagavad-gita and left a donation.
Upon reading that book later on that night, Lakshmi had a realization:
“Wow, I was so fortunate to have gone to Vrindavana to get this nectar of knowledge. Then I was more fortunate that the person who spoke at the program tonight has taken to travelling. He is like a sacred place of pilgrimage on wheels. And then this book might even be better, for it is the translation and commentary of a saint who knows Krishna. And this saint’s works can travel anywhere, even to places where there are no temples. This Swami Prabhupada has brought Vrindavana to the world. I am so fortunate to have come across his works and the people who support him.”
Travelling to places near and far,
Like moving pilgrimage spots they are.
Spiritual atmosphere anywhere to make,
Since divine wisdom with them to take.
Presence only in books surpassed,
In sacred pages wisdom of ages passed.
Take advantage of them do you,
And make a spiritual home yours too.