Walking in the early morning, I see the tower of the Madana-mohana temple in my path. The village of Vrndavana is still dark, and the temple tower is almost indistinguishable from the nearby trees. I enter the Yamuna’s waters, and downriver I hear the sadhus’ carefree cries. Chanting and singing, they sound as though they have nothing to lose.
On my way back to ISKCON’s Krsna-Balarama temple, I visit the ancient Radha-Damodara temple: In the Radha-Damodara compound a small boy sits beside the samadhi (tomb) of Rupa Gosvami. His lips are moving, repeating the name of God: “Rama, Rama, Rama.” He does not appear to be a particularly saintly boy, just a shopkeeper’s son wearing an old sweater and pants. But he lives here. How fortunate he is to be a tot here and not in the Bronx. Things are gentle and simple. And not far from the surface is the special nature of Vrndavana-everything and everyone is close to Krsna.
While it is still early morning I return to the Krsna-Balarama temple. An old woman is grasping a broom with no handle and whisking together leaves and dust, cleaning the temple courtyard. She bends low (the branches of the tamala tree are also low) and sings Hare Krsna, slowly sweeping.
* * *
Midmorning. From the window of my third-floor room in the ISKCON Vrndavana guest house, I can look down into several neighboring yards. A woman sits on a rope cot; another woman stands behind, combing the sitting woman’s hair. On a nearby roof, a man is taking big balls of soft cow dung from a basket, bunching them and patting them down; after baking in the sun, the cow-dung patties will serve as fuel for cooking.
Little children, some naked, play in the dust of the parikrama trail, the trail along the perimeter of Vrndavana. Playfully they pour sand. on one another. A donkey, snorting and guffawing, rolls in the sand to scratch its back. A renunciant offering repeated obeisances lies prostrate On the ground. Bent old widows pass by with walking sticks. And dogs howl from rooftops, mischievous monkeys run, hogs eat filth in the riverside sewage—but even all this seems peaceful; it is not the violent, industrial city.
* * *
Late afternoon. From my window I see an old man with a gray beard, like an ancient sage’s, petting his cow and feeding her from his hand. Cows come home and wait at the courtyard gate. The old man opens the gate, and the cows enter. They go stand before a mud-walled trough and feed. They have been out scavenging, sometimes eating paper and rags.
The economy of Vrndavana is based on the cow and the land, just as it was when Krsna was here five thousand years ago. Nowadays there is much wrong in Vrndavana, but there is always a willingness to forgive. Even those who are condemned to the lower species of life are blessed and close to liberation. Nothing here is ordinary.
* * *
It is evening, and in the temple I stand before the Deities of Krsna and Balarama. There is a secret beyond the material vision of Vrndavana, and I pray to be able to understand it.
The scriptures say that Vrndavana in India is a replica of the original Vrndavana in the eternal spiritual world-but to see it as such requires spiritual vision. In the spiritual world of Vrndavana, the buildings are made of touchstone, the water is nectar, and the trees are known as wish fulfilling trees, for they yield whatever one desires. In Vrndavana, Krsna herds His cows and plays on His flute, and He is worshiped by hundreds and thousands of cowherd girls who are all goddesses of fortune.
Srila Prabhupada says, “When Krsna descends to the material world, this same Vrndavana descends, just as an entourage accompanies an important person. Because when Krsna comes His land also comes, Vrndavana is not considered to exist in the material world. Therefore, even today devotees take shelter of the Vrndavana in India [situated roughly eighty miles south of New Delhi], for it is considered to be a replica of the original Vrndavana.”
I ponder: Can I undergo the austerities required to reach the transcendental understanding of Vrndavana—to attain to the bliss of pure love of God?
* * *
As I walk in the evening, most of the people I pass say, “Haribol,” “Hare Krsna.” We exchange respects with folded hands. I walk Vrndavana.’s main road, which used to be Chattikara Road but is now named Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg, after His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Walking along Srila Prabhupada’s road toward the Raman Reti neighborhood, back to where Srila Prabhupada has his gorgeous Krsna-Balarama temple, I’m remembering my prayer to be allowed to understand Vrndavana. It’s not an easy thing; it’s the highest transcendental realization.
And I’m also remembering that it is a great fortune that Krsna sent His pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada, to spread the simple process of chanting the holy names:
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By this process of chanting Hare Krsna, even the most fallen souls can enter into the essential realization of Vrndavana: love of Krsna. Srila Prabhupada says, “For the devotee, there is no need to pray to the lord for transferal to the Vaikuntha [eternal] world. A pure devotee can create Vaikuntha or Vrndavana anywhere, simply by chanting the glories of the lord without offense.”
As I walk, a peacock within a tree climbs upward through the branches. Light green parrots merge into the green trees. The gnarled trees, hundreds of years old, a few of them thousands of years old—and yet they are sprouting green sprigs and leaves.
At nightfall I enter the front gates of the Krsna-Balarama temple compound. Hundreds of guests are coming and going, attending the kirtana before the Deities. I offer my obeisances before Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi. Overhead is a faint sliver of moon, and within the temple, devotees are proclaiming the glories of Vrndavana:
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.—SDG