Being invited to Russia by the local GBC Anutatma Prabhu and russian sannyasis I met this year in Mayapur, I wondered if my attempt to go to Russia will once again end in the Prague russian embassy, where I several times failed to follow the complicated visa procedures, reminding me much of the days of cold war, where every move and every step of a visitor in Moscow was monitored by some anonymous unseen authority.
This time things were different and went rather smoothly, and so I finally landed in Moscow in the midst of the World Soccer Championschip frenzy. Being picked up by russian devotees I was brought to a camp 110 kilometers far from the town, in the middle of vast russian nature.
The festival was dedicated exclusively to sankirtan, book distribution. Prior to my arrival I was informed by my hosts that I shouldn't expect the same Russia I saw 18 years ago, where thousands of devotees gathered together in huge Moscow cinema hall in order to listen to Harikesha das. My hosts said openly that sankirtan may not be exactly on the top of the list in today's Russia, hence this is another reason to have a sankirtan meeting.
I wasn't worried. To see over 200 sankirtan devotees arriving in that camp was still an exciting view, nowhere to behold in Europe. I always used to call trips to Russia "a difficult journey to another planet", as Russia is indeed a planet on its own. The hospitality of the devotees in general and their willingness to serve is beyond what the rest of the western world can offer.
Although many things changed in Russia as well, the younger generation, now free to travel and roam the internet, is surely more informed about the bad news, and sometimes even about the good ones :-), still the sense of discipline and acceptance of instructions is far more developed here than in the fast degrading West, where nobody can be sure even of their gender, and the sense of right and wrong is covered by dense mayavadi fog.
Russian devotees, famous for their sense of austerity and simple pragmatic action, can apply all these qualities well in the mission of Srila Prabhupada. Sankirtan, book distribution, is the most wonderful way to do so, as it is based exactly on these principles, not permitting any "vimukta maninah", mental platform camouflaged as Krsna Consciousness, to enter.
To praise Srila Prabhupada book distribution in Russia is like breathing new fragrant fresh air. There is so much power and potential dwelling in this nation, that once spiritualized it can truly make significant impact on the quickly deteriorating pseudo-human society. Even facing many obstacles, afterall, next to great devotees great demons reside in this vast country, devotees are always finding their ways to preach and distribute books.
Spending the last day before my departure in Moscow temple, I could only pay my deep respects to Sadhupriya Prabhu, the temple president, who is living there at the "first line of defence", facing daily difficulties only Moscow and all the assembled russian demons can provide.
As he told me, without support of indian government it would be much harder for devotees to preach and to survive. Afterall, Russia is probably the only country in the world besides muslim countries, where Bhagavad-gita as a book was directly attacked in an attempt to declare it "a book advocating terrorism and herewith due such to be blacklisted". Fortunately the indian government objected, and so the case was put to rest.
Certainly, russian yatra is in some sort of emmergency. But then again, kind of emmergency was always there. Obstacles are many, but Russia is a perfect example that "where there is a will, there is a way". And so russian devotees always find a way. There are many of them, so many that they are invading the whole world. One can find russian leading sankirtan devotees even in Germany or England. Their piety and will to serve God cannot be stopped in russian hearts, even after so many years of severe prosecution.
During this sankirtan festival I got an opportunity to have wonderful association with Bhakti Ratnakara Ambarish Maharaja, an amazing russian sannyasi who lives the real life Srila Prabhupada envisioned sannyasis to live: simple and always on the road, preaching. Austerity is the power of the brahmanas, and Bhakti Ratnakara Ambarish Maharaja is a living evidence of this truth. As English language is still not very prominent amongst local russian devotees, He insisted to translate most of my lectures. Even embarassed to served by a sannyasi in this way, I was happy to be with him so close.
Seeing Caitanya Candra Caran Prabhu, the russian grhasta guru this year in Mayapur from a distance already, now I got the opportunity to have his association as well when he arrived. Regardless having already over 2000 disciples, his approach to me was so humble that to handle this heartbraking experience was difficult.
I relished every minute of his association, as to see a devotee being praised every morning by his disciples to be the intimate associate of the gopis, and still keeping very sober and introspective view upon himself, is not that common in this world of blind followers and self indulging leaders.
Humility is such a wonderful way to communicate, but it is a priviledge of the intelligent ones only, as fools dash in where angels don't. And so to be so naturally kindly treated by Caitanya Candra Caran Prabhu was another feast I could relish while visiting Russia.
To visit Russia is not easy. Once one comes there it is most difficult to leave. The intensity of personal exchanges is immense. As I humorously shared my realization about russian hearts with one devotee, he responded jokingly: “There are no mayavadis in Russia, even the demons here are personal:-)." My "servant" Dhamesvara Prabhu, a young russian devotee who spent eigth years in Mayapur gurukula, gave me some glimpse of hope, that it is exactly this kind of generation, which can achieve some substantial change in ISKCON, and the world around ISKCON. The power of youth, once rightly channeled by wisdom of truly seniour ones, those who made mistakes which are not needed to be repeated, can create very productive synthesis. When mutual respect and encouragement is shared, how much can be achieved!
Being a witness of the early days of russian preaching, smuggling books into Russia via Norway in the eighties already, I felt again that russian preaching was created by Srila Prabhupada's books, can be sustained only by Srila Prabhupada's books, and can be revived by the very same books again, if devotees embrace this sankirtan activity with their hearts.
Book distribution is all-inclusive. Whoever and wherever engages in distribution of Srila Prabhupada's books, benefits not only himself, but anybody around him as well, often in seemingly mysterious way to us. Once Krsna is pleased, as demonstrated in His lila with Sudama Vipra, the whole universe is pleased. Even the offering may be of mediocre nature, a handful of broken rice, once Supreme Lord approves, only bliss and ecstasy follows. Such are the effects of book distribution.
And so, seeing the photos hanging on walls of the main festival hall, depicting russian devotees going out and distributing even under most severe circumstances, in midst of russian winter, could only make me to offer continuous dandavats, at least in my mind, to these often unknown heroes.
All glories to the russian sankirtan devotees!