28/11/18 – Southampton

This morning, we left the Manor straight after breakfast and headed to Southampton. A lorry was due to deliver six pallets of books there at 11:00am, and we needed to be there to offload everything. During the second half of the December book marathon, we will be based at a house in Southampton that has kindly been provided for us, and the books will be stored there as well.

Upon our arrival, we discovered that the books could turn up any time between 11:00am and 4:00pm, so we decided to read and chant until then. The lorry eventually arrived after a few hours and we stacked up the precious cargo in one of the rooms downstairs.

On the way back from Southampton, we got caught in a massive traffic jam on the M25. After being stuck in the jam for over two hours, traffic began to move a little faster. While setting off, the car rolled back slightly and hit the car behind us. The driver came out angrily, expecting an argument, but when we calmly explained that we were monks and had had a long day, his mood softened. After agreeing that no damage had been done to his car, he graciously accepted the Beyond Birth and Death that we offered him and left. As we would soon find out, though, Kṛṣṇa had a lot more in store for us!

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15/11/18 – Southampton

Today, there was a young Eastern European lady playing the accordion in the city centre. Beside her was a dog that had been dressed like a ballet dancer. She clearly hoped that people would find the dog cute and give her some spare change. Further down the street, there was an older lady who was also playing the accordion; the dog beside her was wearing sunglasses.

Some did indeed find it cute that the dog was dressed in that way, while others just thought it was bizarre. Personally, I found it upsetting. For an eternal soul, whose constitutional nature is to be full of knowledge and bliss, to be trapped in any kind of material body is an embarrassing situation, what to speak of the body of a dog! And being dressed in a ballerina outfit simply added insult to injury.

I felt that there was nothing I could do to help that poor soul, but this gave me greater motivation to approach people and try to change their lives for the better by introducing them to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

25/10/18 – Bedford

I’d like to share two memorable experiences that I had today. The first was when a young man suddenly approached me and, pointing at the books in my hand, said in an appreciative tone, “Oh, you’re giving out those books? I already got one of those!”

Then, in reference to the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, he added, “That sixteen-word mantra really changed my life!”

Before I could say anything, he walked off just as suddenly as he had appeared.

Later in the afternoon, a man approached me and asked, “Are you a Hare Kṛṣṇa?” When I replied that I was, he began to narrate his fascinating story.

His name was Dave and he was 65 years old. When he was younger he had been searching for his path in life, so he spent two or three years living at Bhaktivedanta Manor. Unsure whether he had found what he was looking for, Dave then left to join the military, serving as a combat medical technician. Although he wasn’t fighting on the frontline, he was still uncomfortably close to the action. He said that he eventually went through a “crisis of conscience” and decided to leave, feeling that the battlefield was no place for him.

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12/10/18 – Rotherham

As I am writing this, the wind is howling loudly outside. Earlier today, we spent a few hours distributing books in the town of Rotherham. It was wet and windy, and at one point, the rain worsened and I seriously considered taking shelter, putting the books away and waiting for the weather to improve.

But as I stood there with my hood on, I observed three people nearby who were trying to collect money for a children’s charity, and they weren’t letting the dismal weather stop them, despite not having any hoods or umbrellas. It seemed that they weren’t willing to waste a single minute. I thought to myself, “If they’re not stopping, I have no excuse.” I stepped back out into the rain and tried to speak to more people.

In his Purport to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 8.7.44, Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “All the śāstras [scriptures] conclude that spreading the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is the best welfare activity in the world. Because of the ultimate benefit this bestows upon people in general, the Lord very quickly recognizes such service performed by a devotee.”

Because they were working for a good cause, the charity workers had great conviction in what they were doing. But I was taking part in the ultimate welfare activity, so my conviction should’ve been even greater than theirs! The fact that it wasn’t showed me that I still have a long way to go.

04/10/18 – York

Not far from our location, a young lady was singing in an operatic style, and even though she was sometimes singing in another language, people were still attracted to the music despite not understanding the words.

In the same way, I have observed many times that when devotees are singing the mahā-mantra, people become attracted even if they don’t know what it means. This is because the mantra is connecting with them on the level of the soul, which transcends intellectual understanding.

So when we perform kīrtana on the streets, we should feel confident that even if the public appear completely baffled by it or cannot understand its importance, it will still have a positive effect on every soul that hears the holy name.

Summer Saṅkīrtana Day 16 (11/08/18) – Ilford

Today, we joined many East London devotees outside Redbridge Town Hall, where there was book distribution, prasāda distribution and kīrtana taking place.

My brother, who was spending some time at our grandmother’s house in East London, came along, and he brought our 11 year-old cousin, who lived in Ilford and had never experienced book distribution or kīrtana, with him.

At one point, I was leading kīrtana and playing karatālas, while my brother was playing the mṛdaṅga. We had no microphone and no other instruments, and all of the other devotees were engaged in book distribution so we were on our own. Just a few years ago, the very idea of singing in public like that would’ve terrified me! And even today, I felt really exposed and my mind was encouraging me to run away, so I had to keep reminding myself why I was there.

While singing, I thought about how Śrīla Prabhupāda had sat under an elm tree in Tompkins Square Park in October 1966 and led the first outdoor kīrtana in the Western world. He had complete conviction in what he was doing and wasn’t worried about how it would be received by the American people. He knew that kīrtana was an act of devotion; the aim was to glorify the Lord, not to attract a crowd. I don’t know how successful I was, but I tried to imbibe the same mood.

Our team had to leave before the East London devotees so that we could get back to the Manor at a reasonable time. While saying goodbye to my cousin, I asked him how it was going and whether he had been able to speak to anyone, to which he casually replied, “I gave out two of these blue books [Science of Self-Realization], four of these vegetarian books [Higher Taste] and five Bhagavad-gītās.”

He had never read the books and this was the first time he had tried book distribution, so I was understandably amazed by his reply. It really showed that people are more inclined to put their barriers down when approached by children. I had never distributed that many books in a day, so it was also a humbling experience for me.

Even though my cousin wasn’t fully aware of the significance of what he was doing, he will receive so much spiritual benefit for it, and both Śrīla Prabhupāda and Kṛṣṇa will undoubtedly be pleased with him!

Summer Saṅkīrtana Day 11 (02/08/18) – Portsmouth

Not long after arriving at Portsmouth, I stopped a guy who was wearing a really cool Star Wars t-shirt. His name was Harry, and he will be starting university in Liverpool this year. When I showed him our books, he was immediately intrigued by them and wanted to know more. He decided to take a Beyond Birth and Death, Chant and Be Happy and Veda, for which he gave a generous donation.

He also asked where we were based, so I gave him a leaflet about the Manor. Harry expressed a strong desire to visit the Manor and listened with interest when I mentioned the “Be a Monk” course, which is an opportunity to stay there on a residential basis for seven days.

I wrote down his contact details and then asked where he got the t-shirt from, to which he replied, “I think it’s from Primark.”

I remarked that I might get one for myself, so he said, “Maybe I’ll see you at the Manor and we can wear matching t-shirts!” (I’ve got a feeling that Star Wars merchandise would not be considered acceptable ashram attire, but I thought it would be cruel to take his newfound dream away from him so I didn’t mention that!)

Later, I met a Muslim student who was originally from Algeria. He introduced himself as Toufik, which he said meant “good fortune.” He is currently doing a PhD in English Literature, for which he has to do some university lecturing and write a thesis of at least 80,000 words! I mentioned that I had also been very interested in English Literature at high school but had never taken that interest further.

Toufik said that he did a lot of reading and was very interested to hear about our books. I said that, among other things, they teach one how to live a spiritual lifestyle and develop a peaceful frame of mind, which can help a person regardless of which religion they practise. He was open-minded and accepted that all the major religions are legitimate and can have a very beneficial effect on the lives of those who follow them. The only difference between them, he said, was that they followed different paths. The goal, however, was the same.

In the end, Toufik said that he wouldn’t take any books as he was, understandably, very busy with his PhD. I really enjoyed our conversation and I wish him all the best.

Kṛṣṇa also kindly arranged for books to be distributed to Phillip, who plays cricket to relax; Kyle, who gets stressed out by family issues; Lewis, who gets stressed out by work and university and plays PC games to relax; and Andrea from Romania, who had tried yoga due to back problems but had found that it didn’t help her (hopefully she’ll have more luck with mantra meditation).

Because I find it very difficult to approach people on the streets, I tried to meditate on Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 14.1, which states, “Things that are very difficult to do become easy to execute if one somehow or other simply remembers Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu. But if one does not remember Him, even easy things become very difficult.”

I focused my mind on Mahāprabhu by singing His names in my head, and I found that this gave me greater confidence to approach people.