The Pune temple inauguration – The inner and the outer miracle
It was 11 pm. I had just returned into the Pune monastery after an evening program. During the program, I had failed to resist the temptation to answer questions and so was inordinately delayed. (We monks wake up each morning for the 4.30 am prayers and so usually sleep by 9.30-10 pm.) As I entered into the dark room where ten of us slept, each in his allocated area, my eyes scanned the outlines. Everyone else was fast asleep. I tiptoed in, spread out my mat and lay down.
I was just drifting off to sleep when I heard someone entering. Knowing that the room was full, I wondered who was coming in at that time. As my tired eyes tried to peer through the darkness, I saw the silhouette of our temple president Radheshyam Prabhu, my foremost spiritual mentor, entering even more silently than me. Surprised, I looked at the corner where he would normally sleep and realized that someone else – a visiting senior monk from another temple – was sleeping there.
Radheshyam Prabhu realized at the same time what had happened. After a moment’s thought he gathered his mat and started leaving the room. I immediately got up, went after him and said, “Prabhuji, you can sleep in my place. I will find somewhere else to sleep.”
Smiling serenely despite his obvious exhaustion, he replied, “No, no. Don’t disturb yourself. I will find somewhere to sleep.” Before I could protest, he turned out and disappeared into the darkness, to find an empty place outside the temple hall under the open sky.
As I stood thinking, the acute shortage of space in our monastery hit me for the first time. Though some sixty of us lived in three small rooms, I had got so used to it that it just didn’t rise above the threshold of conscious awareness. Till now. Seeing that Radheshyam Prabhu didn’t have a place to sleep brought this fact forcefully into my awareness, almost with the velocity and ferocity of an erupting volcano.
The lava of the resulting thoughts propelled my mind back to several years earlier when I had first come to the temple in 1996. Much of the temple premises were an overgrown wilderness; the monastery though not deserted was definitely not crowded. A few years ago, I was told, it had worn a deserted look.
It was the arrival of Radheshyam Prabhu in Pune that had really set the temple and especially the monastery afire. His vigorous and numerous outreach programs had filled the monastery with monks and the temple with visitors.
To work hard to invite people to your home and then to find it so filled that you have no place in it – that’s not an experience many people would enjoy. But I know that Radheshyam Prabhu was happy: he considered it his success. His satisfied smile announced that better than the most eloquent speech. I stood rooted to the spot outside the door of the monastery room, pondering the miracle of his selflessness.
We had just started discussing the prospect of a new temple. (The exact date of this incident eludes me) But at that moment in the darkness of night, an illuminating beam of absolute certainty swept over me: Krishna would surely arrange for a spacious temple for his self-sacrificing devotee. How could he not? I looked in the direction of the altar; it was some distance away with several walls in between, curtained off due to the time of the night. Yet I could almost visualize Kunjabihari (the presiding deity of the old Pune temple) smiling in appreciation for his devotee and planning to reward him with a magnificent temple.
A view from the sidelines
The memory of this incident rushed through me on 22nd February, 2013 as I entered the magnificent temple at the heart of the New Vedic Cultural Center. The temple was far better and greater than what I had dreamt. The blend of grandeur and artistry left me mesmerized. Seeing the mouths of visitors fall open in amazement when they caught sight of the elegant designs on the ceiling was a special joy.
When I took darshan of the Deities, I offered my gratitude and my apology to Radha Vrindavanchandra. Gratitude because they had manifested themselves along with such a splendid temple. And apology because I had done nothing to help in the manifestation of the temple.
Events had conspired in such a way that I had found myself mostly on the sidelines of the action. It’s said that some people make things happen, some people watch things happen and some people wonder what happened. As regards how the Pune temple ‘happened’, I felt that I belonged to the third category – it left me wondering what had happened and how..
Of course, I knew what had happened. I had more than a fair idea of how zealously and tirelessly the Pune devotees had worked over the last several years to make the temple ready. And I knew that Krishna had profusely rewarded their sincere and intelligent endeavors. Yet did I really know what had happened?
I had been away from the site of the new temple for three years and the difference was stunning –a dreary construction site had metamorphosed into a stately capacious temple. Some three years ago, HH Bhakti Rasamrita Maharaj had envisioned a mega-project of making world-class documentaries and had asked Radheshyam Prabhu if I could do research and write scripts for the documentaries. Radheshyam Prabhu, ever-eager to assist his shiksha-guru, had immediately consented. That service had evolved in such a way as to require my relocation to Belgaum. Even before the relocation, I had been primarily engaged in writing and teaching, and so hadn’t done anything tangible for the new temple project. That’s how I was left at the sidelines. But Krishna consciousness is essentially a matter of consciousness. If we think about Krishna, we get enriching realizations whether we are in the center of the action or the sidelines.
Do you believe in miracles?
As I looked around at the smiling faces of hundreds of devotees and visitors, a feeling of humility and a feeling of security enveloped me. Humility on comprehending the extent and the excellence of the efforts of my fellow Pune devotees. Security because I could see that the principle of devotional service was still real and demonstrable.
What was that principle? Devotees endeavor, Krishna reciprocates – miracles happens.
Sometimes people ask us, do you devotees believe in miracles? Well, we see them happen regularly. So it’s not a matter of belief; it’s a matter of fact. In fact, we don’t just believe in miracles; we depend on them. But these are not the miracles that make ash appear; these are the miracles that make love – pure, spiritual love – appear in the heart and in the world.
When Srila Prabhupada went to America at the age of sixty-nine with just forty rupees in a non-convertible currency, he couldn’t have climbed on the ship to America if he hadn’t believed in miracles. If anyone ever needed a miracle to succeed, Srila Prabhupada did.
And he had not been afraid to ask Krishna for the miracle. In his celebrated prayers on the ship, he had begged to Krishna:
aniyacho jadi prabhu amare nacate
nacao nacao prabhu nacao se mate
kasthera putali jatha nacao se mate
“O Lord, I am just like a puppet in your hands. So if you have brought me here to dance, then make me dance, make me dance, O Lord, make me dance as you like.”
This is one of my favourite prayers and I have meditated on it hundreds of times. But as I contemplated it while thinking of the Pune temple, it struck me that Srila Prabhupada had asked for a very specific miracle: not the miracle of success, but the miracle of surrender.
He had not asked for Krishna to provide gorgeous temples in the scores and receptive seekers in the thousands. He had asked simply for the strength to dance for Krishna’s pleasure, to stick to the service of Krishna in the midst of overwhelming obstacles.
That determination, that dedication, that diligence – that was the inner miracle in Srila Prabhupada’s heart which had led to the outer miracle in the form of 14 world tours, 108 temples, 80 books and thousands of devotees. All in the last twelve years of his life, years that most others of his age struggle to endure.
I entered into the altar to have darshan of the Deities as they rested in a reclined position for the last time (After the installation, they are never moved; they always stay in an erect position, even when they are beseeched to rest through mental prayer, manasa-puja), I saw H H Radhanath Maharaj singing songs to put the Deities to rest and sitting inconspicuously by the side was Radheshyam Prabhu. The miracle of his inner dedication on that night in the monastery had manifested as the outer miracle in the form of this magnificent temple. And the inner miracle was continuing. Here in the moment of his glory he was satisfied to be quietly by the side of his spiritual master – unassuming and untiring as ever.
As I met many of the devotees (they are too many to name here) who had worked untiringly to make the new temple happen, it struck me that Srila Prabhupada had inspired this inner miracle in the heart of so many of his followers.
I pray that this miracle may happen in my heart.
As long as we the followers of Srila Prabhupada keep praying and striving for that inner miracle of commitment, he and his beloved Krishna will keep rewarding us with outer miracles like the majestic Pune temple.
The symbiosis of the inner and the outer miracles – that’s what makes life in Krishna consciousness exciting and fulfilling.