A photo meditation : Try to see who I see – by Gaurangi Dasi
I recently found a photo of Indradyumna Maharaja, from 1991, our first proper Polish Summer tour. In this photo he looks much younger of course, healthy, almost carefree. Less wrinkles, more sikha, but the same kindness in his eyes, same determinations to serve the devotees, same sense of adventure and fun.
Recently I have seen a lot of comments about his photos, a lot of harsh and unfair comments mainly made by those who hardly know him or never met him properly. So many big words filled with judgment and huge expectations. I tried to see their perspective but looking at my dear kind Gurudeva I wish they could see what I see, I wish they asked for my view, as someone who has actually known him for 33 years.
I first met Indradyumna Maharaja in 1990 at a preaching program he did in my home town in Poland. He was around the same age I am now; I was this rebellious silly young devotee in post communistic Poland. I liked chanting and philosophy, but the unnecessary harshness, brash behaviours and the adherence to so many rules, I was unsure about. Maharaja made sense to me, this was meant to be a path of bhakti, a bit of emotion with the devotion was nice to see.
Inspired by all that, I joined the original Polish tour crew. Initially there were around 30 of us, free thinking individuals who did not fit into the temple structure and routine, so Indradyumna Maharaja kindly took us in, and we started the glorious Polish tour. By we started, I mean him. He was the heart and the head and did all the hard work. We were just kids looking for a bit of adventure mixed with some service and quickly became so impossibly proud: we thought we were his special soldiers whom he trained and loved and looked after. We quickly learned that there were many more of those he cared for in the world of ISCKON, it took us a while to deal with that pride though.
As youngsters, naturally we needed help to grow up. His support was spiritually based, but it was practical too. He thought us responsibility and commitment, to face challenge, to be creative in maintaining and developing a project, and how to work as a team. We did everything together and he was always the committed leader. He was always the first one up, waking us up for mangala arti with a this loud hailer, he never really cooked but sometimes helped in the kitchen and liked to serve us prasadam, then harinama the whole day long. Initially we set the festival site together and Maharaja was in tent crew, he had his own favourite hammer he used for nailing in the tent pegs. And then clean up too, he loved doing that, picking up rubbish at the end of the festival. And when the festival season finished, we had to make money to pay for it all. Looking back, it just feels so strange saying it, we had to pay for doing volunteer service. Now I live near the temple where devotees get paid for doing service… so quite the opposite. We did it for few years until we could not, yet Maharaja carried on, found other ways, continued with his service.
It was hard work, but we did not see it like that. We were young, we belonged, we had purpose and someone looking out for us. It was our home… and then the others started coming. First it was his son, then god-brothers and god-sisters, his actual brother and of course the gurukulis, all looking for a bit of normality, balance, kindness and service with a bit of adventure.
Maharaja’s son used to spend summers with us. We adored him (still do) he was the cool teenager, the curly hair version of him. I used to observe their loving and fun relationship with a bit of jealousy; I grew up without a dad and had never seen a father/son bond this strong and this loving, to this day. And then a long lost younger brother found a way to contact Maharaja, he needed some support so he and his family came to stay with us, just before Woodstock, the most hectic time on Earth. Yet somehow, they got all the love and care they needed, which was border line magical, and if you have ever been to Woodstock, you know what I mean.
Anytime any god-brother or god-sister came, Maharaja always told us, you treat them same as me, or you do more, they deserve way more respect. He has such lovely relationships with his god-family, very real and honest, with Srila Prabhupada and service for him in the centre.
Then we started to get all the Gurukulis: talented, gorgeous and wild. We used to get annoyed that they got a bit more attention. At the time we had no idea about their struggles and history, but we grew to like and appreciate them.
And then where was all those in trouble, young, old, girl, boy, devotees, sometimes not. I wish I wrote down the number and stories of people I saw he gave food, or accommodation, or money to, or paid their ticket or sent them to Holy Dham. He was the boss of the project but as years went by the structure became more formal and he had to answer to the directors, and it was hard as he just wanted to help whoever asked for it, which practicalities would not always allow. But he found a way whenever he could.
So yes, loads of goodness, lots of kindness, balance and normality, a lot of real emotion on this path to devotion I observed. One may ask, were there ever problems? Its sounds too good to be true and it would be silly to say no, it was all amazing.
Of course there were problems, whenever you get a group of people trying to do even the best thing, there are always going to be issues. Naturally with expectations you get plenty of disappointments on all levels. We thought the fun would last forever, and of course we had to grow up and make our own way in life and that was hard and impossible for some. Some blamed the years of service, claiming it to be years wasted, some blame the people in charge, the usual and of course not without its value. Do I wish we did it better, with more devotee care, more maturity and knowing what’s coming after? Yes, I would have liked that. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely.
It might be too late for me now in this life but I definitely want to make sure my children will get a taste for spiritual life, get some guidance and strong moral values. We make a point to visit Polish tour every year as a family, just for a few days but enough for my daughter to get inspired to chant a little and develop love for theatre. Another highlight of the year is Indradyumna Maharaja’s annual visit to UK. It’s always too short and not enough time to see everyone but he always makes a point to see the local Gurukula. Every year he chooses a special story, last year it was the “The Journey to Amazon: untold details”. I can’t remember the Gurukula children laughing this much in the assembly before. They talk about it to this day and they all signed up to go and give prasadam and holy name to the Amazon tribes, when they are older. Indradyumna Maharaja is the best story teller but he also knows how to talk to children, how to get their attention and make sure they know Krsna consciousness is not only a serious spiritual practice, but can also be filled with so much joy and adventure.
I have never met anyone like Indradyumna Maharaja and his god-family, people who gave everything to their dearest Srila Prabhupada, gave up their youth, their lives, their homes, trying their best to follow what Prabhupada asked of them. I don’t think my generation has that same level of sacrifice or understanding. It’s just different now, more safe and settled and perhaps that’s a good thing. But without their sacrifice we would not have our temples, it’s as simple as that.
I just hope next time anyone finds a photo of Maharaja, before making a snappy comment, they will try to find out the real story of what happened there, get all the views and perspectives, and mix their own conclusion with a bit of kindness.