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A day at the beach with Lord Jagannatha

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Today being the appearance day of Bhaktivinode Thakur, we heard many of his wonderful qualities in this morning's class. He is worth taking shelter of for a number of reasons. Personally, I did pray to imbibe some of his ability to work in the world yet not be 'of it.' He served in the British court system in India and astonished them by his prodigious output of caseloads, yet this didn't prevent him from mainly focusing on his devotional writing and reading, his daily chanting, his raising a large family in Krishna consciousness.

So I thought at least I should take a few moments today and write down something that had happened over the weekend. Too good not to share. It was Saturday, and we had our annual Ratha-yatra festival on Jacksonville Beach. It was a full festival, complete with the Festival of India truck, which unloads colorful tents, exhibits, displays that answer basic philosophical questions, why vegetarianism, etc.

I'd been helping Akuti at her book table most of the day; another devotee had baked literally hundreds of cookies—yummy, soft and chewy oatmeal cookies—and so I was just distributing them to the passersby and if they were interested, steering them to the books or simply inviting them to the festival, which was going on all around us. But at some point, Akuti asked if I wanted to go on the parade, following the large colorful cart as it was pulled down the beach by devotees and beach-goers who joined in. So I went. Someone handed me a bag full of little packets of raisins and nuts, to pass out to the folks on the beach. That was smart, as they were sealed, so not likely to get sandy.

As I have a bad knee, I thought it wise not to go the whole way with the cart, so after some time, turned and headed back by myself to the main festival site. I was still passing out the little packets though, and in my sari I obviously was part of the group that had just gone by. One man stopped me to ask, “What's this about?” He was familiar with Hare Krishna but wanted to know more; so I was trying to put the essence into a two-minute encounter. I found myself asking whether he was familiar with the movie or book, The Life of Pi. He'd heard of the movie but hadn't seen it.

So I said, I'd both seen the movie and read the book, and as often happens, felt the movie left out some key parts of the book. My favorite scene was early on, when the young boy, Pi, had been learning from a Hindu brahmana about Vedic knowledge; then he met a priest in a Christian church on a hilltop nearby, and finally he'd made friends with a Muslim man he saw regularly offering prayers, bowing down facing Mecca, three times a day. Each of the teachers thought of the boy as their own protege. Then the lad was out on a Sunday with his parents, and just as they had stopped to buy an ice cream cone, he suddenly noticed all three of his teachers coming towards them, from different directions. As they each began to tell his parents what a good Hindu, Christian, or Muslim the boy was, there grew some rivalry between them. As the priests and the parents questioned him accusingly, Pi protested, “I just want to love God!”

So I told this inquiring man on the beach that Krishna is a name for God, the one God who is worshiped in different ways around the world, that the name Krishna means all-attractive. Then gave Prabhupada's famous example of a high-court judge. In the courtroom, when the judge comes in, there is such formality. “All rise!” and he is addressed, “Your honor.” But that same man, when he's at home, becomes a handyman for his wife, a horse for his children, and so on. So Krishna is God when He's at home; He's with His family (He rides on the Ratha-yatra cart with His brother and sister) and friends; there are unlimited relationships and activities, all untainted by the temporality of this world.

“That's beautiful!” said the man. And quite spontaneously, he gave me a hug. It was only one of many sweet exchanges I had with people that day, but hopefully it will convey the general mood. Thanks to Bhaktivinode Thakur, my spiritual predecessor, for the inspiration to record some of it in writing.