First Programme of Vedic City Project, ISKCON Johannesburg North, Parkwood, Johannesburg, Sunday 22 February 2009.

Our project was born on Sunday 22 February 2009.

Prabhupada was fond of saying that Krishna had taken birth within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. And this is how it feels with our little project in Johannesburg.

We are simply servants of Krishna. Not perfect servants. But servants no less.

Saturday afternoon was a little frantic. Thanks to Tirtharaja prabhu I was able to fetch our guest, Sankirtan das, from the airport in a car. Our previous guest had to navigate the back roads of Johannesburg with me from O.R Thambo International, Kempton Park taxi rank through a commodius vicus of recirculation to Park Station and environs. Am I getting too Joycean now? Anyhow, we basically schlepped back to the flat that time…

I heard Sankirtan was fluent in Chinese, but got a real taste of it when he actually spoke to a Chinese traveller in the car park. This wasn’t book distribution Chinese (ni hao, che che, ‘buy book’ etc.). This was the real thing. (Sankirtan, in co-operation with Chinese travel agents, takes Chinese yoga students on pilgrimages to India. He explains to them the spiritual dimension of yoga as expressed through Krishna consciousness).

Sankirtan set his baggage down at the flat and offered obeisances to the Pancha-Tattva and Garuda. To my delight, he gave me some Giriraja Saonpapri – a delicious sweet from Govardhana,in Vraja. We then took tea, bread and date syrup on the otherwise empty floor of our Temple room. That was special.

I was freaking out because our cushions had not arrived. Luckily my parents were on holiday so we got some blankets from their house for the programme (I hope you not reading this, Mom).

Where were we? Ah, yes. Sankirtan. We had put out invitations – mainly to people I’d met in the course of my wanderings in the shopping malls of Johannesburg. It was quite exciting though I was also in a anxiety over last-minute details. Would our books arrive in time? Would our cushions arrive? We had gone to much trouble painting-up the place. Rasika Rai had spent the whole week embellishing the Temple Room walls. I didn’t want anything to go wrong.

Sankirtan, however, was very relaxed. Not at all demanding. The last thing I needed was a fussy guest. There was just too much to do, too little time and too little money. Sankirtan had called me from India and we had made all our arrangements by e-mail. We agreed that he would speak on ‘The Yoga of the Self.’ I had mentioned to him that we were going to invite several members of the Yoga Fraternity to the programme and, since he had written a book on the subject for Chinese yoga students, it would be nice if we could speak a little on the topic of yoga. One of the main functions of the Vedic City Project is education so I was happy we were kicking off this way.

I spent the next day running around…looking for plastic covering for the toilet floor…looking for couscous and vegetables to offer to the Lord and our guests…looking for heaven knows how many other things. Looking. Luckily I had the supermellow Tirtharaja tagging along my crazy trail. Thank you for being such a calming influence, Tirtha.

So, while Gaurashakti cooked, Arne cut out patterns for the toilet-floor, Tamal cleaned, Sankirtan freshened-up, Tirtha looked for the karatalas, early guests arrived…I was on the phone seeing who was coming, who was not coming, and thinking of anything we might have left out.

The programme ran quite smoothly. We had 16 guests. Hansa, who owns a florist downstairs, kindly sponsored flowers for the programme. And the guests liked the walls! Paisley patterns and mantras of ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya’ in Sanskrit and English.

The Programme

Tirtharaj led kirtan (congregational chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra) for 15 minutes or so. Then Sankirtan spoke.

Sankirtan prabhu spoke a little about the Centre and how it was for the guests and for the devotees. He spoke about devotional service and various things we could do in terms of service to Krishna and Krishna’s Centre. While he was speaking I was thinking of the spontaneous offerings some of the guests had already made. There was Hansa and her flowers and dhokla; Giridhari and Estelle’s contribution of spoons and cutlery; and Richard’s gift  of a beautiful framed picture of Ganesh, the Destroyer of Obstacles.

Sankirtan then asked us to introduce ourselves and to tell everyone something about ourselves. I said, ‘My name is Mukunda Charan das and I like making friends with people.’ Sankirtan looked at everyone and said, ‘Is this true?’ Lungile said he liked, as I would have known, Prabhupada’s pastimes in New York City in the 60’s. Giridhari said he liked reading Bhagavatam. Govardhana liked being with devotees. Hansa liked cooking. Richard liked the Vedas. And so on. Sankirtan handled the group well. Everyone appeared relaxed.

Since I was up and down seeing to guests, seeing to prashadam – basically managing things – I did not get to hear all of the class. And Bhakta Arne, unfortunately, only captured 20 minutes on his phone. But I did catch the gist of the presentation. There were many processes by which spiritualists approached God, including varieties of yoga practice. These practices, however, brought the practitioners to the platform of Bhakti or devotion to Krishna. Sankirtan gave a simple, though scholarly, analysis of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras in relation to Swami Prabhupada’s presentation of Gaudiya Vaishnavism or bhakti yoga. Patanjali’s sutras give clear teachings about the physical dimension of yoga. But they are wanting in terms of the actual goal of yoga which is to ‘link’ with the Divine or Krishna/God (that is the literal meaning of the Sanskrit term ‘yoga‘). Sankirtan also encouraged us to work on our connection with Krishna as opposed to connecting with the Temporary. His talk was encouraging. There was some debate over the purpose and usefulness of Christianity during the question-and-answer-and-comment session. I was in the kitchen at the time, but heard that it was resolved on the Vaishnava platform ie. everyone was in agreement at the end. We served prashadam and the guests slowly, slowly took their leave.

Srila Prabhupada Ki Jaya! Sri Sri Pancha Tattva Ki Jaya!

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