June 2009

This story is told in Earl Woods’s Training A Tiger, a very good book about coaching, mentoring etc. albeit in the context of the game of golf.

There are pictures of Tiger Woods playing golf, in full golf gear, at the age of two. Then there are many photos of Tiger holding trophies and developing as a teenage golf sensation. Earl Woods explained how he did not force Tiger to practice. Rather, he gave Tiger inspiration to develop a desire to practice and to play golf. His final lesson, however, was the most gruelling. Basically, he and Tiger were to play a full eighteen holes of golf. With one condition. That Tiger was not allowed to complain, no matter what his father did. We must remember that by this stage the young man was mastering his sport. And had developed his characteristic competitiveness by this point. Well, Earl Woods pulled every nasty trick in the book. He moved Tiger’s ball into the rough. Coughed when he was about to swing. Hung his shadow over his putting line. Cheated on his scorecard. In short, he did every dirty in the book. Tiger clenched his teeth. He was fuming. But he was not allowed to protest. At the end of the game he confronted his father, ‘Why did you play like that? You’re my dad! How could you do this to me!’ Earl Woods replied, ‘If you can tolerate this kind of treatment from the person you love most in the world, then you will be able to tolerate the rotten antics of those who will cheat you in the competitive arena.’ This was Tiger’s last lesson.

Xanthipe was greek philospher Socrates’ wife. And, boy, did she hen-peck him. One day, after a particularly public brow-beating in the market-place, some onlookers asked Socrates, ‘Why do you bother staying with your wife?’ Socrates replied, ‘If I can live with Xanthipe, I can live with anyone.’

Sankirtan, Sandton City Mall, Johannesburg

I was on the phone to Rupa this afternoon, finalizing our tickets to Cape Town, when I saw a familiar-looking face in the crowd. He had a serene and distinguished face. An aristocratic face.

It suddenly dawned on me who it was: Patrice Motsepe, one of the richest men in South Africa. In a somewhat exuberant mood, I half-forgot about my telephone conversation and called out, ‘Patrice!’. Trying to identify where the sound was coming from, Mr Motsepe finally recognized its source. I said something like, ‘We’re meeting all the celebrities in the Mall here today’, and he smiled. I was taken a little by his warmth.

I then resumed my conversation, but remembered that this was an opportune moment to connect with a powerful man. So, I caught up to him, shook hands, and gave him my card. ‘Please check out my web-sites’, I said. He did not seem fazed at this unusual encounter. I said to him, ‘I am a monk.’ He said, ‘This is special.’ He was most charming and very aristocratic. I offered pranams, and he returned the gesture.

Mr Motsepe, it was nice to meet you!

Devotees often marvel at the astonishing success of ISKCON Chowpatty, in Mumbai. This inspiring project has been painstakingly developed by His Holiness Radhanath Maharaja and his dedicated followers since the late eighties.

Those who have read Maharaja’s autobiography will know something about Maharaja’s life-long friend, Gary. Gary was Maharaja’s travelling companion during his odyssey from America to India in 1970/71. In March 2007, I, along with Jai Gauranga prabhu (my dear friend and godbrother from LA) had the good fortune of hosting one of Gary’s dear friends, Mike, at Chowpatty.

We took Mike to Ban Ganga, a holy place of pilgrimage in the area. It is here that Lord Rama shot an arrow into the beach, to slake Sita’s thirst, and Ganga Devi manifested. Laksman built a Siva Lingam out of beach sand which is worshipped today as Valkeshwara. So this place is known as Valkeshwara or Ban Ganga (‘the place where Ganges manifested from Rama’s arrow’). Caitanya Mahaprabhu also visited Valkeshwara. And Jai Gauranga and I bathed here with Mike.

That night, Mike jammed with his djembe and flute to Jai Sachinandan’s enchanting kirtans. Amongst other things, we took Mike to the local music shop. When Mike went to Hrishikesh to meet with Maharaja, I wasn’t sure if I’d see him again.

Six months later, however, I joined Nitai prabhu and a party of frontline Hare Krishnas at the Burning Man, in the Nevada Desert (near Reno). On the second day of the Burning Man, I went for a bit of a walk around the playa. Lod and behold, I met Mike! I consider this meeting even more amazing, since it was my last day in America! I was so happy to meet this simple and gracious soul again. Plus, I wanted to know what had transpired of his meeting with Maharaja. Mike informed me that he had not met with Maharaja in Hrishikesh, but had met ‘Swami’ at Gary’s place in Malibu. ‘What did you think of Maharaja?’, I asked. Mike said that Maharaja was very nice and very down-to-earth. I said, ‘Was there anything in particular that struck you about Maharaja?’ Mike replied, ‘Yes. I asked Swami how he managed to get so many people to do so many things. And Swami said, ‘I don’t do anything. They come to me with ideas; and I let them do it.’

When I met Maharaja in Dublin some weeks later I told him of my unusual encounter with his friend Mike.

Dear Readers,

I humbly invite you to regularly consult the ‘Events’ page of our Vedic City Project web-site (http://www.vediccity.org.za) to keep informed of our activities.

This month’s ‘Events’ include The Vedic Emporium pure vegetarian foodstalls, operational in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg; our regular Sunday programmes, including details how to get there; and various Special Events, such as our ‘Evening of Kirtan’ on Friday 19 June at trendy, avant-garde 44 Stanley, Millpark, Johannesburg.

Yours in service,
Mukunda Charan Das

‘As I was dozing off on a bed of twine under the starlit winter sky, the mother and baby cow appeared in my dream. Their gentle, tearful eyeds looked helplessly into mine while the blade of a butcher ruthlessly slaughtered them for meat. From my heart burst the biblical commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” I awoke from the nightmare in a state of unbearable nausea and rushed to the toilet for relief.

The toilet consisted of a cement hole on the roof, surrounded by crumbling brick walls and a sheet of aluminum for the ceiling. It was pitch dark in their with no plumbing except for the bhangisor street sweepers who emptied the toilet by shovel. Digging out the waste into a bucket, they would carry it away on their heads. But this toilet was overdue for a cleaning. Stool soaked with urine had piled up above the floor level. With no control over my vomiting, I was trapped inside that latrine. Insects buzzed and bit and I felt something moving over my feet. All I could do was heave with nausea and shiver in a cold sweat. All the while, in my mind’s eye, I could see only those two cows gazing at me with their innocent eyes. In that dark, rooftop latrine in Old Delhi, I offered another vow before my Lord. I will never again eat meat.
This concluded my first day in India.’

(From: ‘The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami’)

Vedic City Project, Parkwood, Johannesburg, South Africa

A little feedback for my friends. Thank you all of you for encouraging me to keep my blog running. Let it roll…forever…Rolling. Rolling. Rolling down the river…

We had a nice lunch of soya burgers, salad, avocado dressing and french fries (‘chips’ as we call them in our beloved South Africa). The reason? Well, Monday is our space-out day, after a busy weekend of The Vedic Emporium (our food stall). It is also a rest after the Sunday Programme. Yes, that is the ‘traditional’ part. And Tirtha Raja called. And Rupa was here. And Karabo, an old acquaintance from Grahamstown National Arts Festival, had caught up with me through the blog. To cut a long story short: We had an occasion.

Ceremony aside, I soon had Arne, Karabo, Tamal and myself fast at work at those burgers. Once offered, we feasted lavishly and sat around chatting on those big, white cushions that Mr Spisto so kindly donated to us. I was too tired to get into the intricacies of chanting with Karabo, so Arne did the talking (and the chanting) and Karabo left, some time later, with books and beads. Yup. The chanting is our mainline.

Karabo reminded me of our first encounter at the Grahamstown Festival in the winter of 2004. She told me how she had been somewhat dismissive when I showed her Prabhupada’s books that year. The next year, however, she was vegetarian and took two books. She has a formidable memory. I used to take breaks (from book distribution) at her stall. I used to give her and her friends pieces of laddhoo from our Govinda’s food stall. She googled my name, found my blog and we got back in touch again. Karabo asked me why I hadn’t updated my blog. Well, Karabo, here is your answer.

I also met Father Urbani, an esoteric Christian with extraordinary faith in Nrsimhadeva, during my periodical peregrinations in Sandton City Mall. He also asked me about my blog. Father, here is your answer. Mukunda is back online! (Be warned: one of these days I am going to figure out how to upload photographs!).

You will be pleased to know, dear readers, that we now have four Pure Vegetarian Food Stalls at different Fine Foods Markets in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. The Venues are: Killarney Organic Market, Thurs 9am-2pm; 44 Stanley (Stanley Road, Millpark), Fri 5-8pm; Jozi Fine Foods Market, that is occasional so see http://www.vediccity.org.za (Cnr 7th Ave and 3rd Ave Parktown North), Sat 8:30-2pm; and Blu Bird Wholefood Market (Atholl Oaklands), Sun 9-2pm. The stalls have been well-received. Krishna conscious literatures and natural incense are also available at the stalls. Please avail yourself of the opportunity to taste the immaculately divine cooking of the multi-talented Gaura Sakti Das. Yeah!

And the Preaching Centre?

We are currently hosting programmes on Sundays at 102 Hy Len Court, 140 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood. We are on the block where Bolton Avenue intersects Jan Smuts Avenue. Quite close to the Exel Garage. The programmes run from 3:30-6pm. There is (relatively) secure parking by the Woolworths Food Stop at the top-end of the block. RSVP to my contacts which are given on http://www.vediccity.org.za. Thank you. The programmes are standard ISKCON format – chanting accompanied by traditional Indian instruments, a short class and prashadam.

We also read from Sanatana Goswami’s Brihad Bhagavtamrta on Wednesday evenings from 7-9pm. The readings are followed by hot milk.

We have a gift shop with a variety of Murtis, incense, incense holders, innovative Vaishnava t-shirts and a variety of transcendental literatures. Vedic Emporium also caters to functions, large and small.

That is the news, folks.
Your humble servant,
Mukunda Charan Das (ISKCON Jhb North, SA)