1. Odessa (1 - 3 Sept)
I arrived in Odessa on the 1st September a few days before the Bhakti Sangam Festival. That weekend Odessa city was celebrating an appearance event of the town, and thousands of people came to the city centre to mark the occasion. On such circumstances, it would appear the traditional thing to do is to visit places of interest and specifically national monuments. Apart from that, there didn't seem to be much more on offer, and most people looked quite bored. Luckily, the devotees came and saved the weekend by organizing a dominant harinam party, parading the streets giving it life, colour, and the holy names.
On the first day I went and participated myself, and it was clear the devotees had everything well organized. From arranging devotees from all over Ukraine to the dancing and singing itself, it surprised everyone. There must have been at least 200 devotees. Although I was asked to lead the kirtan several times, I felt the leading singers were already making a prominent impact, so I encouraged them to continue. Many persons followed us, dancing and even chanting.
2. Bhakti Sangam Festival (4 - 9 Sept)
two children's workshops
Although the title of my seminar "Japa Workshop" is usually the same every year I try to make the presentation different. My wish is that devotees always have the balance of a theoretical understanding why we chant, and a practical experience of reciting japa together.
One of the topics we discussed was "Begin by Believing" ...Belief is one of the most powerful of all problem fixers. When you believe that a difficulty can be overcome, you are more than halfway to becoming victorious over it already. By chanting our daily quota of rounds, we will transcend the modes of nature.
3. Kherson(10 Sept)
The last time I came here was three years ago, and since that time Asita Prabhu and his wife have been very successful selling alternative health product. I stayed overnight at his newly built nama-hatta round building he uses as a meeting place. He very kindly gave me medicine to boost my calcium level. A car arrived at 8.00 to drive me to Melitopol, a 4-hour drive. However, the car was not very suitable for the roads and 2/3 on the way another vehicle from Melitopal came and drove us the rest of the way.
4. Melitopol (11 - 12 Sept)
two evening programs
one SB class
Arriving around 12.00 at Omkara Hari Prabhu's house. He apologized for not providing an adequate car and promised to make sure a good car would be available for the rest of my tour.
That evening approx 50 persons attended the Sunday program. I noticed there were a lot of children present, but I had come prepared. I got out my folder full of different pictures to colour in and asked the children to take a picture of their choice and colour it while the class was going on. In my class, I spoke of how I met Srila Prabhupada and the devotees in 1971. After the class, I asked the children to bring their drawings so I could show everyone. They appreciated the attention they received from the devotee's responses on the efforts they all made. I also gave the boys a Jagannath stickers and the girls a pack of bindis.
I was then inundated with parents asking for names for their children and others wanting a book signed. During the two days I was there, around 50 of Srila Prabhupada's books became eagerly purchased for me to autograph, and the majority of children within the community received a child name. It was as if I was the first ever preacher in the town. I asked if it was true and the reply was "you are the first sannyasi and Prabhupada disciple.”
As I was leaving the devotees asked when I would return. I said it depends if I find a big enough field of grass. Meaning they had milked me dry.
5. Farm (13 Sept)
one class on sustainable living
Devotees from Zaporozhye came with a suitable vehicle, and we left after an early breakfast. About one hour's drive from Melitopol we stopped at a devotee farm where eight devotees are living. They have 2 hectares of land, ten milking cows, ten bulls, ten calves and two horses. During the summer they also grow an abundance of food.
On this property, there are remnants of a 200-year Christian church. Parents are invited to the farm to learn the art of natural living, taught how to grow crops, take the cows grazing, and how to cook food. They also supply milk products to devotees who are in the nearby towns and cities.
I offered one suggestion which they may like to consider. I noticed the cows were not being washed and suggested to give them a good brush and clean once a week. I had not long ago spent ten days with my son in Villa Vrindavan. He showed me how to look after the cows and bulls. He said they love having a wash and scrub. Krishna and Balarama would also take the herd to the Yamuna regularly.
6. Zaporozhye (13 - 14 Sept)
two evening classes
one SB class
We arrived in Zaporozhye around 14.00. I was surprised to see the place I would stay for the next couple of days. Six years ago a devotee named Alexander asked the temple leader, "what kind of service can I do"? He was told to build a house on the island so that when leaders and preachers are visiting, there would be a place for them to stay. It is now in its final stages of completion. But I would not say it is a place but more like a palace.
The temple in the city was also magnificent. It reminded me of New Vraja Dham in Hungary. One is immediately impressed by the artwork outside as you approach the temple. The temple itself is very spacious and beautiful, where tall Gaura Nitai deities reside. Plus, the walls have more illustrative devotional artwork appearing like windows to the spiritual world.
The evening program was electric with approx 70 devotees. After my class and a slide show, There were many questions. The next morning at the palace 25 devotees attended the Srimad Bhagavatam class. I read an appropriate verse and gave a japa workshop. For the evening class/workshop I was asked to speak on the topic "The importance of proper Relationship and Communication". Apparently, devotees are confused because some devotee preachers are saying that the development of human qualities is more critical than bhakti. I explained that all good character would develop through bhakti.
To sum up my visit, here is a letter from one of my followers:
Thank you very much for coming to Zaporozhye! I saw how real miracles happened!
I saw how my friend's mother came to the temple for the first time. On this same day, you showed your movie, and she has now quit smoking!
One Mataji called me and said that thanks to your advice she and her husband are now having a good relationship and no longer quarrelling.
Another Mataji after darshan with you told me that you are the first Guru she spoke to, and she is happy that it was you who became the first Guru she met, you answer her question so directly and with great love! She was delighted!
I saw how much the arrival of the Maharaja united the yatra! In the process of service, many devotees learned how each other's name is called.
I saw, after your blessings, one Mataji began to repeat the Mahamantra.
Thank you for preaching every day, I'm amazed at your strength! The devotees were happy that you came!
Your visit was an excellent lesson for all of us, for memory we made this video for you!
Your servant, Bhaktin Aliona.
7. Dneprodzerjynsk (15 - 16 Sept)
two evening programs,
one morning japa walk
one children's workshop
The devotees have recently enquired some facilities for their meetings in the centre of the town. On the first evening, I was asked to speak on the importance of "gratefulness in devotional service." A well-chosen subject since I soon understood how sleepy and unenthusiastic the devotees seemed. It also became clear many had mental problems too. I wonder if this has anything to do with the steel factory gushing out smoke from 3 chimneys every day. There is an awareness throughout the country that this town is the most polluted place in Ukraine.
The following evening I spoke about "Happiness in Krishna Consciousness" and "The importance of Preaching."
The next morning 15 devotees came with me on a japa walk in the forest. We then sat down chanted one more round together, and I spoke of the importance of completing 16 rounds daily to rise above the three modes of nature. The devotees appreciated my visit and asked me to return.
7. Dnepropetrovsk (17 - 18 Sept)
Sunday feast classes
one evening class
one SB class
I arrived here and gave an evening class about: "How our mind disturbs our devotional service" The following day I gave a Sunday feast class on: "How Srila Prabhupada Preached."
After the Sunday feast, I went with the devotees on Harinam in the town centre. Again, I did not initiate any of the kirtans but instead spoke about the holy name in between the chanting.
The next morning in the Srimad Bhagavatam class I spoke about: "mental speculation". In the afternoon I went to Gopal cafe managed by Gaura Gadadhar prabhu and his wife. Their daughter Vishaka is a long-standing follower of mine. The atmosphere was delightful, and the word on the street is that it is a trendy cafe.
My followers then took me down the promenade along the Dnipro river. At 22.25 I took an overnight train to Kiev.
8. Kiev (19 - 22 Sept)
two SB classes
two nama-hatta programs
On my last visit to Kiev temple, I assisted Niranjana Swami with the installation of Radha Madhava, however, because I was scheduled to return to Lithuania, I did not see the first darshan. I knew this visit would be a unique opportunity to experience for the first time Radha Madhava in their full glory. And what a beautiful darshan it was. Radharani looks so enchanting beside Krishna who seemed very majestic.
I spoke with Achuta Priya prabhu regarding Krishna's hair and felt a more suitable hair design was needed and London was an excellent place to purchase. He was aware the one they have wasn't the best.
After a couple of days, I returned to Vilnius for a weekend "Mantra Party" event and then a scheduled visit to Latvia.