Cold, Dark and Happy

Srila Prabhupada’s alcove at Bhaktivedanta Manor. A close-up of the swan-carriers wings (below) reveals that each feather carries an account of how a particular Vaishnava first heard about Krishna through reading one of the founder-acarya’s books. (Display by Madhurya-Gaurangi dasi)

This morning I scraped a layer of ice off my car windows. It took some effort, and my hands froze. The temperature here is now -1 or -2 in the mornings. We’ve been having icy blasts coming down from the Arctic circle over the past week. Winter has arrived.

A few weeks ago, in southern India, the temperature was 32 Celsius or 89 Fahrenheit one hour after breakfast. I feel as if I’ve been plunged into a walk-in fridge ever since I’ve come back.

But never mind, the cold helps one’s spiritual life. There’s nothing like a prolonged cold water splash in the morning to wake you up and focus the mind on higher matters. Meditation is easier after a cold shower. I speak from years of shivering experience.

My readers in India may be surprised to learn just what the expression ‘cold tap water’ means to us here in wintry England. Whereas in your country the cold water that comes out of the tap is what we would call ‘lukewarm,’ meaning tepid, or not hot, in England and in most Northern climates, the cold water in the home is actually very cold, as if it had just been taken out of a fridge. When my guru, Srila Prabhupada, once asked a disciple to bring him a glass of water during his visit to London, he took one sip and returned it saying: “This is too cold.” On another occasion he wrote a letter to his disciples in England expressing his gratitude that during the cold winter months they were still travelling around the country to sell his books.

During the cold season here it is also dark. The sun does not rise until 7.15 am and then, after passing quite low through the sky, sinks down in the west around 4.20pm. So the days are not long. But we here in England spare a thought for our neighbours to the north in Sweden, where the sun rises at 8.00am and sets at 3.00pm!

The darkness steadily increases until December 22 and then on the 25th there is a celebration of the sun returning, and longer days beginning, which is now marked by Christmas. Although the birth of Jesus Christ was most probably in October, the midwinter festival that fell on the 25th each year was such a fixed feature on the early British calendar that even the might of the Roman empire was not enough to move it. So it has stayed through the centuries.

Of course, for the people of these cold, dark lands, the mid-winter period is a time when their thoughts turn to giving happiness to others and reciprocating for kindness shown to them during the year. The devotees of Krishna hold an annual month-long festival of sacred book distribution during December, and it is amazing just how many books are sold – many being given as Christmas presents! Many people have told us they celebrated their Christmas by reading about Lord Krishna for the first time!

So even in the freezing temperatures and the times when the sun does not like to shine in the sky, we Vaishnavas in England can still be happy. It is during this cold season, of course, that Lord Sri Krishna chose to speak the immortal Bhagavad-gita. There must have been a good reason for the Lord to choose this month!

In the cold British weather, book distributor Chandramohini dasi interests another passer-by in Srila Prabhupada’s books.



Filed under Journal

4 responses to “Cold, Dark and Happy

  1. Sir, please don’t take this question to be offensive.
    I really am curious to know how successful book distribution is when you hand over books to people who snigger at the name of our religion? I have heard a few wonderful stories of book distribution, and it always makes me wonder how you can get a non-interested person interested?
    The case is totally different in a place like India, where the person might be a spiritually non-interested ‘Hindu’. It’s easier for him perhaps to understand Vaishnavism, and imbibe it.
    But, how do you convince people who have a high chance of laughing the whole thing off?

    • This is all due to the miracle performed by Srila Prabhupada: to take the great Vaishnava scriptures of India, translate them from the original Sanskrit into contemporary yet poetic English; explain them with elaborate and fully referenced commentaries; and make the message relevant and suitable to modern people of the world. The proof that he was successful in his desire to share this wisdom with the world is that people keep coming.

      Daily meditation on the holy names of God allows the devotees to spiritually understand Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries and to maintain full enthusiasm for sharing them with others.

      Yes, some people do laugh, and some don’t care at all for the literature, but for some, receiving and reading it is a life-changing experience, and that makes the effort entirely worth it for us.

  2. Dhanvantari Dasa

    This is the very special and unique feature of ISKCON devotees. They undergo severe austerities to please Krishna by distributing sacred books to anyone whether they are interested or not. They endure very long hours in the cold, they tolerate abusive insults and are often harrassed by local authorities and police but they still persist in distribiting Krishna’s books.
    They travel from one godless city to another often sleeping in the back of their vans and regularly bathe in icy cold rivers. ISKCON devotees are like no others, they are full of compassion and receive a billion blessings from Krishna. What would the great sages of yore make of such glorious devotees?
    How it hurts me when I sometimes read criticism from others about these wonderful devotees.
    Kind Regards,
    Dhanvantari Dasa

  3. Thanks for the replies.
    Yes, i particularly love the books by Srila Prabhupada. i have a little collection of his books at home.
    i remember once, when i was peering into the stall of a few ISKCON devotees.
    i was just trying to find a book i didn’t already have, and as, the really patient devotee kept showing me the books, i kept saying i had them. And, then, he asked me whether i was a devotee myself. And, i told him, yes, a devotee, but not formally ISKCON.
    //Yes, some people do laugh, and some don’t care at all for the literature, but for some, receiving and reading it is a life-changing experience, and that makes the effort entirely worth it for us.//
    It is the laughing kind that pain me, though.
    i have rued at how indifferent some people can be to our belief.

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