“Our Bus Driver”
Diary of a Traveling Monk
Volume 15, Chapter 20
August 28, 2022
Our summer tour was coming to an end, and I noticed a mixture of joy and sorrow pervading our tour base. We had spent the best part of summer sharing our good fortune with others, so there was a great deal of joy. But it was late August and autumn was in the air; the summer was almost over and some sadness began settling in. It had been a tough summer with a lot of hard work for the devotees, but the reward was seeing the smiling faces of people as we handed them invitations to our festivals on harinam — and then to see their delight in experiencing the festival itself.
For me, the greatest pleasure of all was seeing interest develop in unexpected quarters.
Our bus driver, Mr. Artur, is a good example. Every year we have a bus driver who stays with us throughout the whole summer. Most of our bus drivers over the years have done their job reluctantly and have showed little or no interest in who we are and what we do.
Mr. Artur seemed to fit this model at first. But one morning on the way to harinam, something happened that revealed him to be far from typical. Every day devotees would begin the bus ride with loud kirtan calling upon Lord Nrsimha for protection on the road. On that particular morning, though, we didn’t have the usual kirtan. Mr. Artur’s eyes were glaring at us through the rearview mirror as he pulled out onto the motorway.
“Am I deaf or something?” he shouted. “Why aren’t you singing? Remember this for tomorrow: if you don’t sing, I don’t drive!”
“Wow,” I thought, smiling to myself, “the chanting of the holy name has brought about a change in his heart!”
From that day on, Mr. Artur showed more and more changes. Instead of sitting in his bus during the festivals, he started attending the events. I could see him from the stage when I was giving my lecture, sitting off to the side of the crowd and listening intently to my 40-minute talk.
About halfway through the tour, Jahnavi dasi told me he had confided in her.
“He told me that he had been very sick, and the doctors said it could be cancer,” she said. “While he was waiting for the test results, he was so terrified he might die that he bought a place in the cemetery for his grave. But the results were negative. Mr. Artur said he felt tremendous relief, but the experience made him realize that he had to find answers. He was left wondering about the purpose of life and what happened after death. He feels like he’s found the answers now. There were tears in his eyes when he told me, ‘You all have given me hope.’”
As the summer went on, Mr. Artur came to feel like one of us. He became friends with the devotees, chanted and danced in the kirtans, and had ice cream waiting for us at the bus when we came back from a long, hot harinam. He became addicted to prasadam, consuming a large plate every evening at the festival. He seemed determined to try everything the restaurant had to offer.
One evening, he came up to me. “Mr. Guru, can I speak to you?” he asked. I saw he was holding a Bhagavad-gita.
“Of course, Mr. Artur. What’s up?”
“I don’t have much money,” he said, “but I have saved enough money to buy this book, the book you speak from every night. I’m really enjoying it! I want to learn more about your way of life. I can see the world has forgotten the values that you keep and maintain. I’m a simple man but I understand that without faith and without people like you, the future of this world is quite dark.”
I felt he wasn’t a simple man at all. He had lived a hard life that had afforded him realization, and his association with devotees had brought that out.
“I read somewhere that a holy man was once asked what surprised him most about humanity,” Mr. Artur said. “The holy man answered: ‘I am most surprised that people sacrifice their health to make money. Then they sacrifice money to recuperate their health. Then they are so anxious about the future that they don’t live in the present. They live as if they will never die, and then they die having never really lived.’
“I never understood what any of that meant until I came into contact with all of you. I was a sinner. Your lecture on the Bhagavad-gita each evening has made everything clear to me. I’m really going to miss all of you when this is all over.”
“We’re going to miss you too, Mr. Artur,” I said, and hugged him.
“Mr. Guru, can you write a dedication in my book?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Mr. Guru,” he said as I wrote, “if the bus company doesn’t give me this job next year would it be OK if I came with my car and drove you around? What I mean is that I’d like to be your driver and continue on this path.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll be waiting for you!”
That evening at our festival, I saw him carrying his Bhagavad-gita around the festival site. He was chatting to other festival-goers, and I could see that he was talking about the book. Watching him, I was reminded of Srila Prabhupada’s words I had read the previous night:
“When one searches for a devotee and fortunately gets a devotee’s association one actually begins to study and understand Bhagavad-gita. By advancement in the association of the devotee one is placed in devotional service, and this service dispels all one’s misgivings about Krsna, or God, and Krsna’s activities, form, pastimes, name and other features. After these misgivings have been perfectly cleared away, one becomes fixed in one’s study. Then one relishes the study of Bhagavad-gita and attains the state of feeling always Krsna conscious. In the advanced stage, one falls completely in love with Krsna. This highest perfectional stage of life enables the devotee to be transferred to Krsna’s abode in the spiritual sky, Goloka Vrndavana, where the devotee becomes eternally happy.”
(Bhagavad-gita 8.28 [purport])
I pray that by the mercy of Lord Caitanya, Mr. Artur comes to the stage of falling completely in love with Krsna and is transferred to Krsna’s abode in the spiritual sky, where he will become eternally happy. After all, isn’t that why we spent the entire summer holding festivals along the shores of the Baltic Sea with the people of Poland?
kalinā sadṛśaḥ ko ’pi yugo nāsti varānane
tasmiṁs tvāṁ khyāpayiṣyāmi gehe gehe jane jane
anya-dharmāṁs tiras kṛtya puras kṛtya mahotsavān
yadi pravartaye na tvāṁ tadā dāso harer nahi
tvad-anvitāś ca ye jīvā bhaviṣyanti kalāv iha
pāpino ‘pi gamiṣyanti nirbhayā hari-mandiram
[Seeing the pitiable condition of Bhakti Devi at the beginning of the age of Kali, Narada said to her], “O beautiful faced lady! There is no age equal to Kali. In this age, I will personally preach your glories in each and every home and establish you within the hearts of every individual. Hear my vow! Giving priority to devotional festivals over all other forms of religiosity, if I do not spread you everywhere on earth, then I shall no longer be known as a servant of Hari. The living entities born in this age of Kali who become devotees will attain the abode of Lord Hari without hinderances, even if they are sinners.”
[ Translated by Hari Parshad Das from Padma-purāṇam, Uttara-khaṇḍa 194.14 – 16, Vol 6 and 7, pp. 625. Gurumandal Series No. XVIII. Calcutta (Kolkata) 1946 ]