The Russian government has proposed a law restricting the activities of new religious movements, which according to definition is anything that is not Russian Orthodox or Muslim. The devotees arranged for me to meet Professor Alexander Vasilyevich Medvedev of the State University of the Urals, who is also the Chairman of the Religious Affairs Committee of the Ural Region, which investigates new religious movements. The devotees hoped that by meeting Professor Medvedev, we might persuade the government that the law would not be in accordance with basic rights of liberty or freedom of choice of religion. I agreed to meet the professor, not so much because I thought we could make much progress with the government, but to please the devotees. I have seen that Russian bureaucracy is like a thick wall. If those in higher positions don’t like what you’re doing, that’s it. Besides, how much would a professor in the Urals know about ancient Vedic culture?
The devotees accompanying me wanted to wear non-devotional dress to the 12:00 p.m. meeting, but once again I insisted that we let our tradition speak for itself and dress as proper Vaisnavas. We arrived early, which is always my policy with meetings of any kind, especially with public officials. We were shown to the professor’s office. Within a few minutes Professor Medvedev arrived, looking exactly as I imagined a Russian professor might: bespectacled, with a white goatee, and dressed in a wrinkled suit. He looked at us curiously as he took his seat. I began by expressing our concern about the proposed law, I emphasized that freedom of religion is part of the new Russian constitution, and that the Krsna consciousness movement is following a religious tradition which is more than 5,000 years old.
As i was speaking, I thought about the situation. “I never imagined the day would come,” I said to myself, “when I would be deep in the heart of Russia defending religious freedom.” When I finished, Professor Medvedev agreed that all bona fide religions should, in theory, be excluded from the proposed law. “Professor,” I asked, “do you have enough knowledge of our tradition to understand that we are, in fact, bona fide?” His answer took me by surprise. “By definition a Vaisnava is one who worships Lord Vishnu,” he said. “There are a number of Vaisnava movements in India, and all of them originate in the Supreme Lord. You adhere to a sampradaya that accepts Krsna as supreme, but of course, you know that many scholars say that Krsna is the eighth incarnation of Visnu. Be that as it may, the cult of Krsna is indeed very old and followed by the greater number of people in India.
“So I know something of the worship of Krsna, but bear in mind that my expertise is the study of the Vedas, which for the most part glorify Indra, the king of heaven. The name of Indra is mentioned more times in the Rig Veda than any other deity.” I was surprised. “We’ve got a chance here,” I thought. He continued. “The problem among our leaders,” he said, “may not so much be in having to accept your movement but to accept the fact that the Vedic culture could have very well been the original culture here in Russia. You know, in Russia practically all scientists accept that the Vedic culture once flourished here, the center being in the Volga River region. The debate among our scientists is only if the Aryans came from India or if they originated here. There is much evidence to the fact that the Vedic culture existed here, most notably the Russian Veda.”
“The Russian Veda?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “It is famous among our people. It is as old as Russia, and the stories are exactly like those found in the Vedic scriptures. The central figure of the Russian Veda is a personality called Krishen. He is the upholder of spiritual truth and the killer of many demons. His killing of a witch and a snake are exactly like the history of child Krsna killing the Putanu and Agasura demons in the Bhagavata Purana. But the Russian Veda is not intended for children, it is full of spiritual truths.”
Professor Medvedev gave me a moment to catch my breath, then continued. “The Vedic culture was once all over the world,” he said. “Did you know that in the former Yugoslavia there is a very ancient cave drawing with Lord Jesus Christ in the robes of a brahmacari. My theory is that he went to India, and among other things, learned mystic powers from the yogis there. This would explain why he didn’t die on the cross and was able to leave his tomb. India has always been the motherland of religions.”
Now I really felt we had a chance. I liked the professor and felt he could help, but our one-hour meeting was almost over. I gathered courage and asked him if there was any way he felt we could get the public behind us, because it was the public who would vote on the law. He suggested we hold a media conference after the New Year, and with that he announced he had to go. I paused, “Professor,” I said, “can we continue our relationship on a more personal level? I find you to be a very interesting person, unique among all the people I’ve met in your country.” He smiled, “Of course,” he said. “It would be my pleasure.” “Would you be my guest at our temple, to visit our gurukula and have lunch with me?” I said. “On one condition,” he said. “If you teach my course, Great Religions of the World, for one week at the university.” I was touched by the offer. “It’s a deal,” I said. “When would you like me to come?” “In the first week of February,” he said.
I took some time to think “But I’m supposed to be in Australia then,” I said to myself.
Nevertheless I agreed, not wanting to pass up such a unique opportunity. I could postpone my trip to Australia for seven days. He saw me hesitate, “Is there a problem?” he said. “Oh no, Professor,” I said, “Everything’s fine. I was just remembering that someone told me it gets to forty degrees below zero in Ekaterinburg in the winter.” He laughed, “A great Russian author said no one has seen Russia until they’ve seen her in the winter,” he said.
I departed, marveling once again at the ways of the Lord. As we walked out of the building, a devotee turned to me, “But we didn’t get him to agree to address the government over the constitutionality of the law,” he said. “A hundred-mile journey begins with the first step,” I said, quoting a Chinese proverb. The older temple children were eager to show me their Ramayana play. I was tired when I returned from my meeting with the professor, so I hesitated. In the end, I thanked Krsna that the children convinced me to go, as it was one of the best plays I had ever seen. How could children put on one of the best plays I had ever seen? First, my disciple Subudhi Räya dasa, who is an excellent dramatic performer, trained them. Second, (or could it be first?), was their desire to please me. Third, was obviously their dormant devotion to the Lord. When young Nastya dasi, who was playing the part of King Daçaratha, saw “his son,” Lord Räma, leaving for the forest for fourteen years, she appeared truly devastated. As she bade him farewell, tears streamed down her cheeks, and she fell on the ground sobbing. I turned to a gurukula teacher. “Are those real tears?” I asked, “Is she really crying?” “Yes,” he said, “she’s really crying, those are real tears.”
It was truly moving. The whole play was full of real-life action and emotion: the intrigue of the evil Kaikayé, the kidnapping of Sita, the death of Jatäyu, the fight for Lankä, and the reunion of Sita and Räma. I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time. The play could not have been done better by professionals. In fact they couldn’t even come close, as they would never have the most important ingredient: devotion for the Lord. After the play, the children came to see me, still in their costumes. When I told them how much I liked their play, they beamed with happiness. I then awarded them the greatest treasure they could imagine. I invited all of them to Poland for our 1997 summer festival tour. With that invitation came tears of joy from all. How wonderful this Krsna conscious movement is, where we can feel true transcendental emotions in service to the Lord!