Visiting Audarya

Bhrigu - October 8, 2004 8:34 am

Haribol devotees,


my wife and I recently visited Audarya for a few days, and I want to share some of our experiences with all of you, particularly those who haven't yet been there.


I had heard a lot about Audarya, about how beautiful the place was, how well-thought out the buildings are, how cute the cows are, and so on, but when we finally arrived, it took my breath away. I could never have imagined it was so awesome! But I'm getting ahead of myself.


My wife Laura works as a psychiatric nurse, and since she doesn't have a permanent post, she had to work all summer. Since summer is so short here in Finland and the rest of the year dark, cold and dreary, that is much worse that it might sound. We decided to go somewhere for a proper vacation once her contract was finished. She wanted to go to LA, since she had been there once before over ten years ago and loved it. I wasn't initially that enthusiastic, but when I were able to strike a deal with her about also visiting Audarya, my feelings changed.


Anyway, we went to LA and stayed there, in a hostel right at the beach in Venice for ten days. We bathed in the ocean, saw all the sights (the shark at Universal Studios was great!) and just relaxed in general. It was fun, but I was all the time looking forward to Audarya. We had somewhat of a bad experience when visiting the ISKCON temple, so I kept thinking about what Audarya would be like.


We flew up to San Francisco on the 28th of September. Cittahari Prabhu had emailed us that someone would pick us up at the airport, and sure enough, a bearded young man carrying an Aesthetic Vedanta stood waiting for us near the exit. He turned out to be Kalpavriksa Prabhu, and he took us on a short tour of SF and then to Audarya.


I had read somewhere that the road to Audarya is "extremely windy", but I didn't realise that windy had nothing to do with the wind, but with the curves of the road. Up and up we went, but Kalpavriksa was an expert driver. All the turns of the road made me the trip a bit exhausting, but afterwards I thought that was appropriate: it should be something of an endeavour to reach a holy place; one should have to leave their normal level of life and rise higher.


When we finally arrived (just as India, America seems to have a different kind of time than Finland. Here "ten minutes" means 10 minutes, in the US it was usually about 30), Guru Maharaja greeted us on the porch. I think he might have been waiting for us; at any rate, it felt like coming home. And as I already wrote, the views were breath-taking. My first impression was the smell: not that of the cows, but of the redwood forest, an incredibly fresh and pure smell, one that made me think of Finnish forests. I immediately realised that I would love the place.


Kalpavriksa then took us to our yurt. As the perfect hostess, Vrindaranya had prepared two, but we decided to share one instead. I was pleasantly surprised by the yurt. It was not at all like the "half-tent" I had expected. It was rather like a small round hobbitish house, quite delightful. It was clean and full of light, and had a skylight in the middle of the ceiling. Where else can one look at the stars while lying in bed in the middle of the night?


Bhrigu - October 8, 2004 9:01 am

After leaving our things in the yurt, we returned up the hill to the temple, where we met Dayal Govinda, Vrindaranya and Citta Hari. I had never met Citta Hari before, so it was nice to finally meet him. We would meet every morning in the bath house before mangala-arati, and he told me so many interesting and nice stories about Guru Maharaja, Eugene and the first time at Audarya. Dayal Govinda and Vrindaranya I had met before in Finland.


After taking some prasadam, it was soon time for Sandhya Arati. I loved it, as well as I would all the other aratis. Mangala-arati was my favourite. Though the temple room is small, it is beautiful, zen-like, as is the altar. Guru Maharaja sang and played the gong, it was just like in Vrindavan. Since he is now writing intensively on the Sikshastaka, he did not give classes, but he read every morning and evening from the Gopala Champu. The book was hitherto unknown to me, so it was particularly interesting to hear. During our three days we heard about the grand celebration of Krishna's birth asterism, Madhumangala's jokes and pranks, herding the cows, and about the arrival of the two young bards Madhukanta and Snigdhakanta. It was interesting to hear how clearly Jiva Goswami speaks svakiya-vada in the text. Jagat's translation was superb, it really catched the poetic, extremely embellished and polished Champu style of the text. Hearing it all from Guru Maharaja of course made it all that much more sweet.


It was dark after the arati, so we had to use a flashlight to find our way back to the yurt after the arati. It was also a bit cold, but Kalpavriksa had given us sleeping bags and several blankets. After LA, the first night still felt cold, and especially so the first morning. It was misty until noon, but then it cleared up. Otherwise, the weather was good during our stay.


I spoke with Guru Maharaja after breakfast and gave him a gift that Kamalaksa and Krisangi had sent him. It consisted of photos from his recent visit to Finland, and he liked them a lot. He looked at them carefully, commenting about the nice qualities of the different devotees, and mentioning how the pictures made him return to Finland immediately.


I talked with Guru Maharaja two more times during our stay, and he was kind enough to speak more about his visions of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the 21st century. I was charmed and convinced: even though our group may never become very large, it is extremely important. Nobody has the same kind of vision that Guru Maharaja has! We are so fortunate to have found our way here.


Apart from the nice human devotees at Audarya, we loved the animals. My wife is an animal freak, and she just couldn't tear herself away from the cats and cows. They were just so adorable! Guru Maharaja mentioned one of the reasons for having cows: brahmacaris tend to become hard-hearted, but tending and petting the cows counteracts that. Also, Jiva Goswami says that caring for cows, scratching their necks etc is one of the 64 limbs of bhakti.


More later. And oh -- happy birthday, Vrindaranya!


Shyam Gopal Das - October 8, 2004 9:16 am

Ah Brighu, you made it to Audarya!! Thanks for sharing your experiences, great reading. It makes me want to come to Audarya even more. I'd loved to read and see more of your visit!

Ragatmika - October 8, 2004 9:50 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences visiting Audarya. Reading your post helps me feel more determined to focus my daily activities to result in moving closer to Audarya and Guru Maharaj's community. I really appreciate when you wrote:

" even though our group may never become very large, it is extremely important. Nobody has the same kind of vision that Guru Maharaja has! We are so fortunate to have found our way here."




Ragatmika dasi

Bhrigu - October 10, 2004 4:02 pm

Thanks for the feedback, Shyam Gopal and Ragatmika!


During one of our days at Audarya, Kalpavriksa and his wife Saragrahi took us to Hendy Woods national park to see the big Redwoods. It was a nice trip; Kalpavriksa and Saragrahi were delightful guides, explaining all about the flora and fauna of Northern California. The trees themselves were magnificent! They really have to be experienced, no photo can capture their grandeur. Just to think that some of them were a thousand years old! Kalpavriksa explained how they teach us many important things. For example, in order not to be uprooted by storms, many trees will intertwine their roots, thus supporting each other. In the same way, he explained, we devotees must lend our support to each other through sadhu-sanga, thus becoming invincible to Maya's storms.


I had wanted to see the Redwoods since my childhood. My great-grandfather had worked as a logger in Northern California for a few years in the beginning of the last century, earning the money with which he bought the farm on which my grandfather and father eventually grew up. Cutting down the old Redwoods was considered a great feat in those days. I remember my grandfather and uncle boasting about how "Only we Finns could do it!" Today, with very little left of old-growth Redwoods, it is not something widely bragged about. I brought back two tiny Redwood seedlings to Finland, one which I kept myself, and one which I gave to my father as a birthday present. As I had guessed, he was delighted by the gift.


I have heard Swami on the CDs many times speak about how the trees spoke to Sri Caitanya, and how that resulted in the third verse of the Siksastaka. I knew that he sometimes sends people into the Redwood forests to later ask them whether they thought of that verse. It is an indication of my level of Krishna consciousness that I nevertheless not even once thought of the verse before returning to Audarya.


Kalpavriksa picking bay leaves, standing on an upturned Redwood tree:


Bhrigu - October 10, 2004 4:21 pm

One day, Vrindaranya gave us some service to do in the Audarya gardens. We picked some gooseberries and lemon basil, nothing special or dramatic in any way, but I liked to do some practical service. I do hope that I will be able to return one day for more service to the land of Audarya.


I have seen many Gaudiya Vaishnava communities, but none even remotely like Audarya. It is an ideal setting for contemplative life. The brahmacaris all have their own yurts (which is pretty luxurious compared with many ashramas), and they don't even have to go out pushing books on the streets! The surroudings are peaceful and breath-takingly beautiful, the cows are there... The ashramites are fully engaged in Krishna-bhakti. I really like the Audarya system of three aratis a day, two scriptural readings, etc. In between, everyone had their service, with little idle time. If you have an inclination for monastic life, do try out Audarya! As Guru Maharaja often points out, that type of life is not for everyone, but what could you possibly lose by trying? Gurunistha from Finland is going to Audarya soon, and after experiencing a bit of life at the dhama, I am a 108 percent behind him.


Still, life at Audarya is austere. It was cold in the mornings, and it must be even more so in winter. Climbing up and down the hill made me huff and puff. I hoped that it was because of thin air, Audarya being located so high up in the mountains. Cittahari brought me down to reality by telling me that the altitude is perhaps 1500 feet...


Prasadam consisted mostly of Audarya's own produce. The cooks had tables they had to follow to make sure that Guru Maharaja and the ashramites don't get too much saturated fats. I think that Doyal Govinda cooked all the meals we had during our days there. They were all simple but very tasty. I probably ate more than everyone else together, which was a bit embarrassing.


Morning mist between the mountain ridges. Guru Maharaja calls this the Manasi Ganga.


Bhrigu - October 10, 2004 4:47 pm

All good things must end, however, and after just a few days it was time to leave. We drove down to Santa Rosa together with Vrindaranya and Guru Maharaja. During the "windy" trip down we spoke about many things. Guru Maharaja really is a versatile and deep Gaudiya Vaishnava thinker, able to see things from many different angles. That is extremely refreshing for me, with my academic conditioning. Still, he never loses sight of the point of it all: Krishna consciousness. I tend to make Gaudiya Vaishnavism an academic interest, for him it is his life and soul.


In Santa Rosa, we had an early lunch in Agnideva's restaurant. Shy Finns as we are, we dared not eat as much as we would have liked since Agni refused to let us pay. The prasadam was excellent! Especially the banana-coconut-muscotseed halava comes to mind (perhaps also since it is Ekadasi today...). He really is an expert cook. He was busy with cooking and taking care of customers, but we did get a chance to speak a bit with him, and he mentioned that he would like to travel with Guru Maharaja one day. We hope he will, and that he'll come to Finland!


At the restaurant, we also met Gopakumar and Gaura Krishna Prabhus. Gopakumar told us how to get to SF the easiest and cheapest way. He also found out for us how we would get to our hotel (our flight was early the next morning) and told us about different sights and how to get to them. What an inspiring service attitude! I hope that I'll be able to serve you in the same way here in Finland someday, Prabhu! We spoke about our ways to Gaudiya Vaishnavism over prasadam. Before too soon, we had to continue on. Gaura Krishna drove us to the bus, telling us about some of his experiences with a tantric guru on the way.


That's about it, dear devotees, but we hope to return soon. Guru Maharaja spoke about perhaps installing the samadhis of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhar Maharaja next summer, and he wanted me to come for that occasion. I can't wait!


Thank you once again to all the devotees who made our stay so memorable: Vrindaranya, Cittahari, Dayal Govinda, Kalpavriksa, Saragrahi, Agnideva, Gopakumara and Gaura Krishna. And above all, thank you Guru Maharaja for having us!


Your grateful servants,


Bhrigu & Laura


And on more view from Audarya:


Guru-nistha Das - October 11, 2004 10:14 am

How beautiful pictures and stories!! Thank you for the posts, Brighu!

I can´t wait to get there.