WRITTEN BY IKSVAKU DAS
On the evening of May 2, 2010, Acharyadeva arrived in Havana, Cuba for his first time, having never visited the island previously. He flew in from the Bahamas after presenting a week-long Mahabharata Katha at the Sivananda Yoga Retreat Center.
Accompanied by other devotees including, Karanamrta devi dasi, a famous devotional music singer who had also participated in the Sivananda retreat, Acharyadeva was the last to leave immigration. As is customary for U.S. citizens, he stated that the immigration agent asked him many questions regarding the purpose of his visit to Cuba.
From the airport we went to the house of two local devotees, Janardana das and his mother. As the only two initiated devotees living in Cuba, they are making a great effort to preach Krishna Consciousness.
There were some sympathizers in Janardana’s simple, but devotional apartment. After talking with them and answering their questions, we set out to the National Hotel, where Acharaydeva would stay during his visit to Cuba.
On the way to the hotel, Acharyadeva noticed that the city was literally invaded by hundreds of signs alluding to the Cuban Revolution in efforts to justify the great misery of the Cuban people. I told him that it was very pleasant not to see any Coca-Cola signs or similar nonsense that we see in the capitalist countries, to which he replied that it was preferable to living in Cuba in the name of a so-called “revolution.” He commented that because the government controls a great part of their lives, including their portion of food, Cuban’s population is like imprisoned children. Even for priveledged tourists, it is difficult to obtain food and other necessary products in Cuba.
At one point I expressed to Acharyadeva my great appreciation for Ernesto Che Guevara in my youth, who is considered there, and in many places, a nobel emblem of the revolution. Acaryadeva commented that, unfortunately, his ideals were based on following a model of great genocidal leaders like Stalin, who in the name of well-being, assassinated thousands and thousands of people. This penetrating comment of Acharyadeva radically changed my perception.
On Monday, May 3, Acharyadeva hosted some visitors in his hotel who had come from Matanzas and showed great appreciation for him, even though they did not personally know him. Dr. Jorge Alberto Pèrez, a Mexican doctor and scientist who has been visiting Cuba for many years, shared with them on many previous occassions about the personality and unique character of Srila Acharyadeva. They were very pleased with Acharyadeva`s company and invited him the next day to a program in Matanzas.
Acharyadeva laughed with his transcendental sense of humor when someone referred to a chotamini car (that someone likened to a Cuban Hummer) as the “Cuban Bullet Train” despite the fact that it was very old and traveled some 20 miles per hour.
On Tuesday, May 4, Acaryadeva had two interesting programs, one at the ISA (Superior Institute of Art) in Havana, where he spoke with several academics before the conference. During his lecture, he spoke about art and music, focusing on transcendental vision and emphasizing the importance that should be given to the investigation of spirituality. The audience was very interested and asked many questions, especially the young people.
Immediately after finishing the lecture at ISA, we left for the next program in Matanzas, driving for approximately two hours from Havana. At the program in Matanzas, Acharyadeva led a beautiful kirtan and then directly spoke about the principles of Krishna Conciousness. After the program, we went to a simple, antique house where the local people had prepared, with great effort, refreshments for Acharyadeva and the gathered visitors.
Acharyadeva was talking with dozens of people, who asked more and more questions about spiritual life. At the end, they expressed their sincere gratefulness for such a special visit, asking when would he come back. When Acharyadeva could finally “escape,” we went back to the hotel in Havana at midnight.
On Thursday, Acharyadeva gave an academic lecture at the Episcopal Cathedral of Havana, where he talked about the history of the development of philosophical thinking in India. Very early the next day, he left for the airport to his next dharma ksetra (Cancun, Mexico) after giving genuine illumination and hope to dozens of pious souls in Cuba.