Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Critical Moment

In the valley community of Nova Gokula in Brazil, electricity had been out all evening. I had just put my journal aside for the night and was about to blow out my candle. I looked at the flimsy column of wax and felt a flutter of unease. How easy to knock this candle over, I thought. I carefully waved my hand to extinguish the little flame and the room fell dark.

My mind was drifting off to sleep when bloodcurdling screams shattered the night. Shrieks, one after another after another.

I jumped out of bed, flung open my door. Across the way in the other half of the guesthouse, a woman burst from her door, screaming. Powerful orange flames poured from the door and window.

The woman dashed away and up the hill towards the temple.

The candles, I thought.

Immediately, instinctively, I knew that this fire was all-consuming. I gaped in disbelief. Parama Karuna, the gurukuli who owned the guesthouse, had also emerged from his room in his pajamas. It took several moments for the sight to register. Then, “No, no, no!! Senor Supremo, no!” he cried out. He tried to retrieve a water hose, but it was puny. I sensed that even if we had had fire extinguishers, they would have been useless.

I dashed back into my room, heart pounding. I grabbed my purse, chanting beads, passport – go, go, go, stuff my things in my suitcase and drag it out to the lawn. The flames climbed higher and higher and began to devour neighboring rooms. Wooden rafters began to cave and the ceramic roof tiles collapsed in crashes. 

Parama and his wife Katyayani began to dump out mattresses from the rooms. I also grabbed mattresses and whatever else I could. “Oh, Senor Supremo!” Parama kept crying out. He had grown up for some time here in Nova Gokula, Brazil. Only one week before, he and his wife had worked so, so hard to renovate this place as a service to the community. For a week straight they had worked sometimes 15 hours a day, painting, cleaning, buying everything brand new and beautiful.

And now… ashes.

From up the hill at the temple, repeated cries of the conch shell rang out throughout the valley. Help, help. Soon enough, devotees in their pajamas came running, their faces a mixture of shock and determination to help.

I was immobile. I stood at a distance in awe and fear at the awesome sight of the all-devouring inferno. The smoke and flames reached high into the black sky. I was standing so far away but still I could feel the heat on my skin.

I had these moments in the escape and in observing this fire that this is my moment of death. The house is my body, the flames of death are approaching.

The fear goes to the core.

I had had time to save my things tonight, but with death I can save nothing. Nothing. Death is unstoppable, there is nothing and no one for me at that time.

Only Krishna.

Soon enough, I was shaken from my reverie and I dove into the salvage efforts. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had smoldered down to coals, leaving only a broken shell of what this place used to be.


NOTE: The fire had started from leaving a candle unattended. No one got hurt. 

Parama Karuna and his wife Katyayani are in the process of rebuilding the guesthouse. Their deep intention is to usher in fresh hope and energy to Nova Gokula in service of Srila Prabhupad. 

They will be rebuilding the guesthouse in a similar way as ISKCON's Life Membership program - people can invest in the guesthouse and stay for a portion of the year every year. If you are interested in this investment, please contact Vaikuntha Murti Prabhu at


Nila Hargreaves said...

Every day I shirk my japa thinking that I have "more important" things to do-cleaning the house, preparing meals, making this project or that project. But this reminds me that in an instant anything material I do can become-well-immaterial. And I will be left with only Krishna.

Anonymous said...

rakhe Krishna mare ke, mare Krishna rakhe ke - Raj

To write is to dare the soul. So write.