Manorama Das, ISKCON Youth Minister has been developing the Youth Ministry with his wife Jaya Sri Radhe Devi Dasi. One of the most unique services rendered by this Ministry is the Youth bus tours since 1995.
Road-tripping across the globe is an exciting way to engage the ISKCON youth in bhakti yoga, combining the youth’s craving for adventure with practices of devotion. The travelers not only deepen their own bhakti, but also share it with others through kirtan and cultural presentations. Such road trips encourage young people to step out of their comfort zones, giving them an opportunity to do things they would never have thought possible, while simultaneously building strong bonds of friendship and accumulating memorable experiences. The motto of the bus tour is sarva sukhino bhavantu, may everyone become happy by connecting with the Source of happiness.
Sri Devi Dasi recently sat down with Manorama Das to speak about the Youth Bus Tour.
1) How did this idea first come about, back in 1995?
“The idea for the first bus tour came about at a gurukula reunion in Los Angeles in 1993. A group of us said to ourselves, ‘What if we could organize an extended reunion that was kind of like a spiritual camping and road trip combined? We could visit Los Angeles and San Francisco Ratha-yatras on consecutive weekends, and go camping at national parks along the way.’ It sounded like a plan. With the help of a friend who owned an RV and several people bringing their cars, we went on a road trip in 1994 that turned out to be a success beyond what we had hoped for. Then we heard of this devotee who owned a bus in Denver, Kaliya Damana Prabhu, so we called him up and recruited him. In 1995 we embarked on what became the first bus tour, which we called the Youth Harinama Sankirtana Bus Tour. It included Los Angeles and San Francisco Ratha-yatras, the LA gurukula reunion, camping at national parks, hot springs, and a visit to every temple and devotee home up and down California. And, true to our name, lots of harinamas. Things kind of took off from there. I remember, in 2000, joking with our bus driver about taking the tour across North America, following the Ratha-yatra circuit. We thought it was a crazy idea, that it would take way too much driving, way too much time on the road, way too many advance preparations… The dream stuck, and with the support of Madhuha Prabhu and Festival of India, in 2001 we toured the East Cost, in 2002 the West Coast, and from 2003 on, the entire continent. The rest is, as they say, history.”
2) The youth always seem ecstatic and transformed upon their return from a bus tour. What is the special thing they have received?
“It’s magic. I don’t know exactly what happens, but the formula works. Take 50 devotee youth traveling on a bus tour adventure for six weeks across North America. Add lots of harinama sankirtana, Ratha-yatra festivals, and Holy Name kirtans on festival stages… reading from Krishna Book and Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita at night before we go to bed, living on a Krishna diet… I believe Lord Chaitanya works His magic on their hearts and consciousness. The devotees see how these youth are trying to help do their bit to spread Krishna consciousness far and wide, and they give their blessings, and the whole disciplic succession smiles down upon them, and all these blessings have got to amount to something. You can see the bliss in their eyes when they return from the tour, right? (It inspires me to keep on doing this.)”
Yes, one most certainly can. All glories to your seva!
3) How do you hope a youth has been impacted by a bus tour?
“I hope that youth come away from the tour with an experience of how fulfilling life can be when we’re serving Krishna together with love, and sharing that experience with others; that they realize Krishna consciousness is about becoming aware of a transcendent Reality that surrounds us and sustains our very being; that Krishna is supremely relevant to our lives, from the life air that we breathe, to the fire of digestion that keeps us hungry for more prasadam, to the Holy Name who manifests on our tongue and fills our hearts with joy.”
3) How have you and your wife grown from the bus tours over the past twenty years? How do you feel after a tour? What is the biggest challenge?
“It’s been great to be able to serve on so many tours with my wife, Jaya Sri Radhe, and we’ve grown closer in our relationship through this service. I’ve had many faith-building experiences on the bus tours that convinced me that God exists, that serving His devotees can be blissfully exhausting at times, and that there’s nothing that gives me more satisfaction than to keep on doing this. When I get home, the first thing I do is sleep for a couple of days to recover. But after a week I’m already thinking about the next tour. The biggest challenge is re-integrating into my routine of working a day job to pay the bills, when my mind is already back on the road, planning the next Krishna conscious adventure bus tour.”
Manorama Das shares an outrageously inspiring story from a visit to Orizaba, Mexico in 2010:
“We held an evening festival attended by about 400 townspeople. After a particularly blissful kirtan with our youth, an elderly lady approached us on stage, accompanied by two assistants. She explained that she had been having dreams of a shaven-headed saffron-clad saintly personality with a golden complexion. She said that during our kirtan she again had a vision of Him, glowing effulgently, like molten gold, dancing in the kirtan. She wondered what the meaning of this was and if we could explain. We brought a copy of the Chaitanya Charitamrita from the bus, and began to show her paintings of Lord Chaitanya. The old lady broke out in tears and exclaimed that this was Him! This was the person she had seen dancing during the kirtan, and the person who had appeared to her in dreams since she was a little girl. She looked at the paintings as if in deep meditation for a while, then thanked us profusely, and gave us some good-luck crystals that she seemed to manifest from her hands, out of thin air. It was truly bizarre. She must have been a yogini of sorts. One of the persons who accompanied her explained that she was a clairvoyant. Moments later she disappeared in the crowds and we have never seen her since. We put the magic crystals she gave us on the bus tour altar as an offering to Sri Sri Gaura Nitai.”
For more bus tour nectar and photos, please visit: www.youthbustour.com