By Sacinandana Swami
For many years, I’ve been attending and giving seminars at the Serbian Summer Camp. It takes place annually in the beautiful wilderness of Fruska Gora’s forests near Novi Sad. Many devotees from South-East Europe consider this camp to be their best spiritual experience of the year thanks to a variety of senior devotees who offer lectures, kirtans and kind personal association.
Whenever I need to find some private sadhana time during this camp, I go to a particular enchanting spot in the forest – the Lepinjica Monument. It overlooks a flowery meadow where many bees collect honey as well as a panoramic view of the plains with their myriad villages, smoldering in the summer sun.
Up there where I sit, it is cool and peaceful, but some 70 years ago, the serene atmosphere was abruptly torn asunder by the sound of frenzied gunfire. At the historic scene, suddenly the air was filled with screams. Bullets hit their targets, one after another, after another, with the accompanying shouts of the wounded. Soon, 85 German soldiers lay in the tall grass bleeding to their death. The rest of the Germans were quickly overwhelmed by Serbian Partisans and captured as prisoners of war.
It was a well-planned and precisely executed ambush. In exactly this tranquil spot, members of the Serbian National Liberation Movement defended their country against the military invasion of warlords from Nazi Germany.
By military standards, the operation was highly successful. But when the Partisans retreated into the forest, they carried with them a severely wounded 18-year-old lady on a stretcher who later died in their camp due to internal bleeding.
Zika Stojsic, a representative of the Serbian Antifascists remembers her:
“Many women joined us at that time…even without the support of their families. They wanted to liberate our country…Such a war does not differentiate between men and women… The women made a huge effort to prove themselves equally brave as the men because the men were often questioning them, “What will you do with your female brain? When it gets tough, you will just run away!”
The most difficult thing was to fight against the unknown: You had to march through the night, and in the darkness, you don’t know where the enemy is lurking.
Radinka Lepinjica was only 18 years old. She was especially brave. We could never stop her. When she was carried back on the stretcher, she expressed a desire to see her brother, Trivun, who was a well known saboteur…for the last time.”
As I chanted on the wooden bench behind the monument in Radinka’s honor, I couldn’t help thinking how strong-willed she must have been to leave her family and join the National Liberation Force. She fought two wars: one for the emancipation of her country, and the other for the emancipation of women.
Throughout history, many people have given up everything – even their own lives – to become free from what they perceived as slavery. But only a select few have put in the same determination to fight for spiritual freedom – the freedom of the soul from all foreign influences.
It is this ultimate freedom for which I am prepared to struggle and strive.
When I became a monk, I was three years younger than this Serbian freedom fighter. I remember, at that time, I had heard about the eight hot and eight cold “hells” which Buddhist monks talked about. But I thought modern men live in an even more precarious situation – in fact, the most hopeless situation. Today, we live in a society of people ignoring their own souls. At the same time, they often believe themselves to be in “heaven” when they manage to gratify their whims or attain political and social freedom.
Most people live their lives filled with meaningless activities and disempowering thoughts. We’ve become time-slaves: the more we struggle to fill our time, the more we seem to lose control of it. It’s as if we try to pour a river into a bucket. Only in the free flow of water is the river fully present. Learning to live a soul-life means living a life based on spiritual realizations and healthy detachment from the all-pervasive illusions of material life – the greatest of them that we are servants of our genes only. The last traces of the unlimited and timeless soul are disappearing on the horizon of our hectic or boring lives. They only experience the sunset of the soul! – not its dawning! Neither time, nor our environment, can actually limit our spiritual possibilities, but if we lose contact with the soul, then all is lost – or so it seems…
Put down the time-stealers, for good! We need a freedom march of the souls!
I said a prayer for Radinka and then for the people of the world. Afterwards I wrote the following poem as my gift to the young Serbian freedom fighter at whose grave I’ve spent many a peaceful and spiritually rewarding moment:
Are you in need of some new impetus?
A stronger motivation?
Or a new perspective?
Then go fearlessly
to the place of a thousand voices
and hear some straight advice.
as the voices rise from a thousand graves;
they have special power:
“You, who are the soul that will not die,
know - life is a trembling bow
that hurls the soul-arrow forward.
Don’t break it or waste it
like some of us did.
But take aim wisely…
Beware; there is nothing
that hurts the soul more
than keeping it away from what is essential.
Is there a greater violence
than keeping the fish away
from the ocean?”
Each year, for more than 10 years, I come to this spiritual summer camp less than a shot away from where the ambush took place. The people who attend this camp, like me, are concerned for the spiritual freedom of the soul. My prayer is that, somehow the efforts of these spiritual freedom searchers will benefit all the people of the world who are suffering, trapped in deadly headlocks of violent conflict. As souls, each one of us is the member of a country beyond even this universe.
My spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, always told us that it is urgent to recognize the need of the soul. In fact, it is a matter of life and death. Early in the 1950’s, he wrote:
“The need of the spirit soul is that he wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Personality of Godhead.”
(Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.8 pp)