During Guru Mahārāja’s manifest presence, I would perform bhikṣā in order to collect the rice, dhal and other food items needed for Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā. Once, while performing bhikṣā in a place called Bolapura, my godbrother Śrī Lokanātha Prabhu (later Śrī Bhakti Suvrata Dāmodara Mahārāja) and I approached the manager of a rice mill, but before we could make any request for a donation of rice, the manager snubbed us. “There is no Bhagavān,” he said. “If there were, then how are the Naxalites* able to kill so many innocent people?”
He went on and on about this for quite some time. When he finally paused, I took the opportunity to say, “If you are done speaking, I would like to offer my perspective on the matter. I will only take fifteen minutes. That is not so much time.”
“Fine,” he said. “Speak.”
I then said, “Bhagavān has nothing to do with why the Naxalites are violent. It is people like you and I who are responsible, because we have not settled our debts. For instance, you use sunlight, water, and air for yourself and for your rice paddies, but has it ever occurred to you that you must pay for such resources? The entirety of the human race is indebted to the demigods, to our fathers, to other living beings, to the ṛṣis, kings and so on. If you never settle your debt to the demigods, what can you say when they become angry? With outstanding debts come repercussions. We consider ourselves religious just because we spend for batāsa sweets once or twice a year, when a harināma-saṅkīrtana party comes to our neighborhood. But according to the injunctions of scripture, one must give a quarter of one’s earnings for the service of the Lord. We have the right to complain only if we follow all such scriptural injunctions.”
The manager mulled it over and said, “I suppose what you say is correct, but I am not so intellectual. Anyhow, I will give twice as much rice as I used to give for Navadvīpa parikramā. But my mill is closed today. Please kindly come back tomorrow to collect your rice.”
The next day, when we arrived at the mill at eleven in the morning, the two brahmacārīs who came with us told me, “Mahārāja, please wait here in the rikśaw with Śrī Lokanātha Prabhu while we get the rice from the manager. If you were to go, the manager would initiate a long conversation and it would become late.” On their advice, Śrī Lokanātha Prabhu and I waited in the rikśaw.
As we were waiting, I saw that right in front of a nearby tea shop was a man who had tied a child’s hands to a tree and was beating him with a visūtī**. I assumed that the man was the owner of the tea shop and that the boy probably worked for him. Perhaps the boy had broken some drinking glasses, or maybe he stole something minor, as is the nature of young boys. In any case, the man was beating the boy so severely that I could not tolerate it. I climbed down from the rikśaw and headed toward them. From a distance and with Śrī Lokanātha Prabhu two paces behind me, I threateningly demanded that the man stop beating the child.
The man stopped beating the child, looked over at me, came forward a bit in our direction and offered praṇāma to Śrī Lokanātha Prabhu and me. Seeing this, I realized he must be a reasonably virtuous man. I told him, “Look, if this boy has somehow harmed you or stolen something, I will reimburse you for your loss. But my goodness, let him go. Only a savage would beat a child so badly.”
Although I had angrily accused him of being a brute, the man remained calm and collected. “Mahārāja,” he said, “this boy is my son.” As soon as he said this, it felt as if the earth had been pulled out from under me. Indeed, I had been flying around the sky of my own speculation, until his words immediately grounded me. I was baffled. “Why is he beating his son like this?” I thought to myself.
The man explained, “This is not my tea shop, Mahārāja. I work as a laborer in the rice mill. You see, both my wife and I are illiterate, but we desperately want our son to learn to read and write. We want him to make something of himself. After requesting my boss at the mill many times to somehow or other use his influence, my son was given admission in a good school.
“We don’t have much money, and our lives are filled with great hardship. I work long hours at the mill to provide for our family. I get only one day off a week, and I don’t even know when that day will be. Because of my work hours, I don’t receive much of an opportunity to monitor my son’s scholastic activities. My wife stitches clothes day and night to pay for our son’s private tutoring, but he doesn’t want to do anything besides play gullī-ḍaṅḍā†. We very affectionately explained our situation to him, but nothing came of it. Yesterday, his tutor told us, ‘At this rate, your son is certain to fail. I can no longer teach him, because people will vilify me if one of my students fail.’ ”
At this point, the man began to weep as he spoke. “If I do nothing, if I don’t chastise him, he will become a fool like me and be forced to live the life of a laborer. In that case, he will have to endure great hardship, and he’ll starve if he’s not fortunate enough to find work. It breaks my heart, Mahārāja, but I am forced to beat him. I don’t know what else to do.”
I was utterly ashamed. I had wanted to rescue the boy, but what harm was there from which to rescue him? His father’s punishment was neither needless nor excessive. I considered that my connection with the boy was fleeting and sentimental, whereas the boy’s father possessed genuine affection for him. Although externally it appeared as if I was concerned for the boy’s well-being, it was his father who truly had his best interests in mind.
Those who were nearby said, “It is good this Mahārāja has saved that boy, otherwise his father would have killed him!” It occurred to me that this was the perspective of a sthūla-darśī, or one who sees only external circumstances. A sūkṣma-darśī, or one who recognizes and understands the subtle aspects of any given situation, would never say such a thing in this situation.
Feeling shameful, I quietly returned to the rikśaw. During the incident, the boy’s mother was quietly standing some distance off. I realized she must have brought her son to the mill so the boy’s father could confront him about his apathy toward his schooling. She watched the beating in silence, and now she was patiently waiting to apply cow dung to her son’s wounds in order to reduce the burning sensation he was sure to experience. How wonderful is love in which salve is applied after the meting out of a beating!
We received our rice and left, but this small incident left a big impression on my heart. When I remember this story, many confidential realizations appear in my heart, one after another. I remember how Śrī Mahāprabhu was ready to punish Jagāī and Mādhāi with His Sudarśana-cakra, and Nityānanda Prabhu saved them; I remember how Śrī Jagannātha Miśra was ready to beat young Nimāī, and the tairthika-brāhmaṇa saved Nimāī; and I remember how Bhagavān was punishing the conditioned souls by keeping them in this material world, and Śrī Prahlāda Mahārāja and Śrī Vāsudeva-vipra offered to sacrifice themselves for the liberation of them all.
In reality, affection does not imply only pleasantness; chastising a child also falls within the category of affection. That day, I concluded that affection on its own is only fifty percent love, whereas affection with chastisement is one hundred percent love.
* A radicalized Maoist group that was and remains extremely active and violent.
** A type of stick that leaves a burning welt for about two days when used as a weapon.
† A game in which a small wooden, tapered peg (gullī) is launched and hit with a stick (daṇḍa).