Vaiṣṇavas are always Sevya-vastu
[The following is an excerpt from the upcoming biography of Śrīla Bhakti Vijnāna Bhārati Goswāmi Mahārāja : “The Roots of My Devotional Creeper”. Editors’ inputs have been included in square brackets.]
My father from my pūrva-āśrama (life before joining the maṭha as a monk) would repeatedly say while imparting a teaching,
“ati prīta jethā, nīta jeyo nā tathā
yadi jābe nīta, śayana bhojana kadācit”
Meaning, if you wish to always maintain loving, affectionate relationship with someone, then abstain from excessively being in their company, everyday or very frequently. In case, for some special reason, you have to visit them every day, be particularly alert not eat or sleep at their place, unless it is circumstantially necessary.”
[Hearing this,] I posed a question to my father, “If this is the line of thought, then desiring to maintain eternal affection towards you, I should go away from you to a distant place and visit you only occasionally instead of every single day; and in case I had to visit you daily, then I should eat and sleep here rarely, not every day.” My father replied, “Your relationship with me is far beyond affection. It is that of sevya-sevaka (a servant and his object of service), exemplifying the topmost limit of love. Our mutual relationship is based on sevā-bhāva (intimate service propensity to please the object of service), not (mundane) affection. Therefore, whatever I said in this context is not applicable to our relationship; it is only pertinent in case of those with whom a new relationship is to be built or if you wish to consistently maintain a relationship you have built.”
When I began residing at the maṭha, I heard siddhānta from the lotus lips of Guru Mahārāja and many disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda that nourished the aforementioned mood. They would say, “Never maintain a mood of fraternity with any niṣkapaṭa sajātīya snigdha vaiṣṇava [the association of pure devotees who are non-envious and affectionate to you and who are oceans of the transcendental mood for which you aspire]. Instead, only maintain the relationship of sevya-sevaka; that you are the servant and he is the object of your service. To establish this ideal, Śrīla Prabhupāda used to address even his own disciples as ‘Prabhu’. When we nourish any mood other than sevya-sevaka bhāva with Vaiṣṇavas while constantly being in their company, then certainly, someday, there will be quarrel. Therefore, the words - ‘tava nija jana parama bāndhava’ [“O! Lord, your intimate associates are my bosom friends”] - are applicable to sajātīya āśaya snigdha vaiṣṇavas, who are always free from duplicity and are our eternal well-wishers; every sincere practitioner of bhakti should aspire for their association and to reside close to them. However, in order to maintain affection befitting a Vaiṣṇava towards those Vaiṣṇavas who are neither sajātīya āśaya snigdha nor genuine well-wishers, do not visit them every day or frequently. Even if circumstance calls for having to visit them frequently, do not eat or sleep there, unless necessary.”
When, by the desire of Guru Mahārāja, I was in charge of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, Hyderabad (established in a rented property) for approximately two years, at that time, my godbrothers Śrī Nityānanda or Nitāi Dāsa (Śrī Yatī Mahārāja), Śrī Gokulānanda Prabhu and Śrī Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Prabhu used to reside with me. Every day, I would go to collect monthly donations, Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu served as a pujārī (performed Deity worship), Śrī Gokulānanda Prabhu served by cooking and Śrī Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Prabhu’s service was to purchase stocks and ingredients from the market and manage the store-room inventory. Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu and Śrī Gokulānanda Prabhu had a lot of affection and camaraderie towards each other. Sometimes they would tease each other calling the other ‘pantlu-pantlu’ [addressing each other in jest by calling names] and other such names. I would relate to them, the aforementioned words [of wisdom] by my father from my pūrva-āśrama as well as Guru Mahārāja and Śrīla Prabhupāda, saying, “Look, it is advisable to maintain only the mood of sevya-sevaka with Vaiṣṇavas. Although it may feel good to have such bosom friendship as of now, it can later become the cause of dispute. So please do not indulge in this.” However, they did not pay heed to my advice.
Once, when I went for fund raising, the donor was not available to meet, hence, I returned to the maṭha earlier than usual. Upon arriving, I noticed that the bhoga offering had not been cooked for the Lordships and all the three residents of the maṭha were sleeping at various different places, tucked under their bed sheets. Neither did I wake them up nor did I inquire with anyone [what had transpired]. But, I inferred that definitely some dispute had occurred between the three of them, due to which, no one had arranged to cook or offer bhoga that day. I bathed and changed into fresh clothes, and hastily cooked as much as was possible, for Ṭhākurajī. After offering bhoga, performing ārati and putting Ṭhākurajī to rest, I evenly distributed the prasāda in four plates. Taking three of those plates, I covered them and placed each near their respective beds in such a way that they would certainly notice it when they arose. For almost ten days, every morning, afternoon and evening, I continued with this routine and then, seeing me engaged in Deity worship, cooking, begging alms and so on, one disciple of Śrīla Bhakti Vicāra Yāyāvara Gosvāmī Mahārāja came there and said to me, “Mahārāja! You are doing all the sevās just by yourself. Kindly suggest some service I can render.” I asked him, “Which service can you perform comfortably?” He replied, “I perform Deity worship at Śrī Śyāmānanda Gauḍīya Maṭha (Medinipura). So please give me the responsibility of Deity worship.” I said, “Alright. Very good.” In this manner, he began doing Deity worship, while I cooked and begged alms.
Some days passed in this way. Then one day, Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu approached me and began to cry. I asked him, “Why are you crying without (my) saying anything? Have I condemned you in any way? Have I said anything to you?” He replied, “Without performing any service, nothing feels good.” I said, “Serve the holy name. Doesn’t serving the holy name constitute service?” He replied, “Without serving, I can’t even chant.” I said, “But you were already engaged in service. Did I ask you to stop serving?” He said, “The reason of my distress is that I didn’t pay heed to your instruction of maintaining the mood of sevya-sevaka towards Vaiṣṇavas. Actually, out of camaraderie, I would address Śrī Gokulānanda Prabhu as ‘pantlu-pantlu’; as a result [of crossing the line of etiquette], I became infuriated with him when he did not cook for the Lordships. Not only did I give him a piece of my mind, but neglecting the service of Ṭhākurajī, I went off to sleep. What’s more - you even rendered all the services by yourself for so many days and delivered prasāda right to our beds, and to top it all, you did not even say anything to us!” Just as Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu was saying this, Śrī Gokulānanda Prabhu also came and forcefully held my feet, weeping. He said, “Śrī Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Prabhu filled water in the stove instead of kerosene, as a practical joke. So I became angry since the stove would not burn.” Next, Śrī Tamāla Kṛṣṇa also approached me the same way, he said, “Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu and Śrī Gokulānanda Prabhu abused me unnecessarily and said, “There is no need to do more modeling” [To teach them a lesson,] I exhibited some ‘real’ modeling by filling the stove with water. Then the spat assumed a different form altogether.
We have committed a great offence at your feet. Please pardon us.” I said, “You have not committed any offence. In fact, by behaving this way, you have presented me with a wonderful opportunity to render [more] service. Anyhow, you all may serve the holy name, scriptures and prasāda. If there is any other opportunity to serve you, I would be happy to do that as well.” [Hearing this,] They began to say, “Please don’t speak this way; it makes us all the more shameful of our actions.” I responded, “If a woman works for her family from morning till late night - upon rising in the morning, after attending to the needs of her husband, in-laws and children, she leaves for work and after having worked all day, she returns home, and again cooks, washes clothes etc. - then why can’t I, being in a male body, work like that woman, for the purpose of serving Viṣṇu and Vaiṣṇavas? Guru Mahārāja has given me the responsibility to make us all walk the path together. If you fight, then it won’t be pleasing to Guru Mahārāja. Had I not arrived in time the day you all fought and slept under your sheets without concern about service to Ṭhākurajī, it would have been worrisome, as I would have been implicated in a sevā-aparādha. Nevertheless, if you all wish to render service, I have no objection, however, in the future, you would not be able to fight amongst each other. In other words, do not quarrel with each other - ‘dūr haite prema baḍo hī madhura - that is to say, there is sweetness only in being affectionate from a distance’. In other words, in a relationship devoid of the sevya-sevaka bhāva, the loving sentiment appears to be very sweet when a healthy distance is maintained, however, the factual reality of the depth of the relationship is exposed only when one comes together in close proximity. All my life, I have followed the above-mentioned teachings awarded by my father, Guru Mahārāja and many disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda, hence, although I had a difference of opinion with many, never a difference of heartily feelings. Therefore, externally speaking, I never got into a fight with anyone.”