- Remembrance in Separation - Bhagavata Patrikā
Severing the Hard Knots in My Heart
When I accepted shelter at the lotus feet of Guru Mahārāja and joined Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha as a full-time brahmacārī, I still possessed many heart binding knots in the form of strong impressions I had nurtured due to my birth in a brāhmaṇa family. However, Guru Mahārāja effortlessly and tactfully cut all such knots, thereby making me thoroughly realize the meaning of the following verse:
tato duḥsaṅgam utsṛjya
satsu sajjeta buddhimān
santa evāsya chindanti
An intelligent person should reject detrimental association and associate instead with saintly persons. This is because only saintly personalities, with their powerful and virtuous instructions, can cut his unholy, material attachments from the heart.
In cutting these knots, Guru Mahārāja demonstrated his limitless compassion, unrelenting tolerance and thorough understanding of the intrinsic meanings of the statements of the scriptures. While living at home prior to joining the maṭha, I accepted prāsada only if someone born in a caste brāhmaṇa family had cooked it, offered it to Bhagavān and then served it, and not otherwise. While remaining at home, I maintained this practice even after six years of associating with Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. When I later joined the maṭha, Guru Mahārāja, being fully aware of my habits, engaged only the brāhmaṇa-born brahmacārīs in the services of cooking, deity worship, serving prasāda and caraṇāmṛta, etc. during the first five years of my stay.
During that time, I accepted prasādam alone, away from everyone else. Guru Mahārāja had therefore arranged for a brāhmaṇa-born brahmacārī to daily deliver prasāda to my room. I would honor whatever quantity of prasāda was served on my plate in the first helping, without ever accepting a second helping. I considered that after taking my first bite, the remaining prasāda would become ucchiṣṭa (remnant), and thus not suitable for consumption. Therefore, in order to keep the contents of the plate pure, I would hold the plate with my left hand and keep a blade of kuśa grass pressed between my thumb and the plate. Also, I would maintain complete silence while honoring prasāda. If someone ever called out my name during that time, I would immediately stop accepting prasāda, as I considered that person to have touched me through the medium of sound, thus leaving me in an impure state and hence unsuitable for honoring prasāda. Furthermore, I considered it contemptible to even set foot on any land belonging to a telī (oil merchant), śāha (businessman from the vaiśya community) or goldsmith, let alone accept prasāda at such places.
I joined the maṭha fulltime in 1955 after Guru Mahārāja established Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha in a rented property at 86A Rāsa-bihārī Avenue in Kolkata. There, Guru Mahārāja indirectly addressed me by saying, “It is true that the Vedas advise one to abstain from useless conversation, maintain complete silence and remember Bhagavān at the time of honoring prasāda. The followers of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, however, know the following statements to be more significant than simply remembering Bhagavān by mind: ‘paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam (may śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtana be all-victorious)’, ‘kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ (always perform kīrtana of the names of Śrī Hari)’ and ‘harer nama harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā (the only means of deliverance in the age of Kali is to chant the holy names, chant the holy names, chant the holy names of Śrī Hari; there is no other way, no other way, no other way)’. The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas therefore relish singing the glories of both Bhagavān and mahāprasāda at the time of honoring prasāda. They do not speak about mundane topics but use that time most suitably.”
After hearing these words from Guru Mahārāja and deliberating on them for a few days, I concluded that performing kīrtana is indeed greatly superior to observing silence while accepting prasāda, and from then on, although I still sat alone, I began performing kīrtana while accepting prasāda. Sometime later, by Guru Mahārāja’s boundless mercy, the realization that all the devotees of Śrīman Mahāprabhu used to accept prasāda together manifested within my heart. I therefore resolved not to deprive myself of the association of the Vaiṣṇavas, and thus began to sit with the devotees while accepting prasāda. Due to this, my self-imposed restriction of accepting prasādam only from the hands of a brāhmaṇa-born devotee was also dissolved, and the glories of mahāprasāda began to manifest within my heart all the more. Thereafter, I accepted whatever mahāprasāda was served by initiated devotees.
One day, while honoring prasāda, a devotee who was serving a second helping misinterpreted the gesture of my hand indicating the amount of prasāda I required, and questioning, “Why don’t you speak anything?”, served me a larger quantity of prasādam than I desired. Feeling annoyed, I stopped eating and immediately left. However, later I considered that because the Vaiṣṇavas are objects of our service, it is inappropriate to not respond to their queries properly. Thus, I completely renounced my practices of maintaining silence while honoring prasāda, as well as honouring only one serving of prasāda.
In Jagannātha Purī, I observed that there was no conception of ucchiṣṭa in relation to mahāprasāda and therefore my practice of touching kuśa grass to the plate while honoring prasāda also faded away. Once during Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā, the entire parikramā party gathered below a large pīpala tree that grew on the land of an oil merchant. There, flat rice was soaked, mixed with jaggery, tamarind and other ingredients, and then served out to everyone as prasāda. Normally, Śrī Acintya Govinda Prabhu, Śrī Viṣṇu dāsa Prabhu and I would serve prasāda to the sannyāsīs and maṭha-vāsīs, along with some other devotees. After everyone finished honoring prasāda, the devotees who were engaged in serving prasāda then honored prasāda themselves. I had somehow, with a heavy heart, set foot on the land of the oil merchant, even though I considered it highly disgraceful to do so. But I did so while remembering the kīrtana by Śrī Narotamma dāsa Ṭhākura, which I had heard from the lotus lips of Guru Mahārāja:
śrī gauḓa-maṇḍala-bhūmi, ĵebā jāne cintāmaṇi,
tā’ra haya vraja-bhūme vāsa
One who knows the land of Śrī Gauḍa Maṇḍala to be spiritual touchstone, certainly attains residence in the land of Vraja.
I also remembered the statement of Śrī Gaura-kiśora dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja: “It is impossible even for the world’s wealthiest man to purchase just one particle of the dhāma’s transcendental dust.”
Reassuring myself by meditating on these words, I managed to overcome my reservation about stepping on the land. But I could not gather the courage to accept prasāda there. Observing this, Guru Mahārāja indirectly instructed me by quoting our previous ācārya, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura:
śvapaca-gṛhete, māgiyā khāibô, pibô sarasvatī-jala
puline puline, gaḓāgaḓi dibô, kôri’ kṛṣṇa-kolāhala
I shall eat by begging from the homes of the untouchables and drink water from the Sarasvatī River. I shall roll on the ground on the river’s bank, loudly calling out Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s names.
Hearing Guru Mahārāja’s words and perceiving his heart’s desire, I placed a couple of grains of that flat rice in my mouth within his line of vision, for his pleasure. Once, I accompanied Guru Mahārāja and many other devotees on his preaching tour to Tejpura, Assam. There, Śrī Bhagavata-prasāda, the owner of Darang Tea Estate, who belonged to a vaiśya family, invited all the devotees to honor prasāda in his home. When someone was enquiring which devotees would be going, I replied, “I won’t go as I am feeling unwell. I will stay here”. No one understood that the real reason I declined the invitation was that the strong previous impressions and hard knots binding my heart allowed me only to accept prasāda at the house of a brāhmaṇa, and not at the house of a vaiśya. Guru Mahārāja, however, read my mind, and thus quoted a verse from Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya līlā, 20.57) for my welfare:
kuṣṭhī-viprera ramaṇī, pativratā-śiromaṇi,
pati lāgi’ kôilā veśyāra sevā
The wife of a brāhmaṇa suffering from leprosy established herself as the topmost of all chaste women when she served a prostitute in order to please her husband.
Externally, it appears as if the wife of the leprosy-stricken brāhmaṇa served the prostitute, but indeed, she actually served her husband by doing so. Reading between the lines, I understood that Guru Mahārāja was instructing me - rather than laying emphasis on honouring the vaiśya host’s invitation for his satisfaction, I should accept the invitation, viewing it as an opportunity to associate with and render service unto śrī guru and the Vaiṣṇavas by fulfilling their desire, as the latter is more important. Realizing this, I went to the house of Śrī Bhagavata Prasāda and accepted prasāda there, convinced it was appropriate.
In this way, my most compassionate Guru Mahārāja severed every last knot in my heart, one by one, with great patience.
The ‘Remembrance in Separation’ series, dedicated to Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, was first published in Sri Sri Bhagavata Patrika in Hindi in the year 2018. The series unfolded over three volumes (Year 14, Volume 9-10, 10-11, 11-12).
Now, we are presenting the English translation of this in the form of a series of articles released in www.vcvani.com.
Since it covers a brief sketch of Śrīla Mahārāja’s life and precepts from childhood to his final pastimes, this series will be unfolded from now until his tirobhava tithi.