The Heart of Siddhanta
With today being Srila Gour Govinda Swami’s disappearance day, I thought that it seemed to be an ideal time to glorify sadhu and guru. The only problem with that, of course, due to my own fallen nature, is that a worm in stool such as me doesn’t really have the ability to glorify a sadhu. One can really only glorify a sadhu by following the instructions given by the sadhu and becoming a sadhu oneself. By becoming glorious we practically demonstrate sadhu’s glorious mercy.
Nevertheless, for one worm in stool such as I who spent quite a lot of time sitting at the lotus feet of Srila Gour Govinda Swami, and as such, heard many times over, the instructions of His Divine Grace, deep in debt, I must at least attempt to glorify Guru. There are a couple of interesting things that emerge from hearing repeatedly from sadhu. One is that the hearer begins to recognise that the sadhu repeats certain instructions over and over many, many times and thus one begins to recognise what appear to be the most important instructions. We’ve discussed that previously so we won’t dwell on that aspect; today I’d like to dwell on another important point that emerges from sadhu sangha and this is the mood of sadhu.
Srila Gour Govinda Swami often asked us if a mosquito landed on sadhu’s arm whilst the sadhu was speaking hari katha, was the mosquito doing sadhu sangha? The answer is that the mosquito is merely being a nuisance and therefore is not doing sadhu sangha. Mere proximity to sadhu does not constitute sadhu sangha. In fact, Srila Gour Govinda Swami went on to say that, “Sadhu sangha means to imbibe the mood of sadhu.”
Now for someone like me who’s half deaf, and who travelled to Bhubaneswar from a western country to hear from Srila Gour Govinda Swami, rather than sit up the back and miss half of what was spoken, I made a point of sitting right in front of His Divine Grace where I could hear clearly, and I admit that, except for some Bengali and Sanskrit terms, with which I had yet to become familiar, for the most part my strategy worked quite well.
Another advantage of that strategy was that Gurudeva knew that I was interested in hearing. It’s all very well to get close to a glorious sadhu, thinking that by being seen near to him, I can also bask in his reflected glory and that will make me a little bit superior. I know that we have this tendency. Millions of births seeking to indulge our pride cannot be eradicated overnight, but, despite that, since, like anyone else who loves to drown in spiritual nectar, I did actually like to hear from His Divine Grace, he responded in kind and appreciated that we loved hearing hari katha by speaking some of the sweetest hari katha a spirit soul could ever wish to hear.
This had the effect of making us very attached to Gurudeva, but likewise, it also had the effect of his appreciating us. We were just worms in stool, but we wanted to hear, so he really appreciated us and over time our relationships developed and not only was Gurudeva our Gurudeva, our superior; he was also our friend, our very dear friend, someone whom we could trust and confide in, someone who’s association we valued very much because Srila Gour Govinda Swami was such a beautiful soul.
So, when I first heard about this mood of sadhu, I wanted to understand exactly what is the mood of a sadhu? I mean we all understood that sadhus have pure love for Krsna but what exactly is pure love of Krsna, in terms that we can realise and understand?
As time went by I began more and more to realise just how deeply loving a soul was Srila Gour Govinda Swami, and eventually I understood that this loving mood was not merely for Sri Krsna but for all living beings. I remember hearing a taped lecture of Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada wherein Prabhupada said, “A Vaisnava causes no distress to any living being.” This was so true of Srila Gour Govinda Swami for, even whilst telling me what my faults were in front of a whole class of devotees, I felt no threat from him (although it can be a little embarrassing in front of one’s peers as peals of laughter resound from all quarters but that’s all part of the nectar of Bhubaneswar with Gurudeva).
I noticed that Prabhupada signed his sacred name as AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Your ever well wisher and realised that this typified this sweet, loving mood of the Vaisnavas. Srila Gour Govinda Swami also used to say, “If you love Krsna, then you can love all living beings.” Things were beginning to fall into place and it made sense that just by reading books, and even if one was to hear from sadhu but only for a brief period of time one was unlikely to develop such a sweet, personal relationship with the sadhu, it was possible that one might miss out on understanding the mood of the sadhu Vaisnava.
Since we are actually glorifying all Vaisnavas when celebrating our Gurudeva’s Vyasa Puja celebration, let me recount for you a few really sweet instances of this Vaisnava mood. These interactions have had a such profound effect upon me that they speak deeply to me, not only of a sweet mood which incidentally is Krsna’s main quality, but of this mood, over time, emerging in the heart of a budding Vaisnava struggling with the habits of half an eternity, as something more like a siddhanta, rather than simply a mood. Any wonder Srila Gurudeva stressed the importance of imbibing the mood of sadhu.
I remember when I went to Prabhupada’s beautiful ISKCON Sri Mayapur temple. An amazing edifice in itself, but what was really amazing was the beautiful Vaisnavas that often attended. Now I commenced my spiritual life whilst living in a remote, provincial centre, far removed from temples and other devotees so at first I didn’t really know much about how things were done, so when I saw the other devotees circumambulating the deities with their hands in their bead bags behind their backs, I also copied this practice as it was comfortable.
As I was walking up and down the main temple floor one morning whilst chanting, one of the older Bengali devotees who often came to the temple to chant in the mornings approached me. He didn’t speak; he simply looked at me frowning and then placed his bead bag to his heart and with an expression of loving joy illuminating his friendly face, continued to chant. I got the message, loud and clear.
The holy name is very dear to the Vaisnavas and holding one’s bead bag behind one’s back is somewhat disrespectful. But most of all, I realised that even though this senior, local Bengali devotee, didn’t need to show me how to chant, he cared for me; despite not speaking a word of English, despite not knowing who I was, and knowing that like most of the other western devotees, I would leave Sri Mayapur within a short while, he still felt enough compassion to want to teach me the correct mood of chanting. He was, in short, just like Prabhupada, my ever well wisher and I learned that one needs to be vigilant of making offences. Sweetness is ever so important; offence and sweetness do not mix. There’s not a great deal of sense in making an effort to become a devotee if we let all our sukriti drain away via offensiveness.
Humility is Action
Another day in the same temple, as a huge crowd of devotees were leaving the temple, I was wending my way through the crowd making for the rear entrance when all of a sudden a tiny Vaisnava dressed in his bluish kurta and dhoti appeared directly in my path heading at right angles to my own path. I stopped respectfully to permit him right of way. He didn’t actually move forward but instead, he fell at my feet humbly offering obesiances right there in the milling crowd of hundreds of devotees. I was amazed by his humility and instantly my heart melted, recognising a beautiful soul. It struck me that it was so beautiful being in the association of advanced devotees. Bear in mind that both of these two aforementioned devotees were residents of the holy dharma Sri Mayapur, the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and not ordinary people in any sense of the word.
Looking for Krsna?
Back in Bhubaneswar, sitting at the lotus feet of Srila Gour Govinda Swami, one day, as he often did, he spoke to me personally as he was giving class, calling me Mr Terry (or Mr Terrible, which caught on very quickly with the other devotees). He said to me, “Don’t try to see Krsna. Make yourself so loving and so wonderful that He will come to see you.”
This fitted in perfectly with what I was learning. It made sense that this was the descending path. I could never reach the spiritual world but that Krsna could appear before me or in my heart whenever He wished. Sadhu sangha, as far as I could see, was not just being like a mosquito and sitting in close proximity to a sadhu and hearing what he said, it deeply fitted into the advice of BG 4.34 (tad viddhi pratipatena …). It made sense that sadhu sangha was not something that I could do, but something that occurred by the mercy of sadhu. If sadhu is pleased by your mentality and your efforts to please him, then he will give you his mercy. It’s not just a mechanical process; it’s a very personal process.
Of course, this isn’t the only instruction that Srila Gour Govinda Swami spoke, but these were extremely powerful words that resonated to the core of my heart. It was as if these words were the essential platform of spiritual life.
After Srila Gour Govinda Swami left us in 1996 I was somewhat lost as to what direction to take to move forward. I was haunting Bhubaneswar looking for a place to fit in, but things were not so calm and peaceful. We were all somewhat lost at that time. I thought of going to see Srila Narayana Maharaja in Mathura (not so far away) but I was financially stressed at the time and whilst waiting on more money to arrive from the west, a refund from an unused plane ticked that was taking a while to catch up with me, I was introduced to Srila Fakir Mohan das Prabhu (the Professor) who filled my heart with a special, personal joy, unique to the Professor. His infectious, good natured laughter coupled with his tolerance and his amazing knowledge made him so much larger than life and he made life a fascinating exploration of Vaisnava beauty, each day being more amazing than the last. The Professor enlightened us almost daily for months on end, lecturing for three months on Sri Catur Sloki, an amazing experience in itself, but what really stunned me about Fakir Mohan prabhu was his simple hearted acceptance of Krsna’s mercy.
Now, Srila Gour Govinda Swami told us, “Accept Krsna’s mercy. And what is Krsna’s mercy? EVERYTHING IS KRSNA’S MERCY!!!” Srila Fakir Mohan prabhu personified this in his daily life. Once, when I was in charge of the guest house where the Professor was staying, I made a decision which helped run things a little more securely. A little while later I realised that this would impact badly upon Fakir Mohan prabhu. I sought him out to apologise for the inconvenience I would definitely cause to him and found him chanting in an empty office downstairs. I informed him that I’d implemented such and such a change and then later realised that it would be a problem for him. He simply laughed and exclaimed, “I have no problems.” I understood just how humble and surrendered he was and that he was always so considerate of others, so kind hearted.
Indeed, I must consider that he is the kind of person that Krsna would come to see.
The years went by and eventually I was fortunate enough to meet Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja Goswami and to receive diksa initiation via his sweet mercy. However, at one point, due to bad association, I had been quite self indulgent at times, and I figured that Gurudeva was bound to be displeased with me; I was quite concerned. When I did finally catch up with Gurudeva, he understood my trepidation about being in his bad books and he kindly reassured me, saying, “You never have to be afraid of me.”
Again there was that beautiful, sweet mood of the Vaisnavas shining through. My heart melted and my head fell to the floor and despite my fallen nature has ever since remained at the lotus feet of my Srila Gurudeva. This beautiful mood that I have recognised in the hearts of Vaisnava devotees is so beautiful. It keeps me going when it sometimes seems that Kali Yuga is too harsh and too difficult to overcome and sadness creeps into my heart. Then, eventually, I remember how beautifully my Gurudevas and all Vaisnavas have behaved when I have had their association, and everything picks up again.
This mood, to me is the heart of the Vaisnava counteracting the nonsense that pervades this material world and as I said before, appears more like the actual siddhanta of the Vaisnavas, more like the modus operandi of the spiritual world than a mere mood.
I am convinced that not everybody would agree with how important this is. Others might think that preaching or book distribution or deity worship, etc, is at the heart of Vaisnava activity, but in my mind there is no doubt.
Moved to tears by the sweet nature of the Vaisnava heart, I pray, on this, the disappearance day of my Srila Gour Govinda Swami, my beloved siksa Gurudeva and my very dear friend, that one day I may be blessed with this sweet mood that floods the hearts of the Vaisnavas, so that Krsna actually will come to see me.
Humbly, in awe, reverence, and with that deep emotional connection that is uniquely the mercy of the Vaisnavas, I tarunkrsnadas beg for the dust of the cooling, lotus feet of Srila Gour Govinda Swami.
tarunkrsnadas: a worm in stool
Saturday, 2 March 2013