By yet another suspicious coincidence I came to read a story of Haridasa Thakura from Sri Chaitanya Bhagavat. This narration immediately caught my attention and raised a few thoughts.
First, I must admit I know very little about Haridasa Thakur’s early life. From Chaitanya Bhagavat it would appear that he started chanting the Holy Name all on his own and didn’t meet Advaita Acharya until he was already firmly established as a pure devotee of the Lord. Perhaps he received the Hare Krishna mahamantra from Advaita Acharya first and then met up with him later again, I don’t know, but I like the idea of obtaining the mercy of chanting the pure Name on his own.
I like it not because it raises the prospect of advancing without the mercy of the spiritual master but because it would prove that one can become a pure devotee even if one doesn’t receive the mantra from a member of Pancha Tattva himself but rather from some humble and unanimous devotee whose name is not even registered in history. Perhaps Haridasa Thakur simply overheard someone’s chanting and that was enough. Later on he was very uncompromising in defense of loud chanting, arguing that it is a hundred times more beneficial than silent japa. What if Haridas Thakur himself received his mantra because of someone’s loud chanting? That would be a very nice touch indeed.
Then there’s a story of the a local Kazi, a Muslim judge, demanding that the King punished Haridas for abandoning Koran and taking to Hindu practices instead. Haridas was sentenced to beating in twenty two public squares until he dies. Under the protection of the Holy Name Haridas survived the punishment with a smile on his face and agreed to die only when his tormentors begged him to spare their own lives as the King would have certainly killed them for not killing Haridasa.
Out of his mercy for all living beings, including those who inflicted inhumane suffering on his own body, Haridasa Thakur acceded and entered samadhi that externally looked like death. I’ll skip on the details but Haridasa came back to life and everybody including the King himself accepted him as the greatest soul and begged for his blessings.
Once Haridasa gave his own perspective on what has happened to him – he said he was punished for tolerating offenses against the Lord and Vaishnava devotees. He said he heard the blasphemies but he didn’t take any actions and that’s why he deserved public beatings. What is interesting here is that with this personal example Haridasa Thakur taught the devotees the real meaning of “trinad api sunichena taror iva sahishnuna”. He taught that if one tolerates offenses against the Lord and His devotees than it’s a false humility and false tolerance. That should not be accepted.
Later on he also displayed how a devotee should behave in these situations. When some smarta brahmana criticized him for chanting loudly and criticized the potency of the Holy Name Haridasa Thakura just chanted louder and promptly left the place. He presented his arguments when the brahmana asked him the first question but when the brahmana didn’t accept Haridasa’s explanation he didn’t argue any further, just smiled and left.
Another story that caught my attention was when Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu told him to chant his rounds in a secluded place in Jagannatha Puri. Apparently Srila Prabhupada was very adamant that people should not imitate him, that spiritual master gives different instructions to different disciples. I don’t know what Srila Prabhupada meant exactly.
Surely he didn’t mean that one shouldn’t try to chant more, I think he meant that one shouldn’t try to increase his personal glory by doing that, that one shouldn’t expect the same respect and worship as Haridasa Thakura and so try to perform the same service. At least that’s what I keep telling myself when I contemplate chanting day and night. I also begrudgingly accept that I don’t live in a secluded place and that I would get this opportunity only by Krishna’s arrangement, if He so desires.
There are also times when I’m pretty happy I don’t need to chant 24/7 and so can indulge myself in mundane activities of sense and mind gratification.
So, two points where I should be very careful of imitating the great namacharya – that it is possible to undertake such service and achieve perfection without a direct order of the spiritual master, and that trying to arrange personal accommodations without a direct order is also driven by desire for fame and glory.
On the plus side there are explanations given by Haridasa Thakur to the King and the Kazi – one worships the Lord according to the inspiration given by the Lord Himself and so one must not become envious or inimical to other modes of worship even if they are different from prescriptions given according to the time and place or birth and culture.
I understand this as “chant as much as you want until specifically told by the guru to do something else first”, and “chant all you can after you’ve done your other duties.”