Vanity thought #250. Vamshidas Babaji Part 6.

Yesterday I wrote about Vamshidasa’s unusual treatment of his deities which might completely confuse neophyte devotees such as myself. I mean I might accept it as completely normal and treat standards we follow in our temples as superficial. There could be several arguments to prove that our worship is improper, one just needs to ask those who left ISKCON for Gaudiya Math and you’ll get an earful.

Equally, I might argue that we should be careful about embracing externally simple but loving relationships exhibited by Vamshidas, or even Sanatana Goswami for that matter. Perhaps it’s okay to realize Krishna’s greatness before focusing on His simplicity, otherwise we might just turn the deity worship into playing with dolls, I don’t know where to draw the line. Sanatana Goswami might have told his Deities to stop asking for salt and other tasty stuff but the the first thing They complained about was that they were pretty happy playing in the yard with little children and now they had to formally accept Sanatana Goswami’s service.

Who knows what Krishna really wants from us? Sometimes He likes simplicity but are we qualified to offer it to Him? Better stick to what Prabhupada showed us, for our own safety. Why should we worry about those of us who are on the the first name basis with Krishna already? I’m sure Krishna will arrange His preferred exchange of service with them, be it playmaking or puja offering, it’s not our concern.

Anyway, that stuff is only mildly controversial, it can be explained and argued away, today I want to talk about something that I have no explanations for whatsoever, and I mean some aspects of Vamshidasa’s personal behavior. First, I should say that all these allegations are apocryphal, they aren’t mentioned in Bhaktivikasa Swami’s book at all. I’m sure he heard them and, perhaps, heard a lot more than trickled on the internet pages but he decided to exclude them from his book altogether. I don’t know for what reason. Maybe it’s because they couldn’t be verified, maybe because he wanted to protect our doubtful minds, maybe because he didn’t know how to explain them himself.

Basically, the allegation is that Srila Vamshidasa Babaji regularly ate fish and smoked tobacco, or even some stronger stuff.

Regarding fish – does it come from the same source that told a story I mentioned yesterday? The story where Vamshidas got attracted by the smell of fish and couldn’t stand this display of weakness. That story is apocryphal itself, so now we have BVKS who dropped it form his book, we have anonymous source with this fish vendor story, and we have yet another anonymous source saying that Vamshidasa ate fish everyday.

At this point I should say that fish eating and smoking were the first things I heard of Vamshidas in my early days, it’s not something entirely new to me, but I’ve never ever seen any source behind that claim or given it much thought.

I will side with BVKS here – fish vendor and fish eating stories are mutually exclusive, fish vendor story sounds more plausible because it has lots of details but probably not enough to declare it as genuine. Better just skip it, it’s out there on the internet anyway, for those who really want to know.

There’s another argument against fish eating – Bhaktivikasa Swami’s source on Vamshidasa’s life was one Jatishekhara Das, assigned by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to look after Vamshidas during his travels. That Jatishekhara was also one of the sources for Gaudiya Math biographies and he had never seen Vamshidas eat any fish and he spent quite a lot of time being very close to the babaji.

My conclusion – it’s nonsense.

The smoking allegation is a bit more difficult to dismiss. I don’t remember BVKS ever saying anything like that but it appears twice in Gaudiya Math biographies. According to one version devotees used to buy a pretty strong “tobacco”, for the lack of better translation, and bring it from as far as Calcutta. Vamshidas would then set up a hookah, not a pipe, and he didn’t roll any joints either. So he smoked that hookah and called “Bhakata-vatsala-Hari” between draws. That was one of his favorite “mantras”, btw, he used to say it repeatedly, all day long. BVKS even says that Vamshidas made the last “i” very very long, as if he was crying. So the story goes that he would call out bhakata-vatsala-Hari and then the hookah would go “glug-glug-glug”.

In another account it is said that he would smoke his hookah but he would offer it first, from a distance, to Radha-Krishna, but not to the boys – Gadadhara and Gaura-Nitai, or whatever was the actual combination.

I must admit that I think there are too many details to dismiss the whole tobacco smoking thing as baseless. Who would have made it up completely? As they say – where there’s smoke…

So my goal here is to make as much sense of it as possible with the least damage to myself. On one hand I can take an easy way out and just ignore the whole thing as if I have never read it. That’s what I’m probably going to do in the end. Right now I can say a few things for and a few things against but a few days later I will just shrug my shoulders and call this dilemma “the one that got away”. There’s no shame in that, it’s not evidence against completeness of our philosophy, it’s not like we don’t know how to explain reincarnation or something like that. In fact our philosophy by design leaves a lot of things as inconceivable, behavior of fully liberated souls is one of them. We are not expected to understand it, even Krishna Himself might have a problem fully understanding what’s going on in the hearts of His pure devotees.

But before I admit to my failure to deal with Vamshidasa’s smoking I still have time to give it a go. There are a couple of cracks there that could help explain it away. First, if he ever smoked he probably didn’t take his hookah on his travels to Puri and Vrindavana so Jatishekhara, the devotee who told BVKS about Vamshidas, had possibly never seen Vamshidas doing it. Whatever happened before that is hearsay, especially if it’s coming down the lines of Haridasa and OBL Kapoor who, I suspect, didn’t have any moral dilemmas about accusing Vamshidasa of smoking. it is possible that it was just an occasional “pastime” and so would need a different set of explanations adapted for a different set of circumstances. Maybe it just didn’t happen often enough to worry.

To us it’s a real problem, though – we can’t imagine someone willingly clouding his judgement and intelligence and perception of reality in favor of drug enhanced illusion. For us it’s simple black and white difference – intoxication is either favorable to devotional service or it isn’t. In early days (and years) of our society some of our members tried enhancing their devotion with drugs but it ended badly, for some even fatally.

There was a point when one of our leading sannyasis felt the pressure to display his high level of advancement and he thought drugs would help him, at least that was his excuse. His end was the most regrettable one.

Did Vamshidasa had the same attitude? Did he really offer hookah to Radha Krishna first? Was it like prasadam for him? Did Radha and Krishna really accept his offering? Why? Because they enjoy a good hookah now and then or because it was offered by their dear devotee?

It seems as if they were ready to overlook his little indulgence.

This is both dangerous and depressing. Dangerous because we might get wrong ideas about what Krishna can allow us to do, and depressing because even a devotee of Vamshidasa stature still had some bad habits. I hope there’s another explanation, really.

Or maybe I should think of avadhuta as not simply as being free from any social customs but actually breaking those customs left and right without any effect on his position. I mean he could have eaten fish and meat and even killed a few people and Krishna would still love him with all His heart. That doesn’t make sense, though, I really wish there was a better explanation. I mean what if Krishna allowed some sannyasi’s to have sex without punishment? For some it might be nothing but other devotees have killed themselves over illicit sex. It’s a dangerous game – how much leeway Krishna can give us? My understanding – no leeway whatsoever. Mistakes He can forgive but no intentional sense gratification or rule breaking.

Or maybe it’s a reminder that absolutely no one in this world is perfect. We might have perfect intentions but the very fact of being engrossed in our bodies means we must fail here and there, no exceptions. On one hand it might give us an excuse to relax in our sadhana, on the other hand it might open our eyes to our own faults like we’ve never seen them before. It might also lead us to judge other people with a bit more compassion.

I really have no idea, I think I should follow the advice of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and stay away from puzzles like this for my own spiritual safety, or follow the example of HH Bhaktivikasa Swami and strike it out form my memory for my own good.

Okay, done, what was I talking about? It’s too late now, it’s time for me to sleep.

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Vanity thought #249. Vamshidas Babaji Part 5.

All of the stories I mentioned so far are pretty innocent, even if some of them, or even most of them didn’t make it into HH Bhaktivikasa Swami’s “official” biography it doesn’t matter at all. There are stories that are tad more disturbing, though, and I want to try and deal with them today.

First, the deities. We know that Vamshidas had very intimate relationships with them and his whole life as an embodied soul revolved around feeding them and making garlands and talking to them. Normally I would capitalize pronouns referring to any form of God but when talking about Vamshidas it seems a bit out of place. From our position they should be capitalized without exceptions but from Vamshidas’ POV it would go against his own mood of communicating with them – sometimes he chastised and even punished them, for him they were his little children he had to take care of, capitalization was not on the books. More on that later.

There’s one apocryphal story that really tests the boundaries here. No one knows how it really went down and the only part that people could see for themselves was the end, no one knows how it started and what were the actual reasons. I still think there’s no big harm in telling it as long as we understand that it might all be just a concoction. I want to make a point that no one should try to judge a devotee like Vamshidas by looking at his external actions alone.

Anyway, Vamshidas was born in a fishing family and one time when he was residing in Navadvipa a woman selling fish passed by him and Vamshidas got attracted by the smell and he wanted to taste it too. When he realized what has happening to him he got really really pissed off. He didn’t give in to his weakness but he was very angry that he still had to experience the material attraction to eating corpses of dead animals. He thought it was the fault of his deities and he directed all his anger towards them and nobody else. His reasoning was that he surrendered his life and soul to them and they were supposed to protect him from all kinds of temptations but they failed, they left him all alone to face maya and her illusory attractions. It wasn’t a fair fight, no living entity should ever think of taking on maya all by himself, we can avoid her clutches only by Krishna’s mercy and in Vamshidasa’s view Krishna failed to keep his end of the bargain.

He grabbed his deities, tied a rope around them and threw them into the Ganges. He put his foot down on the end of the rope and didn’t let anyone come near. People gathered around him, everybody was agitated and they tried to pacify Vamshidas but he threw rocks at anyone who dared to come into his view with any questions.

After this episode Srila Bhaktisiddhanta forbade any of the brahmacharies in his ashram to go and visit Vamshidas again. He said that they couldn’t understand his bhava and so it would be better for them not see this kind of things.

That wasn’t the only time when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta gave such an order. Once a brahmachari who thought that Vamshidas was mistreating his deities secretly took Gaura Nitai to Gaudiya Math temple at yoga-pith. When Srila Bhaktisiddhanta saw it he immediately told the devotee to take the deities back before Vamshidas discovered that they were missing, before he unscrewed that brahmachari’s head or something.

This is an interesting point. On one hand I think anybody would agree that brahmachari was clearly wrong, that he didn’t understand special relationships Vamshidasa had with his deities. That is fine, but I also think that our own understanding might be far from perfect here and we might not be in the position to judge that brahmachari at all. Generally speaking, our ISKCON Deities are worshiped in the mood of Vaikuntha, with a lot of awe and reverence, not to mention opulence. That’s in the temples, what goes on in our own lives is a bit different. We have no problems with offering food in our minds or in less than perfect conditions, we don’t give much attention to the rules and regulations, thinking that simply chanting Hare Krishna is enough. If we are engaged in any kind of preaching than rules just go out of the window, Deities’ interests become subservient to the needs of the preaching mission, these are our priorities.

Eventually we develop a sense of familiarity, we think we understand Vamshidasa’s relationships with his deities pretty well, we get it. Well, to this I would say that what we get is how to play dolls with Krishna, nothing more. Anyone can play dolls, it’s not difficult to imagine having running conversations with little Gopal or with naughty Gauranga. I think that if we saw the deities for what or who they really are we would be struck speechless, no games, just dandavats and opulent offerings without raising our eyes above Lord’s lotus feet.

Our problem is that we don’t really understand the position of God and our own insignificance before Him and thus we don’t think it unacceptable to offer uncooked and unripe eggplants, for example, we think Krishna can’t tell the difference, it makes no difference to us anyway, as long as we claim the food is offered with devotion.

That unfortunate brahmachari, on the other hand, could have sensed God’s greatness and so he couldn’t bear anything disrespectful towards God’s manifestations as Deities. “What devotion! We are talking about serving GOD here, don’t you get it?” No, we don’t get it, it’s just a doll, we think, if you say you offer with devotion “it” will accept it, there’s nothing special here. Perhaps that brahmachari was miles ahead of us in God’s realization.

While I am on this rant, perhaps we read Krishna book and enjoy how Mother Yashoda was chasing baby Krishna for stealing butter and yogurt and we think – that’s exactly what I want, I want to be like her, I want to be greater that God. Well, here is the way – read more of these stories and chant the mantra and tell this to everybody you meet. I don’t know where it will lead us, however.

When people look at the history of our movement they immediately notice that many of our members come from disenfranchised classes, hippies and such. I myself wasn’t a top dog when I bought my first book. I can’t speak for everybody but would it be blasphemous to suggest that people who had nothing got attracted to Krishna because they saw the way to get everything? We might not have had any interest in what the society had to offer us at that time and we searched for better ways to express our greed. Working the socks off to become a boss of some dull, stuck up company wasn’t for us, but becoming the boss of God Himself – that was much more interesting, that got our attention.

Of course our hearts get cleansed during the process but if we still have this hidden desire to boss Krishna around we won’t get anywhere near Him. I, for one, sometimes have serious misgivings about my true motives. Maybe I don’t want to be the boss, maybe I can settle on being an equal, I’ll take it, as long as I don’t have to worship in reverence or anything like that. I can offer obeisances for a while, fine, but as soon as I get what I want Krishna can forget about it. I can’t deny I prefer offering Krishna food on my own plate to serving on a special set. I also prefer someone else doing cooking and offering, I’m fine with “respecting” only.

There, I said it. Now what? When will I ever get rid of this nonsense in my heart? I don’t know.

Tomorrow is another day.

Vanity thought #248. Vamshidas Babaji Part 4.

Yesterday I finished with the story of Vamshidasa’s deities giving away cooking pots to thieves and getting punished, I forgot the ending – after forcing first Nitai and then Gauranga to make the thieves bring the pots back Vamshidasa felt very sorry. He told his deities: “I don’t want to punish you but you are so naughty and you like to tease me and now I’m so old and tired, what can I do?”

When people told him about locking the house instead he said that he did, he had three keys and he gave them to Nitai, Gaura, and Gadadhara. If they wanted to let everyone inside it was their decision, not his.

He ran into stealing problems many many times and his reaction was always the same – his deities were responsible, they were little thieves themselves and they loved the Nadiyavasis and they liked giving things away.

People used to bring him lots of fruit, usually he left it in the pile outside for the local cow to come and eat it but sometimes he kept the bananas and if they weren’t ripe he used to hang them on the rafters. Rats also wanted the bananas and they were devising the ways to get them but Vamshidasa never said a word. Once he pointed at a rat and said “Look, a thief!” he then pointed at Krishna and said “He is also a thief!”

Once someone wanted to donate twenty-five paisa to Vamshidasa’s servant and that was a lot of money at that time so the guy changed his mind on the spot and demanded change. Vamshidasa, who was just standing there quietly, suddenly got very angry: “You cannot do that! If you give money to Mahaprabhu you cannot ask for change, once you give it to Him you cannot take it back.”

I should say here that the way Vamshidasa collected donations was simply standing outside the house and calling “Gaura Nitai, Gaura Nitai”, people then would come out and offer rice, fruit of vegetables. therefore giving any change back meant taking money from Gauranga Himself and that was unthinkable. He also avoided houses of people who didn’t have any respect for Gaura-Nitai, he didn’t take anything from non-devotees.

So, back to the twenty-five paisa story. After fighting off the change challenge they returned to the kutir but later in the day they discovered that someone still managed to steal the money. Vamshidasa’s servant was very upset about it but the babaji took a philosophical approach. “Money is like hair, it grows, you cut it, and then it grows again.” Then he ended with his usual “Gauranga wanted to give this money to someone else, it’s his decision”.

At other times he got angry, though. If a cow entered the kutir and turned everything upside down he pinned it on his deities and chastised them heavily using very harsh words. In the end he would say “Okay, up to you, you love your Nadiyavasis, Vamshi has no right to be angry – Vamshi is just an outsider here.”

Once the deities got into real trouble. Someone donated a golden necklace for Gauranga and it got stolen. Vamshidasa was really upset about it, he was talking and complaining about it for hours until he forced the deities to confess who they were given it to. Immediately he went to the house of that person and demanded the necklace back. This is where there are two very different endings. According to one ending people heard the commotion and gathered outside, the thief denied any wrongdoing but under the pressure of Vamshidasa and the crowd who supported the sadhu he was forced to return the gold. In another version there were no onlookers and the thief angrily pushed Vamshidasa off his verandah and Vamshidasa was really hurt. He returned home empty handed but Gaura couldn’t tolerate mistreatment of His devotee and the thief and all his family soon died.

Let me offer a speculation on what exactly had happened there. I think Gauranga wanted the guy to have the necklace, somehow he deserved it, but when Vamshidasa started pressing Him He didn’t want to disclose that person’s identity because He knew that it won’t end well, that the guy wasn’t going to return the gold peacefully. He didn’t want the fight, he didn’t want to push that soul into vaishnava aparadha but he couldn’t refuse Vamshidasa either, and that’s why this story didn’t have a happy ending.

I guess Krishna knows our capacities very well and protects us from walking into a trap of maya, saving us form making offenses out of our immaturity, ignorance and greed. One more reason to leave all planning to Him and be very skeptical about our own desires.

Last time I mentioned that Vamshidasa didn’t follow any schedule in his deity worship, he would spend half a day collecting food and flowers and another half cleaning and preparing it. Once, however, his servant saw him cooking at nine o’clock in the morning. “Why don’t you offer them food for breakfast everyday?” he asked. “I’m not their father’s servant,” Vamshidasa answered, “I don’t know morning from evening and I’m not going to cook on their schedule. If they want it they can make their own arrangements”. Then he described how it could be done – let Gadadhara cook for Gauranga, Nitai is an avadhuta, he doesn’t care for time and he can eat anywhere. Gopala will survive, too – everyday we have a cow visiting the kutir, Gopal can get milk from her, but it’s Radha and Krishna that need to be fed otherwise they’d go to Vrindavan to do madhukari. This way Vamshidas figured it all out.

There were a lot of “pastimes” involving food. I put pastimes in quotes because it looks like games to us but for Vamshidasa it was a way of life. Once he refused to feed Krishna arguing that he already had his desert out of turn and so didn’t deserve a proper meal. Devotees from Gaydiya Math decided to check Vamshidasa’s story and wrote a letter to Radha Ramana temple in Vrindavan and got a reply that Krishna was indeed offered sweet rice with gur on that particular day at that particular time.

Sometimes cooking took him so long time that his deities became restless. He then shouted at them to get out of the house and wait outside. On another occasion he was outside himself but suddenly declared that the “boys” were hungry. He collected some unripe eggplants and ran home where he put them in a coconut hust, added some water and tulasi and offered to his deities. He then relished this uncooked food himself.

Once he turned to his servant and asked – “Did you hear what Gaura had just said?” Of course the servant didn’t hear anything, only Vamshidasa himself could hear what his deities were telling him. “Gauranga told me not to go outside for three days because I’m old and that He would bring food for me instead. Did you hear that? He wants to serve me! I swear I will break his legs if he tries to do that.” That threat worked, apparently.

On another occasion, on Janmashtami, Vamshidasa was telling Gopal about his special treat for his birthday. “Last year you had palm fruit and this year you will get mango! Just be patient, mango is coming.” Krishna was born at midnight, remember, where was he going to get the mango at that time? In ten minutes, however, a local brahmana arrived and told everyone about a dream he just had – some sadhu wanted a mango and so he had to wake up and get it for him.

I’m probably missing some sweet stories here but that is all I got for today. I’m preparing myself for some really controversial stuff tomorrow, God willing.

Last Sunday burglars broke into our neighbors’ house and stole some stuff. The part that really bothers me is that during the break in I was less than twenty meters away and the backdoor of our house was open, I think I even heard the noise but I though it was neighbors themselves, it wasn’t any louder than the usual sound of their door. Those guys cut through two locks and a bolt and I didn’t suspect a thing. I couldn’t see them from where I was but but if I moved just a few meters away or went to the kitchen I would have definitely seen them. They were so bold and precise that they earned my respect. I can’t say the same about me, I still can’t explain how I was so close yet so useless. We count on each other to look out for things like that and I failed.

This is not the first burglary in our neighborhood and I have all the reasons to believe that our house is next in line. What should I do about it? Take Vamshidasa’s advice and leave it to Krishna? The family won’t like that. Finally I decided to put a notice on the door saying that there’s nothing of value inside, no gold, no money, nothing of interest. They can’t carry out big things like TVs, they’d need a car for that and they’d need to pass the security gate. The only thing they can take is the notebook and I decided to drastically reduce its resale value by putting in a lock that they can’t remove without breaking off a chunk of plastic, and by engraving our phone and e-mail address on the lid – removing it would result in serious visual damage. I’m planning to explain all that in the note I’m going to pin on the door, and also an advice to break in via side entrance where it would be easier and also cheaper for us to repair. I also decided to invest $10 into a cheap webcam and set it as a motion detector that would shoot out e-mails if it sees anything, we just need to leave the computer on, which is no big deal.

This compromise sounds satisfactory to all but I myself can’t stop thinking of Vamshidasa and his unique understanding that thieves actually have the rights to “my” stuff. I’m starting to realize that Krishna really IS in charge of everything and I can’t possibly override His will and protect myself from Him. If he wants to steal something from me it’s as good as gone already.

Now I just walk around trying to guess what exactly it is that he wants to take away. It’s a negotiation phase for me, apparently…

Vanity thought #247. Vamshidas Babaji Part 3.

I’m starting this post not with the desire to share my excitement about wonderful personality of Srila Vamshidasa Babaji but to remind myself of how excited I was just a few days ago. Funny how it works, I better harness my emotions while they are hot, or maybe I should always wait until I cool down and look at how much actual difference my discoveries made to my consciousness. Either way, back to Vamshidas.

Last time I left the story when he moved to reside in Navadvipa. According to HH Bhaktivikasa Swami one of the first things he did was to go on pilgrimage but no one knows when and where. What we know is that afterwards he stayed in Navadvipa for decades. There are no dates given in BVKS book but I guess he settled in Navadvipa around 1880 or during that decade and his next pilgrimage started in 1941, some fifty-sixty years later.

To put it in perspective – 1880 was the time when Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura finally settled in Navadvipa himself. Actually he was transferred there a couple of years earlier but this was the time he received initiation and published one of his first books. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was only six years old at that time.

Most of the stories of Vamshidasa’s life come from that period though his later travels are much better documented. Vamshidasa lived on the banks of the Ganges in a secluded place and so no one really knew him that well. By the time he caught attention of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, who for all intents and purposes introduced him into our narrative, he was already an avadhuta and so all his transformation from a son of a fisherman into a fully realized soul is lost.

That means we meet him living in a small kutir and worshiping his deities, of which he had several. I think there’s a difference of opinion about what deities he had exactly and here I’d give the benefit of doubt to Dr Kapoor simply because some of his conversations with his deities make more sense that way. For the purpose of this article let’s assume he had Gaura-Gadadhara, Nitai, Radha Krishna, and Bala Gopala. Bala Gopala was his favorite and the smallest one so on his travels he always carried him in his hand while meter high Gaura Gadadhara were carried in a bag by his associates.

All Vamshidasa’s life was centered about his deities, they were literally his life and soul and he didn’t know or care about anything besides them. Over the years he collected a small group of servants and associates who he occasionally communicated with but even then he’d often chastise them rather than sharing any personal feelings.

He never spoke to anyone else, at least not directly. If people asked him a question and he heard it he would simply introduce this new topic into his running dialogue with his deities and sometimes people would hear some fragments that could have been construed as an attempt at an answer. I’m sure modern psychiatrists would have diagnosed him with schizophrenia or worse.

Vamshidas never said things like “I think” or “I want” or “I went”, he always spoke of himself as a third person: “Vamshi ate, Vamshi cooked, Vamshidasa went” and so on. I’d like to speculate here that, as a self-realized person, he didn’t identify himself with his material form at all, the body of Vamshidasa was alien to him. Most of the time he communicated with his deities in his spiritual form and when there was a need to refer to his material manifestation he just couldn’t make himself to believe he was actually that body.

As an avadhuta he didn’t follow any social norms or customs, much less regulations, yet his day was more or less structured and timed. Early in the morning he would go out and collect food, then he would carefully sort it out and wash – only the best grains of rice and best vegetables could be offered to his deities, he didn’t allow any slack in that department, only on some special occasions. After that he would cook, offer food, take prasadam, and the day was basically over.

He didn’t follow any pancharatra rules of serving the deities either, no pujas, no bells, no dresses, he never put Them to sleep, nothing. I bet externally it appeared that he was playing with dolls. Hmm, maybe not, at least not like kids play with dolls these days – with houses, outfits, tea-sets and so on. He had one old, dirty looking cloth to cover his deities in the winter and that was it.

Most of the time he just talked to them, no one knew the content of those conversations and no one heard the deities talking back to him but, apparently, he told them jokes, they laughed, he complained about something, he disciplined them, and sometimes they had fights.

Dr Kapoor had an opinion that Vamshidas related to the deities in various rasas, including Gauranga-Nagari feelings for Lord Chaitanya. I wrote about Gauranga Nagara once here but maybe I was just being silly and naive. I think Dr Kapoor was wrong there and so was his mentor Haridas. In BVKS opinion Vamshidas related to his deities in vatsalya rasa, like a parent with his children and I’ll stick with that.

There was one area of overlapping interests between his spiritual and material lives there – theft. Bala Gopal, as we know, is baby Krishna stealing butter and yogurt from mother Yashoda and her friends, transcendental thief. Lord Chaitanya in his early years did pretty much the same stuff and was as naughty as Krishna Himself, so perhaps for that reason Vamshidasa often treated them as thieves, he thought that was their real nature. To him they were naughty and mischievous and they had to be punished.

Materially speaking it meant that he wasn’t going to guard thieves’ house, they didn’t deserve to be protected. So he never locked the doors of his kutir when going out and he never worried about thieves coming in and stealing stuff. Actually he was quite philosophical about it – he said that thieves come to his house by invitation of Gaura Himself and so it was not his business to stop them. He said that Gaura was very fond of residents of his dhama and so if he wanted them to come and take something from the kutir there was nothing Vamshidasa could do about it.

From this angle having things like locks made no sense at all. Locks are meant for people who want to maintain the difference between “us” and “them” and deny God’s superior will but Vamshidasa was not on that level at all. He saw every living entity as acting under the directions of the same Lord and so building fences between them was a very strange thing to do, it was basically trying to obstruct Lord’s will – “I won’t allow You to let those souls to come and take Your things that you want to give them.”

Sometimes they had to be punished, however. Once some thieves stole his cooking pots. I say “his” cooking pots but Vamshidasa didn’t see anything as “his”, he thought that Gaura and Nitai gave THEIR pots away without thinking about how Vamshidasa would cook for them without the cookware. So he got angry and he gave them an ultimatum – “If you want to eat you will have to bring your pots back, no pots – no food, get it?”

A short while later a guilty looking guy came with one of the pots. “Ah, it’s Nitai’s! Good job!” said Vamshidasa, “Now I can cook something for Nitai, he brought his pot back.” And so he cooked and he fed his Nitai. Gaura, in the meantime, couldn’t believe that he was left out and Vamshidasa was dead serious and so he stood there with a long face until he fell in line, too. Sometime later another guy brought back Gaura’s pot and family harmony was restored.

This thieving business is actually quite relevant to what happened to me over the weekend and I tried very hard to better understand Vamshidasa’s attitude to “personal” property and stealing in general, and there are a couple more Vamshidasa stories on this subject but that’d be better left for another day.

Vanity thought #246. Sources nest.

I was getting ready to resume writing about Srila Vamshidasa Babaji but run into a little problem with sources and now it’s spiraling out of control. It’s not a total waste of time, there are a lot of things that I should settle at least for myself before I can continue with a peaceful mind.

HH Bhaktivikasa Swami rejected some accounts of Vamshidasa’s life because their author failed to pass authority tests. I don’t know why, there’s not explanation given, but I think I have an idea now.

Vamshidasa’s biography presented on Gaudiya Math sites borrows heavily from “Saints of Bengal” by one Dr O.B.L. Kapoor, a book that is not mentioned by BVKS at all. What about some of the stories that came from that book? Are they authoritative? Can they be cited with any confidence or should they carry a disclaimer? With this questions in mind I turned to the good old Google for answers and discovered that those are surely some muddy waters to wade into.

This Dr OBL Kapoor surely had some history. He was an initiated disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and he joined Gaudiya Math around the same time as Srila Prabhupada, meaning that both were junior members and that’s what brought them closer. Srila Prabhupada mentioned him on a couple of occasions when talking about strict sannyasa vows.

Once they approached Srila Bhaktisiddhanta together – Srila Prabhupada, Dr Kapoor, and his young wife. They were young and they were excited about this opportunity and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was in the final years of his pastimes, Dr Kapoor’s wife was like a granddaughter to him, yet when she asked for a word in private Stila Bhaktisiddhanta refused her plea.

Srila Prabhupada and Dr Kapoor haven’t seen each other for some forty years until they accidentally bumped into each other at Radha Damodara temple in Vrindavana, they didn’t even recognize each other at first but when they did they both were very happy to be reunited and so Srila Prabhupada always had a soft spot for Dr. Kapoor.

Once Srila Prabhupada asked him how old he was, he wasn’t sure about their age difference. It turned out Dr Kapoor was nine years younger and then Srila Prabhupada asked him about his teeth, “All there”, Dr Kapoor answered, “never leave the house without them”, and he took his false teeth out to everyone’s laughter. Srila Prabhupada showed him his teeth, beaming like a little boy, he was happy he got one up on a younger man.

Dr Kapoor took part in many Prabhupada’s conversations in Vrindavan and they talked about all kinds of things, about the past, about the present. Dr Kapoor was always there to support Srila Prabhupada with his facts and arguments, he was like his consultant on all kinds of trivia and business dealings.

So, should we take his book as authoritative? I’m afraid not. The last conversation involving Dr Kapoor was a disturbing one. It was about his presentation at some scientific conference where he undermined our own Swarupa Damodara with “all matter is illusion” argument that sounds very much like mayavada. Devotees didn’t like it at all and countered him with our usual “if it’s all an illusion, let me take this illusory chair and hit you on your illusory head”. They were very happy to have defeated him and Prabhupada seemingly concurred “He has become mayavadi.” In Dr Kapoor’s defense it could be said that it was all hearsay and he wasn’t present during that conversation to defend himself. Fair enough, but he had a mayavadi history before he joined Gaudiya Math, too, and devotees remembered that.

That is just the beginning, however. Turns out that after the passing of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Adi Keshava Das, Dr Kapoor’s spiritual name, got attracted to Vrindavan’s babajis and after his retirement he took siksha and eventually sannyasa from one of them who he was told was a siddha mahatma, and the only one siddha who was currently present there and that’s how the blessings of his diksha were finally manifested. I don’t want to offend his memory but it sounds like he confused “diksha” and “ditching”. They might have the same verbal root somewhere but actually one is the opposite of the other.

I don’t know how they settle these things in the spiritual world, we are talking about major devotees here, people do not get to reside in the land of Vraja if they weren’t. By our standards, however, it is just not done, mahatmas or not. I think we have enough examples from Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to raise plenty of suspicions about self promoted siddhas of Vrindavan.

While I was looking up those stories I also came across a series of articles in defense of Bon Maharaja. As I read them it appeared he was a genuinely humble soul, one of the best and foremost disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, fully engaged in bhajana and loved by all his saintly godbrothers. Then we have Srila Prabhupada addressing him by unprintable names. I say unprintable because I am not in the position to repeat them, no because of the strong language. Obviously there’s a story behind that and I think I’ve read it once or twice already but the particulars escape my mind. Suffice to say that Srila Prabhupada was not his only critic, maybe I’ll find out exactly what happened later. It’s just an example that there are all sorts of complications between all kinds of exalted personalities and it sometimes gives me a headache how to avoid contaminating my mind either by reading some unauthorized stories or offending their authors.

Back to Dr Kapoor, however. At this point I tend to think that he played for both sides there and pleased everybody by appearing as a perfect gentleman, he told people what they wanted to hear to score himself some brownies in every house.

Once I’ve heard that in one of his books he denigrated Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s preaching mission by calling it neo-Hinduism. Factually it might be correct, if you are talking to historian and sociologists, but for any genuine follower it would be highly offensive. They didn’t invent anything, they restored the principles of religion, they were empowered by Krishna Himself to carry out His mission. Dr Kapoor’s approach is understanable, however, if he really bought into “all that preaching is bogus and it’s only about money, learn the real bhakti from the babajis” propaganda.

I do not have exact quotes and even the book title but I heard that this argument is now picked on by those Russian Christians I mentioned yesterday in their bid to outlaw our Bhagavat Gita As It Is.

This is funny, because Dr Kapoor Himself had never shied from using his Prabhupada connection to promote his own books. If you read some of the introductions that are freely available on the Internet you’d think he is an officially recognized ISKCON writer.

Dr Kapoor was also telling the devotees that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had never been properly initiated by Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and lead them away to Nitai Gaura Radhe Shyam babaji community. Not only that, but Dr Kapoor also led people to believe that because Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati wasn’t properly initiated and offensive towards Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s initiating guru, Bipina Bihari Goswami, his path back to Krishna was closed forever and all of his followers were doomed, too. I bet he never dared to say such things in front of Srila Prabhupada, it didn’t happen just recently, his first convert left ISKCON in 1973, when Dr Kapoor was all sweetness in his recorded conversations.

That’s why I don’t see any reason to trust Dr. Kapoor’s writings on anything. He might have gotten even the facts wrong as his interpretation of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s initiation shows on close examination.

As far as Vamshidasa Babaji is concerned, Dr Kapoor was also a follower of some Haridasa Goswami who, I suspect, was the same Haridas that Bhaktivikasa Swami dismissed as untrustworthy, probably on the same grounds.

Finally, people who actually read Dr Kapoor’s books, particularly “Saints of Vraja” and “Saints of Bengal”, say that he really thought that crossdressers who pretend to be gopis and engage in sex with other dudes who dress as Krishna have some genuine and spiritually valuable interactions.

Anyway, digging up these old stories is fascinating, sometimes they bring the third, human dimension to the personalities we usually judge in black and white. Sometimes these personalities forgive each other transgressions, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they fool people, sometimes, like real paramahamsas, they pick only the nectar from collective memories.

This is the world we have to live in and deal with, and we have to try our best to keep our own noses clean. Let Krishna sort them out, no one but Krishna Himself is capable of keeping them in their proper places and arrange everything for everybody’s ultimate benefit.

Vanity thought #245. Good Tidings.

Last night, after typing up this blog, I saw some really inspiring news in my tweeter feed and it I think they deserve some thinking about, and some other news stories from the past couple of weeks, too.

First was a Facebook article about an annual festival in Ukraine. Yesterday I was reminiscing about huge kirtans in Mayapur but that festival must not be very far behind, in fact its title is simply “The Biggest Festival”.

The author, HH Devamrita Swami, doesn’t compare it to Mayapur yet but someone in the comments hopes to elevate Ukraine to a dham status ASAP. In terms of the size it’s the biggest ISKCON event already, with 6,000 registered guests. Actually that doesn’t sound like much if you think that sporting events draw ten times more spectators every weekend and some large political rallies reach a million but we are talking about a six thousand strong kirtan here. Surely Man U fans can easily whip up a six thousand strong chorus and will be just as ecstatic singing their silly songs but we are talking about six thousand strong KIRTAN here. That is just mindblowing and it’s only going to grow, it already adds over a thousand more people each year.

Another aspect of that festival is that there was no compulsory fee. Registering devotees are informed of the organizing cost per head but they are not forced to pay, just donate as much as they want and it worked. This policy even worked in gift shops where people could pick up anything they wanted and just leave donations. What can I say, long live Soviet Communism!

Humor aside, this is what our spiritual communism should be like, we should give people our service and leave returns to Krishna. He WILL provide, after all that’s our fundamental philosophical premise. No wonder I had never been offered any managerial positions…

When things are growing it’s relatively easy to implement but what would happen when people get greedier? Would the festival go broke? Every country had experienced tough spells, some have never quite shaken them off, and deterioration is actually the natural quality of the material world, what would happen if people lose interest and devotees start leaving?

I don’t think it should be worrying. Let’s things run their natural course, somebody is going to lose some money, true, but it’s trying that counts, not the success per se, right? There will be devotees who will learn from the failures, too. What’s the actual loss?

There was another encouraging article I saw on Dandavats recently and it was about a Polish devotee, Mahasringa, who has been cooking for Food For Life and other prasadam distribution programs for decades now. He has fed three and a half million people and he is not thinking about retirement yet. This is just amazing dedication, wherever he lives or visits he just finds pots and pans and cooks. I’m sure he doesn’t always have funds, he provides his loving, selfless service and Krishna takes care of the rest.

I think Ukrainian festival organizers have the same attitude, too – we’ll do our part to our best and we’ll take whatever support Krishna thinks we really deserve. This is a massive shift in consciousness and it’s becoming institutionalized, not just dreamed about or eulogized. I hope this is only the pilot project and this model will be spread all over the world. God know the world needs it.

What it really offers to the world is the proof that we are not just some weirdos with funny handbags but we can actually make something work according to OUR laws, not the market economics. I think Srila Prabhupada was very clear that prasadam should be served in our temples for free to anyone who comes but somehow or other we had become focused on the “free” part as in “no such thing as free lunch” and at some point our free prasadam started coming with our mental conditions attached but things have been changing for the better for years now.

I’m sure no one was counting the proceeds amidst a roar of a six thousand strong kirtan, I’m sure lots of people were on the seventh heaven and weren’t even touching the ground in that euphoria, which, I think, is essential if they want to turn that place into a new dham – it needs the dust of their lotus feet.

Another good ISKCON news also came from former USSR, this time from Siberia. They have finally installed the first ever deities of Radha Krishna in Russia, and not in Moscow but in some godforsaken Siberian Gulag. Okay, that city, Omsk, looks quite respectable on the Internet, with over a million population, but I doubt it has ever been anything more than an unknown blip on ISKCON maps.

Apparently they have built quite a community there, got their own land, built their own temple, trained their own pujaris and so on. All of it without waiting for Moscow to lead the way. As far as I know HH Bhakti Bringa Govinda Maharaj has been the main preaching motor in that zone, and he is another devotee whose energy and dedication is unmatched. He is like a touchstone turning Siberian forest into gold, or maybe into groves of kalpa-vriksha trees.

In another, not so good news from Siberia, Christians in Tomsk have taken Bhagavat Gita to courts and they want to prove that it’s the extremist literature that should be banned and burned. Apparently devotees won’t be even allowed to keep Bhagavat Gitas, much less distribute them to the public. The demons have lost this case once already but now they want to bring new university “experts” who had previously banned Jehovah’s Witnesses. Legally the verdict might not have much affect on the book distribution as only one specific edition would be affected but it would be like adding a nuclear weapon to the arsenal of church propaganda there.

On that subject, there was a curious development in Paris recently where they have altogether outlawed praying in the streets. Granted it was aimed at a specific Muslim community that inconvenienced both traffic and pedestrians in one city block but they are looking to extend the ban to the rest of the country in a few months. Unfortunately I haven’t seen any news on how this ruling affected our harinama parties, I imagine they could be stopped and asked to disperse at any time. France, the nation that practically invented the western concept of liberty has gone a full circle and is promoting fascism instead.

Finally, the biggest story of the past couple of weeks had been the departure of HG Gopiparanadhana Prabhu. I have never seen him in person but it seems he was a living example of a learned and devoted brahmana, the kind that is most dear to Krishna, the kind that we mention several times every day when offering prasadam, and that’s just the first among his exceptional qualities. Personally, I’m going to re-read his translation of Brihad Bhagavatamrita at the earliest chance and find his Q&A group that, reportedly, was a trove of useful information.

I still don’t know what should be the reaction to the departure of vaishnavas. It’s sad for us but it’s good for them. Should we be selfish and miserable of happy for his return to Krishna? I don’t know, it should be a mix, I suppose.

To conclude this review I would happily report that no Dalai Lama quotes have found their way into my twitter for the past month of so. I hope it was only a one off occasion. He might be a cool dude but whose quotes are going to appear there next? Deepak Chopra?

Vanity thought #244. Gleeful Frustration.

As usual, my weekend schedule is dictated by social obligations and while I’m reading up on Srila Vamhidasa Babaji I think I need to make some Krishna conscious points out of my dose of TV entertainment.

Today it comes courtesy of the returning TV series Glee. It’s a story of a high school show choir trying to win the national championship. The background is that being in a choir is the bottom of the high school barrel, socially speaking, you can’t fall any further, it’s absolutely uncool, so the guys and the girls are heavily ostracized by the rest of the community but they keep on going because they just love to sing. That’s going into the third year now and this first episode of the new season somehow made this angle most prominent for me.

They’ve lost badly in the finals last year and their spirits were down but they didn’t have any other place to go and they couldn’t do anything else but sing, singing had become the whole purpose of their existence. This time, despite being utterly frustrated by their failure, they also had to recruit some new members so their coach sent them out to preach. The deal was that anytime they see one of the purple pianos in the public place they had to perform a number in search for the like minded souls, hoping that their own dedication to singing would be contagious.

First time they saw a piano in the canteen they were not in the mood at all until one of their leaders convinced them to give it a try if only to cheer up themselves. When they started singing life returned to their bodies, their spirits went high, they really put all their hearts into music and they had the best time in months, they were jumping up to the ceiling. As soon as they finished, however, some hired hand came up and threw a slushie, a flavored frozen drink, in the lead singer’s face and in seconds the entire choir was pelted with all kinds of leftovers. When it was over they wanted to scream in frustration but some time later, when they saw another strategically placed piano, they couldn’t help it but break into a song again. This time the piano was set on fire but it didn’t stop them and so it continued.

While watching this I suddenly remembered a video of a massive kirtan in Mayapur that I happened to watch a few days ago. I don’t think I need to tell anybody how those kirtans go, they really turn you inside out and it seems like the entire universe is chanting Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. The bliss is in the air, penetrating each and every atom, and even inanimate objects seem to be surcharged with ecstatic emotions. I bet people with better vision can see Lord Chaitanya Himself appearing among the dancing crowd, the roar just become tumultuous and no one, absolutely no one, can contain themselves. Then the kirtan ended and I was back home, back in the house.

What happens to those choir kids is exactly what is happening to us, or what should be happening to us. We only really live when we are chanting the Holy Names and as soon as we stop the mundane reality comes in and slaps us on the face and we can’t wait for the chance to forget about this world again, counting hours, minutes, and seconds until we hear the calling of the conch-shells and the tinkling of the karatals, That’s when we wake up from being under the spell and life comes back into our hearts again. We can’t help ourselves as we are naturally drawn to the most attractive sound in the entire universe.

Ideally it should be like this, this is what we should strive for but the long break between chanting sometimes makes us forget where real bliss is and we might start making other plans. Right now I can’t think what would happen to me if I suddenly got a job, it’s not the laziness and un-willingness to work that scares me, it’s the unavoidable fact of life that I WILL become attracted to it that makes me really afraid. If I were given some new responsibilities I would naturally dedicate my mind to getting my job right and before I know it I won’t have any time left for Krishna at all.

Right now, if I get some itch in my brain to do something, I can still keep on chanting and use my free, left hand to type or click or move things around. I can still get up every two minutes and chant until the itch pulls me down to the computer again. I know it’s not the best solution but if the alternative is to get a job where I can’t say “Krishna” for eight hours I’ll take left hand typing any day. I hope this desire to chant will never go away, I kinda got used to mumbling Hare Krishna to myself all day long, being in some office and hanging out with non-devotees is never going to be the same.

This is where I start worrying what’s going to happen to my life in the not so distant future, and that’s another danger – I don’t want to get slushied, I want a nice and pleasant life between my rounds, not constant slaps on the face. Essentially, I want to forget about Krishna in comfort. Either way, happiness or distress, it’s still an illusion, what I should really want is counting time until I get to resume my chanting.

I can’t claim to personally know HH Lokanatha Swami, the kirtan leader in that video, I had a chance to relish his association only briefly and a long time ago but I can’t imagine it’s possible to keep him and his mind away from Krishna for any period of time. He would be suffocating like fish out of water. I want to be a devotee like him, I want unquenchable thirst for chanting, too.

I guess I could settle for doing some service instead of taking a job but I still think it’s more or less the same thing – trying to make my life pleasant. Yes, doing an active service purifies the soul and keeps one thinking of Krishna and it is incomparable to any materialistic job, but it is still only filling the void between chanting.

I look at it this way – I can legitimately get attracted to chanting but any attachment to any service has a potential of becoming attached to material side of activities, too. On the absolute level it is all the same andif I get attached only to beautiful chanting it would still be a material attachment, but, in the words of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, sankirtana is sarvatma snapanam – it’s a purifying bath for the soul, it washes away all selfish desires including the desire to enjoy it.

I don’t want to dilute my original point with clumsy explanations anymore. For some people it’s chanting that is most encouraging, for others it’s preaching, and there’s always book distribution, whatever makes you heart jump, doesn’t matter, it’s the periods in between that we should worry about, we should try to get through them as fast as possible.

It works on a small scale of living through the day and it works in the larger scheme of our lives, too. Right now I’m consoling myself that according to all astrological predictions I’m a late bloomer and Krishna will find something useful for me to do in the future. Maybe I’m fooling myself but that is my fault, not the principle. Even Sanatana Goswami had periods when he thought he was completely useless, like that time he was traveling from Vrindavan to Puri and got skin disease on the way. When he arrived he thought there was nothing for him to do but to jump under Lord Jagannatha’s chariot and kill himself. Lord Chaitanya stopped him, His main argument was that since Sanatana Goswami had surrendered his life he had lost the rights to his body, too. To console Sanatana Goswami Lord Chaitanya told him that He had big plans for his future – all the books to write, all the Holy places to discover, all the devotees to train and so on.

So maybe Krishna is testing my determination, or maybe He is simply waiting until I become mature enough to trust me with anything important, I just worry that my waiting period might lead me off the track.

I just read the meaning of the name of the Goddess Durga. It’s made of two syllables, the first, duh, means difficult, and the second, ga, means go. Altogether it means something like a fortress that is difficult to escape from. In between chanting we are locked in the fortress of maya and it is extremely difficult to escape from it no matter what preparations we make, not matter what we try – it won’t work.

We might try to make our captivity more pleasant and that would be a mistake ‘cos it might grow on us. We’d better trust the Lord of the Universe, Hari, to make necessary arrangements so that the time in jail flies faster and with minimum damage. He knows very well whether our minds should be pacified with better blankets and pillows or whether those should be taken away so we don’t fall into an illusion of comfort.

Our job is to patiently wait until we are given the chance to glorify Lord’s Name, which is like being let out of cells for a bit of fresh air. We’ll be released when our sentence ends but there’s also the possibility of a parole – achieve liberation while still in our bodies. In the meantime we should stay away from the career criminals and keep our noses clean.

Vanity thought #243. Vamshidas Babaji Part 2.

HH Bhaktivikasha Swami wrote a book about his life which I consider an “official” biography in our society, simply out of respect for the maharaja’s efforts. In foreword to that book BVKS says that he sorted out some of the less reliable stories about the life of Srila Vamshidasa,leaving only those that could be corroborated with authoritative sources. Some of them might still be true but we don’t know which. Overall BVKS didn’t trust a book about Vamsidasa written by one of his followers, Haridasa, which is accepted as a proper source in some non-ISKCON narrations.

We will never know the truth, not as long as we rely on our imperfect, conditioned state methods of investigations. It would be better for us to follow BVKS until we get a clearance to accept “apocryphal” anecdotes, it’s not about the truth, after all, it’s about respect for senior vaishnavas. BVKS godbrothers or Gaudia Math followers are not obliged to accept his version as gospel truth but we are in a different position and so should trust his judgement on the matter until we get further instructions. Of course we might come across some new evidence that wasn’t available at the time of writing but as far as internet hunting goes we can’t trust anything. I wouldn’t trust my own blog unless I mention verifiable sources.

Having said that… Now I’m going to break the rule I’ve just been arguing for. The temptation is too strong, my mind is oveclocked trying to find a way around. Okay, got it. The apocryphal stories might or might not have happened, but what is more important is the interpretation. Bhaktivikasha Swami thought that Haridasa had not been following the proper siddhanta and so was disqualified. No one but a pure devotee can understand the mind of a mahabhagavata that was Srila Vamshidas, if Haridas somehow compromised himself he cannot be trusted. I know nothing about him myself though I can imagine he and his followers have a different opinion about this. We are not his followers, however, if he diverted from our understanding of the siddhanta his interpretations should be rejected.

My interpretations, if I manage to offer them, should not be trusted, too, I’m just trying to make sense of what is way beyond my abilities to understand, I just hope I won’t do too much damage. At one point Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati forbade his disciples from visiting Vamshidas, possibly because he was afraid they would make completely wrong, offensive conclusions about Vamshidas behavior, possibly because Vamshidas himself didn’t want to see them.

Bottom line is simple – whatever we learn about Vamshidas should advance our Krishna consciousness, I hope I’ll have enough sense to stop myself if some offensive weeds start growing in my mind.

Let’s start in the beginning – Srila Vamshidas was born in part of Bengal that is now Bangladesh, he grew up in a small village that used its own dialect that no one could understand when Vamshidas moved to Navadvipa. Being born a son of a fisherman, one of the lowest ranks in the caste society, he still got initiated by a family guru.

This makes me wonder, was the initiation business at that time degraded to such a low level already? Or should it be treated just as a cultural habit having nothing to do with spiritual progress? Or should we just accept that fish eating was not an obstacle to dvija status? Or was it not really a dvija thing? Initiation means different things to different people, there was definitely something wrong by the standards we learned from Srila Prabhupada. I tend to think it was a concession to the tastes of the local population which compromises the whole process but I might be wrong. Being initiated implies achieving a certain level but it appears that in search of vanity people don’t mind lowering the standards instead. Whatever.

Srila Vamshidasa didn’t think too much about it, when he met Narottama Dasa Babaji who had taught him about real devotion to Krishna and Lord Chaitanya he accepted another initiation from him. There are different opinions of who exactly his guru was but this is what is BVKS book so I’ll take it as truth. I should also mention that his family guru was coming from Narottama parivara, descendants of Narottama Dasa Thakura, I understand, not some self-appointed acharya but, as I said, it didn’t matter much – whoever can teach the science of Krishna Consciousness should be accepted as a spiritual master.

When family noticed that Vamshidasa’s attachment to his new guru grew stronger and stronger they decided to marry him off but it didn’t help. Vamshidas had left his wife with a six month old child and dedicated his life to the service of the Lord.

Don’t do this at home, methinks. In the early days of our movement many devotees did the same thing, leaving their families without a second thought only to find a few years down the road that life in total dedication is very difficult to sustain. Some took sannyasa to keep themselves above the water but it didn’t help either. Here I think the attempt itself is laudable but you can’t initiate yourself out of material consciousness, better to humbly pray and wait for Krishna’s arrangements. Krishna can facilitate the initiation if you really really ask for it but you’ll have to bear responsibility for pretending to be on the level higher than you really are all by yourself. It might work out, it might not, we shouldn’t trust our materially contaminated desires too much, sometimes we just don’t want to admit to ourselves our real motives for the progress up the society’s ranks and it’s the real motives that matter, not the outwardly promises we make in public.

Anyway, Srila Vamshidas left his fish eating family and went to stay with his new guru and worship Radha Krishna deities there but only for a few days, then he moved to live in a forest but not the ordinary one, he moved into groves made of five kinds of sacred trees, there he stayed for three years and then went on pilgrimage. No one accompanied him, at least no one who could tell the tale. By contrast, his later travels are very well documented but it’s the first years that are probably more important to us, the years when he transformed his life into a devotee of the highest grade. How did he do it? What were his secrets? How can we follow his footsteps?

Practically all we know about his life came from the time when he was already an avadhuta, the stage where we can’t really adapt anything to our own lives anymore.

When I think about this missed opportunity I have no choice but admit that all we need to know for our progress has already been provided to us by Srila Prabhupada, if Krishna wanted to give us any special shortcuts He would have done it already. No choice but admit that chanting at least sixteen rounds a day, reading our books and serving the preaching mission is the best recipe, there’s no better way, there’s no better way, there’s no better way, to paraphrase our famous quote about chanting.

More to follow.

Vanity thought #242. Vamshidas Babaji.

Just as I concluded that I have no qualifications to reflect on the life and devotional service of Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and should better stick to simple things prescribed to us by Srila Prabhupada I decided to write something about Vamshidasa Babaji. From the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.

If Srila Gaurakishora wasn’t paying attention to the dealings of the material world around him, Vamshidasa Babaji lived as if the world didn’t even exist, if you can call his existence living. He didn’t “live” in the conventional sense. Living implies lots of things we take for granted, it implies some sort of a purpose, some progression from youth to maturity to old age, it implies having some goals and keeping schedules, it implies being part of the society, it implies, on the most gross level, eating, sleeping, mating and defending with the view to survival and happiness.

Vamshidasa Babaji had none of that. He was a total avadhuta, completely oblivious to any kind of social expectations or restrictions. As I mentioned earlier, he couldn’t even talk to people, he talked only to his deities, nobody else. He didn’t have a concept of time or space or natural sequence of things, he just talked to his deities and cooked for them, that’s all he did, ever.

Sometimes he fasted for days without taking even water and he didn’t notice anything was out of ordinary, he just forgot to eat for the reasons known only to him and his deities. HH Bhaktivikasha Swami wrote a book about his life some twenty years ago that was based on memoirs of one of the devotees who took part in Srila Vamhidasa’s travels and that devotee testified that Srila Vamhidasa didn’t follow even basic principles of human life. He had never seen him take a bath, for example, and he had never seen him to pass either urine or stool, Vamshidasa’s body had no material needs like that, it was sustained entirely by the spiritual energy, much like the bodies of six goswamis of Vrindavana.

When Srila Vamshidasa was around eighty years old he was travelling a lot and younger people couldn’t keep pace with him, he had too much energy and he didn’t need much rest. Reminds me how Srila Prabhupada’s disciples had trouble keeping with him on his morning walks, too.

One could imagine the standards of devotional purity of Srila Vamshidasa, so what is the point of trying to learn something from his life – it’s impractical and downright suicidal to bring any aspect of his “sadhana” into my life. What can I learn from him that I don’t know I can’t apply to my own life? If I’m afraid I’d be of no interest to Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, what’s the point of trying to find something in common with Srila Vamshidasa? There is something, however – there’s the living proof that this world is just an illusion over our eyes.

Yesterday I mentioned that Srila Gaurakishora often talked to Lord Chaitanya during his bhajans and he learned all he needed to know from Him and the Supersoul. For Srila Vamshidasa this source of knowledge wasn’t complimentary, it was primary. Sure, he learned human language when he grew up in the family of a poor fisherman but everything beyond that was totally foreign unless his deities explained it to him. People trying to maintain a conversation of Srila Vamshidasa were never satisfied with his answers because he had a completely different value system and completely different structure to his thoughts.

One could say he had knowledge of the future, he displayed it on several occasions. Once he saved a little girl from being hit my lightning, and once he directed the boatman to take him to a meeting place with a snake which he presented to his deities as Anantadeva. He knew where the snake would appear and he knew what color it would be and he knew his deities would like to meet it. There are probably more incidents like that which are skipping my memory right now, that’s not important.

He wasn’t predicting the future – he had no concept of time flowing in any direction at all, time had no influence over his soul. When people asked him something in terms of what was going on, why, and what was going to happen next, he was totally bewildered about such method of thinking. If it wasn’t pleasing to Krishna it had no reason to be thinking about, much less trying to figure out its trajectory through the time. Srila Vamshidasa genuinely couldn’t even feint the interest in such things, his consciousness was visibly drifting away to his deities. A group of merchants once wanted to know about the prospects of the post-world war trade. Srila Vamshidasa had no clue what they were on about and wasn’t even listening. Worlds War II? Trade? Prospects?

This kind of vision of the reality is fundamentally different from our lives, and I think it’s fundamentally different even from our dreams, I can surely speak only for mine here. No matter how deeply I look into my heart I still think in terms of past, present and future. I think about the process of my purification, for example. I have a contaminated heart now and I hope will become cleaner in the future. In my everyday life I might tell myself not to worry about anything and not to make plans but I still see things in sequence of cause and effect, I’m just telling myself not to worry about effects, which implies I realize the connection with causes.

So I might not have anything practical to learn from Srila Vamshidasa but it’s still very reassuring to know that the only thing that really matters is devotional service to guru and Krishna and everything I see and experience and take for real is just a play of Krishna’s energy and there’s no objective, independent existence for anything I’ve ever known. Krishna is always in absolute and total control of every minute details of the world as I know it.

It’s one thing to know it theoretically but when it comes to practical life we know that if you drop something it would fall. The story of Prahlada Maharaja being dropped from the cliff and saved by Vishnu is nice but it happened once in the entire universe to the greatest devotee of all time, when I drop a pen off my desk it falls, there’s no Visnhu’s intervention here, just the laws of nature.

Vamshidasa Babaji is the testament that it is not true at all, that my pen might or might not fall by the sweet will of the Lord, it’s a waste of human life trying to predict what will happen while ignoring the presence of the Supreme Controller right there in my heart.

When I just joined the devotees I heard this many many times – if you chant Hare Krishna anything can happen. Yes, sometimes, if you chant devotedly, I thought, and over the time I grew very cynical about Krishna’s interventions. Now I wish that simplicity had returned to me, that I could really forget about the mechanics of my life and concentrate on the Holy Name only.

Poor me of little faith.

Yet, thanks to Srila Vamshidasa, I feel just a tad safer and a tad more detached than yesterday. I still worry too much about every little thing but it’s nice to KNOW that there’s always a fallback option to everything – Krishna.

Vanity thought #241. Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji Part 8.

I think it’s the last one, I think I’ve more or less covered all the memorable episodes from Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji’s life so now it’s the time to practice rather than learn. There’s some stuff still left, however, it falls into “him against us” category and I’m not sure how we can happily reconcile our differences.

Yesterday I wondered how I could ever get any blessings from an exalted vaishnava like him, not even blessings, just a little favorable remark, maybe even less than that – a rebuke. Come to think of it, even a rebuke would be a blessing, what is most likely to happen is that I’d just be ignored as a non-existing entity. Nothing worth looking at, a failure as a devotee and not some ignorant soul in need of enlightenment anymore. I had my chance at becoming a real devotee but I’ve made some wrong choices, committed some offences against the Holy Name, Holy Dhama, and the vaishnavas, and so I have no future and evoke no interest. Sad, quite sad, but I have a feeling that I’m not alone.

I look absolutely hopeless by Srila Gaurakishora’s standards but comparing to the next guy I’m not doing too bad. Two stories to illustrate that my failings are not that uncommon and are rather acceptable to many a devotees in our movement.

Once Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji decided to honor the memory of Srila Sanatana Goswami, he said that no one around held the festival on his disappearance day and he would really like to celebrate the occasion. Excited devotees immediately started making plans for a big festival, they asked Srila Gaurakishora what kind of food they should prepare to honor Sanatana Goswami. “What are you talking about?” asked Srila Gaurakishora, “we are going to fast whole day! And we are going to chant Hare Krishna, we are the most insignificant beggars of his mercy, that will be the grandest festival ever!”

Feast and festivals, we are very big on those things, allegedly they are for the preaching purposes, especially tons of tasty prasadam. Fair enough, our karmi guests also get some so it’s not a total hypocrisy but the gap in perception is obviously clear – we love to stuff ourselves while he hated eating as a matter of principle. He never ate food prepared by anybody else, only what he cooked and offered himself. I can’t follow this practice and I don’t know anyone who can, even if it makes perfect sense.

Another festival confusion happened when Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji told everyone to go to a local Ratha Yatra. He told devotees of all the wonderful things they can see there and all the special dishes that are going to be distributed as Lord Jagannatha’s prasadam. Everybody went, after all Babaji Maharaj himself advertised it.

Babaji Maharaj himself didn’t go, though, he sat down for the daily reading from Chaitanya Charitamrita but there was no one there to read, Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji was illiterate and also gone blind in his last years, he relied on other vaishnavas to read from the scriptures for him but no one was left. Srila Gaurakishora wasn’t happy that he was surrounded by so many pretenders who had no loyalty and left to look at young women and eat sumptuous prasadam at the first call. He wasn’t happy so many of his associates had failed the test but he was happy to chant the Holy Names without their burden, too.

I don’t know many people who would have passed that test if it was offered in our society. Generally speaking, on Ratha Yatra days there’s no higher service than participating. If there was some self-realized devotee sitting in the temple and reading books on Ratha Yatra day we’d thought he was mistaken in his priorities.

This is alright, I suppose, that’s what Srila Prabhupada told us to do, but I can’t also deny that there’s a lot of sense enjoyment involved in festivals like that, not all of it entirely for the Lord’s pleasure. On the other hand we also know that Krishna loves to see his devotees happy and well fed. That is fine, I guess, but only to a certain degree, up to a certain point, just like we love to feed our children when they are young but insist on a strict diet as they grow older. At a certain point in our devotional lives we should start feeling uncomfortable eating for our own pleasure, prasadam or not.

Until that happens we’d better not show up before Srila Gaurakishora’s eyes, there will be no mercy.

Ultimately it all comes down to preaching, we accept lowering standards in so many cases in the name of preaching. Our book distributors can’t cook for themselves, and any preaching effort requires cooperation and help from so many other devotees. When you accept help you also accept people’s faults and idiosyncrasies, you can’t expect everyone to be on the highest possible level of devotion. If we strictly follow Srila Gaurakishora’s example we’d have to run away from all those people and thus never ever accomplish anything.

How can that be reconciled? Is our sadhana absolutely incompatible with what he would have prescribed for us?

I think one thing we should keep in mind is that Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji wasn’t a reclusive madman to the worldly eyes in the way Srila Vamshidasa Babaji was. Even though Srila Gaurakishora had absolutely no attachment to this world he was still pretty functional, at least from our Gaudiya tradition point of view. He chanted the rounds, he came to listen to readings from the scriptures, he probably held classes himself, he associated with people, he had kirtans together and, perhaps most importantly, he always had some devotees around him to give instructions in spiritual life.

True, he didn’t go out into the cities to sell books to everybody hoping to catch a fallen soul or two but that’s why we call his kind of devotees bhajananandi as opposed to goshthianandis like his only disciple Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati or our Srila Prabhupada. There was a split in the vaishnava community when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta started preaching everywhere instead of sitting in Navadvipa and chanting but Srila Gaurakishora was always very fond and protective of his disciple and his actions. He saw that there was not a trace of selfishness in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and that was good enough for him against any kind of accusations about his disciple being swept by fame, glory and greed.

As a matter of fact, Srila Gaurakishora himself was just as uncompromising when he had something he could use in Krishna’s service. He didn’t get Rolls Royces and suits but if someone offered him something he thought he could use he would never let it go. What was destined for Krishna or for the service of His devotees was Krishna’s alone, no one could pry it out of Srila Gaurakishora’s hands.

Once he handed a hundred rupees, quite a sum by those days standards, to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta for keeping and one day he made a big fuss when he discovered that the money was placed in the bank and with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta being in Calcutta no one had access to it. It turned out he had a devotee going to Vrindavana and he wanted the money to be spend on serving vaishnavas there. There were other instances like that, too, externally he sometimes appeared very attached to donations but only when he knew what they were going to be used for. At other times he couldn’t care less.

That’s another thing – we can never fully understand how it worked. Unlike us, Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji was personally communicating with Lord Chaitanya and on that level the ordinary, external reasons do not matter much. Through the advice of Lord Chaitanya and the Supersoul in his heart he knew exactly what was going on in the lives and hearts of others. He didn’t need any explanations, he knew exactly where people were coming from, what were their inner motives and where they were going. Sometimes he would accept their gifts and services, sometimes not. We will never be able to trace external reasons to the same depth.

I should have mentioned it earlier but Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji always had a running conversation with Lord Chaitanya, that just cannot be imitated, that’s pure madness for any of us, but it was an integral part of his existence on this planet.

And so here I think I spotted a glimpse of the solution. I can’t follow his footsteps in my service. I love to eat and sleep and I can’t renounce the world. I can’t follow the footsteps of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati who could do all those things without developing any material attachments. Theoretically speaking, preachers like him are the highest possible level of devotion, taking such risks in order to fulfill the desires of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

For people like me, however, our Srila Prabhupada gave pretty clear instructions on how to transform our lives to Krishna Consciousness. He didn’t promise us daily darshans of the Supersoul or fountains of prema-bhakti but he taught us the value and safety of preaching and, judging by Srila Gaurakishora’s attitude to non-renunciate lives, it’s the only thing that might work on such fallen souls as us, nothing else will.

By reading biographies of devotees like Srila Gaurakishora we might imagine that we are getting close but the reality is that we are being very very far. Personally, at first I was captivated by his stories but in the end all I could see are massive blocks of material gunk in the arteries of my heart. It’s a one giant knot made of poisonous snakes and my soul is buried somewhere deep, deep inside, quite enjoying the situation.

At first I was “playing” Srila Gaurakishora, like a little boy with a toy gun I appropriated all his victories over maya to myself. Now, however, I feel like my eyes have been slightly opened and I realize that I can’t fight real maya in my real life with a toy gun anymore. All his battles now have to become my personal war and it’s a bit overwhelming, to say the least.

I desperately need the shelter of the Holy Name and the safety of Srila Prabhupada’s mission.