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.