I think I need a short break from Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji lila and reflect on something else, though it so happens that I look at a lot of things through the memory of what he said or did about it in his days.
Today I wanted to try and apply his attitude towards living in the Holy Dhama to our days and I’ve got perfect help from HG Hari Shauri’s Transcendental Diary, from the part where Srila Prabhupada dealt with his disciples in Mayapur.
Let’s start how it was in the old days, how vaishnavas of Srila Gaurakishora and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s caliber thought about it. Before Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati started his preaching mission residence in the holy places was the ultimate goal and absolute minimum for any serious devotee.
People who left for Gaudiya Math or Radha Kund babajis still remind us about that, along with quotes of Sanatana Goswami and others. One who wants to develop love for Radha and Krishna should go and live in Vrindavan or Mayapur, that’s the starting point of developing one’s devotion.
Okay, maybe not the real starting point but it’s the test of commitment. Is one ready to give up his material attachments and dedicate himself to chanting the Holy Names? Vrindavana was given to us exactly for that and if one wants to live somewhere else his motives are certainly contaminated. I mean, if you serious about surrendering to Krishna than why would you want to live in Paris or New York or on some tropical island? All those places have a lot going for them but all their attractions are purely material. If you want Krishna, go live in Krishna’s place, as simple as that.
So it was a test, new devotees were coming to Vrindavan or Navadvipa all the time. I don’t know much about Vrindavan traffic but from Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji’s biography it appears there was no shortage of aspiring devotees in Navadvipa.
Simply moving in wasn’t enough, though, Srila Gaurakishora and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had a lot more tests coming. What are your living arrangements? What are your eating arrangements? What kind of association do you maintain? How do you present yourself and how do you treat others?
All those questions needed to be answered satisfactory or you wouldn’t get recognition as a genuine vaishnava.
You can’t buy land to live, and you can’t beg for land to live from unworthy persons. You can’t eat for your own pleasure, you can’t eat food prepared by non-devotees, you can’t associate with non-devotees either, and you can’t, under any circumstances, demand or enjoy any respect as a devotee. That’s a short list but it’s really tough to follow.
Basically, the only way to comply is to become a renounced babaji like Srila Gaurakishora himself. You should give up all, absolutely all material interests and consider yourself to be the lowest and most fallen servant of every living being and the land itself. We all know what an advanced vaishnava looks like, more or less, and if you are not advanced yet then living in the Holy Dhama isn’t for you, come back when you are ready.
Fast forward to the days of Srila Prabhupada. ISKCON had land and beautiful temples in both Vrindavana and Mayapur and everybody wanted to be there, it was a pinnacle of one’s progress. If you made it to the status of Brijabasi you made it, and it seemed so easy – just buy a ticket and go, and then you become a resident of the Holy Dhama.
There was also a question of preaching, and entirely new strategy to achieve success in Krishna Consciousness, thanks to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. Living in Holy Dhamas and doing your bhajan had become the sign of selfishness because Lord Chaitanya’s real request for his followers was to preach the glory of the Holy Name in every town and village.
Vrindvan is great for your own advancement, that hasn’t gone anywhere, but putting yourself out on the streets of ugra-karmic cities and calling people to come back to Krishna is a far bigger sacrifice. The babaji club probably has different opinions on this and they might be very exalted devotees but we were not born to live in Vrindavan, we were born to live as disgusting meat-eaters and drunkards, if vaishnavas like Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Srila Prabhupada hadn’t left Vrindavan for our sake we wouldn’t even know about its existence.
We can never ever overestimate the value of preaching, no matter what anybody says, preaching saved us, no less than that. It makes me sad when some devotees denigrate the very thing that gave them the ability to become devotees in the first place.
Anyway, there was an influx of devotees to both Vrindavan and Mayapur and I’m reading the part from Transcendental Diary where Prabhupada had to deal with it. Clearly, not everyone was ready, and that’s being very, very generous. Factually speaking, not a single person would have qualified by Srila Gaurakishora Babaji’s standards, not a single one. Massive fail on each and every account, so there’s that.
There is also preaching, devotees who were otherwise unqualified could stay in Mayapur for the preaching purposes, that is the only excuse our faults could be tolerated, and that is the only safeguard for us not to fall the victims of dhama-aparadhas.
Devotees who were not in the preaching mood paid dearly. I think no one can live in the Holy Dhama unless he preaches or becomes a first class vaishnava, in which case he would naturally live as a babaji. There’s also a class of people are are simply meant to be there, whose service has been practically reserved until their appearance, but, just like with mahabhagavatas, no one can imitate them even though many have tried.
Today I read the story of the devotee who decided to chant hundred and fifty rounds a day. He genuinely thought he could pull it off. Unfortunately, the first thing that is mentioned about him the Diary is that he didn’t want to see other devotees as they disturbed his bhajan. That is a major misunderstanding of the value of vaishnava association, the way I’ve heard this story before it didn’t have a happy ending, let’s see how Hari Shauri ends it in his diary.
Yes, I also try to chant many rounds every day but my excuse is that I really have no other choice. I’m not in the presence of my spiritual master ready to engage me in various preaching missions and I’m not living in a temple where there’s always lots of service to be done. All I can practically do now is to chant and type this blog. I’m not forfeiting any other duties by doing that.
Another devotee solved the problem of living in the temple in another way. If you live in the temple you must pull your share of work and you must follow the management, in those days our temples weren’t in the business of providing babaji service. So that devotee decided to rent a piece of temple land for himself, that way he wasn’t obliged to anybody.
Well, that’s the problem, though – we are not seeking independence, that’s actually exactly opposite to what we are trying to achieve. “Devotees can’t come and order me around anymore, I’m finally free” – what kind of attitude is that? I hope that devotee didn’t feel like that but others following his footsteps might. Afaik that story didn’t have a happy ending either.
The most interesting part is how Prabhupda was not in the position to criticize them. That’s an outrageous statement, the spiritual master is the only person allowed to criticize other vaishnavas, how come Prabhupada couldn’t? In answer to this question I’d say that he certainly had the right but it doesn’t mean he could do it freely.
Criticism is only a tool in developing disciple’s devotion and it doesn’t work in each and every case. In Transcendental Diary Hari Shauri Prabhu made that point very clear – in some cases Prabhupada restrained from open criticism to retain devotees in our society. If he blamed them they could have left and instead of chanting a gazillion of rounds they could have been doing a million of other, non Krishna Conscious things. What good would that criticism bring then? So Prabhupada stayed non-committal and restrained in his response. I think it made him sad that some devotees thought they could imitate Haridasa Thakura so easily but it’s the lesson they had to learn themselves, he just helped.
That’s the thing about gurus – they don’t make devotees by magic, this is something we must desire ourselves, gurus are their to guide and inspire us, the ultimate decision is still ours to make. I might be wrong here, I just don’t like shifting responsibility for my faults on my spiritual master.
And now we have a large community of devotees living in Mayapur and especially Vrindavan, unfortunately many of them have left the shelter of Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON, at least externally. I don’t know what Srila Gaurakishora might have said to people who left their gurus because they were not good enough and made long lists of their gurus faults. Personally I think this has absolutely nothing to do with vaishnavism, but since becoming a pure devotee is a process we should just let it play out itself, it’s all for our own good, Krishna wouldn’t have it otherwise.
I too had been badly burned by trying to maintain my materialistic lifestyle in the Holy Dhama. I thought the whole world outside existed to support my residence there and I just had to go out and milk it. It didn’t work, I was not, and still am not on the level where living in the Holy Dhama is possible and probably won’t be for a long, long while, perhaps for a lifetime or two, or two thousand.
It’s sad, really, and I hope thinking about it purifies my heart and brings me just a bit closer to becoming ready. One way or another, I will be there, I have to keep that goal in my mind at all times. Rome wasn’t built in one day either, I just have to build my house of devotion brick by brick, however long it takes.