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.