A week or so ago there was a disappearance day of Ramakrishna Pandit Babaji, perhaps the most prominent Vrindavana devotee of the first half of the twentieth century (not the Ramakrishna of “Ramakrishna Mission”, a completely different person). He was perfect in his sadhana, he chanted a gazillion rounds every day and when not chanting he was deeply immersed in lila-smaranam. Unlike the rank and file, he was never accused of associating with women or smoking, his character and dedication to Sri Sri Radha Krishna was spotless, his renunciation on par with the standard set out by the Six Goswamis. AFAIK, he was the only Vrindavana babaji who was mentioned by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati by name, and that’s saying something.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati called him a kanishtha.
Everyone else considered him a siddha. How come? How did he deserve such a dressing down? Was it justified? What should we make out of this judgment?
I’m not in the position to judge anyone, let alone a long departed exemplary vaishnava. If Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati called him kanishta, it’s his business, if I say something like this I’ll got to hell. Nevertheless, as followers of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta it’s our duty to protect integrity of our acharya and try to provide an explanation for his statement.
Let’s look at a couple of episodes from Ramakrishna Babaji’s life.
Ramakrishna Babaji had zero possessions and he lived in a cave in the side of Govardhana. Everyday he would complete his rounds before going out for madhukari, alms collection, which therefore happened late in the evening. Even to get water it was a long walk from his cave to the nearest well, so one day his associate gave him a clay pot so that he had something to store water during the day. Babaji got irritated because he was free of the desire to have any possessions and so any such gift was unacceptable.
Well, once you get past oohs and aahs that this story begs to elicit, let’s remember our position on renunciation – everything belongs to Krishna and everything must be engaged in His service. People who renounce material possessions are more advanced that people attached to them but their renunciation is called phalgu varagya, “false renunciation”, because you can’t renounce that which does not belong to you in the first place.
Proper renunciation is yukta vairagya – engaging everything in Krishna’s service. One who rejects possessions is still acting on the bodily platform of I and mine, not knowing that even his body is meant for the pleasure of the Lord and therefore cannot be rejected.
Then there is a story with a local king’s visit to Vrindavana. He came to see Ramakrishna Babaji and offered his service. “Just leave and never come back”, was the reply.
We have an example of Lord Chaitanya who refused association of the King Prataparudra on the grounds that devotees should not associate with people in power and people attached to sense gratification. No one can come to Vrindavana with an army of servants and be accepted as a devotee, there’s no place there for people like that, they should not pollute the Holy Dham with their materialistic attitudes. Good answer.
Except that it happened in the days when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati met with all kinds of rulers and politicians and enlisted their help in service of Lord Chaitanya’s mission. Without endorsement of such prominent personalities Gaudiya Math would have had a much harder time reaching millions and millions of people and establishing so many temples.
Srila Prabhupada was acting in the same vein and never rejected anyone’s offer of help.
Akama sarva-kamo va – whether on is desireless of full of desire one must worship the Supreme Lord (SB 2.3.10), and also there’s artharthi, the desirer of wealth, among four types of people who begin service to the Lord (BG 7.16). How can they be turned away from Krishna’s service?
One could say that engaging everyone in service is for goshthianandis who are dedicated to preaching but standards for bhajananandis who are engaged in confidential service are different. Well, it says more about status of bhajanandis comparing to goshthianandis then about anything else because principle of everyone being an eternal servant of Krishna is absolute.
Sure enough, Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji rejected association of many pseudo vaishnavas, too, but his typical reply, continued by our Srila Prabhupada, was to offer them a chance to serve anyway. Srila Gaurakishora would invite them to give up all their possessions and become babajis and Srila Prabhupada would invite them to abandon all their duties, don devotee robes, decorate themselves with tilakas, and go out on sankirtana just like all his disciples. There is always an off-chance that someone might accept this proposition and, as I said earlier, no one’s offer of service should be rejected out of hand.
Srimad Bhagavatam describes a madhyama adhikari as follows: “The madhyama-adhikārī … is merciful to the ignorant ..” and kanishtha adhikari “..does not know how to behave toward devotees or people in general”.
Then there’s a case about Ramakrishna Babaji dedication to lila smaranam. He knew all the books on confidential pastimes of the Divine Couple by heart and he could never had enough of discussing their pastimes.
Fine, but discussing such pastimes has certain strings attached to it in our tradition. One should engaged in it only when one is situated on the liberated platform so that his attraction to them is purely spiritual. We cannot mistake our attachment to our mental images as a genuine thing. We cannot say “I like the sight of these flowers adoring Srimati Radharani’s hair” and imply that we have actual perception of Her transcendental personality. We might imagine these flowers to be very beautiful but that is not the same as seeing the actual flowers of spiritual Vrindavana. We cannot judge spiritual beauty by the standards of our material perception. Our words and mental images do not even begin to describe the real thing.
You know what it’s called when we substitute spiritual reality with material things? Prakrita sahajiya. Of course it’s not as bad as going out with girls in the middle of the night pretending it to be the rasa dance but it’s still prakrita sahajiya, and as such it’s a domain of kanishthas (NOI 5).
Therefore in our tradition we expect devotees to discuss confidential pastimes only when they are qualified to perceive their real, spiritual nature, just as real as our preaching. You can’t imagine to be preaching and you can’t imagine to be a part of ashta kaliya lila, both kinds of service must be actual.
The distinction between goshthianandi and bhajananandi is also artificial. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was both but he took to bhajana only when his body was not suitable for preaching anymore. “Work now, samadhi later”, as Srila Prabhupada told us. To give an example – when people came to visit Bhaktivinoda Thakur in the later stage of his life he couldn’t even see them, he had to use his hands to physically lift his eyelids first. “Work now” for him had also happened AFTER his retirement from government service, that’s when he did most of his active preaching, traveling all over Bengal and personally establishing nama hatta program.
Anyway, as I said in the beginning, this is not a judgment of Ramakrishna Pandit Babaji’s level of spiritual advancement, it’s the defense of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati giving him a public dressing down. The purpose of this article is to glorify our siddhanta, not to diminish any devotees.