For some reason Śrīla Prabhupāda never got to write a book on teachings of Haridāsa Ṭhākura. We have four “Teachings” books – Queen Kuntī, Lord Kapila, Lord Caitanya, and Prahlāda Mahārāja, but Haridāsa Ṭhākura is missing. His instructions were very unique and I think it’s our loss that we don’t have them in a concise, easy to refer to form. I’m not going to write one, just reflect on some of his great points.
Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s life is covered extensively in our books, probably better than any other associate of Lord Caitanya. He was always present with the Lord from Madhya Lila onwards and he was always mentioned for a good reason. His early life, however, is best covered in Caitanya Bhāgavata where there’s a whole chapter just about him, so let’s start from there.
As is well known, he was born into a Muslim family but somehow got converted to vaiṣṇavism, apparently before he met Advaia Ācārya. He appeared in what is now Bangladesh thirty five years before Lord Caitanya so he must have been in his fifties when the Lord finally revealed His identity and mission to everyone. Before that he was practically on his own, his friendship with Advaita Ācārya the only bright spot in his life in terms of the association, and it wasn’t he best of times for devotees either.
It is said that he prayed along with Advaita Ācarya for the appearance of the Lord, which means he was a fully fledged devotee in his thirties. The chapter from Caitanya Bhāgavata must talk about events before then. This is a little puzzling because the story about being caned in twenty two marketplaces is connected to Lord Caitanya but the Lord hadn’t descended yet. I’ll get to this in due time.
Our records start when Haridāsa came to Phuliyā, near Śāntipura, which was Advaita Ācaraya’s place. He was already constantly chanting the Holy Name and everyone in Phuliyā knew and loved him, even Muslims. He was already exhibiting all symptoms of transcendental ecstasy, too. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī quotes the following from Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu:
When the seed of ecstatic emotion for Krishna fructifies, the following nine symptoms manifest in one’s behavior: forgiveness, concern that time should not be wasted, detachment, absence of false prestige, hope, eagerness, a taste for chanting the holy name of the Lord, attachment to descriptions of the transcendental qualities of the Lord, and affection for those places where the Lord resides-that is, a temple or a holy place like Vrindavana. These are all called anubhavas, subordinate signs of ecstatic emotion. They are visible in a person in whose heart the seed of love of God has begun to fructify.
Caitanya Bhāgavata confirms many of those. Remember, it was before advent of Lord Caitanya and around the time of Haridāsa’s first meeting with Advaita Ācārya. For any wannabe haridasas this should be the starting point, too. If they are not there yet they shouldn’t imitate him.
Just to check what is it that is expected from Haridāsa’s followers:
- Haridasa was most renounced in the matter of material enjoyment, and his mouth was always beautified with the chanting of Lord Krishna’s names.
- He did not give up chanting the names of Govinda for even a moment, and as a result he was constantly manifesting various ecstatic symptoms.
- Sometimes he danced alone, and sometimes he roared like a mad lion.
- Sometimes he cried loudly, and sometimes he laughed loudly.
- Sometimes he roared loudly, and sometimes he fell to the ground unconscious.
- Sometimes he would utter some unnatural sounds, for which he would later give some profound meaning.
- He manifested all the different ecstatic symptoms like crying, hairs standing on end, laughing, losing consciousness, and perspiring.
- As soon as Haridasa began to dance, these symptoms would all manifest in his body.
There’s more but it’s a pretty good list already.
His popularity attracted unwanted attention from local Muslim rulers. I don’t know what exactly the relationships between Hindus and Muslims were in those days. In our books they are most often referred as yavanas rather than as derogatory mlecchas. “Yavana” implies a geographic and ethnic designation but “mleccha” elicits images of disgusting personal habits. It probably wasn’t very bad and Hindus and Muslims got along just fine. Nevertheless, Haridāsa became a target because he converted to “Hindu religion”, as local Kazi thought.
Kazi complained to the King of Bengal and the King called for Haridāsa. The exact circumstances are unclear. It appears that Haridāsa went to see the King on his own but in the commentary Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī says that he was arrested and people understood that he was taken to be tortured. What is clear from the text is that when Haridāsa arrived he was put in jail. In another translation the King asked for Haridāsa to be brought in. Yet the next verse says that Haridāsa was not afraid of the King and went happily chanting to himself. It could have been either way, possibly he was accompanied by King’s soldiers or messengers, perhaps he was shackled, perhaps he went on his own accord, perhaps he was dragged. Who knows. It’s better for our narrative if Haridāsa went to the see the king himself but only marginally so.
Anyway, he was put in jail with other criminals who were all very happy to see him. This is where teachings of Haridāsa really start, from his message to fellow inmates.
One could imagine they thought that Haridāsa’s saintliness would bring them untold benefits and, as a sadhu, he would bless them with early release and all kinds of good fortune. It all started very well. Haridāsa’s arms reached his knees, his eyes were like lotus flowers, and his face was enchanting. By prison standard he probably looked like a demigod. Everyone immediately offered him obeisances and simply by doing so ecstatic emotions manifested in their bodies, too. Haridāsa looked at them mercifully and smiled. “He would save us right now”, everyone anticipated. On the contrary, Haridāsa said: “Stay here, don’t leave, stay here forever.”
I bet it was a little wtf moment there as nobody understood how that could possibly be a blessing, yet it was, and Haridāsa explained it to them.
Your present state of mind is auspicious for you, because you have received the opportunity to cultivate Krishna consciousness by giving up endeavors for material enjoyment. Therefore always remain engaged in chanting Krishna’s names and in remembering Krishna. If you get freedom from prison life and again indulge in sense gratification, then as a result of associating with wicked persons who are averse to the Lord you will forget the Supreme Lord. As long as the endeavor for material enjoyment is prominent in the living entity, there is no possibility for him to worship Krishna. The goal of the material enjoyers is diametrically opposite to Krishna. The conditioned souls who are devoid of devotional service to Krishna are always merged in topics related to their wives and children, which are the center of their enjoyment. If by the mercy of the Lord a person in this dangerous situation meets a saintly person, his taste for material enjoyment will be turned into taste for the service of the Supreme Lord. When one gives up the cultivation of Krishna consciousness, then his natural material propensities will submerse him in a mire of offenses. I do not mean that you should remain suffering within this prison, but in your present condition you have the opportunity to constantly chant the holy names of the Lord. Therefore do not be distressed. The Vaiśṇavas always bless all living entities with the words: ‘May your devotion to the Supreme Lord be fixed.’ I consider this the greatest mercy towards the living entities. Your prison life will soon be finished. Never give up your determination for serving the Supreme Lord in any condition.
That’s how Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta summarized it. Being in prison is a blessing because it takes away the opportunity for material enjoyment and allows one to concentrate solely on Kṛṣṇa.
This is a bit controversial because it hardly ever works, but more on that some other time.