So, severely beating Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura wasn’t enough. He wouldn’t stop chanting and wouldn’t particularly care. The only thing that distracted Haridāsa’s concentration on the Holy Names was the fate of his executioners. He prayed to the Lord to spare them from reactions for their sins.
Did he really care about their karma? No, I think not. What he cared about was that their sins could prevent them from engaging in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. They heard they Holy Name, they saw a devotee, it would be a real shame if this association, however unpleasant, didn’t lead them to turning to Kṛṣṇa. Some could say Haridāsa cared for their future pain but I think ascribing such materialistic vision to a pure devotee is short-sighted.
Haridāsa Ṭhākura didn’t descend on this planet, in the association of Lord Caitanya, to relieve the alleged material suffering of the people of Bengal. It was a really wealthy province, perfectly situated in a good climate and on rich agricultural land. Life there was far far better than in any of European countries of the time, even if they didn’t have big show off buildings. There was no material suffering to speak of and people were averse to devotional service precisely because life seemed perfect without it.
Advaita Ācārya and devotees in his circle couldn’t find a way to distract people from their material enjoyment and ignite their interest in Kṛṣṇa’s service, how can we assume that Haridāsa Ṭhākura cared about alleged material suffering of Muslim rulers? They were the ones who had it really really good then, collecting good taxes and having a good life.
Those who tortured Haridāsa would have suffered bad karma, no doubt about that, but they were also only executing their duties, they were doing their job. They also had religious justification for it – Haridāsa needed to be punished to prevent fellow Muslims from abandoning their faith. Of course Haridāsa knew all that and it wasn’t their karma that concerned him but effect of their sins on their availability for Lord’s service. To me, it’s the only explanation that makes sense, as we’ll see just a bit later.
So, when they couldn’t kill Haridāsa they begged him to die because failure at their job was punishable. They were afraid that the angry Kazi would kill them instead. Haridāsa understood their predicament and said that if him being alive creates problems for others he’d gladly give up his body. Of course he didn’t actually do that, he just went into a deep samādhi.
That was his trick with death. Normally, devotees don’t use their siddhis but this was a special occasion. Even Lord Caitanya didn’t seem to have control over His powers, His samādhis would catch Him and His servants completely unaware. He’d break out of a locked room and drown in the sea and wouldn’t remember anything, for example. Here, however, Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura displayed his transcendental powers at will.
We know that pure devotees swim in the ocean of transcendental bliss and their bodies exhibit various symptoms of that. From our own experience we also know that glimpses of such bliss are completely uncontrollable. They might overwhelm us for a split second only to disappear for a really really long time, leaving us with nothing but vague memories.
Even Nārada Muni didn’t have control over it in his previous life as a boy blessed by traveling vaiṣṇavas. He was completely detached from the world, roaming the planet without any particular purpose, and Kṛṣṇa appeared to Him only once. One thing the Lord said was that Nārada wouldn’t be able to contact Him again for the rest of His life (SB 1.6.21):
O Nārada, I regret that during this lifetime you will not be able to see Me anymore. Those who are incomplete in service and who are not completely free from all material taints can hardly see Me.
First, Nārada Muni saw the Lord in meditation, then the Lord disappeared, Nārada tried and tried to find Him again but in vain. That’s when the Lord spoke to Him, while still remaining unseen.
So, even Nārada Muni couldn’t get Lord’s audience at will. How glorious does that make Haridāsa Ṭhākura? He just said “sure” and was gone, his consciousness completely withdrawn from this world.
His breathing stopped and there were no signs of life in his body. His torturers were relieved, the king accepted that job was well done, and that was the end of it. Luckily, Kazi then intervened and demanded that Haridāsa’s body was thrown into the river because cremating him would take him to a higher destination, according to Muslim faith. The king didn’t mind Haridāsa’s body being honored by cremating him according to the tradition but went with Kazi’s advice again, and it was a good decision because otherwise Haridāsa Ṭhākura wouldn’t have had the body to return to from his samādhi.
Even throwing his body into the Ganges was a problem because he suddenly became very very heavy – one of the standard siddhis, garima, becoming heavier than the heaviest. Caitanya Bhāgavata speaks of Lord Viśvambhara entering his body. Lord Viśvambhara carries the weight of the whole universe, who can lift him? It was a struggle but somehow the guards managed.
Haridāsa Ṭhākura, meanwhile, was completely absorbed in meditation on the lotus feet of the Lord and was unaware of the surroundings. I just described how Nārada Muni in his previous life couldn’t do that but Caitanya Bhāgavata gives an example of Prahlāda Mahārāja, of whom Śrīmad Bhāgavatam says the following (SB 7.4.38):
..being always embraced by the Lord, he did not know how his bodily necessities, such as sitting, walking, eating, lying down, drinking and talking, were being automatically performed.
I think it would be extremely cool to achieve that kind of perfection. Sitting, walking, eating, drinking, talking being automatically performed without needing any attention from our consciousness? Is it even possible? I always thought that things like talking needed our attention but apparently it does not. Apparently a pure devotee can do all those things and more without actually doing them – they are carried out by the material nature and they don’t need our input. We think it’s impossible, from our experience we are convinced that this is impossible, but apparently it is.
That’s one more reason not to even try to judge activities of the devotees. Even when they are somewhat materialistic their actions are still carried out by the material nature, which in turn acts under the direction of the Lord. Blaming devotees then is not only an offense against vaiṣṇavas but also against Lord’s own supervision of their lives, which is, of course, perfect regardless of how it looks to our eyes. We need to learn freedom from such envy, it doesn’t do anyone any good.
Anyway, after floating in the river for a while Haridāsa Ṭhākura returned to his external consciousness and came ashore. Everybody was astonished to see that. I’m sure everybody thought he was gone for good, killed by Muslims despite taking shelter of the Holy Name, but there he was, as alive as ever, and he still continued chanting.
The king had no choice but to accept making a mistake and begged Haridāsa for forgiveness. Other Muslims forgot their envy, too, and offered him obeisances. Happy ending, right? Not so fast.
Two dozen ślokas later Caitanya Bhāgavata informs us that Muslims who had beaten Haridasa, as well as their families, were all destroyed within a few days. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarsvatī comments that they were destroyed by severe diseases like cholera or smallpox, which was the go to punishment for offending devotees in those days.
Did it really happen? We have no reason to doubt that it did, but we need to reconcile this with Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s concern for their well-being, too. That’s why I earlier said that his blessings must have been strictly spiritual so that they could have contracted smallpox and at the same time still could take shelter of the Holy Name just like Haridāsa Himself. Otherwise what would have been the use of them coming in close contact with a devotee? It always works out of the best, spiritual best, that is, and given how concerned Haridāsa was for them they surely must have escaped the real sin of never being able to surrender to Kṛṣṇa.
Next up – Haridāsa’s own perspective on what had happened to him.