Let’s talk about snakes. There are two episodes with snakes among the stories about Haridāsa Ṭhākura, both described in Caitanya Bhāgavata but not in Caitanya Caritāmṛta.
It’s not clear if these two events happened in sequence or if they were separated by many years. Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura simply said “listen to another wonderful incidence involving king of snakes”. It could have happened at any time, therefore, even before marketplace beatings. The first one, however, was just after Haridāsa was released by Muslims and found himself a cave on the bank of Ganges.
Now, I can’t imagine how he could find such a place. Nothing in the present day topography of Phuliyā suggests presence of the caves. There aren’t any mountains of even hills in that area, it’s all flat and probably flooded from time to time. How could there be a cave there “on the bank of Ganges”. Look at this Panoramio photo that shows how Phuliyā looks from the Ganges itself:
Perhaps they means something else, not a cave in a traditional sense, perhaps it’s just a washed away hollow in an otherwise sandy bank. Perhaps the land around it is supported by root systems of big trees rather than by rocks. Must ask devotees who actually live there, they might have a better explanation.
Anyway, Haridāsa Ṭhākura moved into such a cave but it already had an occupant – a giant poisonous snake. No one had seen it, however. The snake exuded overwhelming, choking, eye-irritating gas that everyone complained about. People just couldn’t stay there, it was a local physician who, listening to the symptoms, suggested that the presence of the snake somewhere deep in the cave.
It was all water of the duck’s back for Śrīla Haridāsa, didn’t bother him at all. Yet, seeing people complaining about it and realizing that no one would come to visit and hear him chanting if he didn’t do something about it, he agreed to move. Chanting in a cave is a practice of nirjana-bhajana and the way it’s ordinary understood it’s not meant to be disturbed by ordinary people. There was a devotee in Prabhupāda’s time who chanted half of Haridāsa Ṭhākura’s daily limit. He got himself a hut in Māyāpura and he complained to Prabhupāda of being disturbed by others all the time. Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura was not that kind of bhajanānandi, he was not an ordinary bhajanānandi at all, he enjoyed preaching, not personal bhajana.
Therefore, he proclaimed that it the snake doesn’t leave by next morning he would leave himself. I’m just trying to picture how it looked. Haridāsa said that he had no idea there was a snake inside and while everyone’s eyes, throats, and noses burned he didn’t feel anything. At this point, however, was he talking to the yet unseen snake? It looks this way, he probably meant the snake to hear his promise/threat.
Or maybe he was talking to the Lord, not to the snake. He saw some people complaining and threatening never to come to hear the holy name and engage in spiritual discussions and he appealed to the Lord, or to the holy name, seeing them as non-different. If the obstacle, the “snake”, or whatever it was that prevented his visitors from engaging in saṅkīrtana, doesn’t clear out by tomorrow, then Haridāsa would have to search for a new place for their gatherings. He didn’t see it as “his” place, he saw it as a place for preaching.
For me, I would talk to the invisible snake, I see it as a separate object I can try to establish relationship with and, with the magic of the Holy Name, find a way to have influence over. Haridāsa Ṭhākura, however, most likely didn’t see the “snake” as a separate phenomenon, just a fluke in the force, something in the illusion that wasn’t conducive to devotional service, so he talked directly to the Lord.
If this is true then it’s an important lesson. We should not treat external phenomena as having any life on their own, in the vision of a parahaṁsa there are only three entities – living entity, the Lord, and the external energy acting under Lord’s direction. Every relationship he has is a relationship with the Lord and never with external phenomena.
Does he have relationships with other living entities? I don’t think so, only in as much as they both can relate to the Lord at the same time. We don’t talk to sleeping people, we understand that they don’t hear us, and for the parahaṁsa everybody “living” under illusion appears as sleeping, too. We can see people dreaming and being very absorbed in their imagination but we don’t try to reason with them about what they see, perhaps wake them up and tell that it was just a dream, nothing to worry about. Similarly, a paramahaṁsa might shake us up a little and tell us that all our troubles are just an illusion while we want help with the villains chasing us in our nightmares.
We can adjust a sleeping man’s pillow or cover him with a blanket, we can turn off the lights, open or close windows etc. We can do all kinds of things that will hardly be even noticed but we know they are for that man’s ultimate benefit and he’d be thankful for that in the morning. Similarly, a paramahaṁsa is only concerned with the ultimate benefit of the conditioned souls who might not even notice his help in their illusion.
Hmm, it makes sense now that Haridāsa Ṭhākura wasn’t addressing the snake, the way charlatans pretending to be mediums and seers do, or even the way we might address a kid who is hiding somewhere around. He talked to the Lord directly, asking Him to do whatever is necessary for the benefit of the conditioned souls who came to complain to him about their nightmares about some snake.
As soon as he said this, the snake appeared from insides of the cave and slithered out in everybody’s view. Śrīla Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura specifically mentioned that it was early evening and everybody saw that snake, it wasn’t imaginary. It was large, fearsome, but also wonderful and beautiful – in Vṛndāvana Dāsa Ṭhākura’s words. It was colored yellow, blue, and white and had a brilliant jewel adorning its head, which somehow reminded everybody about Kṛṣṇa.
Everybody felt relieved and developed great faith in Haridāsa Ṭhākura but the book says that for Haridāsa himself the episode was nothing special.
As for the identity of that snake – we will never know, but the second snake episode tells us to have some respect for the best of their species, I’ll discuss that next time.