Vanity thought #1473. Two steps away – how far is it?

While watching all these devotees share their memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda a question must naturally arise – what has it got to do with us exactly. Are we permanently excluded? Are we permanently in? Should we try to replicate them with our gurus? Are they the standard by which to judge relationships with our gurus, too? What is the right attitude to have here?

First of all, when we hear stories, any kind of stories, we always immerse ourselves in them as if we were there. We might identify with protagonists, for example, or we might imagine ourselves as mere observers, but in any case we must identify with some aspects of it to have any impact on ourselves, to empathize. We must have “I know how it feels” moment for any story to register in our hearts, and this means “I know what it’s actually like to be there, to be the part of it.” I think it’s unavoidable in our material condition, and might be even spiritually.

This is no problem if we are talking about mundane work of fiction, it’s perfectly okay to pull underwear over your pants and imagine you are a Superman and then go to Comic Con dressed like this, or feel yourself like Neo from the Matrix and never admit in public, or imagine yourself in any other shoes and replay their pastimes in your head.

The problem here is that we cannot imagine ourselves on par with Prabhupāda’s disciples, they are our spiritual fathers, not equals. We will never become like them just as we can’t replay our fathers’ romantic relationships with our mothers, the mere thought of it grosses people out. The similarity here is not in the nature of relationships but in their value. For a disciple the most intimate one is with his guru, for an ordinary man it’s with this wife. We can’t step into either of those.

This point, btw, is important in itself – guru and Kṛṣṇa are closer for devotees than their wives or husbands or even children. Materialists can’t comprehend it and would immediately reject us and our philosophy if they hear about it. We can imagine any kind of God we want, they generously allow, but we cannot, under any circumstances, treat our bodily relationships as inferior to our religion. Family ties are real, God is not, and this is where they draw the line for our “rights”. We should have no right to place God above our wives, let along children. Children are sacred, God is not. Well, their version of God isn’t, it’s just a plaything for them, not a reality. For devotees, however, guru and Kṛṣṇa are real and are closer than their families. Not for everyone, of course, but eventually we should all achieve this realization because they ARE real, after all.

So, where was I? Ah, yes, we can’t put ourselves in our guru’s shoes and imagine how it feels there. We will never become part of Prabhupāda’s pastimes with his disciples, that’s also the reality, we will always be a step away, or two steps from Prabhupāda himself, because our gurus can’t put themselves in Prabhupāda’s shoes either.

Where does it leave us? Is our position inherently inferior then?

Not at all, it’s absolutely perfect for us. This is our place in devotional hierarchy and this is what it means for us to be a servant of a servant of a servant. Our gurus are two steps away from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, and Śrīla Prabhupāda was two steps away from Śrīla Gaurakiśora Dāsa Bābājī. Everybody is always two steps away from someone just like everybody has grandparents and doesn’t feel he needs to become his own father in order to appreciate them fully. It’s just silly to think like that but when we come to ISKCON it happens. This is all new to us and if we come from a culture where everybody can become a president then we naturally think that we can also become our gurus and approach Śrīla Prabhupāda ourselves. We do not see him as a grandparent yet, it hasn’t sunk in.

There’s a little story to illustrate in this regard. Śrīla Prabhupāda had a servant named Kartikeya, it was in the very early days, when devotees were still calling him svāmījī. Once, in Hawaii, Kartikeya wanted to present Prabhupāda with halava made from wheat germ rather than usual suji, semolina. Wheat germ is the most vitamin and mineral rich part of the wheat kernel and was/is considered a specialty, Kartikeya thought his guru deserved that.

It happened to be a rainy day and it was a bit cold, so Śrīla Prabhupāda called for halava, which he liked on cold days. Kartikeya cooked a pot and presented Śrīla Prabhupāda with a nice, steaming hot bowl of wheat germ halava. Prabhupāda had a one look at it and dismissed it right away, with his left hand, which is the most offensive way to dismiss someone in Indian culture. I don’t know if Kartikeya was aware of that but he was heart-broken just the same. He ran downstairs to the temple room and let his tears flow. He sat in front of the picture of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and explained the situation: “All I wanted was to please my guru, your disciple, it was my only intention, but now it turned out all wrong and I was rejected.”

At this point he heard loud calling “KARTIKEYA! KARTIKEYA!” coming from upstairs. He rushed there not knowing what to think but Śrīla Prabhupāda told him to bring back that halava and ate the entire bowl. He then asked for a refill and ate the entire bowl again, until he ate everything that was in the pot.

Anyone who doubts that there’s a real connection between us, our gurus, and the rest of the paramparā deserves his heart being turned into stone. They all are always there for us, the fact that we don’t see or don’t feel them at any particular moment doesn’t mean anything, the connection is always there.

We will never be Prabhupāda’s disciples, but our gurus will never be his spiritual grandsons either, and as such they are missing on a lot of nectar, too, because grandparents always have special love for their grandchildren. There’s always special sweetness that their own children sometimes feel they don’t get their fair share of.

I’m not saying we are entitled to it but with honesty and humility it should always be available. It also means that it should be a special treat and we should not burden Prabhupāda with silly requests and use him to get around our spiritual parents.

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