Vamsidas Rules

Many years ago I wrote a seven post series on Vamsidas Babaji, so I’m not going to start from scratch. I’m rereading the book and it blows my mind again how awesome he was. Vamsidas Rules! But I also mean “rules” as a noun.

The second of the two existing photographs of Vamsidasa Babaji

Our standard position is that he was an avadhuta type of paramahamsa and therefore we should not follow his example but stick to our sadhana. This is perfectly right, but we can look at it from another angle, too. We accept that Vamsidas was always in a perfect communion with his deities, with Lord Caitanya, and with Lord Nityananda. This means that at any given moment he had a perfect judgment on what to do and what is right. This means that if there is a disagreement between sadhana prescribed behavior and Vamsidasa, it’s Vamsidasa’s judgment that should be accepted as superior.

Can we extract rules from here and so improve our sadhana prescriptions? Possibly, but the main problem is that each of his judgments was unique to that set of circumstances and to that set of individuals involved. No one knows how he would act in a different place at a different time and with different people. So that is not the way to go, but I believe it’s not the only way either.

Basically, we don’t have access to the same precision in decision making as did Vamsidas, no direct access to the Lord to check how He feels about it. We have no clue what the Lord actually wants, and so we act according to general prescriptions just to be on the safe side. Even if we make a mistake it won’t be fatal – following sastric prescriptions assures us of that.

We can also say that regardless of actual circumstances our service lies in following sadhana. An outsider might judge us by the circumstances – is it favorable to take a warm shower, for example, but our thinking might ignore that – guru says I should take cold shower so I will follow that and accept boons and blessings that come from following the guru. If cold bath causes harm to the body then that will be accepted, too, but our service is a service to the guru, not to the body, so potential bodily harm is of very little interest.

This is just a general example – ignore the world, we are not of this world anyway, and focus on guru and Krishna instead. If guru and Krishna are pleased by our dedication then a mistake in judgment is of no consequence – “whatever”.

Nevertheless, we should remember that mistakes CAN be made, and they are not always of purely karmic variety – Vamsidas equally rejected devotional activities, too. Chapters on his travels to Vrindavan and Puri are introduced with a nice quote from Bhagavatam:

My lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.

SB 1.13.10

And the first paragraph says that his travels were inspired by Krishna to bestow mercy on conditioned souls. Sounds fine, right? But then in the accounts of his travels I don’t see much evidence for that. Most people he met were ignored, dismissed, or rejected straightaway with only a couple of examples of him being kind and merciful and appreciative. I mean his typical response to donated food was like this:

People frequently came to Vaṁśīdāsa’s kuṭī with offerings of various cooked preparations, but he would almost always refuse, saying, “No! No! Gaura-Nitāi will not eat this! Take it away!”

Or I like his response to a harinama party of Purushottama Math devotees doing a roaring kirtan in Puri. He said something like “You beat mridangas to the point of breaking, but you hearts don’t even crack”. He said it in Bengali and there is translation in the book, but it’s hard to convey his pithiness in English. Haven’t we been to a few kirtanas like that – a lot of enthusiasm and pumped up energy, and people forget that kirtan is supposed to be an expression of love of God? It does not even enter their minds – they are too absorbed in jumping and making loud music.

It’s okay, I don’t blame them, but from Vamsidasa’s point of view it was not satisfactory, and this is what I believe we should keep in mind – even while engaged in otherwise perfectly devotional activity we can find a way to forget about Krishna, what to speak of Krishna prema. Let’s go back to the food quote – we are told to assume that all offered food is automatically prasadam and then distribution of this food to the hungry (right now Ukrainian refugees, for example) is devotional service.

Not so fast, Vamsidasa says – even Gaura-Nitai can refuse to eat that which is not offered with sufficient devotion. Nor will Vamsidas take it and offer it himself, even though he could. After all, it’s our “go to” explanation – I might not be a devotee but if I offer on behalf of my guru then Krishna will surely accept it. Not so fast – not if the guru is anything like Vamsidas, who would refuse to offer spiritually spoiled foodstuffs.

Coming back to his travels – one time local people brought piles of food to him, seeing him as a visiting sadhu, and he told his servants to dump it all in Ganga – no use. He could have cooked and offered it himself and in this way benefited the people who donated it, but he didn’t – he couldn’t care less. He once remembered a saying from his native place about clothes merchant trying to set up business in the land of sannyasis – sannyasis wear only loin cloth, you can’t get any business from them. Vamsidasa’s point was that bestowing mercy on people who are not looking for it is useless.

Of course one could immediately mention Lord Caitanya who freely gave Krishna prema to anyone regardless of their qualification. Okay, but they also HAD one super important qualification – the were placed in the presence of Lord Caitanya! Besides, Vamsidas showed us what Gaura-Nitai personally wanted when he was present – in the first half of the 20th century. “Don’t bother with these people,” seemed to be Their advice.

Gaudiya Math was doing their preaching at the same time, but Vamsidas didn’t care much for them either. It doesn’t automatically mean GM was not important but it rather points to it being only a preliminary level, which was of no interest to Vamsidasa – see his mridanga comment earlier.

Would he have been enthusiastic about preaching in Srila Prabhupada’s time? Possibly, but surely not about each and every ISKCON devotee. And we are not living in that era now so it’s not that every preaching endeavor must be automatically accepted as pure devotion. We can’t just say “Vamsidas would have been ecstatic seeing this”. Rather we should try to learn the difference ourselves so that his judgments do not look inexplicable to us. How? That’s the most important question.

Vamsidas talked to his deities and sought their opinions. Maybe this is not exactly correct – he checked if doing something would be pleasing to Them, knowing Their personalities very well. Sometimes he wasn’t even looking for Their pleasure, as he occasionally chastised Them, too. In our case we have Paramatma, which means we should learn to feel things with our hearts. I don’t mean feel the emotional response, which is formed by the female side of our character. The head must be cool, and Paramatma is not an emotional being either – He wont’ talk to us with passion. Nevertheless, He is there to guide us and this means to help us listen. We just have to do our part and open our hearts to Him instead of the cacophony of sounds outside. We should be indifferent to happiness and distress, Krishna tells this in the beginning of Bhagavad Gita, and then He repeats it over and over again. This is what should be preliminary – keeping cool when everyone implores us to feel things and demands expressions of outrage.

How to do that? This should be clear from the next installment in the Pilgrim’s Diary series. I have almost completed instructions of one of the saints the pilgrim was given to learn as homework, and the last part deals exactly with that – how to keep one heart capable of hearing God. So please have a little patience – it’s coming. Perhaps going through Vamsidasa’s book again is what is necessary for me to complete that article.

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