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.

Vanity thought #1798. Jaganmithya

I have not decided what to do with this blog yet. I don’t think I’ll continue it in the current form because it doesn’t fit my “lifestyle” anymore. I wrote these articles when I was consuming a lot of information and I thought I’d regurgitate it in some Kṛṣṇa related manner and in the form of “vanity thoughts” – because I wanted to see myself posting 1000 blog entries, each over 1000 words long, and never miss a day, for example. None of these reasons exists anymore. Gone.

I’ve stopped subscription to a local newspaper and I can’t believe how much simpler my mental world has become. The newspaper provided structure, a coherent narrative which I could fill with random news bits gathered elsewhere but now this structure is gone and whenever I see something on TV or on the internet I don’t know where to put it or bother to process it and so it just goes past me. At first I thought I’d read the same news on the computer but when I scroll through my feed now I don’t want to click on many of the stories that would have been of interest to me in the past because without that supporting narrative, the structure, they are senseless. They have background that I don’t want to investigate and they’ll present conclusions I’m not interested to read.

Actually, dabbling in Sāṅkhya helps a lot here because just by looking at the headline I can see what kind of flavor the article offers and decide to decline it, or indulge, as sometimes happens. The most obvious example is BBC’s “ten things we didn’t know last week” series. It clearly offers a summary of exciting things that happened last week but since I don’t want to taste that excitement I don’t want to keep myself “updated”, no matter what the actual news were. I can’t stand any more of those “bash Trump” moments either. I don’t care what he did or didn’t do, I just don’t want to hear any of those “you can’t believe..” stories. That’s the prime example of carvita-carvaṇānām for me at the moment – chewing the chewed and still expecting some flavor to come out of it.

Lots of stuff have gone that way in the past couple of months. I don’t generally click on “this is what really happened” articles either because, for one thing, life is complicated, devil is in the details, and I don’t have the energy to investigate stuff, but, more importantly, I don’t want to taste the flavor of smugness which is usually delivered with this type of writing.

Once again, big thanks to Sāṅkhya for explaining how news stories, and this includes vaiṣṇava news as well, come not from events themselves but from desires the authors want to satisfy. Just by sensing these desires it’s easy to decide whether indulging in their manifestations is attractive or not. Once you replace reading this stuff with reading Bhāgavatam or remembrances of Śrīla Prabhupāda the attractiveness of anything else automatically fades. I hope this is what’s happening to me, too.

I might continue with covering “Mystic Universe” because there are a few areas there that I want to investigate again but I don’t know when I’ll be up for it. It’s not a pressing matter. This effort will have no effect on the chandelier model of the universe which will be presented at TOVP and even if that model will appear inadequate in some respects I have no objections because it’s not worth fretting over. The temple will be awesome, the sooner they finish it the better, and the few perceived “mistakes” here and there won’t matter much.

In the big scheme of things, nothing matters much – hence the post title. We don’t usually take these words of Śaṅkarācārya seriously but they are not wrong because they can also be found in Niralamba Upaniṣad. Whatever conclusions māyāvādīs draw from them is their problem. Everything in this world is temporary, including happiness derived from observing these temporary phenomena. This happiness is hopelessly corrupt because it is contaminated by innumerable iterations of three modes of nature acting on the moral principles of mahat-tattva, which are originally seen as “goodies” separate from and independent of the Lord. Our universe is about hundred and fifty trillion years old – that’s a lot of modifications to something that was wrong from the start.

By the standards of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam all of it is tasteless. The whole tree of the universe, from roots to fruits. One could object that a devotee sees everything in connection with Kṛṣṇa so we don’t reject this world but rather engage it in its proper function, reuniting it with the Supreme, but I’m not so sure about what it is exactly we are supposed to reunite. What if you see someone eager to enjoy separately from Kṛṣṇa, thinking “I’ve finally got something for myself and I’ll have a jolly good time with it”? I would say that these people should not be disturbed and we should definitely not try to partake in their “happiness” ourselves. I would say that what a devotee sees in this situation is Lord’s energy satisfying desires of helpless and delusional living beings.

An example of Vaṁśīdāsa Bābājī comes to mind who didn’t talk to people at all. When we engage with someone on our level of reality we assume that we are communicating with an entity which, in reality, doesn’t exist. Vaṁśīdāsa Bābājī didn’t make such assumptions and didn’t reply, he only talked to his deities and if people construed answers to their questions from his talk it was good enough for them but Vaṁśīdāsa didn’t care if they made sense of his “replies” or not. There were exceptions, of course, but that was his general behavior.

Our philosophy is subtle on this point – the world exists but it’s connected to Kṛṣṇa as His energy so it’s not correct to say that Bhāgavatam speaker does not exist, or Bhāgavatam blasphemer, for that matter, but when a jīva desires to glorify the Lord our minds should immediately get attracted and relish in the effort and when a jīva forgets the Lord and goes on about his own adventures our minds should “forget” this misguided effort, too. A jīva is not obliged to anything in this world but the Lord and has no relationships with anyone but the Lord so we are not required to interact with anything or anyone we see here. Our bodies will do this task as determined by their guṇa and karma, we should not take personal interest in these forced interactions.

Even when we see guru and devotees we should know that it’s the Lord reaching out to us through His trusted agents, and also that Lord’s messengers are integral parts of the Absolute Truth and so non-different from the Lord as well. On our current level of reality it’s the main way the Lord can reach us because we can perceive guru and devotees with our senses. Of course there’s also a deity form and the Name but the range of communications with a guru is much wider. We can’t build a relationship with the Lord, or with the Holy Name, without simultaneously building a relationship with the guru. One does not exist without the other.

As for all those other jīvas scurrying about in search of ephemeral happiness – who cares? The more we hear topics concerning the Lord from the mouths of devotees the less interest in those mundane lives we will have ourselves. This is the method to turn transcendental reality into our own experience, especially in this age. It will be wise for us to take to it wholeheartedly.

Vanity thought #461. Damodara vrata and sankirtana

Is there a connection between taking some form of Damodara vrata and sankirtana? Nothing immediate comes to mind, which begs the question – why take such a vrata in the first place?

I haven’t officially taken this vrata, I just thought it would be nice to try and remember Damodara lila for the duration of this Kartika. What happens now is that I try to keep it going everyday and if I manage to think of Damodara one way or another I consider it success. But why?

Isn’t it a mission drift? Practicing smaranam is a legitimate service and we can’t turn it down but there’s another reality as well – we are servants of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and our main and only service is to try and help Him in sankirtana mission.

We can try to do something else but after a while we always should come a full circle – without sankirtana, without preaching, everything simply fails. Even if things appear to go along very nicely it doesn’t guarantee anything. There are billions of people on this planet and many of them are convinced they are doing the right thing, and their karma is apparently helping them on their way, too. If that happens to me, with my “smaranam” invention, it’s not a big surprise and not a sign of anything really important.

This the fact – the vrata appears to be progressing nicely but with one remembrance of the sankirtana all the comfort of doing the perfect vrata flies out of the window.

There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, that can replace preaching the glory of Krishna and His Holy Name. No amount of smaranam, no amount of kirtanam, no amount of books read and filed away, no residence in the Holy Dhama, nothing can come even close to going out, approaching people, and begging them to consider offering service to the Lord.

So, if I can’t immediately connect Damodara vrata to sankirtana, why should I keep doing it? Well, first of all it’s a vrata. Let me finish with it first and make adjustments next year.

Secondly, Kartika is a very special time to recharge our spiritual batteries, pretty much like going to Mayapur for the Gaura Purnima festival. Kartika has never been as popular among book distributors but it serves the same purpose, it’s meant to inspire us, to fill us with things to share. If we don’t know or don’t feel anything about Krishna we can’t preach effectively.

There’s a little detail here, however. Devotees who come to Holy Dhama to recharge their batteries are the ones who make big fuss our of silly little things – from the perspective of “old dhama hands”. Generally, they look like neophytes, they are filled with enthusiasm about some things but totally oblivious to value of the others. For example they might not worship dhama residents enough to satisfy those “old dhama hands”. Sometimes they go to worship places where Srimati Radharani would never come to, the areas of the rival gopi group, and so these enthusiastic bhaktas commit a grave sin in the eyes of wise souls “in the know”.

I think there’s an element of truth to this – this charging of the batteries might indeed look like an activity on a materialistic, external, bodily level, not as purely spiritual.

I also think there’s a good answer to this- most of our preaching happens on materialistic level, too . Yes, we need spiritual purity to preach but we also need to engage with material nature. Lord Chaitanya took sannyasa for the sake of preaching even though it was absolutely unnecessary for His own service.

If we want to preach we need to present ourselves on the level attractive to the people we preach to. That’s what life on this planet is given to them for – so that they can be put in situations where they can make conscious choices about serving the Lord. Spreading out agyata sukriti, like feeding people prasadam, does not always give them the chance to make a conscious choice that would count as real devotional service.

If Vamsidasa Babaji suddenly appeared in the middle of a modern city no one would pay him any attention. On the other hand, a well dressed devotee with books in his hands, with a gleaming face he got from recharging his batteries, can implore hundreds of people every day to voluntarily do something for Krishna, even if it’s as little as lend a respectful ear.

So, there’s no problem with looking like a neophyte when visiting the Holy Dhama. The purpose of it is to take as much enthusiasm for sankirtana as possible. What looks like immaturity in the Dhama would look extremely attractive to morose people of the modern cities back home. We don’t want to come back home being too wise to preach. That kind of realization would be absolutely useless.

This rule goes for the rest of our learning about Krishna, too. We might appear as making progress in our understanding of Krishna lila, for example, but if it doesn’t fill us with energy to go out and preach then it is a total waste of time.

There are many ways to engage ourselves in the service of Krishna and many criteria to judge the progress but for us there’s actually only one – does our service and our progress make us get up and preach or not?

We should never forget that. We are servants of Lord Chaitanya and we serve Him by preaching.

Vanity thought #252. Vamshidas Babaji Part 7.

Hopefully the last. Hopefully I’m done with all the controversial stuff that has the property of endangering my spiritual life but I sense it’s not going to go away, my mind and my heart still need the excitement.

I think the least controversial part of Vamshidasa Babaji’s life were his travels to Puri and Vrindavan, and it so happens that this is the part that appears the most boring to me.

Despite warnings on several occasions not to visit Vamshidas, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati always made sure Vamshidas was well looked after. Once, during the total ban, he still ordered one devotee to act inconspicuosly and deliver the daily stuff to Vamshidasa’s kutir. Vamshidasa’s reception was always unpredictable. Sometimes he would accept the gifts, sometimes he would ignore the devotees who brought them, sometimes he would throw the gifts into the river. Once he told a devotee that if he wants to please him he should never come to his place again.

Some devotees were very very eager to get his mercy and they took a sneaky and patient approach – they would wait for Vamshidas to come out of the kutir to rinse his mouth after eating and they would sneak inside and look for bits of his mahaprasadam. Sometimes they would hide in the bushes and look for bits of mahaprasadam after Vamshidasa spat the water out, sometimes they would just suck this water from the blades of grass. Eventually Vamshidasa accepted their eagerness and let them close.

As for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta himself, he would often offer obeisances to Srila Vamshidasa Babaji from the distance, and there’s a story that when Vamshidasa saw Srila Bhaktisiddhanta he would call him a manjari, and would often ask if Sri Radha was coming to visit him, too.

When it was time for Vamshidas to go on pilgrimage Gaudiya Math arranged for several of their devotees to be in his traveling party and that didn’t seem to elicit any problems.

First time he traveled was just after he moved out of his native village when no one knew him and we don’t know where he went. Next time he wanted to visit Vrindavan he was over eighty years old but that didn’t seem to dump his spirits at all. Much younger devotees from Gaudiya Math often couldn’t keep up with him. They mostly traveled on foot but they sometimes took a boat up the Ganges. Vamshidas spent a couple of months in Mathura and Vrindavana but eventually he experienced strong feeling of separation from Navadvipa and decided to return. Bhaktivikasa Swami gives a detailed description of his itinerary but very little in the way of story-telling. I think his main source, Jatishekhara, wasn’t with Vamshidas on that trip. He was, however, on the next trip to Jagannatha Puri.

Vamshidas wanted to go to Puri two years after his trip to Vrindavan, Jatishekhara Prabhu was there and he kept a diary. It’s on that trip that Vamshidasa had bever been seen bathing, urinating, or defecating, not even once during the three months that Jatishekhara was with him. There was plenty of Vamshidasa’s prasadam on that trip and it was all sent back to Navadvipa where devotees honored it with great respect despite of it appearing to have gone bad.

The most memorable story from that trip for me is the episode where Vamshidasa was sitting on the ocean shore and he wanted his deity of Bala-Gopala to take a bath. Instead of getting up and walking into the sea he asked the waves to come up instead, and they did. This story, unfortunately, is apocryphal, too. BVKS, however, tells about local beggars trying to drive Vamshidasa away and even setting his tent on fire and the famous elephant quote that is based on the wordplay from the song of Narottama Dasa Thakura. The point was that the elephant, the animal, was serving his master but Vamshidasa couldn’t. He thought he was a crappy devotee, more useless than the elephant. He changed the words in the song to “this animal”, referring to himself. “That animal can serve his master but this animal cannot” or something like that.

Vamshidasa’s way back to Navadvipa had seen many stops at many famous places where he was visited by many many people. One thing from that trip that eventually became his signature is setting his tent under a banyan tree. He did it not because of some strange preference but because each banyan tree reminded him of Vamshivata in Vrindavan.

He didn’t even reach Navadvipa on his way back but tried to go to Vrindavan again. The whole journey was very confusing to his attending devotees. Vamshidas didn’t care for any common sense rules like eating breakfast then traveling then stopping for lunch, traveling again and then settling for the night. Sometimes he would go and sometimes he would stay. He also traveled a lot on a buffalo drawn carts and boats, in some places they stayed for days and in some places only for hours. It was very very difficult for his companions not blow their fuses off.

During that journey Vamshidasa also run into some misunderstanding with the local pandas, he seemed to have accepted them as legitimate guardians of various holy places but he also saw that they did a lot of very strange things and that confused him. Sometimes they wanted to extract money from him and he had to fight them off. Once they tried to convince him to perform sacrifices for the sake of his father and mother and Vamshidasa was totally confused – “How can I follow your requests? I was told by my deities not to follow Vedic prescriptions? They told me not to. What can I do? Let me ask them again, maybe they will tell me the way.”

Once in Kashi Srila Vamshidas got attracted by the local pandas glorifying Deities in their temples. “How come,” thought Vamshidas, “they tell me that Shiva lives in those stones but he actually resides in the the burying ground.” This is downright scary because he probably saw it with his own eyes rather than speaking metaphorically. On another occasion he similarly laughed at the worshipers – they think that this golden deity is Shiva but actually Shiva is walking among the burning corpses. Scary.

All in all Vamshidasa’s impressions from visiting those holy places were disappointing, he never ever met a single devotee of the Lord and nothing that they offered him in exchange could satisfy his growing pains of separation. He was very frustrated that he wasn’t a devotee himself and no one there could help him. The sights that he had seen often reminded him of Vraj and sometimes he would ask his associates about it. Once, for example, he saw power lines and he wondered if they stretch all the way to Vrindavan.

Sometimes he saw the banks of the Ganges and that reminded him of Navadvipa, he would again and again complain that there’s absolutely no harinama anywhere he went, the world seemed useless for him. The trip, in the meantime, had lost all its external purpose – sometimes they were traveling in the general direction of Vrindavana and sometimes in the direction of Navadvipa.

During that trip Vamshidasa was interviewed by some English gentleman who asked him the usual questions regarding spirituality and Vamshidasa demonstrated his deep and correct understanding of our philosophy despite caring very little for the issues that interest ordinary philosophers.

The first question was whether Vamshidas had seen paramahamsa Rama Krishna. “Maybe,” answered Vamshidas, “but I wouldn’t know, Arjuna, Nakula and others have also left.” The pun is that Rama Krishna was more or less Vamshidasa’s contemporary while Arjuna has lived five thousand years ago. During the rest of the conversation Vamshidas was talking about material and spiritual existence in a matter of fact manner. He was saying that material existence brings troubles for everyone including himself but because he was worshiping his deities he had a spiritual existence, too, while the Englishmen and a lot of other people were eternally bound only to their material roles. He called them being in maya-samsara while he had nitya-samsara. The way I understand it he saw his birth in this world only as part of eternal service to his deities, he wasn’t forced to be here by the material nature.

Once he was talking to a devotee from Ramanuja sampradaya and he told him he didn’t belong to any parampara, which is another argument in favor of him being an eternally liberated soul directly engaged in Krishna’s service. He gave another of his “punchlines”, too. The devotee asked, most likely in a philosophical sense, about the presence of Narayana in this world. “No, he is not here,” replied Vamshidas with all seriousness, “he just left.” Okay maybe it’s not exactly how he had worded it but my version illustrates how people were talking about God in abstract terms while Vamshidasa’s replies were based on his immediate, concrete experience.

Anyway, he never reached Vrindavana and after a year on the road finally came to the place of his brith, Madjitpur. He didn’t go into the village itself, which is the tradition for the renunciates, and instead he settled in the same sacred grove he spent the first three years of his devotional life. A month and a half later he had left this world and continued his service to Radha and Krishna, and Gaura, Nitai and Gadadhara elsewhere.

There are probably many many wonderful stories about his life and pastimes in this world that I have missed in this miniseries but I think it’s time to draw the line. Just as I started, the main lesson I see in it is the reality of the spiritual existence. While we might think that the spiritual world might exist or it might not, Vamshidasa was its living breathing inhabitant for whom it was just as real as the existence of the Sun and the Moon are real for us.

I just realize how much of my allegedly spiritual practice is based entirely on faith. It’s not a bad thing per se, I guess, but it’s not real either. I just hope one day it will be as real for me as it was for Vamshidasa.

I also realize that if I ever met a soul like him I wouldn’t be able to tell him from a scamming beggar and wouldn’t give him a dime.

All in all it’s great to have someone like him in the back of my mind, and the fact that he is not removed from us by hundreds and thousands of years and he sort of lived through the WWII, at the same time as my grandparents, moves him from the part of my brain that stores the usual “Indian mythology” and into the “real historical personas” area. I mean I know people who knew people who had actually seen him talking to the deities and doing all his out of this world kind of things.

Like I said, his life story added a substantial amount to my shraddha and for that I’m eternally thankful to all who have brought his biography to the world, including the “apocrypha”.

Vanity thought #250. Vamshidas Babaji Part 6.

Yesterday I wrote about Vamshidasa’s unusual treatment of his deities which might completely confuse neophyte devotees such as myself. I mean I might accept it as completely normal and treat standards we follow in our temples as superficial. There could be several arguments to prove that our worship is improper, one just needs to ask those who left ISKCON for Gaudiya Math and you’ll get an earful.

Equally, I might argue that we should be careful about embracing externally simple but loving relationships exhibited by Vamshidas, or even Sanatana Goswami for that matter. Perhaps it’s okay to realize Krishna’s greatness before focusing on His simplicity, otherwise we might just turn the deity worship into playing with dolls, I don’t know where to draw the line. Sanatana Goswami might have told his Deities to stop asking for salt and other tasty stuff but the the first thing They complained about was that they were pretty happy playing in the yard with little children and now they had to formally accept Sanatana Goswami’s service.

Who knows what Krishna really wants from us? Sometimes He likes simplicity but are we qualified to offer it to Him? Better stick to what Prabhupada showed us, for our own safety. Why should we worry about those of us who are on the the first name basis with Krishna already? I’m sure Krishna will arrange His preferred exchange of service with them, be it playmaking or puja offering, it’s not our concern.

Anyway, that stuff is only mildly controversial, it can be explained and argued away, today I want to talk about something that I have no explanations for whatsoever, and I mean some aspects of Vamshidasa’s personal behavior. First, I should say that all these allegations are apocryphal, they aren’t mentioned in Bhaktivikasa Swami’s book at all. I’m sure he heard them and, perhaps, heard a lot more than trickled on the internet pages but he decided to exclude them from his book altogether. I don’t know for what reason. Maybe it’s because they couldn’t be verified, maybe because he wanted to protect our doubtful minds, maybe because he didn’t know how to explain them himself.

Basically, the allegation is that Srila Vamshidasa Babaji regularly ate fish and smoked tobacco, or even some stronger stuff.

Regarding fish – does it come from the same source that told a story I mentioned yesterday? The story where Vamshidas got attracted by the smell of fish and couldn’t stand this display of weakness. That story is apocryphal itself, so now we have BVKS who dropped it form his book, we have anonymous source with this fish vendor story, and we have yet another anonymous source saying that Vamshidasa ate fish everyday.

At this point I should say that fish eating and smoking were the first things I heard of Vamshidas in my early days, it’s not something entirely new to me, but I’ve never ever seen any source behind that claim or given it much thought.

I will side with BVKS here – fish vendor and fish eating stories are mutually exclusive, fish vendor story sounds more plausible because it has lots of details but probably not enough to declare it as genuine. Better just skip it, it’s out there on the internet anyway, for those who really want to know.

There’s another argument against fish eating – Bhaktivikasa Swami’s source on Vamshidasa’s life was one Jatishekhara Das, assigned by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to look after Vamshidas during his travels. That Jatishekhara was also one of the sources for Gaudiya Math biographies and he had never seen Vamshidas eat any fish and he spent quite a lot of time being very close to the babaji.

My conclusion – it’s nonsense.

The smoking allegation is a bit more difficult to dismiss. I don’t remember BVKS ever saying anything like that but it appears twice in Gaudiya Math biographies. According to one version devotees used to buy a pretty strong “tobacco”, for the lack of better translation, and bring it from as far as Calcutta. Vamshidas would then set up a hookah, not a pipe, and he didn’t roll any joints either. So he smoked that hookah and called “Bhakata-vatsala-Hari” between draws. That was one of his favorite “mantras”, btw, he used to say it repeatedly, all day long. BVKS even says that Vamshidas made the last “i” very very long, as if he was crying. So the story goes that he would call out bhakata-vatsala-Hari and then the hookah would go “glug-glug-glug”.

In another account it is said that he would smoke his hookah but he would offer it first, from a distance, to Radha-Krishna, but not to the boys – Gadadhara and Gaura-Nitai, or whatever was the actual combination.

I must admit that I think there are too many details to dismiss the whole tobacco smoking thing as baseless. Who would have made it up completely? As they say – where there’s smoke…

So my goal here is to make as much sense of it as possible with the least damage to myself. On one hand I can take an easy way out and just ignore the whole thing as if I have never read it. That’s what I’m probably going to do in the end. Right now I can say a few things for and a few things against but a few days later I will just shrug my shoulders and call this dilemma “the one that got away”. There’s no shame in that, it’s not evidence against completeness of our philosophy, it’s not like we don’t know how to explain reincarnation or something like that. In fact our philosophy by design leaves a lot of things as inconceivable, behavior of fully liberated souls is one of them. We are not expected to understand it, even Krishna Himself might have a problem fully understanding what’s going on in the hearts of His pure devotees.

But before I admit to my failure to deal with Vamshidasa’s smoking I still have time to give it a go. There are a couple of cracks there that could help explain it away. First, if he ever smoked he probably didn’t take his hookah on his travels to Puri and Vrindavana so Jatishekhara, the devotee who told BVKS about Vamshidas, had possibly never seen Vamshidas doing it. Whatever happened before that is hearsay, especially if it’s coming down the lines of Haridasa and OBL Kapoor who, I suspect, didn’t have any moral dilemmas about accusing Vamshidasa of smoking. it is possible that it was just an occasional “pastime” and so would need a different set of explanations adapted for a different set of circumstances. Maybe it just didn’t happen often enough to worry.

To us it’s a real problem, though – we can’t imagine someone willingly clouding his judgement and intelligence and perception of reality in favor of drug enhanced illusion. For us it’s simple black and white difference – intoxication is either favorable to devotional service or it isn’t. In early days (and years) of our society some of our members tried enhancing their devotion with drugs but it ended badly, for some even fatally.

There was a point when one of our leading sannyasis felt the pressure to display his high level of advancement and he thought drugs would help him, at least that was his excuse. His end was the most regrettable one.

Did Vamshidasa had the same attitude? Did he really offer hookah to Radha Krishna first? Was it like prasadam for him? Did Radha and Krishna really accept his offering? Why? Because they enjoy a good hookah now and then or because it was offered by their dear devotee?

It seems as if they were ready to overlook his little indulgence.

This is both dangerous and depressing. Dangerous because we might get wrong ideas about what Krishna can allow us to do, and depressing because even a devotee of Vamshidasa stature still had some bad habits. I hope there’s another explanation, really.

Or maybe I should think of avadhuta as not simply as being free from any social customs but actually breaking those customs left and right without any effect on his position. I mean he could have eaten fish and meat and even killed a few people and Krishna would still love him with all His heart. That doesn’t make sense, though, I really wish there was a better explanation. I mean what if Krishna allowed some sannyasi’s to have sex without punishment? For some it might be nothing but other devotees have killed themselves over illicit sex. It’s a dangerous game – how much leeway Krishna can give us? My understanding – no leeway whatsoever. Mistakes He can forgive but no intentional sense gratification or rule breaking.

Or maybe it’s a reminder that absolutely no one in this world is perfect. We might have perfect intentions but the very fact of being engrossed in our bodies means we must fail here and there, no exceptions. On one hand it might give us an excuse to relax in our sadhana, on the other hand it might open our eyes to our own faults like we’ve never seen them before. It might also lead us to judge other people with a bit more compassion.

I really have no idea, I think I should follow the advice of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and stay away from puzzles like this for my own spiritual safety, or follow the example of HH Bhaktivikasa Swami and strike it out form my memory for my own good.

Okay, done, what was I talking about? It’s too late now, it’s time for me to sleep.

Vanity thought #248. Vamshidas Babaji Part 4.

Yesterday I finished with the story of Vamshidasa’s deities giving away cooking pots to thieves and getting punished, I forgot the ending – after forcing first Nitai and then Gauranga to make the thieves bring the pots back Vamshidasa felt very sorry. He told his deities: “I don’t want to punish you but you are so naughty and you like to tease me and now I’m so old and tired, what can I do?”

When people told him about locking the house instead he said that he did, he had three keys and he gave them to Nitai, Gaura, and Gadadhara. If they wanted to let everyone inside it was their decision, not his.

He ran into stealing problems many many times and his reaction was always the same – his deities were responsible, they were little thieves themselves and they loved the Nadiyavasis and they liked giving things away.

People used to bring him lots of fruit, usually he left it in the pile outside for the local cow to come and eat it but sometimes he kept the bananas and if they weren’t ripe he used to hang them on the rafters. Rats also wanted the bananas and they were devising the ways to get them but Vamshidasa never said a word. Once he pointed at a rat and said “Look, a thief!” he then pointed at Krishna and said “He is also a thief!”

Once someone wanted to donate twenty-five paisa to Vamshidasa’s servant and that was a lot of money at that time so the guy changed his mind on the spot and demanded change. Vamshidasa, who was just standing there quietly, suddenly got very angry: “You cannot do that! If you give money to Mahaprabhu you cannot ask for change, once you give it to Him you cannot take it back.”

I should say here that the way Vamshidasa collected donations was simply standing outside the house and calling “Gaura Nitai, Gaura Nitai”, people then would come out and offer rice, fruit of vegetables. therefore giving any change back meant taking money from Gauranga Himself and that was unthinkable. He also avoided houses of people who didn’t have any respect for Gaura-Nitai, he didn’t take anything from non-devotees.

So, back to the twenty-five paisa story. After fighting off the change challenge they returned to the kutir but later in the day they discovered that someone still managed to steal the money. Vamshidasa’s servant was very upset about it but the babaji took a philosophical approach. “Money is like hair, it grows, you cut it, and then it grows again.” Then he ended with his usual “Gauranga wanted to give this money to someone else, it’s his decision”.

At other times he got angry, though. If a cow entered the kutir and turned everything upside down he pinned it on his deities and chastised them heavily using very harsh words. In the end he would say “Okay, up to you, you love your Nadiyavasis, Vamshi has no right to be angry – Vamshi is just an outsider here.”

Once the deities got into real trouble. Someone donated a golden necklace for Gauranga and it got stolen. Vamshidasa was really upset about it, he was talking and complaining about it for hours until he forced the deities to confess who they were given it to. Immediately he went to the house of that person and demanded the necklace back. This is where there are two very different endings. According to one ending people heard the commotion and gathered outside, the thief denied any wrongdoing but under the pressure of Vamshidasa and the crowd who supported the sadhu he was forced to return the gold. In another version there were no onlookers and the thief angrily pushed Vamshidasa off his verandah and Vamshidasa was really hurt. He returned home empty handed but Gaura couldn’t tolerate mistreatment of His devotee and the thief and all his family soon died.

Let me offer a speculation on what exactly had happened there. I think Gauranga wanted the guy to have the necklace, somehow he deserved it, but when Vamshidasa started pressing Him He didn’t want to disclose that person’s identity because He knew that it won’t end well, that the guy wasn’t going to return the gold peacefully. He didn’t want the fight, he didn’t want to push that soul into vaishnava aparadha but he couldn’t refuse Vamshidasa either, and that’s why this story didn’t have a happy ending.

I guess Krishna knows our capacities very well and protects us from walking into a trap of maya, saving us form making offenses out of our immaturity, ignorance and greed. One more reason to leave all planning to Him and be very skeptical about our own desires.

Last time I mentioned that Vamshidasa didn’t follow any schedule in his deity worship, he would spend half a day collecting food and flowers and another half cleaning and preparing it. Once, however, his servant saw him cooking at nine o’clock in the morning. “Why don’t you offer them food for breakfast everyday?” he asked. “I’m not their father’s servant,” Vamshidasa answered, “I don’t know morning from evening and I’m not going to cook on their schedule. If they want it they can make their own arrangements”. Then he described how it could be done – let Gadadhara cook for Gauranga, Nitai is an avadhuta, he doesn’t care for time and he can eat anywhere. Gopala will survive, too – everyday we have a cow visiting the kutir, Gopal can get milk from her, but it’s Radha and Krishna that need to be fed otherwise they’d go to Vrindavan to do madhukari. This way Vamshidas figured it all out.

There were a lot of “pastimes” involving food. I put pastimes in quotes because it looks like games to us but for Vamshidasa it was a way of life. Once he refused to feed Krishna arguing that he already had his desert out of turn and so didn’t deserve a proper meal. Devotees from Gaydiya Math decided to check Vamshidasa’s story and wrote a letter to Radha Ramana temple in Vrindavan and got a reply that Krishna was indeed offered sweet rice with gur on that particular day at that particular time.

Sometimes cooking took him so long time that his deities became restless. He then shouted at them to get out of the house and wait outside. On another occasion he was outside himself but suddenly declared that the “boys” were hungry. He collected some unripe eggplants and ran home where he put them in a coconut hust, added some water and tulasi and offered to his deities. He then relished this uncooked food himself.

Once he turned to his servant and asked – “Did you hear what Gaura had just said?” Of course the servant didn’t hear anything, only Vamshidasa himself could hear what his deities were telling him. “Gauranga told me not to go outside for three days because I’m old and that He would bring food for me instead. Did you hear that? He wants to serve me! I swear I will break his legs if he tries to do that.” That threat worked, apparently.

On another occasion, on Janmashtami, Vamshidasa was telling Gopal about his special treat for his birthday. “Last year you had palm fruit and this year you will get mango! Just be patient, mango is coming.” Krishna was born at midnight, remember, where was he going to get the mango at that time? In ten minutes, however, a local brahmana arrived and told everyone about a dream he just had – some sadhu wanted a mango and so he had to wake up and get it for him.

I’m probably missing some sweet stories here but that is all I got for today. I’m preparing myself for some really controversial stuff tomorrow, God willing.

Last Sunday burglars broke into our neighbors’ house and stole some stuff. The part that really bothers me is that during the break in I was less than twenty meters away and the backdoor of our house was open, I think I even heard the noise but I though it was neighbors themselves, it wasn’t any louder than the usual sound of their door. Those guys cut through two locks and a bolt and I didn’t suspect a thing. I couldn’t see them from where I was but but if I moved just a few meters away or went to the kitchen I would have definitely seen them. They were so bold and precise that they earned my respect. I can’t say the same about me, I still can’t explain how I was so close yet so useless. We count on each other to look out for things like that and I failed.

This is not the first burglary in our neighborhood and I have all the reasons to believe that our house is next in line. What should I do about it? Take Vamshidasa’s advice and leave it to Krishna? The family won’t like that. Finally I decided to put a notice on the door saying that there’s nothing of value inside, no gold, no money, nothing of interest. They can’t carry out big things like TVs, they’d need a car for that and they’d need to pass the security gate. The only thing they can take is the notebook and I decided to drastically reduce its resale value by putting in a lock that they can’t remove without breaking off a chunk of plastic, and by engraving our phone and e-mail address on the lid – removing it would result in serious visual damage. I’m planning to explain all that in the note I’m going to pin on the door, and also an advice to break in via side entrance where it would be easier and also cheaper for us to repair. I also decided to invest $10 into a cheap webcam and set it as a motion detector that would shoot out e-mails if it sees anything, we just need to leave the computer on, which is no big deal.

This compromise sounds satisfactory to all but I myself can’t stop thinking of Vamshidasa and his unique understanding that thieves actually have the rights to “my” stuff. I’m starting to realize that Krishna really IS in charge of everything and I can’t possibly override His will and protect myself from Him. If he wants to steal something from me it’s as good as gone already.

Now I just walk around trying to guess what exactly it is that he wants to take away. It’s a negotiation phase for me, apparently…

Vanity thought #247. Vamshidas Babaji Part 3.

I’m starting this post not with the desire to share my excitement about wonderful personality of Srila Vamshidasa Babaji but to remind myself of how excited I was just a few days ago. Funny how it works, I better harness my emotions while they are hot, or maybe I should always wait until I cool down and look at how much actual difference my discoveries made to my consciousness. Either way, back to Vamshidas.

Last time I left the story when he moved to reside in Navadvipa. According to HH Bhaktivikasa Swami one of the first things he did was to go on pilgrimage but no one knows when and where. What we know is that afterwards he stayed in Navadvipa for decades. There are no dates given in BVKS book but I guess he settled in Navadvipa around 1880 or during that decade and his next pilgrimage started in 1941, some fifty-sixty years later.

To put it in perspective – 1880 was the time when Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura finally settled in Navadvipa himself. Actually he was transferred there a couple of years earlier but this was the time he received initiation and published one of his first books. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was only six years old at that time.

Most of the stories of Vamshidasa’s life come from that period though his later travels are much better documented. Vamshidasa lived on the banks of the Ganges in a secluded place and so no one really knew him that well. By the time he caught attention of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, who for all intents and purposes introduced him into our narrative, he was already an avadhuta and so all his transformation from a son of a fisherman into a fully realized soul is lost.

That means we meet him living in a small kutir and worshiping his deities, of which he had several. I think there’s a difference of opinion about what deities he had exactly and here I’d give the benefit of doubt to Dr Kapoor simply because some of his conversations with his deities make more sense that way. For the purpose of this article let’s assume he had Gaura-Gadadhara, Nitai, Radha Krishna, and Bala Gopala. Bala Gopala was his favorite and the smallest one so on his travels he always carried him in his hand while meter high Gaura Gadadhara were carried in a bag by his associates.

All Vamshidasa’s life was centered about his deities, they were literally his life and soul and he didn’t know or care about anything besides them. Over the years he collected a small group of servants and associates who he occasionally communicated with but even then he’d often chastise them rather than sharing any personal feelings.

He never spoke to anyone else, at least not directly. If people asked him a question and he heard it he would simply introduce this new topic into his running dialogue with his deities and sometimes people would hear some fragments that could have been construed as an attempt at an answer. I’m sure modern psychiatrists would have diagnosed him with schizophrenia or worse.

Vamshidas never said things like “I think” or “I want” or “I went”, he always spoke of himself as a third person: “Vamshi ate, Vamshi cooked, Vamshidasa went” and so on. I’d like to speculate here that, as a self-realized person, he didn’t identify himself with his material form at all, the body of Vamshidasa was alien to him. Most of the time he communicated with his deities in his spiritual form and when there was a need to refer to his material manifestation he just couldn’t make himself to believe he was actually that body.

As an avadhuta he didn’t follow any social norms or customs, much less regulations, yet his day was more or less structured and timed. Early in the morning he would go out and collect food, then he would carefully sort it out and wash – only the best grains of rice and best vegetables could be offered to his deities, he didn’t allow any slack in that department, only on some special occasions. After that he would cook, offer food, take prasadam, and the day was basically over.

He didn’t follow any pancharatra rules of serving the deities either, no pujas, no bells, no dresses, he never put Them to sleep, nothing. I bet externally it appeared that he was playing with dolls. Hmm, maybe not, at least not like kids play with dolls these days – with houses, outfits, tea-sets and so on. He had one old, dirty looking cloth to cover his deities in the winter and that was it.

Most of the time he just talked to them, no one knew the content of those conversations and no one heard the deities talking back to him but, apparently, he told them jokes, they laughed, he complained about something, he disciplined them, and sometimes they had fights.

Dr Kapoor had an opinion that Vamshidas related to the deities in various rasas, including Gauranga-Nagari feelings for Lord Chaitanya. I wrote about Gauranga Nagara once here but maybe I was just being silly and naive. I think Dr Kapoor was wrong there and so was his mentor Haridas. In BVKS opinion Vamshidas related to his deities in vatsalya rasa, like a parent with his children and I’ll stick with that.

There was one area of overlapping interests between his spiritual and material lives there – theft. Bala Gopal, as we know, is baby Krishna stealing butter and yogurt from mother Yashoda and her friends, transcendental thief. Lord Chaitanya in his early years did pretty much the same stuff and was as naughty as Krishna Himself, so perhaps for that reason Vamshidasa often treated them as thieves, he thought that was their real nature. To him they were naughty and mischievous and they had to be punished.

Materially speaking it meant that he wasn’t going to guard thieves’ house, they didn’t deserve to be protected. So he never locked the doors of his kutir when going out and he never worried about thieves coming in and stealing stuff. Actually he was quite philosophical about it – he said that thieves come to his house by invitation of Gaura Himself and so it was not his business to stop them. He said that Gaura was very fond of residents of his dhama and so if he wanted them to come and take something from the kutir there was nothing Vamshidasa could do about it.

From this angle having things like locks made no sense at all. Locks are meant for people who want to maintain the difference between “us” and “them” and deny God’s superior will but Vamshidasa was not on that level at all. He saw every living entity as acting under the directions of the same Lord and so building fences between them was a very strange thing to do, it was basically trying to obstruct Lord’s will – “I won’t allow You to let those souls to come and take Your things that you want to give them.”

Sometimes they had to be punished, however. Once some thieves stole his cooking pots. I say “his” cooking pots but Vamshidasa didn’t see anything as “his”, he thought that Gaura and Nitai gave THEIR pots away without thinking about how Vamshidasa would cook for them without the cookware. So he got angry and he gave them an ultimatum – “If you want to eat you will have to bring your pots back, no pots – no food, get it?”

A short while later a guilty looking guy came with one of the pots. “Ah, it’s Nitai’s! Good job!” said Vamshidasa, “Now I can cook something for Nitai, he brought his pot back.” And so he cooked and he fed his Nitai. Gaura, in the meantime, couldn’t believe that he was left out and Vamshidasa was dead serious and so he stood there with a long face until he fell in line, too. Sometime later another guy brought back Gaura’s pot and family harmony was restored.

This thieving business is actually quite relevant to what happened to me over the weekend and I tried very hard to better understand Vamshidasa’s attitude to “personal” property and stealing in general, and there are a couple more Vamshidasa stories on this subject but that’d be better left for another day.

Vanity thought #243. Vamshidas Babaji Part 2.

HH Bhaktivikasha Swami wrote a book about his life which I consider an “official” biography in our society, simply out of respect for the maharaja’s efforts. In foreword to that book BVKS says that he sorted out some of the less reliable stories about the life of Srila Vamshidasa,leaving only those that could be corroborated with authoritative sources. Some of them might still be true but we don’t know which. Overall BVKS didn’t trust a book about Vamsidasa written by one of his followers, Haridasa, which is accepted as a proper source in some non-ISKCON narrations.

We will never know the truth, not as long as we rely on our imperfect, conditioned state methods of investigations. It would be better for us to follow BVKS until we get a clearance to accept “apocryphal” anecdotes, it’s not about the truth, after all, it’s about respect for senior vaishnavas. BVKS godbrothers or Gaudia Math followers are not obliged to accept his version as gospel truth but we are in a different position and so should trust his judgement on the matter until we get further instructions. Of course we might come across some new evidence that wasn’t available at the time of writing but as far as internet hunting goes we can’t trust anything. I wouldn’t trust my own blog unless I mention verifiable sources.

Having said that… Now I’m going to break the rule I’ve just been arguing for. The temptation is too strong, my mind is oveclocked trying to find a way around. Okay, got it. The apocryphal stories might or might not have happened, but what is more important is the interpretation. Bhaktivikasha Swami thought that Haridasa had not been following the proper siddhanta and so was disqualified. No one but a pure devotee can understand the mind of a mahabhagavata that was Srila Vamshidas, if Haridas somehow compromised himself he cannot be trusted. I know nothing about him myself though I can imagine he and his followers have a different opinion about this. We are not his followers, however, if he diverted from our understanding of the siddhanta his interpretations should be rejected.

My interpretations, if I manage to offer them, should not be trusted, too, I’m just trying to make sense of what is way beyond my abilities to understand, I just hope I won’t do too much damage. At one point Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati forbade his disciples from visiting Vamshidas, possibly because he was afraid they would make completely wrong, offensive conclusions about Vamshidas behavior, possibly because Vamshidas himself didn’t want to see them.

Bottom line is simple – whatever we learn about Vamshidas should advance our Krishna consciousness, I hope I’ll have enough sense to stop myself if some offensive weeds start growing in my mind.

Let’s start in the beginning – Srila Vamshidas was born in part of Bengal that is now Bangladesh, he grew up in a small village that used its own dialect that no one could understand when Vamshidas moved to Navadvipa. Being born a son of a fisherman, one of the lowest ranks in the caste society, he still got initiated by a family guru.

This makes me wonder, was the initiation business at that time degraded to such a low level already? Or should it be treated just as a cultural habit having nothing to do with spiritual progress? Or should we just accept that fish eating was not an obstacle to dvija status? Or was it not really a dvija thing? Initiation means different things to different people, there was definitely something wrong by the standards we learned from Srila Prabhupada. I tend to think it was a concession to the tastes of the local population which compromises the whole process but I might be wrong. Being initiated implies achieving a certain level but it appears that in search of vanity people don’t mind lowering the standards instead. Whatever.

Srila Vamshidasa didn’t think too much about it, when he met Narottama Dasa Babaji who had taught him about real devotion to Krishna and Lord Chaitanya he accepted another initiation from him. There are different opinions of who exactly his guru was but this is what is BVKS book so I’ll take it as truth. I should also mention that his family guru was coming from Narottama parivara, descendants of Narottama Dasa Thakura, I understand, not some self-appointed acharya but, as I said, it didn’t matter much – whoever can teach the science of Krishna Consciousness should be accepted as a spiritual master.

When family noticed that Vamshidasa’s attachment to his new guru grew stronger and stronger they decided to marry him off but it didn’t help. Vamshidas had left his wife with a six month old child and dedicated his life to the service of the Lord.

Don’t do this at home, methinks. In the early days of our movement many devotees did the same thing, leaving their families without a second thought only to find a few years down the road that life in total dedication is very difficult to sustain. Some took sannyasa to keep themselves above the water but it didn’t help either. Here I think the attempt itself is laudable but you can’t initiate yourself out of material consciousness, better to humbly pray and wait for Krishna’s arrangements. Krishna can facilitate the initiation if you really really ask for it but you’ll have to bear responsibility for pretending to be on the level higher than you really are all by yourself. It might work out, it might not, we shouldn’t trust our materially contaminated desires too much, sometimes we just don’t want to admit to ourselves our real motives for the progress up the society’s ranks and it’s the real motives that matter, not the outwardly promises we make in public.

Anyway, Srila Vamshidas left his fish eating family and went to stay with his new guru and worship Radha Krishna deities there but only for a few days, then he moved to live in a forest but not the ordinary one, he moved into groves made of five kinds of sacred trees, there he stayed for three years and then went on pilgrimage. No one accompanied him, at least no one who could tell the tale. By contrast, his later travels are very well documented but it’s the first years that are probably more important to us, the years when he transformed his life into a devotee of the highest grade. How did he do it? What were his secrets? How can we follow his footsteps?

Practically all we know about his life came from the time when he was already an avadhuta, the stage where we can’t really adapt anything to our own lives anymore.

When I think about this missed opportunity I have no choice but admit that all we need to know for our progress has already been provided to us by Srila Prabhupada, if Krishna wanted to give us any special shortcuts He would have done it already. No choice but admit that chanting at least sixteen rounds a day, reading our books and serving the preaching mission is the best recipe, there’s no better way, there’s no better way, there’s no better way, to paraphrase our famous quote about chanting.

More to follow.

Vanity thought #242. Vamshidas Babaji.

Just as I concluded that I have no qualifications to reflect on the life and devotional service of Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and should better stick to simple things prescribed to us by Srila Prabhupada I decided to write something about Vamshidasa Babaji. From the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.

If Srila Gaurakishora wasn’t paying attention to the dealings of the material world around him, Vamshidasa Babaji lived as if the world didn’t even exist, if you can call his existence living. He didn’t “live” in the conventional sense. Living implies lots of things we take for granted, it implies some sort of a purpose, some progression from youth to maturity to old age, it implies having some goals and keeping schedules, it implies being part of the society, it implies, on the most gross level, eating, sleeping, mating and defending with the view to survival and happiness.

Vamshidasa Babaji had none of that. He was a total avadhuta, completely oblivious to any kind of social expectations or restrictions. As I mentioned earlier, he couldn’t even talk to people, he talked only to his deities, nobody else. He didn’t have a concept of time or space or natural sequence of things, he just talked to his deities and cooked for them, that’s all he did, ever.

Sometimes he fasted for days without taking even water and he didn’t notice anything was out of ordinary, he just forgot to eat for the reasons known only to him and his deities. HH Bhaktivikasha Swami wrote a book about his life some twenty years ago that was based on memoirs of one of the devotees who took part in Srila Vamhidasa’s travels and that devotee testified that Srila Vamhidasa didn’t follow even basic principles of human life. He had never seen him take a bath, for example, and he had never seen him to pass either urine or stool, Vamshidasa’s body had no material needs like that, it was sustained entirely by the spiritual energy, much like the bodies of six goswamis of Vrindavana.

When Srila Vamshidasa was around eighty years old he was travelling a lot and younger people couldn’t keep pace with him, he had too much energy and he didn’t need much rest. Reminds me how Srila Prabhupada’s disciples had trouble keeping with him on his morning walks, too.

One could imagine the standards of devotional purity of Srila Vamshidasa, so what is the point of trying to learn something from his life – it’s impractical and downright suicidal to bring any aspect of his “sadhana” into my life. What can I learn from him that I don’t know I can’t apply to my own life? If I’m afraid I’d be of no interest to Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji, what’s the point of trying to find something in common with Srila Vamshidasa? There is something, however – there’s the living proof that this world is just an illusion over our eyes.

Yesterday I mentioned that Srila Gaurakishora often talked to Lord Chaitanya during his bhajans and he learned all he needed to know from Him and the Supersoul. For Srila Vamshidasa this source of knowledge wasn’t complimentary, it was primary. Sure, he learned human language when he grew up in the family of a poor fisherman but everything beyond that was totally foreign unless his deities explained it to him. People trying to maintain a conversation of Srila Vamshidasa were never satisfied with his answers because he had a completely different value system and completely different structure to his thoughts.

One could say he had knowledge of the future, he displayed it on several occasions. Once he saved a little girl from being hit my lightning, and once he directed the boatman to take him to a meeting place with a snake which he presented to his deities as Anantadeva. He knew where the snake would appear and he knew what color it would be and he knew his deities would like to meet it. There are probably more incidents like that which are skipping my memory right now, that’s not important.

He wasn’t predicting the future – he had no concept of time flowing in any direction at all, time had no influence over his soul. When people asked him something in terms of what was going on, why, and what was going to happen next, he was totally bewildered about such method of thinking. If it wasn’t pleasing to Krishna it had no reason to be thinking about, much less trying to figure out its trajectory through the time. Srila Vamshidasa genuinely couldn’t even feint the interest in such things, his consciousness was visibly drifting away to his deities. A group of merchants once wanted to know about the prospects of the post-world war trade. Srila Vamshidasa had no clue what they were on about and wasn’t even listening. Worlds War II? Trade? Prospects?

This kind of vision of the reality is fundamentally different from our lives, and I think it’s fundamentally different even from our dreams, I can surely speak only for mine here. No matter how deeply I look into my heart I still think in terms of past, present and future. I think about the process of my purification, for example. I have a contaminated heart now and I hope will become cleaner in the future. In my everyday life I might tell myself not to worry about anything and not to make plans but I still see things in sequence of cause and effect, I’m just telling myself not to worry about effects, which implies I realize the connection with causes.

So I might not have anything practical to learn from Srila Vamshidasa but it’s still very reassuring to know that the only thing that really matters is devotional service to guru and Krishna and everything I see and experience and take for real is just a play of Krishna’s energy and there’s no objective, independent existence for anything I’ve ever known. Krishna is always in absolute and total control of every minute details of the world as I know it.

It’s one thing to know it theoretically but when it comes to practical life we know that if you drop something it would fall. The story of Prahlada Maharaja being dropped from the cliff and saved by Vishnu is nice but it happened once in the entire universe to the greatest devotee of all time, when I drop a pen off my desk it falls, there’s no Visnhu’s intervention here, just the laws of nature.

Vamshidasa Babaji is the testament that it is not true at all, that my pen might or might not fall by the sweet will of the Lord, it’s a waste of human life trying to predict what will happen while ignoring the presence of the Supreme Controller right there in my heart.

When I just joined the devotees I heard this many many times – if you chant Hare Krishna anything can happen. Yes, sometimes, if you chant devotedly, I thought, and over the time I grew very cynical about Krishna’s interventions. Now I wish that simplicity had returned to me, that I could really forget about the mechanics of my life and concentrate on the Holy Name only.

Poor me of little faith.

Yet, thanks to Srila Vamshidasa, I feel just a tad safer and a tad more detached than yesterday. I still worry too much about every little thing but it’s nice to KNOW that there’s always a fallback option to everything – Krishna.