Saturday, March 31, 2018

Antinomianism and the Hare Krishna Movement: A cautionary tale from history

Killing for Krishna: The Danger of Deranged Devotion by Henry Doktorski III. 660 pages, soft cover, 9 x 6 x 1.5 inches, 2.5 lbs . PO Box 893343, Temecula CA 92589. (Facebook)


Kirtanananda Swami's as yet unfinished samadhi on the Parikrama Marg in Panigaon (Vrindavan, 2018)
In November 1973, I was living in Dallas while Dayananda Das Adhikary was temple president. During that time, the Bal Yogi “Guru Maharaj Ji,” was the current rage, attracting disciples at a rate that made ISKCON’s growth look tepid. A big convocation had been arranged at the Houston Astrodome for his followers, and the ISKCON temples from Texas and beyond sent numerous book distributors to the location in the hope of selling Prabhupada literature. One of our Dallas Gurukul teachers had heard a statement of Srila Prabhupada about Guru Maharajji, in all likelihood “The so-called, pseudo guru, false guru, he should be killed.” (London, August 5, 1973 ) He made the big mistake of getting into an argument with one of Gurua Maharajji’s premis in which he quoted this statement, and before we could say, “Jai Sachinandan! Please take a book!” the police had swooped down on us and we found ourselves in jail overnight until Dayananda bailed us out the next morning.

Srila Prabhupada did not make such statements only once, but several times. For instance, on a morning walk in Raman Reti with a group of disciples, he said,

“Just like the Muslims converted people with a sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, we can approach people with the Bhagavad Gita in one hand and a gun in the other. ‘Do you accept Krishna?’ ‘No.’ Pow! Not now, but later when we are more powerful. 
Arche vishnau…when we will teach military art, with tilak, soldiers will chant, ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…’ (laughter) We want that. Marching with military band, ‘Hare Krishna.’ You maintain this idea. Is it not good? 
“When there will be military march of Krishna conscious soldiers. Anyone who does not believe in Krishna, ‘Blam!’ (laughter) Yes. The same process as the Mohammedans did, with sword and Koran, we’ll have to do that. ‘Do you believe in Krishna or not?’ ‘No, sir.’ Blam! Finished. (laughter, Swamiji laughs)” (Morning walk, March 15, 1974)


 And indeed, when I was in New Vrindavan in 1974 to start the "Varnashram College," we actually used to walk from Prabhupada’s house to Madhuvan with my students, marching single file to the recitation of Hare Krishna. Even back then, a kind of militarism had set into New Vrindavan life.

Such things were greatly disenchanting to many, including my godbrother Subal Das (Steve Bohlert) who wrote: “Remember, the principle was that we could do anything for Krishna. The end justified the means. This resulted in fraud and con tactics, drug dealing, murder and prostitution being used by some devotees. Now some argue whether Bhaktivedanta was aware of these things going on or not. He certainly was pleased with the devotees who brought money and wasn't concerned with how they got it. The biggest wheeler-dealers became the biggest ISKCON leaders.”

================

After many years of intense dedicated effort, Hrishikesh Das (Henry Doktorski)'s book on the murder of Sulochan Das is finally out. I have been in communication with Hrishikesh for many years and received a review copy from him a couple of days ago. Full of exhaustive research, it is an extremely important historical document. Not at all sensationalistic, it is a sobering account that needed to be told. It is not a new story, but it needs to be told as a cautionary tale. As a resident of New Vrindaban at the time, Hrishikesh tells the story, sorting out the truth-tellers from the liars, in as objective and unemotional way possible. He admits himself that his long emotional involvement with Kirtanananda and the New Vrindavan community made it disturbing to face the truths that came out in his investigation.

One thing that is clear: This event was a game changer in ISKCON. That is why reading this book should be considered for any devotee, or I would say, psychologist of religious cults, a worthwhile usage of time.

Perhaps the most important lesson is a philosophical one. The Bhagavad Gita approves killing in the name of God by one who is free from ego (5.10, 18.17), that Krishna himself is doing the killing and the mortal agent is nothing other than an instrument (11.33). This is a dangerous idea, which might be true, but is (as are many things) extremely difficult to put into practice. Thus better left unacted on, except in extreme cases. In a way, it may be said that if there is doubt, then you can be sure things will be messed up. And that is what happened in this case. To act as an instrument of God’s will, one must be genuinely free of doubt. But those who were involved in this incident were not. That was most apparent in Bhaktipada himself, who being always in search of plausible deniability, gave equivocal instructions and abandoned his support at the crucial moment that the assassin came to get money for his escape, a fatal error that made the whole New Vrindavan house of cards collapse. No part of the job was conducted professionally: as one detective is quoted as saying, “It was a professional hit conducted by amateurs.” Stupidity, and paranoia, cheapness about the money for the hit-man Tirtha when he needed to escape. It was as though they thought, “Let him be caught.” As Sophocles said, "Evil appears as good in the minds of those whom the gods would lead to destruction," or, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”

And so when Tapahpunja Swami, while on the run, was asked by an Irish devotee, "Since when do we take the law into our own hands?" he could still answer, "It was completely Vedic. [Sulochan] had offended Bhaktipada."

===================

Could history repeat itself?

Antinomianism is the name given to the belief that those who have received God’s grace or “the Truth” are beyond the restrictions of a socially established morality. Antinomianism finds a place in most of the world’s religions, and has played a role in some of the worst horrors of human century, whether it is a religious or atheistic antinomianism. Indeed, the history of the 20th century can be considered a strong warning against the antinomian idea, which is especially prominent in religions where there is a strong martial spirit.

In the last world war, for instance, the famous Japanese popularizer of Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki, published many works in Japan after the invasions of Korea and China in which he wrote repeatedly of the “unity of Zen and the sword.”

Of greater interest to us is the love that the architect of the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler, had for the Bhagavad Gita. He is said to have carried a Gita with him wherever he went. In a famous speech to SS officers at Posener in 1943, at the height of implementing the “final solution,” he assured his audience as follows:
“These deeds do not inflict any damage on our inner selves, our souls, and our characters. In the same manner, Krishna assured Arjuna that the latter’s acts would not pollute his higher self by completing his murderous duty: Whatever I do, it cannot pollute me. [...] The one who merges with Me, frees himself from everything, and he is not bound by his deeds.”
Brian Victoria, who has investigated this interesting detail from history, comments that Himmler thus “encouraged the members of the SS to conduct their murderous acts, unemotionally in a cool detached manner just as Krishna instructed the charioteer Arjuna... The speech was focused on the spiritual dimensions of war and the conduct of the warrior, which is the chief element of the Kshatriya philosophy of Hinduism.”

One element that recurs through Killing for Krishna is the devotees’ obsession with kshatriyaism. Srila Prabhupada first gave his instructions to implement Varnashram Dharma in ISKCON in early 1974. This is also when the obsession began in New Vrindavan, which was to be the showpiece of Varnashram implementation. Tirtha Das, the man who pulled the trigger on Sulochan, was a Vietnam veteran, and naturally considered himself a kshatriya, as indeed did Sulochan himself. Of all the remarks made by Srila Prabhupada (and I cannot guarantee he was not joking) that comparing the spreading of ISKCON to that of Islam is perhaps the most troubling to me, especially in view of the strong component of fanaticism and totalitarianism in Islam. I found it very interesting that several of the protagonists in this drama used the Islamic term jihad (“holy war”) to describe their mission. I personally think, and have thought so for some time, that Islam is hardly the model we want to follow, and indeed that it was precisely the model that Chaitanya Vaishnavism reacted against. Mahaprabhu might have occasionally displayed anger, but on the whole, his followers believed that he did not punish the sinners and atheists, but changed their attitudes. In other articles I have been trying to make this point.

Another thing that Prabhupada communicated to his disciples was a bias towards Subhash Chandra Bose’s militarism and against Gandhi’s pacifism in the history of the Indian independence struggle. This was also an idea that Sulochan himself took hold of to strengthen his resolve. Doktorski also cites Ramesvara Robert Grant ‘s testimony, which was also widely known when Srila Prabhupada was present, that he said that if we were in power, we could use the atom bomb by threatening people to become devotees or we would drop the bomb. Needless to say, these ideas are non-starters and those who hold them are doomed to repeat history due to not learning their lessons from it. In my view, that is the real lesson from this whole episode. If the events of the last century and the dangers of totalitarianism and radical ideological thinking have not taught us of their dangers, events such as this should have.

=========================

One of the great questions for adherents and critics of the Hare Krishna movement today is the role of Radhanath Swami, who was never inculpated for his role in making this murder happen, which even if it were merely passive knowledge is still enough to be incriminating, even if the courts have not pursued him. In his investigation, after exhaustively examining court records and the notes of the various investigators, as well as decades long correspondence with many of the key players, Doktorski takes this issue on as objectively as possible and concludes that despite his denials, Radhanath was not only aware of the conspiracy, but aided and abetted the scheme. It appears that Radhanath Swami has decided that covering up his role in this matter is the way he wants to deal with the situation. In view of his current important role in ISKCON, this is quite understandable. But that does not make it right, not for him and not for ISKCON. If we don’t want history to repeat itself, it is far more advisable to make a clean breast of it.

I have been reading and listening a lot lately to those Western thinkers who are pointing out the necessity of free speech. According to those who are currently speaking to this are people like Jordan Peterson and Jonatha Haidt, the essence of the Western tradition can be summarized in a devotion to truth (the Logos) and the recognition of the divinity of the individual. The fact is that the devotion to truth is also a part of the Hindu tradition as well, since God is identified with Truth. “Truth alone conquers.” (satyam eva jayate) and the process of establishing the truth is inevitably the collective effort of humanity which is established not by suppression of the ideas we disagree with, but through dialogue or through synthesis.

Henry Doktorski in one place glorifies Sulochan as a truth-teller who was treated as a dangerous fanatic and made a martyr. Certainly he was an extremely flawed individual. But he spoke truths that made others afraid, precisely because they were afraid they might be true. Over the years, it seems that he was vindicated, as the events he set into motion did indeed result in at least a partial defusion of the fanatic tendency in ISKCON, but it is not altogether gone. The author himself says it took him years to face the truth about Kirtanananda and even now he has an inner conflict about the positive and negative aspects of his career.

Speaking the truth is not necessarily faultfinding. We must not be afraid of it. Rather we should be afraid of the kind ideological thinking that makes us believe prematurely that we are transcendental to ethics or morality. Recently a friend of mine told me he intended to start a religion, but that he was not interested in ethics. Indeed, he told me so in response to my suggestion that he was undertaking unethical actions. How can a religion be indifferent to morality? Until one has become disciplined by a moral or ethical view of life -- yamas and niyamas -- the rest of religion is merely ritual and story that serves no real function.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Religious tourism and Hindu proselytization

Yogiraj Prem Prakashji responded to a recent article addressing environmental concerns and I started to answer, but it spun out of control and became too long for a comment. And it was also becoming incoherent. So I decided to give it a little more thought and write it as a separate article.




The environmental issue in Vrindavan is really a big deal. It is so everywhere in the world, but here we can feel it much more acutely. People in the "first world" can only imagine the kind of environmental degradation that is ongoing in India. Just think: India has four times as many people and only one-third the terrain of the US, what to speak of Canada.

Many people are enthused by India's material progress and the rapid urbanization, but it is a bit harder for me to join the chorus. Every so-called step forward simply means more of the same haphazard construction of ugly buildings surrounded by heaps of refuse, and open, garbage-filled drains emptying into what were once considered sacred rivers. One fears that "the sacred" has little place in modern India other than as just another money-making scheme.

I started Vrindavan Today with the environment as one of my main issues and indeed Jagannath and the BVHA have been fighting in the courts and blocking some of the major travesties that unthinking bureaucrats, cut off from Braj culture, have tried to impose.

Religious Tourism
If you have been following Vrindavan Today at all, you will see that tremendous amounts of government money is being invested in the development of the tourist industry, amounts that have been increasing steadily from year to year as the potential of tourism, both domestic and international, is being recognized as a formidable engine of economic growth.
This, of course, only means further strains on both the environment and the heritage that are the life of Braj-Vrindavan, strains that have been increasing exponentially over the past twenty years.

These investments have been made by the three successive governments I have seen in power since coming to live in Vrindavan: first Mayawati's BSP, then Akhilesh Yadav's SP, and now the BJP, which is even increasing these sums greatly. Both the Center's Modi and CM Adityanath Yogi very much pushing the tourism agenda as a real big hope for the economy. But whereas Mayawati and Akhilesh may have thought it a good idea, for the BJP, this is part of a greater mission.

All kinds of touristy things are available in Uttar Pradesh -- everyone knows the Taj Mahal -- people used to drive right by Vrindavan on their way to behold this wonder, and left the greater wonder, Vrindavan, to sleep, of interest only to the locals.

There was a mini-scandal recently when the UP Tourist Board put out a brochure without highlighting the Taj. The other day, when Yogi came with the CM of Haryana and a number of his ministers to play Holi in Barsana, reporters tried to trip him up by asking where he would celebrate Eid, since he had gone to Ayodhya for Dussehra and to Barsana for Holi. "I am proud to be a Hindu and I don't celebrate Eid," he answered. And Yogi brought it up again in the Vidhan Sabha when the opposition parties accused him of being a CM for the Hindus alone. This did not phase him and he doubled down.

The point is that he is liberating Hindus from taking refuge in a hypocritical pseudo-secularism. He thus encourages a marriage of the movement for economic development with India's ancient traditions. He is putting them on show at the front and center of his economic plan.

It is indeed religious tourism that the government wants to increase, and that in great part arises from a fairly newfound proselytizing spirit in the Hindu community. Let's call it pride or confidence. Pride in the Hindu heritage, proclaiming that it is not a mere artifact, a curiosity, but a living thing that is becoming meaningful to more and more people around the globe.

This is being driven in great part by Indians' pride in their rapidly growing economy. There is a growing confidence that India can achieve parity with other modern nations. And though this may or may not be a matter of pride for those who are purely secular or belong to other religions, but how can it be wrong to specify that India is primarily a Hindu country and that an evolving Hindu ethos should prevail?

Hindu Evangelism

There was a time when Hinduism did not consider itself to be evangelical, in the sense of going out and actively seeking converts. You were supposed to keep the dharma you were born with.

Yogi and the BJP are not thinking of economic development alone. There is national pride that accompanies a profound belief in the holiness of India, and that includes a belief in the Hinduism;s capacity to adapt to the circumstances of the 21st century.

Bringing people here is a part of spreading the good news. Improving the sacred sites in order to make them accessible and functional for people habituated to modern amenities is a part of that plan. And this is pretty much an extension of what Bhaktivedanta Swami started when he attached modern guesthouses to his major Indian temples.

Some History

It is not easy for people living in long independent countries to remember that Hindu India had spent roughly 900 years dominated by alien cultures. Independence in 1947 resulted in an artificial attempt to impose secularism on the new republic, for good reason, as the horrors of Partition could not have been a more stark reminder of where religious fundamentalism can lead.

Actually, the bhakti movement from the very beginning had the element of resistance to Islam, as is shown by the temerity of Gadadhar Das (Nityananda's follower) whose claim to fame was the he asked the local Muslim Kazi, a powerful man with decided fundamentalist tendencies, to chant the Holy Name. Gadadhar Das sought an appointment with him and that is what he asked for. The Kazi laughed and acquiesced.

Perhaps this seems like a nothing story. What was achieved? If you put yourself in the position of being a subjugated and despised people facing a world-conquering, completely self-confident Islam, which could often be extremely cruel the name of religion, it takes on a great deal more meaning. It was a daring act of self-affirmation. (CC 1.10.53, CBh 3.5.395-418)

There is a feeling throughout the Gaudiya texts that the Islamic rulers were capricious. Sanatan tells Mahaprabhu himself, "[The Shah] might be friendly now, but he is a Yavan and that could change in a moment. Don't take any chances." (CC 2.1.222-223).

That is why we don't hear of any mass Muslim to Hindu conversions. It was unthinkable. Yavan Haridas is held up as the Namacharya. The Chaitanya Bhagavata also tells about how he was punished by the local Kazi for his temerity in renouncing Islam for the practices of Vaishnavism. He was sentenced to be whipped in 22 market places, publicly flogged to death so that the good citizens of the Dar-al-Islaam would know what happens to apostates.

As it was, citizen Haridas was thrown for dead into the Ganges after a quarrel about what should be done with the body. Haridas had been in samadhi. The holy waters of the Ganga revived him, and he washed up to safety downstream. (CBh Adi 16)

In the Chaitanya Bhagavata, it is said that Mahaprabhu himself recounted the story to Haridas and remembered it, even saying that he had himself protected Haridas from the torturers' lashing. (CBh Madhya 10.36-46)

A hundred years after Mahaprabhu's arrival in Vrindavan and his dispatching of Rupa and Sanatan to Braj, things must have been looking pretty good to Krishnadas Kaviraj. Rupa and Sanatan themselves were escapees from the gilded prison of Hussain Shah's court. They managed to get away when the Shah was off to conquer the great kafir kingdom of Jagannath, on his mission to destroy that temple and its idols, and to liberate their filthy, idol-worshiping gold.

But Rupa and Sanatan knew Persian, the language of the Moghul court, and they knew the ways of diplomacy. By 1616, after the reign of Akbar, there was a new sense that Muslims and Hindus could coexist respectful of each other's religion. Jiva Goswami had been expert in dealing with the local powers to procure most of the land that is today's Vrindavan for the three big temples, Govinda, Gopinath and Madan Mohan. Without Akbar it is hard to imagine that happening. Jiva Goswami asked him to send paper for writing... There are so many Akbar legends in Vrindavan!

In 1515 Sikandar Lodi destroyed the temple of Keshava Dev or the birthsite of Krishna in Mathura. This traumatic event is not mentioned in Chaitanya Charitamrita, though Kaviraj Goswami does tell us that Mahaprabhu visited the Keshavadeva temple in the autumn of that year. I find it extremely doubtful that such an event would have been unknown to Kaviraj Goswami, whether it happened before or after Mahaprabhu's visit, but he does not mention it.

I have been puzzling about that for some time. It would have fit his narrative, which is about the revival of Hinduism in the form of Vaishnavism when for centuries Hindus had been struggling with a conquering ideology that seeks the annihilation of all other forms of religious belief. It was no longer just some Kazi in a Bengal backwater agreeing to say Krishna's name once, but the Grand Moghul himself who was looking at Hinduism and Indian culture with a gentle eye and even supporting its development. Kaviraj Goswami could thus unabashedly point to Mahaprabhu and exclaim, "What my God has wrought!"

On the other hand, he may just have thought, let bygones be bygones, let a new temple be built, and let's not muddy the waters lest our new friends go back to their old ways. Let the sleeping dogs lie.

You could say that unless a religion gets some kind of Cosmic Feedback in its early stages, the mythology that surrounds it cannot survive. If the Cosmic Mother does not feed its infant with the loving milk of success, it will not grow into a healthy adult.

Hindu Nationalism and the future of the Dham

At any rate, the same religion will also have to face opposition and to develop in the face of those opposing forces. Temples did get knocked down once in a while, jizya taxes were levied and eased. It could be uncomfortable, but it seems that for the most part a live and let live situation developed.

The history of India and Hinduist politics is too long a story to go into in detail here. I have already spoken of some aspects of it in symbolic terms in a previous article. After more than 60 years of freedom from British rule, Hindu India had been forced into an unnatural sectarian garb. It now is resurgent.

Hindu preachers have been teaching since the time of Vivekananda that Hinduism is compatible with modernity and present-day progress, that it can adapt and make contributions to the totality of humanity. Not only that, but its teachings can be a prophylactic to the negative effects that will inevitably come from such progress, which is really nothing more than the effect of Kali Yuga.

Hindu nationalism holds fundamentally that Bharatvarsha is a sacred land; it is the home of avatars, saints, rishis, yogis and acharyas. This is why India must always be different for a Hindu than for Indians who don't share that vision. The spiritual search is the soul of India's identity.

So when we talk about religious tourism, we are talking about an evangelization of Hindu culture, carrying on in the traditions of Vivekananda, Yogananda, Bhaktivedanta and many others.

It is good that the BJP has taken up this challenge. It will not be easy. There is more to it than economic development. The goals of economic development and spiritual refinement are often diametrically opposed. The leaders of this movement need a refined understanding of the ideal ethos of a region like Braj and the means to realize it. This requires a concerted effort in keeping the preservation of heritage and environment, without which the dream of Hindu spirituality becoming a beacon to the world will never be realized.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"...each and every one of Gauranga's limbs"


I am trying to gather up Gadadhar's writings and put them all in one place so that we can see what can be done about making them available. The above picture was painted by Gadadhar himself and is on the cover of his translation of Gauranga pratyanga stava raja.

The title means, "The topmost prayer, which describes each and every one of Sri Gauranga's beautiful limbs." It is the prayer he sings three times a day as the cornerstone of his worship for several years now. This picture is the meditation that accompanies this prayer.

Gadadhar tells me he is tired of painting, and indeed I have watched him. He is tireless. The whole time I was there he was retouching the hem of Nityananda's shawl. He complains about and I can understand why. He likes the excitement of meditating directly on Gaura, indeed of being with Gaura. If you like, it is a kind of prema-vaicittya. He has Gaura right in front of him and he is complaining that he doesn't get to serve Gaura in the way he wants, but he does the work anyway. He gets the hem right.

At any rate, the above painting is one of his best, in my opinion. It has the mark of immortality, which is the sign of good art, whatever the style or technique.

I think I can meditate on it and feel how Gadadhar feels about Gauranga. I challenge you to do it.

Jai Gaura! Jai Gadadhara!



I thought I would add some comments I wrote on the FB thread:

I was just talking to some of Babaji's new students here at Jiva about darshan. They wanted to know which temple to go to for arati. I kind of said that they are all good, but specifically mentioned Radha Damodar, Radha Raman, Radha Vallabh and Banke Bihari.

Some chirped up that it is too crowded at Bihariji, we can't see the deity at all. So I said, then you look at the people. And watch them stare at Bihariji. Look at their faces. They are practicing what is called darshan.

smerāṁ bhagī-traya-paricitāṁ sāci vistīra-dṛṣṭi
vaṁśī-nyastādhara-kiśalayām ujjvalāṁ candrakea |
govindākhyāṁ hari-tanum ita keśi-tīrthopakaṇṭhe
mā prekiṣṭhās tava yadi sakhe bandhu-sange 'sti raga ||

Oh my friend!
Smiling, in his famous triple-crooked stance, with his big crooked glance.
With newly blossomed lips cast on his flute
            so bright in the moonlight
This form of Hari called "Govinda," is just nearby, next to Keshi Ghat.
So if you want to find pleasure in the company of your friends,

            then best not look! (BRS 1.2.239)

And of course the same applies elsewhere too.

So I explained darshan as the same as trāṭaka. My South Indian yogi friend Swami Vachananand (Shwaasa Guru) teaches the Lingayat practice of trāṭaka on a handheld linga, When not engaged in the practice, the linga hangs around the neck of the sadhaka and is the sign of being initiated. It is indeed the main practice of the Lingayats. Indeed, I remember Swami Veda discussing the practice with Swami Vachan.

I recently started doing the same kind of thing with my Giridhari, holding him in my hand and looking at his painted face. If you are on a good talking relationship with your Giridhari, it can be quite electric.

The point, I guess, is that in human life, looking someone long in the eyes is not often done, even in close relationships. But love sort of means being able to look at another person in the eyes and not feel he or she has to turn away.

Bihariji is the king of darshan because of his eyes. Radha Raman also. Radha Vallabh is more mysterious, his eyes are entirely black. Radha Damodar has a later style of deity. The original 16th century murtis are gone and to be quite honest, however enchanting their replacements, they don't quite have the same charm. If there is an offense in judging comparative beauty of Thakur images, may I be forgiven. Radhe Radhe.

But I think that ultimately it is in the eyes.



Thursday, March 08, 2018

Notes on my visit to Assam


Sapatgram (Feb. 22-28, 2018)

Sapatgram, Assam, which is the home stomping ground of Pagal Baba or Lilananda Thakur, the one who built the imposing white temple on the Mathura Road in 1977. According to the very sparse details I was able to get from a book published at his ashram, he saw that though Vrindavan was on the road from Delhi to Agra, people just went right past it and never came to look at Krishna's abode. So he got his Marwari followers to fork out the money for that imposing structure. Basically this is all the information his biography contains:
Not much is known about the early life of Pagal Baba other than that he was born in Mymensing district, now in Bangladesh. His father's name was Kalicharan Chakravarty. From a young age, he wandered all over India, especially in the Himalayas before returning to Bengal.

About one year before India's division in August 1947, Pagal Baba moved to Assam where he organized Akhand Kirtan in Sapatgram village (Dist. Dhubri). Before long, his hut turned into a big ashram and as he used to get lost in the fervor of Harinam Sankirtan, he was nicknamed “Pagal Baba” by his followers. That ashram is called Shanti Dham.

Thereafter, he set up another Ashram at Borjhar (Dist. Darang) and stories of his magical red handkerchief (lal rumaal) whose touch resulted in miraculous cures of the sick spread far and wide, attracting many followers from Guwahati, Kolkata and other places, including many Marwari business people from the northeast.

Pagal Baba arrived in Vrindaban in 1964. He set up the Lila Kunj Ashram and Rashbehari Mandir in Gyan Gudri, near the Jamuna river, and there too starting akhand Harinam Kirtan and Daridra Narayan Seva. 
A few years later, he embarked on construction of a marble temple, nine storied high, on the main road to Mathura. He thought that people traveling to and from Agra to Delhi passed by the immortal abode of Krishna's leela gardens without even knowing of its presence. It was his conviction that this magnificent temple ("Lila Dham") would in due course of time attract more people than the Taj Mahal. 
Baba Sri also wanted to build a big modern hospital adjacent to his temple. He thought that both that could help people be cured of both bodily and spiritual ailments. He initiated work on the project in 1978 itself, but it came to a sudden halt when he attained Mahasamadhi in July 1980. The marble temple was finished in 1977 but the hospital project is still unfinished. 
Pagal Baba did not believe in preaching; so he never gave any sermons. He believed in the sadhana of Hari Naam and food distribution (anna-dana).
Pagal Baba was a striking figure, his body covered in strong Advaita parivar tilak and stamps of the Holy Name covering the rest of his torso. Nearly every Hindu home and business in Sapatgram has Pagal Baba's picture, and the town's college is adjacent to the ashram and named after him. The ashram itself is quite charming, with numerous small temples and guesthouses. It seemed that there were not many devotees living there, however. My impression from the book on his life was that most of his name and fame resulted from the miraculous cures. His teachings were fairly ordinary: wives should honor their husbands, etc. I was told that no one there initiates any more. Nobody knows his guru-parampara. The result is that there is no real continuation of his tradition, other than the chanting of akhanda Nam, which was being done by one lone figure when I visited. I also find that the Vrindavan temple, though imposing externally, does not show much spiritual vigor. Annual festivals still go on in his name, however, and there are many people in the region that continue to honor him.



Sapatgram is a medium sized village of about 20,000, just off the main railway line from Guwahati to points west and south. Tamal Da, who brought me here, has been coming to this area from Nabadwip for decades, first as a mridanga player in lila kirtan groups and then as an agent of lila and nam kirtan groups. His network of devotee friends in this area is very wide. He persuaded me to come by saying, "These people are great devotees; they will love you and you will love them."

Like Pagal Baba, most of the residents of the village are Bengali refugees from East Pakistan, fleeing in the different pogroms that have reduced the Hindu population of Bangla Desh. There are also a large number of Muslims, perhaps half the population, though the market is predominantly Bengali Hindu. Assamese and tribals are barely present.

My first talk in Sapatpur was to a couple of hundred people. I was pretty happy with the talk, which is quite unusual, as I am rarely satisfied with my "performances." I focused on two of Raghunath Das Goswami’s verses:

nijatve gauḍīyān jagati parigṛhya prabhur imān
hare kṛṣṇety evaṁ gaṇana-vidhinā kīrtayata bhoḥ |
iti prāyāṁ śikṣāṁ caraṇa-madhupebhyaḥ paridiśan
śacī-sūnuḥ kiṁ me nayana-saraṇīṁ yāsyati padam ||

In this world, the Lord accepted these residents of Bengal as his very own and nearly always instructed those who were like bees at his lotus feet to loudly sing the Hare Krishna maha mantra by the counting method. Oh when will that son of Sachi again come into the path of my vision? (Śacī-sūnv-aṣṭakam 5)

[Although I wanted to emphasize the first line, I may observe here that this verse is a strong evidence that Mahaprabhu did indeed instruct his disciples to chant Hare Krishna while counting (kariyā nirbandha). The word prāyāṁ indicates that when Bengali devotees came to see Mahaprabhu in Puri (which lila Raghunath Das is describing), he would instruct them in this way, i.e., to chant loudly but counting. People might say that one can also chant without counting, but I believe the other case is stronger. Otherwise why not say japata instead of kīrtayata ?]

vairāgya-yug-bhakti-rasaṁ prayatnair
apāyayan mām anabhīpsum andham |
kṛpāmbudhir yaḥ para-duḥkha-duḥkhī
sanātanaṁ taṁ prabhum āśrayāmi ||

I take shelter of my Prabhu Sanatan Goswami, an ocean of mercy who suffers to see the suffering of others, who made me drink down the juice of bhakti accompanied with renunciation, even though I was ignorant and without any desire for it. (Vilāpa-kusumāñjali 6)

After the lecture, I came down and danced to the kirtan, eventually managing to induce a group of children and a few adults to join me. Then after the kirtan, I would be swarmed by both men and women who are socialized to touch the Bhagavata speaker's feet. I was feeling rather joyful and so began to embrace everyone, especially the children, who came back each day even more enthusiastic to get a hug. I also made a point of hugging the widows, who also seemed quite grateful for it.

My main subject was the ninth chapter of the Adi Lila of Chaitanya Charitamrita, which describes the Chaitanya prema-kalpa-taru. On no day during the entire week did I stick to my plan. Somehow or another people were able to follow. I kept returning to the same theme from Chaitanya Charitamrita to a small crowd of about 200 with others listening on the mike. It was the first time I was really tested in this way and on the whole it went well, within the expected limitations. In other words, I am reasonably confident that I will be able to communicate with a Bengali audience and be understood.

The chapter starts with a very interesting verse:

mālākāraḥ svayaṁ kṛṣṇaḥ premāmara-taruḥ svayam |
dātā bhoktā tat-phalānāṁ yas taṁ caitanyam āśraye ||


I take refuge in Sri Krishna Chaitanya, who is Krishna himself the gardener, who is himself the immortal tree of Love, as well as the donor and taster of the fruits of that tree. (CC 1.9.6)

The chapter starts its description with the roots of the tree, i.e., Madhavendra Puri and others who preceded Mahaprabhu and showed the first signs of ecstatic prema that would fully manifest during Chaitanya's avatara lila.

pākila ye prema phala amṛta madhura
bilāya caitanya mālī nāhi laya mūla
trijagate yata āche dhana ratna maṇi
eka phalera mūlya kari tāhā nāhi gaṇi
māge bā nā māge keha pātra bā apātra
ihāra bicāra nāhi jāne diba mātra
añjali añjali bhari phele caturdiśe
daridre kudāñā khāya mālākāra hāse

Once the fruits of love had ripened, as sweet as the nectary of immortality, Chaitanya the gardener began to distribute them freely, not taking anything in exchange. (26) Even if one were to gather all the wealth, the jewels and precious stones from throughout the three worlds, I do not think that it would equal even one of those fruits in value. (27) He took no consideration of whether someone asked for it or not, whether someone was deserving or not, he only knew, "I must give." (28) Filling his cupped hands with these fruits, he threw them in every direction. Seeing the poor folk gather them up and eat them, the gardener laughed with glee. (29)

mālākāra kahe śuna vṛkṣa paribāra
mūla śākhā upaśākhā yateka prakāra
alaukika bṛkṣa kare sarbendriya karma
sthāvara haiyā dhare jaṅgamera dharma
e bṛkṣera aṅga haya saba sacetana
bāḍhiyā byāpila sabe sakala bhubana

The gardener said, "Listen, listen, my tree family, all of you, whether the main branches or the secondary branches, whatever you happen to be. This amazing tree can perform the functions of all the sense, and though a tree ordinarily has no ability to move, this one has the capacity of a moving creature. All the parts of this tree are conscious, and so they grew and expanded until they filled the entire universe. (30-32)

ekalā mālākāra āmi kāhāṅ kāhāṅ jāba
ekalā vā kata phala pāḍiyā bilāba
ekalā uṭhāñā dite haya pariśrama
keha pāya keha nā pāya rahe mane bhrama
ata eva āmi ājñā diluṅ sabākāre
jāhāṅ tāhāṅ prema phala deha jāre tāre

I am the lone gardener, so to how many different places can I go? And how many fruits can I pick and give away on my own? It is extremely tiring to gather up the fruits and distribute them all by myself; and it is distressing to know that some people get the fruit and others do not. And so I order every one of you to distribute these fruits of love to everyone wherever you go. (CC 1.9.34-6)

bhārata-bhūmite haila manuṣya janma yāra
janma sārthaka kari kara para-upakāra

One who has taken a human birth in the land of India [Bharatavarsha] should make his life successful and work for the benefit of all other people. (CC 1.9.41)

etāvaj janma-sāphalyaṁ dehinām iha dehiṣu
prāṇair arthair dhiyā vācā śreya ācaraṇaṁ sadā

This then is the measure of success in life: that with one's life airs, wealth, brains and words, one acts always for the benefit of other embodied souls. (10.22.35)

prāṇinām upakārāya yad eveha paratra ca
karmaṇā manasā vācā tad eva matimān bhajet

An intelligent person acts only for the benefit of other living beings, whether in this life and in the next, with actions, thoughts and words. (Vishnu Purana 3.12.45)

mālī manuṣya āmāra nāhi rājya dhana
phala phula diyā kari puṇya upārjana
mālī haiyā bṛkṣa hailāma ei to icchāte
sarba prāṇīra upakāra haya bṛkṣa haite

I am only a humble gardener and I have no kingdom or wealth. I simply give out my fruits and flowers and that way I earn some merit. Though I am the gardener, I became this tree out of my own desire. This is because all living beings are benefited by trees.

aho eṣāṁ varaṁ janma sarva-prāṇy-upajīvinām
sujanasyeva yeṣāṁ vai vimukhā yānti nārthinaḥ

Ah, but these trees have attained the best of births, for they are the givers of life to all other creatures. They turn no one away, just as a generous pious soul never turns away those who come begging. (10.22.33)



This has always been one of my favorite chapters in the Chaitanya Charitamrita. And of course, the key verse (1.9.41) was often quoted by Prabhupada, Since Mahaprabhu "adopted" the people of Bengal, I thought that I would honor them. I said, I am only offering the Ganga water back to the Ganga. This is your own hidden wealth, make the most of it.

I like the metaphor in each of its four aspects. Mahaprabhu is the gardener, as well as the tree, as well as the enjoyer and the giver of the fruits. Similarly, since everyone who becomes connected to this divine tree automatically becomes a part of the "family of the tree." And therefore is expected to take on the dharma of the tree, which is really nothing other than the dharma of the gardener himself. So, looking at the whole exercise of me going to Assam, etc., it really is meant as a way of living up to my participation in this immortal tree's existence.

The comparison is also inevitable to another verse where a similar metaphor is used, this time in relation to Krishna lila, also by Kaviraj Goswami:

sakhyaḥ śrī-rādhikāyā vraja-kumuda-vidhor hlādinī-nāma-śakteḥ
sārāṁśa-prema-vallyāḥ kiśalaya-dala-puṣpādi-tulyāḥ sva-tulyāḥ
siktāyāṁ kṛṣṇa-līlāmṛta-rasa-nicayair ullasantyām amuṣyāṁ
jātollāsāḥ sva-sekāc chata-guṇam adhikaṁ santi yat tan na citram
Just as the moon enlivens the lilies, so Krishna is the bright moon who enlivens the lily-like hearts of the residents of Vrindavan. His pleasure-giving potency is personified in Radha, who is like a creeper whose fruits are prema. Her girlfriends are like the unlimited branches, leaves and flowers which expand out from her self and are thus equal to her. For this reason, when that winding creeper of love is watered with the heavenly potion of Krishna’s sporting activities, then the leaves and flowers, the sakhis, find hundreds of times more pleasure than if they were themselves to be sprinkled. This seems quite normal. (GLA 10.16, CC 2.8.210)
I have discussed this verse several times before. I did not go into the esoteric matters in my classes.



Another feature of the week in Sapatgram was the house visits. I must have gone to at least 20 houses and met with the families, seeing their lives up close. There is no doubt that the people whose houses I visited are pious. Many have built temples on their property, if they can afford it. Some of them are quite big. Nearly everyone has a big Kali image as well as Krishna deities. I don't think it will ever be possible to break Bengalis' habit of worshiping Kali or eating fish. In each house I went to I made a point of singing Bhaktivinoda Thakur's Nam Tahal song. In some places I was asked to give another class for the people who gathered there.

As I was ruminating in the previous post, a more organized approach to preaching will be necessary in order to activate new devotees and to organize the present and given them direction. I will probably be heading back east in the summer. Hari Gopal Das wants to go to Bangla Desh. His main interest is in getting the fragments of the Bhaktivinoda Goshthi, disciples of Prabhu's disciples like Sachinandan Bhakti Prabhu, Bhakta Ma and others, motivated to keep the Dwadash Mandir alive.

Most of the people I saw are at best moderately well off. Perhaps Pagal Baba's Marwaris are rich, but I haven't yet performed any miracles... But I am interested in the project. Being an Iskcon alumnus, I still have some ideas about preaching that are practical, like theirs. The publication of books is a part of it. We will see how it develops.

Jai Radhe, Jai Gaur-Gadadhar!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Notes from my travels in Bengal (Kolkata, Nabadwip, Birnagar, Purulia, Medinipur)


[This is one of those posts that was messed with several times and is therefore a bit confused. Maph koro.]

Time has been going by quickly and the last few days I did not have a computer so I was not able to keep in touch with my Facebook friends. I haven’t been taking photos either. Finally I broke down and bought a new computer in Nabadwip and hopefully this one will cause me less misery than my previous HP’s. The store in Nabadwip just had the one laptop, an HP. I am currently posting from Sapatgram in Assam where I am speaking for a week’s worth of time. Supposedly Bhagavatam, but I decided to do Gaura katha instead.

So… my latest adventures in Bengal.

Kolkata Bagh Bazaar Gaudiya Math

First I went to Kolkata Bagh Bazaar Gaudiya Math where I spent rather longer than expected considering I only was to speak one evening for fifteen minutes. And I don't think I even used my fifteen minutes. The subject confused me and I did not have a paper prepared like the other speakers, all of whom were distinguished Sanskrit professors and the like. The subject was something along the lines, "What was Mahaprabhu's greatest contribution to world peace?" I had to say that I wanted to know where was the peace? Look at the great disruptions in the history of India, in the Gaudiya Math itself, what to speak of Mahaprabhu himself! What was he doing when he was showing these shocking manifestations of ecstasy that would horrify any of us if we saw it in another or if it happened to ourselves. So I said I was having trouble with the question. I had to summarize quickly with short theodicy and then I ran off. Of course, nobody took up the question, and just read from their papers.

I guess the event that was the most amusing was when I went to the Ganges ghat and saw Paramdwaiti Maharaj with his disciples, cleaning the ghat. My voice was totally hoarse, but I thought I would try a video rant in Bengali. It did not turn out that great, but Soumen just happened to have come visit me and so I asked him to do it. And he did a creditable job, all things considered, everything being impromptu. He kind of made it a bit more about me than Paramadwaiti Maharaj as I had wanted, but whatever.

https://www.facebook.com/100008727589046/videos/1814077045559864/

I just watched it again and it's kind of fun. I laughed at the end. You can tell though, that I enjoyed the Gaudiya Mission kirtan. It was rather good most of the time. They are a pretty good team when it comes to kirtan. Actually, as part of my fifteen minutes of fame I did my best to compliment them after observing them for two or three days or whatever it was by then. It was indeed interesting to spend time in the first big Gaudiya Math temple, the building that was fought over... It still feels a lot like 1933 there, even with the big Chaitanya Museum they are building. So I thank Hrishikesh Maharaj who was my principal host there. Jai Mahaprabhu!

Nabadwip

One of the speakers whom I met at the event was Nabanarayan Bandyopadhyaya, a professor of Vedic knowledge at Rabindra Bharati University. He told me that the next day was an event in Nabadwip, a gathering of all the traditional scholars at the Sanskrit College, where I briefly studied in 1981. I thought it would be nice to reestablish my connections with a community that I had known back in the day and so I scooted to Mayapur and stayed with Gadadhar one night and then the next day went across the river and found my way to the meeting, but arrived late.

On arriving near the Sanskrit College I saw Bhagwat Kishor Goswami on the road with a number of followers. I had been watching him on YouTube as a part of my preparation for coming to Bengal. Research. Checking out the competition. He knew who I was because he had heard about me from Nisheeth Kumar Goswami, who was his vidya guru. Nisheeth Gosai is from the Vishnupriya Vamsha. Now 75, he is still the doyen of Sanskrit and Vaishnava shastra teachers in Nabadwip. Prabhupadas Nritya Gopal and Prema Gopal Goswamis were both his students.

When I first came to live with Madhusudan at Gokulananda Ghat in Nabadwip in 1980, another Godbrother, Doctor Babu (with the fabulous name of Shashanka Shekhar Balniyogi) took the two of us to Nisheeth's house in the evenings through the dark streets. Nabadwip only got a couple of hours of electricity in those days. Nisheeth was teaching Sanskrit at a high-school in Samudragarh and he would take the train home, bathe and do some puja and then sit down to read Govinda-lilamrita under a hurricane lantern with a handful of listeners, the most devoted of whom was his adoring mother. Although a handsome and somewhat debonair man, he never married.

First Bhagwat Kishor Goswami took me inside the meeting area where a number of the participants were still milling around. He took me first to see Gorachand Bhattacharya, whom I had had some adventures with back in around 1983 - we went to Gaya on a mission to [unsuccessfully] retrieve the place where Ishwar Puri had supposedly initiated Nimai Pandit, which changed the course of his life. Ground zero, really.

I used to listen to go to Govinda Bari and listen to Gorachand's Bhagavata path. He gently held both my hands and looked me in the face for a long warm moment and said, "We had no idea where you were, what had happened to you. We did not know whether you were dead or alive!" I truly have not been adept in maintaining these old friendships.

Bhagwat Kishore Goswami then arranged for me to be taken to see Nisheeth Prabhu, who had not come due to stomach flue. When I entered his room and paid my obeisances, he did not waste any time with pleasantries or reminiscences. He immediately started giving me a Nyaya explanation of the repetition in the verse radha vrinda-vane vane. There being three possible reasons for vipsa, all of which were necessitated by Radha's presence in the forest of Vrindavan. Of course I could barely follow the argument; maybe if I look up that sutra I could reconstruct the argument. I was, however, thinking of how nice it would have been to have studied with someone who took so much pleasure in knowledge.

I reminded him of the first verse I had heard him explain from Govinda-lilamrita. Still remember it vividly, him holding the book up close to the dim hurricane lamp and wrapped in seeming endless chadars in the winter chill.

spṛśati yadi mukundo rādhikāṁ tat-sakhīnāṁ
bhavati vapuṣi kampa-sveda-romāñca-bāṣpam |
adhara-madhu mudāsyāś cet pibaty eṣa yatnād
bhavati bata tad āsāṁ mattatā citram etat ||

If Mukunda touches Radha, it is on her sakhis'
bodies that appear trembling, sweating, horripilation and tears.
And if he should joyfully and with great care
drink the nectar from her lips,
it is they who become intoxicated.
This is indeed a marvel to behold.(GLA 11.137)
Yes, asangati alankar, he said. But that was all he had time for as he started to feel stomach cramps. Our meeting had to be cut short.


Birnagar/Purulia

From there I went to Birnagar, where I spent one night. I got to speak to the handful of local devotees who come to the temple. I enjoy that because I feel that I can speak openly and explain things without having to concentrate on the entertainment factor. Which is or is not a good thing. Anyway, I speak whatever comes to mind anyway. I am constantly trying to improve my control over the Bengali language so that I can make my own understanding clear.

The next day Harigopal Das Babaji Maharaj took me to Purulia, after which we went to a couple of places in Medinipur district before returning to Dwadash Mandir.

Purulia was a bit of a disappointment and nothing much came of it. We stayed at the house of a Mr. Mukherjee, a retired engineer who now lives alone there in Purulia. He is originally from one of the big families that dominated early Birnagar (see the rather unexpectedly detailed Wiki article) and so we were hoping that he would be eager to help us in some way, but not much came of it, at least not at this time.

Vaishnavism is pretty hidden in Purulia, though I know that there are many devotees here. We visited a small Gaudiya Math called “Govinda Math” which has a couple of branches up there in the northwest of Bengal. I don’t doubt that there is a lot of untapped potential there.

Interlude : Reflecting on this after returning to Vrindavan:
The main purpose of this trip was to figure out how to expand our preaching potential from Birnagar. Later, in Mayapur, Gadadhar told an anecdote about Prabhupada Madan Gopal Goswami, who was our friend in Nabadwip. Madan Gopal Prabhu told him to preach, and Gadadhar said, "So many people are preaching, but who is doing bhajan?" Which is the point of his "another side of Bhaktivinoda Thakur." And indeed it seems a little strange that Hari Gopal, who has been in Radha Kund for more than 30 years is suddenly running around basically looking for money for the temple.

It is easy to be suspicious of motives. My idea is that to follow Bhaktivinoda Thakur means that at least you have to preach in your corner. It is a human need to share. And if we have found something good here, then some attempt to share is necessary. My motto on this trip was:

avirata avikal, tava guna kalakal, jeno gai satera samaje


May I constantly, flawlessly, sing your delightful qualities in the assembly of the saintly. 

This is the goal for which I truly endeavor. And I wish to do it in Bengali to an assembly of Bengalis, in the language of Mahaprabhu.

As things progressed throughout the one month trip, it is clear that some practical ideas are going to have to be applied. We were hoping Mr. Mukherjee would have arranged a program. But to do a program, you really need to do the kinds of things that any publicist does. We also need books. We need to do kirtan or Nam Tahal. Bhaktivinoda Thakur asked as almost the final prayer in his famous song, "When will that day be mine?" for the empathy for fellow creatures that would give the strength to go into the streets and ask people to chant the Holy Name.

We need to have an inspiring and relevant message. I think that what would need to be done, at the very least, is to revive Bhaktivinoda Thakur's Nama Hatta, as used to exist when Prabhu was younger and which continued even afterwards for sometimes. Jayapataka Swami has recreated his version of the Nam Hatta with great effectiveness throughout most of eastern India. It is Bhaktivinoda Thakur's method, so we should try applying it. More about this later.

Medinipur

We cut short our stay there and headed for Panskura in West Medinipur. Near to Panskura there is a small village which is home to several disciples of Bhakta Ma (Srimati Usha Devi Bhakti Matrika) who was the acharya of the Bhaktivinoda Thakur birthplace from 1980 to ca. 2006. Then for a few years Vamsi Das was running the show, and then the Goshthi’s samiti members called on Hari Gopal Dasji to come and take over after being more than thirty years in Radha Kund.

There are five brothers and other relatives who live in separate houses in the village. Madan Mohan is the youngest brother and runs a brick business. But they put me a bit to shame as they all know Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s songs much better than I do.

Then we went to Kola Ghat, which is a big flower cultivating area and famous garland makers. In the morning there is a bit flower market near the train station with flowers going up and down the east coast.

We stayed with Sandip Das Adhikari, who is the disciple of another of Lalita Prasad Thakur’s disciples, Sudhanshu Das Bhaktivilas, who was quite a strong Bhagavata speaker, very well known in Medinipur district. A two volume biography and collection of his lectures has been put out by the Sauri Prapannashram, which is another important branch of the Bhaktivinoda tree, started by Bhakti Tirtha Prabhu, who was one of the Thakur’s closest disciples.

Sandip Prabhu, whom we previously knew only by his Facebook alias of Nittanando Goswami, is also a Bhagavata speaker with a little ashram called Bhagavata Bhakti Bhavan. He proudly shows us a light display over the front entrance that says “Sri Radhe.” He has many disciples and followers living near to the ashram. Many of them came to see Harigopal and me. That evening Sandip Prabhu arranged for us to go to a Vaishnava festival of kirtan and path that was going on in a nearby village and arranged for both Harigopal and me to speak for ten or fifteen minutes after the regular speaker had finished.

Medinipur in general seems to me to have a greater number of visible Vaishnavas who wear tilak and so on. The Gaudiya Math is active there, and of course Iskcon is everywhere. I noticed that many of the devotees have their little book on the Nama Hatta. The Bhaktivinoda Goshthi published all of Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s writings on the Nama Hatta, which needs to be redone.

As a matter of fact, I am immersed in publishing projects that need funding (hint, hint) -- my own, Gadadhar Pran’s and several things that I want to do from Dwadash Mandir, both in Bengali and in English. Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s original writings on the Nama Hatta would make a good handbook for bhaktas. If ever I can break away from all the other stuff...

Before I knew it, it was time to head back to Birnagar so that I could catch the Kamrup Express with Tamal Da to go to Assam after one evening giving class at Dwadash Mandir, still getting my tongue into shape.

On the way to the train station, while crossing the Ganga we encountered the very energetic Prem Prayojan and fifty or sixty of his followers who were heading to Nabadwip to visit Dhameshwar and Jagannath Das Babaji’s samadhi.


Fantastic investment property beside the Ganga in Mayapur


Sridham Mayapur, the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, is quickly becoming the preeminent place of tourism and pilgrimage in West Bengal, visited each year by millions of people from all over the world.

This four bigha (1 and 1/3 acre) plot sits right on the bank of the Ganga within sight (only a few hundred meters) of Mayapur’s main attraction, ISKCON’s world headquarters and Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, which is now nearing completion.

1) For developers, this land could be turned into a multi-star hotel and spa. The view over the Ganges is exceptional here and the cooling breezes coming from the river assure an exhilarating environment in all seasons. Most of the surrounding properties are also nicely wooded, giving the flavor of being far from the madding crowd even though only within a short walking distance of the ferry ghat to Nabadwip and most of the ashrams and temples in Mayapur.

Only two hours from Kolkata, which is also accessible by steamer, there is no doubt that this property has commercial potential unique in the whole of West Bengal.

2) The prestigious location in the Ishodyan area of Mayapur is probably the most envied address for all Gaudiya Vaishnavas, or indeed any other spiritual organization. Far-sighted devotees will recognize this as a unequaled site for what could be a wonderful ashram comfortably providing living quarters for up to 150 sadhakas, including room for a temple, gardens and bathing ghatas right on the holy Ganga.

3) It would also be wonderful if ecologically-minded people who desire to preserve the natural heritage of the Holy Dham could turn this into a park or sanctuary for everyone to enjoy. It would form a part of a green chain along the Ganga shore that goes all the way to the confluence with the Jalangi, and would preserve the natural and verdant appearance of the shoreline.

4) And, of course, it would make a most marvelous personal residence for a private citizen.

The property has access to the main road. The access road was built when the W.B. Government invested in protecting the Ganga banks from collapsing. In the picture above, you can see where they have solidified the bank with stones and sandbags. It appears that the Gov’t is serious about maintaining the current contours of the river as the Ishodyan and Mayapur Ghat areas become more and more developed.

The location of the land is circled in blue line. The price demanded is the present going rate for land in Ishodyan. Asking price is the equivalent of US$ 490,000 or best reasonable offer.

For more information, contact me, Jagadananda Das through Facebook messenger or email jankbrz {} yahoo.com. You can also contact Gadadhar Pran Das at gadadhar_das000 {} yahoo.co.in. Or you can write below.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Another side of Bhaktivinoda Thakur 5: Siddha Krishnadas Baba's Gutika (part 1)

Not more than two months after I received diksha and siddha-pranali from Lalita Prasad Thakur in 1980, he left this world, entering Radha Krishna's nitya-lila. But Prabhu's departure stirred a greater desire in me for the bhajana-shiksha that I desperately needed. This lured me to Radha Kund the same year.

When the Toofan Express pulled into the Mathura station, late as usual, I was contemplating how to reach my destination. It was late afternoon and I was alone. So I started praying to Radharani for guidance. Whenever I enter Vrindavan, it always seems that something mystical happens, and this time was no different. Stepping down from the train onto the platform, I saw a Vaishnava friend from Nabadwip named Jadunath Saha who was getting off the same train a couple of cars away. Upon seeing me, he came running over. Since we were both alone and in the same predicament, we decided to team up.

"Come with me," he said, "I shall introduce you to a great sadhu."

We got on the bus to Govardhan and arrived there just before dark. Jadunath then took me through the town along roads he obviously knew well and led me to a remote location somewhere beside Govardhan hill where we saw a hut and some vairagi Vaishnavas surround it. The appeared to be waiting for darshan of the person inside. Coming closer, Jadunath said, "This is the bhajan sthali of Tinkori Goswami Maharaj, who is presently the most advanced bhajananandi Vaishnava in Braja Mandal."

After standing there for a while, one of the babajis ushered us inside. I was surprised to see the sadhu inside was wearing only a kaupin. Still I could definitely feel the shakti emanating from him. I fell to the ground to offer my pranams. Upon getting up, I uttered the first words that came to my mind: "Baba, please give me your kripa ashirvad so that I can become Radha's dasi."

On hearing my prayer, I noticed that a smile came to his face. His eyes were moist and twinkling as he put his hand on my head and said, "Tathāstu. (May it be so!)"

I immediately experienced a current of bliss that made my hairs stand on end.

Coming outside, I asked Jadunath, "Please tell me something about this sadhu. He seems to have some divine power."

Jadunath laughed and said, "You can't imagine how many big, big seths (rich businessmen) come begging for his blessings. They throw wads of money at him and he simply tells them to go and do Vaishnava seva."

"That sounds unusual," I commented. "Nowadays there don't seem to be many vairagi Vaishnavas turning down money, especially when it comes so easily."

"But Tin Kori Baba;s vesha guru, Siddha Manohar Das Babaji of Govinda Kund was even more advanced." Jadunath went on. "Many say that he daily chanted seven lakhs of nama japa."

"That's humanly impossible," I objected.

"For you or for me, maybe so," Jadunath replied. "But for a siddha purusha who is solely devoted to nama bhajan, why should this be impossible? In his biography we can read about numerous supernatural events that happened in his life."

That night Jadunath and I took shelter at Tinkori Baba's ashram near Manasi Ganga. Because my stomach was upset I had to fast. So when I headed for Radha Kund the next morning alone, I started feeling hungry. While walking along the parikrama path, however, I saw a Vrajavasi sadhu sitting under a pilu tree, and he was calling to me. At first I thought he was a beggar. But as I came closer, he asked, "tum thora prasad khaega, baba? (Would you like something to eat?)"

Since I was hungry I couldn't resist the invitation and sat down near him. Then out of nowhere appared a Brajavasi girl carrying a thala with roti, sabji and buttermilk. While partaking of the meal, I was surprised at the prasada's extraordinary flavor. It appeared to be divine. Then I remembered the girl who brought it. I didn't get to see her very closely. But as I recall she reminded me of a Braja gopi. Then a story came to mind: That Radha and Krishna have personally pledged to feed anyone who goes hungry in Braja. This thought awakened a wonderful feeling in me, and tears.

Upon arriving at Radha Kund I had a lead to follow: one of my godbrothers had previously been taking bhajana-shiksha from Madan Mohan Das Babaji of Ghana Madhava Ghera. So after asking around how to get there, I became joyful upon finding his bhajan kutir in an ideal secluded location. Entering the courtyard, I knocked on the door and climbed up some wooden steps to the second floor. What a great place to do bhajan, I thought. There was a wonderful bird's eye view of Shyama Kund. Upon seeing Madan Mohan Baba sitting there doing japa, I offered my pranams and our first discussion began.

Let me introduce this mahatma to our readers. Among Vraja raga marga sadhakas, Madan Mohan Das Babaji Maharaj was a kind of specialist, whom I would call a naishthika lila smarananandi Vaishnava. When I met him in 1980he was editing a rare book entitled Sri Sri Gaura Govinda's Ashtakala Lila Smarana Gutika. The book had not been printed yet. Over the previous 2½ centuries it had been handed down in the form of handwritten copies made by the raganuga sadhakas who wished to learn its contents from their guru. The word guṭikā means a medicinal pill that contains some essential ingredients for caring a sick person. Yet, similarly, this special book will not only cure our material disease, it can bring the greatest spiritual fortune. Because the sadhaka and sadhikas who daily practise the Gutika lila smarana method will, at the time of attaining siddhi, reach the highest realm in the spiritual world, Goloka Nabadwip and Vrindavan Dham to receive a male siddha kishora svarupa for serving Sri Gaurasundar, and a female manjari svarupa for serving Sri Sri Radha Krishna.

Now how did the Gutika advent? That is an amazing story. In ancient times in Vraja, siddha mahatmas were not as scarce as they are today. There were also greater numbers of bhajananandi Vaishnavas who daily performed ashtakala lila smarana. They would meditate on RK's lilas that are described in Govinda-līlāmṛta and Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛta. Though because shastras containing Sri Gaurasundar's ashtakala lila narrations in Goloka Nabadwip were not available, many anuraga Vaishnavas felt that something was missing. That is when Srimati Radharani personally appeared before Siddha Krishnadas Babaji of Manasi Ganga, and ordered him to compile the Gutika. It is by her merciful blessings that this amazing lila smarana paddhati has become the most popular among the Vraja Vaishnavas.

When Madan Mohan Baba saw my eagerness to learn the Gutika, he became merciful. He took me to Sri Sri Gadadhar Chaitanya mandir [Gadadhar Chaitanya mandira is ancient. Its construction and seva puja was arranged by a rani disciple of Ganga Mata Goswamini, one of Gadadhar Pandit's disciples at Puri.] and arranged their daily prasad and a bhajan kutir for me there. I would then go to learn from him in the morning and in the evening. Though before niyam seva begins, Siddha Krishnadas Baba's viraha mahotsava takes place at Manasi Ganga. That year Madan Mohan took me there and it was a very memorable experience. During Siddha Baba's sucaka kirtan [] one of the Babajis went into bhava. First he started levitating, lala came to his mouth, a number of sattvika bhavas erupted in his body and he fell unconscious. No doubt those emotions were and he fell unconscious. No doubt those emotions were genuine because in seeing the something very wonderful awakened in me.

On another occasion I got his darshan again. That was when I was walking near Pani Ghat while doing a pancha krosi Vrindavan parikrama. Then I heard someone swiftly coming from behind. And as I looked back, there he was. His face and body seemed to be deeply transported in some divine state of transcendental emotion. I saw him just for a second as he shot past me like an arrow. When he disappeared into the distance, I had to sit down there to regain my composure. This experience confirmed to me that the bhakti process is real, and that it culminates in bhava and prema.

Before we begin analysing the Gutika's contents, let me tell a little more about some of the sadhus who blessed me during those days at Radha Kund. Though it is sad and remarkable that such Vaishnava sanga is no longer available. There was a Manipuri babaji named Gopala Das who helped me a lot. Like Madan Mohan he was quite old and eccentric. He had a jovial way of speaking. Whenever I visited him, he would go on and on discussing the Gutika's contents and while doing so he would pull out one after another many different maps and diagrams that he personally made to illustrate his edition. He had carefully analyses many different handwritten copies before he came out with the Gutika's first printed version. I noticed that Ananta Das Pandit would regularly consult him and Madan Mohan Das Baba before he came out with another printed edition some years later.



Saturday, March 03, 2018

Publishing Gadadhar Pran's books

Since I am here at Gadai Gauranga Kunj until tomorrow, I will take this opportunity to solicit some financial help for his publication .

Due to financial constraints, Gadadhar has not been publishing his books in the traditional manner. This has been a big problem for him and the devotees who are thirsty for more insight and inspiration in raganuga bhakti. Until these books are published and distributed widely, these devotees will be held back in their progress.

Up to the present day, Gadadhar has been making his books available to interested sadhakas through photocopied versions, but as you can imagine, this is labor heavy, more troublesome and expensive than normal printing. Also we currently have no publishing expertise for e-books, etc., but even the free distribution of books on the internet is time-consuming and does not make it easier for him to continue this seva.

So we are looking for generous donors to help bring these books on raganuga bhakti by a longtime practicing sadhaka, which are a unique and invaluable contribution to the genre in the English language, to a wider audience of serious seekers.

As Mahaprabhu's Krishna Consciousness movement spreads throughout the world, it is only natural that some serious devotees will desire to know more about the intimate sadhana taught by Bhaktivinoda Thakur and the predecessor acharyas all the way back to Rupa Goswami, and which is indeed the final step of his unprecedented gift to humankind.

While many so-called devotees have been consecrating their lives to proving that the earth is flat or hollow, Gadadhar has been making a serious study of Gaura and Krishna lila with advanced practitioners in Radha Kund and elsewhere, and enriching many old texts with the insights derived from his own sadhana.

Frankly, there is nothing else like it in the English language anywhere.

So if you have been appreciating the articles and excerpts that have been published on line here, please think about sending some money and we will make them available to you, and if you can give something extra so that they can be made more easily available to others also, please do so.

Here are the titles that have so far been written or published in one form or another:

In Bengali:
(1) Nandishwar Chandrika (Siddha Krishnadas Baba)
(2) Gaurangera Madhuryamaya Lila (GP}

In English (original books and translations)
(1) Why did Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Come (Part I and II) A discourse on raganuga bhakti sadhana.
(2) Nabadwip Vraja Madhuri (Ashtakala Gaura Lila and Krishna Lila)
(3) Dhyana Chandra's Paddhati.
(4) Prema Bhakti Chandrika (Narottam Das)
(5) Govinda Lilamrita with extensive commentary.
(6) Vishnupriya Trilogy (three volumes)
(7) Rasaraj Gauranga
(8) Dhamali by Lochan
(9) Gita Govinda (Jayadeva)
(10) Sri Sri Gauranga Pratyanga Varanakhya Stava Raja of Advaita Acharya (two parts): An examination of Gauranga's Nadiya Kishor worship in comparative study with the Rupanuga process of Vrindavan.
(11) Sri Sri Gauranga Pratyanga Varanakhya Stava Raja of Advaita Acharya (abridged version for daily recital)
(12) Kanta bhava bhakti sadhana directed to Sri Krishna. Part I, Part II.
(13) Another side of Thakur Bhaktivinoda, Chapters 1 to 4 on this blog.
(14) Sri Gauranga's Main Activity, Part I, Part II.

These books are of different sizes and no price list is available at the present time.

In the present circumstances, the best way to go about it is to come personally or send someone to Mayapur to xerox them and take them back. Sending them by mail or courier costs a small fortune, especially the photocopied versions.

One can send money by Western Union (etc.).

Rai Kishori Dasi
c/o Gadai Gauranga Kunj
Sri Mayapur Ghat
Nadia, W.B., India

For further information, contact Gadadhar Pran at gadadhar_das000@yahoo.co.in