Going to Barsana and immersing myself in Braj bhava and Bhakti Sandarbha has been tremendously rehabilitating.
The company of Binode Bihari Baba in particular has been very salutary. Kirtan each night with him and his core group -- Pandit, Madhu Baba and Ram Kamal Dasji -- was a very powerful reinitiation into the Yuga Dharma.
The heat was stifling. I had a room on the top floor of the Radhika Nivas guesthouse. 250 Rs. a night. No A/C or cooler. I spent my days sleeping and working on Bhakti Sandarbha. In the evening I would go to the Ladli temple and drink in the ambience. Then at about nine I would go to Binode Bihari Baba's ashram for kirtan. For my main meal I was going either to Binode Baba's or to Ladli Das Babaji's ashram in Radhika Bagh.
I slept a lot in the heat, but I did not care; for once I just let everything go without losing energy in guilt or regrets, or counting how many hours and minutes I had been sleeping. I did nothing but take prasad and do kirtan with Binode Baba, go to the Ladli temple each evening for arati, and letting the work on Bhakti Sandarbha be my only preoccupation, but one that I conducted with loving care for each word of both the Sanskrit and the English. That was the basic intent of my change of scene in the first place. No internet.
Despite my pointed neglect of the rules and regulations, however, I found myself enthusiastic about chanting the Holy Names in a way I had not been for a considerable time, at least trying to count some of the time. In general, though, I was feeling the presence and companionship of the Holy Name was being accentuated in Radha's Dham.
I asked Baba whether it was the effect of the company of the devotees or that of Barsana Dham that was having this effect on me, though seemingly I had given up any attachment to accomplishing anything and was feeling liberated and contented. He of course said both, but that night I asked him to speak on the following verse:
syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ puṇya-tīrtha-niṣevanāt
O sages, for a person endowed with faith in the scriptures and a service mentality, the taste for hearing about Lord Krishna comes about through serving a great Vaishnava and by visiting the holy places of pilgrimage. (SB 1.2.16)He spoke with a lot of verve on these dear subjects, the association of devotees and the Dham. And the combination of the two is of course the ideal. The Dham is the scene where all five primary acts of devotion can be executed simultaneously, and Harinam Sankirtan is the most important of the five. The advanced sadhu most effectively transmits his insights and his prema through the Holy Name. And the Dham is where the advanced sadhus dwell.
In a very nice way, all of that tied in with the last few anucchedas that I had been working on in Bhakti Sandarbha (177), with regards to being beyond the rules and regulations, na kimapi kartavyam. I was pondering at length the meaning of the main verse there:
sādhūnāṁ sama-cittānāṁ buddheḥ param upeyuṣām
The even-minded saintly persons who have superseded mundane thinking and are exclusively devoted to Me have no qualities arising out of virtue and vice. (11.20.36)
Svāmīpāda comments: “In this verse 'qualities' refers to the piety and sin that arise from 'virtue and vice,' i.e., out of [obeying] the prescriptions and [ignoring] the prohibitions of scripture.”It was also a pleasure to observe Binode Baba on his daily parikrama and his interaction with the local Brijvasis. There is a genuine affection between them. He gives the children toffees. They come and take and run away, with no polite "thank you sir," no touching of the feet in reverence. They even pull on his clothes, cajole him and try to deceive him into giving them more than one candy. He learns their names, watches them grow and even asks for them if he hasn't seen someone for a long time; he inquires into their news, looks at their notebooks. He has no jāti buddhi. He puts on no airs. He is everyone's Dadu, of the monkeys, too.
There is a plaque on the new interlocking brick portion of the path that connects the Rajasthani temple to the Ladli temple along the crest of Barsana hill. It says that Binode Baba was the official ribbon cutter at the opening ceremony. The guest of honor. The plaque calls him "Braja Vibhuti" ("a treasure of Braj"). To me he said, "They like me." An understatement, it is true: they really like him and he is truly a vibhūti of Braj.
Binode Baba comes into the Ladli temple with his band of jaṭādhārī (dreadlocked) sadhus, dressed in rags, almost at bare minimum, always shirtless, their Radha Kund tilak as thick and bold as a Ramanandi's. Then follows Baba's ritual of darshan and dandavats and then sitting and having durbar with everyone who wants sitting around him. And of course a small crowd of babas of all sampradayas, ordinary folk from the village, and curious tourists who come to pay obeisances and ask for blessings.
Sometimes a local Gosai comes and recites stories and sings songs in glorification of Radharani and Braja Dham. Yesterday a Vallabhi Goswami from Kaman was there with a few disciples, a young Bhagavata pravachak. He began to recite portions of the Bhagavata interspersed with song, had everyone completely entranced until the gong sounded for arati, speaking on truṭir yugāyate tvām apaśyatām (10.31.15) "Half a second becomes as long as an entire age for us when we do not see you."
And sometimes it is Baba himself who holds forth, in the midst of the hubbub that pervades the Ladli temple. He is usually speaking with only a small group, those who are sitting closest to him, with a great deal of force, about the glories of Nam sankirtan and Akinchana Bhakti.
The fact is that he exudes an aura of bhakti that is powerful and attractive to all.
The Ladli temple is like a family gathering, in some ways it reminds me of the atmosphere of an urban swimming pool in my childhood summers. The rumble of human voices is a constant low thunderous din. Children play tag in the open verandah. A young pandit with Nimbarki tilak is there with his children and students, singing Sanskrit stotras. There is constant stream of devotees passing through, hundreds of people milling about, little groups of sadhus or families talking, until arati at 7.30 when the crowd rushes forward and the people with a cry of met expectations, "Jai Radhe!" and then gaze at the Thakur while ghee lamps are offered to the accompaniment of bells and gongs.
The arati ends, the crowd raises its hands to the sky and cries "Jai Radhe" in joyful ecstasy. Then everyone joins in the recital of a number of Sanskrit prayers and the Kṛpā-kaṭākṣa-stotram, and finishes with a round of "Radha Kishori, daya koro!"
There are many sadhus, mostly Gaudiya, a few Ramanandi, less Nimbarkis and a smattering of other sects. The local Gosais are present and participate in the prayers. The temple has a great number of local Brijvasi visitors, men and woman, young and old, coming from local villages as well as Barsana itself. This gives it a distinctly rural Braj flavor that has been pretty much lost in Vrindavan.
The temple dominates Barsana and is the center of all activity there. Though there may be many other smaller temples and ashrams in the town, this one is the common property of everyone. Though there are many young children begging and harassing the visitors, the Goswamis and Pandas themselves don't seem to be as money oriented as in some other popular temples.
All in all, I felt very much at home at Binode Baba's. I like the mood of vairāgya, it reminded me of my earlier days and brief career as a babaji. I said to Baba that it is very peaceful there, because it is niṣkāma. It is small, and when there are less people, namely only the ashram members themselves, then the kirtan is more soulful and intensely meditative.
kṛṣṇa bhakta niṣkāma ata eba śānta
Those desiring sense enjoyment, liberation, or mystic power, are all lacking peace.Of course it is nice that Baba treats me so kindly. I was keeping a bit of distance, mostly since I was getting such pleasure out of observing him and feeling the atmosphere of the ashram. All the devotees there treat me especially reverently because I spent some time with Binode Baba's guru, Tinkori Prabhu. This is actually quite new for me.
A devotee of Krishna is without desire and so is peaceful.
But to be quite honest, I feel that this memory that he had of me as a young tyagi in my early 30's is reviving that "me" in some sense, making me feel that those thirty years have melted away. It was making me relive some of the best parts of that past.
I have been treated as everything from a curiosity to an object of respect, but this is the first time that anyone from the renounced Vaishnava community has ever treated me with something approaching reverence. It is a bit intimidating.
What aparadhas drove me from the aspiration to such a life? In the end, there is only one answer to that question, and that is hubris. Maybe it all happened just to make me appreciate it more. The sheer simplicity of it. I told Baba that by remembering me, he has given me a new birth.
Satyanarayana Dasaji's Bhakti Sandarbha commentaries, by the way, have been having a positive effect on me. I got some flashes of ideas and even put some of them into the commentaries, which of course you can accept or reject. But I hope that I will restrict myself to the kinds of insights that I believe will be acceptable to you, and if there are disagreements or suggestions for an interesting direction the commentary might take, they will appear in the pink balloons on the side of the page.
It is very much appropriate that the Bhakti Sandarbha be given my full attention at this stage in my life. And I believe strongly that just going through the Priti Sandarbha thoroughly will be a crowning jewel for me in this particular human incarnation.
And, with all that, I am very well prepared now for going to my Guru's ashram, as I am nicely plunged through a time warp, transported through a hole in the space-time continuum, to another dimension.
The basic plan is to stay there until Karttik, and give daily classes on Bhakti Sandarbha in Bengali.