Locked down in Vrindavan
|Photo taken on Feb. 26, which was my 70th birthday. Sorry to post a picture of myself here. |
Sorry I have no photos, camera not working. Hopefully I will be able to add later.
One may well ask, at least a devotee might ask, what greater good fortune could befall one than to be stuck in Vrindavan and unable to leave? The Covid-19 phenomenon has struck here like everywhere else in the world, and although India does not seem to have been hit as hard as the US, we should logically expect it to spread in this still mostly undeveloped country. Nevertheless, the official lockdown, which has been in place for more than ten days now, appears to be administered quite effectively, sometimes quite aggressively. I don't know much about what is going on outside as I am very happily sitting inside and taking full advantage of the peace and quiet.
Reduced vehicle traffic and industrial activity due to the pandemic have resulted in a sparkling blue sky, with practically no khaki haze on the horizon at all. The sun has been shining brilliantly for a perfect late spring in Vrindavan. The streets are quiet and although there is some loudspeaker kirtan as usual, the general mood is subdued and bhakti is oozing into the atmosphere. No tourists, no wedding parties, no honking of horns.
The spring transition to summer is almost complete. My tree is full of new yellow-green leaves much to the delight of the langoor monkeys who regularly visit to ravish it, leaving twigs and branches littered on the ground below. The warm breezes have started. The fragrant white flowers of summer have started to appear -- jasmine, chameli, jui. The garden is still full of the yellow and white marguerites, but they will soon be gone. The yellow trumpet flowers are abundant. The winter broccoli and cauliflower are long gone and the summer vegetables are just beginning to grow. The cows are missing their daily trek to the Jiva bagicha up by Varaha Ghat, and have to content themselves with the short walk to the empty lot just outside. The winter killed off all the tulasi but the new tulasi garden has dozens of plants that are starting to give their komala manjaris. Birds are making plenty of noise in the mornings and evenings. It is a nice time of year. At this moment I can hear live kirtans coming from somewhere, maybe Bhagavata Niwas.
From what I can see, the devotees who are still here and haven't been repatriated by their various governments -- there are about a dozen of Babaji's disciples and followers, and another twenty or so of Vishwananda Swami's disciples staying in the ashram -- are generally in a good mood. All the workers with the exception of the kitchen staff have gone home for the lockdown, and their regular cleaning tasks have been taken up by the devotees themselves. Even I have gotten into the cleaning mood, especially yesterday after Manu Dasji helped me clean my roof which is regularly sprinkled with leaves from the three trees that surround it. Babaji himself is sweeping the goshala and helping take care of the cows with Vilas Das, one of his German disciples, and Pandit, the ashram manager.
After the Jiva Tirtha courses came to an end, Babaji has continued with his Bhagavatam lectures from where he left off in the Ninth Canto. Coincidentally, today is Ram Naumi and the subject underway is Ram Lila. In last night's class, he was speaking of the lament of Ravana's wives after his defeat at the hands of Ramachandra. (9.10.25-28). In particular he concentrated on the words hā hatāḥ sma vayaṁ >nātha loka-rāvaṇa rāvaṇa "Alas, we have been killed, O Ravana, you who makes the whole world cry." Babaji pointed out that although it was Ravana who was dead, the wives were lamenting, "It is we who have been killed," while talking to him as though he were there to hear them.
This paradox led Babaji to dwell on the self-interested character of love in this world, that is, kāma. But this then led into the comparing the current situation to spiritual practice. The Gita, he said, tells us to "social distance" so we don't catch the virus of material desire, which is so powerful that even seeing a materialistic person from a distance results in the awakening of kāma.
The Gita verse he referred to was 6.11: "Establish a firm seat for yourself in a holy place" (śucau deśe pratiṣṭhāpya sthiram āsanam ātmanaḥ |), so that is where we are today.
We have been joking about the virus' names also. Corona in Bengali or Hindi has a dual meaning depending on where you put the emphasis, either "Just do it!" or "Don't do it." So do your bhajan and don't do any nonsense! I am working on Prīti Sandarbha, which was really the whole purpose (in a way) for my being here in Babaji's service in the first place. It is the last of the Sandarbhas, after which I will be free. Just this very minute I was doing my first read-through of Anuccheda 41 where Narada's instruction to Vyasa from the First Canto is quoted.
na labhyate yad bhramatām upary adhaḥ |
tal labhyate duḥkhavad anyataḥ sukhaṁ
kālena sarvatra gabhīra-raṁhasā ||
For this reason, a clever person should seek out that which cannot be found from one extremity to the other within this material universe. Whatever happiness is found in this world comes in the same way that distress is—automatically by the force of time, whose workings are inscrutable. (SB 1.5.18)
"The word kovidaḥ (kovid in Hindi) refers to a clever person or one who knows the distinction between material goals such as dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa and bhakti, prīti or prema. Such a person is not bound by social duties because he/she understands that social duties are not an end in themselves but only a facility to reach love for Kr̥ṣṇa or prīti." [Babaji's commentary]. It may be enforced, but somehow the lockdown has made us display the kovid symptoms!
Another play on words that has been making the rounds in the devotional world is karuṇā virus. Karuṇā, of course, means compassion. So again, it has been a great mercy on us here in Vrindavan that a more sāttvika atmosphere has been created, which is conducive to our bhajan. Jai Radhe!
Some of the other devotees have also told me how they are enjoying the situation. The entire world is on an enforced holiday. No doubt there are many people who are suffering due to money problems and so on, so I do not wish to minimize the difficulties that are being caused by all this anxiety, but in general, for the ashram there does not seem to be any immediate crisis. Those who were worried about returning home have left. The rest of us are happy to be here. We send out for purchases which are made collectively or by delivery, and everyone is busy with their bhajan and their seva, mostly alone in their rooms.
45 years ago today I came to Vrindavan for the first time. It is good to be a quarantined in Vrindavan like this.