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Saffron - Subal Das's Autobiography
Jagat - Tue, 30 Mar 2004 16:42:49 +0530
by Subal Das
This is an excerpt from my autobiography Saffron which is still in process. It is not ready for publication, but Jagat suggested I publish it here for those who are interested. While some may be offended by it, that is not my intention. I am just telling my story as it happened. I hope you may benefit from my experiences.
Copyright © 1986-2004 Steve Bohlert (Subal Das)
THE BOMBAY FESTIVAL
As the plane descended into Bombay, March 29th, 1971, I could see white high-rise buildings surrounded by shanties. Poorly dressed people walked carrying bundles while the rich drove cars. As I stepped out of the plane, there was the distinct aroma of India in the air, a mixture of spice, smoke, dung and open sewage.
I had a fifteen day entry visa, no return ticket, and twenty five pounds sterling. Gurudas, whom I knew since the early days in San Francisco, met me at the airport with a letter from Prabhupada guaranteeing my maintenance and fare out of the country.
We went to tea at the home of a wealthy Indian gentleman who had become a life member of ISKCON. For 1,111 rupees, one became a life member and received a set of Prabhupada's books, guest privileges at any of the temples, and other favors. Although 1,111 rupees was worth about $140 on the foreign exchange, it had the purchasing power of about $1,111 in India. This was a very successful means of fund-raising and was done extensively. Many of the most rich, influential industrialists, politicians, and business people became life members. In India, Krishna consciousness is a mainline religion known as Vaishnavism.
Gurudas, his wife Jamuna, and I sat at a white wrought iron table in the garden with Mr. Gupta. Uniformed servants brought tea and crumpets in British style while we engaged in polite conversation.
Gurudas, Jumuna and I then went to the high-rise apartment building where Prabhupada and his disciples were staying. It was in the same building as the Pakistani consulate.
I hoped to celebrate Lord Chaitanya's appearance day with Prabhupada, but he was out of town at the time. The devotees went into the streets and chanted in celebration.
The devotees were planning a week long festival in a large tent at Cross Maidan, a grassy park in downtown Bombay. Prabhupada said, "If you're going to go hunting, hunt rhinoceros. That way if you don't get one no one will think the worse of you because who can get a rhinoceros anyway. If you do get one then you are the greatest hunter." This festival was an attempt to bag a rhino. It was very successful, and that philosophy has stuck with me to this day.
Prabhupada wanted to be the biggest guru in India and then the world. He was using his western disciples to establish himself. It had been his plan for many years to go to America and bring back disciples to India. He thought the Indians want to follow American ways so let them see how the Americans are taking to Krishna consciousness.
I was put in charge of publicity. I handled the media, organized a press conference, arranged for posters and banners, helped with other arrangements, and did some fund-raising.
The festival was a huge success. During the day, the Western devotees chanted, gave lectures, sold literature, distributed free food, showed slide shows and gave tours of photo exhibits. At night, Prabhupada came and chanted with the devotees then gave a lecture to the twenty thousand people who filled the tent.
VRINDABAN, THE HOLIEST PLACE
After the festival, I went to Delhi with Khirodakshayee, an Indian devotee who had lived in London. Kirodakshayee was going to help me get my visa extended, and then we were to start a temple in Delhi. We went to the Minister of the Interior to get a three month tourist visa so that I could be in the country legally since my entry visa had already expired.
Mr. Sharma, an old friend of Prabhupada's arranged for us to stay at the Devidayal Dharmashala which was an inn where groups of people would come and stay for weddings and other occasions. Sharma provided meals at his near-by apartment. He had two teenage sons and had promised Prabhupada one of them.
Mr. Sharma asked if I wanted to go to Vrindaban, the birthplace of Krishna. I had heard about Vrindaban from a hippie in Santa Fe who had been there, and ever since I cherished a desire to go there. I wanted to experience Krishna consciousness at its roots in the native culture. Vrindaban is the main place of pilgrimage for Krishna devotees and is said to be non-different from the spiritual abode of Krishna. Of course I wanted to go! I would have walked eighty-five miles down the banks of the Jamuna River to get there. Sharma took me on the train.
Arriving in Mathura, we went on a bicycle rickshaw the remaining eight miles to Vrindaban. A crow shit on my shoulder as we drove out of Mathura. I didn't know if this was a good sign or not. It was a long hard drive, and I felt sorry for the rickshaw driver who was working like a beast of burden. The country was arid with sparse vegetation.
When we entered Vrindaban, I asked the driver to stop. I got out and rolled in the dust as I had read in the Srimad Bhagavatam that Akrura, a great devotee of old, did when he came to Vrindaban.
We went to Keshi Ghat, a bathing place on the Jamuna river. I said, "You expect me to go in there?" as I stood looking at the huge tortoises lurking in the water looking at me.
"Yes. Don't worry about them. They only pinch."
I got up my courage and went in. Yes, I only got pinched while saying gayatri mantras in the sacred waters.
Sharma had relatives who were Goswamis, priests at the Radha Ramana temple. He arranged for me to stay at the house of one who was out of town. It was right across the street from Seva Kunja, a walled garden where Radha and Krishna went to be served by the cowherd girls after dancing in the forest all night. It was said that no one can spend the night in there without going crazy or dying because Radha and Krishna still come there every night and the sight is too much for a mortal to behold. There are a number of stories about devotees who spent the night there and went mad or died.
Radha and Krishna's pastimes are eternal. They incarnated 5,000 years ago in the town of Vrindaban which is a replica of their eternal spiritual abode. Krishna would go into the forests around the town and play his flute at night. His young girl friends would leave everything and rush into the forest to rendezvous with him when his flute song reached their ears. They yearned to be kissed by his lips and taste the nectar as his flute was doing while he played it.
Without reserve, they threw themselves in his embrace kissing his lotus lips and tasting his mouth which was scented and his teeth stained red from chewing betel nuts, a mild intoxicant and aphrodisiac. They pressed their firm jug like breasts against his garlanded chest and entwined themselves around him like a creeper about a tree.
Krishna expanded himself into as many forms as there were cowherd girls and danced with them in the forest. The girls sang, and Krishna played his flute. After becoming weary from dancing, the girls laid down their saris and made love with Krishna for what appeared to be an eternity. They then went for a cooling bath in the Jamuna river. Splashing and playing, they appeared like a herd of elephants.
In the early morning hours, the band of young lovers would go to the beautiful garden of Seva Kunja to be served sweet drinks, spicy pastries, milk sweets, and other refreshments by their maid servants and confidants. Then after more dancing, they would slip back home and be in bed before their families awoke. Krishna and his girl friends were between the ages of thirteen and sixteen when these pastimes took place.
There were many tamal trees in the Seva Kunja garden. These trees have a blackish bark which is often compared to Krishna's skin color. One especially black one, the Shyama tamal tree, was the one Krishna clung to when he was weeping in separation from Radha. Although Krishna had many girl friends, Radha was number one. Unless she was present, the dance or other love sports weren't complete.
Sometimes, Radha and Krishna have a love quarrel and she spurns him for a while. At such times, he weeps in separation from her. Once, weeping and clutching the Shyama tamal tree, where his hands touched it, shalagramas, black sacred stones, formed. This is the God of love who can weep in separation from his beloved. Nearby was a golden tree that was where Radha similarly experienced separation from Krishna.
In the garden, there was a small temple, a pool that Krishna magically made with his flute to give water to the thirsty cowherd girls, raised platforms for them to dance and sit on, and lots of rhesus monkeys. The ground was packed white clay and kept swept clean.
That evening, Sharma took me to some of the 5,000 temples that Vrindaban is famous for. Some are very palatial while others are simple rooms in peoples' homes. First we went to Radha Damodar Temple which is where Prabhupada lived before going to America. He continued to pay rent on his two rooms there, and when he didn't like the way things were going with his disciples, he would threaten to go back there and live a simple life. In the meantime, the rooms were kept locked.
Radha Damodar temple was founded four hundred years ago by Jiva Goswami, one of the six main apostles of Lord Chaitanya. In back, were areas where the cremated remains of Jiva Goswami, Rupa Goswami, and other saints were entombed. Devotees circumambulated the temple and tombs, bowed down before them and chanted the holy names constantly.
When it was time, the deities were awakened from their afternoon nap and offered food, water, incense, flower, peacock fan, flame, conch shell, bells, chanting, etc.. This ritual is performed several times every day and is called aroti.
Next, Sharma and I went to the Radha Ballabha temple. The deities were still closed. Devotees came in and offered obeisance. Several musicians played beautiful music on traditional instruments and sang devotional songs near the back of the courtyard. Devotees milled around the courtyard chanting and talking. Sharma and I sat on a stone veranda in back of the courtyard waiting for the aroti ceremony.
Some older devotees came and offered obeisance to me and touched my feet. I felt very unworthy of such treatment by people who had engaged in devotional practices longer than me and lived in such a holy place.
When the doors in front of the deities opened, they were beautiful. The deity room was situated on a raised marble stage in front of the temple. There was a four foot high black stone deity of Krishna and a slightly smaller brass Radha. They were dressed and decorated gorgeously. It was said that they were self-manifested deities who revealed themselves to a great devotee. The worship and atmosphere at this temple was excellent and it is one of my favorites.
Sharma took me to visit some of his relatives. Then we went to a temple in the home of a devotee. His deity was also said to be self-manifested.
There was a Krishna play going on in an open theatre. This was a regular occurrence. It was performed by children and teens in ornate costumes. People came and went freely.
After visiting a couple of other temples, Sharma and I went back to the house where I was staying. Sharma went to catch the train back to Delhi.
I heard the bells ringing at a nearby temple and rushed there for the last aroti. It was the Radha Raman temple founded by Raghunath Das Goswami. The deity was said to be self-manifested four hundred years ago out of a sacred stone known as shalagrama. He is about nine inches high, and very attractive.
After the aroti and getting a taste of the food that was offered to Radha Raman, I headed home. I took a wrong turn and wound up wandering around the maze like streets of Vrindaban. I found some other large temples that we had passed on the way into town. I entered a walled garden and heard the eerie sound of peacocks crying in the trees overhead. I didn't know what it was. I was enchanted by the exotic beauty of the place with its stone pavilions. After wandering for some time, I finally found my way home.
The next day, I went to an old temple on the outskirts of Vrindaban that I passed on the way into town. It was deserted. The priests had been killed or driven off by robbers known as dacoits. Beautiful peacocks sang and danced on its sandstone walls.
Near by, I found a lake of the Jamuna River where I swam. It was Akrura Ghat where the great devotee Akrura had a vision of Krishna in the lake five thousand years ago. It was also where Lord Chaitanya stayed on his visit to Vrindaban five hundred years ago.
There was a forest where cuckoos sang in the trees, cows wandered herded by young boys, and I saw a gnu which looks like a cross between a cow and a deer. In many ways, life was going on here just like it was five thousand years ago when Krishna was incarnated and displayed his pastoral pastimes.
This was why I joined Krishna consciousness and came to India. I was the only Westerner in town and was able to experience Krishna consciousness in its true homeland. This was where the original practices started and the people had been living them for thousands of years. Although Western influence was increasing, living in Vrindaban was like living in another time as well as another place. I wanted to drink it in and experience it on its own terms.
I felt at home here like I lived here in previous lives. I felt like I was an Indian swami in my previous life. Why else was I so attracted to this austere foreign life style, and why did I feel so at home here? Prabhupada said that his early disciples were associates of Lord Chaitanya in previous lives in India, and that we took birth in America to help spread Krishna consciousness throughout the world. I believe this is true.
Walking through the bazaar, I was grabbed by a leper woman whose fingers and toes had fallen off due to the disease. She was pleading, "American sadhu! American sadhu! Holy man, save me!" She fell at my feet begging.
A sanyasi was not to be touched by a woman, what to speak of a leper woman. I didn't know what to do. I chanted and offered my blessings. Breaking free, I ran into the nearest temple. It was the Sahaji Temple, a very large, ornate marble temple with crystal chandlers, and good deity worship. They kept a ping pong ball balanced on a stream of water from a fountain in front of the deity of Krishna for his amusement.
I sat in back of the temple collecting myself. A party of pilgrims came through to see the deity. As they were leaving and saw me, they threw coins at my feet. I gathered them after they left and threw half to Krishna. I took the other half and bought a large glass of hot milk in the bazaar.
I stopped carrying my staff. It attracted too much attention. Most of the swamis in town didn't carry a staff. It is a sign of office and high position, one who can meet out punishment and interpret the law. The mood of the devotees of Vrindaban is to be "humbler than a blade of grass" as was taught by Lord Chaitanya. One is the "servant of the servant of the servant of the cowherd girls of Vrindaban" who were Krishna's greatest devotees because they gave their all to him. One should not seek to place oneself above others. We should be servants of all.
I was torn between the depth of spiritual beauty and the depth of material poverty and harsh living conditions which exist side by side in India. It is a combination of heaven and hell. The Hindu scriptures say earth is a middle planet with aspects of heaven and hell. This is very apparent in India.
I considered returning to the U.S. I didn't get inoculations before entering India and would need them to get back into America. I went to a clinic in Delhi to get a smallpox vaccination. A number of Indians were also there for vaccinations, and it seemed like the doctor used the same needle on several people.
I went to another public health clinic to get a cholera shot. The nurse got the needle out of a box in her purse, wiped it off with cotton and what I hoped was an antibiotic, and injected me. To be pierced by a needle was actually forbidden for sanyasis by Hindu law. What to speak of being touched by a woman in the process! However, at the time, I didn't know one could pay to get the health certificate stamped without getting the shots, and I didn't think this nurse's touch was going to make me fall from my vow of celibacy.
That night, I came down with a fever and was very sick. The next day [name] and I went back to Vrindaban. The following day was Krishna's appearance day. There was a big celebration all over town. In spite of still being sick, [name] and I made the round of temples. I met an American couple who often came to the Philadelphia temple while I was there.
The next day, they visited me. It was Bhaktivedanta Swami's appearance day. They invited me to join them in a visit with Niem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass' guru, whom they had come to Vrindaban to see.
We went to his temple on the edge of town where there was a large Hanuman deity. Devotees at this temple chanted twenty four hours a day over a loud speaker. We sat on the veranda and Babaji sat on a wooden cot wrapped in a blanket. He asked me to lead some chanting. Everyone joined in. Then we talked a while. Through an interpreter, Babaji asked what brought us to India and what we were doing there.
[name] and I returned home. We prepared a feast for our guru's birthday, and had lunch. We had been fasting since the previous day. I couldn't eat much.
After lunch, we took a rickshaw to the Rama Krishna Mission Hospital on the main road leading into town. I was bright yellow, very weak, and was diagnosed as having hepatitis. I stayed in the hospital for a few days recuperating in a ward with many poor suffering Indians. [name] had to bring me meals and medicine from the pharmacy in town. When I regained some strength, I requested to be discharged. They said I had to stay longer. I had [name] arrange a rickshaw, and I walked out as they yelled for me to stay.
I was still very weak, and got a cane to help me walk. It was also handy for holding off the packs of wild dogs that roamed Vrindaban and attacked people when they were alone at night or in the early morning hours. Dogs are not often kept as pets in India. In Vrindaban, there were so many running wild that the police would go around and shoot them once a year.
There were also many wild pigs rummaging around town competing with the dogs for garbage and stool which piled up in the gutters where sewer water ran in open streams. Men and women came around daily sweeping the streets with handle-less straw brooms and metal scoops picking up the garbage and excrement. They put it in hand carts which were dumped at a spot to be picked up by a tractor or oxen pulled trailer.
In the bazaars, shops lined the streets and were raised a couple of feet above the cement road to avoid flooding during the monsoon season. The proprietors sat on cushions in the open storefronts displaying their wears and dealing with the customers. Other merchants had hand carts in the street. Most of the traffic was pedestrians, with some bicycles, rickshaws, ox carts and a few cars and trucks. There were no side walks, and the streets were about twenty feet wide. Most of the buildings were painted, stucco brick. It had the feeling of an old medieval town, especially in the evenings when people lit their dried dung burners in the streets to cook dinner, and a pungent smoke filled the air.
The native Brijabasis were born and raised there, but many people came from other parts of India, especially Bengal where there are many followers of Lord Chaitanya. Many of the pilgrims were old and came to Vrindaban to die in the holy abode of the Lord. Others came as part of their life's journey seeking purification and enlightenment. Large parties of pilgrims came for the major festivals. I wondered about the spirituality of some of these people when they were pushing and shoving to get on a crowded bus to Mathura or when I was harassed by them for being an American.
That night, [name] and I attended musical plays depicting Krishna and Lord Chaitanya's pastimes. It was at the home of the head Goswami of the Radha Raman temple. We were the guests of Dr. Kapoor, a god brother of Prabhupada's. He translated the gist of the plays for us. I was very impressed and moved by the depth of devotion that was presented in a very simple yet highly artistic manner. We returned several nights for continuing performances of the plays.
STARTING THE DELHI TEMPLE
Prabhupada sent a group of devotees headed by Tamal Krishna to Delhi to help start a temple and organize a big festival like we had in Bombay. He wrote me, "What are you doing in Vrindaban? Return to Delhi immediately."
[name] and I took a night train. We traveled third class unreserved, which was the cheapest way to go. I got out of the hospital about two weeks earlier and was still very weak. I climbed up into the luggage rack to get some sleep.
The devotees lived in a large apartment. Since I was too weak to go out and do much, I was made treasurer. I was instructed that when devotees asked for money I was to say I didn't have it and disburse only what was required for essentials. This was considered necessary to keep overhead down and have enough money to expand the preaching programs. I didn't like being in that position.
Sometimes I was so weak I laid on my blankets on the floor holding my staff and prayer beads feeling like I was going to die. I went to homeopathic and ayurvedic doctors seeking a cure. I had little faith in Western allopathic medicine since it dealt with the symptoms through chemical and surgical intervention rather than getting to the source of the disease. Finally an ayurvedic physician cured me using a combination of herbs and precious metals ground together into a medicine. I got most of my strength back.
One day in Prabhupada's room, I and a couple of other devotees were sitting with the mayor of New Delhi and Prabhupada. The war between India and Pakistan was going on over the independence of Bangla Desha. There was an air raid and blackout.
Prabhupada said to close the shutters, but don't turn the lights off. "If they want to drop a bomb on us, let them. We will see it as Krishna coming in the form of a bomb to kill us." The mayor didn't object.
Brahmananda Maharaja had been sent to West Pakistan and Gargamuni Maharaja was sent to East Pakistan to preach after spending some time preaching in Florida. Their lives were in danger in Pakistan due to the war and religious persecution. They came to Delhi for refuge. Gargamuni was held at gunpoint at the airport in Pakistan, and Brahmananda was in a temple that was strafed by machine gun fire. Prabhupada said, "You should have stayed, but now you are here and safe, so that is all right."
The festival was just as large and successful as the Bombay one. The special guests included the mayor of New Delhi, the Minister of Defense, and the Canadian High Commissioner. The sannyasis formed a circle around Prabhupada and used our staffs as a barricade to keep the throngs of people seeking blessings from crushing or tripping Prabhupada as he walked from his car to the stage. Many people tried to touch his feet as he walked by them.
DEEPER INTO THE MYSTERY
A swami who owned a vacant Sanskrit school in Vrindaban offered the use of it to Prabhupada. It contained a treadle operated letterpress. Prabhupada wanted me to take charge there and see about starting a Hindi edition of "Back to Godhead" using the press. I was glad to get permission to live in Vrindaban again. I was joined by Australian and Indian disciples.
It was a stucco building. The front door opened on a long narrow room. Then there was a courtyard with two rooms and a veranda on one side and one large room containing the press on the other side. These rooms only had bamboo slat lattice work for walls on the courtyard side. Sometimes, while the devotees were out the monkeys would break in and ransack the place. Sometimes when we were eating on the veranda, monkeys would jump down from the courtyard walls and steal food right off of our plates. There was a small lockable room in the back which served as a kitchen. It opened on another courtyard. There was no toilet. We used the alley or the river bank.
We slept on the veranda on hot summer nights. I lay on the concrete covered by a thin piece of cloth which I wore during the day. Mosquitoes swarmed around, and any part of my body which wasn't covered got bit. Sleep was difficult.
We sometimes begged door to door for food. This was a common practice for those devoted to the religious life in India. Most people were glad to give a little, especially if one asked in the name of Radha by calling out "Radhe!" to get the people's attention. The residents of Vrindaban consider Krishna's consort, Radha, to be higher than him. Prabhupada had said, "In Vrindaban, if Krishna comes without Radha, the devotees will say, 'Go away and come back when you have Radha with you.'"
I went to Mathura to see Brijabasi & Sons who published beautiful devotional posters which were very popular with Krishna devotees. I was happy to be able to see the original paintings of some of my favorite prints in their home. I wanted advice about what to do with the printing press. They advised that it wasn't worth bothering with. A bigger more modern press was needed for the job. I agreed with their assessment.
The two other devotees left, and I was in Vrindaban alone once more.
I became friends with O.B.L. Kapoor, Ph.D., a large man with white hair and glasses who wore a traditional white dhoti and kirta as many married Indians did. Dr. Kapoor spoke English well, as he was head of a college. He was also a learned devotee who had written books and gave talks around town regularly. He was very warm and friendly to me. Both Prabhupada and Dr. Kapoor separated from the Godiya Math, the institution founded by their spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaj. It had been corrupted by Tirtha Maharaja, a disciple who became the manager.
Dr. Kapoor took another spiritual master after the death of Bhaktisiddhanta. He was from a disciplic succession of babajis whose approach was entering the mood of the cowherd girls who are Krishna's greatest devotees. I was very interested in this.
Dr. Kapoor referred me to Gouranga Das. He lived alone at the north edge of town in Ramanareti. He looked like an impersonalist sanyasi in his saffron robes with a shaved head lacking the lock of hair in the back that the devotees kept and no clay tilack marking on the forehead, but he was really a great devotee of Krishna.
As we sat on the flat rooftop of his home, he told me that some gurus tell their disciples what their spiritual identity is and how to meditate on their pastimes with Krishna. He didn't want to tell me that without Prabhupada's permission. He asked how many rounds of beads I was chanting. I said, "Sixteen."
Gouranga advised, "You should increase your chanting to sixty-four rounds a day minimum. But if you don't know your relationship to Krishna, how will you maintain that? If someone you don't know does something very wonderful, you will think, 'O, so what.' However, if your son does something ordinary, you think, 'How wonderful.' So we must know what our relationship to Krishna is. For the time being just think, 'I am his. He is mine.' as you go on chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
I took his advice.
He also recommended, "Never leave Vrindaban. In Vrindaban, you will gain energy for developing your Krishna consciousness. Everywhere else you will be drained. Here people are chanting Hare Krishna twenty-four hours a day. They are always remembering Krishna's pastimes."
I became a friend of another god brother of Prabhupada's named Purushottam Das. We talked about developing the conjugal relationship with Krishna. We translated charts which outlined the cowherd girls relationships with Krishna as well as other information that wasn't available in English. Neither, Purushottam nor Dr. Kapoor were aware of Bhaktisiddhanta ever revealing a disciple's relationship.
When Prabhupada, came to Vrindaban for a visit, I got Dr. Kapoor to come with me to ask about it. Prabhupada said, "This is not done in our line. One must realize his relationship for himself. One cannot just jump ahead. When one is ripe and ready, it will be revealed from within....I am a cowherd boy."
I wasn't satisfied. I knew there was more. I knew by this time that Prabhupada was holding his disciples back from getting too involved with the conjugal relationship with Krishna and engaging in the reclusive meditative states that are used to develop that mood. Prabhupada wanted his disciples out collecting money and building temples - "spreading the movement" - not sitting around chanting and meditating on their own salvation and enlightenment.
Prabhupada had his own way of doing things. He was very businesslike and authoritarian. He started the Krishna movement in the West single handedly. It was run by his disciples, and he had the final say on everything. One listened to his spiritual master or risked the wrath of God.
Gargamuni Maharaja came and moved in with me. We enjoyed each other’s company and spent our time engaged in devotional practices.
It had been several days since I went to the Yamuna River. When I got there, I was amazed to find that it had risen thirty feet and gotten a mile wider. Melons and squashes were floating down stream. Farmers were evacuating the huts in their fields by boat. What had been a quiet stream, knee deep and fifty feet across, was now a raging torrent. Gargamuni and I enjoyed jumping in and riding the current downstream to Keshi Ghat.
Brahmananda Maharaja and a photographer couple named Vishaka and Yadubara came for a visit. Gargamuni and I gave them a tour of Vrindaban. We circumambulated the town along a trail that devotees walked bare foot as an act of devotion. We went to Akrura Ghat.
We three swamis wanted to see if we could make it to the other side of the river and back. The first part was easy wading. There was a sand bar in the middle. From there to the steep crumbling sand bank on the far side was a hundred feet of fast moving deep water. We swam hard and made it to the bank grabbing on to it and pulling ourselves out of the water to keep from being swept far down stream.
The shore was covered with dry thorn bushes. We made our way up stream with bare feet so that we would have a better chance of getting back to the sand bar before being swept down stream to where there was no sand bar or hope of getting back to the other shore.
We dove in and swam as hard as we could. Brahmananda and Gargamuni made it to the sand bar. I seemed unable to make much progress. I was being swept down stream to the end of the sand bar. As my strength gave out, I thought, "This is a great place to go. Drowning in the holy Yamuna should liberate me back to Godhead."
I relaxed and let my feet drop to tread water for as long as I could. My feet hit sand! I walked onto the sand bar. The three of us made it back. Vishaka and Yadubara were watching all this through their telephoto lenses not knowing what to do.
Another time, the three monks went to Seva Kunja and sat down in a grove of small trees towards the back. Shortly, we realized we were surrounded by Rhesus monkeys. Gargamuni said, "Let's move carefully and try not to excite them and get out of here!"
We got up and started to walk away. The monkeys followed. We started to run. We dropped a couple of things but weren't going back for them. The monkeys were in hot pursuit yelling and shaking their fists. We made it to the gate where there were sticks for just this purpose. We managed to hold the monkeys at bay.
Brahmananda, Gargamuni, and I went to Govardhan Hill which the Srimad Bhagavatam said Krishna lifted to protect his devotees from torrential rains Indra, the storm god, sent as a punishment for their not worshiping him. We got a room in an inn for the night, but there were so many mosquitoes in the room we couldn't sleep. We got up in the middle of the night and walked to Radha Kunda. It was eerily beautiful walking down the road in this mysterious spiritual place.
Radha Kunda is considered to be even more holy than Vrindaban. It is the bathing place of Sri Radha, Krishna's consort. This is the holiest place on earth for her devotees. It is a deep pool with a concrete walkway and steps going down into the water all around it. When we arrived, there was a Srimad Bhagavatam reading going on in one of the temples on its bank. We went in and joined the audience.
When the sun came up, we swam in the kunda. We noticed a tree on which hung large bats with red heads. There also seemed to be a large serpent in the water with a rippling black body. We dove in. I swam down as deep as I could go. It got dark and cold with no sign of bottom.
Winter was coming, and it was getting cold. Gargamuni and I bought rope net cots and quilts. Still, it was cold and hard to sleep at night in our open unheated rooms. There was only cold water to bathe with in the mornings.
Another festival was organized in Jaipur, Rajasthana. Gargamuni and I attended. Jaipur is a beautiful small city in the high desert built by Hindu kings who fled the Moslem conquest. Some of the main deities from Vrindaban such as Radha Govinda, Radha Gopinatha and Radha Damodara were brought here for safe keeping. The Radha Govinda temple is the largest and most popular in town, and they hosted the festival there.
The evening worship and chanting was incredibly beautiful. The devotees chanted "Govinda jai jai, Gopala jai jai, Radharamana Hari, Govinda jai jai" or all glories to God, Krishna. Prabhupada lectured. In the mornings, there was a smaller program.
Prabhupada and his disciples were invited to many people’s homes and restaurants to eat. It is considered good karma and a duty to feed those who dedicate their lives to God. It was especially prestigious to feed the famous Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his Western disciples.
One afternoon, I asked Prabhupada if I could not go to eat again. Prabhupada said, "No. You are a young man. You can take it. You should go." Prabhupada didn't go. Sometimes the food was excellent and sometimes too spicy and oily which made us sick. This time it happened to be real good.
Gargamuni and I told Prabhupada about the difficulties we were having living in the Sanskrit school. He told us we could live in his rooms at Radha Damodar temple. This was a great honor. He had a living/bedroom and a kitchen with a seat that looked out a concrete decorative grillwork to the tomb of Rupa Goswami; both these rooms opened on a veranda joining the main temple courtyard; there was also a toilet with a cold water tap. One bathed by pouring water from a bucket over the head or crouching under the tap.
These were the rooms that Prabhupada lived in before going to America. He always kept up the very inexpensive rent on them. Prabhupada arranged for the Delhi temple to send us one hundred rupees a month to live on and pay the rent for him. This was about ten dollars American. We would be his caretakers. The rooms had not been lived in for several years. We were excited by this and anxiously returned to Vrindaban.
Jagat - Tue, 30 Mar 2004 17:22:27 +0530
Saffron (cont.) by Subal Das
Copyright © 1986-2004 Steve Bohlert (Subal Das)
LIFE AT THE RADHA DAMODAR TEMPLE
Gargamuni Maharaja and I gave Prabhupada's quarters a good cleaning and moved in. We were excited to find copies of "Back to Godhead" that were published before Bhaktivedanta Swami went to America. They were four or eight page tabloids. Some of them contained an on going debate between Prabhupada and Dr. Radha Krishna, the philosopher President of India.
These disputes centered on Dr. Radha Krishna's interpretation of Bhagavad Gita. Bhaktivedanta did not have his Bhagavad Gita translation and commentary published until after going to America. Bhaktivedanta was prone to argue with most other philosophers, scientists, theologians, gurus, etc. in an attempt to prove the superiority of his views. He was able to do that in a very convincing and often dramatic way.
We also found unpublished manuscripts of Prabhupada's and typed them for publication.
We were joined by a god brother of Prabhupada's named Ananda Prabhu. Ananda was a very humble devotee who spent his life cooking for devotees. He moved into the kitchen and cooked for us. The meals were simple but nourishing vegetarian fare cooked on a charcoal burner. All the food was offered to Krishna, and the devotees took his remnants.
Gourkishor Goswami, the head priest of the temple, lived across the courtyard with his large extended family. They had inherited the position and earned their livelihood from the temple income which included some rental properties. The temple was not very wealthy like some. However, its history made it special to those in Lord Chaitanya's line of disciplic succession. Gourkishor gave tours to pilgrims and got donations from them.
The rooms were warmer at night than the Sanskrit school had been. Gargamuni and I got great pleasure living in such a holy place and having the opportunity to follow in our guru's footsteps. We visited other temples and holy places regularly. I now chanted sixty four rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra daily. I also studied the philosophy intently and discussed it with other devotees.
Gargamuni returned to Delhi, but I stayed in Vrindaban. I loved living there and being absorbed in devotional practices twenty four hours a day. This was the path to perfection I had sought. The scriptures confirmed that this was the surest way to go back to Godhead and not reincarnate again. Pure love of God was the goal as well as the means, and living in Vrindaban was a great aid to devotional practices.
Prabhupada came for a visit because land had been donated in the Raman Reti area at the edge of town. When Prabhupada visited me, he said, "Ah! Subal you are living just like I used to. This is very nice. This is very nice."
The next day, I visited Prabhupada. I said, "I want to stop living in your rooms and receiving an income from the Delhi temple. I just want to wander around Braja begging for a living and chanting the Holy Names constantly." I wanted to follow in the footsteps of many great devotees and be free of all material obligations.
Prabhupada replied, "Oh no. You must not think like this. It's not enough to just come and say you love Krishna. Krishna wants to see what you are going to do for him. What have you brought him? You are an American. You must build a skyscraper for him."
"No, Prabhupada. Please don't make me do that. You have so many disciples who are raising money and making temples. Just spare me so I can live here and engage in my devotional practices."
"You must do it. It is my order."
"I have no money. My clothes are ragged. I'll need a brief case and train fare. I don't speak the language very well."
"How much money will it take?"
"One or two hundred rupees."
"Here's one hundred. I'll also tell Rohininandana Maharaja to travel with you." Rohininandana was Mr. Sharma's oldest son who was recently initiated by Prabhupada and made a swami. Sharma had promised him to Prabhupada before he left for America, and
now he was claiming him.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
Rohininandana Maharaja came to Vrindaban to join me. After a couple of days, we took a train to Agara. There we got a room at a dharmashala inn and went downtown to raise funds from the merchants and businessmen to build a temple in Vrindaban. We could see the Taj Mahal in its' splendid white shimmering beauty across the Yamuna River, but we didn't visit it as it wasn't a holy place to us, and we weren't tourists.
We met a businessman who knew Prabhupada before he went to America. Prabhupada had also come to him asking for money. It was difficult fund raising there, especially since we weren't used to it. We soon continued on to Gwalior.
Gwalior was a quaint little town that still had much of the beauty of the time when India was ruled by wealthy kings who had ornate palaces and forts. Prabhupada tried to establish the League of Devotees there before moving to Vrindaban. He only gained a couple of disciples. Rohininandana Maharaja and I stayed at a dharmashala again.
Another Westerner was staying there. He had been in India for years and was very thin. He may have been strung out on drugs. He told us about Rajneesh, and how he was making Westerners sannyasis without requiring that they give up drugs and sex. I thought this was an absurdly cheap trick to get followers who weren't serious about spiritual life. This was a real perversion of the Vedic version of sannyasa or renounced life.
Rohininandana and I preached and did fund raising in Gwalior. We continued on to Kanpur after a few days. Kanpur is a bigger city on the Ganges. We stayed with a businessman who knew Prabhupada and had helped him when he was in Kanpur preaching and fund raising before going to America.
Rohininandana couldn't take the strain of life on the road fund raising. He begged me to let him return to his family in Delhi. I wasn't into dragging anyone along with me and let him go. I felt a certain exhilarating thrill following in Prabhupada's footsteps, traveling alone in India under the orders of my guru.
I visited the large, opulent Radha Krishna temple that the Singhanias, a wealthy textile manufacturing family, built. When Prabhupada went to New York, he tried getting them to fund a temple there. He was unsuccessful. I went to see one of the younger Singhanias and got a donation from him.
I continued on to Allahabad where Prabhupada lived most of his married life and had a pharmaceutical business. Allahabad is at the sacred confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati Rivers known as Triveni.
I stayed at the ashram of a Krishna devotee in the line of Chaitanya. It was across the Ganges from the city. I walked down the banks of the Ganges to where the three rivers converged. It was the middle of summer, so the water was low. Farmers grew melons and squashes on the sandy bank. They dug holes about ten feet deep to the water level and used buckets to water their crops from the holes.
They also placed many human skulls on poles like scarecrows. Indians often threw bodies in the river. I saw one being eaten by vultures and dogs. I bathed in the waters of the confluence and prayed for purification and Krishna's blessings.
Living in the ashram on the banks of the Ganges, I concluded a commentary on “Sri Sri Sikshastakam,” the eight verses in which Lord Chaitanya wrote the essence of his teachings. They are considered to be the only writings Lord Chaitanya left. The rest of his teachings were passed on through the writings of his disciples - much as the gospels written by Christ's disciples. Chaitanya's followers wrote very extensive theological works that delve deeply into the subject of love of God.
My commentary was published in "Back to Godhead" in two installments as “Lord Chaitanya’s Mission and Precepts.” I received many compliments on this piece of writing and considered it my best. (see appendix)
I went to Benares and visited a Shiva temple that Lord Chaitanya visited on his pilgrimage five hundred years earlier. I stayed in a dharmashala and visited other parts of the ancient holy city. I also continued fund-raising.
From there, I went to Bihar. After a stay with a businessman, I decided to go to Vrindaban for a rest, to renew my energy and see how construction plans were progressing.
Not much had been accomplished. Gurudas and Yamuna were in charge there. They had only succeeded in putting in a well with a hand pump. No construction was begun. They had gone to Calcutta with most of the other devotees to celebrate the Rathayatra Festival of Lord Jagannath.
I got sick and went to the Delhi temple with another American disciple. It was a bare room at an inn. All the devotees were in Calcutta. [name] and I laid our blankets on the bare concrete floor and rested there. We lay there sick for a couple of days. We had very little money and needed food and medicine. We only had enough money to buy one or the other.
We decided to risk spending the money on cab fare to go downtown and raise more money. We went to the shoe shop of a life member. There we met Gurudas and Yamuna who were on their way back to Vrindaban. They gave us money and assured us the Delhi devotees would be returning soon. We went to a restaurant and had a good meal then got some medicine. We were soon feeling better.
The Delhi devotees informed us that Tamal Krishna Maharaja had been recruited to raise money for the Vrindaban temple also. He was planning a trip to Hyderabad in southern India for this purpose. I phoned him and made arrangements to join him in Calcutta.
Tamal Krishna Maharaja, three brahmacharis (celibate students), and I took a train to Hyderabad which is a Moslem stronghold that sought to be part of Pakistan when India became independent in the 1940's. We took along literature and slide shows of ISKCON's activities around the world. We also had letters of introduction from two Calcutta businessmen to their Hyderabad branch managers instructing them to provide full assistance to us.
The managers met us at the train station. They arranged our stay at a good vegetarian hotel and meals at their homes. They also provided introductions to the leading businessmen of Hyderabad and a chauffeur driven car for our use.
Tamal and I arranged a press conference and got front page coverage. We got many speaking invitations and did two or three programs a day. We also paid personal visits to prominent businessmen for fund-raising. We quickly became celebrities and were busy from early morning to late at night.
At one night program, we were chanting on an outdoor stage while the crowd sat on rugs on the ground. We encouraged people to get up and dance, but the security police used sticks and told everyone to stay seated and maintain order. We stopped chanting and said we would not continue unless the people could get up and dance. The police had to give in.
The Shankaracharya of Puri, a very powerful religious and political leader of India was staying in Hyderabad and giving a series of lectures at that time. He wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper saying, "Hindus beware! CIA agents and Christian spies. Anyone who sees their faces will go to hell." I replied with a letter to the editor. A prominent businessman who had been a follower of Shankaracharya said, "I don't know why he is saying these things about you. He must have gone crazy."
We had a couple of large outdoor events which about eight thousand people attended. The Sankaracharya's henchmen came and distributed leaflets with a similar message as his letter. When they got on stage and tried to disrupt the program, people from the audience got on stage and dragged them off.
We raised 35,000 rupees in three weeks. Our reception was so good we said we would come back soon with Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
BUILDING THE KRISHNA BALARAMA TEMPLE
We returned to Calcutta and hired an engineer named Sharma. Tamal and I went to Vrindaban with him. There we hired a Moslem labor contractor. I became the on-site manager and started construction of temporary living quarters and offices. They were brick buildings with straw roofs. Tamal went to Delhi to hire an architect and order building supplies.
I stayed in a house across the street from the land while construction was begun. One afternoon, a snake charmer did a show out on the street for a group of locals. After taking a collection from them, he came in my office wanting a donation. I said no. The snake charmer sat on the floor and took a cobra out of a basket. He put it on the floor. It started crawling towards me. I sat at the desk and stared the snake charmer down. He grabbed the cobra just as it was reaching me. The cobra bit him in the neck as he pulled it back. It didn't appear to faze him however. He put it back in the basket and quickly left.
The engineer showed me a hoop snake that was in a stack of bricks. He said it could put its tail in its mouth and roll down the road like a hoop. He also showed me a king snake which had a head at either end of its body. The laborers found a milk snake which they chased up into a tree. It was said to be able to wrap itself around the hind legs of a cow and suck the milk out of its utter.
An old monk died at the ashram next to where I was staying. They dressed him up and carried him on a chair as they chanted in a procession to the burning ghat by the river.
Some Western devotees were staying at the Radha Damodar temple still. One of them, Biharilal was an under water demolition man during the Korean War. He had been thrown out of a number of temples and was a disturbance.
Being a construction manager and riding herd on a bunch of ruffians wasn't why I wanted to be in Vrindaban. In disgust, I took my staff and begging bowl and started walking along the banks of the Yamuna planning to live as a mendicant. The water level was high, and I had to walk in chest deep water to get around areas where the trail was washed out.
After walking for sometime, I headed back thinking I couldn't desert my duties like that. When I reached my office, I heard arguing coming from inside. Again, I decided to leave and just walked on by. Chaitanya Das, the Sikh cab driver who was the treasurer, came running down the street after me.
"Maharaja! Maharaja! Biharilal is trying to steal the cash box."
I handed him my staff and begging bowl. Furious, I ran back to the office, grabbed my cane, and told Biharilal to put the cash box down and get out. He did.
The temporary buildings were soon finished, and several devotees including Ananda Prabhu the cook, Sharma the engineer and I moved in.
There was also an incident when a truck load of steel reinforcement bars for the foundation arrived. The driver demanded to be paid for the steel before unloading it. The shipment had been prepaid, and I wasn’t going to pay again. The driver threatened to take the steel to Mathura and dump it there. I jumped on the truck, opened the hood and threatened to pull out the distributor cables if he didn’t go call his company and confirm that the order was prepaid. He did and the matter was settled.
Work began digging the foundation of the Krishna Balaram Temple. It was done by hand with laborers carrying the dirt out in pans on their heads. Prabhupada wanted to pour the first concrete when he came to give a series of Nectar of Devotion lectures which would be attended by devotees from around the world at the Radha Damodar Temple.
The Nectar of Devotion is Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's translation of Rupa Goswami's Bhaktirasamrita Sindhu. It contains elaborate descriptions of the devotional principles, their benefits, and the various stages of progress on the devotional path. This series of lectures was looked forward to with great anticipation due to the sweetness of the subject matter and the perfect location they would be given in.
Arrangements were made for the devotees to stay at the Maharaj of Bharatpur's palace at Keshi Ghat on the Yamuna river. It was a beautiful old sandstone palace where many people went to bathe on the steps which led down into the water. There was also a small temple where worship of the Yamuna was carried on regularly.
Prabhupada came and stayed in his rooms at the Radha Damodar Temple. The lectures were given in the courtyard by Rupa Goswami's tomb and the place where he worshiped while living there. However, the whole thing became marred by a couple of unfortunate incidents.
The Maharaja of Bharatpur was offended when a deity throne he sent and wanted to be paid for was returned unaccepted. He had thugs from Delhi come and organize college students against the devotees. They harassed and beat up some devotees in town and
then marched on the palace.
I was at the construction site in Raman Reti, when a devotee who managed to slip out the back of the palace came and informed me of the situation. He said Biharilal was suggesting pouring burning kerosene off the ramparts onto the attackers, and things did not look good.
I got a rickshaw to take me out of town by the back way to the highway that lead to Mathura. Reaching the highway, I hitch-hiked and got a ride to Mathura with some Westerners in their Land Rover. I went to the District Magistrate’s office and requested police protection which he provided. Things quieted down, and the lectures continued with police guards on duty.
A young Bengali caste brahmin came and wanted to join us. Prabhupada put him in my charge, and he lived in the room next to mine with three Western devotees who were helping me. They complained that he wouldn't do any work, slept late and didn't follow the devotional practices.
I was chanting my rounds early one morning when one of the devotees came and said this brahmin was still sleeping and they couldn't get him up. I took my water pot with some water in it and poured it on his face saying, "This isn't a hotel. If you want to stay here, you'll have to get up early, chant your rounds, follow the devotional principles, and do some work." He just laid there silently fuming, and I returned to my room.
When I came out a short while later to urinate, he was waiting there with a bucket of water which he threw on me. Yadavacharya, a black devotee from Detroit, saw this and laughed. However, when the brahmin raised the metal bucket to hit me with it, he didn't think it was so funny and came running to my assistance.
I avoided the blow, and we started fighting with the brahmin who was no match for the both of us and yet he kept fighting. Yadavacharya was a good street fighter and pulverized the brahmin's face in addition to gouging his eye with his finger. Finally, the brahmin gave up and ran off.
In India, to beat some one with your bare hands isn't a crime. The brahmin went to the nearby police outpost at the edge of town and told them we used a knife on him. His face was such a mess they believed him. They came and arrested us. I accused the brahmin of attacking me. The three of us were marched through town and taken to jail. After a while, we all decided to drop charges and were released.
When Prabhupada heard about this, he was furious. He ordered me to apologize to the brahmin and beg his forgiveness. I did, but I didn't like it at all. Prabhupada also chastised Yadavacharya and I in front of our god brothers calling us a couple of gundas or ruffians. This was very humiliating.
However, after he calmed down, when we were alone, Prabhupada realized I was burned out. He said he could understand that being a construction manager was not my line of work. I was a preacher at heart. He suggested that I go to Hyderabad with him when he left Vrindaban. This was a very welcome invitation.
Work on the temple foundation progressed satisfactorily, and Prabhupada was able to pour the first cement into the forms before leaving.
Tamal Krishna and I along with others accompanied Prabhupada to Hyderabad. We stayed on the estate of a prominent life-member. We held a festival that attracted much attention. In addition to a large amount of cash donations, we were given a plot of land in downtown Hyderabad to build a temple on.
Prabhupada asked another American sannyasi to manage the project, but he refused. Prabhupada then asked me. "I thought you agreed that construction management wasn't my line of work," I objected.
"We must be prepared to do anything in Krishna's service," he argued and pressured me to take the position.
A wealthy contractor had built a house for himself and his family to live in. It was a very luxurious modern home situated in the hills overlooking Hyderabad. It could just as well have been in the Hollywood hills. One wall in the stairway, ten feet wide and two stories high, was covered with natural amethyst crystal. The driveway was steep. One day, while going down the drive with his family, the brakes on the owner's car failed. They crashed into a stone wall and were injured. They concluded the house was haunted and they shouldn't live there.
They allowed several devotees and me to stay there. We also felt it was haunted. I really wasn't into managing another temple construction. Tamal Krishna sent Keshava, an experienced American manager, to take over. He created dissension and tried undermining my authority as spiritual leader of the group. I told him, "I don't need big houses and temples. If you want them, you can have them. I'm going on pilgrimage."
(There is a break here, and more needs to be written.)
Jagat - Tue, 30 Mar 2004 17:32:22 +0530
by Subal Das
Copyright © 1986-2004 Steve Bohlert (Subal Das)
MY REAL DISCIPLIC SUCCESSION
It felt good to be back in India. Jananivas and I landed in Delhi, December 12, 1973. It was almost nine months since I left India to go to Canada. The smell of dung and spices in the air as I got off the plane was exhilarating. It was like being home again. The weather was sunny and crisp. The exotic sights and sounds seemed very familiar. I had an entry visa which would allow me to stay in India for years. I considered spending the rest of my life there.
We took a cab to the ISKCON Delhi temple and stayed the night. Delhi held no attraction for me. The temple was engaged in business and politics.
The next morning, we went to the holy town of Vrindaban by train and horse cart. The weather there was colder than previous winters I experienced. Heavy clouds kept the sun from warming the day. Even the best inn had no heat. The temperature was in the thirties and forties.
After a few days of visiting holy places and enduring the cold, we took a second class train to Bombay which has a better climate on the ocean. The devotees at the ISKCON temple told me there was nothing for me to do there. Tamal Krishna and Keshava were in charge. Business and politics were their way of life, and they knew it wasn't mine. However, they wanted my assistant Jananivas as they could make use of him.
I bought a first-class train ticket to Puri, on the other side of the sub-continent. I stopped-over at the Hyderabad temple briefly, and reached Puri two weeks after my arrival in India.
An elderly god brother of Prabhupada's rented me a room at the Gaudiya Math ashram on the beach of the Bay of Bengal. The weather was pleasant. I spent two weeks walking on the beach, swimming, body surfing, chanting, and visiting places of pilgrimage associated with Lord Chaitanya and his associates. I enjoyed being on my own, free of ISKCON'S influence.
I took advantage of this freedom to see Lalita Prasad Thakur, the brother of Prabhupada's guru, who I met before going to Canada. ISKCON devotees weren't supposed to visit him. Some of the things he said were controversial and considered offensive by Prabhupada and conservative ISKCON leaders. I knew he was the only one who could teach me what I wanted to know about my relationship with Krishna and how to develop it.
I took a train to Birnagar, Bengal. I passed through Calcutta without stopping at the temple. A rickshaw brought me to Lalita Prasad's house which is located on a quiet residential street in this small town. He lived in a large walled compound with several buildings and trees. It was his father's birthplace and ancestral home. His father, Kedar Nath Dutt, Bhaktivinode Thakur, was from an aristocratic family. When he was a boy, a plague killed many of the townspeople, and his family moved to Calcutta. The town was deserted and became overgrown with jungle.
When Lalita Prasad retired from government service in Calcutta, he moved here and reclaimed it from the snakes and wild animals that inhabited it.
Bhakta Ma greeted me at the door. She invited me in. Bhakta Ma was around fifty, had short hair, and didn't speak much English. She had been taking care of Lalita Prasad for twenty years. She was born when his mother died. His mother charged this newborn girl with the care of her son. Lalita Prasad was a life-long celibate. He only allowed her to move in with him after he was seventy so people would not be suspicious.
Lalita Prasad Thakur was sitting on his wooden bed wearing his black office jacket, a beige sweater, and white lungi chanting Hare Krishna on his japa beads just as he had been a year earlier when we first met. He couldn't walk without assistance. He had a large frame, short white hair, and stubbly beard. He was now ninety-one. The room was dim and dingy, but it seemed like heaven to me.
I offered prostrated obeisances to him. He was the fountain of wisdom that I returned to India to see. This old man looked very beautiful. He had a warm radiance about him.
"Oh, Subal Maharaja, you've come back!" he said with a big toothless grin.
"Yes. I want you to teach me how to develop a conjugal relationship with Radha Krishna. I couldn't ask my guru maharaja permission to study with you because he would say no. You're the only one who can tell me what I want to know. I've come here without anyone's knowledge and can stay with you. Please be merciful."
Lalita Prasad replied, "Well, since you have no one else to teach you and are eager to learn and you've come all by yourself prepared to stay, I'll tell you what you want to know. I wanted to tell these things to your guru maharaja, but he didn't want to hear them. Even my brother didn't know these things. Our father never taught him.
"Before you can know your relationship with Radha Krishna, you have to know your disciplic succession. The line that your guru maharaja listed in his Bhagavad Gita was made up by my brother Bhaktisiddhanta. He was rejected by our father Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur and his guru who was Bipin Bihari Goswami. Bhaktisiddhanta spoke against Bipin Bihari from the stage of a large public gathering in Calcutta. He called him a caste Goswami and a sahajiya (a cheap cheater).
"When our father heard about this, he said, 'You should keep out of religious affairs. It would be better if you went and lived in Mayapur alone. Chant Hare Krishna and pray for Lord Chaitanya's mercy.'
"But when our father Bhaktivinode Thakur died, I went to my brother and said, 'Who will carry on our father's teachings now that he is gone? You are the oldest.' I was working for the government like our father did, while he was doing his spiritual practices and was a scholar. 'You're the one to do it,' I told him.
"'How can I do it when I've been rejected by our father and his guru?' was his reply.
"'You're smart. Make up a disciplic succession. Who will know?' He did it. When he went to Vrindaban to preach, the babajis there knew he had made it up." It did not jive with known historical facts and relationships between the personalities mentioned.
“Bhaktisiddhanta approached Gaura Kishor Das Babaji, a highly respected hermit saint who was an intimate associate of Bhaktivinode Thakur, for initiation a couple of times and was rejected. When Gaura Kishor died, Bhaktisiddhanta got word of it and claimed his body saying he was his only disciple. No one else had been initiated by him and Gaura Kishor was in no position to object.
Bhaktisiddhanta said that Gaura Kishor was a disciple of Bhaktivinode Thakur. Gaura Kishor studied under Bhaktivinode, but was actually initiated in another disciplic succession.
Jagannath Das Babaji was said to have been Bhaktivinode's guru. Actually, he was his devotional guide, sannyas guru and a close friend and associate. Bipin Bihari Goswami was Bhaktivinode's real initiator guru.
Bipin Bihari was in the line of disciplic succession from Sri Jahnava Devi, the wife of Lord Nityananda, 15th century saint, incarnation of Krishna's brother Balaram and associate of Sri Krishna Chaitanya. Jahnava Devi passed the teachings on to her stepson Ramachandra (?) who passed it on through the line of succession, which included a number of other women--not the line of well known male saints that Bhaktisiddhanta made up.
The line of infallible disciplic succession was not what it was cracked up to be. It was made of real people like you and I who were searching for truth and finding it to one degree or another. The original inspired teachings from God were handed down more or less intact, but definitely altered with the passage of time. I saw the changes in the seven years I was in the disciplic succession. As I found out more and more from Lalita Prasad Thakur, the organization and institutionalization of the movement was a change brought about in the 1920s by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, my grand-guru.
Before that, gurus such as Bhaktivinode Thakur took disciples and sent them off to lead their own lives. They were not pressured to live in monasteries dependent on the guru. Household life was encouraged. Bhaktivinode Thakur was a family man with many kids as well as a magistrate, poet, and great devotee. He became a renunciate after leading a very full life.
Bhaktisiddhanta revived the teachings of Lord Chaitanya throughout India and sent disciples to Europe. His disciples ran the Gaudiya Math centers which he started. Tirtha Maharaja was one of the most cunning and became overall manager in spite of Lalita Prasad's warnings to his brother Bhaktisiddhanta about him. Lalita Prasad dropped out of an active role in the Gaudiya Math at that time. Then a beautiful marble temple became the Calcutta headquarters. Corruption set in.
Tirtha Maharaja tried poisoning his guru Bhaktisiddhanta a couple of times, but Bhaktisiddhanta made it to Lalita Prasad who saved him. Finally, he was poisoned and locked in his room so he couldn't go for help. It was the kind of poison known as a "Russian heart attack." He was taken from Calcutta to Mayapur for cremation and burial to avoid an autopsy. A couple of unsuccessful attempts were made on Lalita Prasad's life also.
In this way, the Gaudiya Math fell prey to money, power, and politics, just as ISKCON had. It was obvious that organized religion and institutionalization were not good.
BHAKTIVINODE THAKUR - MYSTIC LOVE POET
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur was born in 1838 with the name Kedar Nath Dutt to an aristocratic Bengali family in the house that his son Lalita Prasad Thakur occupied in Birnagar, Bengal, a small town north of Calcutta. It was a gray cement stucco house with a walled courtyard in back containing eleven Shiva temples. There was a Kali temple in front. On the roof was Gaura Gadadhar's temple.
The Shiva and Kali temples were for mostly unattended. Lalita Prasad's disciples worshipped Gaura (Lord Chaitanya) and Gadadhar regularly and sang Bhaktivinode Thakur's songs. Gaura Gadadhar are the fifteenth century incarnations of Radha Krishna who revitalized the devotional Krishna movement. Lalita Prasad was not able to walk without assistance and even then, not very far. He didn't go to the rooftop temple anymore. He sat on his bed chanting and meditating on the pastimes of Radha Krishna.
Bhaktivinode's family moved to Calcutta when there was a plague in Birnagar and the town was deserted. He attended a Christian college, worked in a bookstore, and was a writer.
After graduation, Kedar Nath taught school in Orissa and was one of the pioneers of English education in that state. He didn't stay in education very long. He studied law, passed his exams, and in 1862 entered the Bengal civil service. In 1866, he was appointed a magistrate within the provincial civil service and served as magistrate in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa for the rest of his government career until retiring in 1894.
Attracted to Western philosophers such as Emerson, Hegel, Spinoza, and Kant, along with Jesus Christ, he became Unitarian in his outlook. However, when he came in contact with the teachings of Chaitanya, the Eastern savior, through his biography, The Chaitanya Charitamrita, Bhaktivinode took a renewed interest in the devotional Krishna movement of his homeland. He studied all the Gaudiya Vaishnava literature he could get his hands on including the Srimad Bhagavatam with Sridhar Swami's commentary.
Becoming well versed in the real doctrines of the Vaishnavas, he fought the prejudices he imbibed during his British education. Bhaktivinode began to publicly espouse the Vaishnava teachings and encouraged educated Indians such as himself to closely examine them before rejecting them in favor of Western thought.
He carried a heavy case load, was a family man with thirteen children, and spent most of the night writing. Bhaktivinode published some hundred books during his career, most of them devoted to recovering and promoting the tradition of Chaitanya.
His energy was awesome. He got up at 4:30 in the morning, bathed, worshipped, answered correspondence, and so forth. He was at court from nine to five with an hour lunch break. From five to seven, he translated Sanskrit religious works into Bengali. Then he had dinner, took a couple of hours nap, got up and wrote all night from ten to four. After a brief rest, he started his day again. In this way, he was working eighteen to twenty hours a day, efficiently. His British superiors wondered how they would keep India subservient if there were many more like him around.
Most of Bhaktivinode's books are lyric poetry meant to be sung. They describe the intimate conjugal relationship of Radha Krishna that Bhaktivinode enjoyed and how one might attain to that relationship by following in the footprints of the previous great devotees of Sri Krishna Chaitanya. This was the information I sought.
Lalita Prasad described how Bhaktivinode discovered the true birthplace of Lord Chaitanya in 1888. Everyone thought it was in Nabadwip. He researched maps and records of the area, but he was lead to the spot by a bright light that he saw emanating from Sri Mayapur across the Ganges from his house in Godruma. He went there with Lalita Prasad, Bhaktisiddhanta, Gaura Kishor and Jagannath Das who was so old he had to be carried in a basket by his disciple. Together, they were able to ascertain the exact birthplace of Krishna Chaitanya.
After leading a full life, in 1900, Bhaktivinode Thakur renounced the world and made his headquarters in Puri as Chaitanya had done. There he continued his devotional practices in the company of a couple of close disciples. He passed from this world in 1914.
THE HIGHEST TEACHINGS
Lalita Prasad Thakur considered himself to be a gopi, a cowherd girl, lover of Krishna. He said the only way to attain to this position was by the mercy of someone already in that position. It's a very confidential circle that can be entered by invitation only. He entered it by the mercy of his father and guru Bhaktivinode Thakur, who entered it by the mercy of his gurus Bipin Bihari Goswami and Jagannath Das Babaji.
I begged Lalita Prasad to initiate me into this secret knowledge. He agreed to teach me because no one else could, but this was to be kept secret, and if anyone asked who my guru was I should say Bhaktivedanta Swami. He didn't want to go over my guru's head, but he wanted to bestow his mercy on me.
He described the eleven moods that had to be adopted. One needed to know her name, age, abode, group, service, color, dress, protection, sustenance, attitude, and commitment. He said I could pick these things myself since I would be spontaneously attracted to my natural position. I wanted his guidance since he was much more familiar with these affairs than I.
He called Bhakta Ma to help pick a name for me. She came up with Sudha Manjari. He had me pick an age I wanted to be from eight to thirteen. Thirteen. He said my color was golden, and I wore a sky blue sari, and that color combination was very beautiful. He asked me what service I liked performing the best. I enjoyed bathing the deity of Radha and dressing her in the morning. That became my eternal service. My abode is Mahananda Kunja, a bower in Vrindaban. I am in Lalita's group and completely dependent on her for my protection and sustenance. Lalita Prasad and Bhaktivinode Thakurs are in Lalita's group also. We exist only for the service of Sri Sri Radha Krishna.
Lalita Prasad told me not to change any of these things without his permission, and to always meditate on them. He gave me a printed list of the disciplic succession with their spiritual identities and a place to add my name and information to the succession.
From one of Bhaktivinode's books which was written in Bengali, Lalita Prasad translated the pastimes of Radha Krishna during the twenty four hours of the day. He had to use a magnifying glass to read the type due to his bad eyesight.
Radha and Krishna engage in a daily routine that the devotee who knows her spiritual identity can improvise with and mix herself into these pastimes through meditation and visualization during the day as the events unfold. In this way, one can develop a spiritual life gradually transferring consciousness from the material world to the spiritual world where these pastimes go on eternally. Lalita Prasad taught me this technique, and I applied myself to it.
After a couple of weeks of drinking in the nectar from Lalita Prasad's lips, I was told that he was tiring and needed to rest. I went to the Mayapur ISKCON temple. I was given a room in the original thatch-roofed bungalow by the road. There I practiced the meditation Lalita Prasad taught me. I began translating Sri Rupanuga Bhajan Darpan, a book of poetry by Bhaktivinode Thakur. I was torn as to whether to continue being a disciple of Bhaktivedanta Swami or go to Lalita Prasad Thakur and beg to stay with him. I decided my loyalty was with Bhaktivedanta since he was my initiator guru.
It was spring, and devotees from the West began arriving for Lord Chaitanya's appearance day. The new three-story building was ready to accommodate them. I was glad to have separate quarters. Many became sick with dysentery shortly after arriving. Dinanath, a black devotee, lead wonderful kirtans in the first floor open air temple. He reminded me of James Brown at the Apollo.
Another black devotee, Sudama Maharaja went to Mayapur. I met him in San Francisco when I received brahmin initiation. He was Governing Body Commissioner for the Pacific region headquartered in Honolulu. He invited me to Honolulu to help him develop a bigger temple.
Although I had thoughts of spending the rest of my life in India, I was realizing the impracticality of doing that. I wanted to preach to receptive Americans. I was also witnessing the downhill slide of ISKCON, and I thought I would prefer leaving the movement in Hawaii rather than India.
Lord Chaitanya's appearance day occasioned a riot provoked by instigators sent by brahmins in Nabadwip. There were minor injuries and damage to property. The brahmins were envious of our influence.
Bhaktivedanta was joined by Sridhar Swami, his God-brother, as guest of honor. Sridhar was a much respected Vaishnava scholar and devotee. He avoided many of the scandals that shook the Gaudiya Math and established his own branch of the sect.
Bhaktivedanta and a group of his disciples went to Vrindaban and toured the surrounding area of Braja by bus. One of the highlights was bathing in the Jamuna River with Bhaktivedanta. It was a wonderful tour and a great way to end my stay in India except for one disturbing incident.
On a morning walk in Raman Reti one day with a group of disciples, Bhaktivedanta 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.”
I flew from Delhi to New York and stopped at the temple, then went to the Los Angeles temple, and on to Honolulu.
Jagat - Tue, 30 Mar 2004 21:00:54 +0530
More material from Subal's autobiography can be found HERE.