Archive for January, 2001

Nandagram It’s the last day

January 31st, 2001

Nandagram

It’s the last day of parikrama. I warn the devotees who are remaining:

“You are feeling at home in Vrindaban because our program engages you fully in devotional service. Our program ends tomorrow. If you relax and give up the mood of full engagement in devotional service there will be trouble. You will not feel comfortable here. Fruitive longing (passion) and lethargy (ignorance) go against the grain of the internal energy and the pressure of being here in material consciousness can be unbearable.”

Srila Prabhupada therefore warned that “one should stay either three days or three years in Vrindaban.” I interpret this to mean that one can come on pilgrimage and focus his consciousness seriously on chanting and hearing as his service for a few days, or weeks at most. If one stays longer he must make a serious commitment to some regular service?otherwise, it is better to leave.

I didn’t feel so prepared this year for the parikramas in terms of preparing all the elaborate lilas of the various places, although from living in Vrindaban so many years, I know basically where those places are, and what pastimes took place there. Therefore from the beginning, although I always spoke something, I concentrated on engaging everyone in kirtan, and in that way, attempted to invoke the mercy of each pastime place. I think by this humble process, we were fairly successful in the imbibing of each place as within the name of Krishna are Krishna’s forms, qualities, and pastimes.

Our first stop today was Javat, the place where Srimati Radharani lives for six months of the year at her in-laws? house. My inspiration here, however, is that on our last day of the tour we should today absorb ourselves in the Radha-Krishna lila that took place here.

Javat is the only temple that has deities of Jatila (Radharani’s mother-in-law), Kutila (Radharani?s sister-in-law), and Abhimanyu (her so-called husband). They are worshipable because Radhika’s in-laws serve the parakiya-rasa (unwedded love) of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, by placing various obstacles in the meeting of Radha and Krishna to increase the risk and flavor of such love.

We sit peacefully before the deities of Radha and Krishna, the main deities here, and I speak extensively from Camutkara-Chandrika (?the moon beam of sheer astonishment”), a wonderful book by Srila Vishvanatha Cakravarti where he describes the various pranks that Krishna played on Abhimanyu and his family in Javat to attain the association of Srimati Radharani. The stories are hilarious, very engaging and do give the devotees a special sense of Krishna’s exchanges of love with Srimati Radharani.Chanting the holy name, mixed with remembrance of the appropriate pastimes approached in the proper mood, creates rasa, the flavor of devotion. We visit Nanda Bhavan, Krishna?s home, the center of all Krishna’s pastimes, as all Krishna’s divine lila begins from home and returns there by night. We see Nanda Baba, Yasoda Mayi, Krishna, and Balarama?the stately and sweet deities of Nanda Bhavan?and hear more and more of Radha and Krishna’s lila. We climb to the roof of Nanda Bhavan and gain a spectacular view of all the places of Krishna’s pastimes. We sight the very road where Akrura took Krishna and Balarama to Mathura and recall the gopis? pain of separation as Krishna mounts his chariot. In amusement, our guide points out Moti Kund, the place where Krishna planted pearls as seeds, harvested the jewels, and teased the gopis. We turn a bit to the right and spot Uddhava Kyari, the sanctified field where Uddhava, the topmost devotee of Krishna outside of Vraja, was humbled by witnessing the extraordinary mahabhava of Srimati Radharani and the gopis. We envision Krishna, Balarama, and his cowherd friends descending Nandisvara Hill with Their 108 herds of cows and see their destination?the forests and pastures between Nandagram and Javat. Our panoramic view of the very places of Krishna’s pastimes not only touches our hearts, but bolsters our faith. The activities of Krishna are mapped and we gain a visible sense of its history.

It is noon on our last day of parikrama. Time to visit just one final place of pastimes. Leaving Nandagram we march through it’s pastures for a half-hour trek to a favorite of the devotees, the out-of-the-way but gorgeous forest of Ter Kadamaba, where Krishna tends the cows during the day and meets Radha at night?the most sacrosanct and secluded lila-sthan, chosen by the topmost connoisseur of Vraja, Srila Rupa Goswami, as his bhajan sthali. It was in this place that he chose to compose his two masterpieces, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu and Ujjvala-nilamani.

We sit at Ter Kadamaba under a striking forest bower by the steps of a beautiful kunda and as rupanugas, followers of Sri Rupa Goswami, we appropriately end our pilgrimage by feeling and chanting a sweet prayer:

sri rupa-manjari pada, sei mora samprada
sei mora bhajana pujana

“The lotus feet of Sri Rupa Manjari are my treasure, my devotional service, my life.”

Vrindaban Nothing scheduled today. The

January 30th, 2001

Vrindaban

Nothing scheduled today. The devotees can revisit their favorite places, shop, or spend the day back reading. It’s been a wonderful tour. It will officially end in two days. I am now beginning to hanker for time to myself. I therefore literally plan to not leave my room for at least two weeks after the tour. Today, however, I will visit some old friends in Vrindaban to free myself of any last obligations.

At one place, I unexpectedly meet a former gurukula student and am quite surprised that he has now taken initiation for a local babaji. I am surprised because this young devotee?s father is a very staunch disciple of Srila Prabhupada and?practically from his very birth?this student always loved Srila Prabhupada deeply, like a grandfather. We talk. Interestingly, it seems that his love for Srila Prabhupada, and his tacit rejection of him (by accepting a teacher opposed to the authenticity of our parampara), are not at all a source of conflict for him. I surmise he has conveniently put these two cherished opposing ideals, his new guru and Srila Prabhupada, in two different non-overlapping compartments of his mind so that they do not clash and force him to make choice between them. Somehow Indians seem to have an expertise in doing this, where Westerners tend more toward reductionism. For the Western mind, everything that doesn’t exactly fit together logically leads to agonizing conflicts and difficult “it’s one or the other” choices. We continue our cordial talk. He has left the line of Srila Prabhupada, and that is disturbing, but he no longer takes drugs, says he’s happy, and I see that he is very enthusiastic for practical devotional service. His life is better now so I can’t condemn him.

I’ve also learned the art. He rejects Srila Prabhupada, but he’s doing better in devotional service. I fit them in two separate compartments of mind and I leave it at that.

God is causeless. Logic deals with cause and effect. Therefore the nature of God’s existence is beyond logic. It is therefore helpful sometimes, in some circumstances, to learn the art of acceptance beyond logic.

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Radha-kunda “Of many objects of

January 29th, 2001

Radha-kunda

“Of many objects of favored delight and of all the damsels of Vrajabhumi, Srimati Radharani is certainly the treasured object of Krishna’s love. And in every respect, Her divine kunda is described by the sages as similarly dear to Him. Undoubtedly, Radha-kunda is rarely attained even by the great devotees; therefore it is even more difficult for the ordinary devotees to attain. If one simply bathes once within these holy waters, one’s pure love of Krishna is fully aroused.? (The Nectar of Instruction, Text 11)

I don’t expect perfection today by just one bath. Rupa Gosvami?s statement is the last verse of the Upadesamrita. The full fruit of it s glories can be realized after one has gone through and realized the previous ten verses beginning with the first verse:

“A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger and the urges of the tongue, belly, and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.”

Nonetheless, there is inconceivable benefit in pilgrimage to Radha-kunda. The most intimate pastimes of Radha and Krishna take place here daily and many of the greatest acaryas in our line lived here to meditate on those pastimes. At least a day is required to appreciate this most sacred of places.

Highlight: Vraja-svananda Sukhada-kunja, the house and bhajan sthali of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in Vraja. The goal of life is to obtain the pure love of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. The acaryas carefully outline the path to obtain that goal. I express my own conviction with confidence: The Bhaktivedanta marg, coming from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasavati Thakur, pursued thoughtfully and fixed on the proper goal, is the best path for us to practically obtain this sublime goal of life.

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Vrindaban Finish the parikrama of

January 28th, 2001

Vrindaban

Finish the parikrama of the seven major temples by visiting Radha-Damodar, Radha-Shyamasundar, and Madan Mohan. We also visit Banke-Bihari Mandir. I purposely save the temple of Banke-Bihari for near the end of our parikrama. It’s the most popular Deity in Vrindaban, in the middle of the city, and always mobbed with pilgrims, inside and outside, of the temple. We can’t do kirtan there, and there is no quiet place in or around the temple to sit and hear about Krishna, so I doubt how much the new devotees can get from the visit, although the spontaneous devotion of the pilgrims leaves a strong impression on us about the spirit of vraja-bhakti.

The deity of Banke-Bihari is mystically tucked away twenty feet at the back of a six-foot high platform that is gated in the front from the public. His pujaris unusually close the deity curtains for a moment every minute. This is done, local lore tells us, to prevent Banke-Bihari from leaving the altar. If the Deity sees His loving devotees for concentrated periods of time, His attachment for them will be overwhelming, and He will leave the temple in search of them, as has happened, it is told, many times in the past.

Navigating through the immense crowds pushing to see Banke-Bihari can be daunting for a newcomer, although a few of the men on our party (of moshpit experience) seem to be entertained by the jostling near the altar, as the pilgrims eagerly position themselves for a good look at their Lord.

We end today’s parikrama at the samadhi of Sanatana Gosvami. His sacred tomb is a magic place of peacefulness, a uniquely secluded walled area on a plateau on the hill of the Madan Mohan Deity. In contrast to Banke-Bihari, it is an oasis of calm where?without inhibition?we sing the glories of the Six Gosvamis and hear about Sri Sanatana Gosvami.

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Vrindaban My body and mind

Govardhana We leave at 6:30

January 26th, 2001

Govardhana

We leave at 6:30 am for a full Govardhana parikrama. I am a little worried about my health. The long walking could inflame a recurring problem as it did on my last parikrama of Govardhana. I really need to rest today. My plan is to inform the devotees at the beginning of the parikrama of my plight. I can walk only to the first initial places on the eastern side of the hill and then will have to take a jeep around to the other places to meet them.

When I get to Govardhana for the beginning of the parikrama, however, I became absorbed in my introductory talk. I forget to mention anything about my abbreviated parikrama. By the time I remember, I’ve already walked for an hour. I am feeling better, however, and the weather is also perfect. I resolve to continue rather than embarrassingly retreat midway. Surprisingly, by the mercy of Giriraja, I am gaining strength.

We need to return to the Bhaktivedanta Ashram for lunch around two o’clock so I keep a steady pace. The speed, in my estimation, is medium at most, and most of the devotees are keeping up, although a few seem to be struggling just a bit. For me it has been a relatively easy parikrama, but carrying the other devotees through successfully?most of whom are first-timers?is constantly on my mind. We complete the parikrama at about 2PM at Radha-kunda.

By the time we finish, the winter sun is very pleasantly strong. The men even sit comfortably without shirts on the steps of Radha-kunda. Those who felt they could approach this most sacred place with the proper reverence, and with the blessings of guru, humbly take bath. Bath in Radha-kunda, especially after the purification of Govardhana parikrama, is an electrifying spiritual event. It steadies and focuses the consciousness in a “be here and now” mood flavored with devotion far more than any practice I can imagine. I watch as the devotees bathe. They are stunned by that experience.

When I returned I was surprised to find out how many of the devotees felt the pace was tortuous and that they were pushed to the limits to keep up, like I was
leading some type of extreme sports outing. I feel a bit bad and wished they had said something, but they have already forgiven me as the fruit of their austerities?the uplifting spiritual charge of Radha-kunda bath?more than made up for whatever pain it took to get there.

Vrindaban During japa my mind

January 25th, 2001

Vrindaban

During japa my mind is drawn to yesterdays experience at Varsana. I pray for such remembrances everyday.

Our plan today: visit the seven major temples of Vrindaban. We start with Radha-Govindaji and manage to also see Radha-Raman, Radha-Gokulananda and the samadhis of Visvanatha and Narottama, but that’s all. It’s still a lot for a morning. We will plan another day to see the rest of the major temples.

It’s difficult to keep up with the journal. The days are busy. By the evening I’m very tired. I can’t write much more today.

Varsana Today’s parikrama was special?perhaps

January 24th, 2001

Varsana

Today’s parikrama was special?perhaps the most memorable I have ever had. There were the sights of Vraja, the sweet kirtans, the pious sadhus and the stunning deities, but that is there on all parikramas. It was memorable in a more numinous manner. Some mercy came.

When we reached the halfway point of the Varsana parikrama at the steps Mor Kutir?one of the four hills of Varsana representing the four heads of Lord Brahma, where Radha and Krishna danced like peacocks and where a blind saint was inspired to paint a striking picture commemorating that pastime?our enthusiastic kirtan reached its heights.

We sang a local brijabasi favorite:

syama gori nitya-kisori pritama-jori sri-radhe
rasika rasilo chaila-chabilo guna-garabilo sri-krsna

“O Sri Radhe! You are a fresh young maiden with a slender waist, endowed with the luster of new adolescence; You posses the fairest olden complexion; You are eternally situated in the sweet blossoming of divine youth; You are the only perfect match for Your most Beloved.

“O Sri Krsna! You are the true relisher of transcendental mellows; You are sweet and relishable in every aspect; You are so effulgent that you represent the topmost superexcellence of pure enchantment; You are situated in great pride due to full awareness of Your own transcendental qualities.?

Our kirtan captured the view and hearts of the local brijabasis. They are gathered there in force to honor the passing of a local brijabasi saint, Babulal Ramji, who was, until he retired in his early seventies, the headmaster of the local high school. For the last ten years he chanted nama-kirtan constantly until his death two weeks ago at the age of ninety. The ashram of his family at the base of Mor Kutir was feeding the local sadhus and villagers. Hundreds of his old
students, now respectable middle-aged men, also gathered?many attending from all over the country. I think it was mostly this group that surrounded our kirtan and joined in with unbounded eagerness, but it was not wild. They just stood and clapped, sang, and grinned ear to ear, offering us their hearts in appreciation. “You are the real brijabasis,” one man offered, as others nodded.

By the purification accumulated over the last two weeks on parikrama, our kirtan today was potent and a very sweet taste of Radha and Krishna came, but unlike the real brijabasis, it is not yet the effortless inborn devotional condition of the heart. I pray for that, but by the mercy of Varsana-dhama the sweet devotion here left an indelible impression in my heart, a sincere hankering for residence in Vraja and the mood of the real brijabasis.

We continue on our Varsana parikrama. Our destination is the magnificent Sriji Radha Krishna temple on the hill, but we will have to move fast to catch the noon darshan. We pass by the Garhavan Forest, Radharani’s personal garden, and then descend the deep stone steps to the mystical Krishna-kunda. After ascending we proceed on the parikrama path through a small kunja tunnel and alight to the steps of Man Kutir?a sacred mount for the Varsana wallas where Krishna surrendered to Radhika’s transcendental pique. Suddenly I hear a scream and turn back! Some impish brijabasi children had cornered a monkey and its baby child in such a way that the monkey panicked and somehow lashed out and bit Prema-bhakti Marg who was trapped by the kunja.

Some local brijabasis volunteered a home cure. Prema and Rasaraja assure us that they will sit for a while, take care of it, and then join us. I am concerned, but
there is little we can do. We proceed quickly on the winding forest path to the Mandir.

Whew! Made it to the temple. We chant:

radharani ki jaya maharani ki jaya
bolo barsane wali ki jaya jaya jaya

“All glories to Radharani! All glories to the greatest of all Queens. Sing the glories of Radharani, who lives in Varsana.?

Varsana has a sweet mood and our kirtan is carefree and melodic. As I begin to chant the refrain an old and powerful brijabasi with thick glasses and wearing a dhoti forcefully interrupts and begins to lead as if he it his divine right to croon this native song by the force of his knowledge of the proper melody for it. With authority his right index finger is pointing to the floor in the middle of our kirtan shaking to the beat of our kirtan as if he is directing the rhythm of our dancing. His hand then abruptly stops and our kirtan freezes. He is now our leader and we look for direction.

We are awe struck as he belts out an emotionally laden pada, or verse, about a pastime of Radha-Krishna which he accompanies by is own devotional hand language illustrating the meaning of each verse. His left hand widens like a fan and is placed by his forward to describe Lord Krishna’s peacock feather. His hips sway back and forth in a subtle brijabasi dance that seems to perfectly capture the mood of the song. His voice is so strong and melodic that I distinctly heard one of our group call our old friend something like “the Stevie Wonder of Vraja.”

At the end of each song he again breaks into “radharani ki jaya maharani ki jaya” which we understand now to be the natural refrain to the verses his singing. While we begin to chant the refrain he then dramatically whips his head back towards the Deities, turns the kirtan back over to us, and then gazes at the altar in rapt attention as if we don’t even exist.

When our singing of the refrain “radharani ki jaya maharani ki jaya” is just about to finish he suddenly whips his head back towards us. Again be begins to direct the tempo of our kirtan with his bouncing index finger, and as before, he freezes our dancing with a flick of his wrist. Once more he belts out another fantastic pada. When he finishes, yet again he whips his head back to the Deities in the same apparent almost disdain. The pattern is repeated again and again as he describes the pastimes of Radha and Krishna in the groves of Vrindaban.

I turn back for a moment and I am surprised to see Prema-bhakti Marg standing in the back smiling and devotional absorbed. Most people would be too traumatized from a mad monkey attack in a foreign land to continue the parikrama with enthusiasm.

Our driver takes a shortcut back and it takes twice as long. I still wonder how we managed to skirt around a massive truck strike blocking the road by negotiating an impossible narrow ridge on the side of the road?between the ongoing stalled trucks and the ten foot drop from the highway to the field below?and how we then maneuvered between those stalled trucks to the opposite side of the road.

A feast awaits us at the goshala prepared by Nandanandana and his family?his wife, mother and his four daughters. His wife is so Krishna conscious and such an astute cook that she understands the culture of her visitors and cooks exactly according to their tastes, although she is Bengali and the basis of the prasadam is Bengali fare. Our group is from the West so, although she prepares an elaborate traditional feast, she cooks just a little less spicy, includes a fresh homegrown salad and tops off the meal with an ambrosial custard grape desert. The devotees are more than satisfied by their sincere mood of service.

I pass Prema-bhakti Marg and Rasaraja in the evening. She said she went to a doctor, the monkey bite was treated, and she is okay. Good thing she didn’t let the incident disturb her time at Varsana as she has waited anxiously for five years to return to Vrindaban and such moments in the dhama are precious.

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Govardhana There is a process

January 23rd, 2001

Govardhana

There is a process of seeing the dhama. It is something like taking a good picture. To take a good picture one is first required to view an object from the proper perspective and then focus on that image properly. The proper perspective of seeing the dhama is to view it from the eyes of the sastra after having heard properly from a sadhu. The focus to see the dhama is the purity and peacefulness of heart that comes from chanting and hearing here.

We will go to Govardhana several times on our pilgrimages, but before a full parikrama outing, I bring the devotees to sit just at Govinda-kunda for a full abhishek of Govinda Hari. As I continue to come to Govinda-kunda with pilgrimage groups, more and more of the local residents from the small adjacent village of Annayor attend. It gives the abhishek an authethic brijabasi flavor. By the time I finish my lecture about the glories of Govardhana Hill, the old brijabasi pandas with their red turbans are sitting on Govardhana behind Govinda Hari; the young village kids, dressed in what looks like salvation hand-me-downs, are frolicking to our side; and Krishna?s cows engulf us with a slight mist kicked up from the dust of Vrindaban. Our elaborate worships begins, the kirtan roars, the brijabasis smile, the children play, and the cows roam peacefully. We glimpse the real Vrindaban.

Vrindaban We pick up the

January 22nd, 2001

Vrindaban

We pick up the pace of our parikrama. We walk on the scenic cowherd trail to Kaliya-ghata, Madan Mohan, Imli Tal and Radha Damodar. As I had guessed, I need to put some energy into keeping the devotees absorbed and engaged.

One of the best parikrama devotees today is Rasa-parayana, the three-year old son of Rasaraja and Prema-bhakti Marg. Generally, a young child would distract the parikrama?especially for the parents?but Rasa-parayana is not at all a distraction. He is absorbed in the sights of the dhama and very enthusiastic for kirtan. He is doing so well that Rasaraja joked to me, “Wait until I tell Narottama [his individualistic god uncle] that he’s joining the movement!”

Prema-bhakti Marg is a thoughtful person, and from seeing how her son is developing so far, she seems to have thought a lot about how to bring her child up practically in Krishna consciousness. I did not ask her, but I assume that one significant reason for their pilgrimage is that it is part of her vision of how her son will practically be nurtured in Krishna consciousness. It’s a good idea. He will never forget his experience.

Perhaps previously a parent did not have to be as thoughtful to rear a child. They lived in cultures that had rich and spiritually intact traditions. The psychology of childrearing was thus imbibed naturally from their own upbringing. It was also naturally imbibed by observing a society that was consistent its behavior and values and thus consistent in appropriately responding to children in their various stages of development. Things are quite different today. We not only live in a society divorced from spiritual values, but our children, by necessity, have to be somewhat integrated with it as it is the one they live in. To guide the child to interact with society without being over-influenced by its values is a very thoughtful task and becomes increasingly difficult as the child matures.

By the time the parikrama reaches Kaliya-ghata we have shed the layers of ignorance from yesterday?s dirty trip down the Grand Trunk Highway. By the time we are sitting at Imli Tal, we are engrossed. We sit under the tamarind tree where Lord Krishna sat in separation from Srimati Radharani and later returned as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in the complexion and mood of Srimati Radharani, and sat in separation of Himself. We sit and chant, rapt in the sweetness of Vraja-dhama. I am beginning to gain hope that our stay in Vrindaban will be as equally rewarding as our stay in Gaura-dhama.

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