Monday Morning Greetings #45 – I want to be a Vaisnava!

November 7th, 2016

Amidst the throngs of seemingly ordinary people here in Vṛndāvana just one old Vaiṣṇava sādhu has to smile and greet you in his raspy voice “Jai Ho, Mahārāja!” and you realize why you have come to this place. Does that sound sentimental? After living here for more than forty years that is my strong conviction, that the endearing voices and bountiful smiles of such beautiful people inform us powerfully of the real goal in life, to become simple hearted, happy, and in a mood of service. Yes, the beautiful things in life are simple and sweet, because they are born not from opulence, but from the hearts of devotion. And that’s the glory of Vṛndāvana, the jewels of mādhurya (sweetness) that are hidden in the hearts of the real Vrajavāsīs.* Yesterday I mined one.

Govinda Kuṇḍa is just a forty-minute walk down the parikramā path from my own place near Dāna-ghāṭī (the place of the tax pastime). It sits next to the side of Govardhana Hill. It’s where Indra performed the ceremonial bath of Kṛṣṇa to beg pardon for his offense and whose bath waters formed this beautiful pond according to Kṛṣṇa lore. Five of us took a late morning outing there to visit this small sādhu hamlet.

Our visit eventually took us down a small road off the main path on the southern side of the kuṇḍa that ended at a yellow iron gate with a sign above announcing the place as the āśrama of the renowned late Vaiṣṇava saint and mystic Manohar Bābā. We entered and walked straight alongside the āśrama building under an enclosed pavilion to the end of the property where we faced an old indiscreet closed wood door on our left side. We cautiously pushed the door open and entered a dimly light hall and the altar of small Śrī Madana-mohana deities. One simple sādhu was sitting there chanting, but he immediately stood up to greet us and beamed, “prasādam, prasādam” enthusiastically pointing our way through a corridor to the back of the property where their kitchen and prasādam hall stood.

As we entered the rustic kitchen pavilion of this ancient āśrama, Sītānāth Bābā, the recently installed mahant of the place, was standing over an open fire vigorously stirring a wok of vegetables. When he saw us enter he turned and also beamed “prasādam, prasādam” earnestly pointing to a single plank table with chairs for our group all facing where Sītānāth was cooking as another joyful sādhu fed us a sumptuous meal. Sītānāth then suddenly left his cooking to scurry around to find whatever he could in the āśrama to please us, from their special stash of sweets for guests, to even hot cow’s milk at the end.

We felt so welcomed. I just loved their culture, especially their smiles that were worn almost as badges of their faith. And what was their faith? It was the happiness of prīti or love, their deep conviction that pleasure is not to enjoy or control the world, but to genuinely serve God and his devotees. And that’s what Vraja* really is and that is what I really hanker for, the simple heart of service reflected in the beautiful smile of the true residents here.

Once when a faithful disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda said to him, “You are greatest Vaiṣṇava!” he became grave and emphatically said, “No! Vaiṣṇava is not an ordinary thing!” Of course, part of being of Vaiṣṇava is humility and in one’s deep hunger for the service of God one naturally feels a lack of devotion. Indeed, Śrīla Prabhupāda was one of the greatest Vaiṣṇava, but he highlighted the rarity and value of a simple heart and mood of service.

Being here in Vraja and being inspired by the Vaiṣṇava’s here, my chanting has taken up a singular prayer for this auspicious month of Kārtika:

“I want to be a Vaiṣṇava!”

* Either one born in Vṛndāvana or one who lives there and truly imbibes its mood.

** Another name for Vṛndāvana.

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