Vrindaban Vraja Sevika, a disciple

November 22nd, 2000


Vraja Sevika, a disciple of mine from Bulgaria, asked me if I could please visit the ashram where she is staying. She especially wanted me to meet the nice baba, or sadhu, in charge.

In a previous journal about my stay in Vrindaban in August 1999, I wrote something about Vraja Sevika and at least two persons who read it politely questioned me whether writing about her was a breach of confidentiality. I am very careful about maintaining confidentiality in my journals. I explained to them that, at that time, I showed her what I wrote, and that she didn’t mind because she felt that the sphere of my journal is in another world?a world she never crosses.

Vraja Sevika left her pujari service at the Sri Sri Krishna-Balaram Mandir after I left India for some time in 1995, as she found her living situation with another particular lady in the temple ashram intolerable. She wandered around Vraja for a year, learning fluent brajabasa, but became attracted to the mood of worship in other Vrindaban-based Vaishnava lines that encouraged esoteric mediation on Radha-Krishna pastimes. When I returned to India almost a year later, I questioned her as to the validity of what she had been doing. I was not particularly happy with her response and told her so. Even though I didn’t approve of what she was doing, she would still occasionally visit me to offer respects and to seek advice on practical matters.

She had vowed never to leave Vraja, although she did not have a secure visa or a viable means of support or protection. She thus suffered humiliation, malnutrition, physical debilitation, and mental depression. I cannot even describe the trauma of a single, young, and independent Western-born lady living alone in a small Indian town, but she still would not leave. Her plight finally culminated in a very bad marriage resulting in a child who died just 3 months after he was born.

I would repeatedly try to explain to her that Vrindaban was not just a physical place, but more important also a matter of consciousness and that there was little value in residing in Vrindaban without cultivating humility and purifying oneself. She remained fixed, however, on only one principle?she would live and die in Vraja.

Just before I left last summer I got a note from her, shortly after her child died, that she had a radical change in attitude; that she was returning to Bulgaria and was focusing on getting her health back and developing her character. That’s the last I heard from her until she returned recently and ran into Gokula Taruni. She gave Gokula Taruni the phone number of her ashram and asked her to please ask me to call her.

She was staying in a very old ashram that belonged to some saints from the followers of Hit Hari Vamsa, a renowned Vaishnava in many parts of Vrindadan who started the Radha-Vallabha Sampradaya. He became a very controversial figure, however, among the Gaudiyas as he was an errant disciple of Gopal Bhatta Goswami. The ashram was now a two-acre nursery on the parikrama marg off Mathura Rd., dedicated to the preservation of the environment of Vraja

The street was a bit noisy, but going into the ashram was like entering another world. It is preserved as old Vraja jungle with a large variety of beautiful indigenous trees and plants. Vraja Sevika respectfully greeted me and then offered me a seat on a large stone slab propped up on each side by bricks and situated under some old shade trees in front of the ashram building. There was a similar seat parallel about ten feet away and then another seat perpendicular to both of them so that the seats form three sides of a ten foot square?a perfect rustic informal meeting area. Vraja Sevika then excused herself to get the baba that she said was anxious to meet me.

The baba was a fair-skinned sadhu with a slight and dignified bodily frame indicating, at least from his appearance, a person of goodness, a sadhu. He had a long gray beard and was wearing a one-piece rough brownish khadi kurta (shirt) that could almost be mistaken for burlap and hung to his ankles to form a complete dress, with the exception of a thick winter shawl over his shoulder. I stood to greet him and he sat next to me on the bench facing me with folded legs.

The sadhu began to explain his thoughts and we had a very respectful conversation. I would also speak but I generally deferred to him, as I was his guest, he was older than me, nearing seventy, and the fact that he was obviously locally revered, since during our conversation several people came from the outside to touch his feet. He was very fluent in English and illustrated his points mostly with stories. Since he was a Vaishnava there was general agreement in our talk, but he seemed to have some of his own ideas?especially about guru?that I doubted were based on the principles of sastra, especially as he was not in the habit of referencing his statements. He did not say anything, however, that necessitated a strong response and I respected him as a gentleman and a sadhu, and he also offered deference to me.

I often quoted from the Bhagavatam in my discussion with the sadhu and he seemed to appreciate the references that I contributed to our discussion. In the course of our talk he asked where I live and when he discovered that it was near him and that I was giving class every day, he enthusiastically said that he would like to come. I responded to him that he was senior to me, and that if he came he would have to give the class. He insisted on our equality and told the following interesting story about an eagle and a sparrow to illustrate it.

An eagle and a sparrow were somehow friends and, in a spirited competition, decided to fly to the sun to see Surya Narayan, the sun god. Soon, however,the sparrow began to fatigue and his wings fluttered. Finally, in exhaustion, he fell from the sky. As he was falling he watched as the eagle soared and disappeared from sight.

When the sparrow came to earth he gathered all the other animals and told of the glorious vulture, the great bird that soared off to meet Surya Narayan. All the animals became excited and prepared a grand reception for the divinely inspired vulture. Thousands assembled and brought numerous flowers and fruits.

The eagle, although far ahead of the sparrow, enough to be out of sight, was still nowhere near the Sun. He also began to totter and flap his wings desperately to keep equilibrium. It was too late, however, and he began to fall rapidly until?crash!?he landed right in the middle the assembled forest animals. The animals cheered wildly?”Jaya Vulture! Jaya Vulture! Vulture Vulture! Jaya Jaya!”?and garlanded the hapless creature thinking that he had attained saksad-dasrhan, direct vision of the glorious sun-god, Sri Surya Narayan.

The vulture looked around in surprise and disgust. “What’s going on? Why are you glorifying me? I have done nothing of merit,” he said. But the animals replied, “That’s not true, you are the glorious bird who visited the sun god!”

“I did not!”

The sparrow spoke up, “But you soared so far that you were out of sight!”
“I may have been ahead of you,” he quickly retorted, “but I was also far, far away from reaching sun. Therefore I think I am really still no better than you or anyone else!”

Moral: You may be ahead others, but rather than seeing them in relation to yourself it is better to see yourself and others in relation to the final goal, which most likely will be of little variance. Better to judge things from an absolute, rather than relative perspective.

In common parlance, it really makes little difference that you get the ghee lamp first.

I appreciated his point in a certain context. However, a Vaishnava is encouraged to make certain practical distinction among for the purpose of relating properly, avoiding offense, and giving and accepting instruction.

The sadhu had never been introduced to me so I asked his name. He introduced himself as Sevak Saran, who I recognized as a famous Vraja conservationist. I had to rush back to my class, so I excused myself, but we made friends and he begged me to return.

I never even had a chance to inquire from Vraja Sevika about her welfare. Upon leaving I asked her one question in passing. “Did your parents appreciate what you have achieved after seeing you after seven years?”

“No,” she replied, almost rhetorically. “How could they appreciate one in such poor health, destitute and depressed?” I told her she could visit me later if she had any questions, as there was no time to discuss her new realizations now.

I wondered if her radical change in attitude had anything to do with a diminishing faith in spiritual life, since her spiritual life was apparently such a disaster. I hope not. I wondered if she realized that the perhaps her problem was not spirituality, but the way in which she practiced spirituality according to her own whim.

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