Vrindaban “An intelligent person, expert

November 30th, 2000


“An intelligent person, expert in perceiving the world around him and in applying sound logic, can achieve real benefit through his own intelligence. Thus sometimes one acts as his own instructing spiritual master.” (Bhag. 11.7.20)

I found this interesting verse in the Eleventh Canto in Lord Krishna’s instructions to Uddhava. It is from the prelude to Krishna?s description of the avadhuta brahmana?s account of his 28 gurus in nature, based on the brahmana?s discriminating observation of the world. In other words, from individually observing natural phenomena like the sun, wind, and fire, and also from different species of life, he learned important lessons in life. For example, because the python maintains himself with whatever comes of it’s own accord, the brahmana learned?from the python’s example?dependence on God.

Surprisingly, one of the most important instructions he learned was from Pingala, the prostitute. With great care she had dressed herself very attractively and waited in immense anticipation for the arrival of a customer, but although she waited all day and night, no one came. Her experience was so distressful that she finally gave up her desire for the arrival of a proper suitor and renounced the world to exclusively meditate on the Supreme Lord. She became peaceful and eventually attained perfection. From Pingala, the prostitute, the astute avadhuta brhamana learned that hopes for sense gratification are the root of all anxiety.

Jiva Goswami also makes an interesting statement in the purport to this verse: gurv-anusarane pravartaka ity arthah. “The knowledge acquired by one’s own perception and intelligence leads one to appreciate the value of the representative of the world.”

In other words, a detached and objective study of the world will reveal the same teachings as the spiritual master, the saintly people, and the scriptures. It will thus increase one’s sraddha (faith) in sabda brahman (deductive knowledge descending froms a transcendental source). Studying the 28 gurus of the avadhuta brahmana also confirmed my own realization in writing this journal, that an objective view of the world bolster’s one’s faith.

Today I learned a very important lesson from Bhakta Herman:

As I was leaving the temple this morning, following my regular late morning darshan of Sri Radha-Shyamasundar, an older brahmacari came up to me to present a garland from some of the South African lady disciples of Partha-Sarathi Prabhu who were standing nearby. I was intrigued by this brahmacari, who introduced himself as Bhakta Herman.

Bhakta Herman was in his late fifties, not much taller than five-feet tall, and somewhat crippled in both feet. Although he could walk without a cane, he struggled terribly?like a devotee blistered on both feet after parikram. His disability, however, was obviously permanent, either congenital, or due to serious accident or disease. His jaws were also constantly gnawing, either from pain or a nervous disorder. He had a strong South Brooklyn accent, and a fairly serious speech disorder, so that his already strong accent was further slurred by an almost childish and squeaky tone. As by habit I study people, I began a conversation with this very humble and likeable devotee.

“Where are you from, Prabhu?”

“I stay six munts of da year in Burkly, and six munts in Vrindavan.”

“What do you do?”

“I mop flawz and wash pots.”

His service was so menial that I almost felt embarrassed to have asked him, but from the tone of his response I could sense his absence of false prestige. He wasn’t bothered at all by my question, or by his answer. “Where were you born?” I continued.

“Coney Island in Brooklyn. Ya know where dhat iz?”

“Coney Island! Hey, I?m from Cropsey Avenue! Coney Island’s less then fifteen minutes away.” A rapport was developing.

“Yeah. Dats just ovah da bridge.”

I continued our pleasant conversation and could see that he was from the most humble background. I began to recall fond memories, even before I was six years old, of my grandmother taking me occasionally to Coney Island, the most prominent amusement park in New York City fifty years ago. It was a big treat for me at the time, but I recalled that even as young child I could sense that Coney Island, like all old amusement parks, were meant for visiting, not for living?at least not for living at any level of decency. “How do you like Krishna consciousness, Herman?”

His face lit up, with the humble happiness of a recipient of mercy. “I don’t know why, but I git such necktuh. Such necktuh comes. All of a suddin,necktuh!” With each “necktuh” his heart became lighter and his face became brighter. It wasn’t a show. Bhakta Herman was very sincere. He definitely was experiencing something wonderful in Krishna consciousness.

I learned from Herman the relationship between bhakti and an absence of false prestige. All Herman seemed to have was Krishna, but that made him very dependent on Him. We all are dependent on Krishna, but unfortunately due to so-called material assets like wealth, beauty, intelligence, or birth we gain a false sense that we are controlling the world independent of God. We lose the sense of surrender and shelter needed to approach the Lord feelingly, a sense that is the foundational emotion of bhakti. Factually, dependence is actually our taste of bhakti, just like a child’s love for his mother is that sense that she is his protector and maintainer. I pray to become free from the false sense that I am independently controlling my destiny, so that I can depend on Krishna and experience the nectar of Krishna consciousness.

While writing this I was thinking of Jiva Goswami’s commentary: gurv-anusarane pravartaka ity arthah. “The knowledge acquired by one’s own perception and intelligence leads one to appreciate the value of the representative of the world.” The same lesson reinforced by meeting Bhakta Herman is also one of the key messages throughout the teachings our beloved master, Srila Prabhupada. Here are a few examples:

From Queen Kunti:
“My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material progress], trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.” (Bhag. 1.8.27)

From Narada Muni:
“As they were leaving, those bhakti-vedantas, who are very kind to poor-hearted souls, instructed me in that most confidential subject which was instructed by the Personality of Godhead Himself.”

A little explanation is needed here. Narada Muni got the mercy of bhakti-vedantas because they were dina-vatsalah, kind to the poor. Narada Muni was just the son of a maidservant and he was so destitute that he didn’t even know who his father was. It made him, however, naturally humble, and because of this, he was able to serve the bhakti-vedantas with gratitude and respect. Although he was self-controlled, disciplined, and had many good qualities, some of the commentators reveal that the quality of Narada that ultimately attracted the mercy of the bhakti-vedantas was his realization of his humble position.

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