Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #9 – I want to be a Vaishnava!

February 28th, 2022

I want to be a Vaishnava! [1]

November 7, 2016


Amidst the throngs of seemingly ordinary people here in Vrindavan, just one old Vaishnava sadhu has to smile and greet you in his raspy voice “Jai Ho, Maharaja!” 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 Vrindavan, the jewels of mādhurya (sweetness) that are hidden in the hearts of the real vraja-vāsīs, those who are born in Vrindavan or who live there and imbibe its mood.


Yesterday I mined one.


Govinda Kuṇḍa is just a forty-minute walk down the parikramā path from my place near Dana Ghati (the place of the tax pastime). It sits next to the side of Govardhana Hill. It’s where Indra performed the ceremonial bath of Krishna to beg pardon for his offense, and those bath waters formed this beautiful pond. Five of us took a late-morning outing there to visit this small sadhu 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 ashram of the renowned late Vaishnava saint and mystic Manohar Baba. We entered and walked straight alongside the ashram building under an enclosed pavilion to the end of the property, where we faced an old wooden door. We cautiously pushed the door open and entered a dimly light hall and the altar of small Sri Madana-mohana deities. A simple sadhu 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 ashram, Sitanath Baba, 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,” pointing to a single-plank table with chairs for our group all facing where Sitanath was cooking as another joyful sadhu fed us a sumptuous meal. Sitanath then suddenly left his cooking to scurry around the ashram to find whatever he could in to please us, from their special stash of sweets for guests to hot cow’s milk at the end.


We felt so welcomed. I loved their culture, especially their smiles, 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, the holy district of Vrindavan, really is, what I really hanker for—the simple heart of service reflected in the beautiful smiles of its residents.


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


Being here in Vraja and being inspired by the Vaishnavas here, I find that my chanting has taken up a singular prayer for this auspicious month of Kartik:


“I want to be a Vaishnava!”


[1] I wasn’t able to complete this week’s Monday Morning Greetings. I have chosen to publish a reprint about a pilgrimage I took in 2016 here in Govardhan to one of my favorite places. I have chosen this entry because I visited that same place this week and was similarly inspired by the humility and the sweetness of the devotees there.


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