Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #8 – Float Like a Butterfly and Eat Like a Bee

February 20th, 2023

Recognize the title?[1] It’s a parody of a verse by Muhammad Ali. What is important, however, is not where the verse originates, but what I am conveying through it. I am describing the practice of mādhukarī—literally mādhu (bee) to do (karī)—where sādhus gracefully saunter (float) in ecstasy around Govardhana Hill and sustain themselves by taking just a few roṭīs each from the homes of selected brāhmaṇas whose families have been fortunate to carry out this sādhu-sevā for generations, just like a bee who only takes (eats) a little pollen from each flower and goes onto the next.


Somehow—not sure why—I became inspired to give it a try this week. So, I was off to the nearby village of Āniyora to beg for roṭīs from the designated houses where they cook for sādhus. I didn’t get far, however. The first home I approached was the family of Bal Kishan, my 83-year-old Brijabasi friend, the very simple, pious patriarch of the Sharma family. I couldn’t proceed to other houses as Bal Kishan implored me to stay for a full meal, but sitting there did afford me the opportunity to not only observe the saintly sādhus coming for mādhukarī, but more importantly to witness the infectious mood of sādhu-sevā exuding from my hosts. Just by sitting there a realization came that I would like to share, but first I will briefly finish describing what I saw today on mādhukarī.


“Radhe! Radhe!” A humble sādhu comes to the doorway of the second and main floor of my friend’s Brijabasi dwelling, announcing his arrival in the most familiar of Braja greetings, which is also a local mantra for roṭī begging. The whole family, including Bal Kishan and seven grandchildren (all teens), innocently lounge in the traditional center family room, peacefully enjoying one another’s company, while just outside one of the mothers sits on the floor of the adjacent roofless veranda turning out roṭī after roṭī in their simple rustic kitchen. Immediately, the oldest granddaughter runs to the kitchen and takes two roṭīs and a scoop of sabjī from her mother’s hand, which the peaceful sādhu accepts humbly and smiles his blessings to the family before gently leaving to bless the next house with mādhukarī.


There is a takeaway from my mādhukarī morning and it’s śāstric—the ritual of opening one’s house to guests, especially true devotees of God, is one of the most powerful positive influences on the consciousness of a household, especially its children.


I think the most important reference supporting this principle about the power of Vaiṣṇava hospitality is found in the second chapter of the First Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam where Sūta Gosvāmī analyzes bhāgavata-dharma and concludes dharmasya hy āpavargyasya[2]—that dharma leads to liberation. What intrigued me the most about this verse, however, was a commentary that answered the question of exactly how dharma leads to liberation: A dharmic person opens his house to saintly persons and as one of them is likely to be a Vaiṣṇava, they inevitably will be blessed with bhakti, and that is how dharma leads to liberation. Bal Kishan’s family is certainly a testimony to the power of this principle.


Observing the beauty of this sādhu-serving family, a story from the novel Jaiva Dharma by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura came to mind that seems to also confirm this same principle of the power of opening one’s house to others, but in an indirect way. It’s about a miserly couple who never opened their house for the service of others, although they lived in the most pious district of Saptagram, a community known specifically for their generosity. As a result of their miserliness, instead of producing generous children as the other families of the district had done, the children of this couple imbibed their parents’ mood. They became so greedy that they even usurped their parents’ house and even exiled them from their own town. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura makes a very instructive point in this regard—that one moves from kaniṣṭha (neophyte) bhakta to madhyaṁ (fixed) bhakta when, through this type of generosity, the number of quality associates one brings into one’s life exceeds the number of people who are not spiritual.


Well, I failed at mādhukarī. I left the first house I visited not like a bee, but instead stuffed with roṭīs. I began the article with a parody of a statement by Muhammad Ali, but as I waddled back to my place, I only then realized that the joke was on me! Some bee!



[1] The title is a parody of the famous quote from Mohammad Ali — “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” — describing his fighting style where he would gracefully prance around the ring and then “sting” the opponent with his jab.

[2] Bhag. 1.2.9

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