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Chapter Sixteen
Serving Under Proper Guidance
Question: Mahārāj, when chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra, how should we consider the position of Gurudev? Should we chant to please Guru? Should we chant because it pleases Guru? Should we pray to Guru to help us chant?
Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj: We can understand the proper ideal for practitioners through the example of Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu. His example shows us the importance of both following the order of Gurudev to chant and satisfying him through our practice of chanting.
Mahāprabhu’s bright and exalted form
When Mahāprabhu was in Kashi [Varanasi] He came to the assembly of the māyāvādī sannyāsīs headed by Prakāśānanda Saraswatī. When He arrived He sat in the place where all the sannyāsīs would wash their feet before entering the assembly room. When Mahāprabhu arrived He washed His hands and feet, and then sat down in the washing area. While He was sitting there He also revealed His glory by showing a great effulgence from His divine form.
prabhāve ākarṣila saba sannyāsīra mana
uṭhila sannyāsī saba chhāḍiyā āsana
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Ādi-līlā, 7.61)
When all the sannyāsīs saw this effulgence, which appeared like that of Brahma, they were very attracted and surprised: “Oh! He is as bright as the sun!”
Prakāśānanda Saraswatī was also surprised. Prakāśānanda Saraswatī had heard that Śrī Chaitanyadev had come to Kashi and was turning all the Kashi-vāsīs, the residents of Kashi, into Vaiṣṇavas. Prakāśānanda was very angry about this and had told all his disciples, “Don’t associate with that Chaitanya!”
Without Prakāśānanda’s knowledge, a brāhmaṇ had invited Mahāprabhu to his assembly. Mahāprabhu did not actually want to go there and join the company of the māyāvādīs, but He felt He needed to distribute His mercy to Prakāśānanda Saraswatī for the satisfaction of His devotees. For that purpose He went there.
When Prakāśānanda saw Mahāprabhu’s divine effulgence and then His divine form sitting in a dirty place, he was stunned and thought, “Oh! How beautiful and attractive is the form of this boy!” He could not stay in his chair. He got up and said to Mahāprabhu, “Why are You sitting there? You are very nice-looking and Your form is very exalted. Please come inside. We are all gathered here. You are a sannyāsī of our sampradāya. You are a little young but You are very bright. Why are You sitting outside? Please come in and take a seat.”
Mahāprabhu said, “No, no, no. I am very insignificant and inferior. You are the sampradāya’s guru and everyone here is a very great paṇḍit. I am not qualified to join you.”
When Prakāśānanda saw Mahāprabhu’s great humility his mind softened. He took Mahāprabhu’s hand and said, “O Śrīpād! Please come inside and take a seat.”
After they came inside Prakāśānanda began to very affectionately question Mahāprabhu, “I have heard Your name. I know that You are a great paṇḍit and that You are a sannyāsī of our sampradāya. You have taken sannyās from the line of Bhāratī. That is not a high-class line of sannyās. It is a middle class, but You are certainly a member of our sampradāya. Why don’t You come to visit us? You should practise jñāna-yoga, read the Vedānta-darśana, and discuss it with us. That is the duty of a sannyāsī. You should regularly hear the Vedānta-darśana and preach Śaṅkar Āchārya’s teachings. You do not do that. Why? We cannot understand why You only chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra and dance. You are always chanting, dancing, crying, and laughing. Why do You always show Yourself in this way? Why are You always simply performing saṅkīrtan?”
Chant ‘Hare Kṛṣṇa’ and be happy
Mahāprabhu very humbly replied to Prakāśānanda Saraswatī, “O sir, what can I say? My mind was not good when I took sannyās. I needed relief from the mundane environment; My mind went in a very renounced way, and I could not stay in the gṛhastha-āśram. I came to My Guru and prayed, ‘Give Me sannyās.’ Also, when I was initiated I asked, ‘What is My duty?’ My Guru said,
mūrkha tumi, tomāra nāhika vedāntādhikāra
‘kṛṣṇa-mantra’ japa sadā,—ei mantra-sāra
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Ādi-līlā, 7.72)
“‘You are foolish and unqualified. It is not necessary for You to read anything. You have no qualification to hear or read the Vedānta-darśana. You will not be able to understand its meanings. But You are coming to me for some advice, so I must tell You something. What can You do? You can do simply what is necessary in this Age of Kali:
harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā
“‘No one can achieve liberation in this Age of Kali without chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra. Chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra is the only way to discover Your true nature and serve Kṛṣṇa eternally. If You can chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra without offence You will get a very good result. You will feel Kṛṣṇa-prema and get everything. Purely chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra is the goal of human life. You have a renounced nature, and You have fortunately taken a human birth. So chant ‘Hare Kṛṣṇa’ and be happy. That is sufficient for You. It is not necessary for You to read the Vedānta-darśana or anything else.’”
Dancing, chanting, crying, and roaring
Mahāprabhu continued His explanation to Prakāśānanda Saraswatī, “Then on the order of My Guru I began chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra. I did not know what I was doing, and I did not feel that I was chanting, or dancing, or crying. I was simply following the order of My Guru to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra. For his satisfaction I was chanting. As I chanted in this way power came to Me from My Guru, and the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra automatically appeared in My heart. I felt the presence of Kṛṣṇa within Me, and I felt many different things about Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa began to dance in My heart and then dance upon My tongue in the form of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra.
“I do not dance actually, or chant, or cry. From within My heart, Kṛṣṇa dances, and then His Name takes control of Me. You may see Me dancing, chanting, crying, roaring and doing so many things, but they are all the movements of Hari-nām. It is not actually My desire to do all these things. I am very shy to act in that way. But what can I do? I am following the order of My Guru Mahārāj. By his power this type of result is coming to Me and giving Me this type of mood.
“When this began happening to Me I thought I had become mad. I went back to My Gurudev and asked,
kibā mantra dilā, go̐sāñi, kibā tāra bala
japite japite mantra karila pāgala
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Ādi-līlā, 7.81)
“‘What kind of mantram have you given Me? I did not know how powerful this mantram was. When I chant it I become like a madman.’
“My Gurudev replied, ‘This is the actual result of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra. All mundanity stops if You chant this mantram properly. You are very fortunate that You have become filled with such transcendental knowledge and the full ecstasy of Kṛṣṇa.’
“My Gurudev encouraged Me in this way and also told Me to try to spread this consciousness to others. So what can I say?
nāma nāche jīva nāche nāche prema dhana
jagata nāchāya māyā kare palāyana
(Hari-nāma-chintāmaṇi: 1.2.58)
“‘When someone chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra without offence Kṛṣṇa will dance in their heart and then upon their tongue.’”
“When I began to follow the order of My Gurudev the Divine Name of Kṛṣṇa began dancing within My heart. As I continue to chant and dance by the will of Hari-nām whoever hears that dance of Kṛṣṇa in the form of sound vibration from My tongue also begins to dance. Then Kṛṣṇa enters their hearts and begins dancing there. And not only this, the wealth of Kṛṣṇa-prema that appears in everyone’s heart, that prema-dhana, also dances. I Myself do not know anything, but I am seeing that now the whole world has automatically begun dancing with Me by the will of Hari-nām and the wave of Kṛṣṇa-prema. Hari-nām has begun dancing and chanting from within My heart and automatically the attention of everyone’s mind has been overcome by that dancing movement. I am simply following the order of My Gurudev and all of this is happening. I do not actually know what is what.”71
The power of Brahma
Mahāprabhu expressed Himself in the assembly of sannyāsīs to Prakāśānanda Saraswatī in this way. Then Prakāśānanda argued, “Yes. This is good. But you must hear Vedānta-darśana.”
Mahāprabhu humbly replied, “Yes sir. You are master. You can read it, and I will hear from you.”
Prakāśānanda began to speak about the Vedānta-darśana, and while he spoke Mahāprabhu did not say anything. Finally Prakāśānanda asked, “Can You understand anything I am saying?”
Mahāprabhu replied, “By the mercy of My Gurudev I can understand the meanings of the sūtras from the Vedānta-darśana that you are reading. But I cannot understand the commentary you are giving.”
Prakāśānanda said, “What? You cannot understand my commentary?”
Mahāprabhu said, “No. I cannot understand, that is, I think what you are saying is wrong.”
Prakāśānanda began to debate, “Why? Why do You think it is wrong?”
Mahāprabhu said, “You are saying that the final attainment given in the Vedānta-darśana is nirākār, nirviśeṣ Brahma—formless, impersonal Brahma. But this is not true. I feel in My heart that Brahma has power, form, and beauty. And not only do I feel this in My heart; everyone who mixes with Me also feels it. So I must conclude that Brahma has a divine form and divine qualities. I also think that if Kṛṣṇa is merciful to you, then you will feel it also.”
In this way Mahāprabhu expressed His heart and through that explained to Prakāśānanda Saraswatī how Śaṅkar Āchārya’s interpretation of the Vedānta-darśana is wrong. After this Prakāśānanda was defeated. He held his tongue and the debate was finished. Even though he was defeated by Mahāprabhu, after the debate was finished, Prakāśānanda thought, “Oh! Mahāprabhu, how humble He is.”
“Why am I sitting on this throne?”
The meeting of Mahāprabhu and Prakāśānanda Saraswatī passed in this way. Another day Prakāśānanda saw Śrī Chaitanyadev going to take His bath in the Ganges. Mahāprabhu was dancing on His way, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa with a crowd of people dancing along behind Him. Prakāśānanda was stunned to see Mahāprabhu’s saṅkīrtan. From far away Prakāśānanda saw Mahāprabhu dancing in Kṛṣṇa-prema with so many pious souls in saṅkīrtan in the middle of the road. He was very attracted, and thought, “Oh! I need this actually! What have I been doing my whole life? I have been a sampradāya guru for so long, but I see now that I need what this young man has. He is following His Guru’s order and has become intoxicated with a mood of divine ecstasy. He dances and chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra as tears pour from His eyes. His whole body trembles and He perspires. All ecstatic symptoms appear in His body. He is so happy and joyful. What am I doing sitting in the chair of an āchārya?”
The supreme wealth
After seeing Mahāprabhu’s divine form in saṅkīrtan Prakāśānanda was heavily convinced that he could not remain in his position. Prakāśānanda thought that he would talk to Chaitanyadev when he saw the Lord again. Later when he saw Mahāprabhu coming down the road again chanting in a dancing mood, Prakāśānanda fell at Mahāprabhu’s lotus feet and took Mahāprabhu’s foot dust on his head. He said, “Oh! I am very foolish. You have everything and I have nothing. All ecstasy, joy, and happiness abide in Your body, and Your eyes show that. I have been practising jñāna-yoga for so long, but what have I got? Nothing. I have got nothing. I need Your mercy. You are the embodiment of Hari-nām-saṅkīrtan. You must be that, otherwise my mind could not have been attracted to You. And You must be Kṛṣṇa. You are distributing Kṛṣṇa consciousness to everyone, and it is not possible for anyone to do this except Kṛṣṇa Himself. Only Kṛṣṇa has the power to do that, so You must be nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa.” In this way Prakāśānanda took shelter at the lotus feet of Mahāprabhu.
Mahāprabhu said, “What are you doing? You are a sampradāya guru.”
Prakāśānanda prayed, “Prabhu, please do not cheat me now. I feel it is necessary to surrender to You, and I feel You are distributing the supreme wealth to all jīva-souls. Please do not deceive me now.”
Inconceivable conversion
There is a verse of Śrīla Bilvamaṅgal Ṭhākur which expresses the heart of Prakāśānanda Saraswatī at this time:
advaita-vīthī-pathikair upāsyāḥ
śaṭhena kenāpi vayaṁ haṭhena
dāsī-kṛtā gopa-vadhū-viṭena
(Śrīla Bilvamaṅgal Ṭhākur)
“I was a Brahma-jñānī, and I was following the conception of so ’ham: ‘I am Brahma.’ No one could defeat me or convince me of anything otherwise. I was happily situated with full regard in the conception of advaita-mārg [monism]. I was the worshipped headmaster of advaita-mārg, the guru of the sampradāya. I held the highest chair, and I sat on my throne in great satisfaction. But then all of a sudden Kṛṣṇa, the Gopa-vadhū-lampaṭ (cunning playful cowherd boy) attracted my mind with His qualities, beauty, glory, and love. By attracting my mind (śaṭhena) He tricked me and made me His maidservant. Kṛṣṇa is so merciful that He forcibly took my heart and engaged it in the service of the gopīs. He has not only made me His maidservant; He has captured my heart with His divine Pastimes and made me fall flat on the ground.”
This is Bilvamaṅgal Ṭhākur’s heart expression, and Prakāśānanda Saraswatī’s heart expression is very similar: “Suddenly Chaitanya Mahāprabhu came to Kashi and attracted my mind. He smashed my advaita (monistic) conception and made me His servant.”
It is greatly inconceivable to think that Prakāśānanda Saraswatī was transformed by Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu in this way, but already it has happened. Prakāśānanda Saraswatī clasped the lotus feet of Mahāprabhu and apologised: “I have made a great offence to You. You are doing what is actually necessary for everyone. Please give Your Hari-nām to me.” In this way Prakāśānanda Saraswatī re-took initiation (dīkṣā) from Chaitanya Mahāprabhu.
Through this example we can understand that it is not necessary to read the Vedānta or the Vedas or anything, and that it is not necessary to imagine or focus on anything external. In Kali-yuga it is only necessary to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa without offence under the guidance of our Gurudev. The proper and best ideal for everyone is to follow the order given by our Gurudev. We may not know how much we will be able to do that, but with our full energy—heart and soul—we must try. If we can proceed in that way without offence a good result will come to us. There is no doubt.
Service beyond surrender
In His conversation with Rāmānanda Rāy in Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu rejected the famous verse from Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā (18.66): sarva-dharmān parityajya Mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja. In Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa explained to Arjuna many things on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra. For our benefit He explained karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga, abhyāsa-yoga, bhakti-yoga, and so on. Then at the conclusion of Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa said,
sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śuchaḥ
(Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā: 18.66)
“You must avoid non-religion, and religion also. Exclusively take shelter at My lotus feet. If any sinful reactions come to you I will take care of them. Have no fear.”
This is the first and main task of our spiritual life. If we can take shelter at Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet then Kṛṣṇa will fully take our charge. Everyone generally thinks that this is the supreme, conclusive verse of Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā. But when Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu summarily rejects this verse, we are confused. Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu asked Rāmānanda Rāy about the ultimate goal of life, and step by step Rāmānanda Rāy offered progressive conclusions: varṇāśram-dharma, karma-miśra-bhakti, jñāna-miśrā-bhakti, yoga-miśra-bhakti, and so on. Mahāprabhu summarily rejected them all, including this celebrated verse of Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā, sarva-dharmān parityajya. Who can explain the cause of this? Only an expert like Śrīla Guru Mahārāj. I once asked Śrīla Guru Mahārāj, “Why did Mahāprabhu summarily reject this verse?”
Śrīla Guru Mahārāj explained, “This verse advises one to take shelter at Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet. Up to this point it is very nice advice, but what will one do once one has surrendered at Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet? That is not explained in this verse. Mahāprabhu taught exclusive devotion—surrendered life with service—but in this verse of Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā there is no explanation of how to lead a life of service. For that reason Mahāprabhu rejected it.”
Surrendered and alive with mercy
Later in their conversation Rāmānanda Rāy presented another verse to Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu which offered an explanation of how one can begin to actively lead a life of surrendered service to Kṛṣṇa:
jñāne prayāsam udapāsya namanta eva
jīvanti san-mukharitāṁ bhavadīya-vārtām
sthāne sthitāḥ śruti-gatāṁ tanu-vāṅ-manobhir
ye prāyaśo ’jita jito ’py asi tais tri-lokyām
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 10.14.3)
This verse explains, “Throw away whatever knowledge you have acquired prior to surrendering! Jñāne prayāsam udapāsya! Your mundane knowledge has no place in the plane of transcendental devotion. A surrendered soul should throw out not only his previous knowledge but also all attempts for acquiring any further mundane knowledge. Then he can submit himself fully and live a life of real devotion. This is the vital point, ‘Namanta eva jīvanti: be surrendered and alive with mercy. Fully surrender to Kṛṣṇa and chant His Holy Name.’
Sthāne sthitāḥ śruti-gatāṁ tanu-vāṅ-manobhir: you can stay in the jungle, or a house, or an ashram or the ocean, or anywhere; that is not a problem. Anywhere at any moment you can engage yourself physically, mentally, and verbally in Lord Kṛṣṇa’s service. This means chanting the Lord’s Holy Name, and through that ye prāyaśo ’jita jito ’py asi tais tri-lokyām: the Lord Himself will be attracted and bestow His mercy upon you.
“But san-mukharitāṁ bhavadīya-vārtām: the source of your spiritual connection with Kṛṣṇa and your practice of service to Him is the satām (sādhu), and without the sādhu’s connection you cannot connect with Kṛṣṇa, satisfy Kṛṣṇa, or fully attract His mercy. What you hear from the pure devotee, the sādhu, is the food with which you are alive in Kṛṣṇa consciousness; what you receive from the sādhu is your very spiritual existence.”
Nectar spilling everywhere
Śrīla Guru Mahārāj composed a verse that beautifully explains how we connect with the Lord and His service through the sādhu. This verse is the dearest and highest verse for me in life. Still so much light comes to me from this verse, and with that I am fully satisfied.
śrī-śrīmad-bhagavat-padāmbuja-madhu-svādotsavaiḥ ṣaṭ-padair
nikṣiptā madhu-bindavaś cha parito bhraṣṭa mukhāt guñjitaiḥ
yatnaiḥ kiñchid ihāhṛtāṁ nija-para-śreyo ’rthinā tan mayā
bhūyo-bhūya ito rajaṁsi pada-saṁlagnāni teṣaṁ bhaje
(Śrī Śrī Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam: 10.14)
When Śrīla Guru Mahārāj composed and finished his Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam he wrote this verse confessing, “What I have presented in Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam is not my own property. I have actually only collected this ecstatic property from the devotees.”
His expression is: “The super devotees are like bees always tasting the ecstatic, honey-like nectar of the lotus feet of Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is the cause of all causes (sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam), the Supreme Controller (Parameśvar), the origin who has no origin (anādi-ādiḥ). As a lotus is always full of nectar, so bee-like devotees are always collecting the nectar from the unlimited ocean of nectar that is the Lord’s lotus feet and tasting that through their super mood of devotion. As they taste that nectar they sing the glories of that nectar and their Master, Lord Kṛṣṇa.
“If anyone tastes honey and sings at the same time, then naturally a few drops of honey must fall down from his mouth as remnants. Devotees who ecstatically glorify their Lord—who are always drinking, and drinking, and drinking, and intoxicatedly glorifying their Lord—always spill many drops of nectar from their mouths in all directions as they dance and sing.
“Here in this book, Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam, I have collected those many drops of eternal, transcendental ecstasy that are falling from the mouths of the Lord’s devotees as their mercy. For both myself and you all I have collected those falling drops of nectar and made a plate for everyone to taste that nectar and be supremely benefitted. I am so grateful and indebted to all the devotees who glorify their Lord and taste the nectar of His lotus feet that here at the conclusion of my work, Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam, I now bow down to all of them again and again. Bhūyo-bhūya ito rajaṁsi pada-saṁlagnāni teṣaṁ bhaje: again and again I glorify the lotus feet of all of these devotees: the devotees who collect nectar directly from the Lord’s lotus feet, the devotees who drink the nectar collected from the Lord’s lotus feet, the devotees who catch and distribute the drops of nectar which fall from the mouths of the devotees drinking the nectar collected from the Lord’s lotus feet, and the devotees who accept that nectar which is offered to them after it has been collected, tasted, dropped, caught, and distributed. I take upon my head the dust of the feet of all of these sincere devotees, whose hearts are filled with divine hankering.”72
In this way Śrīla Guru Mahārāj finished his composition Śrī Śrī Prapanna-jīvanāmṛtam. More explanation of this verse is possible, but shortly I have explained something. Through this you can understand the explanation of śaraṇāgati that Śrīla Guru Mahārāj has given in his book, as well as the conclusion of Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu in His conversation with Rāmānanda Rāy: jīvanti san-mukharitāṁ bhavadīya-vārtām (SB:10.14.3), surrendered devotional life means living on the remnants of the devotees who live on the Lord’s remnants, living on the mercy of the devotees who live on the mercy they receive from the Lord.
Satisfying Kṛṣṇa’s devotees
The Lord’s devotees are not only worshippable; they are most worthy of our service. Lord Śiva has explained the significance of serving the Lord’s devotees.
ārādhanānāṁ sarveṣāṁ viṣṇor ārādhanaṁ param
tasmāt parataraṁ devi tadīyānāṁ samarchanam
Once Parvatī Devī asked her Lord, “Who is supremely worshippable?”
Lord Śiva said, “Viṣṇu is supremely worshippable. What question is there about that?”
Parvatī Devī thought, “I am not worshipping Lord Viṣṇu, I am serving my Lord, Śiva.” A little doubt came to her, “Is what I am doing right or wrong?”
Lord Śiva saw her face and said, “I am not saying I am a devotee of Viṣṇu, but that is actually who I am. So you have nothing to fear.”
Parvatī Devī thought, “My Lord, Śiva, is undoubtedly worshipping Viṣṇu. I am worshipping him. So that is the best for me.”
Tasmāt parataraṁ Devi Tadīyānāṁ samarchanam: Lord Śiva’s expression was, “Satisfying Viṣṇu’s devotees is even better than worshipping Viṣṇu Himself.”
Kṛṣṇa personally explains that service to His devotees is the best way to serve Him:
ye me bhakta-janāḥ pārtha na me bhaktāś cha te janāḥ
mad-bhaktānāṁ cha ye bhaktās te me bhakta-tamā matāḥ
Kṛṣṇa says, “I do not consider someone who thinks, ‘I am Kṛṣṇa’s devotee’ to really be My devotee. He is My devotee, but I do not consider him so much. I consider someone who is a devotee of My devotee to be My real devotee.”
Śrīla Guru Mahārāj very nicely explained Kṛṣṇa’s mood in this verse. Kṛṣṇa’s feeling is, “The flow of My mercy is always going everywhere to all of My devotees, but My devotees are constantly serving Me twenty-four hours a day and never giving Me a chance to worship or satisfy them. I always feel I am indebted to My devotees for their loving service, and when I do not get a chance to serve them I feel hopeless. When I see My devotees’ devotee serving My devotees I specially bestow My mercy upon them, and in that way I am able to serve My devotees.
“I also consider the service of My devotees’ devotee most valuable; the conditioned souls are suffering so much in the material world, and My devotees’ devotees try to collect those suffering souls and engage them in My service through their Gurudev, My devotee. I am always sad to see the conditioned souls’ sadness, and I am eager to serve My devotee. So I am especially interested in bestowing My mercy upon My devotees’ devotees, to nourish them in their distribution of the service of My devotee. That dispels all the suffering of the conditioned souls and satisfies My own desire to satisfy My devotees.”
In this way we can understand that serving Kṛṣṇa’s devotees is the best way to serve, and that our service to Kṛṣṇa’s devotees easily reaches Kṛṣṇa. If we are real worshippers of Kṛṣṇa, then we must try to satisfy Kṛṣṇa by serving His devotees.
The key to revelation
Devotee: Gurudev, what do you expect from me as your disciple?
Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj: As possible by you, always chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra without offence and try to serve Śrī Śrī Guru Gaurāṅga Gāndharvikā Giridhārī. If you have the opportunity to serve Them, do not waste that. Always remember your spiritual life by practising the nine forms of bhakti-yoga given in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam,
śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ smaraṇaṁ pāda-sevanam
archanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ sakhyam ātma-nivedanam73
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.5.23)
Among these, the process of śravaṇ-kīrtan is best: hear from Guru–Vaiṣṇava and chant the glories of Guru–Vaiṣṇava, the Lord, and the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra. Serve your Gurudev and your Śikṣā-gurus, the Vaiṣṇavas around you. If you proceed in that way you must be benefitted. Śravaṇa-kīrtana-jale karaye sechana (Cc: Madhya, 19.152): śravaṇ-kīrtan in the association of the devotees will best nourish us. If we hear and chant the Lord’s glories in the association of the sādhus, the illusory environment will not be able to attack us. But we must hear from a proper Vaiṣṇava and chant without making Vaiṣṇava-aparādh. If we can proceed in that way with good association the result of our practice will increase ten times more, or maybe a hundred times more.
Our practice in devotional life is always under the instruction of Śrīman Mahāprabhu and Śrīla Bhakti Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākur. Sometimes there is a little difference between Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur and Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur, but Śrīla Guru Mahārāj gave us our method according to Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur’s line. We follow that. What method others may follow I cannot say, but we follow the method given by our Guru Mahārāj.
ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ
(Śrī Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu: Pūrva-vibhāga, 2.234)
“Kṛṣṇa’s Name, Form, Qualities, and Pastimes cannot be grasped by our mundane senses, but They can be revealed to us through our service attitude.”
In this verse we find the key to Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur’s method, which Śrīla Guru Mahārāj followed and I am the example and witness to. Prabhupād Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur gave us the line that a service attitude (sevonmukhe) means the service of Guru–Vaiṣṇava. His line is that Kṛṣṇa’s Divine Name and so on will be revealed in your heart (svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ) through the service of Guru and Vaiṣṇava. Many Vaiṣṇavas may read many śāstras and follow many different religious processes in their life, but our line is that nothing is necessary except a life of service to Kṛṣṇa under the guidance of a proper Guru and Vaiṣṇava. We need only to try to practise Kṛṣṇa consciousness heart and soul under the guidance of a proper Guru or Vaiṣṇava. In that way we will proceed to our destiny in the plane of dedication, beyond the planes of exploitation and renunciation. Serving under the guidance of Guru–Vaiṣṇava brings us into that plane of dedication.
sadyo hṛdy avarudhyate ’tra kṛtibhiḥ śuśrūṣubhis tat-kṣaṇāt74
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 1.1.2)
Through surrender to Kṛṣṇa’s devotee gradually all property will come to us. Very easily and very suddenly all spiritual quality and qualification, which is very rare to receive, will appear in your heart. The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (10.80.34) says, “Guru-śuśrūṣayā yathā: service to Guru–Vaiṣṇava is our line of progress.” When we have the proper mood of surrender then we will engage in the practices of devotion under the guidance of a proper sādhu.
Connecting with the pure flow
Ataḥ Śrī-Kṛṣṇa-Nāmādi na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ: we cannot see Kṛṣṇa’s divine form or hear His Divine Name. If we try to go to Kṛṣṇa directly, overstepping the sādhu, we will never see Kṛṣṇa’s real form. We will only go down into the garbage of illusion (sahajiyāism) again and again. It is necessary to understand what the Holy Name of Kṛṣṇa is, and what it is not, if we actually want to chant the Holy Name. From our mundane position we do not understand Kṛṣṇa, but He can reveal Himself in our heart if we try to connect with Him with love, affection, chastity, and sincerity through the proper channel of His devotee.
The Holy Name appears in this world as the transcendental vibration form of the Lord, and that transcendental vibration appears through the channel of Guru-paramparā, through the heart of the Sādhu–Vaiṣṇava. Only a pure mood of devotion can inspire the Holy Name to descend, so if we connect ourselves with a devoted servitor of the Lord who has the pure mood of chanting, we can also come into connection with the Lord’s Holy Name.
If we can receive the Holy Name from our Gurudev and remember the mood and process in which our Gurudev and the great Vaiṣṇavas chanted the Holy Name, then the Holy Name will gradually reveal Himself in our hearts. On our own we are not qualified to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra, but through the connection, inspiration, and guidance of the sādhu the mood and qualification to perfectly chant the Holy Name will come to us.
Proper conception
Śrīla Gaura Kiśor Dās Bābājī Mahārāj was a very highly elevated sādhu with a very renounced mentality. He was always deeply connected with the Lord’s eternal Pastimes in the transcendental world and feeling separation from Kṛṣṇa. He lived in isolation from society and sometimes would call out to the Lord spontaneously. He was a pure Vaiṣṇava who chanted the pure Holy Name.
Once someone heard the glories of Bābājī Mahārāj and began to imitate him. That person built a hut near Bābājī Mahārāj and began copying the practices and activities of Bābājī Mahārāj. When Bābājī Mahārāj heard of this he said that this man should not become an imitationist. He said to him, “You are chanting the Lord’s Name and living in a hut, but you are not really chanting to please the Lord. You are seeking name and fame (pratiṣṭhā) in this world. You are trying to become famous as a perfected saintly person (siddha-mahāpuruṣ), and for that purpose you are chanting and showing yourself in this way. Your activities will neither be successful nor give you proper devotional results.
“If an unmarried woman goes to a labour room to produce a child and shows so many symptoms of giving birth, will a child be born? Never! First a woman is married, then she mixes with her husband, then she becomes pregnant, then a baby begins to grow in her womb, and then, after two hundred and eighty days, she will produce a child. When the time comes for the woman to give birth it will not be necessary to tell her, ‘Now you should go to the labour room.’ Like an unmarried woman going to a labour room you have foolishly moved into a hut and begun to show to others that you are chanting, ‘Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa’. You may show many symptoms of ecstasy or renunciation, but your activities will not produce anything real. You don’t have any real connection with Kṛṣṇa or Kṛṣṇa-nām: you have not served any of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees or understood their devotional mood of chanting. You are only pursuing your mundane fame.”
This is a very hard but also very clear example for us. If we are sincere and actually want to satisfy Kṛṣṇa through our devotional life, then we will always try to serve Him under the guidance of our Gurudev in the association of sādhus.
Following versus imitating
We must approach Kṛṣṇa and chant His Holy Name in the proper channel. There is a systematic way for us to proceed in our spiritual life:
ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-saṅgo ’tha bhajana-kriyā
tato ’nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt tato niṣṭhā ruchis tataḥ75
(Śrī Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu: Pūrva-vibhāga, 4.15)
First firm faith in Kṛṣṇa consciousness (śraddhā) is necessary. Through our sincerity and śraddhā we will get the association of a proper sādhu, not an imitation sādhu. If we do not serve a real Guru or a real Vaiṣṇava we will be cheated sometimes. A real sādhu serves Kṛṣṇa twenty-four hours a day, and through a real sādhu’s association our faith, service attitude, and devotional property will increase. We will be inspired by the sādhu to serve Kṛṣṇa twenty-four hours a day. But Śrīmad Bhāgavatam instructs us that we should not immediately serve the Lord in the same way that the sādhu does:
īśvarāṇāṁ vachaḥ satyaṁ tathaivācharitaṁ kvachit
teṣāṁ yat sva-vacho-yuktaṁ buddhimāṁs tat samācharet
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 10.33.31)
“Do not imitate what the sādhu does. A sādhu may do something that is helpful for someone in a higher stage but not helpful for someone in a lower stage. Sādhu-saṅga means trying to practise our spiritual life under the guidance of a sādhu. Sādhu-saṅga means following the instructions given by the sādhu, not imitating the sādhu’s behaviour.”
Love and affection
If someone can properly follow the sādhu’s instructions and proceed under the sādhu’s guidance, then they will be engaged in bhajana-kriyā, real spiritual practising life. Through proper bhajana-kriyā we will come to the stage of anartha-nivṛtti, the removal of our unwanted habits. In the stage of anartha-nivṛtti our hankering for mundane things will leave us, our senses will become controlled, and our conditioned nature will be removed. Anartha-nivṛtti will not happen, however, unless we proceed in our bhajana-kriyā with strong faith, love, and affection.
For anartha-nivṛtti to come to us, love and affection for other practitioners is necessary. Practising life is ‘suffering life’—practising life is not an easy life. If we do not have love and affection for other practitioners it will be too painful and we will not be able to proceed successfully. Why should we suffer more than we already are in this mundane world? We should be humble, be tolerant, give honour to others, and make everyone our friend. In this way we can proceed happily in our practising life. Someone may come and abuse us, “Oh! You are Vaiṣṇavas. You are very bad. You are doing this and that.” But we will not be influenced by their comments if we have love and affection for our practising life and other practitioners. Someone may make comments, but we will proceed systematically through sincere and chaste service with love and affection.
Beyond māyā’s jurisdiction
If we engage in our spiritual practices of chanting the Holy Name, serving the sādhus, cleaning the temple, doing parikramā of the temple, and so on, with the desire to fulfil the instructions of our guardians—Sādhu, Guru, and Vaiṣṇava—with love, affection, and faith, then anartha-nivṛtti will automatically come to us. That is real exclusive devotional practice. Thereafter the stages of niṣṭhā (firm service), and ruchi (taste) will come to us.
Until the stage of ruchi no one is in a safe position; there is still possibility of falling down. During the stage of bhajana-kriyā we cannot say someone is really qualified. And even after the stage of anartha-nivṛtti, when material attachment has gone, we are still bound by the reactions to our previous sinful activities. Only when ruchi comes is everything cleared. Māyā thinks, “Aho! I must run away. He is not under my jurisdiction.” When ruchi, loving attachment for the Lord’s service, comes into our heart, then we will be safe.
raso ’py asya paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate76
(Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā: 2.59)
When we come to the stage of ruchi we will feel, “Oh! This is very beautiful and without this I cannot live.” When such taste will come to us we will be fully situated in devotion. Then all the auspicious symptoms of bhāva, prīti, prema, and so on will gradually appear in our heart.
In this way we understand the teachings of our Guru Mahārāj and Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur: “Serve Kṛṣṇa, serve Guru, serve the Vaiṣṇava, and serve the Mission of our Gurudev. Gurudev gives us service that is satisfying to Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa is satisfied when we serve Guru–Vaiṣṇava.”
Emotion and devotion
Question: Can you please explain how we can avoid confusing emotion with devotion?
Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj: Sometimes we are practising and serving emotionally. That means we are blindly following our mind’s idea of what is good and bad. Sometimes our mind tells us something is good and we follow that idea of our mind. Acting in that way we do many things emotionally, but those activities may only be śubha-karma (pious acts). They will not be actual devotion.
Śrīla Guru Mahārāj gave an example: Gurudev may perform pūjā and order us, “Bring some water.” We will then bring some water to Gurudev, but Gurudev may suddenly change his order and say, “Oh, water is not necessary now. Bring some flowers.”
If we say to Gurudev, “You ordered me to bring some water. I have followed your order to bring you water” and we give Gurudev that water, then our action will be śubha-karma. It will not be devotion (bhakti).
With primary enthusiasm we may want to do more and more service to Guru–Vaiṣṇava. But in the primary stage we won’t be attentive to see whether our service is appropriate, to see whether it is actually pleasing to Guru–Vaiṣṇava, to see whether it is what they actually want. In the primary stage we do not consider these things and only think that our own activity will take us to a higher position. We do not consider how and why the advice of Guru–Vaiṣṇava is coming to us.
Actual devotion means trying to satisfy Guru–Vaiṣṇava according to their instructions. A proper and attentive mood of devotion is to always keep our eyes open to see if what we are doing is really satisfying to our Master or not. Gurudev has told us, “Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.” But if I am in a place where Gurudev is discussing something important with some Vaiṣṇavas, and I begin making noise, “Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma Hare Hare” then that is not chanting in a mood of devotion. Devotional mood means considering whether Gurudev is happy or not with our activity. It is true that Gurudev has ordered us, “Chant Hare Kṛṣṇa loudly”, but it is always necessary to consider the place, time, and circumstances, and then wisely try to do service. This is devotion.
Heart-melting association
A proper Guru or Vaiṣṇava has no self-interest or self-satisfying tendency. Such a real devotee has no interest in being served. Rather he is always engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service. If we follow the service-order and guidance of a proper Vaiṣṇava to engage in service of Kṛṣṇa or His devotees, then our action will enter the category of devotion through that proper Vaiṣṇava’s qualification. Devotion begins by offering ourselves to Kṛṣṇa by taking a vow that we will not do anything that is not in service to Kṛṣṇa. But Kṛṣṇa is transcendental, and we cannot offer anything to Him directly. We do not have that capacity or qualification. We must offer our service to Kṛṣṇa through Guru–Vaiṣṇava—through the devotees who have the capacity to directly serve Kṛṣṇa. When you serve Kṛṣṇa under their guidance all responsibility for Kṛṣṇa’s service goes to them, and all the proper results of service come to you. Kṛṣṇa knows you are serving Guru–Vaiṣṇava for His satisfaction, not for their personal interest, so Kṛṣṇa must be satisfied with you.
Sometimes we may be going on in our practising life but feel that we are not progressing. We may be engaged in service and chanting the Lord’s Holy Name but feel that our faith is not becoming stronger, joy is not coming into our heart, and our mind is not becoming fulfilled by our devotional mood. At that time we must try to get the association of a good Vaiṣṇava. We must search for a real practitioner who is practising Kṛṣṇa consciousness twenty-four hours a day and get his association.
dadāti pratigṛhṇāti guhyam ākhyāti pṛchchhati
bhuṅkte bhojayate chaiva ṣaḍ-vidhaṁ prīti-lakṣaṇam
(Śrī Upadeśāmṛta: 4)
Sādhu-saṅga means associating with the sādhu like he is our own relative, associating with him in an affectionate, regardful way. This means giving him gifts (materials for service), feeding him, asking him questions, taking his advice, and so on. Through this type of affectionate association with the sādhu we will be able to understand and feel why we are not inspired in our practising life. If there is any offensive mood within us, the good association of the sādhu will wash it away. The association of a great sādhu can melt our hard heart and inspire us with a mood of real dedication. When we see the sādhu engaged in the Lord’s service twenty-four hours a day, our hearts will become joyful. We will feel much inspiration to follow him and connect with the devotional plane ourselves.
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ77
(Śrī Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu: Pūrva-vibhāga, 2.234)
Devotion is so sweet, and gradually in the finest, most affectionate, and lovely way it will reveal itself in our heart by the grace of the Lord’s devotee. Through the service and grace of the Lord’s devotees we will see the Lord’s divine play expressed everywhere. Through our tendency to serve, and our service to Guru–Vaiṣṇava, we will be cleanly and clearly qualified. Nowhere will we not see the sweet, affectionate, and lovely movements of the Lord’s transcendental service world.