Sometimes it is necessary to have an ista-gosthi. An ista-gosthi is when devotees gather together and discuss various questions they may have. This is also an opportunity to harmonise difficulties between devotees.
After one or two years of my joining here at Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, we would regularly hold an ista-gosthi. Lunch would be finished by 1 p.m., and then the ista-gosthi would last for the hour between 2 and 3 p.m. All the devotees staying in the Math would sit together and attend. Sometimes Srila Guru Maharaj would join the group, and he had a special way to manage us.
The general understanding is that a devotee is one who is fully devoted to the Lord. But in Vaisnavism, the real devotee of Krishna is considered to be he who is fully devoted to Sri Guru-Vaisnava. Krishna Himself said,
ye me bhakta-janah partha ne me bhaktas cha te janah
mad bhaktanam cha ye bhaktas te me bhakta-tama matah
«Who is devoted to Me is not My real devotee, but one who is devoted to My devotee is My real devotee.»
By means of the ista-gosthis, Srila Guru Maharaj gave much chance for the devotees to praise each other. Sometimes two devotees may clash with one another, each having a different opinion. One would want to go in one direction, the other in another direction, thus their minds would clash, and they may insult each other. Srila Guru Maharaj would harmonise them by calling them both and asking each to praise the other: «Describe the good qualities of this devotee.» In this way, Srila Guru Maharaj taught us how to praise Vaisnavas without looking at their faults.
Srila Guru Maharaj used the expression, «You are not a drain inspector.» He would explain, «You are a searcher, a searcher of Krishna consciousness. Your position is not that of a drain inspector. An ant searches for a hole to use for his own purpose. Without searching for any holes, see only the good qualities of the Vaisnavas and follow that.»
In this way, Srila Guru Maharaj organised the classes of ista-gosthi so that the devotees could come together and praise each other. It was also a chance for devotees to ask any questions they may have. Srila Guru Maharaj would encourage the devotees to answer each others’ questions. In this way, he managed our minds. We must be tolerant, we must be humble, and we must give honour to other devotees.
If we read Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta, we can understand all the siddhanta. But in which way can we follow the line of Srila Rupa Goswami and the other goswamis? This we can easily understand through the books of Srila Guru Maharaj. There are many questions answered there.
I have not had a chance to read all the books of Srila Guru Maharaj, but I am very satisfied with their titles. When I hear the name of the book The Loving Search for the Lost Servant, I can immediately remember Krishna’s Pastimes as described in Sri Brhad-bhagavatamrtam. In The Loving Search for the Lost Servant, there is a very nice picture of Krishna embracing a lost servant, and this is the theme of its title.
Only love can give us all the wealth of transcendental happiness, but in the material conception, only its shadow is found, and it is bad. We cannot see everything of the origin in the shadow. In the negative world, all must be negative, and in the positive world, all are positive.
In this mundane world, paramour love is not praiseworthy, but the opposite is the case in the transcendental world. The only enjoyer there is Krishna. Everyone is engaged in supplying materials for His enjoyment, and therefore everything there is very joyful, auspicious, and transcendental.
Krishna engages in a loving search for His own satisfaction. In the positive world, the loving search is in a positive way. Krishna is the enjoyer, but He feels some deficiency in enjoyment because His servant is lost. He has everything, but He wants to give enjoyment to His lost servant.
He gave freedom to us, but we misused it and therefore came within the mundane world. We try to enjoy mundane things, and therefore we are also searching. We are searching for happiness, but happiness is not found here. So, we are unfulfilled. A person here feels, «If I have five rupees, I will be happy.» Then, having five rupees, «If I have ten rupees, I will be more happy.» Then, «A hundred rupees is necessary, then I’ll be happy.» Similarly, we try to collect for ourselves kanak, kamini, and pratistha (wealth, enjoyment, and fame), but always we become dissatisfied.
te tam bhuktva svarga-lokam visalam
ksine punye martya-lokam visanti
«After enjoying that great, extensive, heavenly happiness, the residents of heaven, with the depletion of their piety, then enter the human plane.»
abrahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino ’rjuna
We are moving in such a way throughout the mundane world, the brahmanda. But Krishna is searching for us: «Where is that soul who misused his freedom?» He sees everything, but He does not interfere. The only reason He does not interfere is that He wants that each one will willingly serve Him.
When someone crosses over illusion and enters the transcendental service world, particularly the super-service section which is under the guidance of madhura-rasa, Krishna immediately embraces that devotee, «Oh, after so long I am seeing you. I know service to Me is your life’s goal, and now after so long you have come back to your home. I have been always wondering when you will come.» Such is Krishna’s nature.
In Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta, it is related how Sri Gopalji hiddenly stayed on Giriraj Govardhan, and how, when Madhavendra Puri came nearby, He supplied him some milk and then gave a dream to him, saying, «I am waiting for you and the time that you will come here, take Me out, and arrange My seva. I have to undergo so much austerity here. In the winter, I have no clothes; in the summer, I have no fan. Every day, no one comes to feed Me. I am fasting, but every day I am waiting for the day you will come and take Me, and give Me nourishment.»
om purnam adah purnam idam purnat purnam udachyate
purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate
The Lord is full. He is full of everything, but His deficiency is found in love. It is not actually a deficiency, but it is His Pastime, His lila. He is feeling deficiency, and when His servitors serve Him, Krishna happily accepts and gives in return the opportunity of more and more service. But until that point when the servitor comes to willingly serve Him, Krishna waits for that lost servant.
Krishna is full of joy, ecstasy, and everything, but it is His Pastime that He wants to play. Therefore, there must be both positive and negative, otherwise He cannot play. In the positive world is also one kind of ‘negativeness’, otherwise He cannot play, and that is called separation. Srila Guru Maharaj is living and present here today, but we are unable to see his form. In this way, in a negative way, we feel Srila Guru Maharaj’s presence, but it is also positive. In the positive world, everything is positive, but when the play will take place, a type of negativity must come. That ‘negative’ is not like the negativity of this mundane plane. The negative of the higher plane is always helping the positive. To the degree of its necessity, ‘negativity’ will come, and that is called separation.
Union in separation is the topmost ideal of the transcendental world. For the play of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, separation gives more and more ecstasy.