From a lecture by His Divine Grace
Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj
It can sometimes be very hard for us to accept the different natures of the devotees in this Krishna consciousness Mission. If someone will stick to only one attitude then he must be doomed to failure. There are many devotees — and many different natures. As an example you can see in our own Sri Guru-varga that Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur has one kind of nature, Srila Gaura Kisor Das Babaji Maharaj has another kind of nature, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur’s nature is of another type, and Vamsi Das Babaji Maharaj’s nature is yet another. But they are all siddha-mahapurusas [perfected souls]. Also Srila Jagannath Das Babaji Maharaj has another type of nature, and our Srila Guru Maharaj yet another. So who are you to follow?
You cannot follow the activities of anybody, but it will be good for your practitioner’s life if only you take the guidelines from your Gurudev and do not try to imitate anyone.
We heard that Vamsi Das Babaji Maharaj ate fish and would often smoke a water-pipe. He would light the tobacco first, offer it to Sri Sri Nitai Gaura, and then he himself would take that. But if you try to imitate him you must fall down.
Devotee: Did They accept that offering?
Srila Govinda Maharaj: Yes, They accepted. Vamsi Das Babaji Maharaj’s position was such that he was a Paramahamsa Vaisnava in vatsalya-rasa, so Nitai Gaura could not ignore his offering. But you cannot imitate him.
Another nature was that of Gaura Kisor Das Babaji Maharaj. He was very renounced and would take as his prasadam only some soft rice with one green chilli. He would keep that rice in a pot for three or four days and each day he would take some from there along with one green chilli. He would take such type of prasadam, but he would always be engaged in his bhajan. And where would he be doing his bhajan? In a public latrine. His residence was a cubicle of a public latrine. People will not go to such a place because it is very dirty, but he lived there. You also cannot imitate him.
An example of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur’s nature is that in his earlier days he lived in the place where now stands the Sri Chaitanya Math, Mayapur. During the time of chaturmasya he would not use his hand to eat but he would take directly with his mouth from the ground, and he would chant one crore of Hari-nam [ten million Holy Names] in one month. In those earlier days he would continuously chant Hari-nam and would take only three or four mouthfuls of food; and that too directly from the ground. But in his later days he lived in the Gaudiya Math with many materials and many things. You cannot imitate him.
Our Srila Guru Maharaj also in his earlier days in the Gaudiya Math would take very watery dal and poor quality mashed vegetables along with rice. At that time he was leading a very renounced life. Later when I joined here I saw that Srila Guru Maharaj for several years daily took only 100 grams of rice, 250 grams of milk, and one potato. But during his later years I also saw that he would take prasadam without restriction.
I had the direct association of Srila Guru Maharaj for the last forty-two years until his disappearance and therefore I know firsthand much about his nature. From my first day here I very fortunately received the affection of Srila Guru Maharaj and he engaged me in his personal service. If he had a headache, I would massage him. I would also massage his feet and give nerve massage. At that time no woman, including his sister, Rama Didi, could go inside Srila Guru Maharaj’s room.
On my first day at the Math I saw Rama Didi arrive from her father-in-law’s house. From outside Srila Guru Maharaj’s door she asked, «Maharaj how are you? I am Rama offering you my obeisances.»
Srila Guru Maharaj then said, «O, Rama has come!» But Rama Didi could not enter his room. Srila Guru Maharaj asked her, «O Rama, come and see this boy. What qualities do you see in him? Do you think he can stay here in the Math and maintain his devotional life in our line?»
Rama Didi looked into Srila Guru Maharaj’s room from outside and replied, «Oh, this boy appears to be very nice. I think that by your mercy and grace he will be able to stay and maintain his spiritual life.» I can remember that scene: Rama Didi was wearing white cloth and her age at that time was twenty-nine.
When Krishnamayi Didi’s son and son-in-law both died she was in great distress and came here to take shelter. Her son and myself were both the same age. Krishnamayi Didi saw that Srila Guru Maharaj gave me much affection, therefore she treated me as her son and would always give me much enthusiasm.
She came from a very high family. Both her father’s family and her husband’s family were very high brahmans, but they were smarta, and so none of them liked the Vaisnava Temples. Krishnamayi Didi was previously coming here but hiddenly. Because her family were smarta they did not give her permission to come, but she came anyway. Her family knew Srila Guru Maharaj since childhood as Srila Guru Maharaj was their relative and also came from a very prominent smarta brahman family. Outwardly, therefore, they did not say anything wrong to Krishnamayi Didi, but they expressed their objection in many ways. She did not listen to them, and told, «I have a great Guru, and I cannot leave his lotus feet.»
When her very good son-in-law died she became very distressed and could not remain living in her house. She came to take shelter of Srila Guru Maharaj and offered her house to him. She said to me, «Please sell my house.» I eventually was able to sell it for a good price and, according to her wish, gave the money to Srila Guru Maharaj. He made one small single-roomed bungalow for her to live in. It is known as Rama Dham, and is where she now stays.
The first lady to help Srila Guru Maharaj in the Math was Rama Didi. When she would go to stay with her relatives, Krishnamayi Didi would help to look after Srila Guru Maharaj. It was necessary to cook in a very precise way for Srila Guru Maharaj otherwise he would get a headache. Krishnamayi Didi learnt to cook for him from Rama Didi. We would offer Srila Guru Maharaj her preparations, but after maybe two or three years she herself would take him his prasadam and offer it directly to him.
At that time Srila Guru Maharaj could not see very well. One day Krishnamayi Didi was giving something to Srila Guru Maharaj and by chance her finger and Srila Guru Maharaj’s finger touched. Immediately she paid her obeisances to Srila Guru Maharaj saying, «Oh, I have made a great offence!»
I was there and saw Srila Guru Maharaj smile a little, thinking, «She has acted perfectly.»
Srila Guru Maharaj was becoming old, his pulse and blood pressure were low, and his health was deteriorating. And after that incident Krishnamayi Didi became close in the service to Srila Guru Maharaj.
So from that first situation where no lady could enter his room we have seen how presently Krishnamayi Didi began rendering service to Srila Guru Maharaj, and later Rama Didi and so many others also came and served him in various ways.
Those early days were also very difficult for the devotees. Even Srila Guru Maharaj’s godbrothers would not walk along the veranda outside his room for fear of disturbing him even though they were living in the adjacent room to his quarters. At that time Srila Guru Maharaj was living in the room where Sripad Aranya Maharaj now stays. Mahaprabhu was in the next room, and the devotees occupied the most easterly room.
So, it is necessary to complete the first lesson, the second lesson, and then the third lesson. Only after that can you safely read the fourth lesson — to do otherwise is dangerous. It is necessary to know everything step by step. It is very dangerous if by reading only something anyone will think, «I know everything.» It is necessary to know fully and then someone can say something safely.
Now also, seeing the intention of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad, another situation has come: the West and the East are mixing together. So many people from many varied cultures are coming to join Krishna consciousness, and as a result many of the main traditional standards have become relaxed. Seeing Srila Prabhupad’s intention to accommodate everyone it became necessary to change some of the main rules and regulations.
One day Sripad Bhakti Hrday Bon Maharaj brought two Western devotees to the Bag Bazaar Gaudiya Math. They went to bathe at the big cement water tub, but the two of them jumped into that water tank stark naked as everybody watched with surprise. The tank was set beside a wall, and from the opposite side of the wall the neighbours also could see easily, and they objected. A report came to Srila Prabhupad, «Maharaj, they do not know the courtesy of India. Following the custom of their own country they jumped naked into the water tank.»
Hearing this news, Srila Prabhupad replied, «Don’t stop them, that is their habit, but make there a shed so people cannot see but they can play.»
No doubt it was explained to them what is courtesy in India and therefore bathing naked should not be done, but Srila Prabhupad’s thinking was, «Again other Western devotees will come and they also will not know the local customs. For everyone to learn immediately by hearing is not possible, so first a shed should be erected in order to prevent others from being offended, and then we can try to teach the newcomer Westerners.» In this way when the Western and Eastern cultures mixed there has been a relaxation of rules and regulations.
There is another example that many of you have been witness to. One Western lady disciple of Srila Swami Maharaj was staying here. During that time she would daily make some pizza and other offerings for Sripad Jayatirtha Maharaj, but she very much wanted that her offerings be also accepted by Srila Guru Maharaj. Srila Guru Maharaj was from a very high smarta brahman family and that lady was very unhappy and crying because she was unable to offer any preparations to him. Seeing her mood I told her one day, «After Srila Guru Maharaj has taken his bath and completed his japa, bring your offering plate and I shall make some arrangement.»
She came with her plate of pizza, vegetables, and other things, and duly waited. I talked with Srila Guru Maharaj and tried to change his mood in various ways. He was happily awaiting his prasadam and I told him, «Srila Guru Maharaj, this lady is a disciple of Srila Swami Maharaj and she is very auspicious. Every day she makes an offering for Jayatirtha Maharaj and she will be very happy if you will also take something from the preparations she has made.»
He asked what was there and I explained that it was all very acceptable, that she is a disciple of Srila Swami Maharaj and that he could accept her offering. He then asked, «Where is the plate?» and she very happily offered that to Srila Guru Maharaj, and he took a little for her satisfaction.
We have seen Rama Didi fearfully standing outside Srila Guru Maharaj’s room and later we have seen the changed situation of that Western lady devotee offering her cooking to Srila Guru Maharaj, and him accepting it. But whom shall we follow? Shall we follow Gaura Kisor Das Babaji, or Srila Guru Maharaj, or Swami Maharaj, or whom?
One day I was in the Chandrodaya Mandir, Mayapur, in order to deliver an invitation to Srila Swami Maharaj. He was seated on an asan and I was seated opposite him. He was talking very happily with me and he described the activities of his preaching mission in the West by way of a report for Srila Guru Maharaj. At that time a very active and jolly girl came quickly and took something from the shelf behind Srila Swami Maharaj. She was very pretty and Srila Swami Maharaj asked me, «Do you know where I found this girl?» Very loudly he told me, «I collected her from a Hawaiian beach but now she is a very good devotee and is serving nicely, sometimes even serving me personally.»
He told me that she would every day see the devotees giving him a foot massage, but she was very unhappy because she herself was not allowed to do so. He explained, «One day she was crying in front of me, ‘Oh, I want to massage your feet.’ So on that day I gave her my feet and said, ‘Today you massage them.’» In this way Srila Swami Maharaj very happily related this incident.
So we can see that the traditional customs of conduct have changed now. But it was Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad who gave us this seed. When there was a proposal to serve non-vegetarian food in order to attract Indian students and Westerners to hear about Mahaprabhu at a student home connected with the Gaudiya Math, Srila Guru Maharaj commented to Srila Prabhupad, «No Maharaj, if you make outside arrangements for the students to take their customary Western food in our student home it will not appear to be good in the eyes of other Indians and they will insult us.»
But Srila Prabhupad replied, «I considered this point one thousand births ago. For the service of Krishna we must be Vaikuntha-vrtti.» Vaikuntha-vrtti means that we can do everything for the service of Krishna. This type of mood is necessary.
But sometimes the devotees misuse that mood. I heard from some devotees that during their preaching activities they were living in a hotel. They rented one room for four persons but, by deceiving the proprietor, eight devotees used that one room along with its facilities. Not only that, but when leaving, they stole the blankets, towels, and other things, saying to themselves that those items are all the property of Krishna. They stole with the conception, «Oh, everything is for the service of Krishna and therefore we can take it.» In this way they misused that principle.
Swami Maharaj said, «Everything belongs to Krishna and is for Krishna, therefore you can do anything for the service of Krishna.» That was his order but they think it also includes stealing. That is misuse. The environment must be maintained so that we shall not disturb others. Without disturbing the rules and others, you can maintain your devotional life: that is the teaching of Mahaprabhu, Srila Swami Maharaj, and Srila Guru Maharaj. Misuse is a disturbance to others. Not only that but they will think the devotees to be thieves. In future they will think in this way and a bad name will come to the devotees. But those devotees were very enthusiastic and did not care about that.
I heard from one lady devotee also a story that an old man showed her a hundred dollar note and asked her to sit and talk with him. He was feeling very lonely and offered her the note. This lady devotee then sat there and after talking only a few words together she snatched that hundred dollar note from his hand and ran away. In this way sometimes many things happen and the collection by the devotees goes in a wrong way.
When a mission is very big it is difficult to prevent some wrong conduct from happening. Where only ten or twenty persons live, the rules and regulations can all be maintained nicely, but where thousands of people live, there must come some breakdown of the rules. No doubt there are basic guidelines, but the devotees are very enthusiastic. They are willing to jump into the poisonous Kaliya Lake expecting Krishna’s protection.
Bhakti Vinod Thakur said,
raksa karabi tuhu̐ nischaya jani
pana karabu̐ hama yamuna-pani
«I can easily drink the poisonous water of the Yamuna because I know that Krishna must protect me.» In this way enthusiasm first comes. Utsahan nischayad dhairyat. This is one of the first symptoms of devotion.
Utsaha-mayi, ghana-tarala, vyudha-vikalpa, visaya-sangara, niyamaksama, taranga-rangini: many kinds of nature come in the practitioner’s life. The first life is utsaha, they become very enthusiastic and sometimes do some wrong. It is necessary to gain understanding gradually, then less difficulty will come. It is impossible for us to know everything, and no doubt some difficulty must come, but in the proper way we shall try to know what is devotional life, and in that way less difficulty will come to us.
Srila Guru Maharaj always told that we need a living representative in order to harmonise and adjust things for time and place. In other words, we always need a guardian.