Diary of a Traveling
HH Indradyumna Maharaj
The auspicious month of Kartika, which began on November 1, is attracting pilgrims from all over India to Vrindavan. Unfortunately, not many ISKCON devotees have come, obviously due to the threat of terrorism. The only advantage seems to be that Vrindavan is relatively quiet now, and in such a tranquil environment it is easier to fix one's mind on hearing and chanting, the very purposes for which I have come here.
I must admit it hasn't been easy disciplining myself to increase my rounds and sit for many hours a day reading and learning verses. The mind is very much like a muscle; if one doesn't use it for some time atrophy sets in, and one has to gradually build up the mind's strength in order to comfortably sit and hear for long periods of time. Only after many days of practice have I again developed a taste for hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta. Now each morning, I wake up looking forward to absorbing myself in the nectar of those two beautiful scriptures, and wonder how I went on without doing so for much of the year. Of course, I know the answer - I was busy with so many other services. But my hope (and prayer) is that when I leave Vrindavan in mid-December, I will find time in my intense travels to study one or two hours a day, or at least follow Canakya Pandit's advice to all aspiring transcendentalists:
"Let not a single day pass without your learning a verse, a half a verse, a fourth of it, or even one letter of it; nor without attending to charity, study and other pious activity."
[Niti Sastra, Chapter 2, Verse 13]
Late in the afternoons, I generally try to visit one or two holy tirthas in the dhama for additional inspiration. As a result, I now have a fairly good idea of where many of the sacred spots are in Vrindavan, and by tagging along with Deena Bandhu prabhu, my god-brother who has for years been taking devotees on pilgrimage around Vraja, I am gradually learning the pastimes that take place in the dhama. It seems to me that, as devotees, we must all must be familiar with Vrindavan's holy tirthas, as this is the very abode we seek to enter when we leave these mortal frames. If we do not know these things, constantly remember them and, most important, develop an attachment to them, what will be the impetus to ascend here at the moment of death? In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna helps us by revealing some secrets of the spiritual sky:
na tad bhasayate suryo
na sasanko na pavakah
yad gatva na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
"That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world."
Purport: "One should be captivated by this information. He should desire to transfer himself to that eternal world and extricate himself from this false reflection of reality. For one who is too much attached to this material world, it is very difficult to cut that attachment, but if he takes to Krsna consciousness there is a chance of gradually becoming detached." [Bhagavad-gita 15.6]
When several devotees from my festival tour in Poland, including Vara-nayaka, Jayatam, Nandini, Radha Sakhi Vrinda and Rasamayi, arrived in Vrindavan, I requested Deena Bandhu to escort us on several parikramas. He first took us to Badrikasrama, in a remote corner of Vrindavan close to the Rajasthan border. Of course, the original Badrikasrama is high in the Himalayas, but Deena Bandhu explained that by the mercy of Krsna, all the holy places in India are simultaneously situated in Vraja. For this reason alone, one need not visit any other holy tirtha. I was amazed, though, when after traveling in a van for three hours we arrived at "Badrikasrama" and found that it was indeed a hilly area covered with trees, in contrast to Vrindavan's normally flat and arid landscape.
We visited a temple on a large hill, at the base of which was a small village. It took us more than forty-five minutes to walk up the steep steps, and when we arrived at the temple, exhausted, we were pleasantly surprised to find very old Deities of Radha and Krsna being attended to by an elderly pujari. To my amazement, a 10-year-old boy sat peacefully by his side. Wearing only a loincloth around his waist, the boy was reading to the pujari from scripture.
As we sat down, Deena Bandhu asked the sadhu where he was from. The holy man replied, "You shouldn't ask a sadhu where he is from - you should ask him where he is going, what is his final destination. Our birth is insignificant, but our death may be glorious. It is for this reason that I'm spending my last days in Vrindavan."
I was impressed by his words, but it was the boy by his side who caught my attention. I had noticed a number of other boys down in the village, running through the streets making mischief here and there. They were eventually chased away by an angry shop owner. But in contrast this boy seemed well behaved, clean and, in particular, very respectful to the old pujari. When the sadhu asked him to do something, the boy obediently and cheerfully performed the task and then returned to his place. It reminded me of days of yore, when boys lived in the asramas of their spiritual masters, studying the sastras and rendering service to their gurus in a mood of humility. It is becoming rare to find such examples nowadays even in Vrindavan, where television and cricket are fast becoming the focus of many young people's attention.
After inquiring about the boy from the pujari, I learned to my surprise that he did, in fact, live there. When I asked the boy what he did, he replied, "I help the baba (holy man) worship the Lord."
"But what about your parents?" I said, "Have they given you permission to live up here?"
At that, he looked to the sky, indicating that his parents had left this world.
"And what about school?" I said.
With a surprised look on his face, he exclaimed, "I'm serving Baba and Krsna!" as if to say, "What better education could I receive?"
I was to going to counter that a material education can be very useful, if not essential, for a devotee living in this world. But taking into consideration the boy's circumstances, what to mention his admirable qualities, I refrained from saying anything and instead recalled a verse from the Upanisads:
yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
"If one has unflinching faith in the Supreme Lord and the spiritual master, the essence of all Vedic knowledge is revealed to him." [Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.23]
We had kirtan for the Deities for over an hour, and as the devotees prepared to leave, I excused myself and left to find the boy. Wandering around, I discovered him in a little hut, preparing the offering plates for the Deity while singing prayers in a melodious voice. Wanting to express my appreciation, I held out 100 rupees, saying "For you! For you!" Upon seeing it, he smiled slightly and shook his head, indicating that he wasn't interested. Unbelieving, I continued to insist he take the laksmi, waving it at the door in front of him. But he wasn't tempted in the least, and continued with his service to the Lord. I finally relented and accepted that I had misjudged him, for he was even more advanced than I had thought. His simple life of service to the sadhu and the Lord was more satisfying than anything money could buy.
It was the second time during my visit to Vrindavan that I have received a spiritual lesson through the example of a child. And why not? Srila Prabhupada once explained that even the lower species of life in Vrindavan are not ordinary souls. They are devotees, who in their previous lives committed an offense in the dhama and have taken one last birth there in order to free themselves from the reaction before returning back home to Vrindavan in the spiritual sky.
I resolved that from that point on I would be more cautious in my dealings with the residents of Vrindavan. I had much to learn from that boy's dedication to his spiritual preceptor and his satisfaction in living the simple and renounced life of an aspiring devotee of the Lord.
"To they who, rejecting a thornless kingdom and beautiful women, thinking all material happinesses most bitter and renouncing education, noble birth, wealth, and fame, go to Vrindavan, never to leave, we offer our respectful obeisances.
"To the supremely fortunate, pious and affectionate persons who live in Vrindavan, which is more blissful than Lord Visnu's abode, and who, worshipping Radha and Krsna with prayers and gifts, make Them deeply indebted to them, we offer our respectful obeisances." [Srila Prabodhananda Saraswati - Vrindavana-mahimamrta, Sataka 1, Texts 76-77]