tirtha-bhutah svayam vibho
Srimad Bhagavatam 1.13.10: “My Lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.”
This is one of those rare years, when His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja did not take us for the annual Kartik Parikrama to a Holy Dham. But, the sastras say the holy places are worth the name only on account of pure devotees of the Lord who can render any place into a place of pilgrimage. So, Maharaja’s 5-day visit to Hyderabad was no less than a parikrama for the eager group of devotees who wanted to absorb themselves in Krishna katha in the association of His Holiness.
Diwali signifies meeting after a long separation. This time it was a real Diwali in Hyderabad for the devotees, who welcomed our beloved Romapada Swami after a long gap of over eight months. Maharaja came after a series of GBC meetings in Mumbai and in the first class he shared with us what he and other members of GBC are doing to serve the members of ISKCON. Maharaja shared that as a young bramhacari (celibate) while visiting Mayapur the devotees would take bath in the holy Ganga every day. There, he would hear devotees like His Holiness Satsvarupa das Goswami and His Holiness Hridayananda Swami speaking about the GBC resolutions. Hearing from them intently he would thus feel more connected to the society. Through this class he wanted to give us the same sense of belongingness towards ISKCON. He shared his realization that we hear from Aesop's Fables that one man can not do much, and therefore, similarly the members of the society are coming together to do that which an individual may not be able to accomplish alone. He shared that ISKCON will soon be completing its 50 years of formation, and talked about the activities of the GBC. It was touching to learn of the senior leaders devoting a significant amount of their time during the auspicious month of Karthik devising ways to enable us to become happier devotees!
On 27th October, Maharaja gave an inspiring class from Srimad Bhagavatam 5.6.13. This verse discusses the glories of Bharata-varsa (ancient India). The specific glory of this place is that people here are accustomed to glorifying the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Maharaja informed us that the reason all the incarnations have appeared in Bharata-varsa is because the people here like to glorify the Lord and the Lord is present where his pure devotees glorify Him. He said that the glories of the Lord are there in the hearts of people here; we just need to bring it out. Maharaja quoted Sally Aggarwal (the host of Srila Prabhupada during his first visit to the US) saying that Srila Prabhupada could start talking on any subject and in just two minutes he would be speaking about Krishna. Similar was, the mood of the Gopis who just could not stop talking about Krishna. Maharaja also presented a contrast narrating his meeting with some young Indians at the airport during his current visit who were inquiring about several American authors from Maharaja. Maharaja in spite of not being born in India on the other hand was trying to establish the glories of the literatures written in the glorification of the Personality of Godhead, specifically Srimad Bhagavatam. Maharaja said that in the population of 1 billion people in India, just one person (referring to Srila Prabhupada) taking this message to the heart has benefited millions and millions of people. Similarly we should also absorb ourselves in this message and be a tiny instrument of our Founder-acharya to help others in remembering Krishna and this will benefit all the species of life.
In the afternoon, Maharaja came down at 11:30 am for Govardhan Puja. Maharaja worshipped the small Govardhan hill of rice marked with various places of pastimes of Krishna. A calf was also brought in, and was worshipped by Maharaja. Following this, devotees circumambulated the little Govardhan hill four times and proceeded to Samskara hall to hear about the uplifting pastime of Govardhan-lila. Maharaja began by informing us about how during different parts of the day in Vraja lila Krishna would be having pastimes with some devotees and the others who were not involved felt His separation. To give us a sense of the intensity of this separation, Maharaja narrated the story of Gopa Kumar visiting Goloka Vrndavana and noticing how the lifeless devotees would be enlivened when Krishna would return in the evening after herding the cows. Maharaja said that during this pastime of Govardhan lila, Krishna gave His continuous darshan (audience) to all the devotees for seven days. Since Krishna is daksa (expert), so at the same time He curbed the pride of Indra by protecting the Vrajavasis from the wrath of Indra by lifting the hill on the small finger of His left arm. Maharaja said that Indra is far more advanced than all of us, and he can still fall prey to his pride, and so we should pray for the removal of the pride from our hearts. In Q&A someone asked Maharaja as to why the vrajavasis do not go to the forest with Krishna if they feel so much separation. Maharaja gave a very devotional answer that in Vraja the devotees keep their desires subordinate to pleasing Krishna.
In the evening, Maharaja spoke from Bhagavad Gita verse 15.1 where the entanglement in fruitive activities is compared to the metaphor of a banyan tree. Maharaja said that we need to understand this tree through analytical study and this will help us to get detached from the material world (the jnana and vairagya couplet that often appears in vedic literature). This is what Lord Kapila also taught as this detachment will lead to the attachment for the Personality of Godhead and that is the fruit that we are after. And, if one does not understand the minute details of sankhya, in reciprocation to our devotional efforts, Krishna will give us the realization of the essence (that we are meant to serve the Personality of Godhead). Maharaja explained this with the example that when Srila Prabhupada was asked that if the spiritual master knows everything, then, can he tell the number of windows in the Empire State building. Srila Prabhupada immediately countered by asking the question ‘how many drops of water are there in a mirage?’
Maharaja vividly explained how we are engaged in fruitive activities. He said that similar to Kings flying flags on their chariots our body is a flag that tells us that we are envious of Krishna. And, hence we wish to enjoy the property of Krishna. But, we should break our attachment to be the enjoyer of Krishna’s property and through the process of devotional service our impurities will be washed away. In Q&A session, Guru Maharaja urged all of us to cultivate doing our activities for the pleasure of Krishna. He said that our Krishna consciousness during the day depends strongly on how we chanted our rounds in the morning.
On 28th October, Maharaja continued speaking from Srimad Bhägavatam. He spoke on verses 5.6.14-16. The verse says that, “Whoever attentively hears or speaks of these pastimes of Lord Rishabhadeva, following in the footsteps of the acharyas (spiritual teachers), will certainly attain unalloyed devotional service at the lotus feet of Lord Vasudeva.” Maharaja commented that therefore Lord Caitanya says kirtaniya sada hari. He mentioned that Lord Rishabhadeva rejected bhukti (that is desired by karmis), mukti (that is desired by jnanis) and siddhi (that is desired by yogis) and just went for pure devotional service. Maharaja cautioned that we should not artificially reject things that are in relation to Krishna due to our aversion for them, because aversion is the flip side of attachment. He said that the example of Lord Rishabhadeva is very high, but if we follow his instruction (mahat sevam dvaram ahur vimuktes etc.), it will lead us to a transcendental position. Maharaja said that we can start with whatever bhakti we have and it will grow.
In the afternoon, Maharaja gave first initiation to six devotees and brahminical initiation to one devotee. In the initiation lecture, Maharaja mentioned that one can safely assume that the soul in the body of a human must have experienced all the species of life, before getting into the body of a human being and the soul still carries those impressions. But, by remembering the lotus-eyed Lord, one becomes freed from all those miseries. Also, initiation marks the beginning of the journey of the soul back home, back to Godhead. He described how one receives bhakti in one’s heart by the mercy of a Madhyama Adhikari. He said two things take place during initiation: a disciple submits to the disciplic succession and the disciplic succession formally accepts the disciple.
In the evening, Maharaja spoke in continuation from Bhagavad Gita, verse 15.2. He said that the reflection of this Banyan tree is on desire, and if we make our desire one with the desire of Krishna, we can clearly understand the Banyan tree. Some devotees found this description of the Banyan tree a little technical, but Maharaja explained that it is in Bhagavad Gita for a reason. For example, Srila Prabhupada in his initial days in America taught his audience about Mayavada philosophy. This clear understanding was equipping them for future challenges. Similarly, in a mood of service we should try to learn this analytical subject matter, and if we do not understand it, Krishna will reveal the essence to us like He did for the Sri Rangam Brahmin.
On 29th October, Maharaja continued speaking from Srimad Bhagavatam verse 5.6.17. This verse declares that devotional service relieves one from the various tribulations of material existence. He gave the example of Maharaja Chitraketu, whose mind did not budge when he was unfairly cursed by Mother Parvati. Similarly, Maharaja narrated several pastimes of Srila Prabhupada where he transcended extreme hardships and remained fixed. Maharaja mentioned that trying to become the enjoyer of matter puts us in tribulation and by desiring to please the lord (by associating with devotees of the Lord) we transcend these ups and downs.
In the evening, Maharaja continued to speak from Bhagavad Gita, verses 15.3-4. These verses mention that we can not perceive the tree, but with determination we need to cut it. This implies that there is an element of faith that is required. Maharaja spent a great time building our faith in the Vedic literature and explaining how we can not understand worldly things without faith. He said that without faith we have lost even before we begin an activity. Therefore we should hear with faith in a qualified person and we will get a clear picture that we are not the enjoyer and this realized knowledge will lead to detachment.
On the morning of 30th October, Maharaja continued to speak from Srimad Bhagavatam 5.6.18. In this verse, Sukadeva Goswami speaks on the greatness of the Pandavas. Maharaja narrated the superlative position of the Pandavas due to the intimacy that they had with Krishna. When the sages of Naimisharanya wanted to hear Krishna katha, Sri Suta Goswami started narrating about the Pandavas due to this intimacy. We heard about the encounter of Narada Muni with Prahalada Maharaja and Hanuman which concluded in a clear understanding of this intimacy. After establishing with crystal clarity on how devotional service is much superior to sense gratification, mystic siddhi or even liberation, Maharaja urged us to carefully consider the great fortune that has been bestowed upon us and to finish our business in this life time only.
This day was also the disappearance day of Srila Prabhupada. After doing abhishek of Srila Prabhupada, Maharaja gave a class from Srimad Bhagavatam 10.2.31. This verse describes the relationship between the Lord and His pure devotees. When pure devotees of the Lord cross the fierce ocean of nescience, they leave behind on earth the method by which they cross. And, the Lord accepts this method for other devotees to cross the ocean. Maharaja mentioned that Srila Prabhupada left behind the boat of Srimad Bhagavatam for us to cross the material ocean. Maharaja urged us to read Srimad Bhagavatam in a personal way, “What is the message that Srila Prabhupada wants to give me”. Maharaja through his personal experience of serving Srila Prabhupada shared the daily schedule of Prabhupada and compared the passing away of Prabhupada with that of Bhishmadev and Haridas Thakur who chose to end their pastime. After the class, pushpa abhisheka was done in honor of Srila Prabhupada followed by a feast.
In the evening, Maharaja continued to speak from Bhagavad Gita verse 15.5. Maharaja mentioned that while surrendering to the Lord, we should not be deluded by pride. He mentioned that even a pauper is proud of his penny. Maharaja mentioned that we have a misconception of who I am and this leads to the misconception of what is mine. He established that the only thing that we can claim to be ours is our relationship with Krishna. Maharaja mentioned the six angas of surrender and how a devotee thinks that I am working for Krishna and He is maintaining me (rather than my work is maintaining me). And, my quota is that by which I can peacefully discharge my devotional service. Maharaja gave a practical advice that as devotees, we should keep reducing our bodily needs rather than increasing them.
On 31st October, Maharaja spoke from Srimad Bhagavatam 5.6.19. The verse says that Lord Rishabhadeva was fully aware of His true identity; therefore He was self-sufficient, and He did not desire external gratification. Maharaja said that we can also become self sufficient by being situated in our spiritual identity. Being so situated means doing things for the pleasure of Krishna. External gratification may come in a way of some honor or distinction (Labha/ Puja/Pratistha). But, Lord Rishabhadeva acted in a way to transcend this recognition. Maharaja also gave examples of Madhavendra Puri who immediately left Remuna to avoid any recognition after hearing that Lord Gopinatha stole Ksira (sweet rice) for him. But, Maharaja mentioned that this consciousness is not just cosmetic; it has to come from within and it will come through the association of Lord Rishabhadeva through the pages of Srimad Bhagavatam with Sukhdeva Goswami explaining it so beautifully.
On the way to purify the next place…