June 2011

Pankajanghri Prabhu speaking on Pure Devotional Service at Pune Yatra, 27 January 2007

‘All you have is this moment.  And now it has gone.  How can you use that moment?  That is spiritual life.  That is material life.  There is Krishna and there is Maya – side by side.  So, we have to follow what is favourable and what is unfavourable.  Is it Krishna’s pleasure?  Is it my pleasure?

The sincere endeavour of the devotee leads to prema.  That is not important.  What is important is if we give ourselves – right now – to the mission of Lord Chaitanya.  You’ve got service – right now.  There’s nothing you can do about getting ragatmika.  Just serve.  Don’t try to see God.  Act in such a way that He’ll see you.  It might not happen this life.  But, by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, we can go Back to Godhead.

Whether there’s bhakti or no bhakti – don’t worry.  You’re lucky.  It’s not such a mystical thing.  You have this moment right now.  Use it.  There are nine processes of devotional service.  That is perfection.  There’s nothing better than what you are doing right now.  So…we should be satisfied.

Try to execute His order – against all odds (everything’s against you in this world).  Everything is the best thing you can be doing at that time – if you’re following the programme that you’ve  been given by the previous acaryas.’

‘One may argue that His relation with the goddesses of fortune may be transcendental, but what about His relation with the Yadu dynasty, being born in that family, or His killing nonbelievers like Jarasandha and other asuras directly in contact with the modes of material nature?  The answer is that the divinity of the Personality of Godhead is never in contact with the qualities of the material nature in any circumstances.  Actually He is in contact with such qualities because He is the ultimate source of everything, yet He is above the actions of such qualities.  He is known, therefore, as Yogesvara, or the master of mystic power, or in other words the all-powerful.  Even His learned devotees are not affected by the influence of the material modes.  The great six Goswamis of Vrndavana all came from greatly rich and aristocratic families, but when they adopted the life of mendicants at Vrndavana, superficially they appeared  to be in wretched conditions of life, but factually they were the richest of all in spiritual values.  Such maha-bhagavatas, or first-grade devotees, although moving amongst men, are not contaminated by honour or insult, hunger or satisfaction, sleep or wakefulness, which are all rsultant actions of the three modes of material nature.  Similarly, some of them are engaged in worldly dealings, yet are unaffected.  Unless these neutralities of life are there, one cannot be considered situated in transcendence.  The Divinity and His associates are on the same transcendental plane, and their glories are  always sanctified by the action of yogamaya, or the internal potency of the Lord.  The devotees of the Lord are always transcendental, even if they are sometimes found to have fallen in their behaviour’

[A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad Bhagavatam 1.11.38 Purport]

18 March 2001, Sri Mayapur Dhama

Vaishnavas are like salt.  Salt pervades a dish, but cannot be seen.  Similarly, the presence of great devotees has a high impact, yet they never push themselves forward.  Jananivas and Pankajanghri prabhus are like that.   I never met them during my first visit to Mayapur in 1997, but certainly felt their presence.  As twin pujaris of ISKCON Mayapur, Jananivas and Pankajanghri are an integral part of the Mayapur experience.  This time I had heard more of their glories and wanted to hear from them and witness their unwavering dedication to Radha-Madhava.  I was not  disappointed.

Subhaga Maharaja gave the English Srimad Bhagavatam class in the Sankirtan Building on the morning of March 18 2001.  He spoke philosophically about the beauty and joyfulness of the bhakti process from Chapter 15 of the 7th Canto.  He related an incident where an impersonalist came to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur with mangos.  Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati distributed the mangoes to his disciples, leaving one rotten one for the impersonalist.  Bhaktisiddhanta said, ‘All is one.  So, this is the same’.  The man reluctantly ate the rotten mango.  He explained how Bhaktisiddhanta encouraged his disciples to honour sumptuous offerings of prashadam (offered foods) – gaja, sweet dal and laddhu – in Jagannatha Puri.  He quoted the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, telling his disciples to ‘Eat Simply Wonderful [a delicious milk sweet], and go back to the wonderful world’.  Prashadam should be taken in moderation, however.  As we make advancement we should minimize our intake of prasada.  Today was Srivas Thakur’s Appearance Day.  It was also the tithi celebration of Jananivas and Pankajanghri prabhu’s Appearance Day.  Subhaga Maharaja ended his class by saying, ‘Happy Birthday’ to the twins.  Pankajanghri prabhu humbly responded, ‘Make us happy’.

I visited the Yoga Pitha – the Birthplace of Lord Chaitanya – with Padmanabha prabhu.  Yoga Pitha means ‘blending-spot’ – where the spiritual comes in contact with the material creation.  We offered our obeisances to lord Siva – at the site where Mahaprabhu appeared. We bathed in Ganga again.  Then went home. I heard there was going to be a celebration – a vyasa-puja ceremony – for the twins, but did not know where it was going to take place.  The observance of the twins’ birthday was kept  secret because, in their humility, they often disappeared at the hint of a celebration.  They lived to serve Radha-Madhava and the Deities of the ISKCON Mayapura Candrodaya Mandir.

Some time after noon I saw Ganga prabhu, one of the local residents of Mayapur, leaving the Conch Building.  I followed him to Jananivas and Pankajanghri’s quarters, behind the Altar.  The devotees had brought two vyasasanas into their room and the brothers were seated next to each other with garlands around their necks.  A group of about thirty devotees – permanent residents of Mayapur – were singing the guru vandanam prayers, offering garlands and gifts to the brothers.  There was a queue of devotees standing in line.  Some were standing, some were making offerings to them and others were bowing at their feet.  The twins, in return, were handing out maha-prasada from the Deities.  It was a sweet and moving scene.

I gave Jananivas prabhu a picture of Radhanath Maharaja and His Grace dressing Radha-Gopinatha.  He exclaimed, ‘Oh, it’s Chowpatty!’  Jananivas placed a large simply wonderful in my hand.  I bowed and made way for the next person in  line.  Someone handed me a pair of karatalas, which I played ecstatically.  The kirtan was brief, but rousing.  Then Bhakti Purussotama Maharaja recited the prema-dhvani prayers.  The devotees moved in a colourful procession to the marble corridor behind the Deities.  A huge transcendental feast was served.  Some of the local preparations and western dishes that the twins liked were served.  The feast was out of this world:  I ate and ate but did not feel full.

Jananivas and Pankajanghri were sitting on the far end of the corridor with the Bengali brahmacaris.  At one point a cluster of brahmacaris leaned forward and took the remnants of both twins from their plates!  This is very rare because Jananivas and Pankajanghri are very humble and rarely let anyone take their remnants.  I sat there and appreciated their wonderful qualities and the wonderful celebration of their lives.

Tomorrow is Nirjala Ekadasi.  Ekadasi is the Vaishnava fast-day that occurs on the eleventh day of the waxing or waning moon.  Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi is observed on the bright fortnight of the moon (sukla-paksha) in the month of Jyestha (May-June).  It is called Nirjala Ekadasi because one should not even drink water on this Ekadasi.  It is also called Jyestha-sukla Ekadasi.

The Mahabharata, relates to us how the Pandavas strictly observed all Ekadasis.  Bhima, however, who was known for his herculean strength and for being a ‘voracious eater’ (Bhagavad-gita 1.15), was not able to fully observe Ekadasi like his brothers.  He approached Vyasadeva to ask him how he could avert incurring sinful reactions as a result of not being able to follow Ekadasi strictly.  Vyasadeva, in turn, advised him to strictly observe Nirjala Ekadasi once a year and in this way derive the full benefit of following all the Ekadasis in the year.  Nirjala Ekadasi, therefore, became Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi.  It is also referred to as Bhima Pandava Nirjala Ekadasi.

Devotees who have, therefore, broken their fast during the year can make up for this on Nirjala Ekadasi.  The Sanskrit word nirjala means ‘no water’ (nir means ‘no’ and jala means ‘water’).  Strictly speaking, all Ekadasis should be nirjala – without food or water (water is also considered food).  Srila Prabhupada gave some concessions to his followers – who, for the most part, fast from grains and legumes on Ekadasi.  Nirjala Ekadasi should, however, be strictly followed.  One should not eat or drink.  Ideally, we should absorb ourselves in hearing and chanting about Lord Krishna for 24 hours.  This may not, however, be possible for all devotees.  At least we should try to refrain from food and water.

Padmanabha and I passed the tulasi grove of the brahmacari asrama and made our way to the rear entrance of the Temple.  We left our capalas by the doorway, rang the bell and entered.  We quickly offered obeisances and headed for Srila Prabhupada’s murti.  We offered dandavats to Srila Prabhupada, touched his feet and offered obeisances to Lord Sthanu-Nrsimha, Sri Sri Pancha-Tattva and Sri-Sri Radha-Madhava and the Asta-Sakhis.  Everything about Mayapur was big.  Chunky.  The Temple walkways, buildings, the two Temple rooms, the chandeliers, the tulasi plants on their mandaps, the altars and, of course, the Deities.  The largeness of the ISKCON Mayapur Campus seemed to radiate the audarya (mangnanimous) mood of Lord Chaitanya.  Radha-Madhava’s exalted pujaris, Jananivas and Pankajanghri prabhus, were also there – as always.

The Temple Room resembled an airport hangar.  The roof was high and the interior spacious.  Sri Sri Mayapura-candrodaya Mandir was not a ‘finished’ Temple in the sense of Krishna-Balarama Mandir in Vrindavan; or Radha-Rasabihari, in Mumbai.  His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ISKCON’s Founder-acarya, had placed Ananta-Sesa in the foundations in 1977.  He had  envisioned a colossal ‘Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’ in Mayapur.  Since he was no longer personally present, his disciples intended to fulfill his grand ambition.  This adbhuta mandir (‘magnificent Temple’) had been predicted by Lord Nityananda over 500 years ago.  His Holiness Jayapataka Maharaja related another prophecy by Srinivas Acharya, a confidential associate of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.  Srinivas Acharya had a vision in which he saw what appeared to be life-size Deities of the Pancha-Tattva, on the altar of a wonderful Temple, in Sri Mayapur Dhama.  These Deities were being worshipped by devotees from different parts of the world.  When Srinivas looked closer, however, he saw that the figures on the altar were not Deities but the Pancha-Tattva Themselves!  About a hundred years ago the great Vaishnava acarya, Bhaktivinoda Thakur, had a divine vision wherein he saw a beautiful Temple and Celestial City on the present ISKCON land.

One of our South African devotee-teachers, Nrsimhananda prabhu, was giving Bhagavad-gita class upstairs.  I rushed up the stair-case to catch the tail-end of it.  I marvelled at how much progress had been made on the Mayapur Campus since my first visit in 1997.  Everything was very pakka.  I mentioned this to the Director of ISKCON Mayapur, His Holiness Bhakti Purusottama Swami.  He humbly replied that it was because of the Festival.  We attended Gaura Arati, the auspicious worship of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in the Pancha-Tattva Temple Room.  The Festival period was over, so most of the foreign pilgrims had left and many of the local devotees had gone to Vrindavan or elsewhere.  There couldn’t have been more than 50 devotees in the Temple room.  Kirtan was still jubilant, and I got quite sweaty dancing, though the large fans kept me cool.  After arati, I caught up with some devotee acquainances.  I saw Subhaga Maharaja, whom I had met in Vrindavan in 1997.  The gentle Bengali sadhu informed me that he had had a brain tumour and that it had been removed.  He looked a little frail.  I also saw one of the cooks from Chowpatty Temple, Saci Suno prabhu.

I presented one of the pujaris with carob from my friend Nanda Kumar prabhu.  He gave me some of Radha-Madhava’s jewellery to give to him in reciprocation for his gift.  Padmanabha and I took some hot milk and moori with the brahmacaris, and returned to the ashram to take rest.

17 March 2001

I was happy to be in Mayapur after the Gaura Purnima Festival.  Although it is wonderfully auspicious to observe Gaura Purnima (the Appearance Day of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu) in the Holy Dhama, I was happy the crowds had left.  A handful of western pilgrims remained – burnt out after a month festivities.  Padmanabha prabhu and I savoured the transcendental atmosphere of Sri Mayapur Dhama.

We walked out of the brahmacari ashram into the car-park, wearing only gamchas and capalas.  Padmanabha led the way to a pier on the bank of the Ganges where devotees liked to bathe.  I was amazed how soft and smooth her banks were.  We took off our capalas and offered obeisances to Mother Ganga.  Padmanabha covered himself in Ganges mud and wallowed in her shallows.  I reverentially immersed my self in Ganga’s soothing waters.  I felt the deep-seated burdens of my western heart fly away like birds in the sky.  I had the distinct feeling that the Ganga is our Mother – they call her Ganga Mata in India – and that she cares for all living beings and that she is our well-wisher.

We could see the dome of Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi against the blue sky.  I lost myself in the beauty of Mayapur for a moment.  I then heard Padmanabha prabhu’s voice, ‘Come, prabhuji.  Let’s go’.  We got out the water and dried ourselves.  We returned to the brahmacari ashram and changed into fresh cloth.

Our small group arrived at Howrah Station at 8:30am on the 17th of March 2001. We were looking forward to visiting ISKCON Mayapur – the Headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and Birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  Mayapur is one of the nine islands near the Ganges estuary.  Navadvipa-Mayapur Dhama is about 130 kilometres from Calcutta.

Unsure of how I was going to get to Mayapur, I enquired at the ticket office about trains from Howrah to Navadvipa.  Meanwhile, Padmanabha prabhu arranged a taxi for us.  He had a way of arranging things in such a way that neither of us paid.  It was the culture, after all, in India for householders to take care of brahmacaris and sannyasis.  

Calcutta looked like a big, sooty machine.  The timeless Ganga slowly made her way out of the city past carnival lights, crows, street vendors, ferries, and metropolitan pilgrims.  I thought of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness.  The British colonial influence stuck like a fading tattoo. It took some time for our cab to exit the ornate Victorian ‘Old Station’ and edge its way, through a sea of hooting taxis, over Hoogly Bridge.  Advaita Charan, the elderly South American devotee, was quietly chanting – Hare Krishna Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama/ Rama Rama Hare Hare.

People and cars…crowding and competing…crowding and competing.  Victorian statues and statues celebrating Independence from British rule.  Corrugated iron structures.  Corrugated iron roofs.  Rusty Victorian warehouses.  I saw typically British parklands through the cab window, as we veered around the stately Indian Rajbhavan.  Billboards offered contemporary western delights against a gothic background of British Imperial architecture.  The taxi’s stop-start driving turned into an even flow as we encountered the more pleasant atmosphere of suburbia – schools, parks and gymnasiums.  Twenty minutes later we were out of Calcutta.

The tar soon became a dust-road, flanked by palm trees and brilliant green rice paddy fieds.  I thought of the poem Prabhupada was fond of quoting, ‘God is in the country; man is in the town’.  Some time passed.   Padmanabha asked the driver to stop the car.  The South American couple were tired. We got out, and sipped some dobs (drinking coconuts) through thin plastic straws.  The driver disappeared somewhere (to get a cup of chai), and re-appeared 15 minutes later.   Padmanabha prabhu gravely pointed to one of the small towns we were passing and said, ‘Shantipur’.  Shantipur was the town of Lord Chaitanya’s personal associate and expansion, Advaita Acharya.  The beauty and serenity of Gauradesa soothed the heart.  And now we were approaching the very heart of Gauradesa – Sri Mayapur Dhama.

The taxi braked as we entered the back gates of the Sri Mayapurachandrodaya Mandir. Padmanabha and I took the elderly South American couple’s bags, and helped them check into the guesthouse.  Padmanabha, silent and mystical as ever, arranged comfortable lodging for us in the brahmacari ashram.  We had hardly put down our bags when he said in his matter-of-fact way: ‘Prabhuji, fetch your gamcha.  We going to take bath in Ganga.  Afterwards, we take darshan of Srila Prabhupada, Radha-Madhava and Sri Pancha Tattva’.

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