ISKCON Chowpatty

Brahmacari Class by His Grace Jananivas Prabhu, ISKCON Chowpatty, 9 March 2007

Brahmacarya is not an external factor.  It is the first asrama (stage of life in spiritual society).  Thereafter, we progress through the others. We shouldn’t identify with these external designations (eg. student, householder and renunciate).  They are useful for social dealings.  The word asrama is from the Sanskrit word asraya which means ‘shelter’ – shelter according to one’s consciousness.  Brahmacari asrama is a very simple asrama for students.  You can remain brahmacari (celibate student) if you are tolerant.  In this way we can overcome material desire.  Of course, we have to be tolerant in all asramas, but here we are talking about brahmacarya.  

Today’s society is not Krishna Conscious.  Therefore, it is best to remain brahmacari.  By developing tolerance one can remain fixed.  Devotees have to face the material world.  They have to face Maya (illusion) directly.  It is, therefore, difficult to be a strict and true brahmacari.  Consciousness is, therefore, more important than varna and asrama.  We have to identify ourselves as eternal servants of Krishna and see that everything is the property of Krishna.  Over-identification with one’s asrama is also not healthy.  We act according to our asramas, but we identify ourselves as eternal servants of Krishna.

Our first business is to establish a relationship with Madan Mohan, the attractor of Cupid (or lust).  ‘We are trying, now, to turn our attraction from Cupid to Madan Mohanji.’  When Krishna and His devotees bestow this attraction upon us, we make advancement.  One is awarded by one’s devotional attitude.  Even Brahman (impersonal) realization is attractive.  The Bhagavad-gita mentions how, upon gaining this, one thinks there is no greater gain.  This comes after anartha-nivritti, when the dirty things in the heart are gone.  Brahman is so attractive that the jnanis and the mayavadis are prepared to sacrifice their own identity to achieve it.  Krishna is always attractive – in any of His features.  Unless you realize aham brahmasmi – ‘I am spirit’ – you cannot understand Krishna’s pastimes.

The Bhagavad-gita further explains that for one who has controlled his mind, the Paramatma (the Supersoul, the Lord within everyone’s heart) is attained.  Ceto darpanam marjanam.  This is where Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s Movement begins. Give up the dirty things in your heart and engage in Krishna’s service.  We must strictly follow the rules of sadhana bhakti so long as we have a material  body and so long as we identify with it.  First, get your spiritual legs.  Understand what is spiritual ground.  Then you can make progress.  Realization of nama (the Lord’s Holy Name) enables us to realize Krishna’s presence.  Later He will reveal His rupa (form), guna (qualities) and lila (pastimes).  Srila Prabhupada taught that we should just surrender to the sound vibration and depend on the Holy Name to reveal Himself.

We should not jump prematurely.  We should first approach Madana Mohana.  There is a progression that has been given by the acaryas.  We come to the point of Madana Mohana by strictly following sadhana (practical spiritual activities, particularly chanting God’s name),  This cleanses the heart.  We should remember that we can’t get Krishna by sadhana.  Persons who are part of the hladini-sakti (the Lord’s spiritual energy) like Rupa Goswami can give it.  Krishna is only achieved by love.

Srimad Bhagavatam Class 6.9.52, ISKCON Chowpatty, Mumbai, 9 March 2007

Indra is probably the most desirable position in the material world because his post affords the most enjoyment.  Indra is, after all, the king of heaven.

The Hari Bhakti Vilasa describes meditation on Krishna – His shark earrings reflect His shiny cheeks; He has masses of black, curly hair; He is lying on a couch playing His flute.  The Demigods are before Krishna – in the majestic aspect of Godhead.  They offer Him prayers.  The gandharvas are present too.

In the material world, there are 8,400,000 different types of bodies based on that combination of desires.

The bulls and cows come to see Krishna.  They approach Krishna in santa rasa.  The babies, with bells on their ankles, approach Krishna along with the cowherd boys, and the elder gopis.  The gopis with half-covered faces and half-closed eyes are also trying to see Krishna.  They tremble uncontrollably, trying to suppress this trembling so the bells won’t ring on their bells and ankles.

These are meditations for pujaris.

The neophyte just wants to see the Deity form of the Lord in the Temple.  We should also see Krishna in everyone’s heart.

Srila Prabhupada was on Juhu Beach with Dravida Maharaja.  Looking at the ocean, he asked Maharaja, ‘What do you see?’  Maharaja responded, ‘Krishna.’  Prabhupada asked, ‘How?  Krishna says ‘I am the taste in water’.  That is how you see Krishna – through His energy’.

Sometimes you look at Radha-Gopinath and you see it’s Krishna.  Don’t have to analyze.  The gopis saw the black tamala tree.  Radha embraces a tamala tree and all Her friends laugh at her.  It’s not that they don’t see a tree, but they see Krishna (the tamala tree is black).  So they see things but they see Krishna there.

The devas are not pure unalloyed devotees.  Even in Vaikuntha – they are pure, but they are not unalloyed.  In Goloka, they are unalloyed.  The devas are devotees, but they are thinking of their desires.  Pure devotees only want Krishna’s pleasure.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to teach that.

Indra will kill Vrtrasura with the bones of Dadici.  Vrtrasura knows this.  Indra drops his weapon.  Vrtrasura says, ‘Pick up your weapon and kill me!  It is Vishnu’s will that you kill me’.

The demigods fear death because they don’t want to lose their position.

Do you believe in reincarnation?  Devotees: ‘No.  We are going back to Godhead’  Srila Prabhupada said that Lord Caitanya is waiting for the devotees with a Sankirtan party.

Srimad Bhagavatam will bring out the particular relationship we have with Krishna.  Srimad Bhagavatam gives all the different relationships you can have with Krishna.  Devotees don’t want anything.   If Lord Rama wants Hanuman to have liberation, he’ll take it; if not, if it intereferes with his service to Rama, he’ll reject it.

Who has come to give the essence of what Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to give?  Krishna came 5,000 years ago.  Performed pastimes.  Left instructions – sarva-dharman parityajya.  People couldn’t follow this in Kali.  Krishna then came as Caitanya Mahaprabhu – with no demands, just giving.  Freely giving vraja-prema.  Mahaprabhu is our hero.

There is a prediction – that all the different sampradayas will fall under the Sankirtan mission.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu – ‘And I will give them the opportunity to taste Vraja Prema- this is the Maha Mantra‘.

We’re eternal and we have an eternal relationship with Krishna.  But, at the same time, we come from Krishna – aham sarvasya prabhavo.  ‘Make an eternal change’.  By association, you can change your eternal relationship eg.  Shyamananda (was in friendship, but obtained conjugal rasa).  In association with Jiva Goswami, Narottama and Srinivas – he changed his attitude.  His guru beat him with a stick, ‘Why is he crying in ecstacy hearing the pastimes of Radha and Krishna?  You don’t even know what pleasure you are missing in sakhya rasa.  You’re taking something lower!’  You cannot change – jivera svarupa hoya krishnera nitya dasa.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that if you want material relationships, when you are realized you can even have an eternal planet – with your own family.

Satya sankalpa.  When you are pure, everything you desire becomes manifest.  If you want to be a friend of Krishna, you will take birth in a family of gopas and their association will draw that out.  Associate with nitya-siddhas eg. take birth as a gopi with gopis.  The mood has to be empowered by devotees.  From there you go to the spiritual world.

Here you can change your body.  So why not spiritually?  You can humbly serve, hear Srimad Bhagavatam.  Or you can aspire and change and develop.

In Puri they follow Shankaracharya’s method of Deity worship.   Ramanujacharya was in Puri.  The Sastra says in Kali Yuga that pancaratrika is more important.  Jagannath said you should leave this place.  Woke up next day in Mayapur.  Jagannath – this is my eternal place…Mayapur.  Krishna has come as Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  He revealed Himself as Laksmi-Narayana.  Then, as Mahaprabhu.  Ramanujacharya heard Caitanya Mahaprabhu mentioned in scriptures.  ‘Now, You’ve revealed everything to me’.  He was fired-up to preach Radha-Krishna worship.  Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, ‘No, no, no.  I will preach it.  You continue preaching dasya rasa to elevate your followers.  Worship Krishna in your heart.  Vraja-prema is now being made available’.

Devotees cursed Akrura for 100 years for taking Krishna.  Pastimes are performed to bring Them together, separate Them, bring Them together…and so on…

Krishna only leaves Vrindavan to satisfy the living entities desire.  The unalloyed devotee – never wants to take Krishna out of Vrindavan.  So does not worship Laksmi-Narayana or Sita Rama.

Jagannatha Ratha Yatra.  Krishhna.  The only reason I’m in Dwaraka and Mathura is to satisfy the desires of the Yadus.  For their pleasure.  But my heart is in Vrindavan.  My pleasure is in Vrindavan.

A Ukrainian devotee, Lokesvara prabhu, accompanied me from Grant Road Station to Victoria Station.  We blissfully spoke about Krishna consciousness on the local train and as we arrived at Victoria Station, I wondered if I would make it in time for the 8:15pm train to Howrah?  We stumbled through the crowds looking for the Howrah train.  I scanned the list at the side of the coach, looking for my name and seat number.  I gave Lokesvara a rushed hug and stepped onto my coach.  I browsed the section marked ‘1-72’, looking for number 50.

I was pleasantly surprised to find an Indian brahmacari and an elderly South American couple in my compartment.    The Indian monk, Padmanabha, offered me capatis and a piece of cake – maha-prasada from Radha-Rasabihari. I told my devotee travelling companions that I was most grateful to be travelling in their association.  Padmanabha said, ‘No! No, prabhu! We are happy to be travelling with you!  It is a blessing to travel with devotees’.  I humbly requested they pray I might have the association of devotees at the time of death.

Padmanabha squeezed onto his bunk – to accomodate a steel vanity-case containing mataji’s Gaura-Nitai Deities.  He very kindly offered the elderly mataji his bunk.  Even though he looked very uncomfortable, he never complained.  That night I dreamt of Maharaja.  I was at the Ayurvedic Chemist by the Jain Temple in Mira Road.  Maharaja was there with his personal servants, Stoka Krishna and Siksastakam prabhus.  I hid because I did not want Maharaja to be bothered by seeing me again. Maharaja did, however, notice me. I said, ‘I am sorry for any offences I might have made’.  Maharaja replied, ‘That’s good’.  In my second I was walking through some dark streets with a group of friends.  The night was filled with a sense of expectation.  We walked past a school hall lit by a scattering of electric lamps.  In my last dream, I was on an Indian train which had bunks going up six or seven levels.  I was on one of the top bunks.  The South American devotees, Advaita Charan prabhu and his wife, were there.  I had a conversation with a sulky twelve-year old American gurukuli.  I said to him, ‘You were in Maya during the school holidays, weren’t you?’  The boy just sat there, pouting.  I think he was unhappy his holidays were over.  Then Savya Saci, my friend from the Bhaktivedanta Hospital, entered the compartment.  Savya Saci was grinning in his characteristic way.  I was happy.  At least we could say goodbye to each other properly.

The next day I woke up and reflected on my good fortune – I am so happy to have such a kind and beautiful spiritual master.  Krishna has been most kind to me.  

It wouldn’t be long before the train arrived at Howrah Station.

March 15 2001, Mumbai, India

Maharaja had accepted me as his aspiring disciple.  He asked what my plans were.  I told him that I was planning to go to Mayapur.  I left the Bhaktivedanta Hospital and took the train to Grant Road Station.  Looking out the train window at the dirty tracks and buildings, I realized that it is only by the mercy of the Vaishnavas that we can make any spiritual progress.

Gaura-Nitai looked very life-like during the next morning’s darsana.  I couldn’t stay for Bhagavatam class, however, because I had to buy my train ticket to Howrah.  The morning sunlight dazzled like liquid gold.  I saw a calf sucking on it’s mother’s udders from the bus window and remembered reading in Krsna Book that this was auspicious. This good omen must, in some way or other, be connected to my being accepted by my Spiritual Master.

I jumped off the bus at Churchgate Station, bought my ticket and danced through the crowd singing Hare Krishna.  Moving in this carefree spirit, I walked – or, rather, danced – into a young German couple leaning on their luggage at the foot of a large column.  The girl, Trinity, was about 25; and her companion, Kai, 35.  They were what you could call ‘techno-hippies’.  It was their first visit to India.  They asked me if I knew of any good guesthouses in Mumbai.  I made some suggestions.  I somehow ended up talking about ISKCON Chowpatty.  Trinity and Kai were so intrigued by my descriptions of this special place that they asked me to take them there.

The three of us bundled into a cab.  The cabe wove its way through the Mumbai traffic to Radha-Gopinath Mandir.  I took them to the Gift Shop and  Kai bought an Introduction To Bhagavad-gita As It Is.   Kai was mesmerized by the Temple.  He took me aside and whispered:  ‘I have definitely been to India before’.  Gopijanavallabha prabhu, from the guest department, showed the couple the Temple Room.  Trinity gazed at Radha-Gopinath while Kai walked around the Temple Room looking at pictures of Krishna’s pastimes.  Trinity covered her head with her scarf.  Gopijanavallabha looked at me and at her and said, ‘She respects the Temple etiquette’.  When I looked again, I noticed that tears were streaming down her cheeks.  Gopijanavallabha offered them some prasada.  I chatted some more with them before they left.

I washed my cloth, shaved and showered.  It was difficult saying goodbye to my friends.  I met Sankirtan prabhu in the passage and said, ‘Yes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I am going to miss you’.  He gently smiled and moved his head from side to side.  Dauji prabhu packed some prashadam for me.  I was now in a state.  I took darsana of Radha-Gopinatha, and packed my bags.  I felt hollow inside.  Had I really accomplished, as my Gurumaharaja had asked, what I had set out to achieve here in India?  I suddenly felt detached from everything.  Was this how a rich person feels towards the objects of wealth?  I suddenly felt very removed, in spirit, from Chowpatty.  I was leaving.  Being transported.  And feelings of separation were beginning to take hold.

I rushed downstairs to fetch my prasada.  I placed my luggage near the front of the Temple and began to say goodbye to my friends from the asrama.  It suddenly dawned on me that I had forgotten to offer my obeisances to Maharaja. I wanted to run upstairs but the devotees said, ‘There he is!’  Maharaja was walking by the Laxmi-Narayana Temple.  I offered my obeisances to him.  Maharaja asked, in a somewhat tentative manner, ‘So, are you going now?’  ‘Yes.  I am taking the train to Howrah’.  Maharaja looked at Krishna-Balarama and the small group and said, ‘This is not the first time we are saying goodbye’. ‘Maharaja, please pray that I can always be steady’, I entreated.  Maharaja said, ‘Yes.  Always’.  Maharaja looked at Krishna Balarama and said, ‘Give him your blessings’.  He began to ascend the metal staircase.

Krishna Balarama faced me and said, ‘Blessings!  Blessings!  Blessings’.  I retorted light-heartedly, ‘You are an empowered devotee.  Maharaja has empowered you to give me your blessings’.  We both laughed.  I watched Maharaja, for what seemed an eternity, walk up the staircase.  I was leaving Chowpatty once again.

Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath Mandir, Mumbai

It was on a warm October morning ten years ago that I first visited Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath Temple in Chowpatty. ISKCON Chowpatty is now famous throughout the world for its warm Vaisnava hospitality and rich spiritual culture.

A disciple of His Holiness Giriraja Swami, Krishna-kirtan prabhu, had told me about this really simple temple about 45 minutes from the centre of Mumbai. He had also given me some audio tapes of classes by His Holiness Radhanath Maharaja’s (the project’s leader).

Yasomatinandan prabhu and I made our way by bus from St. Joseph’s College, around the corner from ISKCON Juhu, to Andrew Wilson College. That was our landmark. Somehow or other, we alighted near Babulnath Mandir, and took a right down a road unknown to us. That was my first taste of Indian street-life. Next thing we were in front of a run-down metal gate and a building that looked more like a school than a temple. Just as well I had learnt devanagari and could read the fading sign – ‘Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath Mandir.’ This was it! This was Chowpatty Temple!

As we climbed the stairs, we could hear the strains of the guru-puja prayers: sri guru carane rati, ei sei uttama gati (‘attachment to the lotus feet of the spiritual master is the perfection that fulfills all desires’). We offered obeisances and joined the kirtan. I can still see His Holiness Radhanath Maharaja standing on the edge of the kirtan with outstretched hands. There were about fifteen brahmacaris in the kirtan (nowadays there are about 100!). We also had the good fortune of hearing Bhagavatam from Radhanath Maharaja. After class, we chanted japa in the temple room (quiet meditation on the maha-mantra on prayer-beads), then took breakfast.

Navakishore prabhu (from Mauritius) was our host. He took us to a little guest room next to the brahmacari classroom. I remember the straw mats on the floor. The room was also spacious. Govinda prabhu gave Bhagavad-gita class. After Govinda spoke, Yaso spoke for about ten minutes. We took prasadam (a sanctified vegetarian meal meaning ‘mercy of God’) and rested. Most of the devotees I met that day are still around – Sankirtan prabhu, Sanat-Kumar prabhu, Govinda prabhu, Saci-Kumar prabhu and Govinda prabhu. The devotees were so friendly and blissful I thought to myself, ‘I want to be like them.’

Ten years have passed. There have been a lot of changes. The building, for one, is now exclusively owned by the Temple – no schools, no internet cafes, no offices. There is more room now – then, again, there are more devotees! The Temple room has been beautifully decorated and transformed under the personal supervision of Radhanath Maharaja. You can really feel the presence of Radha-Gopinath. Srila Prabhupada looks like he is beaming.

I remember inviting a hip young German couple to the Temple in 2001. The girl covered her head with a light cloth, sat on her knees, gazed out at the Deities and just cried for about ten minutes! Despite all the opulence, the devotees have maintained their culture of simplicity and humility. I am always very touched whenever I visit Chowpatty…it is a wonderful Temple.

ISKCON Chowpatty, Mumbai, 30 January 2001

Radhanath Maharaja’s quarters were at the end of a prefabricated metal corridor, paved with what appeared to be shower tiles.  My hands carried a photocopied ‘Letter Of Recommendation For First Initiation’  from my Temple President, Sikhi Mahiti prabhu.  The letter was for Maharaja.

The narrow corridor opened into a small seating area outside Maharaja’s room.  I sat on one of the chairs next an older devotee in white.  Trai prabhu.  He was seated next to his wife.  We could see into the room from where we were sitting.  The room was covered with straw mats.   Maharaja was sitting on an asana on one side of a low, wooden desk.  Malati Mataji, a very senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, was also seated on an asana on the other side of the table.  She wore a saffron sari.  They were both laughing.

Trai prabhu was looking at some photographs.  He also had a copy of the Bhagavad-gita in his hands.  While waiting to meet with Maharaja we spoke about Harinamas, devotees we both knew, Prabhupada’s books and what we would be doing in India.  After some time, Maharaja stood up, and walked Malati out of the room.  Trai went inside.  After an hour or so, Maharaja bade me enter.  I sat down.  ‘Who are you?’ Maharaja asked.  ‘Bhakta Michael, from Cape Town’, I replied.  I was nervous.  He asked, ‘How can I serve you?’  The question threw me.  Maharaja was the senior devotee.  Maharaja was the guru.  Shouldn’t it be the other way around.  So I said, ‘I should be asking you that question.  How can I serve you?’  Sitting with straight back and legs crossed Maharaja spoke in a deep voice, ‘Surrender to Krishna!’  Maharaja said, ‘I don’t take visitors after 6:30pm’.  It was 8:15pm.  I said, ‘Should I go?’  He said, ‘Stay.’  I felt privileged that he was letting me stay in his room.

Maharaja asked me what I did before I met the devotees.  I told him I had studied Law and a Master’s degree in History at the University of Cape Town.  He asked me, ‘What kind of History you studied?’  I explained to him that I had written a thesis on the abolition of the Slave Trade to the Cape at the turn of the 18th Century.  I further explained how unhappy I was studying Law.  My academic pursuit of History was an escape from Law, a subject which I had never really been interested in anyway.  He then asked specifically how I met devotees.  I explained that I had met a devotee at a book-stall near the University and shortly after had visited the Temple.  ‘How did you like Pune Yatra? What was the thing you liked the most?’  I liked the Harinam.  I asked Maharaja if he had received my letters.  He said that he hadn’t received any.  I mentioned to Maharaja that I had distributed books 108 Bhagavad-gitas as a Vyasa Puja (birthday of the guru) offering to Maharaja.  He smiled.

Maharaja carefully perused Sikhi Mahiti’s letter.  One of the notable things about this darshan with Maharaja was the feeling that he was listening to me with great attention and sympathy.  He asked me if I had his lecture tapes.  I said I had about fifty.  I explained why I wanted to take shelter from him.  He asked me what I planned to do in India.  It was my intention to follow Maharaja to Mayapur and then spend some time in Chowpatty.  I also mentioned that His Holiness Mahavishnu Swami had invited me to serve him in Bangladesh.  Maharaja intimated to me that it would be better if I stayed in Chowpatty.  Words came out from my heart to my mouth, ‘I am fallen compared to the brahmacaris here, Maharaja.  I often find myself in compromising situations in Cape Town.’  Maharaja consoled me, ‘Stay here some time.  It will be good for your brahmacharya.’

I offered Maharaja pictures of our Deities and a maha mangala sweet (a sweet offered to the Temple Deities in South Africa).  Maharaja gently dissuaded me from this action by saying, ‘Just wait.’  He gave me a sweetball, then accepted my gifts.  The mercy comes from above – not from below.

I have never felt a sense of inner happiness as I did after my meeting with Maharaja.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  I felt emotions I had never felt before.  Radhanath Maharaja was very gentle, understanding and patient.  Maharaja was very positive.  I never, for one moment, felt any negativity from Maharaja during that conversation.