Written by Bhakta Nandan
Morning Class – Srimad Bhagavatam 9.19.11
Following on from the last Bhagavatam class Maharaj gave at the Manor, in this verse King Yayati gives an allegorical story of a male goat and female goat which is based on the King’s own history. Certainly there was some pathos in King Yayati’s story in being able to exchange his old age for youth again and still not being satisfied. Of course, there is light at the end of King Yayati’s dark tunnel, due to the intense spiritual realizations he subsequently gets from his experience. Maharaj explained that no matter how much one engages in sexual activity, one still will not be satisfied. Even when one is situated in a spiritual movement, still one has the tendency to want to enjoy subtly or grossly.
So this verse says that at age fifty, one should go out and take vanaprastha but how relevant is this for us? In Gaura lila, Advaita Acharya was a grhastha till he was eighty and Srivas Thakur stayed on being a grhastha. Of course, Advaita Acharya and Srivas Thakur were transcendental, but how transcendental are we?
Maharaj qualified this point by saying that ultimately it is for us to decide if we renounce or not. The main thing is samsiddhir hari tosanam (SB 1.2.13), as long it is conducive for performing devotional service to Lord Hari. Maharaj focused on the need for the ashrams in our society today…
Being in an ashram means one strictly follows the codes of that ashram. It is a fact that the lower nature is very strong and powerful so an ashram protects us against our lower nature. One of the main points of the movement must be to establish the brahminical order. Maharaj then stated that whenever he mentions varnashrama, devotees automatically think of cow protection but there is more to it.
In Iskcon, vanaprastha is not so developed. From an individual perspective, it may work for some and it may be not needed for others. But from a collective perspective, we are missing an essential ingredient in the social fabric of our organization. Vanaprasthas are needed to inspire and create a more renouncing influence.
Maharaj declared that the brahmachari ashram is also very valuable and urged that everyone should do it and try to stay a brahmachari. Only when it is not possible for one to stay as a brahmachari should one look at other options. In other words, choosing an ashram is not like choosing from a menu card where you decide you want brahmacharya for starters, maybe grhastha for the main course, skip the side dish of vanaprashta and go straight to the dessert of sannyasa! (Resounding laughter)
After making a few more pertinent points about varnashrama, Maharaj opened the floor for questions. One question that particularly stuck out was by Vishvambhara Prabhu, one of the stalwart devotees of the Manor, who asked what should be the stance on someone who was a sannyasi, then fell down to become a grhastha and then decides to become a sannyasi again. Maharaj firstly clarified something very deep; a sannyasi who becomes a grhastha never really ceases to be a sannyasi. He may be on a hiatus but he is still a sannyasi in his heart. And any other sannyasi who meets that individual, will look into his eye and realize that he is still a sannyasi in the garb of a grhastha. Maharaj then mentioned how he recently spoke to Srutakirti Prabhu who said that Srila Prabhupada condoned the prospect of a sannyasi who had fallen down, becoming a sannyasi again, as long as he is ready to be a sannyasi again. As far as Maharaj is concerned, the only reason for an individual to do such a thing is if it helps to propagate the movement, not for any other reason such as personal benefit or something. The spreading of Mahaprabhu’s mercy should be the only criteria in this regard….
All in all, it was an incredibly captivating class, so much so that almost every devotee in the temple room had stayed right till the end of the class even though it had gone way overtime and breakfast was already well under way. To keep a devotee absorbed in a morning class well into their precious breakfast time is truly an amazing feat! The class was also captivating not just for the spiritual realizations Maharaj gave on the verse but also on the fascinating insights he gave on the social evolution of Iskcon as a burgeoning spiritual movement for the modern age.
Caitanya Caritamrta Picnic
Later on in the day, around 2pm, it was time for the Caitanya Caritamrta picnic. To be fair, very few devotees were sure what that actually meant but it sounded rather quaint. When the devotees started pouring into Krishna Kirtan Prabhu’s house, Maharaj just looked at us and said in an Aussie accent, ‘Gosh, the place is getting swamped!’ Everyone was congregating in the living room, sitting on the floor facing Maharaj, whilst he was seated on one of the summer lounge chairs in a relaxed posture.
The distinguished kirtaneer from the Manor, Ravi Pattni Prabhu had also come and Maharaj swiftly told him to start up a kirtan. But unfortunately the instruments hadn’t arrived yet as they were still being used for a program for the kids at the local Krishna Avanti School. Anyhow it seemed fine for Maharaj, he was happily engaging the devotees in some loving banter. Needless to say, I was busy scribbling down what Maharaj was talking about, at which point he just looked at me saying, ‘You might as well write a book!’ Ravi Pattni Prabhu then mentioned how he had just read my Matchless Gifts report from when Maharaj was there. But Maharaj just exclaimed that I wasn’t there!? But he thought of the American one. This led onto a wonderful reflection of the Matchless Gifts program, how pivotal it was for the movement and the contrast between the American and British one, not just in terms of the physical layout but also the mood. It seemed the kirtans and the whole mood in the American one was more mellow and softer, whilst the British Matchless Gifts was more riotous and had more of a rough edge about it.
I was still scrawling away, and Maharaj just said that since I’ve got a bit of a writer in me, he guessed that doing lines in school after getting punished would not have been a problem for me! All the devotees cracked up at this remark. Maharaj then humorously inquired, whether I was writing down everything he said, I reassured him that I would not be putting down anything that will get him into trouble. He then let out a big laugh and said, “You’d be surprised at what I could get into trouble for!”
Maharaj told me to sit next to him, so he can keep an eye on me, just in case I write something incriminating… more inevitable laughter from the devotees!! Anyhow, the ribbing from Maharaj is definitely worth it for the pleasure of the service.
Thereafter, lunch was basically a composition of different snacks and so Maharaj ended up talking about how he sometimes prefers snacks to full on meals and remembered that he once mentioned to an Indian family to not give him a proper meal but just give him snacks. Of course, with Indian families, nothing is ever that simple so they ended up preparing more than twenty snacks for him, so much for avoiding the slap up meal!
Staying within the realms of delicious prasadam, soon the talk went onto veggies, vegans and Maharaj revealed that in his discussion with Srutakirti Prabhu recently, Prabhu said that Srila Prabhupada went to a temple one day where they were making these sugarless sweets and Prabhupada incredulously exclaimed, “What is this concoction you are making?” The point being that Srila Prabhupada had already given them plenty of delicious sweets to make so there was no need for all these random changes, etc…
After a while, Mother Kalangana and Radha Shakti Mataji, two of the most senior and distinguished devotees from the Manor had arrived at the house, then Maharaj said, “Now it’s time for the real katha to start!” Everyone got up from the dining room to go to the living room and settled in front of the beautiful, sparkling Gaura Nitai deities.
Maharaj decided to speak from the Madhya Lila 9.81. Maharaj said that there are two kinds of chanting, japa and kirtan. Kirtan is more fashionable and often it is easier. After all, it is collective and you are taking the holy name out to people. Like the day before, when Maharaj was doing some soft bhajans in Soho Square Park next to the temple, it was non-threatening due to its warmth and he noticed the people were subtly trying to come closer and closer to it. But japa is often like a cold shower, it is more internal. Ultimately, the movement is there to reach out to people.
Maharaj then went onto the illiterate brahmana, who experienced ecstatic symptoms from reading the Bhagavad-gita, even though he was improperly pronouncing the Sanskrit, unlike one of the devotees in the morning class who recited the verse after Maharaj. He pronounced the Sanskrit with such precision and flair that Maharaj just got lost in the ‘dhas’ he was uttering. On the flip side Maharaj remembered a French devotee who would pronounce Krishna as ‘Hrishna’!
But ultimately Krishna looks at the intentions, like the famous Bhagavatam verse tad vag visargo, (SB 1.5.11). Maharaj did add however that in the olden days, pronunciation was very important as demonstrated by the case of the demon Vrtrasura being destined to be killed by Lord Indra instead of killing Indra due to a mispronunciation on his father’s part in the yajna. Or the case of Kumbakarna bungling up his boon from Lord Brahma due to a mispronunciation caused by the Goddess Saraswati.
After this lovely little aside Maharaj got back to the Gaura lila pastime. Later, Adi Karta Prabhu, a Srila Prabhupada disciple and avid kirtaneer came in, and Maharaj asked him if he would like to comment on the text etc.
Mother Kulangana ended the class by saying that we are all servants and will always be servants, and Maharaj was in complete agreement. Then everybody went into the garden and Maharaj started singing a slow, Aindra style classic…
Srila Prabhupada ki Jai! Kadamba Kanana Swami Maharaj ki Jai!