We shall discuss the conversation between Sri Ramananda Raya and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, ramananda-samvada, recorded in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, Chapter Eight: “Talks Between Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Ramananda Raya.”
gaurabdhir etair amuna vitirnais
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is known as Gauranga, is the ocean of all conclusive knowledge in devotional service. He empowered Sri Ramananda Raya, who may be likened to a cloud of devotional service. This cloud was filled with the water of all the conclusive purports of devotional service and was empowered by the ocean to spread this water over the sea of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself. Thus the ocean of Caitanya Mahaprabhu became filled with the jewels of the knowledge of pure devotional service.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
According to revealed scriptures, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself, the origin of all knowledge—perfect knowledge. Here, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the ocean of knowledge of the conclusive purports of devotional service, is taking the part of a student and asking questions, and He has empowered Sri Ramananda Raya to give perfect answers. Thus, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is compared to an ocean and Ramananda Raya to a cloud that draws water from the ocean and then showers the water upon the ocean as rain.
anyonye mili’ dunhe nibhrte vasiya
prasnottara-gosthi kahe anandita hana
Thus they met time and time again, sitting in a secluded place and jubilantly discussing devotional service by the question-and-answer process.
prabhu puche, ramananda karena uttara
ei mata sei ratre katha paraspara
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu asked the questions, and Sri Ramananda Raya gave the answers. In this way they were engaged in discussion throughout the night.
prabhu kahe,—“kon vidya vidya-madhye sara?”
raya kahe,—“krsna-bhakti vina vidya nahi ara”
On one occasion the Lord inquired, “Of all types of education, which is the most important?”
Ramananda Raya replied, “No education is important other than the transcendental devotional service of Krsna.”
PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada
Texts 245 to 257 are all questions and answers between Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Ramananda Raya. In these exchanges there is an attempt to show the difference between material and spiritual existence. Education in Krsna consciousness is always transcendental and is the best of all forms of education. Material education aims at increasing the activities of material sense gratification. Beyond material sense gratification is another negative form of knowledge called brahma-vidya, or impersonal transcendental knowledge. But beyond that brahma-vidya, or knowledge of the impersonal Brahman, is knowledge of devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Visnu. This knowledge is higher. And still higher is devotional service to Lord Krsna, which is the topmost form of education. According to Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.29.49), tat karma hari-tosam yat sa vidya tan-matir yaya: “Work meant for pleasing the Supreme Lord is the best, and education that enhances one’s Krsna consciousness is the best.”
Also, according to Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.5.23–24):
sravanam kirtanam visnoh
arcanam vandanam dasyam
iti pumsarpita visnau
bhaktis cen nava-laksana
kriyeta bhagavaty addha
tan manye ’dhitam uttamam
This is a statement given by Prahlada Maharaja in answer to a question raised by his father. Prahlada Maharaja said, “To hear or chant about Lord Visnu, to remember Him, to serve His lotus feet, to worship Him, to offer prayers to Him, to become His servant and His friend, to sacrifice everything for His service—all these are varieties of devotional service. One who is engaged in such activities is understood to be educated to the topmost perfection.”
This is the first in the series of questions and answers, and it seems appropriate in this environment of education, but as Srila Prabhupada says at the beginning of the purport, these questions and answers are meant to highlight the difference between the material and the spiritual. Material existence begins from the basic misconception that “I am the body and everything in relation to the body is mine.” More or less everyone is in this bodily concept of life. They identify with the body and are deeply attached to things related to the body. And because they identify with the body, they think the goal of life is to give pleasure to the senses of the body. Whatever they do is more or less for the sake of the body.
Srila Prabhupada gives the example that if you are performing a mathematical calculation and you make a mistake in the first step, then even if you perform all the other steps perfectly, you will likely stray further and further away from the actual answer or solution. If we begin from the mistaken premise that “I am the body,” even if everything else we do is perfect in terms of the body, because we made the most fundamental error in the very first step, we will end up further and further away from the actual goal.
The body itself is full of miseries. As soon as we accept a material body, we accept the miseries of birth, death, old age, disease (janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi), and so many others (tapa-traya). Everyone wants relief from these miseries, but as long as they are in the body—in the bodily concept of life—although they may adopt some measures that may give some temporary relief, ultimately they cannot escape the miseries of material existence, and often the remedies they accept are more troublesome than the troubles they are meant to address.
That is the basic situation in material life, but because of maya, people are not aware of their actual position. Maya has two potencies: one throws us down, and the other covers us. Because we are covered, we think we are happy, even though any sane or sober person can see that we are not, that we are always subjected to various types of miseries. But because of the covering potency of maya, we think we are happy. Of course, things are getting so bad that it is becoming harder and harder to maintain the illusion of happiness, but even then, if you ask, “How are you doing?” most people will say, “Fine.”
Srila Prabhupada gives the example of a patient in a hospital. The patient has suffered a severe trauma and has tubes attached all over his body; his arm is in a cast, his leg is in traction; he has so many contraptions around him meant to counteract the suffering. But if you ask him how he is, he will say, “I’m okay; I’m doing good.”
That is our position, and when one becomes a little sober and actually realizes his or her position, he or she will try to make a solution, to get out of the material miseries, the bondage of material existence. He or she will inquire, as Sanatana Gosvami inquired of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, ke ami, kene amaya jare tapa-traya?—“Who am I? Why do the threefold miseries always give me trouble? How can I get relief?” That is the beginning of human intelligence. Until we make such inquiry, we are engaged just like animals—eating, sleeping, enjoying sense gratification, and arranging for shelter and defense.
When one actually inquires, as Sanatana Gosvami did of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, one is considered to be a human being. And in answer to the question “Who am I?” Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu replied, jivera ‘svarupa’ haya—krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’: “The constitutional position of the living entity is to be an eternal servant of Krishna.” Krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’ means that we are servants of Krishna even after liberation.
Between the karmis, who work to earn money and spend it for gross and subtle enjoyment, and the bhaktas, who understand that they are eternal servants of Krishna and engage in devotional service—in between the karmis and the bhaktas are the jnanis. Because the jnanis recognize the miseries of material existence and want to escape them, they are more elevated than the karmis, but because they do not have knowledge of Krishna or of the living entity as the eternal servant of Krishna, their approach is negative. They think, “I am an individual and am suffering, so if I give up being an individual, I won’t have to suffer. I have desires and by pursuing them I suffer, so I will give up desire. I have thoughts and my thoughts lead to misery, so I will give up thinking. I have feeling and my feeling leads to misery, so I will give up feeling.” They want to negate their individual existence—no more feeling, no more thinking, no more desiring, no more working—and to merge and become one with God.
Ultimately, the principle is the same. The karmis want to become the chief (just like now there is so much competition to see who will become the president), and the jnanis, the impersonalists, also want to become the chief—by merging and becoming one with the Supreme. But the real solution is to become the servant of the Supreme (jivera ‘svarupa’ haya—krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’). That is real knowledge. Therefore Sri Ramananda Raya says that other than knowledge of devotional service, which is the constitutional activity of the living entity, there is no real knowledge. The rest is illusion. And Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that material education makes one more and more foolish, because it is based on the body. To identify with the body is foolish, and mundane education, which reinforces the bodily concept of life and ultimately teaches one how to earn money and enjoy the body, makes one more foolish. The only real knowledge is knowledge of devotional service.
Before I met Srila Prabhupada and the devotees, I had been seeking. And when I met Prabhupada, I understood that he was the teacher for whom I was searching. And I surrendered to him. Without surrender, one cannot get knowledge. We see in the Bhagavad-gita that it was only after Arjuna surrendered that Krishna began to instruct him. Arjuna said,
prcchami tvam dharma-sammudha-cetah
yac chreyah syan niscitam bruhi tan me
sisyas te ’ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (Gita 2.7)
Krishna immediately assumed the position of teacher and chastised His disciple:
asocyan anvasocas tvam
prajna-vadams ca bhasase
gatasun agatasums ca
“While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead.” (Gita 2.11)
First is surrender. Without surrendering to an authority, a spiritual master, one cannot get transcendental knowledge.
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” (Gita 4.34) Pranipatena means “by offering obeisances”—by surrendering.
So, I surrendered to Srila Prabhupada, and after serving in the Boston temple for some months, I got a letter from him: “I enclose a letter from your father, which will speak for itself. From this letter it appears that you are a good scholar with a good background in your education. So if you wish to make further progress in your educational career, that will be a nice asset for our Krishna consciousness movement.” He continued, “You have a taste for psychology and divinity studies, and this is very nice. Of course, our Krishna consciousness movement is on the line of divinity, and we have got so many books about the science of divinity.” Srila Prabhupada used the word divinity. Religious studies had not really begun or become very popular yet, but there were schools of divinity. Finally, he concluded, “I like the idea that you should make a thorough study of all theological schools, and in the future if you can explain our Krishna consciousness movement as the post-graduate presentation of all theological theses, it will be a great accomplishment.”
When I received the letter, I was unsure how to proceed. I did not want to go back to the university, but I knew that the order of the spiritual master was the first and highest consideration. Still, I wasn’t sure if Prabhupada was giving me an order or just offering an option. I consulted my temple president, and he also couldn’t say. So, we concluded that I should write and ask Prabhupada directly. I wrote, “If you are instructing me to pursue my studies, then I will gladly do whatever you say, but if you are giving me the choice, then I would rather stay in the temple with the devotees and worship the Deities and go out for sankirtana.” A week later I heard back from Srila Prabhupada. “Yes,” he wrote, “there is no need of any further education. . . . When Lord Chaitanya was discussing with Ramananda Raya who is the best-educated man, the answer was that a person who is Krishna conscious is the topmost educated man. Similarly, Prahlada Maharaja stated before his father that one who has taken to Krishna consciousness is the best-educated man. I think therefore that in all circumstances you should steadfastly continue your Krishna conscious engagement, rather than joining any more universities.”
Now we shall proceed to the next question and answer.
“kirti-gana-madhye jivera kon bada kirti?”
“krsna-bhakta baliya yanhara haya khyati”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then asked Ramananda Raya, “Out of all glorious activities, which is the most glorious?”
Ramananda Raya replied, “That person who is reputed to be a devotee of Lord Krsna enjoys the utmost fame and glory.”
The greatest reputation a living being can have is to be a devotee of Krsna and to act in Krsna consciousness. In the material world everyone is trying to be famous by accumulating a large bank balance or material opulence. There is a steady competition among karmis attempting to advance in a wealthy society. The whole world is turning in accordance with that competitive mood. But this kind of name and fame is temporary, for it lasts only as long as the temporary material body exists.
It may not even last that long. For years, Bill Gates was reputed to be the richest person in the world, and then one year it was announced that the owner of Ikea was the richest. Then there was a whole confusion—was he or wasn’t he? After a few days the statement was retracted: “Actually, much of his wealth is in the names of trusts; it is not his.” So, Bill Gates was back on top. Then there was a controversy over which was the tallest building in the world. For years it was the Sears Tower in Chicago. Then someone built one in Kuala Lumpur that, with its tower on top, was higher. In Chicago they continued to advertise the Sears Tower as the tallest building in the world, though, because they did not count the tower on the other building. And in Kuala Lumpur they advertised their building as the tallest in the world. There is always competition for reputation.
People want to be famous. Movies stars, sports heroes, rich people—all are famous. But the fame attached to being rich or glamorous lasts only as long as the body.
One of the founders of industry in the United States was Henry Ford, and he became one of the richest men in the world. Later, his great grandson Alfred Ford came to meet Prabhupada. And the first thing Srila Prabhupada said was, “So, you are the grandson of Henry Ford?” “Yes.” “And where is Henry Ford now?” Prabhupada’s statement immediately took the young man off the bodily platform. Yes, where is he now? That’s a good question. Is he an ant or a worm in stool? We don’t know where he is now.
At best, one’s fame will last only as long as one’s body. And then we don’t know where we will go or what we will be. We are under the stringent laws of material nature.
purusah prakrti-stho hi
bhunkte prakrti-jan gunan
karanam guna-sango ’sya
“The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil among various species.” (Gita 13.22)
Prabhupada remarked that people are worrying whether their children and grandchildren will have gas to drive their cars, but parents are not thinking that they may become cockroaches in the back seat of the car. The son may be driving a big car while the father is in the back in the body of a cockroach. The fame that is attached to the body is short-lived—very short-lived. At most it lasts as long as the body, and often not that long.
Therefore Ramananda Raya says that one who is reputed as a devotee enjoys the utmost fame.
One may become famous as a brahma-jnani, an impersonalist scholar, or one may become a materially opulent person. In either case, such reputations are inferior to the reputation of Krsna’s devotee. In the Garuda Purana it is said:
kalau bhagavatam nama
durlabham naiva labhyate
guruna kathitam mama
“In this Age of Kali, the fame of one who is known as a great devotee is very rare. However, such a position is superior to that of the great demigods like Brahma and Mahadeva. This is the opinion of all spiritual masters.” . . .
The Garuda Purana similarly states:
ekanty eko visisyate
“It is said that out of thousands of brahmanas, one is qualified to perform sacrifices, and out of many thousands of such qualified brahmanas expert in sacrificial offerings, one learned brahmana may have passed beyond all Vedic knowledge. He is considered the best among all these brahmanas. And yet, out of thousands of such brahmanas who have surpassed Vedic knowledge, one person may be a visnu-bhakta, and he is most famous. Out of many thousands of such Vaisnavas, one who is completely fixed in the service of Lord Krsna is most famous. Indeed, a person who is completely devoted to the service of the Lord certainly returns home, back to Godhead.”
Because we identify with the body, we identify ourselves as residents of the planet Earth. But actually, we are not the body. We are spirit souls, meant to get out of this material world and return to our real home with Krishna. But we identify with the body and consider the Earth—or the United States, or California, or Los Angeles, or this neighborhood or street—to be our home. And we worry what the people think of us. Sometimes we don’t want to be too open about being devotees, because we don’t know what people will think of us or how what they think might affect our material advancement or the congeniality of our social interactions. So we are very careful about how we present ourselves, so that people think we are okay, that we are like them, not different.
But the total population of living entities is so much greater than the population in our neighborhood or city or state or country or even planet. There are living entities—people—everywhere. And most of them are in the spiritual world. The whole material creation is just one fourth (ekamsa) of the kingdom of God. This one fourth is the prison house. We are the prisoners, and we are desperately trying to impress the other prisoners so they will think that we are like them. “We are as criminal as you are. We are as ignorant as you are. Don’t think we are any different from you.” We want to fit into that society. We are not thinking of the real population, the liberated souls who are outside the prison, that they are the people whom we should really be trying to impress—not the criminals, the fools and rascals.
The fame of a devotee goes beyond this planet. Narottama dasa Thakura glorifies the spiritual master—that his fame is spread throughout the three worlds (ebe yasa ghusuk tri-bhuvana). That is real fame. It is not dependent on the body or on the recognition of ignorant fools. And it extends beyond the material world to the spiritual planets, to the Lord and the pure souls who live with Him. “But what about the famous people here?” one may question. “The political leaders and intellectual giants—what about them? They are famous.” The Bhagavatam says that people who are not God conscious are like bigger animals that are praised by smaller animals. Such a statement might sound harsh, but if you identify with the body, you are an animal.
yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijya-dhih
yat-tirtha-buddhih salile na karhicij
janesv abhijnesu sa eva go-kharah
“One who identifies his self as the inert body composed of mucus, bile, and air, who assumes his wife and family are permanently his own, who thinks the land of his birth is worshipable, or who sees a place of pilgrimage as merely the water there but who never identifies himself with, feels kinship with, worships, or even visits those who are wise in spiritual truth—such a person is no better than a cow or an ass.” (SB 10.84.13)
Srila Prabhupada used to say that if a dog is thinking, “I am a bulldog,” and if a man is thinking, “I am a British man,” what is the difference? Both are on the bodily platform. So, the famous people of this world, who are praised in this world, if they have no spiritual consciousness, are nothing more than bigger animals being praised by smaller animals.
samstutah purusah pasuh
jatu nama gadagrajah
“Men who are like dogs, hogs, camels, and asses praise those men who never listen to the transcendental pastimes of Lord Sri Krsna, the deliverer from evils.” (SB 2.3.19)
And after all, what is the significance of an animal? The lion is the king of the jungle, and the other animals are afraid of him—“The lion! The lion!” But what does it amount to? It has no significance, being king of the animals in the jungle.
We want to be famous in human society, and actual human society means God-conscious human society. Without religion, without God consciousness, there is no difference between a man and an animal (dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah).
Now we come to the next question and answer.
“sampattira madhye jivera kon sampatti gani?”
“radha-krsne prema yanra, sei bada dhani”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu asked, “Of the many capitalists who possess great riches, who is the topmost?”
Ramananda Raya replied, “He who is richest in love for Radha and Krsna is the greatest capitalist.”
Everyone in this material world is attempting to acquire riches to satisfy the senses. Actually no one cares for anything other than acquiring material possessions and maintaining them. The wealthy are generally accepted as the most important personalities in this material world, but when we compare a material man of wealth to one wealthy in devotional service to Radha and Krsna, the latter is found to be the greatest capitalist. According to Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.39.2):
kim alabhyam bhagavati
tathapi tat-para rajan
na hi vanchanti kincana
“What is difficult for the devotees of Lord Krsna, who is the shelter of the goddess of fortune? Although such devotees can obtain anything, O King, they do not desire anything.”
Sri Bilvamangala Thakura prays,
bhaktis tvayi sthiratara bhagavan yadi syad
daivena nah phalati divya-kisora-murtih
muktih svayam mukulitanjali sevate ’sman
“If I am engaged in devotional service unto You, my dear Lord, then very easily can I perceive Your presence everywhere. And as far as liberation is concerned, I think that liberation stands at my door with folded hands, waiting to serve me—and all material conveniences of dharma [religiosity], artha [economic development], and kama [sense gratification] stand with her.” (Krsna-karnamrta 107)
By engaging in devotional service, devotees are offered every facility, including liberation. Yet they are so satisfied in devotional service that they do not desire anything else—only more service.
A devotee is satisfied in the service of the Lord, whereas materialists are never satisfied; they always want to increase their material acquisitions. Some decades ago, John Paul Getty was the richest man in the world. A newspaper reporter interviewed him: “You are the richest man in the world. You have everything you could possibly want. Can you give us your philosophy of life in one word?” He said, “Yes—‘More.’” He always wanted more. That means he never had enough. He was always in want.
“You have everything money can buy,” the reporter continued. “When you are alone—when there is no one around—what do you think about?” And he replied, “I think about how to pay the bills.” The same principle—the big animal and the small animals. The small man is thinking, “How to make the payment on the car? How to make the payment on the house?” and the big man is thinking, “How to make the payment on the multi-billion-dollar acquisition.” The consciousness is the same.
A devotee is satisfied in the service of the Lord, so he is the richest. He has what he wants, whereas others, who always want more, are poor, always in want. The devotee has the treasure of love for Radha and Krishna within his heart, whereas others look for treasures outside of themselves, treasures meager and mundane in comparison.
There is a story about Emperor Akbar. Although a Muslim, he was open to Hindus, and among the Hindus in his court was the great singer Tansen. Akbar thought, “Tansen sings so beautifully, but what about his teacher? I wish I could hear him sing.” Tansen’s teacher was Haridasa, a saintly person who lived in Vrindavan. But he sang only for Krishna; he wouldn’t sing for the king. So the king disguised himself as an ordinary person and accompanied Tansen to Haridasa’s hut. According to one version, when Akbar heard the beauty (both spiritual and material) of Haridasa’s voice, he was overwhelmed and removed a royal pendant that was concealed under his cloth and threw it on the floor in front of Haridasa. Witnessing this, Haridasa knew that Akbar was the emperor.
Akbar wanted to reward Haridasa. “I can never repay you for this,” he said, “yet I want to give you something—whatever you want, whatever is in my power to give.” Haridasa took him a short distance to the Yamuna River and asked him to repair the cracks in the steps of the ghat. The emperor replied, “I could give you anything you want, and you are asking me just to repair some cracks in the steps?” Haridasa said, “Put your face in the water and see what is there.” The emperor put his eyes in the water to look at the steps beneath the surface, but by Haridasa’s mercy he was able to see the actual feature of the Yamuna River and the spiritual Vrindavan. He saw that that ghat was made of cintamani stones, spiritual gems more precious than anything the king had ever seen.
When the king raised his head from the water, he looked at Haridasa and said, “With all the wealth in my treasury, I cannot do what you have asked.”
Our standard of wealth and riches in the material world is so poor. Once, when Srila Prabhupada visited Hong Kong, the devotees arranged to receive him at the airport with a Rolls Royce. At the press conference that followed his arrival, a reporter said, “You are supposed to be a spiritual person. Why are you riding in a Rolls Royce?” In response, Srila Prabhupada cited a verse from the Brahma-samhita (5.29):
laksavrtesu surabhir abhipalayantam
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, the first progenitor, who is tending cows, yielding all desires, in abodes built with spiritual gems, surrounded by millions of purpose trees, and always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds and thousands of goddesses of fortune.” Srila Prabhupada said, “I come from the spiritual world, where everything is made of cintamani gems, which are more precious than gold and diamonds. Even if my disciples had received me in a solid gold car, it would not have been good enough, but because that was the best they could do, I had to accept it.” After Srila Prabhupada related this story to me, he looked at me and remarked, “What else can you say to such people?”
Although what Prabhupada told the reporter was spoken in an ironic way, it illustrates the point that this world of death (martya-loka) is not opulent. Matter is all so gross—even gold, platinum, and diamonds. Diamonds are just coal, compressed coal. All matter is dead. It has no life, and it can never satisfy the soul. Therefore Srila Prabhupada wrote, “One who has tasted the beauty of the Supreme Lord Krsna, in the course of his advancement in Krsna consciousness, no longer has a taste for dead, material things. . . . When one is actually Krsna conscious, he automatically loses his taste for pale things.” (Gita 2.59 purport)
Soon after I joined, I wrote Srila Prabhupada about the great gift that he had given us, the gift of Krishna consciousness. And in the same letter about the topmost educated man, he wrote, “I am so pleased to learn that you have taken Krishna consciousness as the most valuable gift. One who can understand this is not an ordinary living entity but is the most fortunate.”
“duhkha-madhye kona duhkha haya gurutara?”
“krsna-bhakta-viraha vina duhkha nahi dekhi para”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu asked, “Of all kinds of distress, what is the most painful?”
Sri Ramananda Raya replied, “Apart from separation from the devotee of Krsna, I know of no unbearable unhappiness.”
Concerning this, the Lord states in the Vedic literature:
mam anaradhya duhkhartah
“A person who does not worship Me, who is unduly attached to family, and who does not stick to devotional service must be considered a most unhappy person. Similarly, one who does not associate with Vaisnavas, or who does not render service to his superior, is also a most unhappy person.”
There is also the following statement in the Brhad-bhagavatamrta (1.5.44):
vicchedena ksanam catra
na sukhamsam labhamahe
“Out of all kinds of desirable things experienced in the life of a living entity, association with the devotees of the Lord is the greatest. When we are separated from a devotee even for a moment, we cannot enjoy happiness.”
The real life of the living entity is devotional service—jivera ‘svarupa’ haya—krsnera ‘nitya-dasa.’ Devotional service can be executed in the association of devotees. Without the association of devotees there is no happiness, because there is no chance to hear and chant about Krishna. Such a so-called life is worse than death. Therefore Sri Prabodhananda Sarasvati prays, kaivalyam narakayate. Kaivalya, merging into the impersonal Brahman, is worse than hell, because at least in hell you can preach—chant and hear the glories of the Lord—whereas in impersonal Brahman there is no devotional service, and there is no happiness. It is worse than hell.
That is the vision of a devotee. His life is devotional service, and he needs the association of devotees; he is addicted to the association of devotees, and if he doesn’t have it, it becomes very painful. As Srila Prabhupada said, “Instead of thinking, ‘Unless I have a drink, I will go mad,’ one should think, ‘Unless I associate with a sadhu, I will go mad.’ When we can think in this way, we will become liberated.” (TLK 24)
Unfortunately, as the verse in the purport says, in the bodily concept of life one who is unduly attached to family is bound to suffer, because in the end family members are bound to be separated. Death will separate us from all our mundane attachments (mrtyuh sarva-haras caham), and even apart from death we may be separated by other circumstances. Therefore we should transfer our attachment to devotees, sadhus.
prasangam ajaram pasam
atmanah kavayo viduh
sa eva sadhusu krto
“Every learned man knows very well that attachment for the material is the greatest entanglement of the spirit soul. But that same attachment, when applied to the self-realized devotees, opens the door of liberation.” (SB 3.25.20)
The Lord said, “A person who does not worship Me, who is unduly attached to family, and who does not stick to devotional service must be considered a most unhappy person.” Without the association of devotees, one can neither take to devotional service nor continue in devotional service.
krsna-bhakti-janma-mula haya ‘sadhu-sanga’
krsna-prema janme, tenho punah mukhya anga
“The root cause of devotional service to Lord Krsna is association with advanced devotees. Even when one’s dormant love for Krsna awakens, association with devotees is still most essential.” (Cc Madhya 22.83)
Prahlada Maharaja was born in a family of demons, but because he had the association of Narada Muni while he was in the womb, he became a devotee. And he could not live without the association of devotees, so he preached to his demonic classmates and got them to chant and dance and become devotees. Sometimes Prabhupada’s followers go to a new place where there are no devotees, but they cannot stay there unless they make devotees. They just cannot live without devotees.
Today I received a phone call from a devotee in South Africa, Ajita Krishna dasi. She had been living in one of the South African townships, or ghettos, but it became too oppressive for her. She wanted to move to a community of devotees, but somehow it didn’t work out. Then she met a very pious, very good, wealthy lady who owned a large estate in the Knysna forest, which the lady had developed as a resort with many chalets. The lady is originally from England, and as a youth, as she made her way by land and sea to South Africa, she was robbed in Kenya. In desperation, she went to a Catholic church for help, but she was turned away. Then, by chance, she happened upon the Hare Krishna temple in Nairobi and spent three months there. She got the association of devotees, and although she did not become a proper devotee herself, she came to harbor a dream that the chalet at the bottom of her property would one day be used as a Krishna temple. So, when she met Ajita she offered her a place to stay for free. And now Ajita has a perfect situation—all facilities, natural beauty, and no expenses. Wealthy people own and rent houses in Knysna to be near the beautiful beach and forest. But there is one problem: there are no devotees there. Ajita will have to make them—or meet them.
Even I have my own little story. In Mauritius we had a patron, Mr. Gowtum Teelok, who was actually a friend of Srila Prabhupada’s. His family owned sugar plantations, and they held important positions in the government. Mr. Teelok had a second house on the seaside, and he was always inviting me to come and spend time there. So finally I went, with one other devotee. Although it was on the ocean, with a garden with plants and flowers and palm trees, to me it was like a desert. There were no devotees or Deities, so it was dry, like being in a desert. So I stayed for a few hours and then shifted to the temple.
In general, we need the association of devotees, and in particular, we may have special relationships with specific advanced devotees—our spiritual masters and perhaps some dear friends. And when we feel separation from some particular devotee, we feel acute pain. Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami was the most advanced devotee, one of the Six Gosvamis, but after Rupa Gosvami left this world, Raghunatha dasa felt so much separation that he wrote in a poem that Govardhana Hill, which he loved so much, had become like a python, and that Radha-kunda, which he loved as Srimati Radharani, had become like the gaping jaws of a tiger. There was no happiness for him, even in his beloved Govardhana Hill and Sri Radha-kunda.
Narottama dasa Thakura also lamented in separation from Lord Chaitanya and His associates. He wrote that, being unable to bear their separation, he would smash his head against the rock and enter into fire.
pasane kutibo matha anale pasibo
gauranga gunera nidhi kotha gele pabo
“I will smash my head against the rock and enter into the fire. Where will I find Lord Gauranga, the reservoir of all wonderful qualities?
se-saba sangira sange je koilo bilas
se-sanga na paiya kande narottama das
“Being unable to obtain the association of Lord Gauranga accompanied by all of these devotees in whose association He performed His pastimes, Narottama dasa simply weeps.” (Prarthana, Saparsada-bhagavad-viraha-janita-vilapa, “Lamentation Due to Separation from the Lord and His Associates,” 4–5)
Such separation cannot be compared to material separation. In time, material separation dulls and one gradually forgets. One may even drown oneself in other things—another person or some pursuit—to replace or forget the lost loved one. But in devotional service separation is not like that. In devotional service our relationships are based not on the body but on the eternal relation between the soul and the Supreme Soul. The relationships are eternal and continue even after death. Thus Narottama dasa Thakura sings, cakhu-dan dilo yei, janme janme prabhu sei: “He who has opened my eyes with transcendental knowledge is my lord birth after birth.” And in service, that separation becomes blissful.
Once Srila Prabhupada established himself in America, he was with the devotees all the time. First he had only one center, in New York City, and there he was always with them. Then some devotees went and opened the second center, in San Francisco, and when Prabhupada went there, it was very hard for the New York devotees, because they were used to seeing him every day. And when Prabhupada went to India, it was even more difficult—for all of them. But he wrote to one disciple, “Please be happy in separation. I am separated from my guru maharaja since 1936, but I am always with him so long I work according to his direction. So we should all work together for satisfying Lord Krishna and in that way the feelings of separation will transform into transcendental bliss.”
This is the mystery of separation in Krishna consciousness. Although externally there is separation and lamentation, internally there is association and bliss. The real thing is the soul, and association on the spiritual platform is based on the soul—and the Supreme Soul—and is not limited by the body or time or space. What Ramananda Raya said is certainly true—the most intense pain is separation from a pure devotee—but at the same time, the pain of separation can serve as an impetus in one’s devotional service, and when one becomes more absorbed in devotional service, the feelings of separation transform into transcendental bliss. One experiences meeting even in separation. Thus Srila Prabhupada often said that although he had been separated from his guru maharaja for so many years, he did not feel that they were apart, because he was connected to his guru maharaja by service, by following his instructions: “I have written in the first publication of Srimad-Bhagavatam, ‘The spiritual master lives forever by his divine instruction and the disciple lives with him.’ Because I have always served my guru maharaja and followed his teachings, I am even now never separated from him. Sometimes maya may come and try to interfere, but we must not falter. We must always follow the chalked-out path laid down by the great acharyas, and in the end you will see.” (SP letter, November 25, 1973)
In general, we need the association of devotees to be happy. But among so many devotees, we may have a special relationship with a particular devotee, like Raghunatha dasa Gosvami had with Rupa Gosvami. Then even in the association of other devotees we may feel separation from that one particular devotee with whom we have that special relationship. But even that separation can be reconciled through service.
“There are two ways of association—by vani and by vapuh. Vani means words, and vapuh means physical presence. Physical presence is sometimes appreciable and sometimes not, but vani continues to exist eternally. Therefore we must take advantage of the vani.” (Cc “Concluding Words)” Further, by following the instructions of the spiritual master and previous acharyas, we become eligible to go back home, back to Godhead. And in the end we all will meet in the spiritual world, in service to Krishna. As Srila Prabhupada said, “We will have another ISKCON in the spiritual sky.”
Sometimes, because we are still affected by the bodily concept of life, we don’t see each other from the purely spiritual point of view. We identify with the body and have material desires, and naturally we want our desires to be fulfilled by the people around us—who may be devotees. And when our desires are not fulfilled, we may find fault or complain about those devotees, or we may look outside the association of devotees for satisfaction. And our desires may be subtle. We may want affection, appreciation, friendship, fellowship. These are natural human wants. And when we expect these things from devotees and don’t get them, we may feel frustrated and may find fault and complain, and we may even look for society, friendship, and love elsewhere.
In pure devotional service we want only to serve and please Krishna—and His devotees. Although Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said, jivera ‘svarupa’ haya—krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’—we are the eternal servants of Krishna—He stated further, gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah: “I am the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna”—not directly the servant. That is our actual position. We are servants of the servants of Krishna. How, then, can we place demands on our masters? The other devotees are our prabhus, our masters. How can we place demands on them, even in subtle ways, for our own gratification? We are meant to be their servants, and in that mood our relationships become very congenial.
Once, when there was some disagreement among the devotees, a disciple asked Srila Prabhupada, “What can we do to improve our relationships?” And Srila Prabhupada replied, “If each devotee thinks, I am the servant of the servants, there will be no problem. Unfortunately, to some extent we still have that conditioning that we want to be the master, and we want the other devotees to serve us and give us what we want. But gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah; we are servants of the servants of the servants of Krishna. We should not place any demands on our masters—that is not pure devotional service.
After Nrsimhadeva killed Hiranyakasipu, He offered Prahlada, “You take any benediction you want.” And Prahlada replied, “I don’t want anything from You. By constitution You are my master, and by constitution I am Your servant. We have no other relationship. If I wanted something from You in exchange for my service, I would not be a servant; I would be a businessman. I do not want to do business with You, to take some reward from You in return for my service.” He said, “If a servant does service to get something in return, he is not a real servant, and if a master gives something in return in order to maintain his prestigious position as master, he is not a real master.” A real master doesn’t give anything except pure devotional service—more service. And a real servant doesn’t ask for anything except more service. That is the only exchange—nothing else.
Prahlada said to Nrsimhadeva, yas ta asisa asaste na sa bhrtyah sa vai vanik: “One who desires some material benefit in exchange for devotional service cannot be Your pure devotee. Indeed, he is no better than a merchant who wants profit in exchange for service.” (SB 7.10.4)
asasano na vai bhrtyah
svaminy asisa atmanah
na svami bhrtyatah svamyam
icchan yo rati casisah
“A servant who desires material profits from his master is certainly not a qualified servant or pure devotee. Similarly, a master who bestows benedictions upon his servant because of a desire to maintain a prestigious position as master is also not a pure master.
aham tv akamas tvad-bhaktas
tvam ca svamy anapasrayah
“O my Lord, I am Your unmotivated servant, and You are my eternal master. There is no need of our being anything other than master and servant. You are naturally my master, and I am naturally Your servant. We have no other relationship.” (SB 7.10.5–6)
In the mood of pure devotional service, our relationships are very congenial, with Krishna in the center. In the bodily concept, each one of us wants to be the center. I keep myself in the center—“I,” “me,” and “mine.” In the spiritual concept of pure devotional service, Krishna is the center and we all are His servants, but not direct servants—servants of the servants. When we serve in that mood of pure devotion, Krishna is pleased and His servants are pleased—everyone is pleased. And each of us automatically becomes happy and satisfied. We just have to keep Krishna in the center; then everything else will follow.
yatra yogesvarah krsno
yatra partho dhanur-dharah
tatra srir vijayo bhutir
dhruva nitir matir mama
“Wherever there is Krsna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality. That is my opinion.” (Gita 18.78)
Are there any questions or comments?
Maha-sakti dasa: Going back to the earlier part of your lecture, about Prabhupada in the early days, his mission was to destroy impersonalism and voidism (nirvisesa sunyavadi). Back then, many of us were hippies and were into the idea of satiating our senses. And Prabhupada was talking about these impersonalists, who were trying to merge and refrain from desire. We were wondering, “Who is he talking about? Maybe they are in India, but in America we don’t have that experience.” In America back then everyone was into enjoying their senses and sense gratification, especially with free love. And that hasn’t changed much. In the New Age movement there is a big emphasis on not repressing your senses. “Engage your senses. Don’t restrain them, because that is artificial. Engage them, because that is the real path to understanding who you are and attaining happiness.”
I guess the question pertains to some degree to ourselves as devotees, because although there’s no ambiguity about the process, there may be a moment when we start to feel unhappy or unfulfilled—“Devotees are not giving me what I want.” So, how do we live a healthy, happy spiritual life without feeling “I am not getting what I want; I am feeling repressed,” with anger and so many things coming up in the mind—lust, anger, and different things? How do we grow as a society and attract new people, show that this is the right way of life and one can be happy at the same time?
Giriraj Swami: Do you have any ideas? I am sure you must have thought of it.
Maha-sakti dasa: I know that this is the right path. We may just need to learn how to relate to Vaishnavas more in the right way. In a sense, we are very new, and maybe we haven’t yet learned how to be a Vaishnava society. Rupa Gosvami talks about revealing one’s mind and that kind of thing, and I don’t think we are quite there yet, because if we were, maybe our mood would be a little more joyful. We would enjoy the service more than we actually do right now. So, maybe it is a matter of time—and continuing the preaching spirit. I don’t know.
In reality, we are not repressing our senses at all. We are really engaging our senses. With constant festivals, we are constantly glorifying devotees and different incarnations of Krishna, and we are always taking prasada. So, there is no question of repression. But still there is the problem that lies within, as you mentioned. There is the residual karma that seems to bother us, and that is the question—how devotees can deal with that within the society and not feel that they have to go outside in order to take care of that issue.
Giriraj Swami: Somehow I think of late 1969 or early ’70 in the Boston temple. Tamal Krishna Goswami had come for the first time. He was a legend from the West Coast, and Brahmananda Prabhu from New York, who was the legend on the East Coast, drove up to meet him. In the evening, after we had a little prasada—perhaps hot milk and puffed rice with peanuts—we were all standing in line to wash our plates in the sink, and Brahmananda Prabhu said to Tamal Krishna Goswami, “Everyone wants love, so if we just love each other, everyone will get what he wants and everyone will be happy.” It sounded logical and sensible—and true.
The only catch is that to really love someone, you have to be pure. Otherwise, what passes as love, as Srila Prabhupada said, is actually lust. For example, a boy tells a girl, “I love you,” and the girl tells the boy, “I love you,” but actually it is not love; it is lust. And if either partner does not get from the other what he or she wants, the relationship breaks. When we become more advanced, more pure in heart, we can actually serve with love. Love isn’t just a sentiment. It is a process that manifests in service. And to cleanse the heart (ceto-darpana-marjanam), we have the chanting of the holy name—offenseless chanting of the holy name. That will cleanse the heart, and that will create the type of relationships that we want.
We want to create a culture of service, vaisnava-seva. Even before deep love develops, we can create a culture of service and follow Vaishnava etiquette. Proper etiquette guides our relationships and makes our interactions more congenial. In Vedic culture people’s roles are defined, as is the behavior appropriate to each role—how to relate to others. It was mentioned in the quotation in the purport that one who does not serve a superior is a most unhappy person. In essence, there are three different relationships—a subordinate to a superior, an equal to an equal, and a superior to a subordinate. A subordinate should sincerely serve a superior, the superior should affectionately guide the subordinate, and equals should be friends. And we should carefully avoid the contaminated forms of those relationships, in which the subordinate is envious of the superior; the superior exploits the subordinate; or the equals, instead of having genuine, open friendship, feel proud of themselves.
So, we want to develop a culture of selfless service and proper etiquette. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that there are different levels of conversion. The first level is spiritual or religious, but the cultural level may take longer. Devotees may quickly grasp the fundamental spiritual principles—“I am the eternal servant of Krishna”—but it may take longer to understand and adopt the culture of service. And it has become even more difficult now, because with so much influence from the West, the sublime culture that existed in India is rapidly deteriorating. And the Indians who come to the West become further influenced by Western ways. So, we do not see the Vedic or Vaishnava culture in practice as much as before.
We are in Kali-yuga, and it is getting worse. But we need that Vaishnava culture, and we need spiritual purity. The main thing is purity of heart, and that comes from the process of devotional service, especially from offenseless chanting and hearing about Krishna and serving Krishna’s devotees.
kaler dosa-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krsnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet
“My dear King, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.” (SB 12.3.51)
Maha-sakti dasa: And reading, too, is important. We have been reading today.
Giriraj Swami: Indeed. Reading, which comes in the category of hearing, teaches us who we are, who Krishna is, what the material world is, what the spiritual world is, and what our relationships are. It teaches us what the goal of life is and how to attain it. Reading is most important, and Srila Prabhupada advised that we should read for one or two hours every day.
We are in the age of Kali. Kali means “quarrel.” In the age of Kali people quarrel over the smallest thing. They make such a big thing out of a small thing.
Practically, I always feel that there are two things that can help devotees appreciate other devotees. The first is preaching. When you go out and meet people, you see the difference between the people you meet and the devotees, and you appreciate devotees more. Unfortunately, devotees don’t preach so much anymore. Most are grihasthas who live outside of temples, and not many are actively preaching. But if you go out and meet people and speak to them and see what kind of reactions you get, what kind of people you are dealing with, you come to appreciate devotees more.
The other way is to be separated from devotees for some time. You may end up in the beautiful Knysna forest without devotees. Then you appreciate devotees.
It is very important that we have good relationships. If we have strong sadhana—hearing and chanting—and loving relationships, we will grow and prosper. But if our relationships are poor and our sadhana is weak, we will tend to disintegrate.
Devotees are very nice. Sometimes we have to speak strongly to distinguish between the devotional creeper and the unwanted weeds, so we can grow and flourish. Otherwise, devotees are chanting, and they are serving. They are the best people in the world.
[A talk by Giriraj Swami on Ramananda Raya’s disappearance day, June 1, 2008, Camarillo, California]<