Talks by Niranjana Swami and Giriraj Swami
(The Lord’s Order to Proceed around Town and Chant)
by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
nadiya-godrume nityananda mahajana
patiyache nam-hatta jivera karana
In the land of Nadiya, on the island of Godruma, the magnanimous Lord Nityananda has opened up the marketplace of the holy name, meant for the deliverance of all fallen souls.
(sraddhavan jan he, sraddhavan jan he)
prabhura ajnay, bhai, magi ei bhiksa
bolo ‘krsna,’ bhajo krsna, koro krsna-siksa
O men of faith! O men of faith! By the order of Lord Gauranga, O brothers, I beg this one request: Chant “Krsna!”, worship Krsna, and follow Krsna’s instructions.
aparadha-sunya ho’ye loho krsna-nam
krsna mata, krsna pita, krsna dhana-pran
Being careful to remain free of offenses, just take the holy name of Krsna. Krsna is your mother, Krsna is your father, and Krsna is the treasure of your life.
krsnera samsara koro chadi’ anacar
jive doya, krsna-nam–sarva-dharma-sar
Giving up all improper behavior, carry on your worldly duties only in relation to Krsna. The showing of compassion to all fallen souls by loudly chanting the holy name of Krsna is the essence of all forms of religion.
COMMENT by Niranjana Swami
The title of this song is “Ajna-tahal.” Ajna-tahal means “the Lord’s order.” Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa Thakura, associates of Lord Caitanya, on the Lord’s order bolo ‘krsna,’ bhajo krsna, koro krsna-siksa begged people to chant Krsna’s name.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has written a commentary on his own bhajana. Often people who approach Krsna consciousness find it difficult to balance the ultimate instruction of the Lord, which is to always chant the holy name of the Lord (kirtaniyah sada harih), with fulfilling the necessities of life. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in his commentary, very nicely explains how.
Lord Caitanya gave the order to incessantly chant hari-nama, the holy name of the Lord, and Bhaktivinoda Thakura asks, “What does that mean–to constantly chant Hare Krsna?” Sometimes devotees say, “We chant when we have kirtana and when we do a little japa. In all else we do in life, should we say anything besides Hare Krsna? When I am speaking to people, should I just chant Hare Krsna? And when people talk to me, should I just chant Hare Krsna back to them?” [laughter]
Of course, there are some babajis in Vrndavana who would do just that. One day Dhanurdhara Swami and I were walking along Govardhana Hill, and we met this one Vaisnava, Sanatana dasa Babaji. He was an associate of Krsnadasa Babaji. Maharaja approached him and offered him respects, and in response Sanatana dasa Babaji just said, “Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Maharaja started to speak to him, but there was no response except “Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” [laughter] So, there are some who do that, who have actually withdrawn themselves completely from the external affairs of this world. They do not participate in any dialogue, discussion, or pursuit except to always chant the holy names of the Lord (kirtaniyah sada harih) and live by completely depending on the Lord in all circumstances, not making any extra effort.
In fact, the reason Dhanurdhara Maharaja stopped Sanatana dasa Babaji is that he felt that he had once offended him. Maharaja knew that Sanatana had been an associate of Krsnadasa Babaji Maharaja, who was a close associate of Prabhupada. In fact, Sanatana may actually have been a disciple. Did Krsnadasa Babaji have disciples?
Giriraj Swami: You mean Akincana Krsnadasa Babaji?
Niranjana Swami: Yes.
Giriraj Swami: I have not heard of him having disciples.
Niranjana Swami: Anyway, Sanatana was an associate. Maharaja knew that, and he had once given him a donation, some rupees. And Sanatana dasa Babaji Maharaja had taken them and thrown them back at him. [laughter] That is why Dhanurdhara Maharaja thought that he had offended this Vaisnava–by offering him some money–so he wanted to apologize. And Sanatana just said, “Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” There are some who can live being fully dependant on whatever the Lord provides. They just live from day to day with only the basic necessities of life, making no extra effort whatsoever to maintain their bodies.
But that is a very high level of renunciation, a very high level of faith in the holy names of the Lord. Lord Caitanya and His associates showed that example; Lord Nityananda certainly did. Incessantly chanting the holy names of the Lord, twenty-four hours a day, was Their ultimate example in life. And that is the ultimate goal and perfection of life: to be able to be always absorbed in chanting continuously, twenty-four hours a day. Someone who has such implicit faith in the holy names can live this way and experience how the Lord in all circumstances provides everything that one needs. As Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes in the song, Nityananda Prabhu said, “Giving up all improper behavior, carry on your worldly duties only in relation to Krsna.” In other words, if you have to carry on your duties in this world, do whatever is necessary–but only in relationship to the Lord, minimizing all the demands of the body, all the necessities of life, and taking just enough. As we see in Prabhupada’s books, he often uses the expression “enough to maintain body and soul together.”
When it comes to applying this principle, there are different degrees of faith. Some have complete faith, as we see in the example of Srivasa Thakura. When Lord Caitanya approached Srivasa Thakura and proposed, “You are a householder, yet you are not making any effort even to go out begging for your family. Why don’t you just take the renounced order of life?” Srivasa replied, “That is not possible for me to do.” Lord Caitanya said, “But Srivasa, how will you fulfill the necessities of life for yourself if you are not making any efforts?” Srivasa answered by clapping his hands three times. Lord Caitanya asked, “What does that mean?” And Srivasa replied, “One, two, three [clapping his hands three times]. After three times, if the Lord does not provide the necessities of life then I will simply tie a rope around my neck and drown myself in the Ganges.” [laughter] Then Lord Caitanya said, “Oh Srivasa, how can you make such a mistake? Don’t you know what I say in the Bhagavad-gita? Ananyas cintayanto mam ye janah paryupasate/ tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham: ‘To those who are always meditating on Me completely, always absorbed in thoughts of Me–to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.’” Lord Caitanya continued, “There will never be poverty in your home. Even if the goddess of fortune herself becomes impoverished, you will never have to experience poverty, because I will carry on My head to your doorstep all your necessities of life.”
Lord Caitanya said that to Srivasa because Srivasa’s faith was so implicit that for him there was nothing else to do other than chant the holy name of the Lord. He had such implicit faith that the Lord said, “Anyone who has such implicit faith–I will personally carry on My head all the necessities to his doorstep.” So there are various levels of faith. Our faith may not be as elevated as Srivasa Thakura’s; our faith may be to varying degrees. As our Gosvamis have analyzed, there are different levels of faith, beginning with sraddha and progressing all the way up to prema.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura therefore explains what it means to always chant the holy names of the Lord. He says, “Mahaprabhu’s order is simply this–that everyone should incessantly chant hari-nama. Incessantly chant hari-nama–the meaning of this command is not that people should always chant the holy name while completely desisting from all bodily activities, household duties, and dealings with others.” Sometimes that’s the conception: “I should be renounced.” Then we may come to a stage of indecisiveness, vyudha-vikalpa, which is described by Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. “I should renounce everything and go into the forest, give everything up, but if I go to the forest and give everything up . . .” We fluctuate back and forth in a state of indecisiveness. “I can’t do that. There are many examples of householders who also lived being fully dependant upon the Lord. They did not give everything up, and still the Lord provided all necessities. So I will stay in household life and perform my duties. But then again, the duties are difficult . . .” Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura describes that state in anisthita bhakti called “indecisiveness,” alternating between renunciation and being unable to be completely renounced.
So, Bhaktivinoda Thakura says here, “The meaning of this command is not that people should always chant the holy name of the Lord and completely desist from all bodily activities, household duties, and dealings with others. By ceasing all actions of bodily maintenance, the body will be destroyed in a short while. In the context of this command, then, how should one engage in hari-nama? Since the Lord gave humanity the command to incessantly take the holy name, the true meaning is that everyone, whether grhastha or sannyasi, vanaprastha or brahmacari, brahmana or ksatriya, vaisya or sudra, lowborn or mleccha, and so forth–all people should remain in their respective situations and chant hari-nama. Verily this is the only meaning. It is necessary to nicely remain in one’s own natural situation because that position facilitates the proper performance of one’s activities for bodily maintenance, and thus the body will not expire untimely. Bodily maintenance requires dealing with others. It is essential that all such actions be observed in a pure and undisturbed fashion. Then all of these things will be conducted very nicely.”
In other words, the way to balance the Lord’s command with the demands of ordinary life is to remain in one’s particular position and perform one’s specific duties in a way that the execution of those duties, which include maintenance of the body, becomes a support to one’s spiritual practices. In his commentary to Sri Brahma-samhita Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura describes such duties as gauna-dharma, subsidiary functions meant to support our sanatana-dharma, our eternal function of chanting Hare Krsna constantly. In other words, one works to maintain the body, but then what does one do, if one lives minimally, accepting the necessities of life just enough to maintain body and soul together? With all the time that one has saved, one chants Hare Krsna and hears about Krsna, instead of . . . Sometimes people work all day, and after working and being stressed out from dealing with various responsibilities, they come home and try to mitigate their distress with some quick fix of enjoyment, and they utilize that time in various . . . We don’t have to go into the unlimited varieties of things that people use their time for to release themselves from stress. Sometimes they turn on the television, sit and watch television, disappear into a state of fantasy for some time, or they may do so many other things.
But here Bhaktivinoda Thakura says no. One lives one’s life, one performs one’s duties in relationship to the body, but one understands that the maintenance of the body is required so that one can use the body for chanting Hare Krsna and hearing about Krsna and pursuing Krsna consciousness in this life. And Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that if you don’t maintain the body, it will expire untimely and you won’t be able to use it for the purpose for which it is actually meant: for hearing and chanting about Krsna.
Everything is put into perspective when one sees that incessantly chanting Hare Krsna also includes doing all the other things that are required in relation to the body, for maintaining it–that is part and parcel of incessantly chanting Hare Krsna, because it has to be done. How will I chant Hare Krsna if I don’t maintain my body? I have to work; I have to get money; I have to maintain the family; I have to have a home; I have to provide the necessities of life. But what do I do when I am not doing that? That is what Bhaktivinoda Thakura is addressing. When I am not doing that, then what do I do? What is the purpose of maintaining the body?
The Bhagavatam says, kamasya nendriya-pritir labho jiveta yavata/ jivasya tattva-jijnasa nartho yas ceha karmabhih: “Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire to live because the human form of life enables one to inquire into the Absolute Truth. This should be the goal of all of one’s work.” You have a goal when you work. You work so that you can pursue spiritual life. Then work becomes part and parcel of devotional service, a support to devotional service, and then very blissfully one takes advantage of every opportunity for chanting Hare Krsna in the association of devotees, having kirtana, sitting and singing bhajanas, and in this way relishing what Lord Caitanya and His associates would do twenty-four hours a day.
In the house of Srivasa Pandita they chanted Hare Krsna all night long. For one year continuously, every night there was blissful kirtana. There are stories in the Caitanya-bhagavata about Lord Caitanya and His associates. He asked everybody, “Did you pack anything to eat?” “No, we don’t have any food; we will simply depend on the Lord.” And Lord Caitanya was very pleased. Then they began wandering everywhere, just chanting the holy names. Wherever they were, He would appear in that place and just have kirtana. And sometimes He did not know whether it was east or west, north or south. That was their life.
Lord Nityananda was also accompanied by His associates, and they all experienced the great ecstasy of chanting. They forgot to eat for three months. [laughter] There are descriptions of Haridasa Thakura. They all were manifesting such ecstatic symptoms. They were climbing up into the trees, jumping off the branches. They were rolling on the ground in ecstasy, absorbed in chanting Hare Krsna. This cannot be imitated. We cannot imitate, and neither should we be discouraged if we are not manifesting those symptoms yet or if we are not relishing at the same level of taste that the Lord and His associates relished twenty-four hours a day. No. But we should aspire, and therefore we should try to put everything into proper perspective so that we keep association with devotees, and whenever we have the opportunity we come together and chant bhajanas, sing the songs of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. They are filled, impregnated, with so much deep meaning on how each of us should live our life and pass our life in such a way that ultimately kirtaniyah sada harih becomes a tangible reality and we each understand what it means in relation to our particular position in life. It becomes a goal, and it becomes a hope. Ultimately, as life passes by and one comes toward the end of life, the real objective is to just absorb one’s consciousness completely and to prepare oneself for departure from this world in Krsna consciousness. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, “Whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.”
Therefore Bhaktivinoda Thakura suggests that those who are sraddhavan . . . Sraddhavan jan he. Sraddhavan means those who possess faith: “O men of faith.” Van means “one who possesses.” Just as Krsna is bhagavan, one who possesses opulences, sraddhavan is one who possesses sraddha. Sraddha means faith. This faith is awakened in the association of devotees. And after faith is awakened in the association of devotees, that faith is meant to be strengthened and increased, because as we said, there are different levels of faith. Bhaktivinoda Thakura gives the example that when faith takes birth in the heart of the living entity by the association of a devotee, that faith has to be very carefully protected and nourished, just like the example of a newborn baby girl whose mother and father are always very careful to protect her from dangerous creatures, from excessive heat and cold, and from hunger and thirst. In the same way, when faith takes birth in the heart of the living entity, that sraddha, that faith, must be very carefully protected in the association of devotees, and it also must be nourished. Just as a mother nourishes her newborn baby girl so that the girl will get strength, in the same way the Vaisnavas give their association and the strength by which one can actually maintain that faith that kirtaniyah sada harih is a goal that can actually be achieved in this life. Without that faith it is very difficult to progress in spiritual life. Therefore, Bhaktivinoda Thakura is appealing here, “Sraddhavan jan he! Sraddhavan jan he! O men of faith! O men of faith! By the order of Lord Gauranga, O brothers, I beg this one request: Please chant ‘Krsna!’, worship Krsna, make Krsna your life, and follow Krsna’s instructions. Be very careful to remain free from offenses, and just take the holy name of Krsna. Krsna is everything. Krsna is your mother, Krsna is your father, and Krsna is the treasure of your life.”
Maharaja, would you like to add something?
Giriraj Swami: First, would you like to comment on the last verse of the song?
Niranjana Swami: Giving up all the improper behavior? Yes, one has to give up anacar. Actually, Bhaktivinoda Thakura gives a nice explanation of anacara.
[Niranjana Swami reads:]
It is essential that all such actions be observed in a pure and undisturbed fashion. Then all of these things will be conducted very nicely. When Sri Nityananda Prabhu was preaching the first command of Sriman Mahaprabhu, He spoke in the following manner:
kohena prabhur ajna dakiya dakiya
“bolo ‘krsna’, bhajo krsna, loho krsna nam
krsna mata, krsna pita, krsna dhana-pran
toma saba lagiya krsner avatar
heno krsna bhaja, saba chado anacar”
“Nityananda and Haridasa repeated the Lord’s command by calling out to everyone, ‘Chant “Krsna,” worship Krsna, and accept Krsna’s holy name from others. Krsna is your mother, Krsna is your father, and Krsna is the treasure of your life-breath. Krsna has incarnated just for your benefit, so please worship this merciful Krsna and give up all sinful activities.” (Sri Caitanya-bhagavata, Madhya 13.82–84)
After receiving the command to preach the holy name (nam-prachar), Prabhu Nityananda and Thakura Haridasa went from village to village, house to house, and began proclaiming, “He jiva! Lord Krsna is verily the life of your life, and Lord Krsna’s name is verily the treasure of your life. All of you please deliberate incessantly on that holy name. Living thus absorbed, the only other thing of concern is to see that no sinful behavior contaminates your actions of bodily or household maintenance.” The meaning of the word anacar is asadacar, or activities of impious nature. There are many different types of sinful behavior that are classified as asadacar or anacar, such as speaking lies, thievery, wantonness, doing harm to others, killing any living being, disrespect for superiors, and so forth. Sri Nityananda Prabhu has personally explained the meaning of the word anacar as follows (Sri Caitanya-bhagavata, Antya 5.685-686):
suno dvija, jateka pataka kaili tui
ar jadi na koris, saba nimu mui
para-himsa, daka-curi, saba anacar
chado giya iha tumi, na koriho ar
“Listen, O brahmana: You have performed many sinful actions. If you abstain from committing these any further, then I forgive them. Doing harm to others, committing theft–all these things constitute sinful behavior. Now give up such actions, and do them no more.”
[end of excerpt]
Actually, this may be in reference to Jagai and Madhai. Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes in his Harinama-cintamani . . . He touches on an interesting point. He discusses what it means to preach to the faithless. What is a faithless person? Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that a faithless person is one who thinks, “I will take initiation in order to achieve some materialistic goal. I will take initiation into the holy name so that I can get a spiritual name so that I can get some respect. And if I get sufficient respect and prestige, then I will be able to derive some profit. I will engage others in my service.”
He says that another characteristic of a faithless person is that he thinks that by taking initiation he won’t have to worry anymore about the reactions to sinful life. “I can commit sinful activities and my sins will be cleared, and then I can enjoy, because sinful reactions mean suffering, and if I don’t have to suffer anymore, then I can just enjoy.”
He describes that these are some of the characteristics of one who has no faith in the holy name, and he says that to initiate such a faithless person is improper. He says that it is like giving fancy clothes to a monkey. [laughter] If you give fancy clothes to a monkey, the monkey will simply tear them up, because he doesn’t appreciate fancy clothes. Bhaktivinoda Thakura also cites casting pearls before swine. They will simply step on them. So he says, “Therefore it is the duty of all preachers such as Nityananda and Lord Caitanya to first, before accepting . . .” We have the example of Lord Caitanya: He accepted Jagai and Madhai, but first He awakened in them faith in the holy names of the Lord. By appropriate instructions to awaken faith in the holy name of the Lord, a faithless chanter can become a faithful chanter and thus understand that the proper objective in receiving the holy name of the Lord is ultimately to achieve the state of perfection, which is to chant the holy name of the Lord purely, free from all offenses, and to achieve pure love of Godhead, which is the ultimate goal of chanting.
Therefore Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that Lord Caitanya in delivering Jagai and Madhai agreed to absolve them from their past sins only after they agreed to no longer commit sins. The whole story is related in the Caitanya-bhagavata, how Jagai and Madhai were delivered by the mercy of Nityananda, who begged for their deliverance. When Lord Nityananda makes a request to Lord Caitanya, because Lord Nityananda is such a dear servant of Lord Caitanya . . . Lord Caitanya was prepared to kill Jagai and Madhai for their offense committed to Nityananda, but Nityananda was so merciful He wanted them to be delivered. And when the servant of Lord Caitanya actually begs the Lord, the Lord cannot refuse the request of the servant. Although Lord Caitanya initially wanted to punish them, because Lord Nityananda wanted their deliverance, Lord Caitanya could not refuse. He agreed to deliver them, but only after telling them, “You must give up all your sinful activities.” When they agreed to not commit sins again, as described in the Caitanya-bhagavata, Lord Caitanya absorbed all the sins of Jagai and Madhai completely. They had so many sins that they had committed. They were womanizers; they were murderers; they were drunkards; they were thieves–all the wrongs that were described here, they had committed. But when they agreed to the Lord, Lord Caitanya absolved them of all their past sins and absorbed all of it. His body, although golden in complexion, became completely blackish, absorbing the sins of these two fellows.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that the duty of all preachers is to first awaken faith so that one will not become a faithless chanter but will be a faithful chanter of the holy name of the Lord. And when faith is properly awakened, one can understand the importance of chanting the holy name of the Lord with the objective of actually clearing away the contaminations of the heart and actually have faith in achieving the real goal for which Lord Caitanya came to distribute the holy name of the Lord, which is to experience these symptoms of love for Krsna.
Those who are faithful give up their sinful activities. Therefore Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains in the last verse, “Giving up all improper behavior, carry on your worldly duties only in relationship to Krsna.” In other words, carry on your worldly duties in relationship to Krsna in the way that we have already described: “Yes, I will carry on all those duties in relation to the body. I will associate with others in relation to these duties only as far as required to maintain this body so that I can use it for hearing and chanting about Krsna. Thus all these worldly duties become a support for my spiritual practices, and because I have an attraction to utilizing whatever free time I have outside of these duties to associate with devotees and sing bhajanas and hear and chant about Krsna, I will be able to give up my sinful activities, because that is the higher pleasure. That is the pleasure for which we are all hankering.” When one actually experiences a higher satisfaction in chanting, blissfully chanting in the association of devotees, one loses attraction for mundane pleasures and thus can give up sinful activities.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura concludes that the showing of compassion to all fallen souls by loudly chanting the holy name of Krsna is the essence of all forms of religion. In other words, for those who live their lives in this way, who are exemplary in this way, then the ultimate, the culmination of living in this exemplary way is to take this experience and go out and share it with others with compassion. That is the fulfillment of all of Lord Caitanya’s desires: to perfect one’s life by living free from sinful activities and by keeping the chanting of Hare Krsna as the goal of life and then, upon becoming an example, to give that experience to others. That is the essence of all forms of religious activities.
Rose Forkash: I have a question. Let us assume that I have a job and am very busy during the day and have no time to think of anything but the job I am doing. So I have no time to chant Hare Krsna. Is that sinful?
Niranjana Swami: No. The point that Bhaktivinoda Thakura is making is that you do have a job, you should have a job, you should work to maintain the body, and in the course of your work you have many other conversations that you have to carry on because you have to associate with so many other people in order to execute your work, so none of these things is sinful, because you are maintaining your body for one reason only, that whatever time you have outside of your job that is not specifically required for maintaining the body is used to further increase your consciousness of Krsna. Even if you are able to chant Hare Krsna only minimally, if everything that you do is ultimately with that objective in mind, it is not at all sinful. But some time every day should be dedicated to chanting Hare Krsna and for remembering Krsna. There is a verse, smartavyah satatam visnur vismartavyo na jatucit/ sarve vidhi-nisedhah syur etayor eva kinkarah: “Krsna must always be remembered. Krsna must never be forgotten. All the rules and all the prohibitions given in the scriptures are meant to be servants of these two principles.”
There is also a commentary to this verse. The word satatam usually means “always.” Smartavyah satatam visnur: always remember Krsna. But the verse actually states that all the rules and prohibitions given in the scriptures are meant to serve these two principles–to always remember Krsna and to never forget Him. Now, if one has to follow rules and prohibitions, it means that he can’t always remember Krsna. Why would somebody who always remembers Krsna have to restrict himself from things that don’t help him to remember? He doesn’t have to restrict himself. The commentator therefore says that the word satatam in this verse means “every day.” Every day, whatever time of day it may be–at night before one goes to sleep or in the morning when one wakes up–every day one should remember Krsna somehow. He should either pray, chant, worship the deity, or hear the Bhagavatam. He should remember, “I am a servant of Krsna, and this life that I am passing in this world is temporary.” If a person does that every day, then everything else he performs during the course of the day is put in the proper perspective–it’s not the goal.
Rose Forkash: A man goes to work. He leaves his house at seven in the morning and doesn’t get back until seven at night. He has his dinner. He is very tired. He has put in a full day. He has a family. He wants to spend some time with his family, with his children, for a little while. Would the few moments that he has in between that time and bedtime be enough? Would that be enough to remember Krsna?
Niranjana Swami: The man who wants to spend time with his family and children can spend time with them chanting Hare Krsna.
Rose Forkash: But don’t his children have to go to school?
Niranjana Swami: Yes, these things may be there, but still, if he comes home at night, his children are home from school at night, or in the morning they wake up a little bit early–they come together and worship the deity even if it is for a short time, they read Srimad-Bhagavatam for fifteen minutes, and they chant one round of japa together. He is with his family in the most meaningful way. What better way is there for a man to spend time with his family than to spend time with them chanting Hare Krsna?
Rose Forkash: That’s true. But this is a very fast life.
Niranjana Swami: It is, unfortunately.
Rose Forkash: And sometimes there are no more than a few moments.
Niranjana Swami: If one has desire, obstacles can be removed. Just don’t lose that faith. If one has that faith and that desire, obstacles can be removed. It is when we surrender to that so-called reality as being the only reality that the struggle is lost. There is no reason to struggle; I have surrendered to that reality. One has lost faith.
Rose Forkash: I’ll cite an example. I have a nephew who is a nurse. He may put twelve hours a day into his nursing. The other times he gets home and has his dinner and is completely exhausted. He says, “I can’t chant. I am ready to drop.” So where are those few moments when he can remember? It may be easier said than done–for someone who is extremely tired. So, he asked me that question.
Niranjana Swami: Do you know what I usually tell people like that?
Sarvatma dasa: Change careers.
Niranjana Swami: No, I don’t say change careers. [laughter] First I release them from the fear of total loss of life because they are not chanting sixteen rounds, because sometimes that is the greatest fear: “I used to chant sixteen rounds, but I can’t chant sixteen rounds anymore.” I release them from that fear. You are not going to go to hell because you are not chanting sixteen rounds. But I do tell them that whatever time . . . Even if they can make only a little time for quality, quality is more important than quantity, because that faith in quality and that prayer can actually remove the obstacles so that one can actually come gradually to that point. It is a very, very important point, and I think that Giriraj Maharaja probably has some things he could add, because he also agrees with me that all obstacles can be removed. So why don’t you add to this point?
Giriraj Swami: Our dear godbrother Sridhar Swami often cited a quotation by W. H. Murray of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.” The same principle operates when we commit ourselves to progress in Krsna consciousness.
I also think of the story that Srila Prabhupada told about the brahmana and the cobbler. A brahmana is a priest, in a higher caste. And a cobbler is just an ordinary artisan. There was a village under a huge banyan tree–banyan trees can expand almost unlimitedly–and an associate of the Lord, Sri Narada Muni, happened to pass by. The brahmana asked him, “Where are you going?” The associate replied, “I am going to meet the Lord. Do you want me to ask Him anything?” “Yes,” said the brahmana. “Please ask Him how many more births I will have to take in this material world.”
Sri Narada went a little further and came upon a humble cobbler. He asked the cobbler, “Do you want me to ask the Lord anything?” The cobbler replied, “No, I am satisfied. But if you are going to meet Him, could you please ask Him how many more births I will have to take before I am liberated?”
Narada proceeded to the Lord’s abode, and he asked the questions on behalf of the two. The Lord replied, “Tell them that as many leaves as there are on the banyan tree, that many more births they must take.” Narada said, “They may not believe me. What if they ask what You were doing when I met You? What should I say to convince them that I actually saw You?” The Lord replied, “You can tell them that I was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.”
Sri Narada returned, and when he met the brahmana, the brahmana inquired, “So, did you meet the Lord? Did you ask Him about me?” Narada replied, “Yes; you have to take birth as many times as there are leaves on this banyan tree.” The brahmana reacted, “Oh, that is impossible. I don’t believe that you met the Lord. If you actually met Him, what was He doing?” And Narada replied, “He was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.” “Bah!” said the brahmana. “I don’t believe you.” [laughter]
Then Narada came to the humble cobbler, and the cobbler asked, “Did you meet the Lord?” “Yes,” replied Narada. “Oh, you are so fortunate,” exclaimed the cobbler. “I wish I could meet the Lord someday.” Finally he came to the point: “Did He say how many more births I have?” “Yes,” Narada answered. “As many leaves as there are on the banyan tree.” The cobbler cried in happiness, “Oh, the Lord is so merciful. One day He will accept me.” Then Narada asked, “Don’t you want to know what the Lord was doing?” “Yes, please tell me.” And Narada told him: “The Lord was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.” Amazed, the cobbler exclaimed, “Oh, how wonderful! Only the Lord can do such a thing.” [laughter] Narada asked, “Do you believe that?” And the cobbler replied, “Well, if the Lord can fit a huge tree like this banyan into a little seed, why can’t He pass an elephant through the eye of a needle?” Just then a huge gust of wind came and blew all the leaves off the tree, leaving just one. [laughter]
This story illustrates the power of faith. In our practical service to Srila Prabhupada, our teacher, there were many tests of faith, times when it seemed that his spiritual goals within this material world would not be achieved. But by persevering with faith, things changed–miraculously. So it is true: “Providence moves too.” Krsna does help, and the obstacles disappear. Once, a disciple wrote to Srila Prabhupada, “There are so many obstacles.” He wanted to be Krsna conscious, but there were so many obstacles. And Srila Prabhupada replied, “With the kick of my foot I can remove all the obstacles.” [laughter] And that is true. We have all experienced it to some extent, and that is why we continue. We have every hope that if we do persevere, whatever obstacles there are–real or apparent, physical or mental–will be removed by Srila Prabhupada’s grace.
One year in Mauritius we did pada-yatra. Pada-yatra means walking from village to village. Wherever we went we were meant to chant through the town and depend on Krsna. In the first village, we approached each house and asked the inhabitants to give us some grains or whatever else they could spare, but it didn’t go so well. By sunset, when it was time to start cooking, it didn’t look good at all. What we got was very simple, just enough to keep the body and soul together, but not much more. Then a holiday, a holy day, came, so we wanted to make a nice offering to the Lord. The devotees went out early in the morning, house to house, to get whatever grains and oil and vegetables they could. But it wasn’t that much. And we were wondering, “What kind of feast are we going to offer to the Lord?” Then suddenly a truck pulled up, and it was full of provisions. Someone had the idea to send us a lot of foodstuffs on that auspicious day.
There are many examples, not always about chanting per se, but about the mission and about maintenance, getting the necessities of life. Before I met Srila Prabhupada in 1969, our devotees had only rented houses, and in Boston we were occupying a storefront that was clearly inadequate. Eventually we found a large property that was for sale, but the mortgage was much more than we could afford at the time. Still, we really had to find some place, because we didn’t want to renew the agreement for the storefront, which was about to expire. We asked Srila Prabhupada about the purchase, and then we took the risk and bought the house with a large mortgage. So we had to make the payments every month; if we didn’t, we knew we could lose the whole property.
Niranjana Swami: Was this in Boston?
Giriraj Swami: Yes.
Niranjana Swami: Beacon Street?
Giriraj Swami: Yes, Forty North Beacon Street. Actually, it had been a mortuary. [laughter] It was a large building, really big.
It even had an elevator, which was used to carry the coffins upstairs, but when we got the property Srila Prabhupada moved the printing press there. The press was kept in the basement, and then we used the elevator to carry the books up. [laughter]
Anyway, it was a risk. We got the place in September, when the weather was pretty good. We didn’t have to heat the building much, and we would go out on the streets a lot and chant, and people would give donations and we would give them magazines. But by winter there weren’t that many people on the streets, and even our own devotees had trouble going out. It could get really cold in the winter in Boston, and our income went way down. Somehow every month we pulled through, but then one month, maybe February, the deadline was coming and we didn’t have the money. And there was no way we could get it. We were just waiting to be thrown out on the street.
Every Sunday we had a love feast. People would come, and there would be chanting and talks about Krsna, and then the feast. Most of the visitors were young, of college age. One Sunday, which we thought could be our last, an elderly lady came, and she took a liking to one of the paintings on the wall. Srila Prabhupada had engaged some disciples in doing original paintings of Krsna for worship in the temples, without any commercial intention, and the lady really liked one of them and asked if she could buy it and how much it would cost. We named a price that was just enough to cover the mortgage payment for the month, and she took it. And so we paid the mortgage.
Earlier, we had faced a similar situation at the storefront. Even there we had expenses to meet. Satsvarupa dasa, the temple president, worked in the Department of Welfare, and his paycheck was about our only income. At that time in ISKCON the devotees would just chant and worship the deities and have programs in the temple. We would take a little collection in the evenings and on Sundays and get a few dollars, but we just were not getting enough. So Satsvarupa dasa called a meeting of the devotees. Now, in principle, as Niranjana Maharaja said, quoting Bhaktivinoda Thakura, whatever you do to support the chanting is part of the same process, is also service to God, Krsna. And Srila Prabhupada had said that if necessary the devotees could get jobs. So at the meeting, the devotees, who were very surrendered, one by one began to volunteer. Patita Pavana said, “Oh, I used to work in the post office. I could get a job there.” Another said, “I know the grocer down the street. He could give me a job in the store.” That was the mood of the discussion. Then one devotee named Nanda Kisora raised his hand and very humbly submitted, “Srila Prabhupada recently sent a letter in which he said, ‘If you just go out and chant in the streets, all of your problems will be solved, materially and spiritually.’” So Nanda Kisora suggested, “Maybe we should try that.” Up until then we were not going out every day; we might go out and chant once in a while. “Well, okay, that is what Prabhupada said. If we go out and chant, all of our problems will be solved, materially and spiritually.”
So we went out the first day, chanting and distributing magazines, and at the end of the day we came back and counted up the money: seven dollars. Pretty good! [laughter] “Okay, we’ll try again tomorrow.” And we went out the next day and did the same thing, and came back and counted up: twelve dollars. We were doing well. It was adding up. We went out the third day: nineteen dollars. And from then on we knew that all we had to do was go out and chant and give people magazines and ask for donations–that was all we had to do, as Srila Prabhupada had assured us. So these are important lessons.
Barbara Gallow: What year was that?
Giriraj Swami: That was 1969.
Barbara Gallow: And you didn’t go out on sankirtana before that?
Giriraj Swami: We might have gone out on a Saturday night once in a while, but in Boston it did not become a regular activity until 1969.
Vijaya dasa: We heard of a similar experience. Syamasundara told the story that they were in San Francisco in a similar situation: the rent was coming up, and they didn’t have any money. Malati and he were walking down the street, and they saw hundred dollar bills rolling down the street, on the ground. So they started grabbing these hundred dollar bills! [laughter]
Giriraj Swami: Pretty direct–Krsna’s arrangement.
Niranjana Swami: So, shall we have more kirtana?
Giriraj Swami: Yes. Hare Krsna!
December 3, 2005