I must admit, though, that even with fewer ISKCON devotees here, I haven’t found it easy to discipline myself to the rigors of increased chanting and hourslong studying and learning verses. The mind is a muscle; if we don’t use it in particular ways, it can atrophy. Then we have to gradually build up its strength so that we can sit and hear comfortably for long periods of time. Only after days of practice have I again developed a taste for hearing Srimad-Bhågavatam and Caitanya-caritåm®ta. Now each morning I wake up looking forward to absorbing myself in the nectar of these two beautiful scriptures and I wonder how I have managed to go on for so long over this past year without absorbing myself in them. I know I have been busy with other service, but I pray that when I leave Vrindavana in mid-December, I will continue to find time in my schedule to study for one or two hours a day. I would at least like to follow Cånakya Pa∫∂ita’s advice to all aspiring transcendentalists: “Let not a single day pass without your learning a verse, a half a verse, a fourth of it, or even one letter of it; nor without attending to charity, study, and other pious activity.” (Nîti-såstra, Chapter 2, verse 13)
Late in the afternoons I try to visit one or two tîrthas for additional inspiration. As a result, I now have a fairly good idea where many of Vraja’s sacred spots are located. By tagging along with my godbrother Dînabandu Prabhu, who has been taking devotees on pilgrimage for years, I’m also gradually learning about the pastimes connected with each place. It is important to become familiar with Vrindavana’s holy tîrthas, because we seek to enter this abode when we leave our mortal bodies. If we do not know, constantly remember, and most importantly, develop attachment for Krishna’s Vrindavana pastimes, what will inspire us to ascend to Vraja at the time of death?
Krishna reveals some of the secrets of the spiritual sky in Bhagavad-gîtå:
na tad bhåsayate süryo
na ΩaΩåõko na påvaka˙
yad gatvå na nivartante
tad dhåma paramaµ mama
“That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world.” (Bg. 15.6)
In his purport to this verse, Prabhupåda states, “One should be captivated by this information. He should desire to transfer himself to that eternal world and extricate himself from this false reflection of reality. For one who is too much attached to this material world, it is very difficult to cut that attachment, but if he takes to Krishna consciousness there is a chance of gradually becoming detached.”
When several devotees from the Polish festival tour, including Varanåyaka, Jayatåm, Nandinî, Rådhå-sakhî-v®ndå, and Rasamayî arrived in Vrindavana, I requested Dîna-bandhu to escort us on several parikramas. He took us first to BadarikåΩrama, which is located in a remote corner of Vrindavana close to the Rajasthan border. Of course, the original BadarikåΩrama is high in the Himalayas, but Dîna-bandhu explained that by Krishna’s mercy, all the holy places in India are simultaneously located in Vraja. For this reason, we need not visit any holy tîrtha outside Vrindavana. I was amazed, though, when after traveling by van for three hours we ar-rived at Vrindavana’s BadarikåΩrama and found that it was hilly and forested, a contrast to Vrindavana’s usual flat, arid landscape.
At BadarikåΩrama we visited a temple on a large hill, at the base of which sat a small village. It took us more than forty-five minutes to climb the steep steps to the temple, and we arrived exhausted. Still, we were pleasantly surprised to find ancient Rådhå-Krishna Deities there being cared for by an elderly püjårî. A ten-year-old boy sat peacefully by his side. Wearing only a loincloth around his waist, the boy, to my amazement, was reading to the püjårî from scripture.
Dîna-bandhu asked the sådhu where he was from. The holy man replied, “You should not ask a sådhu where he is from but where he is going—what is his final destination. Our birth is insignificant, but our death may be glorious. It is for this reason that I am spending my last days in Vrindavana.”
His words impressed me. But what impressed me more was the boy by his side. I had noticed a number of boys in the village running through the streets and causing mischief. I saw one angry shopkeeper chase them away. By contrast, this boy appeared well-behaved, clean, and respectful toward the old püjårî. When the sådhu asked him to do something, he performed the task obediently and cheerfully, then returned to his place. It reminded me of the days of yore when boys lived in their spiritual master’s åΩrama, studying Ωåstra and rendering service in humility. It is rare to find such ex-amples today, even in Vrindavana, where television and cricket are fast be-coming the focus of many young people’s attention.
I asked the püjårî about him, and to my surprise learned that he lived with the old man. When I asked the boy what he did there, he replied, “I help the båbå worship the Lord.”
“What about your parents? Have they given you permission to live up here?”
At that he looked to the sky, indicating that his parents had left this world.
“What about school?”
Surprised, he exclaimed, “I’m serving Båbå and Krishna!” as if to say, “What better education could I receive?”
I was to going to counter that a material education is useful, if not essential, for a devotee living in this world, but then thought better of it. Considering the boy’s circumstances and his admirable qualities, I thought of this verse from the Upanißads:
yasya deve parå bhaktir
yathå deve tathå gurau
tasyaite kathitå hy arthå˙
“Unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed.” (ÛvetåΩvatara Upanißad 6.23)
We held kîrtana for the Deities’ pleasure for over an hour. Then, as we all prepared to leave, I excused myself from our group and went to find the boy. I discovered him in a little hut, preparing the Deity’s offering and singing melodious prayers. Wanting to express my appreciation, I held out one hundred rupees, saying, “For you! For you!” He smiled slightly and shook his head, indicating that he wasn’t interested. Still, I insisted he take the lakshmî, and continued to wave it in front of him. He wasn’t tempted. He simply carried on with his service. I realized that I had misjudged him; he was more advanced than I had thought. His simple life of service to the sådhu and the Lord was more satisfying to him than anything money could buy.
This was the second time I had received a spiritual lesson through a child. Why not? Srila Prabhupåda once explained that in Vrindavana, not even the animals are ordinary souls. Every soul in Vrindavana is a devotee. The animals are devotees who committed offenses in the dhåma in a previous life. They have taken such low births in order to free themselves from their sinful reactions before returning to Vrindavana in the spiritual sky. The incident with this boy left me resolved to be more careful in my dealings with the Brijbasis. I have much to learn from his dedication to his spiritual preceptor and the satisfaction he feels in living the simple, renounced life of an aspiring devotee.
“We offer our respectful obeisances to those who reject thornless kingdoms and beautiful women, who think material happiness most bitter, and who renounce education, noble birth, wealth, and fame, and who go to Vrindavana never to leave.
“To the supremely fortunate, pious, and affectionate persons who live in Vrindavana, which is more blissful than Lord Vishnu’s abode, and who, worshiping Rådhå and Krishna with prayers and gifts, make Them deeply indebted to them, we offer our respectful obeisances.” (Vrindavana-mahimåm®ta, Ûataka 1, texts 76–77)
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