Chapter 11: Vyasa Puja Offering 2020 – “Solitary Bhajan”

August 12, 2020

By Indradyumna Swami

My dear Srila Prabhupada!  Please accept my most humble obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet. All glories to you!

This year I have no tales to share with you of adventures in foreign lands, of festivals so grand that a million souls heard the holy names and tens of thousands took prasadam, or of your temples around the world where I was witness to your faithful followers’ preaching of your wonderous glories far and wide.

For exactly 50 years to the day, I have traversed this planet sharing your message of Krsna consciousness wherever I go and with whomever I meet. It was the joy of my life and I thought it would never end! Then suddenly the entire world came to a screeching halt, and I with it.  From where I was stationed in Vrindavan, India, I watched in disbelief as an invisible foe forced the entire human race to their knees and a lockdown sent the world spiralling downwards like nothing within living memory.

But for all the chaos and confusion that has eclipsed the world, the worst outcome has been that the loud chanting of Krsna’s holy names has been muffled to a whisper. Usually resounding throughout the world, the names are now being chanted and heard only by isolated devotees huddled in front of computer screens. They watch the best of ISKCON’s kirtan leaders, often singing alone, with no call and response to enliven them.

As the world struggled with the viral pandemic, I, like every other human on the planet, was forced to adjust to a new reality. The driving force in my life has always been your instruction to me: “Preach boldly and have faith in the holy names.”  While contemplating the alternatives for continuing my service from behind closed doors, I began searching for directives from your Divine Grace. How could I sit tight in Vrindavan for months – maybe even for years – and not become restless?  Then I remembered an instruction you gave me in a letter in 1971: “Always follow in the footsteps of advanced devotees.”

Traditionally, Vrindavan is the place where advanced devotees retire to engage in solitary bhajan day in and day out with a fixed routine of basic hearing and chanting.  Although you have many times warned that neophyte devotees should not leave their preaching services to engage in solitary bhajan, there appeared to be no alternative for me. Fortunately, I was aware of your purport in Srimad Bhagavatam where you actually invite your disciples to come to Vrindavan for the very purpose of advancing in Krsna consciousness:

“One must go to the Vrindavan forest and take shelter of Govinda. That will make one happy. The International Society for Krsna Consciousness is, therefore, constructing a Krsna-Balarama temple to invite its members as well as outsiders to come and live peacefully in a spiritual atmosphere. That will help one become elevated to the transcendental world and return home, back to Godhead.”

[ Srimad Bhagavatam 5.13.8 purport ]

To corroborate that the misfortune brought on by the pandemic could be converted into fortune through a lengthy stay in the dhama, I searched online for a lecture of yours that I attended in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 1st, 1974. None of us had been in the movement for more than a few years, but that morning you stressed we should all strive to become devotees of the highest caliber through adherence to serious sadhana. I vividly remember hearing you use the phrase “first-class devotee” that morning:

“Every one of you should become a pure devotee, a first-class devotee. In this age it has been made very easy. Simply keep yourself clean, do not indulge in the four prohibitions and chant Hare Krsna. Then you will be all first-class devotees …. The Hare Krsna mantra chanting means keeping Krsna always within your heart. Think that, ‘I have kept one diamond throne, a very costly throne because Krsna is coming. He will sit down here.’ Create such a situation within your heart. ‘Now Krsna has seated. Let me wash His feet with Ganges and Yamuna water. Now I will change His dress with first-class costly garments. Then I will decorate Him with ornaments. Then I will give Him food for eating.’ You can simply think of this. This is meditation. It is so easy.”

[ Srimad Bhagavatam class, Geneva, June 1st, 1974 ]

Of course, this was not the vision I had for myself when I reached my present age of 71 years. I had dreamt of continuing to travel and preach to my last breath, dying on the battlefield “with my boots on”, so to speak. But any doubts that remained about sitting tight in Vrindavan doing “solitary bhajan” were dispelled the next day when I chanced upon another one of your stellar purports in Srimad Bhagavatam:

“Thus Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur advocated that every devotee, under the guidance of an expert spiritual master, preach the Bhakti movement, Krishna Consciousness, all over the world. Only when one is mature can he sit in a solitary place and retire from preaching all over the world. Following this example, the devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness now render service as preachers in various parts of the world. Now they can allow the spiritual master to retire from active preaching work. In the last stage of the spiritual master’s life, the devotees of the spiritual master should take the preaching activities into their own hands. In this way, the spiritual master can sit down in a solitary place and render nirjana-bhajan.”

[ Srimad Bhagavatam purport 4.28.33 ]

Within your words in this purport, there seemed to be some credence for my new-found fate. The very next day I started following a strict regime of rising early, chanting my rounds, doing my puja and memorizing Sanskrit verses. I began eating frugally only once a day. I cut my sleeping down to 4 or 5 hours a night and spent 10 -12 hours a day on studying.  I began giving classes online 3 times a week for my disciples on the glories of Vrindavan dhama.

As the weeks turned into months, I felt I was making a little progress in coming closer to a goal – or rather a challenge – you had once given me to go “higher and higher” in Krsna consciousness in order to understand the deeper mellows of devotional service. At a darshan in New Mayapur, France on August 5, 1976, I asked you:

“Srila Prabhupada, you’ve mentioned several times in the recent lectures that a pure devotee can see Krsna everywhere – that He’s never out of your vision. And at the same time in Siksastakam prayers Lord Caitanya explains that ‘Govinda, I am feeling Your separation to be twelve years or more. I am feeling the world vacant in His absence.’ Could you explain this?”

You looked at me and replied:

“Yes. He’s praying how you can become mad without seeing Krsna. That is highest stage. It cannot be explained. But when you gradually go higher and higher you will understand.”

Srila Prabhupada, I’m ashamed to say that after so many years I have still not reached the goal. But I hope that one day I will truly understand how Lord Caitanya was “mad” in separation from Krsna! A similar emotion is expressed by Rupa Goswami:

“I have no love for Krsna, nor for the causes of developing love of Krsna – namely, hearing and chanting. And the process of bhakti-yoga, by which one is always thinking of Krsna and fixing His lotus feet in the heart, is also lacking in me. As far as philosophical knowledge or pious works are concerned, I don’t see any opportunity for me to execute such activities. But above all, I am not even born of a nice family. Therefore I must simply pray to You, Gopijana-vallabha [ Krsna, maintainer and beloved of the gopis ]. I simply wish and hope that some way or other I may be able to approach Your lotus feet, and this hope is giving me pain, because I think myself quite incompetent to approach that transcendental goal of life.”

[ Srila Rupa Goswami, quoted in Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 18 ]

And so I spend my time here in the abode of the Lord in thoughtful contemplation. There are days when I miss my colleagues, friends and disciples terribly!  And Srila Prabhupada, I miss the people too. I really do; all those hundreds and thousands of inquisitive souls who graced our festivals year after year in Poland, America, Brazil, South Africa, Australia – the list goes on and on. Without them my life is empty, no matter what I do.  I think it’s the hardest part of this situation. I pray to the Lord to watch over and protect them too. When I am affected by such feelings of empathy I remember your words, Srila Prabhupada, which give solace to my soul:

“Once when a cowherd boy named Vrsabha was collecting flowers from the forest to prepare a garland to be offered to Krsna, the sun reached its zenith, and although the sunshine was scorching hot, Vrsabha felt it to be like the moonshine. That is the way of rendering transcendental loving service to the Lord; when devotees are put into great difficulties –even like the Pandavas, as described above – they feel all their miserable conditions to be great facilities for serving the Lord.”

[ Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 42 ]

Srila Prabhupada, I’ll return to my studies now. I have a large pile of your books on the desk in front of me waiting to be read again and again as I pass this unusual time in “solitary bhajan.” But behind the books is a quotation in a frame on the wall that is very dear to my heart, a quotation that I glance at several times throughout the day and which inevitably causes a tear or two to fall from my eyes:

“The fortunate town of Navadvipa remains on the earth. The seashore remains. The city of Jagannatha Puri remains. The holy names of Lord Krsna remain. But alas, alas! I do not see anywhere the same kind of festival of pure love for Lord Hari. O Lord Caitanya, O ocean of mercy, will I ever see Your transcendental glory again?”

[ Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati, Sri Caitanya-candramrita, Chapter 12 – Verse 140 ]

Forever your servant,

Indradyumna Swami