I was sitting alone in Vṛndāvana, writing. My Godbrother insisted to me, “Bhaktivedanta Prabhu, you must do it. Without accepting the renounced order of life, nobody can become a preacher.” So he insisted. Not he insisted; practically my spiritual master insisted. He wanted me to become a preacher, so he forced me through this Godbrother: “You accept.” So, unwillingly I accepted.
The passenger cars behind the locomotive moved forward almost silently. Thumping at a slow rhythm over the tracks, the train pulled out of the station-past freightyards, a neighborhood of run-down tenements, the old Delhi fort, the garbage dump at Nizamuddin with its hundreds of crows and vultures flying overhead, and then past a marble-domed red sandstone mosque. Seated in a third-class compartment, his luggage stored Beneath his seat, Abhay could see factory workers walking near the tracks, carrying their lunches in metal tiffins, and then the factories, surrounded by huts of mud and straw. He passed the thatched roofs and tarpaulin tents, the cow-dung fires that smoked in the morning air. The tall stacks of the Indraprastha electrical powerhouse spewed out a different smoke, and sooty black clouds poured back from the locomotive. He saw red and violet wildflowers blooming from bramble bushes at trackside, and beyond he saw the road to Mathurā, with its border of fruitless kīkar trees.
It was the morning train to Agra, and there were few passengers. Abhay would be riding as far as Mathurā and then traveling by ṭāṅgā to Vṛndāvana. He had ridden widely the Indian railway, especially in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, when he had traveled on business in Bengal, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh.
He had been to Vṛndāvana several times. In his childhood reveries over the train timetables, it had been the first place he had thought of visiting. His first visit, in 1925, had been but a brief pilgrimage while he had been in nearby Agra on business. Then in 1932 Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had been in Vṛndāvana on parikrama. That had been a memorable visit; Abhay had heard him speak at Kosi, and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had marked him-“He likes to hear.” And then at Rādhā-kuṇḍa three years later he had been with his spiritual master again. But he had never gone like this-to live there. Dressed in a simple white dhotī, his hand in his bead bag, fingering his japa beads, he looked out the window, quietly chanting the holy name.
The train passed through the dense thickets of Faridabad and into the agricultural fields, with their interspersed patches of wheat, dāl, and sugarcane beginning at trackside and stretching for half a mile to the dry, uncultivated land that continued as far as the eye could see. The train sped faster. Rural villages drifted past the window. An hour out of Delhi, the land was mostly flat and open, dotted with small villages. Occasionally he would glimpse a striking old temple. But mostly it was the land-now barren, with a few palm trees, now cultivated with irrigated fields-under the expanse of blue sky and blazing sun.
For a long time Abhay had wanted to take shelter in Vṛndāvana, and now there was no obstacle. His purpose remained the same: he would write Back to Godhead and deliver it to the printer in Delhi fortnightly. As long as he could afford to travel, he would return to Delhi to distribute Back to Godhead. But he would live in the shelter of Vṛndāvana. He had in mind the room at the Vaṁśī-gopālajī temple near Keśi-ghāṭa, a rooftop room that commanded a view of almost all of Vṛndāvana. And since his 1953 visit from Jhansi, he had kept in touch with the temple manager.
In moving to Vṛndāvana, Abhay was following his predecessor spiritual masters. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had had their house at Rādhā-kuṇḍa and had preached in Vṛndāvana. Gaurakiśora dāsa Bābājī, Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī, Viśvanātha Cakravartī, and Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura had lived either in Vṛndāvana or in Navadvīpa, near the birthplace of Lord Caitanya.
Lord Caitanya and His immediate followers had an especially intimate relationship with Vṛndāvana. Lord Caitanya had commissioned Rūpa Gosvāmī and Sanātana Gosvāmī to uncover the places of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in Vṛndāvana that over the centuries had become lost. Rūpa and Sanātana had left their prestigious government posts and gone to live in Vṛndāvana. Dressed in simple loincloths, they had lived without fixed residence, staying each night under a different tree. They and Jīva Gosvāmī, Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, and Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, known and worshiped as the six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana, had compiled a voluminous literature on kṛṣa-bhakti. They had inspired wealthy Vaiṣṇava patrons to erect Vṛndāvana’s great temples: Govindajī, Madana-mohana, Rādhā-Dāmodara, Rādhā-ramaṇa. At Rādhā-kuṇḍa, shortly after Lord Caitanya’s departure from the world, Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī had chanted one hundred thousand names of Kṛṣṇa and discoursed for several hours daily on the pastimes of Lord Caitanya. There also, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja had compiled the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, describing the life and teachings of Lord Caitanya.
Even those Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas who did not live in Vṛndāvana kept Vṛndāvana always in their hearts and proclaimed its glories. The Caitanya-caritāmṛta describes the great ecstasy Lord Caitanya felt while traveling from Purī to Vṛndāvana: “Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s mind was absorbed in ecstatic love at Jagannātha Purī, but when He passed along the road on the way to Vṛndāvana, that love increased a hundred times. The Lord’s ecstatic love increased a thousand times when He visited Mathurā, but it increased a hundred thousand times when He wandered in the forests of Vṛndāvana. When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu was elsewhere, the very name of Vṛndāvana was sufficient to increase His ecstatic love. Now when He was actually traveling in the Vṛndāvana forest, His mind was absorbed in great ecstatic love day and night. He ate and bathed simply out of habit.”
Vṛndāvana is the earthly manifestation of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s eternal spiritual abode, which the Lord Himself describes in Bhagavad-gītā: “There is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to manifested and unmanifested matter. It is never annihilated. It is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” Kṛṣṇa’s activities of eternity, bliss, and knowledge and His abode, Goloka Vṛndāvana, are described in many Vedic literatures: “I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, the first progenitor, who is tending the cows, yielding all desires, in abodes built with spiritual gems, where He is surrounded by millions of purpose trees and always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds and thousands of Lakṣmīs, or gopīs.”
Although Lord Kṛṣṇa’s abode, Goloka Vṛndāvana, is far beyond the material world, when Kṛṣṇa comes to earth He displays His eternal abode in the Vṛndāvana of India. That eighty-four-square-mile tract in north India is identical with the eternal world in the spiritual sky.
To live and die in Vṛndāvana guarantees the devotee’s transfer to the eternal spiritual world. The residents of Vṛndāvana, even the animals, are exalted; at the end of life they will transfer to Goloka Vṛndāvana. Lord Brahmā, therefore, prayed that he might take birth as a clump of grass on the outskirts of Vṛndāvana so that these pure devotees would purify him with the dust from their feet. And Vaiṣṇava śāstras declare that even by only a brief visit to Vṛndāvana one can realize the Supreme Lord in his heart.
Caitanya-caritāmṛta states, “Like the transcendental body of Lord Kṛṣṇa, Gokula is all-pervading, infinite, and supreme. It expands both above and below, without any restriction. That abode is manifested within the material world by the will of Lord Kṛṣṇa. It is identical to that original Gokula; they are not two different bodies. The land there is touchstone [cintāmaṇi], and the forests abound with desire trees, although material eyes see it as an ordinary place… The ideal place to execute Kṛṣṇa consciousness is Vrajabhūmi, or Vṛndāvana, where people are naturally inclined to love Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa is naturally inclined to love them.”
The train arrived at Mathurā. Abhay stepped down with his luggage and looked around, noting the recently constructed Mathurā Junction Building. Proceeding through the gate and out of the station, he found a ṭāṅgā driver, agreed on the fare, and started for Keśi-ghāṭa.
For half a mile the wobbling horse-drawn cart followed the road between the tracks and the railway yard. At the main road, they turned left, passed under a railroad bridge, and entered an open market. Piles of fruits, vegetables, and grains were displayed on the ground, their vendors sitting beside them, bartering and measuring while customers milled about. The women of Mathurā, dressed in brightly colored sārīs-yellows, greens, pinks, and purples-moved busily in the market. The vehicular traffic consisted mostly of bullock carts, the drivers often squatting on the wooden yokes between the shoulders of their animals, whipping alternately one ox and then the other with a length of rope joined to a wooden handle. Although this was the most populated area in the trip to Vṛndāvana, compared to Delhi it seemed simple and rural.
The sun was high, but the ṭāṅgā’s top provided a partial shelter, and the summer’s heat had passed. Beyond the bazaar the road curved to the right, and Abhay saw the nearby white domes of the massive sandstone mosque marking Kṛṣṇa-janmasthāna, the birthplace of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Centuries ago invading Muslims had destroyed the large Kṛṣṇa temple and created the mosque in its stead, and now directly in front of the mosque stood a newer, smaller Kṛṣṇa temple.
They approached the three-way junction: New Delhi, central Mathurā, Vṛndāvana. The driver struck the horse with his whip, and the ṭāṅgā proceeded along the Vṛndāvana road, edging through a herd of white cows, the herdsman walking amongst them, carrying his stick. The road was busy with ṭāṅgās and slow, creaking oxcarts, loaded with market commodities and pulled by squat, black water buffalo. A string of small, spindle-legged donkeys carried oversized loads of firewood and sandbags.
Although much had changed in Abhay’s life since he had come here to see his spiritual master during the parikrama years ago, Vṛndāvana had remained the same. He felt he had done the best thing in coming here, leaving the heat, the traffic and fumes, the human passions of Delhi. It was a natural relief. Yet even as he felt transcendental emotions for Vṛndāvana, impressions of his months of preaching in Delhi lingered in his mind-the city streets, and himself, going from place to place with his Back to Godheads. Life in Delhi had been constant, vigorous preaching. Now he was more than sixty years old, but he was not coming to Vṛndāvana to retire. He had retired from household responsibilities, but not from his responsibilities of making Back to Godhead as popular and sophisticated as Illustrated Weekly. He would live in Vṛndāvana and commute to Delhi. But he would never stop preaching.
The sight of taller trees signaled the precincts of Vṛndāvana, as the thin horse trotted along, past the police station and water trough for animals. On either side appeared the garden courtyards of private estates and āśramas. Fragile white mālatī flowers, golden marigolds, frangipani trees, red hibiscus, “trees of sorrow,” and many other flowers and trees, some known only in Vṛndāvana, bloomed forth in the brilliant sunlight. The Rādhā-Govinda temple loomed fortresslike on his left, and opposite, in the distance, the high-rising tower of the Raṅganātha temple. They entered narrow streets, tighter and busier places with markets and city dwellings, and then it became quieter again. At the end of a narrow street, by the Yamunā River, near the Keśi bathing ghāṭa, stood the small and beautifully ornate entrance of the Vaṁśī-gopālajī temple, a narrow three-storied building with three domes and many decorated arches.
After stepping over the curbside drain and walking up three marble steps, Abhay entered the front door, the driver following him, carrying the luggage. Once inside, Abhay removed his shoes and entered the courtyard, which was open to the sky through a metal grate, on which a few birds sat two floors above. A column of sunlight lit one side of the courtyard, where a potted tulasī sat atop a pillar. The temple seemed cool and quiet. Adjacent to the courtyard was the Deity room, its doors locked shut. Overhead was a mezzanine with rooms whose entrances were visible from the courtyard; a few sārīs and strips of cloth hung on improvised clotheslines.
Mahant Gopal, the temple pūjārī, whom Abhay had known since 1954, greeted him cheerfully. He was about the same age as Abhay and had long gray hair and an unruly beard. Although Abhay’s attire was modest, he appeared well dressed compared with Gopal, who wore only a coarse dhotī.
Gopal led Abhay upstairs. Coming out onto the roof, Abhay smiled to see again the wonderful vista. Barely a hundred yards away he could see the Yamunā, not only the immediate patch of water flowing before him, but to his left and right a broad curving sheet of river shimmering in the afternoon sun. There were sand deltas, herds of cows and buffalo grazing, the flat grassy banks of the Yamunā, and plains and trees as far as the eye could see. And in the opposite direction was the town of Vṛndāvana, marked by dozens of temple spires and domes.
Abhay’s room, the only one on the roof, was small, with narrow double doors and barred windows. Sitting on the apartment’s roof, monkeys with their tiny offspring sat watching, unalarmed. Just outside the door, a two-foot-high cement pyramid signified that the temple Deity was directly beneath. Abhay entered the room. Through the barred windows he could see the palace at Keśi-ghāṭa, the venerable tower of the Gopīnātha temple, and, beyond, the uninterrupted, flat river, the green banks, and the sky.
After acquainting Abhay with the details of the room-the small kerosene burner, the rope and bucket for drawing bathwater from the well to the roof-Gopal meticulously produced a government-stamped rental agreement. Abhay wrote a short paragraph, declaring himself a disciple of the late Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda and attesting to his renting the room at five rupees per month. Both parties signed.
After his bath, Abhay took prasādam and rested. When he heard the bells ringing in the temple below, he went down to see the Deities. Gopal, who had been the temple’s pūjārī for many years and had seen its reconstruction in 1923, had told Abhay that the temple Deity, Vaṁśī-gopālajī, had been installed 350 years before by Mahant Prahlāda dāsa of the Nimbārka Vaiṣṇava-sampradāya. Gopal himself had installed the Deity of Rādhārāṇī. Vaṁśī-gopālajī, standing in a graceful threefold-bending form and holding His flute, was very appealing. He was three feet tall and of black marble; Rādhārāṇī, slightly shorter, was of brass. They were simply dressed in rough white cotton and illuminated by the dim glow of a kerosene lamp. Abhay could see that They were being cared for, but because of poverty there was no opulence.
He returned to the roof as the sun was setting over the town of Vṛndāvana. Having the entire roof’s walkway to himself, Abhay walked and chanted japa, enjoying the cooling early-evening breeze from the Yamunā. Occasionally a solitary boat would pass on the calm waters of the Yamunā, and a devotee, somewhere unseen, could be heard chanting evening prayers at Keśi-ghāṭa. He felt pleased with this location in the heart of the pastimes of Lord Kṛṣṇa. He was not a newcomer spending his first day in a strange town; everything here was already familiar and dear. As Vṛndāvana was Kṛṣṇa’s abode, Abhay was Kṛṣṇa’s servant, the servant of the six Gosvāmīs, the servant of his spiritual master. He felt at home.
As day turned to twilight, temple bells rang throughout the town. Abhay walked to the western side of the roof and looked into the city of thousands of temples. The Govindajī temple, the Raganātha temple, and thousands of smaller temples were having their sandhyā-ārati and kīrtana, glorifying Lord Kṛṣṇa.
Abhay responded to the sights and sounds of Vṛndāvana as only a pure devotee could; his thoughts and emotions were full of appreciation and awareness of Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa’s devotees, and Kṛṣṇa’s land. Naturally he began to think of preaching, hankering for others to know the intimate peace and ecstasy of Vṛndāvana. Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was inviting all souls to join Him in His eternal abode; yet even in India, few understood. And outside India, people knew nothing of Vṛndāvana or of the Yamunā or of what it means to be free of material desires. Why shouldn’t people all around the world have this? This was the abode of peace, yet no one knew anything of it, nor were people interested. But this is what they were actually hankering for.
Abhay thought of Back to Godhead and how, by Kṛṣṇa’s grace, he might expand his preaching beyond India to the whole world. His Godbrothers… it would have been better if they had all worked together in the Gaudiya Math, but many of them were at least keeping the regulative principles. None of them, however, seemed to be doing much beyond maintaining a temple here, an āśrama there, worshiping a Deity, eating and sleeping. But there was so much more to be done in broadcasting the glories of Vṛndāvana. Abhay chanted and thought of Kṛṣṇa. Gradually he turned to his task of producing the October issue of Back to Godhead, due to be printed shortly in Delhi. He had a deadline to keep.
The next morning, before sunrise, the residents of Vṛndāvana were austere, bathing in the Yamunā, performing pūjā to their Deities, reciting mantras. But Abhay was awake even before most, writing in stillness beneath the light in his rooftop room. As he wrote diligently in English, scriptural references appeared and took their place within convincing arguments. For hours he wrote, page after page in an exercise book, until gradually the chirping of awakening birds signaled the end of the dark night’s stillness. Soon the sun would rise.
Keeping to his regular schedule, he put aside his writing and began chanting japa, staying in his room, uttering the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra in a soft, deep voice. Even before the first traces of light in the sky, before the river was visible, a few bābājīs reciting prayers made their way through the streets, heading for the Yamunā. By 4:00 A.M., gongs and temple bells throughout the city heralded the maṅgala-ārati of the Deity. Abhay continued chanting alone for another hour. Then he prepared to bathe, lowering the bucket on its long rope and hauling water up to the rooftop.
It was light when he went out, his bead bag around his neck, a few copies of Back to Godhead in his hand. Turning right at the temple door, he walked the tight, crooked lane, past alleys, dirt paths, and cross lanes, which interlaced in a winding network. There were no shops in the area, only silent buildings, many of them hundreds of years old. The neighborhood was serene. Behind closed shutters, someone played on wooden clackers and sang Hare Kṛṣṇa softly. At a crossroads where dark women filled brass waterpots from a well, Abhay turned left onto a street lined with small, open porches. On either side he saw ornate temple architecture: one entrance marked by two stone lions, another by a carved elephant with teeth like a tiger’s. A brick-and-mortar wall was crumbling with age.
Soon Abhay arrived at the Rādhā-ramaṇa temple, established almost five hundred years before by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, one of Lord Caitanya’s chief followers. Here residents of Vṛndāvana were coming and going according to their vows, following a strict schedule that allowed not a moment’s delay, making their daily visit to various temples. Abhay entered and stood amidst a group of worshipers, viewing the Deity of Kṛṣṇa, Rādhā-ramaṇa. The Deity, wearing a fresh garland of flowers, His enchanting black form adorned with bright silks and jewels, appeared very opulent.
Knowing the priests of Rādhā-ramaṇa to be respected, learned Sanskritists, some of whom also read English, Abhay had brought with him a few copies of Back to Godhead. He met Viśvambhara Gosvāmī, a young priest in his thirties who after the death of his father had left his law practice and taken over some of the temple management. The temple was run under a “caste gosvāmī” system, and thus for five hundred years Viśvambhara’s ancestors had handed down charge of the temple. Although Viśvambhara had met many sādhus, he was immediately struck by Abhay’s gentle and humble demeanor. He accepted the copies of Back to Godhead and sat and talked with Abhay.
Abhay then continued along Vṛndāvana’s winding lanes to visit an other temple, Rādhā-Dāmodara. He passed old bābājīs and women carrying water, a commercial shop beside an open porch where people worshiped a Śiva liṅga. Monkeys sitting atop a high concrete wall and ranging from roof to roof, ledge to ledge, chattered and gestured as Abhay walked beneath. As the morning progressed, barefoot children had begun to appear more frequently, playing within the open doorways. As he walked along chanting japa, his right hand in his bead bag, his lips moving softly, hardly anyone in Vṛndāvana knew him. But as an elderly, cultured Bengali gentleman, he did not seem an unusual sight; he was a religious bābū in a town devoted entirely to religion.
* * *
Abhay would regularly visit Vṛndāvana’s important temples, and afterwards he would shop, returning to his room around eleven with vegetables for cooking. Using the kerosene burner and a three-tiered cooker, he would cook rice, potatoes, and sometimes sabjī. He would also cook capātīs. He would take only one meal a day, at noon, and in the evening a cup of milk. When he did not have time to cook, he would take the prasādam of the Deity. After lunch he would nap for fifteen minutes and then write. He rarely received visitors, but stayed alone, writing.
Just before sunset, he would again go out visiting temples. At Keśi-ghāṭa he would pass by sādhus sitting alone here and there, facing the Yamunā. The river itself was little trafficked, sometimes a boat or two slowly moving on the river’s placidity. Sometimes a fish splashed in the water, or a bird winged along the river, watchful. Keśi-ghāṭa was quiet and beautiful, especially after the sun had relented for the day. Sādhus would hail Abhay on sight with Vṛndāvana’s common greeting, “Jaya Rādhe!” and Abhay would return his “Hare Kṛṣṇa!”
When in the evening he walked through town, he would find himself amidst the vibrations of one kīrtana after another. In the temples of Kṛṣṇa, Rāma, Caitanya, Nṛsiṁha, or Śiva, in āśrama halls, in homes, even amongst groups walking on the streets, there would be kīrtana: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. He would often see Bengali widows gathered together in a hall. Thousands of them lived in āśramas in Vṛndāvana, staying together with few wants, wearing dull white sārīs, keeping their hair cut short, never leaving Vṛndāvana even for Mathurā, wanting only to stay in Vṛndāvana, to die in Vṛndāvana chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. A man would sit playing mṛdaṅga and leading a chant while a group of widows clapped their hands unevenly, responding in their childlike voices. The drum, the clapping, the singers-unpolished but earnest-made a sweet sound in the evening. As Abhay walked, no sooner would the sound of one kīrtana fade than another would rise loudly before him and then fade behind him as another rose to meet him, a temple bell ringing formidably, intermingling with the drums, cymbals, and chorus of another group or a single person passing nearby singing his own “Rādhe, Rādhe.”
Even the greetings were kīrtana: “Jaya Rādhe!” “Haribol!” As faces passed, as carts clattered by, as men joked or made their last transaction of the day in the market, and as stray cows made their way home, their bells clanging around their necks, somehow everything was in connection with Kṛṣṇa. And as Abhay returned to the secluded Vaṁśī-gopālajī temple, there also he would hear kīrtanas, only more private, perhaps only a husband and wife in their room, the man playing mṛdaṅga and singing one line of a bhajana, his wife singing in response. Vṛndāvana was not ordinary. Every singer sounded sweet, in his own way an expert melodist, and everyone sang of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa was present in every occasion and event.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The glories of Kṛṣṇa nobody can understand. Similarly, Vṛndāvana. The land which is known as Vṛndāvana also has unlimited potency. When you go to Vṛndāvana, you will find unlimited potency of spiritual atmosphere, still. If you go to Vṛndāvana, you will see so many saints and sages-still they are worshiping Vṛndāvana-dhāma. As Lord Kṛṣṇa is worshipable, similarly His place, Vṛndāvana, is as good as Kṛṣṇa. It is also worshipable.
* * *
Commuting became difficult. He would take the morning train into Delhi and, having nowhere to stay, return to Vṛndāvana the same night. That didn’t give him much time in Delhi, and it was expensive. At first he had stayed with Mr. Gupta, a pious gentleman who studied the Gītā regularly and afforded sādhus a place to stay. Abhay had explained to Mr. Gupta about his Back to Godhead and his desires to preach in the West. It had been a good arrangement, and Abhay had kept to himself, writing. But in time another sādhu took the room.
Even with his minimal personal expenses, it was difficult to raise enough in donations to cover traveling, printing, and mailing. Giving copies of Back to Godhead away wasn’t difficult, and he was doing that in Vṛndāvana. But working alone-writing, editing, selling, soliciting donations-was too much. The printer, Mr. Jain, was amazed, wondering why a person would put himself through such difficulties, printing a newspaper he couldn’t afford.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I worked for Back to Godhead day and night. In the beginning, when I was a householder, I did not care if somebody paid or not paid. I used to distribute liberally. But when I left my household life and I was living alone, sometimes in Vṛndāvana and sometimes in Delhi, or sometimes traveling for pushing on BTG-they were very hard days.
After his twelfth consecutive fortnightly edition, the issue for November 20, 1956, Abhay ran out of money. Mr. Jain had to throw up his hands, saying he couldn’t print simply out of friendship. Abhay returned to Vṛndāvana, where he spent his time writing but with no plan for publication.
It was because people weren’t interested in becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious-because they had “no time”-that Back to Godhead had failed financially. Certain sādhus in India were celebrated and influential, but Abhay was not amongst them. Of course, the uncompromising preaching he had learned from his spiritual master, the “chopping technique” in which he openly criticized revered politicians and holy men, was not likely to win him favor and patronage. “Don’t flatter,” Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had said. “Speak the truth. And if Kṛṣṇa is pleased, then you will come out successful. Money will come.” And Abhay had firm faith in this.
That was his outstanding asset-his faith in his spiritual master. He was sure that by following Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, he would receive his blessings and the blessings of Lord Caitanya. Although for the last two years he had followed any path that had opened as far as it had led, he had remained one-pointed, aimed at serving the order of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. He was confident. Sooner or later he would obtain substantial backing, he would find a sympathetic audience, sincere workers would join him.
A letter came to Abhay in Vṛndāvana from his disciple, Ācārya Prabhākar Misra, and it gave Abhay an idea. Ācārya Prabhākar, who was in Bombay working as secretary of the Sanskrit Department at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, invited Śrīla Bhaktivedanta Prabhu to join him there for preaching together, just as in the old days. The founder-director of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan was Governor K. M. Munshi (the same governor whose wife had pressured Abhay to give up the Radha Memorial in Jhansi). But Ācārya Prabhākar, having recently established a friendship with the governor, intimated to Abhay that the governor might be willing to help. Thus in January 1957, after assuring Mahant Gopal that he would return and that he would send five rupees a month for his room, Abhay traveled to Bombay.
Ācārya Prabhākar got Abhay quarters in the faculty residence and introduced him to various scholars and religionists. They then attended a lecture by Governor Munshi, “What Is Wrong With the World?” Afterwards, Abhay approached the governor, expressing his appreciation of the speech, but stressing that it would take a spiritual movement to avert the imminent global disasters. Without God consciousness, even Mr. Munshi’s work in the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan would be a waste of time. Abhay spoke of his interest in reviving the League of Devotees, and he suggested how he might work within the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan to infuse the life of God consciousness into the governor’s cultural projects. Governor Munshi responded by offering Abhay a post as Honorary Professor of Bhagavad-gītā. Abhay accepted and gave the governor some copies of Back to Godhead, requesting that he read them in his spare time.
As Honorary Professor of Bhagavad-gītā, Abhay began each class with Hare Kṛṣṇa kīrtana and then lectured on the Gītā, presenting Lord Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but he soon found his post confining. Within the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, he found little scope for reviving the League of Devotees.
Then, along with other members of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Abhay attended the fifth annual convention of the World Academy of Sanskrit at Kurukṣetra (where five thousand years before, Lord Kṛṣṇa had spoken Bhagavad-gītā). India’s president, Dr. Rajendra Prasad; Governor Munshi; and many scholars and paṇḍitas from all over India participated in the discourses. But everyone there had his own thing to say, apart from the conclusions of Lord Kṛṣṇa, so Abhay considered the meeting a waste of time. Since he was not scheduled to speak, since the nondevotional discussions on the Gītā disturbed him, and since he saw that nothing practical would come of such a theoretical meeting, he left Kurukṣetra and returned to Vṛndāvana.
Ācārya Prabhākar soon joined Abhay. As they talked together in Abhay’s room at Vaṁśī-gopālajī temple, Abhay spoke again of his desire to revive the League of Devotees. After having recently seen the watered-down cultural programs in Bombay and Kurukṣetra, he felt even more keenly the need for a society of pure devotees. There were already so many cultural and religious organizations; if he liked he could join one. But where was that organization with which he could affiliate himself wholeheartedly? Only the League of Devotees espoused the conclusions of Lord Caitanya and Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī: vigorous, worldwide preaching of devotional service to Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Abhay drafted “An Appeal to the Generous Public, Modern Philosophers, Leaders, and Religionists” on behalf of the League of Devotees. The activities of the League, he stated, would be to publish Back to Godhead in English (with translations in many other languages), to educate young men and women for worldwide preaching, and to operate a press solely for printing transcendental literature. These programs would require an estimated three thousand rupees per month, and he appealed for help. Abhay concluded, “Vrindaban is the sacred place of topmost importance and the Headquarter of this League is therefore situated here.” Using the impressive new titles, Honorary Professor of Gītā, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and Honorary Secretary of Hari Bhavan, Abhay, with the assistance of Ācārya Prabhākar, launched another attempt at rallying support for Back to Godhead and the League of Devotees.
Within a few days, Ācārya Prabhākar returned to his post in Bombay, and Abhay was again alone in Vṛndāvana. He loved Vṛndāvana, yet with no means to publish and preach, he was not content there. If he were to travel, he might be able to enlist members for the League. He thought of Kanpur, which was nearby, a city of more than one hundred big factories and many wealthy industrialists, some of whom he had met during his business travels. He decided to go. After printing some League of Devotee membership forms, he explained to Mahant Gopal that he would be away for a couple of months.
The Mahant was surprised. Although most elderly sādhus who came to Vṛndāvana stayed put and some even took vows never to leave, this quiet bābū was coming and going constantly.
* * *
Abhay preached actively in Kanpur, staying in various homes and canvassing for League members. As the guest of the Anandesvar Satsang Mandal, he lectured regularly at the popular Parmat bathing ghāṭa on the Ganges. He especially made acquaintances among industrialists and educators, often sitting and conversing with them for hours, and many were impressed by his dedication and his soft-spoken talks. But his collections were small. When he offered the wealthy magnates his “constitutional membership,” they usually opted in favor of the two-rupees-a-year “subscriber membership.” He collected a few letters of appreciation, but after two months he left.
After some months in Vṛndāvana, Abhay decided to go back to Bombay and preach. In Bombay, he quickly broke off his association with the stifling Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and moved out of the faculty residence there. Staying a week at a time in the homes of various patrons, he tried to generate interest in his missionary activities. When a friend of Ācārya Prabhākar’s arranged for Abhay to address Sunday-evening crowds at a Bombay beach, Abhay accepted. Following already established custom, he sat on a cushion, and the people gathered-from five hundred to a thousand, sitting and listening-as he loudly spoke the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā. Abhay spoke for several nights. And there were other lecture opportunities also. One week he spoke several times at a Bombay Viṣṇu temple.
But Abhay wanted to do more than deliver occasional lectures to uncommitted audiences. The conviction was growing within him that he should preach outside India. The idea, of course, had been there for some time. He had expressed it in his prospectus for the League of Devotees, before gatherings at the Radha Memorial in Jhansi, during his meeting at the Birla Mandir in Delhi, and on many other occasions. Informally he had expressed it hundreds of times to acquaintances. And he had woven his dream throughout his writings.
He was ready to travel anywhere if he could fulfill Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s order to preach in English. In India the English-speaking population was small, so Abhay continued to dream of going to the West. If he could travel to Bombay, Delhi, and Kanpur, why not to London or New York, where millions spoke English and had never heard the message of Lord Caitanya? Writing to Mr. Ved Prakash, a Kanpur industrialist, Abhay explained his idea.
Lord Chaitanya said “Praminam’ “Upakaraya’; i.e. to say for the benefit of all living being concerned… While rendering first aid service in the battlefield the Red cross men although equally disposed to all the wounded soldiers-they give first preference to the hopeful ones. The hopeless ones are sometimes neglected… .
In India, even after the attainment of Swaraj, the mentality is predominent by “Made in London” ideas. It is a long story. But in nutshell the Leaders of India in the name of secular Government they have engaged themselves in everything foreign. They have carefully set aside the treasure house of India’s spiritual asset and they are imitating the westernised material way of life, constantly engaged in the acts of error of judgement, misgivings, imperfectness and duplicity.
India’s vedic knowledge is above all the conditional defects mentioned above but we Indians at the present moment have neglected such wonderful vedic knowledge. It is due to its improper handling…
This Vedanta Sutra is now mishandled by unauthorized persons of different camps and as such the people are being misguided. Newly sprung up national enthusiasm of the Indian leaders, Industrialists, and plan makers, has no time neither desire to understand the message of Vedanta Sutra or even the Bhagwat Geeta. You cannot do acts of humanity without proper guidance…
So my idea of preaching in the foreign countries means that they are rather fed up with material advancement of knowledge. They are seeking the message guidance of the Vedanta Sutra or for the matter of the Bhagwad Geeta in an authorized way. And I am sure that India will again go back to the Vedantic life when the principle is accepted by the Europeans, Americans etc because the Indian people are now in the habit of begging, after neglecting their own property. That was my view point. But all the same we must take only the opportunity of service…
One way of expanding his way of preaching was to mail copies of Back to Godhead outside India. And as an incentive for enlisting donors, he made it known that the donor’s name would be printed on each copy. His ambition was to bring in large donations, run large printings, and send Back to Godhead to more than fifty countries. He assigned quotas: America would receive ten thousand copies, Argentina five hundred, Belgium five hundred, Brazil five hundred, Burma one thousand, Canada five hundred, Chile five hundred, China ten thousand, and so on, including ten thousand for Russia and ten thousand for England. But the donors and donations never appeared, and the plans for Back to Godhead were never realized.
Abhay found that while the people of India’s educated, cultured class were rejecting their own spiritual culture, the religiously inclined masses were being baffled by an array of conflicting, unauthorized doctrines presented in the name of Hinduism. An alarming example of this came to his attention as he was preaching in Bombay during the summer of 1958. “Bhagwat Week” was being publicized by a group whose teachings conflicted with the pure paramparā presentation of the Bhāgavata. The Bhāgavata, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, was the devotional scripture par excellence, the literary incarnation of Kṛṣṇa, yet the organizers of Bhagwat Week were using Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to teach impersonalism and minimize Lord Kṛṣṇa. Through friends, Abhay learned of the outrageous meetings, and finally, on July 28, 1958, he wrote to the Bhagwat Week leader, Sri Ratanshi, imploring him to stay away from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
I beg to inform you that I am in receipt of your invitation letter in the matter of observing Bhagwat week through the secretary of Bombay spiritual Centre. As I know what sort of Bhagwat week can be observed by the Mayavadins for misleading the innocent public and therefore I not only restrained myself from attending the function but also I advised many others not to attend, for the very reason that the recitation of the holy Bhagwat is being performed by men who have no access in this great scripture, in which only the liberated persons, who are freed from all pretentious religiousities, can take part… Some friends who attended your Bhagwat week have told me how the pastimes of Lord Krishna [were] being wrongly interpreted in your organisation on the pretext of saving Krishna from being an immoral personality. To save these foolish audiences in future, Maharaj Parīkṣit had already asked Sripad Sukhdeva Goswami to clear the Rasaleela activities of Lord Shri Krishna. The transcendental nature of Rasaleela does not require to be apologised by any Mayavadi or mundane moralist. The Leela is what it is.
In the sloka No. 30 it is forbidden that a mundane person should indulge in hearing Rasaleela or… should hear Rasaleela from a mundane person. In your organisation both the audience and the lecturer are mundane persons and their indulgence in the matter of Rasaleela out of sheer foolishness will result in imitating Rudra, who swallowed up an ocean of poison.
Abhay warned that legal action could be taken against such a religious fraud. But Bhagwat Week continued, and hundreds were cheated.
While the professed followers of Vedic culture were being baffled in their allegiance, modern Westernized Indians were rejecting Vedic culture as backwards and irrelevant. There was Prime Minister Nehru, who wasn’t at all spiritually inclined; he was for modernization and for what Abhay called “Made in London” ideas. At least Mahatma Gandhi, although he had never responded to Abhay’s letters, had been spiritually inclined. But not so his follower, Pandit Nehru. Still, out of concern for the way India’s leaders were rejecting their country’s spiritual heritage, Abhay decided to write Pandit Nehru.
Although in Bombay Abhay was practically homeless, in August of 1958 he boldly wrote the prime minister, expressing his conviction that India’s spiritual culture must not only be revived at home, but also be distributed to the West. He reminded Pandit Nehru that from ancient Greece down to the atomic age the Western world had seen only materialism and had therefore never known peace. If Nehru were to continue following the path of materialism, the only results would be strife and war.
Therefore, India may not waste her time in imitating the western way of life. You have admitted it that the position of Indian culture is of high order, but at the same time you want to bring in material prosperity by scientific advancement of knowledge. But what is that scientific knowledge? Spiritualism is also advanced scientific knowledge. Material advancement of scientific knowledge cannot give even material prosperity to the people in general. Do you think that horseless carriage, or telephonic or radio communication or any other such ephemeral facilities of life can bring in material prosperity? No it cannot. Material prosperity means the people must have sufficient to eat or to maintain the body very soundly. Do you think that your different plans have brought in that material prosperity or that modern western civilisation can bring in that prosperity? Even they are given that facility, the unrest will continue to go on till there is spiritual satisfaction of life. That is the secret of peace.
Even without having been to the West, Abhay expressed his conviction that the Americans and even the Russians were hankering for spiritual realization; they could not have become satisfied merely with material advancement. Pandit Nehru, therefore, should help his friends in the West by offering them spiritual knowledge from India.
Poverty means poverty of knowledge. Prime Minister Chanakya used to live in a thatched cottage but he was the dictator of India during the time of Chandra Gupta. Mahatma Gandhi voluntarily accepted the way of living of the so-called poor man and was the dictator of Indian destiny. But was he poverty stricken? He was proud of his spiritual knowledge. Therefore spiritual knowledge makes a man really rich man and not the radio set or the motorcar etc.
Back in the 1930s the Nehru family had bought their medicines from Abhay’s Prayag Pharmacy, and Abhay now appealed to Pandit Nehru as an old friend from Allahabad. Just as Abhay had requested Mahatma Gandhi, he requested Nehru to leave his political responsibilities “and as a popular gentleman of the world, engage the rest of your life in this organised spiritual movement to make a real adjustment of western material science combined with Indian way of spiritual realisation.” As with his letter to Gandhi, his letter to Nehru went unanswered.
Among Abhay’s former Bombay contacts was Mr. Harbanslal, a landlord who had once assured Abhay that he would provide him lodging whenever he needed. In the summer of 1958 Abhay went to call on Mr. Harbanslal, only to find that he had gone to the West. When Abhay learned that Mr. Harbanslal was traveling not only on business but on a cultural mission, his imagination seized on the idea of an Indian on a cultural mission in the West. He wrote to Mr. Harbanslal, asking for a place to stay, but also presenting his own cultural mission. Abhay knew that many Westerners respected Indian culture. He had heard from his German Godbrother that although Indians who went to the West, especially to Germany, were well received, they were sometimes tested on their knowledge of Indian culture. So Abhay advised Mr. Harbanslal to teach the real conclusion of Indian culture as he traveled.
I think that people need this Indian message in this hour of necessity when the atomic bomb is hovering over the head of the human society.
…Please therefore begin the activities for the benefit of all people in the foreign countries since you have gone there.
Clearly, Abhay would have liked to have gone himself.
Abhay also reminded Mr. Harbanslal of his promise to provide him with an apartment: “…I am passing my days in Bombay in great inconvenience for want of a suitable residential place.” But the letter never caught up with the touring Mr. Harbanslal.
Wanting to go to the West as soon as possible, Abhay visited one of his Godbrothers in Bombay, Kṛpāsindhu, and asked him to help.
Kṛpāsindhu: He came to my house and asked me to help him in going to America. He gave me some Back to Godheads which he said I could show to people to ask for help on his behalf. I tried to do something in this regard. I introduced Abhay Bābū to one man, a big industrialist, Hemraj Khandelwala. I went also. The three of us sat down, and I told the man how Abhay wanted to go to the West and how he was a good devotee and was writing and doing so many things. But somehow or other the man did not help.
Kṛpāsindhu told Abhay of how the Gaudiya Math in Bombay had sometimes been assisted by a pious business magnate, Mrs. Sumati Morarji, head of Scindia Steamship Lines. Abhay tried to see her but was unable. He did, however, see one of Mrs. Morarji’s employees, a deputy manager for the Scindia Company, who heard him out and, to Abhay’s surprise, responded generously. Considering Abhay a genuine sādhu, the Scindia agent offered him a fifty-percent concession on a voyage from India to the United States. He even put it in writing. Abhay immediately began arranging for his passport and visa. But he could not raise even the half fare.
Back in 1956 in Delhi he had been struggling and homeless. And now, as he considered his last two years of traveling out of Vṛndāvana, he felt that his position hadn’t really improved; perhaps Kṛṣṇa didn’t want him to succeed in this way. But one positive thing he had gained: determination to go to the West and preach. There he would surely meet with success.
* * *
Alone and poor, Abhay returned to Vṛndāvana. He was sixty-two, but he wasn’t thinking of retiring. More than ever, his mood was reflective and renounced. Because few people knew him and because he wanted to write, he kept to himself.
He enjoyed deep peace as a resident of Vṛndāvana. Outside his window, the sacred Yamunā flowed by in a peaceful panorama for his private audience. The Keśi-ghāṭa neighborhood was quiet, though in the predawn he could hear a few devotees bathing and chanting. When the moon was full, the river seemed like a coolly resplendent jewel. And in the morning the sun would appear, like a red smudge, a fire burning through an opaque wall, at last bursting forth and clearing the entire sky, until in the hot blaze of noon, while the room would be in shadows, Abhay could see from his window a shimmering sun high in the sky and glittering across the silver sheet of the gentle river. Without so much as leaving his room, from his doorway he could see hundreds of temples clustered together for miles in the friendly town of Vṛndāvana. The various punctual kīrtanas and bell-ringings in the temples, the spontaneous songs to Lord Kṛṣṇa in numerous homes and in the streets rose and filled the air with devotion.
On the veranda Abhay could chant japa, and there would be no interruption. He enjoyed a simple, almost carefree life of minimized physical wants-a few hours of rest at night, a little prasādam at noon, the simplest clothing. And he did not have to flatter anyone, support anyone, or manage anyone’s life. His mind and intelligence were free and dwelt constantly on his service to his spiritual master. He saw his present circumstances as a preparation for a greater task before him. Despite his advanced age, he felt that he had barely begun his work. Yet he felt confident. He had his vision of a world association of devotees. It was not an idle dream, although he was not certain how it would all come about. But he knew his duty. For the present he would go on describing his vision, the vision of his predecessor spiritual masters, in articles and books. But as soon as possible he should go to the West. Westerners, he had concluded, were not satisfied with a materially comfortable life devoid of spiritual understanding; more than his fellow Indians, they would be open to the message of the Absolute Truth. He knew he should go. And he would go-if Kṛṣṇa desired.
Abhay lived frugally in Vṛndāvana, keeping exact account of every expenditure and every receipt. He carefully kept a ledger, just as if he were running a substantial business, even though his purchases were only a little milk, a few vegetables, charcoal for cooking, bus rides, and his major expenditure, postage.
* * *
Abhay composed a Bengali poem, “Vṛndāvana-bhajana.” Its opening stanzas were especially self-reflective and personal.
I am sitting alone in Vṛndāvana-dhāma.
In this mood I am getting many realizations.
I have my wife, sons, daughters, grandsons, everything,
But I have no money, so they are a fruitless glory.
Kṛṣṇa has shown me the naked form of material nature;
By His strength it has all become tasteless to me today.
Yasyāham anugṛhṇāmi hariṣye tad-dhanaṁ śanaiḥ:
“I gradually take away all the wealth of those upon whom I am merciful.” How was I able to understand this mercy of the all-merciful?
Everyone has abandoned me, seeing me penniless-
Wife, relatives, friends, brothers, everyone.
This is misery, but it gives me a laugh. I sit alone and laugh.
In this māyā-saṁsāra, whom do I really love?
Where have my loving father and mother gone now?
And where are all my elders, who were my own folk?
Who will give me news of them, tell me who?
All that is left of this family life is a list of names.
As the froth on the seawater mixes again in the sea,
Māyā-saṁsāra’s play is just like that.
No one is mother or father, or personal relative;
Just like the sea foam, they remain but a short time.
Just as the froth on seawater mixes again in the sea,
The body made of five elements meets with destruction.
How many bodies does the embodied soul take in this way?
His relatives are all related merely to the temporal body.
But everyone is your relative, brother, on the spiritual platform.
This relationship is not tinged with the smell of Māyā.
The Supreme Lord is the soul of everyone.
In relation to Him, everyone in the universe is the same.
All your relatives, brother! All the billions of jīvas.
When seen in relation to Kṛṣṇa they are all in harmony.
Forgetting Kṛṣṇa, the jīva desires sense gratification,
And as a result he is firmly grasped by Māyā…
* * *
On an October visit to Delhi, Abhay received a donation from Kaviraj Baidya Nath Sircar, to be used for printing one thousand copies of Back to Godhead. Abhay promptly produced an October 20 issue of Back to Godhead with the donor’s name on the front page. It was the first issue in two years. Another donor, Mr. Subodh Kumar Kapoor of Ramalal Kapoor and Sons, followed Mr. Sircar’s example and donated one thousand copies for the November 20 issue.
The front-page article in the November issue was “Truth and Beauty.” An editorial in The Times of India, speculating on whether truth and beauty were compatible, had opined that truth was not always beautiful but often ugly and unpleasant. Abhay disagreed: “Truth is so beautiful that many sages, saints, and devotees have left everything for the sake of Truth… but we are habituated to love untruth from time immemorial in the name of truth.” Abhay agreed, however, that mundane truth and beauty were incompatible. Not only was mundane truth not beautiful; it was not truth. And mundane beauty was not real beauty. To explain, Abhay told a story.
Once a man fell in love with a beautiful girl, who tried to resist the man’s advances. When he persisted, she requested that he wait for seven days, after which she would accept him. During the next seven days, the girl took a strong purgative and laxative and repeatedly passed stool and vomited. She stored the refuse in buckets. Thus “the so-called beautiful girl became lean, thin like a skeleton and turned blackish in complexion and the beautiful eye balls were pushed into the sockets of the skull.”
The man appeared on the scene well dressed and well behaved and asked the waiting girl, who was depressed in appearance, about the beautiful girl who called him there. The man could not recognise the waiting girl as the same beautiful girl whom he was asking for. The same girl however was in a pitiable condition and the foolish man in spite of repeated assertion could not recognise her. It was all due to the action of the medicine only.
At last the girl told the powerful man all the story of her beauty and told him that she had separated the ingredients of her beauty and stored them up in the reservoirs. She also told him that he could enjoy the juices of beauty stored up in the reservoirs. The mundane poetic or the lunatic man agreed to see the juices of beauty and thus he was directed to the store of loose stool and liquid vomit which were emanating unbearable bad smell and thus the whole story of beauty liquid was disclosed to him.
Abhay went on to assert that literature which did not describe the ultimate truth and beauty of the Supreme Person was no better than stool and vomit, even though it be presented as poetry and philosophy.
In “Standard Morality,” Abhay explained, “Morality is the standard of activity by which the Supreme Authority is satisfied.” The scriptures contain moral codes prohibiting unholy sex relations, animal slaughter, intoxication, and gambling. Abhay attributed Mahatma Gandhi’s success as a public leader to his observance of these moral principles. Abhay also praised the Vedic system of marriage: “after the attainment of puberty a woman wants a male, and if she is not married within that time and allowed to mix up with boys,… it is quite natural that there is every chance of fall down either by the boy or the girl.” Despite changing social conditions, Abhay argued, “You cannot indulge in unholy connection with the opposite sex [just] because the social conditions have changed. Because unholy connection with woman is the beginning of all immorality.”
In “Scholars Deluded,” Abhay presented a critical review of Dr. Radhakrishnan’s edition of Bhagavad-gītā, citing specifically the thirty-fourth verse of the Ninth Chapter, wherein Lord Kṛṣṇa declares that one should always think of Him and become His devotee. Dr. Radhakrishnan had commented, “It is not the personal Krishna to whom we have to give ourselves up utterly, but the unborn, beginningless eternal who speaks through Krishna.” Although the obvious meaning of Bhagavad-gītā was that one should surrender to Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Person, impersonalists like Dr. Radhakrishnan obscured the direct meaning with their word jugglery.
* * *
On the disappearance day of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, Abhay keenly felt separation from his spiritual master. He perfectly understood that Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s instructions were more important than his physical presence and that, in fact, the spiritual master was present within his instructions; in this way, Abhay had always been with his spiritual master. Yet on this annual day, Abhay could not help feeling loss. He remembered how in 1932 he had been a gṛhastha and a new disciple. At that time he had not been free to do as much service as now. Yet it had been in those years that he had been able to see his spiritual master, offer obeisances before him, eat the remnants of his prasādam, walk beside him, hear his voice, receive his personal glance. Abhay thought of their meetings together.
How powerful had been Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s mission! His presses had been running day and night, printing magazines, books, the daily Nadiyā Prakāśa. And Europe had been a promising new preaching field. With Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura at the helm, the Gaudiya Math had entered into battle against māyā’s forces, and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had made all his disciples unafraid. Abhay had always been eager to serve his spiritual master, to serve within the Gaudiya Math with its headquarters in Calcutta. But exactly how he would serve had never been clear to him until his last letter from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī.
Abhay looked back on the more than twenty years since his spiritual master’s disappearance. The Gaudiya Math had been undone by its leaders, and everyone else had scattered like leaves in a storm. It was an unspeakable loss. And it was an old story-how the big sannyāsīs had disregarded their spiritual master’s instructions and had intrigued, disputed, litigated. Violent party factions, false leaders claiming to be world ācārya-and which party had been right? No, both had been wrong, all wrong, because the Gaudiya Math had disintegrated. Now there were dozens of little maṭhas and no preaching, no real preaching as before, when he, Siṁha-guru, had cast fear into the Māyāvādīs, had led an army of young, powerful preachers to march throughout India and the world. And the greatest sufferers of the Gaudiya Math’s dissolution were the people, the nondevotees, who had little hope of being delivered from the batterings of māyā. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had begun a spiritual revolution, but that revolution had now been overthrown by māyā. The scattered particles of the Gaudiya Math had settled quietly into self-satisfied, insular, almost impotent units. And it was the people in general who suffered.
Abhay groped after memories of his spiritual master. He felt secure in that his own relationship with Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was intact, continuing. Yet he felt helpless. He was diligently pursuing his spiritual master’s order to preach in English, yet without his spiritual master’s physical presence he felt small and very much alone. At times like this, he questioned the wisdom of having left his family and business.
Lamenting Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s absence and the fall of the Gaudiya Math, he composed a Bengali poem, “Viraha-aṣṭaka.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda, you are always compassionate towards the suffering jīva souls.
On this occasion of your separation, I see only dejection.
An unlimited ocean of mercy, cutting an illusion,
Nityānanda distributed an ocean of flood of love of God.
The jāti-gosāi stopped the stream,
But coming yourself, Lord, you revealed this illusion.
So once again everyone was immersed in the flood of love,
Even one so fallen, insignificant, and sinful as I.
On the strength of Lord Caitanya’s order
You sent all of your servants door to door as gurus.
There was preaching everywhere, from the sea to the Himalayas.
Now, in your absence, everything is darkness.
O Śrīla Prabhupāda, you are always compassionate towards the suffering jīva souls.
On this occasion of your separation, I see only dejection.
In the same way that Advaita Prabhu brought Lord Gaura,
so did Bhaktivinoda pray.
His enthusiasm brought you; on the strength of his enthusiasm you came
And made everyone understand that India is a holy land.
One who takes his birth in the land of Bhārata
Must make his life perfect and then preach to others.
This mahā-mantra message you preached everywhere.
Now in your absence, Lord, everything is darkness.
Your ocean of compassion has again been stopped.
This spear of great misery has cut through my heart.
Without Lord Caitanya’s message, there is just confusion.
Seeing this, all the Vaiṣṇavas feel pangs of separation.
The conditioned souls are all in darkness once again.
They are searching for peace, but are dying in an ocean of anxiety.
O Śrīla Prabhupāda, you are always compassionate towards the suffering jīva souls.
On this occasion of your separation, I see only dejection…
Abhay’s was a dark view. The golden era of preaching that had flourished in the days of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was no longer. “By the influence of māyā,” Abhay wrote, “now everything is darkness… All devotional instructions have been destroyed… now everything has been reversed.” Meditating on that great personality possessed of the divine power to save the entire world, Abhay expressed his feelings of weakness and helplessness: “Because of those not fixed in devotional service, many branches have spread all over… Your conclusive message did not touch the ear / Where will I get the strength for the saṅkīrtana movement?” How could he, a tiny spiritual child, survive without his spiritual father? Now who could save the world, which was so much more oppressed than ever before?
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had said that a dead man could not preach; only one with life could preach. As long as Abhay and others could deeply regret the Gaudiya Math’s failure, there was still life and still hope: “If everyone obtained this right and went out and made disciples, / Then the suffering souls in the world could be saved.” It was useless to cry over what his Godbrothers had done, yet in seeing and resenting it, Abhay found, within the pain of what might have been, a continuing spark of what still might be.
Abhay sent this poem and “Vṛndāvana-bhajana” to Keśava Mahārāja, who published them in the Gauḍīya Patrikā.
* * *
One night Abhay had a striking dream, the same dream he had had several times before, during his days as a householder. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī appeared, just as Abhay had known him, the tall, scholarly sannyāsī, coming directly from the spiritual world, from Kṛṣṇa’s personal entourage. He called to Abhay and indicated that he should follow. Repeatedly he called and motioned. He was asking Abhay to take sannyāsa. Come, he urged, become a sannyāsī.
Abhay awoke in a state of wonder. He thought of this instruction as another feature of the original instruction Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had given him at their first meeting in Calcutta, the same instruction that his spiritual master had later solidified in a letter: become an English preacher and spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness throughout the Western world. Sannyāsa was for that end; otherwise, why would his spiritual master have asked him to accept it? Abhay reasoned that his spiritual master was saying, “Now take sannyāsa and you will actually be able to accomplish this mission. Formerly the time was not right.”
Abhay deliberated cautiously. By accepting sannyāsa, a Vaiṣṇava dedicates his body, mind, and words totally to the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, renouncing all other engagements. He was doing that already. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had offered sannyāsa to his leading disciples so that they could continue his mission; they hadn’t done it. Preaching in the West had proved perilous even for the Gaudiya Math’s most recognized sannyāsīs. How could he, a mere householder, presume he could succeed where the others had failed? He was hesitant. The helpless, incapable feeling he had expressed in his “Viraha-aṣṭaka” was there. But now his spiritual master was beckoning him-over all other considerations, even over natural humility. Now, although he was elderly and alone, the desire to preach just as his spiritual master had preached remained within him, a fierce though sometimes quietly expressed determination.
The Vedic standard and the example set by the previous ācāryas was that if one wanted to lead a preaching movement, sannyāsa was required. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had taken sannyāsa to facilitate his missionary work. Lord Caitanya had taken sannyāsa to further the saṅkīrtana movement. Of course, Lord Caitanya was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but when His young students had been disrespectful towards Him, treating Him as an ordinary man, He had taken sannyāsa. Because a sannyāsī is automatically respected, Lord Caitanya’s acceptance of sannyāsa was a calculated tactic; as soon as He began traveling throughout India as a sannyāsī, He immediately attracted thousands of followers to the saṅkīrtana movement.
Knowing that many cheaters would accept the saffron dress and abuse the respect given to sannyāsīs, Lord Caitanya had advised against accepting sannyāsa in the Age of Kali. He knew that cheaters, in the guise of sādhus, would act immorally, accumulate funds for their own sense gratification, and make many followers simply to enhance their own prestige. Posing as swamis, they would cheat the public. Because the people in Kali-yuga are unable to follow the rules and regulations of sannyāsa, Lord Caitanya had recommended that they simply chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. However, if a person could actually follow the rules, and especially if he had to spread the saṅkīrtana movement, sannyāsa was necessary.
Abhay first had to approach one of his Godbrothers for permission. He decided to turn to Bhaktivilāsa Tīrtha Mahārāja(formerly Kuñja vihārī), the leader of the Caitanya Math in Calcutta. Abhay still thought of the Caitanya Math as the headquarters of his spiritual master’s mission. During the heated legal disputes, the Caitanya Math had been the most prized acquisition, and since 1948 it had been under the legal ownership of Bhaktivilāsa Tīrtha Mahārāja. Now, although each sannyāsī had his own place or places, the Caitanya Math and Bhaktivilāsa Tīrtha Mahārāja legally represented the Gaudiya Math entity. Abhay felt that if he were to take sannyāsa and go preach in America, he should give the Caitanya Math the first opportunity to support his work. In April 1959, Abhay wrote to Tīrtha Mahārāja, inquiring about sannyāsa as well as about the Caitanya Math’s printing some of his manuscripts. And since no one was going abroad, he volunteered to do so on behalf of the Caitanya Math.
Bhaktivilāsa Tīrtha Mahārāja replied that Abhay should first join the Caitanya Math. He mentioned the strife that still lingered: “Those who are acting against Caitanya Math, they are motivated by their individual ambitions.” Anyone who was against the Caitanya Math, he said, was acting illogically and against the instructions of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. So according to Tīrtha Mahārāja, the thing for Abhay to do, the thing he had neglected to do for so many years, was to join the Caitanya Math and act under his direction. Tīrtha Mahārāja mentioned several members of the Caitanya Math who had recently accepted the sannyāsa order, and he said that Abhay could also become one-in time. He invited Abhay to come reside at the Caitanya Math: “The houses that we have, there are rooms that are airy and well lit. We will treat you exclusively. There won’t be any difficulty. We will take care that no inconveniences are caused.” But as for printing books:
We are eagerly awaiting to print the books like Satsandarbha, Vedanta, based on devotional service, and many other rare books by the goswamis. First we will print them. Books written by you will be checked by the editorial staff, and if the funds can be raised, then they can be printed according to priority. The books will be printed only if they are favorable for the service of the Caitanya Math. Therefore, if the fund is raised, then there is a plan to go abroad as well.
Abhay was not encouraged. The main difficulty, he felt, was the Caitanya Math’s shortage of funds.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I was working with my broken typewriter. I went to our Tīrtha Mahārāja: “You give me a room and print my books. Give me some money. I will join you.” I had thought, “This is Guru Mahārāja’s institution.” He did not say no, but the printing of books was a difficult task for him. He had no money. He was hardly collecting for maintaining. Printing of books is a big job, and there is no guarantee of sale.
Without printing books and going to the West, sannyāsa did not have meaning for Abhay. And who knew when Tīrtha Mahārāja would sanction his taking sannyāsa? There was no point in going to Calcutta just to reside in an airy, well-lit room; that he had already in Vṛndāvana. Abhay wrote back to Tīrtha Mahārāja, mentioning his direct order from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī to preach to the English-speaking people. He wanted to go to the West right away, and he had thought the Caitanya Math would welcome his offer. Both Abhay and Tīrtha Mahārāja had their responsibilities, but perhaps they could work together to carry out the desire of their spiritual master. Abhay asked Tīrtha Mahārāja to reconsider. On May 7, 1959, Bhaktivilāsa Tīrtha Mahārāja wrote back.
My suggestion is don’t make any hasty decisions. For the time being you stay with us and engage yourself in the service of the society and then accept tridanda [sannyāsa]. The purpose of accepting tridanda is to serve the society.
If that is your desire then Sri Caitanya Math will decide about your going to America to preach and make all the arrangements. It can never be the principle of the society to let one act according to his individual attempt or desire. The society will decide after consulting with the heads what is to be done by whom. This is what I want to say. First of all, it is necessary to identify oneself with the society.
In order to preach in America or in other foreign countries, it is important to have a dignified organization in the background and secondly it is necessary to establish one’s self in India before going to preach in the foreign countries.
Now it is that there are no conferences or meetings in the West as before. Communication is done through the media of television.
Abhay could understand the needs and priorities of the Caitanya Math, but he could not allow them to overrule what he considered the highest mandate: preaching as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had ordered. Abhay had offered his services to the leaders of the Caitanya Math, thinking they might also see things his way. He thought that with the world’s crying need for Kṛṣṇa consciousness staring them in the face, they might see that this Abhay Bābū was convinced and enthusiastic and so should be sent right away with whatever he required. But they had other priorities.
Abhay next turned to Keśava Mahārāja in Mathurā, and Keśava Mahārāja told Abhay to take sannyāsa immediately. After corresponding with Tīrtha Mahārāja, Abhay had felt some uncertainty about accepting sannyāsa, and now that he was being encouraged so strongly, he resisted. But Keśava Mahārāja was insistent.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I was sitting alone in Vṛndāvana, writing. My God brother insisted to me, “Bhaktivedanta Prabhu, you must do it. Without accepting the renounced order of life, nobody can become a preacher.” So he insisted. Not he insisted; practically my spiritual master insisted. He wanted me to become a preacher, so he forced me through this God brother: “You accept.” So, unwillingly I accepted.
* * *
Keśavajī Gaudiya Math was located in the midst of one of Mathurā’s downtown bazaars. Its main entrance, an arched doorway, led into a courtyard, open to the sky through a metal grating above. The architecture was similar to that of the Vaṁśī-gopālajī temple. The atmosphere was secluded, as in a monastery. Abhay was a familiar, welcomed figure here. He had lived here, written and studied in the library here, edited the Gauḍīya Patrikā, and donated the Deity of Lord Caitanya who stood on the altar beside the Deities of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa (Śrī Śrī Rādhā Vinodavihārījī). But his visit during September of 1959 was not an ordinary one. He entered the maṭha dressed in white, Abhay Bābū, but he would soon be leaving dressed in saffron, a swami.
Abhay had been living as a renunciant for nine years; there was no need for him to observe a ceremony or to proclaim himself a sādhu by changing to saffron dress. But it was the paramparā system that a man take tridaṇḍi-sannyāsa at the end of his life. He was aware of the cheating sannyāsīs; even in Vṛndāvana he had seen so-called sādhus who did not preach but simply spent their days hunting for capātīs. Some “swamis” of Vṛndāvana even indulged illicitly in what they had supposedly come here to reject: sex life. Such persons were making a mockery of sannyāsa. And there were the caste gosvāmīs also, who lived like ordinary householders, running temples as a business to support their families and accepting honor and donations from the public on the false basis of birth. Abhay knew of these abuses of sannyāsa, but he also knew the real purpose of sannyāsa. Sannyāsa was for preaching.
On the morning of September 17, 1959, in the fifty-by-twenty-five-foot Deity room on the second floor of the Keśavajī Math, a group of devotees sat before the Deities of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and Lord Caitanya. The Deities were colorfully dressed in royal clothing and silver crowns. Rādhārāṇī’s right hand faced palm-forward in benediction for the worshiper; at Her side, Her left hand held a flower for Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa stood like a dancer, placing His right leg in a casual tiptoe pose before His left, playing His long silver flute, which He held gracefully to His red lips. His long black hair reached down past His shoulders, and the garland of marigolds around His neck reached down to His knees. On His right stood the Deity of Lord Caitanya, His right arm raised, left arm at His side, His body straight, feet together. He was a soft golden color, and He had large eyes, a well-formed red mouth, and straight black hair down to His shoulders. One level below the Deities were pictures of the spiritual masters in disciplic succession: Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Gaurakiśora dāsa Bābājī, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, Bhakti prajñāna Keśava Mahārāja.
Abhay sat on a mat of kuśa grass beside ninety-year-old Sanātana, also to receive sannyāsa that day. Sitting opposite the two candidates, Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, Keśava Mahārāja’s disciple, prepared to conduct the ceremony of mantras and offerings of grains and ghee into the fire. Akiñcana Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī, Abhay’s Godbrother, known for sweet singing, played mṛdaṅga and sang Vaiṣṇava bhajanas. Sitting on a raised āsana, His Holiness Keśava Mahārāja presided. Since there had been no notices or invitations, only the maṭha’s few residents attended.
Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja chanted the required mantras and then sat back silently while Keśava Mahārāja lectured. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Keśava Mahārāja asked Abhay to speak. Abhay had not expected this. As he looked around at the gathering of devotees, he understood that the common language was Hindi; only Keśava Mahārāja and a few others spoke English. Yet he knew he must speak in English.
After Abhay’s speech, each initiate received his sannyāsa-daṇḍa, the traditional head-high staff made of four bamboo rods bound together and completely enwrapped in saffron cloth. They were given their sannyāsa garments: one piece of saffron cloth for a dhotī, one for a top piece, and two strips for underwear. They also received tulasī neck beads and the sannyāsa-mantra. Keśava Mahārāja said that Abhay would now be known as Bhaktivedanta Swami Mahārāja and that Sanātana would be Muni Mahārāja. After the ceremony, the two new sannyāsīs posed for a photo, standing on either side of their sannyāsa-guru, who sat in a chair.
Keśava Mahārāja didn’t impose any strictures on Abhay; he simply encouraged him to go on preaching. Yet Abhay knew that to become A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami did not mean merely that he was giving up family, home comforts, and business. That he had done five years ago. Changing from white cloth to saffron cloth, from Abhay Bābū to Bhaktivedanta Swami Mahārāja, had a special significance: it was the mandate he had required, the irrevocable commitment. Now it was only a matter of time before Bhaktivedanta Swami would travel to the West as Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had ordained. This was Bhaktivedanta Swami’s realization of his new sannyāsa status.
The Gauḍīya Patrikā’s account of the sannyāsa initiation included a biographical sketch of Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedanta Swami Mahārāja, listing the major events of his life. The article concluded:
Seeing his enthusiasm and ability to write articles in Hindi, English, and Bengali, Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Mahārāja gave him the instruction to take tridaṇḍi-sannyāsa. For nearly one year he had been ready to accept sannyāsa. In the month of Bhadra, on the day on which Viśvarūpa accepted sannyāsa, Bhaktivedanta Swami at the Śrī Keśavajī Gaudiya Math accepted sannyāsa from the founder of the Vedānta Samiti, Bhaktiprajñāna Keśava Mahārāja. Seeing him accept his āśrama of renunciation, seeing this pastime for accepting the renounced order of life, we have attained great affection and enthusiasm.
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