Let the sharp moralists accuse me of being illusioned; I do not mind. Experts in Vedic activities may slander me as being misled, friends and relatives may call me frustrated, my brothers may call me a fool, the wealthy mammonites may point me out as mad, and the learned philosophers may assert that I am much too proud. Still, my mind does not budge an inch from the determination to serve the lotus feet of Govinda, though I am unable to do it
Aside from his difficulties with business and family, Abhay had to survive the cataclysms of Indian independence and partition. He was not active politically, but was one of hundreds of millions affected by the violent dawn of Indian independence.
While Gandhi and the Hindu-dominated Congress were demanding a united free India, the Muslim League, led by M. A. Jinnah, called for partition and their own Muslim nation-Pakistan. The conflict raged. In August 1946 the outgoing British government invited Jawaharlal Nehru, Congress Party president, to form an interim national government; but the League objected-the Muslim cause would be denied. Jinnah had already declared August 16 “Direct Action Day,” which amounted to little in most parts of India but in Calcutta erupted in Hindu-Muslim rioting. In five days of violence, four thousand died, and thousands more were wounded. In the months that followed, Hindu-Muslim rioting repeatedly flared up throughout India.
Early in 1947, when the new viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, met with Indian political leaders to plan transfer of power, riots again broke out as Muslims demanded Pakistan. At the threat of civil war, Congress finally agreed on partition, and on July 18, the Indian independence bill passed without dissent. One month later India and Pakistan emerged as independent nations, with Jawaharlal Nehru as India’s first prime minister.
Partition tore India, leaving five million Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan and as many Muslims in India. And the great migration began. Refugees fleeing from Pakistan to India and from India to Pakistan clashed with each other and even with their own countrymen of the opposing faith, and the violence that erupted claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Our independence movement was started by Mahatma Gandhiji for uniting all the different sections of the people. But actually the result was that instead of being united, India was partitioned. And the partition became so poisonous that formerly there was only sporadic Hindu-Muslim riots in some places, but now there was organized fighting between Pakistan and Hindustan. So actually we were not being united, we were being separated.
The Hindus would go to the mosque of the Muslim and break it, and the Muslim would go to the temples of the Hindus and break the idol. And they will think, “We have finished the Hindus’ God.” Just like the Hindus also think “Oh, we have broken their God.” They are all ignorant. God cannot be Hindu. God cannot be Muslim. God cannot be Christian. God is God.
We have seen in 1947-Hindu-Muslim fighting. One party was Hindu, the other party was Muslim. They fought, and so many died, and after death there was no distinction who was Hindu or who was Muslim-the municipal men gathered them together in piles to throw them somewhere. They fought, and in Baghbazar there were heaps of dead bodies. And when it is a dead body, nobody could understand who was Hindu and who was Muslim. Simply it was to be cleared from the road.
Abhay was not expecting Indian independence to bring any real solutions. Unless the leaders were God conscious, what change would there be? Now he saw that instead of suffering at the hand of a foreign rule, the people were free to suffer under their own countrymen. In fact, the fighting and suffering had increased.
Throughout the years of India’s political struggles, Abhay had never lost his desire to propagate Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He had seen how promises of unity and independence had brought mostly higher prices and civic mismanagement. He had seen neighborhoods where Indians had lived peacefully for generations erupt in hatred and rioting, in the wake of British and Indian diplomatic manipulations. It was as Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had described it:
Persons who are strongly entrapped by the consciousness of enjoying material life, and who have therefore accepted as their leader or guru a similar blind man attached to external sense objects, cannot understand that the goal of life is to return home, back to Godhead, and engage in the service of Lord Vishnu. As blind men guided by another blind man miss the right path and fall into a ditch, materially attached men led by another materially attached man are bound by the ropes of fruitive labour, which are made of very strong cords, and they continue again and again in materialistic life, suffering the threefold miseries.
The Vaiṣṇava prays to his spiritual master, “who has opened my eyes with the torchlight of transcendental knowledge,” and he feels obliged to help humanity by bearing the same torch. As a representative of the eternal Vaiṣṇava paramparā, Abhay wanted to shed the light of transcendental knowledge onto the field of current crises. That had been the purpose of Back to Godhead, although since 1944 he had been unable to print the magazine.
But even without the means to publish, Abhay continued writing. His most ambitious project was Geetopanishad, his translation and commentary of Bhagavad-gītā. Gandhi and others often spoke of the wisdom of Bhagavad-gītā-Indians never forgot their Gītā-but most proponents did not teach it as Kṛṣṇa had taught it. They would not recognize Lord Kṛṣṇa, the speaker of their Gītā, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but would extract His words as slogans to bolster their own philosophies. Whether political leaders, religious leaders, or scholars, they almost invariably made their own symbolic and allegorical interpretations. Abhay wanted to present Bhagavad-gītā as is. It was to be twelve-hundred pages-three illustrated, beautifully bound volumes. For Abhay the books were already a reality, from which he was separated only by time. Over the past two years he had accumulated hundreds of manuscript pages. He wrote in notebooks and on loose papers and then typed the numbered manuscript pages. He could never give the book his full time, but gradually it began to take shape.
He also preached Lord Caitanya’s message through letters, writing to many leaders in the government, to respectable acquaintances, and to people whose articles he had read or whose activities had caught his eye in the newspaper. Presenting himself as a humble servant, he wrote to them of his ideas on how India’s original Kṛṣṇa conscious culture could be applied as the successful solution to all manners of dilemmas. Sometimes his letters drew replies, and Abhay would respond, fanning the sparks of interest wherever he found them.
A well-known reformer, Mahendra Pratap Raja, was forming what he called the World Federation. Abhay had read a news sheet, which Mr. Pratap had published from Vṛndāvana, in which he addressed all nations and peoples of the world and called for a unity of mankind.
Abhay wrote to him suggesting that Lord Kṛṣṇa’s teachings in Bhagavad-gītā provided a theistic science capable of uniting all religions. Mr. Pratap replied, in May 1947, “I admire your deep study of Shreemad Bhagwat Geeta. I myself am a great admirer of the great classic. I assure you that I am working strictly according to the book.” Mr. Pratap mentioned his book, Religion of Love, and suggested that Abhay read it if he wanted to know the World Federation’s view of religion. “In the meanwhile,” Mr. Pratap wrote, “I do not agree to your suggestion of making the name of “Krishna’ or “Govinda’ as the basis of the Unity of Religions. This would amount to conversion and won’t lead to unity of religions. I highly appreciate your efforts in the direction of “Back to Godhead.'”
Abhay got the book, read it, and in July 1947, while he was visiting Kanpur, wrote a reply. He had traveled to Kanpur not as a spiritual teacher but as a pharmaceutical salesman. Yet a typewriter had been available, and out had come his preaching.
In continuation of my last post card, I beg to inform you that I have finished the reading of your book Religion of Love. In my opinion the whole thesis is based on the philosophy of Pantheism and the approach is made by the services of mankind. Religion of Love is the true religious idea but if the approach is made through the service of mankind only, then the process is made imperfect, partial and unscientific.
The true Religion of Love is perfectly inculcated in the Bhagwat Geeta… Besides you have not quoted any authority for all your statements. So it is more or less dogmatic. If different men put different dogmatic views about religion and its essentials, who is to be accepted and who is not to be? Therefore the approach shall be and must be authoritative, scientific and universal.
Abhay then gave a summary of the Bhagavad-gītā in ten points, concluding, “The highest service that can be rendered to Mankind is, therefore, to preach the philosophy and religion of Bhagwat Geeta for all time, all places and all people.”
But extended philosophical dialogue was not usually the result of his letters. In 1947, when Abhay wrote to high government officers of the newly formed government of India suggesting a remedy for riots, they turned him away. When he asked to talk with the governor of West Bengal, the governor’s secretary replied, “His Excellency regrets that he is unable to grant you an interview at present, owing to heavy pressure of work.” When he wrote to the assistant secretary to the minister of education, an assistant to the assistant secretary replied, “The Government of India regret that they are unable to accede to your request.”
Sometimes official interest took the form of a patronizing pat on the head: “I am sure your scheme for establishing peace will meet with response from our Prime Minister.” And another: “He [the minister of education] is glad to see you are taking to route out communalism. He suggests that you get in touch with…”
A local official asked not to be seen:
I thank you for all that you have written and the fine sentiments which you have expressed. It is no use arguing the matter, as I do not think that I can serve any useful purpose by joining the organization which you wish to set up. And therefore you need not take the trouble of seeing me. I wish you, however, all success.
In October, after the Calcutta riots of 1947, Abhay wrote to the chairman of the rehabilitation committee, who replied:
Regarding hari kirtan and prasadam, you may make any program of your own, but I am afraid I am not interested in the same. Nor my committee, and therefore there is no necessity of your meeting with me.
Abhay was fulfilling his role as a Vaiṣṇava preacher, and the secretaries of the various government offices were recognizing and addressing him as such. But they could not appreciate his applications of the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā and his suggestions for hari-kīrtana. Occasionally, however, someone seemed interested. Mr. N. P. Asthana, high court advocate, replied:
I am very much obliged to you for your letter re: your broad scheme about spiritual improvement. I thoroughly appreciate the fine feelings which have prompted you to write this letter and the kindness with which you have considered my query. I have been a student of Bhagwat Geeta and have also imbibed some of its teachings, but I still lack a good deal and will be glad to be guided by a person of your accomplishment. You may kindly, therefore, send your scheme to me, on receipt of which I will be able to express my views.
* * *
It was inevitable that Abhay would think of engaging Mahatma Gandhi in devotional service. Because of his lifetime of courageous, ascetic, and moral activities on behalf of his countrymen, Mahatma Gandhi had great power to influence the Indian masses. As with Mahendra Pratap of the World Federation, Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of serving God was to try to bring happiness to man through politics and through his own invented methods. As one Englishman had said of Mahatma Gandhi, “He is either a saint amongst the politicians or a politician amongst the saints.” But be that as it may, he was not as yet fully engaged in pure devotional service, and his activities were not those of a mahātmā as described in Bhagavad-gītā. The Gītā defines a mahātmā as one who fully engages in worshiping Lord Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, always chanting His glories. The mahātmā encourages others to surrender to Kṛṣṇa.
But because as a young man Abhay had been a follower of Gandhi’s, Abhay had a special feeling for him. Of course, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had later convinced him to engage exclusively in devotional service. But now Abhay felt his old friendship for Gandhi, even though Gandhi was a towering figure of worldwide fame and Abhay unknown both to Gandhi and to the world.
On December 7, 1947, Abhay wrote to Gandhi from Kanpur. Gandhi was living at the Birla Mansion in Delhi, where large military forces throughout the city discouraged Hindu-Muslim rioting. Gandhi’s secretary, Pyarelal Nayar, described Gandhi at this time as “the saddest man one could picture.” The men he had led in the struggle for Indian independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, and others, had taken the leadership of the nation. And Gandhi, with his doctrines of nonviolence, unity, and agrarianism, was now at odds with them in many ways. He feared he was becoming an anachronism. His former colleagues admired him but rejected his leadership. All his programs-Hindu-Muslim unity, nonviolence, upliftment for the poor-although praised throughout the world, were failures in the India of 1947. On a recent visit to a Muslim refugee camp, a crowd of Muslims who surrounded his car had cursed him, and at a public prayer meeting a Hindu crowd had shouted him down and ended his meeting when he had attempted to read from the Koran. At seventy-eight years, Gandhi was physically weak and melancholy.
In all likelihood, Abhay’s letter would never reach him. Abhay knew it. Sending a letter to Gandhi would be like putting a note in a bottle and sending it to sea. It would arrive in the flood of mail, and Gandhi would be too busy to see it. But Abhay sent it nonetheless.
Dear Friend Mahatmajee,
Please accept my respectful Namaskar. I am your unknown friend but I had to write to you at times and again although you never cared to reply them. I sent you my papers “Back to Godhead” but your secretaries told me that you have very little time to read the letters and much less for reading the magazines. I asked for an interview with you but your busy secretaries never cared to reply this. Anyway, as I am your very old friend although unknown to you, I am writing to you in order to bring you to the rightful position deserved by you. As a sincere friend I must not deviate from my duty towards a friend like your good self.
I tell you as a sincere friend that you must immediately retire from active politics if you do not desire to die an inglorious death. You have 125 years to live as you have desired to live but if you die an inglorious death it is no worth. The honour and prestige that you have obtained during the course of your present lifetime, were not possible to be obtained by anyone else within the living memory. But you must know that all these honours and prestiges were false in as much as they were created by the Illusory Energy of Godhead called the Maya. By this falsity I do not mean to say that your so many friends were false to you nor you were false to them. By this falsity I mean illusion or in other words the false friendship and honours obtained thereby were but creation of Maya and therefore they are always temporary or false as you may call it. But none of you neither your friends nor yourself know this truth.
A sādhu is not supposed to flatter but to cut. This is the basis of his friendship-that he cuts away the illusion of the materialistic person. Mahatma Gandhi, forsaken by his friends, bitterly disappointed at the outcome of the long, hard struggle for Indian independence, and apprehensive about the future, had been reduced to a position in which he might be able to realize that his friends and work were ultimately illusory. Thus it was the perfect time for him to comprehend Abhay’s message.
Now by the Grace of God that Illusion is going to be cleared and thus your faithful friends like Acharya Kripalini and others are accusing you for your inability at the present moment to give them any practical programme of work as you happened to give them during your glorious days of non-co-operation movement. So you are also in a plight to find out a proper solution for the present political tangle created by your opponents. You should therefore take a note of warning from your insignificant friend like me, that unless you retire timely from politics and engage yourself cent percent in the preaching work of Bhagwat Geeta, which is the real function of the Mahatmas, you shall have to meet with such inglorious deaths as Mussolini, Hitler,… or Lloyd George met with.
For years Abhay had wanted to approach Mahatma Gandhi with this message. In fact, he had written before, although it had been of no avail. But now he was convinced that unless Gandhi got out of politics he would soon die “an inglorious death.” That Gandhi was remaining active in politics rather than preaching devotional service put him in need of a warning. Abhay was writing to save a friend.
You can easily understand as to how some of your political enemies in the garb of friends (both Indian and English) have deliberately cheated you and have broken your heart by doing the same mischief for which you have struggled so hard for so many years. You wanted chiefly Hindu-Moslem unity in India and they have tactfully managed to undo your work, by creation of the Pakistan and India separately. You wanted freedom for India but they have given permanent dependence of India. You wanted to do something for the upliftment of the position of the Bhangis but they are still rotting as Bhangis even though you are living in the Bhangi colony. They are all therefore illusions and when these things will be presented to you as they are, you must consider them as God-sent. God has favoured you by dissipating the illusion you were hovering in and by the same illusion you were nursing those ideas as Truth.
Abhay dutifully attempted to inform Gandhi that there was nothing absolute within this relative world. Ahiṁsā, or nonviolence, must always be followed by violence, just as light is followed by darkness. Nothing is absolute truth in the dual world. “You did not know this,” wrote Abhay, “neither you ever cared to know this from the right sources and therefore all your attempts to create unity were followed by disunity and Ahimsa was followed by Himsa.”
Abhay pointed out that Gandhi had never undergone the standard practice for spiritual advancement, namely, accepting a bona fide spiritual master. Although Bhagavad-gītā declares the necessity of accepting a guru in disciplic succession, Gandhi was well known for listening to his inner voice and for extracting ideas from various writers like Ruskin and Thoreau and mixing them with teachings from the New Testament and the Gītā. Had Gandhi approached a guru, said Abhay, he would not have become bewildered within the sphere of relative truth.
In the Katha Upanishad it is ordered that one must approach the bona fide Guru who is not only well versed in all the scriptures of the world but is also the realised soul in Brahman the Absolute-in order to learn the science of Absolute Truth. So also it is instructed in the Bhagwat Geeta as follows:
Tad Biddhi Pranipatena Pariprasnena Sebaya
Upadekshyanti Te Jnanam Jnanina Tatwadarshina
But I know that you never underwent such transcendental teaching except some severe penances which you invented for your purpose as you have invented so many things in the course of experimenting with the relative truths. You might have easily avoided them if you had approached the Guru as above mentioned.
Recognizing Mahatma Gandhi’s godly qualities and austerities, Abhay requested him to employ his moral elevation for surrendering to the Absolute Truth. Abhay urged him to get out of politics immediately.
But your sincere efforts to attain some Godly qualities by austerities, etc. surely have raised you to some higher platform which you can better utilise for the purpose of the Absolute Truth. If you, however, remain satisfied with such temporary position only and do not try to know the Absolute Truth, then surely you are to fall down from the artificially exalted position under the laws of Nature. But if you want really to approach the Absolute Truth and want to do some real good to the people in general all over the world, which shall include your ideas of unity, peace and non-violence, then you must give up the rotten politics immediately and rise up for the preaching work of the philosophy and religion of “Bhagwat Geeta” without offering unnecessary and dogmatic interpretation on them. I had occasionally discussed this subject in my paper “Back to Godhead” and a leaf from the same is enclosed herewith for your reference.
I would only request you to retire from politics at least for a month only and let us have discussion on the Bhagwat Geeta. I am sure, thereby, that you shall get a new light from the result of such discussions not only for your benefit but for the benefit of the world at large-as I know that you are sincere, honest and a moralist.
Awaiting your early reply with interest.
Abhay Charan De
There was no reply. A month later, Gandhi announced that he would fast until death unless India made a payment of 550 million rupees to Pakistan, a previous condition of the partition agreement. At first Hindu refugees from Pakistan demonstrated outside Gandhi’s darkened room, chanting, “Let Gandhi die!” But as he fasted, each day closer to death, he aroused the heartfelt concern of the nation, and the government leaders repaid the money to Pakistan. Then, great crowds approached him, chanting, “Let Gandhi live!” Meanwhile, Hindu-Muslim violence continued.
On January 30, the day after he had drafted a new constitution for the Congress Party, Gandhi took his evening meal, worked at his spinning wheel, then walked towards his evening prayer meeting and was shot three times in the chest. He died, crying out the name of God-“He Rāma!” Abhay’s letter of the previous month suddenly read like a prophecy. But it had not been read by the person for whom it had been intended.
* * *
When the directors of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial National Fund invited suggestions on how to commemorate Gandhi’s life and work, Abhay wrote to them and simultaneously to Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s deputy prime minister, proposing “the Gandhian way” to use the funds.
Gandhi’s whole life was dedicated to the service of humanity at large with special interest for raising the moral standard. His later activities showed that he was equal to everyone and all the people of the world knew him more as a spiritual leader than a mere politician. Devotion to Godhead was his ultimate aim and when I say that his sacred memory should be perpetrated not in the ordinary way but in the Gandhian way, I mean that fitting respects to his memory will be done in the following manner.
Abhay wrote of a Mahatma Gandhi rarely described: Gandhi as a Vaiṣṇava. Despite his pressing political activities, Gandhi had never missed his daily prayer meetings in the evenings. Even at the time of his assassination, he had been on his way to attend his daily kīrtana. Abhay stressed that it was because of Gandhi’s regular participation in congregational prayer that he had been strong in his work to raise the moral standard of humanity. “Gandhiji minus his spiritual activities,” Abhay wrote, “is an ordinary politician. But actually he was a saint amongst the statesmen…” Abhay wrote that it had been Lord Caitanya who had originated the congregational chanting of the names of Kṛṣṇa and Rāma, and His followers the six Gosvāmīs had left a wealth of literature for discussion and understanding. The Memorial Fund board should take this lesson from Mahatmaji’s practical life and develop it on a large scale. Therefore, one fitting memorial to Mahatma Gandhi would be to institute daily congregational readings from the Bhagavad-gītā. When peoples’ spiritual instincts were kindled by daily prayer meetings, then they would develop the highest qualities in their character.
Abhay had a second suggestion. Gandhi was known for his attempts to enable the lower classes to enter the temples, and in Noakhali he had installed the Deity of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa for the ordinary man to worship. Although this was generally taken as a side issue of Gandhi’s work, Abhay took it as the essence-that Gandhi’s was a theistic movement. Abhay explained that although there were hundreds and thousands of temples in India, they were not being properly managed, and therefore educated citizens were neglecting them. In the original Vedic culture, the purpose of the temples had been to nurture spiritual culture. If the temples of India could be reorganized as vital spiritual centers, then the disturbed minds of the day could be trained for life’s higher duties. “Such education and practice,” Abhay wrote, “can help man in realising the existence of God, without whose sanction, according to Mahatma Gandhi, “not a blade of grass moves.'”
He also referred to Gandhi’s harijan movement, which most people saw as Gandhi’s humanitarian effort to grant equal rights to untouchables, whom Gandhi had recognized as harijan, “people of God.” Abhay stressed that this was also an essentially spiritual aspect of Gandhi’s life. But rather than simply rubber-stamping an untouchable as “harijan,” Abhay argued, there must be a systematic program for elevating people of the lower classes. This program was taught in the Bhagavad-gītā and could best be applied under the guidance of a bona fide devotee of the Lord. Abhay volunteered to take up the work on behalf of the Memorial Board. If the board, in attempting to commemorate Gandhi’s efforts and accomplishments, neglected the essential spiritual aspects of Gandhi’s life, Abhay warned, “his memory will soon be dead, as has been the lot of other politicians.”
Perhaps they saw Abhay as another opportunist seeking money or as a sectarian religionist. But Abhay saw himself as a lowly servant of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. Seeing certain Vaiṣṇava qualities in the character of Mahatma Gandhi, Abhay took the opportunity to introduce his spiritual master’s message to the world. And by so doing, he paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, praising him as a great devotee interested in kīrtana, temple worship, and elevating unfortunates to become people of God.
* * *
While on business in Madurai, in South India, Abhay showed some of his writings to Muthuswamy Chetty, another medical salesman. Mr. Chetty was impressed and felt he could persuade his wealthy friend Dr. Allagappa, the famous “Birla of the South,” to finance the printing. In April of 1948, Mr. Chetty wrote to Abhay, saying that he had been prompted to help Abhay “for something God has meant.” He asked Abhay Charan to send him the complete Geetopanishad manuscript so that he could present it to Dr. Allagappa in Madras. Mr. Chetty had already written Dr. Allagappa about the “first-class work Geetopanishad, to cover 1,200 pages of royal size” and had urged him to publish it for the benefit of religious-minded people. He had also mentioned that Abhay had been trying to publish the book since 1946.
Dr. Allagappa soon replied to Mr. Chetty that he was interested, and Mr. Chetty wrote to Abhay, “So I am on my way to help you, and only God must help me.” As for talking business with Dr. Allagappa, there would be no need, since “once he does it, it is for the sake of benevolence…” Anticipating success, Mr. Chetty invited Abhay to come to Madras to meet Dr. Allagappa. “There he will arrange for what God has meant for you to do in your religious duty.” In Madras, Abhay would be able to check and correct the proofs of the manuscript and see the book through the various stages of printing. It was a big opportunity, and Abhay was not one to miss an opportunity. If the book could be published, it would be a great victory in his mission to fulfill the request of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī.
But then the worst thing happened. The manuscript was stolen. It was the only copy, the one Abhay was keeping safely at home. He questioned his family and servants-no one knew what had happened. Abhay was baffled; so much work had been undone. He felt he had worked so many months for nothing. Although he couldn’t prove anything, he suspected that his servant or even his son might have done it, with a motive for raising money. But it remained a mystery.
* * *
During 1949, Abhay wrote articles in Bengali and submitted them to his Godbrother B. P. Keśava Mahārāja, who published them in his Gauḍīya Patrikā. Abhay’s format for addressing world problems was the same as his spiritual master’s. Even at their first meeting, in 1922, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had countered Abhay’s nationalistic arguments by stressing that the real crisis in the world was neither social nor political nor anything material, but was simply the dearth of transcendental knowledge. Abhay simply elaborated on this theme. He never advocated that the ordinary concerns of the world be disregarded, but he stressed that crises can be solved only when the leadership is God conscious. If Kṛṣṇa consciousness were put first, other concerns could be brought into line. But without Kṛṣṇa consciousness, so-called so lutions were only folly.
Abhay began his first Bengali article by quoting an editorial from the Allahabad edition of the Calcutta newspaper Amrita Bazar. The editor had sorely lamented that India’s worst troubles had not yet ended, despite national independence.
The national week has begun. The memories of Jallianwalla Bagh and political serfdom no longer trouble us. But our trouble is far from being at an end. In the dispensation of Providence, mankind cannot have any rest. If one kind of trouble goes, another quickly follows. India, politically free, is faced with difficulties no less serious than those that troubled us under a foreign rule.
Abhay seized on this editorial reflection as proof of the basic defect of all worldly plans for amelioration. He pointed out that although India had been subjugated by foreign rulers since the time of Muhammad Ghori (A.D. 1050), India prior to that had never been subjugated. In those days, India had been a God conscious nation. It was when India’s leaders had abandoned their spiritual heritage that India had fallen.
Thus, Indians should see that they were now being punished by the stringent laws of material nature. “The honorable editor of Amrita Bazar Patrika,” Abhay noted, “has written so sadly, “If one trouble goes, another quickly follows,’ but that was stated in the Bhagwat Geeta a long time previously.” It was the same theme he had stated in his 1944 Back to Godhead articles and the theme of so many of his letters also: Man, due to his neglect of the Supreme Lord, is being punished by material nature, which is directly controlled by the Supreme Lord. Men may write newspaper articles, pass measures at meetings and conferences, and attempt to overcome nature by scientific research, yet they will remain unable to surmount nature’s law. As they try to escape their punishments, the Supreme Lord will cast them deeper into illusion, and they will fail miserably. Abhay quoted an appropriate Bengali saying: “I was trying to make a statue of Shiva, but I ended up making a monkey.”
In order to rid the world of misery and bring about happiness, we have now created the atomic bomb. Seeing the all-pervading destruction which could take place in the near future by atomic reactions, Western thinkers have become greatly disturbed. Some people try to give consolation, saying that we will only use this atomic energy to bring about happiness in the world. This is also another enigma of the illusory potency.
The problem, Abhay explained, was that the world was lacking Kṛṣṇa conscious devotees. Leaders under the influence of material nature could never solve the problems of the world. Materialistic illusion was especially prevalent in the Western countries, which Indians should not try to imitate. Abhay prophesied, however, that Kṛṣṇa consciousness would one day reach the West.
In the Western countries there has never been any discussion of the relation between the atomic individual soul and the Supreme complete conscious Personality of Godhead. Neither their activities nor their state in ultimate perfection has been investigated. That is why, even though they have made so much material advancement, they are squirming in the burning poison of sensualism… We can be absolutely certain that India’s real peace formula will one day reach their ears.
Abhay’s articles began appearing regularly in the Gauḍīya Patrikā. His Godbrothers appreciated his writings; his denunciation of the materialistic mentality was reminiscent of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s. In Abhay’s hands, the Bhagavad-gītā’s concept of the asura (demon) was no longer merely a depiction of a mythological or legendary enemy; the asuras had come to life in the modern-day Hitler, Churchill, or even an Indian prime minister. But, as Abhay pointed out, his denunciation of the misleaders was not his own; he was only repeating the words of Kṛṣṇa.
* * *
During 1950-51 he continued his letter-writing, attempting to gain a hearing with various organizations and leaders. He wrote the World Pacifist Committee, the president of India, and the minister of education. He wrote to the Indian Congress for Cultural Freedom, which wrote back suggesting that Abhay had written them by mistake. He wrote to an official of the All-Religions Conference in Bombay, advising that because of their approach nothing practical would come out of their conference; “The practical solution is lying in the transcendental message of Sree Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, as given by Him in the Bhagwat Geeta.”
On September 14, 1951, he corresponded with Daniel Bailey of the American Reporter, a magazine published by the American embassy in New Delhi. Abhay pointed out that the philosophy of understanding the Absolute Truth, as realized by the sages of India, was higher than attempts to combine East and West. Mr. Bailey replied that he was aware of Eastern philosophical and religious influence in the West and cited the progress of a yoga mission in New York City, which he said had some influence on the Protestants in America. But when Abhay asked if one of his articles could appear in the American Reporter, Mr. Bailey replied, “If we were to give considerable space in the American Reporter to, say, the Gītā, we in all fairness would have to give equal space to the other philosophies and our desire is not to endorse or condemn any of them, but simply to assist in a better understanding…” In a further reply, Abhay differed with Mr. Bailey’s contention that people should be encouraged to make their own interpretation of religion: “Less intelligent men are always guided by those who are superior in knowledge in all spheres of life.”
Abhay even wrote to the Ford Foundation in Detroit, and a staff assistant wrote back, “Regret to advise you that we are unable to pursue your suggestions concerning the establishment of an association of the intelligent class of people. The Ford Foundation has no program in which specific ideas such as you describe might be included.”
Although most of his suggestions were rejected, occasionally he received words of appreciation. A certain Doctor Muhammad Sayyid, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Allahabad, wrote, “You seem to have assimilated the universal teaching of ancient India, which is… really laudable.” And the governor of Uttar Pradesh replied, “You are doing noble work, for nothing is nobler than to be God minded.”
Not only was Abhay giving advice in his letters, but he was hinting that he could also give practical help. If he could obtain institutional backing, he was prepared to do many things: teach classes, manage temples, teach temple worship, and initiate devotees, as well as organize various kinds of field work to propagate the principles of Bhagavad-gītā. Usually he did not spell out exactly how things should be done, but he pointed to the philosophical defects in the present methods and the superiority of working in accord with the Vedic literature. By the grace of his spiritual master, he knew the science of applying Bhagavad-gītā to almost any situation; if someone would only show interest, he could teach that person the superiority of working according to Bhagavad-gītā.
After attending a meeting in which a prominent industrialist had stressed harmonious relationships between labor and management in his factory, Abhay wrote a long letter, suggesting the man consider the good effects the congregational chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa could produce. Since the factory had a special employees’ club and lounge, Abhay suggested that the workers assemble there and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Abhay urged everyone to surrender to Kṛṣṇa, but most people had their own philosophies and took his spirit to be sectarian or proselytizing. But Bhagavad-gītā was universal, Abhay wrote, and God could not be omitted from any program, even in the name of a secular state. Kṛṣṇa, as the father of all living beings, had jurisdiction over all programs, organizations, and governments. Indians especially should appreciate the universal scope of Bhagavad-gītā.
Although Abhay always had a plan of action behind his suggestions, he first sought the interest of his correspondent. There wasn’t much interest, and he was repeatedly turned down, but he never felt discouraged; he always anticipated finding a sympathizer. He kept copies of all his letters and their replies, a word of appreciation or a slight show of interest from a correspondent being sufficient to elicit from Abhay another thoughtful reply.
He had developed a keen sense of dedication to Lord Caitanya’s mission, without expecting leadership from the Gaudiya Math. He still cherished the idea that his Godbrothers would soon come together and preach, but he didn’t put any energy in the maṭhas, since to do so would mean to become involved in one of the factions. Staying clear of the Gaudiya Math’s internal fray, Abhay continued his letter-writing campaign alone, introducing himself as a preacher of Bhagavad-gītā and editor of Back to Godhead magazine.
* * *
In 1948, Abhay closed his Lucknow factory. He had fallen behind in employees’ salaries, and since 1946 he had been paying past rent in installments. But when sales dropped off, continuing the factory became impossible. He lost everything.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I started a big laboratory in Lucknow. Those were golden days. My business flourished like anything. Everyone in the chemical business knew. But then, gradually, everything dwindled.
With the help of some acquaintances in Allahabad, he opened a small factory there, in the same city where his Prayag Pharmacy had failed fifteen years before. He moved to Allahabad with his son Brindaban and continued manufacturing medicines. While the rest of the family remained at Banerjee Lane in Calcutta, Abhay continued his traveling; but now he was often away for months at a time.
And then he had the dream a second time. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī appeared before him; again he was beckoning, indicating that Abhay should take sannyāsa. And again Abhay had to put the dream aside. He was a householder with many responsibilities. To take sannyāsa would mean to give up everything. He had to earn money. He now had five children. “Why is Guru Mahārāja asking me to take sannyāsa?” he thought. It was not possible now.
The Allahabad business was unsuccessful. “At present, the condition of our business is not very good,” he wrote his servant Gouranga, who had asked to rejoin him. “When the condition gets better and if you are free at that time I will call for you.” He worked earnestly, but results were meager.
As with everything else, Abhay saw his present circumstances through the eyes of scripture. And he could not help but think of the verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam
hariṣye tad-dhanaṁ śanaiḥ
tato ‘dhanaṁ tyajanty asya
“When I feel especially merciful towards someone, I gradually take away all his material possessions. His friends and relatives then reject this poverty-stricken and most wretched fellow.”
He had heard Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī quote the verse, and now he thought of it often. He took it that his present circumstances were controlled by Lord Kṛṣṇa, who was forcing him into a helpless position, freeing him for preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Somehow or other, my intention for preaching the message of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu increased, and the other side decreased. I was not disinclined, but Kṛṣṇa forced me: “You must give it up.” The history is known-how it decreased, decreased, decreased.
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Queen Kuntī had also prayed, “My dear Lord Kṛṣṇa, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education, and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: So in 1950 I retired, practically. Not retired, but a little in touch with business-whatever is going on. Then almost it became nil. Whatever was there, all right. You do whatever you like.
Abhay’s wife independently moved along with her sons back to her father’s house at 72 Mahatma Gandhi Road. She had reasoned that her financial support was becoming precarious.
Abhay was spending most of his time away from home. He was gradually disassociating himself from the family. When after several months he would meet his wife and children, his father-in-law would criticize him: “You are always going outside. You are always worshiping God. You are not looking after my family.” Whenever he could, Abhay would send his family some money.
Mr. Sudhir Kumar Dutta (Abhay’s nephew): I sometimes noticed how he was thinking so many things-about his family, about his writings, about making bigger and bigger in business. “What to do, what to do?” He was thinking seriously to earn more money from his business. But that means he has to give more time for his business. And his writing he’d never give up. He was writing more and more, and people sometimes abused him: “Hey, you are writing religious things. You are only thinking of God? Then who will maintain your family? What will you do for the family?” Sometimes he argued with them: “What has this family given me? Why should I forget about God? This is the real thing, what I am doing. You cannot realize what I am doing.”
On a visit to Calcutta, Abhay stayed at the home of his father-in-law, where he was given his own room. When his wife served him dinner, he noticed that everything had been purchased from the market. “How is this?” he asked.
“The cook is sick today,” Radharani replied.
Abhay thought, “It is better that we not live here at the home of her father, or else she will be spoiled even more.” So he moved his family to a new address on Chetla Street. Here he sometimes stayed with his family for a few months, writing articles and doing a minimal amount of business, but most of the time he stayed in Allahabad.
In Allahabad, Abhay, now fifty-four, lived like a vānaprastha, or one who has retired from family life. He was indifferent to the activities of family and business-activities a family man generally considers his prime objects of responsibility and happiness.
In his writings Abhay had several times discussed the four āśramas, or spiritual divisions of Vedic society: brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha, and sannyāsa. In the first division, the brahmacārī āśrama, a young boy’s parents send him to the place of the guru, or gurukula, where he lives a simple life, studying the Vedic literature under the guidance of his guru. Thus in his childhood and youth he learns the principles of austerity and spiritual knowledge that form the basis for his entire life.
At age twenty-one the brahmacārī may take a wife and thus enter the next āśrama, the gṛhastha āśrama; or, like Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, he may choose to remain a lifelong brahmacārī. In his boyhood, Abhay had remained celibate and had imbibed the principles of devotion to Kṛṣṇa from his father and mother. Although he had lived at home, his upbringing had been the equivalent of brahmacārī life. And by marriage at the age of twenty-one, he had entered the gṛhastha āśrama at the appropriate age. Gour Mohan’s example had shown Abhay how to remain a devotee of Kṛṣṇa, even in family life. And as Vaiṣṇavas, Abhay and his wife had avoided the excesses of materialistic household life.
At fifty a man is supposed to retire from his family activities, and this stage is called vānaprastha. In the vānaprastha āśrama, both man and wife agree to abstain from further sexual contact; they may continue living together, but the emphasis is on spiritual partnership. As vānaprasthas they may travel together on pilgrimage to the holy places in India, preparing for their inevitable departure from the material world. Thus the Vedic āśramas, after allowing one to fulfill material life, enable one to end the cycle of repeated birth and death and attain the eternal spiritual world. A man of fifty should be able to see by his aging body that inevitable death is approaching, and he should have the good sense to prepare.
In the final division, the sannyāsa āśrama, the man places his wife in the care of a grown son and fully dedicates himself to serving the Supreme Lord. Formerly the sannyāsa āśrama meant a solitary life of penances in the Himalayas. But in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava line, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had emphasized preaching.
Although Abhay had not formally defined his status within the four āśramas, he appeared to be living more as a vānaprastha than a gṛhastha. He saw his business failures and his distasteful family situation as Kṛṣṇa’s blessings, freeing him from family responsibilities and turning him wholeheartedly towards executing Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s order to preach.
* * *
In Allahabad, Abhay managed to save enough money to revive the printing of Back to Godhead, and in February 1952, from his editorial office (and home) at 57B Canning Road, the first issue in eight years appeared. As before, he did everything himself-all the writing, typing, editing, meeting with the printer, and finally distributing the copies by hand as well as mailing them to respectable leaders throughout India. This, he felt, was the real purpose of living in Allahabad, or anywhere; this was the best use of money, the purpose of human life: to engage fully in glorifying the Supreme Lord. Other things were temporary and would soon be lost.
When he visited his family in Calcutta, old friends would gather in his room, and he would preach and give classes on Bhagavad-gītā. Abhay invited his wife and family to take part in these discussions, but they would resolutely sit in an upstairs room, often taking tea, as if in defiance of his preaching. Abhay wassupporting them, he was still as sociating with them, but he was bent on preaching, and they were not making it attractive for him to do so within the family. If there were to be family life for Abhay, then his wife and sons would have to recognize and rejoice in the fact that he was becoming a full-fledged preacher. They would have to understand that his life’s concern was to serve his spiritual master’s mission. They could not simply ignore his transformation. They could not insist that he was simply an ordinary man. Abhay continued to try to draw his wife in, hoping she would gradually follow him in the preacher’s life. But she had not the slightest interest in her husband’s preaching.
And why should he spend his days worrying about family, chemicals, and money? Let his relatives criticize, but Back to Godhead was the real service he could offer to the whole family of mankind. Mādhavendra Purī, a great spiritual preceptor and predecessor of Lord Caitanya, had written about the devotees’ indifference to worldly criticism:
O demigods and forefathers, please excuse me. I am unable to perform any more offerings for your pleasure. Now I have decided to free myself from all reactions to sins simply by remembering anywhere and everywhere the great descendant of Yadu and the great enemy of Kaṁsa [Lord Kṛṣṇa]. I think that this is sufficient for me. So what is the use of further endeavors?
Let the sharp moralists accuse me of being illusioned; I do not mind. Experts in Vedic activities may slander me as being misled, friends and relatives may call me frustrated, my brothers may call me a fool, the wealthy mammonites may point me out as mad, and the learned philosophers may assert that I am much too proud; still my mind does not budge an inch from the determination to serve the lotus feet of Govinda, though I be unable to do it.
Why should he waste time with petty family problems when he held answers to the problems of India and the world? As a knower of Bhagavad-gītā, he felt that his first obligation was to offer solutions to the complex crises of war, hunger, immorality, crime-all symptoms of godlessness. And if dedicating himself to such work meant that other, lesser responsibilities suffered, then there was no loss.
* * *
In March 1952, Abhay published another issue of Back to Godhead. It was dedicated mostly to a biographical article Abhay had written about Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī and his father, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.
He [Bhaktivinode Thakur] vehemently protested against the principles of those pseudo-transcendentalists now passed in the name of Lord Chaitanya. He initiated the reformatory movement by literary contributions while he still engaged as a high Government Officer. During his householder life and serving as a Magistrate, he wrote books of various descriptions in Bengali, English, Sanskrit & etc. to present an actual picture of pure devotional activities to Lord Chaitanya. Sreela Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Maharaj got inspiration from his very Childhood all about Sreela Thakur Bhaktivinode’s movement. [He] worked as the private secretary of Sreela Bhaktivinode Thakur and as such Bhaktivinode Thakur gave Him (Sreela Saraswati Thakur) the transcendental Power of Attorney to espouse the cause of Lord Chaitanya. And so after Sreela Bhaktivinode Thakur’s departure, Sreela Saraswati Thakur took up reins of that reformatory movement.
Absorbed in producing his monthly journal, Abhay went about his other activities only superficially. Sometimes he traveled on business or, taking the night train from Allahabad to Calcutta, visited his family. When his compartment was not crowded, he would turn on a light while others slept. Riding a night train provided a good opportunity to think or even write. Sometimes he would sleep for a few hours and then sit up again and look out the window to see only night and the reflected lights of the train compartment shining back at him, the windows reflecting his face.
Halfway through the twelve-hour journey, the sky would lighten, turning from gray to light blue, and the first white clouds would appear in the sky. He could see lights in the towns and hear the train horn warning. When the train slowed and stopped at a station, tea vendors would walk alongside the train windows yelling, “Chāy! Chāy! Chāy!” their loud singsong din filling the ears with “Chāy!” and chāy filling the air with its aroma, as hundreds of passengers sipped their morning tea.
During his more than twenty years of extensive train travel, Abhay had noticed more and more people smoking cigarettes and more and more women traveling alone. India was becoming Westernized. And the national leaders were paving the way-the blind leading the blind. They wanted the kingdom of God without God. They wanted a progressive, industrialized India, without Kṛṣṇa. From the windows he could see large fields being left uncultivated, and yet people were hungry.
Abhay would sometimes read a newspaper and cut out an article that seemed to warrant a reply in Back to Godhead or that sparked an idea for an essay. He would deliberate over how to approach people for assistance, whom to approach, and how to start a society of Kṛṣṇa conscious devotees. People not only in India but all over the world could take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The Caitanya-bhāgavata had predicted that the name of Lord Caitanya would one day be known in every town and village. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta had wanted that. He had sent preachers to England, but they had only gained a protocol visit with the royalty, stood in line, bowed before the Crown, and then come back to India without effecting any change in the Western people. Abhay thought about sending Back to Godhead abroad. His agents, Thacker, Spink and Company, had contacts in America and Europe. People read English all over the world, and some of them would surely appreciate the ideas from Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. This was what Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had wanted. Kṛṣṇa consciousness was not for India alone. It was India’s greatest gift, and it was for everyone.
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