Saturday, September 1, 2007

Vyasa Puja Offering 2006

I was fifteen in the year 2002. I had been so desperate for a temple and spiritual association that my parents had let me fly alone from Hawaii to my hometown of New Vrindavan, West Virginia for the summer.

The day before the Rathayatra festival, I was conversing with Mother Jayasri in the temple when suddenly we heard a distant, "Jaaaaai! Hariboooool!"

A look of delight crossed Jayasri’s face. "Oh, I completely forgot! Maharaj is having a darshan!"

"Darshan?" I inquired, "Who? Which Maharaj?"

"Just come," she ushered me into the hallway and grasped my hand. We joined a cluster of people that spilled out into the hall, and everyone was on tiptoes or ducked down low to see into a room. We nudged our way through the crowd but a sudden bout of shyness overcame me, and I simply peeked past the doorframe.

The crowd of people in the sunwashed room gazed attentively upon two people: a bright-eyed boy who was narrating a story from the Mahabharata, and Radhanath Swami. The Swami shone in his saffron robes.

Suddenly, Maharaj gestured for the boy to stop. "And who is this?" he peered straight at me. All heads in the room swiveled to the back of the room where we stood.

"Oh yes, Maharaj," Jayasri said, "This is Bhakti lata, Mahesh and Brihan's daughter." She clasped my shoulders and steered me more into view. I'm not one to be shy. But right then I wanted to melt.

Radhanath Swami's eyes lit up. "Ah yes, the last time I saw you, you were about this high - " he gestured to somewhere around his shoulders... and he was sitting down. The room swelled with laughter, and I smiled abashedly.

"You're making me blush," I replied.

He laughed. "Please, come sit down," he gestured to a spot directly in front of him, and the devotees cleared some space. All eyes in the room were trained on me as I sat down; I felt like a specimen under a microscope. Maharaj smiled serenely, his gaze seeming to peer into my mind. Then he turned towards the boy and nodded for him to continue his story.

Without missing a beat, the boy continued his colorful tale. The tale was so outlandish, I was in shock and disbelief. But slowly I began to warm; I chuckled and gasped along with everyone else. Every so often I would glance at Maharaj to see that he laughed and listened intently, and suddenly I gained more meaning from the story, suddenly I found something more funny.

After the finale of the story, Maharaj began to converse easily with other devotees in the room. I have grown up around Swamis, including Radhanath Swami, and although I've been trained to respect the renounced order of life, it's always been a kind of "Yo, what's up Swamiji?"

But in that light-filled room long ago, a light clicked on inside my mind, and I understood the bowing, the use of titles, the shyness of almost everyone in the room. This was no ordinary person.

In silence, Maharaj began to hand out cookies; he would place cookies into my hand and I would ferry them to the back of the room. At last, Maharaj placed the cookie meant for me in my hand with a smile. Everyone sat in silence, holding or nibbling our cookies.

Maharaj spoke into the quiet, matter-of-factly, "My dear Mataji, I'm sure they're wonderful, but are these cookies green?" Everyone burst into laughter.

A lady replied from the back of the room, “Well, Maharaj, I wanted to be creative,”

Maharaj simply laughed, his whole body shaking.

The gathering ended and I rose and left from the room. I walked down the hallway, nibbling my green cookie, lost in thought. My mind was etched with the image of Radhanath Swami illuminated by the light from the window in his orange robes. In all my life I had never seen a Swami so... effulgent. And for the first time in my life, I wondered how it would feel to be under the guidance of a guru, a teacher.

So began my quest for a guru.

Over the years, I met many wonderful saints in the line of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. And each time I would associate with each exalted Vaishnava, I would wonder, Maybe this is my guru... maybe this is the one...

Each Swami taught me a lesson in the principles of Krishna Consciousness. But year after year I would simply recall that match being lit in a distant summer in a distant room, listening to a strange story, eating green cookies, sitting directly in front of a smiling, glowing man.

Three years after that darshan, I was traveling on the 2005 Bus Tour. We were in Washington DC for the Rathayatra when Yadu Kumar returned from Gita Nagari – he had just experienced his guru, Bhakti Tirtha Swami, leave this world. Yadu recounted beautiful stories of his own guru and Radhanath Swami in those final days.

Suddenly I realized, "Who knows how long Radhanath Swami will be in this world? He himself is very ill.

"It's time to surrender."

Manu granted me permission to leave the Tour for three weeks to visit New Vrindavan, where Radhanath Swami was staying.

So three years later, I found myself in that very same sunwashed room. Once again, the sun illuminated Radhanath Swami's saffron robes. He peered at me with kind eyes that seemed weary. The lines in his face were deep; signs that the departure of his dear friend and godbrother had taken its toll.

At the time, I didn’t know the formal words “take shelter”. I didn’t even know all the requisites for initiation, such as recommendation letters and standards for japa meditation. All I knew was that my soul had recognized Radhanath Swami as my guru.

I took a deep breath and said, "Radhanath Swami, I want to receive instruction from you. What does it mean to be a disciple?"

“I am your servant,” he replied solemnly. “And to be a disciple means to be exemplary.”

His words and his love echo within me to this day, and I pray to surrender to his feet. One day.

Bhakti lata dasi

image courtesy of Gopi Kumari


Anonymous said...

Thank you for revealing your realization with Gurudev. You exprssed deep gratitudes to him from the heart of your heart. I wish I could also have such immense love for Gurudev

Premniketan das said...

Hare Krishna

This was an amazing story. That's how Maharaj steels the heart of all of is disciples. Thank you very much for sharing the deep love for Maharaj with all of us.


Prem Niketan das

To write is to dare the soul. So write.