Calcutta, India — Saturday, August 7th

Poor devotees

One morning, after breakfast, a few of us are sitting quietly on the veranda with Srila Gurudeva while he reads his email, when he suddenly puts down the printed email that he is reading, smiles, and begins this anecdote:

Srila Gurudeva fondly recalls how, on one of his world tours, he paid an impromptu visit to the home of the letter-writer early one morning. The devotee and his wife were happy and excited to receive Srila Gurudeva and the four disciples in his retinue in their humble home, and bustled about making sure that everybody was comfortable and properly seated.

They wanted to do something nice for their unexpected, distinguished guests — to entertain them with the proper decorum — and to offer them something nice to eat, but they were so poor that all they had to offer Srila Gurudeva and his retinue was a few slices of toast.

Because it was offered with devotion, Srila Gurudeva was quite satisfied with the simple fare. Not so the rather tactless devotees in his retinue! When they finished their toast, they asked for more. Not once, but three times!

"My devotees are such demons," Srila Gurudeva says, smiling facetiously and shaking his head.

The poor couple became quite embarrassed and flustered when they ran out of bread. The devotees had finished it all. They had no other food in the house. They had given their all.

This impressed Srila Gurudeva tremendously. "They are very good devotees... They give so much," he says approvingly.

"Why are they so poor? Do they know?" Srila Gurudeva asks. We lean forward, expectantly. Srila Gurudeva quotes the verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam (10:88:08) where Sri Krishna says to Yudhisthir Maharaj:

yasyaham anugrhnami / harisye tad-dhanam sanaih
tato dhanam tyajanty asya / sva-jana duhkha-duhkhitam

"When I really want to favor somebody — when I feel especially merciful towards them — I take away all their wealth by gradually making them lose their material possessions..."

Srila Gurudeva is quiet.

We think we want to be devotees, I muse, but are we prepared for that? So many of Krishna's devotees had to "suffer." Why? After all, Krishna is God, right? You would think that the pastimes of His devotees were all about love, peace, happiness... Who wants to suffer?

Indeed, in Srila Sanatan Goswami's Sri Brihad Bhagavatamrita (01:05:47), after Narada Muni praises the Pandavas as being the greatest devotees because of their friendly dealings with Lord Krishna, Yudhisthir Maharaj, speaking on behalf of the Pandava family, laments:

prakrtanam jananam hi / madrg-apad-ganeksaya
krsna-bhaktau pravrttis ca / visvasas ca hrased iva

"Ordinary materialistic people think that Lord Krishna's devotees never suffer misfortune. If they see how much our family has suffered, their faith in Krishna consciousness will be spoiled and their inclination to serve Lord Krishna will diminish."

It is important to note, however, that the Pandavas do not resent being put into so many difficult situations. On the contrary, Yudhisthir's mother, Queen Kunti, is famous for this prayer to Lord Krishna:

vipadah santu tah sasvat / tatra tatra jagad-guro
bhavato darsanam yat syad / apunar bhavadarsanam

"Let danger come: we do not care for that. We rather like those dangers because they bring You closer to us; they bring us into an intimate connection with You, O Lord. So I wish that all those calamities could happen again and again because that means that we will see You again and again, and seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths in this world."

The Pandavas were not distressed by their so-called suffering. What caused them the most distress (etad evati-kastam nas) was that simple materialistic people might hesitate to become devotees of Krishna when they saw how their family — who had dedicated their life and breath to Krishna (tad-eka-prana-jivinam) — still had to suffer so many trials and tribulations...

So many of Krishna's devotees had to "suffer," externally, but it is that so-called suffering — that complete dependence on Krishna — that attracts the Lord. We will never be successful as long as we think that we can get out of the predicament we are in on our own (mama maya duratyaya). Our success is ensured only when we depend exclusively on Krishna (mam eva ye prapadyante).

Because this is such a difficult lesson to learn, sometimes Krishna — when He's feeling especially generous! — takes everything away from us, and forces us to "suffer," just so that we can develop that sort of exclusive dependence on Him.

"Krishna consciousness means suffering," says Srila Gurudeva, snapping me out of my reverie. Then, arching his back, referring to his health, he says, "I am suffering so much, so, I think, I must be a little devotee."

"Oh Gurudeva," I start to smile in protest at such self-depreciating humility, but he looks up, and in all seriousness, says, "No really, Maharaj, I feel this way."

And here I am, thinking that I am a big devotee, a big sannyasi...

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Layout by iMonk — August 7th, 2004.