Calcutta, West Bengal, India — Sunday, May 21st

Embarrassing predicament

One morning Acharya Maharaj comes to Calcutta directly from one of the villages near Navadwip (perhaps Bamunpara) to see Srila Gurudeva. Three rather scrawny villagers accompany him: an older gentleman and two teenage boys. They have no luggage: just the clothes that they are wearing.

Acharya Maharaj comes up onto the veranda, offers dandavat pranam to Srila Gurudeva, and gives what I assume is a report on his recent activities, speaking rapidly, as is his wont, in Bengali.

When he is done, he again offers his obeisances, and goes downstairs. Srila Gurudeva goes into his room and his servant, Gopal Prabhu, gathers the paraphernalia for a harinama initiation ceremony and sets it up at the end of the veranda, besides Srila Gurudeva official chair (vyasasan).

Acharya Maharaj comes back upstairs with the three villagers in tow. They seem self-conscious, perhaps because they are now wearing stiff new dhotis, or perhaps because of the smudges of tilak now on their foreheads... They stand awkwardly near the door, heads down, veiled eyes darting nervously around the room, waiting...

Gopal goes up to them and asks them something in Bengali. They shake their heads. He takes some fruit from Srila Gurudeva's fruit table near the door, puts the fruit and a few sticks of incense on three separate plates, and sets the plates down next to Srila Gurudeva's chair. He motions to the three to sit, and they sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the plates.

While waiting for Srila Gurudeva to come back onto the veranda, Acharya Maharaj walks over to the group, squats next to the oldest, and whispers in this ear. The only words I hear are "guru-dakshina." When the old gentleman shakes his head in response, Acharya Maharaj takes something from his pocket and hands it to him...

Srila Gurudeva comes out of his room, sits in his chair, and the older man, after offering dandavat pranam, sits on the square mat at Srila Gurudeva's feet. Srila Gurudeva chants the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on a japa-mala rosary, and then hands the mala to his new disciple, along with instructions on how to chant, and what offenses to avoid.

The old man offers flowers to Srila Gurudeva's lotus feet, then gives him the plate with the fruit and incense, along with his guru-dakshina (the disciple's token of gratitude to the spiritual master for the priceless gift of initiation into the chanting of the holy name of the Lord). I'm somewhat surprised to see that it is a crisp five-hundred rupee bill (about $11). Usually Bengali villagers (impecunious peasants, for the most part) give just ten or twenty rupees for guru-dakshina...

When the middle boy gets his mantra and beads, he gives Srila Gurudeva the plate with the fruit and incense, but no dakshina. I am surprised (again). I have heard that without the guru-dakshina, there is no connection. The prospective disciple must give something, however little, to the guru.

"Maybe the five-hundred rupees was for all three of them," I think...

But while Srila Gurudeva is chanting on the beads of the youngest boy, he says something about "taka," and nods his head towards his desk. Gopal goes over, rummages through the clutter on the desktop, and brings back two rupees. He gives one coin to the young boy, and drops the other into the plate of the boy who was just initiated. The youngest boy receives his mantra and beads, and gives Srila Gurudeva the rupee that he got from Gopal and the plate with the fruit from Srila Gurudeva's fruit table...

After the ceremony is over and the new initiates have left, Gopal returns Srila Gurudeva's fruit to Srila Gurudeva's fruit table and Srila Gurudeva's coins to Srila Gurudeva's desk. He turns around, catches my eye, laughs, and says pithily:

"Ganga-jale, Ganga puja."

Seeing my quizzical look, he flashes a smile:

"They are using Ganges water to worship the Ganges."

I start to smile, but before I can feel smug, I realize, "If everything belongs to Krishna (sarva-loka-mahesvaram), then how is my plight any different from the plight of these simple villagers?" I do not own anything, so I have nothing to give either. The ingredients for my puja, my service to Guru and Krishna, must necessarily come from Guru and Krishna: ganga-jale, ganga puja.

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Layout by iMonk — May 21st, 2006.