Tiwaripur 2014: a tale of divine grace.

Guru puja

It is painfully hard for me to write about things that have given me extreme delight. Such things as my time in Tiwaripur, at my Gurudeva’s appearance place. Some parts of my experience then and there, were so spiritually intimate that I don’t dare disclose them. So, I wonder whether the narrative will have anything to hinge on, or if it will crumble like a chocolate chip cookie with the chips removed. Anyway, after days of procrastination, I began to balk at the prospect of more stasis, and answered the call, which was like a bug in my ear, to jot down my remembrance.

I remember the train ride, not as especially distinct from other Indian train rides, but amalgamated into that vivid (and slightly putrid) section of remembrance to which it belongs. Several primitive camping experiences join in that grouping. A grouping that swarms somewhat pestilential in my mind, yet holds a pass that always yields to greater aliveness. Sickness and surgery pastimes live here too. Roads not so much chosen, (like sweeties in a pick ‘n’ mix), as propelled down by choices too ancient to remember and now too tangled at varied purposes to countermand.

We arrive in Buxar and get autorickshaws to our Gurudeva’s place. I don’t know where I’ll be staying, or what my stay might bring. What I do know is that my heart hungers for deeper connection with my spiritual master’s life and teachings so as to serve his heart’s desire in this life. We are there for a Bhagavat-Saptaha, (an illuminated presentation on and exposition of the Srimad Bhagavatam scripture over seven days), given by one of our Gurudeva’s most luminous and illustrious disciples, Om Visnupada Srila Bhaktivedanta Madhusudan Goswami Maharaj. This will be the very first time that I get the chance to hear Srimad Bhagavatam so extensively, directly from the lotus mouth of a maha-bhagavat, pure devotee. Srila Gurudeva emphasized time and time again how auspicious hearing such Hari Katha (spiritual discourse) is for a sincere soul, and I’m nothing if not sincere.

I am ready. For nearly six months, my husband and I had been residing in the ancient Krishna Balarama Mandir (temple) under the guidance of Srimati Krishna Priya Goswamini of Vrindavan. During those six months, Didi (big sister) had given us such mercy, letting us stay close with her to learn and change under her shelter. (Sadhu-sanga being another absolutely essential component of advancing in Bhakti and Krishna Consciousness emphasized time and again by our Guru Maharaja). I am forever indebted to him for -among many other things- directing us to Didi for ongoing training, as his earthly pastimes began winding up.

And what can I say of how Didi prepared me for this Bhagavat-Saptaha in Tiwaripur? Some things are so mystical as to seem ridiculous when plonked down on the page. What I can say is that amidst that widespread thrum of constant devotional activity in the temple, made up of so many varied contributions from such an astonishing array of characters with their unique natures, and orchestrated so sweetly by Didi, there were darshans and waking dreams and visions that Didi walked me through most expertly. She showed me how to practice discerning for myself gold from fool’s gold, the self from fantasy false ego. This was her gift of self-mastery a little bit imparted; touched off in me as the foundation of spiritual self-trust, by the wish fulfilling gem of her transcendental loving being. This is similar to what psychologists write of maternal reverie: “A mother’s capacity to understand what her infant is feeling and to ameliorate the infant’s distress.” Wherein a child may internalize a caretaker who understands their need and can take effective action to calm distress.

At some point, she let me try serving her disciple under her guidance, Srila Bhaktivedanta Madhusudan Maharaj – and not just by keeping well out of his way and minimizing any disturbance I might directly or indirectly cause to his transcendental activities, though that will forever remain the prerequisite baseline. Didi had been instructing Maharaj since he had answered the spiritual call, found her, and taken shelter of her when he was just a boy of 11 years old. In those days, both of them were resplendent in white. Such relationships cannot cheaply or easily be understood by ordinary mortals.

Srimad Bhaktivedanta Madhusudan Maharaj seated on a vyasasan, at the end of another day of Hari Katha, for his Bhagavat-Saptaha in Tiwaripur.
Srimad Bhaktivedanta Madhusudan Maharaj
Prabha showing an illustration to some Tiwaripur girls.
Showing an illustration to some Tiwaripur girls.

Now Maharaja had received sannyas (the renounced order of life); the kind of sannyas that purifies the whole universe. A scholar of unstoppable merit, he had been writing songs, prayers, commentaries, and illuminations – expanding the Vaisnava revealed scriptures and the glories of our sampradaya for many years, (though he is younger than I am from an ordinary perspective). Didi helped me make an illustration for one of his books. During this time there were so few of us residing in the temple. At prasadam time (sharing remnants of foods offered to Sri Krishna), I would now and then be sitting close to opposite Maharaj, (never directly so). His non ordinary being was too effulgent to look upon with conditioned eyes, and I could barely breathe. Once, Didi dropped a chapatti onto his plate then picked it up and placed the other half on mine. Ours is a kitchen religion. While pomp and ceremony has its place, our path of faith relies on simple, sweet, loving devotional exchanges that feed the soul. As I reflect on these events now, I consider that devotional exchanges such as these are the key to letting go of pretension and vain ambition, and to living in peace and humility.

I was ready to listen and to hear deeply. This was my second visit to the appearance place of my spiritual master. The first time was a partial visit the year before, as my husband and I had a plane to catch, so we left part way through Maharaja’s previous Bhagavat-saptaha in Tiwaripur. This time, we were fortunate enough to be staying for the full event, and would be travelling back to the temple in Vrindavan, as a group, afterwards. The mood was festive, and both sacred like a pilgrimage and jovial like the best of holidays. The village where my Gurudeva appeared is very rich in culture and agriculture. So many crops grow in that region, in abundance: many kinds of fruits, vegetables and legumes. The holy Ganga river flows strongly nearby.

She cuts a swathe through creamy soft sand banks and fine soil. Groves of mango trees, some wells and pandals make up gathering places and shady spots on the walks around Gurudeva’s village, and on the way to the Ganga. He used to run there the whole way to take bath, he was such an athlete. In his village was a well that he helped to dig with his own hands that still gives plentiful sweet water. His childhood home and village remain, and are still replete with living, Vedic culture. On this visit, I was to stay in the very room where the esteemed mother of my Gurudeva delivered, and he made his transcendental, holy appearance.

I stayed there with two, dear devotee friends, and we added to the simple home altar and worshipped there together, even offering the homecooked preparations our Gurudeva’s descendants and relatives had prepared that would be served to the assembled devotees. I couldn’t believe that such a thing could be happening to me. The bliss was indescribable. It both paralyzed and animated me at the same time, such that I found myself completely unable to do anything or to think straight, but at the same time moved with dynamic elation, and aware with diamond clarity.

The room where Srila Gurudeva appeared.
The room where Srila Gurudeva appeared on the new moon day (February 7th, 1921).
Nilgai (sacred blue cows).  Young male with females.
Nilgai (sacred blue cows). Young male with females.
Ganga darshan

In the days prior to Maharaja’s spiritual discourses, we went on kirtan through the neighboring villages to raise interest, (which was plentiful), and to encourage attendees to come. Upstanding village elders and leaders and many, many sevaks, (people rendering service), cooked, put up and decorated the pandal and vyasasana, (sitting place of the Guru). Imagine a world class performance, a party for someone super well-loved, an incredible camping holiday, a gorgeous summer fete, a great feast at the end of a tough fast, and arriving at a holy place after an arduous pilgrimage, all rolled into one. I can’t do justice to the joy of it.

This was the holiest experience I’d ever been a party to, and it was astonishingly hygge! (A Danish word meaning a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing). As we sat for Hari Katha, the musicians and singers raised up the most rapturous sounds. With the colorful pandal flags and streamers, stunning vyasasan and banner, the warmth, sunlight and softest breezes, the aroma of hundreds and hundreds of deep fried savories, and the satisfaction after days and nights in nature and of camaraderie, I never wanted the experience to end, and considered that no heaven could rival it.

Maharaja’s discourses that week were stupefying yet more edifying than my three years at Oxford University all together. Hearing them made me feel like the child I might have been, had I been consistently at my most awake, empowered and innocent. These memories are better than those of my happiest childhood moments. Perfectly perfect. He brought to light and sound the essential and secret truths of the Bhagavatam: that crème de la crème of Vedic scripture, which is so enriching to, as well as enriched by all our Vaisnava preceptors.

At some small event in California, in a charming courtyard, after we had sung mangalacharan, (prayers of auspicious invocation), my Gurudeva said that all of the sacred personalities we were honoring were here present with us. Now there was no doubt in my mind that an astonishing host of venerable personalities was present with us at our Gurudeva’s appearance place, as Maharaja prayed and gave spiritual discourse for many hours each day. His talks were soul refreshing, enlightening, and energizing. I labored to listen well to them with all my heart, and was rewarded with spiritual renewal in every moment. I barely needed to sleep or eat, yet when I did, it wasn’t to survive, it was to partake in God’s glories.

I was my Gurudeva’s dear darling daughter in those days, as never before. The spectacular feeling that I am 100% for all of this, (with a resounding, wholistic yes), and that all of this is intended for me by my spiritual master, (by pure grace), was an existential ecstasy. To this day, it serves to strengthen, edify and inspire me in a life of service, in his holy footsteps. A sacred milestone on my journey of self-realization, from conceptual to embodied service. The very elements of that place and time are infused with his holiness; they are always nourishing me in mind, body and spirit.

Hearing Hari Katha!
Hearing Hari Katha.