In The Well
by Taru das
My dear readers, it is time to come to an understanding of the motivation behind these articles. We have attempted to be a little amusing and in this respect, there may have been a certain amount of success. But actually what we are trying to do is to describe the process of purification in Krsna Consciousness. We never wanted anyone to think that all the atrocities detailed herein are actually something to be admired or imitated. Yet the fear is there that we are encouraging the wrong type of behavior.
The process of devotional service does not always seem very amusing to the conditioned soul. Sometimes, yes, we can look back and laugh at our original misconceptions of spiritual like. But then again, there are times when it appears to be very difficult to struggle ahead towards spiritual advancement. This is what we have failed to capture so far, the up-and-down roller coaster ride the neophyte devotee experiences in his progressive march towards liberation. In order to offset the devil-may-care, rather zany mood of the first articles, I feel it is now time to plunge to the depths of despair, to take the dive, as they say, into the well.
We have surely mentioned many times the example set by the truly great souls, those who have conquered over their senses. The longing to actually follow in their footsteps is often keenly felt, even by one so incapable and unworthy as myself. One will surely be amazed to know that an all-out glutton can read about Raghunatha dasa eating only a pat of butter every alternate day and feel genuinely touched at heart. But it is a fact. Actually, such aspirations to imitate these great souls are at least as strong as the desire to beg, borrow, steal or by any other means attain quantities of delectable foodstuffs. One feels himself pulled in opposite directions by equally powerful horses. What a predicament.
The solution to the problem can be round in the all-merciful attitude of the Supreme Lord Krsna towards His fallen devotee. The Lord is always inviting the conditioned souls to return to Him. So once we embark upon the path of devotional service. He is much more willing than we are to hasten our advancement. His mercy is that He cuts down all our material desires and gives newer and fresher and stronger impetus to our spiritual desires. Krsna says that the first installment of His mercy upon His devotee is that He completely crushes all his material desires so that the devotee will take complete shelter of Him.
Were it not for such divine intervention, I would surely have gotten dragged away by mundane desires and would now be some celebrated champion on the amateur pie-eating circuit. I mean, Krsna guarantees that in whatever way one is attracted to Him, he will benefit spiritually. For example, one may come to Krsna to ask for money, but unless he ultimately gives up his desire to enjoy wealth, he will not be able to make any further advancement. It may have been well and good that I was so attracted to Krsna prasadam in the beginning, but as time went on, it became more and more imperative that I go beyond the desire to eat Krsna Conscious cooking and get down to just becoming Krsna conscious.
I kept missing the boat, however. All my God-brothers were advancing very nicely, increasing their service and attachment to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, giving up their material desires and working harder every day. As a stark example of what happened if a person maintains his material desires, I stood out like a crow amidst a flock of swans. Everyone else was moving ahead and I was sinking down fast.It must have been that everyone else saw where I was headed before I realized it myself. It always seems to happen that way. I couldn’t see any farther ahead than the next meal. But on the growth chart of spiritual culture, my curves were starting to dip down towards the bottom of the page. I took more and more to illegal methods of obtaining foodstuffs. I even consorted with family folks. You see, the householders had some little facility for getting extra goods. They might have some little money, they might go into town for some reason, they might even have a little hot plate in their rooms. Nothing very lavish, mind you, just a pinch more than the poor brahmacaris. But that little pinch made a big difference.
One of the most covert underground delicacies of the time was the baked potato. Today after partaking of potatoes for lunch for the 596th consecutive day, it may seem difficult to believe that at one time potatoes were as rare as mangoes in New Vrindaban. But it was true. We never, never, never got potatoes, the king of vegetables, as proclaimed by Srila Prabhupada Devotees would dream of potatoes, so as soon as a householder got a little money from home, his first impulse was to hook up with the town-run man and order himself a little bag Idahoes. The rather unsophisticated preparation procedure was to wrap the little ‘tater in tin toil and loss it into a bed of coals in your wood stove, if you were so fortunate to have one in your room. I don’t mean a heat producer, something to keep the icicles off your feet at night.
Driven by lust, I used to visit some householder devotees in the evening to get in on these potato feasts. If not the direct cause, this was the final symptom of my total decline. Any serious brahmacari wouldn’t be caught dead in such a surrounding. Other symptoms started popping out all over me, like a sore on a leper. I was a goner. We will spare our readers the sordid description of the final fall. We shall simply summarize thusly: everyone has got a choice between Krsna consciousness and sense gratification. One aspiring after Krsna consciousness works hard, lives austerely, and makes rapid advancement. One who is too much attached to sense gratification slacks off, gets lazy and listless and inevitably finds himself getting married.Now assuming that someone may be reading this that isn’t already a full-fledged devotee, we will have to make a little explanation. In the material world, a person’s marriage is about the pinnacle of his life. In all the fairy tales that is the conclusion, summit of bliss, when the hero and heroine get married and â€œlive happily ever after.”
People spend more money, invite more friends and try harder to have a real good time at weddings than at any other occasion. In a typical, luster less life-time, it might be the only thing a person is inclined to celebrate. For a devotee it’s not like that at all. In fact, that’s about the last thing anyone wants to do. Even if he knows he needs to, even if he’s been instructed by higher authorities, still it’s a bitter pill to swallow. At one time or other, every Krsna Conscious boy aspires to become a sannyasi, a renouncer of the world, completely devoid of material desires.
Getting married means to accept the stigma of a sense enjoyer, complete with wife, family, house and plans for the future. It isn’t very glamorous, from a Krsna conscious point of view. Still medicine is sometimes necessary, even though bitter. At least by accepting the position of a householder, one acknowledges that he is in trouble. Srila Bhaktipada always said that it is better to be an honest householder than a cheating brahmacari. Best, of course, is an honest brahmacari. But I was pretty far off the beaten path. I fought it off for a little while, protested, argued, tried to get my act together, but the writing was on the wall. It was time to face the music.
We have all heard about the culture shock, but try to imagine the pathetic scene. The room is crowded with devotees, all people you know very well, and they are all looking at you. You sit there in your brand-new still sort-of-starchy white dhoti, which you just put on for the first time. (Brahmacaris, sannyasis–anyone in the renounced order always wears saffron cloth.)Your obvious embarrassment is not helped by the fact that everyone is smiling at you, not exactly compassionately, but with that famous old “Nyah, nyah, I told you so” look of self-complacency.
Next to you is this empty space where someone else is supposed to be. Secretly you half hope that maybe she’ll back out. Simultaneously, you half hope the whole thing would just get over with. Nervously, you close your eyes and try to fall asleep, or merge into nirvana. To add a little tension into the gathering, it just happens to be the night of Gaura-purnima, the appearance day of Lord Caitanya. Everyone has been fasting all day long and there’s supposed to be a feast after your wedding. The crowd’s impatience multiplies second by-second as more and more devotees crowd into the room. Finally there is a stir in the air, a swirl of cloth, and without even turning your head, you know that somebody is sitting next to you. Somebody you have never said a word to in your life. Somebody you haven’t even looked at directly in the face. (Brahmacaris are trained to divert their eyes when women go by). Somebody you happen to be getting married to.
An older God-brother, in this case Daivata dasa, sits in front of you to handle the execution. He is smiling from ear to ear. He is talking and causing some snickers to crack out all around. You can’t hear it so well.You only get one line; at the appointed pause you hear a choked “yes” vibrating from your own lips. Then you take the flower on your plate and give it to the person next to you and get a similar flower back. Everyone yells “jai” (which ironically means victory) and then offers obeisances. After bowing down, you slowly sit back and finally turn your head enough to look over next to you and there she is–your new wife. It might have been easier, and surely would have been much nobler, to commit suicide. However, with that sort of determination, I would probably have been able to control my bizarre eating habits. Anyway, it was too late now. I was officially down the well and all that remained was the long, steep, painful climb out. After taking some prasadam and carrying on some inane conversation which my memory has mercifully blotted out, I went outside.
I had completely lost all bearings. I hadn’t even spoken to a woman since coming to the farm, except for when my mother called me or something. And now I had a wife. I didn’t know whether to be happy or depressed. I was lost. I wandered around in a fog, bumping into some devotees I knew here and there. I tried to talk but couldn’t say anything. I just didn’t know what to do. Maybe after an hour or so, I bumped into Sudhanu who had gone through the whole thing months before. He just kind of grabbed my shoulders and shouted at me through my haze, “Hey, go to bed! Get up in the morning and chant your rounds”. The familiarity of it all gave my battered mind something to grab hold of. “Yeah, go to bed.” I thought for a while and realized that I know how to do that. “Get up in the morning.” That too seemed within my grasp. “Chant your rounds.” Yes, chant Hare Krsna. I do that every day. In one way, nothing had changed. Just wake up the next day and chant Hare Krsna.
A Minor Tragedy
A minor tragedy occurred on the following day. There was a huge feast at noon. My new-sidekick was there ahead of me and had stuffed about six plates and four bowls full to the brim with prasadam. I was overwhelmed. It was the largest spread of prasadam that I had ever seen amassed for a single person. Lord Caitanya’s Appearance Day feast is usually the biggest of the year. Devotees look forward to it for months. And that year it was an enormous feast. BUT I COULDN’T EAT ANYTHING.
I tried, but I couldn’t cut it. I could only manage to swallow a couple sips of condensed milk and that was it. Something was wrong. Something stayed wrong for a long time. All of a sudden, my whole life seemed completely different. The brahmacaris I was living with had recently moved to Vrndavana farm and now I hardly saw them anymore. Radhanatha, my old milking partner, became a pujari and stayed up top all the time. I didn’t see him at all for almost a year. And the other boy from the barn, who was my accomplice in the laddhu caper, was now I he president of the brahmacari farm. Although I would see him often, I would usually avoid talking to him. I just felt too embarrassed.
They were all engaged in serving Krsna so nicely, working hard, always thinking about Krsna. And here I was poking along like a wayward turtle. My work was spaced out. My thinking was about my wife. I tried to fight it off but it was impossible. Now, New Vrindaban isn’t exactly what we call a honeymoon paradise. The whole idea is to become completely free form sex desire-that is the goal of Vedic civilization. As long as one has sex desire, he has to take birth again in the material world. The concession may be there that you can get married, but it’s not like anyone is encouraging it. I felt pretty schizophrenic. It wasn’t like being married and it wasn’t like being Krsna Conscious. It was more like a combination of the worst of each.
All the struggle, austerity, and discipline of spiritual life combined with the anxieties, desires, and frustrations of material life. In one sense, I wanted to go away with my wife to someplace where life wasn’t so strict. And on t he other hand, I wanted to get rid of my wife and go back to being a brahmacari. The most inconceivable thing was trying to slay in New Vrindaban with a wife, ll was like trying to have your cake and eat it too, without having any hands to hold it or any mouth to eat it.
Partners in Crime
My appetite also went schizophrenic. Often I didn’t feel like eating, something I had never experienced before in Krsna consciousness. At other times, I would fake prasadam with a savage vengeance which was also unfamiliar to me. My good wife became a partner in crime. She would go to the kitchen and fill up a bag of chapatis for me before lunch. Everybody would be sitting there with four or five chapatis and she’d bring in this brown paper bag with about fifty in it, trying to hide it so nobody could see, I’d slip a few out at a time. Once, for some unfathomable reason, I just emptied out the whole bag and piled them up on the plate. I think I wanted to count them. And then somebody walked by and gave me some more. Somehow or other, I wound up with about 70 chapatis piled up in front of me like oversized poker chips.
Caught by Bhaktipada
At the precise moment, that one point in time when I had before me the most chapatis I had ever seen on one plate. His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktipada walked right past me. His eyes flew open in amazement. He cried out my name, with a huge exclamation point, half out of amazement and half out of pity. It looked like he wanted to say something to me but couldn’t find the words. I never saw that look before. He never did say anything, just kind of caught his breath and walked away. I wish I could say that I became so disgusted with myself that I immediately got up and walked away. Instead, I proceeded to ingest every last one of that mountain of chapatis. When I think of it now, my head gets dizzy. If you want to see what I mean, go stack up seventy chapatis and look at it for a while. And that was just part of the meal.
Another thing was popcorn at night. We went through so many different night snack programs. You see, just about everywhere you go in ISKCON, the standard is usually two meals a day. But here on the farm, it was always pretty rough to come home at night from the fields and woods and not be hungry. We tried many different dishes, like the old bread I told you about earlier. Well, during my household days, the standard night fare was popcorn. Generally, I would be in the barn milking at the time when it was served out, so my good wife would save some for me and bring it out to the barn.
Now, some devotees would get a plate full of it, or a bowl full, or even a little paper bag full. I got mine in a pillow case. I mean, it wasn’t exactly a full pillow case, actually it just kind of covered the bottom. But the idea was there. Everyone would see her toting around this pillow case and know she was going out to the barn to feed me, looking exactly like somebody on the way to feed a horse. She even used to steal maha-prasadam and give it to me. The trouble was that she would always get caught. And according to our philosophy, the husband is responsible for the wife, so I would al ways get called in.
“Your wife is stealing maha again.” “Really?”“Yes, why is she doing it?”“I don’t know.” “Why don’t you tell her to stop?”“I did.”“Well, why can’t you get her to do what you tell her?””I don’t know.” iOn and on. Still, if she brought me some maha I would eat it in a minute. What else was there to look forward to?In this way, somehow or other, even though basically we couldn’t get along at all, and even though she was always talking about leaving the farm and going back to the New York temple and I was always dreaming about moving back with the brahmacaris, and even though I could never get a clean dhoti when I wanted one because she forgot to wash it or loaned it out to somebody else, and even though she hated the idea of having to do what I said, and I hated the way she didn’t do what I said, still somehow or other, I became more and more attached to the idea that this is my wife and that I had something to do with her. That I was responsible for her behavior. That I had to try and instruct her, preach to her, encourage her.I began to accept it all as part of my life.
This is called Maya.
You see, Krsna is there and He is taking care of His devotees. I mean, my wife was serving Krsna before we got married and long after it was all over, she went on serving Krsna even better. You don’t need a husband or a wife to engage in devotional service. You don’t need a nice house or a car or a good job or a college degree. You just have to love Krsna. All these other ideas just get in the way.But because we may get distracted too much, Krsna may say, “Alright, here is your wife, here is your home, here is your child, here is your bank balance.”
He may give you so many things to fulfill your crazy desires. Ultimately, we finally realize that we have all these things but we still aren’t happy. Then we may think, “What I really need is Krsna.” Slowly, it began to dawn on me too. I sure wasn’t happy. And at the same time, I could see how happy a lot of other devotees were. Especially Srila Bhaktipada – he was always completely blissful. So you should always know, “There is somebody who is really happy. I’ll never be happy trying to do all these material things.” His example was always there and that is what made the difference. After all, you might hear, “Don’t get married, don’t get married.” But if everybody else does, you will also want to. Just like, you already know that you have to strictly follow the regulative principles. But if everyone around you is breaking them, so will you. Everything is based upon association, even in the material world. You became like those whom you associate with. Somehow or other, we were blessed to get the association of the pure devotee of the Lord.
Our Own Room
So I always knew what the problem was. And I knew that the only solution was to get out of householder life. But it was hard. I was getting more and more attached. We even got our own room after three months. It wasn’t much. The flooring wasn’t put down, it was just bare wood. The-walls were Johns-Manville sheathing. There was no door, just a hole in the sheathing you hung a blanket over. There was a big hole in the wall where a window was going to go, as soon as we got some windows. In addition, it was directly over the grain room and all the rats from downstairs used to come up and visit. Not nice little mice, but big rats. I mean, they made cats look skinny. These weren’t your basic alley rats. They were well-nourished on choice, blended grain. I never went into the room except at night to go to sleep. Still, “Here is my home, here is my wife.”
In the well, with no way up.
What finally saved me was something that saved quite a few lost householders, around here — the traveling women’s sankirtan party. It just so happened that my wife was a crack book distributor and it just so happened that the incense business was falling, and we needed more income. In this way, it all sort of came together. At first, they went out on Sundays. Then, whole weekends. Then weeks at a time. Before I knew it, I would see my wife about two days a month, if I was lucky, (or unlucky, depending on your vision). After about six months, I even moved out of my room and gave it to somebody whose wife lived on the farm. I moved into Srila Bhaktipada’s back room. I was 95% saved.
Then, in a few more months, it all blew over, like a big storm cloud that rolls away and lets the sun come back out. Without any big whoop-te-doo, it kind of just became established that my former wife was a full-time book distributor and I was a full-time farmer, so why bother each other? I even got my saffron dhoti back, reluctantly. You see, it’s in the scriptures that a brahmacari can get married. It’s not advisable, but it’s permissible. But it says that after getting married, if one accepts the renounced order and again falls down, he goes to hell. So I thought that I would just remain a kind of absentee householder. I had a wife, I just didnâ€™t have to see her. It seemed pretty safe that way. But one day Srila Bhaktipada told me to put on saffron. Timidly, I complied.
A New Life
The first time he saw me in my newly colored dhoti, Srila Bhaktipada looked at me very sternly. â€œYou know what this means, donâ€™t you?â€ I wasnâ€™t really sure what he meant. But from the way my heart jumped when he looked at me, I knew it was something serious.
â€œYou can never get married again.â€
Had I learned my lesson? I couldnâ€™t really tell. But one thing for sure. I was scared now. Scared to slide back. Scared to look anywhere for happiness outside the instructions of my spiritual master. The only thing was that I was truly amazed at the mercy of Krsna and His pure devotees. I knew that I could have never extracated myself in hundreds of years. But somehow or other, I had been pulled out, given a new life in Krsna consciousness, and I didnâ€™t want to loose it again.