Whimsy and the Transcendental Ire of the Head Pujari

By Srila Jiva Goswamidasa

Down at Bahulabhana, the terraced stairway to the car lot level below went right by the big sliding window installed on the side of farmhouse which was the Temple. The Temple Office was right in there. We had phones, “New Vrindabana, may I help you?” We had a desk or two. With clipboards, there were meetings.

Practically every morning in that office there was a meeting between the various Heads of Departments and the Temple President, Kuladri Prabhu.

Among the departments were Electrical, headed by Gaurasakti Prabhu and Plumbing, with Jaya Murari Prabhu. Other departments were Ornamental Iron, Construction, Carpentry, Gardening, Media, Kitchen, Logistics, and more. Not every department met every day, and not every department even existed all the time. Some divisions were invoked as needed.

The point is that these meetings were always active. There was plenty of talk and cross talk. I know, for I was usually on the other side of the office wall during those morning meetings, helping to straighten out the Pujari Room after the Morning Offering.

When the Maha came off the Alter, part of my job at the time was to prepare the Maha for subsequent distribution. There was a line of Devotees who came to the Pujari Room door for Maha Distribution. Sometimes I got to participate in that aspect of life at Old New Vrindabana.

All the while these activities were going on; we could hear the voices of those in the office, at the daily morning meeting of the heads of departments. I always set up a special plate for Kuladri Prabhu. This plate consisted solely of Maha. I’d arrange the green slices of Maha kiwi about the rim of the plate and work towards the center of the plate symmetrically, adding color and balance until it looked like something from a centerfold of culinary magazine. I knew that Kuladri shared the Maha with the Various Department Heads, and to me, this was another of the many ways in which the opportunity for Service almost constantly manifest itself in life at Old New Vrindabana.

The Head Pujari was known as Gopinatha Prabhu. I “worked” directly under him. He was a super gentle and dedicated soul, it seemed to me, and I admired him practically more than anyone. On days when certain designated Pujaris failed to appear, Gopinatha Prabhu was quite capable of filling in. He also encouraged any qualified Brahmin to engage in the Care of the Deities. He was wonderful.

Having moved to Old New Vrindabana from the Columbus Temple, I had left behind a wife who did not want to come along on that branch of spiritual life. For all the usual reasons, at least once a month I went to visit her. .

One morning, I was done with the Deities’ Dishes. I had distributed Maha through the open upper half of the Dutch door of the Pujari Room and was putting together the sumptuous plate for Kuladri and the Department Heads. Gopinatha Prabhu was already setting out the plates for the next offering. We could hear the active tumultuous planning and chatter coming from the meeting going on in the office next door.

I mentioned that the coming weekend, I was going to Columbus to visit my wife. Gopinath shook his head and said, “Whimsy.”

“Whimsy?” I perked up.

“Yes,” the Head Pujari said, using that very quiet, whispery voice of his.

I’d completed the circle of Kiwi Slices and debated the pros and cons of studding them with Maha Grapes, or interspersing. “Why do you call it that?” I asked.

“Because it is whimsy,” Gopinath Prabhu declared. “There is no Spiritual Justification.” It was almost like he dusted his hands off as if that would be that.

But I persisted. “If it’s whimsy,” I said, “you should tell me not to go.”

“That isn’t my position,” Gopinath returned.

With a Glubjamon in the middle of the plate, I’d decided in favor of interspersing the grapes. It was more a question of stability than attractiveness, as either arrangement would have looked great. I drew from the best of the Maha and continued to lay out great items: Puri and Chapatti too, each folded like a semi circle. As I continued, I also went on with my assault upon the time and sensibility of that great personality. “Why do you say it isn’t your position?” I asked.

“I’m not your Guru,” Gopinath returned.

It seemed to me, to the tune of the cacophony of mixed voices we could hear next door, that anyone could give anyone else good advice. I’d heard that the Truth can come from anywhere. Yet, I took the argumentative path. I’d heard that the supervisor at “work” is also a form of Guru. “You ARE my Guru,” I announced.

“No, I’m not.” Gopinath said.

I raised my voice a little. “Yes you are,” I persisted.

“I am NOT.” Gopinath Prabhu raised his tone a little too.

I moved away from the plate I’d just about finished and took up a broom in order to sweep my way over to Gopinatha’s position by the long tables where he was dutifully laying out the Golden Plates and Goblets for the mid-morning offering.

“You are!” I said. I’d gotten myself practically up under his grill, as we say today.

“I am NOT.” Gopinath gave it a little transcendental shout. I noticed that the voices next door had fallen silent.

I wanted to play the trump card about the supervisor being a form of Guru, but that was not necessary. Gopinath Prabhu certainly knew all about that and more. “You ARE!” I said. I was serious but without the weight of merit.

“Am NOT!” Gopinath stopped what he was doing and turned to face me. Next door, at the meeting, you could have heard a pin drop. There was not so much as a cough, but I actually sensed suppressed smiles.

“You ARE!” I said again.

Suddenly, Gopinath reached over, snatched the broom from my hands and dashed it to the floor. He accompanied the clattering of the handle with a positive shout: “Then GET OUT!” he said. He seemed not actually angry, but ACTING angry. There was spittle on his lip. A drop or two sprayed my face. I did not mind at all. I loved Gopinath, of course.

“NO!” I shouted back. He could not make me leave my Service, I thought.

“Then DON’T GO,” the Head Pujari ruled at last. Nothing further was said on the matter. I stayed on then and delivered the Maha Plate to a bunch of smiling knowing faces in the office. I completed my duties there that day. I noticed that we hadn’t even gone into the aspect of “Who can be your Guru?” and I knew that was because we both understood the Truth of the matter.

But what I did not understand even a little until this writing, dear reader, is that Gopinath was reticent in order to save me from Offense. For that weekend and on many subsequent weekends indeed I did go to Columbus. And the detriment, by my own device, was all mine. It is clear that I violated the elicited correct instruction each and every time I entertained that whimsy and migrated to Columbus for a weekend with my wife.

That entity then known as Gopinath agreed, at my behest, to step down into the mush which is my life and free will. He came on like a light and his visit was enlivening to everyone within earshot, yet for me, the persistent attraction was in the end to the whimsy.

By the association of the Devotees of Old New Vrindabana, I learned to love to chant Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. That benefit is irrevocable, though I apparently sought to dilute it. That benefit is coming back now, in the submitting of these vignettes for Your Entertainment, Dear Transcendental Reader.

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