A heart-touching story of spiritual discovery.
The Duty of a Friend
Translated from the original Bengali article
published in Gauḍīya,
Volume 3, Issue 27, Saturday, 21 February 1925
and in Śrī Gauḍīya Darśan,
Volume 2, Issue 5, Thursday, 13 December 1956,
and Volume 2, Issue 6, Friday, 11 January 1957.
This article was published in Śrī Gauḍīya Darśan with a preface, translated from Bengali as follows: “The author of this article is Nitya-līlā-praviṣṭa Śrīpād Bhāgavata-janānanda Prabhu. Our supremely worshippable Śrīla Prabhupād felt some particular supramundane sentiment and performed a Pastime of shedding tears while reading this article.”
We three friends spent many days together. Such love developed between the three of us that our well-wishers called us Trayī, Tripadī, Trimūrti, and other names [colloquially, ‘the three’, ‘the threesome’, ‘the trio’]. Those who could not see us with favourable eyes gave us the names Tryahasparśa, Trikūṭa, and Trikāl¹. In fact, our friendship was really something remarkable and outstanding.
Amongst we three friends, one of us was senior in learning, intelligence, and simplicity. Somehow, even during our lifetime, we lost him.
Once, having an opportunity for a big day of leisure, we two friends became immersed in a game of dice first thing in the morning. At that time, the postman delivered a telegram. We read it and saw that it was a wire from our third friend, our lost elder brother. From the Ārta Bandhu Kūṭīr [‘cottage of a sorrowful friend’] on the bank of the ocean in Purī, he was calling we two friends for a final meeting.
* * *
At nearly midnight, with anxious and worried hearts, we arrived at our friend’s cottage. With a mild thrust, the door opened. Pushing through a thick screen, we entered inside. In the bright light of a lamp, we saw our best friend on one side of the room lying down on a bed strewn with blankets. Just as we looked towards him, he also looked towards us. Recognising his two invited guests, he spoke first, “Brother Satya², come, still now I am awake waiting for the immortal two of you.”
Seeing our elder brother in such a condition, our hearts were overwhelmed by a powerful whirlwind of simultaneous joy and sorrow.
We said, “Brother! You could have informed us well before the moment of your final passing. Have we become so greatly estranged? For want of money, which you consider objectionable, you seem to still now be wearing five year old saffron cloth.” As we went on saying many other things, our elder brother smiled mildly and said, “Stop, brothers, I am going to speak to you from my heart and convey to you a message about a hidden treasure. Wealth should be entrusted only to a friend.”
Saying this, he stopped again. How much did we start to think? What now? Leading a wandering life, our brother was ever young, and he had already donated all his inheritance to collectors. So, by providence or perhaps by virtue of spiritual practice, has our brother found a store of riches in a dense forest, at the base of a hill, or in the cave of an insurmountable mountain? The fortune of Baṅkim Bābu’s Devī Chaudhurāṇī³ and the dream of a netherworld kingdom some are said to have discovered covered our hearts for a moment. But just a moment later, because of our brother’s long-known character and current condition, as our glance fell towards his dress and ornaments, it came to our minds that as a result of enduring severe hardships, he had become mentally deranged. To suppress the current subject, we said, “Brother, when many of us were ready to offer to take care of you … ”
“What need is there any more for such statements? I will now speak to you a message by hearing which you truly, truly will be able to appreciate me. Please listen.”
He spoke these words in such a deeply thoughtful manner and with such a mixture of joyfulness and sweetness that we fell silent within an instant. At this time, even though we forbid him, he removed the blankets from his chest. Seeing a tulasī necklace around his neck, tears in his eyes, and his body decrepit like a dry leaf, that he was completely moribund yet unimpaired in mind no longer remained unknown to us.
By virtue of the solemness of the place, time, and middle of the night, we began to listen to his words with unwavering attention. “Satyen, look! To say that ever since childhood I have been crazed by dharma, diseased, and so on is true; since childhood, I have never found peace in any form of enjoyment or pleasure in this world. With an anxious, unsatisfied, and desirous heart, I have wandered from door to door to so many events, residences, and establishments, but nowhere have I been able to attain the unwavering grace of the goddess of peace.
“You both know studying the scriptures, teaching, and establishing schools was a major objective in my life. When I could not find any more peace even in that, then with the hope of attaining spiritual peace by chanting the Holy Name and associating with the Vaiṣṇavas, I started to search for the Vaiṣṇavas’ association. By reading the Vaiṣṇava scripture Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, I became confident that attaining the association of the followers of this path is the only way to attain the ultimate and highest good in life. But where? All whom I met in my search were also slaves of illusion (māyā) just like me. They too were floating in a whirlpool of the Vaitaraṇī⁴ inside a cave of hundreds and hundreds of desires. Furthermore, some of them had taken shelter of the mountain of vanity and pride. How many Bhāgavatāchāryas, Bhūṣaṇs, Ratnas, Śrīpāds, Prabhupāds⁵, and so on did I seek out? It was all fruitless labour. Really, they have no standing at all, and yet they place their two physical feet atop the heads of the blessed sons of Lakṣmī and the store-keepers of Kuvera⁶.
“They love greatly their rich friends who are known as Dīna-toṣaṇ, Dīna-bharaṇ, and Dīna-dayāl⁷, but insignificant, poor, lowly, and unworthy persons like me were deprived of attaining the side-long-glance of their mercy. I became intolerant of the association of these worthless, “wood-chewing” scholars who are simply deluded by words.
“Then, our Sakhibhekī, Sahajiyā, and Bāul⁸ brothers called out to me and said, ‘Listen, listen! We alone can give you peace. The essence of all Vaiṣṇava truths, the truth of rasa, is found only amongst us.’ Fie on them! Even those who by their material practices sell their souls at the feet of the senses and remain bound by the chains of death also wish to buy and sell true peace.
“One day as I read Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, I thought, alas! Alas! Why wasn’t I born at the time of the Lord’s direct appearance? Fie on my life and birth ridden with the diseases of egotism and pride in my ancestry. If I could become a servant of the servant of the best of the Vaiṣṇavas Śrīla Haridās Ṭhākur and the other great souls and attain the qualification to serve to the Lord, then my life would be blessed and complete. Where is my heart’s wish-fulfilling tree of divine love, the world’s wish-fulfilling jewel, Śrī Gaurāṅgasundar? Where is the Avadhūt Āchārya who showers the rain of divine love, Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu? And where are the innumerable devotee Āchāryas who resemble suns and moons? I do not know by what great sin the residents of the world have lost all these innumerable jewels and gems. I do not know for what offence Śrī Gaurasundar has deprived us of the dust of His holy feet.
“I decided that I understand it to be correct that in this world of passion and ignorance filled with demonic thought in these hunger-ridden, disease-stricken days of worldwide bewilderment by war beset with enmity and selfishness, my Lord, my merciful Master, is waiting with His associates for an opportunity to perform His Pastimes. So, where is my shelter? The Lord of my heart, who is desirous of divine love and peace for my heart, has not allowed me to become peaceful. So, should I follow the path to the liberation of self-annihilation (nirvāṇa mukti)?
(To be continued …)
About the author
Bhāgavata-janānanda Prabhu was a disciple of Śrīla Bhakti Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākur who passed away at an early age while residing in a Temple of Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur in 1925. In April of 1926, Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur established a maṭh in Chiruliya near Midnapore (in southern West Bengal) and named it “Bhagavat Janānanda Maṭh” in honour of Bhāgavata-janānanda Prabhu.
Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj recounted (19 August 1980) that Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākur said of Bhāgavat-janānanda Prabhu: “Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur came in his garb, but I could not understand, I could not catch that.”
3: Baṅkimchandra Chaṭṭropādhyāya, referred to here familiarly as Baṅkim Bābu, was a key figure in the literary renaissance of Bengal and the Indian Independence movement in the 1880s. One of his most celebrated novels is Devī Chaudhurāṇī, set in 18th century Bengal, in which a banished house wife becomes a patriotic bandit who brings order and upliftment to the turbulent society of her time by practising the teachings of Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā.
6: “The blessed sons of Lakṣmī” and “the store-keepers of Kuvera” are figurative ways of referring to the rich, Lakṣmī being the goddess of fortune and Kuvera being the treasurer of the gods in Svargaloka.
8: Sakhibhekīs, Sahajiyās, and Bāuls are deviant Vaiṣṇava sects that engage in Vaiṣṇava practices such as kīrtan, worship, and recitation and remembrance of the Lord’s Pastimes but do so in a manner that misconstrues and misuses these activities as means to selfish enjoyment.