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10. The Thakura in Puri
THE Thakura's family was in Ranaghat, and in his absence a son named Radhika Prasad was born. While in Dinajpur he had taken a law examination but had not passed it. In Champaran, however, he studied law very intently and after taking the examination in Chapra, he asked for a transfer to Puri. He received it, and taking copies of the Shrimad-Bhagavatam and the Shri Chaitanya-caritamrita with him he duly proceeded there. He describes his going daily for darsana of Lord Jagannatha thus: "Every day I went to see Jagannatha at Shri Mandira. At the time of darsana I remembered the emotions of Shri Mahaprabhu, and I felt very blissful." For a few months he was alone in Puri, and then, after the puja season, he brought his family to a brick house he rented there. While staying alone in Puri, in 1871, the Thakura composed a poem in contemplation of the samadhi (tomb) of Shrila Haridasa Thakura, the great Professor of the Holy Name, the ninth verse of which is especially well-known and is oft quoted by Gaudiya Vaishnavas.
ON HARIDAS SAMADHI
On Haridas Samadhi
[A Saragrahi Vaishnava]
O! Born of Moslem parents, Haridas!
And trained in youth in Moslem creed,
Thy noble heart to Vaishnava truth did pass!-
Thy holy acts thy candour plead!
Is there a soul that cannot learn from thee
That man must give up sect for God?-
That thoughts of race and sect can ne'er agree
With what they call Religion broad?
Thy love of God and brother soul alone
Bereft thyself of early friends,-
Thy softer feelings oft to kindness prone
Led on thyself for higher ends!!
I weep to read that Kazees and their men
Oft persecuted thee, alas!
But thou didst nobly pray for th' wicked then!
For thou wert Vaishnava Haridas!!
And God is boundless grace to thee, O man!
United thee to one who came
To save the fallen souls from Evil's plan
Of taking human souls to shame.
And he it was who led you all that came
For life eternal,-holy,-pure!
And gave you rest in Heaven's enduring name
And sacred blessings ever sure!
Thy body rests upon the sacred sands
Of Swargadwar near the sea,
Oh! Hundreds come to thee from distant lands
T' enjoy a holy, thrilling glee!
The waters roar and storming winds assail
Thy ears in vain, Ah! Vaishnava soul!
The charms of Brindaban thy heart regale,
Unknown the wheel of time doth roll!!
He reasons ill who tells that Vaishnavas die
When thou art living still in sound.
The Vaishnavas die to live and living try
To spread a holy life around!
Now let the candid man that seeks to live
Follow thy way on shores of time,
Then posterity sure to him will give
Like one song in simple rhyme!
It is clear from this wonderful poem that the inspiration the Thakura derived from his arrival in Puri was tremendous, and that his heart was flooded with deep spiritual sentiments as he visited the sites of the sublime pastimes of Lord Chaitanya and His eternal associates like Shrila Haridasa Thakura.
Meanwhile, Mr. Metcalf was so attached to the Thakura's coming to a place called Matihari, where some of the Thakura's household items were stored, (that place being his first planned residence before he got the opportunity of being posted in Puri), that he would not initially release the Thakura's servant who had come to fetch his effects. Finally, a disappointed Mr. Metcalf relented and let the servant go. We get some idea from this incident just how attractive the character of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was, that whole towns would lament at his departure and that officers of the British government were beginning to fight over him. This is the attractive character of great devotees: that they become dear to everyone, to the gentle and ruffians alike. Of course, the Thakura was an emblem of morality and was very expert in the execution of his duties as well, and for this reason also he was much in demand and completely trusted by the government's officers. The Thakura appears to have generally enjoyed very convivial relations with the British government officials, although this sort of relationship was not universally enjoyed by educated Indians. There were frequent incidents of contemptuous behavior towards them, and Indians often experienced being treated as third-class citizens. When the Ilbert Bill was passed in 1883, and it was decreed that Indian magistrates should be allowed to try Europeans brought before them, the British community was incensed, and the bill was amended so that the jury would have to be all white! Sometimes racist remarks were passed off as jokes, as for example a newspaper advertisement which read: "WANTED Sweepers, Punkah [fan] Coolies, and Bhisties [water carriers] for the residents of Saidpur. None but educated Bengali Babus who have passed the University Entrance Examination need apply. Ex-Deputy Magistrates (Bengali) preferred." However, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura never complained of any such treatment in his autobiography, and it seems clear that his overwhelming competence, intelligence and purity generally defeated even the thought of such odious behavior.
It is also clear that the British Government, who were not unaware of the spiritual significance the Indians placed on Puri, appreciated the Thakura's ability to administer the law and to deal with the religious life of Puri on their behalf without aggravating the local people. From the beginning of the British presence in Orissa they had taken great pains not to disturb the faithful, and the Government thus issued the following orders to the British officer who took charge of the town in 1803:
"On your arrival in Jagannath you will employ every possible precaution to preserve the respect due to the Pagoda and to the religious prejudices of the Brahmins and pilgrims. You will furnish the Brahmins with such guards as shall afford perfect security to their persons, rites and ceremonials, and to the sanctity of the religious edifices, and you will strictly enjoin those you command to observe your orders on this important subject with the utmost degree of accuracy and vigilance ... You will assure the Brahmins at the Pagoda of Jagannath that they will not be required to pay any other revenue or tribute to the British Government than that which they have hitherto been in the habit of paying to the Maratha Government, and that they will be protected in the exercise of their religious duties."
The Thakura wrote another wonderful poem in 1871 entitled Saragrahi Vaishnava, which details the futility of attempts for sensory happiness, the eternality of the soul and the worthy struggle of the soul to achieve pure devotion and transcend material existence:
Alas, for those that spend their days
In festive mirth and joy!
The dazzling deadly liquid forms
Their heart for e'er employ!!
The shining bottles charm their eyes
And draw their hearts embrace!
The slaves of wine can never rise
From what we call disgrace!
Was man intended to be
A brute in work and heart?
Should man the Lord of all around
From common sense depart?
Man's glory is in common sense
Dictating us the grace,
That man is made to live and love
The beauteous Heaven's embrace!
The flesh is not our own alas!
The mortal frame a chain;
The soul confined for former wrongs
Should try to rise again!!
Why then this childish play in that
Which cannot be our own,
Which falls within a hundred years,
As if a rose ablown!
Our life is but a rosy hue
To go ere long to nought!
The soul alone would last for e'er
With good or evil frought!!
How deep the thought of times to be?
How grave the aspect looks?
And wrapt in awe become, Oh! I
When reading Nature's books!
Man's life to him a problem dark!
A screen both left and right!
No soul hath come to tell us what
Exists beyond our sight!!
But then a voice, how deep and soft,
Within ourselves is left,-
Man! Man! thou art immortal Soul!
Thee Death can never melt!!
For thee thy Sire on High has kept
A store of bliss above,
To end of time, thou art Oh! His
Who wants but purest Love.
Oh Love! Thy power and spell benign
Now melt my soul to God!
How can my earthly words describe
That feeling soft and broad!!
Enjoyment-sorrow,-what but lots
To which the flesh is heir?
The soul that sleeps alone concludes
In them it hath a share!!
And then! my friends no more enjoy
Nor weep!for all below;-
The women, wine and flesh of beasts
No love on thee bestow!
But thine to love thy brother man
And give thyself to God,
And God doth know your wages fair;
This fact is true and broad!!
Forget the past that sleeps, and ne'er
The future dream at all,
But act in times that are with thee
And progress thee shall call!!
But tell me not in reasoning cold.
The soul is made alone
By earth's mechanic, lifeless rules
And to destruction prone!
My God who gave us life and all
Alone the Soul can kill,
Or give it all the joys above
His promise to fulfil!
So push on thy onward march O Soul!
Against an evil deed
That stands with soldiers-hate and lust!
A hero be indeed!!
Maintain thy post in spirit world
As firmly as you can,
Let never matter push thee down,
O stand heroic man!
O Sharagrahi Vaishnab soul!
Thou art an angel fair:
Lead, lead me on to Vrindaban
And spirit's power declare!!
There rests my Soul from matter free
Upon my Lover's arms,
Eternal peace and Spirit's love
Are all my chanting charms!!
This great poem gives further indication of the Thakura's feelings of devotion being stirred by his having the opportunity to live in the dhama of the Lord. He produced an outpouring of intensely devotional writings in 1871, corresponding to his first year in Puri, which marks the dawning of a preaching spirit that is evidenced in an essay called To Love God, published in a journal of Tajpur on August 25th, 1871. In this short essay the Thakura analyzes the great commandment of Jesus and compares the precepts of Vaishnavism to it, revealing the further evolution of Christ's teaching promulgated by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu:
"It was Christ Jesus who first said 'Love God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and love man as thy brother.' This is an absolute truth indeed; but different men put different interpretations to this noble expression. The expressions of all great men are nice but somewhat mysterious-when understood they bring the truth nearest to the heart, otherwise they remain mere letters that 'kill.' The reason of the mystery is that men, advanced in their inward approach to the Deity, are in the habit of receiving revelations which are but mysteries to those behind them. The stages of progress are very much the same as the circles of spiritualism which, though not true themselves, explain a great deal about the gradual development of the soul. We have understood some spiritualists to maintain that matter when sublimated converts itself to spirit. This theory is indeed against any inward conviction. Matter is matter, and Spirit is Spirit; one of them cannot form the other. Spirit is certainly of a superior existence; though we cannot fully understand in our present state of material imprisonment, what relation Spirit does exactly bear to matter, space and time. Metaphysics apart, we decide that the human soul rises higher and higher and can understand things of which we have no idea at present. Subject to this important rule, Christ Jesus of Nazareth received and uttered the words quoted above. To readers who are a little above the scale of ordinary men, these expressions of Jesus teach, that man should love God with all his heart, (meaning the affections of the heart perceivable in all children as opposed to hate), with all his mind, (meaning the intellect which knows as opposed to ignorance of good things) with all his soul, (meaning that principle of the human constitution which worships the Almighty and feels its own immortality) and with all his strength, (meaning all active work).
"To the inspired, however, more things and better, and sublimer meanings appear beneath these holy words of the Inspired Jesus. He teaches man to love God and not to know, infer, hate, or think of God. He tell us that man in his absolute state is not the intellect or the body but is the pure Soul itself. The essence of the soul is wisdom and its action is love absolute. The absolute condition of man is his absolute relation to the Deity in pure love. Love then alone is the religion of the Soul and consequently of the whole man. The pupil asks here What have I to do with the heart?-my heart loves to see the 'sun to smile', 'to eat the sweetest dish and see a dance'. Jesus profoundly replies, 'Yes, you must love God with all thy heart, your heart now runs to other things than God, but you must, as you train a bad horse, make your feelings run to the loving God.' This is one of the four principles of worship or what they call in Vaishnava Literature, Shanta Rasa. Then the pupil says, 'My Lord, the intellect takes me elsewhere from God, i.e., it wants to take me to Positivism; please instruct me what am I to do?' 'Yes,' replies Jesus, 'you must love God with all your mind, i.e. when you perceive, conceive, remember, imagine and reason, you must not allow yourself to be a dry thinker but must love. Love alone can soften the dryness of the intellect. You must develop the intellect on all good and holy things by means of love of truth, spiritual beauty and harmony.' This is the second phase of Vaishnava development which passes by the name of Dashya Rasa. The pupil then enquires whether the development of the affections and the intellect is quite enough for him. Then says the Lord, 'You must love God with thy soul also, i.e., you must perceive yourself in spiritual communication with the Deity and receive holy revelations in your sublimest hours of worship.' This is called the Sakhya Rasa of the Vaishnavas,-the Soul approaching the Deity in holy and fearless service. The disciple apprehends that he will be lost in such a position and will be unable to act. Then the Saviour tells him these words, 'You must love God with all thy strength or will,-you are wrong in concluding that you will lose your active existence-you will get it the more. Work for God and work to God, proceeding from no interested views but from a holy free will (which is alone the strength of man) and identifying itself with pure love, will fully engross your attention.' This description is of Bhakti in general. Then Jesus proceeds to tell us, 'You must love man as thy brother.' From this is inferred the fourth phase of love which is a feeling that all men are brothers and God is their common Father. This is Batsalya Rasa in its first stage of development.
"Bhakti (love) is thus perceived in the very first development of the man in the shape of heart, then in the shape of mind, then in the shape of soul and lastly in the shape of will. These shapes do not destroy each other but beautifully harmonize themselves into a pure construction of what we call the spiritual man or the Ekanta of Vaishnava Literature. But there is another sublimer truth behind the fact which is revealed to a few that are prepared for it. We mean the spiritual conversion of the Soul into a woman. It is in that sublime and lofty state in which the soul can taste the sweets of an indissoluble marriage with God of Love. The fifth or the highest stage of Vaishnava development is this, which we call Madhura Rasa, and on this alone the most beautiful portion of the Vaishnava Literature so ably expatiates. This phase of human life, mysterious as it is, is not attainable by all, nay, we should say, by any but 'God's own.' It is so very beyond the reach of common men that the rationalists and even the ordinary theists cannot understand it, nay, they go so far as to sneer at it as something unnatural. Oh God! Reveal Thy most valuable truths to all so that Your own may not be numbered with the fanatics and the crazed and that the whole of mankind may be admitted as 'Your own.'"
The Thakura invokes this beautiful prayer to the Lord: that He will reveal the topmost spiritual fortune to all of humanity and that His devotees may not be misunderstood, but seen as His dearmost servitors. This prayer exemplifies the compassionate mood that characterized Jesus Christ's preaching, the same compassion that was exhibited by Haridasa Thakura even as he was beaten by the Mohammedans, and the same compassion that Prahlada Maharaja exhibited in praying for the deliverance of his murderous, father and all conditioned souls.