The pioneer of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur spear-headed and revolutionized the process of self-realization, the devotional quest and systematic surrendering of oneself unto the Supreme Lord. In an era of convoluted understanding and misinterpretation of revealed scriptures, i.e. the 19th century, he fearlessly fought the odds, going against the tide, sincerely adhering to the words and doctrines of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, rediscovering what was once lost, the love for God.
Through his ballad of works, he has upheld the miserable nature of material existence, its illusory perks, and repercussions of falling for those perks, the apparent yet not exploited solution to break free from the material existence, a detailed enchiridion of re-awakening the love for God within and to eternally serve the Supreme Lord with love. Bhaktivinod Thakur penned down many prayers and songs, one of which was ‘Bhaja hu re mana’, in which he highlighted – ‘What assurance of real happiness is there in all of one’s wealth, youthfulness, sons, and family members? This life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus petal; therefore you should always serve and worship the divine feet of Lord Hari. (Verse 3)’
The words – Kamala-dala-jala, jivana talamala – precisely mean the material life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus petal. That is the true nature of material existence.
Whether it’s an earthquake, tsunami, pandemic, drought or famine, or any such catastrophic material phenomena, it’s beyond one’s control, hence at such a moment of angst one must turn to something that’ll enable one to rise above the suffering, transcend and feel protected and serene. Bhaktivinod Thakur in his marvel ‘Ore mana klesa tapad’, shortlists the unlimited miseries and difficulties living beings face, headed by ignorance, distraction, mis-concentration, mis-directed love and impurity. He skillfully outlines further degradations in the form of ignorance making oneself forget his true nature as a spirit soul, conceited egoistic pride distracting oneself from the real essence of life, being deeply absorbed in frivolous pursuits, developing intense attachments aversive to God-consciousness and the soul being polluted by obnoxious qualities like greed, anger, false sense of ownership, attachment, lust, envy, etc. Thus this leads to madness as one indulges in sense gratification catalyzed by material illusory energy, maya. Elsewhere Srila Thakur boldly declares, ‘O brothers! This material body is a network of ignorance, and the senses are one’s deadly enemies, for they throw the soul into the ocean of material sense enjoyment. Among the senses, the tongue is the most voracious and verily wicked; it is very difficult to conquer the tongue in this world. (Maha prasade Govinde prayers, verse 2)’.
The noose of materialism has been firmly set around everyone’s neck from the moment one takes birth, and with time it’ll only keep getting tighter and tighter, squeezing the life out of the body. The mind plays a vital role in this process of suffering in agony or in bliss. For a person fully dependent on the Lord, even material sufferings become blissful, just like Hiranyakasipu put young Prahlad through an inferno trying to kill him, but even amidst his suffering Prahlad remembered and prayed to the Lord and felt blissful. Whereas, a materialist who thinks himself to be the master, strongly attached to the fruits of his labor, family and children, wealth and fortune, attributes like the demons, who forget about the Supreme Lord and think themselves to be the Lord. The key is to optimize the mind, through knowledge, associating with Krishna conscious or spiritual elements and continuous remembrance of the Supreme Lord, that over time transforms ones internal atmosphere into a serene and beautiful place, enriched and profound, where the Lord eternally resides. Narottama Das Thakur through his incredible works has again and again emphasized the importance of mind and ways of utilizing it in order to achieve service and love of Krishna. Until that breaking point, the suffering and the fight within continues, as the mind continues to be under the influence of material energy through the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. It is important to refrain the mind from the bad, engaging it in the good if that’s not done then the mind truly turns against oneself and acts devilishly under the influence of modes of material nature.
Diseases, pain and old age are beyond the control of mere living beings, where the agony of suffering is like a teacher and pain is an alarm continuously ringing, thus before dwindling and perishing one must ensure the suffering ceases. The Supreme Lord humbles or crushes the false ego of the living being by crushing his material life as affirmed in Srimad Bhagavatam ‘Yasya Hamanugrhnami…’- He grieves not simply because he has lost his money, beauty and sexual power, but because he has been pursuing an illusion of material happiness. He weeps because he has wasted his life and not worshipped the all-attractive, Supreme Lord. Unless ones feeling of destitute and suffering is at its peak, he cannot surrender or pray to the Supreme Controller selflessly. Even exalted devotees face incredible agony to finally attain the object of their endeavors in devotion, Lord Krishna. Surrendering means not just submitting oneself, it includes submitting ones aversions, vices, attachments and qualities unto the Lord and living at the Lord’s mercy for His pleasure. One has to come to the point where he feels, ‘I have forgotten my Lord, my life is wasted’- such an occurrence is contrition; hence this leads to feeling degenerated and grief-stricken and at that point one truly turns to the Lord and the Lord being the ever well-wisher and most merciful friend of all picks him up and embraces him. Srila Thakur immaculately concludes ‘Amar jivan sada pape rata’ with ‘Now in old age, deprived of all means of success, humbled and poor, Bhaktivinoda submits his tale of grief at the feet of the Supreme Lord.’ Hence even being such a prolific exalted Vaishnava, Srila Thakur simply laments and surrenders himself unto Lord Krishna.
Srila Thakur brilliantly scrutinizes and analyses the intricate and dual nature of material existence and like a prolific doctor prescribes medicines to recover from it as well. In his marvel ‘Jiva Jago’, he declares ‘Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu brought the medicine that will wipe out the disease of illusion from which you are suffering. Take this maha-mantra-Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama Rama Rama, Hare Hare. (Verse 4)’ As a matter of fact, spiritual means negation of material distresses and chanting of the maha-mantra, has an astounding domino effect on material distresses and illusions, that ultimately leads to destruction of material elements, thus purifying ones consciousness. Knowledge gives strength but purity is the force that ensures one accelerates to attain perfection.
During the upcoming weeks, we shall take a tour of material sufferings, its nature and appearance and a simple way out of it, holding Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur’s hands through his teachings and enchiridion. We shall systematically learn, understand and endeavor to apply the simple remedies prescribed by Srila Thakur and become empowered, that’ll enable us to transcend the sufferings around to a realm of serenity and bliss with Lord Krishna.