Q. Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja often recited the verse “pujala ragapata gaurava bhange matala harijana visaya range” and had it inscribed in marble on the kirtan hall of his temple. Can you explain something of its meaning?
A. In the following discourse, Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja discusses the history and meaning of this verse composed by his guru, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura.
B. R. Sridhara Maharaja says, “The whole life of my Guru Maharaja is expressed in this verse in a nutshell. His own expression, the whole tenor of his preaching expedition, the very nature of the sampradaya is this: pujala ragapata gaurava bhange matala harijana visaya range.
The ragapat (path of intimate devotion) is above us, on our head. That is the goal; we are to go there. But we will not be able to go if we are attracted to other things. So we must learn to use what otherwise charms us in the service of that great domain of love.
The majesty, the awe, the wealth, the reverence, all that is grand to us, whatever attracts us most, all these are to be used in the service of the Lord of love and beauty (Sri Krishna). He is the autocrat of beauty, love, and harmony, so all should be sacrificed to him. Learn this! Whatever we come into connection with must be sacrificed into the fire to establish our Lord of love. For his satisfaction, all this grandeur may be put into the fire.
My Guru Maharaja composed these verses in Calcutta as the Deities and math were being moved from a rented house to the grand temple that had been constructed for them. As they were being carried on a chariot, we danced and sang in front of them. During the procession, he composed eight lines and told us to sing them: matala hari jana visaya range pujala ragapata gaurava bhange.
Generally devotees give up everything and worship the Lord through internal love. External sources, majesty, and even reverence are unnecessary for such worship. But here in Gaudiya Math we find devotees are handling money, motorcar, this, that, everything, lavishly (visaya range). People think devotees will become mad by contacting material wealth, but here they are extensively involved with wealth of the outer world. For what purpose, what is the meaning?
Pujala ragapata gaurava bhange: The purpose is to show that the ragapata is above all, to show that the position of the followers of the ragapata is very, very high. They have left everything and are on the path of worshiping him only by the flow of devotion from their heart. Therefore all grandeur, all reverence, everything, should be directed in service to them. Pujala ragapata: everything finds fulfillment in connection with the feet of those engaged in worshiping devotees who are free from worldly things in their heart. Everything finds fulfillment when it connects with those who are living in that plane.
Majesty, awe, reverence, wealth, grandeur, everything is meant to serve those who are niskincana, those who do not have anything in their heart but service to the Lord of the gopis. Everything finds fulfillment in the touch of their feet. We are to exemplify, to show, to teach the world, that the fulfillment of everything is only to touch the feet of those who are absolute good. The Lord of love and beauty, the all in all, is their right. The whole world must learn this for its own goodness, for its own welfare, that Gaudiya Math people are handling all these things, the motorcar, wealth, money, airplane, in service only to the niskincana.
In Bombay a Bengali gentleman who was an officer in the mint said to me, “You have come to collect money but you are a very big man, a very rich man.” I replied, “Yes we say we are rich and we say we are beggars, so we must come to some understanding. You say we are very rich. Why? Because we spend money like it is water and only a person with much wealth can spend money for such purposes.”
An ordinary person will think this money is superfluous because a beggar cannot spend money for such things. Only a millionaire can throw away thousands for such luxurious activities; so you think we must have a very large amount of money. Still, we say we are beggars with no money even though we spend in such a way. So the question arises whether our spending is good or bad.
Generally a person will think that anyone who has a car or an airplane must be a moneyman of the higher order. Only a big moneyman can have such things. But suppose a doctor has a motorcar. He may not be wealthy, but in order to attend to many patients he has a motorcar. Not for luxury, but for business purposes he may keep such things.
Similarly, we use everything in that way; not for luxury, but for our business purpose, which is to serve Narayana. We use money to decorate the Deity, which you and others may think is superfluous. But we think such service is life’s fulfillment because all good things must be used to decorate, to serve Narayana. That is our creed.
Beggars we are, but we spend money like water for decoration, festivals, distribution of prasadam, and so forth. We beg money and we spend, lavishly, but not for ourselves. So the question is not how much money we have, but how it is spent. We are poor beggars that spend money like rich men. This is the necessity of our particular nature. Even the rich would be afraid to spend money like we do. Pujala ragapata gaurava bhange.
Wealth has its fulfillment in the service of those who preach the message of the great souls who are above this monetary world. The highest goal possible is worshiping the Lord and connecting him with this world. Pujala ragapata. Such a person understands what is the real ragapata. With this idea I have such attraction; with this we have gotten encouragement within. They are dancing, I have seen. I had a conception of reality that he is good and beautiful, and they are dancing. Pujala ragapata gaurava bhange. The proper expressions they have understood, they have realized and they are dancing–Krsna nama ruci habe gucibe vandana, doyale nitai caitanya bole nace amar man.” [b. R. Sridhara Maharaja]
This talk of Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja is interesting and enlightening for a number of reasons. First of all, he tells us the context of the verse, which was the inauguration ceremony of the Baghbazar Gaudiya Matha temple in Calcutta in 1930. This was a significant event because it involved Gaudiya monks living and preaching in a major metropolis, as opposed to residing and doing bhajana in a sacred city like Vrindavan (the dhama), which for centuries was the standard for followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Of course, preaching does take place in the dhama, but at that time it was directed mostly toward people who were already Vaishnavas, many by birthright. Therefore, the opening of this grand temple in Calcutta made a huge statement, and apparently the month-long pageantry of the affair appeared worldly to some. Nonetheless, the inner spirit was otherworldly to the extreme, and that some people misunderstood the mood brings to mind how some people misunderstand the Vraja-lila itself to be worldly.
Note that the words ‘visaya range’ mean enjoying sense gratification. One translation of this verse defines sense gratification as gratifying the senses of Bhagavan. This understanding is not incorrect; however, the thrust of Sridhara Maharaja’s explanation is that devotees (Hari-jana) are intoxicated (matala) by sense indulgence, which takes the outward form of worldliness but is not worldly at all. Gaudiya Vaishnavas use everything for Krishna, even things they might have charm for, in a way that causes them to lose all charm for the world. This methodology goes to the heart of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s dynamic conception of kirtana (brihad-mridanga). Book publication and other types of preaching are considered equal to congregational chanting because the goal (to change hearts) is the same. Interestingly, the verse is sometimes written with the word kirtana in place of visaya—‘kirtana range.’
The word puja/worship indicates reverence (gaurava), which necessitates distance between devotee and Deity. As long as one is charmed by the world, one’s relationship with Bhagavan will be distant, not intimate. The verse tells us that devotees at this stage who aspire to tread the raga marg should worship the raga marg (pujala ragapata) with reverence. This is not the same as reverential worship of Bhagavan. It is worship of the ideal of the raga marg itself and the devotees who are fully eligible to tread it or have attained it, who alone can bestow the required mahat krpa. This approach to raga marg results in the eventual breakdown of reverence (gaurava bhange) for the ideal. As charm for the world disappears from the heart, the distance between devotee and Deity is bridged and gradually one attains greater eligibility to tread the raga marg. At that stage, one sees oneself as Krishna’s friend or lover.
The word ‘gaurava’ also means pride; one’s pride must be broken to enter the raga marg–trinad api sunicena. Here the necessity of focusing on the interim goal of nistha comes to mind. Breaking one’s pride or ego is required, as it is ego composed of selfish interest that separates us from God.
Worship in reverence preserves one’s separate sense of self as it distinguishes servant from served. Moving conceptually from the fact that “Krishna is the supreme tattva” to “Krishna is my intimate friend” is gradual because it is desire that determines our closeness to Krishna. Even if we start with the raga marg in mind, as we should, we will still have to pass through various stages of reverence and knowledge because our heart is covered by separate interest.
“The devotees, intoxicated by the kirtana of the Holy Name that has the power to consume the entire world, worship the raga marg from a distance. This kirtana cleanses the heart of all charm for the world and bridges the gap between worshiper and worshiped, such that reverence for the Deity is replaced by deep intimate love for him.” This is the spirit of the verse.
It is important to realize that the closeness one feels with Sri Krishna in the raga marg is to a large extent brought about by the absence of separate interest. This refers not only to material desire but to what one might refer to as spiritual selfishness as well. From the viewpoint of Vraja bhakti, we find such spiritual selfishness in Vaikuntha. There reverence, which is the norm, involves distance between Bhagavan and his devotees. We also find reverential distance in the relationship between Krishna and his wife Rukmini. Compare her unwillingness to forego Vedic dharma in her desire to wed Sri Krishna to the lawless love of the gopis who went to Krishna in the night, unconcerned with the consequences of transgressing scriptural injunctions. Being one in desire and one in love with Krishna, the gopis are not only self-sacrificing; they are utterly self-forgetful. Vraja is the world of divine self-forgetfulness.
Regardless of one’s particular approach to practice, the truth is that closeness to the Deity is determined by how much the devotee harbors separate interest in his or her heart. There is no getting around this. Talk is cheap; this is what Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was referring to when he used the term sahajiya. Talk is cheap also refers to criticizing other devotees to make ourselves feel superior, even if done so apparently in defense of our guru parampara. While ‘kirtana range’ involves pointing out what not to do, we must still do the right thing ourselves. We must die in order to live in the Vrajavasis’ world of self-forgetfulness. Here we are not speaking of anything other than the death of our false ego.
Mahaprabhu Sri Chaitanya has shown us that nama sankirtana is the most effective means of cleansing the heart of separate interest—ceto darpana marjanam. When we engage in the dynamic expression of nama sankirtana, two things will happen. First, our heart will be cleansed of material self-interest. Secondly, as cleansing occurs, eligibility to culture our spiritual identity following in the footsteps of the Vrajavasis, which may begin even in an impure heart, increases such that all aspects of raganuga sadhana bhakti can be meaningfully embraced. We should note that while the initial pursuit of the raga marg does not require a pure heart, the meditation that is central to this sadhana does. Kirtana, on the other hand, does not require a pure heart. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta addresses this when he writes kirtana prabhave smarana svabhave, “The power of kirtana brings about meditation on one’s svarupa.” Worship of the raga marg while concentrating on cleansing one’s heart is what he is talking of when he says, “First deserve, then desire.”
What is that desire for the deserving? It is actual spiritual desire appearing in a cleansed heart. Such spiritual desire manifests in the stage of ruci, sreyah kairava candrika vitaranam. This desire is the seed of spiritual desire that is fully developed in bhava bhakti. The taste (ruci) experienced in the developmental stage of ruci is specific. If it were not, it would not give rise to a specific object of one’s bhakti—a particular form of Krishna ornamented by particular qualities—that appears in the following stage of asakti.
So let there be pujala ragapata in the midst of kirtana range. This will cleanse our heart of separate interest and grant us greater eligibility for raga bhakti. This is para upakar, connecting Mahaprabhu’s desire for dissemination with his own pursuit of inner life.