A Bengali short story
by Srila B.S. Govinda Deva-Goswami
originally published in Sri Gaudiya Darsan,
Volume 1, Issue 2, 16 September 1955
and Volume 1, Issue 8, 11 March 1956.
It was a Saturday. I was returning home from Kolkata with a friend on the five o’clock afternoon train. The other daily passengers like me, pushing forward their bodies fatigued from a full day of work, were boarding the train in droves and bearing faces smiling with the joy of returning home. There was a big crowd on the train bound for Katwa.
We two friends made and took spaces in one compartment; with the hope of finding a little rest for our weary hearts amidst the monotonously rigid atmosphere of Kolkata, we sat down heaving sighs of relief. Right at that moment, a few gentlemen pushed through the crowd and boarded our compartment. Although they were all about the same age, we thought one of them might be over fifty. Still, we couldn’t say he was an old man by any standard. Although he was elderly, just by hearing him speak it was clear he had not lost his youthful mindset.
Be that as it may, we noticed that as he boarded the train, he immediately discovered two young sadhus. His facial expression was as though he had discovered something tremendous. He then somehow or other made a space beside the two sadhus and cast a glance towards his companions as though he had just discovered something very tasteful.
Without delay, he then asked the boys, “I say, my dear Gauranga! How far are you going?”
The two boys were about eighteen or twenty. Just by seeing their faces, you could tell they were very happy. No marks of worry had yet arisen on their faces whatsoever; they were very bright and cheerful. The older one, with a slight smile, softly replied, “Yes sir, we are on our way home.”
Elder: “You are going home? That’s good! Very good! Where is that, my boy? Is it in the land of your rosary bag? On your neck at least evidence of that can be seen.”
The boy smiled again and said, “Yes sir! In a way, that is so. Where are you going?”
Elder: “Me? While you are on your way, I will get off at Chandan Nagar.”
The boy jokingly answered, “Why on my way? Why don’t you come with me? I’ll make sure you reach home: back to God, back to home.” (As the boy spoke, he smiled gently.)
I understood that the boy was no fool; rather, he was intelligent and witty. The elder, however, immediately replied, “I am not going to become Lord Gauranga like you! I have a wife and children! If we all become Gauranga, then your Lord’s creation would come to a complete standstill. Ha ha ha.” (He laughs).
The boy also laughed, and with him we did too. We saw, however, that the boy’s face suddenly became somewhat grave, and he then replied, “That’s good! Very good! Seeing your dutifulness, I am now able to understand a little something of your greatness. If people like you do not put any energy into the maintenance of the Lord’s creation, then who else will? Tell me, if you don’t mind, may I ask you for any proof that you are preserving the creation up to the present day?” (The boy’s face became flushed.)
At that moment from outside the whistle announcing the train’s departure resounded. This time it seemed the gentleman was a bit crestfallen. We all laughed seeing his mood. The boy, however, did not laugh this time.
With this, another gentleman—previously his poise had attracted our vision (and from his speech we knew he was going to Kalna)—now spoke up, “Why are you uselessly wasting time? Rather, please seriously ask Brahmachariji a question. I think he is capable of properly answering your questions.”
With a few jerks, our train then started to leave the station. The air also gradually began to brush against us.
After the gentleman spoke, it seemed that everyone in the train became sympathetic towards the two brahmacharis.
The elder gentleman, however, was not a placable fellow, so he asked another question (this time a little more subdued).
Elder: “I will speak, all right, my boy. Is there no happiness in family life?”
Brahmachari: “Sir, how can I say? I think you should tell me. I have been a brahmachari since I was a boy, and I don’t know much at all about family life. You are the one who can answer this question well. Whether there is happiness or not there I can only guess by looking at you all. Consider, you have just gone to the office. There, no one is unaware of the pressure from the boss. You have to come and go from the office on this train also; how much happiness is there with the pressure of all these passengers—that you certainly do not need to explain. And when you reach home and immediately have to hear the gusts from the mouth of your wife, ‘We are out of rice, we are out of dal, we are out of oil, we are out of salt, the children have no clothes, the children have no shirts, and so on, then what assumption should I make about the scope of happiness in family life? Guessing also, at any rate, would not be unreasonable, but perhaps not saying anything about real happiness is best. So, why do you ask me at all?”
My friend, who had been silent all this time, could no longer contain himself and said, “Could you tell us a little bit about the real thing, brother?”
Brahmachari: “For our benefit, the wise sages (aryan rsis) spoke about this long ago; what need is there for me to anything? They opened the doors of our minds and expressed our thoughts with their holy pens. I can give you an example of the way they did this; please listen:
vrddha-kala aola saba sukha bhagala
pida-vase ha-inu katara
sarvendriya durbala ksina kalevara
bhogabhave duhkhita antara
jnana-lava-hina bhakti-rase vanchita
[“‘Old age came, and all happiness fled. Fraught with disease, I became afraid. All my senses became weak, and my body became gaunt. For want of enjoyment, my heart became sad. I don’t have a trace of knowledge, and I am deprived of the nectar of devotion.’”]
The gentlemen mentioned previously then personally spoke to the boy, “Brahmachariji! I am very happy to meet you two. Please ignore his remarks.” He pointed towards the elder gentleman and said, “He likes to have a little fun, but today he has chosen the wrong target. Don’t mind him at all. Let it be, and in a simple way, please give us some advice.”
Brahmachari: “Please consider, here in this train car there is an assembly of people with many different mentalities, so it is very difficult for an insignificant person like me to say something, let alone give any advice.”
Elder: “Yes. Yes. Please give us some advice. We will listen.” Saying this, he heaved a sigh.
The brahmachari continued, “Please consider further, even if I say something, will you be able to listen? And even if you listen, will you be able to grasp it, to understand it? And even if you understand it, I cannot expect that you will put it into practice in your own life. Still, your eagerness has made me somewhat enthusiastic, so my suggestion is that you ask some questions, and I will try to answer them as I am able.”
Gentleman: “(First of all,) forgive my impertinence, all right, but please tell us, why have you left home?”
This time, again with a cheerful face, the brahmachari smiled softly and said, “Although your question is very short and tactful, answering it will take some time as a few other questions are implicit within your question. So, you all will have to listen patiently.”
All: “Be it so. Please speak.”
The brahmachari, becoming a little enthusiastic, began to speak, “First of all, who am I? This is necessary to know. Then, I will answer the questions of ‘mine’, ‘home’, ‘leaving’, ‘why’ and so on.
“Who am I? As soon as we hear this question, immediately the words of Srila Sanatan Goswami come to mind. More or less, you have all heard his name?”
Friend: “Yes. We have read about Sanatan Goswami in a poem. There, in a very beautiful way, it is described that although Sanatan Goswami found a touchstone, he threw it under a tree like an ordinary rock. Later, when a brahman came to him on the order of Lord Siva to pray for wealth, he told the brahman to take the touchstone from beneath the tree. After the man took the jewel, however, he could understand his own foolishness; he came back to the feet of the Goswami Thakur’s feet, bowed down, and said,
ye dhane ha-iya dhani manire na mana muni
magi ami nata-sire eta bali’ nadi-nire
[“‘“O sage, the treasure that made you so rich that you have no regard for a touchstone—bowing my head, I beg you for a fraction of that.” Saying this, the brahman threw the touchstone into the water of the river.’]
“It is such a beautiful story.”
Brahmachari: “The nature of great souls is difficult to understand. Although they themselves are liberated, they show themselves to endeavour in numerous ways for the welfare of the conditioned souls. Srila Sanatan Goswami was a very dear associate of Sriman Mahaprabhu. When Sriman Mahaprabhu went to Vrndavan, Srila Sanatan Goswami, for the welfare of all souls, left his position as the chief minister of Hussein Shah, all other temporary affairs, and his family life as though it were stool and came to the feet of Sriman Mahaprabhu in Kashi. On our behalf, he asked Sri Chaitanyadev,
ke ami kena amaya jare tapa-traya
(Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta: Madhya-lila, 20. 102)
[“‘Who am I? Why do I suffer from the three miseries?’]
“Mahaprabhu knew the special qualifications of Sanatan.
So, even He said,
saba tattva jana tomara nahi tapa-traya
(Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta: Madhya-lila, 20. 104)
[“‘You know everything, and you do not suffer the three miseries.’]
“‘Still, for the education of people in general, you are asking these questions, so step by step I will answer them. Please listen.
jivera ‘svarupa’ haya krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’
krsnera ‘tatastha-sakti’ ‘bhedabheda-prakasa’
(Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta: Madhya-lila, 20. 108)
[“‘The soul is by nature an eternal servant of Krishna. The soul is Krishna’s marginal energy, a manifestation both different and non-different from Krishna.‘]
“First, we have to see, who am I? In this regard, you will have to hear something more, so please be a little patient as the plane of the discussion we are engaging in is completely self-contained.”
The gentleman humbly said, “Look, we don’t understand much scripture and all that, and I don’t think there is anyone here who is interested in understanding the purports of scriptural statements. So, as far as possible, you will have to teach us using reason.”
Brahmachari: “All right, I will try, but please remember that it is not possible to ascertain our nature or the nature of the Absolute with worldly reasoning, argument, knowledge, intelligence, scholarship, or anything of the like. Still, to give you an overview as far as possible, I will take help here from the reasoning followed by the great souls.”
Suddenly, another gentleman broke his silence. He had been listening all this time, but now he took the role of the speaker and said, “Whether you speak based on reasoning or you speak based on scripture, if there is a subject of discussion, then there may be doubts, and when there are doubts, there will certainly be antitheses. So, without sound conclusions, should we listen to the talk of Tom, Dick, and Harry?”
Brahmachari: (with a gentle smile) “Certainly not, but by hearing your words it seems that you are very fond of textbooks on argument. In any case, I will ask you a question: can you say where it is said that logic and argument can ascertain the nature of the soul and the nature of the Lord? Objects in this material world may be subservient to the faculty of logic, but have you never heard that the soul cannot be perceived by any faculty other than the soul’s own faculty of perception? What happens if we use a microscope with our ears? Can pictures be seen with a microphone? So, how with the instrument of logic can we know or experience something that is beyond the scope of speech and thought? According to my conception based on study of the scriptures, it is not possible to ascertain the soul or Supersoul through argument. These are the statements of Vedic scriptures:
yatnenapadito ’py arthah kusalair anumatrbhih
abhiyuktatarair anyair anyathaivopapadyate
(Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu: Purva-vibhaga, 1.46)
[“‘Even a conclusion carefully established by an expert can be overturned by someone else who is more qualified.’]
[“‘There is no certainty in argument.’]
achintyah khalu ye bhava na tams tarkena yojayet
(Mahabharata: Bhisma-parva, 5.22)
[“‘Do not analyse that which is inconceivable with argument.’]
nayam atma pravachanena labhyo
na medhaya na bahuna srutena
(Sri Katha-upanisad: 1.2.23)
[“‘The Supersoul is not attained by reasoning, intelligence, or extensive learning.’]
na chanya eko ’pi chiram vichinvan
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 10.14.29)
[“‘Without His grace, no one can know the Lord, even after searching for a long time.’]
“There are many statements like these in the Vedas and other scriptures. So, I certainly am not saying that you all should listen to the talk of Tom, Dick, and Harry; I am saying that you should listen to the statements of the Vedas and the words of the great souls who are all-knowing.”
I saw that the gentleman, disheartened, was about to speak, but the previous gentleman quickly said, “Brahmachariji, we have very little time. We have only one more station before we will get off. So, please finish what you have to say; when scholars go at one another, it does not appear that they will ever come to an end.”
Brahmachari: “Okay, please listen to what I am saying. First, we have to see: this body, or this mind, or something else—what am I? In this regard, there is a verse in the Gitopanisad that will help us understand:
indriyani parany ahur indriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir yo buddheh paratas tu sah
(Srimad Bhagavad-gita: 3.42)
buddher atma mahan parah
(Sri Katha-upanisad: 1.3.10)
“Within the body, the senses are foremost, but if we analyse this, we will find that the senses are simply servants of the mind as someone who is unmindful does not hear a drum even when it is beaten near their ear. Is it not? Again, even a crazy person has a mind, but because their intelligence is deranged, the powerful mind is not under their control. Everything about them is incoherent—out of order. So, herein the conclusion comes that the intelligence is superior [to both the mind and senses]. Again, if even the intelligence does not have a shelter, a basis, a light, then it cannot become manifest or active. That is the soul—spiritual light—self-manifest truth.
Consider further, even when all the parts of the body are present, the whole body is motionless in the absence of one thing. Today, the boy we greatly adore seeing his beauty, qualities, knowledge, and intelligence, whom today if we do not see for a few moments we cannot remain calm—if he dies tomorrow, then what will we do? Not keeping his body, a thing we were very attached to, which was very beautiful and very dear to us, in the house, we take it straight to the cremation ground to obliterate it completely. Even though our heart breaks with grief by doing so, we do it. Why? We well know that he who resided in that body for so long, who laughed and played with us, who sulked and became upset with us, today is no longer there. He has left that body with its senses, and now that body will rot. So, we can clearly understand that the body is not the person; the body is their house, their residence. The person who resided there has left; they are known as the impression-carrying soul. When the soul is not present, the body made of earth, water, fire, air, and space is simply an inanimate object devoid of consciousness, desire, and action.”
On 16 September 1955, Srila A.C. Bhatkivedanta Swami Maharaj Prabhupad wrote the following letter from New Delhi to Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj:
My dear Sripad Govinda Maharaj,
This morning I received two copies of your Gaudiya Darsan, and I was very glad to see its appearance. When I was at Mathura, I heard from Sripad Kesav Maharaj and so also I heard from Sripad Goswami Maharaj that His Holiness Sripad Sridhar Maharaj is going to publish Gaudiya Darsan, and today I find it actually in hand. I cannot but offer my congratulations to your holiness. Because I know if anything has been done, it is due to your energy. I can understand now why Sripad Sridhar Maharaj bestowed all his mercy upon you. He rightly found in you some dormant energy for future action, and we can see that it is now fructifying duly.
I have read with great interest your article, especially the one which is named as Chalara Pathe. It is not only very amusing but also instructive. Simple dry philosophical arguments will not be appealing now-a-days to people in general. They will like to read such articles as written by you with greater relish. In this article, I can find out that you have really some parts, and in time you can become a great transcendental humorist in the art of journalism. You have the complete mercy of your divine master, and you can depend on his blessings for your future improvement. I sincerely wish you all success. Undoubtedly, you are now in the highest order of varnasram-dharma, but we cannot forget that you belong to the category of our affectionate sons. We cannot forget all such filial love for you, and when we see that you are improving in all respects, it gladdens our heart.
I have just written a letter to Sripad Goswami Maharaj, and in that letter the following statements have been carried to him. The wording is as follows: “This day we have received two copies of Gaudiya Darsan from Sripad Sridhar Maharaj’s Math at Nabadwip. The starting is very good, and I have quite appreciated the endeavour of Sripad Maharaj although very late. It is better late than never. He has a very good assistant in the person of young Govinda Maharaj, and I think it is a good attempt.”
Your poem on Vasita is also good. All these show that you have good tact, and may God help you more and more. Sripad Sridhar Maharaj’s article on Gaudiya Darsan is philosophical, and if he so desires I can get it translated into English by myself and get it published in the Sri Sajjana-tosani Patrika. I understand that Sripad is now out on pilgrimage, and you can let me know his opinion when he comes back or earlier according to your convenience.
Hope you are well. Vrndavan wanted to live with me, and so he has come here from Kolkata just a few days before. Where is Madhusudan Maharaj? Please convey my dandavats to all the Vaisnavas. With my regards for you all.
*This has been reposted from premadharma.org, from a collection of other original texts by our Gurudev Srila B.S. Govinda Maharaj, translated by Swami B.K. Tyagi: https://premadharma.org/rachanamrta/#chalar-pathe