Living Tradition: Reaching Out by Reaching Within
Vyasa Puja. Puja means worship. Vyasa refers to Srila Vyasadeva, Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa. When one takes a position of representing Srila Vyasadeva, it is an opportunity for all of us to express our gratitude. We express it in particular for those who are most immediate to us as his representatives. This connection with Srila Vyasadeva is what the whole process of celebration of Vyasa Puja is meant for.
There is the story of how Vyasa Puja has originated. We know from Sri Caitanya Bhagavata that when the time for worshiping Vyasa had come and both Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu were there, together with many other devotees, Lord Nityananda was leading the worship. He was holding a garland that he was going to offer to an image or picture of Vyasa, but he simply stood in front of it as if he had become confused and had forgotten what was happening. Of course, Nityananda was known as avadhuta, so it was not entirely surprising for devotees that he was acting in a strange way, as he often did. But this time he was reflecting on what does it mean to worship Srila Vyasadeva and with this garland in his hands suddenly he turned and offered the garland to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. And by that gesture he was making a significant statement, namely, that Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the present representative of, and is non-different from, Vyasadeva. That gesture was the beginning of the Vyasa Puja celebration system that we practice today, namely with a focus on the present-day representatives of Srila Vyasadeva. And by that gesture of Nityananda Prabhu, we are especially blessed, because we feel that our connection with the disciplic succession of teachers is going back to Srila Vyasadeva.
Caitanya Mahaprabhu points us back in time to Srila Vyasadeva and more immediately, he points to Sripad Madhavendra Puri, through his (Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s) own guru Srila Isvara Puri. And we understand from our acaryas, such as, Krishnadas Karviraja Goswami that it is Madhavendra Puri who is the seed of the tree of love of God, of Krishna-prema, which Caitanya Mahaprabhu manifests and which he then invites all of us to become harvesters of - harvesters of the fruits of that tree. Why is Madhavendra Puri the seed of this tree? Because of his words, which he pronounced towards the very end of his life:
ayi dīna-dayārdra nātha he
dayita bhrāmyati kiṁ karomy aham
He is expressing his feeling about the absence of his beloved Lord: “What shall I do without you?” He is addressing the Lord as the one who is kind to the wretched – he finds himself wretched – and at the same time as the Lord of Mathura, which means inclusive of Vrindavan. In this way, he is calling attention to Vraja, to Vrindavan, as the place where the Lord always dwells. He is also calling attention to a particular sort of feeling of the residents of Vraja in Krishna’s absence.
With Lord Caitanya looking back to Madhavendra Puri we celebrate our tradition in three dimensions of time. When we speak of a tradition, we often think of the past, but the tradition that is only existing as something to view in the museum doesn’t belong to the present and future. We should consider traditions — and both parampara and sampradaya mean that — as a continuum from the past to the present, and from the present to the future. And these three dimensions of the time of the whole tradition are what make it alive and vital for our spiritual lives. Through this continuum of tradition, we have the opportunity of reaching beyond the confines of time to the eternal realm, where all the representatives of the tradition are present simultaneously.
Who makes this tradition meaningful for us? It is of course our Srila Prabhupada, without whom none of us would know anything about who we are, or who Krishna is. We don’t know, and perhaps we prefer not to think of, where we would be now without Srila Prabhupada. He taught and continues to teach us in many ways, and in particular he teaches us through his writings. For him it was most important that his writings would be studied by us and given to as many people of this world as possible. In this way he is, in particular, our connection to Srila Vyasadeva, because Vyasa is the compiler and editor of the Vedic corpus and then it is Srila Prabhupada who is the present-day compiler and editor of the Vedic corpus in such a way that it is not only compiled and edited but also translated and explained to us, how we can be engaged in his mission.
Just as Lord Caitanya looks back to His guru - Srila Isvara Puri – who also looks back to Srila Madhavendra Puri; Srila Prabhupada looks back to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur.
In his lecture given in July 1927 in Cuttack (Odisha) he explained that he has accepted the elevated seat, garlands, and praises because he has been ordered to do so by the Lord. This is the understanding we take from him. That is required, it is a kind of austerity. It is another sort of austerity, the receiving of worship. We understand that the proper receiving of worship is about passing on the honour.
As we are doing this it occurs to me that the guru-disciple relationship is something of an apprenticeship. In the late Middle Ages in Europe, this tradition started when masters of various crafts took on apprentices. And apprentices, usually young boys, would learn the craft from the master, and eventually they would become journeymen, and later they would become masters themselves. What are we learning as we become apprentices in spiritual life? First of all, not to spoil our lives. This is the basis. We are learning how not to spoil our lives. Srila Prabhupada emphasized that human life is meant for self-realization and to develop a serving relationship with God. In the First Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, Suta Goswami indicates: we are wasting our time if we are not developing our rati — attraction. It is explained that rati means attraction of the mind to Krishna which we obtain either from previous lives or from hearing and seeing the image of Krishna in this life. So, we are apprenticing in developing attraction for Krishna. That is what we are all about.
Srila Raghunatha Das Goswami gives us very nice advice on how to develop rati in his Manaḥ Śikṣā. He is appealing to his mind by saying: “I am speaking to you, my dear mind, with sweet words. Please, direct yourself to guru, to Vraja, to residents of Vrindavan, to Brahmanas and Vaisnavas. Please, pay attention to the holy name that you have received and to the divine couple in Vrindavan, giving up your pride for good, and have an unprecedented excessive attraction for the Lord.” He is not beating the mind with a shoe, as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur advised on one occasion, a practice which sometimes can also be useful, but convincing the mind instead with sweet words.
Let's stretch out the analogy of the apprentice. The apprentice is assisting the master in his work. We learn that also. From day one in our practice of Krishna consciousness, we are assisting our guru, but we usually base our effort on Lord Caitanya’s words: “I cannot distribute all the fruits of Love of Godhead myself, I need help.” We think it is about outreach, therefore we assist the guru. We certainly do so, but what I am further suggesting is: there is outreach, and there is in-reach. In-reach is looking within, ad this looking within can in particular be the doorway into the heart where the rati, as Srila Prabhupada would say, is dormantly waiting. Then an interesting question can arise within our heart: is there a way in which I might assist my guru in a particular project?
What I am trying to say is that we all are in the same boat, we all have the same task - as apprentices assist the master. We all assist the guru in reaching out as well as in reaching in. How do we assist the guru in reaching within? That everyone needs to explore. But in particular, we do it by ourselves becoming competent in our teachings. Then we remind each other—we remind our guru as well—of Krishna’s name, form, qualities and pastimes. In this way we can assist as spiritual apprentices in “in-reach” and thus gradually we become ourselves qualified, first as “journeymen” and then as masters of Krishna consciousness—masters of humility and service, following Srila Vyasadeva and all his apprentices who have become masters. Thank you all very much.
—From the Vyasa Puja address by Krishna Kshetra Swami in Godruma Kutir, Mayapur, India, on December 3, 2022