A synchronicity : Sri Ananta Das Pandit merges with the Braja Raj
At 7.30 yesterday morning, when most of us at the Jiva Institute were still engaged in our morning bhajan, Manjari came to my neighbor Pradeep Das’s door and in a trembling voice announced that their Guru, Ananta Das Babaji, the Mahant of Radha Kund, had left his body a few minutes before. There are three initiated disciples of Mahanta Maharaj living at Jiva. They immediately made arrangements to go to Radha Kund. I joined them. We traveled in silence, each preoccupied by our own memories of Pandit Baba
By some turn of events, Babaji had left his body in Vrindavan and was being transported by ambulance to the Gopinath temple in Radha Kund, where he lay in state for a few hours near the samadhi temple of Srila Raghunath Das Goswami, whose throne he had adorned for the past three decades.
There I sat with the kirtaniyas, thinking that I am only a distant admirer of Babaji Maharaj and I should not get in the way of his disciples and certainly not for any crass purpose like taking a photo of his mortal remains.
When I left Iskcon in 1979, I was initiated by Lalita Prasad Thakur who was very near the end of his life, over 100 years old. At that time I took it that my guru had given me the keys to the wider Gaudiya Vaishnava world and to the internal bhajan of Radha and Krishna, and the siksha guru who captured my attention as the emblem of that world was Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj.
As it happened, Ananta Dasji left his body on the very same tithi [lunar day] that A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami enacted his final pastime 41 years ago.
Some of us deliberately ignore the existence of God or Fate. But sometimes we encounter coincidences that are so full of symbolic meaning that they cannot be ignored. For me, the symbolism of these two great saints of Braj leaving their bodies on the same day is such, a most fascinating point for meditation.
They are not just my gurus, which they are, but have been gurus of the entire Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. Srila Prabhupad attracted people from around the world, those who had never heard of Gaurasundar and his prema-dharma, to the holy names and the Dham. Nearly all those from outside India who have found their way to shelter in Radha Kund have come through him, directly or indirectly.
Ananta Das Babaji was the traditional guardian of the most sacred space, the sanctum sanctorum, of our tradition. Radha Kund, is the home community of the sincere followers of Raghunath Das Goswami in the very place where he manifested the deepest sentiment of surrender to Srimati Radharani, the culmination of the gifts that had been bestowed on the world by Premavatar Sri Gaurasundar.
In a famous lecture in 1936 that was published in the Gaudiya Math’s magazine, Srila Prabhupada spoke on Guru-tattva at his own guru’s Vyasa Puja. If we look at the synchronicity of the two gurus’ disappearance in the light of these words, we might find the clues to its meaning and feel the dance of the rays of the light of amazement.
Gentlemen, the offering of such an homage as has been arranged this evening to the Acharyadeva is not a sectarian concern, for when we speak of the fundamental principle of gurudeva, or acharyadeva, we speak of something that is of universal application. There does not arise any question of discriminating my guru from yours or anyone else's. There is only one guru, who appears in an infinity of forms to teach you, me and all others.
God comes as Guru in different forms, but it is always the One God who is acting in relation to you, the individual seeker searching for the way home.
A powerful symbol is one that can leave a deep impression on one's mind, for all eternity. Rasa is the process by which the saṁskāras are made.
A saṁskāra is a deep mental proclivity, an instinctual way of reacting emotionally as a result of earlier powerful emotional experiences which have shaped the mind. Such experiences are called rasa and come in a number of categories, according to which our individual psychology develops.
Rasa really comes when our experiences are put into perspective, when they have been organized into a durable meaningfulness. These can be positive or negative: Disgust, fear and anger are the negative saṁskāras. Compassion, Wonder, and Laughter are the rasas that lead to positive development of the character towards Love.
Our reconfigured psyches have signposts called symbols, which remind us of the complex constellation of rasa experiences, embodying an overarching meaning that impregnates all of our experience with a sense of ultimacy.
So here we have been provided with the symbolic juxtaposition of two gurus who in my lifetime have made the greatest mark in the tradition descending from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, that juxtaposition being imposed from without.
This is not a man-made juxtaposition, but one that has been arranged by Radharani herself. It says "Guru is One" in a way that makes the path of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, with its culmination in Radha Kund, very clear. It is a juxtaposition that will endure, as a reminder, on a yearly basis that “Guru is One.” One may defend against it, but here we have the entire spectrum of Guruship in two men who represent the alpha and omega of Gaudiya Vaishnava sadhana.
I can't remember when I first met Pandit Babaji. The time that really stands out is for me came when I was living in Nabadwip. This was several years before Mahaprabhu's 500th appearance day (1986) and I was doing a bit of service to the committee from Nabadwip that was trying to stir up interest in the event, and rather mindlessly had gone along with them on a trip to Puruliya. There was to be a big event in neighboring Singhbhum (Jharkhand), which was a stronghold of the Radha Kund mood due to the influence principally of Kunja Bihari Das Babaji and some others. We even visited Kunja Bihari Dasji's home village. Ananta Dasji, the crown jewel of all of Kunja Bihari Baba's disciples, also comes from this region.
My memory is so weak, however, that I cannot say even how or why there came such a crowd of people into the middle of what seemed to be a fairly empty place. Word had spread and they had come walking from far and wide to hear Pandit Baba speak, to meet and share with one another in this rural setting. We ourselves got there by taking overloaded buses past adivasi villages and walked long distances over hilly footpaths and spent a night in an isolated village.
I wish I were like Advaita Dasji who has kept a diary going to the very beginnings of his adventures in India and this is obviously going to one day be a supremely interesting document. .
I am remembering Advaita Das today with deep gratitude because he did more than anyone to bring Ananta Das Pandit Baba's writings to the international audience. Although most of these books have never actually been published properly, now it is perhaps time that they were. At any rate, it seems to me that we will not be able to ever remember Ananta Das Pandit Baba without remembering his translator, Advaita Dasji.
There is no doubt that Advaitaji was a recipient of Babaji's grace due to his service and his diligence. He takes the work seriously and if he finds a mistake he makes sure it is corrected, and he announces it on his blog. Advaitaji is responsible for bringing many, many people to Radha Kund and to Pandit Baba.
Advaita Dasji has mentioned me a couple of times in his tribute to Pandit Baba. I quote those here for the record:
October, 1982, first meeting: Jagadananda takes me to Jai Singh Ghera for lectures of Ananta Dās Pandit—"In this way you can both learn Bengali and hear the great `pāṭha~s of this great Vaishnava." Ananta Das Panditji has clearly the status of a leading Vaishnava, although he lectures in a simple hall on a simple Vyasasan. He is corpulent and wears glasses, and has clear leadership charisma. When we walk from Jai Singh Ghera to Keshi Ghat, he happens to walk in front of us. I see that he is also a Babaji. He wears a bahirvāsa. He has an elegant step like a swan, a real sādhu. I am impressed by him.
October 18, 1983: When I arrive in Radha Kund for my first extensive stay for Karttik, Ananta Das Panditji is just giving pāṭha about Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi~ in the kirtan hall east of the Kund [this was much smaller in/= 1983 than it is now]. It is so beautiful and real! With great difficulty I find a place near the entry. I see Jagadananda sitting in the back. After pāṭha Jagadananda blissfully exclaims: "He (Ananta Das Panditji) is an avatāra!" I totally agree with him.
February 20, 2000: I returned to India after a 9-year absence. In the evening we go for darśana of Ananta Das Panditji. He sits on a chair in front of a small corona of Western disciples and greets me very heartily. We speak in Bengali; a wonderful exchange of praises starts. Panditji is surprised to hear me speaking Bengali so fluently (much better actually than in the '80s), and asks me আপনার দেশে কত বাঙ্গালী লোক আছে? ("How many Bengali people are living in your country?") কেহ নাই ("Nobody"), I reply. I then return the compliment by saying that Jagadananda told me that I should learn Bengali by going to the lectures of one Ananta Das Panditji. To this Ananta Das Panditji says: "There are two foreigners who know Bengali — Jagadananda and Advaita. Jagadananda used to attend my pāṭhas with a khātā (notebook)."
As for my own diaries, whatever I wrote has all been lost and so even basic information about where and when I met Ananta Das Babaji for the first time is unclear. But the reason the Singhbhum trip is so memorable is that I spoke to this crowd of 5000 people from the same stage as Ananta Dasji. I was no doubt terrible as usual, my style still more like that of an Iskcon preacher with only the barest touch of Lalita Prasad Thakur’s mercy added to the mix, but Babaji Mahasay was extremely happy with me and showered his blessings on me.
I don’t think there ever was a time I heard Babaji Maharaj talk that I was not dazzled -- by his endless capacity for variety in his presentation, while keeping the essential thread of a topic, always returning to the same goal of prema-rasa in the divine world of Vrindavan. Each day of his classes revealed newer and newer glimpses of the rich Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and the insights of the Goswamis and the Mahajans,
After hearing him speak on Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, my prayer then became, “May I one day be able to give path like Ananta Dasji.”
After three of four times of speaking in different assemblies with Ananta Dasji, I realized in a very acute way the vast difference between us when it came to this art of speaking Hari-kathā. [Advaita Das writes the Pandit Baba changed his own style of speaking after reading Ananda Gopal Goswami's lectures on Vilāpa-kusumāñjali] .It was such heady stuff that I knew it would take me years of study of the scriptural tradition before I would be able to properly understand any of it. What a lot of work I would have to do to approach even within light years Pandit Baba’s erudition!
To me he embodying the entirety of the Goswami literature, in both form and essence. Every text was properly understood and in its proper placed in this body of the Bhagavatam, and with the Nikunja Rasa as the very crown on the head .
Though I continued preaching in those days, despite my very unripe state of spiritual achievement, I always wanted to be like Ananta Das and to speak with realization on the highest truths of the sampradaya, the truths that are truly only accessible in Radha Kund.
Of course, then life played some tricks on me and so I have had to truly resign myself to the fact that it will be lifetimes before I can even touch the feet of Ananta Das Babaji in speaking the glories of Srimati Radharani and to communicate her prema rasa through Hari katha. But I am happy for whatever he has inspired me to do, whatever little I managed to do for his service.
One of Advaita Das's comments that caught my eye was about the increasing number of people at Babaji's classes in Radha Kund during Karttik, standing room only.
October 31, 2002 – Ananta dās Paṇḍitjī’s classes are still increasing in popularity – in 1984 the Bhagavat Bhavan on the shore of the Kunda became too small, so he moved to the Gopinath Mandir. Then in 1995 this was again too small, so he had his own pāṭh-bāṛi built, and now, in 2002, this is again too small! If you come too late there is simply no more space to sit. More than 1,000 persons attend. People sit on the staircases!
The first time I went to Baba's Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi class must have been in Karttik 1980, it can't have been another year. What did I understand? I can't remember. I remember the sheer charm of the environment, the audience of renounced sadhus and determined grihi bhaktas. I remember seeing one babaji, Krishna Charan Das Babaji of Keshi Ghat Thor, having aṣṭa-sāttvika vikāras, but everyone so engrossed in Panditji's spinning of Prabodhananda's divine spirit that nobody paid him any mind. In fact, his display of ecstasies was welcome in this assembly. Men and women who had spent a lifetime or lifetimes dedicated to the Sri Kund environment.
I never had the good fortune to live in Radha Kund like Advaita Das and even Gadadhar Pran, who spent many extended periods there studying the Gaudiya Vaishnav literature. I just spent a Karttik or two. And then came twenty long years in the wilderness.
The last time I came to see Babaji Maharaj, a few months ago, he told me to come and live in Radha Kund. I felt truly blessed by him. I never went to see him again, maybe in part because I wanted that to be my last memory of him. I thought it was better to leave him in peace in his final days at Radha Kund.
I told him that day that it was a curse on me that in this lifetime I had not had more of his association. But that is the way that adhikara works. We control our world with our desires, but our desires are mostly unknown and have to be revealed by circumstance before they are known. And what is the ultimate use of fleeting relations without full surrender?
Babaji was the center of the revival and efflorescence of the Radha Kund mood taking the dominant place in the Gaudiya Vaishnava world. Coming to Radha Kund became synonymous with hearing Ananta Das Babaji speak, and this was happening in the Bengali world way before Advaita Dasji or I or any Westerner "discovered" him. When my small generation of early explorers of the Vaishnava world outside of ISKCON took our first tentative steps there, the first place we came to was Ananta Dasji. He was the embodiment of Radha Kund. He was the embodiment of Raghunath Das Goswami's revelation of the flavors of madhura-rasa, especially service to the queen of Radha Kund, Srimati Radharani.
tavaivāsmi tavaivāsmi na jīvāmi tvayā vinā
iti vijñāya devi tvaṁ naya māṁ caraṇāntikam
I am Yours, I am Yours! I cannot live without You!
O Devi! Knowing this, please take me to Your lotus feet!
He rejuvenated the entire Gaudiya Vaishnava world because he did not hide that Gaudya Vaishnavism is about the unnata-ujjvala-rasa, and that the Goswamis of Vrindavan, our original acharyas, have recommended immersing ourselves fully in the dasya of Radharani.
It is something of an irony that Iskcon should be the conduit that nourishes a hundred different Vaishnava sampradayas in Braj. So many babajis, Bengali or foreign, were in Iskcon or the Gaudiya Math. Last time I was in Radha Kund I saw Mahanidhi Madan Gopal Dasji. He said, "Iskcon is my alma mater," the school from which I have graduated in order to follow the ultimate order of Rupa Goswami: kuryād vāsaṁ vraje sadā. Prabhupada's gift to the world is not just the limited frame of Iskcon, but he has given the entire tradition, but there is a progression in Guru Tattva as one progresses.
Raghunath Das Goswami is the "prayojan avatar." Sampradaya means that you drink from the right fountain. Those who wish for the prayojan, the ultimate prize of Radha-dasya, they must drink deeply from Radha Kund and those who live in its periphery. It is the existence of Radha Kund that makes world-wide preaching fulfill its purpose. In the final analysis, all Gaudiya Vaishnava roads lead to Radha Kund and to its Mahanta.