Lecture by His Holiness Hridayananda Das Goswami (download mp3), at the 2007 Gaura Purnima Festival, Sri Mayapur Candrodaya Mandir, Mayapur, India.
gam paryatan medhya-vivikta-vrttih
sadapluto 'dhah sayano 'vadhutah
alaksitah svair avadhuta-veso
vratani cere hari-tosanani
TRANSLATION: While so traversing the earth, he simply performed duties to please the Supreme Lord Hari. His occupation was pure and independent. He was constantly sanctified by taking his bath in holy places, although he was in the dress of a mendicant and had no hair dressing nor a bed on which to lie. Thus he was always unseen by his various relatives.
PURPORT: The first and foremost duty of a pilgrim is to satisfy the Supreme Lord Hari. While traveling as a pilgrim, one should not be worried about pleasing society. There is no need to depend on social formalities or occupation or dress. One should remain always absorbed in the function of pleasing the Lord. Thus sanctified by thought and action, one is able to realize the Supreme Lord by the process of a pilgrim's journey. [End of purport]
Hrdayananda Maharaja: Prabhupada ki jai. So, any questions?
First of all, I was just kidding, so you cannot ask any questions. Now, let's go over all the words of this verse and, like on computers you can zoom in, let's zoom in on these Sanskrit words. Prabhupada said that if we attend or give Bhagavatam class everyday there will be new lights. So I hope something other than controversy and darkness comes out of me today.
So the first words are gam paryata, literally pari, around, like parikrama, paryatan literally means walking around. So he is walking around the earth, gam. And his vrtti was medhya and vivikta. Medha can refer to sacrifice, so medhya literally means sacrificable and the idea is something which is pure because you cannot offer impure things. For example, if you're going to offer food to the Deities they have to be pure. You can't offer impure, dirty water or a dirty cloth to the Deities. Everything you offer in sacrifice has to be pure and therefore the word medhya, sacrificable, means pure, fit to be offered to the Lord. So that's the word medhya.
Wow. Even a bird has flown into the temple. Just see the potency of bona fide ISKCON gurus. [laughter] These are like the pastimes of St. Francis. I guess he's taking darshan of all the different altars.
A few words on vrtti, If you can tolerate a little linguistic analysis. . . Jai, Your Holiness. All glories to Sivarama Swami. I think the GBC has sent a monitor. [laughter] It's called Swamigate. See if they can get the smoking gun.
The sanskrti root vrt means literally to turn. That's like the first meaning, to turn. In Sanskrit you can make a feminine noun from a root just by adding ti, like sruti, smrti, krti. So this is vrtti. This word is found in the yoga-sutras in regard to mental activity, because turning, going in its cycle, comes to mean function or activity. As we say in English, for example, how did things turn out? It's in that sense of the term. The yoga-sutras begin by defining yoga as citta-vrtti-nirodha, stopping the vrtti, the turning away of the mind, the mind turning off the path.
Vrtti comes to mean a course of life. Therefore when you have a path in your life which is based on the world and engaged in the world and going forth into the world, it is called pravrtti-marga. And if you withdraw from the world, that's called nivrtti. So the word vrtti is used in the sense of the course of your life, a life which goes into the world to engage, in the most simple sense it means grhastha-asrama. And the life when we withdraw from the world, of course we know the principle of yukta-vairagya, that everyone should somehow engage themselves and the world in Krsna's service. Anyway, that is vrtti.
By the way, we have this word in English and in many modern languages; from the root vrt you get the stem. Sanskrit is like an organic language, you get roots, stems, and then words. The common stem is for the word vrt is varta, like pravartate, nivartate, vivartate and so on. So vart in English we still have it as vert, as in invert, revert, subvert. You can see the relationship between Sanskrit and English, not merely that some words sound the same, like matar, which is mother, but in the structure of the language. In Sanskrit basically you have the stems then you can add prefixes and change the meanings. . . samvartate, etc.
So the same thing in English. English actually retains the same linguistic structure from Sanskrit. So you can say subvert, invert, revert, pervert, and so on and so forth. With the same meaning, to invert is to turn in, to extrovert is to turn out, to subvert is to turn down, like bring something down. Anyway, so that is the word vrt, vrtti. One last thing I will say about it, perhaps, is that it comes to mean in Sanskrit, to exist or to function, like how you function in the world because things move in cycles.
It can mean a path. As when Krsna says mama vartmanunavartante, everyone follows my path, that's a course, the way things turn out the way they go, the path. Also in Sanskrit, when you meet someone in the Bhagavatam or other scriptures, and you say like, "What you are you doing these days. Are you into multilevel marketing, what are you doing, what are you doing for a living?" In Sanskrit they'll say, "Ka varta" or "Kaya vrttya", by what vrtti, or what are you doing, how are you getting on? The word varta means the news. If you want to say, "What's the news," in Sanskrit, you say "ka varta". It means how are things turning, how are things going? In so many modern languages, like in German, vigates(?), or in English you say how's it going. So in Sanskrit they say, ka varta, how's it going, what's the news?
Anyway, now you look back at this word in this verse today, that's the word. Vidura is described as having a vrtti, which is a path, a function, an occupation, a way of getting on in the world which is medhya and vivitta. I already explained the word medhya. Medhya means sacrificable in the sense of pure, something which is worthy, fit to be offered to the Lord. And vivitta, this is the same word as viveka as in vivekananda. No more on that. Anyway, my mother said if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything.
So vivikta means to sort of be separated, secluded. The prefix vi is the opposite of san, san means together, like sankirtana, vi means apart, like Vyasa means places the Vedas apart, separates the Vedas. Vivikta means literally to separate yourself, to be secluded. This is the word also that is used in the Bhagavatam to say one should not remain secluded even with one's own mother. This is a remarkable statement. There is of course a lot more incest in the world than people would like to think. When it says that one should not be alone even with one's mother, what it literally says is viviktasana, literally sitting secluded. So that you don't think people in Vedic culture were a little hyper-alert about incest, the word asana, the verb as means seat, but it's also the Sanskrit verb which means to remain, to go on doing something. It's using very commonly in that way.
Like in the Bhagavad-gita where Arjuna says kim asita vrajeta kim, under what circumstances should move onto some other thing and under what circumstances should they remain in the same situation, like when should the sit when should they go.
Therefore in a sense what viviktasana really means in a sense in Sanskrit is you should not remain for extended periods of time in seclusion with a woman, that's really the idea, even your mother. So it's not hyper-vigilance it is actually practical.
Anway, back to our regularly scheduled sloka. That's the word vivikta. Vivikta is the past participle, the noun is viveka. It also means to discriminate, to separate things, the power to put everything in it's own category, to see the distinction between things. What this means is Vidura's vrtti, the way he got on in the world, which doesn't just mean that when he went to pilgrimage places he had a job on the side and he was making some money. . . . What it really means here is in a more simple sense is the way he survived, how did he eat, how did he find his food, how did he dress himself, how did he survive and get on in the world.
And the answer here is his method of surviving or how he got on in the world was medhya, pure, and literally worthy of offering to Krsna. In other words he lived in the world in such a way that his life was offerable to Krsna. When we prepare the Deity offering everything has to be clean and offerable. If the flower fell on the floor and was trampled by a wild atheist, obviously you can't just pick it up and offer to the Deities. The idea here is we should live in such a way that our life is offerable. That's exactly what Krsna says yad karosi, whatever you do, yad asnasi, and so on, tat kurusva, make it, mad-arpana, an offering to me.
So Vidura is embodying, personifying that principle of a life that is fit to be offered to the Lord. Also he lived in such a way so that he could not be recognized. The word alaksita in this verse, Prabhupada translates as unseen. It's unseen in the sense of unrecognized. The word laksana means a visible sign means by which you recognize an object. Alaksita means that even if his relatives passed him in the street they might not recognize him. He wanted to be secluded. Medhya vivikta vrtti, he wandered around the world in this way.
The next word is sadaa, always, which in American Sanskrit is sada, as in Sadaputa, always, but actually it's sadaa, and apluta, always bathed. In other words he took regular bath. Sometimes on the road you don't find a good shower. We all know that when you're traveling you can't follow all the same standards as when you're not traveling. Here it's emphasized that Vidura, even though he was traveling, he was strict about his own hygiene.
Adha sayana literally means lying down. Adha means down, and sayana, lying, so he would just sleep on the earth. I suppose they must have had something like hotel chains back then. People did travel back then and they needed places to stay when they're away from home. There's even the example in the Bhagavatam of merchants that travel. So there were places to stay. Here the idea is that Vidura lived very simply, didn't get entangled.
Then avadhuta, here's an interesting word. The word avadhuta literally means one who has shaken off, dhuta means to shake, like you shake a rug to clean it. It also means purified. What is that verse, vidhuta-kalmasa, there's one verse in the Bhagavatam, one who has shaken away one's sins or contamination. Also you find the same word in the famous Bhagavatam verse about Krsna, srnvatam sva-katha krsna, for those who are always hearing about Krsna, punya sravana-kirtana, because hearing and chanting about Krsna makes one pious, Krsna, hrdy-anta-sthah, standing within the heart, vidhunoti, he cleans away all the inauspicious things, he cleans away, like shaking a rug to get rid of all the dust. That's the word vidhunoti.
Here you have avadhuta means literally one who has shaken off ordinary social customs and often appear to the world as very eccentric. Of course some eccentric people may imagine that they are saintly persons but they must just be eccentric. So this is not a blanket justification of eccentricity. But the way this term avadhuta comes to be used typically is one who has shaken off at least some social customs and is acting more spontaneously according to a higher understanding.
At the same time it's interesting to clarify that Vidura, acting as an avadhuta, did not cross any moral boundaries or did not cross the boundaries of decency and even physical health. It's said here sadapluta, he always observed principles of hygiene, always bathed, and vratani cere, he followed all his vows as a Vaisnava. Because there have times in Indian history, and in the history of other cultures where people get into this "freedom" thing and imagine themselves to be in a higher state of consciousness and therefore not bound by lower rules, and they drift into immoral behavior.
There's a whole weird tantra movement that went on for some time in India. It was the pancamakara, Kara, in Sanksrit, literally making, comes to mean like a letter or syllable like omkara. Or the letter a, you say a-kara. Humkara means the syllable hum, which as you know, somehow or other, it's like those high pitched dog whistles that we can't hear but dogs can't stand them. There are these extraordinary syllables in Sanskrit that are intolerable to weird spirits.
That's kara. Vratani cere, so the tantra people have the pancamakara, the five m letters. Like the 5M Corporation, the 3M Corporation.(?) There's an earlier tantra, just to clarify, which is Vaisnava tantra which means things like Deity worship. The Bhagavatam says that Narada Muni came to this world as an avatara to give the satvata-tantra, the Vaisnava tantra. The word tan in Sanskrit means to expand or extend or stretch. Tra means the instrument. So tantra means the instrument for expanding Vedic knowledge and practice, and typically it's that body of literature like the Narada Pancaratra which introduces on a practical level things like Deity worship and on a philosophical level knowledge of the catur-vyuha and so many things.
The Bhagavatam acknowledges that there are two sources of knowledge, vaidika and tantrika. That is the earlier bonafide tantra. Then there was a later tantra which was the five m corporation. The five m's were, for example, mamsa, meat; or matsya, fish; or maithunya, sex, preferably incest; madira, liquor; and the fifth one for some reason which still puzzles scholars, mudra. Maybe even back then they had obscene gestures. Maybe that's what it referred to like the aksi-mudra. Anyway, these were the original Hindu hippies. In the sense the core belief of the hippie movement was that we want to be free and all these different moral rules are obstacles for freedom and therefore we should break them and free ourselves from all these boundaries.
Of course they totally ignore the entire field of human psychology and the point of addictive behavior and so on and so forth. So as long as you are in a state of blissful ignorance of all of social science you may be attracted to this. Anyway these original Hindu hippies, the tantriks, believed that you should break all the moral rules, all the Vedic injunctions. It is important not to confuse the avadhutas with these people. It's emphasized twice here he was avadhuta, he was dressed in a way that he could not be recognized but at the same time it is emphasized that he followed all the vows and moral and devotional regulative principles, vratani cere, of a Vaisnava. And he kept all the principles of hygiene. So he was not a smelly, sinful - he wasn't a hippy.
Moving right along here in this analysis, it says here, alaksita svair, not recognized literally by his own people. Not simply because he avoided that, but because he really wouldn't be recognized. And avadhuta vesa, he had the dress of an avadhuta. Vratani cere, he followed his vows, I explained.
Actually from the Sanskrit word vrata, you have the Latin word voto, and one who follows a vrata, like drdha-vrata, is a devoto. That is what the word devotee means if anyone's interested. The word devotee, in a sense, is a literal translation of drdha-vrata, one who is firm in one's vows. In that sense at the time of diksa, at the time of making a vow, at least etymologically you literally become a devotee. Or even if before you are initiated, at the time we adopt a formal vow like "I now am going to follow this," you literally become a devotee etymologically. For those of you who become etymology should have greater influence on our culture. . . .
So vratani cere hari tosanani, his vows were satisfying to Hari. In other words, he didn't just make up weird vows. He specifically followed principles that were pleasing to the Lord. I'll go on a little longer in this challenging pre-breakfast environment.
If we ask ourselves the question why would someone do this? Why put on strange clothes, your friends can't recognize you, of course you follow all your principles but you drop out of society. There is a real sense of dropping out here. There are three ways it is emphasized that although Vidura became an avadhuta he didn't become immoral, indecent in any sense of the term. He didn't neglect any of his principles in any sense of the term.
The three ways these are emphasised, last, but very important, he followed all his devotional principles, secondly, he maintained all the principles of hygiene. And thirdly, he got on in the world, including places he chose to rest at night, the way he dressed himself; in every sense, his living habits were pure. They were pure, literally sacrificable. They were worthy of offering to the Lord as a sacrifice.
So the very fact that you have this contrast where it is mentioned twice that he was an avadhuta, dressed like an avadhuta, he was an avadhuta, which means sort of a social dropout for spiritual purposes. Twice this is mentioned and three times it is mentioned that he was in every way decent, regulated, and pure. I think it's not a coincidence that you have two of these and three of those.
Frankly, throughout world history, in India, in America, and everywhere else, there have been hippies. A hippie is a type of person that believes that freedom comes from breaking all the rules. A sort of belief in nature that includes such wonderful things as dirt and sweat so that when your body is sweating it's earthy in the sense of being natural and all that. That is why perfume and nose plugs were invented in the course of human history. There has always been this tendency, it's a certain type of behavior, it's a way of responding to the world, there have always been people who have responded this way.
Therefore in this verse there are two avadhuta references and three bits of data which emphasize that Vidura was regulated, pure, clean, etc, etc. Having said that, with the few minutes remaining to me before people start to sneak out of this class, you can raise a sort of socio-psychological question, "What is the value of dropping out, of going incognito?" Because alaksita is really the Sanskrit way of saying incognito. What is the point of this? For one thing, we become conditioned and when you live in society, just like all of us, not all of us actually, but many of us, when we come to Mayapur, in some subtle ways, we adjust our behavior. We adjust our behavior because we are in east India and we are in Mayapur. Because there are many people here, it is a multicultural situation, multi-ethnic. As we know Prabhupada's great spiritual family is multicultural.
Even when all the devotees were going to Gaudadesa to Puri to see Mahaprabhu, it is always mentioned there were different communities, the Panihati community, Kulina-grama, and people actually traveled as communities. They spoke the same regional dialect of language, they were were using the same kind of food, they traveled together. They were a community. In that sense, even Lord Caitanya's movement, even back then, there were the Bangladeshis, there were the Oriyan devotees, there were the people from this part, all of them had their own cuisine, they were used to certain kinds of food, certain kinds of music. There were communities.
ISKCON, or Lord Caitanya's movement, more than ever is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic. Using objective social science language, this tends to be way over on the conservative side in some ways. So when we come here we adapt in certain ways. Unless you are really into shock therapy for everybody else, you try to fit in as far as possible. When we go to other places, we may have to fit in in other ways. Everyone has to fit in to some extent.
There comes a time when you sort of want to get away from everything. Not get away from the association of devotees, but imagine if you're coming from a material background and happen to live with such spiritually advanced people as Duryodhana and Sakuni. What was that younger brother? Duhsasana, which basically means someone who can never take good advice, or who gave a lot of bad advice. So here Vidura was living among these people and inevitably just to live you have to adjust yourself. You have to some extent be a social creature. He wanted to get away from everything.
Interestingly, among his people were also the Pandavas. The Pandavas were not only his nephews; they were probably his most beloved relatives, the Pandavas and Kunti and so on. It doesn't say alaksita kurubhih, unrecognized by the Kurus, it just says by his people. As we know there is no record anywhere in the Bhagavatam that the Pandavas or the Yadus, who were also very close to Vidura, had any idea where he was.
So here's a question I want to raise just as a way of thinking. This is not meant to be iconoclastic and revolutionary and to overturn everything. Now having said that only half of the people here will come away with that interpretation as opposed to everybody, but we are conditioned souls. We are conditioned souls. Of course I am just saying that to be humble. [laughter] It really applies in the case of everyone else in the room. [laughter]
Anyway, back to my humble persona. We are all conditioned souls and what that means is when we join the Hare Krsna movement we are liberated in one sense that we are literally, ontologically, on the spiritual platform--the temples are Vaikuntha. In an ontological sense of just where we are we are liberated and we're on the spiritual platform. Psychologically we are still conditioned. If we are talking about how our minds operate, the way our consciousness functions, we are still conditioned.
Let's say when we come to the movement if we enjoy eating, we are attached to eating, as we know, that doesn't immediately go away. Imagine some scene where someone was trapped somewhere and the only way they can escape is literally to eat a tunnel out. What if your hands are tied behind your back and you fell into this huge, unnaturally large pot of spaghetti. [laughter] This is a realistic example; things like that happen every day, you can read about it in the newspaper. Say your hands were tied behind your back and literally the only way you can save yourself is by eating your way out. That's a somewhat humorous example.
Many of us, when we first joined the movement, it was like we were eating our way out of danger, eating our way out of material conditioning. That is why Prabhupada personally cooked for the devotees, because they were conditioned souls, I mean we were conditioned souls. I didn't have the pleasure of having Prabhupada cook for me, but Prabhupada set this example.
Prabhupada says, I think in the Caitanya-caritamrta, fools and rascals were criticizing Prabhupada's methods, don't understand that you cannot spread Krsna consciousness in the Western world, and that increasingly that means modern world, if you impose extremely conservative Hindu standards of gender separation. Prabhupada certainly insisted for serious devotees on following the principles, but he created devotional communities where men and women served together and he said that this was necessary in order to spread the movement in the modern world. Why? Because we were conditioned, we were conditioned in terms of gender relations, we were conditioned in terms of eating. As we know we were conditioned in terms of being attached to position. We all have had to suffer through this phenomenon of power corrupts. People take postions in a spiritual society often for mixed reasons: because they want to serve and because they want a position. That leads to all kinds of irrational behavior.
My simple point is, if I am a conditioned soul, and I join a spiritual movement, I continue to be a conditioned sould and gradually when you get a whole bunch of conditioned souls together, they create somewhat of a conditioned subculture. And over time it becomes sacrilized(?). Because human beings are wired in such a way that any behaviour which is repeated over enough in a community or society takes on a sacred glow.
I don't want to just be wild and controversial, but one example is it has become almost a sacred ISKCON principle to sacrifice on the altar of surrender your sense of hearing. In other words, the kirtan is not bona fide unless it's damaging your inner ear. Therefore we have this incredible phenomenon--it ranks with the best of Monty Python--where people come to the sacred service of ISKCON, our temple programme, with earplugs. Imagine this, sravanadi suddha citte, the primary process is hearing and we wear ear plugs. [laughter]
Or Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that the highest form of food in this world, and therefore the food which should be offered to Krsna, is food which is arogyam, healthy, and ayusam, prolongs life, and there is sort of an understanding amongst certain people that prasadam is not really bona fide and Vedic if it's healthy. It really needs to be unhealthy, it needs to be deep fried, it needs to sugar-soaked. . . real Vedic prasadam. You're not really pleasing Krsna unless it's unhealthy, ignoring what Krsna says.
At the same time there are certain cultural bonds which unify us, which unite us, which keep our solidarity. It's not that everyone can just do their own thing. We need to have a common culture. Uniforms are a very powerful tool of social psychology. There's a very good reason why historically armies wear uniforms. It's not irrational. It's because it can be a very important part of creating an appropriate consciousness in order to perform effective collective activities. I actually really like uniforms by the way, because it's a very powerful way of creating solidarity, unity, and joint determination. Please believe me, I'm sincere.
Now, the good part comes after the pregnant term "but", no actually there are no buts about it, I'm simply saying that we have to, as a group, as a united society, purify our collective culture from irrational tendencies which don't really serve our best interests so we present the movement to the world as a spiritual science.
I was giving the point in a class I gave recently that say you're walking down the street and you see someone who's just been injured in some way and needs urgent medical attention and you're not a doctor and really don't know how to treat the person, you can't just say "The good news is there is a medical science. I personally don't practice it, and there's no one around here who does, but take comfort in the fact that there is a medical science."
In the same way, there is a spiritual science and Prabhupada presented it to us, but if we are not really spiritual scientists, if we're a little crude in our understanding of the spiritual science, we're not going to treat people as effectively as we might.
The last point here is that this whole incognito thing, is there value even for devotees sometimes in Krsna consciousness getting away a bit and finding themselves? I don't mean to say leaving ISKCON. I don't mean cutting yourself off from the association of devotees. I just mean sometimes separating yourself from certain kinds of conditioning. Again, like Vidura, following all your devotional vows, following the principles of hygiene, remaining pure in your life, but at the same time, trying to be a little objective about things.
I'll leave you with this question. I wouldn't presume to give the complete answer to this, at least not in a crowd where I can get in trouble. I'm just kidding. So any questions on these points? Yes, Visuddha-sattva, purified goodness personified.
Visuddha Sattva: An important technical question for me in relation with my research on the structure of the universe on the Sanskrit word vrtti that you explained. In some chapter of the Fifth Canto when the sisumara cakra is being described, the body of Lord Visnu in the form of a dolphin, Prabhupada says vrtti is like string, around that sisumara cakra, the planets, the cakras. . .
Maharaja: Often words like vrtti, there is a lot of jargon in Sanskrit. For example if you're reading a computer book and it talks about a mouse, that is very different from coming across the word mouse in a book about rodents. Sanskrit, the Vedic culture is and was a very sophisticated, diverse, mature culture with hundreds of different fields of knowledge and like today, there was a lot of jargon. The medical people, the botanists, the astrologers, the astronomers, everyone had their jargon. It is very likely that in astronomical descriptions they're using the standard jargon.
I think we'll have to talk about that a little later because I'll have to look at the Sanskrit before I could tell you clearly that I don't know. We'll have to look at that later I think. Any other questions?
Visuddha-sattva: Yes, I have another question. Vivrtti and vrtti, because Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati said from anartha-nivrtti to artha-pravrtti. So what is the difference between vivrtti and vrtti.
Maharaja: Again, there is a lot of jargon involved. Vivrtti literally means to turn away, to expand, to categorize, it could mean many things. I would have to look at the context. Any other questions? Moving right along. What's that?
Ah, the word ontological, from the Greek onto, existence, it means the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of existence. What exists, how does it exist, what are the basic categories of existence.
Microphone back there into the peanut gallery.
Question: You are translating the word tantra and said that tra means expand. Usually devotees explain the word mantra, as in Hare Krsna maha-mantra, that ma means mind and tra means to control.
Maharaja: With that sort of pedagogic etymology, tra is taken as the abbreviation of trana, which means delivering, delivering the mind.
Anything else? Yes, Hari Sauri Prabhu.
[unclear, presumably requesting Maharaja to return to Mayapur next year]
Maharaja: Well, Krsna willing, yes.
Devotees: Haribol! [applause]
Maharaja: Actually, I've got a silver bullet now. It's saved me. It's called grapefruit seed extract. I used to get very sick. I used to have near death experiences here all the time. And Vrindavan too.
So thank you all very much. Srila Prabhupada ki jai!