Krsna Consciousness a Transcendental apprenticeship program

November 20, 2020 in Articles by Damaghosa dasa

by Ishan das

Krishna Consciousness, a Transcendental Apprenticeship Program

In 1972-73 Srila Prabhupada arranged for some professional mridanga makers to make drums right on our newly acquired land in Sridham Mayapur. He felt that it was a dying art and he wanted some of our boys to learn the process. When I saw that airmail letter on the desk of the temple president in Toronto, Canada, my first thought was, “That’s for me.” A few months later I was crossing the Jalangi River on my way to Sridham Mayapur.

The mridangas are made by two different men. The potter who makes all varieties of clay utensils, makes the shells; and another man does the leather work. In India, learning these processes was an apprenticeship program. This means one has to become the humble servant of the master; there is no other way. Also there’s a very heart-centered aspect of the process; the exchange of knowledge and service is an exchange of love. As the apprentice serves the master with feelings of affection and respect, the master is moved to share the knowledge of his craft, knowledge that has been cultivated for generations.

Serving these men meant doing the most basic of chores, such as digging clay out of the earth and removing every grain of sand by hand, and staking out freshly removed cow hides in the field, and scraping the skins.

The mridanga hut was a bamboo structure, about 10 feet square, set on a slightly raised structure with an earthen floor. I was not the only western boy there with the desire to learn the art; there were some half dozen others. But there was a difference. Whereas I was on the inside of the hut scraping skins, the other boys sat outside with clipboards and note pads, making notes. With the help of a Bengali interpreter they would put their questions to the mridanga mistri (mechanic).

Boy with clipboard: “Why does he do such and such part of the process in that way? Why does he not do it……etc, etc.?” There is a silence as everyone waits for his answer. “My father did it this way.”, he says quietly, and continues his work.

In this way the learning process continues. The clipboard team make their notes. And I do whatever little task that is given to me by our teacher, like a hungry dog that is thrown scraps from the table. And then one day, our teacher pauses. Hunched over in squat position, leather-cutting knife in hand, he looks up from his work. With a very quiet and calm voice, he points his knife, one by one, at the boys on the clipboard team, and in a quiet and calm voice, he says, “Mridanga mistri nay. Mridanga mistri nay. Mridanga mistri nay.” There is a stillness in the hut. And then our teacher points his knife at me, and says with a gentle smile on his lips, “Ishan Prabhu, mridanga mistry.” Then, knife in hand, he draws a map of the world on the dirt floor of the hut indicating that my drums would one day be all over the planet.

A half year later, I took one of my finished drums to Srila Prabhupada in Vrindavan and asked him if I could remain in India the rest of my life and make mridangas for our movement. Srila Prabhupada said: “So much work to make these drums, and our men throw them down like pots. Go to the west. Use your technology, and make a drum that they can’t break.” In that way, with Srila Prabhupada’s blessing, the fiberglass mridanga was born.

The point of this story is that there are two ways of learning. One way is to receive conceptual instruction, and proceed to go off and apply what one has learned in this way. The other way is to learn step by step under the watchful gaze of the master. Working in this way, as much as one desires to be pleasing to the master, he progressively imparts his knowledge unto you.

The activities of pure devotional service in nine prescribed forms are not complicated. Hearing and chanting, Deity worship, offering obeisances. But there is a secret aspect of this service. The secret is that through these forms of devotional service, we obtain the opportunity to invoke our dormant feelings of devotion to Krishna. But in order to invoke those dormant feelings, we have to engage in these Krishna conscious activities in the association of the pure devotee. It is in the association of the pure devotee that one actually acquires the taste of devotion. This is a transcendental apprenticeship program in which the desire to please the master and the opportunity to imbibe from him the taste of devotion – is an on-going exchange of love.

Therefore Srila Prabhupada writes:

A disciple who has actual love for his spiritual master, is endowed by the blessings of his spiritual master with all confidential knowledge. Srila Sridhara Swami has commented that the word ‘snigdhasya’ means ‘prema-vatah’. The word ‘prema-vatah’ indicates that one has great love for his spiritual master.(CC Madhya-lila, 17.15, purport excerpt).

In this apprenticeship program, as the student tries with all his heart to please his master and dear-most friend, through his devotional activities, the master is moved to reveal his devotional heart to his disciple. In the association of his spiritual master, the student revives his dormant feelings of devotional service to Krishna. In this way, devotion to Krishna is not exactly taught; it has to be caught.

Therefore Srila Prabhupada writes:

Pure devotion is as much infectious, in a good sense, as infectious diseases.” (SB 1.5.25 purport excerpt)

In other words, it is not exactly by engaging in the prescribed forms of devotional service that our dormant devotional feelings are invoked. But we have to become infected with the devotional feelings of our spiritual master. And how is that accomplished? As we engage in devotional activities, in his association, with a sincere desire to please him in this way, our spiritual master shares his devotional feelings with us. In this same purport Srila Prabhupada explains this very process of devotional infection:

The neophyte devotee becomes practically enriched with the transcendental qualities of the pure devotee, which means attraction for the Personality of Godhead’s name, fame, quality, pastimes, etc.Infection of the qualities of the pure devotee means to imbibe the taste of pure devotion always in the transcendental activities of the Personality of Godhead.

The more we try to please Srila Prabhupada through our devotional activities, the more he shares his devotional feelings with us, so that we become practically enriched with the transcendental qualities of the pure devotee. In this way we imbibe the taste of pure devotion.

Therefore we conceive of the path of the cultivation of devotional service as a moment-to moment apprenticeship program. By practicing Krishna consciousness, in his association, for his pleasure, he is moved to reveal his devotional heart, so that we can imbibe the taste of his devotion to Krishna. In this way we can become infected with his devotional qualities.

Making this same point, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur writes, in his prayer, entitled Gurudeva, second verse:

I offer you all respects, for thus I may have the energy to know you correctly. Then by chanting the holy name in great ecstasy, all my offenses will cease.

By approaching our spiritual master in all humility, he is moved to reveal his devotional feelings to us, so that we can become infected with his feelings of devotion. This approach to his divine lotus feet is actually our eternal position of engagement in our devotional activities. As students, we pray, in our daily guru-puja ceremony:

ha ha prabhu koro doya, deho more pada-chaya

Translation: O master! Be merciful unto me. Give me the shade of your lotus feet.

This heartfelt beseeching is the energy that must saturate the performance of our sadhana, so that we can be engaged in these devotional activities for his pleasure, in return for which we can imbibe the taste of his devotion. This is our devotional apprenticeship program. To fix up our conviction in this process of intimate association as the ongoing embodiment of our devotional practice, the Thakur again writes in his Kabe Ha’be Bolo, 7th verse:

Oh! Enjoyer of the nectar of the name,

when will I touch your lotus feet

until the end of time?

When, oh when

will that day be mine?

The instructions that we have received from Srila Prabhupada regarding the ways and means of our devotional engagement, these same instructions can be repeated, word for word, by any fool who is ambitious to usurp the role of guru. But the ability to share the taste of devotion that brings those instructions to life in the heart of the aspiring student, that ability rests only with Krishna’s pure devotee. And the ability to imbibe and become infected with that taste of devotion in intimate association with Krishna’s pure devotee, that ability rests with the student who aspires wholeheartedly to become absorbed in that transcendental apprenticeship program. In his heart he offers a prayer at the lotus feet of his spiritual master:

At your lotus feet I chant the holy name

Only for your pleasure

That you would be moved

To reveal your devotional enthusiasm to me

That I also may become enthused

Or, as the Thakur has written in his Ohe Vaishnava Thakur

Krishna is yours;

You have the power to give Him to me.
I am simply running behind you

Shouting, “Krishna! Krishna!”

In this way, following the instructions of our spiritual master is more than the daily completion of a checklist of do’s and don’ts. It is the cultivation of an on-going tangible heartfelt thread of intimate association in a spirit of inquiry, submission and service.

Every morning we recite, prema bhakti yaha hoite, from him Krishna prema emanates. Like the rays of sunshine emanate from the sun, feelings of love for Krishna emanate from Srila Prabhupada. Trying to please him at every moment, and opening our hearts to those rays of emanation, we can cultivate the practice of imbibing the taste of his devotion. The path of pure devotional service is a transcendental apprenticeship program. In this way we become “journeymen” on our way back to Godhead.