Recently at Sri Kshetra Mookambika (Sri Kollur), I met an interesting pilgrim. One day, while staying at Garuda Guha Ashram on the bank of the holy Sauparnika River at the base of Kudachadri Mountain, an American pilgrim wandered into our compound. I had been alone there for three days, and many pilgrims, mostly from Kerala this day were coming to see the cave temple of Sri Garuda-ji on the river, which the devotees here, headed by Tattva Darshan Prabhu, have nicely restored and maintained over the past 16 years. (It has now become a popular attraction for pilgrims visiting Kollur.) I was feeling useless in not being able to preach to all these pilgrims. Most of our books were in Kananda, and I didn’t know where the English and Malayalam books were stored. Nonetheless, though I finally saw a chance to preach to someone, I did not try to approach this American pilgrim because I had the impression that most Westerners who came to Sri Kollur Kshetra came to visit one of the impersonalist ashrams in the area.
Fortunately, this day I was hosting a dear friend, Doctor Prasad Rao, who had done a puja early that morning for Sri Mookambika Devi at the main Temple. He had then come over to spend the rest of the day with me at Garuda Guha. (Mookambika is the combined form of Maha Lakshmi, Srimati Durga Devi and Srimati Sarasvati Devi—a full manifestation of the Supreme Lord’s merciful hladini-shakti.)
Doctor Prasad Rao immediately began speaking to this American pilgrim while I was in back looking for Malayalam books. When I came out on the veranda again, Prasad-ji said, “Prabhu, this gentleman met Prabhupada in San Francisco!” Of course I suddenly took interest in this man, who was accompanied by his wife Sheryl. I assumed he would say he had seen Srila Prabhupada at the Rathyatra festival. I have met many people over the years who still remembered with great reverence having seen Srila Prabhupada’s effulgent form from a distance in the Rathyatra parade.
When I inquired further, he mentioned he had met Prabhupada personally, having been introduced to him by a friend of his from school. With great interest, I asked, “Who is your friend? What is his name?” He paused, and then cleared his throat, so I assumed he had momentarily forgotten his friend’s devotee name. Then the conversation shifted, and I brought out some prasadam I had just cooked and offered. While he and his wife were respectfully honoring the prasadam, I again inquired, “So, do you remember your friend’s devotee name?” He immediately replied, “Yes, of course.” Then to my surprise, he said with affection, “His name was Vishnujana.”
I looked at him with eyes wide and said, “Oh, you are very fortunate to have had Vishnujana Swami as your friend! He was my dear friend. I spent much time with him; I used to travel with him in the early 70s in modified school bus. He left this world in 1976. I am still missing him greatly. He is very famous in the Hare Krishna movement. He is loved and respected by Hare Krishna devotees all over the world, even today.”
The pilgrim, whose name I soon learned was Govinda das, became somewhat emotional, as I did, and he immediately inquired, “Do you have any details regarding his passing?”
I related the story of how Vishnujana Swami had one day, by chance, met his former wife at fair where he was preaching with his party of brahmacaris and how, out of his great kindness, he had talked to her for about forty-five minutes, trying to convince her to join Lord Chaitanya’s mission. Govinda das had apparently already heard this part of the story from Vishnujana’s former wife. I suggested that maybe during this time Vishnujana had remembered their past together, and later he regretted the episode and considered that he had fallen from his strict vows as a sannyasi. I explained that it is said in the sastras that a sannyasi should never talk with his former wife. It is likely that Vishnujana Swami considered his supposed deviation similar to that of Chota Haridas described in Chaitanya Caritamrita.
I related the story how Chota Haridas, a sannyasi or babji, had visited the home of a widow who was living alone to beg alms on behalf of Lord Chaitanya’s mission. When Lord Chaitanya heard that he had talked to this widow while alone, Lord Chaitanya banished him from His association to set an example for how strict a sannyasi should be in avoiding the association of women. Later, when Lord Chaitanya heard that Chota Haridas had committed suicide at Triveni, He expressed His approval of this action, commenting that this is the only remedy for a sannyasi who breaks his vow.
I explained all these things to Govinda das, while Sheryl listened carefully, apparently surprised at how strict the vows of a Hare Krishna devotee, particularly a sannyasi. I then explained how Vishnujana Maharaja had asked Srila Prabhupada, in Sri Dhama Mayapur, to explain the meaning of Chota Haridas’s suicide. Srila Prabhupada had immediately replied that suicide must be the punishment for anyone in Lord Caitanya’s mission who had fallen down for any reason. But Srila Prabhupada had gone on to explain that he was not Lord Caitanya and that a devotee should just continue his service in Krishna consciousness with full determination. Later, in His Bhagavatam purports, Srila Prabhupada further explained that even if a sannyasi could not remain in the sannyasa ashram, he could still practice devotional service and fight maya to achieve pure Krishna consciousness in any status of life.
But Vishnujana Maharaja had apparently not heard Srila Prabhupada’s merciful elaborations on the question. Thus Vishnujana had disappeared that same day, taking neither his passport nor any belongings, and had apparently gone to Prayaga to drown himself, just as Chota Haridas had done long ago. I had seen Vishnujana just before he left Mayapur and had sensed his total resolve. I had never before seen him so grave. (Later, in 1977, Srila Prabhupada confirmed that Vishnujana and purposely ended his own life. “Vishnujana Swami committed suicide, I think.” (Conversation, Bombay, April 18, 1977) I long ago heard from devotees in India that some sadhu brahmanas had come to an ISKCON center and said they had helped a western sadhu drown himself at Prayag.
Govinda das heard my explanations with rapt attention. He had never heard all this explained in detail, and for this reason he had been at first hesitant to mention Vishnujana’s name -- probably for fear hearing some derogatory comments about him, as are sometimes heard from uninformed devotees. He then respectfully inquired whether this kind of suicide was considered proper in Vedic culture.
I replied, “Only for highly advanced, special souls. Never for ordinary persons. Vishnujana Swami was an advanced Vaisnava, a great sadhu. His apparent misunderstanding was at least partly due to the will of Lord Krishna. Nothing happens in the lives of sincere devotees without Krishna’s sanction. I feel it was Lord Krishna’s way of quickly elevating Vishnujana and sparing such a softhearted Vaisnava the pain of having to endure the chaos that befell the movement just 18 months later when Srila Prabhupada left this world.” (I learned today that Srila Prabhupada was asked if a devotee in ISKCON should commit suicide if he had fallen down. Srila Prabhupada immediately replied, “No.” But he explained that falling down was itself suicide. Please hear the conversations cited above.)
After Govinda das and Sheryl left, I was wondering if I had spoken correctly about spiritually motivated suicide. But my doubts were answered the next day when I happened to read the story of the pure devotee Prishadra in Srimad-Bhagavatam Ninth Canto. This is the story of a young kshatriya named Prishadra, who took the noble vow of standing alone all night to guard the cows in the goshala. One night in the rain, when the light of the stars was covered by dense darkness, a tiger entered the cow shed and grabbed a cow and began to carry it away. Prishadra, hearing the crying cow, followed the sound and swung his sword with great force at the tiger but cut off the head of the cow instead. The tiger was slightly wounded and ran away in great fear.
The next morning, when Prishadra realized his mistake, he was very sorry. In spite of his remorse, Vasistha Rishi, his spiritual master, cursed him to become a sudra in his next life. He accepted the curse of his guru with folded hands, and then left the kingdom to go the forest to practice bhakti-yoga while following a vow of total celibacy for the rest of his life. He completely controlled his senses and fixed his mind totally on the Supreme Personality of Godhead. After controlling his mind and senses and becoming fully detached from the external world of matter, he wandered about as if an aimless madman, while always remaining fully absorbed in remembering the Supreme Lord at all times and all places. One day in the forest he saw a blazing forest fire and took this opportunity to end his life by entering the fire. Immediately upon Prishadra’s death, in spite of the curse of his guru, the great rishi Vasistha, he went back home, back to Godhead.
Such spiritually motivated suicide is sometimes practiced by great personalities who have conquered their minds and senses and realized fully the futility of material existence. Long ago, Lord Rishabhadeva, a visnu-tattva incarnation of the Supreme Lord and the best example and emblem for those in the paramahamsa status of life, entered a forest fire to burn His transcendental body to ashes here in Kudachadri Valley, where I am presently residing.
Shortly before Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance and shortly after His disappearance, several sincere devotees in the Hare Krishna movement, though in the prime of their lives, departed unexpectedly in various ways. Jayananda Prabhu died of leukemia. Srinatha Prabhu, my first guru, died of cancer. Akshyobia Prabhu, a most dear friend, was killed while defending a devotee from a knife wielding madman. One brahmacari traveling with the Nama-hatta Sankirtana Party got swept away in the Ganges at Hrisikesha (Rishikesh). Other devotees left their bodies while on traveling sankirtana. One mataji died in a fire while cooking for Lord Krishna in the Calcutta temple.
Of course, none of these devotees actually “died.” As Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote, “He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas die.” These incidents are another feature of Lord Krishna’s special protection for His surrendered devotees. All of these sincere devotees avoided the miseries and chaos created in Srila Prabhupada’s mission by ambitious upstartsand their misguided followers. And they avoided the miseries of old age, further diseases and misfortunes, and rebirth in gross material existence in this Kali-yuga.
Those who are not yet fully surrendered disciples of Srila Prabhupada must remain fearfully enduring all the many pangs of material existence, even while trying to chant Hare Krishna. No amount of money, followers or prestige can save one from the curse of material existence in general or, specifically, the ill will of sadhaka devotees and great sages like Vasistha Rishi. If we insist on remaining attached to the material world for any reason, even in the name of preaching, we must continually endure birth, death, old age and disease again and again, even while supposedly chanting Hare Krishna with devotion.
Another interesting point in the story of the pure devotee Prishadra is that his own spiritual master, Vasistha, cursed him rather than blessed him with a method of elevation. Srila Prabhupada comments that this fact indicates that Vasistha was influenced by the mode of ignorance. Srila Prabhupada quotes Srila Visvanatha Chakravati Thakura in this regard, who concludes that Vasistha’s intelligence was durmati, or “not very good”.
Unless one accepts as spiritual master one who is always completely beyond the influence of material nature-- in other words, an uttama-adhikari or mahabhagavata such as Srila Prabhupada or Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura-- he may not find the remedy for ending the curse of material existence for many, many lifetimes, even though he may be fortunate enough to get someone as exalted as Vasistha Rishi as guru. Throughout the Vedas it is confirmed that Vasistha is one of the greatest sages in the universe and is worshipped even by great demigods and rishis in heaven; yet even he became influenced by the tamo-guna.
In His purports to Sri Isopanisad, Srila Prabhupada repeatedly stresses that one must hear from and accept only an “undisturbed acarya” to get relief from the bondage of the powerful illusory energy of the Lord: “Unless one hears from the bona fide acarya, who is never disturbed by the changes of the material world, one cannot have the real key to transcendental knowledge.” And throughout His books He emphatically stresses that “One who is disturbed by the whirlpool movements of the material energy is not qualified to become an acarya.” (Sri Isopanisad, Mantra Thirteen, Purport.) The story of Prishadra and Vasistha illustrates why all sastras and all true acaryas asservate that intelligent devotees should accept only an uttama-adhikari, a fully self-realized Vaisnava, as guru. “… a disciple should be careful to accept an uttama-adhikari as spiritual master.” (Nectar of Instruction, Text 5, Purport)
Fortunate souls who have accepted the most merciful Srila Prabhupada as spiritual master, even though they may make serious mistakes in their service, can still cross beyond the ocean of birth and death and achieve Lord Krishna’s full mercy without a doubt. Therefore, one who has mistakenly accepted someone less than perfect as guru should ignore such a pretender and accept Srila Prabhupada as guru by hearing from Him carefully and serving His lotus feet. This path is open to everyone (tandera carana sevi bhakta-sanivas). The fall downs and curses of so-called gurus with “not very good” intelligence will never disturb Srila Prabhupada’s bona fide disciples. By Srila Prabhupada’s divine grace only, a sincere devotee quickly gives up material attachments by achieving a higher taste in Krishna consciousness. According to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, such a determined devotee doesn’t need to take birth again in this material world. Rather, he or she transcends all impediments, as did Prishadra Prabhu, and goes back home, back to Godhead immediately after death.
Guru-krsna prasade paya, bhakti-lata bija.
Rasa-varjam raso ‘py asya, param drstva nivartate.