Srila Govinda Maharaja “Chalar Pathe (A Lesson On The Way)”

Srila Sridhar Maharaja and Srila Govinda Maharaja circa 1955.

Srila A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja Prabhupada wrote “It is not only very amusing but also instructive. Simple dry philosophical arguments will not be appealing nowadays to people in general. They will like to read such articles as written by you with greater relish. In this article I can find out that you have really some parts and in time you can become a great transcendental humorist in the art of journalism. You have complete mercy of your Divine master and you can depend on his blessings for your future improvement. I sincerely wish you all success! Undoubtedly you are now in the highest order of Varnashrama Dharma but we cannot forget that you belong to the category of our affectionate sons. We cannot forget all such filial love for you and when we see that you are improving in all respects it gladdens our heart.”

Translated from the original Bengali article also from the first issue of Sri Gaudiya Darshan 1955.

It was a Saturday and I was returning home with a friend of mine on the 5 o’clock train. Fatigued after the day’s work, the daily passengers, like me, were boarding the train in great numbers, their faces beaming at the prospect of getting home. The train bound for Katwa was terribly crowded. We two friends had somehow managed to secure seats in the compartment and had just sat down with sighs of relief on finding a little respite from the monotonously rigid Calcutta atmosphere, when pushing their way through the crowd, a group of gentlemen boarded our compartment. They were all roughly the same age but one of them appeared to be in his fifties although he couldn’t be considered an old man by any standard. Still it was evident from his speech that he certainly didn’t have the good fortune of the aptitude of a young mind.

Anyway, we noticed that no sooner had he entered the train, the first thing he did was to discover two young sadhus. The expression on his face revealed that he thought he had discovered some great fun. He managed to secure a sitting place by the side of the two sadhus and casting a side look to his companions as if to say, “this is going to be amusing”, he started to question the two boys. “I say my child, Gauranga, How far are you going?” The two boys were about eighteen to twenty years of age and by looking at their faces you could see just how happy they were. There were no marks of worry on their faces and they looked so bright and cheerful.

The older of the two casually replied, “Sir, we are on our way home.” “Going home is it? Well, well, very good. But where is home my son? Is it in the land of rosary and bag? I see evidence of that around your neck at least.” Smilingly the boy replied, “Yes sir, in a way that is so. And where are you going to?” “Me? Oh I’ll get down part of your way at Chandan Nagar”. The boy quickly answered, “Why only part of the way? Why don’t you come with me all the way? I’ll make sure you reach home. Back to God, back to Home” I could understand that the boy was no fool; on the contrary he was intelligent and quite witty. His antagonist replied, “My son, I have a wife and children, I cannot be Gauranga like you. Why, if we all became Gauranga then your God’s creation would surely come to a halt.” And saying this he began to laugh.

The boy also laughed and so did we. But I could see that the boy’s face suddenly became serious and he immediately replied, “Well, well. Yes, very good. Due to your sense of duty I can certainly see your greatness. Who else but people like yourself will be so active in helping God’s creation? But if you don’t mind, can I ask you where is the proof that you are preserving the creation up to this moment in time?” Just at that moment the whistle sounded announcing the trains departure. The gentleman looked a bit crestfallen and we all laughed to see his discomfiture. But the boy did not laugh this time. Just then another charming looking gentleman interjected, “This is just wasting everyone’s time. Why don’t you ask the brahmachari something serious? I think he’s capable of giving proper answers.” A few jolts and shudders and our train began to leave the station. The atmosphere also seemed to be gradually changing. Hearing the new gentleman’s remarks, it appeared that all the other passengers were now sympathetic to the two brahmacharis.

Our original gentleman was however quite obstinate and so he again raised a question; although this time he was perhaps a little more sober. “So my boy, is there no happiness in family life?” “Sir, how can I say either way? I am a life-long celibate and I am not qualified to speak about the ways of family life. You are better situated than me to answer this question ’is there happiness or not’? I can only guess by looking at you all. Perhaps you have just come from the office for example. There you have had to deal all day with your boss’s high-handed attitude; almost everyone can relate to that I dare say. Every evening you have to travel by this train, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how enjoyable it is being pushed and shoved by your fellow passengers each night. Then when you do reach home you have to face your irate wife’s complaints that you are out of rice and dhal, that there is no oil or salt, that the children need new clothes, etc.

So I think it would not be improper for me to guess the extent of your happiness and at the same time that you would want to hear the clue to real happiness is also doubtful. So really, why ask me at all?” My friend, who had, up until now remained silent, could contain himself no longer. He asked, “Brother, please tell us what is that clue, tell us about the real thing?” The brahmachari replied,” In ancient times the Aryarishis, explained this for our benefit, I don’t have to give my opinion. By delving deep into our consciousness they knew our innermost aspirations and gave expression to that with their sacred pen. Let me give you a small example of that. Please listen: -”Old age has crept up on me and happiness has vanished. Illness has made me full of sorrow. My senses are weak and my body has become emaciated. How my heart grieves for the want of life’s pleasures. I am devoid of even a drop of real knowledge and bereft of any sentiment of devotion.”

Just then the second gentleman, mentioned before, spoke directly, “Brahmachariji, I am really happy to meet you two. Please don’t worry about these other gentlemen.” Then pointing towards our first gentleman he said, “He likes to have a bit of fun, but today he really made a wrong choice. Anyway please don’t mind him. Kindly give us some simple instruction that we can all understand.” The brahmachari replied, “In a railway carriage with so many different types of people gathered it is very difficult for an insignificant person like me to say anything, let alone give advice.” The first gentleman retorted, “Oh yes, yes. Please do give us some advice.” and he then heaved a big sigh. The brahmachari continued, “You see? Even if I say something, will you be able to hear it? And even if you hear will you be able to follow? And if you do understand, can I expect that you will put that into practice in your own lives? Anyhow your enthusiasm to hear something seems genuine and so I am encouraged. Ask me your question and I will submit to answer as best as I can.” The second gentleman enquired, “Then first, if you will forgive my audacity, can you say why you have renounced your home and family?” Sweetly smiling the pleasant faced brahmachari said, “Although your question is quite concise and wholly appropriate, the answer will take some time as it involves several other questions first. So you will have to listen patiently.” Everyone replied in chorus, “Let it be so, please do go on.”

Feeling more encouragement, the brahmachari commenced his reply; “You see, the first question for everyone, what we must all know, is, ‘who am I?’ After ascertaining this, then we can tackle the questions of ‘mine?’, ‘home?’, ‘renunciation?’ and ‘why?’ etc. ‘Who am I?’ The very question immediately reminds us of Srila Sanatan Goswami. I’m sure more or less all of you have heard his name.” My friend interjected, “Yes, I remember reading a poem about him. There was a very beautiful description of how Sanatan Goswami having found a mystical touchstone had simply cast it under a tree like any worthless piece of rock. Later, a Brahmin who was desirous of wealth approached him, being commanded by Lord Shiva. Sanatan Goswami told him to take the touchstone from under the tree. Soon after taking the precious stone, that man began to realize his foolishness and returning he fell at the Goswami‘s feet and beseeched him saying, “That treasure that has made you so rich that you do not consider a precious stone a jewel at all, I humbly bow down and beg you, please give me just a drop of that.” And so saying threw the touchstone into the river. It really is a charming account. ”The character of great saints is surely incomprehensible”, remarked the brahmachari, “Although they themselves are great liberated souls, they show various ways for the welfare of the fallen. Srila Goswami was Sriman Mahaprabhu’s very intimate associate. When Sriman Mahaprabhu went to Vrindavan, Srila Sanatan Goswami, for the good of mankind, after discarding even the prestigious position of Chief Minister under Hussain Shah, the pleasures of the material world, and all other transient possessions, offered himself at the feet of Mahaprabhu at Kashi. That same Sanatan Goswami asked Sri Chaitanya on our behalf, “Who am I, and why do I suffer from the threefold miseries?” Now, Mahaprabhu thoroughly knew the heart of Sanatan and said, “You are intimately acquainted with the Truth of Divinity and therefore there are no miseries for you, so I can understand that you are asking this question for the benefit of all human beings. Please listen to my answer.”

Mahaprabhu said, “jiverasvarupahayakrishneranitya-dasa’ krishneratatasthasakti‘ ‘bhedabheda-prakasa” – “By constitution you are a pure spirit-soul. This material body is not your real self; neither is your mind, your intelligence or your false ego. Your real identity is the eternal servant of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. Your natural position is transcendental. The superior energy of the Lord is spiritual and this external material energy is His inferior energy. You are situated between the spiritual and the material energies and therefore your position is marginal. Belonging to this marginal potency of the Lord you are simultaneously one with and different from Krishna. One with Him because you are also spiritual by nature but different because you are only a minute part of Him.”

“So this is our first necessity, we must know, ‘Who am I?’ Please listen patiently because in this first part of our discussion I want to say something else.” The second gentleman said with great modesty, “Look, you must know that we are not very conversant with the Scriptures and moreover I’m sure there isn’t one amongst us able to realize the mysteries of the sastras; so you will have to help us understand, as far as possible, with the help of reasoning.” “I will do my best”, replied the brahmachari, “But please remember it is not possible to ascertain the true nature of the Transcendent Reality or even my own self with the help of worldly reason, arguments, knowledge, intelligence or scholarship. But for the sake of showing us the direction from examples observed from this plane I will take help, as far as possible, from the reasoning of the Mahajans.”

Another passenger, who was up till now listening to the conversation, suddenly broke his silence and now assumed the role of a speaker. “Whatever you say, whether based on reason or from the sastra, as long as there is a subject, then there will be some doubt and where there is doubt then there must be further questions. So without a proper determination of the question and its conclusive settlement, then is there any point in hearing what ‘Rama’ or ‘Shyama’ have to say?” [In English we would say, “what is the point in hearing what any ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ or ‘Harry’ has to say?” Ed] “Certainly not.” Our brahmachari replied with a smile, “From what you say I get the feeling that you are very fond of logic. In any case, what I am trying to say is, are reasons and arguments capable of ascertaining the truth of one’s self or the real nature of God? Can we find any example anywhere of this? The objects of this world may be governed by theories of argument but surely you have heard that the self cannot be perceived by any power other than its own power of perception? Will it be useful to use a microscope with your ears? Will a microscope show you what is to be portrayed in a painting? Then how, through an instrument constructed of argument can you expect to have knowledge of that which is beyond the power of speech and mind? According to the conception I have imbibed after studying the sastras, there is no possibility of ascertaining the true nature of the self by argument. All the Vedas agree on this point

nayam atma pravacanena labhyo na medhaya na bahuna srutena

{Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.3}



{Brahma-sutra 2.1.11}, etc

There are many statements like these and so we really don’t need to listen to what ‘Rama’ or ‘Shyama’ have to say. Rather we should pay heed to the statements of the all-knowing Mahatmas and the teachings of the Vedas.

I could see that our logician was disheartened and was about to say something when the first gentleman hastily said, “Brahmachari, we have little time, we only have one more station before we get off, so please try and finish what you have to say. You know that if two learned men come across each other there may be no end to their arguments. “Good”, the brahmachari replied, “Now listen to what I am saying. So firstly we must find out which is the real “I”. Is it the body, the mind or something else? In this connection a verse from Gitopanishad will help us understand.

indriyāṇi parāṇy āhur

indriyebhyaḥ paraṁ manaḥ

manasas tu parā buddhir

yo buddheḥ paratas tu saḥ

{Bg 3.42}

“It is said, the senses are superior to the body, superior to the senses is the mind, superior to the mind is the intellect, and that which is superior to the intellect is known as the atman.” “The sense organs are pre eminent in the body, but when analyzed we find that they are nothing but slaves to the mind. If you are unmindful then even if a drum is beaten near to the ear you are quite likely not to hear it is it not? Still everyone has a mind, even a madman. But because of his deranged brain his mind is not under his control. Everything about him will be off balance and inconsistent. As such it can be concluded that the intelligence is superior to both the mind and the senses. Nevertheless without a support or without something to illuminate it, the intelligence cannot be activated or become manifest. That illuminating factor is the atman {the Soul}’full of consciousness and self-luminous Truth revealed by its own light.

Moreover, although the body may be self-contained, in the absence of that one thing it becomes immobile. Today, we lavish our affection on a boy due to his beauty, his good qualities and his intelligent nature and we cannot bear his absence even for a moment, but should he die tomorrow, what do we do? His beautiful body which was so dear to us, the object of our deep attachment, do we keep it in our home? We take it immediately to the cremation ground to remove every last trace of it. This is what we do, even though our heart breaks in grief, why? Because we know that he who dwelt within that body he who used to laugh and play with us, sometimes showing annoyance, sometimes joy and sometimes sulking, today that person is there no more. He has left that body, the place of his senses, and now it will simply rot. Then we can certainly understand that the body is not the real person, the body is his house, his residence, and he that dwelt within has left. He that carries with him the distant memories of his entire past, he is known as the atman. In the absence of atman; earth, water, fire, air and ether, knowledge and desire, all become nothing but inanimate objects.”

[to be continued?]