Hari-katha Articles WHAT COME'S FIRST? CHANTING or SEVA?


Srīla Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvami Mahārāja inaugurated Keśavaji Gauḍīya Maṭha on the same day as the Govardhana-annakūṭa festival. Henceforth Srila Gurudeva continued the tradition of Annakūṭa annually in Mathurā. He would arrange all the facilities, cooking, and decorations—spending up to fifteen days in preparation. On the day of the festival, he would worship the cows and Girirāja, perform abhiṣeka, honor the brāhmaṇas and Vaiṣṇavas, and distribute prasāda. On Annakūṭa day, Śrīla Gurudeva explained, “We are far away from Bhagavān, so we must strive to have a relation with those who are near and dear to Him. We should pray to Girirāja Govardhana:

nija-nikaṭa-nivāsaṁ dehī govardhana tvaṁ


“O Girirāja, please bring me close to those who are dear to you. By having a relation with those close to Girirāja, one naturally becomes related to Girirāja and Kṛṣṇa.”

Śrīla Gurudeva would become elated upon inspecting the hundreds of preparations offered to Thakurjī He would distribute the prasāda to all guests and only take a small amount himself. Gurudeva said, “Those who come to the temple are extremely fortunate. Get them prasādam, caraṇāmṛta, and speak sweetly to them.”

Some devotees would think, “Gurudeva has not taken any of the preparations I made,” but God’s pleasure is guru’s pleasure. If one feeds Bhagavān but neglects Guru and Vaiṣṇavas, Kṛṣṇa will never be pleased. One should always consider the service of Guru and Vaiṣṇavas to be his personal responsibility.

Even though all the brahmacārīs were busily engaged in services on festival days like Annakūṭa, Gurudeva instructed them to chant their guru-mantras and complete their fixed amount of harināma. He would care for them by asking if they had chanted their dīkṣā-mantras and prescribed number of japa rounds.

The night before Annakūṭa, the brahmacārī who took responsibility for cooking and serving in the temple thought, “I will wake early, but I will not start cooking until I have chanted my guru-mantras and fixed number of harināma.” Śrīla Gurudeva had told him to start cooking during brāhma-muhūrta, but by maṅgala-āratī the brahmacārī had still not started the fire, thinking he should first chant. If he were to start the fire, then the rest of the day would pass in service without a moment for guru-mantras or harināma.

After maṅgala-āratī, Śrīla Gurudeva went to the kitchen and saw the cooking had not yet begun. “Hey! Where is that boy?” He began shouting and looking for the brahmacārī. Then he collected some dry cow dung and wood, and with these started the fire himself. To make matters worse, Gurudeva couldn’t find all the pots and ingredients. The brahmacārī soon came running to the kitchen, but Gurudeva had locked the door from the inside.

Śrīla Gurudeva came out ten minutes later; then the cook entered and prepared the day’s feast. The festival went on as normal, except Srila Gurudeva refused to eat that day. All of the pilgrims and local Vrajavāsīs ate; but not one brahmacārī ate, because Gurudeva had not eaten.

Śrīla Gurudeva later asked the brahmacārī who cooked, “Will you act according to your own whims, or did you come to serve Guru and Vaiṣṇavas?”

“I came to serve you.”

“Listen carefully,” Gurudeva said, “harināma and mantras have been given to you by the causeless mercy of Śrī Guru. Why don’t you feel any responsibility for guru and Bhagavān’s service? Chanting your harināma and mantras is important; however, you should always think, ‘How should I best serve right now?’ If you don’t think like this, you will distance yourself from Guru and Vaiṣṇavas. Mantras will not protect or correct you if you have faults. Guru-sevā and vaisnava-sevā is foremost. Your personal bhajana is secondary. Śrī Guru gives you harināma and dīkṣā and instructs you to chant; doing so is your essential guru-sevā. When there is not a festival or urgent need to serve physically, then you should first chant your harināma in the early morning, but you should not neglect services when an emergency arises. While serving you must continue chanting, then your actions are sevā—otherwise, they are only karma. Both service and harināma are vital for the sādhaka.
“Some come to Vraja and engage in sādhana to achieve perfection. They think that they can do so by meditating and undergoing austerities.

One must serve Vraja and the Vrajavāsīs. Without service to the Vrajavāsīs, attaining perfection will remain a fleeting dream. When the Vrajavāsīs are pleased, they bestow perfection. Always engage in service—then you will gain benefit. One who only chants mantras soon becomes intoxicated with pride and engages others in worshiping himself.
“Don’t think that temple service is karma. Don’t think you are a great sādhu who has come only for meditation and that you should not cook, wash pots, clean the temple, throw out the garbage, distribute mahā-prasāda, or touch others’ unclean plates. Service is your bhajana. It is quite unfortunate for one to think that guru-sevā and kṛṣṇa-sevā are karma even after coming to Bhagavān’s abode and sharing the company of Bhagavān’s beloved devotees. Service to guru and to the temple is not less than vraja-sevā. This menial service will grant you qualification to enter into vraja-sevā of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. You will never enter into Vraja if you avoid service as a sādhaka.

“Reflect on the activities of our previous ācāryas. A sweeper cleans pathways and drains but does not achieve prema-bhakti. But when Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura cleaned Lokanātha dāsa Gosvāmī’s latrine area and swept the pathways of Vraja, he received prema-bhakti. The activities of Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura and a sweeper may externally appear similar, but the mood while undergoing service is of utmost importance.

One action is done for pure love of Bhagavān, known as bhagavata-sevā, and another is only to fill one’s belly and is known as karma.

“When you serve Guru and Vaiṣṇavas, don’t try to control them and make them a according to your desire, and don’t serve expecting praise and worship. You should consider, ‘Am I the worshiper or the object of worship?’ If you are truly close and dear to Guru and Vaiṣṇavas, you will follow their instructions and they will accept your service and never isolate you by praising you. Guru and Vaiṣṇavas don’t get ordinary rewards like praise and prestige.

Understand that Śrī Guru is pleased with you when, day after day, year after year, you remain inspired and absorbed in your services. When a spark of spiritual inspiration enters your heart in the course of serving, and you verify your realizations with reputable Vaiṣṇavas and śāstra, then it is understood that guru’s blessings are actually blossoming in your heart. Śrī Guru does not advertise with whom he has a heart-to-heart connection. When you feel his love without him needing to say anything—that is sambandha-jñāna. Spiritual service is profound. It is eternal and essential for the soul, and is not simply an external exhibition.”

Śrīla Gurudeva concluded, “Anyone who is lazy will remain far from Guru, Vaiṣṇavas, and Kṛṣṇa. In Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s nitya-līlā, service is perpetually and blissfully performed. Hence, even when he sleeps, a real sevaka, who is connected to the eternal pastimes of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, is eager for his next service and will mentally prepare and serve in his mind. Nitya-sevā is unceasing and grants boundless joy.”

Excerpted from the Bhakta Bandhav Publication “Sri Guru Darsana”

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Now, Śrīla Gurudeva has gone to his eternal abode. Before he gave darśana to everyone openly. Now his pastimes are also going on, but only very fortunate souls can witness and be connected to them. Those who are fortunate have seen Śrīla Gurudeva and met with him. Now he has disappeared. But when Śrī Guru disappears, it doesn’t mean that he has died or left this world, nor does it mean that he is no longer able to meet with us. This is a misunderstanding. Ordinary people leave this world and cannot return by their will. They have no power to do so. By their own karma they get this body and then they leave when their scheduled time is finished. They have no strength or power to come back and meet with anyone. It is true that there are those who get ghost bodies and are able to remain. They move in this world in subtle bodies and disturb many people. But when the Guru-varga leave their physical bodies, it is not that they move in this world with subtle bodies like ghosts. Mahā-bhāgavatas come and go from this world in accordance with God’s will. Suffering in separation from them, the devotees bitterly weep. Sanātana Gosvāmī Prabhu, Rūpa Gosvāmī Prabhu, and all the Gosvāmīs give their darśana and help to a soul who cries to them in separation. Why would Gurudeva be an exception from this? He will also come if called in this way. What does this mean? Simply if you desire it, God’s mercy, the service of Śrī Guru, and the help of the Vaisnavas is not far away. But if we neglect them and are happy with everything in this world without them, then there is no need for them to give us darśana. In this world, babies always have eagerness, “How can I meet with my parents?” Other than parents, they don’t think about anyone or anything. But when they become a little older they think that it would be ve good if their parents left for the old-age home. This is the nature of conditioned souls. They learn something from the Guru-varga, and preach it to some other people. After some time, people respect them, and help them in material ways. Then they start to think, “Gurudeva is unnecessary. What will he do? I am all and all. I have all power. I know nice kīrtana. I am a very good cook and I speak such nice hari-kathā. So many people follow me. I am helpful for everyone. I don’t need Gurudeva.” They have no desire for Gurudeva’s darśana or the help he gives. They do not realize that whatever they possess has been given by Śrīla Gurudeva and that if they leave or forget him, it will all be lost. They don’t think of the future. They have gotten some knowledge, have learnt some verses of śāstra, but they have no realization. If they had realization, they would not be distance from Guru and Vaiṣṇavas. They have no realization and therefore have no separation. If you always need help, will you remain alone? If you always cry and weep for help, then how will the Guru-varga stay distant from you? If you cry and weep for them, they will not stay away. They will come and help. Like a mother for her babies, the Guru-varga always help their followers. But now we don’t have any need. Madhyama-adhikārīs are also content in this world. They chant harināma with knowledge of śāstra and can easily achieve anything they desire in this world. Therefore they are not unhappy. Kaniṣṭha-adhikārīs have relation with the Deity and their own followers. They have no deep tension or separation in absence of Śrī Guru. But the high-class disciple, who is at least on the first stage of an uttama-adhikārī, will understand the kindness of Guru Mahārāja, and will cry in separation from him day and night. Madhyama and kaniṣṭhas won’t think so much of Śrī Guru. Sometimes, if there is a problem, they will think of him, but when help comes, they will again forget him. They cannot weep in separation from him morning to evening. Seeing this, Gurudeva will feel, “Oh, they have no need for me,” and he won’t reveal himself to them. Especially on Śrīla Gurudeva’s appearance and disappearance days, we should remember his specialties and glories, and how he magnanimously helped us all. On these days especially, we should cry and call out for his further help and pray to be always connected to him.


Śrīla Gour Govinda Mahārāja lamented to Srila Gurudeva about the jīva-tattva resolution in ISKCON. “Now they are voting on siddhānta,” he said, “and they are turning Prabhupāda’s mission into an apasampradāya. But it cannot last. Śrīla Gour Govinda Svāmī then said, “Mahārāja, I would like to discuss with you in detail about rāgānuga-bhakti and rūpānuga-bhakti.”


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