[Hari-katha inspired by the Guru-varga]
During different ages many sages have followed this Kesava-vrata. They take shelter of Tulasi devi, Salagrama, and Kesavadeva. They stay near a holy river like the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Sarasvati, Tapti, or Sindhu, or they reside at an asrama in a peaceful, secluded forest in the Himalayas. Many Rsis would stay at Badri Narayana, where they practiced strong austerity for one month. In the middle of the month, Nara-Narayana gave them darsana. Nara-Narayana said to Maha Laksmi, “Distribute your blessings to all the jivas in the form of ksira.”
When ksira is offered to Bhagavan it becomes maha-amrta, prasada. When God accepts something it becomes maha prasada and is helpful for everybody. But if the jiva takes anything independently, or in other words, if he takes anything that is not prasada, it acts as a poison:
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pacanty atma-karanat
[Devotees are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food that is first offered in sacrifice to the Lord. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.]
Once, there was a guru who lived in an asrama in the forest with many brahmacaris. In this month of Kesava-vrata, the Guru decreed: “During this Vaisakha month, only ksira will be offered during the yajnas; nothing else.”
On the first day of the vrata, the brahmacaris milked the cows in the early morning and then, for the pleasure of Sri Visnu, made ksira with the milk, some rice, and pure ghee. In the afternoon, the Rsi guru began a yajna in which he would offer the ksira to Yajnesvara Visnu. But the firewood would not ignite. “What happened?” the Guru wondered. “We will not be able to perform the yajna. Why is the fire not starting?” They were worried, for in this world if there is no fire, there is no digestion. The balance of the entire world would stop. Fire maintains everything. If there is no fire, everything is destroyed.
The yajna could not be completed. After, when the rainy season came, no rain fell. There was no water for the Rsis or the cows. The grass dried. There were no fruits and no flowers. These Rsis decided to go to the asrama of Gautama Rsi.
Gautama Rsi’s asrama was large. It stretched for many kilometers. Every night in his asrama it would rain gently, but outside his asrama there was no rain. Therefore there was an abundance of fruits, flowers, water, grass, and all things needed for the sages in Gautama Rsi’s asrama.
The other Rsis approached Gautama Rsi. “O sage,” they said, “outside your asrama there is no rain. This is very amazing! Our cows and brahmacaris are suffering, please let us reside in your asrama until this drought ends.”
It so passed that all those sages whose asramas were suffering from the drought came to stay at Gautama Rsi’s asrama. They were very happy there. There was peace, for all rules and regulations were followed there strictly. The brahmacaris followed Gautama Rsi and never did anything independently.
One year passed. The once sorrowful Rsis were happy and peaceful there but they wondered how long they could stay. They asked Gautama Rsi, “Exalted one, what happened? Why could our fire of sacrifice not be lit? And why has our asrama been cursed to not have rain.”
Gautama Rsi did dhyana and realized the answer. He said, “The brahmacaris in your asrama are uncontrolled. They were cooking ksira but while doing so they thought, ‘Will Gurudeva offer everything in sacrifice? Will there be any left for us? We should save some.’ The brahmacaris saved one-fourth of the amount of ksira they made and gave three quarters to their Gurudeva for the sacrifice, thinking that after the sacrifice they would eat the remaining portion that they had first saved. By doing this, the brahmacaris made the ksira their remnants. Why should the fire of sacrifice take remnants? The fire takes only pure things and offers them to Lord Kesava. Your brahmacaris have become corrupt. They lust after the milk as they milk the cows. They smell it with great pleasure and sometimes even spray some milk directly into their mouths. They are very greedy.”
Smelling is half of eating. If someone smells what is being cooked it is almost like eating it. The puja pandas in Jagannatha Puri bind a cloth over their faces. They do not smell anything, and after starting the fire and arranging the ingredients and pots they leave the area as it all cooks. Laksmi devi does the rest. Lord Jagannatha does not eat remnants.
These brahmacaris were stealing and hiding Kesava’s bhoga, and then telling Him to take some as well. In reality, no one has the right to drink one drop of water without offering it. Who has made the water? Where has it come from? First offer and then accept. This is the primary rule. Do not think you are above such rules.
“This is why your asramas are disturbed by a drought,” Gautama Rsi said. The Rsis were ashamed. They prayed for forgiveness from Gautama Rsi and Bhagavan Himself. The brahmacaris who had misbehaved repented and did atonement and from then on, they strictly followed all rules and regulations. They would not accept anything without having first served their guru and Bhagavan. An offering must first be given to God, then to Gurudeva and all of one’s seniors. Then, if there is anything left over, it is known as yajnavasistha—the remnants of sacrifice. That is parama amrta, divine nectar, and should be accepted for one’s sustenance.
prasanna-cetaso hy asu
Maha-prasada eradicates all kinds of misery. But that is if it is truly maha-prasad and is not contaminated. If people enjoy it first, it will be their remnants and unfit to offer to God.
The brahmacaris were forgiven in due course after their penance. Bhagavan instructed Indradeva to send rain to their asramas and thus they would be able to start the sacrificial fire again. The Brahmacaris and Rsis, however, waited for the permission of Gautama Rsi before returning to their own asrama.
They asked Gautama Rsi, “O great one, rain has returned to our asrama and there are again ponds, grass, and fruits there. May we now return to our asrama?”
“It is the first rain,” Gautama Rsi said. “The ponds will be dirty. The grass will be soft and will make the cows’ sick. The brahmacaris will also be sick by drinking the water there just now. In my asrama there are many ponds. Stay here a few more weeks and then you can return.”
The Rsis thought, “How long will we stay in this asrama.”
They worried that they would be indebted and unable to repay Gautama Rsi. And they began to doubt him and think he wanted them to stay there subordinate to him. In this way they became disturbed. They repeatedly asked for permission to leave but Gautama Rsi said that it was better they did not depart yet.
One day, in the early morning, Gautama Rsi went to the Ganga to bathe. As he came out of the gate of the asrama he saw an old cow that was very thin and frail. She was obstructing his path, so he said to her, “Go-mata, please move out of the way.” She did not move. After asking the cow again and again to move, Gautama Rsi took a piece of straw from his mat and gently poked the cow. However, as soon as the straw touched her, she shivered and fell on the ground dead. Immediately, the homesick Rsis and brahmacaris began to shout, “Gautama Rsi has killed a cow! He is now an offender! We should not stay here another moment!” And they all quickly scampered off.
Gautama Rsi was startled. He had not done anything wrong. He sat down and with the power of his meditation he saw that it was all a trick of the Rsis that were anxious to return to their asrama. They had arranged the mayavi cow to block his path and then fall dead as soon as she was touched.
Nowadays one godbrother will cheat another godbrother for his self-aggrandizement. He will say one thing in front of a certain crowd and opposite things to others. He becomes envious of his godbrother’s successful preaching and by lying and cheating he will defame that person. Pap bab ko bhi chodte nahi—one cannot escape the reactions to his own sinful activities. Therefore be careful not to commit offenses and sins. Palaite patha nahi, yama ache piche! Where will you run? Death is treading behind wherever you go! Gautama Rsi tolerated the offense of the Rsis; only they suffered for their crooked behavior.
Now, during this month of Kesava-vrata, carefully follow Vaisnava etiquette and stay under guidance of high-class sadhus. Never try to enjoy the property of this world. Everything should be first offered to Lord Kesava and only His prasada should be taken for one’s basic maintenance. A devotee will not take even water independently.
He who annually follows this vrata will not have to be reborn in this world. He will attain the abode of Lord Kesava and there will be fixed in pure existence, knowledge, and bliss. Our practice should be done yearly, not only once. This is like the annual turning in of exam papers. If we do not go to school and take any test, how much help can the teachers give us? Therefore, we should follow this vrata carefully and then we can successfully pass the exam.
[CC-by-NDNC Bhakta Bandhav]