“hara boliya, galaya parili
shamana kinkara sapa....”
“Death is like a snake, it can come at anytime. But thinking it to be a flower garland, you wear it around your neck.”
These are the biting words of Locan Das Thakur, the great 16th century vaisnava poet, from his song: Avatara Sara. The Thakur cries out to us: “why are you so attracted to the garlands of karma and jnana that you’re wearing? They are actually snakes around your neck, not garlands, and they can kill you at any moment! But you proudly wear them. Brothers, why can’t you give up this illusion and just worship the essence of all avatars, Sri Gauranga?”
Money, friends, social prestige, approval, control over others, fame. We’re busy in this world desiring these garlands, acquiring them at any cost, and then proudly wearing them! But these garlands are only external decorations for the soul. None of them give us real beauty, real charm, real life. They actually bring us closer to death. Short of prema bhakti, all the opulence we acquire here, gross and subtle, are simply garlands of repeated birth and death.
In our early days in Krishna consciousness we used to demonize the ‘karmis’ for their materialistic careers, bank balances and family ties. That was immature on our part. But now we see that some of the sannyasis and gurus who used to criticize the karmis for their attachments, now own $100,000 cars, live in large villas, trade stocks, go to universities to get PhDs, or write novels about sex life, while continuing to accept the worship of their disciples and to remain silent about the mistakes they made as leaders of Iskcon which caused so much suffering to so many devotees. Are these the activities of liberated souls, or are these men living in illusion, wearing some of maya’s most subtle, dangerous garlands? It is not our business to judge others, lest we be judged. But neither should we be blind or mix too closely with those who compromise.
The path of spiritual life is not a wide highway of mixed interests and selfish intentions. The path to freedom starts as a narrow lane of inner focus. If we want reality, we need to turn off the public freeway of popular votes and acceptance. We must not follow the common flow of social life, but take the side road of sacrifice and truth telling. The previous acaryas give us the wisdom, mercy and courage to follow them on this road that leads to freedom. We have only ourselves to blame if we get misled.
Pure devotees who worship the Lord wholeheartedly, without interruption or material ambition, know the road to freedom. They are truly liberated and spontaneous because they know, without any doubt, that it is Braj Kishore who wears the vaijayanti garland of five colors. They know that the source of beauty and energy and life is not their egos, but Krishna. “Vasudevah sarvam iti: one who realizes that everything is dependent on me, Vasudeva, surrenders to me. Such a great soul is extremely rare.” (BG 7.19)
A great soul is very rare. We cannot imitate his activities by some show. We came to this material world because we wanted to imitate God. To get out of this world we need to follow a rare devotee, not imitate one. It’s a practice and it’s not easy. It requires all the humility and perseverance of a baby learning to walk. We have fallen countless times and will continue to fall for sure. Our friends or family members will fall or fail us. Some of our closest friends may appear to leave the scene completely. Others may disappoint us by by putting on false garlands and abusing us or making a show of the practice. But we should not become discouraged. We should never stop picking ourselves up, despite our own obvious weaknesses. Never giving up, and never giving in to the temptation to imitate. Then,one day, by the mercy of a pure devotee, either in this life or in another, we will actually start walking. We’ll be naked of illusion and free from the garlands of death hanging around our necks. Our attachment to this false world will be gone and we’ll cry and dance in ecstasy, worshipping the essence of all avatars, Sri Gaurasundar, to our heart’s content.