Chapter 13 – Haridwar, Hrsikesha and the Yogis

I was born in Orissa. There are many Vaisnavas here, and so many mathas of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami. I know many Vaisnavas,
I was born in a Vaisnava family. From my childhood I was attracted to Mahaprabhu, and from an early age I was performing sankirtana and worshipping Radha and Krsna deities. In my family we were reading the Bhagavatam. But I had to search out a bona fide guru.
I wandered from the Himalayas to Kanya Kumari, throughout the whole of India.
Although I met many Vaisnavas, I was not satisfied with them.

—His Divine Grace Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja

Now Gour Gopalananda dasa’s life was solely one of travel—traveling meeting sadhus and asking, “Where is there a sadhu? Where is sannyasi?” He was just inquiring, looking and seeing what was going on. He was looking for a pure devotee, but pure devotees are very rare. So he traveled throughout India, from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin (Kanya Kumari). It was not an easy task. In his own words, “At last I found what I was looking for in Vrndavana. It is not an easy thing baba!”

The Search for The Bona Fide Guru

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: So two gamchas, one stick—danda (bamboo stick) and a begging bowl. I had that much. Moving, moving, walking, walking, walking—at night, anytime. I lie down sometimes. I slept on the railway platform, where beggars are sleeping; I slept with them. Sometimes underneath a tree and sometimes on the Grand Trunk Road. So just on the side of the express highway also rolling there, sleeping there at night. Come out of sleep, get up early in the morning, the river is there, go there, pass stool, take bath, finish and move on, and just inquire, ‘Is there any temple here, is there any sadhu?’

After leaving Orissa, Brajabandhu—or as he now called himself, Gour Gopalananda dasa–made his way to the foothills of the Himalayas. He took with him one Gita, two pieces of cloth—a wrap and a gamcha—one stick, no money and he walked straight to the Himalayas. He walked from Gadai Giri to Cuttack, from Cuttack to Haridwar and then to Hrsikesha. All the way he would inquire, if he saw temple or an asrama, whether there was a sadhu there, was there a sannyasi, what was their philosophy.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: I was looking for a bona fide spiritual master. I wanted find a person that could give me the sannyasa order of life. There were many sadhus in that area, so naturally I thought that I might find a suitable person there to give me sannyasa.

Haridwar and Hrsikesha are in the foothills of Himalayas, a beautiful idyllic scene as the Ganges river rushes by; everything is lush and green. Haridwar approximately thirty kilometers from Hrsikesha; in India that is a one-hour bus ride. Haridwar is more in the plains and Hrsikesha is in the foothills of Himalayas. Many sadhus live by the banks of the river Ganges or in the nearby regions or in asramas. Behind these two towns full of sadhus are the Himalayas like a backdrop and a meeting place between the earth and the heavens. Gour Gopalananda dasa definitely thought, “Here is the place to meet a bona fide guru, a real sadhu!”

Because of his association with the Sivananda Ashram (Divine Life Society) in his householder life he went to their asrama first; they were giving sannyasa so he thought he would also take sannyasa there. The Divine Life Society were yogis doing pranayama. Sivananda had already left this world and the person in charge was Cidananda Saraswati Swami; this is the person Gour Gopalananda dasa had to deal with.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: The Divine Life Society were giving sannyasa, but they refused me because I was preaching hari-nama. Then this Cidananda Swami, he was in charge, told me to get out of asrama. I was associating with them in my married life so I thought I would go up there and take sannyasa and preach the message of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Caitanya had taken sannyasa from kesava bharati; he was from the impersonalist school, so I was not very much worried, just get sannyasa and then go and preach. But that was not in Krsna’s plan, Krsna did not want me to do it, Gopala did not want!

There were many sadhus, jnanis and yogis in this region. They were all living either in the mountains or near the bank of the Ganges. Gour Gopalananda took up residence right alongside these sadhus, but most of them were mayavadis—impersonalists; they thought that God was some bright light or they there were or could become God themselves. Gour Gopalananda had taken to a life of renunciation and wanted to stay in the association of other sadhus. He knew the meaning of sadhus—“one who is a completely surrendered soul”, so Gour Gopalananda would approach the different sadhus that he must and ask what their philosophy was. He would go to different asramas and seek out the head of the asrama and ask him what their philosophy was, but mainly they were from the impersonalist school and their process was astanga-yoga, eightfold mystic yoga process. Then he would say to them. “This is not the real way. We have to approach Krsna and we have to get Lord Krsna. This process that you are following is not prescribed for this age. Krsna has said, ‘Bhakti is very dear to me.’” And then he would quote this verse:

na sadhayati mam yogo
na sankhyam dharma uddhava
na svadhyayas tapas tyago
yatha bhaktir mamorjita

“My dear Uddhava, the unalloyed devotional service rendered to Me by My devotees brings Me under their control. I cannot be thus controlled by those engaged in mystic yoga, Sankhya philosophy, pious work, Vedic study, austerity or renunciation.”

Thus all these arguments would come up because Gour Gopalananda was from the personalist school (a Vaisnava from his birth) and all these yogis and sadhus were from the impersonalist school, therefore friction arose! He would also go on to explain to them that even if one is born in the family of dog eaters, if he becomes a devotee of Lord Krsna then be becomes very dear to Krsna. Even if one is born in a brahmana family, if he acts like a Sudra or acts like a yogi, doing this astanga-yoga, then this is not very dear to Krsna! “Kutarka-anumane Krsna kabhu nahi jani, krsnare janite eka-matra bhakti mani; you are not following the injunction of the sastra and you are not following the sastra, so how can Krsna be made available, that is stated in the sastra, but you are not all accepting that, you are doing according to your own mental speculation.”

Gour Gopalananda at that time was reading Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, all Vedic scriptures, and in most cases was better versed in the scriptures than the sadhus he was speaking with, and he said to these sadhus who were living in this region, “In this Kali-yuga nothing is required only:

harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha

“In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting holy anme of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.”

“The Upanishads say this. ‘Why are you, without doing hari-nama-sankirtana, doing this yama, nityama, asana, pranayama, etc., yoga system? Why are you doing like that?’’’ He would put such questions to them and they would yell at him, “Get out of here!” They would throw him out, yelling “bhago, bhago!” * And he would say, “All right, I am getting, I am getting out of here.”

The Babaji in the Jungle

These sadhus did not like to hear that the process for this age was the chanting of the holy name, rather than impersonal meditation. So Gour Gopalananda dasa would leave that asrama and go to another asrama and another asrama, and the same thing would happen wherever he went.

Gour Gopalananda’s idea was all that all the yogis, sadhus, and all those living in that Himalayan region who were acting as renunciates, should chant the holy name—Hare Krsna—especially as that was the prescribed process of God-realization for this age, but they were not interested, and they were certainly not interested in hearing it from Gour Gopalananda dasa. This happened many times to him, and he was asked to leave many different impersonalists asramas, until one day he came upon one babaji living in a very small cottage in the nearby jungle. The babaji had built this cottage by himself in the forest in order to distance himself from the rest of the inhabitants in the area and to quietly carry on with his bhajana. Gour Gopalananda also chanted Hare Krsna and the babaji allowed Gour Gopalananda dasa to join him.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: So for many months I stayed in a solitary place in that Himalayan jungle in a very humble cottage. There was one very old sadhu, a babaji, who lived there. I stayed there with him and just went out and begged. Like a beggar, for food. There were so many sadhus—they would go everyday, morning in the morning at 9.00 o’clock they would come out their caves or little cottages. Many rich men had made arrangements to keep the sadhus, to feed them. They would supply them a few pieces of bread and some sabji or dal each day. So I was doing same thing, there was no difficulty in getting food.

Food Offered by Materialistic Persons

The yogis and sadhus in Haridwar and Hrsikesha are fed daily by the rich people; this is called bhandara.** The yogis and sadhus form queues and line up with their plates to receive food. So the sadhus are fed by the rich. These rich people felt that they would accrue many pious benefits for feeding the sadhus. Gour Gopalananda would also queue up for this bhandara.

Gour Gopalananda would chant Hare Krsna everyday, not on beads but in the mind, and he would also preach about the holy name. He would stand in line with various sadhus who were waiting to take bhandara—daily each sadhu would get two pieces of bread (roti) and two large spoonfuls of dal. This would happen once a day. There were many places where one could queue up and receive this bhandara, and there was one sadhu, a so-called sadhu, who had four or five plates and received bhandara in four or five places. If he had only eaten from one queue he would have spent the rest of the day very hungry; one plate of food was not enough for him. So he went to get food at four or five different places.

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: These so-called yogis and sadhus are there only for the reason to fill their bellies. So one day I took this bhandara (I would take bhandara every day once at midday) and then I went to my bhajana-kutir, this was at Hrsikesha; but this day I could not do my bhajana properly. My mind was going hither and thither, my chanting was not proper or nice. Then I recalled this verse from the Caitanya-caritamrta:

visayira anna khaile malina haya mana
malina mana haile nahe krsnera smarana

“When one eats food offered by a materialistic man, one’s mind becomes contaminated, and when the mind is contaminated, one is unable to think of Krsna properly.”

So Gour Gopalananda’s mind became fickle and he could not think of Krsna. Then he could understand that it was due to his acceptance of the bhandara from materialistic persons. He understood that this is written in the sastra but he had not been following it. He slapped himself in the face many times and from that day made a vow that he would not make this type of mistake—again taking food from materialistic persons.
Gour Gopalananda had gone to this region to find a bona fide guru, but he had not found one to whom he could surrender his life. He had made many inquiries but it was all to no avail. He did not know what he could do, and then in his mind he thought that the “Land of Krsna” is Vrndavana Dhama and he had always prayed to Krsna throughout his entire life. So the thought came to him, “Krsna will extend His mercy to me,” and he turned his sights on Vrndavana.

Gour Gopalananda sets out for Vrndavana

Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja: So I thought that I will go to Vrndavana and Lord Krsna will help me there to find a bona fide spiritual master. In this mood I left Haridwar-Hrsikesha region and headed for the holy land of Sri Vrndavana Dhama. My last thing was to go to Vrndavana. Vrndavana is the very dear place of Lord Krsna. I had the strong faith that Krsna would shower His blessing on me in Vrndavana, I will be able to find my spiritual master there, of whom I will take shelter.

He left for Vrndavana after approximately four months in the Himalayan region. He visited other places on his way; Ayodhya, Delhi, Varanasi and Gaya. He traveled sometimes by train and sometimes on foot, walking along and chanting Hare Krsna. He would stand at the train stations and wait for the ticket collectors and say to them, “I am a wandering sadhu, so if you could please, can you give me some money to purchase a ticket? I want to go this place.” And the ticket collectors would look at him and then say, “All right, you can go on without ticket.”

Gour Gopalananda was not very satisfied in such places as Varanasi either; he had some discussions there but they were not very satisfying to him. In Ayodhya, they speak of Lord Rama; most famous is this Tulasi dasa’s Ramayana. This they sing, but very few people knew Srimad-Bhagavatam and no one knew sri Caitanya-caritamrta, so he was not satisfied. He had met so many sadhus, yogis and sannyasis, he had been to so many temples and asramas and still he was not satisfied. In his own words, “I was not really satisfied until I reached Vrndavana.”

*Bhago bhago: this is the Hindi term for, “get out! get out!”
** Bhandara: a meal fed to holy man.

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