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Haridasa Thakur: Namacarya

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by Uddhava dasa Adhikari
(ISKCON-BOSTON)

Namacarya is a compound of two Sanskrit nouns. Nama is used in connection with the holy name of the Lord, Sri Krsna, and acarya means one who teaches by example. So one who is considered the spiritual master of the holy name of Krsna is called namacarya. Lord Caitanya, the Supreme Godhead, awarded this title to one of His intimate disciples, Haridasa Thakur.

Little is known about the birth of Haridasa Thakur except that by the will of Godhead he appeared in the late 1400’s in a village of Buddan as the child of a family of Mohammedans. History does not relate to us any of the childhood pastimes of Haridasa’s life, but it is understood that at an early age he must have received the mercy of a pure devotee of Krsna because in his teens, to the dismay of his kinsmen, he renounced all conventions of Mohammedan religion and society. With shaved head and the simple clothing of a mendicant, Haridasa left the home of his parents for good and resumed his eternal position as a devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna.

Haridasa’s renunciation of the Moslem faith in favor of devotional service to the Lord Sri Krsna, who is often mistaken by sectarians to be the Supreme Deity of the Hindu faith, is significant because if we are to come to an understanding of the purity of Haridasa’s activities, we must first note the difference between mundane religious activities and transcendental loving service to God. Those who are engaged in the process of religion may be classified in three groups, according to their realization of the presence of the Supreme Lord. First, there are those who are kanistha-adhikaris. Next, above them, are the madhyama-adhikaris. And finally there are the uttama-adhikaris. The kanistha-adhikari is characterized by the activities of going to a place of worship such as a church, temple or mosque and performing a particular type of religious function determined by an established formula. This type of religious person considers one type of religion to be better than another. The madhyama-adhikari is characterized by four principles: 1) He sees first of all the Supreme Lord. 2) He sees next the devotees. 3) He sees next the innocent, those who have no knowledge of the Lord. 4) Lastly, he sees the atheists. The madhyama-adhikari behaves differently toward each of the above four persons. He adores the Lord and desires the association of the devotees of the Lord. He tries to inform the innocent about the Lord, and he completely avoids the atheists.

If we were to try to explain Haridasa’s change of heart in terms of the kanistha-adhikari level of religious activity, then quite probably we would come to the conclusion that Haridasa thought that the practices of the Mohammedans were not as cogent as those of the brahmanas. This reasoning, however, is not substantiated by the activities of Haridasa after his renunciation. Although he left the association of his fanatical elders and took up the life of a brahmana, Haridasa did not adhere strictly to the separate line of the brahminical order. In fact, many of the brahmanas hated the sight of him. “Haridasa does not follow the principles of sastra,” they said, “nor does he take part in any of our philosophical discussions. He simply idles away his time in a secluded cave muttering the same thing over and over. Besides, he was born in a family of untouchables.” We will learn later that it was just these caste brahmanas who tried to plot the defeat of Haridasa Thakur.

The activities of Haridasa Thakur were not on the kanistha-adhikari level. Nor will the activities of Haridasa permit us to explain away his renunciation on the principles of the madhyama-adhikari stage of consciousness. Haridasa, of course, adored the Supreme Lord, but he did not make a formal practice of associating exclusively with devotees or preaching this love solely to the innocent. Haridasa would associate with whomever chanced his way, and no matter who that person was, devotee or demon, Haridasa would at once engage him in talks about Krsna, the Supreme Lord. We find a description of the mentality of Haridasa, called the uttama-adhikari level, in the sixth verse of Sri Isopanisad:

yas tu sarvani bhutany
atmany evanupasyati
sarva-bhutesu catmanam
tato na vijugupsate

“A person who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord and sees all entities as His parts and parcels, and who sees the Supreme Lord within everything, never hates anything nor any living being.”

Haridasa left the home of his kinsmen not out of religious sentiment nor out of disgust for their ignorance of spiritual matters. He left wholly out of love for the Supreme Lord because that was his natural position. Haridasa displayed in full the consciousness of an uttama-adhikari. He felt equally at home in the company of devotees and in the company of demons. The uttama-adhikari does not see any difference between a vastly learned brahmana and a dog. He realizes that both are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, and his love for them is equal because of this knowledge of the spiritual identity of both. So Haridasa’s renunciation cannot be classified as an ordinary change of faith, as we so often experience in our limited spheres of activity. Haridasa simply realized his true position in relation to the Supreme Lord and did his utmost to behave according to sanatana-dharma.

The Eternal Religion

Sanatana-dharma means eternal religion. This sanatana-dharma or loving service to Godhead cannot be taken away from the living entities, just as light and heat cannot be taken away from fire. When we speak of the living entities, we should try to understand that they have an eternal position called sanatana-dharma. It is accepted as a scientific fact that matter contains an immeasurable quantity of potential energy because of the arrangement of its parts. When this energy becomes manifest, it is called kinetic energy. An example is that light and heat are present within the wood, as potential energy, but when they come out it is called kinetic energy. Sanatana-dharma is there within the living entity, and when it comes out, it is called devotional service. Haridasa’s only activity, then, was to chant loudly the names of his most beloved Lord. He would most often be found in his secluded cave on the bank of the Ganges near the city of Fulia, attending to his duty of chanting the names 300,000 times each day.

Haridasa was well visited by all pious persons, and whenever they chanced upon him he would be displaying the bodily symptoms of anubhava. These symptoms of anubhava are described by Srila Rupa Gosvami in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu as follows: 1) dancing, 2) rolling on the ground, 3) singing loudly, 4) stretching the body, 5) crying loudly, 6) yawning, 7) breathing heavily, 8) neglecting the presence of others, 9) drooling, 10) laughing like a madman, 11) reeling the head, and 12) belching. (These twelve items are discussed in Chapter Twenty-seven of The Nectar of Devotion, a summary study of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.) The great saints who came to that spot would at once fall into an ecstatic trance upon seeing the person of Haridasa laughing like a madman, rolling upon the ground or loudly crying. At all times he completely displayed the symptoms of one whose mind was merged in transcendence. In the Second Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna asks about the characteristics of a person whose mind is merged in transcendence. Lord Krsna replies that one who finds satisfaction in the self alone, who is free from attachment, fear and anger, and who renounces engagements with sense objects is just such a person. Lord Krsna further declares, “One who restrains his senses and fixes his consciousness upon Me is known as a man of steady intelligence.” (Bg. 2.61) The purport is that material desires are very strong because the senses need engagements. One should, however, overcome sense desires by thinking of Krsna. When one has a taste for Krsna consciousness, he automatically loses his taste for sense enjoyment because of its inferior nature. This is exactly what was constantly being displayed in the person of Haridasa.

The great saint Haridasa passed some time in this way on the bank of the Ganges, and his popularity grew and was spread to all parts of the country. Great holy men came from all quarters just to gain sight of him. The caste brahmanas, however, became very jealous of Haridasa’s reputation, and they began to complain to the local magistrate of the government. (At this time Bengal was under the rule of the Mohammedans.) The Kazi took notice of the activities of Haridasa, and he decided that he should report them to the Governor of the province. Since Haridasa was born a Mohammedan but was acting as a lower-caste Hindu, the Governor, upon hearing of Haridasa, ordered his immediate arrest and dispatched a band of soldiers to fetch him. Haridasa offered to return peacefully with the soldiers since he had no fear of death. But all the good people who enjoyed the association of Haridasa became terrified for his life.

The Hindu leaders of the time were being kept in prison, and when they heard that Haridasa had been arrested, they became anxious to catch sight of him. They thought that simply by seeing the great saint, their troubles would be vanquished. When Haridasa entered the prison, he saw the prisoners in their state of consciousness and said to them, “May you all remain in this present condition.” Confusion covered their faces, so Haridasa explained, “My veiled benediction is rightly meant, for all of you just now are thinking of Krsna. Your minds should always be fixed on His lotus feet. If you return into the world, your minds may become distracted from Krsna, and you may become worldly-minded once again. I do not wish for you to remain in your present state of captivity, but just chant the name of Krsna always and never forget Him, no matter what may happen to you.” After blessing the prisoners in this manner, Haridasa presented himself before the Governor.

The Governor was amazed at Haridasa’s personal beauty, and with great respect he offered him a nice seat and kindly questioned him: “My dear brother, why do you act in such a way? By God’s grace you have been born a Mohammedan, but now you have renounced this birth for a lesser position. Please accept once more the religion of your kin and ask for God’s forgiveness.” Haridasa burst into loud laughter and said that the governor was speaking as one who is deluded by material nature. Differences between Mohammedan and brahmana exist in name only. God Himself stands apart from such party feelings. He only requests through the agency of different scriptures that one should develop love for Him. “So,” Haridasa said, “I am acting in accordance with all religions in declaring this love of God as the highest aim of all. If there is anything amiss in my conduct, then please by all means punish me.”

His Immortal Words

These sweet words pleased the ecclesiastics who heard him, except for one, who was of a demoniac disposition. He said to the Governor, “Punish this evil person before the good name of our race falls into ruin.” So the Governor tried once more to convince Haridasa to accept the religion of his birth and denounce his present activities. Haridasa answered with the immortal words that stand as a pinnacle of determination for chanting the holy name: “No one can do anything else than what Godhead directs. If my body be hacked to pieces, if life itself shall desert me, still I will not give up the practice of chanting the holy name.” The assembly was quick to the verdict: “Let Haridasa be whipped at the twenty-two marketplaces of the city.”

The Beating

Strong deputies seized Haridasa and carried him into the streets. The beating began, and all saintly people were shocked. They begged for the release of Haridasa, who was still chanting sweetly the names of Krsna. From one marketplace to another they beat him, but the name of Krsna never left Haridasa’s lips. One deputy would do the whipping until he was exhausted, and then another would take over until he also was exhausted. In this way the punishment continued until the twenty-second marketplace was reached. The deputies, in dismay, said, “Haridasa, you will be the death of us. We beat you until our arms are exhausted, and still you do not die. But what’s worse, from time to time you even smile.”

On hearing these frustrated statements, Haridasa simply replied, “If my presence on this earth is all that’s troubling you, then I’ll leave at once.” Haridasa then fell into an ecstatic trance, immersed in love of Krsna. The deputies thought that he was dead, and they approached to dispose of his body. They thought that Haridasa should not be awarded a burial, so they decided to throw him in the river. Haridasa’s body was thereupon thrown in the sacred Ganges, and soon he regained consciousness and found himself on shore. A crowd of saintly people surrounded him with chanting of the holy name, and Haridasa began to dance as everyone sang the holy name of Krsna.

It is worthwhile to note that all through the terrible beatings, Haridasa never showed signs of suffering pain. Only signs ecstatic love for Krsna manifested themselves on his face. Verse nine of Chapter Six of Bhagavad-gita says, “A person is still further advanced when he regards all—the honest well-wisher, friends and enemies, the envious, the pious, the sinner, and those who are indifferent and impartial—with an equal mind.” Haridasa never for a moment felt at all hostile toward those who had brought this seeming calamity upon him because he understood that everything happens by the will of God. The only feeling Haridasa had toward his punishers was compassion for them. He considered them to be deluded men with no knowledge of the real self.

The question may be raised that if Haridasa was such a great devotee of Krsna, why then did Krsna permit such a mishap? First of all, it may be replied, the pastimes of Haridasa are not to be considered part of this mortal world. It is stated in the Narada-pancaratra that by concentrating one’s attention on the transcendental form of Krsna, who is all-pervading and beyond time and space, one becomes absorbed in thinking of Krsna and then attains the happy state of transcendental association with Him. Because of his constant remembrance of Krsna, Haridasa never had to go through the tribulations of this mundane existence. He was always completely absorbed in the transcendental atmosphere where material sufferings have no juristdiction. In this material world, if a king sends his representative to an unfriendly state and that representative is insulted, the king receives the insult as malice against his own self. Likewise, when Krsna’s pure devotee is affronted, this is blasphemy against the Supreme Lord Himself. It is understood that those wicked deputies who beat the body of Haridasa were beating the Supreme Lord Himself. Some days elapsed after the beating of Haridasa, and he met with the fortunate opportunity to gain association with the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya. The Lord appeared before Haridasa and displayed on His beautiful person countless cuts and bruises. Haridasa became confused, so Lord Caitanya explained to him, “Because you are My pure devotee, I have accepted all of the pain of your whipping.” Haridasa immediately fell on the ground mortified, but Lord Caitanya smiled very pleasingly.

Above The Sectarian

Haridasa lived up to the standard of a namacarya, so we should follow his great example and renounce all mundane sectarian views. God does not claim that He is Hindu, that He is Christian or that He is Moslem. God stands above all the subtlety of mundane concoction. He is interested in our love for Him, which requires no mundane qualification. Simply by following the example of namacarya Srila Haridasa Thakur, anyone can gain the greatest benefit of developing love for God.

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