The Paramahamsa Avadhuta
This article has been written on the basis of ones which previously appeared in the old Gaudiya magazine and various statements made by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur and his disciples who knew Vamshi Das Babaji personally.
Srila Vamshi Das Babaji appeared in the village of Majidpur in the Jamalpur district of Bangla Desh, near the city of Jamalpur. Before the partition of India, this city was formerly in the district of Mymensingh. According to Hari Das Das, his father’s name was Sanatana Malobrahma and he was previously known as Bhairava. Babaji Maharaj came to Nabadwip from East Bengal. He was a paramahamsa Vaishnava who acted in the manner of an avadhuta. The word avadhuta refers to one who has shaken off from himself all worldly feeling and obligation. He does not care for social conventions, particularly the varnashrama-dharma, i.e., he is quite eccentric in his behavior. Nityananda Prabhu is often characterized as an avadhuta.
He lived there under a tree on the banks of the Ganges, demonstrating a very high standard of renunciation. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami Thakur was attracted by his Vaishnava behavior and his disregard for the rules and regulations of society at large, in the fashion of a paramahamsa avadhuta. He himself paid his obeisances to Babaji Maharaj from a distance, but did not allow his disciples to associate with him. For even though Babaji Maharaj was a paramahamsa Vaishnava, an ordinary beginner in devotional practice would likely misunderstand his indifference to the rules and regulations and end up committing offenses at his feet.
The primary purpose of the rules and regulations is to bring pleasure to Sri Sri Radha and Govinda. A practitioner who has not yet overcome his mundane conditioning may very well judge an advanced Vaishnava according to rules and regulations which were designed to help him advance to the next level of spiritual realization. If he measures a perfected soul by the standards which have been set for the beginner, there is a possibility of committing offenses which could result in falldown from the devotional path. It is said that Babaji Maharaj had two cloth bags. He kept his Nitai-Gaura deities in one, Radha-Govinda in the other. He regularly worshiped them, taking them out of the bags and serving them mentally with mantras. Then, when he had finished, he would place the deities back in their bags. On occasion he would leave them outside the bags so that people could look at them. Once in a while, he would put tobacco in a hookah and offer it to Radha and Govinda from a distance, but not to Nitai-Gauranga. People would come with offerings of rice, fruits, vegetables, flour, bananas, etc., but Babaji Maharaj would ignore them. When he noticed an accumulation of these offerings, he would mentally give them to his deities and then distribute them to whomever happened to be present. What person could understand this kind of behavior?
Babaji Maharaj only wore a kaupina, a strip of cloth covering his private parts. He left his hair and beard uncut and unkept. Yet he was tall enought to be able to pick fruits for his puja from high branches in a tree without making use of ladders or other paraphernalia. On one occasion, he fell from a tree and from that time on he took on the guise of a lame person.
Babaji Maharaj’s Voyage to Vraja
Babaji Maharaj did not stay exclusively in the Nabadwip area, but travelled to many holy places where he also practiced the spiritual disciplines of bhakti-yoga. He embodied the verse Krishna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita-matih, and wherever he went he always remained immersed in the ocean of Krishna-rasa. Therefore, everything reminded him of Krishna-lila, but especially the peepal tree, or bata. Whenever he saw a peepal tree, he would sit under it, taking it to be the Vamshi-bata under which Krishna played his flute to attract the gopis. Once he had installed himself there, it would be difficult to get him to move. On the 12th of Phalguna, 1347 (Monday, Feb. 24, 1941), Vamshi Dasji left Nabadwip city and headed for Vrindavan. He sometimes walked, sometimes he travelled by ox-cart and sometimes by rail. He first went to Katwa where he stayed for two days under a bata tree near the train station. Then he took the train to Bhagalpur where he stayed for one day under a bata tree near the station and for four days by the Ganges. Then he travelled on to Gaya where he remained on the banks of the Phalgu River for three days.
He also stayed on a boat in the Ganges near Dashashvamedha Ghat in Benares for three days, spent another three days in Ayodhya by the Sarayu including three hours under a bata tree, at the Triveni confluence at Prayag for ten days, two days at the Vishrama Ghat in Mathura, eight days at the Vamshi Bata in Vrindavan, nine days at the Madhya-curia on the banks of the Yamuna, one day at the Govindaji temple, two days at Kaliya-daha, eight days under a tamala tree on the east bank of Surya Kund at Nandagrama, two days at Pavana-sarovara, four days at the foot of a Pilu tree, and then another nine days at Vamshi Bata Ghat in Vrindavan. Everywhere that he went, he remained absorbed in chanting the Holy Names and meditating on Krishna’s form and pastimes. After three months, he returned to Nabadwip Dhama, in the month of Jyestha.
Those who travelled with him recounted that when wandering through Vraja Mandala, he would sometimes sing songs about Krishna’s lila, sometimes glorify Nabadwip Dhama, sometimes laugh madly. Sometimes, he would babble incoherently, and oftentimes he would remain completely silent. When visiting a temple, he was often seen muttering confidentially to the deities, disclosing some personal sentiment to them. All in all, his companions were charmed by his devotional absorption.
In the old Gaudiya weekly magazine, further accounts of Babaji Maharaj’s travels given. It is stated there in the four years from March 1943, he travelled to Ambika Kalna, Khariagpura, Baleshvara, Soro, Bhadrak, Khurda Road and Purushottam. Afterwards, he again visited Gaya, Kashi, Saidpur, Patna, Munger, etc. After travelling to all these places, some devotees from his birthplace in Majidpur invited him to come for a visit. He acquiesced to their enthusiasm, but found little pleasure in going. He said that it was a place which the Pandavas had neglected.
H. H. Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaja’s Reminiscences
My shiksha-guru, H. H. Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaja has told a few anecdotes about Vamshi Das Babaji based on his eyewitness account: “At Babaji Maharaj’s cottage by the Ganges, a pile of fruit intended for the service of the deities had accumulated once and Baba would not let anyone lay a finger on it. One day, however, a cow entered the cottage and ate all the fruits. Babaji Maharaj watched and laughed, clapping his hands. I can’t remember now whether Baba’s disciple’s name was Purna or Punya. Anyhow, I asked him out of curiosity why Baba was laughing. He said, Last night a thief stole all the deity’s pots and pans, dishes and utensils. Now a cow has come and eaten all the fruit. So he is beside himself with joy and is laughing and saying, ‘One thief gives and another thief takes away!’ No one was able to drive the cow away. The supreme thief is Krishna. [FN. According to Haridas Das, Vamshi Das Babaji never locked his doors, even though he was asked to do so by his well-wishers. Thus he was regularly robbed. When asked why he didn’t lock his doors, he only said that it was Gaura-Nitai’s responsibility. It was their house and their possessions that were stolen. Sometimes he would chastise the deities for not stopping the thieves when he found that the pots or foodstuffs had been stolen.
Gaudiya Vaishnava Jivana, Vol 2, 327.]
“Babaji Maharaj never allowed anyone to touch his feet, but on the day after one Phalguni Purnima, when everyone remembered Jagannath Mishra’s celebration of Gauranga’s birth. Babaji Maharaj was so ecstatic that he forgot his rule and became as generous as a desire tree. So on that day I was fortunate enough to get the dust of his lotus feet. I also had the good fortune to get his prasadi leftovers one day.
“Babaji Maharaj enjoyed hearing devotional songs. One day, he heard Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s couplet, tyajiya shayana sukha, vicitra palanka, kabe vrajer dhulaya dhusara habe anga — ‘When will I give up the pleasure of sleeping in a comfortable bed and roll in the dust of Vrindavan?’ Babaji Maharaj said, ‘You are only singing a song. For someone who has exploded, it has exploded.’ In other words, we only sing the songs of the Mahajanas, but we feel no emotion. When the dust of the Holy Places covers our bodies, we only think of brushing it off. We have no real idea of its value.
“We have heard that Vamshi Das took vesha from our Parama Gurudeva, Srila Gaura Kishora Das Babaji Maharaj.
“One day, someone started singing one of these new-fangled, invented mantras that contradicts siddhanta and divine sentiment. Babaji Maharaj said, ‘That Name is not allowed here.’
“One gentleman often came to visit Babaji Maharaj and kept asking him for his mercy. One day, Baba finally became impatient and took off his kaupina and handed it to the gentleman and said, ‘You want mercy, here it is, take it.’ The visitor was frightened by the manner in which Baba challenged him. We have heard that all perfections come from the grace of the Vaishnavas, but we have not got the sincerity necessary to really take their blessings when they are given. What is the use of repeatedly saying, ‘Be merciful, be merciful.’
“We had an elderly Godbrother named Gokula Das Babaji. His family home was not far from that of Babaji Maharaj. Gokula Das Baba went frequently to see Vamshi Das Baba, and when they got together, they would joyfully converse about Krishna in their Mymensingh dialect.”
Vamshi Das’s Teachings
Babaji Maharaj was normally occupied with his devotional activities; he minded his own business and spoke little. Many people would come to him; often they would ask him questions. If he took notice at all, he would sometimes answer indirectly, but mostly he remained silent. He would be observed talking to the deities, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying desperately. If he did give spiritual instruction, he would rarely cite scripture, but always spoke from his personal realization. In two or three short phrases, he was often able to make a deep impression on the listener.
Once, he had a regular visitor who kept asking him, “How can we attain God?” Babaji Maharaj just remained silent, giving no answer to the questioner. One day, he suddenly looked at this visitor and asked him, “What do you want?” The fellow replied, “I want to find God.” Babaji Maharaj answered in one word, “Cry.”
Those who visited him reported the short answers that he gave to their questions. Some of these were noted and are given here.
Q: Baba, what should we do?
A: If you worship Nitai, you will get Gaura. All your unhappiness will disappear and you will experience the beginnings of real joy.
Q: How can one become free from the demands of the senses?
A: shuniya govinda-rab, apani palabe sab, simha-rabe yatha kari-gan (Narottama Das). “They will all flee at the sound of Govinda’s name just as the deer flee at the sound of the lion’s roar.”
Q: Baba, you find no happiness in this world, then?
A: There is no joy here, unless you worship Gaura-Nitai. That is our eternal world, while this illusion is your world. Your happiness in this world is like the laughing or crying of a dreaming baby.
Q: How can we recognize the blessings of Krishna or the Vaishnavas?
A: je kare tomara asha, tare koro sarva-nasha — “You ruin everything for someone who aspires to attain you.” kahake-o taka dey, kaharo taka nei — “To some he gives wealth, while others are penniless.” Toma sthane aparadhe nahi paritrana — “There is no pardon for an offense at your (Vaishnava Thakur’s) feet.” How can you stop it? Who will deliver you? Who will understand me if I try to explain? I haven’t got the slightest bit of attachment to the Vaishnavas.
Q: How will I attain Krishna’s mercy?
A: If you cry, you will get his mercy. Who cries? If you cry with tears of love, you will get the Lord’s mercy. Mukhe bali hari, kaje anya kari, prema-vari cokhe elo na — “I recite the names of Hari, but I act otherwise. So the tears of love do not well up in my eyes.”
Q: How can we be happy? In renunciation or in enjoyment?
A: There are saintly persons on the Sarayu who chant the names of Sita Rama. They are happy, they know no distress. Those who stay with King Duryodhana know no joy. Those who are with Yudhishthira are happy. Happiness and distress are brothers. Enjoyment and renunciation. Some people enjoy and some renounce.
Babaji Maharaj’s disappearance day was on the Shukla Caturthi of Shravan.
[Excerpted from "Sri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates" by Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj]