Today is Gaura Kishor Das Babaji’s appearance day. In our line of gurus he comes after Bhaktivinode Thakur and before Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. He is a very important person because his life was an example of vairagya, or renunciation.
His life was an example of an authentic detachment from sense gratification and the utmost attraction to spiritual gratification. He lived alone most of the time, often on the bank of the Ganges river in Mayapur. He ate very little, and spent his time chanting the maha-mantra. For clothing he simply picked up discarded items, and for food he begged a little rice which he would soak in Ganges water.
When anyone came to become his disciple he would refuse. When they came to ask him questions he would reply that everything could be found in the songbook of Narottama das Thakur. When they came to him and asked for ‘secret mantras’ he said that everything would be revealed by the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, which in itself was the highest of all mantras.
When they weren’t trying to become his disciples, some of them would try to imitate him. One time a man camped just down the riverbank from him, dressing like him and trying to chant like him. At times the man would let out cries of “Oh Krishna!” as if he was experiencing spiritual ectasy. However, the Babaji could see that the man was trying to attract followers with his behaviour. His comments were typical: “Sometimes a woman cries out with all the sounds of the labour of childbirth – but she is not yet pregnant even! Similarly a man thinks he has developed love of God, but the seed of love has not yet grown within him!”
Gaura Kishor Das Babaji was leading a life that was only possible because he had factually realised the pleasure of chanting Krishna’s names, and simply could not be bothered to cater for his own eating, sleeping and comfort. It is not a life that could be imitated prematurely.
But as much as he shunned public attention, even refusing to have his photograph taken (there was only one picture ever made), he was a regular visitor to the home of Bhaktivinode Thakur. There in the garden they would discuss the Srimad Bhagavatam, and the Thakur was very impressed with his company. At the side of the house was a small brick shed, and the Babaji would sit inside there on rainy days, the holy name reverberating off the brick walls.
The Thakur insisted that his son, Bimala Prasada, take initiation from the Babaji, but he was educated and the Babaji was illiterate. But the father was so strict he told his son: “If you do not take initiation from him – don’t return to this house!” Repeatedly, Bimala Prasad asked until the Babaji simply said, “Alright, but I will have to ask Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If he says ‘yes’ then I will initiate you.” The next week, Bimala came and asked what had been the reply. “Oh, I forgot to ask,” responded the Babaji. But eventually Bimala became the one and only disciple, and went on to become, years later, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur.
However, at first he was confused. His father, Bhaktivinode, was a great preacher, writer, and publisher of books. He moved in high social circles and had a large following. But his guru lived alone, had no followers, was a renunciate and a constant chanter of the name. Who should he follow – his father, a great devotee, or his guru, a great devotee?
He decided to first chant more than 100 rounds of Hare Krishna japa every day, and lived in a simple straw hut, even though the roof leaked. After some years he received the inspiration to begin his preaching mission, the result of which, through his dear disciple Srila Prabhupada, is now in cities all over the world.
Some years ago, I learned that the original shed where the Babaji chanted had been knocked down to make way for a concrete shrine built in his memory. Such things happen in India. I was able to salvage a few chips of one of the original bricks, and still have them for inspiration. Gaura Kishor Das Babaji’s body is now interred in a Samadhi shrine in the grounds of the Chaitanya Math, the original headquarters of the Gaudiya Mission.