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THE ASHRAMA OF A VAISHNAVA (Excerpts from Madman’s Jholi)

By Sitaramdas Omkarnath

The madman was meditating and dancing to the chanting of ‘Rama Rama Rama’. It was ceaseless. The chanting of the name of Rama was incessant. At that time Haladhara came and said, ‘O Mad father!’

Madman: Jai Jai Sitaram, Rama, Rama.

Haladhara: Well, mad father, how many life stages (Ashramas) are there?

Madman: Rama, Rama. A man’s life has four stages; celibate student, a householder, a forest dweller and a renunciate. Rama, Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: To which Ashrama do the Vaishnava of these days, belong? I have heard that Bhagwan Ramanujacharya was a sanyasi and Sriman Mahaprabhu, too, embraced Sanyasa. What is the Ashrama of the Vaishnavas who wear white cloth?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Jai Rama. Narada Pancharatra says, ‘Brahmachari, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Yati are the four Ashramas. Those who specially seek refuge in me belong to the fifth Ashrama or the Vaishnava Ashrama. Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Ashtayama says, ‘Vaishnava is the fifth genre; Vaishnava is the fifth Ashrama. Sri Vaishnava Ashrama is the best Ashrama of all Varnas and Ashramas.’ There are five types in this Ashrama of Gaudiya Vaishnava, namely, Namashraya, Gurupadashraya, Mantrashraya, Bhavashraya and Veshashraya. Charitasudha says, ‘On embracing these shelters, the characteristics of Rupashraya, Gunashraya, Dhamashraya, and Leelashraya etc. get established automatically. Rama, Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: Then the Vaishnava Ashrama is the fifth Ashrama. What should they do and what should they not do?

Madman: Yes, it is. Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Assuming the garb of a Vaishnava is being in Veshashraya. The rules for those Vaishnava are; not indulging in or listening to any gossip, not being attached to worldly affairs, not amassing wealth, not looking at or talking to any woman with the intention of gratifying one’s lust or senses, not leaving the focus from one’s own belief and criticizing or hating others. A Vaishnava must conduct himself accordingly. He should perform worship in the prescribed nine-fold way and avoid the company of a woman; outward pomp, inexact speech; false behaviour; scandalmongering; slandering; envy; malice; mischief-mongering fault-finding; gluttony; addiction; luxury; eating food without offering it to gods and such other things. What more shall I say? One needs to keep following this and the merciful Lord will create the necessary impetus in the heart. Rama, Rama, Rama.

Haladhara: Is this Vaishnava Ashrama found in the Bhagavata etc.?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Srimadbhagavata says, ‘He, who does not identify with his self on grounds of work, Varna, Ashrama and caste is dear to Hari.’ ‘A wise, non-attached man or a desireless devotee should discard symbols of Ashrama like Tridanda and should act impartially according to the rules of the Shastra.’ Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Jai Jai Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: Will there be no offence in transgressing the Shastras?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. God said to Uddhava in Srimadbhagavata, ‘Therefore, O Uddhava, give up Shruti, Smriti, tendencies, abstention and all that is worth hearing or heard, and take shelter with me; the shelter for all beings. All your fears will be dispelled by me.’ Rama, Rama, Sitaram. By making God their sole refuge, Vaishnavas enter the fifth Ashrama and are above the tenets of all. Nothing on the subject of Sanyas is found in Bhagwan Ramanandaswami’s ‘Sri Vaishnava Matabjabhaskara’. The Vaishnava will be purified by the five sacraments. The normal rule is that they wear white outer garments, a shawl and a loincloth, build a cottage in a holy place and spend their time in worship, study, meditation and chanting. After reaching the ultimate state, they wear only a belt made of grass blades and a loincloth and engage in worship of God. Rama, Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: What is the name of the detached Vaishnava of the Brahmananda sect?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. He is a renunciate Vaishnava. Rama, Rama, Rama. Jnana Sannyasi, Veda Sannyasi and Karma Sannyasi are mentioned in the Kurmapurana. Among them ’The Yogi is the best of these three kinds of Sannyasis. He has no enjoined duty or sign of any Ashrama.’ Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Jai Jai Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: Then has a Yogi no sign of any Ashrama?

Madman: Jai Jai Rama. No Sitaram. Only a few yogis bear symbols of Ashramas.

Haladhara: The sacred thread is seen round the necks of these who are Brahmins among Vaishnavas. That also is the sign of the Brahmin Varna.

Madman: Sitaram, Rama, Rama. They have had their upanayana ceremony in their childhood and have since worn the thread; they do not understand the necessity of giving up the sacred thread. Jada Bharata also wore the sacred thread. Sitaram, Rama, Rama.

Haladhara: Is this mentioned in the Shrutis?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Rama, Rama. Narada-Parivrajakopanishad says, ‘He, who knows the Ultimate Element which is self-effulgent and blissful; is free of the bodily sense; is a witness to everything, is knower of the highest truth and is beyond Varnashrama. He who knows by the help of the Vedanta that, Varnashrama etc. is projected by Maya and does not affect the Atma, are above the Varnashrama. He, who has got rid of the practices of the Varnashrama, by virtue of his own perception of self, has transcended all Varnas and Ashramas and resides in his own soul, is proclaimed to be above the Varanashrama by the knowers of Vedas.’ No processes, prohibitions and distinctions of unacceptable and acceptable apply to those who know Brahma but they do apply to others. Rama, Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Sitaram.

Haladhara: It is said that the rules of Varna and Ashrama leave a man when he gains Atmadarshana. What does Atmadarshana mean?

Madman: Rama, Rama. It means seeing God. Rama, Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: Can man see God in this age?

Madman: Rama, Rama. Surely, he can. Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Jai Jai Rama, Sitaram. Some knowers of Brahma however pretend to practise Varnashrama to educate the people, while others do not.

Haladhara: What does Brahmavijnani mean?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Those who do not merely repeat ‘I am Brahma’ but experience this truth are called Brahmavijnanis. Rama, Rama, Rama. A Brahmavijnani or one who has seen God, has not to shed his karmas, they melt away automatically. Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama.

Haladhara: God appears once like a dream and vanishes, and Varanashrama goes away. Has a seer of God any other characteristics?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Jai Jai Rama. On giving darshan, God takes away the mantra of the devotee. The luminous sound of Om reverberates within him. Numerous unheard melodies are experienced. The door of the Sushumna is opened. His power to do any activity goes away. Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama Jai, Rama.

Haladhara: He is able to do other things but the power to perform daily religious duties leaves him! How can this be? Does he lose consciousness when he starts to worship?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. No. As soon as he utters, Bhurbhuvaswa his Prana sinks in the Sushumna. Swa…a…this goes on for up to two hours. The devotee then sits silently with closed eyes. Ordinary people say he has gone into Samadhi. But that is not the fact. Sometimes, with the Prana entering the Sushumna, the mind is absorbed, and Samadhi takes place. Sometimes while listening to a story about the Lord, a tear-filled Samadhi is reached. Light begins to play outside and inside. Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Suryagita Says, ‘At first, when knowledge dawns, all actions focused on fulfillment of desires, leave the seeker. With knowledge, he no longer does worship for wealth etc. In the second stage, with the attainment of full wisdom, he becomes free from such rituals as his son’s sacred thread ceremony and Shradh. In the third, on the attainment of full wisdom, daily prayers, etc. come to an end. Then after the rise of the knowledge of non-duality, the wise man rises above Varanashrama. Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Jai, Jai, Sitaram.

Haladhara: How are the four states of Jnana understood?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Yogachudamani Upanishad says, ‘Although the Pranava is enjoyable and resides in all beings, it remains concealed during all states of enjoyment. It becomes apparent when Brahma merges into ‘A’, Hari into ‘U’ and Rudra into ‘M’.’ Pranava faces upwards in a wise man and downwards in the ignorant. He who knows these positions of the Pranava knows the Vedas. In its unstruck form, it rises within the wise. At it rises higher and higher, ability to perform actions, begins to fade. Prana itself is Pranava. After the Prana enters into Sushumna, karmas continue to be cast off. Preceded by a sound like the tolling of a bell, which flows like a continuous and unbroken stream of oil, the light manifests where Pranava fades. His forepart is light, but it cannot be described in words. The great souls, who perceive it with their subtle vision, are said to be knowers of Vedas. Rama, Rama. The Pranava pushes upwards. The seeker places his soul on the bow of Pranava and aims it at Brahma. The soul, accompanied by a sound of ‘m…m…m’, rises in the forehead and, like an arrow, gets embedded in Brahma. It becomes identified with Brahma. Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Jai, Jai, Sitaram.

Haladhara: Can all these be clearly experienced?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. The Sadhakas perceives the rise of Pranava like the self-revealed sun, its assumption of the form of Nada and its union with Brahma. He is then freed from all actions. Rama, Rama, Jai, Jai, Rama.

Haladhara: These things happen to Yogis. Do the devotees also get freedom from action?

Madman: Rama. Rama, Sitaram. All become Yogis when speech advances from Vaikhari to Madhyama, that is, as soon as the Anahata Nada commences. Who is not a Yogi? Shiva, Narada, Suka all are Yogis. Jai Sitaram. Shiva says in Shivapurana Vayaviya Samhita, ‘For those who are purified by devotion born of my grace, it is difficult to preserve Ashrama dharma. They are under no rules and regulations like me.’ Jai Rama, Sitaram. If somehow the mantra can be fulfilled by the chanting of the name of Rama, the fortress is conquered just at the appearances of Pranava. Jai Sitaram. Would you like to listen to some more? Jai Sitaram. Jnana Sankalanitantra says, ‘Spiritual knowledge gives eternal happiness and emancipation. If that is achieved, religion, work japa etc. drop off.’ Rama, Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: What happens if anybody drops it by force?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama. The pretence does not last for long. Soon they are found running after worldly things. There is no limit to their sorrow and downfall. Their fate becomes worse than that of lowly creatures. There can be no place for enjoyment in sacrifice. Rama, Rama, Sitaram. But enjoyment does come automatically to them, who have enjoyment in their Prarabdha. They however live in the midst of it without being affected. No wave rises in their hearts.

Haladhara: Then has not any one to give up Karma?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Only go on earning; you need not try to give up. Sacrifice will come by itself. The Varanashrama will melt away automatically. The devotee will not even get an inkling of it. It is said in Ramagita, ‘As the flowers in the hands of a sleeping person fall automatically, the customs of Varanashrama leave the person who is free from his body and emancipated.’ Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Jai Jai Rama, Sitaram.
Haladhara: Then by this, are most people today, free from their bodies and emancipated?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Over the period of time, the Varanashrama was not found agreeable by those who were focused on the external world. The misery of those who give up Varanashrama of the own accord to exhibit equality and liberality, will know no bounds. They are restless due to the mad dance of disease, grief, want, suffering, pain and family unrest in their lives. They are running hither and thither, seeking peace. Well, who can give peace to him who defies the Shastras? He cannot get peace. Rama, Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: Nowadays it is difficult to follow the rules of the Shastras.

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. It is very true. Rama, Rama. If one keeps taking pure food, keeps good company, performs the daily prayers, and meditates on the Gayatri, it will not be difficult to reach the goal. Celibacy is the essence of all Sadhana. Wholehearted efforts must be made to preserve it. Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama.

Haladhara: This rule is hard to observe even if one wishes to, mad father.

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Just chant the name and Rama will see to it. Rama, Rama.

Haladhara: Well, mad father, do those who have transcended the Varanashrama and are free of all actions, live only in caves and not come home?

Madman: According to his Prarabdha someone lives in a cave and someone else puts on various kinds of dress and wanders about. They move in various guises, sometimes as a wicked person and other times as gentlemen. Many also preach religion. Rama, Rama, Rama.

Haladhara: Do they not suffer a downfall?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Rama, Rama, Jai Rama. No Sitaram. Their play-acting is for the benefit of others. Yogavashishtha says, ‘Some live in caves, some live in Punnyashrama, some are householders, some wander about, some observe silence, some are engaged in meditation, some earn their livelihood by art and some behave like wicked people.’ Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Jai Jai Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: O, father, this means that there is no way to recognize emancipated persons. Well, those who do meritorious work, have no bondage?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. No, Sitaram. Annapurnopanishad says, ‘One who has given up all actions, is always contended, has no shelter and does not get affected by merit, sin or any such thing.’ A crystal does not get coloured when the shadow of a red flower falls on it. There is no trace once the flower is removed. Similarly, a Jnani’s soul is not tainted by likes and dislikes. Even though he wanders about amongst people, chanting and worshipping God, he is not touched by joy and sorrow. They are like images in a mirror that can be seen but disappear. Rama, Rama, Rama, Sitaram, Rama, Rama.

Haladhara: Then, can a wise man live even in a crowd?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Once a man sees God, there is no fear of his downfall just as butter after being skimmed from milk no longer mixes with milk. Also, like iron, which after being transformed into gold by the touchstone, does not become iron again but remains gold wherever you may keep it whether in the house of god, in a heap of refuse, in a heap of ashes, in a furnace or under water. It may get covered by dust but starts shining again as soon as the dirt is removed. God says, ‘Even if he kills people, he really neither kills nor is killed.’ He has no bondage from the action. Rama, Rama, Sitaram. Jai Jai Rama, Sitaram.

Haladhara: Alas! Mad father, I have wasted my life. I have not known what knowledge or devotion is. My whole life has passed one day at a time and now I have to go! What is the way left for me, mad father?

Madman: Rama, Rama, Jai Jai Rama. O Sitaram, what worry should there be in this Kaliyuga, if it is time to go? ‘Bow down to the Kaliyuga which is the essence of all Yugas in which the chanting of the name of Hari is preached.’ Simply go on chanting and make others chant. Chant His glory and you will land in the kingdom of bliss. My Lord of Love said, ‘The chanting should go on at all times. The Lord with the flute will not be able to remain still. He will begin to play the flute.’ Rama, Rama, Sitaram. (Sings a song by Rabindranath) ‘I will utter only your name on many pretexts, will utter it sitting along in the shade of my own mind, will utter it without speech and without hope, will utter it in minds and tears, will utter your name without any necessity, my desires will be automatically fulfilled by that call; just as child calls its mother only because of the charm of the name. It can say that it utters the name of its mother only for this happiness.’ Rama Rama Sitaram Sitaram.