84 Vaishnavas

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This is a literary journey into the heart of devotion. The easiest and fastest way to any goal is through spending time with someone who has reached that goal themselves. The saints of bhakti depicted in the 84 Vaishnavas text are mentors and guides for spiritual seekers. Spending time with them by reading this text is satsang: good association. This website and project are dedicated to Shyamdas, one of the greatest bhakti translators and transmitters who has ever lived.

For those who want to go a little deeper, join us on Patreon for full online access to more of the translations, audio files of the stories being read aloud, additional sponsorship opportunities and rewards, and the chance to comment and participate in the creative process, resulting in a published book translation. My aim is to also make the original Brajbhasha and Roman transliteration available here along with the English. More details coming soon, for anyone interested in being a part of this online community of readers. Until then enjoy the opening pages of this sacred book. Jai Shri Krishna!

Vārtā 1: Shri Acharyaji Mahaprabhu’s first sevak, Damodardas, whom he called “Damala.”

Bhāvprakāśh: Shri Acharyaji Mahaprabhu called Damodardas “Damala,” from amalā, meaning “pure.” Here a doubt arises: when even ordinary Vaishnavas are free of impurity, what is the need to explain the name Damala as amalā, or to say that just seeing Damala or taking his name is enough to eradicate all sins? In answer to this doubt, it is explained that in the path of bhakti, one who has love for Shri Thakurji (Shri Krishna) is pure, but one who has even more love for Shri Acharyaji than for Shri Thakurji is called amalā. Damodardas had firm, singular love for his guru, Shri Acharyaji. How do we know? Because once when Shri Acharyaji was resting with his head in Damodardas’s lap, Shri Nathji appeared directly in front of him. Damodardas told the blessed Lord, “Don’t come any closer! You will wake Shri Acharyaji.” Such was his steady love that Damodardas didn’t even get up to bow to Shri Thakurji.

When Shri Gusainji asked him, “Why do you consider Shri Acharyaji greater than Krishna?” Damodardas replied, “Which is greater, the gift or the giver? After all, the gift goes wherever the giver chooses, and the giver can keep the gift wherever he wants!” Shri Acharyaji called him Damala because he did not have even the slightest trace of false connection, and therefore he is totally pure.

Damodardas’s name is also connected to one of the names of Krishna, as Shri Acharyaji mentions in his text Purushottama Sahasranama (Thousand Names of Krishna): “Damodara Krishna, bound at the waist, falls under the sway of his bhaktas.” This has been explained in more detail in Shri Acharyaji’s Subodhini commentary on the Shrimad Bhagavatam. That story shows how the supreme being falls under the sway of his bhaktas and cannot escape the ties of their affection. It also reveals the true nature of Krishna’s mother Yashoda and the other bhaktas of Braj. Mother Yashoda was such a great bhakta that she was able to bind Krishna, who can truly never be contained. Seeing his devotees’ collective devotion, Shri Thakurji allowed himself to be bound by the ropes which they brought. He was not able to break those ropes mother Yashoda used to tie him to a large stone. He dragged the stone between the twin Arjuna trees in his courtyard. When the Braj bhaktas heard the sound of two trees crashing to the ground, they came running and untied the ropes. Therefore Yashodaji is greater than Shri Thakurji, and the Braj bhaktas are greater than Damodar Krishna. Through these līlās, Shri Thakurji revealed his affection for his devotees.

Similarly, Shri Acharyaji fell under the sway of his devoted follower Damodardas. He himself said, “Damala! This path of grace has arisen for you.” With this statement he indicated, “There are a lot of other bhaktas, but I am under your loving sway!”

Damodardas’s divine līlā form is the sakhi Lalitaji. Just as in the secret intimate līlās Lalitaji follows the commands of Shri Swaminiji, so in this world too, Damodardas follows the instructions of Shri Acharyaji. He is truly the form of the gopi Lalita. He was renounced from childhood and knew nothing of household life. Lalita’s bhāv can be grasped through the following poem:

Krishna laughs as he drinks milk.
Radha speaks sweet words with the Lord of her life breath.
Lalita hands them a golden bowl filled with nectar and says,
“Krishna, first make Radha taste it!
Then you can have some afterwards.”
This divine lady has captured the mind
of the wishing jewel, Krishna.
Seeing her Beloved, she smiles.
Sings ‘Rasika’ Harirayaji, connoisseur of devotion,
“I offer my all to the fresh beauty of Radha and Krishna.”

The inner bhāv of that poem is that Radha and Krishna are sitting upon a jewel-studded bed, when Lalitaji arrives with a golden bowl filled with sweet and fragrant warm milk. Lalitaji considered, “If I give this milk to Shri Swaminiji first, she will offer it to her beloved Krishna and then taste some. This will not satisfy my divine intentions. Instead I will give it to Shri Thakurji, and he will offer her the first sip.” So she gave the bowl first to Shri Thakurji with the instruction, “Krishna, first make Radha taste it! Then you can have some afterwards.”

Lalitaji knew that Shri Swaminiji would take the milk offered from Shri Krishna’s hand, which is the venerable form of a wishing stone and fulfills all desires. Since Shri Thakurji resides within Shri Swaminiji’s heart, he would also enjoy the milk from there. In this way, when Shri Swaminiji takes the first sip of Lalita’s milk, Shri Thakurji himself would become totally satisfied. Krishna smiled, recognizing Lalitaji’s cleverness in love. Shri Harirayaji celebrates seeing the beauty of the divine couple drinking milk.

Just as Lalita served Radha in the līlā, so here on this earth, Damodardas serves Shri Acharyaji Mahaprabhu with that same loving devotion. And for that reason, Shri Acharyaji never gave Damodardas any separate form of Shri Thakurji to worship; Shri Acharyaji Mahprabhu was, for Damodardas, Thakurji himself. Damodardas was qualified for the highest form of seva, mānasī sevā, divine worship that spontaneously fills the inner recesses of the mind and heart. He remained immersed in the nectar of līlā.

Vārtā Prasang 1: Once Damodardas accompanied Shri Acharyaji Mahaprabhu on a journey to Braja. Shri Acharyaji Mahaprabhu mentioned to him, “Damala, this path of grace has manifested for you.”

While resting underneath a Chonkar tree in Gokul by Govinda Ghat (the steps to the Yamuna River near Shri Dwarkanathji’s temple), Shri Acharyaji grew concerned, “Shri Thakurji has given me the command to connect divine souls with him through the Brahma Sambandha mantra initiation. But souls have so many impurities, while the supreme being is filled only with divine virtues! How can I possibly connect them?”

At that very moment, Shri Thakurji personally manifested before him and asked, “Why are you so disturbed?” Shri Acharyaji Mahaprabhu explained, “You know well that embodied souls are filled with impurities. How can they possibly enter relationship with you?” Shri Thakurji answered, “The souls you initiate will have all of their impurities removed. You must accept those divine souls.”

Bhāvprakāśh: The reason Shri Acharyaji was concerned about the upliftment of divine souls is that in the path of grace, only the most exalted things offered to Shri Thakurji are considered pleasing. Shri Acharyaji thought, “How could I offer the beloved such a mediocre thing as an impure soul?” Such is the way of the path of grace.

Shri Thakurji offered sacred connection to himself through a great saint, Shri Acharyaji. Not that many souls in the world have firm faith. By personally instructing Shri Acharyaji to initiate souls with the Brahma Sambandha mantra, Krishna inspired their faith and guaranteed that he would never abandon those souls. With the knowledge of this promise, many souls would take initiation and establish their eternal relationship with Shri Thakurji.

This divine event happened at midnight on the eleventh lunar day of the bright half of the month of shravan. The following morning, the twelfth lunar day, is a celebration called Pavitra Dvadashi. Shri Acharyaji offered Shri Thakurji pavitra, a garland of 360 threads representing all 360 days of the year. There is a written account of this in Shri Acharyaji’s text, The Secret Doctrine (Siddhānta Rahasya).

While Shri Thakurji was instructing Shri Acharyaji, Damodardas was sleeping nearby. Shri Acharyaji asked him, “Damala, did you hear anything?” Damodardas humbly replied, “Maharaja, I heard the voice of Shri Thakurji but could not understand his words.”

Shri Acharyaji continued, “Shri Thakurji commanded me to initiate divine souls with the Brahma Sambandha mantra and promised he would accept them. Assuring me that all of their impurities would be removed, he said I should definitely initiate divine souls with this sacred mantra.”

Bhāvprakāśh: Damodardas said that he heard Shri Thakurji’s words but could not understand. This concept is revealed in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, when Shri Thakurji explains that you can read something on your own, but you can only truly understand it if you receive the grace of the guru. If Damodardas had directly understood Shri Thakurji’s words, then he would be the disciple of Shri Thakurji. Since he is the disciple of Shri Acharyaji, he could understand Shri Thakurji’s words only after Shri Acharyaji explained them to him.

Here it is shown that true wisdom arises in the heart with the guru’s grace. This demonstrates the true relationship between guru and disciple. Had he said to Shri Acharyaji, “Yes, I understood Shri Thakurji’s words,” he would feel that he was equal in knowledge to Shri Acharyaji. That is why he said, “I did not understand.” Or he could have said, “I didn’t understand Thakurji’s words, but I have no need to. I only need to understand your words.”

Once in the middle of a teaching, Shri Acharyaji commented, “Damala, it’s been a long time since we spoke of beloved Shri Thakurji.”

Bhāvprakāśh: In the līlā, Shri Swaminiji tells Lalita sakhi privately about her intimate exchanges with Shri Thakurji. Shri Acharyaji’s līlā form is Shri Swaminiji and Damodardas is Lalita. They hadn’t discussed these intimate stories about meetings with Shri Thakurji for some time. In public company Shri Acharyaji could only say, “It has been a long time since we have spoken about Shri Thakurji.”