Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gangesh Chaitanya

One of my students is a 25-year-old brahmachari named Gangesh. He is from a well-to-do family in Bangalore, but has taken a vow of naishthika brahmacharya from Swami Veda since joining the Gurukula in September last year.

Gangesh is dark-skinned with his head shaven, leaving a large, South Indian sikha. He is a bit stocky, strong looking, and his face, with bright and even teeth, exudes an effulgent good humor. Yesterday he came into my room to show me his latest enthusiasm, a copy of Tirumantiram, the Tamil Shaiva Siddhanta work, which according to Gangesh “contains everything.”

I leafed through it and it does indeed look interesting. It is a famous work which I have unfortunately never read, so I put it on my mental filing cabinet for things that I must one day and hopefully will do.

Then Gangesh, with the force of the Ganges as it passes under Lakshman Jhula, began to tell me of his adventures over the past few years. To repeat everything would take more time than I have, but I thought I would at least share with you a couple of his yarns.

When the desire for spiritual life was aroused in him, he went to stay at an ashram in South India, where his talkative nature got him into trouble with the other residents of the ashram. Someone had told him that Shiva was a devotee of Rama and Rama a devotee of Shiva. So whenever he came to a Shiva linga he would chant Rama’s name, and whenever in front of an image of Rama, he would chant "Om namah Shivaya." Indeed, his guru had given him the mantra,

rAma rAmeti rAmeti rame rAme manorame
sahasra-nAmabhis tulyam rAma-nAma varAnane

(Narada-pancharatra 4.3.223)

And so he chanted it for the pleasure of Lord Shiva. One day, after doing this, he had a dream in which Lord Shiva appeared to him and talked constantly throughout the dream, but when he woke up he could not remember anything that the Lord said. Even so, he considered this dream appearance the blessed result of his method of chanting and so he shared his experience with other members of the ashram. But rather than share his wonder and excitement, one of them told him he was crazy and should go on “bhramana,” meaning wandering through India from one sacred place to another, depending on the mercy of the Lord.

Realizing that the ashram was no longer conducive to his spiritual life, he went and asked his guru for permission to go on bhramana. So for the next two years, he walked from Bangalore north to Uttar Kashi and also as far as Ayodhya in the East, staying mostly at different ashrams where he would remain for varying periods of time (including two months at Madhuban, the Hare Krishna temple here in Rishikesh).

Though he had many adventures, one story he told was rather fun, so I will just tell it as he did.

Gangesh was staying at an ashram in Maharashtra, which was undergoing a dry spell. It was a particular tithi and the mahanta was taking him to the Godavari in a car when for some reason he began to either tease or torment Gangesh by telling him that he did not believe he was really a brahmachari. Finally, in frustration, Gangesh blurted out that if he was truly a brahmachari, then the next day at nine o’clock in the evening rain would fall from the heavens.

He immediately regretted having said it. To quote, “Swamiji, I was saying myself, what for you say this thing?” But the mahanta, who sounds like a bit of schemer, decided to spread word around, telling all the villagers that the visiting sadhu had promised rain. A steady procession of poor village people came to the dumbfounded Gangesh who was at a loss for what to tell them to solve their problems. He just told them to do Go-seva. A woman trying to get pregnant was told to say a few prayers and feed and circumambulate a cow. He was telling everyone to circumambulate the cows.

By nightfall he was in deep anxiety. He went to bed hoping that by morning everyone would have forgotten, but that was too much to expect. Still, being nervous about what would happen, Gangesh decided to follow his own advice and circumambulate a cow or two.

The day went by and no one said anything. Finally, that evening, while the mahanta was serving Gangesh a fine meal, he said, “Half an hour to go.” Gangesh was near panic, but for no reason. The gods smiled on him and gave recognition to his brahmacharya by raining at the appointed moment.

The next day, all the villagers came with money and gifts for the sadhu. According to Gangesh, he said the gifts should be given to the poor, and since you are poor yourselves, keep them. They naturally wanted him to stay in the village, but Gangesh, fearful of labha, puja and pratishtha, pushed on north towards Uttara Kashi on his wandering adventure.

True or not, it was true to genre. And it was told with utmost sincerity and panache.

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