Baba's Biography

I want to share a few incidents of my Gurudev Shri Vinod Bihari Das Babaji maharaj's life. He is a Babaji, that is equivalent to sannyasi in Gaudiya vaishnavism. So, naturally, he doesn't speak much about his life before forsaking grihastha ashram, since that is the rule of Babaji vesa. Only sometimes he refers to some of the incidents in his life as part of his satsang. That is how we came to know about these incidents. I am sorry, I am unable to give much factual description like dates and names. The intention is to let our hearts get inspired by reading about a Mahapurush's life. 

Baba's previous name was Vinay Kumar. He was born in 1947 in a brahmin family to father Sri Daam and mother Lavanya. At first, his father died and a few years later, his mother. Vinay Kumar was so young, the only significant memories he has of his mother are that she used to take him to her gurudev, a sadhu, and told him to massage sadhu's feet. Baba says he got his first samskaras of sadhu seva from his mother. 

They were three brothers. After their parents died, they were left abandoned, nobody to look after them. They would roam around in streets looking for some minor jobs or just for food and water. It was the most difficult time of Baba's life. He was 8-10 years old and had to face rejection, condemnation and the inhuman side of human at such a young age. He had to starve many days and was grateful to the women who gave him even one chapati or a handful of rice. There were only a few women who gave him shelter, let him sleep in the verandah and gave him food. Baba recalls an old woman would get angry if didn't go to her house and would first tell him to go away and never come back. But as soon as baba would turn his back, she would get even more angry and say "see! How conceited he is! He dares to go away!" 

Baba started selling newspaper. He wanted to get educated and get a good job. Nobody knows exactly how he managed to do it, but he was a very hardworking boy. And he did go to school with his hard earned money. For a few years he had to look after the children of his elder brother. He was attracted to the street drama groups and acted in several dramas. He was a talented actor. Eventually, he grew up and became a civil engineer. He had a respectable government job and was admired by his colleagues for his sincere work and friendly behavior. Baba was also talented in music. He was trained by Allah Rakha Khan, a famous classical music artist, who is also the mentor of sitarist Ravi Shankar. He bacame a sitarist and performed in several radio programs. Baba says he used to live in style at that time. He used to wear silk kurtas and churidars with proper stylised pleats. Many foreigners used to come to listen to his sitar and would present him precious scents. He was single, nobody to care for, abundant money, his government job and classical music shows. He was quite happy and contended. 

One day, he was at the railway station of Howrah, waiting for his train. He was looking at the books at a book stall when he came cross a book of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa. Curious to know about new subjects by nature, Baba bought the book and started reading it. He was so inspired by Ramakrishna Paramhamsa's teachings that he decided to change his life completely. He was awakened to the spiritual aspect of life and was determined to see the very end of it. Baba says he started living a very simple life. Even though he had so much money he started reducing his food intake and daily needs. He subscribed to a library in an university and started reading all the scriptures of Sanatan dharma. He used to go to the banks of Ganga and sit beside the sadhus there. He would listen to their lectures and view points on spirituality quietly and read the scriptures. Like this he explored all kinds of sampradayas existing around him. If anyone talked about a good sadhu, he would immediately visit the sadhu with an open mind and a thirst to know about different experiences of different sadhus. He didn't make anyone his guru but was extensively exploring all sects. 

Baba was not sure whom to make his Guru but he had heard the Hare Krishna Mahamantra sung by kirtan mandalas. So he started chanting Mahamantra day and night, all the time. Now Baba started visiting places of pilgrimage in his holidays. He had read about Vrindavan in the scriptures and heard about some highly elevated sadhus living in Braj at that time. So he came to Vrindavan for a few days and was more attracted to the sadhus than the temples. He would try to find those sadhus who lived in dense forest (Braj Dham was still full of forests at that time) and were determined renunciates. In this way, he visited Sri Kishorikishoranand Das Baba, also known as Sri Tinkodi Goswami, too. He was attracted to his mood of utter renunciation. Sri Tinkodi Goswami ji never lived in any ashram, though his disciples built many ashrams and temples in his name. He liked to stay in densely forested areas where, Baba says, even ghosts wouldn't like to stay (let alone any human being). Even when seven day programmes of Srimad Bhagwatam were organized by the villagers motivated by him, he would stay in a forested area nearby and would come only to listen to Srimad Bhagvatam. During feasts and other programmes, he would go back to his asana in the forest. He spoke very little, ate next to nothing (that too only falahar) and was engrossed in chanting Harinaam day and night, so much that he had to ask people whether it was day or night. But Baba was not in the mood of such complete renunciation himself, so he went back to Kolkata and visited Braj Dham and Sri Tinkodi Goswami in holidays. Baba practiced the renunciate lifestyle in his home itself. He would eat very little, skip eating grains for a few days, wouldn't mind whether his clothes looked proper or not and so on. Where will he find enough food to fill his stomach when he came to live in Braj? That is why he reduced his intake. And he continued chanting Harinaam all the time. 

Once, he had come to visit Braj Dham for a few days. Sri Tinkodi Goswami was residing in Giriraj Talhati at that time. Baba had purchased some gifts for his friends from Braj and was sure to go back home. He says he had given his favourite blue silk shirt to the laundry shop before coming to Braj and wanted to wear it on an occassion when he got back to Kolkata. But it seems Sri Tinkodi Goswami had already accepted him as his disciple and had different plans. It was summer and Baba wanted to get a haircut. The same day he wanted to worship Sri Tinkodi Goswami with flowers, sandal paste and arati. So, early in the morning, he went to the barber and asked him to quickly cut his hair. The barber thought that he wanted to become a babaji, so he cut all his hair but kept his shikha. When Baba realised it, he was annoyed but was getting late. So he let it be and asked how much he had to pay. The Brijwasi barber said that since he was becoming a renunciate, he wouldn't take any money but wanted his shirt. Baba didn't want to waste his time arguing, so he just gave away his shirt to the barber. Now he was wearing just a dhoti and the barber had already cut his hair like a babaji, so he looked exactly like a babaji. He purchased some flowers and fruits and quickly went to Sri Tinkodi Goswamiji in Giriraj Talhati. He saw Goswamiji standing by the door and peeping outside, as if looking for someone. When Baba reached him and offered his obeisances, he was suddenly overcome by emotion and started crying holding his feet. Baba said, "O Gurudev, please take me into your shelter! I don't want to go anywhere leaving you." Goswami ji started laughing very loudly, looking at the sky. Baba was both surprised and relieved looking at his inexplicable expression. Goswamiji told Baba to stay with him. Baba never went back home. 

Baba was initiated and given babaji vesa by Sri Tinkodi Goswamiji. The renunciate life with Goswamiji was very difficult and strict. Goswamiji used to stay at one place sometimes for a few days, and sometimes for a few months. Such was his nature, he would suddenly get up from his asana, having decided that he wanted to move on to a different place, and start walking. When the disciples enquired where he was going, he would say casually that he is going to a certain place and they can pack up the things and follow him whenever they could. The disciples had to quickly pack their things and run behind him. Then Goswamiji would choose a spot where snakes, scorpions and ghosts lived, so that the local people won't come to disturb him every now and then. When Goswamiji asked the villagers to organize seven day Srimad Bhagvatam lecture by renowned and renunciate Bhagvatam speakers from Radhakund and Vrindavan, Baba and his godbrothers helped prepare for the feast for sadhus. Baba usually made chapatis for the feast. After several other sevas and making chapati from morning till noon, Baba like other disciples used to go for Madhukori. They never partook any prasad of the feasts, always went for Madhukori themselves. Their eldest godbrother Sitanath Das Baba was a strict renunciate himself, and was strict about renunciation to other godbrothers too. Often Baba didn't get much Madhukori, the villagers of Braj were very poor at that time. Most Brijwasi maiyas would give only one fourth of a chapati. After wandering through the whole village, Baba would hardly get two chapatis in total. Though he had practiced reducing his food intake at home, Baba felt very hungry after all day's work. But Sitanath Das Baba would clean all the utensils and the whole place immediately after the feast and give away all remaining prasad to animals of Braj by the time Baba and others returned from Madhukori. One day, he was extremely hungry. He was hoping to find some chapatis remaining after the feast and was determined to steal some chapatis from a pot in which Sitanath Das Baba kept some chapatis for cows that day. Those chapatis were a day or two old, but Baba was too hungry to care. Baba sat down for chanting at a spot from where he could watch Sitanath Das Baba and also see the pot in which chapatis were kept. As soon as Sitanath Das Baba went out of sight, Baba rushed to the pot and stole 2-3 chapatis from it. They had hardened and were completely dry. One could not chew them as they were. So Baba soaked them in water for an hour and then ate them. 

One day, Baba asked Sitanath Das Baba if he could give some sabji (vegetable curry) since he was extremely hungry and didn't get any in Madhukori. Sitanath Das Baba was sarcastic and said, "Babaji wants sabji! You have left the world to come here, to eat sabji?!" Another day, Baba asked for a green chilli since he found it very difficult to chew the dry and thick chapatis of Madhukori (Like all bengalis, Baba was more accustomed to eat rice than chapati). That too was rejected quite sarcastically. Baba was very disappointed and in his sorrow, he went near Goswamiji and sat a little away from him. Goswamiji was inside a little room and the door was open. Baba heard him murmur "Oh, the child doesn't have even a little sabji to eat with. How will he eat?" But Goswamiji didn't call Sitanath Das Baba to tell him to give Baba any sabji. Baba was surprised that even though Goswamiji was sorry for him, he didn't make any arrangement for a little sabji for his disciples, which he was completely able to do. Baba realised that though he was as compassionate as a mother, he wanted his disciples to be strict about renunciation. If he asked wealthy disciples to provide for them, they would become dependent and indebted to the wealthy disciples, which is against the rules of renunciation. Baba was not sorry or angry for this incident, but was inspired by the mood of renunciation of his Gurudev. 

But this was not the worst. Sometimes Goswamiji moved to remote places in Braj where no villages existed within miles. In the dense forests of Braj, there were only wild vegetables and wild leafy greens unknown to them. But Sitanath Das Baba didn't care. He would take a big basket and picked whatever looked like food to him. Often they would spent the night going repeatedly for cleaning their bowels. Some wild food couldn't be digested. When Baba couldn't endure it anymore, he asked Sitanath Das Baba to cook Kadhi and rice, bringing some buttermilk from the village. Sitanath Das Baba was amused and agreed to it. Next day, Baba was very excited that today he wouldn't have to eat wild grass. He would eat Kadhi and rice. He quickly completed his daily morning rounds of chanting Harinaam and went to the place where Sitanath Das Baba was cooking. He saw the yellow fluid boiling in the vessel and was very happy. He waited till the bhoga was offered to Giridhari and everyone sat to take prasad. As soon as he put a little 'kadhi' in his mouth, his happiness vanished. It was just the starch of rice coloured yellow with turmeric and salt added. Now eat this with rice! 

This was the situation of food. But that was only a part of the difficult training of renunciation under Goswamiji. Goswamiji was very particular to his disciples about waking up at 2 am in the midnight and attend kirtan after quickly bathing and refreshing themselves. Then they could go for their individual bhajan. But maybe he wanted Baba to climb the extreme heights of spirituality. To do this, he wanted Baba to reduce his sleep too. He would ask Baba simply for water or a little food (usually just a pinch of a sweet) in order to keep him engaged in his service and therefore, keep him awake. Baba was a determined disciple, loved his Guru with all his heart and life. He would sit near Goswamiji, holding the glass of water or the plate with the sweet for hours while Goswamiji chanted and nodded now and then to let him know that he knew Baba was waiting. Baba could not leave the glass or plate till Goswamiji would ask him to go. (Goswamiji had himself ceased sleeping before Baba came to him. Baba never saw him sleeping). This happened day after day. Once Goswamiji kept Baba awake till 1 am. Then Baba asked if he could go to sleep. Goswamiji replied, "Now?! It is time to wake up and not fall asleep." So, Baba was deprived of sleep, though he admitted he fell asleep during chanting due to this. But he never complained. He knew he was being trained. Eventually, he got accustomed to it and he didn't feel sleepy much.

Here are few incidents of Baba's life. We have no information on their timeline, just enumerating: 
  1. Baba had practiced renunciation at his home itself. He mentions that at the time he came to Braj forever, he felt indifferent to specialty sweets of Bengal he had loved eating earlier. The last time he boarded a train to Braj, he saw people flocking around a sweet seller's stall at a railway station. When he enquired about it he was informed that it was 'petha', a sweet made from white gourd, and it was not available in Bengal. So he decided to try the sweet people were going crazy to buy. He bought 250g of the sweet and tasted a bit of it. He felt like he was just eating a lot of sugar, no other taste he could identify. He had to secretly throw the rest of the sweet away, thinking people will consider him crazy to throw away 'petha'. But a few years later, while living the life of a renunciate in Braj, one day he felt an overwhelming crave for the same 'petha'. At that time he had some money with him. So he bought 500g of 'petha' and went to a lonely place to devour all of it. Later, he asked Goswamiji why this happened. Goswamiji replied, "When the forest is fine, you will hardly see any wild animals in the forest path. But when the forest catches fire, all the wild animals come running out of it. When you were in the lap of Maya, the vikaras (lust, anger, greed, envy, etc.) seemed non existent. But now you have put fire on your worldly desires, the forest. That is why, all the wild animals are coming out. Don't panic, they will run away on their own."
  2. Baba had to endure recurring malaria for 10 years after coming to Braj. But he never asked anyone to get him a treatment or any kind of medicine, though many influential and wealthy disciples of Goswamiji were regular visitors of Goswamiji. At last, one of his godbrothers came to know about this, who was a doctor in Vrindavan. He gave Baba homoeopathic medicine of his own accord, as seva. Baba was slowly cured.
    While baba was badly suffering from malaria, Goswamiji one day decided to move on to Vrindavan from Tapovan. As was his nature, Goswamiji didn't tell anyone. Baba was almost unconscious due to malarial fever, so he didn't know when Goswamiji left. Later, when he got up, he found Goswamiji gone. Somebody told him that Goswamiji had left for Vrindavan. He had to somehow go to Vrindavan in that very state itself (Baba was the sole disciple in Goswamiji's service at the time). When he reached there, Goswamiji said, "Oh Vinod, you have come? I was so worried about you. Very well!" Baba was puzzled. If he was so worried about him, then why did he leave him without notice in such a state at all? With mercy of Goswamiji, Baba's faith in his Guru was never shook. He realised what Goswamiji wanted to teach was that a Guru is a spiritual mentor, but he is not responsible for a disciple's bodily needs.
  3. Once, Baba was sitting in front of Goswamiji while he was engrossed in chanting as always. Baba was feeling guilty for making some minor offenses while in service of Goswamiji (like stepping on Goswamiji's foot while handling him. Goswamiji had an attack of paralysis, which he overcame but had to be helped to move around). He didn't say anything, but was thinking in his own mind whether he should better go anywhere else than commit such offenses to his Guru. Goswamiji suddenly opened his eyes and said, "You must not think like this. It's not good for you. When a baby is in the lap of his mother, often he kicks his mother in the stomach. Does the mother take offense? She enjoys her child's acts and loves him more." Beside the lesson, Baba also realised that Goswamiji knew all his thoughts. He is Antaryami.
  4. Once, while living in Giriraj Talhati, Baba was fed up of eating wild vegetables, leaves and occasional bland meals consisting boiled vegetables with just salt. One day, a Brijwasi maiya brought a small basket of prasad containing pooris, sabji, halwa and other sweets, and gave it to Goswamiji. Baba was rejoiced. He hoped that Goswamiji would ask him to accept some prasad. But Goswamiji was engrossed in chanting, so Baba waited. A little later, a cowherd boy, who occasionally visited them to pay obeisances to Goswamiji, came. Goswamiji told Baba to give him some prasad. So Baba gave about half of the prasad to the cowherd boy. A little after the boy went, a dog came roaming around. Goswamiji told Baba to give the rest of the prasad to the dog. Baba was disheartened but did as he was ordered. Thinking about the incident he realised that Goswamiji had become indifferent to bland and delicious food. That is why, he gave away all those good prasad to a dog, while he didn't offer any to his disciple.
  5. Once, Baba was disappointed by the behavior of some of his god-brothers. He went to Goswamiji to complain, who had seen the whole incident. Baba said, "See, baba, you just saw how they behave!" Goswamiji replied, "Yes, they are right. You are wrong." "Baba, I am full of faults. But please point out my fault in this situation. I will definitely try to improve myself." said Baba, joining his hands. Goswami ji said, "You are not able to understand. That is the fault." "But baba, if I'm not able to understand, I pray to you that you point my fault out to me. I will try my best to improve." "That you are not seeing your fault, but think others are faulty, is your pride. This pride is your fault. One must always think they are faulty, while others are better than them in many ways."
  6. Baba has endured extreme and fearful situations in his renunciate life. While living with Goswamiji in dense forests, he never owned a woolen shawl or blanket. In places like Kokilavan, Badrinath, etc. Goswamiji resided in small kutiyas built for sadhus, but Baba stayed outside in the open. He had a cotton blanket called 'kantha' which was barely warm. He recalls that sometimes in those years, the Lalita kund near Radha kund was frozen. Whether it rained or hailed, even in such climate, Baba stayed in the open. In hot summers, the Giriraj shilas would heat up like hot skillet. But Baba would rest his head on a Giriraj shila and sleep while living in the Talhati. I myself have seen Baba sleeping soundly on hot cement verandah in Likhi, on which I could not even stand for a few seconds. He has literally lived the sloka of Bhagvad Geeta:
    "matrasparshastu kaunteya sheetosna sukhadukhadah, 
    Agam apayinonityastam stitikshasva bharata." 
    The material touches, O son of Kunti, giving cold and heat, pleasure and pain, such things are transient which come and go. Learn to endure these, O Bharata.
  7. Once, Goswamiji was going to Vrindavan from Goverdhan. But when he reached Radha kund, he decided to stay there. At that time, the place around Radhakund was not set in marble stone. There was a tree where the present temple of Goswamiji has been built, and Goswamiji sat down under the tree to chant. Some of Baba's elder godbrothers ordered Baba to take a wooden cot from the temple in Goverdhan in Goswamiji's name to Radhakund. Baba was not used to carry such heavy weights, but he didn't object to his elders. So he carried the cot alone on his shoulders. By the time he reached Kusum Sarovar, his shoulders were aching like anything and he could not continue. So he slammed the cot down by the road and sat down on the ground. At that time, the parikrama marg of Goverdhan was also a densely forested area. People didn't go to parikrama after dark since there were dacoits and of course, no lights. The street was deserted, except a few tractors that passed by. Baba was not popular among Brijwasis like today; infact no one knew him. And he had no money. He simply prayed and waited for someone known to come by. After waiting for about half an hour, he saw one of his godbrothers coming running towards him. Baba was relieved and thought he would stop his godbrother and pray to him, holding his feet, to help him carry the cot to Goswamiji. But the godbrother came straight to him and said that Goswamiji had sent him to Baba saying, "Go fast! Vinod is exhausted. He is near Kusum Sarovar. Go and help him to bring the cot here." Baba was overjoyed to hear this and felt so blessed in Goswamiji's shelter.
  8. Such strict mood of renunciation in those hard conditions couldn't and didn't go unrewarded. His determination in serving Goswamiji with all his heart was always reciprocated by Goswamiji himself. Once, Baba was fanning Goswamiji at midnight while Goswamiji was sitting chanting as usual. Baba was very tired. After fighting his sleep for a long time, he inevitably fell asleep. And he fell right on Goswamiji's shoulder with the fan still in his hand. When he woke up, he realised that he had been asleep for atleast half an hour. And Goswamiji had been sitting still with Baba sleeping on his shoulder. For half an hour, he neither moved nor did he wake Baba up. 
But Goswamiji also showered his mercy on Baba by showing him some sweet pastimes of Radha Krishna. Baba recalls that once, while living in Giriraj Talhati, Goswamiji stood up from his asana and called Baba. Goswamiji's eyes were full of tears. He said, " See, Vinod, do you see those cowherd boys? Do you see those cows?" Baba saw some cowherd boys playing in the field and some cows grazing beside them. "You cannot see their real swarupas. They are Krishna and his friends, with their cows." When Baba looked back at the field, they were gone. 

‎As the sole disciple in service in the last years with Goswamiji, Baba had to keep guard that nobody disturbed Goswamiji. But sometimes he thought he could hear Goswamiji talking and laughing with someone. He would get very angry and would immediately go to see who had dared to go to Goswamiji without his permission. But he found nobody near Goswamiji, who was calmly chanting as usual. This happened quite a few times. Then one day, he heard the sound of bangles alongwith Goswamiji's talking. It was just forest all around and it was not possible for anyone to come and go without Baba seeing him or her. Then Baba realised that it was Radharani with whom Goswamiji talked and laughed. Later when he asked Goswamiji about it, Goswamiji nodded with a laugh. 

Baba is till date a personification of humility. So much that he doesn't shirk from paying obeisances to his own disciples (though he has not given initiation to anyone till now. He has only given Harinaam to us). He has all the qualities described in Shrimad Bhagvatam that a shuddha bhakta should be adorned with, and those who have received his association know this in their hearts. Therefore it is only a repetition to say that he has achieved the stage of Prema bhakti and also received the darshan of Radha Krishna. He would of course, never admit it. So we don't know when and how that happened. I, personally, don't even want to know that. I see him as an living example of Kripalu (wishes good for all living creatures), Ajaatshatru (one who considers no one as his enemy), Titikshu (who can endure pleasurable and unpleasurable situations, cold and hot, praise and criticism), Satya saar (worships only the Truth), Anavidyatma (free from worldly attractions), Sama (indifferent to good and bad), Sarvopkarak (thinks for the benefit of all, impartial), Kaam hat (has no worldly desire), Dhi (one who can control his senses), Mridu (sweet natured), Shuchi (sacred), Akinchan (who never asks anybody anything for himself), Aniha (who never tries to acquire worldly things), Mita bhuk (eats little), Shanta (unruffled by any external situation), Sthir (whose mind is fixed in God), Bhagvat sharan (takes shelter only in God), Muni (always engrossed in contemplation of God), Apramatta (who is not lazy in bhajan), Gambhir (serious in nature), Dhriti (patient), Shad gunajit (who has conquered hunger, thirst, melancholy, delusion, birth and death), Amani (doesn't want people to praise and respect him), Maanad (gives respect to all), Kalpa (is an expert in explaining bhagvat tatva to others), Maitra (is friendly to all), Karunika (is compassionate to all) and Kavi (who is experienced in bhagvat tatva). In the world of spiritualism, no one can certify or prove anyone as a shuddha bhakta. The more people will try to associate with Baba, the more they will deepen their faith in him, the more they will experience his divine mercy.

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