Five-In-One Absolute Truth

The next morning Prabhupada had a new, handwritten sign posted on the outside bathroom door of the temple room:

All initiated devotees must attend
morning and evening classes.
Must not be addicted to any kind of intoxicants,
including coffee, tea and cigarettes.
They are forbidden to have illicit sex-connections.
Must be strictly vegetarian.
Should not extensively mix with non-devotees.
Should not eat foodstuffs cooked by non-devotees.
Should not waste time in idle talks nor
Engage himself in frivolous sports.
Should always chant and sing the Lord’s Holy Names:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Thank you

Prabhupada’s handwriting intrigued me; and so did the list. I read it over a few times. Most of the rules seemed natural enough. Although I was still associating with non-devotees—my family—it could hardly be called “extensive”. Practically speaking I only slept at their house. And although I still had a few non-devotee friends, our ideas were becoming increasingly more polarized, and so the number of such friends was quickly diminishing. My real friends and family were the devotees and temple guests, and the few classmates who were slightly interested in Krsna consciousness had recently helped me to arrange a preaching engagement for Prabhupada at City College.

“Wasting time in idle talk” seemed difficult, though. How, simply by speaking ordinary topics, could my spiritual advancement be checked?

Thinking and thinking, I recalled Prabhupada’s recent class saying that speech is the most important quality for everyone. People get together and go on talking for no good purposes—either for this life, or for the next. “If we are gaining something materially, we may go on talking; or if we are gaining something spiritually, we may talk. But if there is no gain, if it is simply wasting time, then such talking should not be done.” He’d gone so far as to say that mundane talk was like the croaking of the frog, which simply invites the snake of death to come and eat him. If we talked of Krsna, He would become pleased and bless us with deathlessness.

It made sense. Now I would just have to apply this new found understanding. On one level, the thought of only being able to talk about Krsna was restrictiv e, but if by loose talk I was cultivating an impure consciousness, then even though I might be physically present in the temple, I would be binding myself to the cycle of repeated birth and death. I began to be aware of what I was speaking, and began to try to change.

* * * *

Later that morning, one of the devotees signaled that Prabhupada wanted to see me in his apartment. When I arrived, he wasn’t there, so I assumed he must have gone into the bathroom. Alone in his greeting room for the first time, I looked around. The second-hand, thick, Indian durrie-print rug I had donated to him a month earlier now covered his sitting cushion, and the small metal trunk he had brought from India, and which was now covered by a dark, gray-brown blanket, served as his desk. A manual typewriter, papers and books all sat in the middle of the desk, and a bundle of what seemed to be manuscripts wrapped in saffron cloth lay in a corner. A tall, metal closet opposite Prabhupada’s desk held his stock of Srimad-Bhagavatams and his few personal items of clothing. Two windows to the left of the closet filtered morning sunlight through the fire escape, illuminating the prints of Krsna on the wall. “A transcendental office,” I mused.

Prabhupada walked in, and, happy to see him, I touched my head to the floor as an offering of obeisance. He greeted me with a nod and a smile, and then carefully lifted an 8”x10” Indian print from a pile of papers on his desk. It was another picture of Lord Caitanya and His four main associates, more formal than the first, and looking like a posed portrait intended for worship. In this print this Lord Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu stood in the top center position, with the others standing in two descending rows slightly below Him. Above His head, a very small rendition of Radha and Krsna appeared within an aum sign, superimposed over a bright green background.

“This is called Panca-tattva,” Prabhupada said, sitting himself on the layers of thin mats behind his desk. “The five-in-one Absolute Truth.”

Although this was a new concept for me, I tried to follow as Prabhupada explained the print: “The first two, Sri Nityananda Prabhu and Sri Advaita Acarya, are in the category of Lord Caitanya Himself. They are Visnu tattva— God. They are energetic Absolute Truth. The others, Sri Gadadhara Pandit and Sri Srivasa Thakura, they are His devotees, His eternal associates. So They are His energies. The energy and energetic are fundamentally one, but because their functions are exhibited differently, they are different also. So in this way the Absolute Truth is manifested in diversity, in one unit. This is called acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, or the conception of simultaneous oneness and difference.”

Prabhupada was filling in the blanks of my previous conception of God: He was everything, yet at the same time He was different from everything. Conceivably, it was inconceivable.

“If we follow the principles of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu,” Prabhupada continued, “by associating with His devotees, our desires for material enjoyment, like lust and greed, will disappear from our heart. Then we will be able to understand the meaning of all sastras. But if not, then such understanding is not possible.”

“That must be why I have difficulty absorbing all these new philosophical concepts,” I thought. Material desires have not disappeared from my heart. I was embarrassed, but enthusiastic to work for Prabhupada.

“Among these five diverse manifestations of the Supreme Lord.” Prabhupada continued, “That is, the Lord Himself, His incarnation, expansion and energies—there is no spiritual difference. Simply They are five diverse manifestations. Lord Caitanya is, I mean to say, the form of devotee, Lord Nityananda is the identity of devotee, Advaita is incarnation of devotee. Then, here is Gadadhara. He is the pure devotee and Srivasa Thakura is devotional energy.”

“The Panca-tattva have Their own maha-mantra,” Prabhupada continued. “Sri Krsna Caitanya prabhu Nityananda Sri Advaita Gadadhara Srivasadi Gaura bhakta vrnda.’ This mantra has some speciality. There are so many offenses in chanting Hare Krsna. But the members of the Panca-tattva do not accept offenses. They are the most merciful. By first chanting Their mantra, They purify us to chant Hare Krsna.”

I remembered the sign with all the rules, glad now to be introduced to the Panca-tattva, and praying that They might take away any obstacles to my spiritual advancement. Wanting more explanation, but unable to even begin formulating a question, I just looked at the picture.

Lord Caitanya’s hair was styled differently than in the first print Prabhupada had shown me. I fetched the other from the next room to compare the two. In this new print some of His hair was pulled up in a topknot, with the rest hanging in locks to His shoulders. In the other print, it was parted down the middle and all of it fell to His shoulders. Which style I should use? I asked.

He held both the prints on his lap and studied them. I wondered whether he was looking at the paper or seeing Them in person, as his large eyes were moist.

“Use the style with the topknot,” he said.

I offered my obeisances again, and left to purchase the canvas and other materials. Since I wore old dungarees while I painted, and since I was almost always misplacing my paint rag, the dungarees became like a paint rag. Quite a messy painter, in fact, my hands usually smeared with paint, while working with the original Panca-tattva print I would occasionally smudge parts of its glass covering or frame.

Towards the end of the week’s work, Prabhupada mentioned the smudges. This picture is non-different from Lord Caitanya and His associates Themselves, so you should keep it as clean as possible.”

I immediately cleaned it up, and promised myself I’d be more careful in the future. At the end of the day, I decided not to leave Lord Caitanya standing on the newspapers on the floor, as I had been doing. Instead, I hung the painting on the wall by the inner window. Just before I left, Prabhupada came into the room, walked over to the painting, and studied it for a few moments. He
turned to me and, with his right palm upward, pointed to Lord Caitanya’s raised arm. “You can paint an amulet here,” he said. “He received it from His mother on His birthday—to ward off all ill luck.”

The next day, when I informed Prabhupada that the painting was complete, he asked me to, “paint the names of the Panca-tattva under Their lotus feet.”

I thought perhaps I had missed something. “Lotus what?” I asked.

“Feet, lotus feet. The Lord’s feet are as beautiful as fully bloomed lotus flowers. Meaning is also that Lord Caitanya and His devotees dance eternally in one section of Krsna’s planet. And that planet is shaped like lotus flower.”

I tried to visualize both the feet and the planet, without much success.

Prabhupada wrote the names on a small piece of paper so I would know how to spell them, and I then printed them on the painting in oil paint and then walked to the hardware store on Third Avenue to buy some 1” wide plywood strips for a frame.

Enroute, I passed one of the thousands of New York’s Lower East side Bowery bums. Slovenly dressed and wrinkled from a life of hardship, he pushed a wooden cart piled high with bundles of junk and cradled a bottle of whiskey. It was already the beginning of December, and snow and slush covered the streets, but this unfortunate fellow wore merely a few ripped sweaters, and his feet were wrapped in newspapers and plastic bags. I felt sorry for him.

I returned to the apartment, and, as I was nailing the wood strips onto the sides of the painting, Gargamuni came by. I mentioned to him about the bedraggled bum I’d encountered earlier.

“Was he carrying a heavy load?” he asked.

I nodded as I began applying bright blue paint over the plywood frame and told him about the junk piled on the cart. “I thought so. I’ve seen him around.” He paced across the floor and then added, “You know Swamiji once told us about the donkey who foolishly carries a heavy load, slaving hard and thinking that at his next step he will catch the dangling carrot that the owner tied two inches in front of his nose, which, of course, he’ll never get. All he gets is a few bites of grass at the end of the walk.”

He laughed, “And he doesn’t even realize there’s already so much grass for free on the sides of the road.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “But I felt sorry for this bum. He was so poor.”

“I think you missed the Swami’s point,” Gargamuni interrupted.

“Everyone is poor. Even the millionaire. Everyone is working hard for material masters, hoping to get happiness—and it never comes.”

“I get it now.” “I should feel sorry for the ‘rich’ as much as for the ‘poor’”.

“Anyway, people are either ‘rich’ or ‘poor’ in proportion to the amount of Krsna consciousness they have.”

Prabhupada asked Gargamuni to hang the Panca-tattva painting; but instead of hanging it on the wall, he put it on the “side altar”—an old table someone had covered with a checkered cloth and set against the temple room’s side wall, halfway between Prabhupada’s dais and the front entrance. That evening, at the beginning of class, Prabhupada looked at the large painting standing on the altar. He appeared disturbed and asked that it be properly hung. The next day it was still not hung. Finally, after three requests over three days, Gargamuni hung the painting on the wall above the altar. The following morning in his Srimad-Bhagavatam class Prabhupada spoke as if making an announcement, “Now Lord Caitanya is here. There should be no more nonsense in the temple. God is here, His expansion, His incarnation, His spiritual energy and His marginal energy; everything is here except His material energy. There is nothing material about this painting. And, even if you think it is only color, color is another of God’s energies, and therefore it is also spiritual. If anyone simply chants Hare Krsna in any part of the world and dances in front of this painting of the Panca-tattva, he can become fully Krsna conscious.”

The other devotees were as amazed as I was. What kind of special mercy was Prabhupada giving us?

Prabhupada explained that Lord Caitanya had started the sankirtana movement when He was just a boy, and that He was always surrounded by “this Hare Krsna party”. He said that Lord Caitanya is the yuga-avatara of this age, and that He is worshipped simply by chanting. He encouraged us to preach the maha-mantra sound vibration along with this picture all over the world, and he said that would bring peace and prosperity without a doubt. He concluded by saying that this should be the mission of the Krsna consciousness society.

“How incredibly fortunate I am to have joined this most important and revolutionary society,” I thought to myself. I remembered the sign on the bathroom door. “Should always chant and sing the Lord’s holy names. Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” “Maybe the Panca-tattva would help me if I asked Them.”

Copyright 2001-2002 Jadurani/Syamarani dasi.
All Rights Reserved.