I recently went to a Shri Ram temple inauguration. A gentleman generously donated a track of land to build the temple and everyone was invited to the installation of the deities and to raise funds for it.
I was impressed with the festivities- there were Maharashtrian ladies performing their traditional lejhim dance and Telugu ladies performing the kolattam. The deity was on a chariot pulled by a sturdy horse, held by Sri Vaisnava priests. There was the obligatory gentleman on a truck blaring out songs and there were many stalls hawking their wares. A typical Indian scene with a good mix of chaos, humor, dance, singing, and chants by Sri Vaisnava priests as they installed the deities.
As I was walking along one of the stalls minding my business, I was stopped by a kindly looking, enthusiastic gentleman who wanted to show me books. I am a book lover more than anything else, so I obliged.
As I walked to the stall, the person showed me a Ramayana book – I could not make out any author on it, and then the person whispered in my ear, “this book is bonafide”.
Alarm bells went off in my brain as I immediately understood and numerous memories came flooding back. I had unsuspectingly walked straight into a Hare Krsna preacher’s tent- who was trying to save me by selling me a ‘bonafide’ book. You see, Tulasi Ramayana, is not bonafide for this preacher. It is Valmiki Ramayana- the original- straight from Sri Valmiki’s throat to poor old fallen me. And yet, how did this person know it was ‘bonafide’? The book was an English translation which I had owned and read in the past; its cover had changed and was unfamiliar. I am a compulsive reader and I have read more books than I can remember.
I could feel my anger rising. It was hot, but my brain was getting hotter than the heat. I muttered something under my breath (which I regretted immediately) and began to walk away. I had muttered, “I do not want to read apasiddhanta”, but unfortunately the astute preacher had caught what I said.
He stopped me in my tracks and would not let me go. He pleaded, “Tell me at least one thing that is an apasiddhanta in these books”. I responded that it would take all day for me to explain. I started by asking him, “Have you read Sri Jiva Goswami’s Sandarbhas?”
Of course the answer was no. To his credit, at least he admitted that. I responded, “If you haven’t read the Sandarbhas, which are the foundation of the Gaudiya sampradaya, how can you judge whether the books you are selling are bonafide?”
To this, he again had no answer. I felt sorry for him but at the same time, I could guess what he was really thinking, “This punk thinks he knows more than our great acharya. What a deluded fallen soul! I am going to show him how wrong he is.”
I made to walk away again, and again he stopped me. He really wanted to know. I responded, “Why do you want to know? What will you do with what I tell you? You are not going to change, and I am not going to change”. But like the stubborn good preacher he was, he kept pleading with me.
He soon regretted it. I started talking about dormant prema, and the atma’s intrinsic properties, and the concept of anadi, and… I could tell he was not listening. His eyes glazed over, bored, looking here and there. I stopped abruptly, and asked, “Are you happy now?” He said, “Yes”. In the usual style so familiar to me, he then muttered the obligatory, “Please come to our temple some time”. I responded, “I go to these temples”, waving my hand in the direction of the pandala of Sri Ram. I left, as he (mockingly) called out, “Jay Shri Ram”.
I was steamed about it for a while afterwards. Later, I was much amused. I had had a close encounter of the bonafide kind! Of all the people on the planet to preach to, this person had the misfortune of trying to preach to me!