(Excerpted from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami.)
Abhay considered Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura his spiritual master from the time of their first meeting in 1922, but business and family commitments kept Abhay from participating full-time in Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s mission to spread Krsna consciousness.
In 1923 Abhay moved from Calcutta to Allahabad and opened a dispensary. The pharmaceutical industry was just beginning in India, and Abhay had accepted an offer from Dr K. C. Base, his employer in Calcutta, to become the agent for Base’s Laboratory in northern India. Abhay travelled out of Allahabad, opening and maintaining accounts with doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies. Except for his business travels, Abhay stayed in Allahabad, working at the dispensary and spending time with his family. He tended diligently to his business, and it prospered. Abhay thought that if he were to become successful, he could spend money to help support Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s mission.
In 1928 some of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s disciples came to Allahabad and soon opened a Radha-Krsna temple near Abhay’s home. After work, Abhay would visit the temple and join in the devotional singing and chanting. Sometimes he would bring important people along. For Abhay, his reunion with Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s disciples brought new life.
A little later, Abhay was again anticipating an imminent meeting with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, this time at Allahabad. Abhay had only recently returned from Vrndavana to his work at Prayag Pharmacy when the devotees at the Allahabad Gaudiya Math informed him of the good news. They had secured land and funds for constructing a building, the Sri Rupa Gaudiya Math, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta would be coming on November 21 to preside over the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone. Sir William Malcolm Haily, governor of the United Provinces, would be the respected guest and, in a grand ceremony, would lay the foundation stone in the presence of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. When Abhay learned that there would also be an initiation ceremony, he asked if he could be initiated. Atulananda, the matha’s president, assured Abhay that he would introduce him to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
At home, Abhay discussed his initiation plans with his wife. She had no objection, but she did not want to take initiation herself. They were already worshipping the Deity at home and offering their food to the Deity. They believed in God and were living peacefully.
But for Abhay that was not enough. Although he would not force his wife, he knew that he must be initiated by a pure devotee. Avoiding sinful life, and living piously—these things were necessary and reasonable, but in themselves, they did not constitute spiritual life and could not satisfy the yearning of the soul. Life’s ultimate goal and the absolute necessity of the self was the love of Krsna. That love of Krsna his father had already been inculcated within him, and now he had to take the next step. His father would have been pleased to see him do it.
As for the ritual initiation he had received at age twelve from a family priest, Abhay had never taken it seriously. It had been a religious formality. But a guru was not a mere officiating ritualistic priest; so Abhay rejected the idea that he already had a guru. He had never received instructions from him in devotional service, and his family guru had not linked him, through disciplic succession, with Krsna. But by taking initiation from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati he would be linked with Krsna. Abhay felt that he had already accepted Srila Bhaktisiddhanta as his spiritual master and that from their very first meeting he had already received his orders. Now if Srila Bhaktisiddhanta would accept him as his disciple, the relationship would be confirmed.
On the day of the ceremony, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati met with his disciples at the Allahabad Gaudiya Math on South Mallaca Street. While he was speaking of Krsna and taking questions, Atulananda Brahmacari took the opportunity to present several devotees, Abhay amongst them, as candidates for initiation. The Allahabad devotees were proud of Mr De, who regularly attended the matha in the evening, led bhajans, listened to the teachings and spoke them himself, and often brought respectable guests. He had contributed money and had induced his business colleagues also to do so. With folded palms, Abhay looked up humbly at his spiritual master. He and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati were now face to face, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta recognized him and was visibly pleased to see him. He already knew him. “Yes,” he said, exchanging looks with Abhay, “he likes to hear. He does not go away. I have marked him. I will accept him as my disciple.”
As the moment and the words became impressed into his being, Abhay was in ecstasy. Atulananda was pleasantly surprised that his Gurudeva was already in approval of Mr. De. Other disciples in the room were also pleased to witness Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s immediate acceptance of Mr. De as a good listener. Some of them wondered when or where Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had arrived at such an estimation of the young pharmacist.
At the initiation, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was seated on a vyasasana, an elevated seat, and the room was filled with guests and members of the Gaudiya Math. Those to be initiated sat around a small mound of earth, where one of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s sannyasis prepared a fire and offered grains and fruits into the flames, while everyone chanted mantras for purification. Abhay’s sister and brother were present, but not his wife.
Abhay had basked in the presence of his Gurudeva. “Yes, he likes to hear”—the words of his spiritual master and his glance of recognition had remained with Abhay. Abhay would continue pleasing his spiritual master by hearing well. “Then,” he thought, “I will be able to speak well.” The Vedic literature described nine processes of devotional service, the first of which was sravanam, hearing about Krsna; then came kirtanam, chanting about and glorifying Him. By sitting patiently and hearing at Kosi, he had pleased Krsna’s representative, and when Krsna’s representative was pleased, Krsna was pleased. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had not praised him for donating money to the matha and hadn’t advised him to forsake his family and business and travel with him, nor had he asked Abhay to perform great austerities, like the yogis who mortify their bodies with fasts and difficult vows. But “He likes to hear,” he had said. “I have marked him.” Abhay thought about it and, again, listened carefully as his spiritual master conducted the initiation.
Finally, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta called for Abhay to come forward and receive initiation by accepting his Japa, or prayer, beads. After offering prostrated obeisances, Abhay extended his right hand and accepted the strand of Japa beads from the hand of his spiritual master. At the same time, he also received the sacred brahminical thread, signifying the second initiation. Usually, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta gave the first initiation, Hari-nama, and only after some time, when he was satisfied with the progress of the disciple, would he give the second initiation. But he offered Abhay both initiations at the same time. Now Abhay was a full-fledged disciple, a brahmana, who could perform sacrifices, such as this fire yajna for initiation; he could worship the Deity in the temple and would be expected to discourse widely. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta added Aravind, “lotus,” to his name; now he was Abhay Charanaravinda.
After Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati left Allahabad for Calcutta, Abhay keenly felt the responsibility of working on behalf of his spiritual master. At the initiation, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had instructed Abhay to study Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-Sindhu, which outlined the loving exchanges between Krsna and His devotees and explained how a devotee can advance in spiritual life. Bhakti-rasamrta-Sindhu was a “lawbook” for devotional service, and Abhay would study it carefully. He was glad to increase his visits to the Allahabad centre and to bring new people. Even at his first meeting with his spiritual master, he had received the instruction to preach the mission of Lord Caitanya, and now he began steadily and carefully considering how to do so.