Abhirāma dāsa: Śrīla Guru Mahārāja, is it favourable for bhakti to follow kārtika-vrata in Badger?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: Surely. You can follow it anywhere. And we must also follow cāturmāsya-vrata; not only in Badger, but everywhere in the world.
“On the twelfth day of the waxing moon in the month of Āṣāḍha (June-July), when Lord Hari is about to go to sleep, an initiated Vaiṣṇava should break his Ekādaśī fast and then brand the symbols (tapta-mudra) of Viṣṇu on his body.” (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 15.24)
This marking of the body is compared to a faithful wife’s wearing the signs of marriage such as conch shell bracelets. The verse mentions that Lord Hari is about to take rest. In fact, the preceding day is the Śayana Ekādaśī which marks the beginning of the Cāturmāsya period during which Lord Viṣṇu is said to be sleeping. Dvādaśī is sometimes said to be an extension of Ekādaśī, thus this kind of statement is permissible. In some circumstances, one may have the tapta-mudra done on the Ekādaśī day itself. The same injunction is also given for Pārśva Ekadasi (which marks the halfway point in the Cāturmāsya when Viṣṇu is said to turn over in His sleep) and Utthāna Ekādaśī (at the end of the four-month period, when Viṣṇu rises).
Art of Sadhana by Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja
The Cāturmāsya period begins in the month of Āṣāḍha (June-July) from the day of Ekādaśī called Śayanā-ekādaśī, in the fortnight of the waxing moon. The period ends in the month of Kārttika (October-November) on the Ekādaśī day known as Utthānā-ekādaśī, in the fortnight of the waxing moon. This four-month period is known as Cāturmāsya. Some Vaiṣṇavas also observe it from the full-moon day of Āṣāḍha until the full-moon day of Kārttika. That is also a period of four months. This period, calculated by the lunar months, is called Cāturmāsya, but others also observe Cāturmāsya according to the solar month from Śrāvaṇa to Kārttika. The whole period, either lunar or solar, takes place during the rainy season. Cāturmāsya should be observed by all sections of the population. It does not matter whether one is a gṛhastha or a sannyāsī. The observance is obligatory for all āśramas. The real purpose behind the vow taken during these four months is to minimize the quantity of sense gratification. This is not very difficult. In the month of Śrāvaṇa one should not eat spinach, in the month of Bhādra one should not eat yogurt, and in the month of Āśvina one should not drink milk. One should not eat fish or other nonvegetarian food during the month of Kārttika. A nonvegetarian diet means fish and meat. Similarly, masūra dhal and urad dhal are also considered nonvegetarian. These two dhals contain a great amount of protein, and food rich in protein is considered nonvegetarian. On the whole, during the four-month period of Cāturmāsya one should practice giving up all food intended for sense enjoyment.
It is said in the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya, “A person who is circumambulating the Deity of Viṣṇu can counteract the circumambulation of repeated birth and death in this material world.” The conditioned soul is circumambulating through repeated births and deaths on account of his material existence, and this can be counteracted simply by circumambulating the Deity in the temple.
The Cāturmāsya ceremony is observed during the four months of the rainy season in India (approximately July, August, September and October), beginning from Śrāvaṇa. During these four months, saintly persons who are accustomed to travel from one place to another to propagate Kṛṣṇa consciousness remain at one place, usually a holy place of pilgrimage. During these times, there are certain special rules and regulations which are strictly followed. It is stated in the Skanda Purāṇa that during this period, if someone circumambulates the temple of Viṣṇu at least four times, it is understood that he has travelled all over the universe. By such circumambulation, one is understood to have seen all the holy places where the Ganges water is flowing, and by following the regulative principles of Cāturmāsya one can very quickly be raised to the platform of devotional service.
Sannyāsīs are generally meant to travel all over the country for preaching work, but during the four months of the rainy season in India, from September through December, they do not travel, but take shelter in one place and remain there without moving. This non-movement of the sannyāsī is called cāturmāsya-vrata. When a sannyāsī stays in a place for four months, the local inhabitants of that place take advantage of his presence to become spiritually advanced.
How one can become this fortunate can be seen in the life of Śrīla Nārada Muni. In his previous life he was born of a maidservant. Although he was not born into a prestigious position, his mother was fortunately engaged in rendering service to some Vaiṣṇavas. When these Vaiṣṇavas were resting during the cāturmāsya period, the boy Nārada took the opportunity to engage in their service. Taking compassion upon the boy, the Vaiṣṇavas offered him the remnants of their food. By serving them and obeying their orders, the boy became the object of sympathy for the Vaiṣṇavas, and, by the Vaiṣṇavas’ unknown mercy, he gradually became a pure devotee. In the next life he was Nārada Muni, the most exalted of Vaiṣṇavas and the most important guru and ācārya of Vaiṣṇavas. Following in the footsteps of Nārada Muni, the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is rendering service to humanity by giving everyone a chance to come in contact with Kṛṣṇa. If one is fortunate, he becomes intimately related with this movement. Then, by the grace of Kṛṣṇa, one’s life becomes successful. Everyone has dormant kṛṣṇa-bhakti, love for Kṛṣṇa, and in the association of good devotees, that love is revealed.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: In the morning, at the time of brāhma-muhūrta (one and a half hours before sunrise until sunrise), our minds and hearts becomes cool. There is less anxiety at that time; we haven’t yet heard anything from the world. It is a very peaceful time. In midday also, when the sun is overhead and there is a meeting between morning and afternoon, that time is also auspicious. So we should try to concentrate at that time, as concentration may come easily at that time. This is also true at sunset, the time between night and day. These times have been discovered by our ṛṣis (sages). We cannot explain all the details now, but there are so many things that are known and considered in India. In other places people do not care for this, but Indian scientists, the ṛṣis, used to know all these things.
We should not take eggplant during Cāturmāsya or on Ekādaśī, because some germs automatically go inside them at that time. What we avoid during Kārtika month and during Cāturmāsya is partly due to this. Our ṛṣis have discovered the reasons that at what time, in what plant, in what fruit, what will come. During the month of Bhādra (August-September) you should not take yogurt. So many germs enter at that time. In India these are Indian germs and outside India the germs are of another nationality. In America they will be American germs that enter the eggplants and yoghurt.
Devotee: What are the benefits of following Cāturmāsya?
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: There is so much benefit. In ancient times, the four Kumāras were performing cāturmāsya-vrata by always remembering Kṛṣṇa, chanting Kṛṣṇa’s names, and giving classes about Kṛṣṇa. They were always remembering Kṛṣṇa in these four months.
Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself, and all of the ācāryas in our guru-paramparā such as Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, and my Gurudeva, Śrīla Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī observed Cāturmāsya. They did not shave during these months [though they sometimes shaved after the first two months for Viśvarūpa Mahotsava].
Śrīpāda Sādhu Mahārāja: Gurudeva, I will read a question written by Īśānī dāsī: “Some devotees do not want to observe Cāturmāsya. How does that affect spiritual progress?”
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: If they do not observe Cāturmāsya, they will not attain bhakti. Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Sanātana Gosvāmī, Rūpa Gosvāmī, and so many other ācāryas have personally followed Cāturmāsya. Before that, Sanaka, Sanātana, Sanandana, and Sanat Kumāra met with five-year-old Nārada Ṛṣi during Cāturmāsya. This shows that Cāturmāsya has been observed since before Satya-yuga.
In our paramparā we see that Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī has written about Cāturmāsya in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, and it is also written about in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Hari-bhakti-vilāsa.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has written that we should perform cāturmāsya-vrata. During that time he had a four-month beard, as did Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and my Gurudeva, Śrīla Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja. Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja did not follow it so strictly because the Westerners were newcomers.
Śrīpāda Padmanābha Mahārāja: He also told us that for four months out of the year we should not take milk, yogurt, green leaves, etc.
Śrīpāda Nemi Mahārāja: He shaved because his devotees were hippies. He did not want his disciples to grow hair during Cāturmāsya because this might revive their hippy mentality.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: What they did at that time was sufficient for them, but now they are hearing more, and advancing, so they must follow. I have said not to eat tomatoes during these months. If they cannot avoid it for four months, then, as a concession, I have said to at least observe it during the month of Kārtika.
Śrīpāda Mādhava Mahārāja: And also during Puruṣottama Month.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrīla Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī have written articles about Cāturmāsya. My Gurudeva once said, “In the future, people will not follow Cāturmāsya, saying that Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and I have not followed it. So take my photo with my four-month beard.” Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura have also taken photos like this.
Śrīpāda Padmanābha Mahārāja: Those in the Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti have said that your Guru Mahārāja established shaving after two months, on Viśvarūpa Mahotsava.
Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja: We also do this; it is called Viśvarūpa Kshour (shaving for Viśvarūpa Mahotsava).
In general, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and my Gurudeva used to shave once every month. Moreover, it is not that they shaved their faces but not their heads, which is like a fashion and which is not for sannyāsīs, those in the renounced order. Although proper shaving is not directly bhakti, it is favourable for bhakti. It comes in the category of this verse:
grāmya-kathā nā śunibe, grāmya-vārtā nā kahibe
bhāla nā khāibe āra bhāla nā paribe
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.236)
Do not talk like people in general or hear what they say. You should not eat very palatable food, nor should you dress very nicely.
amānīmānada hañā kṛṣṇa-nāma sadā la’be
vraje rādhā-kṛṣṇa-sevā mānase karibe
(Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 6.237)
Do not expect honour, but offer all respect to others. Always chant the holy name of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and within your mind render service to Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana.
Those in the Śaṅkara sampradāya follow even more strictly than we do. If one wants bhakti, he should strictly follow all of these principles. These principles are very easy to follow in India, and very hard to follow in Western countries. (Both are bonafide: shaving after two months and shaving after four months.)
Foods that can be taken all days of the year, including Ekādaśī and Cāturmāsya:
All fruits (fresh and dried), all nuts and all oils made from nuts
Potatoes, pumpkin, cucumber, radish, squash, lemon, avocado, olives, coconut, buckwheat, all sugars
All pure milk products (except yoghurt during the 2nd month of Cāturmāsya and milk during the 3rd month)
For sannyāsīs, brahmacārīs and vānaprasthas: shaving head and cutting nails is to be done on full moon days
Restricted foods during the entire four months of Cāturmāsya:
Eggplants, tomatoes, loki, parmal, urad dahl and honey
Particular foods that are restricted during each of the four months:
First month: No leafy vegetables, such as spinach, salads of all types, cabbages of all types, kale, leafy herbs like coriander, mint, parsley, curry and powdered leafy herbs and teas
Second month: No yoghurt (if one requires it for health, it can be mixed with water)
Third month: No milk (if required, it can be mixed with a drop of lemon juice)
Fourth month: No mustard oil or sesame seeds
Restricted foods during the month of Puruṣottama:
Eggplants, tomatoes, loki, parmal, urad dahl, honey, mustard oil or sesame seeds
No shaving for brahmacārīs and sannyāsīs