Monika Devi looked at Nixon, her eyes full of compassion. She hesitated for a moment and then continued, “Much earlier. You are aware that my husband is not only a well-known educationist but also a leader of the theosophist movement and a philosopher. But all the theosophical ideas and experiences couldn’t satisfy his hunger. He couldn’t find inner peace. So, he got attracted towards Vaishnava philosophy and followed their ways and I got drowned in this stream. Love and devotion were imprinted in my being since my birth. I felt like somebody was dragging me towards the lotus feet of the God of love, Sri Krishna. I went to Vrindavan and took initiation from Sri Balkrishna Das Goswami of Sri Radharaman Temple.”
“O Mother! You have been secretly pursuing this devotional path for so long?”
“Yes Gopal, I have not announced it outside. But my lord is very playful, very naughty. Regardless of time and place, he suddenly starts calling me. A light emanates from the lotus feet of Sri Krishna and creates a turmoil in my being. I lose my grasp over the external material world. I haven’t done anything from my end. Krishna, himself has attracted me and soaked me in His sea of ambrosia again and again.”
Nixon stood there in awe, listening to his mother narrate her remarkable experiences. He bowed down again, touched her feet and exclaimed, “O Mother! Please hold my hand and guide me in the journey that you have undertaken. A son is the rightful heir of his mother’s wealth.”
“Yes Gopal. But proper groundwork is needed before you jump into this path. I have noticed that you have moved on from Buddhist literature to studying the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. Its good that you are aware of the fundamental doctrine of the Sanatana Dharma. Now start reading books that speak about love and devotion. You should meditate on Radha and Krishna and pray and sing bhajans. You will receive Sri Krishna’s mercy.” From then on, Ronald Nixon forgot all about his past and drowning in the ocean of love for Sri Krishna, he spent his time chanting, meditating and singing.
Soon after, Sri Gyanendra Nath Chakravorty took the post of Vice Chancellor in the Banaras Hindu University and their stay in Lucknow came to an end. Nixon also followed them there and took up a position in the University of Banaras. His friends and well wishers in Lucknow advised him not to leave such a lucrative job. He held a honourable position, was admired and his salary was eight hundred rupees. He would hardly be able to maintain such a lifestyle with only three hundred rupees in Banaras. If he continued, he could also become the Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University.
Nixon laughed out loud and answered, “Now tell me, what would I do with a salary more than three hundred rupees? I don’t pursue a luxurious life. A blanket is enough for me to sleep. Yes, sometimes I do enjoy non vegetarian food but three hundred rupees is actually much more than what I can spend. Do you think I left my country, my family and my friends to come here and earn a hefty salary and become the Vice Chancellor? I have already found the divine path that I was searching for so long. I cannot go back.”
To the east of Banaras Hindu University, near a village called Lankapalli, Monika Devi and Gyanendra Nath built a beautiful mansion by the Ganges and named it ‘Radhabag’. A few more western devotees became Monika Devi’s disciples following the path of loving devotion. Nixon became engrossed in introspection, meditation and followed a strict disciplined life. He spent most of his time singing bhajans of Radha and Krishna and contemplating on their leelas. He would spend hours either on the caves by the Ganges or in a secluded corner on the roof of Radhabag. All the learned devotees of Kashi who visited Radhabag were in awe of his steadfast devotion and the stringent life he was following. The deeper he delved, the closer he grew to Monika Devi. Whenever he had difficulty unravelling the deep layers of Vaishnava shastras or sadhana, he would run to Monika Devi and get the answers to all his enquiries. One day Monika Devi said, “Gopal, you start reading Srimad Bhagavatam. Read along with me everyday.” Nixon’s joy knew no bounds.
One day, just before Rasa Purnima, preparation were in full swing in Radhabag, Nixon approached Monika Devi with a request, “Mother! I want to take Sanyas in Vaishnava tradition.”
Monika Devi replied with a smile, “Very nice Gopal. You should.”
Nixon continued, “I have decided to get initiation from you.”
“How can that be possible dear? I can give you a mantra but not Sanyas. I, myself am a householder, not a Sanyasin.”
“I have decided to get initiated only by you.”
Monika Devi knew her Gopal was firm in his resolution. She sat down in a corner, her eyes half closed, her face illuminated with a divine glow. After a while, she opened her eyes and said, “It will be done. I will do whatever is required to fulfil your wish and make your path painless so that you are showered with divine mercy. Just now, Radharani gave me the permission. But first of all we have to go to Vrindavan. I have to get initated into sanyas from Prabhu Balkrishna Goswami. Then only can I initiate you into Sanyas.”
After taking Sanyas, Monika Devi got a new name – Yashoda Mai. She then initiated Nixon into Sanyas and named him Krishnaprem. After the demise of the great scholar Sri Gyanendra Nath Chakravorty, a new chapter began in the life of Yashoda Mai. She left the Radhabag mansion and took shelter in the lap of the Himalayas and followed severe austerity. A valley was bought in Mirtola, fourteen kilometres away from Almora. A temple of Radha and Krishna was built in the mountain and the vast rolling fields around it was named Uttar Vrindavan. Krishnaprem followed her like a shadow and took care of her. One day Yashoda Mai called Krishnaprem and said, “The rice that is obtained by begging alms is the purest. Once one has taken Sanyas, he has to survive on alms. It is my wish that you should adopt that purest life of a Sanyasi.” Krishnaprem was delighted to hear this advice. He tied a robe around his neck and used it for begging alms from the householders of Almora. People looked on with wonder at this fair, lean and tall man with chiseled features, his head shaved, a strand of tulsi beads around his neck and Madhva Vaishnava tilak on his forehead. The action of this blue-eyed English Sanyasi begging alms in the streets created a stir in the small town of Almora. In a short time, the people of Almora got attracted to Yashoda Mai and her son Krishnaprem. Their cottage in the valley became a shelter for the destitute and the needy.
In the dreamy meadows with lush green grass, a dense vegetation of tall, green trees spurred up in the background. The sky above stretched as far as the eyes could see. Infront of this heavenly, peaceful canvas stood the newly built temple. Inside, in the prayer hall, on a conch white pedestal were placed the magnificent deities of Radha and Krishna. The whole mountain would reverberate with the sounds of conch, cymbals and percussions from Mirtola ashram during bhog and aarti. Krishnaprem, a stern Vaishnava, was the one of the first westerners to walk the path of Krishna Bhakti and get affiliated with Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
In 1948, he took a pilgrimage to the south and reached Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Thiruvanamalai. On darshan of Maharshi, Krishnaprem became engulfed in a divine effulgence. He went into a trance and a voice from within echoed asking a single question again and again, “Who are you? Who is the real you?” Krishnaprem had single mindedly surrendered himself in the loving devotion of Radha-Krishna. He spent all his time serving the deity with utmost love and devotion. He was taken aback by this question. He tried to ignore it but the question repeatedly reverberated within him. In reverie he replied, “I am Krishna’s most humble servant.” Then another question, “Who is Krishna?” Krishnaprem answered, “Krishna is the son of Nanda Maharaj. He holds the divine flute, He is the essence, most treasured by every devotee.” But the question kept on repeating. Then he extended the realm and answered “Krishna is the supreme absolute, the supreme manifestation.” Still the question didn’t stop. Krishnaprem then surrendered to the all merciful Shrimati Radharani. Radharani prompted, “In this entire world, nothing exists besides Krishna. But who can explain Him? Who can narrate about his form and sing his glory? Only Krishna can assess Himself.” The next day in the ashram hall, Krishnaprem sat at the feet of Maharshi. Maharshi turned towards him and looked at him with kindness in his eyes, as if nectar radiated from them. Maharshi looked at him for a while and smiled. At that instance everything suddenly became clear. He understood that Maharshi was behind the questions that he faced the previous day. Pleased and his heart filled with joy, Krishnaprem closed his eyes and sat down deep in meditation, his entire existence radiant with the divine touch. When he came out of this deep meditation, he looked at Maharshi and asked within, “You have been so merciful O Mahatman! Now please tell me, who are you? What is your reality and what is your form?” After this silent question when he opened his eyes, he was astounded. Maharshi was nowhere seen. In the midst of so many devotees and onlookers, his body had vanished. Krishnaprem couldn’t comprehend what was going on. Was he hallucinating? Then he closed his eyes and again focused his gaze on Maharshi’s chair. The next moment he saw Maharshi appear in the form of Lord Shiva. Maharshi was looking directly at him and smiling. Seeing the miraculous appearance and disappearance of the gross body, Krishnaprem understood what Maharshi wanted him to realise. He said to himself, “O Maharshi! O merciful one! I now know. You are beyond the gross and subtle realms. O self-realised soul, I bow down before you again and again.”
Krishnaprem, despite his English origin, was revered in the Indian spiritual community. His resolve, steadfast devotion and intellect earned him fame. People flocked to him and became his disciples. He left his body in 1965 and his final words were, “My ship is sailing.”
Inspired by Sri Shankarnath Ray's 'Bharater Sadhaka'.