The saint and the puppies. . .
Some years ago in the old temple room at Gita-nagari, I was chanting japa in the back of the room, where hung individual portraits of the previous gurus in our line. One is Jagannatha dasa babaji, who’s credited with rediscovering the place of Lord Caitanya’s appearance in Mayapura, West Bengal. On a pilgrimage to that holy place, I had heard a few details of his life. He’d lived to be over a hundred years old, and his eyelids had drooped down over his eyes, rendering him virtually blind. While maintaining a skeptical view of the many pseudo-sadhus of the area, he showed special kindnesses to the animals who happened to live in the holy dhama. I’d heard that once, when some wealthy man gave him a donation, he asked that laddus (a sweet made of chickpea flour and sugar) be distributed to all the cows in the neighborhood. Another time, he’d befriended a litter of puppies, even allowing them to eat off of his own banana-leaf plate, as he sat cross-legged on the floor, in typical village style. This last was too much for his disciple-servant to bear, the thought of the puppies (generally considered unclean) being so near the revered saint. So the servant took the puppies far enough away that they wouldn’t find their way back. The next day, as the babaji was served his meal, he asked, “Where are the puppies?” His servant confessed to having taken them away, at which the babaji said, “Then I won’t eat, until they return.” Anxiously, the servant went out looking and managed to round them all up. When finally they were brought back, Jagannatha das babaji patted their heads (since he couldn’t see them) to determine that they were, indeed, all there. Then he took his own meals, sharing with these fortunate pups.
Standing in front of his portrait, and recalling the stories of him I’d heard, I interrupted my japa with a little prayer (in the form of a song) uttered softly: “If I were a puppy dog, and you were a sadhu—would you pat me on the head, would you give me a laddu?”
Not five minutes later, my friend and Godsister Indulekha passed by where I was standing. Affectionately, she patted me on the head. “How ya doing, Vegavati?” Another few minutes later, another devotee came by, and (this never happens) offered me a laddu.
Struck by the realization that my prayers to this holy man had not gone in vain, I realized that there are saints within hearing range, all the time. If we would just pray to them! Not necessarily for sweets, but for the sweet loving relationship with the Lord we all crave, and for the service that grants it.