THE BENEDICTINE TREE OF DIVINE ASPIRATION: CHAPTER ONE
Divine Benevolence Abroad
An interview with Sri Mohanananda Dasa Adhikari,
Interviewer (Q): Please tell us something about Srila Govinda Maharaj's tour and his plans.
Sri Mohanananda Prabhu (A): Plans have been formulated and they change accordingly everywhere we go. But one thing is certain: the desires of the devotees have been fulfilled very much. I can see it in their faces. And it is reciprocal—you can see it in Srila Maharaj's face too, how happy he is. We are now in the San Jose, America, part of the tour, and just about halfway done. The energy count will be a bit low, but he is really stimulated each time he sees the devotees. We are all pros at travelling but he hasn't travelled around the world before, so he's adjusting accordingly, and he is an expert adjuster. He only needs to be told once, or observe once, and he'll take it perfectly.
(Q): Have you seen His Divine Grace change during the tour?
(A): Physically he's put on a bit of weight because the food has been not only tasteful, but nourishing. We Westerners know that living on a Western diet you don't have to eat much because the food is nourishing and potent. Even small quantities will be nourishing. But the devotees' desire is to give Srila Govinda Maharaj a try of everything at one time; and Maharaj's desire is to fulfil the wishes of the devotees, so he's trying everything at one time. As a result he's putting on a bit of weight, but that's also necessary because he's doing a lot of work. He's constantly working, but the work of travelling is a different kind of work than sitting at a desk writing a book or walking around the grounds of Nabadwip. He's 63 years old and he leaves me for dead—and I'm 20 years his junior. When we walk he takes giant strides and I have to run just to keep up with him, and everyone thinks I'm quick! When he is on the go he is super fast.
(Q): What were Srila Maharaj's expectations on this tour?
(A): Actually this tour was organised for one reason only—for His Divine Grace to see his friends and 'family': all of his disciples and those who are spiritually related to him in one way or another. That includes all of Srila A.C. Bhakti-vedanta Swam! Maharaj's disciples also. We are basically all of the same family tree; just different branches, if you like. So he is just coming to see all of his well-wishers and his friends. The reason he felt the need to come to the Western part of the world is because he considered that, whereas in Nabadwip we can come one-by-one to him from all other parts, for many reasons not all Westerners can go there. Now the economy is in a slump and people can't afford to go, and those who can afford to go may not like the conditions. Some are too sick to travel, and others can't travel because of illegal status: Mexicans in America, and others in Australia. They're all over, trying to make a living. They don't understand bureaucracy and boundaries, and they cannot go to Nabadwip and see Srila Govinda Maharaj. Still others can't travel because the husband can go but the wife can't, or vice-versa. So Srila Govinda Maharaj felt a need to go to see all of these people and give them some of that mercy that he and only he has. Because, as you can see from the faces of the devotees, all he has to do is just look at them, and they melt like hot butter. So he came for that purpose, just to see the devotees.
The preaching side of the mission developed as we progressed. You can't stop that. People want to ask questions. People want to hear Krsna-katha or they want to know about this or that pastime or what Srila Swami Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj were really like. And Srila Govinda Maharaj is merciful—he is talking to everybody. He tries to answer everyone's questions in detail, with such person-to-person intimacy that you'd have to be a very insensitive person not to pick that up. He is really very intimate and very direct. He may talk to your eyes, but actually it is directly to your heart. Wherever people may be from, and from whatever sampradaya or whatever ideas they may have, I've not seen one person who's met him and not felt absolutely satisfied. Whether they are writers or Sanskrit pandits, or whoever they may be or think they may be, Srila Govinda Maharaj satisfies them fully. They keep coming back for more. They can't get enough!
(Q): Is it because they are building a temple in Australia that he was inspired to go there?
(A): Not exactly a temple. The intentions originally were to build a temple, then when Srila Govinda Maharaj came he explained that to run a temple means you have to have full-time commitments. You have to think about it in terms of generations. You don't think about only now. If you're going to have Deities, then you have to seriously consider how many generations can worship those Deities. They are not just dressed-up dolls. And when the devotees heard this directly from Srila Govinda Maharaj, then their conception changed a little.
We will have a nice ashram for the brahmacaris and visiting sannyasis, where those who want to take full-on practices and full doses of the good medicine can go. For those who just want to take medicine in small doses or want to come and get together, then we'll have a kirttan hall. We'll build a nice mandir, where everyone can come. There will be a photo of the Deities of the Nabadwip Math, and there will be our Parampara photographs. We'll chant, break bread together—take some Prasadam—and everyone will be happy. We can come together in the name of our Gum Maharaj, Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj, and be happy. What we are doing is taking association, which is what Srila Govinda Maharaj wants. The devotees are together taking association and trying to preach to other people the glories of Mahaprabhu's message, and trying to get them to see that there is a right path in this difficult world. And if you follow the right path, good.
(Q): We have the experience in San Jose that devotees have become surcharged since Srila Govinda Maharaj arrived. Has this been the experience in every city he's been to?
(A): Absolutely. Even more so. The enthusiasm I see is a sweetness that comes from the heart. It cannot be disguised. It cannot be manufactured. It just comes from the heart. You can't stop it. It is like an overflowing river—you try to dam it but it is useless, the stones are going to be ripped apart. If Srila Govinda Maharaj stayed here for one month, all of Los Angeles would be coming here. San Jose would become the second largest city in America. And it is the same in Australia. People started coming out from everywhere like ants out of woodwork, coming from everywhere.
(Q): Devotees that you hadn't seen for many years?
(A): For donkey's years! You can't imagine. Never mind they came; they didn't want to go home. We suddenly had to find accommodation for all of them. Of course a lot of pre-planning didn't take off because while a lot of devotees desired to see Srila Govinda Maharaj come, another side of them told them, "It's not possible, it won't happen." They heard this many times. Even up to two or three weeks before the tour was actually going to take off, there was a lot of pessimism that, "As a matter of fact, it might not happen." But when they heard that Srila Govinda Maharaj was actually on the plane and off to Australia, then it was action-stations: "All men on board; let's get to work. We've got to get this thing together." And everybody's ears pricked up, all woke up, dusted off the cobwebs of their spiritual bodies, and just kept coming.
(Q): The question on everyone's mind is: "Is this the only trip Srila Govinda Maharaj is going to take, or does he feel inspired to make more trips?"
(A): If anybody thinks this is his only tour, then they really haven't realised how much the devotees have pleased Srila Govinda Maharaj. Srila Maharaj will travel. He'll travel probably more now and for longer periods than before. Because now he's seen and knows how to travel basically by himself, except for the immigration forms which will take him just a short while to do, he won't be travelling with such a large party next time. Naturally they don't need an expensive porter like myself to tag along, for a start. And Srila Govinda Maharaj has seen what the devotees can prepare in the way of his personal Prasadam and needs. So where we can economise, we will. Srila Govinda Maharaj is very conscious of how the money the devotees give is spent. Every dollar in Nabadwip he has accounted for. And you're a tax man, Hasyapriya Prabhu—you know how difficult it is to keep a constant check. But Srila Maharaj can account for everything right to the last cent.
(Q): What are Srila Govinda Maharaj's aspirations for the mission?
(A): What Srila Govinda Maharaj would really like more than anything else is constant association among the devotees. That is, forget about your personalities for a moment; forget about your petty differences. Forget about what other sampradayas and other people are doing. Get on with your devotional life. Get on with meeting with each other. If you can get together for Vaisnava-sanga as often as possible, that is nourishment for each one of you. That is most important. Chant the glories of the Holy Name, preach to newcomers, and spread the word if you can. But if you can't, then just come together. A few families can meet; you don't all have to meet at one time. You can have weekly meetings, and if you can be consistent and meet regularly, that would be nice.
I'll give you a perfect example of that. When the Australian ladies' committee was collecting money and sending Srila Govinda Maharaj some money on a monthly or quarterly basis, it wasn't much money, but what really pleased Srila Govinda Maharaj was not the sum that was collected but the fact that these ladies were actually working together. Each time, they took association with each other, and through that they built a bond between each other. And now in Australia—I can truthfully say, and even Srila Govinda Maharaj will support me in this statement—it is very harmonious and very wonderful that the devotees have put all their differences out of the door. Of course, we may occasionally fight with each other, but generally the family in which there are never any fights is a family that is childless. In our family we have happy fights. But we also have happier times when we have a meeting and Prasadam together once a week. We have a simple chanting-hall where we're getting together.
You Americans are the masters for marketing anything. Look what you did with the message of Srila Swami Maharaj. No doubt he was a great personality. He came here, and as Srila Govinda Maharaj always says, although he wasn't the most successful businessman, in the business of Krsna consciousness he was the master, and he had the best of everything. Americans came out from everywhere and didn't know anything about Gaudiya Vaisnavism, but they were the best marketers. You can promote the message and that's what we need now. We need people to go out and say, "Yes, Krsna consciousness is still alive." The real sweetness of Krsna's message is still available, and not just at the airports, but it is available at any time that you desire it. Here in America it is available at the San Jose temple; at the Miami branch of the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math; in New York, and elsewhere. It is available. It may not be absolutely known to everybody, though, so that's the job for us now: to let other people know. This is what our various newsletters around the world are doing.
(Q): What can we do to attract Srila Govinda Maharaj to return?
(A): That's what we're doing now. I can really only answer for Australia in a definite way, and for others I can only give you a glancing preview. In Australia we are definitely trying to attract Srila Govinda Maharaj by getting some land immediately. Right now I'm constantly getting calls from the devotees, asking me to find out what kind of land Srila Govinda Maharaj wants. Land is much more available there, and certainly at a cheaper price than here, but still the endeavour to do so is available everywhere. On his next trip Srila Govinda Maharaj will go to Malaysia, Mauritius, and South Africa—particularly Mauritius, which he has promised to go to for many years. And after that tour, when he returns to Australia he will see a mandir, hall and quarters that we're going to build for him, and then he can visit Australia on a regular basis.
(Q): You're talking about a second tour. What will be the tentative itinerary for the second tour of America?
(A): San Jose, definitely next year. Srila Govinda Maharaj has promised. In Maui, one gentleman has offered Srila Govinda Maharaj 55 acres of land, and the man is not even a disciple—yet another example of our saying about people coming out of the woodwork. There is one man who is hungry for some sort of service to Krsna. And somebody else whose desire was not true would have grabbed it immediately, but Srila Govinda Maharaj always looks at the devotees' needs, and he says, "I shall come back and then we can talk." And if the gentleman still feels the same, which I'm certain he will, then something will develop on the island of Maui, and Srila Govinda Maharaj has promised them also that he will come back for two or three weeks.
He has mentioned to me privately that he would like to come to San Jose again, because our time here is not sufficient. We're here for only seven days, and we're visiting two places within 50 kilometres of each other. Srila Govinda Maharaj wants to see other parts of America, particularly New York—he's promised Sripad Giri Maharaj that sometime he would like to go there to see the 'Big Apple,' as he calls it.
Also, many devotees want to take initiation from Srila Govinda Maharaj and time is not sufficient to initiate them all. Srila Govinda Maharaj shall do what he can now, but the desire to give connection and mercy is there constantly. He must come back. But you can make it more inviting for him by saying, "Well Maharaj, we're getting a temple together. We're meeting every week and doing some service."
Everybody wants to get connection—and Srila Govinda Maharaj is giving that easily; but not everybody is coming and saying, "Please engage me in service." I do hear it from some, quietly, but not many are coming up and saying, "Please engage me in service." But if everyone comes up and receives connection and then engages in service, automatically you will have a temple here, and it will probably be the crowning jewel of the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math's overseas branches.
Srila Govinda Maharaj has special affection for many devotees, but great and special affection for devotees connected to the San Jose Math because despite all of their trials, tribulations, and difficult circumstances they still go ahead and do their service, and do their service also to the central Math in Nabadwip. That is another thing people mustn't forget. We do our service for our local Math, but we must also do our service for the centre. Devotees should go there whenever possible. Everybody should try to go and stay there for six months and spend some time. Srila Govinda Maharaj likes to engage the Westerners in service there. They are happy to be there and they are doing good service. They are doing things which are full of austerities for them in their Westerners' bodies, but they're doing it very happily. And Srila Govinda Maharaj feels comfortable when the Westerners are at the Math. He feels that his family is all there. If it is only the Indians and Bengalis, then he feels that only half of his children are there. But when all the Westerners are there, he feels happy; then he's jolly.
(Q): Is there an open invitation for all the devotees to visit Nabadwip and spend time there?
(A): I can say that absolutely wherever he goes Srila Govinda Maharaj continuously makes an open invitation to everyone. You can go there and be his guest if you like, or if you are his disciple, you can go to your father's house happily. He will very happily nourish you in any way he can, because he likes to serve.
(Q): On Maharaj's next tour, what can we do to improve things for his convenience?
(A): In an organisational sense, I can't see how you could improve things. You are doing the best within the shortest period of time. What is necessary is that we want to try and give him maximum exposure to the devotees and the general public in the minimum amount of time.
(Q): Is there anything else you'd like to express to the devotees world-wide when we publish this interview?
(A): I would like them to know how grateful I am to everyone who wrote to me with all their suggestions, and to all for their assistance and their planning. It is not a one-man show—I didn't do this by myself. Through the grace of Srila Govinda Maharaj, and through the kindness of Sripad Sagar Maharaj who asked me to take charge of this particular part of the tour in planning, I'm just another cog in the wheel. The only reason the wheel has turned around very nicely without any disruption is because of everybody everywhere. And that means from the person who delivers our Math's publications, to the chief cook making a buffet meal for all of us—everybody has assisted in every way possible. Everyone has found some engagement, some way to serve, and they are serving the centre as the servant of the servant of the servant. That has been the pleasing thing, to know that we have such a big family and they are participating all over the world.
I tell you, any devotee who wants to go any place in the world now, once we have our mission's branches properly established—wherever they go they will find their brothers, sisters, etc. They are never going to feel alone ever again. Once Srila Govinda Maharaj has finished this tour and established everything nicely, no devotee will be able to say that he's alone. And if he says he's alone, then he is not seeing very clearly, because all around him is his family—everywhere. All he needs to do is get in contact with them in the same kind of service mood as you've all shown in the presence of Srila Govinda Maharaj.
Srila Govinda Maharaj loves every one of us, and if the devotees can come together as a loving, serving family, then a beautiful thing will happen. Whenever strangers will see Srila Govinda Maharaj's disciples they will say, "There go those people. They are Govinda Maharaj's disciples. They are so harmonious and so loving to each other. They are a nice bunch. We should get to know these people," instead of, "There goes such-and-such person's disciples. All they're doing is just gossiping and speculating, and back-stabbing each other the first chance they get." We don't want to hear such things, for it burns our ears. All we want to hear are sweet things. "There goes Srila Sridhar Maharaj's disciple; there goes Srila Govinda Maharaj's disciple. They are so nice, and so loving to each other. Let's try to arrange something with them so that we can gain their association."
(Verses in glorification of Srila Govinda Maharaj)
II: Chanting the Mahamantra
III: Dasa-vidha Namaparadha
(The Ten Offences to the Holy Name)
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