Chapter One: Vaishnava Thakur
Sripad Bhakti Sudhir Goswami Maharaj
in San Mateo, California, U.S.A.,
on the Appearance Day
of Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Maharaj, 1990
So at last after many years we have the opportunity to glorify Srila Govinda Maharaj. And I say that because Srila Govinda Maharaj has always been seen by us to be in the background of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math; moving, and doing so many different things, and acting as an agent of representation for so many devotees to the lotus feet of Srila Guru Maharaj, Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj. He did this because, as we know, Srila Guru Maharaj's nature was not to move with a large group of people. In fact after his time in the Gaudiya Math and also after some attempts to work cooperatively with others, he more or less decided to enter seclusion; but he realised that Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada's whole mission relied upon his coming out of seclusion.
Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada himself was a qualified bhajananandi. At one time he was chanting three lakh (300,000) Holy Names a day in the form of the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. In a month that comes close to 10 million Names. His vow was to chant a billion Names of Krishna which would take about eight and a half years to complete; and he was in the process of doing that. But from that position he received some divine inspiration to come out and help others. Sometimes it is said that once when he was crossing the River Saraswati at its confluence with the Ganga and Yamuna in the heart of Nabadwip, a piece of paper floated up to him which contained a part of Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita describing the essential items of devotional service including preaching the glories of the Holy Name. He took it that this was what he should do, and of course we know the rest: he came out and gradually converted so many to Mahaprabhu's creed.
Srila Guru Maharaj was well aware that his Srila Prabhupada did not favour devotion in seclusion, so he established the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math and thought, "I'm not an aggressive preacher or canvaser, but if some will feel some relief from my Hari-katha, I won't deny them."
Because Srila Guru Maharaj was not inclined to do many of the various activities involved in preaching or to manage things so much, it made room for a very special assistant. Srila Govinda Maharaj came to him as a young brahmachari of about 17 years old. He was given the name Gaurendu Das Brahmachari and within a week, within a week, Srila Guru Maharaj was introducing him to other Godbrothers as his successor. He asked Krishna Das Babaji Maharaj, "I think this boy can be my successor. Examine him and tell me your opinion." So Babaji Maharaj examined him in a way I imagine only he could, and he concluded that he was fit for such special service!
When Srila Guru Maharaj was living upstairs renting a room from Srila Swami Maharaj Prabhupada above his laboratory at Sitakanta Banerjee lane in Calcutta, Govinda Maharaj was there as a young brahmachari. Srila Govinda Maharaj related to us that Srila Swami Maharaj Prabhupada and Srila Guru Maharaj would regularly become very absorbed and spend much time discussing Srimad Bhagavad-gita, Srimad Bhagavatam, and related topics. They would become absorbed to such an extent that Srila Prabhupada's neglect of his pharmaceutical business downstairs partly led to its decline.
Sometimes Srila Govinda Maharaj would have breakfast with Srila Swami Maharaj Prabhupada and he mentioned, "Even for breakfast Swami Maharaj would always have some puris fried in ghee, as well as a little sabji (cooked vegetable), and different things like that." But Govinda Maharaj and Guru Maharaj were always keen to have mudi (puffed rice) on practically every occasion. Govinda Maharaj said that Swami Maharaj would always invite him to take puris and sabji but he would decline saying, "No, no. Mudi is fine for me," but Swami Maharaj would object, "Mudi? That is simply cheating the stomach." Srila Govinda Maharaj was very happy during their stay there. He said, "Swami Maharaj used to give me classes and he would teach me, amongst other things, Srimad Bhagavad-gita."
The point I'm making is that he was there from the very beginning, and in a very special capacity. When the different factions of the Gaudiya Math would meet, Srila Govinda Maharaj was there and he witnessed many of their negotiations with Srila Guru Maharaj. He knows the discussions and all the personalities involved. In the Gaudiya Math he is therefore very well known and respected by everyone and they have known him since a long time ago.
He was so familiar with the luminaries of the Gaudiya Math and he knew their individual personalities so well that once he was going to a programme with some other Godbrothers of Srila Guru Maharaj when the following incident happened. Srila Guru Maharaj was not there, so Govinda Maharaj was accompanying a Gaudiya Math Acharya, Sripad Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj, along with some of his disciples to a preaching engagement. As they were approaching the venue Govinda Maharaj noticed indications in the sky that rain was likely. He then turned to one of Sripad Goswami Maharaj's principle disciples and said, "Do you know which verse your Guru Maharaj is going to speak on at the lecture?"
The disciple replied, "Of course not. I don't know what he's going to say, or what he is going to talk about."
"Well, I do."
"How is that possible?"
To which Govinda Maharaj simply replied, "I know what verse he is going to speak on!" He then proceeded to recite the following verse:
jadachyuta katha lapah
This verse means: "Normally we judge a good day by the weather. If it is sunny outside we think it is a nice day, and if the weather is bad we think it is a bad day. But the criterion for a Vaisnava is that he considers a day to be good if he has either engaged in, or has heard, some Hari-katha on that day."
They arrived there and, as predicted by Srila Govinda Maharaj, that Acharya, a Godbrother of Srila Guru Maharaj, began his lecture by reciting and discussing this very verse. It is remarkable that by Govinda Maharaj noticing it was going to rain, he linked this with the fact that it would probably make everyone depressed, and knowing the nature of Sripad Goswami Maharaj, he concluded that he would choose this verse in order to change the atmosphere of the meeting.
Not only did Srila Govinda Maharaj compete with his contemporaries in this way but even at a very early age he could hold his own with the Godbrothers of Srila Guru Maharaj. On one such occasion he challenged in a slightly mischievous way one sannyasi who had a reputation for being a big pandit. Govinda Maharaj said, "Can I ask you a question?"
"Yes, what is it?"
"Can God commit suicide?" The Godbrother was incensed, "Why are you asking a question like this? It is not a good question!"
Govinda Maharaj said, "Well, maybe it is not a good question, but can you answer it?"
"You shouldn't ask such questions."
"I know, but can you answer it?"
"Why are you pressing me in this way?"
Then Govinda Maharaj said, "Well, I know the answer. I just want to know whether you can answer it also."
Guru Maharaj's Godbrother then said, "You are just a boy, what do you know?"
To which Govinda Maharaj quoted this verse:
valohaham jagattam natha name vala sarasvati
Which, in summary, says: "A baby cobra can still kill you!" He then proceeded to answer his own question by saying, "Yes, God can commit suicide. He commits suicide in Brahman, His impersonal aspect: the brahmajyoti where the infinitesimal parts of Bhagavan, the jivas, lose their individuality. In that way the Absolute commits suicide." Srila Guru Maharaj used to tell that story often but I never heard him attribute it to Srila Govinda Maharaj. Only later I learnt who that boy was! Srila Guru Maharaj would sometimes comment, "One should not ask, 'Can God commit suicide?'!"
Srila Govinda Maharaj many times revealed his brilliance before Srila Guru Maharaj's Godbrothers. One occasion was at the Imlitala Temple, a Temple established in Vrindavan by Sripad Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj. When Mahaprabhu first entered Vrindavan He sat beneath the tree known as Imlitala which is now in the courtyard of that Temple. There on the wall are some verses composed by Srila Guru Maharaj inscribed in marble describing the exact date of Mahaprabhu's arrival in Vrindavan, and the time of His lila beneath the Imlitala.
In Sanskrit verse there are ways to describe numbers by implication. For example, if you say Veda it can mean the number three or four. This is because sometimes it is considered that there are three sections of the Vedas, and sometimes four. There are also other words that numbers are associated with. Thus in a sort of mystical, poetic way Srila Guru Maharaj mentioned the date, though that date generally is not known; it is only hinted at and described in a general way in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita and other places.
When first reading the slokas inscribed there, the Godbrothers of Srila Guru Maharaj could not fully understand what he had written. From their understanding some were convinced that Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur might even have been of a different opinion concerning that date. So again the young Gaurendu Brahmachari, our Srila Govinda Maharaj, came and said, "Oh, I know what it means," and they were all surprised. He then explained the date mentioned there. They reacted, "But that differs from the date given by Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur."
Govinda Maharaj replied, "That may be, but what my Guru says is right. What Srila Guru Maharaj says is true; it does not matter if anyone else differs with it, whoever they are. It is true and I can prove it." He then proceeded to expand on various passages and thereby he explained how Srila Guru Maharaj came to those conclusions by inference from Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita. He astounded everyone.
Srila Govinda Maharaj is always very competent, especially at representing Srila Guru Maharaj and his conception, and he has a wonderful Vaisnava heart. It was shown one time in the following way:
Even the Gopis have groups and party spirit, this sometimes causes them not to get along with each other; and this is so also with their followers. In this way there were some differences between the different camps of Godbrothers of Srila Guru Maharaj and their disciples. One day many of them along with their disciples were going to Vrindavan to honour a holy festival. It so happened that Sripad Tirtha Maharaj and his disciples were at the same train station at the same time as Srila Guru Maharaj and his entourage. Sripad Tirtha Maharaj was sometimes described by Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur as being most dear to him, Prabhupada-prestha, and he even had verses in Tirtha Maharaj's glorification chiselled into marble in the Bagh Bazaar Math in Calcutta. But Srila Guru Maharaj and Sripad Tirtha Maharaj at that time were not on speaking terms.
Govinda Maharaj noticed Tirtha Maharaj and seeing such an august personality he felt some disturbance at not being able to properly honour him due to the differences between the two parties. He then went and asked Srila Guru Maharaj, "Tirtha Maharaj is over there. I feel compelled to offer my obeisances to him. May I have your permission to do so."
Srila Guru Maharaj replied, "Yes, of course you may." The faces of Tirtha Maharaj and his group of devotees up to this point were a little stern, but Srila Govinda Maharaj went over and offered his dandavats to Tirtha Maharaj and talked a little with him as well as with his group, and soon they were all smiling: he had a way of charming all of them.
Govinda Maharaj always liked to glorify the devotees and he wrote many stanzas in their praise. With his charm he liked to utilise words in a way that allowed sometimes three or four meanings to be drawn out from each verse. Occasionally, though, others would interpret his verses in other ways than he intended, as was shown when he once wrote a poem glorifying Sripad Kesav Maharaj. Kesav Maharaj took sannyas from Srila Guru Maharaj and he was an important figure in the Gaudiya Math. He was so pleased with the poem composed by Govinda Maharaj that he published it in his Math's journal.
Later when Krishna Das Babaji Maharaj came and read it he saw that there was a double-entende throughout. Although apparently on the surface it was a glorification, there was another way of reading it in which it appeared he was making fun of Kesav Maharaj. Up until this time all the devotees there had been saying, "Look what he has written! What Srila Sridhar Maharaj's disciple has written is really wonderful. Isn't it great!" But Krishna Das Babaji Maharaj went and told Kesav Maharaj, "Don't you see what he has done?"
Kesav Maharaj replied, "His composition is very good. What have you found?"
Then Krishna Das Babaji Maharaj said, "Very good! But this could also mean something else..."
Kesav Maharaj started, "You're right...!" And they called for Govinda Maharaj and asked, "Is that what you meant?"
"Oh no! No, Maharaj!"
Through everything he was always Srila Guru Maharaj's eternal associate and constant companion. When Srila Guru Maharaj would go to Mayapur to visit Srila Swami Maharaj Prabhupada, Srila Govinda Maharaj would always be there. We have a picture in which Srila Swami Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj are sharing the same vyasasana and at the microphone is Srila Govinda Maharaj. He spoke on that day by the request of Srila Guru Maharaj who was feeling unwell and therefore reluctant to speak.
In his address Govinda Maharaj quoted a verse spoken by Raghupati Upadhyaya.
kam prati kathayitum ise,
"Who will possibly believe me if I tell them that the Supreme Absolute Truth is playing in the bushes with the Gopis? Who could possibly believe this?" The way he used this verse was to say, "So who could believe me that Srila Swami Maharaj who we knew before as 'Abhay Babu', a regular attender at the programmes in Sri Gaudiya Math—a householder with various family commitments, business concerns, etc.—that he is now a World Acharya and is known all over the planet. He has spread Krishna consciousness the length and breadth of the earth, he has done this impossible of all impossible things."
Srila Swami Maharaj Prabhupada really appreciated this sort of appropriate glorification which Srila Govinda Maharaj always is capable of providing.
It may not be common knowledge, but in the realm of composition Srila Govinda Maharaj has given much. In the words of Srila Guru Maharaj: "Govinda Maharaj's contribution is very great." The Pandit-sabha presided over by Srila Guru Maharaj gave Govinda Maharaj various titles: one was Bhakti Sastri, later to be followed by Upadesaka Pandit, Mahopadesaka Pandit, and then Jyotirbhusan Vidya Ranjan. One of his ornaments is Sanskrit alankara—the knowledge of how to properly use the Sanskrit language. As Guru Maharaj would contemplate different verses he was composing, Govinda Maharaj would be with him suggesting various alternatives. Some of these verses were never published and some are no longer written down anywhere: at present they are only to be found within Govinda Maharaj. It is very fortunate for us all that he not only remembers them but he can represent them very nicely.
Srila Guru Maharaj has said also that the relationship between the Guru and disciple is not limited to dasya-rasa, or the master and the servant, but there is also friendship, and in some cases even a sort of paternal feeling by the disciple towards the Guru in providing care and so forth. The reality is that Srila Guru Maharaj and Srila Govinda Maharaj were intimate friends. After all these years, distance was removed by their intimacy. I remember sometimes when we would speak to Srila Guru Maharaj confidentially about making some particular decision, Guru Maharaj would express his opinions in a particular way, and we would listen to those. Then he would, as it were, perk up, put his hands respectfully to his forehead, and say, "But Govinda Maharaj says we should do this, and I think that what he suggests could actually be better."
I remember one of the last things Srila Guru Maharaj told me: as he was turning over his Acharyaship to Srila Govinda Maharaj he said, "Actually in many ways he is more qualified than I am," and also, "If you get to know him more intimately, more personally, you will come to understand what sort of transcendental character he has."
Furthermore, there is something that is hard and indeed impossible to erase from my memory, and I don't try to: I was soon to be going to America and it was towards the very end of Srila Guru Maharaj's manifest pastimes. He called me into his room and, knowing that I was leaving for the West and maybe would not see him again, he called me over to his bed. I was very close to him: eye to eye, face to face. He grasped both of my shoulders very firmly and then started shaking my body with my head jostling about, and he said, "Goswami Maharaj, this may be my last instruction to you..." The whole time he just kept on shaking me and he continued, "It is my sincere and earnest desire that you assist Govinda Maharaj. Do you understand?" I replied with my voice in a tremolo, "Yes, Maharaj."
That is the way of the Vaisnavas, and it is further illustrated by the statement of Lord Siva:
aradhananam sarvesam, visnor aradhanam param
"Of all the varieties of worship, the worship of Visnu is said to be the best."
tasmat parataram devi, tadiyanam samarchanam
"But the highest and complete concept of worship is to serve the one who is most dear to Visnu." Just worshipping Visnu is not complete without the potency of the one who is most dear to Him. So if we look at this in another way, the highest possible seva is the service of Srimati Radharani. It is higher than service to Visnu or Krishna.
Tadiya—what is dear to Him? The cows are dear to Him, Vrindavan is dear to Him, His friends are dear to Him, His mother...; there are so many things, but the one who is most dear to Him is Srimati Radharani. He is making it clear that service to Her is the highest service possible to be performed. In the highest concept Srimati Radharani is the Guru. So if we extend that same concept further, then there are those who are most dear to the Guru. If we search we shall see that there may be someone who's service outshines all the rest. In their connection the prospect of our own service may increase greatly.
Guru Maharaj was fond of telling the example that a small capitalist stands to gain much by connecting his lesser wealth with the resources of the big capitalist. With our small reserves anyone of us can buy some shares in a huge multinational corporation and thereby reap the benefits. Similarly, the devotees can connect with those who are rich in devotion and, although we may only have a small amount of serving capacity, any service rendered to them connects to something higher, and we receive a greater remuneration from that. So there is no doubt in my mind that Srila Govinda Maharaj is the most dear disciple and assistant of Srila Guru Maharaj, and that our position becomes enhanced by serving him, by glorifying him, and by participating in some way in his seva which has been given to him by Srila Guru Maharaj.
It is not by accident that everything in Srila Guru Maharaj's possession was entrusted to Govinda Maharaj. If you look in the various Wills of Srila Guru Maharaj you will find repeatedly emphasised that every last property has been entrusted to him. If there is a rice field that they own somewhere in Navadwip, he is in full charge of it. Furthermore, in his Last Will and Testament Srila Guru Maharaj clearly appoints Swami Bhakti Sundar Govinda Maharaj as the Acharya of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, of the Hapaniya Math, of Krishnanusilana Sangha, and of all other Maths under his Math.
The great Vaisnavas never think in a possessive mood, instead they see that some seva has been entrusted to them by their Guru and they are compelled to try to perform that service.
I heard from Govinda Maharaj that, "Vaisnavas recognise other Vaisnavas." This is the opposite of Vaisnava aparadha (offence to the devotees). They avoid finding fault in other Vaisnavas because they know it is so detrimental to spiritual development—in fact it is the one thing that is said can uproot the bhakti-lata, the creeper of devotion. But our goal is not just to try to avoid offending other devotees, although for us it may be a goal worth aspiring for! Beyond that we are to make progress and become enriched by giving recognition and appreciation to Vaisnavas and their service; and really we must do that. We must do that to the extent seen in the example of Srila Guru Maharaj who was so appreciative of the devotees of ISKCON.
Srila Guru Maharaj was very exalted and he was very much respected by all the members of the Gaudiya Math. Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur even said that Guru Maharaj was carrying the conception of Bhakti Vinoda Thakur, but, despite such exalted qualification and honour, Srila Guru Maharaj never had an attitude that he was a big Guru and Acharya and that the members of ISKCON are just young upstarts. He never took the attitude, "These young upstarts, what do they know?" But he saw, "Oh, they have some connection with Mahaprabhu—they must be respected." His attitude was like the verse in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita:
sripada, dhara mora gosanira sambandha,
When the sanodiya brahmana saw the kind of ecstatic love of Mahaprabhu, he thought, "Oh, look at this, it is the most amazing thing. I know only Madhavendra Puri to be in possession of such high feelings, therefore I can understand that Mahaprabhu must have some connection with him." Similarly Srila Guru Maharaj always saw that, by the grace of Srila Swami Maharaj Prabhupada, so many people have some connection with Mahaprabhu. He really appreciated that and gave them recognition for their service.
Once I told Srila Govinda Maharaj the experience we all have when we go to the Math: "Yourself and others here, you express so much appreciation for everyone—sometimes to the point of embarrassment." Furthermore I mentioned, "I don't know, Maharaj, but sometimes I think it's a little too much!" To which he said, "No, we must do this. It's not some arbitrary sort of thing but we actually must do this if we expect the grace of Mahaprabhu. If we hope to be blessed by Him then we must recognise and appreciate those who already have some grace or blessings from Him."
Even when Srimati Radharani is with Krishna She sometimes reflects about His flute: "That flute always receives nectar from Krishna's lips but I get that only sometimes." This is an example of the highest devotee exalting someone in a lower position.
After publishing The Search for Sri Krishna I received a letter from Govinda Maharaj. There was such an impact in this one little letter that when I read it I almost fainted. His appreciation for this principle of glorifying others even though they are of a lower standing was so strongly evident. He wrote to the effect, "Although I have been trying to serve the lotus feet of Srila Guru Maharaj for 35 years, you have surpassed me." He made it seem through this letter as though he had been unable to do anything, but that I had achieved something, and within such a short time. The only place that I have found such a mood expressed of deprecating one's own position while glorifying others is in the writings and lives of the great Vaisnavas. Govinda Maharaj is a Vaisnava Thakur.
So by one means or another the Vaisnavas sometimes forcibly make us feel their love—whether by the way they distribute Prasadam, by the way they appreciate other devotees, or by their many, varied, affectionate dealings—they inevitably capture our hearts.
On one occasion I received some news from the Math via one of my friends who was there, but the news felt a little disturbing to me. It concerned something I wanted to be done but it was not being done, and it was somehow implied to me that I was an outsider and unfamiliar with the inner workings of the Math. I guess everyone wants to know that their Guru loves them, so I felt hurt because that was really what I wanted to know inside—and Srila Guru Maharaj knew it. He would make me feel that I was a very intimate friend, and that gave me great encouragement; but then some news came to the contrary through someone else. I was a little disturbed, so I wrote a letter to the Math expressing this.
I received a reply from Srila Guru Maharaj in which he was very disturbed to hear what had reached my ears. He reassured me to the contrary and then said, "This is so preposterous that when Govinda Maharaj heard this, blood oozed from his heart!"
Govinda Maharaj has always personally been my affectionate well-wisher, and I feel reassured and confident knowing that after the departure of Srila Guru Maharaj he is there to give guidance and inspiration. Srila Govinda Maharaj also has a great sense of humour, and really whenever I go to India I go there with the sole purpose of having a few moments of his association, because it is very purifying and rejuvenating. As is mentioned in Sri Chaitanya-charitamrita: lava-matra sadhu-sange sarva-siddhi haya—all success is achieved by even a moment's association with a pure devotee.
Therefore in many ways I am happy to have the opportunity to express my appreciation for him, however small and insignificant it may be coming from me. He is personally responsible for so many auspicious events in my own life in connection with Srila Guru Maharaj and therefore I have a personal debt. I don't know to what extent the disciples of Srila Guru Maharaj and other devotees all over the world are aware of just how much they are also indebted to Sripad Bhakti Sundar Govinda Maharaj. So this is a wonderful opportunity that we could all come together and show some appreciation on this day.
Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Maharajer avirbhava maha-mahotsava tithi ki jaya!
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