Om Vishnupada Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Goswami
In honor of Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhara Dev-Goswami’s Tirobhava (disappearance) we present the following story of his own initial conversion to Caitanya Vaishnavism, told in his own words. This excerpt originally appeared in Centenary Anthology, a compilation of Sridhara Maharaja’s life history, glories, and teachings.
I like sacrifice in life. The magnanimous side. I had affinity for Lord Ramacandra, for the model pastimes, but not so much Krishna, because of his Vrindavana lila. I could not accommodate why God should be a liar and a girl-hunter. I could not accommodate this. Though I saw Radha-Govinda murtis. They seemed to be very, very charming. I found some mystic background there, but on the surface, I had more liking for Ramacandra than Krishna.
My attraction to Krishna first came through Bhagavad-Gita, and then through Mahaprabhu. I liked Ramacandra for his magnanimity. I was mainly attracted by the self-giving ideal. So I liked Radharani very much, I liked Mahaprabhu very much, but my attraction to Krishna was less. My attraction to Krishna came through Mahaprabhu and through Radharani—from their side. When I was nine or ten or so, there was a temple where Radha-Krishna deities were installed in Jagadanandapura, near Katwa. Every year in Karttik month my father used to read Srimad-Bhagavatam there. Sometimes I visited that temple with him, and I found some mystic atmosphere there. It seemed very mystical to me.
When I was a student of the fourth year in Krishnanatha college, I came into the connection of a younger boy who had just passed matriculation and was newly admitted into the college. In the college I found that there was a small section of students who were addicted to some meditation and puja, etc. And there was another group that did not care for worshipping, but they liked the service of patients, and to do good for the public. But I have an internal nature for both.
I was a fourth-year student and that boy was a first-year student: three years gap. I found that he was given to both sides very intensely; taking the Name of the Lord sometimes very loudly like a madman, and also doing sandhya-vandana [regular morning, noon and evening prayers and worship] etc. At the same time, when there was any patient he would engage himself in their service, even neglecting to attend the college class. Both sides—social service as well as worship—were combined in him.
Before this, when I was in school I got a book where it is mentioned that if we can go on with the japam [meditational chanting] of Gayatri 432 times daily, we can achieve a very good spiritual improvement. I practiced that for some time, and at that time I tried my best to understand the revealed truth-without consulting any dictionary or grammar; I had heard that Gayatri is conscious, spiritual, not dead words. So, if I go on with japam Gayatri itself will express its meaning and purpose. I approached it with that attitude, and I used to feel some light coming from the words of Gayatri itself; I had some knowledge about that for some time.
I tried to associate with this boy. His name was Sri Suresh Bhattacharyya; he came from a Brahmana family of Faridpura. The founder of the Bharat-sevashram, Sri Pranavananda, was from his village.
One day, when we two were going on a morning walk and also cleaning our teeth with small twigs, he referred to his father with the expression, ‘that gentleman.’ I took exception to that.
“Why do you use this expression for your father? You say that gentleman? What is this!”
He said, “Yes, I have committed a wrong; I shouldn’t have spoken in this way before you. But really it is like that. ‘That gentleman’-he was a gentleman, and in this life I came to him and he has protected me for some time, and in the next life I shall go to some other place; in this way we are moving hither and thither, coming to some gentleman and from there to another gentleman…”
Although I gave opposition, that point hit me very hard. I began to think, “Yes, it is true. We are in the midst of father, mother, brother, or, as he said, ‘that gentleman’. What real connection have I with them, or they with me? We are all almost like strangers!” Thinking and thinking on this point the whole world became as vacant. I felt a furious atmosphere, with no shelter to take anywhere. A chaotic position, and I have no position of stability. Wherefrom am I coming, where to go, how long am I to stay here-this is a point in the infinite. I am an uncertain point in the whole of the infinite. A great shock came to me in this way. And that was the great turn in my life.
The worldly achievement has no value. I was studying, a fourth-year student. I was to appear in a few months for the final examination. My friends were alarmed at seeing my position. “What are doing? You are neglecting your studies! How will you be able to pass? Your father is sending money [for your education]; you are not so rich.”
In this way they tried their best to help me but I couldn’t concentrate on any book of study. They said, “If you can’t do so, we shall read and you try to hear.” At that time, my friend gave me some literature on Mahaprabhu’s Life and Teachings, and I devoured it like nectar. I found some position there—it is not that I am nowhere. Here is the support-the basis, the foundation; I found here the sustenance, hope and shelter I needed.
In this way I began to read and read. My very nature was that whatever I read, I read scrutinisingly. It may be slow, but my reading is more or less very accurate and representing the true aspect. I could also hear very clearly. Even without reading, acute hearing was also a part of my nature. Whatever I heard, I could grasp the very purpose and keep it within me. And here also by thorough reading I found my life, my future hope, everything. I was converted. In my mother’s family there was some recognition of Sri Caitanyadeva, but my paternal were orthodox smartas. They hated the followers of Caitanyadeva. Caitanyadeva has created a chaotic society. Pests that cannot keep their own stand in the social position-it is they who gather to follow Caitanyadeva. Those who have lost their social position become Vaishnavas and they say that they are followers of Caitanya. In my father’s family they held such a hatred. But after this I became fully converted into a follower of Caitanya. Such a feeling came in me, not only intellectually, but in heart and mind also. I underwent a wholesale conversion.