Our Affectionate Guardians, Chapter One, Part Two
Published on November 10th, 2009 | by Harmonist staff37
Chapter two, part two, of Our Affectionate Guardians by Swami B. B. Visnu. The historical account of the relationships between Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami and Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and his society.
Read previously published sections here.
I Take It on My Head
It is clear in the following letter that Srila Prabhupada regarded Srila Sridhara Maharaja as his confidential friend and well-wisher throughout his life. Concerned about his failing health, Srila Prabhupada had written Sridhara Maharaja asking whether he should continue living in the United States or return to India to live his last days in Vrindavana. Srila Sridhara Maharaja wrote Srila Prabhupada advising him to stay in the U.S. and preach rather than come back to Vrindavana to leave his body. He asserted in his letter, “Wherever you are, that is Vrindavana.” After receiving Sridhara Maharaja’s reply, Srila Prabhupada wrote,
What Sripada Sridhara Maharaja has directed, I take it on my head. He is always my well-wisher. After the departure of Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta], it is appropriate that I should accept his direction. I got direction from him that I shall live in this country forever.1
My Siksa Guru
Throughout his life, Srila Prabhupada always maintained the highest respect for and confidence in Srila Sridhara Maharaja. He even sent some of his disciples to Srila Sridhara Maharaja for instruction. On January 31, 1969, in a letter to one of his disciples, Hrsikesa dasa, Prabhupada wrote:
Because you are my disciple and, I think, a sincere soul, it is my duty to refer you to someone who is competent to act as siksa guru. For spiritual advancement of life, we must go to someone who is actually practicing spiritual life; not to some head of a mundane institution, not to someone who has offended his spiritual master in so many ways. I do not wish to go into details here. So, if you are actually serious to take instructions from a siksa guru, I can refer you to the one who is the most highly competent of all my godbrothers. This is B. R. Sridhara Maharaja, whom I consider to be even my siksa guru, so what to speak of the benefit that you can have by his association.So, if you are serious about the advancement of your spiritual life, I will advise you to go to Sridhara Maharaja.It will be very good for your spiritual benefit, and I will feel that you are safe. When I was in India with the others, we lived with Sridhara Maharaja. You can also make arrangements for your other godbrothers to go there in the future.
Your Instructions Nondifferent Than Our Prabhupada’s
At the opening ceremony of the Iskcon Mayapur Candrodaya Mandira, Srila Prabhupada remarked that he considered Srila Sridhara Maharaja to be his siksa guru. And then he declared,
Jaya Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Maharaja ki jaya.
At the 1976 Gaura Purnima celebration in Mayapur, Srila Prabhupada invited Srila Sridhara Maharaja to share his vyasasana with him, which he did. The only other godbrother to share Srila Prabhupada’s seat was Akincana Krsnadasa Babaji Maharaja. In March of 1981, it was related to Srila Sridhara Maharaja by Sudhira Goswami that Acyutananda dasa had written about him in his book Autobiography of a Jewish Yogi:
He compares you to a great general, when he met you. And he tells how Srila Prabhupada told him that he regarded you as his siksa guru, and that Acyutananda should come to you for your instructions. He was in some spiritual difficulty. So he describes the nine months that he was living here and his hearing from you, the many different subjects you would speak about. For all these years we have wondered how Acyutananda knew so many things. Everyone has always wondered. And now we can understand, by your association where he learned so many things. His conclusion was that your instructions were nondifferent than our Prabhupada’s instructions. But at the same time different. This is my understanding—the spiritual sweetness of variety. It’s nondifferent but at the same time it’s different. And I didn’t know that it could be like that. Because as you said in your poem to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta about this world being filled with the cheaters and the cheated. So, Srila Prabhupada was the only person I ever met who did not cheat me, until I met Your Divine Grace.
When Srila Sridhara Maharaja was told that many devotees cannot understand how someone can have two gurus, he replied:
That is because they are situated in a formal position, but when they enter into substantial spiritual realization, they will not have such a grievance because they will see what is guru. Guru means one who has come to give Krishna consciousness. The formal difference will be reduced when one can catch the very substance of the teachings for which the guru is respected. When one is intimately connected with the thread of divine love which the guru comes to impart to us, he will accept it, wherever it comes from. He will see it as a friendly relation-not antagonistic, but cooperative. Although separate in figure, at heart both of the gurus are the same because they have a common cause. They have not come to fight with one another; they have come to fight only with the agents of Satan. If we can recognize the real thing for which we are approaching the guru, then we will understand how to make the adjustment in our relationship with the siksa guru, diksa guru, and vartma-pradarsaka guru [the instructing spiritual master, the initiating spiritual master, and the one who first shows the way to devotional life, respectively]. We are infinitely indebted to all our gurus. We are helpless. What can we do? They are benevolent; they are infinitely gracious; they are my guardians. I may have many guardians. They are to look after my welfare; they have not come to destroy me.
We Are Happy; We Are Glad; We Are Proud
The endorsements that Srila Prabhupada gave Srila Sridhara Maharaja are unparalleled in Prabhupada’s statements about his other godbrothers. The fact is that Srila Prabhupada had the highest respect and appreciation for Srila Sridhara Maharaja, and Sridhara Maharaja consistently expressed his deep admiration of Prabhupada, as shown in the following eulogy:
So our Swami Maharaja has done a miracle! Thakura Bhaktivinoda conceived and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura began to translate this conception into action. And we find that through Swami Maharaja, in his last days, it has been fulfilled to such a great extent. We are happy; we are glad; we are proud!2
Prabhupada with great humility, his voice choked with emotion, tearfully replied:
By guru and Vaishnava, whatever position I have got, it is by guru’s mercy and the blessings of the Vaishnavas. Otherwise, how may I have? So, I wish that Sridhara Maharaja may bestow his blessings as he was doing always, and may Guru Maharaja help me so I can do some service. By his grace it has become successful. I have no credit. I do not know how things are happening, because I am not at all qualified: chadiya vaisnava seva, nistara payeche keba. [Without serving an ideal Vaisnava, who can be delivered from the clutches of maya?]
In Navadvipa on June 27, 1973, Srila Prabhupada joked with Srila Sridhara Maharaja about coming to America with him.
Srutakirti wants to serve you, provided you go with us to the U.S. (laughter). He says, “If Maharaja goes with us, then I shall take care of him.”3
In their last known recorded meeting in 1977, just prior to Prabhupada’s leaving this mortal world, we find him imploring Srila Sridhara Maharaja to take up residence at his temple in Sridhama Mayapur.
Please Stay With Me
Excerpt of 1977 conversation in Navadvipa (transcription by Bhakti Caru Swami):4
Srila Prabhupada: I do not know for how long I will be able to carry on. So, I came to see Sridhara Maharaja.
Devotee: If you all go away, then the world will become dark.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: [to Prabhupada] It is so wonderful that the will of the Lord becomes manifest through someone.
Srila Prabhupada: I want very much, Maharaja, that you come and stay at Mayapur. Because Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta] always desired that you preach. He told me quite a few times, “Why don’t you pull him out?” [They both laugh.] You know, I also tried to some extent before, but somehow or other it did not work out. Now, why don’t you come and stay at Mayapur? Srila Prabhupada told me also, “Sridhara Maharaja is one of the finest preachers.” I want to take you everywhere. At least at the place we have in Mayapur, people are coming from all over the world. If you just agree, then whatever kind of building you want, I will arrange it for you. They are trying to build a house for me. So both of us will stay there. And whenever you want, you can come here to your matha.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, as long as I am alive to fulfill [Bhaktisiddhanta] Prabhupada’s desire.
Srila Prabhupada: This is my earnest desire. Since you could not go around the world and preach, at least stay there and people will come to you. I shall make that arrangement. If you stay, then it will be helpful to me also. Sometimes I need to consult with someone and there is no one. There is no one that I can consult with. I feel this deficiency very greatly.
Devotee: If he [Srila Sridhara Maharaja] stays in Mayapur, all kinds of people will get to hear from him.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that’s right.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds will come there.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and they are already coming. And in that house I will make arrangements for an elevator so that you won’t have to go through the difficulty of walking up and down the stairs. You won’t even have to move a step yourself. I’ll make arrangements for a car and an elevator. My disciples are telling me that they will build a house for me. So, both of us will stay in that house. Most of the time I am traveling around, so if you are there, they can get some guidance. So, Maharaja, please, give me the order and I will make all the arrangements for you.
That planetarium [The Temple of Understanding] also will be built under your direction. My idea is to combine the Indian culture and the American money—the lame man and the blind man policy. I tell them also that this will be very beneficial for the world.
Temple of Understanding
Srila Prabhupada refers to “that planetarium.” Srila Sridhara Maharaja was very fond of Sanatana Goswami’s most famous work, the Brhad-bhagavatamrta, in which devotees, devotional service, and Krishna are described very scientifically. On the basis of this transcendental literature, Sridhara Maharaja had contemplated an elaborate preaching exhibition, using dioramas to depict the varieties of spiritual planetary systems and showing that the ultimate spiritual destination is Krishna’s own abode, Goloka Vrindavana. Due to insufficient funds, Sridhara Maharaja humbly submitted his idea to Srila Prabhupada, who concurred, saying, “It will be built under your direction.”5
He Can’t Be Converted
In a talk on October 8, 1981, Srila Sridhara Maharaja remarked:
Some faith, yes, he had some faith in me. I can’t deny that. In his last days he expressed that two quarters side by side will be built here. And you will live in one and I in the next. Birds of the same feather flock together. Common interest has drawn us near; our common attraction has brought us nearer, closer.
Sometimes it is wondered why Sridhara Maharaja did not take up Prabhupada’s offer. Sridhara Maharaja explains,
I said, “Of course I shall try to help you. Sometimes I shall go and stay there with you.” But I really did not think at the time that I shall survive [live longer than] him.
About the reticence regarding large-scale preaching that Srila Prabhupada mentions in friendly jesting, Srila Sridhara Maharaja once reflected,
I did not want to become a big person. That is not my nature. I did not want to move around with many people. I am just satisfied with whatever I have. My spiritual thinking is my life. The conclusions of the scriptures, the advice of the mahajanas, to relish them and practice them and to discuss them in a small confidential circle, that is the main goal of my life.
Prabhupada testifies to his having personally heard Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura mark the high qualifications of Sridhara Maharaja, whom he first chose to have go to the West. Many of the mission stalwarts recommended Sridhara Maharaja to preach, stating: “He is the fittest man to preach in the West.” In this regard, Sridhara Maharaja said the following:
My Guru Maharaja wanted me to go to the West for preaching, but I don’t consider myself a fit person to preach in the West. Because, you see, I can’t follow your intonation. I must listen clearly, then I shall tell. So, in this way, I told that if you order, I must go, but I don’t think that I am fit to preach in the West. Anyhow, it was stopped, and Goswami Maharaja was sent to the West. I am of reserved type, of reserved mood. I am a man of more thinking and less speaking.
When Sridhara Maharaja had been selected, one of his sannyasa godbrothers came to him and revealed the reason Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura had chosen him to preach in the West. This godbrother explained:
Do you know why Prabhupada wanted you to be sent to the West? He said, “Because he can’t be converted.” You have checked such an ambitious chance. If you went to the West, a big name you could acquire easily as a preacher, but you left it so easily.
Shortly before his departure from this mortal world, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura called Sridhara Maharaja and asked him to sing Narottama dasa Thakura’s song “Sri Rupa-Manjari Pada” (the lotus feet of Rupa Manjari are my treasure). Sridhara Maharaja recalls:
So I did, hesitatingly. My nature is always hesitating, pushing back. Then, Kunja Babu asked me to stop. I was not a good singer, so as soon as he suggested, I stopped. Then, Kunja Babu asked Puri Maharaja of Kalna, “You sing.” So he began. Then, Srila Prabhupada was a little disturbed. “I don’t like to hear the sweet tune of the song,” he said. Then, he stopped singing, and I had to begin again with Sri-rupa-manjari-pada, sei mora sampada. He wanted me to sing that song. That is the fulfillment of life for every one of us, to be rupanuga followers of Sri Rupa.
Senior godbrothers who witnessed this exchange (notably Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaja) have described it as a “mystic transmission” in which Sridhara Maharaja was given admittance into the eternal entourage of Sri Rupa Manjari. Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s humble vision, however, is that he was posted as the gatekeeper, the guardian of devotion (bhakti-raksaka), to protect the storehouse of conclusive truths about the full-fledged theistic conception of Sri Krishna as given by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
The innumerable high qualities and praises of our Srila Prabhupada are well-known and accepted by the vast majority of Vaishnavas around the world. Additionally, throughout this publication, we present the many wonderful glorifications of Srila Prabhupada by Srila Sridhara Maharaja. We would also like to enumerate herein a few of the divine qualities of Srila Sridhara Maharaja:
- High recognition by other saintly personalities, including Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Akincana Krsnadasa Babaji Maharaja, Srila Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaja, Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, and a host of godbrothers and other respectable devotees and scholars.
- Numerous original Sanskrit compositions and literary contributions.
- Brahma-gayatri commentary, unprecedented in our sampradaya.
- Spotless character.
- Freedom from envy and faultfinding.
- Extraordinary ability to harmonize opposing elements.
- Exceptionally kind and affectionate nature in dealing with subordinates.
- Great attachment for discussing the pastimes of the Lord and Krishna conscious siddhanta for hours on end.
- Superexcellent realization and clarity of presentation of Gaudiya siddhanta, thereby earning the title sastra-nipuna.
- Blessing of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura as the guardian of gevotion (bhakti-raksaka) and further as the representative of the Rupanuga siddhanta (Rupanuga-acarya).
Just prior to his departure from this mortal world, Srila Prabhupada advised his senior disciples that in his absence, when the necessity arose to consult higher authority for clarification of certain philosophical points, they should consult Sridhara Maharaja. Prabhupada thus once and for all opened the door for his disciples to associate with Sridhara Maharaja. His final instruction regarding Sridhara Maharaja takes precedent over all other instructions. It was made only weeks before Srila Prabhupada’s passing from this world, a time during which one puts all else aside and shares one’s heart. He did this in spite of having on occasion criticized Sridhara Maharaja, criticisms we shall discuss in later chapters.
In this chapter we have presented the spirit of the relationship shared by these two parama Vaishnavas. Ignoring this while attempting to assess the nature of their relationship, one ignores the very spirit of Vaishnavism. Srila Prabhupada’s glorification of Sridhara Maharaja and his stated subordination to his godbrother is balanced with similar statements of Sridhara Maharaja in praise of Srila Prabhupada. Such a transcendental exchange reveals the greatness of both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja, who thus in the very least instruct us as to genuine Vaishnava humility and the sense that all of one’s success in spiritual life is derived from the blessings of the Vaishnavas. Thus we humbly submit that the transcendental relationship between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja be viewed and respected in terms of their eternal spiritual positions and long-standing appreciation and affection for each other, rather than in terms of their differences in style.
- Prabhupada Letter toGovinda Maharaja, Jan. 29, 1969 [↩]
- BBT Folio Archives, file 730317RC.MAY [↩]
- BBT Folio Archives, file 730627RC.NAV [↩]
- 1977 BBT transcription available only, not original. [↩]
- BBT Folio Archives, file 730627RC.NAV [↩]