[The following is an excerpt of a bhāva anuvāda of a darśana with Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on January 25 and 26, 2014, in Puri. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Prabhuji has a question. What does it imply when we address our Gurudeva as oṁ viṣṇupāda aṣṭottara-śata, or with various other appellations like paramahaṁsa tridaṇḍi swami and so on? What is the meaning of each of these terms?
What is the meaning of oṁ which we use first?
Śrīla Mahārāja: Oṁ implies ‘remembering Bhagavān.’
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: So does Oṁ stand for us remembering Bhagavān or for Gurudeva remembering Bhagavān?
Śrīla Mahārāja: No, that is not the consideration. Guru is non-different from Bhagavān Hari as he is dear most to Hari; 'Guru kṛṣṇa-rūpa hana, śāstrera pramāṇe' and 'sākṣād-dharitvena' - therefore, with this conception oṁ is uttered. Oṁ is in connection with viṣṇupāda which means Bhagavān’s lotus feet. That is why Guru is addressed as viṣṇupāda or prabhupāda [servitor of Bhagavān’s lotus feet].
If one thoroughly deliberates on the meaning of the term, 'pāda-sevana', then one will understand that it refers to 'Vaiṣṇava-sevā' because a Vaiṣṇava is often addressed as śrīpāda, meaning the lotus feet of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the śakti of Bhagavān.
‘Śrīpāda’ has more significance than ‘viṣṇupāda’ because śrīpāda is referring to one as the maidservant of the lotus feet of Śrīmatī Rādhīka.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Why is śrī guru compared to viṣṇupāda – servant of Viṣṇu’s lotus feet or śrīpāda – servant of Radhika’s lotus feet? Why specifically lotus feet? Why not any other limb?
Śrīla Mahārāja: By the feet, all the activities are performed, like moving around to give mercy and so on. That is why it has been compared to the feet. Service done by feet is also pāda-sevana.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: So mainly pāda-sevana represents service to the devotees (bhakta-sevā).
Śrīla Mahārāja: And the topmost of devotees is Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. And Her caraṇa (feet) means becoming Her dāsa (servant). Some bābājīs have names like Caraṇa-dāsa – servant of the lotus feet of Śrīmatī Rādhīka or Kṛṣṇa.
There is another consideration - oṁ stands for a, u and ma - Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheṣa; all three are manifestations (prakāśa) of Bhagavān, so similarly, guru is also a manifestation of Bhagavān. So additionally, by this consideration, oṁ is uttered.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Why is guru called a manifestation of Brahmā? Is it because Brahmā is the creator, so guru also gives birth to a disciple? [Similarly when we consider Śrī guru to be a manifestation of Viṣṇu is it because] Viṣṇu is the maintainer (pālana kartā) and guru also maintains his disciples?
Śrīla Mahārāja: How does guru maintain?
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: By giving teachings on bhāgavata-tattva.
Śrīla Mahārāja: Not only by that, guru maintains a disciple in two ways: through affection and through chastisement (lālana and tāḍana). Lālana means giving affection and tāḍana means to discipline or chastise, which is another aspect of affection. If it is one-sided [only giving affection but not chastising], then the affection is not complete – it will only be 50%. When there is only affection, but not chastisement, then in such a case, the affection cannot be deemed complete (pūrṇa-sneha). So guru will offer both, he will discipline as well as give affection (sāśana and lālana). Sāśana means disciplining through chastisement even by physically beating [if required], as the guru deems fit.
There is a story [in this context]. Once I witnessed two parents, both father and mother, tie their child to a lamp-post and proceed to beat him severely. I could not bear to see it. I shouted at them, 'Stop! Why are you beating him?’ At that time, I was strong and stout and additionally, I had worn a cap because it was winter. [Assuming he had stolen something, I said,] 'If anything is due to you from him, take it from me and leave him.' The man bowed to my feet offering praṇāmas and said, ‘This boy is my own child’. I was stunned, thinking, ‘Who have I come to rescue? How can my affection for the child be greater than that of his own father?’ The boy’s mother was standing a little distance away watching. Now I could see both the parents were together beating the child. I asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He said, “I am a daily laborer in a mill. I have no fixed holidays, in a week. I get one day off for sure; in rotation, we take our holiday. And today was my day off, so I am at home. As we both are illiterate, we have appointed a tutor to teach our child, and have admitted him to a reputable school. They usually do not give admission to [poor] people like us but our mill owner is a big donor to the school and so on the strength of his word, they have admitted our son in the school. But he does not study. He does not respect his mother's words because he is the only child and his mother loves him so much that she does not punish him. But I chastise him very much, and beat him too. Today the tutor left saying, ‘I will not come tomorrow onwards to teach [as your child does not study]. You are a poor man - your money will be wasted and my name will be tarnished because till date, none of my students have failed. All have passed. I am only a private tutor. Now I have so many students coming to me that I cannot take any more. On the recommendation of your boss I accepted him but I will not come tomorrow’. When his mother reported this to me, I asked, ‘Where is the boy?’ She said, ‘He is playing there with marbles’. So I caught him. If I do not discipline him now he will become a fool like me. He will become a daily wage earner like me - if he gets wages he will eat, and on a given day, if he does not earn wages, he will have to starve”.
Then I contemplated - Was my attempt to rescue the child by offering some money was more compassionate than that of his father beating him?
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Yes, one who is beating is more compassionate.
Śrīla Mahārāja: Why did I not see this?
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: You did not see from close by; you saw from a distance.
Śrīla Mahārāja: No, that is not the case. Earlier I did not know the relationship of that man with the child. When I discovered their relationship, I felt ashamed thinking, ‘Who have I come to rescue?’ Likewise, Bhagavān also inflicts discipline. Some say Bhagavān has equal vision for all, but it is seen that He has made some rich and left others to remain poor. Why did He make them poor, is it good? It is good.
[Note: This paragraph is paraphrased] For instance, if one has two children and one of them is sick. On a festival day, the mother prepares lot of sweets but abstains from giving them to the child who is sick and instead serves him plain khicarī while the other sibling gets those sweets. Now if the child who is sick, thinks of the mother as his enemy or being partial, is it justified? Can we consider the child’s perception as proper? Similarly guru also gives affection and discipline – lālana and pālana.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Aṣṭottara-śata means one hundred and eight. Some places they even say one thousand and eight.
Śrīla Mahārāja: They may quote any figure, it doesn’t matter.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: After aṣṭottara-śata, śrī is added here; does it mean beauty?
Śrīla Mahārāja: Śrī means beauty, alaṅkāra, everything. That is why each of the [aṣṭottara-śata or 108] śrīs of Śrīla Prabhupāda have been defined. [In other words] All the acts of mercy on the jīvas by Śrīla Prabhupāda have been composed.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Aṣṭottara-śata is a Sanskrit term, śata means hundred and aṣṭottara-śata means hundred and eight. Śrī means beauty, śrī means alaṅkāra, ornament. Even though Śrīla Prabhupāda is the eternal associate of Bhagavān and Śrīmatī Rādhīka, when He appeared in this material world, he performed so many wonderful activities to give mercy to the jīvas. Thus 108 different specialties of Śrīla Prabhupāda were composed. For instance:
He has established so many maṭhas to distribute mercy - this is 1st Śrī, beauty or ornament of an eternal associate of Bhagavān.
He initiated Navadvīpa and Vraja-maṇḍala parikramās - this is 2nd Śrī, special contribution of Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Although he is a paramahaṁsa, to teach the gravity of paramahaṁsa dharma he took sannyāsa and introduced sannyāsa in the line of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu – this is the 3rd Śrī.
He commenced the publishing of so many magazines and books in various languages – a unique contribution to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. This was his 4th śrī, in this way, one after another, all such unique contributions made by Śrīla Prabhupāda have been composed as individual ‘Śrīs’
There are so many people in this world, in India, Bangladesh or Pakistan where people are generally illiterate. Therefore, it was not easily possible for them to comprehend the scriptures or to even understand the hari-kathā of so many scholarly devotees. Considering their wellbeing, Prabhupāda initiated pradarśanis (exhibitions) by creating dioramas and assigning one preacher to stand nearby and explain each one to the visitors. He introduced these pradarśanis, one after another in so many places.
Performing Ratha-yātrās, awarding sannyāsa, sending his preachers out to people and so on – Each of these activities by Śrīla Prabhupāda comprise an individual ‘śrī’. In this way, 108 unique contributions of Śrīla Prabhupāda have been enumerated somewhere, and for this reason, they began addressing Śrīla Prabhupāda with aṣṭottara-śata śrī. So, oṁ viṣṇupāda aṣṭottara-śata śrī śrīmad...
Śrīla Mahārāja: [Śrīmad means] Śrī-yukta...
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Thus, Śrī śrīmad refers to a personality decorated or anointed with all these śrīs. Śrī-yukta, yukta means connected, mada means yukta. That is why śrī śrīmad.
Why are Śrī Guru and Vaiṣṇavas referred to as paramahaṁsas?
Śrīla Mahārāja: They are addressed as paramahaṁsas because they extract the essence of the scriptures by leaving out the rest in the same way that a swan extracts milk from the mixture of milk and water. Śrī Guru and Vaiṣṇavas have this quality. The scriptures speak of karma, jñāna, yoga, bhakti and so on but they extract the essence from that i.e. prema bhakti and teach us. Otherwise how can we know?
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: 'nīra kṣīra haṁsana pāna vidhāyana kon pṛthak kori… '
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Does paramahaṁsa also mean rājahaṁsa?
Śrīla Mahārāja: No, but you can also say rājahaṁsa, which means “king of swans’. Ordinarily swans consume fish, insects, etc. but rājahaṁsas are known to consume only karṇikā [pollen] of the lotus flowers. Hence, the complexion of rājahaṁsas is such [snow white] –jaisa anna vaisa mana [you are what you eat]. Once a swan was being carried by a rājahaṁsa to Māna-sarovara, at that time the swan was wondering if he would get his regular food like fish and insects, which he was accustomed to consuming, in his former habitat.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Oh, your Guru Mahārāja used to tell this story?
Śrīla Mahārāja: Once Indra became a hog and was eating all dirty things. Nārada Ṛṣi appeared to him and said, 'Oh you were the king of heaven. Why are you living here in this dirty place eating dirty things?'
Mādhavpriya Prabhu [paraphrased]: One time, one rājahaṁsa observed from the sky, many swans in a pond sustaining on insects and fish. He approached them saying, “Why are you living in such a filthy place sustaining on insects and so on? This is not good at all. Better to come with me, I will take you to a place where I stay myself [Māna-sarovara]. There the water is pure and crystal clear. Over there you get to eat only the pollen of the lotus flowers, which is very delicious”. In this way, he was explaining. Then the swans asked, “Can you take us there?” The rājahaṁsa replied, “Yes, I can take all of you with me. That is not a problem at all”. Then they mentioned, will we still get to eat all these things which we are getting here to eat?” At that time he said, “There is no need to eat these things”. But the swans were so attached to eating insects and fish that they were not willing to go.
Then Śrīla Mahārāja was mentioning the story of Indra, who by the curse of his guru became a hog. Then Brahmā came over there and wanted to take him to svargaloka (heaven). But Indra did not want to go. He was saying [referring to his pig family], “O! I have such a beautiful wife here, when she walks she moves her tail in such a wonderful way. [everybody starts laughing] How can I go? My children, they have hundred percent red cheeks. How can I leave them? If you can take them with me, only then I can go. We are eating these wonderful things. Will I get these things there or not, otherwise I do not want to come.”
So, this is the position of the haṁsa or the position of Indra, who became a hog. But rājahaṁsas, they do not eat anything like that. So guru and Vaiṣṇavas are called paramahamsas, or rājahaṁsas. They have nothing to do with jñāna, karma, yoga or anything like that. They are fully aware what is uttama bhakti [topmost devotional service], prema bhakti and they collect those things only for us to show that this is the topmost thing. Otherwise they themselves know very well.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Why is the term ‘Mahārāja’ used to address Vaiṣṇavas?
Śrīla Mahārāja: It is not used for Vaiṣṇavas, it is reserved only for sannyāsīs. It is used to show the difference between a sannyāsī and an ordinary Vaiṣṇava. In common parlance, mahārāja means a great personality, a superior person (śreṣṭa) among the common people. Here (in Vaiṣṇava parlance) it is used as ‘mahān’ and ‘rāja’, and is used only while addressing a sannyāsī, caturtha-āśramī, to distinguish him; it is not used for brahmacārīs. Nonetheless, foolish people address even the brahmacārīs as ‘mahārāja’. Mahārāja is used to let us know that the person is caturtha-āśramī [a sannyāsī, who is in the fourth stage of the social order].
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Is it also because they rule others through their affection and discipline (snehā and sāśana) and win over their hearts?
Śrīla Mahārāja: No, No. People may think in any manner but as per scriptures it is meant to distinguish them from other classes of people. It is for the same reason that brahmacārīs and sannyāsīs wear a different color cloth to differentiate. Otherwise, how can we identify one as a sannyāsī or a brahmacārī? One who wears saffron clothes is a naistikī-brahmacārī.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Sometimes gṛhasthas also come to live in the maṭha and even they are offered saffron clothes…
Śrīla Mahārāja: They are not given saffron cloth! Why would they be given? Nowadays all wear such color clothes.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: He gave up his householder's life (gṛhastha tyāga) and came….
Śrīla Mahārāja: [Yes, that is a different case.] It means he gave up his house – it is gṛha tyāga, not gṛhastha tyāga [gṛha tyaga – means to externally give up house but not gṛhastha vrtti whereas gṛhastha tyāga means that one can be gṛhastha but gives up gṛhastha vrtti (which means the tendency of depending on oneself and not on guru and Kṛṣṇa)] -– it means he has become a vānaprastī. A vānaprastī can wear either white clothes or saffron clothes. It is not a rule that all vānaprastīs are to wear either.
Nowadays there is no special respect given to saffron cloth. Earlier saffron implied one had to remain separate and not even sit with others in a common place. This was the practice. Wearing saffron clothes meant, that that personality would not engage in certain activities so as not to destroy the dignity of the saffron cloth. Jagamohana Prabhu [as a white clad vānaprastī residing in the maṭha], would not even use saffron cloth for anything. [Once he cut his finger and to stop the bleeding one devotee tried to tie his wound with a saffron cloth but Jagamohana Prabhu denied saying special respect must be accorded to saffron, and thus waited until another cloth was brought.]
Mādhavpriya Prabhu [summarizing]: Yesterday we were hearing the meanings of different words like oṁ viṣṇupāda, aṣṭottara-śata, like this... and today the question has been raised as to why we address sannyāsīs as mahārāja. The main thing is ‘mahārāja’ is a term used to differentiate between brahmacārīs and sannyāsīs, reserved especially for those who have accepted the fourth order of āśrama i.e. sannyāsa. Therefore, they are addressed as “mahārāja’ to differentiate them from all other varṇas (āśramas).
Śrīla Mahārāja: Śrīla Prabhupāda has written in his Anubhāṣya (commentary) that sannyāsī means one who is guru and brahmacārī means sevaka.
Among brahmacārīs, there are ordinary brahmacārīs and naiṣṭika-brahmacārīs. A naiṣṭika-brahmacārī never does upa-kurvan, meaning he will never go back or retrieve his steps [and enter gṛhastha āśrama]. An ordinary practicing brahmacārī can enter gṛhastha āśrama without any fault, but for a naiṣṭika-brahmacārī, it is not proper. [Naiṣṭika-brahmacārī means lifelong brahmacārī, and he may later enter the sannyāsa āśrama.] A naiṣṭika-brahmacārī is addressed as a bṛhad-vratī. Bṛhad-vratī is one who engages in activities centered around bṛhad-vastu, Bhagavān.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: Now what is the meaning of the word 'gosvāmī'? Like we say, Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāja or Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja.
Śrīla Mahārāja: 'Gosvāmī' means one who has conquered the six urges (chaya vega).
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: That which Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī mentioned...
Śrīla Mahārāja: Yes, yes. They are 'vāco vegaṁ manasaḥ krodha-vegaṁ jihvā-vegam udaropastha-vegam etān vegān yo viṣaheta dhīraḥ sarvām apīmāṁ pṛthivīṁ sa śiṣyāt'. One who has won over these six urges is a gosvāmī, otherwise he is not.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: So, go-dāsa?
Śrīla Mahārāja: Go-dāsa is scriptural language. But people use it in a contrary manner (vyaṅga). One gentleman from a gosāi family in Vṛndāvana was working in a bank. He was explaining that we are from a gosvāmī family meaning, go means cow, and swami of cow means 'bull' (sāṇḍa). Like this he was explaining the meaning of ‘gosvāmī’ in a contradictory way because they have not won or controlled the six urges. Actually, only one who has controlled, conquered the six urges is a gosvāmī. We use the appellation 'gosvāmī' to refer to one who has conquered the six urges – 'vāco vegaṁ manasaḥ krodha vegaṁ.........' – so they can make disciples and do not deny accepting disciples. Moreover, those who have not accepted disciples, but have won over the six urges, they are [also] gosvāmī.
If someone has not won over the urges, but has been given the appellation ‘gosvāmī’, that does not factually make him a gosvāmī. Like upon obtaining a degree, one may be called a doctor, but until he actually practices, he is not, in any real sense, a doctor.
Mādhavpriya Prabhu: There is no sanctity in addressing someone as gosvāmī if he has not gained control over his senses. Otherwise, this word in itself has no meaning.
Śrīla Mahārāja: In the language of Śrīla Prabhupāda, that is called 'prostitution of words'.