Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja
[July 26, 2021 is the disappearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana, India. Below is an excerpt of his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja]
MEETING THE GAUDIYA MATHA DEVOTEES
During his time in college, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja (then Śrī Narendra Bandopādhyāya) was an exceptionally bright student, well liked by both teachers and other students. He displayed a natural aptitude for drama and theatre, and because he had studied in an English medium school, he was fluent in English.
Śrī Narendra was his father’s tenth and youngest son and was also very dear to him. After he finished his collegiate studies, his father fell seriously ill, and due to this, some of the family moved from their village and rented an apartment in Gāṇdāriyā Pallī, Ḍhākā, where his father had been admitted to the hospital and was undergoing treatment. Soon after their move, however, Śrī Narendra became aloof from virtually all social activities. He suddenly found himself unconcerned for the affection of his family and friends. Instead, he nourished his increasingly growing compulsion to find a bona fide guru, perform kṛṣṇa-bhajana, and thereby make his life worthwhile.
Bhagavān makes all kinds of arrangements for those who sincerely seek after Him, and so around this time, as a result of his powerful bhakty-unmukhī sukṛti*, Śrī Narendra somehow came in contact with the devotees of Śrī Madhva Gauḍīya Maṭha in Ḍhākā. There, Śrī Narendra heard about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s extraordinary glories, and before long, he decided to set out for Kolkata to have a glimpse of his holy feet on the pretext of picking up medicine for his father.
At Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha, Kolkata, Śrī Narendra Bandopādhyāya obtained the audience and inexhaustible affection of Śrīla Prabhupāda, whose powerful hari-kathā inspired him to begin a new life. He decided not to return to Ḍhākā at all, and instead arranged for someone to deliver his father’s medicine while he remained at the maṭha in Kolkata.
After further hearing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s hari-kathā for some days, Śrī Narendra Bandopādhyāya requested Śrīla Prabhupāda for harināma and mantra-dīkṣā. According to the verdict of the scriptures, both guru and disciple must examine one another before establishing a formal relationship based on initiation. Therefore, before giving his sanction, Śrīla Prabhupāda examined Śrī Narendra by asking him to compose an article, in his own words, conveying some of what he had assimilated.
Śrī Narendra carefully wrote an essay titled Ātmīya Ke (Who is One’s Own). Although the word ātmīya is generally interpreted as relating to either the gross or subtle body, Śrī Narendra explained it in relation to the soul (ātmā). That Śrī Narendra Bandopādhyāya deeply understood such a grave subject matter in only a short time indicates he must have associated with sādhus either earlier in his current life or in previous lives, for it would have been otherwise impossible.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was so pleased by Śrī Narendra Bandopādhyāya’s essay that he had it published in his weekly Gauḍīya magazine (Year Two, Issue Forty-eight, 26 July, 1924). In this way, Śrī Narendra Bandopādhyāya passed his test. Shortly after, he received pāñcarātriki-dīkṣā from Śrīla Prabhupāda and became known as Śrī Nanda-sūnu Brahmacārī.
Once he received dīkṣā initiation from his śrī gurupāda-padma, Śrī Nanda-sūnu Brahmacārī constantly strived, at every moment, to adhere to the concept of viśrambheṇa guroḥ sevā, performing intimate service to śrī guru without hesitation or reservation. Śrī Nanda-sūnu Brahmacārī was never seen diverting his attention from his efforts to serve Śrī Hari, guru and Vaiṣṇavas to indulgence in sense gratification, for even a second.
PREACHING UNDER SRILA PRABHUPADA'S GUIDANCE
On 29 January, 1925, the day of Śrī Viṣṇupriyā devī’s appearance, a pilgrimage tour of Śrī Gauḍa-maṇḍala commenced under the guidance of Śrīla Prabhupāda. During the expedition, Śrīpāda Nanda-sūnu Brahmacārī spoke in many places as ordered by Śrīla Prabhupāda and executed countless other services for śrī guru and Vaiṣṇavas, thereby becoming the recipient of his śrī gurupāda-padma’s profuse love and affection. That year, on 4 September, 1925, he accepted tridaṇḍa-sannyāsa at the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda and became known as tridaṇḍi-svāmī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja.
One of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s cherished pursuits was to impart the message of pure devotion through the medium of his spiritual Sat-śikṣā Pradarśinī exhibitions. Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja was significantly involved in designing and decorating the exhibits in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, Kolkata, Ḍhākā, Paṭnā, Kāśī, Prayāga and Kurukṣetra. He was particularly involved in designing the dioramas of Śrī Govardhana and the sakhīs’ groves at Śrī Rādhā-kuṇḍa for an exhibition in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura.
REVEALING THE HEART OF SRILA RUPA GOSWAMI AFTER THE INDICATION FROM SRI GURU
Every solar eclipse, hundreds of thousands of people journey to Kurukṣetra to ritualistically take bath in Brahmā-sarovara,but the deep import of this ritual remains unknown to the vast majority of these pilgrims. Once, some time before such a solar eclipse, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote a letter to Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahāṛāja in which he mentioned, “Śrīmatī Rādhīka will soon go to meet with Kṛṣṇa in Kurukṣetra, and so we have some service to perform there, as well.”
Although the message was short and cryptic, Śrīla Mahārāja understood that his śrī gurupāda-padma wanted him to manifest to the whole world a confidential pastime, which previously appeared in the heart of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī by the divine mercy of Śrīman Mahāprabhu. To this end, during a month-long local fair in Kurukṣetra, Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja expertly created an exhibition with dioramas that beautifully depicted the following:
Nanda Bābā meeting with all the senior Vrajavāsīs before a solar eclipse
The Vrajavāsīs preparing to depart for Kurukṣetra
The deep, dark forests they encountered on their journey being illuminated by the natural radiance of Śrī Rādhā’s body, which protected them against the attacks of wild animals
The Vrajavāsīs’ meeting with the Dvārakāvāsīs
Nanda Bābā and Mother Yaśodā’s tearful reunion with Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who burrowed Himself so deeply into Yaśodā’s lap that it appeared as if He were trying to merge into her
Everyone’s bathing in Brahmā-sarovara on the day of the solar eclipse
The queens of Dvārakās’ proposal to donate to Nārada Muni Kṛṣṇa’s weight in a precious substance during the solar eclipse, and Nārada Muni’s condition that he will take Kṛṣṇa away with him should they be unable to match Kṛṣṇa’s weight
The queens of Dvārakās’ prideful acceptance of Nārada Muni’s proposal, followed by their inability to give him a sufficient amount of gold
Their weeping at the thought of Nārada taking Kṛṣṇa away
The advice of Mother Rohiṇī to bring all the gopīs, headed by Śrī Rādhā
Śrī Rādhā replacing all the queens’ gold with a single tulasī leaf on which She had written the name ‘Kṛṣṇa’
That tulasī leaf outweighing Śrī Kṛṣṇa, thus establishing that kṛṣṇa-nāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself are non-different (it was the weight of the tulasī leaf that tipped the scale)
Śrī Kṛṣṇa meeting with the gopīs in a secluded place on the pretext of falling ill, and their subsequent conversation
Śrī Rādhā complaining to Śrī Kṛṣṇa and His attempt to pacify Her
The gopīs demonstrating the insignificance of opulence (aiśvarya) in the face of sweetness (mādhurya)
The weeping of Śrī Rādhā and Śrī Kṛṣṇa
The gopīs pulling Kṛṣṇa in His chariot back to Vṛndāvana
Śrīman Mahāprabhu manifesting the mood of Śrī Rādhā while dancing in front of Jagannātha’s chariot and ecstatically reciting a verse from a seemingly mundane poem:
yaḥ kaumāra-haraḥ sa eva hi varas tā eva caitra-kṣapās
te conmīlita-mālatī-surabhayaḥ prauḍhāḥ kadambānilāḥ
sā caivāsmi tathāpi tatra surata-vyāpāra-līlā-vidhau
He who has stolen away my youth is now my husband. These are the same moonlit nights in the month of Caitra, when we first met in our youth. The same breezes from the kadamba forest are blowing the same light, sweet fragrance from the blossoming mālatī flowers. In our intimate relationship, I am also the same lover. Nonetheless, my heart is longing for the amorous, love-laden play of our first meeting at the foot of the vetasī tree on the bank of the river Revā. *
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī mentally composing a parallel verse that revealed the mood and intended meaning of Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s poetic recitation:
priyaḥ so ’yaṁ kṛṣṇaḥ sahacari kuru-kṣetra-militas
tathāhaṁ sā rādhā tad idamubhayoḥ saṅgama-sukham
mano me kālindī-pulina-vipināya spṛhayati
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 1.76)
My dear friend, in this Kurukṣetra is that very same Śrī Kṛṣṇa who had secretly engaged in amorous pastimes with Me in Vṛndāvana. I am also the same Rādhā, and the happiness of our meeting is still the same. But nonetheless, My heart is yearning for that very forest of Vṛndāvana, situated on the banks of the Yamunā, where Śrī Kṛṣṇa used to continuously engage in pastimes and play the fifth note of His charming muralī flute. *
revā-rodhasi vetasī-taru-tale cetaḥ samutkaṇṭhate
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 13.121)
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī later writing this verse on a palm leaf and keeping it in the thatched roof of his bhajana-kuṭīra
Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s ecstasy upon finding and reading that verse, and His admittance that Rūpa Gosvāmī was able to understand His heart because He had previously blessed him in Prayāga
Next to each diorama, Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja placed a brief description and also posted a devotee to further explain its depicted pastime. Śrīla Prabhupāda was highly pleased by this arrangement. All those who attended the exhibition were endlessly grateful to have learned the real purpose of visiting Kurukṣetra during a solar eclipse.
It is exceedingly difficult for a disciple to understand the intentions of śrī guru, who, being a sincere follower of śrauta-vāṇī—the teachings of the Vedas, which are often conveyed indirectly—relishes parokṣa-vāda, or indirect speech. Only his antaraṅga disciples are capable of understanding the true intended meanings of his words. The term antaraṅga, or ‘internal,’ refers to one who has proven himself to possess such firm faith that śrī gurudeva relies on him completely and, without hesitation, allows him to enter into the innermost chamber of his heart.
Because Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja was an intimate antaraṅga associate of Śrīla Prabhupāda, he understood the true meaning of his gurudeva’s mysterious instruction and was thus able to serve him in a way that fulfilled his heart’s desire.
HIS NATURAL TALENT
Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja had a natural, God-gifted talent for public speaking, which flourished even more by the mercy of the venerable Śrīla Prabhupāda. He could speak without pause for hours on end in Bengali, Hindi, and English. Śrīla Prabhupāda awarded him with the title ‘Vāgmi-pravara,’ which means ‘the greatest of orators.’ Through his mastery of language and his deeply devotional lectures, he connected many people with Śrīla Prabhupāda. While delivering hari-kathā, his eyes would move continuously like a gramophone. He often spoke for hours on end, yet never suffered from issues with his throat, medical or otherwise, up to the very end of his life.
Carrying on his head the gracious blessings and orders of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja constantly preached Śrī Śrī Guru-Gaurāṅga’s divine message of pure devotion across India— from the Bay of Bengal to the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas—with dauntless enthusiasm and total fearlessness. By Śrīla Prabhupāda’s boundless mercy, Śrīla Mahārāja assisted in establishing Gauḍīya Maṭha branches in various places in India, including Madras, Kabhūra (where Śrīman Mahāprabhu met Śrī Rāya Rāmānanda), Kāśī, Naimiṣāraṇya and Kurukṣetra, thereby rendering an invaluable service in propagating the teachings of Śrī Caitanya-deva.
SENDING A WORTHY PREACHER
The message of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu concerns jaiva-dharma, the innate propensity of all living entities, regardless of the country in which they happen to reside. Following the desire of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Prabhupāda did not want the preaching of this message to be limited to India alone. Thus, he met with Śrī Rabindranath Tagore, who had recently returned to India after receiving a Nobel Prize in the West, and asked him, “In your opinion, to which Western country should we first send preachers to spread the message of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu?”
“None,” the poet replied. “Many unscrupulous persons who earlier visited these places to preach Vedic dharma have tarnished the image of sādhus. As a result, Westerners have lost faith in Indian saints.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda then explained to him Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s message, and in particular, made cutting remarks regarding the popular sects of the prākṛta-sahajīyas, or mundane sentimentalists who believe Śrī Bhagavān is attainable through material means. After attentively hearing everything, Śrī Rabindranath Tagore asked, “What exactly does the term prākṛta-sahajīya mean? I have never heard it, nor have I seen it in any dictionary.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda explained, “The word sahajiyā is a highly sacred term. It refers to those truly pure devotees of Śrī Kṛṣṇa whose hearts are filled with a spontaneous, unconditional love and affection for Him that does not depend on the statements of scriptures that glorify Him as Bhagavān. The eternally perfect residents of Vraja—like Śrī Nanda, Śrī Yaśodā, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and others—are shining examples of such sahajiyā devotees. Nowadays, many unqualified conditioned souls try to imitate the moods of these transcendental personalities by deceitfully imposing such moods on their own character. Therefore, we use this word, prākṛta-sahajiyā, to refer to such persons, because the prostitution of words—that is, grossly misrepresenting the true meanings of words in order to support one’s vested interests—has now become common practice. These days, the vast majority of people are incapable of understanding the actual imports of words, and so perversions of terminology often remain unchecked.”
Śrī Rabindranath Tagore, being captivated and moved by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s presentation of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy, said, “It is only if you yourself visit the Western countries that great success in preaching will be assured. Everyone will surely greet you with honor.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “If I choose to send someone, it will be someone equally as qualified as myself.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda was so proud of his worthy disciples’ accomplishments that he resolved to send them across the oceans to the West. Thus, he determined to send Śrīla Vana Mahārāja and my Guru Mahārāja (then Śrī Hayagrīva Brahmacārī), for in his opinion, their personal conduct and ability to deliver the message of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as presented by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura mirrored that of his own. However, Guru Mahārāja was prevented from going to the West, not only because he was needed in India for his expertise in preaching and his ability to maintain Śrīla Prabhupāda’s maṭhas through collecting sizable donations, but also because some of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples felt his effulgent, youthful beauty made him a target for the affection of Western women, who had no understanding or appreciation of the celibacy of Indian sādhus. Thus, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pradīpa Tīrtha Gosvāmī Mahārāja was sent in his stead.
RENOUNCING EVEN RENUNCIATION FOR THE SERVICE OF SRIMAN MAHAPRABHU
Śrīla Prabhupāda once asked Śrī Kuñjabihārī Vidyābhuṣaṇa Prabhu to buy an expensive pair of shoes for Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja, who out of his natural renunciation never wore footwear during his stay in the maṭha. Śrī Kuñjabihārī Prabhu then brought those shoes—which cost thirty-two rupees, a considerable expense at that time—to Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja with an instruction from Śrīla Prabhupāda to appear before him wearing those shoes. When Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja abided by this instruction and came before him wearing the shoes, Śrīla Prabhupāda declared, “Today your renunciation has achieved perfection, because you have renounced even your renunciation for the service of Śrīman Mahāprabhu.”
PREACHING IN ENGLAND AND GERMANY
During Śrīla Prabhupāda’s previously-mentioned conversation with Śrī Rabindranath Tagore, Śrī Rabindranath Tagore suggested, “If you are going to send your preachers to foreign countries, it would be best for them to first go to Germany, not England.This is because the German people are interested in our Vedic Indian Philosophy, whereas the English have a superiority complex toward us. They consider us their subjects and feel we are inferior to them in every respect. They will not listen to your preachers, nor will they appreciate their message.”
When Śrīla Prabhupāda mentioned this to Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla Mahārāja told him, “We must first preach where there is more difficulty. It is only when we are successful there that we will move on to places where success is inevitable. I do not wish to waste the wealth of Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s service on mere sightseeing.”
Appreciating his view, Śrīla Prabhupāda first sent him to England, and later to Germany. In England, Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja preached the message of Śrīman Mahāprabhu at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter, as well as at various establishments in London. At Oxford, he was invited to speak for just fifteen minutes, but in that brief period, he so impressed his audience that he was invited to Buckingham Palace to address the royal assembly there.
With the grace and permission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja established the London Gauḍīya Mission Society, and the Secretary of State for India, Lord Zetland, attended the inaugural ceremony as chairman. A number of affluent members of London high society, being deeply interested in the notion of a true religion, initiated correspondence with Śrīla Prabhupāda and posed various questions to him. The London Gauḍīya Mission Society’s main topics of discussion were Śrīla Prabhupāda’s answers, which arrived weekly in London by airmail.
When Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja wanted to preach in Germany, he was advised against speaking in English due to political tensions. He was given the option to speak either in his native language through a German translator, or directly in German. Thus, Śrīla Mahārāja opted to learn German, which he accomplished in only six months, after which he composed two books in German. As in London, his preaching in Germany met with great success. He delivered addresses at universities in Königsberg, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin and Munich, and was even invited to speak in cities in other countries, including Prague, Vienna and Paris, where he was given special regard by His Majesty the former Kaiser of Germany.
Upon Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s return to India in December of 1936, he was honored and celebrated by many distinguished Indian intellectuals of the time. He brought with him two German devotees who were eager to take shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lotus feet. One of these individuals later became known as Śrīpāda Sadānanda Svāmī. Thus, it was due to Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s preaching efforts that Śrīla Prabhupāda commenced the initiation of Westerners into Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava dharma.
PREACHING IN UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES
Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja was the first of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples— and possibly the first person in the line of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu—to preach in universities and colleges. He considered that if young people were to accept the message of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, then others would automatically accept it. This technique was later adopted by many Vaiṣṇava ācāryas.
He was invited several times by various universities in the West to expound the specialty of śrī bhāgavata-dharma, the religion of worshipping the Supreme Lord, as described in the Vedic canon. The prominent feature of his preaching was that he established the unparalleled specialty of India’s Vedic philosophy, specifically what was preached and practiced by Śrīman Mahāprabhu.
Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja travelled to America twice. First, in 1939, where he preached extensively across the East Coast, delivering lectures on Śrī Gaura’s message in the cities of New York, Boston, Stockbridge, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, and eventually made his way to Chicago in the Midwest. After this, he went to Japan and returned to India via Hong Kong. In 1960, he went to West Germany, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and various other places. Later, between 1974 and 1975, he again visited America to propound the glories of Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s philosophy.
His translation of Śrī Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu was accepted as a thesis by universities in America and Sweden, where he was awarded honorary doctorates in literature and divinity, respectively.
To train the youth of Vraja about Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy, specifically Śrī Caitanya-deva’s acintya-bhedābheda-tattva—the inconceivable principle of simultaneous oneness and difference between the Supreme Lord and all that exists—he went to great lengths to establish the Institute of Oriental Philosophy in Śrīdhāma Vṛndāvana, as well as a primary school on the banks of Śrī Pāvana-sarovara in Śrī Nandagrāma. Originally, he gave the Institute of Oriental Philosophy the name ‘Vaiṣṇava Theological University,’ but for various reasons, he was compelled to change it.
HIS PROLIFIC LITERARY CONTRIBUTION
After Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance, Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja lived somewhat independently and focused on writing several books in English, Bengali and Hindi, which included Vaikuṇṭha-pathe (On the Path to the Spiritual Realm), My First Year in England, Viraha-vedanā (The Pain of Separation), Geeta as a Chaitanyaite Reads It, Shree Chaitanya, The Search, My Lectures in England, and his translation of Śrī Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. He also published the quarterly English magazine Indian Philosophy and Culture.
During most of 1938, he lived in Ayodhya, studying the Vedas under the guidance of a scholar of the Yajur-veda. There, he wrote a book in Bengali called Vedera-paricaya (An Introduction to the Vedas).
THE SONS OF SARASVATI
Once, I went with a group of devotees to Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s maṭha in Vṛndāvana to have his darśana, but upon our arrival, we learned he was unwell. Just as I was about to depart after paying my respects outside his door, Śrīla Mahārāja called me inside. He was a bit displeased that I was ready to leave without first seeing him. I explained, “I did not want to bother you, since you are feeling unwell. I heard that your doctor has advised you to speak as little as possible.”
Śrīla Mahārāja replied, “Must I simply lay in bed and count the beams on the ceiling? Am I not to speak with the Vaiṣṇavas? We are sarasvatī-putra, the sons of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhakura.As long as we are speaking hari-kathā, we feel healthy. It is when we are cheated of that opportunity that we truly feel ill. So, do you want me to be healthy or sick?