Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja
[November 08, 2021 is the disappearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana, India. Below is an excerpt of his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja]
HIS LIFE: A LESSON IN SURRENDER
In 1933, Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura awarded dīkṣā to Śrī Abhay Charan De, giving him the spiritual name Śrī Abhaya-caraṇāravinda dāsa. Even while Śrīla Prabhupāda was physically present, Śrī Abhaya-caraṇāravinda Prabhu used to submit articles he composed to the Gauḍīya Maṭha publication team to include in their magazines.
Śrīla Prabhupāda ordered Śri Abhaya-caraṇāravinda Prabhu to preach in the western countries. However, at that time, Śri Abhaya-caraṇāravinda Prabhu was unable to fulfill his gurus’ desire due to his family responsibilities as a householder. He did his best to maintain his family by establishing several pharmaceutical businesses in cities such as Kolkata, Mumbai and Allahabad, but despite his arduous efforts, his ventures proved unsuccessful. As a result of the great hardships he faced, his family members were constantly dissatisfied with him. Even when he fell ill, not a single member of his family came forward to help him. At that time, my gurupāda-padma, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja kindly arranged for Śrī Abhaya-caraṇāravinda Prabhu’s treatment.
Śrī Abhaya-caraṇāravinda Prabhu accepted sannyāsa at the repeated insistence of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja and was given the name Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja. Shortly after that, he relocated to Vṛndāvana. During his years in Vṛndāvana, he would mention time and again, “I have not carried out the order of my gurudeva; I have not preached in the western countries. This neglect is the cause of my suffering and the reason I was unsuccessful in all my endeavors. I have everything, because I have firm faith in śrī guru and his instructions. But at the same time I have nothing, as I have not done anything to fulfill his order. Although I have grown old, I will fulfill Śrīla Prabhupāda’s orders to preach in the West and thereby atone for the offence of disobeying him.”
With this mood, he travelled to America aboard a cargo ship. However, after only a short while of preaching, he fell ill and returned to India. Later, he would repentantly express, “I went to the West to fulfill my gurudeva’s orders, but I returned to India out of fear when I became a bit sick. I am not fully surrendered. I will now return to the West and preach until my dying breath, even at the risk of death.”
With this solid conviction, he returned to the West, where his preaching service met with tremendous success, so much so that he himself was amazed by the results, what to speak of others.
Bhagavān is the master of all opulences, and His pure devotee Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura inherited that wealth. Those who are completely surrendered to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lotus feet will never face scarcity of any kind. Bhagavān will always fulfill the vow He has made to maintain His surrendered devotees:
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ ye janāḥ paryupāsate teṣāṁ nityābhiyuktānāṁ yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā (9.22)
For those who are devoid of other desires, who are always absorbed in contemplation of Me and who always worship Me, I personally carry their necessities and preserve what they presently have.
Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s relatives never cared for his wellbeing, neither when he was at home nor after he accepted sannyāsa. Yet, after he departed from this world, in order to argue rightful claims to his assets, those very same persons declared, “He was my father!” “He was my husband!” and so on. Such are the strange ways in which the people of this world behave.
HIS DESIRE TO UNITE ALL THE GAUḌĪYA MAṬHA BRANCHES
Both before and after accepting sannyāsa, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja repeatedly beseeched his godbrothers Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vilāsa Tīrtha Gosvāmī Mahārāja, the ācārya of Śrī Caitanya Maṭha, and Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Kevala Auḍulomi Gosvāmī Mahārāja, the ācārya of Bāghbazār Gauḍīya Maṭha, to put aside the trivial differences, individual motives and arguments between them and their godbrothers. He told them, “We must all unite and enthusiastically preach the message of Śrīman Mahāprabhu and Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha, just as Śrīla Prabhupāda instructed us.”
Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja always had this sincere desire in the core of his heart, and his intentions were always pure. But as fate would have it, unification proved impossible, and so following the example of many of his godbrothers, he too was compelled to establish an independent institution of his own.
HIS FEARLESSNESS IN SERVICE
Every so often, while Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja was living in Śrīdhāma Vṛndāvana, he would visit Delhi to print his self-published magazine, Back to Godhead. He had very little money in those days, and so he would perform bhikṣā, even in the scorching summer sun. During his visits to Delhi, he would often stay in the Karol Bāgh branch of Śrī Gauḍīya Saṅgha, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s institution.
One day, just before Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja was about to perform bhikṣā in the fierce heat, Śrī Bhakti Vaibhava Mādhava Mahārāja, a disciple of Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja, stopped him, begging, “Mahārāja-jī, please do not go out in this heat. Your advanced age makes you more susceptible to heat stroke.”
Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja replied, “Someone has promised me a donation of five rupees, Mahārāja. I must retrieve it if I wish to print my magazine.”
“I will give you ten rupees,” Śrī Mādhava Mahārāja pledged. “But please do not go out at this time of day.”
Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja said, “Fine. Because of your affection, I will stay back for now. But in the future, I will not keep any stone unturned in my endeavors to serve Bhagavān. I will remain completely dependent on Him. I firmly believe that no harm can come to me as long as He wishes to utilize this body of mine in His service.”
HIS TIME IN VṚNDĀVANA
Prior to travelling to the West, Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja resided in Vṛndāvana, initially at Chipī-galī and later near Sevā-kuñja at Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Dāmodara Mandira. He would regularly meet and perform kīrtana with his godbrothers Śrī Rāghava-caitanya Prabhu and Śrī Girindra-govardhana Prabhu at our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha. My godbrother Śrī Bhakti Prasāda Purī Mahārāja and I would sit behind them with a number of devotees, singing in response to the call of their kīrtana.
When Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja first saw our Vṛndāvana maṭha’s kīrtana hall, he said, “Previously, we Sārasvata Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas had no place of our own to sit and perform kathā and kīrtana in Vṛndāvana. Thankfully, Śrīpāda Mādhava Mahārāja has now filled that void.”
ŚRĪ KṚṢṆA-NĀMA-SAṄKĪRTANA FOR ALL OCCASIONS
The assembly hall in the Vṛndāvana branch of our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha was completed in 1964. Around that time, I was informed that the state governor, Śrī Viśvanātha dāsa, was planning to visit Vṛndāvana. On behalf of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, I sent him a postcard invitation to visit the maṭha, which he kindly accepted.
Guru Mahārāja was not present in Śrīdhāma Vṛndāvana at the time, and because my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Prasāda Purī Mahārāja and I considered ourselves junior, both in age and in the realm of bhajana, we invited two of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples—Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja and Śrīmad Rāghava-caitanya Prabhu—to receive the governor and speak to him about the specialty of the Gauḍīya Maṭha.
Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja explained to us, “There is no better greeting than the performance of saṅkīrtana. Bhagavān incarnates wherever saṅkīrtana is conducted. What could be more auspicious for the governor than the presence of Bhagavān Himself? Because the governor has already accepted your invitation, we will hold nothing back in our efforts to bring about his spiritual welfare. The Gauḍīya Maṭha extensively preaches that śrī kṛṣṇa-nama-saṅkīrtana is the only means of deliverance in this age of Kali. The governor will certainly understand this message once he hears our saṅkīrtana.”
When the governor arrived, we welcomed him with saṅkīrtana performed under the guidance of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja. Afterward, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja related to him the glories and unique contributions of the Gauḍīya Maṭha. Throughout the course of their conversation, the district magistrate accompanying the governor repeatedly intimated through hand gestures that it was time to leave. The governor, however, dismissed him. “Just wait a bit,” he said. “Where else will we receive the opportunity to hear such wonderful saṅkīrtana?”
Seeing the governor’s reaction made me realize the transcendental glory of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s advice that śrī kṛṣṇa-nāma-saṅkīrtana is truly the solution to all situations.
THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME ‘ISKCON’
Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s sole intention for coming to America was to fulfill the innermost desire of his gurudeva by successfully disseminating the teachings of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu in the West. At first, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja had many ideas about how to do this. In the end, however, after observing the local peoples’ condition and by the inspiration of śrī guru and Bhagavān, he began sitting in a park and chanting the pañca-tattva mantra and mahā-mantra: “śrī kṛṣṇa caitanya, prabhu nityānanda, śrī advaita, gadādhara, śrīvāsādi gaura bhakta vṛnda” and “hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare, hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare,” respectively. As a result of his total surrender to the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda and his intense desire to follow his gurudeva’s instructions, his kīrtana began to attract many sincere souls.
One day, a devotee asked him, “What inspired you to name your institution ISKCON?”
Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja replied, “When I was sitting in a park in America one day and singing the mahā-mantra and pañca-tattva mantra, a stranger approached me and asked, ‘What kind of consciousness does this type of singing awaken?’
“By Bhagavān’s inspiration, I answered, ‘Kṛṣṇa consciousness.’ On that day, I decided I would name my future organization the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness.”
SERVING ŚRĪ GURU THROUGH THE SERVICE OF OTHERS
I heard from some of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s disciples that during his early days in the West, he would not only cook and serve prasāda to newcomers, but he would even dispose of their plates, clean the place where they ate, and wash the cooking pots himself. This went on for a long time. He never asked anyone to assist him in any service. Rather, he encouraged them to give their full attention to receiving śabda-brahma, divine sound vibration. It was only after that śabda-brahma, in the form of his hari-kathā and kīrtanas, poured through their ears and entered their hearts that one of the regular visitors stepped forward and asked Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja if he could help him. Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja welcomed this service, and after that, many more people began to come forward to serve in various ways.
When I heard that Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja served in this way at such an advanced age, I came to realize the depth of his dedication to fulfilling the desire of his gurudeva, and that he was indeed a most exalted, transcendental personality.
PROTECTING ALL FROM BOGUS ‘BHAGAVĀNS’
Many of India’s spiritual figures have achieved great success preaching in the West, both prior to and after Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s efforts there. A number of them, being devoid of surrender and pure-heartedness, declared themselves to be God, such as the fraudulent ‘Bhagavān’ Rajanīśa, otherwise known as Osho. Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja preached against such imposters with bold determination, proclaiming the purport of Śrīla Viśvanātha Carkravartī’s statement:
sāksād-dharitvena samasta-śāstrair uktas tathā bhāvyata eva sadbhiḥ kintu prabhor yaḥ priya eva tasya vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam