A Life in Service
Once, when Guru Mahārāja had returned to Śrī Dhāma Māyāpura on Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī after completing a preaching tour with his senior godbrother Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla Prabhupāda saw him and immediately said, “It is very good you have come. Now please proceed to Mathurā without delay. Vrajamaṇḍala parikramā is just around the corner. You should go there, meet with the local paṇḍās and discuss with them about scouting locations for the camps and all the details related to providing the pilgrims with suitable arrangements for food, water and so on.”
Following Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instruction, Guru Mahārāja prepared to leave for Mathurā at once. At that time, Śrīla Prabhupāda asked a devotee to prepare pūrī and sabjī for Guru Maharaja, but when Guru Maharaja said, “There is no need. I can survive without it,” Śrīla Prabhupāda gave him his own lidded loṭā (a flask-like container), which was filled with sugar water and uncut lemons, and told him to prepare lemonade along the way.
After Guru Mahārāja had left for Mathurā, Śrīla Prabhupāda told a brahmacārī, “Hayagrīva Brahmacārī is full of volcanic energy. He is always ready to perform any kind of service with the utmost enthusiasm, and no matter what the situation is, he always returns successful.”
Guru Mahārāja once told me, “During Srīla Prabhupāda’s physical presence in this world, he mercifully made sure I was constantly busy. When I would return to Śrīla Prabhupāda after working hard to accomplish one task, he a would immediately give me another task to perform. He did not have to ask anything about the first task, because he knew that I would not approach him unless that task had been completed. Although physically exhausted, I would experience unparalleled happiness to fulfill his order. I used to sometimes think that a time would come in my life when I would be able to live by a fixed schedule, so that I could peacefully chant my fixed number of rounds, chant my gāyatrī-mantras at the appropriate times and carefully read and study vaiṣṇava literature, just as some of my godbrothers did. But when after Śrīla Prabhupāda left this world and I received plenty of time to do as I pleased, I lamented that I was no longer busily engaged in service in the way during my days with him. It was only after he externally disappeared from the vision of this world that I understood such laborious service is my very life. After realizing this, I always tried to keep myself as busy as Śrīla Prabhuāda kept me.”
Hearing this, I understood just how appropriate it was that Śrīla Prabhupāda described Guru Mahārāja as having volcanic energy. Recognizing the significance of an item given by guru or a sādhu.
Once, Guru Mahārāja and Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja together engaged in the service of organizing a spiritual exhibition in Paṭnā, Bihar. As a result of the cold weather there, Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s hand became so dry that it started to crack and bleed, and Guru Mahārāja began to shiver intensely. Seeing their condition, Śrī Sakhī-caraṇa Bābū, a wealthy gṛhastha disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda who had funded the construction of the Yogapīṭha temple, brought a sweater for each of them, but neither of them accepted it.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived there after a few days, Śrī Sakhī-caraṇa Bābū expressed to him the anxiety he felt upon the devotees refusing the sweaters he offered. Śrīla Prabhupāda told him to bring those sweaters to him, and he then called for Guru Mahārāja and Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja. When they came before him, he gave the sweaters to them, which they readily accepted. I am not sure what Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja did with his sweater, but Guru Mahārāja, who never had the habit of wearing a sweater, kept it folded on his bed throughout the rest of his life.
Guru Mahārāja’s sevaka once asked him, “What is the need to always keep this sweater on your bed? You never wear it.”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “A sādhu always keeps a loṭā (water pot) and a blanket with him. Therefore, I use the blanket when I feel very cold; I never wear a sweater. However, realizing the significance of an item given directly by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, I always keep this sweater nearby. It is my sincere desire that my head rest on this sweater at the time I leave this world.”
His sevaka asked, “When Śrī Sakhī-caraṇa Bābū offered this same sweater to you, you did not accept it. But when Śrīla Prabhupāda offered it to you, you accepted it without hesitation. What is the mysterious reason behind this?”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “Had I accepted the sweater from Śrī Sakhī-caraṇa Bābū, I would have wholeheartedly felt indebted to him. But since I received it from Śrīla Prabhupāda, that sense of gratefulness is instead reposed in Śrīla Prabhupāda alone. Anything that Śrīla Prabhupāda gives us is nirguṇa, or free of materiality. Everything that we receive from him reminds us of him, and such remembrance is highly beneficial for obtaining our spiritual welfare. We would therefore accept things only from Śrīla Prabhupāda, and not others.”
“The responsibility of serving śrī guru is yours alone”
The 1936 deity installation ceremony at Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha in Sarbhog, Assam was scheduled to be performed under the auspicies of Śrīla Prabhupāda. At that time, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Āśrama Gosvāmī Mahārāja, a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, was the in-charge of the Sarbhog maṭha. Guru Mahārāja and his godbrother Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja arrived in Sarbhog two days prior to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s scheduled arrival, in order to oversee all the arrangements for the installation ceremony and festival. They were astonished to see that no preparations had been made for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s arrival or for the deity installation and its related festivities. When Guru Mahārāja inquired from Śrīla Āśrama Gosvāmī Mahārāja about the situation, Śrīla Āśrama Gosvāmī Mahārāja replied, “Śrīla Prabhupāda gave complete responsibility to Śrī Nimānanda Prabhu, but he did nothing.” Hearing this, Guru Mahārāja discussed the issue with Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, and thereafter enthusiastically arranged everything with the help of his other assembled godbrothers. Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived in Sarbhog with his associates on schedule, and all the festivities were beautifully accomplished in a highly organized fashion.
After the ceremony, Śrīla Āśrama Goswami Mahārāja repeatedly requested Guru Mahārāja to relay to Śrīla Prabhupāda how Śrī Nimānanda Prabhu did not fulfill his responsibility, in hopes that Śrīla Prabhupāda would correct Nimānanda Prabhu by instructing him about the loss inherent in failing to perform a task given by śrī guru, and also admonish him to be mindful in the future. Being unable to ignore his godbrother’s repeated requests, Guru Mahārāja mentioned the incident to Śrīla Prabhupāda one day while he was fanning flies away from Śrīla Prabhupāda while Śrīla Prabhupāda was strolling through a garden.
Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “ ‘Etau cāo keno? Eto duḥkha pāo keno?—Why do you desire so much? Why do you suffer so much?’ Why do you expect so much from Nimānanda Prabhu or anyone else? Why do you feel so greatly pained when these expectations are not fulfilled? The service of śrī guru is entirely your responsibility, from ca-va-tu, or A to Z. If someone helps you in this service, then you should feel grateful. But if you fret over someone’s refusal to help, then you will be at fault, and not him. Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is Kṛṣṇa’s major-domo. She considers Herself responsible for all services to Śrī Kṛṣṇa. If some sakhī helps Her in even the slightest way by, for example, bringing water or grinding spices, She feels indebted to her. But if no one is present to help Her render service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, She does not complain or feel any animosity toward anyone, even in Her mind.”
This instruction of Śrīla Prabhupāda is highly beneficial for all sincere sādhakas who desire to attain their topmost spiritual welfare. Guru Mahārāja would many a time be filled with transcendental emotions while narrating this incident.
An object of others’ faith and conviction
When Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived in Sarbhog for the deity installation ceremony at the Gauḍīya Maṭha established there, he gave the entire responsibility of arranging the deity installation to Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja. According to vaiṣṇava regulations, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja performed an abhiśeka and then decorated the deities with beautiful ornaments, clothes, garlands and sandalwood paste.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda entered the deity room and saw that the deities were fully decorated, he immediately walked out, saying, “There is no need for me to be inside the deity room; śrī vigraha has already been installed. No sevā remains to be done.”
Hearing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja became remorseful and thought, “I have mistakenly performed everything. At the very least, I could have reserved the service of offering garlands to the deities for Śrīla Prabhupāda. I have definitely committed an offense at his lotus feet.”
After a few days, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja revealed the pain in his heart to Guru Mahārāja and requested him to write a letter to Śrīla Prabhupāda on his behalf that described his remorsefulness and his desire to seek forgiveness for his offence. Guru Mahārāja agreed to write the letter to Śrīla Prabhupāda, and received this reply:
No activity performed by a surrendered soul is ever considered an offense. Although it is true he may sometimes commit a mistake, his master does not pay much heed to it; he simply corrects him. If Śrīdhara Mahārāja is fully surrendered at heart, he need not worry about anything. If he is not surrendered, he should most certainly understand that although the activities performed by an unsurrendered person—such as deity worship—may externally appear to be sevā, they are in fact always full of offenses.
After reading Śrīla Prabhupāda’s reply, both Guru Mahārāja and Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja could not suppress the tears that flowed from their eyes. They further discussed the gravity of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mood and intentions, and thereby regained their composure.
The faith and conviction Guru Mahārāja’s godbrothers had for him was such that they would often request only him to express their anxieties to Śrīla Prabhupāda. Upon receiving Śrīla Prabhupāda’s reply, Guru Mahārāja would help them understand and imbibe the true meanings of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s deeply insightful words.
The deep vision of great personalities
Once, Śrīla Santa Gosvāmī Mahārāja and my Guru Mahārāja were staying in the Madras Gauḍīya Maṭha as brahmacārīs. My Guru Mahārāja was then known as Śrī Hayagrīva Brahmacārī. Although they were brahmacārīs and not sannyāsīs, they were accepted as experienced seniors because they sincerely followed Śrīla Prabhupāda.
During their stay, Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa Brahmacārī noticed that a particular brahmacārī refused to mix with the other residents of the maṭha and hardly spoke with anybody. He instead sought solitude wherever he could find it, in order to focus on his reading and chanting. Sensing something suspicious about these activities, Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa Brahmacārī approached Guru Mahārāja and told him of his concerns. He said, “Prabhu, although this brahmacārī is chanting and reading a great deal and avoiding gossip, I feel that something is wrong. Can you please investigate?”
Guru Mahārāja understood the legitimate reason for Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa Brahmacārī’s concern, and afterwards called for the brahmacārī and asked him, “I have heard that you do not associate with any other residents of the maṭha, what to speak of joking with them or sitting with them to take prasāda. Why is this?”
The brahmacārī replied, “I do not wish to become involved in gossip, and that is why I prefer to keep to myself.”
Guru Mahārāja said, “I think it would be better for you to sit with them and develop relationships. Try to lead your life in a natural way, as the other residents of the maṭha do. Even if you have to sometimes joke with them and engage in gossip, still, it is not a problem. Why? Because there is something to learn in each and every activity of the devotees.”
Feeling utterly confused, the brahmacārī replied, “Prabhu, although you are very senior to me, you are instructing me to do the opposite of what I have heard from other senior Vaiṣṇavas. I do not want you to feel as if I am challenging you, but Śrīman Mahāprabhu has said not to listen to or speak gossip. But you are asking me to indulge in material talks with brahmacārīs if required. This is greatly puzzling.”
Guru Mahārāja then explained himself: “Listen properly. Presently, you are residing in this maṭha only with your body, and not with your mind. If you will not heed my words, then after some time your body will also go from here; you will surely return to your home. But if you follow what I have suggested, at least you will continue to stay here by body, and then gradually your mind will come to stay in the maṭha as well. Therefore, be peaceful and please try to follow what I have told you.”
This instance shows that although Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa Brahmacārī was considerably young, he was dūra-darśī, capable of seeing what will come in the future beyond the present circumstances. While ordinary persons hold an external conception of proper and improper conduct, the perception of those who are dūra-darśī extends beyond outer appearances. Such persons can see clearly what is deep inside the hearts of others, as well as what will become of them in the future. Both my Guru Mahārāja and Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa Brahmacārī could ascertain that because this brahmacārī’s mind was not fixed in being a servant of Śrī Hari, guru and the Vaiṣṇavas, he would quickly tire of his rigorous sādhana and leave the maṭha.
Sometime later, that brahmacārī received a letter. But instead of having it sent to the maṭha, he had the sender address it to a nearby gṛhastha family. Seeing that a letter had come for a resident of the maṭha, that family explained the situation to Guru Mahārāja and handed him the letter. Upon reading it, Guru Mahārāja learned that the brahmacārī had previously sent a letter to his mother, informing her that he would soon return home, and that she should therefore arrange both a job and a wife for him. The letter Guru Mahārāja had received was the mother’s reply, in which she accepted the responsibility and told him to return quickly. Shortly after the letter’s arrival, the brahmacārī left the maṭha.
Although absolutely no indications of his mental unrest were visible when this brahmacārī was staying in the maṭha, both Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa Brahmacārī and my Guru Mahārāja understood the situation very clearly. Due to saṁskāras he had received as a result of staying in the maṭha, this brahmacārī later accepted the real truth, returned to the maṭha around the age of sixty-five, and, remembering the dūra-darśitā, or foresightedness, of Śrīla Santa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, eventually accepted sannyāsa from him.