Lessons in Devotional Practices - Part 1 of 2
Spiritual impressions at an early age
Sometimes when Guru Mahārāja would see a mother or father with their child, on the pretext of instructing them, he would tell them about his childhood. “When I was just four years old, my father, Śrī Niśikānta Devaśarmā Bandopādhyāya left this world, and my mother, Śrīmatī Śaivālinī devī, was very devotional and highly inclined to serve sādhus. She maintained me, her only son, by residing in the house of her brothers. Because she was a devotee of the Lord, she would always make me listen while she recited from the scriptures, and would daily have me memorize a few verses from Bhagavad-gītā. As a result, I could recite the entire Bhagavad-gītā from memory by the age of eleven. Additionally, she would regularly narrate and teach the essential teachings of other scriptures to me, and I thereby learned them by heart. The impressions my mother’s devotional practices left on my heart became the impetus for me to take up the spiritual path later in life. Taking birth in the home of a devotee is the greatest of boons. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda has written in his kīrtana:
janmāobi moe icchā ĵadi tora
bhakta-gṛhe jani janma hau mora
O Lord, if You desire for me to again take birth in this world, then may I be born in the home of Your devotee.
“Nowadays, because of the influence of Kali-yuga, people are uninterested in teaching their children about spiritual matters, and they unfortunately consider such matters to be a waste of time. We must request people, especially the devotees, to train their children in such a manner that they receive permanent, spiritual benefit by developing attachment to nitya-dharma, or one’s eternal duty. The heart of a child is like clay, which takes shape according to the potter’s expertise.”
A deep concern for others
When Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha’s newly printed publications would arrive, Guru Mahārāja would narrate a pastime from his childhood to inspire others not to make a business out of printing bhakti literature, and that they should instead see it as a means of helping others. He would tell us, “In my childhood, I observed that many other students were deprived of a proper education because they were unable to purchase textbooks. I saved my own pocket money and also sought donations from a few affluent persons, and then used those funds to open a small library in my home. There, I created a space where the students could sit and study the library’s textbooks. Gradually, I collected many more books —some new and some old. I later arranged for books to be delivered to those students who lived far away and were unable to visit my library. Textbooks in those days were not often changed or rewritten as they are nowadays.”
This incident demonstrates that since his very childhood, Guru Mahārāja possessed a deep concern about the welfare of others. Most people do not possess such concern for others, even after reaching old age, but instead remain concerned only to fulfill their own selfish desires. The fact is, Guru Mahārāja possessed such compassionate concern because of his previous saṁskāras, or impressions.
Spiritual teachings on the pretext of an injury
Guru Mahārāja also used to mention, “When I was a student, I was once injured while playing with my friends at school and started bleeding. A teacher arrived there after hearing about the accident from one of the students and tried to console me. I told the teacher my mother had always told me that whatever the Lord does, He does solely for our welfare, and therefore My injury must have happened for my own good. I told him it was not a serious injury, as I had not lost a limb, and that everyone must face the results of his previous actions.’ Being astonished to hear such insight from a young boy, the teacher tightly embraced me.”
Meeting with Śrīla Prabhupāda in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura
Guru Mahārāja told us that from a young age, he stayed with his maternal grandfather in Kāñcanapāda, along with his childhood friend Śrī Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya. Although the two were of the same age and began attending school at the same time, Guru Mahārāja was so intelligent that he was twice sent to a higher standard, or grade, and therefore eventually studied two standards ahead of Śrī Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya. The two were very close friends and visited many holy places together. After finishing their studies, they stayed together in a rented apartment in Kolkata, where they would often perform kīrtana together.
In relating the story of how he met Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, Guru Mahārāja would say, “Śrī Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya and I once desired to have darśana of Śrīdhāma Navadvīpa, and we thus departed for Kolkata to stay in the dhāma for a few days. There, we stayed at the Kāñca-kāminī dharmaśālā and arranged to have our meals at a nearby hotel.
“While having darśana of Śrīdhāma Navadvīpa, we heard the glories of Śrīdhāma Māyāpura and the beautiful deities of Mahāprabhu there. Because of this, I developed a great desire to have darśana of Śrīdhāma Māyāpura. When we inquired from the local residents of Śrī Navadvīpadhāma about Śrī Māyāpura, they said, ‘Oh dear! Māyāpura is very far away. If you were to leave now, you would not reach until dark. And when you were to finally arrive, you would discover there is nowhere to stay.’
“After the men left, an old lady standing near the bank of the Gaṅgā said in a very soft voice, “Bābā, do you see that island with a palm tree across the Gaṅgā? That is Śrīdhāma Māyāpura. The residents of Navadvīpa have misguided you because they are envious. Do not pay any attention to them; proceed to Śrīdhāma Māyāpura for darśana by crossing the Gaṅgā.’
“Śrī Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya and I heeded the old lady’s words and crossed the Gaṅgā. When we reached Śrī Caitanya Maṭha, we saw that a festival was happening there. Inquiring from the devotees at the maṭha, we discovered that a famous doctor from Kolkata, Śrī S. N. Ghoṣa, along with his wife, had accepted dīkṣā from the Founder-ācārya of Śrī Caitanya Maṭha, Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda. In order to honor this great occasion, the doctor and his wife arranged a festival for the service of the deities, guru and the Vaiṣṇavas.
“During the festival, Śrī Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya and I met Śrīla Prabhupāda for the first time. Upon seeing us, Śrīla Prabhupāda asked who we were and why we had come to Śrīdhāma Māyāpura. We told him that we had come to have darśana of Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s śrī vigraha (deity form).
“He asked, ‘Have you not previously had darśana of any śrī vigrahas elsewhere?’
“ ‘Yes, many times,’ I answered.
‘I have visited Haridvāra, Vārāṇāsī, Gayā and other places.’ “ ‘Do you think you truly had darśana of śrī vigraha?’ Prabhupāda inquired.
“Understanding the gravity of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s question, I replied, ‘I certainly saw Them with my eyes, but I cannot say for sure whether I truly had Their darśana.’
“Śrīla Prabhupāda then said, ‘What is the benefit of going for darśana if not to have darśana in the true sense? In reality, darśana is performed not with the eyes, but with the ears. The scriptures say “adhokṣaja-vastu śravaṇaika vaidha—hearing is the only method one can know an entity that is adhokṣaja, or beyond material sensory perception.”
“After speaking to us for some time, Śrīla Prabhupāda asked us to accept lunch prasāda there in the maṭha. When I accepted his invitation, Śrī Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya protested, saying, ‘We have already arranged to take our meals at the hotel. If we do not show up, they may become upset with us.’
“I replied, ‘We are very fortunate. A mahāpuruṣa (great personality) has invited us to honor mahaprasāda here. There is no need to worry about the hotel manager; our relationship with him is based solely on money. As long as we pay him, all will be okay.’
” In this way, Guru Mahārāja related to us how he accepted Śrīla Prabhupāda as a mahāpuruṣa in their very first meeting, and how he had full faith that his words were a source of great fortune.
Performing service in secret
When Guru Mahārāja returned to Kolkata from Śrīdhāma Māyāpura after his first interaction with Śrīla Prabhupāda, he began to regularly visit the maṭha at Śrī Bhaktivinoda Āsana, located at 1 Ultadaṅgā Road, Kolkata. In those days, Śrīla Prabhupāda stayed in Kolkata for the majority of his time. Guru Mahārāja would listen to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s harikathā there, and by his regular association, his inclination to serve Śrī Hari, guru and Vaiṣṇavas steadily increased. Every evening, he would serve prasāda to all the sannyāsīs and brahmacārīs in the maṭha. Although it was forbidden for a person who had not yet received dīkṣā to serve prasāda in the maṭha, an exception was made for Guru Mahārāja, because he belonged to a high-class brāhmaṇa family, possessed a favorable nature and had impeccable conduct. Guru Mahārāja would engage the salary he earned from his profession in the service of Śrī Hari, guru and Vaiṣṇavas by purchasing and anonymously sending whatever they needed for their day-to-day use. While doing this, he would remember the following verse:
dehinām iha dehiṣu
prāṇair arthair dhiyā vācā
A soul that has accepted a human body will meet with all auspiciousness and success if he engages himself in following śreya-mārga—that is, engaging his life, wealth, intelligence and words in the service of the Lord and His devotees.
No one in the maṭha would have even the slightest clue as to who was regularly sending all those items. Guru Mahārāja possessed firm faith in the essence of the principle described in Śrīla Jagadānanda Paṇḍita’s Prema-vivarta that was often quoted by Śrīla Prabhupāda: “gopanete atyācāra gorā dhare curi—even if you misbehave in secret, Gaura will catch you.” Similarly, righteous activities performed in secret can never be hidden from Śrī Hari, guru and Vaiṣṇavas. There is no need to externally speak about the service one has rendered. If a person recounts the details of his service to one and all, it simply reveals his hidden desire to gain worldly fame.