Lessons in Devotional Practices - Part 2 of 2
Formally accepting shelter at the lotus feet of śrī guru
Although the relationship between guru and disciple is eternal, Guru Mahārāja manifested the pastime of surrendering his life at the lotus feet of his gurudeva, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura, by accepting formal initiation in vaiṣṇava-dharma. On the supremely auspicious day of Śrī Rādhāṣṭamī, 4 September, 1927, Guru Mahārāja accepted harināma and dīkṣā from Śrīla Prabhupāda as a favorable consequence of regularly and unfailingly hearing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s hari-kathā and serving the Vaiṣṇavas.
At the time of initiation, Śrīla Prabhupāda gave Guru Mahārāja the name Śrī Hayagrīva dāsa Brahmacārī. Guru Mahārāja’s childhood friend Śrī Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya also accepted harināma and dīkṣā that very same day.
No room for self-interest in honesty
Prior to joining Gauḍīya Maṭha, Guru Mahārāja worked for an English-owned business that purchased linseeds from farmers, packaged them and sent them to England. Most of the employees worked under Guru Mahārāja. Once, it came to Guru Mahārāja’s notice that some of the workers were adulterating the product by replacing linseeds with sand during the packaging stage. The stolen linseeds were then sold off, and the profits were shared among the thieving workers. When Guru Mahārāja heard this, he approached the owner and said, “Some of our employees are engaged in an extremely disgraceful act. For their petty self-interest, the reputation of the business is being destroyed. I made a huge mistake by blindly trusting them. You should therefore have me arrested. I do not even know for how long they have been engaged in such a dishonorable act. But ignorance cannot be accepted as an excuse. After you have me arrested, you may also have them arrested.”
The English business owner was highly astonished by Guru Mahārāja’s unmatched honesty. He tried to pacify Guru Mahārāja by saying, “This is a delicate issue. Please be assured we will handle it most conscientiously.” Later, the workers were given a stern warning not to continue with their thievery, or else they would be reported to the police.
Wishing only for the welfare of all
When Guru Mahārāja was working in Kolkata before joining the maṭha, he once had a toothache. As a quick remedy to reduce the pain, one of his colleagues gave him a pinch of tobacco to be kept in his gums. Throughout his life, Guru Mahārāja had never even inhaled the scent of intoxicants, and therefore when he put the tobacco in his mouth, he fell unconscious, being unable to tolerate its pungent smell. All his limbs turned bluish. It appeared as if he had been poisoned. His colleague was astonished and unsure about what to do. Guru Mahārāja was admitted to Śambhunātha Paṇḍita Hospital. After receiving treatment, his health recovered somewhat. The doctor and the police officer asked him, “Whom do you suspect might have given you poison?” Guru Mahārāja replied, “The person who gave me the tobacco—not poison—is my friend, and he gave it to me only for my wellbeing. My body simply rejected it. There were no ill intentions.”
After hearing Guru Mahārāja’s reply, the doctor and the police officer left. The person who had offered him the tobacco then told him, “If you would have mentioned my name, not only would I have lost my job, but I would have found myself in prison, as well.”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “I do not wish to be the cause of harm to anyone. I cannot falsely suspect or accuse anyone. I wish only for everyone’s welfare, and nothing else.”
The ability to recognize unparalleled love
When Guru Mahārāja took shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lotus feet but had not yet come to reside in the maṭha, he stayed in a big rented house in Kolkata. An artist relative had given him an oil painting of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as a gift, which he hung in the hall of his rented house. He would sit in front of the painting and perform kīrtana with his godbrother Śrīpāda Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya and friend Śrī Haridāsa.
Once, his godbrother Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prakāśa Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja visited his home along with Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu during their monthly bhikṣā collection. Seeing the portrait of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu in the hall, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked Guru Mahārāja, “Do you feel happy upon seeing this very beautiful portrait of Śrīman Mahāprabhu hanging on the wall?”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “Yes, Mahārāja-jī. I do. Sometimes I sit and chant in front of it, and I feel happy by seeing it.”
Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja gravely asked Guru Mahārāja, “Is it the duty of Śrīman Mahāprabhu to please you by remaining present on your wall, or should you be the one making endeavors to please Him? Bhagavān’s name and deity form, which includes His portrait, are non-different from Bhagavān Himself. For His service, you should take His portrait down from the wall and keep it in a proper place.”
Accepting Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s teaching with firm faith, Guru Mahārāja immediately took down the portrait of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, and through his own conduct demonstrated the standard by which one should show proper respect to the images of Bhagavān and His pure devotees by later sending it to Bāgbāzār Gauḍīya Maṭha, where it was kept on the chariot during every future nagara-saṅkīrtana organized by the maṭha. Guru Mahārāja did not frivolously place such images here and there, nor did he allow any of his disciples to engage in such irresponsible conduct. When Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha was established in Kolkata, Guru Mahārāja installed the paintings of the complete guruparamparā in the kīrtana hall. He established the standard of properly respecting such images by daily offering daṇḍavat-praṇāma to them.
After Guru Mahārāja took the portrait of Śrīman Mahāprabhu down from the wall, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked, “You have accepted Śrīla Prabhupāda as your spiritual master. What arrangements have you made for cooking?”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “I have appointed an Oriya brāhmaṇa to cook for me. He is responsible for everything related to kitchen services.”
Hearing this, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja confronted Guru Mahārāja: “Have your hands been eaten by crocodiles? Why are you unable to cook bhoga and offer it to Bhagavān on your own, without the help of others?
Before Guru Mahārāja could even respond, Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu whispered to Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “You should not speak to him like this. He comes from an affluent family. It is irrational to expect him to be able to do all the cooking himself; he has no experience with such things. Your harsh statements may make him lose faith in Gauḍīya Maṭha and become dissatisfied with us.”
Although Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu was quietly whispering, Guru Mahārāja could hear everything. Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja became even more displeased after hearing Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu’s statement and said, “If I will not tell him, then who will? He is my godbrother, and I therefore possess the right to say anything I wish to him, at anytime.”
Guru Mahārāja became overwhelmed with joy to hear this. The mamatā (possessive affection) Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja displayed for him was unprecedented. Guru Mahārāja felt eternally grateful to him for the rest of his life, and he served Śrīla Mahārāja with great enthusiasm whenever the opportunity arose.
Offering his life to the service of the maṭha
After accepting dīkṣā, Guru Mahārāja continued to reside in a rented apartment in Kolkata. After some time, his associate and housemate Śrī Nārāyaṇa Mukhopādhyāya married and moved elsewhere. Thereafter, Guru Mahārāja’s cook, an Oriya brāhmaṇa, was the only other resident in Guru Mahārāja’s apartment.
As was mentioned earlier, Guru Mahārāja’s senior godbrothers Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prakāśa Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu used to visit his apartment to collect a monthly donation. During one of their visits, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja affectionately said to him, “Hayagrīva Prabhu, I see that you have not yet married and are living alone in Kolkata, away from your mother and step-brothers. You must undergo great difficulty to maintain this apartment and make sure food is on the table. Despite all this effort, you are very sincerely serving Śrīla Prabhupāda and the residents of the maṭha.
“Why don’t you take a step further and engage all your time and energy in the service of the maṭha? Society will glorify the maṭha upon seeing that such a young, distinguished and well-educated person as yourself resides there. You are capable of performing many services. By joining the maṭha, you will be able to serve throughout the entire day, and thereby become qualified to receive the true mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu never advised to any of his unmarried followers—including Śrī Gopala Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī and others—to perform bhajana in the gṛhastha-āśrama; rather, because their parents were Vaiṣṇavas and because they were the only children in their immediate family, He instructed them to serve their parents while their parents were still alive and to perform sādhana-bhajana in Vraja only after their parents had passed away. It is my opinion that you should deeply consider dedicating yourself completely to the service of Śrīla Prabhupāda as soon as possible.”
Honoring the words of his senior godbrother, Guru Mahārāja abandoned all his worldly activities in a very short time and joined the maṭha with a sincere and burning desire to fully engage himself in the service of Śrī Hari, guru and Vaiṣṇavas through his mind, body and words.
Desiring a permanent position
When Guru Mahārāja worked at an English-owned business, the superior to whom he reported was an Indian manager. But when the owner of the company observed Guru Mahārāja’s dexterity, competence, his unmatched capacity, his habit of never remaining idle, and his enthusiasm, he would always call for him directly, saying, “Mr. Banerjee! Mr Banerjee!”
When Guru Mahārāja left his job and took complete shelter of the Gauḍīya Maṭha, his first service was, as per the instructions of Śrīla Prabhupāda, to accompany a preaching party to Madras (now Chennai). During that time, he received a letter from one of his previous colleagues, saying, “I presume that you are now working for a firm larger than ours, and that you are earning much more than you received here; otherwise, how would it have been possible for you to leave in such haste without informing any of us, especially when the owner, considering you dear, would always call for you even in the presence of your superiors?”
In his reply, Guru Mahārāja wrote, “What you have written is absolutely correct. I hold a position with high responsibility at a very large firm. The salary I receive here is unimaginable. I sincerely pray that you bless me, so that my position at this firm may become permanent.”