Pūjyapāda Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Mahārāja
[April 14, 2023 is the disappearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Gosvāmī Mahārāja. The following glorification of Śrīla Tīrtha Gosvāmī Mahārāja is a bhāvānuvāda of of excerpts from various lectures spoken by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja. ]
My Godbrother and present ācārya of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, pūjyapāda Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Mahārāja, appeared on the auspicious day of Rāma Navamī.
It is extremely important for sincere sādhakas to observe the tithis of Bhagavān and Vaiṣṇavas, for it is an opportunity to glorify and remember their lotus feet. To neglect glorifying them on such days is certainly an offense.
Śrī Vṛndāvana dāsa Ṭhākura has written:
ĵe vaiṣṇava bhajile acintya kṛṣṇa pāi
se vaiṣṇava-pūjā hôite baḓô āra nāi
Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata (Antya-khaṇḍa 4.357)
By serving the lotus feet of Vaiṣṇavas, one attains the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is acintya (inconceivable); there is no greater sādhana than this.
It is impossible to approach the transcendental Lord through the means of the material senses. In the conditioned stage, the jīva is bound by many material desires and cannot think about acintya Kṛṣṇa with his mind, nor can he see Him with his eyes. He becomes qualified to attain the inconceivable Lord’s mercy only after he takes complete shelter at the lotus feet of the Vaiṣṇavas.
Remembering this instruction, I will serve pūjyapāda Tīrtha Mahārāja by remembering and glorifying him.
Meeting his beloved master
Pūjyapāda Tīrtha Mahārāja appeared in Gvālapaḍā, Āssām. He was the first member of his family to accept and follow the tenets of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism.
Once, Guru Mahārāja, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, visited Gvālapaḍā for the purpose of preaching service. Upon hearing hari-kathā from him, Śrī Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Mahārāja, then known as Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa, became so impressed that he began to visit Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja regularly and listen to his hari-kathā.
His association in Gvālapaḍā
Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa’s uncle was a lawyer, whose clerk, Śrī Rādhā-mohana Prabhu, was a disciple of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī Ṭhākura. Whenever Guru Mahārāja used to visit Gvālapaḍā, Śrī Rādhā-mohana Prabhu would hear his lecture with so much faith and was always enthusiastic to serve him. Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa was deeply impressed by the pure conduct of Śrī Rādhā-mohana Prabhu. After meeting Guru Mahārāja, Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa developed a great taste for hari-kathā. In the absence of Guru Mahārāja, Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa used to faithfully hear hari-kathā from Śrī Rādhā-mohana Prabhu. If ever a question resulted from hearing those lectures or reading granthas, Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa would ask Śrīla Guru Mahārāja about it by letter. I heard from different devotees that he used to ask very beautiful questions. As a result of this association, he developed a desire to become a full-time devotee. When I joined the maṭha, I personally witnessed how he used to ask many deep, very sincere questions. I used to become so happy to hear his questions to Śrīla Guru Mahārāja. From those questions alone I deduced how respectfully and deeply he heard a lecture and read a grantha. It is such an exalted Vaiṣṇava quality to ask a genuine and beautiful question and thus bring out the moods in the hearts of Guru-Vaiṣṇavas. He was filled with this quality.
When Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa, completed his masters degree in darśana-śāstra (philosophy), a devotee who sponsored the making of deities for Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, Gauhati, asked him to work as a professor in a college he had founded.
Around this same time, Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa personally applied for a job in a government university and was offered a position there. Even though he had these two job opportunities, when he started speaking with Śrī Kṛṣṇa Keśava Brahmacārī, a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, he revealed to him “I have these two opportunities, but my mind tells me repeatedly that I should become a full-time devotee in the maṭha. In this situation, what is my duty? Please advise me.”
Śrī Kṛṣṇa Keśava prabhu replied, “If you practice bhakti, which means serving Bhagavān, then you will get to hear hari-kathā, or His glories. By this, your mind will become completely absorbed in the Lord’s activities and you will become an expert specialist [meaning a first-class devotee]. On the other hand, if you become engaged in a teaching profession by becoming lecturer or professor, your mind will be completely occupied in discussions about external, material knowledge. As you work, you will have to update your knowledge, you will find yourself more and more absorbed in that and your highest good (paramārtha) will become a lesser priority. You may even get a job in the intellectual department [as a judge], where you will have to constantly listen to mundane topics. Once you are in that position, you will have to hear the arguments of two parties opposing each other, such as one party has hit the other party, or two people will stand before you and one of them will say that the other eloped with his wife or harassed her – and so on. As long as you remain in that job, you will always have to hear this type of thing. Due to the impressions of this on your subtle body, you will have to suffer again and again in coming births. But if you become a servant of the Lord, you will be deputed to eternal service to Him, so it is up to you which path you want to follow. I am not going to tell you what you should do. It is in your hands. I have expressed what is in my mind.”
Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa contemplated these words very deeply and finally decided to leave his home and join the maṭha.
Leaving his home
One day, Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa packed some of his clothes and a gamchā in a bag and said to his family members, “I am going to visit a good friend of mine.” His brother asked, “How long will you stay with him?” He smiled and answered, “As long as he will allow me to stay.” His brother then asked, “Is there any need to take clothes and a gamchā just to visit a friend? When I go to my friend’s place, I use all his things.”
Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa responded, “The kind of relationship he and I have demands that I serve him and not use what belongs to him. Friendship means giving. Where there is a mood of taking, there is no friendship.”
In this way Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa, carrying some clothes and a gamchā, left home and came to Guru Mahārāja at Śrī Śyāmānanda Gauḍīya Maṭha, Medinipur. Although Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa had indicated his state of mind to his family members by saying that he was going to the person he considered his friend and that would stay at his place and serve him as long as he was pleased with him and willing to provide him with shelter and company, they could not understand anything.
No matter where a devotee is born, Bhagavān will attract that devotee through any of His devotees. Where is Gvālapaḍā located and where are Kolkata and Medinipur? They are far from each other. Still, by Guru Maharaja’s mercy, Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa came from Gvālapaḍā to the lotus feet of Guru Mahārāja.
A grave thinker
Initially, Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa joined the maṭha with two friends Bārīn and Ravi. Some time later, Śrī Kāmākhyā Caraṇa took complete shelter at the lotus feet of Guru Mahārāja and was given the name Śrī Kṛṣṇa Vallabha Brahmacārī.
One day, in a religious ceremony organized in the temple, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja said in his lecture, “I have been residing in the maṭha for many years, but still I do not have any spiritual realization. In fact, I have not achieved anything. “Iha parkāl dukāl khovālī man khāili āpan māthā – I have wasted both this life and the next, and thus I have destroyed my own self” [Avatāra-sāra (5) Śrīla Locana dāsa Ṭhākura]. With these words, spoken in natural Vaiṣṇava humility, he showed his heartfelt regret. The ceremony then drew to completion.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa Vallabha Brahmacārī’s friends said to him, “Did you hear today’s lecture carefully? When such world preachers, such highly learned scholars, such senior maṭha devotees have not yet attained any spiritual realization, what can the likes of us attain upon taking up residence in the temple?” They then made a decision. “We will silently leave the maṭha this very day. If you want, you can leave with us. Do whatever you wish. We know that you don’t make sudden decisions like we do. You always think deeply before deciding anything.”
Bārīn and Ravi picked up their luggage and left. They were not at all ready to discuss the situation with Śrī Kṛṣṇa Vallabha Brahmacārī, who became a little bewildered by their actions. He immediately went to Śrī Kṛṣṇa Keśava Prabhu and told him what had happened. He inquired how to understand the mood behind the words of such a senior Vaiṣṇava as Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa Keśava Prabhu said, “Does someone who possesses great wealth announce it publicly? Even when someone asks about it, he tries his best to keep the information secret. In the same way, Vaiṣṇavas who possess the wealth of prema present themselves as being devoid of bhakti. They hide their fortune. Such natural humility arises in a person, proportionate to the degree he has associated with senior Vaiṣṇava and advanced in bhakti. In this way, we can reconcile such statements of senior Vaiṣṇavas.
“Suppose the words of Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja were true, does he not have the intelligence to leave all these spiritual endeavors and put his energy in some other useful purpose?”
Upon hearing Śrīpāda Kṛṣṇa-keśava Brahmacārī’s answer, Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī understood everything very clearly.
Expert in sevā
In 1956 after Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā, Guru Mahārāja sent Śrī Mādhavendra Prabhu (a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda), Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī, Śrī Kānāi Brahmacārī and me [then Narottama Brahmacārī] to Āssām for preaching. Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī used to speak very little due to some dental problem – pyorrhea. He could not speak kathā at all due to this disease, so he would stay at home, chant harināma and cook for all of us. He was an expert cook and everyone was fond of his cooking. This is one of the qualities of Vaiṣṇavas. They are expert in everything related to the service of the Vaiṣṇavas. Cooking was one of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Vallabha Brahmacārī’s areas of expertise in vaiṣṇava-sevā.
His charming, child-like nature
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya-līlā [22.75] states, “All of Kṛṣṇa’s qualities are transmitted to His devotees – kṛṣṇa-bhakte kṛṣṇer guṇa sakali sañcāre.” Of Kṛṣṇa’s sixty-four qualities, one is vidagdha, or rasa-catura (skillful in rasa), and He transmits this quality, along with His other qualities, to His beloved devotee. In this way, we can understand that although Vaiṣṇavas are generally grave, they can also be humorous. Śrī Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Mahārāja also showed a charming, childlike sense of humor at times. In this regard, I would like to tell a story.
In Bījnī, Sarbhog, Āssām, there was a young boy named Uddhava who visited regularly. He always used to refer to Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī as peṭa moṭā sādhu (or fat-bellied saint). Śrīpāda Mādhavānanda Prabhu was chubbier than Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī, who was in fact not so chubby, and so we were quite surprised to hear the boy use this term for pūjyapāda Tīrtha Mahārāja and not Śrīpāda Mādhavānanda Prabhu.
Then, once, when I had filled up my receipt book during bhikṣa, I went to collect a new one from where we were staying. I looked into the room to see my exalted God-brother behaving in such a child-like and charming way. As that boy looked on laughing heartily, Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī was breathing in and filling his belly with air, making it really fat. I thus came to know why Uddhava called him peṭa moṭā sādhu.
Attentive to all that Kṛṣṇa provided
We used to travel from place to place and preach. Once, we all reached Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, Sarbhoga. In organizing the bhoga, the maṭha commander used to throw out all the small potatoes. Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī told him, “Instead of throwing them away, give all these small potatoes to me. I will cook a sabjī from them.” So the maṭha commander kept the small potatoes aside. Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī washed them thoroughly and boiled them. He then peeled them and made dam ālū (steamed potatoes cooked in a sauce). He made this preparation very well.
From this incident, I came to know that Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī was a good cook. I had heard from Śrī Kṛṣṇa Keśava Prabhu that cooking is the service of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and Her sakhīs. When I expressed my admiration for his expert cooking of this preparation, he replied, “If Vaiṣṇavas liked it, then I firmly believe that our worshipable Lord must have actually liked it. Please bless me so that I may always please the Vaiṣṇavas by each and every one of my activities.
"Secondly, it came to my mind that anything that can be used in the service of the Lord should not be discarded. It is a fault to throw it away. One who has developed an affinity for śrī guru, the Vaiṣṇavas and Bhagavān can never disregard or ignore anything that is related to them. If they do, they can never become liberated from material bondage.” Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī always had this practice. He never wasted anything and always utilized everything in Kṛṣṇa’s service.
* * *
In 1961, Śrīla Guru Mahārāja awarded sannyāsa to Śrī Kṛṣṇa-vallabha Brahmacārī and he was given the name Śrī Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Mahārāja.
His appreciation for hari-kathā
He not only used to attentively hear hari-kathā from the one-pointed associates of Śrīla Prabhupāda, but also from any devotees who were one-pointedly dedicated to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s vicāra-dhārā (line of thought), such as from those who were his contemporaries (his godbrothers) and even those who were his juniors. While in Gvālapaḍā, he used to express immense pleasure upon listening to my hari-kathā. After the lecture, Śibu, his younger brother from his previous āśrama, would argue with me: “My dear brother Kāmākhyā Caraṇa was very simple and innocent right from childhood. You all persuaded him to join the Gauḍīya Maṭha, but if you were able to make me join, I would accept that you really have some special spiritual potency”.