Pūjyapāda Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja
[January 21, 2023 is the appearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī Mahārāj in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is a bhāva anuvāda of a lecture spoken on January 3, 2016, by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja at Śrī Madana-mohana Gauḍiya Maṭha, Bangalore. Editors’ input: Additional text has been included in square brackets to facilitate the flow of content.]
First of all, I beg forgiveness from the assembled Vaiṣṇavas. Although I feel my position to be lowly, my physical condition necessitates my sitting in a chair, which forcibly places me at a level higher than that of you all.
Today is a very auspicious occasion, for we are celebrating the disappearance day of pūjyapāda Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja. It is an offense not to observe the appearance and disappearance days of our guru-vargas to our utmost capacity. Glorifying Vaiṣṇavas on these days is our true wealth, because doing so engages us in remembering them.
THE RESULT OF REMEMBERING VAIṢṆAVAS
Regarding the glorification of Vaiṣṇavas, Śrīmad-Bhagavatam (12.12.55) mentions:
kṣiṇoty abhadrāṇi ca śaṁ tanoti
sattvasya śuddhiṁ paramātma-bhaktiṁ
jñānaṁ ca vijñāna-virāga-yuktam
The remembrance of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet—in other words, the remembrance of the dear devotees of the Lord who have taken full shelter at His lotus feet—destroys all in-auspiciousness and increases auspiciousness. When one’s heart is purified, bhakti to the Supreme Soul is awakened, and one first attains jñāna (knowledge) and then vijñāna (realization) endowed with renunciation.
Here, avismṛtiḥ kṛṣṇa-padāravindayoḥ not only means ‘remembering the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa,’ but also ‘remembering the devotees of Kṛṣṇa.’ It means ‘to deeply contemplate their conduct and teachings.’ By this, kṣiṇoty abhadrāṇi ca śaṁ tanoti—inauspiciousness is destroyed and auspiciousness is increased.
It is not worldly or ordinary auspiciousness that is implied here, but rather the auspicious desire for krṣṇa-prema to be awakened within the heart of the jīva. After this auspiciousness is awakened, then sattvasya śuddhiṁ—the consciousness is completely purified. This is followed by paramātma-bhaktiṁ —the appearance of a strong desire to serve Bhagavān.
After this, jñānaṁ ca—the knowledge about oneself, one’s eternal position, one’s relationship with guru and one’s relationship with Bhagavān manifests clearly. This takes place not on the platform of sentiment or emotion, but on that of pure transcendence. When a disciple practices according to the teachings of his guru, then jñāna transforms into vijñāna (realization), and after that, vairāgya (renunciation) arises in his heart.
The word vairāgya has two meanings. The secondary, common meaning is ‘detachment from the material world.’ Such detachment is but a by product of the primary, deeper meaning of the word, which is viśeṣa-rūpena rāga, or ‘special attachment.’ Here, ‘special attachment’ indicates an attachment to the lotus feet of Bhagavān.
Although we have somehow come in contact with devotees due to our previous sukṛti, we remain ensnared by many different obstacles, of which three are most prominent: kanaka (wealth), kāminī (women) and pratiṣṭhā (fame and distinction). One can somehow or other escape the desire for kanaka and kāminī with relative ease, but to become free from the desire for pratiṣṭhā is very difficult.
In this connection, Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī has written the verse beginning with pratiṣṭhāśā dhṛṣṭā in his Manaḥ-śikṣā. In this verse, he instructs his mind for the sake of teaching us how to instruct our own mind. He has described the desire for pratiṣṭhā as a very heinous, low-class prostitute.
The only way to free oneself from the clutches of this desire for pratiṣṭhā is “sadā tvaṁ sevasva prabhu-dayita-sāmantam atulaṁ—always serve the devotees who are very dear to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, for they are powerful.” How powerful? Incomparably powerful. A comparison of how powerful they are cannot be given.
How can we serve them? By remembering them and by following their words and teachings. It is through this service alone that one can conquer the desire for pratiṣṭhā; it is otherwise impossible.
BHAGAVĀN'S DEVOTEE IS DEARER TO HIM THAN HIMSELF
The appearance and disappearance of Vaiṣṇavas from the vision of this world are more auspicious than the appearance of Bhagavān Himself. Why is this so? Bhagavān is situated on such a high platform that it is impossible for us to approach and associate with Him in our materially conditioned state. We can, however, approach His devotees, who are His manifestations.
The devotees, due to their unlimited mercy, descend to the platform on which we currently stand, so that we can relate to them, associate with them and purify our consciousness. By this, we may one day directly associate with Bhagavān and serve Him. This is why Śrī Kṛṣṇa has announced in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (11.19.21):
Here, Kṛṣṇa says, “Only those who serve My dearest devotees with great love and offer themselves completely through mind, body and words are capable of pleasing me completely. Mad-bhakta-pūjābhyadhikā—worshiping (that is, serving) the lotus feet of My devotees is greatly superior to serving Me directly.”
Although it is impossible for us to serve the lotus feet of Bhagavān in our present condition, His devotees are capable of performing such service, and they can therefore engage us in His service by bringing our offerings directly to Him. Furthermore, devotees know well the likes and dislikes of Bhagavān, even more so than Bhagavān Himself. In reality, it is only through the devotees that we can serve the Lord.
But how can we serve the lotus feet of such personalities after their disappearance from the vision of this world? We can serve them by remembering them, by contemplating and adopting their highly exemplary conduct, and by sharing and distributing their teachings to others, so that others, also, may establish a relationship with them.
BHAGAVĀN RESIDES WHEREVER HIS DEVOTEES ARE GLORIFIED
The words of Bhagavān can never be proven untrue; they are always satya (true). Kṛṣṇa has said in the Padma Purāṇā (Uttara-khaṇḍa, 92.21):
nāhaṁ tiṣṭhāmi vaikuṇṭhe
yogināṁ hṛdayeṣu vā
yatra gāyanti mad-bhaktāḥ
tatra tiṣṭhāmi nārada
Here, Kṛṣṇa is saying, “I do not reside in Vaikuṇṭha, nor in the hearts of yogīs, even. Where then do I reside, O Nārada? Yatra-gāyanti mad-bhaktaḥ—where My devotees sing My glories, which are inherently connected to My devotees.”
Because Kṛṣṇa is always accompanied by His devotees, His glories are intrinsically linked with them. Thus, gāyanti refers to Kṛṣṇa’s glories in connection with His devotees such as Śrīmatī Rādhikā, Nanda Bābā, Yaśodā Mātā, the Vrajavāsīs, śuddha Vaiṣṇavas and śrī guru. In this verse, Kṛṣṇa is stating that He rushes to that place where the glories of His devotees are sung.
BHAGAVĀN IS CONTROLLED BY THE PLEAS OF HIS DEVOTEES
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta describes how during the time of the Ratha-yātrā festival, the ratha (chariot) of the supremely independent Śrī Jagannātha moves according to His desire alone. If He does not wish to move, then nobody in the world possesses the power to move Him even an inch.
I myself witnessed such a situation. Although elephants, horses and scores of men were employed in pulling the chariot, it remained immovable. At that time, one devotee, named Sadāśiva Ratha Śarmā, being greatly pained, began singing in a loud voice, “O Lord! How can you be so cruel? Thousands of devotees are feeling pain due to your refusal to move. Why does Your heart not melt upon seeing their profuse crying and their laborious efforts to move You?”
As a result of his singing, which was infused with deep faith, Jagannātha’s ratha began to move in such a way that it seemed as if it was flying in the air. That day, I personally witnessed how the Lord’s heart melts upon hearing the earnest pleas of His devotees.
JAGANNĀTHA'S SPECIAL AFFECTION FOR HIS DEAREST DEVOTEES
Once, the king of Purī, Mahārāja Gajapati, was disregarded by the Orissa government during the Ratha-yātrā festival, a celebration for which the government assumes the responsibility of managing and supervising. It is an ancient tradition for the king to sweep the road in front of Jagannātha’s chariot before the pulling of the rathas begins. This undertaking is quite costly, and the government is expected to bear the expense of all arrangements related to transporting the king and his entire entourage to the temple.
That particular year, the chief minister of Orissa proposed that in order to save money, the government should forego the ritual of inviting the king, and therefore, on the day of Ratha-yātrā, nobody came from Śrī Jagannātha’s temple to pick up the king, who was waiting in his palace fully dressed for the occasion.
At the site of the festival, Baladeva Prabhu, Subhadrā-devī and Sudarśana were brought with ease from the temple onto their respective chariots in the ceremonial procession. But when Jagannātha’s paṇḍās tried to bring Him, they found themselves unable to lift Him. The paṇḍās of both Baladeva Prabhu and Subhadrā-devī went to help them. In their efforts, a few paṇḍās were injured—one broke his leg, another broke his hand, and blood came from the bodies of various other paṇḍās.
Finally, Sadaśiva Ratha Śarmā loudly told them, “Hear me! You have offended a devotee of the Lord by not inviting him. Insulting a devotee of the Lord will bring a result like that we now see before us. How is it possible to please the master by insulting the servant? Go, and with great respect bring the king.”
The paṇḍās heeded his words and brought the king. When the king arrived, he touched the garments of Śrī Jagannāthadeva and prayed to Him: “O, Maṇimā (incomparable personality)! These people are ajña (ignorant). They are like children who lack the vision and maturity necessary to engage in insightful consideration before doing anything. But You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead; You know everything. Why are You acting in such a way that causes trouble to so many people?”
After this, Jagannātha was easily brought to His chariot, lifted by only a few of His paṇḍās. It is not that Bhagavān simply says, “I am more pleased by one who serves My devotees than by one who serves Me directly,” without action; He also demonstrates it from time to time. Those who are highly fortunate are able to witness this and relate it to others. Such persons are capable of understanding the deep verdicts of the śāstras.
REMEMBRANCES OF PŪJYAPĀDA NĀRĀYAṆA MAHĀRĀJA
Today is the disappearance day of pūjyapāda Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja. Nara means ‘human being,’ and ayaṇa means ‘shelter,’ and therefore when the sāstras mention the name Nārāyaṇa, it refers to a personality who is the true shelter of all living entities.
Pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja was like my satīrtha (godbrother). In his early days, when he was staying in Mathurā, we were once sitting together. I told him, “Mahārāja, because you are from North India, you are very proficient in the Hindi language. It would be everyone’s great fortune if you were to go and preach everywhere in Hindi.”
Pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja replied, “My health is not good at this time, and so I am unable to travel much.”
I asked him the details of his health, and after I had heard him, I said, “Please come to Kolkata, so that I may take you to a very qualified doctor there. After that, we can discuss preaching.”
Pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja agreed, and he came to Kolkata during the time I was there. I personally took him to see the doctor, who had great respect for sādhus. The doctor would consider, “Sādhus are always engaged in bhajana. I do not want them to waste even a single moment waiting for me.” In this way, he would immediately tend to any sādhu who would come to him for treatment. After examining pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, he advised him to take only rice and raw banana sabjī, among other things.
A short time later, pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja fully recovered, and he told me, “I will follow what you advised earlier; I will go everywhere and preach.” It was at that time that he started his preaching efforts.
MY AFFECTIONATE SERVICE TO HIM
Another time, pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja and I attended a festival for the opening of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vaibhava Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s maṭha in Viśākhāpaṭnām, and we stayed together in the same room. The festival was attended by many senior Vaiṣṇavas.
A number of us had plans to go to Purī after the festival and stay in our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha. Pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja mentioned to me, “I also have a desire to go to Purī, but due to the state of my health, the accommodations at our Nīlacāla Gauḍīya Maṭha would be uncomfortable for me. Though I would like to go with you, I am unable to do so.”
I immediately told him, “There is no need to worry about such things. Please come with us and stay in our maṭha. We can arrange for whatever accommodations or facilities your health requires.”
Hearing this, he became pleased and said, “If that is possible, I will definitely go to Purī with all of you after this festival.”
Although my train ticket was reserved and I was set to travel with Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja and other devotees, I started my journey one day before everyone else. Withholding the details, I told everyone that I had to leave early for some special reason. Then, with an unreserved ticket, I departed for Purī.
Because there were many devotees staying in our Purī maṭha, it was difficult to get a separate, private room. I thus removed all the luggage from my own room, cleaned it and then shifted to a room without an attached bathroom, keeping my room reserved for pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja.
I knew that if Mahārāja were to see me clearing out my room for him, he would have been reluctant to stay there, and would have insisted me not to shift. It was to avoid such a situation that I departed a day early and, without his knowledge, prepared my room for his arrival so that he could stay there without worry.
I fondly remember a humorous interaction he had at that time with his sevāka, Navīna-kṛṣṇa Brahmacārī (now Śrī Bhaktivedānta Mādhava Mahārāja). Pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja told Navīna, “Give me one more roṭī,” and Navīna replied, “No, no. No more roṭīs for you.” Pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja then jokingly said, “If you refuse to give me another roṭī, then it will be vaiṣṇava-aparādha, because you will have disobeyed the order of a Vaiṣṇava.”
Whenever I see Mādhava Mahārāja, I always ask him, “Do you remember that incident?”
HIS CONDUCT IN SERVICE AND HIS RESPECT OF VAIṢṆAVAS
Pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja once invited me to attend a festival at Śrī Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha in Mathurā in observance of the disappearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja. After the glories of Śrīla Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja were spoken, all the Vaiṣṇavas sat together to honor prasāda, but pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja wanted to wait until everyone had been served to their satisfaction before he himself honored prasāda.
He asked me to sit, but I told him, “No. I will wait, so that we can honor prasāda together.” After all the assembled Vaiṣṇavas finished honoring their prasāda and got up from their seats, we sat down to honor prasāda in pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja’s room.
Just as we were about to honor prasāda, one disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prapanna Dāmodara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, arrived. Upon seeing Śrīla Dāmodara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja immediately got up from his seat and said, “Mahārāja, please sit for prasāda.”
Śrīla Dāmodara Gosvāmī Mahārāja replied, “I will certainly sit and honor prasāda, but only after taking bath. I will return shortly.”
After he left, pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja turned to me and said, “Mahārāja, please honor prasāda now. It will be some time before I honor prasāda.”
I replied, “No, no. I will also wait for some time so that we may honor prasāda together.” In that way, after Śrīla Dāmodara Gosvāmī Mahārāja returned and honored prasāda, pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja and I honored prasāda together.
From that time on, I always kept this exemplary conduct of pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in my heart. With my own eyes, I observed that the affection he exhibited for the Vaiṣṇavas was extraordinary, and the service attitude he maintained was unparalleled.
HIS DEEP DESIRE TO STUDY THE BHAKTI-ŚĀSTRAS
About fifty-five years ago, pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja was staying in Govardhana for some months at the site where his Śrī Giridhārī Gauḍīya Maṭha now stands. At that time, he wrote me a letter, in which he said, “I am here in Govardhana, and I desire to dive deeply into the philosophy of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. I want to truly understand the gift Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmīpāda has given the world. Therefore, I request you to purchase and send Ujjvala-nilamaṇi and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu from Kolkata, as they are not available here.”
Acquiring these books in those days was no small feat, as they had both been long since out of print. Somehow or other, I was able to purchase old, secondhand editions of the books, and I sent them to pūjyapāda Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja for his study. In his life, he always exhibited a deep interest in the writings of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmīpāda.