[May 8, 2020 is the disappearance tithi of Śrīla Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja in Vṛrndāvana, India. The following is an article about his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja.]
FULL SURRENDER MEANS LEAVING NOTHING BEHIND
Prior to joining the maṭha full-time, Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja (then known as Śrī Atulacandra Bandopādhyāya) worked for Indian Railways, which provided him with a stable residence. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda once visited and stayed there for three days in 1921. As a result of his divine association during that three-day visit, Śrī Atulacandra Bandopādhyāya decided to dedicate his life to serving the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Following the principle of the verse gurum evābhigacchet from Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad (1.2.12), He understood that upon approaching śrī guru, one ought to surrender oneself completely without returning home for anything. Therefore, he packed all his household items—his table, chair, bureau and so on—on a truck and brought them to the maṭha. He did not leave anything behind, so as to ensure he would never have to revisit his house to settle pending matters.
THE DEAR ASSOCIATE OF ŚRIMAN MAHĀPRABHU
Śrī Atulacandra Bandopādhyāya and Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prakāśa Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja visited many homes and offices to collect donations and find new subscribers for the Gauḍīya Maṭha’s weekly magazine, titled Gauḍīya. In those days, Gauḍīya was publishing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in installments, often including pictures of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and other Vaiṣṇava ācāryas.
One day, a person asked Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is said to be non-different from Bhagavān. Why, then, have you included pictures of mortal humans on its same pages?”
For whatever reason, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja kept silent, and so Śrī Atulacandra Bandopādhyāya gave an eloquent yet assertive reply: “You have not fully understood the special divine characteristics of grantha-bhāgavata (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam) and bhakta-bhāgavata (the devotee of Bhagavān), nor have you learned the purports of the many essential verses that describe the nature of devotees, such as:
uktas tathā bhāvyata eva sadbhiḥ
kintu prabhor yaḥ priya eva tasya
vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Śrī Gurvāṣṭakam (7)
The scriptures unanimously proclaim śrī guru to be sākṣāt-hari, directly Śrī Hari. This is a fact jointly corroborated by all saintly persons. Yet at the same time, śrī guru is very dear to Bhagavān. I adore the lotus feet of that śrī gurudeva.
“How, then, will it be possible for you to comprehend that the photographs published in Gauḍīya are not of ordinary persons, but of very special, self-realized personalities? Moreover, it will be difficult for you to understand that because of their eternal relationship with Bhagavān, these liberated persons are non-different from Him in the same way Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is non-different from Him.
He ended the discussion by remarking, “I am from a brāhmaṇa family so high that fourteen generations of your family would consider themselves grateful if but one of them happened to drink water from a place where I had passed urine. But for some reason, you are questioning the master at whose feet I have offered my head, as well as the magazine I have come to distribute.”
In the evening, Śrīla Aranya Gosvāmī Mahārāja recounted the story to Śrīla Prabhupāda. He told Śrīla Prabhupāda that although he was unable to answer the man’s question, Śrī Atulacandra Bandopādhyāya, who was relatively new to the maṭha, gave an apt reply.
Upon hearing this, tears flowed from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s eyes. He said, “Śrīman Mahāprabhu has sent one of His close associates to assist us.”
We have heard that Śrīman Mahāprabhu and His associates appeared before Śrīla Prabhupāda and assured him that They would provide both the means and the manpower required to spread śuddha-bhakti among the masses. In the above-mentioned pastime, Śrīla Prabhupāda confirmed that Mahāprabhu Himself had sent His dear associate Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja.
CAUSING OTHERS' FAITH IN THE REAL THING IS THE BEST TYPE OF COLLECTION
Whenever he collected donations, Śrī Atulacandra Bandopādhyāya always dressed in formal attire consisting of a coat and pants. One day, he visited the house of a seṭhajī, a wealthy person. He rang the doorbell, and the owner personally answered the door.
When Śrī Atulacandra Bandopādhyāya introduced himself as a member of the Gauḍīya Maṭha, the seṭhajī replied by saying, “I have no faith in the Gauḍīya Maṭha.”
Ignoring the man’s words, Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu brushed past him and entered the house.
The seṭhajī became irritated. “Did you not hear me?” he asked. “I said I have no faith in the Gauḍīya Maṭha.”
Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu took a seat in a nearby chair, saying nothing in reply.
The seṭhajī, now irate, repeated, “I said I have no faith in the Gauḍīya Maṭha!”
This time, Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu responded, “Yes, yes. I heard you. This is exactly why I have come to your house: to generate your faith in the Gauḍīya Maṭha. Even before I came, I knew that you had no faith in the Gauḍīya Maṭha, for if you had, you could not have resisted visiting.” Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu then expertly explained the aim of the Gauḍīya Maṭha’s mission and its unique specialties.
Being highly influenced by Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu’s scholarly presentation, the seṭhajī gratefully offered him a large donation. Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu refused the donation. “I have not come for a donation,” he said. “Believe me when I say I have come only to generate your faith in the Gauḍīya Maṭha.”
With great respect, the seṭhajī personally drove Śrī Atulacandra back to the Gauḍīya Maṭha, where he received darśana of Śrīla Prabhupāda and offered the donation to him directly. Thereafter, he visited the Gauḍīya Maṭha regularly.
DELIVERING AN OFFENDER
Once, Śrīla Prabhupāda took Śrī Atulacandra Bandhopādhyāya and an entourage to preach in Kānpura. While Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu went to the city for a short time to collect donations, the local district magistrate came to visit Śrīla Prabhupāda. During their conversation, the magistrate made a derogatory comment to Śrīla Prabhupāda. He said, “Most of your followers seem highly educated. Is it your mission to turn educated people into mendicants?” With this, the magistrate got up and abruptly left.
Later, when Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu returned to see Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Prabhupāda informed him of his encounter with the magistrate. As Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu listened to Śrīla Prabhupāda, he noticed that the magistrate’s criticism had made Śrīla Prabhupāda unhappy. He immediately hailed a horse cart and went to the magistrate’s house. When he arrived, he told him, “Śrīla Prabhupāda is an extraordinary personality. He is a personal associate of Bhagavān. Your disrespectful comment has ensured your total ruin. You have played with fire, and now fourteen generations of your family will have to suffer in hell.”
The district magistrate became frightened. He humbly asked Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu what he must do to make amends. Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu instructed him to beg Śrīla Prabhupāda for forgiveness and serve him somehow.
The magistrate and Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu at once returned to the maṭha, where Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu implored Śrīla Prabhupāda, “Please be kind to this man and absolve him of his offense to your lotus feet.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda then spoke to the magistrate on many topics, and the magistrate served him by offering a donation of five hundred rupees.
Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu accepted a huge responsibility when he resolved to save the district magistrate from committing a serious offense. This anecdote demonstrates many of Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s transcendental qualities. He had firm conviction in the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda. He could recognize the awful fate in store for those who offended Śrīla Prabhupāda, and he mercifully strived to find a way for them to atone for their offenses. By this, he delivered many offenders and, like a true well-wisher, did whatever he could to cultivate auspiciousness on their behalf.
DEFENDING ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA AND HIS FOLLOWERS
While Śrīla Prabhupāda was heading to perform Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā with his associates one year, Śrī Halagu Lāla, the head of the managing committee of the Śrī Bāṅke Bihārī temple, issued a statement to almost all of the prominent temples in Vṛndāvana, notifying them that Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī would soon arrive with all his followers. “They are all harijanas,” he said. “He and his followers are not to be allowed entrance into our temples.”
When Śrī Atulacandra Bandhopādhyāya came to hear of this, he took a group of his brāhmaṇa-born godbrothers, including Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, my Guru Mahārāja (then Śrī Hayagrīva Brahmacārī), Śrī Narottamānanda Brahmacārī (later Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Kamala Madhusūdana Gosvāmī Mahārāja), Śrī Praṇavānanda Brahmacārī (later Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja) and others, to meet with the gosāī, or head priest, of the Śrī Rādhā-Madana-mohana temple.
In conversing with the respected gosāī, Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu asked him, “Do we, who have taken birth in brāhmaṇa families, seem like fallen deviants to you? Have we not conducted ourselves according to the words of scriptures when we resolved to follow the path of pure vaiṣṇava-dharma? Śrīla Prabhupāda has propagated the principles of daiva varṇāśrama-dharma, the social designation of individuals according not to race or familial lineage, but innate propensities. To maintain a mundane conception of Śrīla Prabhupāda will bring only ill fortune to the world.
“Moreover, may I remind you that I am Atulacandra Bandhopādhyāya. When the brāhmaṇas of your family approached our family seeking the hand of my daughter in marriage, I forbade it. I told them, ‘We are kulīna brāhmaṇas. How could we possibly consider allowing our daughter to marry into your family, when we despise even the idea of dining in close proximity to you?’ ”
The gosāī begged for forgiveness and accompanied Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. He then brought Śrīla Prabhupāda and the parikramā party for darśana of Śrī Rādhā-Madana-mohana-jī and conferred great respect unto Śrīla Prabhupāda. Observing the conduct of the Śrī Madanamohana-jī temple gosāī, the head priests of all the other prominent temples of Vṛndāvana also accorded befitting honor and respect to Śrīla Prabhupāda.
It was only the gosāī of the Śrī Bāṅke Bihārī temple who maintained some objection to allowing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disciples to enter his temple, saying that Śrī Bihārī-jī would be frightened by the tridaṇḍas the sannyāsīs carried. When Śrīla Prabhupāda heard of this, he said, “Fine. If this is the case, we shall not enter the Śrī Bāṅke Bihārī temple. We do not wish to frighten Ṭhākura-jī.”
COLLECTING FROM A MATERIALIST
Once, Śrī Atulacandra Bandhopādhyāya took his godbrother Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja to visit a miserly businessman in Madrās (now Chennai) who spoke only Tamil, of which the two godbrothers knew not one word. Before their visit, Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu told Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “I will communicate with him through hand gestures only. All you must do is advance toward him with your tridaṇḍa and back off when I tell you.”
“And why exactly am I supposed to run back and forth with my tridaṇḍa?” Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked.
Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu replied, “He will either think that I am depriving him of a blessing from Śrī Nārāyaṇa, who is embodied by your tridaṇḍa, or that I am protecting him from you turning him to ashes with it.”
When Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja advanced toward the businessman with his tridaṇḍa during their meeting, Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu stopped him and held up his ten fingers, pointing to the businessman. The businessman, in return, held up one finger. Again, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja advanced toward the businessman until Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu stopped him. This time, Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu held up nine fingers and the businessman held up two. They went on like this until eventually they both held up five fingers. As soon as Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu stood up as if ready to leave, the merchant made a gesture signaling him to stay and then went inside his house.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu, “What does this mean, holding up five fingers?”
“Mahārāja, I have no idea,” Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu answered. “It could be five rupees, fifty rupees, five hundred or something else. Whatever it is, let us wait and see.”
The merchant then brought five hundred rupees from inside and put it in Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s hand. He then begged him to bless him on the forehead with his tridaṇḍa, and Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja obliged.
As they were leaving, Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu kicked the ground at the doorway. When Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked why he did that, he said, “I do not want to deal with this kind of person ever again, otherwise I fear I will become a covetous materialist (viṣayī). I am kicking this man’s association, kicking it with spite.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja would often say, “Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu was like a radish farmer, whose crop is completely uprooted during harvesting; He would approach a person once, receive what he could, and never return. Others, however, were like eggplant farmers, whose crop continues to give even after harvesting; they would repeatedly go to the same person to acquire whatever they needed. Neither is intrinsically better than the other. They are simply different approaches. The best approach is always that which is most favorable for the service of Śrī Hari according to time, place and circumstance.”
A QUEEN'S DONATION
Once, Śrī Atulacandra Bandhopādhyāya stayed in a temple in Orissa. At that time, the temple’s services were being funded by an elderly queen who was popularly known as Rānī Mātā. One day, Rānī Mātā sent her servant to inquire whether Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu’s stay there was comfortable enough and whether he was experiencing any inconvenience. Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu replied that everything was fine, except that he was having a hard time sleeping without a pillow.
Rānī Mātā then graciously sent him a pillow and told him he could keep it. As soon as Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu received the pillow, he set off for Śrīdhāma Māyāpura and took it with him. Upon his arrival at Śrī Yogapīṭha, he opened the pillow and found about two-and-a-half thousand rupees inside.
Traditionally in Indian culture, it is men who offer donations to sādhus, and not women. Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu was perceptive enough to understand that by sending her servant to check up on him, Rānī Mātā was looking for an opportunity to serve him in some way. His request for a pillow was actually meant as a chance for her to offer a donation in secret. Such were his wondrous ways of collecting donations.
POSING AS A LAWYER FOR THE SERVICE OF THE GAUḌĪYA MAṬHA
At the bidding of the queen of the Sītāpura district in Naimiṣāraṇya, a man resolved to donate land for the construction of a Gauḍīya Maṭha there. Some time later, however, an Indian Civil Service (I.C.S.) officer, a foreigner, complained that the queen ought to donate the land to her subjects if she had so much. He questioned how the locals would benefit by giving land to outsiders from Bengal or anywhere else. Hearing about this, the donor retracted his pledge to give land to the Gauḍīya Maṭha devotees.
Sometime later, Śrī Atulacandra Bandhopādhyāya overheard the devotees he was with discussing the matter at the Sītāpura train station while waiting for a train to Kolkata. As fate would have it, their train was three hours late, and so he informed the devotees he would pay the man a visit.
On the way, he purchased a notebook and tucked it under the arm of his coat to make himself appear as a professional. He approached the man who withdrew his pledge and said, “I am the Gauḍīya Maṭha’s legal advisor, and I am here to sue you for defamation. When you promised land to them, they printed notices in many newsletters and magazines about the proposed maṭha in Naimiṣāraṇya. But now that you have gone back on your word, their name will be tarnished.”
The man explained his position and showed Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu what the I.C.S. officer had written. Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu shouted at the man, “What does that fool know! We want this land not for the sake of taking, but for giving. We will develop this area by investing assets gathered from elsewhere. There is not a single person in your entire state who would come forward to develop this area like we would. And even if someone were to come forward, he would end up costing you much more than he would invest. Our investment in this community, on the other hand, would be greater—say, ten times greater —than the value of the land you would give us. But never mind that. The main point is that you must make good on your promise, otherwise I will have no choice but to file a lawsuit against you.”
When the man finally agreed to donate the land to the Gauḍīya Maṭha, Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu insisted he pay a ten thousand rupees fine for the inconvenience he caused. Ultimately, the man agreed to pay a fine of five thousand rupees. Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu collected the fine and returned to the train station in time to make his train.
HIS PRESENCE OF MIND
Before Śrīla Prabhupāda sent Śrī Atulacandra Bandhopādhyāya abroad to preach, he asked Ernst-Georg Schulze, a German disciple of his whose initiated name was Sadānanda dāsa, “What title should I give Atulacandra when I send him to preach in the West? I need to give him a title that properly conveys his superiority to all the preachers I have sent until now.”
Śrī Sadānanda Prabhu suggested the title ‘Missionary-in-Charge,’ which Śrīla Prabhupāda liked. He then gave this title to Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu and sent him to preach abroad.
Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu did not accept even one paisā from the maṭha for his overseas preaching. The donations he collected abroad funded the entire venture. One day, the housekeeper where he was staying informed him, “A large envelope with your name on it has come, but it is too big to fit in the letterbox. It is hanging out. You best retrieve it now.”
When Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu opened the letter, he found that the king of Bardhamāna had sent him a check in his name. Although he did not have an English bank account, he decided to go to the bank anyway.
At the bank, the manager told him, “We cannot cash your check unless we get a signature from someone who can verify your identity.”
It just so happened that a photograph of Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu shaking hands with the Marquis of Zetland had been published in the newspaper that day. Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu saw a newspaper lying on the manager’s desk, took it, and opened it to the page with his picture. He showed it to the manager and asked him, “Who is the person in this photograph?”
The manager read the title on the bottom of the photograph. “Indian monk A.B. Gosvāmī and Marquis of Zetland,” he said.
“Am I not the very same person?” Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu questioned. The manager looked at the photo and back at him a few times. “So?” Śrī Atulacandra Prabhu prodded. “What do you say?”
“It is definitely you.”
“Then you yourself can verify my identity and sign.” The manager did just that. Such was Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s presence of mind.
MAINTAINING FAITH IN DISHEARTENING SITUATIONS
After Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance, the Sārasvata Gauḍīya mission faced a host of disturbances. During that time, a certain distinguished personality made the following comment about a particular disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda: “I do not trust him when he says hā (yes), nor do I trust his brother when he sarcastically says hū (yes). The mouths of the fathers of those who have faith in their hā’s and hū’s will be full of these two brothers’ stool. They are cheating us. We should teach them a lesson.”
Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja replied not ferociously, but peacefully, according to his tranquil nature. He said, “Bhagavān is all-knowing, and He always guides and protects His devotees. If while being cheated by the Vaiṣṇavas we maintain faith in them nevertheless, even at the cost of detriment, that faith will be the genesis of our future happiness.”
ACQUIRING LAND IN MĀYĀPURA
From the very beginning, Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja was entirely disinterested in procuring land and building a maṭha in Māyāpura. He would repeatedly say, “Already in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura are Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Śrī Caitanya Maṭha and Śrī Mādhava Mahārāja’s Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha. What, then, is the necessity for me to toil to build another place? I do, however, want my godbrothers to accrue as much land as possible, because otherwise, undesirable people will create establishments there in the future and try to tarnish the sanctity of the dhāma.”
He would also say, “I will provide my godbrothers with as much money as they need to purchase and develop land. But with this, they must accept the responsibility of properly maintaining their establishments.”
Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja possessed incredible foresight; today, many undesirable factions have established themselves in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura and engage in many activities opposed to the cultivation of bhakti. Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja was insistent that Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja establish a maṭha in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, and so Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja, yielding to the request of his godbrother, purchased a plot of land there. On the day the foundation was to be consecrated by performing an auspicious cornerstone laying ceremony beneath the shade of an acacia tree there, Śrīla Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja did not conduct the ceremony himself, but had Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja do it.
Our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha provided the mṛdaṅgas, karatālas and āsanas for that ceremony. I consider myself supremely fortunate and blessed to have witnessed and heard the heartfelt kīrtanas sung by those who had taken shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda, their exemplary and genteel interactions, and the profound hari-kathā they spoke that day. Afterward, devotees distributed nothing more than a light, hollow sugar candy called batāsā as prasāda, but no one was dissatisfied; everyone was quite pleased.
The simple end to the grand festival brought to mind a verse I had learned when I was a child:
dāmpatye kalahe caiva
The sparing of rams, the service rendered by saints, the sound of thunder in the mornings, and the squabbles between a husband and wife are loud in the beginning and quiet in the end, accomplished ultimately by the smallest of gestures.
Although I had always felt that this verse was not applicable in modern times, I realized it was most certainly relevant to Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s feast that day.
AN EXAMPLE OF HIS HUMILITY
While Śrīla Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s maṭha in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura was under construction, he stayed in Guru Mahārāja’s bhajana-kuṭīra in our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha. He was highly punctual; he would come and go at exactly the same time every day. One day, for some reason, he arrived at our maṭha five minutes earlier than normal. Before entering Guru Maharaja’s bhajana-kuṭīra, he asked us in all earnestness, “Prabhus, today I have come five minutes early. May I come inside the maṭha, or should I atone for my unpunctuality by waiting outside?”