Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha
[March 15, 2023 is the appearance tithi of Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha in Vṛrndāvana, India. The following is an article about his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja.]
ASSIMILATING THE ORDER OF ŚRĪ GURU
Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha originally resided in the Peḍo village of Kānpūra, located in the Howrah district of West Bengal, but often travelled to the 24 Parganas district for the sake of his business. It was there that he received the fortune of meeting Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vaibhava Sāgara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. It was from him that Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha heard about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s glories. In recounting that time, he would often say, “My heart shuddered with joy when I first heard about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s countless glories. It was as if someone started a generator that shook the earth.”
He took shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda sometime in 1936. At the time he was awarded śrī harināma, Śrīla Prabhupāda told him, “You should accept as your meals only food that has been cooked by devotees who have received at least harināma, if not mantra-dīkṣā. Although the effect may be too subtle for us to perceive, the natures and proclivities of those who prepare the food we eat certainly influences our consciousness. This principle is corroborated by the scriptures.”
kāryaṁ nidānād dhi guṇān adhīte
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya-līlā 1.92) [A royal swan said,] “We, the residents of the heavenly planets, consume the stems of the golden lotus flowers that grow in the River Gaṅgā, which flows in our abode. As a result of this diet, we are exceedingly beautiful, because one certainly obtains the effect and qualities of one’s actions.”
Śrī Madana-modhana Seṭha very strictly followed his gurupāda-padma’s instruction. For approximately thirty-five years, he honored the prasāda he personally cooked and offered to the Lord, and never once accepted a meal prepared by his uninitiated wife. It was only after his wife was initiated during Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā in 1966 by my Guru Mahārāja, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, that Śrī Madan-mohana Seṭha began accepting food and water from her hands. In this way, he exemplified the direction Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has given in his book Prema-bhakti- candrikā (1.2):
guru-mukha-padma-vākya, cittete kôriyā aikya
āra nā kôrihô mane āśā
Make the words emanating from the lotus mouth of śrī guru one with your heart and do not aspire for anything else.
UNWAVERING FAITH IN THE INSTRUCTIONS OF ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA
Śrīla Prabhupāda disappeared from the mortal realm before he could award Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha with mantra-dīkṣā. Thus, Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha accepted only harināma from his spiritual master. When devotees would advise him to accept dīkṣā-mantras from any one of his senior godbrothers, he would always say, “Harināma alone brings all perfection. I do not consider it necessary to accept mantra-dīkṣā. What is the need to make a bond with a new guru through such a process when I am wholly satisfied with what I have received from Śrīla Prabhupāda in accordance with my eligibility?
“Additionally, when Śrīla Prabhupāda granted me harināma, another new harināma initiate asked him for mantra-dīkṣā right before me. Śrīla Prabhupāda told him, ‘By giving you harināma, I have given you Śrī Hari Himself. What more is left to be given?’ It is through these words that Śrīla Prabhupāda forever affords me his divine association. He never leaves me, and I too cannot separate myself from his lotus feet for a single moment.”
AVOIDING MUNDANE VENTURES
Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha had many daughters, yet he never made any efforts to find suitable marital candidates for them. His wife would often tell him, “You must make at least some endeavor to arrange your daughters’ marriages, otherwise what will become of them?” He would reply, “I will not utilize my energy in any mundane venture whatsoever. I will most respectfully accept as my destiny whatever outcome manifests by the will of Śrīla Prabhupāda and Bhagavān.”
As fate would have it, a family visited Śrī Madan-mohana Seṭha to scout his eldest daughter as a prospective bride for their son. However, when they were not notified of the family’s decision after that meeting, his wife urged him to visit that family and inquire about their decision.
Initially, Śrī Madan-mohana Seṭha decided to honor his wife’s request. He packed his bag and prepared to leave, when he stopped suddenly, turned to his wife and said, “Śrīla Prabhupāda forbade me from approaching anyone in such a manner.” Saying this, he stayed put. Very soon, by the desire of the Lord, a number of people approached him, and one by one, all of his daughters’ marriages were effortlessly arranged.
HIS AFFINITY FOR ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA'S TRANSCENDENTAL LITERATURE
When Śrī Madana Mohana Seṭha was unable to perform any physical activity in his advanced age, he spent most of his time reading the weekly Gauḍīya magazine, the daily spiritual newspaper Dainika Nadiyā Prakāśa, and other publications printed during Śrīla Prabhupāda’s manifest presence. With great enthusiasm, he amassed a comprehensive collection of such publications by personally visiting various devotees, even those who resided quite far away, and requesting them to gift their publications to his library. In this way, he collected almost every issue of Gauḍīya printed during Śrīla Prabhupāda’s time in this world.
Sometime after establishing ISKCON, Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja asked Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha to send him various issues of Gauḍīya, which Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha happily provided for his pleasure and service.
Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha would often say, “I do not have even the slightest desire to read and follow any literature that has not been published or approved by Śrīla Prabhupāda.”
Disregarding social customs in the pursuit of service Śrī Madan-mohana Seṭha would request almost all his visitors to donate something for the service of the Gauḍīya Maṭha, and he often asked members of his own family, as well. His sons once told him, “While we do not object to you requesting others to donate for the service of the maṭha, we sincerely request you not to seek anything from your sons-in-law. It is a matter of principle that one ought not to ask anything from one’s sons-in-law, but rather make offerings to them.”
Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha replied, “I have heard from the Vaiṣṇavas a very profound, wonderful, unambiguous and detailed explanation of the verse beginning etāvaj janma-sāphalyaṁ from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.22.35). They explain that the life of an embodied soul will meet with perfection once he completely dedicates his entire life to following the activities of śreyācāraṇa, activities that may not be initially pleasing to him, but will ultimately yield auspicious results. If he is unable to do that, he should then utilize his wealth in spiritual service. If he does not possess much wealth, he should then utilize his intelligence. If he lacks proper intelligence, then he should employ his speech in encouraging others to take up the path of śreya, or ultimate spiritual benefit.
“Now that I find myself unable to render physical service in my advanced age or offer much money due to financial difficulties, I must at the very least serve through my intelligence and words. Why are you restricting the already limited scope of my service? Do you think I am asking others to donate toward my own personal gain? Have I ever used any money or anything else I received from others to fulfill my own self-interests? My only concern in asking for donations is to help others attain the topmost auspiciousness by engaging their offerings in the service of Bhagavān and the Vaiṣṇavas. Do you wish to prohibit me from being an instrument in rendering such service? To do so would cause my sons-in-laws’ inauspiciousness, for they would not receive the opportunity to offer their wealth in the service of Śrī Hari, guru and the Vaiṣnavas, where it rightly belongs.
“Your words will never make me deviate from my duty. I do not wish my relations with others to be based simply on some bodily conception, and so the fact that my sons-in-law are considered my relatives will not prevent me from giving them the same opportunity to serve the maṭha that I do to others.”
It was only very recently, in April, 2017, when I visited Hamīrapura, Himachal Pradesh, that Śrī Madan-mohana Seṭha’s grandson, Śrīpāda Bhakti Vibuddha Bodhāyana Mahārāja, told me that his grandfather would ask not only his sons-in-law to donate toward the service of Śrī Hari, guru and the Vaiṣṇavas, but also his grandsons, the sons of his sons-in-law, including Śrīpāda Bodhāyana Mahārāja himself when Mahārāja, then known as Asīm, resided in his family’s home.
HIS DEDICATION TO PLEASING ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA
Despite always remaining as a householder, Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha was well acquainted with the transcendental conceptions, the ideal conduct, and the most cherished desires of his gurupāda-padma. This can be attributed to the fact that he very sincerely followed Śrīla Prabhupāda’s hari-kathā and the various books, scriptural commentaries, articles and letters he composed, but principally because he associated with devotees who had completely offered their lives to Śrīla Prabhupāda.
He constantly chanted harināma, spoke hari-kathā and read, especially from the issues of the weekly Gauḍīya magazine that were published during Śrīla Prabhupāda’s time. During his advanced age, when his diminishing eyesight prevented him from reading, he would ask other devotees to read to him.
He always remained extremely careful not only in services to Śrīla Prabhupāda that seemed externally significant, but also in those that appeared trivial. For example, he would fund and carefully arrange for luchī —a preparation for which Śrīla Prabhupāda had a particular relish—to be cooked daily at various places, including Śrī Yogapīṭha, Śrī Caitanya Maṭha, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appearance place at Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha in Purī, and the Vṛndāvana branch of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha. In this way, Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha exemplified the principle that every activity of a surrendered devotee is meant for the pleasure of his spiritual master.
NOT ALLOWING OTHERS TO MISUSE THE INSTRUMENTS OF SERVICE
During Śrīla Prabhupāda’s manifest presence, Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha dedicated an entire garden of bananas to the service of the maṭha. He made a rule that none of his family members, relatives or workers could take a single banana from that garden for their own use. If anyone wished to eat a banana, they could request Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha for money and purchase bananas from the market. He once punished one of his sons after learning he had eaten a banana from that garden.
OFFERING HIS WEALTH IN SERVICE
Śrī Madan-mohan Seṭha very earnestly engaged his wealth in the service of Śrī Hari, guru and the Vaiṣṇavas from the time he accepted harinama from Śrīla Prabhupāda. After the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda, he continued this service by offering financial assistance to many of his godbrothers, especially my gurupāda-padma. After the disappearance of Guru Mahārāja, Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha regularly sent money to the maṭha of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja to aid in construction and other services. He often visited Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja to personally offer contributions to him with great devotion.
Throughout his life, he stayed in a small clay-built room. Once, his sons arranged to construct a proper room for him. When they had all the necessary items delivered—like bricks, cement and rebar—Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha humbly told them, “It will not be possible to construct Śrī Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s maṭha if we spend so much money constructing a room for me.” With this, he had the building materials sent back to the supplier.
Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha would often extend invitations to me to stay at his home for some time. Because I viewed him as a senior devotee who was completely dedicated to the service of Śrīla Prabhupāda, I honored his request as an instruction and once visited his home for three days.
BEYOND CONSIDERATIONS OF ĀŚRAMA
Śrīla Prabhupāda would refer to both Guru Mahārāja and Śrī Vinod-bihārī Brahmacārī, who later became Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, as prakṛta-sannyāsīs, or true renunciants, while they were still brahmacārīs. Observing the ideal conduct and pure character of Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha, I realized deep within my heart that Śrīla Prabhupāda would have surely referred to him, too, as a prakṛta-sannyāsī, even though he was living as a householder.
The scriptures state “vaiṣṇavānaṁ āśramābhāvat—Vaiṣṇavas do not belong to a particular āśrama.” In other words, although a Vaiṣṇava may choose to accept whatever āśrama he deems favorable for performing his sādhanabhajana, he is to be recognized not by that āśrama, but by his exemplary conduct and transcendental ideology. It is for this reason that Śrīla Narotama dāsa Ṭhākura has written:
gṛhe vā vanete thāke, ‘hā gaurāṅga’ bô’le ḍāke
narottama māge tā’ra saṅga
Whether a person lives in his home as a householder or in the forest as a renunciant, if he exclaims, “Hā Gaurāṅga!” Narottama dāsa begs for his association.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Thakura has echoed this teaching in his Kalyāṇakalpataru (Upalabdhi 3.4.5):
ĵadi sumaṅgala cāo, sadā kṛṣṇa-nāma gāo
gṛhe thākô vane thākô ithe tarka akāraṇa
If you desire true auspiciousness, then always chant the name of Kṛṣṇa, whether you stay at home or in the forest. Any reasoning regarding this is fruitless.
CONSIDERING THE LOTUS FEET OF ŚRĪ GURU TO BE HIS ONLY WEALTH
When the State Bank of India opened its first branch in his hometown of Peḍo, a local resident repeatedly insisted that Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha open an account. Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha eventually relented and unwillingly opened an account in which he deposited five rupees. However, he never made any further deposits or withdrawals from that bank. He would always say, “The lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda are my only bank, my only wealth. This wealth increases eternally, thus bestowing upon me supreme bliss and unlimited satisfaction.”
REFUSING TO WASTE TIME AND MONEY ON MATERIAL DISTRACTIONS
For as long as Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha was physically present in this world, he never allowed a television to be brought into his home. He would say, “Śrīman Mahāprabhu instructed Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, ‘Grāmya-kathā nā śunibe—Do not hear mundane talks of this material world’ (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 6.236). To the best of our ability, we should try to follow this instruction in our own lives. Additionally, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has mentioned in one of his articles that television offers very little benefit, and instead causes great harm.
“Viewing or hearing mundane topics that do not directly benefit us spiritually is an unnecessary disturbance to our consciousness, and it eventually causes obstacles to our bhajana in the form of distraction. Is it wise for a person to spend his money and time on something that causes such a dreadful disturbance?”
TAKING A VOW
Once in Māyāpura, after Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha arrived by bullock cart from Gaṅgā-ghāṭa (Māyāpura-ghāṭa) to Śrī Caitanya Matha, his godbrother Śrī Niśikānta Sanyāla Bhakti Sudhākara Prabhu asked, “How have you come here?”
Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha replied, “Prabhu, I travelled from Sealdah to Kṛṣṇanagara by train. From there, I went to Svarūpa-gañj, crossed the river to Gaṅgā-ghāṭa, and then came here to Śrī Caitanya Maṭha by bullock cart, which cost me four paisā.” Śrī Niśikānata Sanyāla said, “It would have been better if you had spent those four paisā in the service of Mahāprabhu by purchasing some laṅgaḍa mangoes.”
Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha took a vow that very day to never again hire a bullock cart. He declared, “I will save as much money as I can and use it exclusively in the service of Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīman Mahaprabhu.”
HIS DIVINE INFLUENCE ON FAMILY AND FRIENDS
By the mercy of Śrī Madana-mohana Seṭha, who was a pure devotee, all his family members and friends became firm followers of the principles of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. All those who came in his contact and association were undoubtedly affected by his greatly influential personality. Even those who maintained a close, intimate relationship with him accepted him as belonging to the spiritual realm.
His puṣpa-samādhi is situated in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura next to that of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Puri Gosvāmī Mahārāja, the Founder-ācarya of Śrī Gopīnātha Gauḍīya Matha. His grandson Śrīpada Bhakti Vibuddha Bodhāyana Mahārāja told me that his grandfather used to refer me as a mukta-mahāpuruṣa, a great liberated personality. I humbly consider this his kind blessing upon me, and I sincerely pray for his mercy, so that these words of his may some day prove true.
ohe! vaiṣṇava ṭhākura, dayāra sāgara
e dāse karuṇā kôri’
diyā pada-chāyā, śodhô he āmāre
tomāra caraṇa dhôri
O Vaiṣṇava Ṭhākura, you are an ocean of mercy. Being compassionate upon this servant, purify me by giving me the shade of your lotus feet, of which I take hold.