Following the Footsteps of Śrī Guru
Never pass up the opportunity to serve the Vaiṣṇavas
Guru Mahārāja organized a three-day festival at the Vṛndāvana branch of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha for the installation of the deities. On the first day of the festival, a wonderful feast was arranged for all the Vaiṣṇavas from the different maṭhas in Vrṇdāvana; on the second day was a feast for the Vraja paṇḍās and their families; and on the third day was a feast for general people, and the Vaiṣṇavas and paṇḍās were again invited.
Guru Mahārāja spent more than twenty thousand rupees on the festival. In those days, one could purchase two-and-ahalf kilograms of flour for one rupee. At the time, we did not have a proper kitchen in the maṭha. All the cooking was done in a room with a temporary tin shed. Seeing this situation, someone told Guru Mahārāja, “With the amount of money you spent on this festival, you could have built eight rooms in the maṭha.”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “Later, we may find so many people willing to contribute to the construction of rooms that we will run out of space in the maṭha. But the opportunity we have received to serve many senior Vaiṣṇavas at one time and in one place will never again present itself.” With this mood, Guru Mahārāja organized great festivals in many places—like Yāṣāḍā, Guwāhaṭī, Kolkata, Purī and other locations—and invited all the Vaiṣṇavas.
Taking full advantage of the opportunity to serve Vaiṣṇavas
After the disappearance of my śikṣā-guru Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrī Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, the maṭha in-charge of Śrī Keśava-jī Gauḍīya Maṭha in Mathurā, sent a letter to Guru Mahārāja under the direction of Śrī Bhaktivedānta Vāmana Mahārāja, the then ācārya of Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti. He wrote, “We will be coming for darśana of Śrī Vṛndāvana-dhāma under the auspices of Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti. If you were to kindly allow, we would like to stay in Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha with our entire party for many days. Please inform us of your decision, so that we may make all the required arrangements.”
In his reply, Guru Mahārāja wrote, “We will indeed be extremely pleased to have your association here. However, we have one condition: while staying with us, do not make any independent arrangements for cooking. Your entire party will have to accept the same prasāda that is being cooked and honored by the sannyāsīs and brahmacārīs of our maṭha. If you find this condition acceptable, then you can plan your schedule as per your convenience.”
Guru Mahārāja then said to us, “Just see! The Vaiṣṇavas have very mercifully given us an opportunity to serve them. A most appropriate opportunity to render service has knocked on our door, and it is our duty to take full advantage of it. Because they may some day acquire a place of their own in Vṛndāvana, this opportunity may never come again.”
Some years after the disappearance of Guru Mahārāja, my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Prāpanna Tapasvī Mahārāja once went to Haridvāra with ten devotees and stayed at a branch of Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti at Kankhal, in Haridvāra. There, the maṭha in-charge requested Śrī Tapasvī Mahārāja to make separate arrangements for cooking. When Śrī Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, who just so happened to be there at the time, saw Śrī Tapasvī Mahārāja cooking separately, he chastised the maṭha in-charge, saying, “When we went to Vṛndāvana for darśana and stayed at Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, Śrīpāda Madhāva Gosvāmī Mahārāja perfectly arranged for the accommodations and prasāda of our entire party for many days, and you cannot arrange for prasāda for even ten devotees, and that too for only two days.”
The maṭha in-charge then requested Śrī Tapasvī Mahārāja not to cook separately, and from then on, the prasāda for all the devotees was prepared by the residents of the maṭha. We found out about this incident only because Śrī Tapasvī Mahārāja narrated it to us. At that time, I told Tapasvī Mahārāja that this is the quality of Vaiṣṇavas: they remember and follow the conduct of their guru-vargas and feel deeply indebted to them.
There is no lack of space in the heart of a Vaiṣṇava
Śrī Satyavrata Prabhu, a disciple of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vicāra Yāyāvara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, once visited us with a desire to reside at our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha in Kolkata, which at that time was located in a rented house. In those times, we would have to cook rice two or three times every meal, because the pot we used for cooking rice was small in size, and we did not have enough money to purchase a larger pot. Feeling a little uneasy upon hearing Śrī Satyavrata Prabhu’s desire, one brahmacārī said to Guru Mahārāja, “Because there are too many devotees staying here, we must constantly bear many inconveniences. How will we able to accommodate even one more person?”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “He will stay wherever we stay, and honor whatever prasāda we honor. He has no special or extra demands, and so there is no need to make any separate arrangements for him. It is our duty to assist Vaiṣṇavas in their bhajana. For true Vaiṣṇavas, there is never any dearth of space. If there is any deficiency, it is in the heart alone and should be removed. Other than this, there is no deficiency that can ever become an obstacle in our service to the Vaiṣṇavas.
“There were once three highly exalted Vaiṣṇavas residing in three different parts of South India. After hearing of each other’s respective qualities, they decided to visit to Śrī Raṅga-kṣetra, unbeknownst to each other, with the desire to meet one another. Thus, they separately departed for their journey from their respective places. Along the way, they encountered a heavy storm with strong winds and pouring rain. One of them found an old small cottage-like place with a door and took shelter there. Because he was exhausted from the journey, he somehow managed to lie down in that space, despite its small size. After some time, he heard a knock at the door. A voice from outside said, ‘Who is the great personality residing here? Can he mercifully give me shelter here for some time?’
“The Vaiṣṇava inside the room opened the door and asked the traveler to come inside. The Vaiṣṇava outside the room looked at the room and said, ‘It is only with great difficulty that you yourself can lay in this place. If I were to come in, you would be very uncomfortable. Do not worry, I will try to find another place.’
“The other Vaiṣṇava said, ‘Although the space is small for the two of us to lie down, it is big enough for us to sit and pass the night happily without any inconvenience. Please be merciful to me and come inside without any hesitation.’ Agreeing to his proposal, the Vaiṣṇava standing outside seated himself inside the small room.
“They had just started speaking hari-kathā when they heard a knock at the door. Outside was another person asking if he could take shelter in the room. When they opened the door, the Vaiṣṇava standing outside saw that only the two Vaiṣṇavas could sit in the very small room, and he was hesitant to go inside and inconvenience them. Understanding his mood, the Vaiṣṇavas sitting inside said, ‘If two of us can spend the night sitting, then why can’t the three of us can spend the whole night standing? Please come inside. We all shall engage in hari-kathā.’
“In this way, because there was no deficiency of any sort in their hearts, they happily spent the whole night engaged in hari-kathā, and their pleasure knew no bounds, especially when they realized that they were all visiting Śrī Raṅgakṣetra only to meet each other.
“You should heed this story and somehow adjust to accommodate Śrī Satyavrata Prabhu during the heavy storm that has presently hit Gauḍīya Maṭha. This storm will eventually pass. Later, you will not only remember this occasion and consider yourself fortunate to have received such association, but you will also pray to again obtain such association, without caring for the external inconveniences.”
A disciple of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja once expressed a desire to reside with us in Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha. When I asked Guru Mahārāja for permission, he said, “It is our duty to aid in the bhajana of whosoever wishes to come and reside in our maṭha. There is no need to inquire from me or seek my permission on this subject in the future. However, if someone is coming from another maṭha, you should first seek the advice of his gurudeva, or if his gurudeva is not easily contactable, you should consult with his maṭha in-charge before accepting him as a resident of our maṭha.”
As per the instructions of Guru Mahārāja, I approached Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja and humbly submitted the proposal to him: “One of your brahmacārī disciples desires to stay in the Kolkata branch of our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha. But we shall agree to it only if you have no objection.” He replied that he had no objection.
Later, when the Oriental Institute established by Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja was attacked by dacoits, he wrote to us requesting us to send that disciple of his, who was physically very strong, so that he could help provide security for the maṭha. At that time, Guru Mahārāja described to the brahmacārī in detail the glories and importance of rendering guru-sevā, having firm unflinching faith in guru, and sincerely following the words emanating from the lotus lips of śrī guru. Having sufficiently made the brahmacārī understand the significance of śrī guru’s glories, Guru Mahārāja made the necessary arrangements for his journey to Vṛndāvana.
Affectionate concern for pilgrims
Whenever Śrī Caitanaya Gauḍīya Maṭha would host a parikramā of Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala, Guru Mahārāja would give us many instructions regarding the arrangement of the pilgrims’ prasāda and accommodations. He would not only instruct us to engage in vaiṣṇava-sevā in such a way that the Vaiṣṇavas would be pleased, but would also himself serve in this way. We were all utterly astonished to see the dedication with which he served the Vaiṣṇavas.
Once when we were in Nandagrāma during Vrajamaṇḍala parikramā, it rained heavily during the night. Everyone was peacefully sleeping in their respective rooms, but Guru Mahārāja awoke as soon as he heard raindrops falling on the roof of the dharmaśālā (guesthouse). He got up from his bed, woke me up and ordered me to go and check the pilgrims’ outside tent for leaks. I tried to pacify Guru Mahārāja by saying, “We have constructed an earthen ridge around the tent. It is impossible for water to find its way inside.”
Still, Guru Mahārāja was not satisfied. He said, “I will only be able to sleep after you personally go down and check that all is okay.”
On Guru Mahārāja’s order, I inspected the tent and reported to Guru Mahārāja, “Everything is fine, and the pilgrims are resting peacefully. Not a drop of water has entered the tent. The waterproof tent has two flaps, so there is no possibility of rain entering from the canopy. You can sleep without any worries.”
Guru Mahārāja then said, “It would be good if you could check the condition of tents on the rooftop, as well.”
I found myself in a dilemma. On one hand, it would be impossible for me to enter the tents on the roof, as they were occupied by ladies. On the other hand, it is my duty to carry out the order of śrī guru. Although I was unsure about what to do, I took Guru Mahārāja’s torch and headed for the tents on the rooftop. As I walked up the stairs, I happened upon my godbrother Śrī Viṣṇu dāsa (later known as Śrī Bhakti Vaibhava Araṇya Mahārāja after accepting sannyāsa), who told me without my asking, “The tent on the roof is fine; no water has entered inside and everything is safe.”
After I mentioned this to Guru Mahārāja, he was greatly relieved. He asked, “Did you inquire from other devotees, too?”
I replied, “Yes. I received this information from Śrī Viṣṇu Prabhu.” Hearing this, Guru Mahārāja became pacified and lay on his bed. Before falling asleep, he exquisitely described the unlimited mercy of Śrī Bhagavān, Bhagavān’s parental affection for His devotees and his own responsibility during the parikramā, and he expressed his sincere gratitude for all the devotees assisting him in his service.
Service to the Vaiṣṇavas should be sincere and heartfelt, not commercial
Once, when Guru Mahārāja was daily performing kīrtana and giving discourses in Goalpara, Assam, some devotees who lived in the mountains far away would ride their bicycles approximately twenty kilometers each way to attend Guru Mahārāja’s programs. One day, it rained heavily during the evening program and continued raining after the kathā had finished.
Guru Mahārāja called for me and my godbrother Śrī Mādhavānanda Prabhu and said, “Go and arrange for prasāda and accommodations for all the devotees who have travelled from the mountains by bicycle. These devotees have commuted a far distance to hear spiritual discourses with deep faith. We should serve them whenever an opportunity arises. Their commute to hear hari-kathā is nondifferent from performing dhāma-parikramā. The true benefit of performing dhāma-parikramā is achieved only when one visits the dhāma with praṇayi-bhaktas—devotees who possess transcendental love for Bhagavān and His devotees—and hears hari-kathā and kīrtana from their lotus lips. Because the place where pure self-realized devotees of Bhagavān (viśuddha-bhaktas) reside is non-different from Vṛndāvana, those who visit such pure devotees should be served in the same manner as those who visit the dhāma for parikramā. Such service should be sincere and heartfelt; it should not be commercial. The ideal way of serving pilgrims is by following the example of Śrī Śivānanda Sena.
“Śrī Śivānanda Sena would serve the devotees traveling from Bengal to Purī during their yearly journey to visit Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He would affectionately provide whatever the pilgrims required for their respective devotional practices, and he thereby received immense spiritual benefit. Similarly, we too will receive great benefit by providing the Vaiṣṇavas with whatever they may need, and we will not expect anything in return. Everyone in this material world is concerned only for his own personal benefit, so why should we not be concerned about our own spiritual benefit? Those who serve pilgrims with great sincerity will definitely receive the mercy of Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu, just as Śrī Śivānanda Sena did.”
Guru Mahārāja’s words filled our hearts with a rabid transcendental desire to dance in ecstasy. With this great joy in our hearts, we enthusiastically arranged for the pilgrims’ stay for the entire journey.
Helping and serving the Vaiṣṇavas as a principle, not for saving money
Once, when we organized a pilgrimage of North India, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Sambandha Akiñcana Gosvāmī Mahārāja suggested to Guru Mahārāja, “If we can skip Dakor, Ujjain and other nearby places we originally planned to visit, our journey will be reduced by one thousand kilometers. This will save us money, which can then be used in the service of the maṭha.”
Hearing this, Guru Mahārāja said in English, “My principle is to help and serve the devotees, not to save money. I have brought these pilgrims in order to serve them, not to profit from them. Moreover, these pilgrims have expressed their full faith in us and are traveling with us as if they are our dependents. They will visit these places maybe only once or twice in their entire life. It is completely inappropriate to cheat them.”
The topmost method of serving prasāda
Once, Guru Mahārāja organized a large festival at the Gokula branch of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha and invited all the local paṇḍās (priests). In those days, the paṇḍās would accept prasāda only from the hands of those who had been born in brāhmaṇa families. For this reason, Guru Mahārāja engaged his brāhmaṇa-born disciples in serving the paṇḍās. While prasāda was being served, Guru Mahārāja stood nearby and called out for the sevakas by the surnames they used prior to joining the maṭha, just so the paṇḍās would know for sure they were being served by familial brāhmaṇas.
He called out to me, “O Narottama Cakravartī! Serve chickpea-flour laḍḍūs to everyone.” As I served the laḍḍūs, he pointed at Śrī Sohan Lāl Paṇḍā and indicated via hand gestures that I should serve him as many laḍḍūs as I could fit in my two hands. Although Guru Mahārāja had told me not to count the number of laḍḍūs a person is served, still, being curious to know how many laḍḍūs Sohan Lāl Paṇḍā could eat, I kept count. In the first serving, I gave Sohan Lāl Paṇḍā twenty laḍḍūs, which he ate very easily. Guru Mahārāja then indicated that I should again give him another two handfuls of laḍḍūs without asking if he would like more. Again, he ate every single laḍḍū on his plate, one by one. Guru Mahārāja stood smiling, happy at heart, and continued signaling me to give Sohan Lāl Paṇḍā more and more laḍḍūs. While eating the laḍḍūs, Sohan Lāl Paṇḍā also ate kachaurīs, purīs, buttermilk and other preparations. It wasn’t until he had eaten eighty laḍḍūs that he asked me to stop serving him more.
At that time, some guests were honoring prasāda in Guru Mahārāja’s room, as well as in the courtyard outside his room, and I served prasāda at those two places, also. As I was serving there, Sohan Lāl Paṇḍā quickly got up and left, taking his leaf plate with him to throw in the garbage bin. Seeing that Sohan Lāl Paṇḍā himself had to throw out his own leaf plate, Guru Mahārāja became very angry and said, “Is there no one in the maṭha! The entirety of our spiritual merits has gone away. Even the most ordinary people abide by the saying ‘atithi-devo bhava—an uninvited guest is a representative of the Lord.’ Can we not understand the proper mood we should have while serving a formally invited guest? Should an invited guest be given a chance to throw away his own leaf plate?”
I became very frightened to witness Guru Mahārāja’s anger. Noticing my fright, Guru Mahārāja said, “I saw that you were serving prasāda at two or three places; I will take that into consideration. But what are the other residents of the maṭha doing? If invited guests are not served with dignity, then the host will be at fault, not the servants.”
Guru Mahārāja later told all the sevakas, “Our guests should be served as much prasāda as they desire without them having to ask. Otherwise, they may feel shy or embarrassed to ask for more. In order to assess our guests’ individual tastes, we should keep a close eye on their respective plates and serve each of them accordingly; this is the topmost method of serving prasāda. A guest should be served whatever he or she has taste for, without hesitation.”
Guru Mahārāja possessed an astonishingly deep desire to satisfy everyone in every possible way.
There is no loss in giving
During the course of Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā, pilgrims would stay in
large camps that had been set up at various locations. At every such location, Guru Mahārāja would send various amounts of sīdā—uncooked grocery items such as rice, pulses, flour, sugar and vegetables—to each of the local paṇḍās’ houses according to the number of members in their respective families. Many times, my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Prasāda Purī Mahārāja would avoid or attempt to delay sending these items to the paṇḍās. But Guru Mahārāja would never allow such neglect. He told Śrī Purī Mahārāja, “A crop is only as good as the seed from which it has grown. Therefore, an intelligent farmer sows good quality seeds at a most appropriate time. There is never any harm in sowing seeds in soil. In fact, merely one sown seed provides a farmer with the gift of many more seeds. Therefore, the act of giving never leads to a shortage for the giver. Whatever is destined for us shall always remain with us.
“Listen carefully to the following story, which I heard in my childhood. Once, an astrologer told someone, ‘You are destined to always have one-and–a-quarter rupees with you. You will never accrue more, nor you will possess less.’ That person was very kind and charitable in nature. He never failed to give something to any visitors he would receive. Still, he would always be left with a balance of one-and-aquarter rupees. One day, when he happened to again meet with that same astrologer, he said, ‘You told me that I am destined to have only one-and-a-quarter rupees in my possession, but I have distributed hundreds of rupees to many people.’
“The astrologer said, ‘Brother! Whatever you donated to others was not destined to be yours; it belonged to them, as per their respective destinies. Even if you were to desire so, you would never be able to give away something destined for you. Therefore, please continue donating whatever is practically feasible. This will never result in any shortage for you. Whatever the receiver takes is destined for him. You are merely the medium through which he receives it.”
This teaching had a profound effect on Śrī Bhakti Prasad Purī Mahārāja. From that point until his last day in this world, he served everyone, including the paṇḍās, by all possible means.
The symptoms of a truly successful festival
Whenever Guru Mahārāja would organize a grand festival in any of his maṭhas, he would be sure to honor not only the sannyāsīs and brahmacārīs, but every conscious being in attendance with special attention. He instructed us that although the deities are offered fresh garlands everyday, on festival days They should be offered garlands made from the most exquisite flowers. Similarly, although They are adorned with clean clothes every day, on festival days They should be dressed in extraordinarily beautiful new clothes and lavishly decorated with ornaments. All Their paraphernalia, like Kṛṣṇa’s flute, should also be special for the day of a festival, and the cows in the maṭha’s gośālā (cowshed) should be served high quality feed that is different from their daily diet. All hired persons serving in the maṭha —laborers, masons, guards and others—should also be offered something special on the day of a festival. A festival will be successful only when all these activities have been performed. Such was the magnanimity of Guru Mahārāja’s vision towards everyone and everything.
Engaging servants according to their respective natures
Once, when I was with Guru Mahārāja sitting outside of his bhajana-kuṭīra in the Māyāpura branch of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, all the maṭha’s cows came and stood next to us. Guru Mahārāja asked, “Why have all these cows come here?”