Of Separation and Love - Part 2 of 2
On appointing ācāryas
Prior to performing any significantly important activity, Guru Mahārāja would normally, in private, ask the opinions of various devotees before announcing his personal opinion on the matter. Once, Guru Mahārāja called for me and said, “My godbrother Śrī Bhakti Vicāra Yāyāvara Mahārāja has recommended that before I physically leave this world, I should appoint not one, but four disciples to succeed my position as ācārya after my departure, so that the activities of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha will continue smoothly. He said that among my disciples, he does not observe a single qualified person to whom everyone will listen and obey after I leave this world. He also said that he himself will appoint four ācāryas in his own maṭha. I have sought and heard the opinions of other devotees on this matter. What do you have to say on the subject?”
I replied, “I am unqualified to offer any opinion on this matter. but because you are asking, I will share my immediate thoughts, although I have not heard the opinions of those with whom you have already discussed the matter. I perceive that the society of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha will be able to properly function with only one appointed ācārya, at least for the foreseeable future. It seems to me that quarrels would arise if the disciples of four ācāryas were to reside together at one place.”
Guru Mahārāja further inquired, “If chosen, would you accept the responsibility of being the ācārya after I leave?”
I replied, “I have never given this issue any thought, but one thing I can assuredly say is that the compassion required of an ācārya has not yet manifested in my heart. An ācārya should be prepared to go to hell in order to rescue all jīvas from the clutches of māyā, as was the case with Śrī Prahlāda Mahārāja and Śrī Vāsudeva Datta. For this reason alone, I am presently not eager to accept the responsibility of being ācārya.
“Also, I have heard from your lotus lips that one’s bhakti-latā, or creeper of devotion, progressively grows and eventually takes shelter at the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, which are compared to a wish-fulfilling tree (kalpa-vṛkṣa). Then, under the protection of this kalpa-vṛkṣa alone, fruits begin to appear on the creeper. The sādhaka then relishes the ripened fruit of prema. When the fruits appear in such a quantity that they will be wasted due to the sādhaka’s inability to relish them all, the desire appears in his heart to distribute those fruits. Because I have not yet reached such an elevated position, I am therefore not presently very eager to undertake this service of being ācārya.”
śāstra paḍāiyā sabe ei karma kare
śrotāra sahite yama-pāśe ḍubi’mare
Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata (Ādi-khaṇḍa 2.68)
Although a person may teach the scriptures, he and his students will be punished by Yamarāja, the king of death, if he, [not understanding the purport of those scriptures,] performs worldly activities [or spiritual activities without understanding their import].
Having heard my words, Guru Mahārāja said, “In order to gain expertise on the subtle points of this subject, you should minutely study and deliberate upon the section in the second part of Śrī Hari-bhakti-vilāsa that describes the symptoms of a guru and a disciple, as well as the relevant parts of Śrī Vedānta-sūtra. You, also, may one day have to accept the responsibility of serving as an ācārya. Previously, I too had no intention to take this responsibility. When Śrīla Prabhupāda manifested his disappearance pastime, I used to send everyone who I inspired to follow the path of bhakti to seek the shelter of Śrī Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrī Bhakti Vicāra Yāyāvara Mahārāja and other godbrothers of mine. However, with the passage of time, I had to accept the role of ācārya in order to serve Śrīla Prabhupāda. Awarding dīkṣā to a sincere seeker is as much a limb of bhakti as the act of accepting dīkṣā. I will not remain physically present in this world for all eternity, and so after I leave, the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha must accept the shelter of another ācārya. Spiritual seekers should not remain independent if they truly wish to attain true spiritual welfare.
“A lawyer named J. N. Vasu once suggested to Śrīla Prabhupāda, ‘It would be best if you were to firmly proclaim one person as the future ācārya of your institution. You may mention this in your will. Such an arrangement would be best for the institution’s future.’
“But Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, ‘A conditioned soul cannot determine or declare a person to be an ācārya. This can be done only by Bhagavān or a mukta-puruṣa—a liberated soul who is free from the four defects of a conditioned soul—acting on His behalf. Otherwise, conditioned souls will have many inharmonious opinions on the subject. It is therefore inappropriate for an ācārya or sādhu to be appointed by conditioned souls or through the process of voting. Just as everybody is able to see the sun the moment it rises, everyone will be able to recognize an ācārya when, by the supreme will of Bhagavān, he manifests himself. I fully endorse this view from the core of my heart. Still, I am apprehensive that an unfit person may misapply my statement that the ācārya is not selected or elected, and thus accept the post of ācārya on the strength of his charisma.
“ ‘That is why after assessing the prevailing situation at this time, I told my many senior disciples to form a governing body of ten to twelve members, and that Kuñja-bihārī would manage it as long as he lives.’
“After Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance, a governing body consisting of twelve members was formed as per his instructions. This governing body in turn selected and appointed one individual as the ācārya, of whom most of the members of that governing body later disapproved. Because Śrīla Prabhupāda left no clause in his will regarding the society’s management after his departure, everyone faced a multitude of difficulties.
“Later, when a lawyer named Śrī S. N. Banerjee was consulted, he said, ‘Looking at all of your documents, it is clear that most of the activities being conducted in the maṭha are public in nature, and therefore the trustees do not possess any specific power. Moreover, only the appointed trustees can initiate litigation.’
“Earlier, Śrīla Prabhupāda had appointed three trustees for some other purpose: Śrī Kuñja-bihārī Vidyābhūṣaṇa, Śrī Ananta Vāsudeva Paravidyābhūṣaṇa and Śrī Paramānanda Brahmacārī. As per Śrī S. N. Banerjee’s advice, Śrī Kuñjabihārī Vidyābhūṣaṇa and Śrī Paramānanda Brahmacārī filed a joint lawsuit against Śrī Ananta Vāsudeva, which resulted in the original institution being separated into two parts. The events that followed, which further divided the Gauḍīya Maṭha into even more parts, are fully known to you. Those who were qualified separated from the original institution and began preaching independently, and even established their own societies. On the other side, those who were not so qualified or not inclined to preach independently or accept the role of ācārya had to face many painful situations. Śrī Bhakti Sāraṅga Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s society, Śrī Gauḍīya Saṅgha, also faced many difficulties after his departure when he did not leave any legal documents regarding the future of the society’s management.
“Therefore, having taken your opinion and all I have just mentioned into consideration, I must agree that appointing one single ācārya will facilitate the smooth functioning of the society for at least some considerable amount of time. After consulting with my senior godbrothers, I will appoint one person as the president and ācārya of the society. I will be pleased if my disciples accept this decision.
“Following the example of Śrīla Prabhupāda, I have constituted a governing body consisting of twelve members. The person I will appoint as ācārya will not be empowered to appoint the next ācārya on his own. Rather, he will only be able to recommend to the governing body three individuals among the society whom he feels qualified to accept the role of ācārya. The governing body members will then decide the next ācārya by holding a closed election. “
One should not think that I have created a new system, or that this system is different from that which Śrīla Prabhupāda proposed. Śrīla Prabhupāda has, as per the injunctions of revealed scriptures, instructed us to be mindful of time, place and circumstances while making decisions.
“I appoint life members in the society. If any member of the society, whether a governing body member or a life member, happens to perform some serious offense or engages in immoral conduct or an activity in defiance to the principles of living in the maṭha, then the governing body will issue him a notice three times, in order to give him a sufficient opportunity to rectify his situation. It is only when such a person fails to improve his conduct that the governing body will take action, and not before. I am establishing these rules with the realization that they are imperative for the institution to function properly in the future.
“If a qualified member of the society other than the presiding ācārya is inspired by Bhagavān to begin the service of awarding harināma and dīkṣā, it does not mean that he will become deprived of my mercy or that he will be disobeying me. However, all the present and future consequences should be gravely considered before engaging in this service.
“Even if a qualified disciple of mine awards harināma and dīkṣā while I am still physically present, there is no fault in his doing so. The service of accepting disciples has been mentioned as one of the sixty-four limbs of bhakti. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has designated ‘bahu-śiṣya-karaṇa-tyāgaḥ— renouncing the acceptance of many disciples’ as the twelfth limb of bhakti. We can therefore understand that it is certainly an activity of bhakti for a qualified person to accept a moderate amount of disciples. Thus, I will not stop anyone from accepting disciples. Some of our previous ācāryas accepted disciples while their guru was physically present. For example, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī had accepted disciples during the presence of his gurudeva, Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī. Our most worshipful Śrīla Prabhupāda, also, awarded harināma and dīkṣā-mantras to some devotees while both his spiritual masters, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrīla Gaura-kiśora dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, were still physically present in this world. The principles of the spiritual world are highly exalted, grave and subtle in nature. If narrow-minded people do not allow such principles to be implemented, then the result will be utter chaos.”
The ācarya is niṣpakṣa (impartial) and nirpekṣa (free of expectations), and his main symptoms are nirbhīkatā (fearlessness) and udāratā (benevolence). He is fearless, independent and follows the teachings of the scriptures.
An astonishing samādhi pastime
As soon as my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Lalita Giri Mahārāja heard that Guru Mahārāja had entered nitya-līlā, he immediately set off for Śrīdhāma Māyāpura. When he arrived, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked him to offer ārati and bhoga to Guru Mahārāja. When Śrī Giri Mahārāja offered flowers at Guru Mahārāja’s lotus feet, he touched Guru Mahārāja’s feet and said, “The body of Guru Mahārāja has not turned cold, nor has his bodily complexion paled. I am afraid we may be offering him samādhi while he is still present.” In reality, this was not the case; Guru Mahārāja’s body simply never became cold.
Manifesting his disappearance pastime
At the time Guru Mahārāja manifested his sickness pastime two months prior to his disappearance pastime, he dictated a letter for me to my godbrother Śrī Balabhadra Brahmacārī, who had the letter signed by Guru Mahārāja himself. In the letter, Guru Mahārāja wrote, “I did not have even the slightest desire to be taken to the hospital, but due to the persistent desire of a few devotees, I was compelled to have myself admitted. They want to see what can be done to improve my health, and for their sake, I will cooperate with their wishes.”
Sometime later, I received a letter from my senior godbrother (satīrtha) Śrī Bhakti Vallabha Tīrtha Mahārāja in which he had written, “Gurudeva is constantly remembering you. It would be best if you could hand over the responsibility of managing the construction of the Purī maṭha to someone else and come to Kolkata immediately.”
As soon as I received the letter, I told my godbrother Śrī Gaurāṅga-prasāda Prabhu, “Go to the railway station and purchase a ticket to Kolkata for me. There is no need to confirm a reservation, and it does not matter for which train the ticket is made.”
When I reached Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha in Kolkata, my godsister Śrīmati Kamala Ghoṣa immediately started crying upon seeing me and said, “Please bring Guru Mahārāja from the hospital as soon as possible.”
When I arrived at the hospital, my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Sundara Nṛsiṁha Mahārāja was engaged in Guru Mahārāja’s service. Seeing that I had come empty-handed, Guru Mahārāja asked, “Have you brought your bedding?”
“What is the need for bedding?” I replied. “If it is required, I will have it brought from the maṭha.”
Guru Mahārāja said, “Do not sleep on the hospital beds. They are used by many people. By sleeping on someone else’s bed, you will obtain their qualities, and their consciousness will make a place in your heart. So please, do not sleep on anyone else’s bed. If you are unable to get your own bedding, then you should first spread your upper cloth (uttarīya) on their bed before sleeping on it.”
Shortly after, Guru Mahārāja sent Śrī Nṛsiṁha Mahārāja to collect donations for an upcoming annual festival at the Kolkata maṭha, and kept me with him at the hospital as his sevaka. After a few days in the hospital, the doctor told me, “It would be better for your Guru Mahārāja if you were to take him back to the maṭha.” After Guru Mahārāja was discharged from the hospital, I brought him to the Kolkata maṭha. Having heard Guru Mahārāja was performing a sickness pastime, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Śrīrūpa Siddhāntī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Śrī Śrīmad Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī Mahārāja visited him and stayed in the maṭha with us.
Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Śrī Śrīmad Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī Mahārāja performed continuous kīrtana for the pleasure of Guru Mahārāja.
When Guru Mahārāja manifested his disappearance pastime, he took shelter of the date of Śukla Pratipadā, Tuesday, 27 February, 1979, the disappearance day of vaiṣṇava-sārvabhauma Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja and Śrī Rasikānanda Prabhu. With a sentiment similar to that of Haridāsa Ṭhākura during his last days, Guru Mahārāja entered nitya-līlā while uttering: “Aneka nācāilo prabhu, rakhaho nācana—You have made me dance time and again, now please stop.”
Ignoring faults and nourishing good qualities
Due to my ignorance during my initial days in the maṭha as a fulltime brahmacari, I unknowingly compelled my most worshipful gurupāda-padma to go out of his way to accommodate and tolerate the many heart-binding knots within my heart. I ignorantly engaged he who is worthy of my service in serving me. Because Guru Mahārāja is a limitless reservoir of parental affection and compassion, he nurtured me as his own child and engaged me in his service. Through this, he exemplified the role of an adoṣa-darśī, or one who ignores the faults of others. Observing the tiniest, most miniscule amount of good qualities in me, he nourished those qualities and thereby inspired me to move forward on the path of bhakti.
Following the principle “bhṛtyasya paśyati gurūn api nāparādhān—do not see the offenses of the sevaka,” Guru Mahārāja very compassionately allowed such a completely unqualified and offensive person as me to render all types of services, without restriction. Moreover, he accepted service from me even during the final days of his physical presence in this world, and also accepted my service of putting him in samādhi with my own hands under the guidance of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Promoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja.