[November 11, 2019 is the appearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana, India. Below is an excerpt of his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja]
UNPARALLELED SERVICE TO ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA'S BRHAD-MRDANGA
In 1922, at the age of twenty-four, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja (then Śrī Prāṇavānanda Brahmacārī) accepted complete shelter at the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda on the most auspicious day of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī. On that day, he accepted both harināma and dīkṣā initiations and engaged himself exclusively in the service of the maṭha. Previously, he had been a science student who later switched to studying the arts. After finishing his secondary schooling and receiving his Indian School Certificate, he went on to study the arts at the university level and acquired a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Knowing Śrī Prāṇavānanda Brahmacārī to be well educated, Śrīla Prabhupāda called him near and said, “I desire to publish a daily spiritual newspaper titled Dainika Nadiyā Prakāśa, and I want you to be its editor.”
Śrī Prāṇavānanda Brahmacārī asked Śrīla Prabhupāda, “What are the duties of an editor?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “When you begin your service and start publishing the newspaper, you will automatically understand what must be done. When a devotee accepts the responsibility of performing a service with the intention of pleasing Śrī Hari, guru and Vaiṣṇavas, then they themselves reveal all the necessary knowledge to him and invest him with the required competence to properly perform that service. There is no need to externally advise or instruct him on what must be done.”
Under the editorship of Śrī Prāṇavānanda Brahmacārī, Dainika Nadīyā Prakāśa preserved and broadcasted the teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and when it was distributed among the masses, it illuminated the whole world with its literary and spiritual excellence. Contemporary scholars were baffled that someone was publishing a spiritual newspaper, and that too on a daily basis.
I heard the following instance from the lotus mouth of Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja himself.
Once, while speaking with Śrīla Prabhupāda at Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha in Bāgbāzār, Kolkata, Śrī Madana-mohana Malaviya, the founder of the world- famous Banaras Hindu University in Vārāṇasī, Uttar Pradesh, with great astonishment asked him, “For how long will you be able to run this Dainika Nadīyā Prakāśa? From where will you obtain the great number of spiritual articles needed to keep it in print every day?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, “Your astonishment pales in comparison to the astonishment I feel in seeing that you, a person regarded as foremost among the best scholars of India, is expressing wonder about these concerns. This material creation is merely the reflection of a quarter of the transcendental creation.
“Across the globe, countless newspapers are published every day in different languages, and this earth planet is only one part of the fourteen-fold planetary system, which belongs to just one of the innumerable brahmāṇḍas in the material creation. Despite the mundanity of the articles in these newspapers, everyone feels they are ever-fresh. Therefore, why would you be astonished about the daily publishing of but one newspaper, the Dainika Nadīyā Prakāśa, which focuses on the transcendental spiritual world? In fact, we have enough transcendental content about the spiritual realm to publish numerous daily newspapers for all eternity.”
For approximately seventy-five years of his life— from the time Śrīla Prabhupāda was physically present until well after Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure— Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja experienced great internal bliss in his persistent and enthusiastic service of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s bṛhad-mṛdaṅga, his printing press.
I personally witnessed how he engaged in publication services, even in his advanced age. In his later years, his bent back prevented him from sitting straight and from writing for long periods of time, and so he used a wooden plank to support his back and continue writing. Although his hands trembled from the effect of old age and his previously elegant handwriting gradually became less legible, he never stopped writing. Despite his advanced age, he never discontinued his service to the bṛhad-mṛdaṅga, for Śrīla Prabhupāda had personally entrusted this service to him.
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s untiring service has greatly benefitted each and every devotee among the Sārasvata Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. During the time Śrīla Prabhupāda was physically present, Śrīla Mahārāja served as the editor of Dainika Nadīyā Prakāśa, wrote articles for the weekly Gauḍīya magazine, and rendered various services for the publication of different scriptures, including an edition of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary and his own introductionary overviews of each chapter entitled Kathā-sāra. After Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance, he became the editor of the monthly magazine Gauḍīya and, later, Śrī Caitanya- vāṇī, which was founded by my gurupāda- padma. Additionally, he wrote numerous articles for a number of other magazines, and he edited and published many scholarly books.
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s publication services presented each of the truly sincere followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda with an opportunity to obtain their highest spiritual welfare. For this, the Śrī Sārasvata Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas remain eternally indebted and forever grateful to him.
Whether Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja is acknowledged or not, all the Gauḍīya Maṭha branches and sub-branches established in the wake of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s disappearance— as well as those that will be established in the future—bear a strong, unbreakable relation, whether direct or indirect, to the transcendental words (vāṇī) expounded in his literary contributions. No respectable, virtuous person will ever deny this.
COMPLETE DEPENDENCE ON BHAGAVĀN
The various disturbances that manifested within the Gauḍīya Maṭha institution following the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda inspired Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja and his godbrother Śrī Ānanda-līlā-maya Prabhu to relocate to a place on the banks of the Gaṅgā in Kālanā, a town in the district of Bardhamāna. Kālanā was sanctified by the foot dust of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu during Their visit there.
During one of his preaching missions to England, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja met the king of Bardhamāna. In 1959, on the recommendation of Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja, the king donated the ancient Ananta-vāsudeva Temple in Kālanā to Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja. At that time, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja had already been serving his personal deities Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Gopīnātha for a considerably long time. Honoring the king’s request, he then began serving both Ananta-vāsudeva and Śrī Śrī Rādha-Gopīnātha with great love and affection.
The arcana (deity worship) performed by liberated personalities—for instance, the worship of Śrī Gopāla by Śrīla Mādhavendra Purīpāda, Śrī Govinda-deva by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmīpāda, Śrī Madana-mohana by Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmīpāda, Śrī Rādhā-vinoda by Lokanātha dāsa Gosvāmī, śrī girirāja-śilā by Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmīpāda, Śrī Rādhā-ramaṇa by Śrīla Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmīpāda, Śrī Vṛndāvana-candra by Śrīla Kavirāja Gosvāmī, Śrīman Mahāprabhu by Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, Śrī Syāmasundara by Śrīla Śyāmānanda Prabhu, Śrī Śrī Rādha-Gokulānanda by Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, Śrī Rādha-vijaya by Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa Prabhu and the many deities served by recent ācāryas—is not the same as the arcana performed by ordinary conditional souls. The difference between them is like that between heaven and hell.
Liberated personalities are able to realize the transcendental non-difference between the three forms of Bhagavān: His name, His deity form and His intrinsic form (svarūpa). Therefore, they are able to serve Him in an appropriate mood. But the conditioned souls, lacking such transcendental realization, must abide by the prescribed rules and regulations when performing deity worship.
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was fully renounced throughout his entire life. He always considered serving Śrīla Prabhupāda’s printing press, a service that was entrusted to him by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, to be his primary objective. When the opportunity arose to perform other services, he would perform them with great sincerity, but he never developed such an attachment to them as he did to serving Śrīla Prabhupāda by publishing spiritual literature.
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja never directed even a fraction of his energy toward intentionally collecting money, attracting followers, garnering recognition or acquiring land. He would always say, “A person is lead to that in which he invests his energy.”
As part of his daily deity worship, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja would bathe the deities in water he personally fetched from the nearby Gaṅgā, offer Them bhoga and then perform āratī. When he would go out to collect bhikṣa (alms), Śrī Ānanda-līlā-maya Prabhu would serve the deities, and conversely, when Śrī Ānanda-līlā-maya Prabhu would collect bhikṣa, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja would serve the deities.
Once, Guru Mahārāja sent me a letter when I was in Kolkata. He wrote, “To commemorate the appearance day of Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, Śrī Purī Mahārāja is arranging for a festival to be held at the Ananta-vāsudeva temple in Kālanā on Maghī-pūrṇimā (the full moon day in January-February). It would be good if you could assist him. I have also asked Śrī Kṛṣṇa-keśava Prabhu, Śrī Madhu-mathana Prabhu, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Prabhu and others in Māyāpura to join the festivities.”
When I reached Kālanā one day before the festival, I saw that the devotees Guru Mahārāja had mentioned in his letter were already there. Also present were Dr. S.N. Ghoṣa and Dr. Navīna Rañjana Sena Gupta, both of whom were disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda and residents of Kolkata. That evening, I asked Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “Śrīla Mahārāja, is something wrong? I noticed there is nothing to cook, nor are there any cooking utensils. There are not even flowers with which to decorate the temple for tomorrow’s festival. What has happened?”
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja replied, “Śrī Ānanda-līlā-maya Prabhu never mentioned anything to me. I suppose these things will be managed somehow.”
Feeling dumbfounded, I thought, “Śrīla Mahārāja has invited so many people to this festival, but he is not the slightest bit worried that, as of yet, nothing has been arranged. Moreover, I do not understand why Śrīla Mahārāja has mentioned Śrī Ānanda-līlā-maya Prabhu’s name. To the best of my knowledge, Śrī Ānanda-līlā-maya Prabhu was never made responsible for arranging anything. Who knows what deep bhāva, what confidential mood Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja must be experiencing.” Although I tried, I was unable to ignore my concern. I asked Śrī Ānanda-līlā-maya Prabhu about the situation, but I was unconvinced by his reply. Thus, I returned to Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja and asked, “Mahārāja, when and from where are the ingredients for preparing bhoga to arrive?”
Śrīla Mahārāja replied,“I cannot say, but I have firm faith that by the will of Bhagavān, everything will be just fine.”
“Certainly,” I replied. I then asked, “Is it possible to borrow large pots and cooking utensils from someone nearby?”
He replied, “Śrī Prakṛti Bhūṣana Datta lives close by. He is the chairman of the Kālanā municipality and has many such items. You can ask him.”
Early the next morning, on the day of the festival, I went to the house of Śrī Prakṛti Bhūṣaṇa Datta and knocked on the door. When he sluggishly approached the entryway, I realized I had just woken him. I first offered my apologies and then explained the reason for my visit. Without asking any questions or saying anything, he called for his servant and gave him the keys to the room where the pots and utensils were kept. “Let him take whatever he needs,” he said.
After I brought all the necessary pots and utensils to the maṭha, all the devotees cleaned them. In the meantime, a couple of persons had brought a few meager ingredients for cooking bhoga, but the amount was far from sufficient. After I placed large pots of water on the stoves to boil, I sat back and waited for more ingredients to arrive. Within a very short time, people began to arrive one after another, like a line of ants, offering scores of items, like jaggery, sugar, rice, pulses, flour, vegetables, milk and curd.
Suddenly, there was no shortage at all; the maṭha appeared as if it were a grocery. Seeing the abundance, I was reminded of a verse from Bhagavad-gītā (9.22):
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ
ye janāḥ paryupāsate
yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
For those who are devoid of other desires, who are always absorbed in contemplating Me and who always worship Me, I personally carry their necessities and preserve what they presently have.
I considered myself fortunate to witness such a practical example of this verse manifest before me. My bliss knew no end.
Seeing that no one was available to cook for the festival, I gratefully accepted the responsibility and cooked under the guidance of Śrīpāda Kṛṣṇa-keśava Brahmacārī, who used to cook for Śrīla Prabhupāda. Never before had I cooked for so many people at one time. I cooked all the preparations ordered by Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, and did not stop until everyone was fully satisfied. Lunch prasāda was served the entire afternoon until evening approached. Innumerable devotees honored that prasāda. Many of them even took some prasāda home with them, but still there was no scarcity. In fact, the remaining ingredients were so plentiful that they lasted an entire month. Even so, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was as indifferent toward saving those ingredients as he was toward collecting them from the start. He was genuinely unconcerned for the future, and appeared to be the embodiment of the following verse:
alabdhe vā vinaṣṭe vā
harim eva dhiyā smaret
Even if a practitioner of devotion is unable to obtain the necessities of life or if he loses something after obtaining it, he should remain untroubled and continue remembering Śrī Hari.
Organizing a festival after having first collected all the necessary items is not the same as organizing a festival without having collected anything in advance. One way or another, Bhagavān undoubtedly fulfills the desires of a surrendered devotee. By Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s mercy, I was able to attend this most memorable and distinctly unique festival and thereby, for the first time in my life, gain the opportunity to receive darśana of several deities, including Śrī Śrī Gaura-Nityānanda Prabhu served by Śrī Gaurīdāsa Paṇḍitajī; the deities established by Śrī Surya-kānta Sarakhela, the father of Śrīman Nityānanda Prabhu’s wives, Śrī Jāhnavā devī and Śrī Vasudhā devī; the tamarind tree associated with Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s pastimes; the deity of Śrī Nāma-brahma served by Śrī Bhagavān dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja; as well as a number of other worshipful deities and places in Kālanā.
I attended many festivals organized by Śrī Gopīnātha Gauḍīya Maṭha, the maṭha established by Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, both while he was present in this world and after his disappearance, when his disciple Śrī Bhakti Bibudha Bodhāyana Mahārāja began organizing the festivals. I can say that although modern convenience has made it relatively easy to arrange extravagant festivals, I never again saw a festival as remarkable as the one I experienced in Kālanā, for which no prior arrangements were made. Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s transcendental glories manifested at that festival, and witnessing them firsthand left a deep impression on my heart.
SEEING ONLY VIRTUES, IGNORING FAULTS
Once, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked me to write a report about the spiritual activities happening at the Gokula branch of Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, where I was staying at the time. The report was to be published in Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha’s monthly magazine, Śrī Caitanya-vāṇī. Although I had no previous experience in composing articles for publication, I followed Śrīla Mahārāja’s instruction, considering it to be non-different from that of my Guru Mahārāja.
I sent my finalized report to him with a cover letter stating, “Śrīla Mahārāja-jī, although I have no prior journalistic experience, I have written this report to the best of my limited ability. Please accept whatever you deem adequate and reject the rest.” When the report was published in Śrī Caitanya-vāṇī, I noticed that he had published it exactly as I had sent it, with not a single word omitted or changed.
The next time I met with Śrīla Mahārāja, he told me, “Your writing was quite erudite. I did not find anything out of place or in need of editing, so I kept everything as it was.”
Hearing this reminded me of how Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī described Śrī Haridāsa Paṇḍita, the pūjārī of the Śrī Govinda-deva temple, in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi-līlā 8.62) by saying, “Vaiṣṇavera guṇa-grāhī, nā dekhaye doṣa— He accepted the good qualities of the Vaiṣṇavas and ignored their faults.” Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s conduct—not only in this instance, but throughout his life—served as proof that he too possessed this special quality of seeing only the positive attributes of others.
In earlier times during Ratha-yātrā, the festival management used to arrange a special area in front of the chariots where devotees could perform kīrtana without any disturbance; common people were not permitted to enter there. Once, while Gauḍīya Maṭha devotees were performing kīrtana in that area under the guidance of my Guru Mahārāja, the servants, or paṇḍās of Lord Jagannātha became so ecstatic by hearing the kīrtana that they lifted Guru Mahārāja on their shoulders and forcibly carried him onto the Lord’s chariot.
Meanwhile, absorbed in the mood experienced by the vraja-gopīs when they meet with Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Kurukṣetra, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was dancing and singing the following song in front of the chariot:
sei tô’ parāṇa-nātha pāinu
ĵāhā lāgi’ madana-dahane jhuri’ genu
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā, 13.113)
Now I have gained the Lord of My life, in the absence of whom I was being burned by Cupid and was withering away.
While Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja was fully absorbed in singing this kīrtana, all the devotees around him also became immersed in the same mood of meeting and were feeling jubilant. A pickpocket used this opportunity to steal Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s wallet from his bag. Since most of the devotees were absorbed in the kīrtana, no one noticed except one of my godbrothers, Śrī Nārāyaṇa Brahmacārī (later known as Śrī Bhakti Prasāda Purī Mahārāja), who rushed forward and caught the pickpocket.
While restraining the thief, Śrī Nārāyaṇa Brahmacārī desperately tried to get the attention of Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, but Śrīla Mahārāja was so absorbed in kīrtana that he didn’t pay any attention to his words. When Śrī Nārāyaṇa Brahmacārī tried more insistently, Śrīla Mahārāja suddenly became very upset and chastised him, “Why are you disturbing me? Let him take the money. Money will come and go, but the mood that we are experiencing at this moment may not come again.”
Among the people who witnessed this, who could truly understand Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s internal mood or the cause of his irritation? It is only when one is highly sincere and spiritually mature—or in other words, completely surrendered—that one will be able to even notice such a subtle thing, what to speak of understand it. Therefore, although a praṇayi-bhakta may be present before us, and though we may personally witness his conduct, we will be unable to recognize him until we become completely sincere and surrender ourselves to his will. Without sincerity and surrender, we will not realize that his activities are those of a mahā-bhāgavata, and not of an ordinary devotee.
It is only when we become truly sincere that a praṇayi-bhakta, out of his non-duplicitous mercy, reveals his true identity and exalted position. At such a time, we will be able to not only understand the conduct of the praṇayi- bhaktas, but also keep it in our mind and heart and preserve it by imbibing it in our lives. By the mercy of those elevated Vaiṣṇavas, we will be granted the vision to clearly understand the true form of their transcendental activities and the deep moods behind them.
There is no possibility that praṇayi- bhaktas will manifest their mercy in a place where a fault in surrender is present. In the absence of their mercy, we will remain unable to recognize such advanced personalities, and because of this, we will at times misconstrue their conduct as being improper.
mahat-kṛpā binā kona karme ‘bhakti’ naya
kṛṣṇa-bhakti dūre rahu, saṁsāra nahe kṣaya
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.51)
One cannot attain bhakti without the mercy of a great devotee. What to speak of kṛṣṇa- bhakti, one cannot even be relieved from the bondage of material existence.
Therefore, it is only when one receives the mercy of praṇayi-bhaktas that one can identify both praṇayi-bhaktas and those who are sincere in their efforts to become praṇayi-bhaktas.
We have seen that if anyone would give even a single rupee to Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, he would take it, touch it to his forehead and then very carefully keep it in his bag, saying, “This money has been sent by Śrīla Prabhupāda for the service of Bhagavān.” But in the above-mentioned incident, Śrīla Mahārāja has said, “Let them take my money, but do not bother me.” Why is it that he has in one instance shown deep respect for an object he considers to be sent by his Guru Mahārāja for the service of Bhagavān, but in another instance has exhibited disregard for that very same object? Through this, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja is demonstrating that when one is absorbed in performing a higher service, a smaller service may be automatically neglected. There is no consideration of loss or harm in this.
Many people were present when the pickpocket was stealing Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s money, and each reacted to the incident according to his respective qualification. The senior Vaiṣṇavas, who were fully absorbed in kīrtana and relishing the divine moods of the Ratha-yātrā festival, were not at all agitated, whereas the junior, neophyte devotees who hurried to apprehend and punish the pickpocket must have felt disappointed when Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja chastised them for disturbing his mood.
When I witnessed this incident, I was reminded of a verse from Bhagavad-gītā: (2.69):
yā niśā sarva-bhūtānāṁ
tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī
yasyāṁ jāgrati bhūtāni
sā niśā paśyato muneḥ
Intelligence related to the soul is like night for common, materialistic persons. However, a steady and controlled person with fixed intelligence remains awake in that same intelligence. The common person remains awake when intelligence is engaged in sense objects, but for he who perceives the Absolute Truth, this same situation is like night.
Materialistic persons are conscious only of things related to this material world, and their concern for collecting money is such that they may fight over a single penny. They have no time to think about their true, spiritual welfare (paramārtha), nor are they the least bit bothered to inquire about it. Conversely, those who are completely aware of ātma-tattva, or the truth about the soul, always endeavor to accrue their real, transcendental wealth; they do not waste even a single moment by caring for material possessions, knowing well that such things hold no true value.
In accordance with this verse from Bhagavad-gītā, I could observe that the senior Vaiṣṇavas participating in Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s kīrtana were completely absorbed mood similar to his. Due to their absorption, they were oblivious to the pickpocket. The neophyte devotees, however, were oblivious to the senior Vaiṣṇavas’ absorption, and so their priority was to apprehend the pickpocket.
PARIKRAMĀ WITHOUT THE ASSOCIATION OF PRAṆAYI-BHAKTAS IS NOT PARIKRAMĀ
I had the good fortune of performing parikramā of Śrī Navadvīpa-dāma, Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala, North India and South India with my Guru Mahārāja and many other disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. They carried deeply intense feelings of separation within their hearts, and their words were so powerful that we would experience great bliss in their association, despite our being engaged in the physical labor of organizing the parikramā from morning until night.
Once, during Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā in Govardhana, the parikramā party reached Govinda-kuṇḍa later than the scheduled time.
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja addressed the assembled devotees, saying, “Although it is very late and I am not a capable speaker, Śrī Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Mahārāja has given me the service of speaking about every place we visit by reading excerpts from Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Bhakti-ratnākara and other scriptures in which the glories of those places have been described. I do not mind speaking here, but it is late and there are still many other places we must go. You all must be feeling quite hungry. Therefore, I will speak only if you are willing to listen; otherwise, we will take darśana of the other places now and speak their glories when time permits, so that you may take prasāda sooner rather than later.”
Everyone replied, as if in unison, “Food is plentifully available in our homes. We have come to perform parikramā and taste the nectar you are pouring into our ears. We are not here to simply eat, drink and sleep. Please kindly narrate the pastimes associated with these places we are visiting.”
At that time, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja began reading from Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta about the pastimes of Śrī Mādhavendra Purīpāda, as well as the glories of Govinda-kuṇḍa and the pastimes that took place there. Next, he spoke on the glories of Girirāja- Govardhana and recited Śrī Govardhana- vāsa-prārthanā-daśakam, composed by Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, in which Śrīla Dāsa Gosvāmī prays, “nija-nikaṭa-nivāsaṁ dehi govardhana! tvam—O Girirāja-Govardhana! Please give me residence close to you.”
The entire assembly listened very attentively and remained so quiet that anyone could have heard a pin drop. Tears flowed from the eyes of many, and nobody experienced hunger or thirst; all were fully absorbed in hari-kathā.
Nowadays, the devotees performing and arranging parikramā do not have to undergo the same level of strenuous labor as devotees did in the past; they have sufficient time to relax and hear hari- kathā. Despite this, we do not see the type of bliss we used to experience during parikramā manifesting in the current parikramā parties.
When we perform parikramā in the association of praṇayi-bhaktas, there is never any time for nonsense; rather, we become completely focused on hearing, chanting and remembering. Only in the association of such exalted devotees can one understand and realize the real benefit of performing parikramā.
HEARING THE GLORIES OF THE DHĀMA IS TRUE DHĀMA-PARIKRAMA
Our parikramā party once stayed at Vṛndāvana Daravājā Dharmaśālā in Mathurā during Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā. It had rained heavily that particular year, and so Yamunā’s water level was much higher than normal. Due to his advanced age, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja walked slowly and generally remained in the back of the parikramā procession. My service at that time was to trail behind and prevent pilgrims from becoming separated from the group. Fortunately, this gave me the opportunity to walk beside Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja and hear him comment on the glories of each place we passed.
Noticing the locals passing urine and stool very close to the ghāṭas, many pilgrims in our parikramā party would spit in disgust as they walked past those places and remain fixated on it, keeping it as a topic of discussion for much of the parikramā. Seeing this, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja expressed his displeasure with these pilgrims by saying, “These people have not come here to have darśana of the dhāma, but of stool and urine. The proper method of having darśana involves hearing the glories of the dhāma from the lips of a realized Vaiṣṇava sādhu. These pilgrims have yet to realize that actual, authentic darśana cannot be attained through one’s material senses.”
THE SEVERITY OF OFFENDING VAIṢṆAVAS
Once, my godbrother Śrī Viṣṇu dāsa (later known as Śrī Bhakti Viveka Paramārthī Mahārāja) and I accompanied Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja on a train from Kolkata to Purī. While the train was standing on the platform at Howrah Station in Kolkata, a wealthy man, in the presence of many other passengers, spoke to Śrī Viṣṇu Prabhu in a rude manner, cursing at him and calling him many derogatory names.
The nature of Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja exactly mirrored scripture’s description of extraordinary personalities: “vajrād api kaṭhorāṇi mṛdūni kusumād api— harder than a thunderbolt and softer than a flower.” When the same wealthy man who had cursed Śrī Viṣṇu Prabhu tried to offer praṇāmī to Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, in whom the qualities of sweetness and softness were prominent, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja manifested his quality of forcefulness and strongly rejected his offer. He told the man, “You have committed vaiṣṇava-aparādha. What to speak of accepting an offering, I do not even want to speak to or keep any relation with a person like you.”
The wealthy man said, “Mahārāja, I want to serve you. Please be merciful and accept this small offering from me.”
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja said, “If I accept service from you, I too will be implicated in your offense. I will never accept anything from you.”
Despite his insistence, the wealthy man was unsuccessful in his attempts to persuade Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja to accept his offering. Unfortunately, he was unable to pick up on Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s subtle hint that he should ask forgiveness from Śrī Viṣṇu dāsa for his offence.
GREAT EAGERNESS TO SERVE THE SUPREME LORD
One night, the deity Śrī Gopīnātha-jiu of Agradvīpa, Śrī Gauḍa-maṇdala appeared to Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja in a dream. Previously, Śrī Gopīnātha-jiu was served and worshipped by the expert singers and eternal associates of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Śrī Govinda Ghoṣa and his two brothers, Śrī Vāsudeva Ghoṣa and Śrī Mādhava Ghoṣa. In this dream, Śrī Gopīnātha-jiu expressed His desire to eat sweet rice cooked by Śrīla Mahārāja.
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja gave fulfilling Śrī Gopīnātha’s desire the highest priority. Without delay, he inconspicuously hired four rikśaws early that very morning with the help of Śrī Bhūpen Mitra and departed for Agradvīpa with great enthusiasm. Several devotees, including my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Nīlaya Maṅgala Mahārāja and myself, accompanied him. As soon as we arrived, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja prepared sweet rice for Śrī Gopīnātha-jiu.
Previous to this experience, I had no knowledge of that place, nor had I known Śrī Gopīnātha-jiu resided there. It is due to Śrīla Mahārāja’s mercy that I was able to have darśana of Śrī Gopīnātha-jiu.
DHĀMA-PARIKRAMĀ IS A LIMB OF DIETY WORSHIP
During Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā, Guru Mahārāja would respectfully engage Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja in leading the parikramā party. In this way all the pilgrims could perform parikramā under Śrīla Mahārāja’s senior guidance.
Every morning in the maṭha, before the parikramā party departed, a number of devotees and I would serve prasāda to the sannyāsīs, brahmacārīs and pilgrims. Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Guru Mahārāja, however, would not accept prasāda at that time; I noticed they would accept prasāda only after our parikramā reached Yogapīṭha and they had darśana of the deities. I requested Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “Please kindly explain the reason you and Guru Mahārāja have only now accepted prasāda here at Yogapīṭha, and not in our maṭha this morning. I am unable to understand the mysterious principle behind your conduct.”
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja replied, “Dhāma-parikramā is a limb of arcana (deity worship). Just as a pūjārī accepts prasāda only after completing his arcana, and is thereby not obliged to fast until the midday offering, we do not accept prasāda until our first darśana of the day and do not observe any further fasting.”
EVERYTHING GIVEN BY VAIṢṆAVAS IS TRANSCENDENTAL
Raw rice belongs to the mode of goodness and when it is cooked, it is suitable for offering to Bhagavān. Therefore, the only rice prasāda I would accept was that which had been cooked from raw grains. This habit was shared by Guru Mahārāja and Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, as well.
Once, during a deity installation festival I attended with Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja at Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Saurabha Bhaktisāra Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s maṭha, we were served parboiled (processed) rice. As I hesitatingly stared at my plate, Śrīla Bhaktisāra Gosvāmī Mahārāja requested us to begin honoring prasāda. Knowing well that I would not accept processed rice, Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja looked at me and said, “A Vaiṣṇava has ordered us to accept prasāda. Everything offered by the Vaiṣṇavas is nirguṇa, or transcendental and free from the effects of the three modes of material nature.” He then began honoring prasāda. Humbled by Śrīla Mahārāja’s personal conduct, I decided to accept processed rice for the first time in my life. I began honoring the rice prasāda for the pleasure of the Vaiṣṇavas.
Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja gave greater significance to a transcendental item given by a Vaiṣṇava than to his own personal vow. By observing this, I received a profound teaching: a person may strictly maintain vows in order to attain objects belonging to this fourteen-fold planetary system, but bhakti can be attained only by giving precedence to vaiṣṇava-sevā. Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja personally lived this teaching.
HIS UNPRECEDENTED HONOR FOR ALL VAIṢṆAVAS
One of the services I was assigned during Vraja-maṇḍala parikramā was to provide the disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura with hot water for their morning bath. Each time I would bring Śrīla Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja his bucket of hot water, he would first sprinkle a few drops of that water on his head. I heard him explain, “This water has been brought by a Vaiṣṇava. Everything given by a Vaiṣṇava is prasāda, his mercy. How, then, can I use this water to wash my feet? Before using it, I must first honor it by touching it to my head. Only then will I use it to wash my body. I must treat this water in the same manner as the remnants given by senior Vaiṣṇavas, like clothes and other items. Such items are tangible manifestations of the Vaiṣṇavas’ mercy, and can be utilized to aid in our service if necessary.”