Glorification of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja
By Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pramoda Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja
THE APPEARANCE OF AN EXTRAORDINARY PERSONALITY
Śrī Bhagavān arranged for His intimate associate Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī to appear in a devotional atmosphere in an aristocratic family. The virtues he displayed—for instance, his righteous character, his attachment to religiosity, and his fearless and vehement opposition of wrongdoing— roused the amazement of his relatives and wise acquaintances, who made him the sole topic of their discussions. They predicted he would soon prove to be an extraordinary personality.
TAKING SHELTER OF ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA
When Śrīpāda Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī first arrived in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura in 1915, he was highly fortunate to obtain the darśana of paramārādhyatama Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lotus feet, as well as the opportunity to extensively hear hari-kathā from him. In 1919, he took shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lotus feet, becoming a lifelong celibate, and began living permanently in Vraja-pattana Śrī Caitanya Maṭha, where he surrendered his life to engage in earnest spiritual inquiry and cultivate a disposition of servitude. Thus, he received plentiful teachings from his śrī gurudeva on the truths of dharma and scriptural conclusions.
Śrī Vinoda-bīhārī Brahmacārī paid particular attention to what Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke on the topic of māyāvāda, or the delusional doctrine of monism: it is a notion lethal to devotion and kills the soul. Śrīman Mahāprabhu did not accept this philosophy in any way, but rather deemed it antagonistic to bhakti. Hence, it is entirely unsanctioned by Him. Brahmacārījī firmly assimilated these teachings in his heart, where they became deeply rooted. Accordingly, he collected some ten to twelve commentaries on the philosophic treatise of Vedānta by various authors and, having studied these works, gave speeches at Cuttack’s Ravenshaw College and other learned communities on the irrationality and inauthenticity of Śaṅkara’s doctrine. Later, the essential points of his speeches were published in the Gauḍīya Maṭha’s daily newsletter at the time, Dainika Nadīyā Prakāśa. He expounded the concepts of Brahma-sūtra primarily on the basis of Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s teachings concerning the worship of the holy name. He wrote:
“The word brahma factually refers to śabda-brahma, or divine sound vibration. This śabda-brahma is what Śrīman Mahāprabhu preached as śrī- nāma-brahma, divinity incarnated as the holy name. The notion that brahma is a formless, indistinguishable, featureless oblivion is not mentioned anywhere in the approximately five hundred fifty axioms of Brahma-sūtra. If brahma is devoid of qualities, then surely brahma is not of a compassionate nature. Śrī Vedavyāsa did not mention the words nirākāra (formless), nirviśeṣa (indistinct) or nirguṇa (featureless) anywhere in Vedānta-sūtra.”
CLASSIFYING THE VARIOUS BUDDHAS
Once, Svāmījī was giving a weeklong lecture series on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the village of Śrī Rāmapura, near Chuñchurā, at the Sanskrit school of the respected attorney Śrīyūta Phaṇibhūṣaṇa Cakravartī Śāstrī M.A., B.L. During that time, he discovered that his host had a huge library, which he received the opportunity to peruse. Among the many books, a volume of Buddhist origin, titled Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra, drew his attention, and he borrowed it from the lawyer to study. At one place in this book, it is written: “Rāvaṇa used to take a plane to the top of the tallest mountain to visit Buddha, who had come there, and discuss advaitavāda, the doctrine of monism.” Svāmījī quotes this Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra as scriptural evidence on page twenty of his Māyāvādera Jīvanī. Thus, he collected historical evidence of advaita-vādīs dating all the way back to Treta-yuga.
Once, in 1946, while Svāmījī was observing ūrjā-vrata in Kāśī, he made a trip to Buddha-Gayā, where he discovered that the temples were under the care of a distinguished Śaṅkarācārya mahanta of the advaita-vādī lineage in accordance with traditions dating back to ancient times. That mahanta was essentially the proprietor of Buddha-Gayā.
Out of curiosity, Swāmī-jī asked the mahanta, “How is a renowned ācārya of the Śaṅkara lineage the head of the Buddhist maṭha? Is Śaṅkara’s lineage a sect of Buddhism?” The mahanta, being somewhat displeased, gave him a book called Lalita-vistāra to consult. Evidence from the twenty-first chapter (page one hundred seventy-eight) of this book is cited on page nineteen of Māyāvādera Jīvanī: “The Śākya Buddha decided that Buddha-Gayā, the birthplace of the previous, ancient Buddha, was the appropriate place for him to attain perfection, and so he sat beneath a fig tree and performed his austerities.”
Svāmī-jī has written: “The ancient name of this Buddha-Gayā is Kīkaṭa. Buddha-deva’s deity is still worshipped at this place by the ‘Giri’ sannyāsī leadership of the Śaṅkara lineage. They accept that Buddha-Gayā is the birthplace of the ancient, original Buddha, the Viṣṇu-Buddha. It is where the Śākya-siṁha Buddha performed spiritual practice to attain liberation. This clearly proves that the ancient avatāra Buddha and the more recent Gautama Buddha are not the same. In the Amara-koṣa dictionary, Lord Buddha’s other name is given as ‘Samanta-Bhadra.’ Samanta-Bhadra is listed among the Bodhisattvas, while Gautama is one of the mortal Buddhas. He became renowned by the name ‘Buddha’ after attaining enlightenment. Thus, we know there are three classifications of Buddhas: the mortal Buddhas, the Bodhisattva Buddhas and the original Buddha.”
HIS DISDAIN FOR MĀYĀVĀDA
Svāmī-jī especially cautioned practitioners pursuing the path of devotion to entirely reject the animosity to bhakti that is māyāvāda and to avoid the company of Māyāvādīs, which is lethal to devotion. To this end, he quotes various statements by Śrī Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, headed by “māyāvādī-bhāṣya śunile haya sarva-nāśa—if you listen to the doctrine of Māyāvādīs, you will meet with utter ruin” (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā, 6.169).
He also cites Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura:
viṣaya-vimūḍha āra māyāvādī-jana
bhakti-śunya duñhe prāṇa dhare akāraṇa
The materialist engrossed in pleasures and the impersonalist Māyāvādī are both bereft of bhakti and therefore lead meaningless lives.
se du’yera madhye viṣayī tabu bhālô
māyāvādi-saṅga nāhi māgi kono kāla
Of the two, the materialist is still better. I never want the company of a Māyāvādī.
māyāvāda-doṣa ĵāra hṛdaya paśila
kutarke hṛdaya tāra vajra-sama bhela
Once the blight of Māyāvāda enters a person’s heart, various corrupting contentions render it as harsh as a thunderbolt.
bhaktira svarūpa āra ‘viṣaya,’ ‘āśraya’
māyāvādī ‘anitya’ bôliyā saba kaya
The Māyāvādī deems the nature of devotion, along with its object and subject, to be temporary.
dhik tā’ra kṛṣṇa-sevā śravaṇa kīrtana
kṛṣṇa-aṅge vajra-hāne tāhāra stavana
Fie on their service of Kṛṣṇa, their so-called hearing and chanting. Their praise of Kṛṣṇa amounts to hurling bolts of lightning at Him.
māyāvāda-sama bhakti pratikūla nāi
ataeva māyāvādī-saṅga nāhi cāi
There is nothing more unfavorable to devotion than Māyāvāda. Therefore, I do not want the company of Māyāvādīs.
In this way, Svāmī-jī’s efforts to refute the doctrine of māyāvāda and thereby elicit the hearty pleasure of Bhakti-devī, the goddess of devotion, is a primary facet of his bhāgavata-jīvana, his transcendental life dedicated to the Lord.
A MIRACULOUS OCCURRENCE
For several unavoidable reasons, Brahmacārī-jī left Śrī Caitanya Maṭha in great sadness in June of 1940. In 1941, he accepted sannyāsa and rented a house on 33-2 Bose-pāḍā Lane in the Bāgbāzār neighborhood, where he founded Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti on the day of Akṣaya-tṛtiyā. During this period, an extraordinary incident occurred.
It must have been 1941 or ’42 on the day of Ekādasī, when Svāmī-jī was sitting in his room at 33-2 Bosa-pāḍā Lane, the location of his Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti, and his godbrother Śrīpāda Nārāyaṇa dāsa Mukhopādhyāya Sevā-suhṛt Prabhu made the trip from his home at 14 Pharadais Lane to visit him. He arrived in the morning, and the two passed a significant amount of time talking. Seeing his guest preparing to return home, Mahārāja was keen to offer him something to eat, but at the time, he did not have single paisā at hand. He could not even offer batāsā (small hollow sugar puffs) with water. Was he to simply bid his godbrother goodbye like this? Mahārāja, a son of nobility, began to weep at heart.
At that very moment, a sparrow— sent by the Lord, presumably—perched itself on the wall of the house and dropped a small packet down the ventilator shaft. The packet fell into the room and landed on the floor with a sound. When Śrī Keśava Mahārāja opened it, he saw there were six ānās inside (about 35 paisā). “Surely, the gods have sent this,” he thought. Summoning a brahmacārī sevaka, he asked him to purchase some sandeśa (sweet curd) with the money. Thus, he was able to lovingly offer his godbrother Sevā-suhṛt Prabhu suitable prasāda.
After that, there was not one paisā left in his treasury by which he might have had something for himself to eat. But just then, there was a knock at the main gate. A courier had arrived. It was incredible! Blessed is the Lord, who is so affectionate to His devotees, and blessed is His transcendentally causeless mercy, which makes the impossible possible. His affection for His devotees is unprecedented. The supremely worshipful tridaṇḍi-svāmī Śrīmad Bhakti Sarvasva Giri Mahārāja, a godbrother of Mahārāja-jī who has since attained the eternal abode, had sent a money order in his name for one hundred rupees. Everyone who witnessed the incident was stunned and began to praise Śrī Śrī Guru-Gaurāṅga again and again. Although he was in the grips of extreme poverty, Svāmī-jī savored this mercy of Śrī Bhagavān and felt encouraged to always be dauntless in his readiness to render service.
WINNING THE RESPECT OF ALL
From the very beginning, when Śrī Vinoda-bihārī first came to the lotus feet of his most worshipful śrī gurudeva, Śrīla Prabhupāda entrusted him with the weighty responsibilities of maintaining the maṭha’s properties in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura and further expanding the glories of serving the most transcendental dhāma.
The guardian of ākāra maṭha-rāja Śrī Caitanya Maṭha in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, Śrīpāda Narahari Brahmacārī Sevā-vigraha, was his inseparable comrade and counterpart. Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī accomplished many services for the sake of Śrīdhāma with his companion’s consultation, thereby bringing great joy to paramārādhya Śrīla Prabhupāda.
In those days in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, the residents of Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s
dhāma respectfully addressed Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī as ‘Manager Bābu.’ Hindus and Muslims alike all regarded him as a truly beneficent friend and well-wisher. At a word from him, everyone would heed his reconciliations, which were geared toward keeping rogues in check and nurturing the gentle folk. He never indulged in any manner of wrongdoing. Because of his sound judgment and management, the poor rarely had to waste money on court visits and fees. Even the local Muslims lent their wholehearted assistance to the maṭha.
All of the local high-ranking officials —from the district magistrate of Nadīyā to the officers, attorneys, landowners and oligarchs, as well as the teachers, professors and administrators of the schools and colleges—regarded Vinoda Bābū with ubiquitous respect as an esteemed citizen and munificent gentleman whose life was dedicated to dharma. Indeed, they found themselves won over by his virtues.
Every year, he evoked profuse joy in Śrīla Prabhupāda by his otherworldly service during Śrīdhāma Navadvīpa parikramā, the festival of Śrī Gaura’s appearance at Śrī Yoga-pīṭha, the auspicious convening of Śrī Navadvīpa- dhāma Pracārinī Sabhā, as well as when an the exhibition on spiritual life was unveiled in 1929.
Aside from this, as a brahmacārī, he further evoked the happiness of his śrī gurupāda-padma by his tireless toil in establishing the printing press in the Śrīdhāma, in overseeing the printing of the daily spiritual newspaper Dainika Nadiyā Prakāśa and countless scriptural texts, in constructing Śrīdhāma’s roads and riverbanks, in supervising the land leases and in other various tasks of service.
All of the resident sevakas of the maṭha were won over by his considerate, caring interactions. In the endearing saturation of his and Śrīpāda Narahari Dā’s affectionate care, even the young pledges who had taken refuge in the maṭha were able to forego the loving arms of their mothers and fathers, all the while maintaining a healthy fear of his affectionate chastisement.
Disciples of the most worshipful Śrīla Prabhupāda were eager to approach these two godbrothers, literally dancing in delight at the prospect. In those days, Śrīdhāma Māyāpura was the life of devotee’s lives, and Vinoda Dā and Narahari Dā were everyone’s bosom friends, the dearest of their lives. Even paramārādhyatama Śrīla Prabhupāda was always eager to come to Śrīdhāma Māyāpura from the Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha in Kolkata. Upon reaching there, his heart would feel soothed and at peace. But alas, “te hi no divasā gatāḥ—those days have gone.”
Śrīdhāma Māyāpura was the very life of Śrīpāda Keśava Mahārāja. Upon being deprived of living in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, like a fish out of water, Svāmī-jī felt as if life itself was an affliction. After the disappearance of our most worshipful Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Keśava Mahārāja consulted with his inseparable confidant Śrīpāda Narahari Dā and moved to Tegharī-pādā, Koladvīpa in Śrīdhāma Navadvīpa, where he established the principal seat of his Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti.
He named the maṭha Śrī Devānanda Gauḍīya Maṭha and, on six bighās (four and one-third acres), constructed a huge, towering temple, a large nāṭya-mandira event hall, ample accommodations for the sevakas, and many other facilities. To honor the Purāṇic significance of Koladvīpa, the fifth of Navadvīpa’s nine islands, Svāmī-jī installed the deity of Śrī Bhagavān Varāhāvatāra on a separate throne next to that of Śrī Śrī Guru-Gaurāṅga Gāndharvikā-Giridhārī-jiu in a grand ceremony with a qualified ācārya priest present to conduct the necessary rituals.
Now, as of the 6 October 1968, Svāmī-jī’s transcendental form has been interred in samādhi to the west of the massive nāṭya-mandira assembly hall in front of that temple. The devotees hope to soon build a large samādhi shrine there.
Every year for some twenty-five years, pūjyapāda Mahārāja held the Ratha-yātrā festival of Śrī Śrī Jagannātha-deva from Chuñchurā’s Śrī Uddhāraṇa Gauḍīya Maṭha. Last year, in a grand event, Śrī Śrī Jagannātha-deva’s Ratha-yātrā was held at Śrī Devānanda Gauḍīya Maṭha in Śrī Koladvīpa, also.
By establishing preaching centers under Śrī Gauḍīya Vedānta Samiti in various places throughout India, pūjyapāda Keśava Mahārāja propagated
the message and verdicts of śuddha-bhakti, or pure devotion, and planted its seed in the hearts of many fortunate souls. By the impact of hearing his compelling sermons, many men and women attained the fortune of pursuing the path of pure devotion as revealed by our most worshipful Prabhupāda. Bathing and vitalizing them in the sacred current of Śrī Śrī Bhaktivinoda’s teachings, Svāmī-jī made their mortal lives successful and blessed beyond belief.
THE STEADFASTNESS OF HIS CONVICTION
Once Śrī Keśava Mahārāja understood something to be true, his conviction in it was such that even fear itself was afraid to dissuade him.
NOURISHING HIS DISCIPLES WITH AFFECTION
Śrī Keśava Mahārāja expressed a disposition of being harder than a thunderbolt, yet softer than a flower— vajrād-api kaṭhorāṇi mṛdūni kusumād-api. His affection for his disciples was exemplary. If ever his disciples faced a serious illness or injury, his soft, flower-like heart would melt entirely. He would be ready to trade all he had to bring them back to health. Although he had to combat extreme poverty in the beginning, by the Lord’s will, he eventually established temples in various places, most notably the large maṭha-mandira in Śrīdhāma Navadvīpa, with the help of a few wealthy devotees.
A FEW OF HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS
During his pastimes as an ācārya, he held huge parikramās in Śrī Gauḍa- maṇḍala, Śrī Vraja-maṇḍala and Śrī Kṣetra-Maṇḍala. Besides these engagements, he organized pilgrimages to almost all of the renowned holy places in Āryāvarta (North India) and South India. He also held a large pilgrimage of Śrī Śiva-dhāma Śrī Baidyanātha-dhāma and stayed there for one month, observing niyama-sevā (Kārtika) and executing the schedule of appropriate vows and daily kīrtanas.
His enthusiasm in the field of education was exemplary. In the maṭha in Śrīdhāma Navadvīpa, he established a day school for Sanskrit, a residence for students, a printing press for books and magazines, a bookstore, and a warehouse. He personally oversaw these services, thus encouraging everyone in the service of the śrī maṭha-mandira.
Today, having lost such an exemplary ācārya who was eager to serve and was endowed with all good qualities, the pain we feel in our hearts cannot be expressed in words. Separation from a godbrother so completely dedicated to the service of śrī guru, Gaurāṅga and Śrī Gaura-dhāma fills our hearts with extreme agony. May Śrīpāda Keśava Mahārāja be pleased with us. That is our pitiful prayer.
Excerpts from an article published in Śrī Caitanya-Vāṇī (Year 8, Volume 10)