- My Beloved Masters
Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja
[February 8, 2023 is the appearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an article about his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja.]
EXTRAORDINARY INSTANCES OF AN EXTRAORDINARY PERSONALITY
My śikṣā-guru, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, used to say, “When I was in my mother’s womb, a renounced person came to our house and gave my mother a sweet, which she accepted and ate. According to her, this was the reason why I never had any material desires, why I always wanted to become renounced, and why I came to Śrīla Prabhupāda at a very young age.”
When Śrīla Maharāja was a baby, a large bird took him in the sky and brought him back. Such events can never happen to ordinary persons; they are indicative of extraordinary personalities.
HIS PATHA-PRADARŚAKA GURUS
Śrīla Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja made his divine appearance in the village of
Vānarīpāḍā, within the district of Variśāla, Bangladesh. He belonged to a family of wealthy landowners. When he was young, his paternal aunts Śrī Sarojinī dāsī and Śrī Priyatamā dāsī brought him to meet Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. Because Śrī Priyatamā dāsī left her body early on, we generally hear more about Śrī Sarojinī dāsī in the narration of Śrīla Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s life story.
A JEWEL AMONG SEVAKAS
In the beginning of his maṭha life, Śrīla Mahārāja was known as Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī, and Śrīla Prabhupāda later awarded him with the title ‘Kṛti-ratna,’ a designation by which he became well-known. Kṛti means ‘activity,’ and ratna means ‘jewel,’ and therefore the title ‘Kṛti-ratna’ refers to a personality who is expert in performing activities related to the service of guru and Vaiṣṇavas, and who considers such activities his life and soul. This title rightly befitted Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī, as he was a jewel among sevakas.
RECONCILING SEEMINGLY CONFLICTING INSTRUCTIONS
When Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī accepted the shelter of the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda at an early age, he stayed as a brahmacārī in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura. One day, after receiving a letter from Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī’s mother, Śrīla Prabhupāda ordered Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī to pay her a visit at home. Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī meditated sincerely on what to do. On one side was a teaching he had previously received from Śrīla Prabhupāda:
sakala janme pitā-mātā sabe pāya
kṛṣṇa guru nāhi mile, bhajahô hiyāya
Śrī Caitanya-maṅgala (Madhya-khaṇḍa)
One gets a mother and father in every species of life. But it is rare to get a bonafide guru and Kṛṣṇa. One must realize this in the core of one’s heart.
On the other side was Śrīla Prabhupāda’s order to visit his mother.
While contemplating these seemingly conflicting instructions, Śrī Vinoda- bihārī Brahmacārī considered that the former instruction reflected Śrīla Prabhupāda’s internal mood based on unbiased truth, and that the latter was possibly given to examine him or his dedication to Śrīla Prabhupāda.
Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī concluded, “Śrī guru would never ask a disciple to maintain worldly relations, through which the disciple becomes bound by the ropes of attachment. Instead, he always instructs his disciples to realize their relationship with the eternal entity, Śrī Bhagavān. Therefore, I will follow Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instruction to realize the rarity of attaining the association of śrī guru. I will refrain from visiting my mother’s home. By doing so, I will not be disobeying Śrīla Prabhupāda. In fact, he will be more pleased than if I were to carry out his immediate order of visiting my home.”
Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī’s instinct to please his gurudeva by remaining in the maṭha was correct, and thus Śrīla Prabhupāda bestowed his mercy on him.
SERVING THROUGH GENEROSITY
Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī’s father was a wealthy landlord, and he was therefore accustomed to lavish spending during his time at home. After accepting the shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda and joining the maṭha, he was given the service of managing the properties of Śrī Caitanya Maṭha, which required him to visit various properties in Māyāpura on horseback. Just seeing him made the residents fearful. Whenever he would cross the Gaṅgā, he would pay the boatman not by counting the exact fare, but by reaching into his pocket and offering whatever he pulled out. All the boatmen would beg him, “O Vinoda Bābū, please come with me! Let me take you across in my boat.”
A devotee once complained to Śrīla Prabhupāda, “We labor arduously to collect donations for the maṭha, but Vinoda-bihārī Prabhu needlessly spends those hard-earned funds to pay people much more than they are owed. He pays no heed to the amount he gives. Is this proper?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda asked that devotee, “How much money did you spend daily when you were living at home?”
“One paisā,” the devotee answered.
“And how much do you spend now?”
The devotee sheepishly replied,“About ten paisā.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “Vinoda-bihārī used to spend approximately one hundred rupees daily, and now he spends about five rupees. Which of you, then, is truly renounced?”
Those who lacked proper vision saw that Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī was wasting donations meant for the service of Śrī Hari, guru and Vaiṣnavas. But Śrīla Prabhupāda understood his actual intentions. Through his generosity, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī was creating allies who would support Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha in case of any future opposition.
AN ACTIVE RESPONSE TO A PASSIVE INQUIRY
Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī always did whatever was required for the service of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Once, Śrīla Prabhupāda unemphatically asked him, “Are we unable to acquire Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s bhajana-kuṭīra in Godrumadvipa?” Although the question was passive, it held great gravity for Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī. He found himself unable to remain peaceful as long as he had not acquired that property. Such was his service mood for Śrīla Prabhupāda. In addition to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s bhajana-kuṭīra, he also successfully acquired the place of Chand Kazi and many other places in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura.
PROTECTING DEVOTEES FROM VIOLENT OFFENDERS
In addition to managing the Śrī Caitanya Maṭha’s properties, Śrī Vinoda- bihārī Brahmacārī was given the service of managing the institution’s court cases. Muslims in those days were occupying many holy places of Māyāpura, including Candraśekhara-bhavana, Śrīvāsa-aṅgana, Śrīdhara-kholaveca’s residence and Chand Kāzī’s samādhi. One day, the Muslims occupying Chand Kāzī’s samādhi beat a few brahmacārīs from Śrī Caitanya Maṭha. Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī was unable to tolerate this violent behavior toward devotees. Being protective, he filed a court case on behalf of Śrī Caitanya Maṭha, and some of the Muslims were put into jail as a result.
Śrīla Prabhupāda did not appreciate that the Muslims were jailed. He said, “We should oppose the unrighteous activities being performed rather than the people performing them. We should not look to punish people by putting them in jail, but rather by boldly standing up for the principles we uphold and speaking out against unrighteous activities.” Thus, on the order of Śrīla Prabhupāda, the devotees posted the Muslims’ bail.
RISKING HIS LIFE TO SERVE ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA
In his time, Śrīla Prabhupāda fearlessly preached against many of the practices and beliefs of the apasampradāyas (deviated philosophical lineages) claiming to be in the line of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He loudly declared that it was immoral to charge pilgrims for having darśana of Bhagavān’s deity and erroneous to consider that brāhmaṇas are the only qualified candidates for the position of guru. His dissemination of Śrīman Mahāprabhu’s true Gauḍīya doctrine contradicted and challenged the tainted philosophies of these bogus sects, and thus jeopardized their donations and sense of prestige. As Śrīla Prabhupāda’s fame and influence continued to spread, these groups grew increasingly envious.
During the Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā of 1925, Śrīla Prabhupāda led a group of about five thousand pilgrims and one hundred eight mṛdaṅga players. At the front of the massive parikramā party was a band and the deity of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, who rode magnificently atop an elephant. The antagonists from the envious apasampradāyas descended upon the parikramā procession at Prauḍhāmāyā Talā with the wicked intention of taking Śrīla Prabhupāda’s life.
Sensing the immense danger his gurudeva was in, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī did not hesitate to act. He quickly escorted Śrīla Prabhupāda to a safe place, where he then brilliantly exchanged his white clothes for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s saffron-colored garments and arranged for him to be sent back to the maṭha with a few other devotees. Posing as Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī then waited out the attack at great risk to his life.
Meanwhile, Śrī Paramānanda Brahmacārī, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s personal sevaka, disguised himself as a local, so that nobody would recognize him as a Gauḍīya Maṭha devotee. Replacing his dhotī with a gamacha and carrying a hookah, he went to the police station to report the attack. Police officials soon arrived on the scene and the crowds dispersed.
Just as a person instinctively raises his arm to protect himself from an aggressor’s blows, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī— who was a limb of and non-different from Śrīla Prabhupāda—reflexively protected his gurudeva from not only this vengeful physical attack, but also from philosophical attacks. Through his bold and tenacious preaching, he fearlessly defended Śrīla Prabhupāda’s philosophical conclusions.
FIRM FAITH IN ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA, THE EMISSARY OF ŚRĪLA BHAKTIVINODA THĀKURA
In several places, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has written that it is unnecessary to construct temples or maṭhas, as such activities inevitably lead to court cases in which the members of an institution will fight for its various properties and assets. Yet, we see on the other hand that Śrīla Prabhupāda constructed many maṭhas. We should not, however, conclude that Śrīla Prabhupāda ignored the instructions of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Rather, we should understand he perfectly executed Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s will.
As an intimate associate of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Prabhupāda understood the Ṭhākura’s heart. Therefore, he could easily comprehend the subtle reasoning and implications behind every one of his instructions. Every teaching has both positive and negative aspects. In describing the establishment of spiritual institutions to be unnecessary or even unfavorable, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura warned of the negative result of such endeavors. But this does not mean the establishment of spiritual institutions is without positive aspects. Śrīla Prabhupāda understood that even at the cost of potential infighting, the construction of a maṭha will be successful if but one of its residents sincerely progresses on the path of pure devotion to Bhagavān.
All the devotees of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission, including Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī, worked hard to acquire land and construct and maintain maṭhas. They never once questioned Śrīla Prabhupāda’s allegiance to properly carrying out Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s instructions. They firmly believed that the words and activities of Śrīla Prabhupāda were in line with the teachings of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and that Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s approval was with him.
EXPOSING AN INCOMPETENT LEADER
After the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati Ṭhākura, the time came to select a new President-ācārya of the Gauḍīya Maṭha. Guru Mahārāja believed Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Pradīpa Tīrtha Gosvāmī Mahārāja to be the worthiest candidate. However, in due time, Śrī Ananta-vāsudeva Prabhu was unanimously appointed to the position, with Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī serving as Secretary.
When Śrī Ananta-vāsudeva Prabhu’s ill repute came to light, Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī called for Guru Mahārāja and said, “Hayagrīva Prabhu! We have stuck our hands in wet stool. Had it been dry, it would not have been so revoltingly foul-smelling. But unfortunately, the reality is that its stench and repulsiveness are excessive. We must feel remorse and atone for having supported Ananta-vāsudeva and for having taken so long to understand what was actually going on. An incompetent person should be helped, but an incompetent person who makes fools of the general public by playing the part of a competent leader must be shunned. Let us help the people of the world by exposing this person, so that everyone may see his true nature.
“Because of your refined, gentle Vaiṣṇava temperament, everyone considers you a friend and gives importance to what you say. Therefore, please bring everyone together and arrange a meeting, so that we may together determine how to oppose him.”
As per Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī’s request, Guru Mahārāja gathered their godbrothers together and held a meeting, whereupon it was decided to file a court case against Śrī Ananta-vāsudeva Prabhu. It was this court case that made it possible for the Gauḍīya Maṭha to legally split into two factions.
HIS INTOLERANCE OF EVEN THE SLIGHTEST DEVIATION
Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī’s preaching inspired his elder brother to take shelter of Śrīla Prabhupāda and join the maṭha. When Śrīla Prabhupāda ordered his brother to accept sannyāsa, he was unwilling. Although Śrī Vinoda-bihārī Brahmacārī was younger, he chastised his older brother, saying, “Why are you not fulfilling Śrīla Prabhupāda’s desire to give you sannyāsa?” After considering these words of encouragement, his brother agreed to accept sannyāsa, and he became known as Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Kevala Auḍulomi Gosvāmī Mahārāja.
Some time after the disappearance of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja observed Śrīla Auḍulomi Gosvāmī Mahārāja and his followers deviating from the teachings of Śrīla Prabhupāda in three ways: (1) they taught that the hare kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra is not to be chanted loudly, but rather silently in such a way that no one can hear the sound vibration; (2) although Śrīla Prabhupāda had personally initiated some of his disciples, including Śrīla Auḍulomi Gosvāmī Mahārāja, into the sannyāsa order, they gave up their saffron sannyāsa-veśa (dress) and instead wore white bābājī-veśa, preaching that sannyāsa-dharma is strictly prohibited in Kali-yuga; and (3) although Śrīla Prabhupāda personally established Śrī Navadvīpa parikramā, they rejected its performance.
Unable to tolerate even the slightest deviation from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings, Śrīla Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja completely severed his relationship with Śrīla Auḍulomi Gosvāmī Mahārāja and those who followed him. He would never allow his disciples to go to Bāgbāzār Gauḍīya Maṭha or to any other place where Śrīla Auḍulomi Gosvāmī Mahārāja and his followers resided. If Śrīla Keśava Gosvāmī Mahārāja were to discover that one of his disciples went to Śrī Auḍulomi Mahārāja’s maṭha, he would order that devotee to fast for three days, taking only pañca-gavya (the five products of the cow— milk, yogurt, ghee, dung an