Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura
[February 10, 2023 is the appearance day of jagad-guru Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda, in Vṛndāvana, India. The following is an excerpt of his glories from from 'Vīśuddha caitanya-vāṇī - Volume 1', by Śrīla Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja.]
When my Parama-gurudeva, Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, along with his disciples, inaugurated the widespread preaching of unalloyed rūpānuga ideology under the guidance and instruction of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His associates who appeared before Śrīla Prabhupāda, he was met with opposition at every corner. Despite immense opposition, he never deviated even slightly from his righteous objective. Instead, through the media of his disciples and his writings, he completely defeated almost all the heretical ideologies prevalent at the time, and established the gauḍīya-vicāradhārā, or the current of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism thought.
HIS HUMILITY AND TOLERANCE
Śrīla Prabhupāda was the true embodiment of the humility described by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabu in Śrī Śikṣāṣṭakam (3):
tṛṇād api sunīcena
taror api sahiṣṇunā
kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ
With the humility of a blade of grass and the tolerance of a tree, a person should, while giving due respect to others without desiring respect himself, constantly chant the names of Hari.
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s humility was especially manifested during the Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā of 1925, in which he led a group of five thousand pilgrims, along with one hundred eight mṛdaṅga players. In the front of the massive parikramā party was the Deity of Śrīman Mahāprabhu, riding magnificently atop an elephant.
During that time, a group of people, including bābājīs and jāti gosā̃is (caste-conscious brāhmaṇas born in the Gosvāmī family lineage), had been losing prestige and donations due to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s fearless preaching of the true Gauḍīya doctrine as taught by Śrīman Mahāprabhu, which in many cases contradicted and challenged the tainted philosophies of these antagonists. These persons grew envious of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s ever-increasing fame and influence, and they therefore descended upon the parikramā procession with the wicked intention of taking his life. Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, was unperturbed; he considered the attack merely an attempt to cause him bodily harm.
When police officials arrived on the scene and inquired from Śrīla Prabhupāda about who he suspected was behind this attack, he replied, “No one.” His disciples were apprehensive about his dismissal of the incident, and felt that unless they took action against the assailants, it would be impossible to perform parikramā peacefully in the future. In reply, Śrīla Prabhupāda firmly stated, “The incident caused us no harm. Actually, it has proven to be favorable for us; it easily accomplished a great task that otherwise could only have been achieved even after spending millions of rupees. Because the incident was front-page news, countless persons who had never heard of the Gauḍīya Maṭha have now come to know about it. Prominent personalities from distant locations—such as the kings of Tripura, Vārdhamāna, Koch Bihar, and even Jaipura—have inquired about the incident.”
In this way, although Śrīla Prabhupāda, being an eternally perfected associate of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, was free of faults and their subsequent reactions, still, through his own conduct he demonstrated the proper application of the following verse of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (10.14.8):
tat te ’nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo
bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaṁ vipākam
hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk
One who, while always expecting Your mercy, tolerates the results of his previous misdeeds and constantly offers respects to You with his heart, speech and body, is eligible to receive the inheritance of Your lotus feet.
Another time, while preparing for the Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā, Śrīla Prabhupāda, along with his assistant Śrī Paramānanda Brahmacārī, went to scout an appropriate open space or garden where all the pilgrims attending the parikramā could stay. In those days, the pilgrims would sleep in such open-air spaces, and only the kitchen would have a canopy. In Campaka-haṭṭa, they found a large mango orchard with a pond nearby. Finding the space suitable, Śrīla Prabhupāda finalized all the booking arrangements and returned.
That evening, some items were stolen from a residence near the orchard. A First Information Report (FIR) against Śrīla Prabhupāda, which stated he had scouted the area for steal-able goods in the morning and returned in the evening to thieve them, was lodged at the local police station. Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, did not respond to this accusation.
When Śrī Pal Choudhury, a very influential local landowner who owned a tea garden and resided in a very large property that included a helipad used by the British, came to know about the incident, he immediately marched over to the police station. He was a well-respected member of society, recognized by even the British government, and so the police officials listened to him with due attention. He told them he wanted to file an FIR of his own, because his pond had been stolen the previous night. Confused, the attending officer inquired, “Sir, how can a pond be stolen? It is impossible. How can we write a report about a stolen pond?”
Śrī Pal Choudhury replied, “You are correct; it is impossible. But yet more impossible is Śrī Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī committing burglary. Are you even slightly aware of his greatness?” On the request of Śrī Pal Choudhury, the FIR against Śrīla Prabhupāda was immediately dropped.
After the complaint was dismissed, the people of Champaka-haṭṭa, having realized their mistake in falsely accusing such a divine personality, felt ashamed. Considering that they had committed a grave offense, they felt the only way to repent was to offer service to Śrīla Prabhupāda, and they therefore donated to the Gauḍīya Maṭha the Śrī Gaura-Gadādhara temple, which was served by Dvija Vaṇīnātha, the younger brother of Śrīla Gadādhara Paṇḍita.
HIS DEFENSE AND PROTECTION OF THE RŪPĀNUGAS
Although Śrīla Prabhupāda would silently endure personal attacks against himself, he never for a moment tolerated attacks against either the principles of rūpānuga ideology or those who sincerely followed that ideology. He would not allow even the smallest statements opposing the true philosophy of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmīpāda to go unanswered, and in issuing his rebuttals, he gave no consideration to the social status of the person he was debating. If required, he would even file lawsuits against his opponents to establish the authenticity and superiority of the Gauḍīya line of thought. It is for this reason that his praṇāma-mantra states, “rūpānuga-viruddhāpasiddhānta-dhvānta-hāriṇe—you deliver the fallen souls and annihilate the darkness arising from misconceptions (apasiddhānta) opposed (viruddha) to the precepts enunciated by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī.”
Simply put, Śrīla Prabhupāda was indifferent to what others said or did in opposition to him; he never took anything personally. He was instead always carefully engaged in both following and establishing the instructions of our guru-varga.
He tirelessly performed many services, such as publishing bhakti literature, establishing new temples, performing arcana, organizing exhibitions about spiritual knowledge, and sending his disciples across the globe to preach the message of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. We become filled with great awe and reverence for Śrīla Prabhupāda simply by hearing about his incessant efforts to bring eternal spiritual welfare to the conditioned souls of this world.
THE RARITY OF ACCEPTING KṚṢṆA-BHAKTI
Once, a young boy came to the maṭha with the desire to stay there, and declared, “I will not return home. I will only do so if Śrīla Prabhupāda orders me to return.”
When Śrīla Prabhupāda came to know about this from one of his sevakas, he said, “Do you think me to be such a stone-hearted person that I will order someone so desirous of residing and serving in the maṭha to return home? After roaming around in various universes (brahmāṇḍas), countless living entities have gathered here in this world. It is extremely rare for even a few of these living entities to desire to reside in the maṭha. Only very rare, highly fortunate souls nurture such a desire. How can I ask such a soul to leave the maṭha and return to the service of māyā?”
BHĀVA IS THE REAL VALUE OF KĪRTANA
A few days before Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda manifested his disappearance pastime, he expressed a desire to hear a few special kīrtanas. To fulfill his request, his sevaka brought a devotee who was well-known for singing in a very melodious voice with perfect pitch and rhythm, whose voice he knew to be pleasing to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s ears. But upon seeing this kīrtanīya, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “I do not wish to listen to a well-crafted, melodious kīrtana, but rather one sung from the core of the heart, sung by one who fully comprehends the bhāvas and most transcendental meanings of the kīrtana he sings.”
He then ordered Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Śrī Navīna-kṛṣṇa Vidyālaṅkāra to sing Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada and Tuhũ Dayā-sāgara, respectively. Through this pastime, Śrīla Prabhupāda established the importance of performing kīrtana only after thoroughly understanding and realizing the deep meanings and underlying moods of our ācāryas’ kīrtanas rather than being concerned merely with melody and rhythm. However, one should not think that the devotee whose kīrtana Śrīla Prabhupāda refused to hear was an ordinary person or interested simply in the melodiousness of kīrtana. In fact, he was a topmost kīrtanīya. Earlier in Purī, Śrīla Prabhupāda had many times listened to his kīrtana with great eagerness. Śrīla Prabhupāda stopped him from singing at that time for no other reason than to establish and teach one particular point of view.
Being a nitya-siddha parikāra (eternally perfect associate) of Bhagavān, Śrīla Prabhupāda knows everything. Because he knows past, present and the future, he is referred to as trikāla-jña, or omniscient. He understood that the mindless conditioned living beings of this world pay no mind to the gravity of the moods and deep meanings of kīrtana, and instead, for the sake of earning worldly fame and recognition, become absorbed in meditating on melody, tune and rhythm, thinking such things to be the essence of kīrtana. Therefore, Śrīla Prabhupāda used one of his dear associates to deliver this most significant teaching for the benefit of foolish persons like us.
Only the most intimate and completely surrendered associates of great realized souls can truly understand the important teachings they bestow, and through whom and at which opportune moment they choose to bestow them. Otherwise, after hearing the above-mentioned story, how will one be able to reconcile why Śrīla Prabhupāda himself previously adorned Śrī Mohinī Bābū, the uncle of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Kumuda Santa Gosvāmī Mahārāja, with the title ‘Rāga-bhūṣaṇa’—which means ‘one who is ornamented by melody’—after being extremely satisfied by hearing his highly melodious kīrtanas sung in perfect pitch and with flawless rhythm; why he allowed the use of such vaiṣṇava musical instruments as karatālas, kāṅsā and mṛdaṅgas during the daily kīrtanas in the maṭha; why he ordered the arrangement of a performance by one hundred eight mṛdaṅga players when he re-established Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma parikramā; or why Śrīla Muni Gosvāmī Mahārāja, a disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, would snatch karatālas from the hands of devotees who made even the slightest mistake in playing them properly during kīrtana?
Many of our previous ācāryas, also, have established the importance of melody and rhythm in kīrtana, and how such considerations correlate with the pastimes of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. For example, Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has written in Prārthana (25):
suyantre miśā̃iyā gābô su-madhura tāna
ānande kôribô dũhāra rūpa-guṇa-gāna
Accompanied by musical instruments, I will sing sweet melodies. In great bliss I shall perform songs that glorify the form and qualities of the Divine Couple.
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has written:
śrī viśākhā-pade, saṅgīta śikhibô,
Śrī Śrī Gīta-mālā (5.4.3)
At the lotus feet of Śrī Viśākhā, I shall learn music abounding with the nectar of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.
tāthai tāthai’ bājalô khol,
ghana ghana tāhe jhā̃jhera rola
“Tāthai, tāthai,” the mṛdaṅgas resounded, and the karatālas played in time.
nārada muni, bājāya vīṇā,
Nārada Muni’s fingers played the notes on his vīṇā, which chanted ‘Rādhikā-ramaṇa.’
Another Vaiṣṇava ācārya has written:
lalitā bājāiya vīṇā, viśākhā mṛdaṅga,
phula caḓāya nāce sakhī vidyā tuṅga
Śrī Lalitā Sakhī plays the vīna, Śrī Viśākhā Sakhī plays the drum, and Śrī Tuṅgavidyā Sakhī dances, strewing flowers all about.
Even Śrī Krsna Himself—by playing His flute, horn and other instruments—has approved the use of musical instruments through His own conduct. In fact, all the sixty-four arts have been manifested by the Lord simply for His pleasure.
Therefore, upon hearing that Śrīla Prabhupāda once refused to hear a melodious kīrtana, we should not conclude that the use of vaiṣṇava musical instruments in kīrtana is inappropriate, or that devotees who sing in a sweet, melodious voice are to be discouraged from performing kīrtana. The actual message is that real kīrtana is performed after one properly understands the underlying moods and deep meanings of that kīrtana. However, the aesthetic features of kīrtana—such as melody, rhythm and vocal expression —should not be entirely dismissed, but rather seen as being favorable for bhakti. In his Bhakti-rasāmṛta sindhu (1.2.200), Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has quoted: