Śrīla Bhakti Prakāśa Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja
[January 10, 2021 is the disappearance day of Śrīla Bhakti Prakāśa Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana, India. Below is an excerpt of his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja.]
INTELLIGENCE BEYOND EDUCATION
Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja never took a break from chanting the names of Śrī Hari, speaking Śrī Hari’s glories and pastimes, or serving Śrī Hari. He was fully engaged in these activities for all twenty-four hours of the day. Without fail, he would ask all those who approached him a question pertaining to Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy. He spared no one in this. Somehow or other, he would always initiate a spiritual discussion.
When I first came to the maṭha, I received the good fortune of having his darśana. The moment he saw me, he asked, “What is the first verse of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam?” After I recited the verse, he asked me the meaning of the word suśrūṣayā. At the time I did not know so much, but I repeated to him whatever I had grasped. Afterwards, he handed me a newsletter and said, “Read this thoroughly, make corrections to it, and rewrite it eloquently.”
Owing to Vaiṣṇava etiquette and some internal fear, I did not ask him why he ordered me, a very new devotee, to edit his newsletter. Later, I questioned his godbrother Śrī Uddhāraṇa Prabhu, “Śrīla Mahārāja knows so much himself. Why, then, did he choose me to edit this newsletter? I told him I am inexperienced.”
“Are bābā. Don’t you know?” Śrī Uddhāraṇa Prabhu replied. “Śrī Araṇya Mahārāja is illiterate. He cannot read or write at all.”
When I heard this, I could not contain my surprise. From then on, each time I heard Śrī Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s discourses or conversed with him, this surprise only increased. His hari-kathā humbled even highly esteemed scholars, and consequently, these intellectuals viewed him as their superior. No one could have imagined, even in dreams, that he could be illiterate.
STERN YET AFFECTIONATE INSTRUCTIONS
As per the instructions of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prakāśa Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja would collect monthly donations from many places. He would also regularly visit my Guru Mahārāja, Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Dayita Mādhava Gosvāmī Mahārāja, while Guru Mahārāja was staying in a rented house prior to joining the maṭha.
On one such visit, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja brought Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu along with him. Seeing the portrait of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu in the hall of Guru Mahārāja’s home, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked Guru Mahārāja, “Do you feel happy upon seeing this very beautiful portrait of Śrīman Mahāprabhu?”
“Yes, Mahārāja-jī,” Guru Mahārāja replied. “I do.”
Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja gravely asked, “Is it the duty of Śrīman Mahāprabhu to please you by remaining present here, or should you be the one making endeavors to please Him?” He further inquired, “You have accepted Śrīla Prabhupāda as your spiritual master. What arrangements have you made for cooking?”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “I have appointed an Oriya brāhmaṇa to cook for me. He is responsible for everything related to kitchen services.”
Hearing this, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja confronted Guru Mahārāja, saying “Have your hands been eaten by crocodiles? Why are you unable to cook bhoga and offer it to Bhagavān on your own, without the help of others?
Before Guru Mahārāja could respond, Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu whispered to Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “You should not speak to him like this. He comes from an affluent family. It is irrational to expect him to be able to do all the cooking himself; he has no experience with such things. Your harsh statements may make him lose faith in the Gauḍīya Maṭha and become dissatisfied with us.”
Although Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu was quietly whispering, Guru Mahārāja could hear everything. Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja became even more displeased after hearing Śrīpāda Kīrtana Prabhu’s statement and said, “If I will not tell him, then who will? He is my godbrother, and I therefore possess the right to say anything I wish to him at anytime.”
Guru Mahārāja became overwhelmed with joy to hear this. The mamatā (possessive affection) Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja displayed for him was unprecedented, and for this reason, Guru Mahārāja remained eternally grateful to him throughout his life.
Once they departed, Guru Maharaja arranged for new pots to be brought to his home, and he refused to eat for the two days it took for them to be collected. From then onward, he himself cooked and offered bhoga. Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja always taught that Bhagavān’s name and deity form—which includes His portrait— are non-different from Bhagavān Himself. Guru Mahārāja accepted this teaching with firm faith and always demonstrated through his own conduct the standard by which one should show proper respect to the images of Bhagavān and His pure devotees. He did not frivolously place such images here and there, nor did he allow any of his disciples to engage in such irresponsible conduct. He sent the oil painting of Śrīman Mahāprabhu that had adorned his wall to Bāgbāzār Gauḍīya Maṭha, where it was kept on a chariot during every nagara-saṅkīrtana procession organized by the maṭha.
Śrīla Araṇya Gosvami Mahārāja never said anything simply to appease anyone. He spoke only the truth, and that too in such a way that it brought about all auspiciousness for everyone who heard it.
WARNING AGAINST THE MISUSE OF KṚṢṆA’S PROPERTY
Whenever Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja collected donations, he would speak to people in a distinctive manner. He would never approach donors timidly, nor would he persuade them through flattery. Rather, his attitude was “asure luṭiyā khāya kṛṣṇera saṁsāra—demons loot this world, which belongs to Kṛṣṇa, and devour everything.”
He would explain to potential donors, “Those who do not utilize their wealth in Kṛṣṇa’s service, which rightfully belongs to Him, are considered demons. Behaving dishonorably, they steal what is His and use it for their own indulgence. As a punishment for their thievery, they become increasingly entangled in the vicious web of this material world.”
He would then ask those potential donors to ensure their welfare by graciously offering something for the service of Bhagavān. He would also say, “Do not think you are obliging me through offering alms to me. Instead, you should consider yourselves to be grateful that I have accepted the responsibility of utilizing your offerings in the service of Bhagavān.”
SPEAKING ON THE INSPIRATION OF ŚRĪ GURU
Once, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja went with Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Guru Mahārāja (at that time Śrī Hayagrīva Brahmacārī) to preach at Bārīpada College in Orissa. While Śrīla Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Guru Mahārāja delivered their lectures, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja sat chanting harināma for nearly two hours in front of a portrait of Śrīla Prabhupāda positioned on the dais. When it was his turn to speak, he prefaced his hari-kathā by saying, “I am completely illiterate. I have nothing of my own to say. I will simply speak before you whatever my gurupādapadma, Śrīla Prabhupāda, inspires me to speak.” Everyone present that day was incredibly moved by his hari-kathā.
ŚRĪLA PRABHUPĀDA’S MERCY FOR A SINCERE PERFORMER OF ANUKĪRTANA
Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja once told me, “One day, I asked Śrīla Prabhupāda if there was some specific service I could perform for him. “Yes,” he answered. ‘You should always preach the message of Śrīman Mahāprabhu and the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ācāryas everywhere.’
“‘I am totally illiterate,’ I replied. ‘How can I possibly preach?’
“Śrīla Prabhupāda responded, ‘Simply repeat whatever you have heard from the lips of the Vaiṣṇavas. Always strive to perform anukīrtana, kīrtana under guidance. Bhagavān personally inspires His simple-hearted devotees.’
“It is on the strength of this instruction and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy that I remain fearless and constantly travel everywhere performing kīrtana of his vāṇī (divine message). Sometimes I see that scholars become stunned when they hear persons like myself repeat Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words. By Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy, I manage to remember the titles of books, the verses therein, those verses’ page numbers, and other such details. If anyone asks me to cite references as evidence, I tell him which verse number to search for in a particular book in my trunk and then prove my point once he has found the verse.”
HIS HUMBLE FAITH IN GURU MAHĀRĀJA
Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja was adorned with natural humility. Although he was a senior, he always had great love for and faith in Guru Mahārāja.
Śrīla Mahārāja faithfully sent many of his renounced disciples to Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha. He would write our Guru Mahārāja a letter saying, “I have sent my disciple to you so that he may become thoroughly entrenched in the conceptions of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. By staying in the association of you and your disciples, he will receive ample opportunity to learn. I never managed to teach anything to those who stay with me. I would be pleased if you could kindly accept the responsibility of teaching him.”
SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES ON NORMAL MATTERS
Once, while Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja was manifesting a sickness pastime, one brahmacārī took him to see a doctor. After the doctor prescribed him some medicine, they returned to the maṭha. The next morning, the brahmacārī asked Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja how he was feeling. Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja responded by quoting a verse from Bhagavad-gītā (2.20):
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ’yaṁ purāṇo
na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
The soul neither takes birth nor does he die, nor is he affected by the repeated growth and dwindling of the body. He is unborn, eternal and ever-existing. Though primeval, he remains ever-youthful. When the body is destroyed, the soul is not annihilated.
He said, “According to Bhagavān’s own words, the soul is not a material entity. How then can it become sick? Do you think I am a material entity? Am I not a soul?” The brahmacārī was rendered speechless. He later approached me, saying, “One must carefully consider one’s words before speaking to Śrīla Mahārāja. You are bound to get in trouble if you ask him anything in a normal manner.”
ALL ATTEMPTS MUST BE MADE TO FULFILL A VAIṢṆAVA’S REQUEST
One evening, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja arrived rather late to our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha in Vṛndāvana. At that time, the in-charge of the maṭha, my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Prasāda Purī Mahārāja, served him prasāda. When Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja asked if there was any milk, Śrī Purī Mahārāja replied, “Mahārāja, there is no more milk. If I had known you were coming, I would have saved you some. Please forgive me.”
“What!” Śrī Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja exclaimed. “How is it possible there is no milk in Mādhāva Mahārāja’s maṭha?”
In fear of his reaction, Śrī Purī Mahārāja rushed to purchase milk from a nearby teashop. When he offered it to Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla Mahārāja asked, “Where did this milk come from all of a sudden?” and then gave him an instruction: “If somebody asks for something, it is improper to simply say there is none left without making an effort to arrange for more.”
THE BEHAVIOR OF PURE DEVOTEES IS NOT TO BE IMITATED
I once accompanied Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja to the bus station in Kṛṣṇanagara to see him off to Māyāpura. As he was getting on the bus, the conductor told him to purchase a ticket. Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja became upset and replied, “What! A ticket? Whose bus is this? Who is demanding a fare, and from whom are they demanding it? Asura luṭiyā khāya kṛṣṇera saṁsāra. Everything belongs to my Kṛṣṇa, and this bus is no exception. I am not an ordinary servant of His; I serve Him with the utmost love and affection. Instead of asking me for money, you should give money to me to employ in Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s service.” He then brushed past the conductor and sat down.
We should not even dream of imitating Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s conduct. Although some may perceive him as arrogant, after serious and impartial deliberation on his intentions, one can plainly see that everything he said or did was grounded in unadulterated truth. He was straightforward and sometimes became angry, but his anger was never lasting. He would become happy and contented after only a short while.
THE IMPACT OF A MOMENT OF HIS ASSOCIATION
Once, as Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja was performing parikramā of the Śrī Govinda-deva temple in Vṛndāvana, a Māyāvādī sannyāsī approached him and said, “Oṁ namo nārāyaṇāya,” which means “I offer my respects to you, who are Nārāyaṇa Himself.”
Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja furiously chastised that sannyāsī. “You are a hypocrite! You consider the living entity and Bhagavān to be one. You live in Vṛndāvana, but have never heard a single thing from the true residents of Vraja. You are so offensive! You consider yourself to be brahma, but you are unaware of the simple fact that brahma is merely the effulgence of Bhagavān’s divine body. Come with me. I will arrange for your food and give you a place to stay. Your only duty will be to hear hari-kathā and try to properly follow the conclusions of the scriptures.”
The Māyāvādī sannyāsī was quite shaken up by Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s statement, but he followed Śrīla Mahārāja to the maṭha, just as he was instructed. When they arrived at Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha, Śrīla Mahārāja asked for my godbrother Śrī Bhakti Prasāda Purī Mahārāja. When he was informed that Śrī Purī Mahārāja had stepped out, Śrīla Mahārāja told one of the maṭha’s brahmacārīs to bring white garments for the Māyāvādī sannyāsī to wear.
When the white garments were brought, Śrīla Mahārāja asked the Māyāvādī sannyāsī to change his garb. He then told the brahmacārī, “Tell Purī Mahārāja that Araṇya Mahārāja has brought this man to the maṭha, and that he should instruct him in the teachings of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, whereby this man’s birth in the human species shall become a worthy success.”
The Māyāvādī sannyāsī was simple and sincere. He solemnly followed Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s instructions and eventually became an excellent sevaka. Later, he admitted to me, “Earlier, I ignorantly accepted and repeated whatever philosophies were put before me. But now I accept teachings only after careful deliberation.”
This incident demonstrates the extent of Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s fearlessness, as well as the immensely positive impact even a moment’s association with him bestows.
THE VAST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF A REALIZED DEVOTEE AND THAT OF A NEOPHYTE
Once, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja stayed in our Śrī Caitanya Gauḍīya Maṭha in Kṛṣṇanagar for a few days, until he suddenly set off for Māyāpura one morning. When he arrived in Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, I requested him to stay in Guru Mahārāja’s bhajana kuṭīra. Happily accepting my proposal, he removed his wooden shoes on the veranda outside Guru Mahārāja’s bhajana kuṭīra and went inside. Some time later after bathing with the hot water I provided, he came out and asked, “Where are my shoes?”
I replied, “Mahārāja-jī, they are here, right where you left them.”
“No, these are not my shoes,” he said. I was confused. “These must be your shoes, Mahārāja-jī. I saw you wear them up here. None of us living in the maṭha wear our shoes on Guru Mahārāja’s veranda.”
As soon as I said this, he realized what had actually happened. He gravely picked up the shoes and placed them on his head in great respect. In a heartbreaking voice, he said, “The Vaiṣṇavas’ shoes will always remain on my head,” and recited a verse from the scriptures:
jñānāvalambakāḥ kecit kecit karmāvalambakāḥ
vayaṁ tu hari-dāsānāṁ pāda-trāṇāvalambakāḥ
Śrī Padyāvalī (58)
Some follow the path of jñāna, while others follow the path of karma. We, however, are simply the carriers of the shoes of Śrī Hari’s servants.
He explained the meaning of the verse and lamented, “Alas, alas! I have mistakenly worn a Vaiṣṇava’s shoes. I am so unfortunate to have touched a Vaiṣṇava’s shoes with my feet. May the Vaiṣṇava Ṭhākura who owns these shoes forgive me.”
He did not simply slip on those shoes and think, “What difference does it make now? I have already worn them here.” Rather, he internalized his mistake and never wore them again. He put them in a bag and, some days later, returned barefoot by bus to Kṛṣṇanagara, where he returned them to their owner and prayed for his forgiveness. Such was his elevated consciousness. I happened to visit our Kṛṣṇanagara maṭha some days before he departed Māyāpura. There, a brahmacārī told me, “A crazy sannyāsī came and took my shoes. But it is fine, because I am using his shoes.” When I heard this, I was able to grasp just how expansive the gulf of difference was between the etiquette, humility, realization and conduct of Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja and that of the unmindful brahmacārī.
ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO SERVE ACCORDING TO THEIR NATURE
At one point, Śrīla Bhakti Prakāśa Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja exhibited the pastime of having an ocular disease that affected his vision and made it difficult for him to recognize people. Guru Mahārāja arranged for his treatment in a hospital in Kolkata and sent me to see to Śrīla Mahārāja’s needs.
A specialist at the hospital told me, “Before operating on his eyes, we must first control his diabetes. In order to do this, we need to manage his diet, and so his food must come from the hospital.”
I told the specialist, “Śrīla Mahārāja will not eat hospital food. We can prepare and provide him with whatever foods you advise.” The doctor accepted my proposal, and I began bringing Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja food prepared in the maṭha especially for him.
The day of Śrī Annakūṭa mahotsava eventually came, and a grand festival was held at our maṭha in Kolkata. Śrī Amiyā Rāya, a female disciple of Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja, was in attendance at the festival. She honored prasāda in the maṭha and packed some to take to her family members at home. On her way home, she stopped by the hospital to see her gurudeva. By providence, Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja was accepting prasāda at that time. Seeing her gurudeva taking simple prasāda she became upset and said, “Today is Annakūṭa. What kind of prasāda are they serving you?”
Before Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja could answer her, Śrī Amiyā Rāya filled his plate with the annakūṭa prasāda meant for her family. At her insistence, Śrīla Mahārāja honored some of the prasāda. His blood sugar increased, and the date of his operation was postponed as a result.
The specialist told me, “The food you are giving Mahārāja is more regulated than what he would have received from the hospital. But please explain to him that he is not to accept food from anyone’s hands but yours.”
When I conveyed the specialist’s order to Śrīla Araṇya Gosvāmī Mahārāja, he told me, “Look, there are two ways of serving: according to one’s own desires as permitted within the scope of scriptural injunctions, and with the consideration of what is most beneficial for the object of our service. Amiyā Rāya understands only the former; she serves according what she feels is best for herself. She is not yet advanced enough to practice the latter, in which she would serve according to what is best for her object of service. Anyway, I will do as you and the specialist say.”
Once Śrīla Mahārāja’s sugar levels returned to normal, the doctor performed the operation, and Śrīla Mahārāja regained his normal eyesight after only a few days.
AFFECTIONATE EXCHANGES BETWEEN GODBROTHERS