om ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana-salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri -gurave namah
Before attempting to write this offering, I pray to Maharaj, placing his lotus feet on my head.
I first came to Srila Bharati Maharaja during an extended trip to India in 2014.
Like many devotees following the disappearance of our own beloved Srila Gurudeva, Srila Narayan Goswami Maharaj, I was hankering for the loving association and shelter of a pure devotee, and revealed my mind to Syamarani didi. She said, well, when you're in India, you could visit Srila Maharaja.
She gave me contact information for one of Maharaja's dear sevakas, Sundar Gopal prabhu, and he told me that Maharaj would be staying at one householder disciple's flat in Pune (Poona), and I planned to visit for that week.
When I came to the apartment, I found I was the only westerner there. Maharaja had been unwell, and so emails had been sent to all the western devotees not to come to Pune that week so as not to place any undue burden on Maharaja. However, by Krsna's grace, my email was not on any such list. And so there were programs every evening for a week, where the apartment was indeed filled with so many Indian devotees, and every evening I was invited to be one of the devotees leading some bhajan/kirtan before the program began.
My first experience with Maharaj was, hmmm, he appears very stoic and very grave. I found his mangalacaran hypnotic in his slow and very emphatic way of reciting it, and was happy enough to sit each evening though nothing was in English. For the first few days, I didn't feel an especial connection with him, though each day I came I brought something, as I knew that was the proper way to come to a sadhu. So I brought vegetables or fruits or some money to offer him.
Then one day I passed by a street flower-vendor selling some lovely arrangements of flowers including long stems of beautifully fragrant white tuberose; and I thought how devotees would bring beautiful flowers for Srila Prabhupada's rooms. So I happily ordered a specific arrangement I though would be very nice in Maharaja's room, and brought it to him. At which point he looked towards the sevaka in the room with him and asked something, and then the flowers were taken out of the room. A little later I asked that sevak what Maharaj had said, and he told me that Maharaj had asked "what will I do with these?" and then instructed they just put them in the room of the young daughter of the family in whose apartment they were all staying. I thought over this, and laughed to myself - understanding that from Maharaja's point of view, since there were no deities there, no temple, the flowers had no use in his vision. He did not see anything in terms of his own sense gratification - and if he could not directly engage anything in Krsna's service, it was irrelevant to him. I never got him flowers again!
By the end of the week, I had developed a little taste to be around him, although I had not come to the point of accepting him as anything other than a sweet and very senior Vaishnava I was fortunate enough to have had some darshans of. And then the last day came, and I went to his room to offer some parting words of appreciation, and turned to his sevaka expectantly to wait for him to translate whatever Maharaj might say to me, as before; when Maharaj suddenly spoke in English to me. I was so surprised, I didn't really register what he said, I just stuttered that, "Oh, you speak English?" At which he laughed a little and said "yes, I speak some English," and then gave me his blessings and let me know I was welcome to visit him again.
When I returned to America, I started to hold programs at my apartment in Austin, Texas. One young man by the name of Adam came after I met him in a natural foods grocers. He was with his girl-friend at the time, who knew me from when I had attended a little gathering at someone else's home and shared some kirtan along with my dear friend Jagadish prabhu, who was and is a regular contributor to the growing kirtan scene in Austin. When I began to speak to her, and to relate everything to spiritual principles, I noticed how Adam was listening intently to everything I was saying, so I then made him the focus of my talking. I invited them to come to my next home-program of kirtan, philosophical discourse and prasadam. He came, and every week from then on, taking japa beads the second visit, and becoming very serious about chanting nicely. He also brought several other friends, beginning with James and then Zach and Hunter, and all began to seriously embrace Krsna consciousness.
Soon, Adam and James in particular were ready for a much higher level of association and instruction. So I told them that they would be best served by going to India with the prayer in their heart to Krsna to reveal to them their guru. That it wasn't necessary for me to tell them who I might think their guru could be, that Krsna and Guru himself would lead them. They became committed to the idea of going to India soon, and I told them they should visit the holy dhamas especially, and while they were there, to also seek out the association of Srila Bhakti Vijnana Bharati Maharaj, as he was undoubtedly a very senior and pure Vaishnava whose association and blessings would be very auspicious for them.
Then after they came to India, they did indeed seek out Maharaj in Mayapur, and rightaway were inspired to realize that he was their Guru, and he very mercifully accepted them as his disciples. I was very happy to hear this, and soon enough I was back in India myself, for the Mayapur festival in 2015, I think it was.
Adam was now Acyuta Krsna das, and he was very anxious simply to remain in Maharaja's association, but he was told there was nowhere for him to stay at the math there in Mayapur, nor any service for him to do, and indeed there were so many western devotees who wanted some service to perform. I told him that if that was indeed his heart's desire, then he should simply stay at the matha all day, and continually ask for any menial service to perform, any cleaning, any vegetable preparation, anything. And after a few days of his doing like this, he excitedly reported to me that he had been given a bed in a room with a couple of other brahmacaris, and was to serve under Narottama prabhu's direction.
Meanwhile, I had some questions for Maharaj of my own. One was in regards to the ever-bubbling controversy over the shape of the earth - as soon as I said to Maharaj how this was becoming a very relevant and controversial topic, especially now that the great Planetarium was manifesting there in Mayapur dhama, but devotees were not agreed at all as to the shape of things, he said the earth is a globe, but not like a sphere, rather it is oval-shaped; and therefore time and the position of the stars is quite different in the two hemispheres.
I also asked him about whether we should adopt a vegan diet in the west, except for what is prepared in the temples specifically for the pleasure of the deities, and to try to use only ahimsa milk products. He replied that in the West, all the cows are being terribly mistreated. Therefore we should purchase their milk-products and offer them to Krsna so that they might get some benefit.
Finally I had discussed with Sripad Bhakti Kinkara Damodar Maharaj something of my own situation. I began by telling him that my wife had left me a couple of years previously because she was not anxious to pursue spiritual life; to which Maharaj exuberantly said 'oh very good,' and began to pump my hand up and down, laughing merrily. And I told him that several seniors in my sanga had suggested I take up sannyasa, that this ashram would actually give me protection in regards to sex desire and desire for an intimate loving relationship with a woman. I told him I was not convinced about their advice, and I wanted Srila Guru Maharaj's guidance. So he made sure I could speak to Srila Guru Maharaj in his room without anyone else's interrupting us. I didn't mention the 's' word per se, but asked Srila Guru Maharaj in different ways about detachment and renunciation and his specific recommendations for me. And he spoke to me in his own tongue, yet without really addressing this issue. I kept pushing, because I really wanted his guidance. And then he looked at me, and in clear English said - "You must know your own adhikara."
His words profoundly impacted me. Every day for a year, I could hear him saying this inside me, and I could feel his presence. And finally I understood. It became very clear to me that I did not at all have the adhikara for sannyasa, and I became peaceful within myself as I recognized and accepted where I was actually located. And I regularly share the lesson he gave me with persons I speak to, by telling them that one part of being able to 'get there from here,' is to know where 'there' is, what is our sadhya, the goal of our practice, in other words. But it is also essential we know where 'here' is too. That if I want you to tell me how to get to your place, you have to know where I am coming from, otherwise how will you give me directions? So to know where 'here' is, to know our actual adhikara, to know how to proceed from the actual position we are coming. Even today I can close my eyes and remember Maharaj telling me this, so very deeply impressing my heart, and I profoundly feel his presence.
The next year I visited him in Puri at his new ashram there - Acyuta Krsna and James, now Yasoda Jivan das, were anxious to let Maharaj know I was the one that had sent them to him, along with Jay Govinda das (previously Zak) and Hari Vallabha (previously Hunter). So when I came into Maharaja's room to offer my dandavat pranams, Yasoda was there and telling Maharaj, "Oh this is Narasingha prabhu; he is the one who introduced us to Krsna consciousness in America. and by Narasingha prabhu's mercy we are here ... and Narasingha prabhu this and Narasingha prabhu that ..." And Maharaj stopped and made a very exaggerated expression with his eyebrowas lifted right up, and he asked in a suitably reverent tone, "Oh, Narasingha prabhu is here? Narasingha prabhu has come?" And we all started to laugh.
And I just placed my head on his feet on his bed and asked for his ashirvad, his blessings, and he said so sweetly, as he said to so many, "Oh, my blessings are always with you."
One thing with Maharaj - from the very first time I came to him, his health was always not so good. Although he had a very tall and strong physical presence, he was of course always being helped in his movements everywhere. Indeed, he would say "my arms, my legs, my stomach, they are all not working properly, they can not do anything. Only my mouth can work, therefore I can talk about Krsna." The thing is, how I knew Maharaj was as always being a little sick. And that's how I thought, oh, he is a little sick, a little weak, so he may not speak so consistently, so long, but he will speak, he will be there. He may be a little sick, but he will always be there.
So after being with him again in 2017, hearing from him in Mayapur at his new math, when I came back to the US, I thought, "Oh, I have wasted my opportunities with him, I have not listened properly to his katha, my mind wanders too much, I must concentrate better. Yes, next year when I go back, I will be one-pointed in my listening: and I will also take my middle children to see and hear from him, and receive this greatest boon of life: to have even a moment's association with the pure devotee." And indeed I made all the arrangements to take my boy and girl to India, with the main intention of bringing them to him. But shortly before we left for India, I got the news that Maharaja himself was suddenly preparing to leave our physical vision, and then he did. And once again, we are bereft of the anugatya of such a devotee. And I realized that, although at first, I didn't know who he was, I did not feel so much attachment to him, I had come to the point by his own kindness that I felt some love for him in my heart, some little attachment; and now he was gone, and I cannot relive the times I did spend with him, only this time, to take proper advantage of such, to not waste my time or attention when I am actually in the presence of such a great soul, a mahabhagavata suddha-Vaishnava.
So now I can only pray to Maharaj, to my own beloved diksa Guru, Srila Narayan Maharaja, to my first siksa Guru Srila Prabhupada, to all our guruvarga, to be very kind and bless me with their causeless mercy that should they be so kind as to again reveal themselves in any other manifestation of Sri Guru to me in this life, that I do not waste such a matchless gift, that I can actually give something of myself, my time, my attention, my heart, to them, because in truth, they are the only proper recipient of such, the 'transparent via medium' between us and Sri Sri Radha Krsna ...
vancha kalpa tarubhyas ca, kripa sindubhya eva ca
patitanam pavanebhyo vaishnavebhyo namo namah