- Lavang Manjari Devi Dasi (Vrndavana), Disciple
"He Sweetly Assured Me of His Presence"
om ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana-salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri-gurave namah
O my most beloved and worshipable Srila Gurudeva! Please accept my repeated, heartfelt obeisances at the dust of your lotus feet. Please enable me to describe but a scent of your boundless glories in this offering. Without your will, it is impossible…as is all else.
I also offer my repeated, heartfelt obeisances at the lotus feet of Parama-pujyapada Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja, by whose mercy, I got shelter at your lotus feet.
OCTOBER 2016: A WAVE OF MERCY
I first met Srila Gurudeva in 2012, during Gaura Purnima in Mayapura. He gave a short but beautiful talk about how parikrama enables one to simultaneously perform all the 9 limbs of bhakti and at the same time also gives an opportunity to get the three most potent ingredients that award bhakti – bhakti-pada-dhuli, bhakti-pada-jala, bhakta-bhukta-avasesa. I found this explanation fascinating.
Then, during the Ratha-yatra of 2014, I spent a month hearing his hari-katha in Śrī Caitanya Gaudiya Matha, Puri. Srila Gurudeva was stressing a lot on ‘sincerity’ those days. He would say the word ‘sincere’ in English, although the rest of the katha was in Hindi. He stressed that we cannot progress on the devotional path without sincerity. He said, “The term ‘sincere’ is reserved for those who hanker exclusively for the service of God.”
In Kartika 2016, by his causeless mercy, Srila Gurudeva accepted me as his disciple. But it had still not sunk in, what a great wave of mercy had come upon me. I was just going along, attending his hari-katha, slowly getting purified by his words, the sight of divine form, his presence, the touch of his feet, and the prasadam that he would personally hand out.
One day, Srila Gurudeva was quite unwell and so his sevakas carried him upstairs to his room, requesting him not to hand out prasadam personally that day. But he insisted. He sat there, in the doorway of his room at Śrī Gopinatha Gaudiya Matha, lovingly handing out samosas to each and every devotee. There must have been about 200 of us! He handed them out till the very last devotee walked up. Later his sevaka said, “Srila Maharaja sees this as a service to the vaisnavas.”
After Kartika, just before leaving Vrndavana, Srila Gurudeva delivered a wonderful talk about how devotees should always take shelter of the bhakta bhagavata and the grantha bhagavata, every single day, without fail.
ALWAYS GLORIFY VAISNAVAS ON THEIR TITHIS
One day, in Puri, during the time when there were a host of Vaisnava tithis on consecutive days, Srila Gurudeva was speaking hari-katha as I was sitting among others, hearing. As he would usually, he started out by saying how the appearance and disappearance days of Vaisnavas are auspicious, it is our duty to glorify them on these days, it is an offence not to glorify them and so on. Conditioned as I am, I started to find it a bit repetitive. Just as I was thinking like this – what he said next changed my entire perspective for good.
Srila Gurudeva said, “I repeat the same words day on day, everyday. Yet I don't see any transformation in those around me.” It was like a jab in my heart, facing the hard reality. Yes, I was one of those who were not transformed, despite the ‘repitition’. The tithis would come and go and I wasn't particular about glorifying or remembering the vaisnavas. So as an atonement for my mental offense, and for guru-avajna, I resolved that day to remember and remind others on such tithis. I pray to Srila Gurudeva to enable me to do this one service for his pleasure, even if I am unable to render any other.
‘I AM YOUR FATHER’
In June 2017, one day while waking up the Deities at home, before beginning the puja in the morning, I mentally woke up Srila Gurudeva. As I did this, I felt he said, “I am you father and you are my daughter.” Brushing the thought aside as a product of my mind, I carried on with my duties.
Later that day, I got to know that it was one senior vaisnavi’s bday. So I went over to meet her. As she caught sight of me, the first thing she said was, ‘I want to read something out to you.’ I began to say, ‘Ok didi, but I came over to wish you…” She said, ‘Wait.’
Then she reached out for her phone, found the message and just before reading she said, “This is a letter that Srila Prabhupada wrote to his disciple, but it is applicable to everyone, to you as well. So please hear.” She continued –
“Letter to: Syama -- Montreal 30 August, 1968.
When I initiated you, I accepted you on that very moment as my daughter. So you are eternally my daughter and I am your father. There is no doubt about it. And our relationship is based on Krsna Consciousness, so the more successful you preach and help Krsna Consciousness movement, the more our relationship in transcendental platform is firm and fixed up. Our business is to chant and glorify the Holy Name of Krsna and wherever we may remain, Krsna is with us, Krsna is within your heart, Krsna is within my heart. So, spiritually there is no question of separation, even if physically we may be in a far distant place.”
I realized that Srila Gurudeva was personally confirming to me the message he had broadcast in my heart earlier that day. How merciful, personal and divine Srila Gurudeva is!
VYASA PUJA, PURI, JULY 2017
Srila Gurudeva’s health was not at all good during this time. The plans for his visit to Puri were tentative till the very end. That year, a lot of devotees had gathered in Puri, eagerly awaiting his arrival.
Suddenly we got the confirmation that Srila Gurudeva was coming to Puri. Later we got to know that he had insisted that he must go. He would say, “All the Vaisnavas come to Puri during Ratha-yatra and to Mayapura during Gaura Purnima. Therefore if I go to these places during those times, I will get darsana of all of them and an opportunity to serve them.”
During that period, although he was feeling weak, Srila Gurudeva spoke hari-katha every day.
On the day of his Vyasa Puja, he was extremely unwell. He had come to the temple room for the puja and sat through while everyone offered him obeisances and flowers and then retired to his room. After that, glorifications were in progress in the temple room. Srila Gurudeva’s sevakas were showing him the live broadcast of the offerings in his room on the phone. Suddenly, Srila Gurudeva said, “They are all showering so much affection upon me. I must go.”Next thing we knew, he came to the temple room again and sat amongst everyone, just to reciprocate with their love.
Time and again, he showed how he was always unconstrained by the bodily platform.
WAKING UP WITH A BEAMING SMILE
In one of those hari-kathas in July 2017, due to extreme tiredness, Srila Gurudeva had once dozed off a bit in his chair while the English translation was in progress. As I watched, one devotee softly touched his foot to wake him up and he immediately woke up with a beaming smile! Later, I heard from one of his sevakas that it was one of his hallmark features. He would always wake up after resting with a beaming smile!
INTENSE ABSORPTION IN SPEAKING HARI-KATHA
Srila Gurudeva was always so absorbed in speaking hari-katha that he was literally oblivious to external distractions (although he was always alert* at the same time). Once his woolen cap had come down, so much so that it was almost covering his eyes. Yet he continued to speak. I indicated this to his sevaka, who quickly adjusted the cap, yet, he continued to speak. So many other times, there were technical disturbances or some loud background sounds, or processions passing by, but he was always unfazed. He would often say, “This is the only service I can do now, in my old age. The day I am unable to do even this anymore, I wish to leave this world.”
*Once my sister and mother had arrived late night in Puri, and we had all gone for darsana with Srila Gurudeva the next morning. So when I mentioned that they had come the earlier day, Srila Gurudeva instantly said,“But I didn't see them in the katha yesterday.”Then, when I explained that they had come late night, he was satisified. So he was always very alert as well.
THE LAST MEETING
During my last personal darsana with Srila Gurudeva in Faridabad after initially asking about our well-being, he asked us what we (my husband and I) wanted to discuss. We had some questions, seeking direction in spiritual life. One by one, he satisfactorily and completely put all our doubts to rest. One of the questions we asked was – “We are staying in Vrndavana. Is it ok for us, being grhasthas, to stay there?” This doubt was always looming in our minds, as some of our guru-varga allowed it, while others opposed it. So we needed a final directive from Srila Gurudeva. He simply replied, “Stay where there is sadhu sanga. That should be your reason to choose where to stay. Go for hari-katha, and always take prasad if it is given after the katha. It is very potent for your spiritual life.”
In another interaction, I asked him about a doubt I had since a long time. After sastrically resolving it, he gave me prasad and just as I was getting up to go, he smiled. I have no words to express the compassion and affection he poured through that smile. He knew my anxiety. Then he said, “Krsna is watching his sincere devotees. Have faith that he will do what is good for you.”As he spoke those words, I was instantly reassured and absolutely convinced without doubt.
RECIPROCATING WITH SINCERITY
Once I had gone along with a god-sister and many other devotees for Srila Gurudeva’s darsana. She had taken to heart the instruction that Srila Gurudeva had given on the last day of his visit in Kartika 2016 to serve Srimad Bhagavatam everyday. From the very next day onwards, she started attending Srimad Bhagavatam class every single day. If for some reason or ill-health she couldn't make it for the class, she would diligently read Srimad Bhagavatam at home that day. She considered it an instruction from Śrī Guru that had to be fulfilled, come what may.
That day while about 20 of us were entering Srila Gurudeva’s room for darsana, about 10 devotees entered before us and then my god-sister, who was right in front of me, entered. I observed that Srila Gurudeva was grave while everyone else entered, but when she entered he gave a beaming smile. I instantly realized that he was reciprocating with the sincerity she had shown, without even being told of it externally. Srila Gurudeva knows everyone’s heart. That day, after the darsana was over, again the same thing repeated, he was grave while everyone else paid obeisances but when she came forward, he smiled widely. He knew she needed the encouragement.
In another incident that a sevaka once shared with us, there was a god-sister of Srila Gurudeva in Chandigarh, who would stitch kurtas (shirts) for him. Although they were quite untidy and unevenly stitched, Srila Gurudeva would still wear them. When asked why, he said, “Because she makes it with so much affection.” Another time when asked, “Among the various cloths that are donated to you, why do you choose to use the ones which are thinner and not as good in quality as compared to the others?” To which Srila Gurudeva replied, “Because someone who has bought this thin cloth, has most probably bought it from his meager savings with a lot of affection, as opposed to some rich person who might have donated the best quality cloth. So to reciprocate with the former, I use the lower quality cloth.”
WHO TO HEAR FROM?
Another time I asked Srila Gurudeva, “Who should we hear hari-katha from?” He replied, “Hear from someone whose acarana is proper.” I had never heard an answer as lucid as this for this oft-asked question before! Yet it was the exact thing I needed to hear to resolve my doubts and give me some direction.
I often noticed and heard this from others, that Srila Gurudeva would completely satisfy anyone who asked him a question. Not only that, after speaking with him, devotees would feel pacified and blissful, no matter what their state was before. One other thing I always noticed was that Srila Gurudeva would always instantly reply, sometimes even before the question was over. He never paused to think before replying. Yet his responses were always perfect.
YOU CAN ONLY GO AS FAR AS YOUR ADHIKARA ALLOWS
Once in a darsana, a devotee asked Srila Gurudeva, “How can I overcome the tendency for sense gratification?” Srila Gurudeva gave an unexpected answer, that changed something within me forever. He smiled and said, “It is not a matter of one lifetime to overcome sense gratification. You can try to use your intelligence to restrain your senses, but real and natural distaste for sense gratification comes as a fruit of many lifetimes of bhakti.” He then gave the example of the leaky tap, which makes an impression on the floor by it’s constant drops after many years. He was indicating that our adhikara increases slowly as we continue to do bhakti. However, to encourage that devotee he asked, “Which drop contributed to the impression on the floor?” The devotee smiled and replied, “Every drop.” Srila Gurudeva said, “Yes, right from the first drop, the process had begun. Similarly, with every act of bhakti, the adhikara increases.”
The way and the mood with which Srila Gurudeva said it, made a very calming impression on my mind. I realized that he was naturally accepting of everyone, no matter what their adhikara and hence, everyone felt so loved by him. I learnt that, no matter what, I can only expect out of myself and others, as our respective adhikara allows. This helped me to completely accept the shortcomings in myself and the weaknesses I perceived in others, without making judgments and hence offenses and has proven to be a very helpful principle to serve together harmoniously. Srila Gurudeva also gave me the hope that with each feeble attempt of mine in the realm of bhakti, I am moving ahead, even though the progress may not be comprehensible for me right now.
HIS LAST SERVICE
When the doctors gave up hope of any recovery on September 3, they had just given Srila Gurudeva a few more hours, as per their medical experience. The devotees had set up an ICU in the matha and Srila Gurudeva was transferred there that night. It was all quite sudden and unexpected. On September 1, when I last met him, although by his gaze he acknowledged my obeisances but he was preoccupied in discussion with his sevaka, eager to get back to the matha and be among Vaisnavas.
That night we were not expecting that Srila Gurudeva would remain with us another 36 hours! But as I saw the devotees from abroad and other parts of India rushing in, I realized he was waiting for them, to give them an opportunity to meet him one last time. As I looked upon his peaceful divine form from the window of his room, I realized he was just waiting to fulfill the desire of the various devotees who loved him so much. I was certain he considered it his service unto them, to reciprocate with their love. Many who couldn't make it to take darsana of him in Faridabad, could make it for the samadhi ceremony. I was amazed to see how many devotees made it in time, by Srila Gurudeva’s grace.
PERFECT PRECEPT – YAH MARYADA RAKSATI VAISNAVANAM
Srila Gurudeva’s precept is truly inspiring and ideal. His very life and each action he performed was based on staunch principles. Innumerable instances come to mind on this front, but I will quote one.
Once a devotee proposed that he wanted to get a special woolen sweater made for Srila Gurudeva and he started describing to him how it would be. Just as the devotee was leaving, Srila Gurudeva said, “I cannot accept this sweater.” The devotee was perplexed and requested but Srila Gurudeva didn't not budge from his decision. Later when his sevakas asked, “Maharaja, you never reject anyone who wishes to gift you something. Why then, did you say no to this devotee?” Srila Gurudeva replied, “Usually I accept whatever comes to me considering it to be sent by my Guru Maharaja. But since this devotee gave me a sense of choice by describing it, then such an offering would become an object of my contemplation or choice. So I don't want to implicate myself in sense enjoyment, so I requested him not to get it.”
TOUCHING HIS LOTUS FEET –THE ONE LAST TIME
One interaction that I always cherish is when I got to place my head onto the lotus feet of Srila Gurudeva before accepting prasadam from him, after every katha. Each time I did it, I felt so fortunate.
By Srila Gurudeva mercy, I was present in Faridabad from September 3 onwards, two days prior to his departure. As his impending departure became a certainty, among the many thoughts racing through my mind, was the thought that I would never get to touch his lotus feet again. While he was in the hospital and later when he was brought to the maṭha, his lotus feet were always covered under a quilt.
Finally the day of his samadhi arrived. During his maha-abhiseka, the entire courtyard was packed. I was sitting to the left of Srila Gurudeva, perhaps in the fifth row from him. As we all sat there watching his divine form being bathed, my sadness knew no bounds as it began to dawn upon me that this was the absolute last time I was going to see his divine form externally, minutes before he would enter samadhi.
Just as the final puja began, Syamarani didi arrived (on his right side), she offered him a dipa and reached out and touched his feet! I thought – “That's it! I will go to the right side of Srila Gurudeva and reach out and touch his feet!” I suddenly sprang to my feet, with this plan in mind. But realized that there was literally no place to move. The puja was now over and Srila Gurudeva would be carried inside. I thought, ‘This is it. No other chance.’ I kept looking at his feet while sitting there.
And then suddenly, the devotees lifted his asana and before I knew it, the unimaginable happened - His divine lotus feet were right in front of me! I reached out and touched them, overwhelmed with the feeling that Srila Gurudeva had reciprocated with my prayer. I was sweetly assured of his eternal presence. And surprisingly, no one else reached out to touch his feet, which is quite implausible.