I first heard Srila Bhakti-vijnana Bharati Maharaja speak in 2008, when we were performing Navadvipa parikrama with Srila Gurudeva. The parikrama party of 20,000 pilgrims was visiting Srila Bharati Maharaja’s Sri Caitanya Gaudiya Matha, where Srila Bharati Maharaja was glorifying Srila Gurudeva for his world-wide preaching and for his unique contribution. I wasn’t sitting in his class at that time; I was wandering around outside with a thousand other pilgrims. All of a sudden my ears picked up what he was saying, as it was in English, and I found myself thinking, “What a great glorification of Srila Gurudeva. I like that speaker, whoever he is.”
I had no connection with him for the next four years after that. In 2012 I learned that Vasanti had become inspired by him and was already hearing from him, so I went to see him. I had doubts though, just as I had when I was considering hearing seriously from Srila Gurudeva after first meeting him in 1992. I was thinking, “Is it cheating Srila Gurudeva if I go to hear from Srila Bharati Maharaja in a serious way?” As history repeats itself, I didn’t understand right away that by hearing from him my faith in my siksa-guru, Srila Gurudeva, and diksa-guru, Srila Prabhupada, would increase.
I was thinking to express to him my doubt in him, but I didn’t know how, when, or if that opportunity would come. I had no plan to see him on that fortuitous day in March of 2012 – during the Gaura-Purnima festival in Mayapura – but our meeting came to pass.
Shivananda Sena and his wife Krsnamayi and I were on our own little parikrama, stopping at each Gaudiya Matha on the Mayapura parikrama path, one after another, to pay our respects. Srila Bharati Maharaja’s Matha was also on the path, and so we entered the temple courtyard. We were in the midst of appreciating the beautiful bas reliefs and dioramas when all of a sudden someone called out to us. Turning, I saw Srila Bharati Maharaja’s servant, Bhaktikinkara Damodara Maharaja, whom I had met at our own Matha in Govardhana months before. He called to me again, motioning for me to come over. “Come in,” he warmly invited us, “Srila Maharaja is giving darsana inside.”
At first I didn’t know that we were in Srila Maharaja’s Matha, but now I understood. Shy and hesitant I entered the darsana room, where I was surprised to see about forty Indian and Western disciples of Srila Gurudeva! Just as I had thought when I went to visit Srila Gurudeva in 1992, now, again I began wondering, “Am I lagging behind something important?”
I sat down not too far from him, and somehow, surprisingly not caring if I would embarrass myself, I mustered up the courage to tell Srila Maharaja my doubt. “I have heard you are a pure devotee. I accept that, intellectually, but I have no attachment. I don’t have a desire to be with you. I had so much desire to be with my siksa-guru, Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja, that I dropped everything and followed him around the planet for many years. I had full faith that by serving him, my service would go to my guru-maharaja, Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja, and that my guru-maharaja would be most pleased by that. In fact, I had faith that in order to know exactly what my guru-maharaja wanted me to do, I had to inquire from our Srila Gurudeva.” I concluded by telling him, “But I don’t have attraction for you.”
Perhaps because he appreciated my frankness, or perhaps just because of Srila Gurudeva’s and his mercy, he gave me such an amazing answer that I began to consider following him around when I would be in India. Srila Maharaja was 85 years old and he would not be leaving India. If I were to follow him, then, it would only be in India.
Srila Maharaja began by saying, “There is no need to be attracted to me. Guru is everywhere. He is in his books, in your heart, in every atom, everywhere.” I felt in my heart that his words had realization behind them, and that he was showing me indirectly that if I would have a connection with him, a bona fide guru, I would have a deeper relationship with our Gurudeva and our Prabhupada. Guru is one.
He continued, “Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami never uttered the name of his diksa-guru in his Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. He only uttered the name of his six siksa-gurus: Sri Rupa, Sanatana, Jiva, Gopala-Bhatta, Raghunatha Bhatta, and Raghunatha dasa Gosvamis. No one would ever know who his diksa-guru was, because he did not write about that. People have to speculate, ‘Hemay be, he may be, hemay be.’ His Caitanya-caritamrta is so unique, and his Govinda-lilamrta – which is full with the pastimes of Radha and Krsna during the eight periods of the day – is so wonderful that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura accepted his writings and quoted them in his own works.
“Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura quotes the summary verses of Govinda-lilamrta in his own Bhajana Rahasya. In his commentary to Mahaprabhu’s eight verses of Siksastakam, he elaborately quotes from Antya-lila of Caitanya-caritamrta, where Mahaprabhu expands on those most essential verses. And, in his own song from his Gitavali, which is also called Siksastakam, he adapted those Caitanya-caritamrta verses. In our Matha, we sing his Siksastakam bhajana during the month of Kartika every morning, noon, afternoon, and evening.
“Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami accepted all pure Vaisnavas as guru. An assembly of Gaudiya Vaisnavas had requested him to write Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, and he accepted. In the Caitanya-caritamrta itself, he reveals that Madana-mohana (the Deity in the Madana-mohana temple in Vrndavana) told him to accept the order of the Vaisnavas to write about the pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, especially after the Lord took sannyasa. So in fact, the writer of Caitanya-caritamrta is Madana-mohana Himself.”
[In Vrndavana there were also many other great devotees, all of whom desired to hear the last pastimes of Lord Caitanya. By their mercy, all these devotees ordered me to write of the last pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Because of their order only, although I am shameless, I have attempted to write this Caitanya-caritamrta.
Having received the order of the Vaisnavas but being anxious within my heart, I went to the temple of Madana-mohana in Vrndavana to ask His permission also. When I visited the temple of Madana-mohana, the priest Gosani dasa was serving the feet of the Lord, and I also prayed at the Lord’s lotus feet. When I prayed to the Lord for permission, a garland from His neck immediately slipped down. As soon as this happened, the Vaisnavas standing there all loudly chanted, “Haribol!” and the priest, Gosani dasa, brought me the garland and put it around my neck.
Actually Sri Caitanya-caritamrta is not my writing, but the dictation of Sri Madana-mohana. My writing is like the repetition of a parrot. As a wooden doll is made to dance by a magician, I write as Madana-gopala orders me to do so. (Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 8.71-79)]
Srila Bharati Maharaja continued, “Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has accepted Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami as his guru – even though nobody knows who Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami’s diksa-guru is.”
He then gave the example of Srila Haridasa Thakura: “Who is Haridasa Thakura’s diksa-guru? He did not have one; and yet, no one in the disciplic succession can neglect him as an authority.” Srila Maharaja then gave the example of Sukadeva Gosvami by quoting Lord Siva: ‘I may know; Sukadeva Gosvami, the son of Vyasadeva, may know; and Vyasadeva may or may not know the Srimad Bhagavatam.’ And then he paraphrased, “Maybe I (Siva) understand it, but Sukadeva Gosvami fully understands it.”
[Lord Siva said, “I may know; Sukadeva Gosvami, the son of Vyasadeva, may know; and Vyasadeva may know or may not know the Srimad Bhagavatam. On the whole, Srimad-Bhagavatam, the spotless Purana, can be learned only through devotional service, not by material intelligence, speculative methods or imaginary commentaries. (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 24.313)"]
How do we understand that Srila Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of Krsna Himself, may or may not understand Srimad-Bhagavatam? After all, we have received Srimad-Bhagavatam from him. Moreover, Sukadeva Gosvami also heard it from him. Srila Bharati Maharaja didn’t explain this in a lot of detail, but hinted at the answer. However, because I had heard Srila Gurudeva explain it in the past, I understood what Srila Maharaja meant: Vyasadeva is an incarnation of Krsna, a manifestation of God, but even God Himself, Krsna Himself, does not fully understand the depth of His own pastimes recounted in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Why? Because the pastimes of Radharani are there in the Bhagavatam, and He couldn’t fully understand Her.
Krsna had to become a devotee. He had to take the mood and complexion of Srimati Radharani in order to understand Her profound moods as described in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Sukadeva Gosvami is “on the side of” Radha, the reservoir of love, in the sense that he is Radha’s parrot. Vyasadeva is “on the side of” Krsna, in the sense that he is a manifestation of God. Therefore, he understood less than Sukadeva Gosvami.
In this way, Srila Maharaja was giving examples of the tattva of guru. His words reminded me of the words of Srila Prabhupada, and further clarified them just as Srila Gurudeva’s words had when I first met him in 1992. I recalled Gurudeva’s words:
If my heart has accepted Sri Rupa Gosvami as my siksa-guru, and I am accepting all his teachings, no one can challenge this. My heart accepts this. If I am accepting as my siksa-guru Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja, there are none to challenge. This is the relation between one’s heart and Gurudeva.
We should treat all the books of the Gosvamis as our siksa-gurus. We should offer pranama to the books, and then read them. If we do this, we will realize that all siddhanta is coming automatically in our heart. This is the process of reading ‒not reading, but serving ‒the books… When you are reading the dialogue between Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Raya Ramananda on the bank of the Godavari, you can think, “I am on the bank of Godavari. Raya Ramananda and Mahaprabhu are sitting here. I am also peacefully sitting with them, and hearing all their topics. O Mahaprabhu, O Raya Ramananda Prabhu, please be merciful to me. Please sprinkle your mercy upon me so that I can understand this high-class siddhanta.” Without praying in this way, you will have doubts and you will not be able to realize anything. (Los Angeles, California: June 4, 1998)]
Due to his affection, Sivananda Sena, one of the devotees with whom I had been on the Mayapura parikrama that day, had a grossly out-of-proportion conception of me. Now he started giving Srila Maharaja an exaggerated account of my preaching and painting services to Srila Prabhupada, and my preaching, painting and editing services to Srila Gurudeva.
To this, Srila Maharaja responded like a true successor of Srila Gurudeva. “Art is not bhajana,” he began. “Editing is not bhajana. They are nothing if there is no nama-bhajana. Uttering the holy name from the core of the heart – that is bhajana. If you are not doing bhajana, then even if you are writing, cooking, or anything else, there is no benefit.” Somehow I was in bliss to hear this. When he said “no benefit,” I understood that he was speaking in relation to the absolute platform, meaning that compared to chanting from the core of our hearts, there’s comparatively no benefit.
Because Sivananda Sena was saying how intimate I am with Srila Prabhupada and how much I served him, Srla Maharaja commented on that as well. “How many years have I known Srila Swami Maharaja?” He said. “So many more years than you. I knew him when he was a householder in the early 1940’s and 1950s. We served him then. When his son and wife were not serving him, we were serving him. He came to our Matha Mandir (the temple room, where kirtana and harikatha classes take place) in Puri. It was he and Srila Bhaktipromoda Puri Maharaja, myself, and others; we were all chanting together.”
What I picked up was that he was trying to inspire my faith in him; that like Gurudeva, he understands Prabhupada much better than I do. In this way, he was freeing me from my doubts.
He then began telling a little about Srila Prabhupada’s life. He talked about when Prabhupada was a householder, coming to Chippawalli, where he worked on translating his books, and then when he went to Radha-Damodara Mandira in Vrndavana.
Srila Maharaja said to Sivananda, “I know everything. There’s no necessity for you to tell me about him, because I know everything. Before going to America for the first time, he told me, ‘Now I’m going overseas to America. I am giving my life to establish Krsna consciousness in the West. I gave my life to my family, but that was not successful.’ He went to America and chanted in the park with his karatalas, ‘Sri Krsna Caitanya Prabhu Nityananda, Sri Advaita Gadadhara Srivasadi Gaura Bhaktavrnda.’ He first produced Srimad-Bhagavatam without photos (paintings), and then he added them in a later printing.” Srila Maharaja concluded by saying that without the grace of God, everything is wrong, and that by the grace of Nityananada Prabhu, Prabhupada’s preaching mission was successful.
He then resumed his discussion about Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, who, he explained, had also received the grace of Nityananda. By the grace of Nityananda, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami was able to write Caitanya-caritamrta. By reiterating, “It was not Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami who wrote Caitanya-caritamrta. Who was it? It was Madana Mohana,” Srila Maharaja was reminding me, without saying it directly, that guru is a manifestation of God; all the bona fide gurus are manifestations of the same God.
He then turned his attention to Srila Sanatana Gosvami, connecting him with Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami. “Sanatana Gosvami is the sambandha-acarya (the acarya of establishing one’s relationship with Krsna),” he said, “and Madana-mohana is the sambandha Deity, the Deity who gives service; He who is first approached for service. It was that Madana-mohana who wrote Caitanya-caritamrta.”
Continuing this idea of guru manifesting God’s will and God working through guru, Srila Maharaja then began speaking about Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu. He explained that Baladeva’s siksa-guru, Srila Visvanatha Cakravati Thakura, was performing pastimes of being infirm in his later years. Therefore, when the King of Jaipura requested Srila Cakravarti Thakura to travel to Jaipura to establish Gaudiya Vaisnavism as a bona fide sampradaya (line of devotional philosophy and practice), and to establish through scriptural evidence that Radharani should stand by the side of Govinda on the altar of the Govindadeva temple, Srila Cakravarti Thakura said he could not go.
“Instead, on his behalf, he sent Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu, who soundly proved that Radharani’s position is superior to that of Krsna’s married queens. The opposing caste-gosvamis, who had claimed that since Radharani was not married to Krsna, She had no moral right to stand beside Him, were silenced by Srila Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu’s powerful presentation, but because the Gaudiya Vaisnavas did not yet have their own commentary on Vedanta-sutraas every other bona fide sampradaya did, they refused to accept the Gaudiya Vaisnavas as a bona fide part of the Madhva Sampradaya. Baladeva Vidyubusana argued, ‘What is the need, when Srila Vyasadeva himself, who is our guru and the author of Vedanta-sutra, wrote the natural commentary on Vedanta-sutra: Srimad-Bhagavatam? That is our commentary.’ When they refused to accept his logic, Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu said, ‘Alright, give me one day.’”
Srila Maharaja described how, on that night, when Baladeva Prabhu prayed to Govinda, the temple Deity in Jaipura, Govinda appeared to him and said, ‘You write, and I will dictate throughout the night.’ “Thus, our Gaudiya commentary on Vedanta-sutra, which externally was written by Baladeva Vidyubusana Prabhu, was actually written by Govindadeva. In fact, Baladeva Vidyabhusana Prabhu named it the ‘Govinda Bhasya,’ the commentary of Sri Govindadeva.”
Very satisfied so far, I then asked Srila Maharaja about our sanga. “Our Gurudeva once said that the success of our sanga’s preaching will depend on the unity of the leading preachers. Sometimes I find that the leadership is in unity, sometimes it’s totally not in unity, and sometimes some of the leaders divert from the path of bhakti.” Then, although I was not surrendered to him, I still somehow asked, “Since you know the future, can you tell what will be the future of our sanga? Will it be progressive, since there’s sometimes not unity? I’m disturbed about this.”
I was once again happily surprised by Srila Maharaja’s answer. “What is it to you?” He replied, “It is not for you to think about this. You should just depend on God. It is by the will of God that everything is happening. Not only all the good things, but also the diversions, would not have happened if it were not for the will of God.”
To confirm that I heard correctly, I asked, “So whether there’s a diversion by the sanga leaders or not, you’re saying that it doesn’t affect our bhakti at all?”
He replied, “It’s not your duty to think about this. Why should you think about it?”
“Because when there are fights between the leaders,” I said, “this creates schisms and camps. So we shouldn’t think about this? I am asking because we have dedicated our whole lives to the sanga.”
He repeated, “What is the loss to you? Is there any loss or gain for you?” Then he added, “We respect all Vaisnavas. Whether they are Vaisnavas according to our eyes or not, they are all Vaisnavas on different levels. So, if they come to us, we respect them all and serve them [we give them prasadam, and we see that they’re comfortable – like that]. We serve them, but we don’t do sambandha (a close relationship) with them. There are six kinds of sambandha: revealing one’s mind in confidence, hearing from the other person, offering foodstuffs to them and accepting their foodstuffs, giving gifts and receiving gifts.”
Srila Maharaja explained that we discriminate according to our ability so that we can know whether or not to associate, but we don’t discriminate regarding whether or not to serve. He said, “If I’m busy looking here and there, thinking, ‘He’s not doing this and she’s not doing that, who is chanting, who is not chanting, who is treating somebody well and who is not,’ it is due to my misfortune that I’m seeing all this with my eyes. This means that I am not looking towards bhakti.
“Everything depends on the sincerity of the sadhaka,” he continued. “If I am sincere, there will be no difficulty for me. If there is difficulty and I am confused and diverted, I should think that this is due to my lack of sincerity.”
I was thinking “He’s heavy (one of the meanings of guru is ‘heavy’), and at the same time he looks so innocent, like a child. As soon as he begins to speak, he is really powerful. He is friendly and adorable and funny, but when he wants to be heavy, he’s heavy.”
I found that he was always stressing, just as Gurudeva always stressed, that we’re all one family. Once, he said on that day that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu never established any Mathas. Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s followers also never established any Mathas. All the Gaudiya Vaisnavas were like one big happy family. Even Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura didn’t establish any Mathas. It wasn’t until Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada that the Mathas began; he established Mathas for training preachers. At the same time, Srila Sarasvati Thakura said, “But, whenever there is a Matha, there will be litigation and diversion. Litigation means ‘I’m suing you and you are suing me.’”
That was the basis of my first conversation with Srila Maharaja. It was a life-transforming day for me.