Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja
[October 30, 2021 is the appearance day of Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana, India. Below is an excerpt of his glories from 'My Beloved Masters' by Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Vijñāna Bhāratī Gosvāmī Mahārāja]
HAPPILY ENDURING DIFFICULTY FOR THE SERVICE OF ŚRĪ GURU
Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja and Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Hṛdaya Vana Gosvāmī Mahārāja once went to Ambālā to assist in setting up a spiritual education exhibition at Kurukṣetra, as per the desire of Śrīla Prabhupāda. Being unable to find accommodations for themselves, they resorted to spending the night under a bridge, where they bared the cold weather by embracing each other for warmth and remembering Kṛṣṇa’s pastime in which He spent a night in the forest with Sudāmā while serving their guru.
THE NATURAL HUMILITY OF VAISNAVAS
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja and my Guru Mahārāja (then known
as Śrī Hayagrīva Brahmacārī), once preached in the city of Madras (now Chennai). At that time, a debate between Dr. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇan—who contrary to his name was a strong proponent of the school of advaitavāda (non-duality, or impersonalism)—and Dr. Nāgarāja Śarmā—who contrary to his name was a firm promoter of dvaitavāda (duality)—was published in the English daily paper The Hindu in the form of a series of articles. Through these articles, both men put forth arguments in favor of their respective faiths while refuting the other’s arguments. This continued for some time, until the dvaitavādīs and advaitavādīs of Madras decided to organize a debate between the two men under the chairmanship of a representative from the Gauḍīya Maṭha. Whatever conclusion the chairman would reach was to be considered final and acceptable for all.
When the local residents approached Guru Mahārāja with the proposal to ap- point a representative from the Gauḍīya Maṭha institution as chairman for the debate, he was very pleased and requested Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja to accept the chairmanship. In a humble manner befitting a Vaiṣṇava, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja accepted the proposal.
In the meantime, Guru Mahārāja received a telegram from Śrīla Prabhupāda ordering him to come to Kolkata. When Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja heard about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s message, he said to Guru Mahārāja, “O Hayagrīva Prabhu, I will not be able to accept the post of the chairman for the debate if you are absent.”
Guru Mahārāja replied, “Although Śrīla Prabhupāda will certainly be pleased if I were to leave now for Kolkata as he has instructed, I firmly believe that he will be much more pleased to hear that the Gauḍīya Maṭha was awarded the chairmanship of a debate to be held in such a great assembly of dignitaries, even if it results in a slight delay in my reaching Kolkata.”
On the day of the debate, Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja was formally appointed as the chairman. In his opening address, he humbly said, “Although I am not qualified to hold the post of chairman for this debate, I have accepted the position in order to fulfill the instructions and desires of the Vaiṣṇavas and noble members of the society.”
When the debate started, Dr. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇan spoke first and attempted to establish the superiority of advaitavāda. Afterward, when dvaitavādī Dr. Nāgarāja Śarmā was asked to establish his viewpoint, he began his address by saying, “Because Vaiṣṇavas are humble by nature, they introduce themselves by saying ‘dāso ’smī—I am your servant.’ Advaitavādīs, however, being unable to appreciate such dignity, are always eager to proudly introduce themselves by saying ‘aham brahmāsmi—I am brahma (the Absolute Truth).’ ” Indirectly referring to the humble conduct of Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, he then said, “Truly speaking, there is no need for Vaiṣṇavas to exhibit their humility in all places and circumstances.” After this, Dr. Nāgarāja Śarmā went on to establish his views on dvaitavāda.
At the end of the debate, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja said in his concluding speech as chairman, “It is a fact that a person’s pride becomes inflated when he associates with those lesser than himself. But such false pride can never enter a person who always remains in the association of transcendental personalities. Just as a father naturally behaves as a senior in front of his son and as a junior in front of his own father, a person who associates with those who have attained the topmost perfection— service to the Supreme Personality—no longer externally demonstrates humility by force; rather, divine humility naturally manifests in his heart and is reflected in his conduct. But if a person associates with someone inferior to him, then pride is bound to arise in his heart.”
Being humble is not a mechanical process, but rather a natural byproduct of spiritual realization. Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja has referred to himself by saying:
jagāi mādhāi hôite muĩ se pāpiṣṭha
purīṣera kīṭa hôite muĩ se laghiṣṭha
mora nāma śune ĵei tāra puṇya kṣaya
mora nāma laya ĵei tāra pāpa haya
emana nirghṛṇa more kebā kṛpā kare
eka nityānanda binu jagata bhitare
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi-līlā 5.205-207)
I am more sinful than Jagāi and Mādhāi and even lower than a worm in stool. The pious activities of that person who hears my name are completely destroyed. Anyone who utters my name commits a sin. Who in this world but Nityānanda could show His mercy to such a vile person as me? Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, the foremost authority of the realm of bhakti, has expressed similar sentiments:
adharo ‘py aparadhanaṁ aviveka-hato ‘py aham
tvat-karuṇya-pratikṣo ‘smi prasīda mayi madhava
Stava-mālā, Volume 1 Praṇāma-praṇaya-stava (14)
Although I am a mine of offenses, and although I cannot tell right from wrong, I still hope for Your mercy. O Mādhava, please be merciful to me. Śrī Mādhava Sarasvatī, a Vaiṣṇava kavi (poet) from South India, has expressed his humility as follows:
jñānāvalambakāḥ kecit kecit karmāvalambakāḥ
vayaṁ tu hari-dāsānāṁ pāda-trāṇāvalambakāḥ
Some are inclined to jñāna, and others are inclined to karma. We, however, are inclined to take shelter of the shoes of the lotus feet of Śrī Hari’s servants.
By analyzing the humble expressions of such great personalities, one can clearly understand the actual position of the impersonal advaitavādīs as compared to that of the dvaitavādī Vaiṣṇavas. The former of the two groups possesses the self-conception of aham brahmāsmi and “pāśa-baddho bhavet jīvaḥ pāśa-muktaḥ sadāśivaḥ—a person bound by the ropes of māyā is a jīva, but when he is released from those bonds, he becomes Sadāśiva,” while members of the latter group conceive of themselves in the following manner:
maj-janmanaḥ phalam idaṁ madhu-kaiṭabhāre
mat prārthanīya mad-anugraha eṣa eva
bṛtyasya-bhṛtyam iti māṁ smara lokanātha
O Lokanātha (Lord of all)! O slayer of the demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha! Please be merciful to me and grant my prayer that You may remember me as a servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Your servant’s servant.
Once, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja and his godbrother Śrī
Svādhikārānanda Prabhu, who later became known as Śrī Śrīmad Kṛṣṇadāsa Bābājī Mahārāja, were preaching in Ambālā on the order of Śrīla Prabhupāda. There, they met the superintendent of the Ambālā railway station, who repeatedly requested them to meet a so-called sādhu proclaiming himself to be Bhagavān. Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja explained to the superintendent that it is grossly improper to accept a mortal person as Bhagavān, and Śrī Svādhikārānanda Prabhu declined by saying, “We do not have time to meet such people.” Still, the superintendent strongly insisted.
Although they had absolutely no interest in meeting an imposter, they relented and accompanied the superintendent to meet the so-called sādhu at the railway station. After arriving there, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja initiated a conversation by saying, “Please introduce yourself to us.”
The so-called sādhu replied in English, “I am Lord Kṛṣṇa. I am Mohammed. I am Christ. I am Buddha. I am Caitanya.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja told him, “You are speaking to a sensible person. Please speak accordingly.”
Hearing Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s words, the fraudulent sādhu became irritated and said, “Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, is a dog to me. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President of United States of America, is a cat to me."
Seeing their gurudeva becoming angry, his disciples asked Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “Why are you upsetting Bhagavān?”
The superintendent said, “Bhagavān and His devotee are having a conversation. Do not interfere.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja then asked the imposter, “What is cause of your irritation?”
Without being goaded or pressed, the imposter himself explained, “I sacrificed so much for India’s independence, but no one stepped forward to help me financially when my wife fell sick in Delhi. She died as a result. Am I mad that I will continue to sacrifice my life for those who have done nothing to help me, a soldier who fought so diligently for their freedom? They have cheated me, and now it is my turn to cheat them.”
Being shocked to hear this, many of the imposter’s prominent guests left, one by one. Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja turned to Śrī Svādhikārānanda Prabhu and said, “Ĵa palāyate sa jīvati—Those who discard the association of this wicked person will be saved. All others will be trapped.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, a recipient of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy, had an uncanny ability to identify imposters, uproot their deception and expose their true nature to everyone.
DEFENDING THE AUTHENTICITY OF SRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM
Once, a scholar told Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, “Many people do not accept Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam among the authentic scriptures Śrī Vyāsadeva manifested. And at a least to some extent, their argument seems logical.” He explained, “A linguistic comparison between Bhāgavatam and Vyāsadeva’s other scriptures reveals troubling dissimilarities. It is evident that Bhāgavatam’s modern morphology contrasts with that of the ancient language used in Vedavyāsa’s other scriptures. Naturally, this leads many to question not only the era of Bhāgavatam’s origin, but its authenticity as well. What is your opinion on this?”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s response was extraordinary. “Oh, yes,” he replied, his words dripping with sarcasm, “Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was certainly composed yesterday.”
He then earnestly asked the scholar, “Is antiquity the sole factor by which a scripture’s authenticity is to be assessed? Should we not assign greater value to a relatively recent text whose gravity and depth is far superior to the ancient texts against which it is being compared? Should the potency of the atom bomb, which is undisputedly the deadliest and most powerful weapon ever created, be dismissed merely due to its recent invention?
He continued, “Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the butter churned from the bhakti-śāstras and Upaniṣads. The date of its origin is irrelevant to the superiority of its depth. Whether ancient or composed yesterday, it remains far superior to the Upaniṣads. Śrīla Vṛndāvana dāsa Ṭhākura Mahāśaya, a prominent personality in the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava lineage, has stated:
cāri-veda ‘dadhi’ bhāgavata ‘navanīta’
mathilena śuke khāilena parīkṣita
Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata (Madhya-khaṇḍa 21.16)
The four Vedas are like yogurt, and Śrīmad- Bhāgavatam is like butter. Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī churned that yogurt into butter, and Śrī Parīkṣit Mahārāja relished the result.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja concluded, “An unqualified person’s inability to assess the true worth of an invaluable albeit recently created object is a testament to his foolishness. An intelligent person, however, accepts apprenticeship at the feet of a learned mentor who can instill in him the ability to assess an object’s value based on merit alone.”
ON KNOWING THE UNKNOWABLE
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja once preached in Bombay (now Mumbai) before the establishment of a Gauḍīya Maṭha there. Śrī M.P. Engineer, the first Advocate General of independent India, was at that time the chairman of the Theosophical Society, and he invited Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja to speak at one of the Society’s gatherings. Because many speakers had been invited, each speaker was asked to keep his speech to a concise fifteen minutes.
In his speech, Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja mentioned that the Supreme Lord Śrī Bhagavān is advaya-jñāna para-tattva, which means one cannot attain true knowledge about His supremacy simply by one’s own endeavors, nor can He be made understood by anyone else:
nāyam ātmā pravacanena labhya na medhayā na bahunā śrutena
Kaṭha Upaniṣad (1.2.23)
The Supreme Soul can never be attained by one’s intelligence, by delivering sermons nor by extensively hearing about Him.
Upon the conclusion of Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s presentation, Śrī M.P. Engineer posed a question to Śrīla Mahārāja before he could even take his seat: “Mahārāja, you have just professed Śrī Bhagavān to be unknown and unknowable. If this is true, then for what purpose have you given up the material comforts of this world and accepted the renounced order of life, if not to attain Him?”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja immediately responded, “Śrī Bhagavān can most certainly be known.”
Hearing this, Śrī M.P. Engineer good-humoredly said, “I must admit that according to my vision, you do not appear to be a renunciant in any true sense, because you have instantly changed your stance on this matter, just like a lawyer.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja replied, “You had given me a time limit. I was able to express only one viewpoint of a highly profound subject matter, and the allocated time was over before I could mention the other viewpoint. Therefore, I could not complete the description of my desired subject matter in the allotted time.” Hearing the words of Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrī M.P Engineer said, “You began explaining a highly insightful topic in a very beautiful way. Therefore, please take another fifteen minutes and complete your presentation on this subject matter.” Śrīla Mahārāja then went on to firmly establish the full, proper siddhānta: “Although the śāstras mention that Śrī Bhagavān is the non-dual Absolute Truth, it is mentioned in the same scriptures that if He, the Supreme Absolute Truth, does not possess the ability to make Himself known to whomever He desires, then His supremacy and His qualities of being limitless and infinite are immediately called into question. Therefore, it is said:
yam evaiṣa vṛṇute tena labhyas tasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanuṁ svām
Kaṭha Upaniṣad (1.2.23)
The Supreme Soul is attainable only by one upon whom He has bestowed His mercy. To such a person, He reveals His personal form.
“In other words, it is impossible for one to gain knowledge about Bhagavān through one’s own endeavors or through the help of someone on the same level of devotion. However, when the Supreme Lord observes in one the inclination to serve Him, He imparts knowledge by which one can understand Him, either directly or through one of His associates.”
ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ
The name, form, qualities and pastimes of Śrī Kṛṣṇa cannot be perceived by the material senses; they become manifest when one’s senses, starting with the tongue, are permeated with the desire to render service.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja’s presentation had such a profound effect on Śrī M.P. Engineer, that when Śrīla Prabhupāda Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura later visited Bombay, he humbly requested Śrīla Prabhupāda not to deprive the city’s residents of his vicāra-dhāra (line of philosophical conceptions) and to establish a maṭha there. Later, as per the instructions of Śrīla Prabhupāda, a property was rented in Bombay to establish a Gauḍīya Maṭha, from which the preaching of the Gauḍīya line in that city was initiated.
THE MESSENGERS OF SRI CAITANYA MAHAPRABHU'S VANI
Once, Guru Mahārāja (at the time, Śrī Hayagrīva Brahmacārī), went along with Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Śrīrūpa Siddhāntī Gosvāmī Mahārāja (then Śrī Siddha- svarūpa Brahmacārī) and Śrīla Śrīdhara Gosvāmī Mahārāja to preach in Sylhet, East Bengal (now Bangladesh), where they had been invited to speak at a three day spiritual function. On the first day, Śrī Siddha-svarūpa Brahmacārī, in his address,made use of very straightforward but harsh and immoderate words while establishing the superiority of the teachings of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu over the po