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Tridandisvami Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja’s Appearance

[On this most excellent and auspicious Appearance Day of Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada, under the guidance and by the unlimited, causeless mercy of Guru and Gauranga, we are allowed the opportunity to present this nectarean hari-katha spoken by Srimad Bhaktivedanta Vana Gosvami Maharaja on the 11th of August 2012, in Holland (unconfirmed), during the 15th year of his preaching mission. Please note, out of deep respect for many western devotees and beloved members of the ISKCON community, we find it only proper to  acknowledge  the common use of the name A. C. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada thereof, however, to maintain the integrity of Gurudeva and Parama-Gurudeva’s spoken words, the article mainly refers to this highly revered acharya as Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja.]

Glories of Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja

I want to speak on Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja and his life history. Although he is a nitya-parikara of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Divine Couple, Sri Sri Radha and Krishna, he has also performed many activities in his manava-lila (human pastimes). Some of you have heard these pastimes spoken many times from Srila Gurudeva— like how Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja received initiation from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada. As many can see, the disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada are very elevated— this is apparent. In Sri Prabhupada-padma-stavaka, Srila Bhakti Rakshaka Sridhara Gosvami Maharaja wrote:

vṛṣabhānu-sutā-dayitānucaraṁ caraṇāśrita-reṇu-dharas-tam-aham mahad-adbhuta-pāvana-śakti-padaṁ praṇamāmi sadā prabhupāda-padam

Sri Prabhupada-padma-stavaka (11)

[He is a most beloved attendant of the daughter of King Vrishabhanu. I have taken shelter of his feet by keeping their dust [on my head]. Those feet possess immense and astonishing power to purify. I forever offer pranama unto the feet of Srila Prabhupada.]

Those who took shelter of the lotus feet of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada, mahat (great) Prabhupada, have so much shakti in them — all the disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada are extremely powerful. In fact, he said, “I am not making disciples, I am making gurus.” Try to understand his words; everything he said is true. A bona fide guru does not make disciples, a guru makes other gurus. But, what is necessary for this to happen?

A guru is similar to a carpenter and requires the perfect piece of wood. Do you understand? Gurudeva needs a perfect chunk of wood so he can construct a very beautiful boat, and on that boat, he can transport many passengers across the river.

Just look how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada accomplished this feat and manifested so much. Many of his disciples, like Srila Bhakti Rakshaka Sridhara Gosvami Maharaja, Srila Bhakti Pramoda Puri Gosvami Maharaja, Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja and Parama-Guru Maharaja, Srila Bhakti Prajnana Keshava Gosvami Maharaja, are all very high-class, exalted and elevated shuddha-bhaktas.

It is important to recognise how powerful they all were. And Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja was the crest jewel amongst all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada had many disciples, but Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja’s name is at the top of his list.

Once, Gurudeva said, “Svami Maharaja is actually called shaktyavesha-avatara (Lord’s empowered incarnation). Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu manifested all of His own shakti in his heart, otherwise, his incredible accomplishments would have been impossible.”

Chaitanya-charitamrita provides shastric (scriptural) evidence on this topic, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu states, “kṛṣṇa-śakti vinā nahe tāra pravartana – unless one is specifically empowered by the Lord, he cannot preach the holy names all over the world.” It is simply not possible.

You may of heard this story before. Once, a disciple of Svami Maharaja told us that while in New York, or somewhere else in America, there was a large conference where many leaders of various religions were invited to speak on their respective philosophies. Also, members of the Ramakrishna Mission and the Bharata Sevashrama Association were there, along with many other Indian religious groups.

Towards the end, one journalist stood up and inquired, “What are you preaching? You have come from India, a very poor country, and you have come to our rich country. What can you give us? Have you come here just to return with our money and gold? We are a rich country, we are rich people. What things are you giving us? Tell us what you are saying.”

He spoke in this very challenging manner, “What things are you telling us? You say that the Vedas state, ‘Everything is Brahma.’ We are also saying, “We are Brahma, we are nirvishesha-vadis (impersonalists).” You are proclaiming the same things as us, we are also shunya-vadis (voidists). We also don’t believe in God. So, what is new that you are giving us? Nothing. You have all given many lectures. All of you are declaring, ‘Vedas state this or that.’ We are also saying the same things.

The truth is that you have merely come here to collect money and then return to your homes. The mayavadis have referred to the Vedas and mentioned how everyone is Brahma. The Buddhists spoke about nirvishesha-vada and shunya-vada. What does shunya-vada even mean? Apparently, nothing. We also do not believe in God. And, some of you have said, “Oh, just perform karma (actions performed by the material body).” However, we have already been performing karma. What new instructions or things are you providing us with? We believe in karma and we work very hard the entire day. Everything you all have covered is already being practised and preached here.”

At that moment, someone replied, “One Svamiji came and gave us something, and did not take anything in return. What did he give us? He gave us harinama (transcendental mantra) and he showed us how to apply tilaka (sacred body markings). He further explained that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, who will give us real peace and unalloyed love. He discussed topics such as shanti (peace), prema (love) and maitri (friendship), and showed us how to apply these principles in our lives. He gave us these things.”

“He inspired young people to adopt spiritual highly civilized values and practices, such as shaving their heads and applying tilaka. Furthermore, he advised us to give up bad things, like meat, alcohol, gambling and illicit sex. Although everyone here is speaking about mundane religious topics, saying the same things, he taught us the complete opposite by speaking the highest truth.”

Just look at the bold things this person spoke about Vaishnava philosophy without any reservations. This person distinctly proclaimed, “Svamiji gave us these valuable teachings, however, all of you are preaching otherwise. Svami Maharaja revealed to us what bona fide Vaishnava philosophy is.”

Who is the perfect speaker? One who speaks the truth from the shastras:

dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo ’tra paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ vedyaṁ vāstavam atra vastu śivadaṁ tāpa-trayonmūlanam śrīmad-bhāgavate mahā-muni-kṛte kiṁ vā parair īśvaraḥ sadyo hṛdy avarudhyate ’tra kṛtibhiḥ śuśrūṣubhis tat-kṣaṇāt

Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.1.2)

[Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Bhagavata Purana propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries. This beautiful Bhagavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyasadeva [in his maturity], is sufficient in itself for God realisation. What is the need of any other scripture? As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhagavatam, by this culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within his heart.]

Dharmaḥ projjhita’ means completely rejecting religiosity, which is ‘kaitavo’, materially motivated and deceptive in nature— also known as kapata dharma or chala (deceitful) dharma.

pṛthivīte yāhā kichu dharma-nāme cale bhagavat prahe tāhāṅ paripūrṇa chale

Jaiva-dharma (Chapter 40)

[Bhagavatam states that whatever in the world is passing as dharma is actually wholesale deception.]

In this material world, there are many kinds of so-called dharmas, also known in Hindi as chala, or kapata dharma, duplicity and hypocrisy. Bhagavata-dharma is the perfect dharma, which is known by many names such as: vaishnava-dharma, jaiva-dharma or sanatana-dharma.

In Jaiva-dharma, by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, it very nicely elaborates on this topic. If dharma is one, then why are so many dharmas appearing? It is very clearly explained, dharma is one and that perfect dharma is known as – atma-dharma, jaiva-dharma, vaishnava-dharma or sanatana-dharma. This is the perfect dharma.

We are not brahmanas (priests), vaishyas (merchants), or shudras (labourers). Although, many people claim, “I am of brahmana dharma and others are of a different dharma like Buddhist dharma and Christian dharma.” In fact, it is not like this, there is actually only one dharma—jaiva-dharma (natural propensity of living entities) and this proper practice was preached by Srila Svami Maharaja. This dharma signifies the true nature of the soul, our inherent dharma:

jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya — kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’ kṛṣṇera ‘taṭasthā-śakti’ ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’

Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya-lila 20.108)

[It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna because he is the marginal energy of Krishna.]

As explained in Jaiva-dharma, there is only one spontaneous dharma and Svami Maharaja’s preaching showed us the proper way to practise.

“You Will be the Best Preacher”

Once, in Kolkata, there was a big dharma-sabha (religious assembly) of many speakers, including the famous and powerful speaker Rabindranatha Tagore, who won a Nobel prize.

Nonetheless, after Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja spoke, whose name was Abhaya Babu at the time, Rabindranatha Tagore said the following words to him, “Many speakers have declared many things about dharma. Except, when you spoke, you touched everyone’s heart and they melted completely.” Then, Rabindranatha suggested, “If you decide to preach, you will be the best preacher.”

During that time, Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja was a very successful businessman and worked as an executive for a large pharmaceutical company. Also, he organised this dharma-sabha through the help of collected funds from his affluent social circle.

Later Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja accepted harinama and diksha from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada. His Gurudeva told him, “If you preach in western countries, our mission will only spread more and more.” Yet, he did not immediately follow this instruction to go and preach. Rather, he very humbly thought, “I am a grihastha (householder) and I have to maintain my business and other interests. How will I preach and also accomplish these things?”

Around forty years passed and he did not fulfil the instructions of his Gurudeva. In the meantime, Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada sent many preachers to Western countries. Once, Srila Bhakti Hridaya Bon Maharaja, travelled to Germany to give a lecture at a German University, and to everyone’s surprise he delivered the lecture in perfect German. All of these events are recorded in his life history. Everyone in attendance was stunned how someone from Bengal, India, could recite this lecture in perfect German. He also preached in England and even had the King of England as his audience who was also impressed by his lecture.

Unfortunately, along with Srila Bhakti Hridaya Bon Maharaja, the efforts of other several prominent preachers within the Gaudiya Matha, like Srila Bhakti Saranga Gosvami Maharaja, Srila Bhakti Vilasa Tirtha Maharaja, and other disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada were not ultimately successful.

After these forty years, B.V. Svami Maharaja was thinking, “My Gurudeva gave me an order to preach in Western countries. But how will I preach? How will I preach?” Without the mercy of guru, it is impossible to preach. Who will listen to your hari-katha? You may believe, “I am a very nice speaker, accompanied by an expert vocalist, so everybody will be attracted.”

However in reality, this is not true, because without the mercy of Guru and Krishna, no one will actually listen to you. Perhaps, some people may attend and listen, but their hearts will not be moved. Many singers perform with millions of people watching on t.v.— yet, what has taken place? Nothing. No one’s heart is touched. Perhaps, you have previously experienced this. What occurred inside of you? Not a thing. No hearts were touched, everyone carried on with sense gratification and committing sinful activities. In India this occurs often, many singers and speakers hold assemblies where thousands of people attend to hear Bhagavat-katha, although nothing results from this.

In Srimad-Bhagavatam, Shukadeva Gosvamipada told:

yasyāham anugṛhṇāmi hariṣye tad-dhanaṁ śanaiḥ tato ’dhanaṁ tyajanty asya svajanā duḥkha-duḥkhitam

Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.88.8)

[If I especially favour someone, I gradually deprive him of his wealth. Then the relatives and friends of such a poverty-stricken man abandon him. In this way he suffers one distress after another.]

Krishna says, “One whom I am giving mercy to, I automatically remove all of his attachments.” Now, all of his (B.V. Svami Maharaja’s) businesses failed, still, due to his attachments, he was thinking, “No, I have to keep working on my businesses.”

Gurudeva would tell us when Svami Maharaja arrived in Mathura, he was staying near Vishrama-ghata. There, he had a room and attempted to launch another business venture, but it was not successful— he did not earn enough to even pay his rent. Gurudeva met with him many times and asked, “O, come stay in our temple with us.” However, Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja replied, “No, no, I do not want to become a sadhu.” Then one day, Gurudeva himself went to his room, took all of his luggage, put it on the rickshaw and brought him to our Sri Keshavaji Gaudiya Matha. He insisted, “You must come.”

In those times, a rickshaw was only about fifty paisa. Svami Maharaja didn’t even have fifty paisa to pay the driver, so Gurudeva told him, “I'll pay,” and gave the money to the rickshaw wala. Afterwards, Gurudeva told him, “You will stay with us and not have to do anything.” Being very humble, he was thinking, “O, at my old age, if I stay in the temple, the brahmacharis will criticise and say, ‘O, your whole life, all of your energies were spent on your family and now, the burden of your old age has landed on the shoulders of us brahmacharis?” This is the nature.

Fearing they would criticise him, Svami Maharaja did not want to stay at the temple. Anyhow, Gurudeva forced him, “No, you will stay with us. You will just edit our Hindi patrika (periodical). There is no need to do anything else, no labourious seva (service).” At that time, Svami Maharaja was old, around sixty years.

Then, Srila Gurudeva humbly urged him, “You must take sannyasa.” Gurudeva, at that time, had accepted sannyasa. Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja was his senior, and it would have been natural for him to have accepted sannyasa before Gurudeva. Thus, Gurudeva said, “O Prabhu, please take sannyasa.”

But Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja told him, “I don’t want to take sannyasa.” However, when Parama-Guru Maharaja (Srila Bhakti Prajnana Keshava Gosvami Maharaja) came, Gurudeva, Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja requested, “Please give sannyasa to him.” Nevertheless, Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja again responded, “No, no. Only if Sanatana Prabhu (sannyasa name - Muni Maharaja) takes sannyasa, will I accept.” So eventually, he accepted sannyasa and Gurudeva performed his sannyasa fire sacrifice. He also made his danda, dor-kaupina, etc. Gurudeva was like purohita brahmana (a priest who performs the rituals in a temple or in any other place where a ritual takes place).

What is the next step for one after he accepts sannyasa? He must go and preach. On one occasion, when Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja went to preach in Jhansi, a big problem arose, oh my God. Sheshayi Prabhu said, “I was his main sevaka (servant). I went with him and four brahmacharis to preach in Jhansi. He preached here and there, but regrettably, not many attended his hari-katha.” They were staying at a bank manager’s house and after some time, one brahmachari left, then another. Sheshayi Prabhu said, “I stayed there with him, however, all of the other brahmacharis left because no one attended the programs to hear his hari-katha.”

Svami Maharaja was thinking, “O, Krishna does not allow to me to preach.” So, he decided to stay in this bank manager’s home and chant the holy names. He chanted three lakhs of holy names daily, possibly more— I have heard this only from Sheshayi Prabhu. While there, he was always chanting the holy names and singing.

After one month he decided, “I have to return.” So, Sheshayi Prabhu and Svami Maharaja went back to Sri Keshavaji Gaudiya Matha. His reasoning was, “I will perform my bhajana and sadhana in Vrindavana. I had no other option as no one was attracted to my hari-katha, nobody listened. What can I do?” Later, he arrived in Vrindavana and went to Radha Damodara temple, where he spent his time chanting the holy names, executing his bhajana and sadhana and manifesting his edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and beginning the translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Gurudeva always displayed so much love and affection towards him. He would say, “Every two or three days, I would visit Vrindavana and meet with him. Sometimes, I would roll chapati and he would fry it.” After that, they would both stay together and discuss hari-katha, like Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami would do when they were staying in Ter-kadamba and Pavana-sarovara respectively. Sometimes, Sanatana Gosvamipada would travel to Ter-kadamba to meet with Rupa Gosvamipada to share hari-katha.

During Gurudeva’s era, there was no opulence. Gurudeva said, “I just put my own chadar down and sit together to take chapati. There was no sabji, nothing to complement the bread.” Perhaps, they also had pickled mango chutney or something. Many of you know his life history, I am just simply recalling these things on this auspicious day.

Eventually, Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja thought, “I must go preaching in Western countries.” He decided, no matter what, he would visit Western countries. He had completed his edition of Bhagavad-gita, and even offered a copy to the Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. He then arranged to travel across the continent on a ship called the Jaladuta.

How was it possible for someone his age to travel to Western countries by ship? I believe the length of the trip was around thirty to forty five days. Sometimes, I have also taken a similar method of travel. Once, I went to Sardinia by boat, it took an entire day and the whole time your body is swaying from the rocking of the boat.

At times, you are sleeping and suddenly, you fall off the bed! Can you imagine being on a ship at sea for forty days? The situation was so dreadful he even suffered two heart attacks on the way. Regardless, he made the trip to America, and his preaching pastimes in the West began, which many of you already know of.

Svami Maharaja headed West to preach in a completely materialistic country. During his first year, he was hosted by non-devotee Indians who were not overly susceptible to his preaching. It is very difficult to preach in Western countries. Even his pranama-mantra says, ‘nirvishesha-shunyavadi-pashchatya-desha-tarine’ - who delivered the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism. So how did he preach?

At first, not many would listen to this hari-katha. Initially it was very difficult for him to accomplish his mission. Nowadays, it is very easy. Anywhere we visit, whether they are Svami Maharaja’s disciples, Gour Govinda Maharaja’s disciples, or another guru’s disciples, they are hosting us in their homes and offering us delicious prasada. Is this not true? Compared to previous generations, I feel the situation for preachers is currently much easier.

In this way, for one year Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja could not preach here or there. How could he have preached? Who would have listened to his hari-katha? Always remember, without Guru’s and Krishna’s mercy, success in preaching is not possible. What is really needed? Guru-nishtha, and one day, your endeavours will be successful.

Srila Bhaktivedanta Vana Maharaja

Date: 2012 Location: Holland


Transcriber: Sanatana dasa (USA) Editor: Damodara dasa (USA), Sanatana dasa (USA) Integrity check: Divya-premamayi dasi (Slovakia) Proofreader: Chandrika dasi (UK) Image: Navina-krishna dasa (Holland)

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