“Biography”. Sripad B. V. Mahayogi Prabhu. 8th of January 2014. Gupta Govardhan
Srīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī Prabhu
(8th of January 2014, Gupta Govardhan)
Interviewer (Gopa Kiśor Prabhu): So today in our Chiang Mai Theistic Media Studio is the guest, Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī. He is the editor-in-chief of the Guardian of Devotion Press and was responsible with Śrīla Goswāmī Mahārāj for bringing into the world five books of Śrīdhar Mahārāj. Mahāyogī Mahārāj, the first and main thing people don’t know, that you actually got sannyās from Śrīdhar Mahārāj, so let us dive a little bit in the prehistory of this. What kind of person you were when you just joined Krishna Consciousness? And how did you get connection with it?
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: Well, first of all I’d like to thank anybody who’s watching this for paying attention to our broadcast, and I want to thank the devotees here in Chiang Mai, Russian devotees, the Chinese devotees, and especially Gopa Kiśor, Rama Kanta and Amiya Sindhu, Bhakti Lalitā, Indulekha and everyone else who is here present for giving me opportunity to speak a little bit about Krishna Consciousness, how we published our books, my past, involvement and service to Śrīdhar Mahārāj.
It’s a very personal question you’re asking, because that gets back into my whole history. And I don’t really want to bore everyone with my story, I have very long and checkered past. We have an hour, but I don’t know that everyone really wants to know about me. Goswāmī Mahārāj told us to film a little something about my life, he said, “Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī is an unsung hero of the Guardian of Devotion Press.” And in a sense he’s right, because I didn’t get a lot of credit for what I did, but we’re told by the Bhagavad-gītā, karmaṇy evādhikāras te mā phaleṣu kadācana (Bg: 2.47): we’re not supposed to take credit for what we’re doing, that's not really a part of being a devotee, what we do we do selflessly. Just as the devotees who are here in this studio today, recording this, they may not be recognized in history, thirty years from now for what they’re doing. Perhaps they will be. I am sure someone will. Maybe one of you will become a great cameraman or broadcaster.
But at the present moment you’re doing what you do selflessly without really asking for anything. So to say that I was the unsung hero is to say that perhaps I wanted some glory, I wanted to be sung. And I was thinking about this, and I thought to myself, “Really in this sense the unsung hero of the Guardian of Devotion Press is Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī.” Because while he gave concepts and ideas and while he harmonized problems that we might have had as devotees, in a way he’s been superseded by others who followed him, who had the ability to organize a big mission or draw devotees together and create societies and companies, even like this one. And in some sense perhaps his contribution had been forgotten.
I noticed that the book that you have upon the screen, a Golden Volcano of Divine Love, it’s an original copy, but we only printed about five thousand of those original copies. So to some extend even the books that we’re discussing have fallen into forgetfulness. I think it’s important to bring out Śrīdhar Mahārāj’s role as our preceptor, our Guru, our mentor and the person who is giving the idea and the concept of the books. But if you’re really interested in my history, I should say something, because that establishes me.
So I was born in 1953 in Santa Monica, CA. In my teens, when I was adolescent, I suppose I had the same kind of problems that many young people have. They don’t feel accepted, they don’t fit in. I was very intellectual, I liked to read. And from the young age I was fascinated with Bhagavad-gītā. At that time the Vietnam War was going on in United States and it was a great conflict. Boys were being set to fight and die. Not very far from here in fact, a few hundred miles probably in Vietnam. And that upset me, I followed the anti-war movement. I remember liked the music of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. And Joan Baez was a very straightened anti-war spokesman, or spokeswoman.
And she relied to some extend to the teachings of Gandhi. At that time everybody liked Gandhi, because he promoted non-violence. And Gandhi is interesting, because while he read the Bhagavad-gītā — and did so in public meetings — his real connection with the Bhagavad-gītā is through Tolstoy. And Tolstoy fascinated me. I loved War and Peace, Anna Karenina. I also liked reading Dostoevsky. And to some extend Chekhov, but I preferred Dostoevsky, because he talks about the big questions. Dostoevsky talks about God and the soul. He says that God must exist, because if He doesn’t, then nothing has any value, what’s a point of leaving if there’s no God? Very strong, very powerful, very heavy, Dostoevsky.
So I was reading these Russian authors, in part because I had an epilepsy when I was a boy. And somebody gave me a book, called The Idiot. I don’t know how do you say it in Russian, maybe it’s idiot. Do you know this book? The main character is prince Myshkin, he is very innocent. Somebody knowing that I have the epilepsy gave me this book, because the central character of course is an epileptic. But as a consequence of his brain trauma he has some kind of unusual spiritual connection. And I liked that book. So, when I’ve read Tolstoy and found that he had anti-war stats and had contributed to Gandhi’s pacifism.
But when I read deeper I found it really Tolstoy got his impression from an American author named Thoreau, Henry David Thoreau. He wrote a book called Civil Disobedience, where he says, “You shouldn’t follow orders if the orders are not morally based.” He refused to fight against Mexico. He was called to fight against Mexico, he said, “I am not going in any was against Mexico, because the government is sending me to war on an immoral basis.” And strangely Thoreau got his inspiration from the Bhagavad-gītā.
So, Gandhi’s line of śikṣā-guru paramparā, actually originates from the Bhagavad-gītā but through Henry David Thoreau and Tolstoy, it’s very strange line. Later when I joined the Hare Krishna movement I had to ask, “Well, you promote peace, you say, ‘Chant Hare Krishna and be happy.’ But when I read your book, the Bhagavad-gītā, what I find is was, Krishna is telling Arjun, ‘Fight!’ How do you reconcile this?” And the explanation they gave was a good one. They said, “Well, Arjun is warrior. This is dharma. He can’t not be a warrior, he has to fight.” And of course you can take it to a higher and deeper level and the Bhagvad-gītā does. But my point is that I became interested in the transcendental teachings of Śrīla Prabhupād and the Bhagavad-gītā.
The first encounter with Hare Krishna
At an earlier age also I lived in Los Angeles, CA. So in those days the Hare Krishna devotees they used to make harinām-saṅkīrttan every day on Hollywood Boulevard or practically every day, maybe it was once a week, but it seemed like every day, also in West Wood, and you’d get a crew of about thirty five devotees dressed in their dhotīs and saris, jumping up and down, playing their drums, and it was psychedelic, it was cool, it was weird. It’s interesting that the other day, last Sunday I went on the harinam-kirttan here in Chiang Mai, and people had a very similar reaction to what I saw forty years ago, so we’re still strange after all these years, we’re still weird. But that’s a good thing, I look at myself in the mirror and I see a dull, boring old man, and it must be difficult for you to look at this video and see this dull, boring, old man, talking about some old book from thirty years ago.
But going out in the street with our drums and karatals we’re still weird. You could have a homosexual, motorcycle gang with beards and tattoos, cruise down the street and people will say, “Oh, I accept that, they are okay, I understand where they are coming from.” But being Hare Krishna devotees with the shaved head, tilak, kaṇṭhi-mālā, dhotī, banging on a drum and performing nām-saṅkīrttan, it still shocks people. So it shocked me backed in and I thought, “Perhaps these people are completely crazy,” but I had a repeated contact with them, because at the college where I used to go, UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, you walk pass them, all the time, and they would give you the incense and the Back to Godhead magazine. And one day I finally bought the Bhagavad-gītā, because I heard that Gandhi liked it, and it was the anti-war or whatever, and I sat down and began to read it, and I was impressed.
Later a friend of mine had this idea to go visit New Orleans, so I hope I am not speaking too long, but it’s a long story. He wanted to visit New Orleans because he’d seen this is a cool place to go. And we hitchhiked from Los Angeles, we put our thumbs out, “So, yeah, give us a ride.” It’s about two thousand miles to New Orleans. We had no idea what we were doing, it was completely ridiculous and stupid, don’t try it. But my friend said, “I have a plan, I’ve got a plan, Mike.” “Yeah, what’s your plan?” “We gonna crash at the Hare Krishna temple.” “Yeah, who are they?” And he told me, and I said, “Yeah, I know who they are, I’ve seen them before.”
So we went to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and it was a first time I saw police brutality up close. They were this big huge fat white policeman, armed with truncheons or billy clubs, beating black people in the middle of the street, throwing them down on the ground, and ten or twelve cops would be beating on them, then throwing them on the back of patty wags. It was terrible. I went to the Mardi Gras thinking, “Hey, this is a celebration, this is cool.” But drunken people doing nasty dirty things in the street, it was a big turn off as we used to say back in the day. And the interesting thing was there was a contrast between this kind behavior and what we saw in the Hare Krishna temple, because when we’d go upstairs.
In those day I guess it was kind of primitive, this must have been 1972 or ’73 or so, and they just put out the Rādhā-Krishna temple album, which was a big black LP and they would play it on a record play, that was out technology at the time. And the devotees would sit around and pack incense so the floor was about that thick with the dust from the incense and they were using strawberry incense at the time. So when you came in and took off shoes your feet would get covered with purple or red dust, and it looked like the devotees really had lotus feet, they had a fragrant lotus feet from all the incense. So inhaling all the incense and listening constantly to the Rādhā-Krishna temple album, where they chanting and Prabhupād is chanting, entered my soul, it changed me. And we sat down and had prasādam, and it was a transcendental experience, if I keep talking about it all, I’ll loose it. I’ll start to cry.
Interviewer: So that’s was like forty plus years ago.
Back to Godhead
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: Hmmm, about thirty-seven, but let’s call it forty. I was class (?) of 1976. Finally I wound up in Los Angeles. Things were not going well in my life, I was a frustrated young man, my thoughts turned to a suicide, I was thinking about ending it all. And there was a Back to Godhead magazine on the table. There is an old joke about this man, Jack Benny. He was an entertainer, he was famous for being tight, he didn’t like to spend any money. So, he is getting robbed, and the robber says, “Your money or your life.” And Jack Benny goes, “My money or my life? My money…or my life?” Because he is so attached to his money he can’t make a decision. So, I was like, “Leave this world? What’s this magazine here? Or leave this world? Or what’s this magazine? Join the Hare Krishna’s and see the world.” It used to be an advertisement in the back of the magazine for the Rādhā-Damodar travelling saṅkīrttan party, which a friend of mine Brahma dās was involved in. If he’s out there I say Hello and I salute you Brahma dās. And they had this Volkswagen vans they would travel around, and with their drums and harmonium and Deities. They had at one point a school bus, and they would park the school bus in a park and make a festival and cook rice and serve people and chant Hare Krishna, and it was like a magic wonder land of Hare Krishna. So, they put an advertisement in the Back to Godhead magazine, “Join the Hare Krishna movement and see the world!” And I thought, “That’s for me!”
So I went to the Temple at 3764 Watseka Avenue in Culver City, CA, which is very close to the MGM Studios where they used to make all of these movies. And I said, “Sign me up, I am ready to go.” And they said, “Do you have any material possessions?” I said, “Well I have a guitar, and here’s my grandfather’s ring.” I gave them my grandfather’s silver ring. And whatever, I’ve got a stereo. They said, “Ok, that’s good.” At that time there was a man named Danavir, who run a thing, called the bhakta-program, which was new. Because they had so many people, coming to join the temple, they wanted to train them up, because they didn’t want just anybody, they had to screen people a little bit.
And so we would sit down every afternoon in a circle and we would read the Upadeśāmṛta by Rūpa Goswāmī, which is the Nectar of Instruction. This is a really great book with great advice of how to live. For example, it talks about, you can assist, you should establish a loving relationship with a devotee in six different ways. You can speak your mind in confidence, vāco vegaṁ manasaḥ krodha-vegaṁ (Śrī Upadeśāmṛta: 1), that’s all I knew. Speak your mind in confidence and ask confidential question, make exchanges. Give a gift and take a gift in confidence, and exchange prasādam. And all my life these precepts really served me well. I mean I haven’t been a great devotee, for the last so many years, but these precepts really served me well.
But anyways we were all excited at the time because Śrīla Prahupād came to Los Angeles and we used to walk on the beach, where I was born. And I was initiated by Śrīla Prabhupād, at that time I joined the movement.
Interviewer: So you found in this movement more instructions and more heartfelt way to live when you were like young and finding the way than anything else. And since after that, usually the path people come to Śrīdhar Mahārāj, is they heard the instructions of Prabhupād to come for instructions to Śrīdhar Mahārāj, or Goswāmī Mahārāj, he is also known as the person who brought Śrīdhar Mahārāj to the Western world, first with his records and afterwards with the books of Śrīdhar Mahārāj. So how did you connect with Śrīdhar Mahārāj yourself?
Mukunda Mālā Dās Brahmachārī: Preaching
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: Here I am really sorry to give long answers, because it’s not really very good for your interview, but you’re asking me questions, that go pretty deep, so, if you please excuse me, I have an extended answer. I hope I don’t bore people, but this is for the record so. I joined the Hare Krishna in 1976; I was initiated by Śrīla Prabhupād, when he came to Los Angeles. My name was Mukunda Mālā Dās Brahmachārī, I was given saffron clothes, kaṇṭhi-mālā. Los Angeles temple was a big temple; we had upwards of five hundred people there at the time. I was telling you, when we went to India, a couple of years later, we all went to India on 747 airplane, it was Air India. So, at four o’clock in the morning we were flying at thirty five thousand feet over the Pacific Ocean and it’s time for maṅgal ārati. So, the devotees put away their japa-beads, and picked up their karatāls and mṛdaṅgas on the airplane, and we had a rousing kīrttan, thundering kīrttan, in the airplane in a 747 flying at thirty five thousand feet over the Pacific Ocean. What did the fly crew say? They were happy, they were ecstatic, it was Air India. Everybody loved it.
So times have changed, you can’t do that now, but I was involved in that way with the Los Angeles chapter of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness for couple of years. Then we went to Laguna Beach, which was a smaller center. And we did these collection programs, where we would, they would send three or four man out in a van. One man would cook, and maybe give the lecture in the morning. One man was the driver, and the other two we would preach and distribute our books and sell our books. And I fulfilled my promise, I joined the Hare Krishnas and travelled to see the world, we went all over the United States. We saw all the, we opened up the National Parks in the United States, Carlsbad Caverns, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite, Mount Rushmore. And we would travel to the national parks and stop people and give them the book and try to interest them in buying it. It was very difficult; it was very hard to sell.
We’d have to say something like, “Excuse me.” And someone would say, “I don’t have time.” And you’d say, “Well sir, you don’t have time, of course, but the time has you. Have you ever heard about your eternal life?” If was very hard sell. In a way, these tactics that we used probably did a lot to destroy our reputation as happy spiritual people. But my name was Mahāyogī, not Yogī. Lots of times when I meet people who like yoga, if I tell them my name was Mahāyogī, they’d go, “Oh, no, I can’t do that! You’re not a Mahāyogī.” But Mahāyogī means big yoga, and it’s not big yoga because I’m a big man and I like to eat. It’s big yoga, because it’s Krishna-bhakti yoga, that means when you come into contact with Mahāprabhu and you try to spread the message of Krishna Consciousness, sometimes by doing that, we come in conflict with other people, because we don’t sit down and go, “Oṁ shanti.” But that’s not where we’re at, we’re lovers, we believe in Krishna, and we love him and we love His message, and we want other people to know about it. So, we preach, it’s a preaching mission.
Anyways, to get back to your question. We passed a little bit of time doing this, and I went to India, came back and very shortly after this, Śrīla Prabhupād disappeared from this Earth. At that time the idea was to continue his work and be loyal to his mission. And the American devotees tried to take his place, but a devotee like Śrīla Prabhupād, a Guru like Śrīla Prabhupād, comes maybe once in ten thousand years, maybe once in a million years, maybe once in the life times of ten million Brahmas. It’s not an ordinary circumstance, and when he is no longer there, how do you do his job? You can say, “Well, we gonna continue his work! He’ll live forever in his book, his message! His message will live on.” And you can do that for six months, eight months, ten months. Just like right now, I know, Śrīla Govinda Mahārāj is no longer with us, but I can accept that, I think he is still here, I think he’s in India somewhere. But if you’re faced with the reality, “No, actually he is not.” He’s entered the Divine plane, it’s very difficult. And the devotees of Prabhupad, his disciples, God bless them, they tried to contunue his mission as best they could. They told me, “Okay, now you need to take mantra initiation, if you want to be useful to the mission. You have to have a mantra initiation, you can’t be a pūjārī, you can’t really enter into Krishna Consciousess fully, if you don’t have mantra initiation. So I took a mantra initiation form Rāmeśvar Mahārāj. But you know a few months later, I mean, I was (?), but some time passed and I realized, “This is not the same vibration, I am not getting the same energy, I am not getting any light from my Guru-disciple relationships here.” And that troubled me and I got depressed, I was so depressed that I returned to where I was before, and I thought another time of taking my life, I thought, “Why do I want to be here? I can’t do this.”
The first mention of Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahāraj
At that time I came in connection in Los Angeles, whose name was Doyala Dulal, and he said, “Look, if you’re having some spiritual problems, because you want to go deeper. In India, across the river from the Mayapur Temple, there is a spiritual god-brother of Prabhupād and if you want to take to another level, go see him.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s complicated. How do I do that? Hm.” But we had permission to distribute our books at the central zoo in Los Angeles. And later we convinced the court that distributing prasādam was our God given first amendment freedom of speech right. And they said, “Well, yes, it’s sacred food.” So, I set up a little stand selling orange juice, I had two Mexican devotees, working with me. We worked really hard, we squeezed orange juice and we sold it to the Mexican people who came to the zoo. And the other thing they liked were cucumbers. We’d slice a cucumber like that, put some chili on it, give them half of lime, sell it to them for dollar. And every Saturday I made a thousand dollars doing this, I know it’s hard to believe. But we figured this out, when we were in downtown Los Angeles. And we saw, “Hey, the Mexicans like this, let’s do it at the zoo.” So thanks to the Mexican people, I was able to collect enough money to go to India and see Śrīdhar Mahārāj.
Interviewer: In one weekend.
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: No, not in one weekend, because if I made a thousand dollars every weekend, I’d give the temple eight hundred. And I kept a little back, right. It burned my conscience that I wasn’t giving everything to Krishna. But after about eight weeks of that, I had enough money that I could that. But there were problems with, you know, when Prabhupād disappeared rival groups were there, there was dissension, schism, different camps. And because I was good at collecting money at that time, somebody heard that I was going to India, I was going to see Śrīdhar Mahārāj, and they came after me, they didn’t want me to go.
Dhīr Krishna Swāmī: “Go see Śrīdhar Mahārāj!”
So with the couple other devotees Garutama and Kasiram, I went to San Francisco to see Dhīr Krishna Swāmī, because Doayal Dulal told me, “If you wanna go to India, talk to him, he is the man, he knows all about Śrīdhar Mahārāj, he’s got his tapes.” So we went to San Francisco and at that time Dhīr Krishna Swāmī was trying to establish something, but he was having difficulty, he was negotiating something with some people in San Francisco, who were friendly and favorable. And I told him what my plan was and he said, “Yeah, do it!” He encouraged me, “Go see Śrīdhar Mahārāj!” To make a long story short, we went to see Śrīdhar Mahārāj, it was around 1981. I went with two or three other devotee, Kasiram was looking to take sannyās, because at that time there was a moratorium, and you couldn’t take sannyās. I wanted to change this relationship and find a true Guru, because I felt like I’ve got something from Śrīla Prabhupād, but then it was turned off, so, where is the nectar? Where is the divine love? You know, show me…what is it? I want you to show me the love. Something like that, I forgot the song, you know. Anyway.
So, we went to see Śrīdhar Mahārāj. I arrived, I explained the situation, after some time, we didn’t just see him on the first day, but we were staying in the Maṭh. It was a different experience, because Śrīdhar Mahārāj was, he was a warm human being, he wasn’t an egotist. He wasn’t thinking, “Well, I am a big Guru, who are you? You know, get away! You want to know about me? Buy one of my books. Why don’t you buy one of my T-shirts, join a membership.” That wasn’t like that at all, he was a very humble person, open and deep, like an ocean. So, we didn’t see him on the first day or second day, but gradually he agreed to meet with us, and we would ask him questions, and he would talk to us for around an hour or two a day. When I explained my situation he said, “What? You wanna do what?”
Because the idea was, if I left ISKCON and I left my Guru-disciple relationship with Rāmeśwar Mahārāj, that would be an insult to ISKCON and would become pounded if Śrīdhar Mahārāj gave me initiation, effectively he’s saying, “What you’re giving is not real. What I’m giving is the real thing.” And that’s the slap in the face, and could cause problems obviously. And being the selfish person that I am, I didn’t really consider that too thoughtfully, I was just thinking about me, and other devotees were angry at me for that, they said, “Why are you doing this?” Other devotees who had taken first initiation from Prabhupād and wanted second initiation they were like, “Hey, we’re clean. We went to Prabhupād, now we’re going to Śrīdhar Mahārāj, we’re doing the right thing.” Getting reinitiated, don’t do that, that’s gonna create problems.
Taking shelter of Śrīla B.S. Govinda Maharaj
So just like I held two hundred dollars a week back from the collection, so I could go to India, I felt bad about having created any problems, so, I apologized the devotees, probably created a lot of vaiṣṇava-aparādh by promoting any schism with ISKCON but I couldn’t do anything else, I was desperate. So what Śrīdhar Mahārāj told me was, “Go see Govinda Mahārāj.” Because he didn’t want to touch this. And he was thinking, “The person who can handle this thing, that’s Govinda Mahārāj.” And that’s how I met Govinda Mahārāj, of course, he called Govinda Mahārāj, but the person would come to the temple was a very slim, well-dressed Bengali man in gṛhastha-veś, with lots of curly black hair and a big smile, he was Govinda Sundar Vidyā Rañjan, but Śrīdhar Mahārāj called him Govinda Mahārāj, because later we found out, “Oh, he’s a sannyāsī. Wow!”
We didn’t know how handle that, but that’s besides the point, I took shelter of Govinda Mahārāj, so that Śrīdhar Mahārāj would take care of me. So finally he did that, and he gave me brāhmaṇ initiation, mantra initiation, and he gave sannyās to my friend Kasiram. And I had a return ticket to California, because in San Francisco there was Dhīr Krishna Mahārāj. We stayed in London, we got off the airplane in London, we broke our flight, my friend told me, “You can do this.” “You can do that? You can get off your… You’re in England, just walk out the door.” “Really? Isn’t it going to be cold?” “Naah…” “But I read Charles Dickens, it’s freezing cold, people are dying.” “No, no don’t worry about that.” Okay. I got off the plane in London and we went to he Bhaktivedanta manor which was George Harrison’s old property, and he had a recording studio down there, so, I sat in the recording studio of The Beatles and played my mṛdaṅga and tried to feel the vibration.
Preaching in South Africa
But anyway we preached there for a couple of months, but it got uncomfortable for the Guru at that time in London. He was interested in Śrīdhar Mahārāj but he didn’t want to break with ISKCON or make any problems with anyone. So he had a small mission in South Africa, I told you this story the other day, but we’re doing it for this camera, so, he said, “Go to South Africa.” I was, “Alright. What do I do?” “I’ll give you a ticket.” “Okay.” So, I had my trusty Back to Godhead magazine and in there was the address for the center, and I tried to call them from the airport, but there is no answer. And I thought, “Okay, I’ll work in out.” I arrive in South Africa, I think I had about three hundred dollars, got off the plane, took a bus, tried to locate the general area, tried to call again, no answer, got off the bus in the middle of nowhere and started waling, and I thought, “Wait a minute.” So I knocked on the door at some farm and a South African man came out and like, “What do you want?” And I explained, “I am looking for these friends, they have a farm out here.” He said, “Oh, I’ll drive you.”
So we spend about two hours driving around trying to find a Hare Krishna farm, and he couldn’t understand the address, finally he dropped me off. And I walked up the street and now it’s dark, I came to the house with a wall and a door. Opened the door and there were three dogs — Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd and a Pit Bull Terrier. All armed and dangerous, going, “Ahhhr.” [the sound of dog’s growling]. And I froze; I thought they are going to eat me. And somehow I managed to knock on the door and somebody came out, “What do you want?” And I told them. And they said, “No, there is no, I don’t know what are you talking about. Hare Krishna? What’s that?” The man went to get his wife and talk to her, “The other people who sold you this house. Oooooh!” And he made a couple of phone calls and figured it out, that they had moved the temple, it was at the city of Johannesburg, I could go there the next day, so, they put me up for the night.
How has the idea of a book for Śrīdhar Mahārāj first occurred?
In South Africa I connected with some devotees there and we kept it going for a while, but finally I got a phone call from Goswāmī Mahārāj at that time Dhīr Krishna Swāmī. He said, “So, how did it go? You saw Śrīdhar Mahārāj?” And I said, “Yes, I did.” He said, “Good.” And I said, “Listen, I did some work for Bhagavad-gītā, I’ve published a few things, I’m actually a writer, and I have an idea of how we could make a book for Śrīdhar Mahārāj.” He said, “Yes, I’m listening.” So, I explained him few of my ideas. And he said, “Listen, why don’t you come to San Francisco? Actually now we’re in San Jose, CA, and I have a temple here.” So, I’ve got on the airplane, arrived in San Jose and we sat down and started to talk, how would we do this. “What’s your idea?” And I said, “Well, look. I saw the other day, there is this Guru, called Bhagavan somebody, I won’t give him dignity by vibrating his name, but Bhagavan so and so. And Bhagavan so and so has a hundred different books that he’s written, but I checked it out, he doesn’t really write the books, what he does is he speaks, and then somebody types up what he says, and somebody else looks at that and creates chapter by chapter based on the theme a book, and they publish it.” He said, “Yeah, we could do that, I have a lot of ideas, we’ve already got started on taking his tapes and transcribing it.” And I said, “Okay, let me see what you have.”
Transcribing the tapes workflow
So I sat down and we went over some things, and we could see that the transcriptions were not really very good. The problem was that Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj spoke English with a very unusual accent, it was somewhere between Bengali and Scottish. Because he learned English in a seminary with Scottish Jesuits, and very well educated, of course, extremely erudite, but he had a bit of a Scottish brogue and behind that there was a Bengali lilt. And if you didn’t understand what he was saying, it was very hard to get used to his style of speaking, also he would pepper his discourse with a lot of quotes from Bengali literature like the Chaitanya-charitāmṛta, or he would quote a lot of Sanskrit from the Bhagavad-gītā or the Bhāgavatam.
And he would speak a fragment of a quote from the Bhāgavatam, and then a little of his interpretation, and then throw some Bengali on it, and then somebody would walk in the door and say, “Govinda Mahārāj is here.” “Oh, he is here?” And there would be back and forth conversation. So, to properly transcribe Śrīdhar Mahārāj and then sift out his message, and then translate ślokas from Sanskrit and verses in Bengali and give that some sense, we saw, that would take a lot of work, but we thought we could do it. And Goswāmī Mahārāj encouraged me, saying, “Yes, you can do this.” Partly in fact because he was very busy, organizing a mission, trying to get money together to pay for the new Temple that we just bought, seeing to if there is gasoline in the car, does the telephone work, talking to people day and night, promoting Śrīdhar Mahārāj, listening to the cassettes himself to try to get an idea of what’s being said there, preaching. It’s difficult to sit down very quietly in a room for a long time and listen to the same thing, again, and again, and again, and try to make sense of it.
So he told me that we bought a type writer, that was a big investment. At that time the type writer was like you have an Apple computer, and lights, and camera, and action. The IBM Selectric typewriter was the high technology of the day, because it had a little ball, and it had a strip of white plastic and you could actually as you typing go back two or three latters and correct what you’ve just done, it was called the IBM Selectric, and we were so impressed with it. And he told me this time that I came to visit him that that typewriter cost eight hundred dollar and it was more than we had. I was just rereading Search for Sri Krishna and at one point, Śrīdhar Mahārāj was explaining, he was constructing a temple and a big contributor had given some money to help with the construction but it wasn’t completed, so to impress him, Śrīdhar Mahārāj borrowed money and the built the wall, so, when the contributor came he’d see, “Wow, they’re building it.” But he didn’t know how he was going to pay the loan. And he told Saraswatī Ṭhākur, “Yeah, I did this, I borrowed these money, I don’t know if that was a good idea.” And Saraswatī Ṭhākur told him, he said, “You’ve mortgaged your future to Krishna, which is beyond the call, because it’s one thing to surrender today, what you’re doing today, but you’ve surrendered your future, because you're gonna have to pay for that in the future.”
And so Goswāmī Mahārāj he mortgaged our future buying that type writer, because we didn’t have the money to pay for it, but he believed in the project and the next thing he bought, he had a little machine with a foot pedal and earphones, connected to a tape recorder, so, you cold listen to the tape recorder and he would say, bhajate mām ananya-bhāk (Bg: 9.30), and you’d hit the switch and it went, bhajate mām ananya-bhāk, and hit the switch bhajate mām, as he’s saying, bhajate mām ananya-bhāk. Okay. So, between the foot pedal and a dictation machine and the IBM Selectric typewriter we had the most advanced technology and we preceded to begin transcribing Śrīdhar Mahārāj’s tapes and converting them into books, then we would sit down together at the end of the day and reread some of the transcripts. And it would refresh his memory and Goswāmī has a photographic memory for certain things.
So I would say, “I remember when Govinda Mahārāj came in that day, he just got back from Kolkata, “Oh, you remember so and so Prabhu, he was there.”
“Oh, that’s right, that was a Thursday.”
“Yeah, it was Bṛhaspatibar.”
“Okay.” So the other conversation that he gave about Reality the Beautiful that took place a couple of days before. “Yeah, right, I think it was a Tuesday.” So we go back and forth and put these snips and fragments together and so we had a viable chapter. And in this way we would work until we had enough material to put together a chapter. We worked up about eighteen different chapters and we’d look at the chapters and say, “Naaah, we can’t use this. Forget it. Maybe this is okay for another book but not right now.” And so we had to start looking at themes and ideas that we could put together and include in a work. So that leads us up to the time of the San Jose Math. I am sorry it took so much time to explain.
Interviewer: But also working on this books requires some invasion or introduction to Śrīdhar Mahārāj world, like he is famous, from lectures of Goswāmī Mahārāj we know, he is famous for picking his words precisely, like he is putting his thought into words very accurately, also he has his own levels of things, like gradation, so were you dealing with that, and how did you transfer, condensed this from all the lectures?
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: Well, you know, this is a good point, what you’re saying is interesting, because if you think about the value of Śrīdhar Mahārāj’s contribution, philosophically or in terms of siddhāntha, siddhānta means the end of knowledge, or perfection of knowledge. If you think about his contribution, it’s very fascinating, because where... Prabhupād’s contribution, according to pāścātya-deśa-tāriṇe, that’s his pranām-mantra, it says: “He brought Krishna Consciousness to the Western world.” That’s really Prabhupād’s contribution. Of course he has more, and that’s not all what he did, but his perhaps outstanding contribution, he brought Krishna Consciousness to the Western world.
The unique role of Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj
But if you look of what he gave, the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, I don’t know it runs into fifty volumes, I don’t know how many volumes his translation finally ran into, but say fifty volumes, Chaintaya-charitāmṛta, seventeen volumes, the Bhagavad-gītā, eight hundred pages. The Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, another seven hundred and fifty pages, book after book after book after book. So, if you begin with janmādy asya yato ’nvayād (SB: 1.1.1), if you begin with the first line of the Śrīmad Bhagavatam and read it śloka for śloka, there is so much there that you’re get lost. You get lost in the first canto before you really even get to the story of Krishna in the tenth canto. Thousands of pages of commentary and Sanskrit, and Chaitanya-charitāmṛta is like that too, and the Bhagavad-gītā. So what happened in the Western movement to some extend is that different devotees became obsessed or fascinated with the particular aspect like the Bhagavad-gītā, and they’d say, “Okay, this is it. It’s yoga, that’s what we’re doing.” The idea of siddhānta, is that you can break it down and make it simple and at the same time go deep, and that’s what Śrīdhar Mahārāj did. But a lot of people thought that his books are for the intelligentsia. They are for intellectuals. But it’s not really so much that his books are for the intellectuals. As much as what he is giving is very condensed, you can read one page of The Search for Sri Krishna or one page of Guru and His Grace, and just go, “Wow! My mind is blown.” That turns some concepts I had on their head.
So Śrīdhar Mahārāj’s ideas are powerful and deep. At the same time, I think, having been trained by the Jesuits in English literature, romantic literature, German philosophers like Hegel, and idealist philosophers like Bishop Berkley, who he quotes all the time. He understood very well how to present this to the Westerners, and at the same time having given thousands and thousands of speeches and discourses, Śrīdhar Mahārāj knew how to present an idea. So if you look at a little bit the distinction between Prabhupād and Śrīdhar Mahārāj, Prabhupād was able to bring the message to the West, Śrīdhar Mahārāj’s message is carefully distilled. So that you understand who are the Gaudiya-vaiṣṇavas. Because if you sit and read the Bhagavad-gītā, you can say, “Okay, we’re yogis, we’re trying to get in touch with the Infinite, we want to know about the soul.” But Guru Mahārāj will let you know on every page on every one of his books, that what we‘re doing is not exactly Krishna, it’s really more Rādhā-Krishna, Chaitanya Mahāprabhu, Gaudiya-vaiṣṇava, Rūpānuga-bhakti. We have a particular line, that we’re at hearing to, and that’s the line that was promoted by Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur and Bhakti Siddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākur, and if you have any doubts about that line Śrīdhar Mahārāj can clear that up for you. And that’s what you find expressed on every page of Search for Sri Krishna.
So, I would say, that’s his prefect contribution, that if you read him, he is not talking about, okay, we have to break this down, so that you understand over here is reincarnation and over here we’re vegetarians and we don’t eat meat, and over here soul is eternal and over here Krishna is God, and over here, it’s okay if you are Christian you can still chant Hare Krishna. These are very good and important needful messages, but Śrīdhar Mahārāj is giving you with every breath Gaudiya-vaiṣṇavism. So, it’s coming from Rādhā-Krishna to Mahāprabhu to Goswāmīs to our line, to Guru Mahārāj to you. Without any break, you’re getting the message live and in color. Whereas perhaps to help the Western devotees, sometimes they need this felt to broaden the message, make it simpler.
I don’t know if any of you had seen a comic book Amar Chitra Katha, that was a great comic books, because they can kind of jag your memory and help you remember things. Or even give you a visual idea of how something might be. But if we accept the Disney version of Krishna Consciousness we run the risk of trivializing things. And thinking, “Well, this is okay for children.” Like some people think, “Well, you know, bananas and hot milk in Krishna Book that’s okay for children when they are six years old.” And it’s nice because we want the young people to understand the values that we’re trying to promote. But on the other hand we run the risk of saying, “Well, this is really for babies, it’s really for children, don’t take it seriously. The real serious thing is the fight with Māyā and eternal soul.” But Śrīdhar Mahārāj he kept it real, we don’t really have time here to get into his whole message, but I hope it didn’t take too much time to discuss these things, and I hope that could serve you by talking about my experience.
Interviewer: But you know when I first read Search for Sri Krishna was the first book in this series.
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: That’s right.
Interviewer: And it fits some necessity that like in my time I read and even the foreword was very inspiring, that you don’t settle with somebody found the Truth for himself or whatever, you must yourself take it, take the path of the sages in the Scriptures and go and get this, come, finish this way to fulfill your desires.
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: That’s right. The Search for Sri Krishna begins…
Interviewer: Your books made the same thing as you first when you were young man, like, “Oh, maybe I can walk this path.” These books as you were surprised when you came to Chiang Mai, you said, “I’ve wrote these books, but then for some time I wasn’t monitoring, I wasn’t in touch. But then I was so amazed, that so many people, so many translations and such a large expansion of this thing.
The beginning of The Search for Sri Krishna
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī:Later as a consequence of Śrīdhar Mahārāj’s disappearance our organization perhaps suffered from similar symptoms as ISKCON had before. And it was difficult for me to continue for different reason that I really don’t want to go into, but it became difficult for me to continue, so my participation came to an end, but I’d like to think that just as a football player who gives his awe to the football league and sacrifices his youth to his club and then later he has to hang up his shoes. Maybe my contribution won’t be entirely forgotten and it wasn’t offer (?). Not, and as you were saying what astonishes me today is to come to far off place, a far off corner of the world in the jungles of Chiang Mai and find that our books have been translated to Russian and to other languages. And not only have our books been translated into Russian and are available today but there are human representatives of those books, the Vaiṣṇavas, who can give me back what I was searching for so long ago. So I thank all of you for giving me this opportunity.
Interviewer: And we will dive deep in the five books of Śrīdhar Mahārāj in our coming series.
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: I am very happy any participation I can give and any of you who are listening out there try to buy our books somewhere, get you hands on a copy of Search for Sri Krishna.
Interviewer: Link will be available right below the video.
Śrīpād Bhakti Vidhan Mahāyogī: We should make promotion, so these books are not lost in time. But thank all of you for having me here in Chiang Mai and I thank Avadhut Mahārāj for everything.