Devotee: Please can you tell us how you happened to meet your Srila Guru Maharaj, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur?

Srila Guru Maharaj: There is some background to our first meeting. When I was at school, I had some appreciation for the students from East Bengal because I had heard from one of my cousins about their sacrifice for their country and so forth. So, during my college days, I would take my seat in that hostel where they generally lived. When I came in the association of the students there, I found there to be two sections. Many were studying medicine. If any patient was admitted or any other physical duty was required, one section would immediately run to meet those requirements. Another section was inclined to be engaged in meditation, chanting the Holy Names, doing sandhya (worship), and so forth, but they would hate to attend to any patient or other such duties.

My own nature was inclined to both kinds of duties, and when I was a fourth-year student, I suddenly met a boy from the first year who was similarly inclined. He would engage himself in meditation, sandhya, etc. He would take the Name and sing the praises of the Lord, but also if any patient should be admitted, he would forget his class and studies and attend to him. That attracted me towards him, and I tried to gain his association.

One morning we were going to the jungle to collect twigs in order to cleanse our teeth when in the course of our talk he said suddenly about his father. He referred to him as, «That gentleman». I protested that it was disrespectful to use such a term for his respectable father. Then, he said, «Yes, I should not have mentioned in that way in your presence, but ultimately it is really so. Where was I in my previous lives? Only he is a ‘gentleman’ to me because it is only in this life that I have come in his house.»

Somehow that touched a fine chord in me, and I began to think, «Yes, it is right. Nobody can stay here — not the father, the mother, the brothers, or even this house. Everything is temporarily connected, and I am wandering in eternity.» That sort of impression came in me in a very, very intense form, and the whole world became as if it was just empty — fully empty. At that time, that boy anyhow connected me with the life of Mahaprabhu.

Presently, I was given a publication about Sri Chaitanyadev by the gentleman who founded the Amrita Bazar Patrika newspaper. Into my thirsty mind, I drank fully the life of Mahaprabhu with much pleasure, and my attraction was drawn to Him. I also think that from my previous life there was some attraction. I found that my mother’s family had some connection with Mahaprabhu, but my father’s family were anti-Gauranga. They were strictly smarta-brahmans, worshippers of the sakti, or goddess, and logicians of the nyaya school. But somehow, I had connection with Gauranga, and then I came to want a good connection with His devotees. I searched for such a sadhu to accept as my Gurudev, but I was not satisfied, and in due course I went to study law in Kolkata. Then, leaving college, I joined with the non-cooperation movement of Gandhi. I joined temporarily because I considered that my fate was already tied with Mahaprabhu and therefore could not give anyone my whole life’s energy. After six years, the movement allowed me temporary leave.

I was in search of a Gurudev. The founder of Bharat Seva Ashram was the same age as myself. His name was Paramananda. That boy whom I had met in college was connected with him, and so I also met him, but he was a karmi. He tried his best to take me within his fold. I answered him, «No, my head is already sold to Gauranga Mahaprabhu.»

He said, «Yes, I also recognise Gauranga Mahaprabhu to be the highest, but first it is necessary to follow the vairagya, the indifference and renunciation of Buddha, then the discussion of the Vedanta of Sankar, and after that the highest is the prema of Sri Chaitanyadev. Without following each step, that prema would be misunderstood by the ordinary section.»

He explained in that way, and of course I was very much pleased to hear him giving such position to Mahaprabhu. But I put to him this question: «You say that first we must pass through the stages given by Buddha and then Sankar and only then come to Chaitanyadev, but Chaitanyadev did not say, ‘If you want to come to Me, come through Buddha and Sankar and then to Me.’ Rather, He said, ‘Wherever you are, you can take the Name with the company of the sadhu and in that way you will come to Me.’ He did not say, ‘First become Buddhist, then become Sankarite, and then you will come to Me.’ He did not say so.» He became silent.

I asked him, «If you have some siddhi, you please say where is my Gurudev.» Then, he gave some idea: «Go to that particular gentleman.» By his request, I went there, but that man was not present. Then, one day I found that there was a placard advertising a one month festival in the Gaudiya Math at No. l Ultadingi Junction Road near Poresanath Temple. I went to visit that place thinking that having the name ‘Gaudiya’ they must have some connection with Sri Chaitanyadev, and I found, «Yes, they are educated men. It is a gentleman’s association, and they are well studied in scripture as well as being very good practitioners.»

In our family, of course, there was no intoxication, and they followed so many other pure practices, and I found also such conduct there at the Gaudiya Math. But what attracted me most was their deep knowledge of the scriptures. I had done some studying, but still I felt myself to be in a lower position concerning knowledge of the Bhagavad-gita, Bhagavatam, Sriman Mahaprabhu, etc. Their high regard for the scriptures attracted me very much. I began to go there to hear and gradually became inspired.

I had some objections in the beginning, but I found that what those devotees gave was correct, and my conception was wrong. In this way, I gained understanding and inspiration by hearing more and more. Whenever anything was said to them from the scriptures, they would come to listen very carefully. But if something was said quoting Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Gandhi, etc., it was summarily rejected, «No, no, we have no time to lose. We have no time to waste to hear all this.» But whenever there was reference to any scriptures, their reaction was, «Yes, what do you say? Please express it.»

What attracted me most was that they had within them such devout appreciation for the scriptures and for the rsis, as was also in me, perhaps to an overflowing degree. Thereby, gradually, I discovered the real meaning of Srimad Bhagavad-gita for which already I had great appreciation and reverence. I was pleased to find that they are very much part of this Mission, and I learnt amongst other things that Sri Chaitanyadev and Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta are the highest authority.

I then entered into the Mission. Whatever misunderstandings I had gradually cleared. I was converted, so much so that even the senior men used to ask me, «What Srila Prabhupad has said, please repeat it for our clarification.» And I would repeat, reproducing for them what I had heard from Srila Prabhupad, and they were satisfied. In this way, I came to such a position that generally the educated section began to say, «Sridhar Maharaj can represent the things very well.»

One respectable gentleman similarly said, «In a very concise form, he can represent the very substance and without any excitement.» There are some who, when they say something, show signs of excitement, but in a sober temperament I would try to deliver the substance using only a few words. I was not very pushing, not forward, but rather my nature was to hang behind. I would not try to go ahead and be in the front, but it would be as though I was playing from behind. That was my nature, keeping myself back, and more busy for my own realisations as to the meanings of the different slokas of Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta, etc. Generally, I would meditate on the meanings of the various slokas. Sometimes also, I would perhaps receive some new illumination and understanding concerning the meaning of the higher plane. In this way, I passed my days.

I first came across Swami Maharaj a little later in Allahabad when he was the agent of Kartik Bose of Bengal Chemicals. Then in the Bombay Math also, I had his company for a long time. But the main association I had with him was in Kolkata after the departure of our Guru Maharaj. I opened a centre there in the house next to his, which was also owned by him. Downstairs there was a laboratory, and on the first floor there were four rooms that I took on sublease from him. I stayed there for some time. He used to come almost every day, and we had discussions about the inner meanings and teachings of Bhagavad-gita. Briefly, we discussed other things also, but mainly our discussions were based on the Bhagavad-gita. Govinda Maharaj was there all along. Hari Charan Prabhu was a newcomer then, and he also was there for some time. Govinda Maharaj was very much liked by Swami Maharaj who often mentioned, «I saw him as my child.»

That was how I became connected with the Gaudiya Math and joined in the Mission.

Devotee: Srila Guru Maharaj, what inspired you to compose the book Sri-Sri Prapanna-jivanamrtam?

Srila Guru Maharaj: Much later when I left the association of the disciples of our Srila Prabhupad to live alone, I felt some sort of helplessness within me. I knew that saranagati, surrender, is the indispensable necessity in the life of a devotee and felt, «I have left or somehow or other I am excluded from the company of Prabhupad’s association. I am helpless, but saranagati may come to my relief.» So, I especially came to think, «Saranagati is the basis, but what is saranagati?»

On reading Bhakti Vinod Thakur’s book Saranagati, this point impressed me most. He wrote,

sad-anga saranagati ha-ibe yahara
tahara prarthana sune sri-nanda-kumara

«If you want Nanda Kumar, you must have this six-fold saranagati.»

[The six limbs of saranagati are: i) acceptance of the favourable, ii) rejection of the unfavourable, iii) full confidence in the Lord’s protection, iv) embracing the Lord’s guardianship, v) full self-surrender, and, vi) surrender in humility.]

I wanted to culture that, so at that time, after coming to live alone, I recollected all I had imbibed in my Math life and also consulted about saranagati in Hari-bhakti-vilasa, in Jiva Goswami’s Bhakti-sandarbha, and in the Ramanuja sampradaya’s writings. I then tried to collect it all together and arrange it in a particular way as I thought best. In this way I began to write the book Sri-Sri Prapanna-jivanamrtam that it may also help others who might come in such a position as mine. That was the real reason.

Devotee: What is the meaning of its title?

Srila Guru Maharaj: The title Sri-Sri Prapanna-jivanamrtam means, prapannanam jivane amrta-svarupam: «The nectar in the life of the surrendered souls.» This was my conception from the beginning, prapanna-jivanamrta: those who have come to take this, to feel it, this will be like nectar to them. To those who have surrendered, it will be nectar to them, but others, the ordinary people, may not appreciate it.

It will be the nectar in the life of those who have surrendered, those who have the real adhikar, the proper qualified standard of faith to receive it. Srila Jiva Goswami wrote, «Those who have faith in the Veda, in Srimad Bhagavatam and such things, they are to read this book; otherwise, I put a curse, that those who do not have such faith should not come to read my book.» Jiva Goswami has written in such a way: «You unbelievers won’t come to touch my book. You who are unbelievers, it is not meant for you! It is only for those who have faith in such things. Others are discarded. You, the ordinary public, are discarded. You must not touch my book because you will misunderstand it.»

This is also a custom of proper behaviour. If one goes to venture to read such things, at least he must approach with some caution, and not with the mood of curiosity, «Oh, why does he say this?», for that will be dangerous. So, adhikari-nirnaya: that whoever will come to read the Veda, if he has not attained the standard, he will misunderstand or mutilate it.

paroksa-vado vedo ’yam balanam anusasanam
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 11.3.44).

«The Vedic purport is presented in an indirect, veiled manner in order to instruct undisciplined, childishly foolish persons.»

In his uttara-mimamsa of the Vedanta-sutra, Vedavyas has written: athato Brahma-jijnasa. Sri Sankar Acharya says that in relation to this aphorism athato means anantaram, ‘after this’. After what? «After one has attained sama, dama, titiksa — all these qualifications. One who has qualities such as having controlled his senses and his mental speculations (sama, dama), having a very tolerant and persevering spirit (titiksa), and so on, he will come to study this book. After he has acquired a certain grade in such qualities, he will come to study this. It is not for the ordinary people who will misunderstand, misinterpret, and mutilate it, thus creating trouble in society.» So, for the benefit of society, Sankar Acharya says that only such persons will come, and they will gain a clear and proper understanding. They will then preach that to the public in particular instalments, and all will be benefitted thereby.

Ramanuja says, «No, athato does not mean that. Athato means, ‘after finishing the purva-mimamsa of Jaimini.’ There is purva-mimamsa (primary teaching) and uttara-mimamsa (higher teaching). So, after one has finished the course of purva-mimamsa, that is, niskam varnasram-dharma, he will then come to understand the study of this uttara-mimamsa. When he has finished successfully the karma-adhikar, he will come to enter into jnan-adhikar, and that will be beneficial to him.» This is Ramanuja’s opinion.

And Baladev Vidyabhusan says, «Whoever he may be, whether a karmi or jnani, athato means he must have sat-sanga, sadhu-sanga. From any position, if he can get the association of a proper sadhu, he is qualified to study this book and he will understand the real meaning.»

So, everywhere there is consideration of adhikar, that is, yogyata or ‘fitness’. He must acquire the standard of qualification, then he will come to tackle the particular plane, and he must have healthy association.

Devotee: Our Guru Maharaj, Srila Swami Maharaj Prabhupad, used to say athato means, «now that we have come to the human form of life», «after coming to the human form of life.»

Srila Guru Maharaj: But the human form of life alone is not sufficient. Sat-sanga, sadhu-sanga, is necessary, Sad-guru-charana-asraya. Anyone who has received the grace of a sadhu can have that nectar, whereas, yaha Bhagavata pada Vaisnavera sthane: even a brahman may not be qualified to enter into the Bhagavatam. Sriman Mahaprabhu said, «Go to a Vaisnava. From him you will get the real standpoint of Bhagavatam and how to approach it.»

Devananda Pandit, a real brahman of noted scholarship, was a ‘professor’ of Bhagavatam. Many people used to come to hear from him. But although a scholar, his standpoint was that of the Sankar school. Srivas Pandit also lived locally, but he was an expert in the real explanations of Bhagavatam.

Mahaprabhu suddenly one day said, «Oh, that Devananda Pandit, he teaches Bhagavatam to so many students, but he himself does not know its real purport. He is spreading poison in the name of Bhagavatam. I shall go and tear up his books!» Inspired one day with such a spirit, Mahaprabhu suddenly ran towards that place, but Srivas Pandit and others perhaps stopped Him, saying, «No, no, this won’t look good for you.»

Anyhow, on another day, Mahaprabhu met Devananda Pandit and told him, «You are teaching Srimad Bhagavatam to the students, but do you know what is there in Bhagavatam? You yourself do not know what nectar is there.»

In a very ridiculing way, Mahaprabhu told him:

paripurna kariya ye saba jane khaya
tabe bahirdese giya se santosa paya
(Sri Chaitanya-bhagavat: Madhya-lila, 21.73)

«When one who has eaten and has a full belly goes to the latrine, while passing stool he feels some relief, but you do not even get that sort of meagre pleasure! But in Srimad Bhagavatam there is such high nectar, such high taste, but you, such a mean fellow with your mean mind, approach the Bhagavatam and teach it in such a filthy way. What do you know about Bhagavatam

On another occasion, Srivas Pandit came to hear Bhagavatam from Devananda’s tol, Sanskrit school. While Devananda was pronouncing the slokas, Srivas was understanding them in his own way thus causing many feelings to come in him; sometimes he shed tears, and sometimes he shivered. Devananda Pandit told his students, «Oh, that man has come to disturb us with all these lower sentiments. Take him out!» So, his students took Srivas Pandit from there and left him outside, but that enraged Mahaprabhu.

Later on, Mahaprabhu’s intimate devotee, Vakresvara Pandit, came to Devananda’s house. He came and had a private talk with Devananda, and Devananda was converted: «Yes, I did not know that such meanings may be found in Srimad Bhagavatam. I was influenced by Sankar Acharya’s teaching that Brahma is all-in-all; therefore, I considered these topics of Bhagavatam to be all saguna, all under maya.» So, when Mahaprabhu, after five years of sannyas, came again to visit this area, Kuliya here in Nabadwip Dham, Devananda fell at His feet, crying, «I have made such great offences!»

Mahaprabhu said, «Yes, but you have committed offences not so much against Me as against Srivas Pandit. Go and beg forgiveness from him, and you will be absolved from your offences.»

kuliya-gramete asi’ sri-krsna-chaitanya
hena nahi, yare prabhu na karila dhanya
(Sri Chaitanya-bhagavat: Antya-lila, 3.541)

In this way, Chapal Gopal and many others who had made so many bad remarks about Sri Chaitanyadev’s conduct all came there to Him saying, «We could not understand Your outstanding personality and superiority; therefore, we have unknowingly done much wrong against You. Please forgive us.»

Mahaprabhu forgave them, saying, «Oh, no, no, there is no offence, everything is alright. Go away peacefully now.»

So also, in the case of reading Srimad Bhagavatam, there is this question of adhikar and sat-sanga. Even a brahman may not have the proper position to understand, what to speak of teach, the scriptures. Only sadhu-sanga, the association of a good teacher, is necessary to understand the sastra.

Raghunath Bhatta was the son of Tapan Misra, and he lived in Benares. Tapan Misra was a devotee and scholar. When Raghunath Bhatta went to visit Mahaprabhu in Puri, Mahaprabhu told him, «Don’t marry but serve your parents; they are Vaisnavas. When they pass away, go to Vrndavan and live with Rupa and Sanatan. In the meantime, read Srimad Bhagavatam under the guidance of a Vaisnava teacher. From him, you will get the real standpoint from which to approach the subject in order to see what is its theme, what is its end, and so forth. Such a teacher will be able to give you real direction in your study of all these matters:

yaha bhagavata pada vaisnavera sthane

Similarly, Baladev Vidyabhusan comes to say that a person may be from any position, but if he approaches a proper guide, a Guru, he can receive the capacity to enter into the meaning of the scripture.

Devotee: What is the meaning of bhakti-rasa-patra in the following verse?

eka bhagavata bada — bhagavata-sastra
ara bhagavata — bhakta bhakti-rasa-patra
(Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta: Adi-lila, 1.99)

Srila Guru Maharaj: This verse explains that there are two types of Bhagavatas: the book Bhagavat and the person Bhagavat. Bhakti-rasa-patra means the sadhu, one who is living the life of a Bhagavat. Bhagavata-rasa-patra means ‘one containing divine rasam pertaining to Bhagavan’. Living scripture is Bhagavat, and the Vaisnava is Bhagavat. The Srimad Bhagavat is the scripture, and the person Bhagavat is also the scripture.

Devotee: What is the specific meaning of bhakti-rasa-patra?

Srila Guru Maharaj: Bhakti-rasa-patra means a person who is ‘filled up’ or a pot which is filled up with rasa: raso vai Sah. He is full of anandam. Patra means ‘person’ as well as ‘pot’. There are two meanings of the word patra; it means both a ‘pot, glass, container’ and ‘the person who is also a «container»’.

So, in the title of my book, amrtam means prapanna-jivanamrtam, or prapannanam jivane amrta-svarupam — for those who are surrendered, it is the nectar in their lives. It is the nectar in the soul’s surrender. It will sustain the surrendered souls like amrtam, nectar, and they will live by taking that; it is their food and will give them sustenance.

Devotee: We would like to hear from you, Srila Guru Maharaj, how Nityananda Prabhu asked you to come here to Nabadwip and start giving initiations.

Srila Guru Maharaj: Sometime after the departure of our Srila Prabhupad, I was asked by some leading members to take the position of Acharya, but from the beginning I had within me no impression or inspiration to do so. However, when I came to stay alone, there was always some sort of hesitation in me that my Guru Maharaj did not like nirjan-bhajan, the separate practising life. He liked that devotees would associate together and engage in kirtan. But if I live in an association, it would mean there must be preaching and many newcomers will join, but who will give them initiation? They asked me to take the charge of initiating, but I did not feel any inner inspiration to do so. I did not feel any urge for that, but I was anyway passing my time in the cultivation of Krishna consciousness.

Before I went to Vrndavan, I had in mind that I would not stay there. I felt that Vrndavan is for the higher devotees, but I am of lower order. The fallen should take shelter under Mahaprabhu at aparadha-bhanjan-pat (the place where all offences are forgiven) in Nabadwip, so it was a foregone conclusion to me that I would take my shelter in Nabadwip, and not Vrndavan.

By the grace of Nityananda Prabhu, we can receive the grace of Mahaprabhu. There is no other alternative for us, the fallen souls, especially the beginners. Heno Nitai vine bhai Radha-Krishna paite nai: by the grace of Nityananda we shall receive the grace of Gauranga, and by the grace of Gauranga we shall receive the grace of Radha-Govinda. That is the general way — the grand trunk road that was even foretold by Lord Brahma,

krsna-bhakta haya yadi balavana
vidhira kalama-kathi kare khana khana

«If a devotee of Sri Krishna is very powerful, he can easily cut into pieces that which is written down as his destiny.»

Then, when I came from Vrndavan to take my permanent residence here at this aparadha-bhanjan-pat, Koladwip, I thought, «I am going to take my shelter in Nabadwip Dham permanently. But Dhamesvar, the Master of the Dham, is Nityananda Prabhu; therefore, before going to Mahaprabhu’s birthplace, I must visit Nityananda Prabhu’s birthplace at Ekachakra and beg His permission. If He is propitiated, then I may live in Nabadwip Dham safely; otherwise, it will be impossible.» So, before I came here, I went straight to Nityananda Prabhu’s birthplace and made my prostrate obeisances with the prayer, «You are Patit Pavan, saviour of the fallen, and I crave Your mercy. Please grant me permission to stay permanently at Koladwip in Nabadwip Dham, that I may have my shelter there.» At that time, I had already chosen this place at Gupta Govardhan.

When I fell flat with that prayer, at once some urge came in my mind, «You are praying for the grace of Nityananda Prabhu as Patit Pavan, but you are apathetic to patita, the fallen, so how can you hope to have His sympathy?» This suddenly came in my mind. «Nityananda Prabhu is Patit Pavan, but I do not like to extend my helping hand to others, so how can I expect His grace and mercy?» That sort of strong reflection came in me, and anyhow I put forward my position to Him and came here. Also our Srila Prabhupad’s nature was always pressing on my mind; he was always against nirjan-bhajan, but I was going to do that very thing.

Anyhow, I came here, and for two rupees per month I rented a room nearby and stayed there. During the daytime, I read the sastra, and from evening I used to take the Holy Name, and after finishing the chanting of one lakh (100,000) Names, I would go to bed.

I took Giridhari with me from Vrndavan and kept Him on a small throne in the room. I would cook something just once in a day, offer to Giridhari, and then take some prasadam. In the evening, I would also take a little prasadam, and in this way I passed my days. Unknown to anyone, I came to this place, but gradually my godbrothers searched for me, and finding me, they began to come now and then. Some began to stay and did not want to leave.

At that time, when going through the books of Jiva Goswami, I found he had written that those who have money but do not spend it for the Lord, they commit vitta-sathya. Similarly, those who have some knowledge and experience about bhakti, about Krishna and the devotees, but do not like to help others, they commit jnana-sathya. At the same time, I had in my memory from my early days a story from the Puranas where it is mentioned that a particular brahman was a big scholar but he gave no education or help to anyone. As a result, in his next life he received the body of a mango tree which bore many beautiful fruits, but not even a single bird would touch them. Then, one day Anantadev noticed the tree while on his way to see God. When he enquired about it, the Lord replied, «He was a great pandit, but he did not instruct or give his share of learning to anybody. He was so miserly in his scholarship that in his next birth he was put in such a position as this tree.»

Another thing also came to my mind: a doctor is not omniscient, but should he not try his best to cure a patient? As much as he has capacity, he must try to help; otherwise, the world will be at a standstill. It is not that everyone will say, «Only if I have complete and full knowledge will I approach to help another.» For that is not possible in this world. Everyone has some relative position. With this also coming to my mind, I began in a mild way to help. I decided not to engage on a broader scale to preach and make disciples, but that if anyone would come, then I would try to educate him in this spiritual line in the minimum way or to initiate. With this spirit, I took my position here remembering the inspiration from Patit Pavan Nityananda Prabhu that came to me: «You must try your best to help those that in your consideration are fallen.»

I was not fully reluctant, but I was not making any big attempt because it is mentioned also in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu that it is prohibited to make so many temples and so many programmes on a big scale:

vyavahare ’py akarpanyam sokady-avasa-vartita
(Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu: Purva-vibhaga, 2.79-80)

When our Guru Maharaj was delivering lectures from Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu on the sixty-four kinds of devotion, I noted, «Establishing temples and programmes on a large scale is prohibited there, but our Srila Guru Maharaj is doing that very thing. On a big scale, he is making propaganda and money, and he is spending also in great quantities to construct the temples and other things. In Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Rupa Goswami has prohibited this, but yet our Guru Maharaj has undertaken all these things. What will he say when this point comes up for discussion?»

Then, I found that in one or two words he explained the whole thing. He said, «It is a question of personal capacity. One man may manage an empire and may still find time for leisure, whereas another man is barely able to manage his family and cannot find any leisure-time.» So, it depends on the capacity of the individual whether something will be considered great or small. It is a question of personal capacity, and according to our capacity we must try our best.

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