A Talk by Giriraj Swami December 19, 2005 San Diego
We are gathered on the most auspicious occasion of the disappearance anniversary of His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja Prabhupada, the spiritual master of our Srila Prabhupada. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was born in Jagannatha Puri as the son of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who was a magistrate and the superintendent of the Jagannatha temple in Puri. At that time, during the British rule, the position of magistrate was very important, and rare for an Indian to hold.
Srila Prabhupada told us that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was a ray of Visnu, a liberated soul sent by Krsna. He took birth in the material world for a divine purpose, specifically to assist Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his work and to carry on his mission. Soon after Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s birth, during the Ratha-yatra, the chariot stopped in front of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s house, and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s mother took him onto the chariot; and a garland from Lord Jagannatha fell directly onto the baby–blessings.
Later, as a preacher, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was a great innovator, and seeing the way he conducted his missionary activities, we can better appreciate the line in which Srila Prabhupada is coming, how Srila Prabhupada is really continuing in the same spirit as his guru maharaja.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura taught that one must engage in bhagavata-marga and pancaratriki-vidhi at the same time. Bhagavata-marga means chanting and hearing about the pastimes of the Lord and the devotees as they are described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, and pancaratrika-marga means Deity worship. The logo of the Gaudiya Matha is a circle; on one side is a picture of an arati bell and lamp, with the caption pancaratrika-marga, and on the other side are a mrdanga and a printing press, with the caption bhagavata-marga. Although to make steady progress devotees in general must follow bhagavata- and pancaratriki-vidhi simultaneously, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta gave more emphasis to bhagavata-marga–preaching. He called the printing press the brhat-mrdanga and instructed our Srila Prabhupada, “If you ever get money, print books.” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura gave the highest importance to producing and distributing books.
For Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s appearance day celebrations in 1936, Srila Prabhupada wrote a poem and delivered an address at the Bombay Gaudiya Matha. The poem included this verse:
Absolute is sentient Thou hast proved, Impersonal calamity Thou hast moved.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was most pleased with this couplet, and he showed it to various confidential disciples. Somehow, Srila Prabhupada was able to understand his spiritual master’s mission and mood. Thereafter, Srila Prabhupada was given the nickname kavi, or poet, and later he produced many books that established Krsna as the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Absolute Truth, and defeated the Mayavadis’ nonsense impersonal speculations.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura built a grand temple in Bagh Bazaar in Calcutta, but later he lamented that his disciples hadn’t really used the project for the purpose for which it was intended. They became attached to the opulence and fought over who would occupy which office. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta wanted to use the temple to preach, but there is a risk that neophyte devotees will become attached to the opulence and the prestige that come with a big temple and take advantage of the temple for their own personal gain–for power and prestige, money and facility. So, that is a risk. Srila Prabhupada, following his spiritual master, also built big temples, and devotees here are working to build a major temple outside San Diego. We should pray to be proper instruments of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, that we may use the temples for the purposes for which they are intended–to practice and preach pure devotional service–and not be distracted.
Srila Prabhupada constructed grand temples in select places–specifically in Bombay, Vrndavana, and Mayapur–and they have proven to be very successful in attracting people. But what happens to the people once they come? That is our challenge: to actually give them the message of Krsna consciousness, the message of pure devotion, so that they actually surrender to the process of Krsna consciousness and engage in unmotivated devotional service.
Otherwise, people may come, but they will have different mentalities and motives. Some will come just to offer obeisances to the Deities and pray, put some money in the box, and leave feeling good. Many engage in such service or ritual with material motives. They give money in the hope that they will get some return. The famous example in India is the Balaji temple at Tirupati. The Deity, Balaji, has the reputation that if you give Him so much, you will get so much in return. Or, some people go and try to strike a deal with the Deity: “I will give you such and such donation if You give me such and such a result.”
In India there is even a joke about this. Before going to play the races, a man went to a temple and prayed to the Deity, “Lord, if I win one lakh [one hundred thousand] rupees, I will give You fifty thousand.” So he went to the races, bet on his horse, and won fifty thousand. So he went back to the Deity and said, “Lord, You didn’t trust me. You took Your half first.” So, they come to do business with the Deity, and sometimes they even try to cheat.
So we have to elevate the people. It is a gradual process, we know, but somehow we have to make the effort and give them, without compromise, the message of pure devotion. In Madras–it was the first time I was on my own in India–I was meeting people and preaching just the way I had heard Srila Prabhupada preach. But gradually I heard from some of our friends that there was an undercurrent of protest against the way I was preaching. I heard it, and I was surprised, but I didn’t really make any change; I just heard it. Then one of our best friends, in whose home I had stayed for two weeks–serving in Madras for about two months, I stayed in different places–said the same thing. He said, “You shouldn’t criticize others. Just say what you want about Krsna consciousness and don’t say anything negative about others. Don’t criticize.” And he gave the example of the Gaudiya Matha. He said, “They have Janmastami, and thousands of people come, but they don’t criticize like you do. They just present their own activities.”
So I thought about it, and I considered, “Does Srila Prabhupada really want us to be like that, like the Gaudiya Matha? I don’t think so.” Anyway, I kept going. Then another friend, whose brother had actually offered to sponsor Srila Prabhupada’s program in Madras, also said the same thing: “All right, you worship Krsna. You can worship Krsna, but don’t say that Krsna is better than Siva or Ganesa. You do bhakti. That’s all right, but don’t say that bhakti is better than karma-yoga or jnana-yoga or . . .”
I kept getting it. Wherever I went, I was getting it. So I thought, “Maybe Krsna is trying to tell me something. Maybe I should listen to what they are saying.” So I made a resolution: “I am just going to present Krsna consciousness. I’m not going to criticize, not going to offend people anymore.”
Soon thereafter, I had an appointment with a big industrialist. I showed him the pictures of our activities, showed him the books, took out the life membership form, explained the benefits, and asked him to sign. And he said, “What about Sankaracarya? He is one of the great acaryas of India. You haven’t said anything about him.” So I said, “Yes, he is one of the great acaryas of India. Yes.” “But you haven’t said anything about him. What about him? What about his teachings?” I tried to avoid getting into an argument, so I said something very general and vague. But he kept pushing. He kept probing. And finally it all came out. I told him that actually, Sankaracarya is an incarnation of Siva. As such, we give him all respect. But he came with a special purpose, to present an imagined, monistic interpretation of the Vedas and thus bewilder ignorant people. I even took out the Teachings of Lord Caitanya–we didn’t have Caitanya-caritamrta then–and read the verses from the Padma Purana and Siva Purana about Lord Siva’s taking the form of a brahmana, preaching the false doctrine of Mayavada philosophy, which is covered Buddhism, and promoting atheism. Yet Sankara’s ultimate purpose was to bring the Buddhists, who were atheists, to accept the authority of the Vedas. It was a strategy. And then Lord Caitanya came and taught the proper understanding of the Vedas.
Things became tense. The gentleman put forward a lot of arguments, and I thought, “I really didn’t want to get into an argument, but somehow I did anyway.” And that was the end of the discussion. Dejected, I put away the pictures, put away the books, put away the membership form, closed my briefcase, and was ready to go. As I was just about to leave–he had quite a large compound, which included his factory and office and residence–he said, “Before you go, I would like you to see my temple.” I thought, “Oh, no. There is going to be a siva-linga. He is going to want me to bow down, and if I don’t he is going to be even more offended.” I looked at him, and he looked at me, and I could see he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. So I said, “All right.”
He escorted me to his temple room. It was quite a large room, as personal temples go. And facing us at the opposite end was the altar. So, I walked in. It was a marble room, all white marble, with the altar on an elevated platform, and on top of the platform were large marble Deities of Radha and Krsna. Boy, was I ever happy to see Radha and Krsna! I hadn’t seen Them for a long time, because even the Vaisnava temples in Madras were almost all Visnu. And there was the famous temple of Partha-sarathi, which was just Krsna alone.
So I was delighted. I offered my obeisances and prayers, and then I looked at our friend with an expression that asked, “What is happening here?” He looked at me straight in the eyes and said, “I am a devotee of Krsna, and my whole family are devotees. For many generations, we have been devotees of Krsna. . . . Actually, I was just testing you. And you did not compromise. So I am very pleased, and I will be honored to become your life member.”
We went back to his office, I took out the forms, he took out his checkbook, and he paid the whole amount in one installment and became a life member. So then I was really confused. I started thinking, “Well, maybe I haven’t been doing the wrong thing after all”–but I still wasn’t quite sure.
Then, when I got back to the room where I was staying, there was a letter from Srila Prabhupada. Receiving any letter from Srila Prabhupada was a great occasion. I opened the letter, and the words just jumped out of the page: “The fact is that I am the only one in India who is openly criticizing, not only impersonalism and demigod worship, but everything that falls short of complete surrender to Krsna.” Prabhupada’s words continued: “My guru maharaja never compromised in his preaching, nor will I, nor should any of my students. We are firmly convinced that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that all others are His part and parcel servants. This we must declare boldly to the whole world, that they should not foolishly dream of world peace unless they are prepared to surrender fully to Krsna as Supreme Lord.” So, I got my answer from Prabhupada.
That was Srila Prabhupada’s mood–his guru maharaja’s mood and his mood–and that was the mood he wanted us to have. Just before we opened the temple in Juhu, one friend, a most intelligent gentleman, Brijratan Mohatta, said to Srila Prabhupada, “If you want to get a lot of money in the donation box, you have to start spreading rumors that people who give money to these Deities get good results. They get a lot of benefit from it.” And Srila Prabhupada said, “No. We don’t make business with our God.”
So, I would say–although it’s hard to imagine, because we know who and what we are–that Srila Prabhupada and his guru maharaja are pleased with our efforts. When Srila Prabhupada and his disciples first arrived in India, we observed Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s disappearance day in Surat, and Srila Prabhupada began his talk, “The sunrise and the sunset, both are beautiful. Similarly, both the appearance and the disappearance of a Vaisnava are beautiful. So there is no cause of lamentation.” Then, on Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s appearance day, in Gorakhpur, Srila Prabhupada really wanted a big celebration. He told the devotees to break the fast at noon but to organize a big function and feast for the evening, and to invite all the people from the Gita Press. So we invited them, and it was a nice occasion.
After the program in the temple, we all went downstairs for the feast, which happened to be full of oil, because in those days we couldn’t get cow’s ghee in India. We could find buffalo ghee, but even that wasn’t the best, and it was sort of expensive. So every feast was a mixed occasion of joy and anxiety that we were going to get upset stomachs. Anyway, when we were almost finished with the feast, Nanda Kumar Prabhu, who was Srila Prabhupada’s servant then, came down. In general, when he would remove the plate with Srila Prabhupada’s remnants, he would go into a room and, no matter what had been on the plate before, emerge with three slices of ginger, a little pile of salt, and some lime. And he would say, “Does anyone want any maha-prasada?” [laughter]
So, he came downstairs. He didn’t bring much more than that, but he did deliver two messages. He told us that Srila Prabhupada had said two things. One was that the feast was so good that he couldn’t control his senses and so he overate. [laughter] And the second was “My guru maharaja is very pleased with all of you.” So I think that is true, even now.
One other part of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s mission that was taken up by Srila Prabhupada and in turn has come to us is the Mayapur project. Of course, the previous acaryas envisioned a Krsna conscious city there, with a wonderful temple, and a beginning was made after Bhaktivinoda Thakura discovered Lord Caitanya’s birthplace and built a temple there. In time, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati instructed his disciples to build houses, and there are a few that his grhastha followers built. But the dream of the spiritual city hasn’t yet been fully realized. And then there is the idea of building a wonderful temple–Srila Prabhupada definitely wanted to build a spectacular temple there.
This may just be my own impression or realization, but once, on Navadvipa parikrama, we went to Godrumadvipa, across the river from Mayapur, to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s house, which also served as a residence for Sarasvati Thakura. Each had a room, and you can see the bed and table and chair and other paraphernalia of each. Anyway, I went out on the balcony of the house, and I was looking across to Mayapur. It is said that Bhaktivinoda Thakura looked across the river to Mayapur and had a vision of this wonderful temple and Vedic city. From the same balcony, I saw Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi, the dome of Prabhupada’s samadhi. Now, the architecture of the puspa-samadhi in Mayapur is not exactly Bengali. I even heard one senior devotee comment, “We should have done it in the same style as the rest of the temples, Bengali style.” But somehow, the impression I got at the time, the intuition, was that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was actually pleased, because he wanted devotees from all over the world to come to Mayapur and chant and dance together–“Hare Krsna! Haribol!” And that architecture, which combined elements of various styles, was the visible manifestation of the fulfilment of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s vision and desire that devotees from all over the world should join together in Mayapur in service to Mahaprabhu.
Once, Srila Prabhupada came to Calcutta from London. He had stopped over in London for some days, and there he had personally designed the first building for Mayapur. He was so enthusiastic; he was just beaming. He had the blueprints with him, and he showed them to us. He was just so excited and enthusiastic. He had the devotees in his room–a few of us, whoever was there–and he was talking about the Mayapur project. But then he raised the question of the flooding. He asked, “What if we build this temple and there is flooding? It could be ruined. Then what?” And he started suggesting, “Maybe we should build it somewhere else, not in Mayapur.” And he suggested Birnagar, which is the birthplace of Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
So he was practical. He had ideals, but he was also practical. And what he said really had our minds spinning, because all along we had identified the big temple with Mayapur. The way he dealt with us reminded me of Lord Caitanya with His devotees. Lord Caitanya would take one position, and He would convince all the devotees of that position. And then He would take the opposite position and convince all the devotees of that position. So it was like that with Prabhupada. Somehow he convinced us that we shouldn’t build the temple in Mayapur, and then he turned the argument around and convinced us we should build it in Mayapur. But I think the real lesson–and it was a lesson that he repeatedly taught us–was that we shouldn’t take anything for granted. When we are dealing with the material world, we shouldn’t take anything for granted. He often defined intelligence as the ability to see the same thing from different angles of vision. So he wanted us to consider things with our intelligence and be open to different conclusions.
But whatever it is–wherever it ends up being–he told us very emphatically, “If you build this temple, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura will personally come and take you all back to Godhead.” It was definitely an encouragement.
So, we can’t really separate them, their missions. There is Bhaktivinoda Thakura, then Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, then Srila Prabhupada–that is our line. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura is one of our predecessor acaryas, and Srila Prabhupada was carrying forward his line, which came to him through Srila Sarasvati Thakura.
On the subject of not taking anything for granted, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was very innovative in his preaching. He had the idea that there should be a boat and that devotees should travel from port to port and spread Krsna consciousness. He had the idea of a theistic exhibition with doll exhibits, which was probably as progressive then as IMAX or animatronics now. Also, he interacted with the Britishers. There are pictures of him wearing a long, double-breasted coat, with long stockings and shoes. He looked just like a distinguished Britisher, but with the touches of a dhoti and a turban. And he would ride in a limousine. Now, when I arrived in India in 1970, only the richest people had cars; mainly, they had small Fiats and Ambassadors, and only the very richest had larger, imported cars. That was in 1970, so what would have been the situation in
1930? Practically no one would have had a car, not even the wealthiest. But Bhaktisiddhanta had a limousine. And he was a sadhu! You can see pictures of him in a limousine, very nicely dressed. Sometimes he would entertain important government officers and scholars. There is a picture of him and his disciples receiving some British dignitaries in Mayapur, and the disciples were wearing uniforms–dark pants, dark vests, dark jackets, dark turbans, dark shoes and socks, and white shirts with high collars, with chains draped across their vests (perhaps attached to timepieces). They looked a bit like Christian priests, with elements of Indian princes. Personally, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was extremely austere, but when it came to spreading Krsna consciousness, he was ready to use anything and everything.
By any means, yena tena prakarena, somehow or other, we want people to fix their minds on Krsna. Tasmat kenapy upayena manah krsna nivesayet: Somehow or other, one must fix the mind on Krsna. Somehow or other. Big temples, big festivals, museums, movies–whatever. Of course, the basics will always be there: kirtana and philosophy and prasada. But that is the merciful mood of our acaryas–not to be complacent, not to sit in the temple and eat rice and dal and ring the bell. Go out. Think of ways to somehow or other engage people in Krsna consciousness.
So we have a great lineage, and we have a big challenge. But I think we have a lot of good material too. I think we can do it. Srila Prabhupada said, “By the mercy of my guru maharaja, I did a hundred times more than he did. Similarly, I want you all to do a hundred times more than me.”
We pray for the mercy of our predecessor acaryas that we can be empowered by their mercy to carry on their mission and really help people–help ourselves and help others.
Among Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s last words were: “I have most probably given many people troubles in the mind. Some of them might have thought about me that I am their enemy because I was obliged to speak the plain truth for service and devotion towards the Absolute Godhead. I have given them all those troubles only for the reason that they may turn their face towards the Personality of Godhead without any desire for gain and with unalloyed devotion. I hope some day or other they may understand me rightly.
“I advise all to preach the teachings of Rupa-Raghunatha [disciples of Lord Caitanya] with all energy and resources. Our ultimate goal shall be to become the dust of the lotus feet of Sri Sri Rupa and Raghunatha Gosvamis. You should all work conjointly under the guidance of your spiritual master with a view to serve the Absolute Knowledge, the Personality of Godhead. You should live somehow or other without any quarrel in this mortal world only for the service of Godhead. Do not, please, give up the service of Godhead, in spite of all dangers, all criticisms, and all discomforts. Do not be disappointed, for most people in the world do not serve the Personality of Godhead; do not give up your own service, which is your everything and all, neither reject the process of chanting and hearing of the transcendental holy name of Godhead. You should always chant the transcendental name of Godhead with patience and forbearance like a tree and humbleness like a straw . . . There are many amongst you who are well qualified and able workers. We have no other desire whatsoever.”
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura ki jaya! Srila Prabhupada ki jaya! Gaura-bhakta-vrnda ki jaya! Gaura-premanande hari-haribol!