by Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja
Govardhana, India: October 22, 2009
Today is a very sacred day. Not only is it the month of Kartika and not only are we situated at the feet of Giriraja Govardhana, but on this day we are celebrating the disappearance day festival of Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja, the ‘right hand’ of his Gurudeva, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada. He took sannyasa from his god-brother, my Guru Maharaja, Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, and he preached the message of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu throughout the entire world.
I first met him in 1946, just after our Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti completed its annual Navadvipa parikrama, when, as a householder, his name was Abhaya Caranavinda De. I was with my Gurudeva in Calcutta, and at that time he came to meet Gurudeva. When I saw their intense fraternal affection, like brothers, I became stunned. I always loved and honored anyone who loved and served my Gurudeva. Therefore, seeing Srila Bhakti Vedanta Svami Maharaja’s extremely intense affection for my Gurudeva, I served him with my heart and soul.
Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja came from a very religious Vaisnava family whose members were engaged in the worship of Sri Sri Radha and Krsna. He appeared on the day after Janmastami – on Nandotsava (the grand celebration of Sri Krsna’s birth at the palace of Krsna’s father Nanda Maharaja). At that time he was given the very beautiful name Abhaya Caranaravinda, meaning, ‘the lotus feet of He who bestows fearlessness upon those who take His shelter, who is none other than Sri Krsna Himself.’ People who take birth on such auspicious days are very fortunate.
Even as a child Abhaya Caranaravinda would not play with his friends; rather, he would pick up karatalas and a mrdanga and sing in a very sweet voice. He went to an English-medium high school and college where he became proficient in the English language. His writing in English was excellent.
After marriage he became the manager for Bengal Chemical Company. After some time he thought, “I shall open my own company,” and he did so, but that company failed.
He then went to Allahabad and opened a very big shop. That shop was so popular that even the Prime Minister of India used to go there and buy medicine from him. However, even though it was a great success for a while, it also failed. After some time he sold that shop, paid his debts, and then became like a beggar.
He had already received initiation from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. One day he was reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam and came across this verse (10.88.8):
sri-bhagavan uvacaThe Personality of Godhead said: If I especially favor someone, I gradually deprive him of his wealth. Then the relatives and friends of such a poverty-stricken man abandon him and he becomes a beggar. Having no other shelter, he takes full shelter of Me.”
harisye tad-dhanam sanaih
tato 'dhanam tyajanty asya
He would read that verse and say, “Now I am having realization of this.”
He then went to Mathura and was living at the holy place of Krsna’s pastimes known as Visrama Ghat, where he would make his own medicine and personally sell it. One day I found him there and asked, “What are you doing here? Why are you living here in this condition? You should not have to wander here and there.” Without asking his permission I then took all his bags and brought him to the Matha, and I gave him the small room adjacent to the altar-room, where Thakurji resides at present. I kept him near me and provided him whatever facilities were required. While he resided there, he began translating the three volumes of the First Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. He stayed with us for some time.
One day I told him, “You have the mercy of Thakurji and your Gurudeva. You are so expert in English. Why not take the sannyasa order and preach all around the world? During that time my Guru Maharaja came from Navadvipa, and I told him, “Prabhu is so qualified and expert. If you give him sannyasa, he can preach throughout the world in the English language.” A god-brother was present with us named Sanatana dasa, who was ninety-five years old at that time. He said, “If Abhaya Caranaravinda takes sannyasa, I will take sannyasa also.”
I was the priest at his sannyasa ceremony. I performed the yajna (fire-sacrifice), I showed him how to wear the dor kaupin (sannyasa under-garments), and I made his danda (the sannyasa staff). At that time he was given the name Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja. [Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja gave the title ‘Bhaktivedanta’ to all his sannyasa disciples, and to each he gave an individual name. The individual name he gave to our Prabhupada is ‘Svami,’ and thus our Prabhupada’s full sannyasa name became ‘Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja.’ He was a great scholar and a powerful speaker; his lectures were most influential.
After taking sannyasa he went to Agra with some brahmacaris to preach there. He soon opened a temple in Jhansi, and he invited Gurudeva and I and all the Matha brahmacaris for the opening ceremony. Gurudeva and I went there with about twenty-five or thirty other devotees, but when we arrived Srila Svami Maharaja told us that there was some conflict with the persons who were donating the temple. He therefore gave us his Mahaprabhu Deity to bring back to our Sri Kesavaji Gaudiya Matha in Mathura, where the same Deity of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has been worshipped ever since.
Srila Svami Maharaja made some friends with the heads of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company and went for free to America. [He was given the first-class cabinet of the company’s owner]. Shortly after arriving in America, he wrote me and requested me to send his books, which were in his room in Mathura. He had already translated the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam in three parts. Those and other books were covered with dust. I sent them to Calcutta, from where a boat would leave for America. Because there was so much dust in the room, I became sick for about two or three months.
On the boat to America he had a heart attack, at which time he completely absorbed himself in the lotus feet of his Gurudeva, and somehow he was saved. He wrote a very nice poem on the boat describing his situation. He first arrived in Boston and then went to New York, where in Tomkins Square Park he sat down and sang: “Sri Krsna Caitanya Prabhu Nityananda Sri Advaita Gadhadhara Srivasadi Gaura Bhakta-vrnda” and “Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.”
There were so many hippies there, and some of those same hippies are present here today. Also, many persons at Thompkins Square Park were taking alcohol and cigarettes, and they were so pleased by the kirtan of Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja that they would offer him their bottles, although there was no question of him accepting them.
bhavapavargo bhramato yada bhavejThis verse states that when a person receives the glance of a sadhu, at that time his material existence is destined to be extinguished and his attraction towards Sri Krsna awakens.
janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samagamah
sat-sangamo yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
paravarese tvayi jayate matih[“When the material life of a wandering soul has ceased, O Acyuta, he may attain the association of Your devotees. And when he associates with them, there awakens in him devotion unto You, who are the goal of the devotees and the Lord of all causes and their effects.”
That is called sadhu-sanga. But what type of sadhu should one be? That sadhu should at least be situated on the highest platform of madhyama-adhikari, which is called madhyama-uttama, and then the persons who meet him can have that type of auspiciousness. Thus, by the association of Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja, hippies became happy and were transformed into Vaisnavas. Under his guidance they preached all over the world.
He translated all of the prominent books of our sampradaya, especially the Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. In a few years he preached everywhere and made temples in all the major cities of the world. He not only made thousands of disciples but also hundreds of thousands of followers.
He gave sannyasa, but not real sannyasa. Because he understood the level of qualification of his sannyasa candidates, he did not give them the 108 names quoted in the Gaudiya Kantahara. Rather, he gave names like Tamal Krsna, Bhavananda, Brahmanda, etc.
Just as a thorn is used to remove another thorn from the foot, he used these devotees to preach the message of Mahaprabhu everywhere. Then, after his disappearance, many became weak and fell back into material life.
The night before he entered nitya-lila, the eternal pastimes of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna, I went to his divine bedside. At that time he took my hand and asked me to sit on his bed; but I would not. I sat on a chair next to him. Taking hold of my hand and with tears in his eyes, he begged me, “I have committed many offenses to you and my god-brothers. Please go to them and beg forgiveness on my behalf. I have criticized them, saying, ‘They are simply eating, sleeping, and enjoying life.’ Please forgive me. Also, I want that only you will give me Samadhi. And after my Samadhi ceremony, please arrange my viraha-mahotsava, (divine disappearance festival).”
He told me, “I brought many to the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, but I could not train them fully; they are like monkeys. Due to their lack of qualification I did not have time to teach them all tattva (established philosophical truths) and siddhanta (philosophical conclusions). Please help them in every way so that they may stay on the path of Vaisnavism.
I replied, “You never committed any offense. You simply made those statements in order to give enthusiasm to your young disciples in their devotional services. The Supreme Lord never took any offense; and no Vaisnava took any offense, so do not worry.”
After the most respected Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja’s disappearance, ISKCON leaders would come to me and give me so much respect. However, after they saw my influence growing and so many people attracted to me, they decided to ban me. Then, after the ban, they began to kick out anyone coming to me from their temples and asramas.
By his mercy I am trying to follow in his footsteps. I have published more than 100 books, and by his mercy I am preaching around the world. I pray to him that he bestows his mercy on me so that I may continue to preach the message of pure devotion around the world as he did.
A few days ago some Iskcon leaders came here to our Govardhana Matha and begged forgiveness. They realized that they committed a mistake, so they came to me and asked for forgiveness. They told me, “Previously we had a very sweet relationship. We want that relationship to continue as before.”
I told them, “Yes, come and meet with me, and in that way forgiveness is automatically obtained.”