A Great Start
We have just begun our festival tour here in the United States of America. Today we are celebrating Janmastami in Houston, Texas. The day began with a small program with some yoga students. We’re off to a great start!
Dearest Srila Prabhupada: Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to you!
Today we are celebrating my favorite day of the year: the day of your advent within this material world 122 years ago. In a moment of intimacy you once shared with one of my godbrothers the reason for your appearance. You were sitting in the quarantine hall at Bombay airport after arriving from Africa. Immigration officials had denied you entry because your servant had forgotten your yellow fever vaccination card.
“I did not want to come to this nasty place,” you commented. Your servant fervently apologized for his mistake, but you clarified your meaning. “I do not mean Bombay. I mean this material world. I did not want to come to this place. It is a horrible place. When Krsna asked me to come I said, “I do not want to go.” But Krsna said, “No, please. Don’t worry. You go down and write books. I will take care of everything!”
And so on His order and with His assurance of protection, you came and expanded His name and fame throughout this planet. Having accomplished this feat which is unparalleled in the history of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Lord Krsna made You famous throughout the three worlds.
ebe jasa ghusuk tribhuvana
“Your fame is spread all over the three worlds”
[Narottam das Thakur, Sri Guru Vandana]
Srila Prabhupada, you told Gurudas in London in 1972: “One day scholars will note how this movement saved the world in its darkest hour.” My dear master, please allow me to expand upon your prophecy: One day scholars will note how you, Srila Prabhupada, saved this world in its darkest hour, for this great ISKCON movement is non-different than you. You created an army of devotees who continue to hold back the advance of Kali Yuga even to this present day!
“Victory! Victory! Victory! I behold something wonderful! All the inauspiciousness of the living entities is destroyed. No one is going to hell. Yamaraja has no more work to do and the effects of Kali-yuga have ceased to exist. This is because all over the world an increasing number of Lord Visnu’s devotees are singing His names while dancing and playing musical instruments.”
[ Divya-prabandha, Tiruvaymoli 5.2.1 by Nammalvar, one of the twelve great Vaisnava saints from South India ]
Srila Prabhupada, I am always in awe that somehow or other I was swept up in the great tidal wave of mercy you created in your preaching. The saint, Srila Narottam das Thakur, often lamented that he had just missed the pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He wrote:
se-saba sangira sange je koilo bilas
se-sanga na paiya kande narottama das
“Being unable to obtain the association of Lord Gauranga accompanied by all of these devotees in whose association He performed His pastimes, Narottama dasa simply weeps.”
[ Lamentation Due to Separation from the Lord and His Associates, from Prarthana ]
I consider myself most fortunate that I didn’t miss your pastimes on this planet, Srila Prabhupada. To my mind, these are as relishable as the Lord’s, being in direct service to His lotus feet. I feel no lamentation whatsoever in my life, for I was present during your earthly pastimes and somehow you accepted me as your disciple, guaranteeing me an eternal life of bliss and knowledge.
Of course, after your departure, I, like Narottam das Thakur, had to taste the bitterness of separation. But you had prepared me for this situation. Once, I handed you a letter as you were leaving the Detroit temple. I had concluded that letter by saying how much I would miss you. You so kindly wrote back:
“I can appreciate your feelings of separation. I am also feeling separation from my spiritual master, but I always feel that he is watching over and protecting me.”
One time in Cambridge, I shared the contents of that letter with HH Tamal Krsna Goswami. He smiled and showed me a similar letter you had written him in 1977:
“I shall remain your personal guide whether I am physically present or not, just as I am getting guidance from my Guru Maharaja.”
Srila Prabhupada, I feel your guidance in my life every day. The more I dedicate myself to your service and instructions, the closer I feel to you. During this summer’s festival tour in Poland I felt particularly close to you as our 300 devotees worked together to bring hundreds of thousands of people into direct contact with Krsna consciousness. Several thousands of your books were distributed and over 160,000 plates of prasadam were sold.
All this is not to say that I don’t miss you, because for sure you are very far away in the spiritual sky, relishing confidential pastimes with your beloved Lord. I would like to join you there one day. But I know that to qualify for such confidential service I have to first complete my service to you here in the material world.
yatha yatha gaura padaravinde
vindeta bhaktim krta punya rasih
tatha tathot sarpati hrdya kasmad
radha padambhoja sudhambu rasih
“To the degree that we surrender to Lord Caitanya’s service, to that degree we acquire qualification for service to Radharani’s lotus feet in Vraja.”
[ Sri Caintaya Candramrita, text 88, Srila Prabhodananda Saraswati ]
You instructed me: “Preach boldly and have faith in the holy names.” Srila Prabhupada, despite all the lectures I have given over the years, despite the myriad of places I have visited on this planet on your behalf, and despite all the thousands of festivals we have conducted in your honor, I feel I have only just begun to fulfill those two most valuable instructions you gave me. As a result I must share with you a frustration that is now burning within my heart: with the arrival of old age it is becoming physically more difficult to execute your orders. On top of that, with my own demise not far down the road, I feel I won’t have time to fulfill your instructions.
That being the case, my dear master, I want to say here and now, standing directly before you in the midst of so many exalted vaisnavas, that I am prepared to take as many births as necessary to bring to fruition your desire that all the people of this world receive the holy names. Even now, their spiritual welfare is my constant meditation. During this year’s festival tour my favorite activity was watching people as they entered our festival grounds. One by one, or in groups or families, they would enter, curious and eager for the festivities to begin. Unknown to them, however, in my mind I was offering each and every one of them to your lotus feet! This is a most suitable offering to one who was requested by the Lord Himself to come and deliver the fallen souls of this world. I wish to continue this service to you for many lifetimes to come.
“O swan gliding in the lakes of the Vraja-vasis’ love, I wish that I may wander everywhere always chanting and drinking the nectar of Your names. Those most sweet names arise from the ocean of Gokula and spread the glories of Your infinitely varied dress and ways of acting. As I wander, behaving like a madman, may I distribute joy to everyone in all the worlds.”
[ Narada Muni, Brhat Bhagavatamrta 1.7.143 ]
Srila Prabhupada I know it would please you if I also developed pure and unalloyed love for the divine couple. It wasn’t that you only wanted us to spread the teachings of pure devotional service, but you desired that we, as your disciples and followers, also achieve that esteemed goal. In a lecture in San Francisco in 1975 you said: “My position is that I want to see that at least one disciple has become a pure devotee. Of course, I have got many sincere and pure devotees. That is my good luck.”
And my “good luck”, Srila Prabhupada, is that you are my spiritual master and that by your mercy I can become a pure devotee of the Lord. It is in that mood that I happily chant my rounds, follow the principles and regularly go on samkirtan to share my good fortune with others:
“I have been immersed for many lives in this ocean of birth and death. Oh Lord Gauracandra! Oh golden moon-like master! If You bestow upon me continuous service to Your brilliant lotus feet, I shall chant and describe to others the glories of Sri Hari forever.”
[Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Susloka-Satakam, text 99]
And in that mood I also associate with my godbrothers and godsisters, those sincere and pure devotees you spoke of back in 1975. It is by their mercy only that I can understand you and your mission in this world.
Therefore, I am also meditating on my good fortune on this auspicious day to have the association of so many sweet devotees, and especially, my wonderful godbrothers, Giriraja Maharaja, BB Govinda Maharaja, Kesava Bharati Maharaja, Guru Gauranga das and Bada Haridas, five godbrothers who are particularly dear to me and instrumental in perfecting my service to you. By following their example in pleasing you I am assured of success, for you also wrote to me in the early years to “always follow in the footsteps of advanced devotees.”
Srila Prabhupada, I am praying that by such service and association I will truly become your qualified disciple and that in some distant lifetime I will be with you again. Next time it will be especially sweet, as I will be serving you in that world where every step is a dance, every word is a song, every day is a festival and the flute is the constant companion. My dear master, I cannot wait! Please reveal to me that divine abode!
“The Vedas say that to a loyal disciple one may speak the confidential secret. Therefore, O most fortunate one, now please hear the glories of Goloka.”
[ Brhad Bhagavatamrta, Part 2, Chapter 1, text 6 ]
I am now and forever ….
Your eternal servant,
Several days ago Janmastami was celebrated all over the world. In Houston, Texas we had a wonderful program for the presiding deities, Sri Sri Radha Nilamadhava. With many distinguished guests we discussed the Lord’s advent and then danced in ecstasy until way after midnight!
Sri Radha’s Aratrika Ceremony
rāga ārati jaya vṛṣabhānu kumāri
jhalakata mukha-śobhā ujiyāri
All glories to the āratrika celebration of the daughter of Vrishabhanu. The divine splendor of her face shines brilliantly.
kapuraka vātī ratanake thāri
kare la-i lalitā prāṇa-piyāri
Lalita Devi, the sakhi as dear to Her as her own life, holds in her hands a jeweled plate containing a camphor lamp and offers ārati.
vadana kamala saṅge karu nichayāri
sahacari-gaṇa karu jaya-jaya-kāri
To the lotus-like face of Radha, she then performs nichayāri [nichani, a ritual to drive away evil. It is performed by touching the plate to the forehead, then touching it to the ground and then touching it again to the forehead. This tradition is performed in slightly different ways in different parts of India.] All the sakhīs loudly shout, “Jaya! Jaya!”
maṅgala gāuta dei kara-tāri
barikhe kusuma saba navina-kumāri
The sakhis sing auspicious songs while clapping their hands. Then all the youthful damsels shower flowers on Her.
caraṇa-kamala nakha-cānda nihāri
paramānanda jīvana balihāri
While simply gazing at the moon-like nails of Her lotus feet, Paramananda surrenders his life.
[ By the medieval Vaiṣṇava poet Paramananda tathā. Translated by Hari Parshad Das from Vaiṣṇava-padāvalī, fourth edition, April 2010. Compiled and edited by Hare Krishna Mukhopadhyay. Published by Shishu Sahitya Sansad Pvt. Ltd., Kolkata. Published in issue 432 of Sri Krishna Kathamrita Bindu, by Gopal Jiu Publications, overseen by Madhavananda das Adhikary ]
Govinda Maharaja spoke to me from Vrindavan this morning. He had just visited Gunagrahi Maharaja in our Vrindavan hospice. As many of you know, Gunagrahi Maharaja is in the final stage of debilitating cancer. Govinda Maharaja reported that he is just skin and bones at this point but in very good consciousness. He could leave this world at any moment now. I would like to ask everyone to pray that his departure will be smooth and that he’ll wake up in the arms of our beloved Lord Sri Krishna. Thank you, Indradyumna Swami
My dear godbrother and friend, Giriraja Maharaja, Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I am not usually without words but glorifying you is challenging because there is so much to say and so little time to say it! I could talk for hours about your extraordinary qualities as a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, as well as reminiscing about our 30-year friendship which is one of the deepest and most satisfying in my life.
Friendship is an essential ingredient in Krsna consciousness. In Hayagriva dasa’s book, Vrindavan Days, he recounts how Srila Prabhupada stressed the importance of friendship in one of his Vrindavan discourses at the Radha Damodar temple in the early 1970s:
“In the second stage, that of madhyam-adhikari, one treats all types of men according to their position and tries to increase his love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he also make friends with the devotees. He doesn’t envy the devotees. If a devotee is superior, we should take lessons from him; if he is equal, we should make friends with him; and if lower, we should try to help him.”
Maharaja, you have been so kind and treated me as an equal all these years, but let the truth be known: you are my superior, for you are many light-years ahead of me in devotional service. This truth becomes evident each time I hear you speak. Your speaking perfectly exemplifies the Lord’s declaration in Bhagavad-Gita:
satyam priya-hitam ca yat
van-mayam tapa ucyate
“Austerity of speech consists in speaking truthfully and beneficially and in avoiding speech that offends. One should also recite the Vedas regularly.”
[ Bhagavad Gita 17.15 ]
In his purport to that verse Srila Prabhupada writes that “at the same time, such talk should be very pleasurable to the ear.”
Your lectures are a pleasurable to the ear for many reasons, but in particular they are so because you sprinkle your narrative with your memories of Srila Prabhupada. You will often use first-hand accounts of Srila Prabhupada to back up a philosophical point, or you use them simply to give joy to your audience. Many times you have surprised devotees by sharing a pastime or statement from Srila Prabhupada that you have never used before. You are like a treasure chest of Prabhupada nectar. This is because he is very dear to you and you are very dear to him.
In numerous letters throughout the years Srila Prabhupada extolled your virtues as a disciple and devotee of the Lord:
“So I marked it in your person when I was in Boston, and prayed to Krishna that this good soul may be aware of the importance of Krishna Consciousness ”
[ Letter to Giriraja dasa, July 5, 1969 ]
“I am glad that Giriraja is doing very nicely. Krishna has sent a good soul for pushing on this Krishna Consciousness Movement.”
[ Letter to Satsvarupa dasa, 17 July 1969 ]
“You are also very fortunate to have an assistant like Giriraja. This boy has so quickly taken up the Krishna Consciousness cause and I am very much pleased with his behavior.”
[ Letter to Satsvarupa dasa, 15 October 1969 ]
“In his last letter Giriraja has informed me that he was sick but since then I have not heard from him. How is he? I am anxious to know. His health should be taken good care of. He is an important worker and a good soul.”
[ Letter to Tamal Krishna dasa, 20 August 1971 ]
Four times our own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, has defined you as “a good soul”. This is but one of the reasons that I always hanker to be near you and try to obtain your association whenever possible.
In Harinam Cintamani, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur writes:
“If one stays near a pure Vaishnava, a devotee of Krishna, for some time one can receive the bhakti, devotional energy, flowing from his body. If one can bind that energy within one’s heart, he will develop strong faith in bhakti. If one lives close to a genuine Vaisnava, devotion will soon appear within one’s heart.”
I make it a point to try and visit you in Carpinteria, California once a year. My excuse is that I am coming to rest, but have you ever seen me rest when I am with you? No! Resting is just a ruse; I come to bask in your wonderful association.
So yes, we are friends, but I think a better terminology is that we are brothers, and you are the older brother. You are older in age, older in time spent in ISKCON, and older in your realizations and wisdom in Krsna consciousness. As such I take great pleasure in honoring you on this auspicious day. In fact, so much do I appreciate what you have done for me, that I honor you in the same mood as your disciples: as a representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Someone may challenge: where does it say that a godbrother can worship another godbrother as representative of the Lord, as good as the Lord Himself? Well, it says so in the king of all sastras, the Srimad Bhagavatm:
däsavat sanna-täryäìghriù / pitåvad déna-vatsalaù bhrätåvat sadåçe snigdho / guruñv éçvara-bhävanaù
“[Prahlada Maharaja] was completely cultured as a qualified brahmana, having very good character and being determined to understand the Absolute Truth. He had full control of his senses and mind. Like the Supersoul, he was kind to every living entity and was the best friend of everyone. To respectable persons he acted exactly like a menial servant, to the poor he was like a father, to his equals he was attached like a sympathetic brother, and he considered his teachers, spiritual masters and older Godbrothers to be as good as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He was completely free from unnatural pride that might have arisen from his good education, riches, beauty, aristocracy and so on.”
[Srimad Bhagavatam 7.4. 31-32]
My dear older godbrother, Giriraj Maharaja, I am confident that by studying your devotion and service to Srila Prabhupada I can learn how to satisfy him. Your proximity to Srila Prabhupada in the early days of the movement gives credence to why so many devotees, like myself, have faith in you. You know how Srila Prabhupada did things, you know what pleased him, you know what his mission was and you know how he went about it. You received specific instructions from him. On his deathbed he turned to you and asked how things would go on in this movement once he departed. You replied, “Things will go on if we are obedient to your instructions to chant 16 rounds and follow the regulative principles.” No doubt that was a perfect answer. But just as perfect was Srila Prabhupada’s response: “Things will go on with organization and intelligence.” With your keen intelligence you understood this order of Prabhupada’s, and with your remarkable memory you are able to recount many such things Srila Prabhupada told you over 48 years ago! Because your attachment to His Divine Grace is so strong I feel you will be with him forever.
yatha vaise tatha yena hana anucara
“I will follow my master to any place that he goes”.
[Srila Vrindavan das Thakur, Caitanya-bhagavat, Madhya 13.399]
In this vein, please allow me to follow you anywhere you may go, for that guarantees me eternal service to our dear and beloved spiritual master.
I often reflect on how your initial meetings with His Divine Grace were very much like his own first meetings with his Guru Maharaja, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. When they first met, Srila Prabhupada tested the field by making a challenging statement. He told Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati that India must first be rid of British rule before people could seriously take up Krsna consciousness. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati shot back that awakening our Krsna consciousness is a much more urgent matter, as it is the very goal of life. In your memoir entitled “Seeing the Center of Things”, you explain how when you first met Srila Prabhupada you suggested that we may all be God. But Srila Prabhupada convinced you otherwise. You admitted to him, “Actually, I see that I wanted to become God.”
“Yes, that is right!” Srila Prabhupada responded. “But how can you become God? You cannot. God is in your heart and if you water the seed of devotion by chanting Hare Krishna, He will give you all the sunshine to make it grow.”
You carefully watered that devotional seed by always dealing with your spiritual master in an appropriate mood of awe and reverence. You have noted that in the beginning of your devotional career each time Srila Prabhupada lectured you would limit yourself to a single carefully thought out question.
One time you asked: “What is the relationship between service to man and service to God?”
Srila Prabhupada replied, “If a hungry man comes to you and you feed him, in a few hours his hunger will return and he will have the same problem all over again. But if you give him Krishna consciousness, all his problems will be solved permanently. If you give a man a million dollars, all of his ten dollar problems will be solved. Similarly, if you give a man Krishna consciousness, all of his little problems will be solved, including eating. And his problems will be solved permanently. He’ll become completely satisfied .”
Srila Prabhupada’s reference to a million dollars solving a person’s ten-dollar problems is interesting. You seem to have realized this early in your devotional career, for when your father offered you a check for one million dollars to leave Krsna consciousness, you smiled and refused the check. You had already realized that your spiritual father, Srila Prabhupada, was giving you the most priceless commodity: pure devotion to the Supreme Lord.
For your initial enthusiasm and faith in him, Srila Prabhupada rewarded you accordingly. He gave you a number of personal instructions. Although there are general instructions for the mass of devotees and the public at large, a disciple always hankers for some personal instructions or guidance from his guru. And so it was that one night during one of Srila Prabhupada’s early visits to Boston you got to drive him back to the temple after a program. During that drive you asked him something that had been on your mind mind for some time.
“Srila Prabhupada,” you said, “what should I do with the rest of my life?”
He paused for a moment and then replied, “Just study our books very thoroughly and chant Hare Krishna.”
Those were very simple instructions, but nothing is simplistic in Krsna consciousness. For a sincere devotee everything is very deep and meaningful. So you took those personal instructions sincerely and therefore you find yourself at a very advanced stage of Krsna consciousness today. You will of course deny your advancement, but you are outnumbered, for there are thousands of disciples, friends and well-wishers who think otherwise. Just see how many have come to honor you today! There’s a saying that “numbers never lie.” That can be contested in many situations, but not in this one. In your case, the truth is evident in the number of devotees who look up to you, respect you and love you.
I can honestly say I love you Giriraja Swami Maharaja. The love we share is a love of a time-tested friendship that goes deep and is infinitely more satisfying than any mundane friendship. It is a relationship that continues to grow based on the comradery of serving together in the pioneer days of our spiritual master’s mission. It is said that “two things equal to one thing are equal to each other.” Because of our deepening love for our spiritual master and Krsna, our love for each other is solidified forever. My hope is that we’ll meet each other when we’re back home in the spiritual world. Certainly, the possibility is there, for in a letter to Tusta Krsna das Srila Prabhupada wrote:
“Siddhasvarupa will go, you will go, Syamasundara will go, all others will go. We will have another ISKCON there. Of course, Mr. Nair must stay.”
[Srila Prabhupada Letter to Tusta Krsna, Ahmedabad December 14th, 1972 ]
I am very confident I will reach that supreme abode, my dear friend! Of course it’s not proper for a Vaisnava to make such a statement of bravado, full of arrogance and conceit. But I do not say this on any merit or qualification I have, but based on a wonderful vow that you, I and our godbrother Sriniketana das took many years ago in Mauritius. We were honoring an amazing feast offered to Srila Prabhupada on his appearance day. The prasadam was delicious and, being the young men we were, we were devouring it in great delight. By the time we finished the sweets we were totally intoxicated with both the sugar and the transcendental nature of the delicacies.
Suddenly I said to you and Sriniketana, “Prabhus! Let’s put our hands together and take a solemn vow!”
“Wonderful!” you said. “What type of vow shall we take?”
I smiled and said, “Let’s take a vow that none of us of will go back home, back to Godhead without the others.”
I was overjoyed when you immediately agreed, not fully understanding that I alone was the real beneficiary of such a vow. How was that so? Because I knew that you would be going home well before I would. That meant I would achieve that goal way before my time. With a smile from ear to ear I put out my hand. You placed yours on top of mine and Sriniketana put his on yours. Then we very loudly proclaimed the sacred vow together:
“On this auspicious day, celebrating the appearance of our beloved spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, here on ISKCON’S Vedic Farm in Mauritius, in the presence of the Lord and so many exalted devotees we hereby take the solemn vow that none of us will go back home, back to Godhead without the others. We shall all attain that supreme, divine abode of love and bliss together. We shall enter Goloka the three of us abreast to serve the Divine Couple forever and forever more!”
With our eyes closed, we held our hands tightly together for some time and when we opened them we found a great number of devotees staring at us in astonishment.
Looking back on that special day I too am astonished. I am astonished at my great fortune to have had you as a friend and mentor in this lifetime. What a wonderful life I have lived in the association of godbrothers and godsisters such as yourself. I will leave this world grateful and fully satisfied. What’s more, I am looking forward to serving Srila Prabhupada together with you again here in the material world and most eagerly in the spiritual world. There is no doubt we will recognize each other there and our friendship will continue forever.
Upendra das once asked, “Srila Prabhupada … it was raised that our relationships formed here in ISKCON with one another are eternal in themselves in addition to the service, that ISKCON and we members as we are known now shall be known there [in the spiritual world]. All this I was unable to support scripturally and lest I make an offense and direct error, I place this before you.”
Srila Prabhupada replied, “As to your question concerning whether relationships between devotees are eternal, the answer is ‘yes.’ This is confirmed by Sri Narottama dasa Thakura: cakhu-dan dilo yei, janme janme prabhu sei—‘He is my lord birth after birth.’ In this way you have to understand, by studying carefully the philosophy.”
[ Letter to Upendra, January 7, 1976 ]
The conclusion, my dear Giriraj Swami Maharaja, is that I will forever and forevermore be your friend and servant!