“Our relationship is very intimate…”
Taken from: Guardian Of Devotion by Srila Sridhar Maharaja
Editor's Note: His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj is affectionately addressed by his disciples as "Srila Prabhupad," and His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj is known to his disciples as "Srila Guru Maharaj." However, since they both refer to their spiritual master, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad, as "Guru Maharaj" and "Prabhupad" throughout the text, in order to avoid ambiguity we have referred to them by their sannyas names.
Siksa Guru “Our relationship is very intimate…”
Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj first met sometime in the year 1930 in Allahabad, India. In a taped conversation recorded in a 1973 meeting at Srila Sridhar Maharaj's Math at Nabadwip Dham, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj recalls: "So, we are very fortunate to hear His Divine Grace, Om Vishnupad Paramahamsa Parivrajkacarya Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj. By age and by experience, in both ways, he is senior to me. I was fortunate to have his association since a very long time, perhaps in 1930, something like that. At that time, he did not accept sannyas; he just left home, and as a vanaprastha, in his white dress, he went to Allahabad.
"Maharaj [To Srila Sridhar Maharaj] I think you remember the incident when you went to Allahabad? On that auspicious occasion, we were connected There is a long story, it will take time, but I had the opportunity of associating with Sridhar Maharaj for several years. Krishna and Prabhupad liked him to prepare me."
"Sridhar Maharaj lived in my house for many years, so naturally, we had very intimate talks and he was my good advisor. I took his advices, instructions, very seriously because from the very beginning I know that he is a pure Vaishnava, a pure devotee, and I wanted to associate with him and tried to help him also. Our relationship is very intimate."
Herein, we find the history of a transcendental relationship between these two pure devotees of the Lord. Addressing Srila Sridhar Maharaj as "His Divine Grace" and Om Vishnupad -- forms of address for one regarded as a spiritual master -- Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj has transcended the norms of social etiquette and superficial formality. Intimately associating together for a concentrated period of over five years, often for five to seven hours daily, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj considered that "Krishna and Prabhupad liked him to prepare me" for his future expansive missionary activities in the Western world. While remembering their intimate talks, specifically in regard to Bhagavad-gita, Srila Sridhar Maharaj recalls the depth in penetration of their discussions. "Once while discussing the verse dadami buddhiyogam tam yena mam upayanti te ["I give them the understanding by which they can come to Me" Bhagavad Gita 10.10] I submitted to him that here, upayanti is indicative of parakiya rasa [paramour relationship] On this point he agreed with me, saying, 'Yes, at this point there cannot be anything but the parakiya rasa of Vraja. The conclusion of Bhagavad-gita must come to this."
Recognizing Srila Sridhar Maharaj as "a pure Vaishnava, a pure devotee" since the beginning of their relationship, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj most highly valued his instructions and advice. He would often consult with him regarding the spiritual significance of his failing business and family relationships.
An example of how Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj tried to help Srila Sridhar Maharaj in his preaching work is seen in his appreciating Srila Sridhar Maharaj's uncanny ability for extracting the essence of the scriptures. He helped to finance the publication of Srila Sridhar Maharaj's original Sanskrit-Bengali work entitled Prapanna- jivanamrta: The Nectar of Surrender. The book, as well as containing original Sanskrit verses composed by Srila Sridhar Maharaj, is a compilation of verses from various Vaishnava scriptures such as Srimad-Bhagavatam, and includes excerpts from the works of Rupa Goswami. It is divided according to the six divisions of surrender.
Constantly associating, whether in Allahabad, Calcutta, or other parts of India, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj's relationship continually developed. Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj continues to recall their meeting:
"In my householder life I had opened an office in Bombay for our business. The Bombay Gaudiya Math was established by Sridhar Maharaj and myself. We made two parties for begging, collecting alms. Sridhar Maharaj, myself, and Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj. So, I took them to my chemist friends and I collected about five hundred rupees. Sridhar Maharaj would speak, I would introduce, and Goswami Maharaj would canvass."
In the Srila Prabhupad-lilamrta, Satsvarup Das Goswami writes: "Abhay would often accompany Sridhar Maharaj and his assistants at preaching programs, where he would play the mrdanga. And when Sridhar Maharaj fell ill, Abhay led the other devotees on preaching engagements, performing kirtan, playing mrdanga, and giving lectures on the Bhagavatam."
While still in Bombay, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Sridhar Maharaj were the receiving party for a Gaudiya Math sannyas upon his return from Europe. Although dismayed by his changed appearance which was missing the tridanda of a Gaudiya sannyasi, the sikha of a Vaishnava, as well as the traditional robes, they still eagerly inquired in regard to the preaching field in the West. The sannyasi remarked, "They ask questions that cannot be answered." Concerned, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj inquired further as to the nature of those questions. One after another Srila Sridhar Maharaj answered them all. At last, the sannyasi was left dumbfounded and Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami boldly declared, "Today, Europe has been defeated by Asia!"
During the lifetime of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad, Srila Sridhar Maharaj once composed a poem describing the ontological positions of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and the line of disciplic succession stemming from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad was so pleased with the poem's ontological depth and its happy style that he remarked: "Bhaktivinoda Thakur has written this through him. Now I am satisfied that although I may go, at least one man remains behind who can represent my conclusions." In further appreciation of Srila Sridhar Maharaj's writings, Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad informed the editors of the Gaudiya Math's periodicals, "If you include articles written by Sridhar Maharaj, the quality of your publications will be greatly improved."
After the disappearance of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad, the Gaudiya Math gradually diverged. With full knowledge of the events surrounding the disintegration of the Gaudiya Math, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami told his disciples in the same 1973 conversation, "Our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gaudiya Math, I wanted to organize another organization, making Sridhar Maharaj the head.
Reciprocating the appreciation, Srila Sridhar Maharaj advised the leaders of the Gaudiya Sangha to confer the title "Bhaktivedanta" upon the then Abhay Charan. Later, his sannyas-guru, Sripad Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaj, one of the senior-most disciples of Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur, and the first sannyas-disciple of Srila Sridhar Maharaj, gave sannyas to Abhay Charan, retaining the title "Bhaktivedanta," and conferring the sannyas name "Swami."
Additionally, when Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj returned to India in October of 1967, after his successful preaching initiative in America, he stayed with Srila Sridhar Maharaj in Nabadwip, and observed his Vyasa Puja celebration. At that time, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj wrote a letter to a disciple saying, "Yesterday, we have all come to Nabadwip Dham. This place is an establishment of one of my Godbrothers. It is a very nice and extensive place, and my Godbrother B.R. Sridhar Maharaj has spared one entire house for our stay. He has also agreed to cooperate with our society. We shall observe his birthday celebration, and the brahmacaris shall learn how to celebrate the spiritual master's birthday." Shortly afterwards, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj asked Srila Sridhar Maharaj to be the president of his newly formed society – the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
During the Vyasa Puja celebration, one of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj's disciples saw Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj and Srila Sridhar Maharaj fully absorbed in a deep discussion in Bengali. The disciple inquired from Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj what was the nature of their talk, and he replied, "If I were to tell you, you would faint. Sridhar Maharaj has very high realizations.
That Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj continually regarded Sridhar Maharaj as his advisor throughout his life is clear in the following letter written by him to one of Srila Sridhar Maharaj's disciples, Sripad Govinda Maharaj. Concerned about his failing health, he had written Sridhar Maharaj asking whether he should continue living in the United States or return to India to live his last days in Vrindavan. After receiving Srila Sridhar Maharaj's reply, he wrote: "What Sripad Sridhar Maharaj has directed, I take it on my head. He is my always well-wisher. After the departure of Prabhupad it is appropriate that I should accept his direction. I got direction from him that I shall live in this country forever."
Sometimes it is said that one's preaching contribution can be judged according to the number of temples established, devotees converted, and books published and distributed. Srila Sridhar Maharaj travelled and preached extensively all over India, personally accompanying Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur for many years. Nearly fifty years ago, he established the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math on the banks of the Ganges in Nabadwip Dham, which is now a thriving institution. His followers have established temples in major cities throughout the world. His Sanskrit and Bengali writings have been appreciated by both scholars and devotees for their originality, depth of realization, and happy poetic style. Published and widely distributed throughout the world, they are now available in English , Spanish, Hindi, Portuguese, German, French, and are being translated into other languages.
Throughout his life, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj always maintained the highest respect and confidence in Srila Sridhar Maharaj. He considered that whenever it was not possible for his disciples to proceed directly under his guidance, that they should take direction from Srila Sridhar Maharaj. He once wrote in a letter to one of his students: "Because you are my disciple, and I think, a sincere soul, it is my duty to refer you to someone who is competent to act as a siksha-guru. For spiritual advancement of life, we must go to someone who is actually practicing spiritual life. So, if you are actually serious to take instructions from a siksha-guru, I can refer you to the one who is the most highly competent of all my godbrothers. This is B.R. Sridhar Maharaj, whom I consider to be even my siksha- guru, so what to speak of the benefit that you can have by his association. So, if you are serious about the advancement of your spiritual life, I will advise you to go to Sridhar Maharaj. It will be very good for your spiritual benefit, and I will feel that you are safe. When I was in India with the others, we lived with Sridhar Maharaj. You can also make arrangements for your other Godbrothers to go there in the future. So, live peacefully with Sridhar Maharaj, and thereby you will be spiritually enlightened.
In this passage, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj describes Srila Sridhar Maharaj as "the most competent of all my Godbrothers," "someone competent to act as siksha-guru," and in an astounding statement, he declares, "I consider Sridhar Maharaj to be my Siksha Guru, so what to speak of the benefit that you can have from his association."
What Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj means by siksha-guru is best explained in his own words. In his purports to the Adi-lila of Chaitanya caritamrta, he states: "One should know the instructing spiritual master to be the Personality of Krishna. Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami states that there are two kinds of instructing spiritual masters. One is the liberated person fully absorbed in meditation in devotional service and the other is he who invokes the disciple's spiritual consciousness by means of relevant instructions. There is no difference between the shelter-giving Supreme Lord and the initiating and instructing spiritual masters. If one foolishly discriminates between them, he commits an offense in the discharge of devotional service." (Chaitanya-caritamrta – Adi-lila 1.47)
Although it may be said that Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj encouraged his godbrothers in general, no one anywhere can produce a similar statement of endorsement. The fact is that Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj possessed the highest respect and appreciation for Sridhar Maharaj, and Srila Sridhar Maharaj is unparalleled in his understanding and admiration of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj, as evinced in the following eulogy:
"So our Swami Maharaj has done a miracle! Thakur Bhaktivinoda conceived and Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur began to translate this conception into action. And we find that through Swami Maharaj, in his last days, it has been fulfilled to such a great extent. We are happy, we are glad, we are proud!
In response to this, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj with great humility, his voice choked with emotion, tearfully replied, "So, by guru and Vaishnava, whatever position I have got it is by guru's mercy and the blessings of the Vaishnavas. Otherwise, how I may have? So, I wish that Sridhar Maharaj may bestow his blessings as he was doing always, and may guru maharaj help me so I can do some service. By his grace it has become successful. I have no credit. I do not know how things are happening, because I am not at all qualified: chadiya vaisnava seva, nistara payeche keba. [Without serving an ideal Vaishnava, who can be delivered from the clutches of maya?]"
And after the disappearance of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj, Srila Sridhar Maharaj declared: "I consider him to be saktyavesa avatara, and it is confirmed in his writings on his spiritual journey through the Atlantic. How he landed there in America, and the nature of his beginning the movement, his intense degree of dedication to Krishna and dependence, and how much he made himself empty of any other desire than the order of his gurudev - quite empty that Krishna came down to help him, and it is corroborated that Krishna worked on his behalf. In his poem, Prayer to the Lotus Feet of Krishna, we find him pleading with Krishna, "My dear Brother, Your good fortune will come to You only when Srimati Radharani be comes pleased with You." Seeing his gurudeva Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati as Radharani's delegation and his order as Her divine service, he humbly submitted that he did not feel himself worthy or fit to discharge the divine service, so he enlisted Krishna in the service of his guru. He had completely dedicated himself to the purpose, he was so earnest in his prayer to Krishna that he may discharge the duty that he has been given by his guru maharaj, that divine force, power, came down to help him. Otherwise, it is impossible. It is not a thing of the ordinary level that anyone will do, but the highest thing has been taken down to the lowest position so extensively. It cannot but be the divine power, embodied and in a great intensity and magnitude! So, saktyavesa-avatara, I cannot but take him to be so."
With such appreciation, there should be little doubt why Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj had implicit faith in Srila Sridhar Maharaj. He had even heard directly from Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Prabhupad of the exceptional qualifications of Srila Sridhar Maharaj. In their last known recorded meeting in 1977, just prior to Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami's leaving this mortal world, we find him imploring Srila Sridhar Maharaj to take up residence at his temple in Sridham Mayapur.