…as Sri Gadadhar sings the songs of the Bhagwat, tears cascade from his eyes like a shower of flower offerings, washing the words from its pages…
Srimad Bhagavatam is God — in book form, cherished as the crème de la crème of Veda, extracted by spiritual intelligentsia (sarva-vedānta-sāraṁ yad). The introduction includes a solemn yet optimistic declaration: Krishna has returned to his domain along with Dharma, spiritual knowledge et al. Under the influence of the modern age that ensues, Kali Yuga, all spiritual insight will be lost. But now the brilliant sun of this Purana has risen illuminating the path back to Godhead (with eighteen thousand rays, verses).
Preparing his own dazzling garland of Bhagwat sun rays, Bhagawat-ārka-marīci mālā, Bhaktivinode Thakur concludes with an astonishing revelation: “While I fear it may be viewed as conceit, I must reveal how this compilation came about. Once while I was in deep meditation upon the Bhagavatam I beheld a divine vision. Mahaprabhu’s second self, Swarup Damodar Goswami, appeared and empowered me: ‘Compile one thousand verses of the Bhagavatam, distill the essence — the cream of the cream of the cream.’ Providing a theme, he delivered a lucid explanation of the first three verses according to Vaishnava theology (sambandha, abhhideya, and prayojana tattva).”
Srila Sridhar Maharaja contemplated a similar compilation proposing to further condense the nectar into three hundred verses. To understand his intent, and qualification to realize the same, some background is necessary. In this connection I once asked Srila Guru Maharaja about a famous conversation of Srila Prabhupada and Acyutananda.
When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada returned to India from his successful preaching campaign, establishing the worldwide Krishna consciousness movement, surprisingly some Godbrothers were not eager to receive him. He was however, enthusiastically received with a grand reception organized by Srila Sridhar Maharaja and his Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Maṭh along with one other Maṭh. With kirtan the math members escorted Srila Prabhupada and disciples to Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Maṭh from the Nabadwip Dham train station stopping at the other temple along the way.
They held a grand celebration full with pomp and circumstance. All the sannyasis and brahmacharis looked beautiful swaying to the kirtan in unison, uniformly marching like a band of saffron warriors. Prabhupada’s senior disciple Acyutananda noticed the mood after arriving at Chaitanya Saraswat Maṭh was by contrast toned down and intimate. Formality was minimal, favoring affectionate dealings. Acyutananda wondered whether his perception was one of style or substance. He asked Prabhupada who clarified: “The first Maṭh’s emphasis is on quantity, whereas Sridhar Maharaja emphasizes quality. I want that our society will have both — the superior quality of Sridhar Maharaja, in quantity.”
Beyond the public lectures, Acyutananda inquired further about Srila Prabhupada’s private Bengali talks with Srila Sridhar Maharaja. Prabhupada revealed, “I offered him the presidency of ISKCON. He declined — he is keeping things within. He has very high realizations about Krishna and Mahaprabhu. They are so deep, if I were to tell, you would faint!” What he meant is worth clarifying. Srila Sridhar Maharaja offers his own explanation: “By ‘faint’ he means, we will be unable to maintain consciousness in that plane (yā niśā sarva-bhūtānāṁ tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī).”
Alternately, we will disconnect from the world around us. Mahaprabhu’s ecstatic trance was so deep, his existence was barely traceable in the physical plane. At last it was not discernible at all, completely vanishing into higher reality. Invisible — except for souls of the stature of Bhaktivinode Thakur. Srila Sridhar Maharaja gives the example of tossing a flower into the current of the Ganges. The flower disappears, carried away by the current. But if we run along the bank, moving at the speed of flow, we can keep pace. Such souls as Bhaktivinode Thakur, through deep penetration (internal heart flow), enter a current of Lila achieving immediate experience: the spiritual equivalent of space time continuum (kabe gaura-vane, suradhunī-taṭe, ‘hā rādhe hā kṛṣṇa’ bole’).
Additionally, when it is said “devotee’s faint” it does not mean they become unconscious in the ordinary sense. Rather the intensity of awareness of the higher plane causes a perceptual disconnect from this plane resulting in fainting. Higher substance descends, according to its own necessity, eclipsing lower experience (adhokṣaja). This is the preferred method of descent of revealed truth (tasyaiṣa ātmā vivṛṇute tanuṁ svām).
Mahaprabhu’s physician associate Mukunda entered a trance while offering medical advice to a Muslim king. As they sat on a veranda, a servant shaded the king with a peacock-feathered fan. Enthralled by the peacock feathers, Mukunda’s remembrance of Krishna produced a deep state of ecstasy. Increasingly oblivious to surroundings he fainted. Returning to external consciousness, he attempted to conceal his devotion, saying he suffered from epilepsy. Srila Sridhar Maharaja’s answer includes the inverse: it is so high and deep one can only penetrate according to capacity, but a glimpse of the Infinite is so intense, one will be unable to maintain consciousness and be forced to return to this plane (yāṅra yata śakti tata pāthāre sāṅtāre).
Once, late in the afternoon in Nabadwip, at Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Maṭh, I approached Srila Sridhar Maharaja with an unusual request. In a relaxed atmosphere, amid hearing mail and news, with Srila Govinda Maharaja by his side, I referenced his talks with Srila Swami Maharaja. “What is it about those talks that would make one faint?” Srila Govinda Maharaja laughed.
Hearing Srila Govinda Maharaja laughing, Srila Guru Maharaja inquired why. Govinda Maharaja explained, “Goswami Maharaja wants to hear something that will make him faint!” He then explained in Bengali. Srila Guru Maharaja laughed. Srila Govinda Maharaja surveyed the catalog of things that make one faint, suggesting Guru Maharaja recite his sloka about Gadadhar Pundit. The one he intended for the introduction to establish the theme of his Bhagwat verse compilation. The mood shifted dramatically — Srila Sridhar Maharaja intoned:
nilāmbhodhi-taṭe-sadā sva-virahā-kṣepanvitaṁ bāndhavaṁ
śrīmad-bhāgavatī kathā madirayā sañjīvayan bhāti yaḥ
śrīmad-bhāgavataṁ sadā sva-nayanāśru-pāyanaiḥ pūjayan
goswāmi-prabaro gadādhara-vibhūr-bhūyāt mad-ekā-gatiḥ
On the sands of the blue ocean in Puri, feeling deep separation from himself (Krishna), Mahaprabhu is consoled by his friend Gadadhar (Radharani).
As one nears death, suffering the loss of a beloved, Gadadhar tries to resuscitate Mahaprabhu by supplying the intoxicating wine of Krishna-katha to drown the agony of separation plaguing his heart.
As Gadadhar sings the songs of the Bhagwat, tears cascade from his eyes, like a shower of flower offerings, washing the words from its pages.
My only goal is to enter that current of devotion flowing from the divine heart of that best of Goswamis — Sri Gadadhar Pundit Goswami.
Doing my best to offer dandabat, I staggered off the veranda. Descending a few stairs, I stepped out of view, my head pressed against a stone wall for support. Eyes closed, I tried desperately to hold remembrance of that glimpse of higher reality. Suddenly sounds of the environment intruded. Again I was engulfed by the world of sense experience (“Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” Prufrock—Eliot)
By the divine grace of Srila Sridhar Maharaja, such an astonishing conception was projected on the mirror of my conscious self — so beautiful, luminous — it penetrated the layers of dust and ego, covering my heart, providing a momentary glimpse into his conceptual domain.
I returned to find Srila Sridhar Maharaja and Srila Govinda Maharaja sitting peacefully, engaged in light conversation. This was not a memorable experience for either of them. Apparently they had been doing this together for the last forty years!
As Srila Govinda Maharaja recalls, “Sometimes Srila Guru Maharaja would share a sloka jewel the way a boy tosses you one of his favorite marbles.” Only these gems are consciousness embodied (cintāmaṇiś caraṇa-bhūṣaṇam aṅganānāṁ). Srila Sridhar Maharaja:
“The scriptures (slokas) are an objective posing of the subjective. Actually they want to be preached. We shall offer ourselves as carriers to become their instruments (hṛdoye praveśa).”
Srila Sridhar Maharaja would jest that he couldn’t complete the work because he was an “ease lover” (ānanda-līlā-maya-vigrahāya). He later revealed the only person he felt qualified to complete this task, in terms of spiritual heart and depth, is Srila Govinda Maharaja:
What Srila Guru Maharaja wanted, that I cannot do. In which way I shall do this? That is the question. Srila Guru Maharaja wanted to make Srimad Bhagavatam within three hundred slokas. And he gave me some consciousness — a clue how to do it. That he has given me. He told lastly, ‘I cannot do it, but you will try to do.’
But I have become a businessman! [Laughter] And over the whole world I make business! But my business is a good business — distributing Krishna consciousness.
[The telephone rings with an order for Krishna consciousness.]
Hello, Govinda Maharaja speaking…
The call ends and Srila Govinda Maharaja connects it to his train of thought:
Actually in the world there are so many problems. And my nature is to take the problem in my head. I have been doing this my whole life — since my youth. Willingly or unwillingly, they involve me and I also get involved with that.
Otherwise, if I shall get one clean bed… and it is my desire also… for that I am making one small house in Govardhan for me and my friends: like Ashram Maharaja, Goswami Maharaja and others. We will stay there and relish slokas. I shall stay there in one room and beside there will be another four rooms for my guests. When they will come, they will stay there. And downstairs five rooms are there for other devotees to stay.
In this way I am making one house in Govardhan at Sri Dayita Das Seva Kuñja. In resonance with the mood of devotion of Narottam Thakur and Bhaktivinode Thakur, I have planted trees bearing champaka, bakula, kadamba, and tamal flowers. I will drape them with madhavi, malati, and jasmine creepers, creating a charming kuñja.
But my real bhajan is preaching. What is Krishna’s plan I do not know. He gave me a push and sent me to the hospital — stroke happened. And the doctors revealed that I had suffered two strokes. One had already happened before this one. “And now a third is waiting for you — to send you to Goloka Vrindavan!” [Laughter]
Then Srila Govinda Maharaja became grave. As Mahaprabhu sang an inexplicable sung before the chariot of Jagannath, Srila Govinda Maharaja paraphrased a poem of Rabindranath, anticipating the chariot of Yamaraja:
‘Preme esechilo chole gelo… Love came into my life but quietly departed… Now I have nothing to do but wait for that guest (death) who will come one day, blow out the sunset of my life like a lamp, and take me away in his chariot.
I know not when, nor whether we shall go down or ascend…’
All is the will of Lord Krishna — I believe by his will everything is possible.
Having consecrated his entire life in service, in his final days, the deepest sort of divine feeling rose up from the heart of Madhavendra Puri. Paraphrasing Srila Govinda Maharaja, from the heart an offering will appear:
śeṣa-kāle ei śloka paṭhite paṭhite
siddhi-prāpti haila purīra ślokera sahite