(The following lecture was given by Sripada Bhakti Bhavana Visnu Maharaja on Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s appearance day, at Rupanuga Bhajana Asrama in Vrndavana, 1993)
I would like to mention some of the wonderful things Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja has given us – how he has explained and given us the proper conception of many points in Gaudiya siddhanta, many things that are so important for us. The time that he became more well known amongst the Western section, that I was part of, was a time of much tension and difficulty and bewilderment on the part of many devotees. All of the expressions, or you could say elucidations, of Gaudiya siddhanta that he gave were very much necessary in those times. In particularly the classic book Sri Guru and His Grace came out of many talks about the nature of guru – what are the qualifications of a proper guru, what are the disqualifications, and how to deal with so many things. The force of necessity drew down these things from above, and they were very necessary at that time.
In Sri Guru and His Grace, Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja mentioned what is called God Consciousness versus ‘Society Consciousness. The real essence of this topic is realizing the superior importance of substance over form. The formality, the society, the book is there to give us the essence –– the substance is within the pages of the book or the purpose of the institution is to unite us to serve, to have association, to partake in Krsna consciousness and it is a vehicle to bring us to a higher point. Srila Sridhara Maharaja emphasized this very much. If we don’t get the substance from the form then the form can be left aside, and this was very much a necessity also. The explanation of this provided the essential deeper understanding by which many devotees could make decisions on a higher level.
Many other particular points of siddhanta were covered in great depth in the seemingly endless talks of Srila Guru Maharaja, year after year. Sripada Narasingha Maharaja once mentioned that everything that Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja spoke was like a sutra. There was so much essential substance in each word – packed as it was with deep realization reflecting his thorough grasp of the siddhanta. Sometime back we published one book called Words from the Guardian of Devotion. This book was composed of many profound statements of one sentence or two from Srila Sridhara Maharaja, and they were all taken from one book. The whole book was taken from a small portion of one book, so we didn’t begin to touch them all. There were so many more. And even a disciple who was staying more than thirty years in the Sri Caitanya Sarasvata Matha, seeing one thing written there in this book exclaimed, “Guru Maharaja said that?” The statement was, “Faith is the halo of Srimati Radharani.” He was surprised that he had not heard this even though he had been living in the matha with Srila Sridhara Maharaja for so many years. But this is but one of many divine gems of wisdom that had come down, had been drawn out in the 80’s when Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja spoke so much to many of us.
Another point he spoke extensively on was saranagati – self-abnegation to the extreme degree. He described what was called the ‘kama-rupa squad’, those who have embraced the conception of ‘die to live’. They give everything in the service of the Lord without any reservation. He spoke of divine slavery, that you have no rights reserved! That you give up everything. This is of course the last verse found in the Siksastaka. Krsna may do as He likes, but nevertheless I am His devoted servitor. Srila Sridhara Maharaja explained this conception in a very graphic way, that emphasized that “Yes, I have no rights.” This is actually the meaning of saranagati, surrender, the essence of Bhagavad-gita. That was another very wonderful thing. And his wonderful book Prapanna-jivanamrta was a collection of many writings of Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja and other verses illuminating the proper conception of saranagati and other essential devotional conceptions. Akincana Krsna Dasa Babaji Maharaja, his highly esteemed godbrother, carried this book with him at all times and felt that this was all he needed. Everything was contained within that book.
Another particular conception that was emphasized and distributed by Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja in a profound way was that, “The environment is friendly.” This comes from a particular Bhagavatam verse:
tat te nukampam su samiksamano
bhunjana evatmakritam vipakam
hrd vag vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jiveta yo mukti pade sa daya bhak
The devotee accepts suffering as due to his own past misdeeds and has some hope, some aspiration and some faith also that this divine mercy coming down will mitigate his suffering and it will be stopped after some time. But one must realize that this suffering is only due to one’s own misdeeds. Sridhara Maharaja pointed out that those difficulties that we experience are actually caused by our own wrongdoings. For example, he explained that it is not that if some particular person is giving us some problem, then that person is the cause of our problem. Actually it is due to our own misdeeds that somehow it has been arranged that through that person we get our just desserts, our karma. The environment is friendly, don’t look for the fault in others, and don’t look for the fault in our situation wherever you are. It is because of your own doings, that you are not properly situated or properly qualified.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja was particularly known as a harmonizer – when there were so many difficulties or problems amongst godbrothers he was usually the cause of resolving them. His capacity for harmonizing in any circumstance was unparalleled. He helped many times by pointing out and settling some disputes amongst his godbrothers in regards to the grand preaching campaign of Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada, our Guru Maharaja. This is well known to many of us. Some statements were made and some criticisms were made and some things were not very comfortable and Srila Sridhara Maharaja was able to harmonize all of these things in a number of circumstances. In particular, a leading Gaudiya Matha sannyasi who was actively preaching on a large scale and had many disciples, took exception to our Guru Maharaja’s statement that, “All my godbrothers are simply ringing the bell and eating and sleeping.” Srila Sridhara Maharaja explained to that sannyasi that, “It is such a grand preaching campaign, a great kirtana, so if you are given the position of ringing the bell in that kirtana then your position is glorious.” In this way he convinced his godbrother, ending the dispute. Numerous other similar instances are also there.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja always took a neutral position, a higher position. Even when he was criticized himself severely, at one point he said, “It is all for the good. It is by the Lord’s arrangement. It is all for the good.” He had this very high perspective on everything and when he was approached on many very important questions he would always give so many examples from sastra, then he would give the sastrika quotes which stated what to do and he would relate many examples from the lives of great devotees and he would ask questions of those who had come with important inquiries, “What is the situation in your opinion?” He would ask for the particularities – like this. And then revealing his real inner wealth, his storehouse of realization and sastrika knowledge he would give some very profound answer.
One time he said in a very humble way that, “I have studied all of the literatures, the Srimad Bhagavatam, the Gosvami’s literatures and so many commentaries of our acaryas.” And he was not saying it in a proud way but we understand that essentially he was saying very humbly that “I have realized all of that and now I am giving you the essence.” He didn’t say it like that, but we took it like that, that he had understood all of this and he was able to give us the essence. That was his particularity that he gave us the highest thing, and as he said in the words of his Guru Maharaja, he was “Distributing nectar on a golden plate.” He made it so relishable and so reachable and so understandable to us – the highest thing given in an essential and easily understandable way. But giving the highest thing, he was always giving it in a very careful way.
For instance, he gave us the highest conceptions, but from the literatures of the Gosvamis he gave us two verses from the Vilapa-kusamanjali:
apayayan mam anabhipsum andham
krpambudhir yah para-duhkha-duhkhi
sanatanas tam prabhum asrayami
"I was unwilling to drink the nectar of devotional service possessed of renunciation, but Sanatana Gosvami, out of his causeless mercy, made me drink it, even though I was otherwise unable to do so. Therefore he is an ocean of mercy. He is very compassionate to fallen souls like me, and thus it is my duty to offer my respectful obeisances unto his lotus feet." (Vilapa-kusumanjali 6)
This means that the Vaisnava feels suffering only on the behalf of others. And he also gave us the very, very high verse:
kalo mayatigamitah kila sampratam hi
tvam cet krpam mayi vidhasyasi naiva kim me
pranair vrajema ca varoru bakarinapi
"O Radha, I am passing my days with great difficulty with an intense desire to attain the ocean of nectar. If You do not give me Your mercy, then of what use to me are my life, the land of Vraja and even Sri Krsna, the enemy of Baka?" (Vilapa-kusumanjali 102)
This is Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami’s manjari-bhava meditation. His prayer to Srimati Radharani is that, “I am hopeless without Your grace, in fact I don’t even want Krsna without Your grace. It is shameless for me to say this, but I can’t go on without Your mercy.” Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami is praying that, “I don’t even want Krsna without Radharani’s mercy.” This is the innermost, highest meditation of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami and Sridhara Maharaja gave us the understanding of the position of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami as our prayojana-acarya, who is showing the ultimate goal of life. He did not give us so much description of this, but he gave us the proper understanding and the aspiration that this is our line This is the path upon which we are headed, that behind all of our activities and our thoughts, we should have some divine aspiration goading us forward and impelling us and we can think that, yes, this is a very high thing. To quote Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura – pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange. That is our most worshipable conception, we don’t take it in a cheap way, as do the Sahajiyas, but we worship it and we understand that it is a very high and very wonderful thing. Perhaps one day we will reach this plane of reality. But Srila Sridhara Maharaja gave us some glimpse of these high things and revealed the beauty and the charm and the sweetness of Krsna – madhuram, sundaram and anandam. How wonderful Krsna is, that He is appearing in such an ordinary way; so much opulence are there but he is running in the forest in His bare feet with a laddu in His hand and capturing our hearts with so many charming activities. That is the very incredible thing about Lord Krsna –that He appears in an ordinary way as a cowherd boy running in the forest. But His charm is capturing the hearts of even those who are self-realized, as stated by the atmarama verse. That is because His pastimes are amrta:
tava kathamrtam tapta jivanam
kavibhir iditam kalmasapaham
sravana mangalam srimad atatam
bhuvi grnanti ye bhurida janah
"The nectar of Your words and the descriptions of Your activities are the life and soul of those suffering in this material world. These narrations, transmitted by learned sages, eradicate one's sinful reactions and bestow good fortune upon whoever hears them. These narrations are broadcast all over the world and are filled with spiritual power. Certainly those who spread the message of Godhead are most munificent." (Bhag.10.31.9)
In this verse the Gopis are saying how the nectar of Krsna’s pastimes is the life and soul of those who are aggrieved in this world and those who distribute this are the most munificent welfare workers. So Srila Sridhara Maharaja often spoke of this welfare work. Those who came to him in search of advice were told, “Yes, you have heard and been rejuvenated, now you must go and do welfare work for others. Help those others who are aggrieved – give them the proper conception; give them essential guidance.
The Brhat-bhagavatamrtam of Sanatana Gosvami is a most essential book. Srila Sridhara Maharaja explained how the ontology of devotion is given in this book. Srila Prabhupada stated also that this book is most essential for our spiritual guidance. Srila Sridhara Maharaja gave explanation in Loving Search For the Lost Servant of Gopa Kumara’s rise thru various levels to higher and higher platforms. In this way he is revealing these things and ultimately he is illuminating the highest summit of devotion as propounded by Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami. That is our prayojana – that is the line of Sri Rupa in radha-dasyam. We are actually followers of Srila Rupa Gosvami and that is our position within the sampradaya, following in the line of Sri Rupa. Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja gave us a very complete and in-depth understanding of this subject.
These are a few of the points elucidated by Srila Sridhara Maharaja. I have only touched on some of them, but his nectarean instructions were so essential in our evolving spiritual life. We were in need of so many things. We had been given so much knowledge from various sastras but to understand the essence of it is a difficult thing. That is why all the sastras proclaim the glories of sadhu-sanga, especially with the advanced Vaisnava. All success comes from but a moment’s association. Srila Sridhara Deva Gosvami is of great influence in our lives and of inestimable value. It has made a hundred-percent, or to be more specific, a thousand-percent difference in our lives. Therefore we are so grateful and so indebted.