Chapter One: A Transcendental Friendship
Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Srila Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Deva Goswami first met sometime in the year 1930 in Allahabad, India. In a conversation recorded in 1973 at Srila Sridhara Maharaja's Math at Navadvipa Dhama, Srila Prabhupada recalls: "So, we are very fortunate to hear His Divine Grace, Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Maharaja. 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."
Our Relationship is Very Intimate
[To Srila Sridhara Maharaja] "Maharaja, 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 Sridhara Maharaja for several years. Krsna and Prabhupada liked him to prepare me. Sridhara Maharaja 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 he is a pure Vaisnava, a pure devotee, and I wanted to associate with him and I 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. Intimately associating and discussing Srimad-Bhagavatam together for a concentrated period of over five years, often for five to seven hours daily, Srila Prabhupada considered that "Krsna and Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur] liked him to prepare me" for his future expansive missionary activities in the Western world. Satsvarupa Maharaja writes in the Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta, "Here Abhay and Sridhara Maharaja and his followers could remain aloof from the warring factions [of the Gaudiya Math] and together pursue their plans for spreading Krsna consciousness." [Lilamrta, Vol. 1, p. 100] While remembering their intimate talks, specifically in regard to Bhagavad-gita, Srila Sridhara Maharaja recalls the depth in penetration of their discussions. "Once while discussing the verse dadami buddhi yogam tam yena mam upayanti te [Bg. 10.10 "I give them the understanding by which they can come to Me."] 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."
Please Look After Them
In March of 1982 Srila Sridhara Maharaja said, "When he [Srila Prabhupada] began his translation of the Bhagavad-gita, it was in consultation with me in a very deep way. Anyhow, he requested me many a time that, 'Please look after them; I am taking them this side. You have got some responsibility to look after them.'"
Recognizing Srila Sridhara Maharaja as "a pure Vaisnava, a pure devotee" since the beginning of their relationship, Srila Prabhupada most highly valued his instructions and advice. He would often consult with him regarding the spiritual significance of his failing business and family relationships. Srila Sridhara Maharaja confirmed the profound significance of Srila Prabhupada's suspicion that Krsna's special mercy was especially being shown to him by taking away all his material possessions as per the Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.88.8 verse, yasyaham anugrhnami. [Lilamrta, Vol. 1, p. 88]
An example of Srila Prabhupada's helping with Srila Sridhara Maharaja's preaching work is seen in his appreciation of Srila Sridhara Maharaja's exceptional brilliance for extracting the essence of the scriptures [Lilamrta, Vol. 1, p. 87] by helping to finance the publication of Srila Sridhara Maharaja's original Sanskrit-Bengali work entitled Prapanna-jivanamrta: Life-Nectar of The Surrendered Souls. [Lilamrta, Vol. 1, p. 103] This book, as well as containing many original Sanskrit verses composed by Srila Sridhara Maharaja, is a compendium of supporting verses from various Vaisnava scriptures such as Srimad-Bhagavatam, and includes excerpts from the works of Srila Rupa Goswami. It is divided according to the six divisions of surrender.
Often associating, whether in Allahabad, Bombay, Calcutta, or other parts of India, Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja's relationship continually developed. Srila Prabhupada 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 Sridhara Maharaj and myself. We made two parties for begging, collecting alms, Sridhara Maharaja, myself, and Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaja. So, I took them to my chemist friends and we collected about five hundred rupees. Sridhara Maharaja would speak, I would introduce, and Goswami Maharaja would canvass." [Lilamrta, Vol. 1, p. 81]
In the Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, Satsvarupa Goswami writes, "Abhay would often accompany Sridhara Maharaja and his assistants at preaching programs, where he would play the mrdanga. And when Sridhara Maharaja fell ill, Abhay led the other devotees on preaching engagements, performing kirtana, playing mrdanga, and giving lectures on the Bhagavatam." [Lilamrta, Vol. 1, p. 100]
Europe Defeated by Asia
While still in Bombay, Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja were the receiving party for a Gaudiya Math sannyasi upon his return from Europe. Although dismayed by his changed appearance which was missing the tridanda of a Gaudiya sannyasi, the sikha of a Vaisnava, 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." Prabhupada inquired further as to the nature of those questions and one after another Sridhara Maharaja answered them all. At last, the sannyasi was left dumbfounded and Prabhupada boldly declared, "Today, Europe has been defeated by Asia!"
Further confirmation of Srila Prabhupada's implicit trust of Srila Sridhara Maharaja is found in his letter of 30 January 1970 to Satsvarupa Maharaja, the editor of Back to Godhead: "Regarding Sridhara Swami's article: I do not know what sort of article it is, but whatever it may be, the writer's name should be Swami B. R. Sridhara. Besides that, there is no need of giving any short introductory note at the present moment. Whoever sends an article for publication in our paper, and if we publish such article it is to be understood that the version of such article is not different from ours." In other words, even without seeing Srila Sridhara Maharaja's article, he understood that his article was philosophically sound and in agreement with Prabhupada's mood of presentation of philosophy.
After the disappearance of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, the Gaudiya Math gradually diverged. With full knowledge of the events surrounding the disintegration of the Gaudiya Math, Srila Prabhupada 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 Sridhara Maharaja the head."
Srila Sridhara Maharaja advised the leaders of the Gaudiya Sangha to confer the title "Bhaktivedanta" upon the then Abhay Caran. [Lilamrta, Vol. 1, p. 103]. Later, his sannyasa-guru, Sripada Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaja, one of the seniormost disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, and the third sannyasa disciple of Sridhara Maharaja gave sannyasa to Abhay Caran, retaining the title "Bhaktivedanta," and conferring the sannyasa name "Swami."
What I Came to Say, Will Remain
During the lifetime of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, Srila Sridhara Maharaja once composed a ten stanza poem describing the ontological position of Bhaktivinode Thakur and the line of disciplic succession stemming from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura was so pleased with the poem's ontological depth and its happy style that he remarked to his sannyasa disciple Goswami Maharaja, "Bhaktivinode Thakura has written this through him. Now I am satisfied that after me what I came to say, that will stay, that will remain, I find in these slokas the siddhanta." And in appreciation of Srila Sridhara Maharaja's writings, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura informed the editors of the Gaudiya Math's periodicals, "If you include articles written by Sridhara Maharaja, the quality of your publications will be greatly improved." Further confirming Sridhara Maharaja's profound erudition in the sastras, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura gave the title Sastra-nipuna [one who has very deep knowledge of the scriptures] to Srila Sridhara Maharaja. Among other original compositions of Srila Sridhara Maharaja are the ten stanza, pranamami sada prabhupada-padam poem, glorifying Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, which was requested by our Srila Prabhupada to be sung regularly in all his temples, and the sublimely beautiful 72 stanza prema-dhama deva stotra, divinely presenting the full-fledged theistic conception of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's blessed lila. It is about this offering that the late Niskincana Krsna dasa Babaji Maharaja said he found the presence of Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada, the very leader of our sampradaya.
Senior sannyasi godbrothers would often invite Srila Sridhara Maharaja to explain the words of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada. Sridhara Maharaja explains, "I explained and they were satisfied. Prabhupada's discourses were very deep. The general public could not understand. It was deep philosophy, so I was requested to repeat his message by the elevated servants of our guru maharaja. I could repeat this at least to their satisfaction. Gaura Hari Bol. Gaura Hari Bol. Madhusudhan Maharaja and others were always of a very skeptical nature, not prepared to rely on anyone else. But they also spoke that when they listened to me that it was as if they are hearing Prabhupada. So, my type is very akin to that of my guru maharaja. By his grace. Many persons have told us this. That is the ontological color, the ontological representation. The nature of my delivery about spiritual things, I think is that I always talk from the plane above that of knowledge, jnana. Bhakti transcending jnana, the sphere of knowledge. Never on this side, on the side of exploitation. Exploitation, renunciation and dedication. Renunciation is the negative side and then the positive side, the land of dedication. It must be of that characteristic."
Lord Chaitanya's Prophecy Fulfilled
Additionally, when Srila Prabhupada returned to India in October of 1967, after his successful preaching initiative in America, he stayed with Srila Sridhara Maharaja in Navadvipa, and observed his Vyasa-puja celebration. At that time, Prabhupada wrote a letter to Satsvarupa Maharaja saying, "Yesterday, we have all come to Navadvipa-dhama. This place is an establishment of one of my Godbrothers. It is a very nice and extensive place, and my Godbrother B. R. Sridhara Maharaja 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." (Oct. 26, 1967) Shortly afterwards, Srila Prabhupada asked Srila Sridhara Maharaja to be the head of his newly formed society-the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. "Srila Sridhara Maharaja praised Srila Prabhupada's preaching in America, repeatedly using Prabhupada's phrase 'Krsna consciousness.' Swamiji's work, he said, was the fulfillment of Lord Chaitanya's prophecy that Krsna consciousness would one day spread all over the world. He laughed and smiled and praised the Krsna consciousness movement with no trace of jealousy." [Lilamrta, Vol. 3, p. 203-4]
Srila Prabhupada wrote his godbrother Bon Maharaja on 7th July 1975, "Sripad Sridhara Maharaja also appreciated my service. He said that Caitanya Mahaprabhu's prediction: prithivite ache yate nagaradi grama sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama, would remain a dream only, but he congratulated me that I have done it practically."
During the Vyasa-Puja celebration, Acyutananda Swami saw Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharaja fully absorbed in a deep discussion in Bengali. Upon inquiry as to what was the nature of their talk, Prabhupada replied, "If I were to tell you, you would faint. Sridhara Maharaja has very high realizations." [Lilamrta, Vol. 3, p. 205]
That Srila Prabhupada regarded Srila Sridhara Maharaja as his confidential friend and well-wisher throughout his life is clear in the following letter written by him. Concerned about his failing health, he had written Sridhara Maharaja asking whether he should continue living in the United States or return to India to live his last days in Vrndavana. After receiving Sridhara Maharaja's reply, he wrote, "What Sripada Sridhara Maharaja has directed, I take it on my head. He is my always well-wisher. After the departure of Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta] it is appropriate that I should accept his direction. I got direction from him that I shall live in this country forever." [Letter to Govinda Maharaja~Jan 29, 1969] The good advice of a friend is welcomed, even by someone as self-sufficient as Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja travelled and preached extensively all over India, personally accompanying Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura for many years. Nearly fifty years ago, he established the Sri Chaitanya Saraswata Math on the banks of the Ganges in Navadvipa Dhama. His Sanskrit and Bengali writings have been appreciated by both scholars and devotees for their originality, depth of realization, and happy poetic style.
My Siksa Guru
Throughout his life, Srila Prabhupada always maintained the highest respect and confidence in Srila Sridhara Maharaja. He considered that sometimes, when it was not possible for his disciples to proceed directly under his guidance, that they should take direction from Sridhara Maharaja. On January 31, 1969 he wrote in a letter to one of his disciples, Hrsikesa dasa, "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 siksa-guru. For spiritual advancement of life, we must go to someone who is actually practicing spiritual life; not to some head of a mundane institution, not to someone who has offended his spiritual master in so many ways. I do not wish to go into details here . . . So, if you are actually serious to take instructions from a siksa-guru, I can refer you to the one who is the most highly competent of all my godbrothers. This is B. R. Sridhara Maharaja, whom I consider to be even my siksa-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 Sridhara Maharaja. 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 Sridhara Maharaja. You can also make arrangements for your other godbrothers to go there in the future. "
In March of 1981 it was related to Srila Sridhara Maharaja that Acyutananda dasa had written about him in his book, Autobiography of a Jewish Yogi:
Additionally Hansadutta dasa has revealed that Srila Prabhupada told him twice that he had learned "everything I know" from Srila Sridhara Maharaja.
We are Happy, We are Glad, We are Proud
Although it may be said that Prabhupada encouraged his godbrothers in general, no one anywhere can produce similar statements of endorsement. The fact is that Srila Prabhupada possessed the highest respect and appreciation for Srila Sridhara Maharaja, and Sridhara Maharaja is unparalleled in his understanding and admiration of Prabhupada, as evinced in the following eulogy. "So our Swami Maharaja has done a miracle! Thakura Bhaktivinode conceived and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura began to translate this conception into action. And we find that through Swami Maharaja, 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, Prabhupada with great humility, his voice choked with emotion, tearfully replied, "So, by guru and Vaisnava, whatever position I have got it is by guru's mercy and the blessings of the Vaisnavas. Otherwise, how I may have? So, I wish that Sridhara Maharaja may bestow his blessings as he was doing always, and may guru maharaja 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 Vaisnava, who can be delivered from the clutches of maya ?]"
And after the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Sridhara Maharaja declared,
With such appreciation, there should be little doubt why Srila Prabhupada had implicit faith in Srila Sridhara Maharaja. He had even heard directly from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura of the exceptional qualifications of Sridhara Maharaja. In their last known recorded meeting in 1977, just prior to Prabhupada's leaving this mortal world, we find him imploring Srila Sridhara Maharaja to take up residence at his temple in Sridhama Mayapura.
Stay With Me
Srila Prabhupada: I do not know for how long I will be able to carry on. So, I came to see Sridhara Maharaja.
Devotee: If you all go away, then the world will become dark.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: [to Prabhupada] It is so wonderful that the will of the Lord becomes manifest through someone.
Srila Prabhupada: I want very much, Maharaja, that you come and stay at Mayapura. Because Prabhupada always desired that you preach. He told me quite a few times, "Why don't you pull him out?" [They both laugh.] You know, I also tried to some extent before, but somehow or other it did not work out. Now, why don't you come and stay at Mayapura? Srila Prabhupada [Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura] told me also, "Sridhara Maharaja is one of the finest preachers." I want to take you everywhere. At least at the place we have in Mayapura, people are coming from all over the world. If you just agree, then whatever kind of building you want, I will arrange it for you. They are trying to build a house for me. So both of us will stay there. And whenever you want, you can come here to your math.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, as long as I am alive to fulfill Prabhupada's desire.
Srila Prabhupada: This is my earnest desire. Since you could not go around the world and preach, at least stay there and people will come to you. I shall make that arrangement. If you stay, then it will be helpful to me also. Sometimes I need to consult with someone and there is no one. There is no one that I can consult. I feel this deficiency very greatly.
Devotee: If he stays in Mayapura, then, all kinds of people will get to hear from him.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that's right.
Srila Sridhara Maharaja: Yes, people from all kinds of cultural backgrounds will come there.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and they are already coming. And in that house I will make arrangements for an elevator so that you won't have to go through the difficulty of walking up and down the stairs. You won't even have to move a step yourself. I'll make arrangements for a car and a lift. My disciples are telling me that they will build a house for me. So, both of us will stay in that house. Most of the time I am traveling around, so if you are there, then they can get some guidance. So, Maharaja, please, give me the order and I will make all the arrangements for you.
That Planetarium [The Temple of Understanding] also will be built under your direction. My idea is to combine the Indian culture and the American money-the lame man and the blind man policy. I tell them also that this will be very beneficial for the world.
He Can't Be Converted
In a talk on 8th October 1981 Srila Sridhara Maharaja remarked, "Some faith, yes, he had some faith in me. I can't deny that. In his last days he expressed that two quarters side by side will be built here. And you will live in one and I in the next. Birds of the same feather flock together. Common interest has drawn us near, our common attraction has brought us nearer, closer."
Here, in their final meeting, Srila Prabhupada prophetically refers to his imminent disappearance and reveals that it is in this connection that he has come to see Srila Sridhara Maharaja. In friendly jesting, they discuss Sridhara Maharaja's reticence regarding large-scale preaching work. Of himself, Sridhara Maharaja had remarked,
Prabhupada testifies to his having personally heard Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura mark the high qualifications of Sridhara Maharaja, whom he first chose to go to the West. Many of the mission stalwarts recommended Sridhara Maharaja to preach, "He is the fittest man to preach in the West." In this regard, Sridhara Maharaja once remarked,
When Sridhara Maharaja had been selected, one of his godbrothers came to him and revealed the reason why Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura had chosen him to preach in the West. This godbrother explained,
And just twenty-four hours before his departure from this mortal world, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura called for his beloved disciple Sridhara Maharaja, and asked him to sing the song of Narottama dasa Thakura: Sri-rupa-manjari-pada(the lotus feet of Rupa Manjari are my treasure). Sridhara Maharaja recalls: "So I did, hesitatingly. My nature is always hesitating, pushing back. Then, Kunja Babu asked me to stop. I was not a good singer, so as soon as he suggested, I stopped. Then, Kunja Babu asked Puri Maharaja of Kalna, 'You sing.' So he began. Then, Srila Prabhupada was a little disturbed. 'I don't like to hear the sweet tune of the song,' he said. Then, he stopped singing, and I had to begin again with Sri-rupa-manjari-pada, sei mora sampada. He wanted me to sing that song." That is the fulfillment of life of everyone of us, to be rupanuga followers of Sri Rupa.
Senior godbrothers who witnessed this exchange [notably Srila Bhakti Promod Puri Maharaja] have described it as a "mystic transmission" in which Sridhara Maharaja was given admittance into the eternal entourage of Sri Rupa Manjari. Srila Sridhara Maharaja's humble vision, however, is that he was posted as the gatekeeper, the guardian of devotion (bhakti-raksaka), to protect the storehouse of conclusive truths about the full-fledged theistic conception of Sri Krsna, as given by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Senior godbrothers were of the opinion, that when listening to Srila Sridhara Maharaja's nectarean krsna-katha, it was as if they were listening to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. Regularly they requested Srila Sridhara Maharaja to explain Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasawati Thakura's lectures.
Further expressing his appreciation for Srila Sridhara Maharaja's "high realizations" in Krsna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada says, "I want to take you everywhere. At least to the place we have in Mayapura, people are coming from all over the world. Why don't you stay there?" Six times during this conversation Srila Prabhupada implores Srila Sridhara Maharaja to please come and stay with him in Mayapura. Sometimes it is wondered why Sridhara Maharaja apparently did not take up Prabhupada's offer. Sridhara Maharaja explains, "I said, 'Of course I shall try to help you. Sometimes I shall go and stay there with you.' But I really did not think at the time that I shall survive [live longer than] him."
Temple of Understanding
Also, Srila Prabhupada refers to "that planetarium." Srila Sridhara Maharaja is very fond of Sanatana Goswami's most famous work, the Brhad-bhagavatamrtam, in which devotees, devotional service, and Krsna are described very scientifically. On the basis of this transcendental literature, Sridhara Maharaja had contemplated an elaborate preaching exhibition, showing graphically, with the use of dioramas depicting the varieties of material and spiritual planetary systems, how the ultimate spiritual destination is Krsna's own abode, Goloka Vrndavana. Due to insufficient funds, Sridhara Maharaja humbly submitted his idea to Srila Prabhupada, who approved, saying, "It will be built under your direction."
In spite of Srila Prabhupada's sometimes strong criticism of his godbrothers in response to their activities Prabhupada wrote on 18 November 1967, "Even if there is misunderstanding among the Godbrothers of my guru maharaja, none of them deviated from the transcendental loving service of Krsna." In his last days Srila Prabhupada instructed that the policy of ISKCON's non-cooperation with the Gaudiya Math was changed and that we should cooperate-"The war is over." Prabhupada created the Bhaktivedanta Swami Charity Trust to "bring unity amongst the Gaudiya Vaishnavas especially the followers of His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura." The purpose of the Trust was to develope Gauda-mandala-bhumi. The first two projects were to finish Sridhara Maharaja's darsana mandapa [Natha-mandira] and build the darsana mandapa at Yoga pitha. [771030R2.VRN & 771106RC.VRN]
We are also happy to report that our Godbrother, His Holiness B. A. Paramadwaiti Maharaja has persisted in the same mood of cooperation, in spite of a lack of initial response, in forming a World Vaishnava Association for unifying all of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura's spiritual children and grandchildren and is having some real success.
The innumerable high qualities and praises of our Srila Prabhupada are well known and accepted by the vast majority of Vaisnavas around the world, so there is no necessity of repeating them here. We would however like to list a few of the divine qualities of Srila Sridhara Maharaja:
Just prior to his departure from this mortal world, Srila Prabhupada advised his senior disciples that in his absence, when the necessity arose to consult higher authority for clarification of certain philosophical points, that they should consult Sridhara Maharaja. We humbly submit that the transcendental relationship between Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja be viewed and respected in terms of their eternal spiritual positions, and long standing appreciation and affection for each other.