By Devashis Prabhu
during his stay at the Soquel Seva Ashram
I left the Soquel Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Seva Ashram around midday on Thursday the ninth of December after an early lunch. After saying fond farewells to all the devotees, I began my return journey to the UK (loaded with gifts from the devotees for my family back in London and a bag of prasadam goodies from dear Sureshvari Didi).
I was feeling a mixture of sadness and great joy as I sat in Kum Kum Didi's comfortable car driving through the beautiful California countryside towards San Francisco. I was a little sad because I was leaving the good company of my God brothers and sisters and the close associates of our beloved master, Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda-Dev Goswami Maharaj. But at the same time, I was feeling great joy because just a few hours earlier I had heard that His Divine Grace had come out of surgery and was making a good recovery after a completely successful operation on his intestine. We were all on the edge of our seats waiting for the news, and when it was so very positive, I was, like all the devotees, dancing with joy (albeit in an internal, subdued way).
I had received a warm embrace from Srila Gurudev around 4:30 that morning before he left for the hospital, and that was on my mind as I sat in the departure lounge at the San Francisco International Airport. I had been in Soquel one week for the association and glance of our Divine Master and his devotees. I really I felt myself to be in my own home with my family. I never once felt like a visitor. Many of the devotees at the Seva Ashram I hadn't seen for nearly ten years but their affection and warmth were like we had never been apart. Catching up with old friends and also meeting new ones was very gratifying, and I felt my great fortune at being a part of the Chaitanya Saraswat Vaishnava community. This kind of family life is indeed what our soul hankers for.
When I arrived I immediately noticed that Srila Gurudev was very relaxed and happy. It was wonderful to see his comfort with his dear devotees. He was very animated, speaking as always about deep and meaningful topics of Hari Katha but with his unique humour and boyish enthusiasm. Seeing his full-belly laughs and hearing his sweet words was a tonic for me.
I was very fortunate to be able to meet with His Divine Grace for most of the days that I was there. Often Srila Govinda Maharaj would be discussing Hari Katha with his friends Sripad Srutasrava Prabhu, Sripad Goswami Maharaj, Sripad Janardan Maharaj, Sripad Pusta Krishna Prabhu and others. Like Srila Sridhar Maharaj before him, I could see how he relished his small group of associates and how his talks nourished all those around him.
Srila Gurudev was speaking one morning about how it is almost impossible to find one selfless man. “Everyone is trying to make something for themselves," he said. Then quoting one verse from the Chaitanya Bhagavat, he said, "Actually only the Sakhis are truly selfless and if they will give their favor to you, then you are really blessed." Then he told about how Shyamananda Prabhu was accepted by Lalita Devi into the group of Srimati Radharani when Shyamananda Prabhu found the anklet of Srimati Radharani and the Sakhis approached him to return it. He said he would only give it to the owner of the anklet and no other. So Lalita Devi finally persuaded Shayamananda Prabhu to return that anklet to Srimati Radharani in a special way. She (Lalita Devi) took the anklet and pressed it onto the forehead of Shyamananda Prabhu, marking him with its impression as his tilak.
Later Jiva Goswami was invited to some function, and instead of going himself he sent Shyamananda Prabhu as his representative. The leaders there would not accept Shyamananda considering him to be unchaste to his Guru, Hrdoy Chaitanya, by sporting a new name (his original name was Dukhi Krsnadas), as well as this new tilak marking. Finally Shyamananda Prabhu said, “If you can remove my tilak I will submit.” But no one could remove it, and through Shyamananda Prabhu, Jiva Goswami was victorious over that party. Srila Gurudev said, "Lalita Devi is so merciful but even her mercy is not without some cause. And what is that cause? She wants to increase the party of Srimati Radharani."
Another morning I went to see His Divine Grace after attending the Mangal Arati. When I arrived he was looking rested and was speaking in a very lively way. "I am always thinking about three things: what Saraswat Thakur delivered to us, what Srila Swami Maharaj distributed and what Srila Guru Maharaj wanted to give to the world. And I am always thinking and trying to keep the same tune as them. But I am feeling that as much as I try, again and again, it is going out of tune, and again I am trying to retune it. Constantly I am doing and thinking in this way."
Then he began reciting some Bengali poetry and translating into English: "Oh Kavi, who can make the perfect tune as perfectly as you, who can keep that up, and who is qualified for that? Am I qualified? No I am not, therefore I can only come to try and serve you. Finally in my attempt I have taken rest in the shade of a tree near to you, but alas when I am awakening I see that already the sun is setting and I could not serve you. Now I have come before you with tears in my eyes."
Afterwards, Srutasrava Prabhu asked, "Whose poetry is that Maharaj?" And with that familiar glint in his eye he said, "I do not like to say because Guru Maharaj will be angry." Goswami Maharaj nodded knowingly, "Rabindranath Tagore."
Srila Govinda Maharaj nodded, "Actually Guru Maharaj liked the poetry of Ravi Thakur (Rabindranath Tagore) but he was very angry with him. Srila Guru Maharaj would sometimes listen to the news on the radio after taking his lunch prasadam, and sometimes two or three songs would be playing first. Guru Maharaj said, ‘I heard one very nice song today, do you know it?' He told a few lines. I replied, ‘Yes I know it but you will be angry if I tell you.' Guru Maharaj replied, ‘Oh it is Ravi Thakur.' Why was Guru Maharaj so angry with Ravi Thakur? Guru Maharaj said, ‘You have received the Nobel Prize for Literature but you have stolen all your material from Vaishnava Literature and not given credit there. You have taken all for yourself. Praising and worshipping your father's deity which has no arms or legs, why do you not worship Krishna?"
Then Srila Gurudev went on speaking about poetry and said, "When I was a little fixed in my position, I asked Guru Maharaj if I could read the Gopi-gita. Guru Maharaj gave his permission, and I began to study it. The style is so very simple, almost childlike, that you will not believe that the great Veda Vyas composed it. When I read it I got the feeling that an elephant was dancing. Veda Vyas is that great elephant and when he dances playfully, it is like when an elephant dances—you must be afraid to see that. I told Guru Maharaj my feeling when reading Gopi-gita is that of an elephant dancing, and Guru Maharaj was very much impressed by that."
Over the next few days Srila Govinda Maharaj began to prepare himself for his upcoming surgery. This meant fasting from all solid food and taking antibiotics and diuretics to make the colon as clean as possible. Pusta Krishna Prabhu was constantly giving reassurance and encouragement to Srila Gurudev, and it was indeed due to his love and care that Srila Gurudev was going to have this very necessary procedure. Without his expert eye and the grace of God, Srila Gurudev's condition may have gone undiagnosed and developed into something much more serious. We cannot underestimate our debt to Srila Gurudev's beloved friend, Pusta Krishna Prabhu.
Pusta Krishna Prabhu is a very eminent and highly respected orthopaedic surgeon, but we saw that his nature as a Vaishnava is foremost. In his humility he practically begged the help of his colleagues for the care of his beloved Gurudev, and we cannot help but be reminded of a story we heard from Srila Sridhar Maharaj regarding his own Godbrother, Sripad Sakhi Charan Prabhu.
Sakhi Charan Prabhu was a very wealthy salt merchant in Calcutta and also highly respected in society. Srila Guru Maharaj told how one day Sakhi Charan Prabhu was walking in the street in Calcutta when he saw before him his Gurudev, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur. Sakhi Charan Prabhu was very nicely dressed in an expensive suit befitting his social position, and the street was very filthy in the monsoon season. Still seeing his Guru Maharaj in front of him, Sakhi Charan Prabhu without a moment's hesitation lay on the ground in full dandavat pranams. Seeing this, Saraswati Thakur made his disciple get to his feet and asked him, “Oh you are such a wealthy man and highly placed in society, but with no thought for that you have laid down in the mud and filth before me, ruining your dress. Tell me what is the necessity for this?” Sakhi Charan Prabhu replied, “Gurudev, you yourself have said that I am a wealthy man, so should I be poor only in this? My obeisance to you—that is my real wealth.” This is the symptom of a real devotee, and this is why I am reminded of this story.
Now, all around the world the devotees are preparing to celebrate the Vyasa Puja of Srila Govinda Maharaj. I cannot be with His Divine Grace and all my friends in Soquel, as my service is at the London Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. Still I hope that during the festivities all the good readers who will have the fortune of Srila Gurudev's darshan will perhaps remember this lowly soul. In this way I may be present in your company.
I cannot forget my home away from home in Soquel and the dear devotees there. Srila Gurudev said it was his “Hill Station” and that it too is Sri Gupta Govardhan. I bow down to all the residents and servitors of that Holy Dham and pray that you will bless me with devotion to the lotus feet of Sri Guru and Sri Vaishnava.
Jai om Visnupad Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda-Dev Goswami Maharaj, ki jai!
Jai om Visnupad Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar-Dev Goswami Maharaj, ki jai!
Soquel Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Seva Ashram, ki jai!
San Jose Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Seva Ashram, ki jai!
The Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Vaishnava Vrinda, ki jai!
Your most humble aspiring servant,