Giriraj Swami

Dec 312021

Twenty years ago, with a group of three people, I went to the ancient Russian city of Suzdal to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books. It was a bold decision to go to a place where almost every second resident was a nun or a priest, and almost every corner had a church or a temple.

On the first day, inspired by the morning program, I was walking around this exotic little town for about nine hours and offering books everywhere I could, but I was unsuccessful. All the residents refused, as if they had conspired, and everyone had almost the same answer: “This is not our belief.”

It seemed to me necessary to make some sense of our visit. What did this mean—according to God’s plan? I thought that I should return to the hotel and find out the other devotees’ results. If they were the same, then maybe we should just leave immediately.

Going to the hotel, I passed churches where I was unafraid to go with the books, but I couldn’t even imagine how I would offer them there. Yet I decided strictly: “Krishna, just for Your sake, I will go to this church now and offer books to the first person who catches my eye. And, if Your will be done, then please help me distribute at least one book.”

The church premises were well taken care of. I spotted an almost unnoticeable sign above a small door: “Church Bench.” The door led to a downstairs area that turned out to be a basement. I carefully went down the steps and quietly opened a door and saw a frightened elderly monk with a big beard. When he saw me, he hid something under the table with a quick motion. I pretended that I didn’t notice.

I politely introduced myself: “Christ is risen! Hello, we came from Arkhangelsk and brought very valuable books about God. As a believer, you might be interested in them. Can you tell me your name?”

“Good evening. My name is Father Gabriel.”

“Father Gabriel, it is clear from your eyes that you are wise. Please look at our books.”

I noticed a strong excitement and confusion in his eyes, which quickly changed to joy and revitalization. He looked at me with love and said loudly, “I’m so glad. How lucky I am. God finally answered my prayers. I’ve been looking for these books for several years. I prayed to Jesus, to the mother of God, to my guardian angel, and even to Krishna to send me these books.”

He suddenly pulled out from under the table Srimad-Bhagavatam, Second Canto, the object he had hidden when I had walked in. He said, “When you came in, I was reading this book, which I do every day for a few hours, and I sit in obedience. I got this book from my late father. He bought it in Moscow. Being a Christian, he repeated your Hare Krishna mantra every day along with the Jesus prayer. Before he died, he pushed me to read it, despite my former negative attitude toward this book. And now this is my most dear and valuable book. Without it, I don’t see the meaning of living. I read this every free minute. It opened my eyes to a true idea of myself and God. And after I had read it seven times in a row, I began to pray that God graciously send me the rest of the books of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. And now a miracle has happened: You brought them to me. Please tell me the price and let me buy all the books you have.”

I listened to him and was surprised at how the Lord arranges everything in such a perfect way. I also began to express my feelings to him by telling him how I walked around Suzdal the whole day and finally asked God to send me at least one sincere person who would want these books.

We were both in ecstasy. I named the price, and Father Gabriel immediately got the right amount. He bought all the Bhagavatam cantos I had (thirteen books). We talked more about his spiritual journey and his humble attempts to do japa meditation. I gave him some practical advice and told him how to make homemade beads.

Thanks to this meeting, I always remember and try not to forget one important truth: If you sincerely pray to God, He will surely answer.

I suppose that since I wanted to give some meaning to our visiting Suzdal, it is obvious what it was—the highest meaning: God hears and fulfills the desires of all His servants.

Thank You, Krishna! This is Your glory, wisdom, and greatness!

Your humble servant,
Valmiki dasa

Dec 292021

Radhanath Swami: This morning I was listening to the recording of Srila Prabhupada on Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s disappearance day in Hyderabad (I think it was 1972), and it is very, very special, because Srila Prabhupada wrote that beautiful poem for him in 1936, and that poem was lost. Srila Prabhupada was saying in this talk that he thought it had been gone forever; he hadn’t seen it in decades. He said, “One of my disciples, Gurudasa, discovered it in a library in London. There was a big pile of Harmonists where it was published.” So, Prabhupada was reading from that poem he had written for Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, and he was giving a commentary with each verse. It was so beautiful.

It begins, “Adore ye all.” Do you remember?

Giriraj Swami: Yes.

Adore ye all,
The happy day.
Blessed than heaven,
Sweeter than May.
When He appeared at Puri,
The holy place,
My lord and master
His Divine Grace.

Radhanath Swami: In India, May is the worst month, because it is so hot. He was saying, “My guru maharaja told me to preach in the Western countries, and I had heard that May is very pleasing there.” Then he said, “They call ‘May Day’?” The devotees replied, “Yes, Srila Prabhupada.”

He was talking about how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura so much appreciated this poem. And as Srila Prabhupada was reading each stanza, he was describing his life in relation to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, how when he was a young man, in 1922, he had just joined Gandhi’s movement for independence. At that time, it was part of the movement that they would boycott anything British. Srila Prabhupada was in his last year in college, and he quit and rejected his degree. And he took a job at Kartik Chandra Bose’s chemical, pharmaceutical factory. Prabhupada said that Kartik Chandra Bose was the founder of the chemical industry in India, that he started the Bengal Chemical company and that it is still there today. He said that there’s even a street in Calcutta named Kartika Chandra Bose Street. Prabhupada wore khadar—he said khadar—and one day Kartik Chandra Bose told him, “This is the only thing I like about your whole Gandhi’s movement—this khadar.” When Prabhupada asked why, he said, “Because this hand spinning will give impetus to industry.”

It was around this time that Srila Prabhupada’s friend Narendranath Mullik wanted him to meet a sadhu. He said, “There is a very nice sadhu. Let us go and see him.” Prabhupada commented that he did not very much like sadhus, because in those days he was a nationalist. He replied, “I have seen many sadhus at home, and I was not very pleased with their behavior.” His friend said, “No, I have heard that this person is very exalted.” Prabhupada said, “He forcibly dragged me.” It was on the rooftop of the first Gaudiya Matha outside of Mayapur, which was at Ultadanga Junction Road. They didn’t own it; it was a rented house.

Srila Prabhupada and Narendra were brought up, and on the rooftop the first thing Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura said was, “You are educated young men. Why don’t you preach Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s gospel in the Western countries?” Prabhupada had a discussion with his guru maharaja, and Prabhupada later said, “I was very happy to be defeated by my guru maharaja.” Continue reading »

Dec 252021

“Who is a saint? A saint is tolerant, very tolerant—tolerant to the utmost. You have got a very good example in Lord Jesus Christ, a great saint or sadhu. Of course, he was more than a sadhu. Now, just see his behavior, how much tolerant he was. He was being crucified, and he was praying to God, ‘O Lord, forgive these people what they are doing.’ This is the significance of sadhu. Titiksavah karunikah. For their personal sake, they’re always very tolerant, and they are very kind to all people, all living entities. Very kind. In spite of all their disadvantages, they try to give something, real knowledge, to the people in general. Karunikah.”

—Srila Prabhupada, talk on Bhagavad-gita 4.6–8, July 15, 1966, New York

Dec 242021

“Now these Christmas holidays have begun in your country. Throughout the whole month of December you’ll observe nice festivities. Why? It began with God consciousness. Jesus Christ came to give you God consciousness, and in relation to him these festivities are going on. It may have degraded into another form, but the beginning was God consciousness. Now we may have lost it. But people cannot be happy without reviving God consciousness. It may be named differently—‘Krishna consciousness’—but that means God consciousness. That is the necessity. We want to love somebody. Our love will be perfected when we love Krishna, or God. We are teaching that. Try to love God, and if you love God, if you love Krishna, then automatically you love everybody. That is the perfection of love.”

—Srila Prabhupada, December 2, 1968, Los Angeles (adapted)


Dec 222021

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, is my grand spiritual master, but I feel that I never really knew him very well until I read his biography Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava, by my godbrother Bhakti Vikasa Swami. Many of the quotes and references below come from that work.

 We are all here by the mercy of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. There’s a line through which the mercy descends upon us, beginning with Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and passing, one teacher after the other, through parampara, disciplic succession. Five thousand years ago, Krishna came in His original form and instructed, in the Bhagavad-gita (9.34, 18.65), man-mana bhava mad-bhakto: “Always think of Me and become My devotee.” Five hundred years ago, Lord Krishna came again, in the devotional form of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, to explain and personally show how to be a devotee and always think of Krishna. Lord Chaitanya quoted a verse from the Brhan-naradiya Purana (38.126):

harer nama harer nama
  harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
  nasty eva gatir anyatha

“One should chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of Hari, Krishna. There is no other way, no other way, no other way for success in the present age of Kali.” He also desired and predicted:

prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama
sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama

“In as many towns and villages as there are on the surface of the earth, My holy name will be propagated.” (Cb 3.4.126) This desire and prediction were expressed at a time when it was almost impossible to imagine or believe that it could happen.

In the 1800s, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura began the effort to spread the holy name of Krishna to countries outside India. He wrote a small book in English called Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts and dispatched copies to libraries around the world. In recent years, Srila Prabhupada’s disciples have discovered copies in libraries from Canada (McGill University) to Australia. Bhaktivinoda Thakura yearned for the day when devotees from all over the world would unite in harinama-sankirtana and wrote, “Very soon the unparalleled path of harinama-sankirtana will be propagated all over the planet. . . . Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German, and American people will take up banners, mridangas, and kartals and perform kirtan through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the fair-skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of ‘Jaya Sacinandana, jaya Sacinandana ki jaya!’ and join with the Bengali devotees. When will that day be?” (Sajjana-tosani)

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a very powerful spiritual master, an acharya. After the disappearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates, many unscrupulous people claiming to be Mahaprabhu’s followers introduced concocted philosophies and practices—even illicit activities—to the point that if an educated Bengali heard the word Vaishnava, he would immediately think the worst. In educated circles Vaishnava had come to mean a sentimental, ignorant person with loose character who, in the guise of religion, engaged in all sorts of questionable activities. In this precarious situation, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura came forward and presented the true understanding of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, speaking strongly against the deviant groups that had distorted and perverted His pure teachings and practices.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura held a high position in the British rule of India—the highest an Indian could hold, and then only very rarely. He had important responsibilities in the government and had a large family, but his main interest was Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the sankirtana movement. He would sleep little and rise early. He did so much—wrote books, traveled, preached, established centers—and had a tremendous effect, especially on the people of Bengal and Orissa, including the intellectual elite, who were just then coming in touch with modern ideas from the West. He revived the true mission of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, inspiring hosts of people to join him, and pushed back the deviant groups, which lost much of their influence.

Having undertaken such a tremendous task and executed it so successfully but still being surrounded by so many parties with vested interests in covering the true intention of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was at a loss as to who would carry on his mission. He prayed to Krishna to send someone—one of His own associates from the spiritual realm—to continue the work. It is understood that the appearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was the answer to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s prayers. Continue reading »

Happy Holidays

 Lectures  Comments Off on Happy Holidays
Dec 172021

In the West, this is the holiday season, with Christmas and Hanukkah both coming up. As Srila Prabhupada explained, the Lord comes to this world to enlighten people with transcendental knowledge. Sometimes He comes personally, and sometimes He sends His son or His prophet or His representative, but they all come with the same message. They may speak in different languages according to the circumstances and the audience, but the essence of the message is the same: God is great; we are but small parts and parcels of God, meant to serve Him with love, and we have come from God and are meant to return to Him.

One of Srila Prabhupada’s purports in the Bhagavad-gita As It Is contains a statement that relates to the holidays people in the West are about to celebrate:

“ ‘The avatara, or incarnation of Godhead, descends from the kingdom of God for material manifestation. And the particular form of the Personality of Godhead who so descends is called an incarnation, or avatara. Such incarnations are situated in the spiritual world, the kingdom of God. When they descend to the material creation, they assume the name avatara.’ [Cc Madhya 20.263­–264] There are various kinds of avataras, such as purusavataras, gunavataras, lilavataras, sakty-avesa avataras, manvantara-avataras, and yugavataras—all appearing on schedule all over the universe. But Lord Krsna is the primeval Lord, the fountainhead of all avataras. Lord Sri Krsna descends for the specific purpose of mitigating the anxieties of the pure devotees, who are very anxious to see Him in His original Vrndavana pastimes.” (Gita 4.8 purport)

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, said that Jesus Christ was a saktyavesa-avatara; he accepted that Jesus Christ descended to the earth from above. That is avatara. And saktyavesa means one who carries the power of the Lord. Thus, he accepted that Jesus Christ descended to earth with the power of the Lord to preach the message of Godhead. And Jesus Christ preached more or less the same message as Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. Sometimes people would ask Srila Prabhupada about Jesus, and Srila Prabhupada would reply, “In the Bible Jesus said that he was the son of God, and in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says that He is the father of all living entities, so there is no contradiction.” Continue reading »