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His Loving Presence is Offered Freely

In the summer of 1991, when I was still a young girl, I made my first memorable trip to India with my older sister Rukmini Devi dasi, and my late mother, Smt. Devamayi Devi dasi. We almost immediately went to Jagannath Puri with our mother's Pishi, the late Smt. Aruna Didi, a dear and loving disciple of Srila Gurudev, Sri Srimad Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Goswami Maharaj, and her friend LakkhiDi. It was on Jagannath Puri Ratha Yatra Parikrama that I first got real darshan of both Srila Gurudev Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj and Srila Guru Maharaj Sri Srimad Bhakti Pramode Puri Goswami. (I try to respectfully refer to Srimad Bhakti Pramode Puri Goswami as “Srila Guru Maharaj” and Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj as “Srila Gurudev”.) I still remember Srila Gurudev, Srila Guru Maharaj, and Sri Srimad Bhakti Kumud Santa Maharaj all sitting together, very affectionately, doing very enthusiastic kirtan in Gundicha Mandir’s courtyard. It almost seems like a dream now.

My father, Rasaraj Das, who was still in America, had asked us not to go down to the Rath road during the Yatra, so we watched from the roof balcony of the Sree Chaitanya Gaudiya Math in Puri, the holy Janmasthan of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur.  In those days, Srila Gurudev was quite a striking figure standing at his full height. I remember the excitement we all felt when his kirtan party came, preceding Lord Jagannath, and we could see him dancing and roaring like a lion.

Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaj had looked after my mother's spiritual welfare her entire life, as her grandfather was his and Param Gurudev’s godbrother, and very fond of serving both of them. Srila Guru Maharaj sent our mother to her Guru Maharaj (Srila Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj) and accepted my father, Rasaraj das, as his diksha disciple. So in my childish way, I felt I knew him a little better, even though of course Srila Gurudev had also been very affectionate to my mother since her childhood.

Srila Gurudev was so tall and commanding, I was still a little in awe of him.  Later that summer, shortly after Guru Purnima, Srila Guru Maharaj Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaj kindly accepted my sister and me as his Harinam disciples. In those days he was still living in Sree Chaitanya Gaudiya Math in Kolkata, one floor upstairs from Srila Gurudev.

After doing all the rituals and giving us the Harinam Mahamantra, Srila Guru Maharaj told us that it was time for him to chant on our beads, and this would take some time. So in the meantime, he wanted us to go downstairs to Srila Gurudev Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj's room to hear Harikatha, and also told us that we should always go  to Srila Bhakti Ballabh Tirtha Maharaj when we couldn't reach him, that he (Srila Gurudev) would always look after us. So downstairs we went, and Srila Gurudev was patiently, quietly waiting for us, by himself, in his office.

As a child visiting the Math from abroad, I did not realize how remarkable this was until years later. At that point Srila Gurudev had been the Acharya of Sree Chaitanya Gaudiya Math, with all its attendant branches, for many years. He had thousands of disciples all over India. He was the trustee of many important institutions. He had written many scholarly books. Already, every day, there was a line of people to get his darshan and blessings. Yet at his beloved siksha Guru's request, he was quietly waiting in his room to give Harikatha to two young girls who had only just taken Harinam, not even from him!

There was zero indication that we were taking up his valuable time or disrupting his schedule. He very warmly welcomed us and blessed us, and then he spoke to us about Brahma Vimohan Lila. He actually briefly described the killing of Aghasur, and then how much Krishna loves Sakhas and His Sakhas love Him, how lovingly they taste-test their lunches and offer Him the best bits, with how much relish He eats some of their yogurt, sometimes with His left hand.

And telling us all this, a story we had read and heard many times before, Srila Gurudev was making us all cry and laugh at the same time. One could understand that Srila Gurudev had truly experienced the transcendental vision of this lila. He made us understand that Sri Krishna really missed His Sakhas—while all the inhabitants of Vraj were happy to get their opportunity to serve the calves and cowherd boys who were expansions of Vishnu, Sri Krishna felt separation from His Sakhas and calves. It was not the mere retelling of a story heard or read. It was the actual sharing of nectar.

(Another remarkable thing is that I don't always understand Bengali completely, but somehow, whenever he is speaking directly to me, Srila Gurudev's Bengali is always crystal clear. I have never understood this. )

Later, when Srila Guru Maharaj left manifest vision, I realized how he had given us to Srila Gurudev on the very day we took Harinam and made it clear that when we could, we should ask him for diksha. And when I did ask him, he very magnanimously gave it “off schedule”, without any hesitation, despite my lack of qualifications. After not seeing me for years, he mystically understood some real but unconfessed trouble I have doing sadhana, and gave me very practical, personalized advice to deal with this trouble. Whenever he saw us, he always took the opportunity to reminisce about Srila Guru Maharaj, about how Srila Guru Maharaj wrote to him to travel abroad, etc.. His love for Srila Guru Maharaj was intense. I do not think any other uncle and nephew have had a closer relationship in this world.

It is often said that humility was a great specialty of Srila Guru Maharaj Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaj. But it is also Srila Gurudev's specialty. And despite his position and responsibility, he also magnifies and exemplifies humility's most difficult manifestation: gratitude. His gratitude to his siksha gurus--Param Gurudev's godbrothers---is just endless, and he kept their association and worshiped their lotus feet to the utmost. But even more unique is the ease and delight with which he expresses gratitude to people who are much junior to him.

I have seen him remember people who do not even seem very spiritually dedicated with great affection, just because they helped him or Srila Param Gurudev.  Whether it was a few years ago, or fifty years ago, he seems to always remember any gift or help given to him or to Srila Param Gurudev which enabled them to carry out service. It's like a matter of honor for Srila Gurudev to mention those people, to thank them, to be very kind to their family members. By seeing this, the idea that Krishna can feel indebted to those who serve His devotees suddenly does not seem so theoretical. That quality is also exhibited in the pure devotees like Srila Gurudev. The idea that Sri Krishna has room for each of us in His heart, that He loves each of us individually, becomes much more comprehensible when you see how much affection Srila Gurudev has for so many people.

I started writing this before Srila Gurudev left manifest vision, but because of my own incompetence, I did not finish it by then. But I am disinclined to change everything to past tense because I do feel Srila Gurudev is still with us, as Antaryami, and is raining down mercy from above.

I am a good example of the full extent of Srila Gurudev’s graciousness and generosity, for, despite my lack of qualification, he accepted me. I pray that life after life I somehow find my way to his lotus feet, and sometime I render him some service.

—Rupamanjari Devi dasi, California


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