Q. I appreciate your edition of Bhagavad-gita wherein you acknowledge Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami as your divine guardians. However, another devotee who is a member of Sri Caitanya Saraswata Matha (SCSM) told me, “Tripurari Swami was not known to nor does he represent in any way Guru Maharaja B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami. He visited him for a few hours only, so how can he claim to be a disciple?” This comment did not sit well with me, nor does it seem plausible. It is obvious that you have imbibed so much from Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja. Could you kindly provide me with some history of your relationship with him?
A. The devotee who made this statement must not be aware of my history with Pujyapada B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami and my involvement in the Maha Mandala, which was an association that Srila Sridhara Maharaja conceived of in 1982 and presided over until his disappearance in 1988. The important prelude to this history is that while I was massaging Srila Prabhupada’s feet during his illness he said that after he was gone, his disciples could go to his Godbrother B. R. Sridhara Maharaja for philosophy (siksa). Initially Iskcon leaders did this, but later they passed a resolution that forbid members from hearing the philosophy of Krishna consciousness from B. R. Sridhara Maharaja or any devotee outside their organization.
I was among those who approached Srila Sridhara Maharaja for philosophy after Srila Prabhupada’s departure. Altogether I spent more than sixty days at Sri Caitanya Saraswat Math in the presence of Pujyapada B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami. In October of 1985 he personally spoke the sannyasa mantra (that Prabhupada had given me on paper when he gave me sannyasa but never spoke), Radha Gayatri, and other mantras in my ear. Present at the Math at that time were Giri Maharaja, Sagara Maharaja, Sudhira Goswami, Bharati Maharaja, Govinda Maharaja, and others. Badrinarayana Prabhu, Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s secretary, served as the witness.
I was already thrice initiated by Srila Prabhupada (harinama, mantra diksa, and sannyasa), so Srila Sridhara Maharaja spoke the sannyasa and other mantras to myself and other disciples of Srila Prabhupada in the context of explaining their significance, which Srila Prabhupada did not typically do when giving diksa. He also did this in the spirit of formally acknowledging and accepting our desire to embrace him as our siksa guru. Afterwards, when I asked Srila Sridhara Maharaja for some seva, he said to me, “Swami Maharaja (Srila Prabhupada) has given you everything; go and start a preaching mission on his behalf and I will be in the background to help you.”
I was prepared to do whatever Srila Sridhara Maharaja desired, but his order to me was to start a preaching mission on behalf of Srila Prabhupada, which I did in San Francisco. This mission, called the Gaudiya Vaisnava Society, was formed under the umbrella of the Maha Mandala, which with the exception of the London branch of SCSM was a confederation of independent preaching centers established by disciples of Srila Prabhupada who had accepted Srila Sridhara Maharaja as their siksa guru. It was created for the purpose of mutual cooperation and support. Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami spoke of the Maha Mandala as follows:
“The basis of the association (the Maha Mandala) is not a rigid registered board with rules. It is a voluntary association. Joining is not compulsory and anyone may withdraw. It is not that when there is a difference of opinion a member will be expelled and all the acquired property will be taken over by the committee. It is a voluntary association, not a very strong law or any fixed program. The point is to preach according to our capacity with mutual cooperation.”
With Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s encouragement and blessings, I initiated disciples and developed my mission in San Francisco. Srila Sridhara Deva Goswami also personally asked me to try to engage two of his sannyasa initiates. Serving alongside me in San Francisco at various times were Giri Maharaja, Ashrama Maharaja, Bharati Maharaja, Narasinga Maharaja, Aranya Maharaja, Visnu Maharaja, disciples of Janardana Maharaja, and other sannyasa and siksa followers of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. Brahma Prabhu, the co-founder (with Sudhira Goswami) of the first Western center affiliated with Srila Sridhara Maharaja, assisted me in facilitating these devotees in collecting funds for their respective Maha Mandala projects and centers. During that period I also served Srila Sridhara Maharaja on occasion as his officiating (ritvik) representative, initiating disciples on his behalf. I still have the tape recording of him reciting the mantra that he gave me to use for this purpose.
At this point I believe that a few words on vani and vapu are in order. Vani refers to hearing and accepting the teachings of the guru, and vapu refers to being in physical proximity of the guru. The importance of vani over vapu is well established in Srila Prabhupada’s writings, and his example of sending his disciples out on their own to preach speaks volumes on this as well. Likewise, with few exceptions, year after year Srila Sridhara Maharaja sent the banished Iskcon devotees who came to him for siksa back to their respective preaching fields after a few weeks in his personal association. As they received Srila Prabhupada’s vani, these devotees also received Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s vani through his books, recordings, and videos (which after thirty years are still officially banned in Iskcon).
The point is that spiritual advancement cannot be accurately measured by the amount of time one spends in the physical presence of the guru; rather advancement is more a matter of how well the guru’s teachings are taken to heart. Srila Sridhara Maharaja put it like this, “Scripture says, lava matra sadhu sange sarva-siddhi haya: ‘One moment with the agents of Krsna, if properly utilized, is sufficient to solve the whole problem of our life for which we are eternally wandering about for millenniums.’ We must be wakeful to our interest. We must not be negligent, but wakeful, to our own self-interest.”
Ultimately, the evidence of my devotion to Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja is found in my writings and in my life’s dedication to the cause of Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga. It is superficial in the least for this devotee or anyone else to refer to me as a “non-disciple” because in his or her estimation I did not spend enough time in the physical presence of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. Instead, the real test would be to examine my writings, recordings, and record of service to see if the spirit of Srila Sridhara Maharaja is alive there. This is exactly what Srila Sridhara Maharaja told us to do, placing emphasis on substance over formality.
“Wherever the truth appears, wherever the nectar of divine ecstasy descends, I shall offer myself as a slave. Whatever form it takes doesn’t matter much; the form has some value, but if there is any conflict, the inner spirit of the thing should be given immense value over its external cover. Otherwise, if the spirit has gone away and the bodily connection gets the upper hand, our so-called spiritual life becomes a cheap imitation.” (B. R. Sridhara Maharaja, Sri Guru and His Grace)
Q. To my knowledge Srila Sridhara Maharaja authorized only Srila Govinda Maharaja to represent him. His order to accept Govinda Maharaja as acharya of SCSM is in his will, as well as in a recorded conversation he had with Dr. Asthana where he said that he rejects anyone who does not accept Govinda Maharaja as acharya of SCSM. How then can you or anyone else make any claim to be a representative of Guru Maharaja B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami?
A. My only claim in relation to Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja is that his siksa nourished my soul to the extent that to pursue it I had to leave Iskcon at the risk of being labeled a heretic. And since then I have been preaching based on what I received from him and Srila Prabhupada. I did this while Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja was amongst us with his blessing, and I continue to do this today.
The instructions you refer to, which are found in the prelude to Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s will and in his conversation with Dr. Asthana, pertain to Sri Caitanya Saraswat Math and its branches. They did not pertain to the missions of the Maha Mandala that had been established by Srila Prabhupada’s disciples and set up independently of SCSM with the blessings of Srila Sridhara Maharaja. The distinction between these missions and SCSM is clear in the prelude to his will where Srila Sridhara Maharaja says that in the Maha Mandala, Sagar Maharaja and others can continue to initiate but not in SCSM or its branches where Govinda Maharaja is the sole successor acharya.
“In the Mahamandala, Sagar Maharaj and many others are also ritvik of Swami Maharaja and also myself. They may do so (initiate), but in this Math (SCSM) and in any Math under this Math, he (Govinda Maharaja.) will be the representative.”
In the conversation you mentioned, Dr. Asthana tells Srila Sridhara Maharaja that there will be challenges to the succession and asks him about Govinda Maharaja’s empowerment. Srila Sridhara Maharaja replies, “Permanent. Wholesale—both property and the function—transferred. If anyone has no recognition of this opinion of mine, I do not want them to live in the mission. I drag them out.”
Here, as in the prelude to the will, the property being discussed is SCSM and its branches, and the function being discussed is acharya of SCSM and its branches. The message is clear—anyone who does not accept Govinda Maharaja as the acharya of SCSM cannot live in the Math. Doctor Asthana then asks about members of SCSM who don’t have faith in Govinda Maharaja as acharya. Srila Sridhara Maharaja says, “According to their faith—what to think? What to say? Those that do not obey me after my departure means automatically they will be left by me. Only it is a transaction of faith. No right but faith. If no faith in my word, they are automatically rejected.”
Here Srila Sridhara Maharaja says that he has faith in Govinda Maharaja; therefore any member of SCSM who does not accept Govinda Maharaja as acharya of SCSM has no faith in his word and is therefore rejected by him. While this conversation was in relation to succession at SCSM, it was of course understood that all the members of the Maha Mandala were to accept Govinda Maharaja as the successor acharya of SCSM as well.
However, it’s unreasonable to interpret this statement (as some do) to be an order requiring all of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples within the Maha Mandala to amalgamate their independent organizations with SCSM under Govinda Maharaja. Indeed, Srila Sridhara Maharaja never issued such a directive. By saying, “in the Maha Mandala, Sagar Maharaja and others can continue to initiate, but not in SCSM or its branches” it is clear that Srila Sridhara Maharaja expected the distinction between the independent missions of the Maha Mandala and SCSM and its branches to continue after his departure.
Furthermore, during this period Srila Prabhupada’s initiated disciples such as Sudhira Maharaja, Paramadvati Maharaja, myself, and other sannyasis within the Maha Mandala continued to initiate our own disciples and develop our own missions. This went on even after Srila Sridhara Maharaja had transferred empowerment to Govinda Maharaja and he had begun to initiate as the new acharya of SCSM. Far from being rejected, we banished Iskcon devotees were warmly welcomed by Srila Sridhara Maharaja as always when we visited SCSM. Never did he tell any of us that we would be “rejected” if we did not amalgamate our missions with SCSM after his disappearance.
In 1982 the Iskcon GBC accused Srila Sridhara Maharaja of wanting to co-opt Srila Prabhupada’s disciples for the benefit of SCSM. This preposterous accusation is so far from Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s actual mood that I can hardly believe that any version of this idea is being taken seriously. While some of the leading members of the Maha Mandala did eventually join SCSM, this was not done on any order or even suggestion from Srila Sridhara Maharaja. Simply put, the initiated disciples of Srila Prabhupada who became members of SCSM did so because they were inspired in that direction. As Sridhara Maharaja was fond of saying, “not by force of law, but by force of love.”
In conclusion, I accepted and respected Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s appointment of Govinda Maharaja as successor acharya of SCSM, as well as the decisions of the individual disciples of Srila Prabhupada who had been members of the Maha Mandala to join SCSM and serve under him. I also never in any way supported the intrigue against Govinda Maharaja that took place in the early days of his succession.
After the departure of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, I continued preaching and developing my own mission as he had instructed me to do, never expecting some years later to be criticized by former colleagues from the Maha Mandala for doing so. Although saddened by this, I remain hopeful for reconciliation. After all (to quote Shakespeare), “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers” faced the opposition and risked all to bathe in the divine current of truth flowing from the lotus lips of Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, the Guardian of Devotion. In his words, “the point is to preach according to our capacity with mutual cooperation.”