Daṇḍavat-praṇāmas. Śrī Śrī Guru-Gaurāṅgau jayataḥ.
I have gone through the response to the article by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, ‘Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread’ which appeared here on GSD. I have also received several private responses verbally as well as via email since the article has recently appeared in other places and it has been a topic of recent discussion here at our āśrama. This topic came up for discussion during my stay at the maṭha of Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja in Māyāpura this year – at which time I received a copy of the magazine Gauḍīya Darśana published from Śrī Caitanya Sārasvata Maṭha in Navadvīpa (the magazine contained the article we are discussing).
I was greatly inspired by the article – as I am always inspired by the words of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. There were several points or statements, information etc. in this article which I especially appreciated and I was in no way intending to encourage the false conclusion of ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ when I posted thee article on GDS. On the contrary, I was simply intending to inspire others, as I felt inspired.
pūjala rāga-patha gaurava-bhaṅge
“The highest plane of our aspiration must always be kept above and we shall worship that from a position a little distant and below.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja states in remembering the mood of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, “The whole tenor of his life was such: ‘That is high, high. And from below we are to honour that.’ We are to establish in the whole world this sort of posing – the proper regard of that higher līlā– that is too high.”
pūjala rāga-patha gaurava-bhaṅge
I am always appreciating this śloka composed by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura since it was from this śloka that Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja drew my name ‘Bhakti Gaurava’. Whenever this śloka appears, I try to take special notice of that.
This is the line of conception of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja who has maintained the dignity of the ‘Guardian of Devotion’ after the departure of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. It is a well-known fact that before the departure of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was requested by his Gurudeva to sing the song Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pāda, at which time all those present realized the mystic transmission that had taken place and openly declared that Sarasvatī Ṭhākura had given Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja admittance into the mādhurya-rasa in the camp of Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī (those of you who are older and more acquainted with the histories and siddhānta know this truth very well). Nonetheless, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja (accepting that he had indeed been placed at the lotus feet of Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī) considered that he had been given the position of a gatekeeper of mādhurya-rasa. It should be noted that shortly before his disappearance from this world, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, while walking on his veranda, suddenly turned and said, “I am standing in the courtyard of Rūpa Mañjarī and I am simply trying to relate my experience with you.” He then became silent, entered his room and shut the door.
Here are a few words from Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja that will no doubt confirm the dignified position of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as the Guardian of Devotion:
On the day before his disappearance, Paramārādhya Śrī Śrīla Prabhupāda requested and heard from the lips of Pūjyapāda Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja that invaluable song Śrī Rūpa-mañjarī-pada composed by Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura, thereby indicating the rightful entry of Pūjyapāda Śrīdhara Mahārāja into the śrī-rūpānuga-bhajana the intimate devotional service in the esoteric line of Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī. Śrīla Prabhupāda has given us great hope by saying that the inner flow of the line of Śrīla Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda, the foremost associate of Śrī Rūpa Prabhu and the personification of the direct potency of Lord Gaurasundara, will never be obstructed. Only Śrī Gurudeva can enable us to attain that all-accommodating lofty śrī-vraja-prema, as distributed by the unparalleled Śrīman Mahāprabhu, by uplifting us onto that plane of divine rasa. Śrīla Prabhupāda has directly defined Pūjyapāda Śrīdhara Mahārāja as śrī-rūpānuga-bhakti-rakṣaka, the Guardian of Pure Devotion in the line of Śrī Rūpa and thus also the guardian of the pure devotional line of Śrīla Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda. Therefore, this lowly servitor of servitors prays for his grace. How will I be able to attain that most high śrī-vraja-prema without submission and devotion unto him whom Śrīla Prabhupāda has directly and eternally absorbed into the rūpānuga family of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura?
We often heard from the lotus lips of Śrīla Prabhupāda that for those who are devoid of taste for hearing he sweet narrations of hari-kathā, then their devotional life can never be expected to have longevity. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam says:
pibanti ye bhagavata ātmanaḥ satāṁ
kathāmṛtaṁ śravaṇa-puṭeṣu sambhṛtam
punanti te viṣaya-vidūṣitāśayaṁ
“Those who taste or imbibe, by the process of hearing the transcendental nectarine topics of the Lord Śrī Hari, their one and only object of worship, and His devotees, they bless the hearts of all souls contaminated by mundanity with divinity and ultimately reach the lotus feet of Godhead.” (Bhāg. 2.2.37)
Actually every word of hari-kathāmṛtam which emanated from the lotus lips of our worshipful Śrī Śrīla Prabhupāda is a deeply meaningful and significant flow of devotional nectar. Pūjyapāda Śrīdhara Mahārāja soon realized the matchless value of drinking that nectar and set the noble example and in all sincerity, by word and thought and deed accepted shelter at the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which are cooling like thousands of moons, for the jīvas who are scorched by the fire of material existence. We have especially seen the most brilliant example of Pūjyapāda Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s service in the mood of viśrambha (i.e. with full, firm wholehearted confidence and faith in Śrī Guru).
He has been unendingly blessed by our Paramārādhya Śrīla Prabhupāda for his grand preaching campaign showing the super-excellency of the teachings of Śrī Śrī Guru and Gaurāḥga. By the grace of Śrī Guru, the most efficient analogies, logical arguments, and expert systems and techniques of establishing the su-siddhānta (the higher truthful devotional conclusions) would always appear in his heart with effulgent spontaneity, enabling the convincing refutation of opposing opinions and assertions. Thus Śrīla Prabhupāda was always glad to see the presence of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in any conference or sophisticated debating assembly. (Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Puri Mahārāja)
Now, returning to the point of the article under discussion – I am particularly taken by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s statement regarding Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, “The whole tenor of his life was such: ‘That is high, high. And from below we are to honour that.’ We are to establish in the whole world this sort of posing – the proper regard of that higher līlā.”
I find two parts of this statement very interesting; first – “The whole tenor of his life was such,” meaning that Sarasvatī Ṭhākura laboured on this point, pūjala rāga-patha gaurava-bhaṅge, with his disciples and to all others who came in contact with him throughout his entire life. He did not simply preach that “It is high” and then after sometime open the floodgate and give līlā-kathā to all without proper discrimination.
Second – “We are to establish in the whole world this sort of posing,” meaning that the posing is to always keep the highest conception above, in a most dignified position, away from reach of the mob. To preach widely means such – don’t take the crest-jewel of Gauḍīya conception and make it a topic for public debate or even conversation in the assembly of less qualified devotees.
That is what I have understood from Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja – don’t try to make a business with the higher conception, just to acquire some followers or name and fame. That will create an offense and we will be thrown down! Rather, we should try to purify ourselves and qualify in such a way that the Super Subjective Reality will be pleased to descend to our heart and make Himself known. We must have faith in the strong caution given by our guru-paramparā – otherwise we will be given the ambition to live in a fool’s paradise.
It has not been advocated here that the serious student ignore the ultimate truth or the divine pastimes of the Supreme Lord, but what is being said is that one must approach that most exalted plane with the greatest dignity and respect. This is possible only when we have thus committed ourselves to directly executing the practice of devotional service under the supervision of Śrī Guru and advanced Vaisnavas.
Personally, I feel that this article, ‘Fools Rush in Where Angels Fear to Tread’ has appeared very timely and it is by no means Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s personal instruction to a particular devotee, but rather it is wholesome advice to all devotees in the line of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.
In the last thirty years or so, I have had the very good fortune to come in direct contact with several stalwart disciples of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura (including my own spiritual master, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swami Prabhupāda) and in my experiences with them, I have found that they are all of the opinion as already expressed by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. It is also a fact that I found in them all an extremely high taste for hari-kathā and the Holy Name. Nonetheless, their unwillingness to make the topics of higher līlā (especially mādhurya-līlā) accessible to any and all without qualification was remarkable. They are all of the same opinion – first deserve, then desire!
These are a few thoughts on the matter from the insignificant Gosāi.