Upon his return to Mathurā, Śrīla Gurudeva told the congregation of Mathurā-vāsīs about his travels and experiences in the West.
Śrīla Gurudeva said: “Everywhere I went, people welcomed me and were eager to hear hari-kathā; but also some people were opposed. When I went to offer praṇāma to Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja in some ISKCON centers, I was asked to leave. In America, I defended the preaching of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja when he was slandered by a group of smārta–brāhmaṇas gathered in a Hindu temple.
“In general, the Hindu priestly caste, the Māyāvādīs and missions such as the Bhārata Sevā-āśrama and Ramā-Kṛṣṇa Mission, cannot tolerate the prestige of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. They have a special animosity towards ISKCON. They are pañcopāsakas, worshipers of the five deites—Viṣṇu, Śiva, Śakti, Sūrya, and Gaṇeśa—whom they believe to be the five imaginary images of the unmanifest Absolute. Being impersonalists, these groups are opposed to the preaching of the personalist schools, especially ISKCON.
“They asked me, ‘Why did Svāmī Mahārāja give brāhmaṇa initiation freely to mlecchas and all classes of men? And why did he then allow those outcastes to cook and worship the Deity in the temple with Vedic mantras? All of this is against dharma. One day a person is eating meat, taking intoxicants, gambling, and performing so many sinful activites, and the next day you give him a dhotī and cādara and make him a brahmacārī or pūjārī of Ṭhākurajī. Can such a person really be purified so easily? Will this change his sinful nature? We see that later Svāmī Mahārāja’s leading sannyāsīs fell down, and also that so many atrocities were performed to children in ISKCON gurukulas. ISKCON has done so much harm to the world, and will certainly soon disintegrate and be destroyed. We respect your judgment, knowing you are a high-class brāhmaṇa sannyāsī—please give your disinterested consideration on these matters.’ ”
Śrīla Gurudeva said: “I listened silently as the paṇḍas spoke like lightning hidden in clouds—ready to strike. these insolent smārtas were burning in the fire of their own anger and wanted to burn others as well. When they fell silent, I responded, ‘Do you want me to speak the truth?’
“‘We know you are a Tiwari brāhmaṇa and bound to truth, please speak without restraint.’
“‘I am not any designation of the body; I am a servant of the servant of the servant of Gopīnātha. I will answer you from a neutral standpoint. Pray to Bhagavān that you can understand what I say today and then, by His mercy, you will be benefited. By your own intelligence you can never understand śāstra or the words of sādhus. Proud of your high birth, consumed by anarthas and fallen in the blind well of family life, what hope do you have of fathoming the imports of true religion?’
“The paṇḍas stood up and shouted, ‘Why do you insult us?’
“‘Please sit,’ I said. ‘It is not my dharma to criticize you. I have not come here for that. To teach an ignorant person is quite difficult, but it is far more difficult to teach one who already considers himself learned.’ Glowering, the paṇḍas sat and listened.”
Śrīla Gurudeva continued: “ ‘First hear a short story then I will answer your questions. Once, two men came to learn harmonium from a teacher. One told the teacher, ‘I have been practicing already for two or three years. I already know much. I have come to learn the finer methods from you. Will you teach me?’
“‘Yes,’ the teacher said, ‘It will cost you one thousand rupees.’ The other student introduced himself and said, ‘I don’t know anything about playing the harmonium.’
“‘I will charge you one hundred rupees,’ the teacher said.
“‘That’s unfair,’ the first student said. ‘He is a fool and I already know so much. How can you charge me so much more?’
“‘I can teach him very easily,’ the teacher said, ‘for he knows nothing, but you are proud of your so-called knowledge which is actually an inhibition to your learning. First I will have to make you forget everything you know before I can teach you anything, and this will cost me much more time and energy. Teaching him from scratch will be much easier.’
“All human beings have the right to adopt the transcendental life illuminated by the Vedic scriptures. When people surrender to a genuine guru, he purifies them of their past sins and makes them qualified to worship God. To say a person cannot serve God through the medium of His Deity is like saying a child cannot love and embrace his father or mother. A mother is not offended if her infant climbs soiled into her lap. Indeed, she gives it more affection than her mature son. God, the parent of all beings, has love for all creatures, and especially those who are ignorant, like children.
By Kṛṣṇa’s desire, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja preached around the world without discrimination, accepting all souls eager for spiritual life. This is his glory.”
Śrīla Gurudeva continued: “You do not realize that the faults you perceive in Srila Swami Maharaja are truly his glories. He has inspired tens of thousands around the globe to follow the true religion of the soul. It is like he has opened an international school where anyone can enter and receive a chance to perfect his life by following a brahminical life of service and connection to Parabrahma. In a school, all students do not receive perfect marks. Some students get low marks and some students fail. Some students advance and continue their studies until they receive PhDs, while some never advance past primary classes. A PhD student can understand the leisure of the PhD professor, but a kindergärtner cannot. Similarly, many jīvas come to guru, but because they cannot realize or follow his teachings, they again return to māyā. Still, Śrī Guru arranges for their ultimate salvation. He does not forsake them.
“They said to me: ‘Pure sādhus are like touchstones. Whoever they touch becomes transformed. If Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja was a genuine guru, how could his disciples fall down?’
“I replied: ‘Many people come to Śrī Guru and pray for mundane things. When they don’t have their desires fulfilled, they leave. If anyone asks for poison, a sādhu is not so cruel as to give it. Sādhus are affectionate to the fallen; they consider the spiritual benefit of all souls. After Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s disappearance, many of his sannyāsīs climbed atop the mountain of pride, where they sat on gold thrones and accepted worship and godly opulence from their disciples. Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja observed this and thought, “I will humble them. I will take them away from this sinful enjoyment in the name of being guru and bring them back to the path of bhajana.” In the vision of the world, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja removed his sannyāsīs exalted posts and made them fallen and destitute. By humbling them, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja cleared the path for his disciples’ spiritual progress. Now, rather than offending senior Vaiṣṇavas, they take their shelter and hear hari-kathā from them.
“Śrī Gaurahari says:
dīnere adhika dayā kare bhagavān
kulīna, paṇḍita, dhanīra baḍa abhimāna
Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 4.68
‘This verse states that the Supreme Lord’s mercy favors the fallen over the proud aristocrats, scholars, and wealthy men.’
“Kunti-devi, the mother of the Pāṇḍavas, stated in her prayers to
janmaiśvarya-śruta-śrībhir edhamāna-madaḥ pumān
naivārhaty abhidhātuṁ vai tvām akiñcana-gocaram
‘High birth, opulence, knowledge, and material assets fill a person with pride and make one become insincere. You are easily attainable by those who are materially exhausted.’
“Those who have taken birth in high-class family lineages yet do not follow any rules and regulations cannot bring welfare to themselves or others. Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja gave the propensity and desire to practice bhakti to general people. The inspiration and potency he imbibed in these people is unprecedented. Although they do not have spiritual realization, they follow the limbs of devotion such as Deity worship with faith and steadiness. A genuine guru infuses his own potency within his disciples and in this way he cares for, nourishes them, and leads them along the path of spiritual elevation. Bhagavān is all forgiving. At the time one takes shelter of a bona fide guru, his sin and impurities are driven far away. Yet those are who proud of their high-class birth cannot and will not take shelter of guru and therefore the Lord also does not help them. They will constantly feel hatred towards others and thus will always remain unhappy.
“I told the smārtas, ‘You cannot understand the greatness of Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Mahārāja. He cares for all his disciples and helps them according to their position. Sad-guru will appear in a hundred forms until he delivers his disciples from saṁsāra. When he gives dīkṣā, he offers his disciples to Kṛṣṇa and, from that time, always thinks about their well-being. Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja is no ordinary soul. The work he has done is only possible for someone empowered by Bhagavān’s śakti. Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s paramparā and the society he began will flourish. ISKCON’s preaching will increase more and more and it will hold an exalted and prestigious place in the world.
“‘Even after so many thousands of years, the message and glories of Kṛṣṇa, Rāma, Mahāprabhu and the Gosvāmīs has not faded or been lost. In the same way, Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja and his legacy will not pass away. If anyone remembers, respects, or takes shelter of Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja’s lotus feet, he will attain the supreme destination; whereas the life-span, fame, strength, and opulence of those who lack faith in him, or are opposed to him, will diminish day-by-day until they are lost. No amount of mundane knowledge can save such a person. Sādhus want to give mercy to everyone, but to attain that mercy, we must have a prayerful mood and the desire to accept .
“‘Bhagavān gives living beings the ability to act through the elements of nature. Some beings take the qualities and energy of nature and use them for misdeeds, becoming more and more demonic; and some use it for good and achieve higher destinations. Neither Bhagavān nor the sādhu is at fault for not interfering with the jīvas’ free will; for without free will, the living beings would not be different from inert matter. The distinction between ordinary people and sādhus is that sādhus are fully surrendered to Bhagavān and a according to His will, while people in general follow their own independent whims. There is no greater sin than interfering with the God-given independence of the living entities; hence, sādhus affectionately encourage the jīvas and show them the path of their eternal welfare. Indeed, Bhagavān’s heart is conquered by the sādhus’ devotion, sacrifice, and unparalleled compassion.’ ”
Śrīla Gurudeva continued: “When I finished speaking the smārtas spoke amongst themselves for a while and then said, ‘It is late now. We can discuss more later. We have appreciated your point of view. Lastly, we have one more question. If whatever you say is correct, why do we have no desire to accept ?’
“I answered, ‘Unless a person has faith, he cannot understand or accept the words of sādhus. They will not accept because they do not have enough sukṛti. You adhere to pañcopāsana and impersonalism and are fixed in your beliefs. It is difficult for you to accept the truth because you are far removed from reality.’
“The smārtas replied, ‘We will consider your views and discuss what we have heard today. We hope to meet with you at a future date.’
Śrīla Gurudeva continued to relate his experiences to the audience in Mathura and on another occasion someone asked, ‘Why do you wear tilaka and Tulasī neckbeads? What is the significance of the tilaka in your sampradāya?’ I replied, ‘the body is comprised of the five material elements, and is very difficult to control one’s senses and halt the flow of material desires. We adorn our bodies in twelve places with tilaka marks as a sign that we offer ourselves, body and soul, to God. Our body is then a temple of God and He then protects us from the attack of sinful tendencies. The tilaka in our Gauḍīya-sampradāya is composed of the dust from the gopīs’ lotus feet. Kṛṣṇa is extremely pleased with one who wears this gopī-candana tilaka.
“In all Vaiṣṇava-sampradāyas, Brahmā, Śiva, and Viṣṇu reside in the tilaka, in the left, right, and middle, respectively. Even the demigods bow before those whose foreheads have tilaka. Ramānujācāa instructed all his followers to offer obeisance to whoever they see wearing tilaka, even an animal. And he went further and said that one should bathe after seeing a person who does not wear tilaka, for it is contaminating, just like seeing a dead body. Any living being, even a plant or animal, which is adorned with tilaka, gains eligibility to enter Vaikuṇṭha. When a person unfailingly wears tilaka, his intelligence is refined, and he is cleansed of false attainments and illusion. The specialty of the tilaka worn by the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas is that the two lines are symbolic of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa walking on a path to meet in a kuñja in Vṛndāvana, which is the Tulasī leaf of Vṛndā-devī.”
Śrīla Gurudeva then revealed the importance of the Tulasi neckbeads worn by Gauḍīyas.
He said, “Śrī Guru gives three strands of Tulasī beads closely around the neck, representing that he is offering the sādhaka to sandhinī Baladeva Prabhu, saṁvit Kṛṣṇa, and hlādini Srimati Radharani, Srimati Tulasi devi herself, Vrndadevi the proprietress of Vṛndāvana. One who takes her shelter will be transported beyond Vaikuṇṭha and go directly to Vṛndāvana-dhāma. Bhagavān does not accept anything not offered along with Tulasi devi. For that reason, a person cannot reach the Lord without submitting himself first to Tulasi. By bathing in the holy places the body is purified but again becomes contaminated.
“In śāstra there is one śloka:
prātaḥ snāte narakaṁ yāti parastrī kaṇṭha
śṛṅgala gaṇa snanate vaikuṇṭha jate
‘Those who bathe in the morning go to hell. But those who bathe while embracing another’s wife around their neck go to Vaikuṇṭha.’
“Tulasī-devī is the consort of Bhagavān. For the welfare of the living entities, Bhagavān sends Tulasī-devī to the material world as a plant. She is like a mother for the sādhakas. Her leaves and wood are completely pure. When Tulasī beads are worn around the neck, the body remains pure and fit to serve the Lord. Indeed, by the constant association of Tulasī-devī when she is around the neck, her love for Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and her service tendency will enter the heart of the sādhaka. Hence, one should never take off his Tulasī beads.
“In certain sampradāyas the Vaiṣṇavas only wear Tulasī beads at the time of worshiping the Deity. They remove their neckbeads when using the bathroom, sleeping, and so forth, so as not to make any possible offense by being in an impure state when in touch with Tulasī.
The Gauḍīya Acarya’s teach us to offer our entire body to the Lord with purifying Tulasī. If any part of our body is unoffered to God, or we are separated from Tulasī at any time, then it will lead us to degradation.
When wearing Tulasī around the neck, anything we speak goes past Tulasī and is purified, and anything we eat likewise passes by Tulasī. This serves as a constant reminder that we should only speak or consume what is pure and fit for Bhagavān, for our body has been sanctified as a temple of God. Just as sinning in the Lord’s temple is not only sinful but offense, doing any misdeed while in contact with Tulasī and wearing tilaka is a sevā-aparādha. Vaiṣṇavas always maintain Vaiṣṇava decorum and dress as a continual prompt to refrain from sinning and to engage all one’s energy in Kṛṣṇa’s service. While grasping Tulasī beads, we utter the syllables of harināma, which pass by our Tulasī neckbeads. This is symbolic of catching hold of the feet of Tulasī and praying for her mercy. Vṛndā-devī hears our prayers and propitiates Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa on our behalf. Kṛṣṇa told Śrīmatī Rādhikā, ‘If anyone surrenders to You in Your manifestation as Tulasī-devī, quickly bring that person to Vṛndāvana and make them eligible to serve Us.’ ”
Srila Gurudeva ki Jaya! (excerpted from “Sri Guru Darshan”, available from: firstname.lastname@example.org )