Archive for the 'Vaiṣṇavas' Category

Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #37 – The Passing Away of His Holiness Gunagrahi Goswami

September 10th, 2018

Many of you reading this have been inspired and blessed with the association of Raghunath and Kaustubha. If you have, then you have some debt to the person being honored here. That will become apparent as you read on.


In a sense, Mahārāja was one of the last of the real old time saṅkīrtana generals, those who set lofty goals in the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda and moved heaven and earth to achieve them. Thirteen years ago, Mahārāja invited me to Argentina to preach. I gave classes twice a day in the ISKCON temple, a very humble place that had been their residence for over twenty years. Mahārāja had only been there a short while, but within a few years marshaled, pushed, and led the forces of the yātrā[1] to acquire and renovate two attached petit hotels in the center of Buenos Aires in order to create arguably one of the most successful temples in South America. Shortly thereafter a struggling yātrā was flourishing.


When Raghunath became inspired to join the Hare Krishna movement, which in those days meant living in an ashram, he moved to the ISKCON Gītā-nagarī farm in Pennsylvania. Gunagrahi Mahārāja happened to be visiting there at the time. Mahārāja thought, “Why should one with so much potential to communicate Krishna consciousness be stuck on the farm?” So he brought Raghunath to Washington, DC where Mahārāja’s Krishnafest program daily performed dynamic kīrtana on the mall in front of the Smithsonian. A few months later I got a call from him:


“Mahārāja, I had Raghunath start a straight edge band again to spread Krishna consciousness through his music. It’s called Shelter. We soon will tour all over the USA. I can’t do this alone. Please come with me.”


Soon we were traveling all over the USA with Shelter as the headliner band and three other minor straight edge bands arranged by Raghunath, including Inside Out, which was led by the then unknown Zack de la Rocha, who would later become the leader of the seminal band Rage Against the Machine. From Shelter literally hundreds and hundreds of young people started to fill the pretty much barren ISKCON temples in North America. Shortly after that Shelter expanded the scope of its program to bring the disaffected youth throughout the world to the path of bhakti. Through Raghunath’s effort, which was the brainchild and inspiration of Gunagrahi Mahārāja, the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which suffered so much after his passing, was revitalized in America and much of the world. It’s a service that is not acknowledged nearly to the degree that it should be.


There are “preachers” and then there are preachers, those whose very life breath is dedicated to giving people the jewel of devotion. Mahārāja left no stone unturned to personally, and without judgment, reach out to anyone he thought he could inspire to serve the mission of his guru. It’s a rare quality. Dotting the globe, especially in the Americas, are countless devotees who came to the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda only by the compassion, insight, and personal effort of Gunagrahi Mahārāja to make them Krishna conscious. One of those numerous jewels is Kaustubha Prabhu, the senior educator at the Bhakti Center. Mahārāja visited him in his apartment on Havemeyer Street in South Williamsburg, arguably the most decrepit and dangerous neighborhoods in New York City at the time, where he inspired Dave (now Kaustubha) to travel with him and to soon commit himself to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission. Two days before Gunagrahi Mahārāja left this world in Vṛndāvana surrounded by the devotees chanting the holy name, including his loving god brothers, I got a call from Kaustubha asking me if I could find a way to send a letter to Gunagrahi Mahārāja expressing his gratitude. I immediately dictated his letter through WhatsApp to a friend helping to care for Mahārāja who played it for him. The following day I got a message from Gunagrahi Mahārāja. With all the strength he could muster, in the most heartfelt voice, a short message for Kaustubha came:


“Love and gratitude to you in my heart… love in my heart… so much love in my heart… so much.”


Bhurijan Prabhu, who taped the message, described that as Gunagrahi Mahārāja was losing strength and practically incapable of uttering a single word more, Mahārāja uttered almost inaudibly, “So much, so much gratitude,” while placing his hand on his heart indicating his love. Each word had almost a raspy whistling quality that seemed to slightly crescendo and get higher at the end of each phrase as the air needed to produce the words continued just a short while after finishing the phrase he wanted to produce.


True gratitude is the budding of our real self. In my mind, the depth and humility in which Mahārāja spoke was coming straight from his eternal identity with Krishna. It was the humble and loving voice of a resident of Vṛndāvana. When I heard the tape I somewhat broke up. I remembered the deep humility, gratitude, and affection Mahārāja had for Śrīla Prabhupāda, those who followed his footpath, and for almost anyone with a spark of devotion. Mostly I reflected on his affection for me.


Mahārāja’s passing was perhaps the most glorious departure of a devotee in ISKCON since the passing of Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Gaura Govinda Mahārāja. It made me reflect on the qualities he demonstrated that attracted such extraordinary mercy:


Gunagrahi Mahārāja was exceptionally humble. Although he was quite senior to me, he always treated me as his superior, although out of humility he also never hesitated to correct me if anything I did wasn’t a reflection in his mind of the highest ideals of presenting Krishna consciousness to others. For example, my sometimes raggedy Vṛndāvana dress rightly disturbed him and he would tell me. Like everyone, he also made mistakes, but there was nothing in the very depth of his heart but the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and he bowed down to the feet of anyone with even a spark of desire to assist in that mission. Gunagrahi Mahārāja was endlessly attracted to the holy name and deeply loved his godbrothers, friends, and disciples. It seemed at times more than anything else he was the friend of the poor. He just had this special type of affection for the downtrodden and motley,[2] those who seemed to be surviving in Krishna consciousness only by his compassion and inspiration.


Sometime before he left I also received a message from him. It began with the heartfelt and somewhat unusual phrase, “Luv you, honey”. He spoke of what I meant to him. He said that Śrīla Prabhupāda was the center and acknowledged that I may not be able to come immediately because of my service, although obviously he wanted that. I had some previous commitments to two festivals that I had organized where people had already even booked tickets to fly in and participate. I had moved up my ticket to fly to India when those commitments were to be finished, but as soon as I got the message that he was now beginning to leave, I booked my flight to leave the next morning to India from Colombia to be with him. Unfortunately, he left just a few hours after I booked my ticket. I pray he will forgive me for not being there at his side.


I bow my head to the lotus feet of the illustrious Vaiṣṇavas such as Bhurijan Prabhu, Rtadhvaja Swami, Govinda Mahārāja, and Radhanath Swami, who dropped everything to be at his side. Thank you!


All Glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda and the pure devotees he brought on the path of devotion and then took from this world to directly serve him. All Glories to Śrīla Gunagrahi Goswami!



[1] Spiritual community

[2] An astrologer once told him that throughout his life he would be surrounded by low class people. He understood this to be the many people he extended himself to who otherwise, it seemed, could never make the standards required for spiritual life. He loved them and called them his “homeboys”.

Monday Morning Greetings #47 – In Memory of Dr. Fakir Mohan

November 21st, 2016

We are saddened by the passing of our friend and well-wisher, Dr Fakir Mohan Prabhu, the Vaiṣṇava saint and scholar.
I met Prabhu about 15 or 20 years ago. I was staying at ISKCON Govardhana and was told that an elderly and somewhat renowned Vaiṣṇava from Orissa had arrived. I went to greet him to pay respects. But as I introduced myself he moved a few steps to the left and when I again went to face him he moved again to his right. I was puzzled until someone whispered that he would not step on a Vaiṣṇava’s shadow so as the sun was to my back he had to move every time I would directly face him.
The next morning, we asked him to give class, but before he sat on the seat he bowed to every sannyāsi affectionately clasping their hands and in a heartfelt voice murmuring, “Bless me I know nothing.”
So, he stayed with us for a short time at Govardhana and in this way, we developed an affectionate relationship. It is impressive to meet someone genuinely humble, but what is more impressive is when such a person has every reason to be proud. He not only was a lifelong celibate, but also the chairman of the Department of Sanskrit at Utkal University, and arguably one the top scholars on the history of Vaiṣṇavism, having completed his PhD on the subject. Most important he was a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa. His initiated name itself is the emblem of humility as “Fakir” is not even a Sanskrit name, but the Urdū or Muslim name for “beggar”. He personally told me its origins:
Before he was born his mother had several children, but they all died shortly after birth. When he was born, fearing that God would again take their child, his parents gave him the name “Fakir” or “beggar” so God wouldn’t take such a forlorn person.
He also told me how he joined the Gauḍīya Maṭh. He was naturally interested in bhakti from a very young age and left home at the age of fourteen to join the Gauḍīya Maṭh in Purī, where his family lived. His father came to take him, but he threatened his father, “If you let me join I will stay here in the maṭh near home, otherwise I will run away and join a maṭh in a far distance place and you may never see me again.” His father agreed. I found that interesting how an otherwise relatively meek person who is saintly can also be bold for the sake of their convictions. Shortly afterwards his guru surprisingly mostly kept his name by just naming him Fakir Mohan dāsa.
After I met him I would see him in Vṛndāvana often as he started coming there every Kārtika. He was the caretaker or sevaite of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Mādhava, the ancestral deities of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, the deities Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura glorifies in his famous bhajana, “Jaya Rādhā-Mādhava Kuñjabihari”. He would leave Them on the altar of the Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandir where they could have pleasure of seeing the international devotees, which was one of the visions of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda in Mayapur, that people from all over the world will soon join together chanting “Jaya Sacidānanda, Gaurahari!”
I was living at the time in a place called Satsvarūpa’s House, a strange moniker as Satsvarūpa Mahārāja had only lived there once. It was in the colony behind Bon Mahārāja’s college and Dr. Fakir Mohan was my neighbor during Kārtika. One evening I ran into him walking in the street outside my house. He asked me if I knew where Bhakti Caitanya’s House was (another strange moniker) as Pārtha Sārathī Mahārāja was staying there and he wanted to offer his respects. I told him that I did know where he lived, and he enthusiastically waved for me to show him.
We often take our god-brothers and the devotees for granted, but here was a very advanced devotee who earnestly sought them all out to offer his respects – a good example for us all.
We arrived at Bhakti Caitanya’s House and Pārtha Sārathī Mahārāja asked Dr. Fakir Mohan to chant Maṅgala-gītā, a beautiful Oriyan song describing the separation of the gopīs when Akrūra was taking Kṛṣṇa to Mathurā. His singing was extraordinary, so powerful and devotional, as powerful in force and devotion as anyone I have ever heard. We very much enjoyed his sharing of his heartfelt devotion. Pārtha Sārathī Mahārāja then apologetically informed Dr. Fakir Mohan that his mother, aunt, brother, and sister were visiting next door in the MVT, and as he had basically neglected them for so many years since joining the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement it was important that he be punctual in his visit with them during their stay. Immediately Dr. Fakir Mohan said with bubbling enthusiasm, “Then I will also go! I will also go!”
When we entered the apartment where Mahārāja’s family was staying his dignified British mother from Oxford came out to greet us. To my remembrance she was a reserved lady with curly grey hair and a simple one-piece cotton dress from her neck to the ankles. To our amazement Dr. Fakir Mohan immediately paid his daṇḍavat praṇāmas, his prostrated obeisances. Pārtha Sārathī was shocked. As Dr. Fakir Mohan arose he apologetically told his mother, “This is Dr. Fakir Mohan, a great Vaiṣṇava saint and scholar. He is the Chairman of the Department of Sankirt at Utkal University, a Sangeet ācārya, and a lifelong celibate saint.”
I will never forget Dr. Fakir Mohan’s simple reply: “This is our culture.” He then paused and with conviction added, “No, we feel it!” He went on to quote verse after verse citing how if a person becomes a pure devotee then “generation after generation, 14 generations are liberated,” justifying why the mother of Partha Sārathī Mahārāja was worthy of his worship.
When Dr. Fakir Mohan joined the maṭh his only joy was to serve the senior Vaiṣṇavas. He told me that he prayed to spend his life that way, but his guru, seeing how intelligent he was, sent him back to school. And despite returning after each graduation wanting to stay in the āśrama for service, his guru sent him back again and again until he received his PhD in Sanskrit. He taught for many years, but his heart was mostly into the service of guru and the Vaiṣṇavas.
A few years ago, I got a surprise call from him when I was in Purī that he wanted to attend my Purī retreat. He would then come almost every year and sit humbly for all of the classes. Finally he agreed to our demand and would give one or two classes himself during the retreat. Two stuck in my mind.
One year the Sanskrit students from Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu’s class were attending our yātrā. I told Dr. Fakir Mohan that they had come and that as he was a Sanskrit teacher he might be interested in encouraging them. He started our morning Bhāgavatam class that year looking in their direction and posing the question, “Who is śāstra-jña (the knower of the śāstra)?” He then looked at them and with a sweeping forward gesture of his hand bellowed loudly with pronounced enunciation, “One who practices!”
Another year I asked him to please speak on the holy name. I had heard that one year in Bhubaneswar he was asked to lecture every day on Bhaktivinoda’s songs and he started with one bhajana that describes, “This temporary material world is full of suffering, chant the holy name as your only business,” and he lectured on that verse and the holy name for three years continuously. But that day instead of lecturing on the holy name he lectured on Jagannātha prasādam telling the devotees to eat more and more Jagannātha prasādam for their spiritual advancement and his glorification had no end. I had wished he would have spoken on the holy name, but I couldn’t help but appreciate his absolute faith in Jagannātha and His prasādam.
I think I could go on and on re-telling the times I was fortunate to be in his association and the lessons he imparted and the example he set, but I do like to keep these Monday Morning Greetings digestible for those of you rushing off to work, and many people have commented that they appreciate that. I will finish with my last encounter.
He came again this year to year to Govardhana for Govardhana a Pūjā as he always does during Kārtika and as usual he greeted me very affectionately and respectfully, more than I deserve. He had been an incredibly vibrant person for a person of his age, but this year I could see that his health had gone down. He had previously told me that he had six heart attacks over the last few years and in every case when he had gone unconscious he was still murmuring Hare Kṛṣṇa, as the doctors later related to him. Anyway, old age, somewhere around ninety, had gotten to him and he told me that for the first time he wasn’t giving classes. When it was time to bathe the Hill, and in Govardhana there is a large mound dirt right opposite our āśrama that takes us right up to the Hill, I had the honor of gently and affectionately taking his hand and helping him wade through the crowds so that he could bathe Girirāja first with the other senior devotees. He would have never pushed he way forward himself. I watched as with great devotion he massaged Girirāja with oil and then receded back in the crowd to listen to the kīrtana and look lovingly at his Lord.
This evening I received the following text from Mādhavānanda Prabhu:
“At about 6:46 PM tonight, the world became a darker place. Pūjyapāda Fakir Mohan Mahārāja left this world, surrounded by devotees chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and crying. He had a prasāda tulasī leaf on his mouth, the Govardhana-śilā given to him by his gurudeva was on his forehead, on his chest was a prasāda chaddar from the ancient deity of Ṭoṭā-Gopīnātha, there was a full plate of śālagrāmaśilās by his head. Also on his chest was a silk rope that had been used to tie Lord Jagannātha to His Ratha-yātrā cart in Purī. There was also a Jagannātha prasāda Gīta-govinda khandua on his chest, the cloth with verses written on it from Jayadeva Gosvāmī’s Gīta-govinda. He was our great friend, teacher, and well-wisher. Today there is great pain in our hearts.”