(The following is a letter written by a disciple to her guru in ISCON regarding Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and the inspiration and clarity that she has found in the śikṣā of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. We find this to be a worthwhile read for all seekers of Kṛṣṇa consciousness as this sincere appeal from a disciple to her guru has both moved and inspired us. Names have been redacted to protect the innocent and the guilty.)
Dear Guru Mahārāja,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda, and all the Vaiṣṇava devotees of the lord. All glories to your service, Gurudeva.
I would like to express my deep appreciation for the service opportunity you so kindly gave me, and for your valuable time sharing on such a personal level, your wonderful discourses and illuminating kīrtanas. I am always in your debt.
I would like to humbly request a clarification on what you said to me. It was hard to understand exactly what you were saying just before you left due to the kīrtana in the background and the pressure of you leaving in the midst of so many devotees who wanted a last glance from you. I think I understood the gist, which was that you do not have a problem with me taking śikṣā of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, but that due to some opposition, you would rather not have me distribute (Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s) books anymore?
I am now making an attempt to open my heart to you in which the goal is to bring about clarity on the issue and on trying to understand where my place is in this matter. Please forgive me if I am overstepping any boundaries, but I am trying my best to make sense of it all. A wise man told me once that discussing philosophical points makes us strong.
I am sincerely sad about what happened. I understand that XXX Prabhu’s character could sometimes be perceived as somewhat confronting and perhaps a bit brash in presentation, but nonetheless that is just an external mood and it is more about what is in the heart that counts. I am sorry if you were put in an awkward position, and I am sorry to hear that someone had an issue with me giving them a book in the past. I sincerely do not want to be a disturbance for you, nor for anyone else. My goal is to connect deeper to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mood and mission, and become an instrument of my Guardians. I feel in my heart that I have been mostly very careful about the way I have presented Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in the past, and from my perception I received positive reciprocation from devotees. Even after the evening at the house one couple came the next day and thanked us for the wonderful program, and a godbrother asked if he could make a painting of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and Śrīla Prabhupāda for our altar. A number of persons within our God family also enjoyed the evening and did not express any negativity regarding the program. I do talk about Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and I do quote him, how can I not? He is fully present in my heart, just like our Śrīla Prabhupāda, and I feel it is natural to give credit where credit is due. In the past no one has expressed any concerns. In fact, many are inspired and enlivened by reading the (his) books and are not leaving ISKCON, but instead feel more encouraged. Our culture is so rich, how can we not appreciate what the teachers in our line have given to us?
The opposition that seems to have arisen has interestingly come from XXXX. Only after bringing up the subject of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja myself, did I come to know that they had decided to discourage people from coming to our āśrama. I felt disappointed by the fact that they did not approach me directly to have some discussion about their apprehension towards Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja before making a decision on the matter. I thought our relationship was such that we could at least have an open and honest resolve. XXX Prabhu attempted to invite them for a discussion, however it did not manifest. I feel sad of this outcome since they have always meant a great deal to me due to their bringing me into Kṛṣṇa Consciousness, for which I am always grateful and indebted. This conception seems to have influenced the attitude of some of the āśrama devotees in a negative way. It is my understanding that some of them feel they can’t disagree because of fear. Thus, I feel clarity within ISKCON is needed as this mood appears to be latently pervasive within our society. I thought our process is to approach the saintly persons, not to turn away from them. It seems that having no philosophical background can possibly lead to fanaticism? How to become philosophically sound?
Over the last few years I have listened to many young devotees expressing their personal struggles concerning the apparently controlling atmosphere existing within our society. One of the complaints seems to be that overprotection is a way of dealing that does not work nor is liked. The youngsters nowadays seem to be more individual thinkers; they feel information has been kept from them or misconstrued, which brings confusion and distrust. The desire seems to be for a free flow of honest dealings and information within the society. There are so many misconceptions and no unified public clarity. Could this be something that needs to be attended? Misrepresentation can lead to confusion and then a possibility for Vaiṣṇava aparādha. Is there a fear that devotees might know the whole truth about the history of ISKCON? Could we be bold enough to look at our mistakes, learn from them and move on?
There was a law implemented that ISKCON devotees should strictly avoid hearing or speaking any criticism of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, but to my knowledge there has been no public encouragement to do so, nor has there been any clear understanding of his position presented by prominent leaders within the society.
What is the fear? We understand that certain people have used Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja to extract devotees out of ISKCON or speak against ISKCON, and therefore there is a defensive mechanism. If there would be understanding of who he was and his intimate relationship with our Śrīla Prabhupāda, and how Śrīla Prabhupāda directed us to him as an advisor for our society. Could it be that we could stop this attitude of Vaiṣṇava aparādha and bring about a wholesome understanding of the history? If there is a right understanding, why would people want to leave ISKCON if they would be able to see him as an advisor, a well wisher and intimate friend of Śrīla Prabhupāda? Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted us to take Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s śikṣā on the topics of vaisnava etiquette and siddhānta. Could he be recognised as a great benefactor?
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda said about Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s writing of a ten stanza poem describing the ontological position of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, and the line stemming from Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu:
“Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura has written this through him. Now I am satisfied that after me that what I came to say, that will stay, that will remain, I find it in these slokas the siddhānta“.
Also he mentioned:
“If you include articles of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, the qualities of your publications will be greatly improved”.
To be recognised by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, should we not thus put importance on Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s valuable works?
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Prabhupāda conveyed to our Śrīla Prabhupāda of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja:
“In the future he would save the bhakti process”.
This comes from a tape recording recently found in the archives from 1973 in Navadvīpa that had not been translated from Bengali. On the tape Śrīla Prabhupāda is relating this statement to Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja. If Śrīla Prabhupāda did not trust him, why would he tell him that?
My question is: If most of our leaders read Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s books, and are in favor or in agreement with his teachings and even quote him regularly (yet not mentioning his name), then why is it such an undiscussed issue, and why is there no public support for him by our leaders?
Does faith in Prabhupāda get diminished by presentation of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja? By reading Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s books, do people become more or less strong? Does devotion diminish or increase?
When Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja came into my life it was like a celebration, just like when I found Śrīla Prabhupāda. I feel it has enriched my life in so many ways. My faith and dedication for Prabhupāda has not diminished, it has only increased and I like to think that my conceptions have become more clear as a result. After finding out more about their transcendental relationship I felt deeply encouraged. I was reading passages about how they lived together for many years (over five years), and discussed Bhagavad-gītā for five to seven hours daily. Śrīla Prabhupāda considered Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja his śikṣā-guru, and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja in turn recognised Śrīla Prabhupāda as the ācārya. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was proud of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and defended him on various occasions of discord with their godbrothers.
Śrīla Prabhupāda stated:
“By age and experience, he is senior to me”
“I was fortunate to have his association since a very long time, perhaps 1930”
“We had intimate talks and he was my good advisor”
“From the very beginning I knew. He was a pure Vaiṣṇava, a pure devotee, and I wanted to associate with him and I tried to help him also. Our relationship is very intimate”
“Kṛṣṇa and Prabhupāda (Bhaktisiddhānta) liked him to prepare me”
“Please look after them. I am taking them this side. You have got some responsibility to look after them.”
“Our relationship is very intimate. After the breakdown of the Gaudiya Maṭha, I wanted to organize another organization, making Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja the head.”
– And this is just a few of many quotes.
Śrīla Prabhupāda did not consider Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja a threat, he pointed us to him and tried to establish him in our movement on several occasions. When difficulties came after Śrīla Prabhupāda left his body, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja attempted to give relief. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja served Śrīla Prabhupāda and ISKCON selflessly, and continued to encourage against all obstacles. He humbly served even after great disturbance, misunderstandings and Vaiṣṇava aparādha’s committed against him. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja did also chastise, as a senior most advisor, that is logical? He never misrepresented the philosophy and in his words there is no deviation found. He was astute and perfectly situated in the finer aspects of Gaudiya Vaiṣṇava siddhānta, a well-wisher to all, an associate of Śrīla Prabhupāda, a pure Vaiṣṇava, and a great preacher coming down to us from the inner circle of the spiritual realm to guide us and spread the message of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He was never a threat, and to me he is the personification of sweetness. He would often say “On the spiritual plane there is no calculation, only dedication…only help, help, help”.
From my perception I feel opposition is always present, but that despite it a positive dedication could be brought out within both parties. It could further help us to seek out the deeper truth within ourselves and dive deeper into the reality of our own individual experience. Trying to suppress seems so unreasonable as it could potentially stop the natural flow of our inner heart.
Please guide me Mahārāja. I am just a fallen soul trying to make sense of it all. Please forgive me if I have offended anyone, if I did please tell me so I can adjust myself.
It would be unnatural for me not to distribute Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja from my house, since our āśrama is a celebration of both Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja who were working in harmony. It is only by their blessings that this āśrama exists, and I am trying to become a servant. I continuously pray that we can find harmony and become a strong society, wherein we can celebrate the lives of great personalities and follow in their footsteps. To those great personalities that connect us to divinity.
XXX Devī Dāsī