Thursday, November 8, 2012

Srila Sridhar Maharaj (biography, links, blog archive)

(On Srila Sridhar Maharaj's appearance day 2012)
By Sevananda das

Today is the appearance day of one of the great Vaishnavas of recent time, the sannyasa guru of our guru Srila B.A. Paramadvaiti Maharaj, and a big favourite in Nimaihuset: Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj. 

Srila Prabhupada himself maintained the highest respect and confidence in Srila Sridhar Maharaj (at one time he wanted him for president of ISKCON but Srila Sridhar Maharaj declined), and there is a famous quote by Srila Prabhupada to one of his disciples, recommending him to take direction from Srila Sridhar Maharaj after his departure from this world: I consider Srila Sridhar Maharaj to be my siksa guru, so what to speak of the benefit that you can have by his association. He sang the glories of Srila Sridhar Maharaj by saying Jaya Om Vishnupad Paramahamsa Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Maharaj ki jay! – a glorification that is only ever offered to one's guru.


His Divine Grace Sri Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj, the founder of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math,* was born in India in 1895, in a respected Brahmana family of the Bhattacarya order, at Hapaniya in West Bengal, the very lands where Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu exhibited His divine pastimes on earth.

The pastimes of his youth were spent in learning, and he naturally excelled in every subject that he took up. From his childhood, his tendency was towards the culture of faith in God and the study of the Vedas, like the Upanisads, and other scriptures. He received the sacred thread according to his family tradition when fourteen years old, and his affinity for the divine world kept on increasing. In his early years he was especially attracted to Lord Rama, but later, when he came in contact with the doctrine of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he began to read Bhagavad-Gita and developed an attraction for Lord Krishna.

After completing his primary and secondary education, Srila Sridhar Maharaj entered Krishnanath College in Berhampore, Bengal. After four years of study, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy.  This period is also where his initial conversion to Chaitanya Vaishnavism took place, described as a big turn in his life. In his own words:

When I was a student of the fourth year in Krishnanatha college, I came into the connection of a younger boy. One day when we two were going on a morning walk, he referred to his father with the expression “that gentleman”.  I took exception to that.

“Why do you use this expression for your father?”

“He is a gentleman, and in this life I came to him and he has protected me for some time, and in the next life I shall go to some other place; in this way we are moving hither and thither, coming to some gentleman and from there to another gentleman…

That point hit me very hard. “Yes, it is true. We are in the midst of father, mother, brother, or, as he said, ‘that gentleman’. What real connection have I with them, or they with me? We are all almost like strangers!” Thinking and thinking on this point the whole world became as vacant. I felt a furious atmosphere, with no shelter to take anywhere. A chaotic position, and no position of stability. “Wherefrom am I coming, where to go, how long am I to stay here — this is a point in the infinite. I am an uncertain point in the whole of the infinite.” A great shock came to me in this way.

And that was the great turn in my life. The worldly achievement has no value.

At that time, my friend gave me some literature on Mahaprabhu’s life and teachings, and I devoured it like nectar. I found some position there — it is not that I am nowhere. Here is the support — the basis, the foundation; I found here the sustenance, hope and shelter I needed.

For some time Srila Sridhar Maharaj was searching for a sadhu from whom he could take initiation, but could not find anyone to his liking, until he met his eternal guide and preceptor Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura (1874-1937), the founder of the Sri Gaudiya Math. In 1926, Srila Sridhar Maharaj joined the Sri Gaudiya Math and became his initiated disciple. In 1930 he accepted the holy order of sannyasa. His Spiritual Master Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura saw in Srila Sridhar Maharaj a faithful, reliable and unrelenting preacher of the pure precepts of Gaudiya Vaishnavism with the ability to perfectly protect it from misrepresentation and misconception, and gave him the name Bhakti Raksak, which means Guardian of Devotion”. He also gave him the Tridandi-Sannyasa title of Sridhar, echoing the great Vaishnava preceptor Srila Jiva Goswami, who in his Sanskrit writings referred to Sri Sridhar Swami, the renowned commentator of Srimad Bhagavatam, as bhakti eka raksaka (Supreme Guardian of Devotion). Thus, he became Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Maharaj. 

As a prominent preacher in the Sri Gaudiya Math mission, he travelled extensively throughout India and preached fluently in Bengali, Hindi, Sanskrit, and English, spreading the teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu on many levels in universities, public seminars, and sankirtan festivals.

Srila Sridhar Maharaj was recognized for his vast understanding and realization of the scriptures, and thus his guru also awarded him the title sastra-nipuna, meaning one who is very expert or intelligent in understanding the meaning of sastras (scriptures).

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura also expressed high appreciation of Srila Sridhar Maharaj's Sanskrit composition Sri Bhaktivinoda Viraha Dasakam, glorifying Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and considered it an omen of assurance that the grand ideals and dignity of the Sri Gaudiya Sampradaya would be perfectly upheld and preached by such a learned and sensitive devotee as Srila Sridhar Maharaj. After reading it he remarked, “Now I am satisfied that after I leave, there will be at least one man who can represent my conclusions.” As a testimony to this fact, just prior to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s departure from this mortal world, he had Srila Sridhar Maharaj sing, in his presence, the holy and by the whole Gaudiya Vaishnava community most venerated prayer Sri Rupa Manjari Pada.

Not only was Srila Sridhar Maharaj recognized by his guru for his advancement in Krishna consciousness, but he was also recognized by many of his affectionate godbrothers for his seniority. Many of them, such as A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Maharaj, Bhakti Promoda Puri Goswami Maharaj and others, considered him to be their siksa guru.

After the passing of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura in 1936, Srila Sridhar Maharaj's godbrothers, associates and the public naturally revered him as the senior-most representative of the Sri Gaudiya Sampradaya, although Srila Sridhar Maharaj himself was more inclined to anonymity as a humble Vaishnava. Nonetheless, by the call of divine duty and divine inspiration, he established his own temple, Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, on the banks of the sacred Ganges in Navadvip Dham, the holy land of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Having deeply assimilated the teachings of Sri Chaitanya, Srila Sridhar Maharaj began composing original texts. His first work, Sri Sri Prapanna-jivanamrita (Life-nectar of the Surrendered Souls), was a comprehensive scriptural study of saranagati, divine surrender, which has become a standard text-book for devotees everywhere.

Srila Sridhar Maharaj composed numerous songs, prayers, and commentaries in Bengali and Sanskrit. Among these important works are his commentaries on Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Saranagati, Bengali translations of Bhagavad-Gita and Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, and his own original Sanskrit poem summarizing Chaitanya lila, Prema-dhama-deva-stotram. His works are hailed as gems of pure Vaishnavism by scholars, philosophers, and devotees worldwide. An outstanding contribution to the Rupanuga Gaudiya Sampradaya is his commentary on the Gayatri-mantra, Gayatri-nigudhartha, following the philosophy of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Often thought even more amazing was his special ability to represent his thoughts in the international language of English. Upon reaching his eighties, not only Indians, but persons from America, Europe, and the world over, became attracted by Srila Sridhar Maharaj's teachings and personality. At this advanced age, in his fully matured stage of realization, Srila Sridhar Maharaj spoke extensively before the devotees who had come from around the world to hear the teachings of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and the great predecessor acharyas from him. These discourses and talks were recorded on audio and videotape, and a vast library has been compiled by his many disciples and affectionate followers and admirers. From such recordings many exquisite English books have been published, such as Search for Sri Krishna – Reality the BeautifulSri Guru and His GraceThe Golden Volcano of Divine LoveLoving Search for the Lost Servant, Srila Sridhar Maharaj's unique commentary and interpretation of Bhagavad-GitaThe Hidden Treasure of the Sweet Absolute, and many more. More publications are also anticipated.

During the last days of his manifest pastimes, Srila Sridhar Maharaj remained always absorbed in deep moods of devotional separation and hankering for the divine service of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda.

On August 12th, 1988, His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj departed from this world to enter the eternal pastimes of the Supreme Lord. A divine temple, The Temple of Union in Separation”, was erected at his holy shrine at Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math, Navadvip. Srila Sridhar Maharaj selected his most intimate and senior sannyasi disciple, Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Maharaj, as his successor, blessing him with the position of Acharya-President of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math and its affiliated branches worldwide.

Srila Sridhar Maharaj was known as a pure saint of the most simple living habits. He was respected and loved for his saintly simplicity, and his affectionate nature and dealings. He was revered by his godbrothers, disciples, other devotees, and the general public, and was unanimously venerated for his formidable encyclopedic command of the revealed scriptures, and his unique and unprecedented style of casting newer and newer light upon the most internal philosophical and revelatory purports of pure Sri Gaudiya Vaishnava Siddhanta.

As acharya, Srila Sridhar Maharaj is an erudite philosopher and a sensitive poet; both deep-diving and high-flying, yet practical and down to earth. Speaking and writing, he is very soft and low-voiced, yet intense, concentrated and exacting. His main teaching is surrender, unconditional, often expressed in radical phrasings (in spiritual consciousness language) such as “Die to live” and “Divine slavery”. Main focus is on beauty, with topics like “Search for Sri Krishna – Reality the Beautiful”,Beauty is the Autocrat”, and Slave to the Beauty.

Srila Sridhar Maharaj on the basis of his angle of vision:

My nature is non-interfering, from the beginning. So much so that I am called an ease-lover. I am not aggressive in a preaching mood, but only to know. The knowing aspect, the listening aspect, the aspect of inquisitiveness, predominates within me: to find new light from the scripture, from the words heard from my Guru Mahārāj. Every day, I can see, I can feel, new colour. Everything is infinite. Every word, every letter, is of infinite characteristic. I am internally busy with that in my last days.

My expressions (...) present an ontological conception based on pure chit-vilās [spiritual play]. That is, whatever I see, whatever I have in view, must cross the level of Brahmaloka [Brahmajyoti/Brahman realization/Turiya/"Enlightenment"/Transcendence]. I see things to be not of this world, but of the other world, as chit-vilās-lakṣaṇ [expressions of spiritual play]. The smallest things that we mention here are placed above renunciation and liberation. They are not of that side. Rather, they are śuddha-sattva, viśuddha-sattva [the quality of pure existence/pure consciousness]. They are not related to liberation or emancipation, or to sattva-guṇa [the highest material quality]. They are viśuddha-sattva, nirguṇa, chit-vilās [pure, nonmaterial, spiritual play]. Every word, every syllable that I express and give out is from the plane of viśuddha-sattva. That is the special characteristic of my sayings. [–] They are ever-new. They are not a stereotyped thing. Whenever I approach, whenever I give an explanation of a particular verse, every time some new thing will come — not any mere repetition but something coming with some touch of the Infinite. Whatever I say must have some touch with conception of the Infinite. That is their peculiarity, and they are to increase faith. Faith, śraddhā, the basis, the foundation, always that will be more consolidated by my sayings. 


* Note: Paramadvaiti Swami's Vrinda Mission, which Nimaihuset belongs to, is a stand-alone part of Srila Sridhar Maharaj's Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. It was formed (like Tripurari Swami's Sri Chaitanya Sangha, Narasingha Swami's Sri Narasingha Chaitanya Ashram, and a few others) under the umbrella of what Srila Sridhar Maharaj named "the Maha Mandala" of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math. The (SCSM) Maha Mandala was a confederation of independent preaching missions established by disciples of Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Following Srila Prabhupada's instruction, they had accepted Srila Sridhar Maharaj as their siksa guru after Srila Prabhupada's departure from this world. With Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s encouragement and blessings, Paramadaviti Swami started initiating disciples in South America (thus also following Srila Prabhupada's personal instruction to him, to preach in South America), and that was the start of Vrinda Mission. Srila Sridhar Maharaj donated the Ista-devas of Vrinda Mission (Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Radha Vrajesvara) to Varsana, Colombia (the heart of Vrinda), where there is also a sacred spot with his footprints.  

Sri Chaitanya: His Life & Associates, Swami B. B. Tirtha (2001)
Sato Vrtteh, Swami B. AParamadvaiti (2005)
Bhaktivedanta Memorial Library


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