The Appearance and Disappearance of Saintly Persons
Prabhupada gives the same analogy that he has shared regarding the Lord’s appearance and disappearance, namely, the sunrise, sunset or the appearance of light and darkness to describe saintly persons. The Sun never dies but is only goes beyond our vision—we are in darkness. When the sun reappears, primitive cultures consider that the sun was born after its death the previous night. Even we consider the appearance of the sun as a “new day”, but to the sun none of these perspectives apply. He is always existing and moving in his own way on the path given to him by the Supreme Lord. The Lord or his pure devotees only appear to disappear or die, but they are ever-existing.
As today is the appearance day of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, I thought it might be interesting to very briefly discuss the appearance and disappearance of saintly persons along with the significance of his life.
In ordinary parlance these terms for the special “birth” and “death” of a spiritual person are not in use. They have a metaphysical meaning meant to teach us that there is no birth and death for anyone. In regards to a saint, their “birth” or “death” is for a unique purpose to serve the mission of the Lord. Today’s materialistic societies are very much in the dark about our real identity as an eternal soul, as well as our relationship to God, and certainly confidential knowledge of Shri Krishna and Mahaprabhu Shri Chaitanya is lacking.
Prabhupada has many times informed us that the birth and death of a saint or sadhu—like his guru—or for us, Prabhupada himself—are considered the same, since in all circumstances these pure devotees are absorbed in service to Krishna. We celebrate both their appearance and disappearance though we lament their disappearance at times, since their personal association is so valuable and powerful. We know that they are not “dead and gone” but have traveled somewhere else to continue there divine service.
Prabhupada gives the same analogy that he has shared regarding the Lord’s appearance and disappearance, namely, the sunrise, sunset or the appearance of light and darkness to describe saintly persons. The Sun never dies but is only goes beyond our vision—we are in darkness. When the sun reappears, primitive cultures consider that the sun was born after its death the previous night. Even we consider the appearance of the sun as a “new day”, but to the sun none of these perspectives apply. He is always existing and moving in his own way on the path given to him by the Supreme Lord. The Lord or his pure devotees only appear to disappear or die, but they are ever-existing—sometimes visible, sometimes not, but always engaging in loving service to God and his devotees.
We have had a number of important appearance days of the great devotees and also the Lord in various forms in the last few weeks.They are preparing us for Lord Chaitanya’s advent at the end of this month. First Shri Advaita Acharya appeared. He prayed for the appearance of Krishna to counteract the rampant materialism of the time. Next was the appearance day of Lord Nityananda, by whose mercy we can approach Lord Chaitanya. And then today we have appearance of Shrila Bhaktisiddhant Sarasvati Prabhupada (as he was called by his disciples) whose teachings and mission were given to our guru, Shrila Prabhupada.
Although our Shrila Prabhupada—His Divine Grace A.C Bhakitvedanta Swami—was empowered to preach the mission of Shri Chaitanya all over the world, he represents a tradition going back to Lord Chaitanya. This tradition was strongly revitalized by Sarasvati Thakur’s father and teacher, Shrila Bhakitvinode. It was Bhaktivinode Thakur who really prepared the way for the Krishna consciousness movement to come to the West and go around the world. Under his guidance his glorious son, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati was groomed to put his vision into practical shape in the form of the Gaudiya Math, and our Prabhupada followed suit and also made innovations. Along with Bhaktivinode’s pioneering work of preaching—his books and songs and rediscovering the “birth place” of Shri Chaitanya—Bhaktisiddhanta’s bold, uncompromising preaching strongly brought respectability to Gaudiya Vaishnavism.
At that time our disciplic line was seen as being a very degraded religion due to the immoral practices of many of its adherents. Part of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta’s forceful preaching was to reestablish the eternal fact that one is a Brahmana or devotee of Krishna not be birth but by one’s qualities. A low birth is immaterial, but by process of initiation by a bonafide guru, the power of the holy name and devotional service, people can be transformed . He also established the idea that ours is a line more through Shiksha or instructing Gurus, then by a mere succession of bodies (Diksha). Whether a person is a substantial representative of the tradition is determined not just by having a guru in the disciplic line, but by one’s superlative spiritual qualities and realizations. This is a very big topic.
Shrila Sarasvati Thakur was sometimes referred to as a lion or simha guru, since he so forcefully preached the pure message of Shri Chaitanyadeva. Even his some of his disciples found it difficult at times to hear his forceful presentation, yet those who criticized him without understanding his purpose and purity were checked in their spiritual progress. His innovations could be backed up with verses and spiritual logic, and were not changing the essential conclusion of Lord Chaitanya or his Gosvami followers. He was only adjusting the details and making stressing certain points according to the need of the time. However, to understand this takes a thorough understanding of the tradition as well as spiritual standing.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s knowledge was not just confined to Vedic texts. He was also referred to as “walking encyclopedia” as he was so conversant with many views and everyone was afraid to debate with him. Whatever knowledge he was familiar with he only used it to propagate the mission of Lord Chaitanya and the previous Acharyas. Although he preached about the super-excellent madhurya or conjugal rasa of the pure love of the gopis for Krishna, he spent perhaps 90% of his energy speaking of what it wasn’t. In his words he spent “gallons of blood” warning not to take madhurya rasa cheaply or without qualification.
Although such a forceful, uncompromising preacher he was also very humble in his outlook about his personal self. Upon seeing a certain ashrama near Lalita-kunda (near Radha Kunda—the place of Shri Radha who is Krishna’s topmost devotee) he stated that although he would not personally live there, it needed a second story. The question was raised that if he would not live there, what was the necessity of building another story? He replied that his superiors would live on the top floor and he would serve them, and live on the bottom floor. Later he said that actually he would prefer to live at Govardhana which is short distance away, as this Radha-kund was for superior persons like his guru, and he wasn’t fit to live there. He would live nearby only so he could render service.
Such an amazing devotee! Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja kijaya! His appearance, life and disappearance are full of meaning and inspiration on many levels. There are a number of books that innumerate his glories, and our Prabhupada speaks about him as well—though in a very reserved way, according to his relationship with him. He is another one of our spiritual heroes and holds a very important position in the lives of today’s followers of Lord Chaitanya.
Along with a firm foundation in the books and teachings of our Prabhupada, we need to eventually understand and study the works of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati , Bhaktivinode Thakur and the previous acharyas or hear from those who have. Then we can better understand our path of Krishna consciousness. Otherwise we may misunderstand the details Prabhupada adjusted to be the unchanging principles of spiritual life. True followers in our Gaudiya line are “essence seekers” who catch the spirit of the teachings and are not just rule or “form propagators” which is the tendency of religions to become after the disappearance of their founders.
I will leave you with a few quotes by our venerable grandfather or grandfather spiritual master, Shrila Sarasvati Thakur Prabhupada:
1. We are put to test and trial in this world.
Only those who attend the kirtana of the devotees can succeed.
2. Every spot on earth where discourses on God are held
is a place of pilgrimage.
3. Possession of objects not related to Krishna is our main malady.
4. Let me not desire anything but the highest good for my worst enemies.
5. As dalliance with the body in luxury increases,
so wanes the spirit of service of the Lord.
6. Those favored by God find their paths set by thorns.
7. There is no peace or happiness in our worldly life.
Circumstances create turmoil and annoyance.
8. Chant the mahamantra loudly and with attachment.
This will drive away inertia, worldly evils and pests.
9. Be indifferent to bazaar gossips, stick firmly to your cherished goals,no lack or impediments of the world will ever stand in your way.
10. Pay due respects to the extroverts of the world,
but do not be appreciative of their manners and conduct.
They are to be shaken off from your mind.
11. A devotee feels the presence of God everywhere,
but one averse to the Lord denies His existence anywhere.
12. You cannot appreciate transcendental matters with the reasoning of the world. It is sheer nonsense to decry them with the measuring stick of your intellect.
13. To recite the name of Sri Krishna is bhakti.
14. Life is for the glorification of topics on Hari.
If that is stopped, then what need is there to carry on life.
15. Physical illness with Hari-bhajana [worship of God] is preferred to physical fitness without Hari-bhajana.
16. Our span of life on earth is short. Our life will be crowned with success if the body wears out with constant discourses on Hari [God].
17. We are here on earth not to work as artisans for making big buildings with wood and stone but to work only as messengers for the teachings of Sri Caitanya Deva.
18. A sycophant is neither a guru or a preacher.
19. To transform the adverse desires of the jivas is the supreme duty of the most merciful. To rescue one person from the stronghold of Mahamaya [force of illusion] is an act of superb benevolence, far superior to opening innumerable hospitals.
20. Unless we are devoted to God, secularism shall not leave us.
21. Look within. Amend yourself, rather than pry into the frailties of others.
22. In this world of Maya, averse to the Lord, full of trials and tribulations, only patience, humility and respect for others are our friends for Hari-bhajana.
23. The Lord, Gaurasundara, puts His devotees in various
difficulties and associations to test their patience and strength of mind. Success depends on their good fortune.
24. When faults in others misguide and delude you--have patience, introspect, find faults in yourself. Know that others cannot harm you unless you harm yourself.
25. I wish that every selfless, tender-hearted person of Gaudiya Math [his preaching institution] will be prepared to shed two hundred gallons of blood for the nourishment of the spiritual corpus of every individual of this world.