Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja
All glories, all glories to Parampujyapada Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja!
The best of poets is unable to fully describe the astonishingly sweet, captivating and spiritually deep qualities of Srila BV Narayana Maharaja. Love and gratitude compel us however, to make our feeble attempt to glorify him, in his upcoming centennial year. What words can possibly convey the life-changing experience of being in the presence of such a self-realised saint? Words must fail, where only the heart has voice. Still, in love and from the heart, we attempt the impossible.
Master, scholar, preceptor, author, mystic, aesthete, visionary, innovator, muse, mentor, friend and more. These are a few of the distinctions of a profound personality who lived, and lives on, in perpetual union with the divine. His every word and deed were a symphony of ‘heartly blessings’ for everyone who had the good fortune to meet him.
Of the innumerable qualities and achievements that set him apart, perhaps none figure so prominently as the felicity of his presence, his compassion and his love and affection. Everyone who met him remarked how they felt their soul had been seen, loved and validated by him, leaving everyone to think that they alone were his favourite. This was his special divine grace, which exulted all, lifting them up to tangibly taste transcendence, impressing on their soul forever the possibility of their own eventual success in purely loving God in an eternal ecstasy of selfless service.
His graceful golden form, with its lithesome movement and gentle step, offered a healing touch to an earth burdened by an age of quarrel and hypocrisy. His early morning walks, witnessed from afar, seemed a revelation gliding in the dewy mist to meet the dawn. His sage appearance, attired in saffron, appeared like a dapple of amber sunlight announcing the illumination of those fortunate to hear him speak. He would walk quietly, chanting on his mala, immersed in his nitya-seva (eternal service). When he would stop for questions and answers, he might catch you with the luminous gaze of his cornflower-blue eyes — oceanic panes in which you sensed the divine world that danced in his heart. He answered in a soft-thunder voice, that moved the heart, heralding the arrival of the soothing, cooling rains of sweet hari katha.
It is an error to speak of him in the past tense, because his appearance in this mortal world was but a momentary projection of the mystery of his eternal service to his revered masters in the spiritual world. He is immanent for those who hanker to taste the pure love he embodied and revealed in his teachings. He lives in his teaching and his writing. He lives in the heart of those who follow his instructions. He can be experienced by remembering him. He can be witnessed today, in the legacy of his many faithful disciples who he carefully crafted into scholarly preachers and resolute teachers of pure bhakti in the line of Sri Rupa and Sri Sanatana.
Srila BV Narayana Maharaja authored over 90 authoritative titles that have been translated into 7 languages, including classics such as Bhagavad-Gita, Jaiva Dharma, Gita-Govinda, Brahma-Samhita, Brhad-Bhagavatamrtam, Sri Siksatakam, Bhajana-Rahasya, and all the Srimad-Bhagavatam 10th canto Gitas. The audio-library of his twice daily lectures recorded over twenty-years exceeds 10,000 in number.
His jewel-like exposition of the deeper aspects of bhakti siddhanta is a unique contribution and a milestone achievement. In his masterful hands, the nuanced layers of Rupanuga ragamarga bhakti flowered lotus-like under the moonlight commentary of acharyas like Thakura Bhaktivinode, and especially Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. Among both scholars and Vaishnavas, his learned discourse on revered scriptures is acknowledged as one of kind, even in the context of all the recent acharyas in our parampara, from Thakura Bhaktivinode to the present day. The singular distinctive pillar of his contribution is his emphasis on the internal revolution of the ardent practitioner, the culmination of which is, at least, the realisation of ruci (profound abiding relish). The emphasis of this divine grace is his substantiation and justification of the practice of Rupanuga ragamarga. This insight revitalised the disciples of Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who were always a special focus of his mercy. His assurance and affection gave new meaning and purpose to their long-time practices.
Srila BV Narayana Maharaja expounded on the deeper reasons for Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s descent, which was to taste the unparalleled pure bhavas (rapture) of Sri Krsna’s consort Sri Radha. In doing so he opened a door of understanding to the sanctum sanctorum of the esoteric and purely sweet, selfless love of the gopis – of whom Sri Radha is paramount.
His special emphasis on Rupanuga ragamarga did not neglect or diminish the absolute necessity of sadhana practices essential to its achievement. To this end, he brought his prodigious command of the shastras to bear. No fundamental truth (tattva) was untouched by him in his aim to establish the preeminence of the Gaudiya Vaishnava cannon. In his love for Hari katha, which knew no bounds, he exposited on: Gaura-tattva, Krsna-tattva, Radha-tattva, Rasa-tattva, Maya-tattva, Prema-tattva and Jiva-tattva. The alacrity with which he demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of all tattvas was breathtaking, marvelous and poetic. He would weave his presentation with copious references and logical argument, but then, with a lightness of touch, segue to the sweet captivating pastimes of the Lord, leaving his audience spellbound, in tears and unable to bear his eventual departure from the dais. Slowly, step by step, he would move through a crowd whose hearts he had “put in [his] pocket”, acknowledging one and all, one-by-one. Exchanges of joking and laughter, teasing and riposte, shyness and smiles, and the sometimes-furtive glances that invariably drew his concerned attention – all this and more makes it impossible to convey the sweetness of his reciprocation and the forever-effect on those who had them.
For him the shastra was a pathway to the spiritual heart, especially through books like Venu-gita, Gopi-gita, Ragavartma Candrika, and Rasa Pancadhyaya. And his talks on such sastras offered us a wide highway to find our way there.
But he was also grave and if the circumstance demanded it, could be fierce in his countenance. This was especially so when responding to the philosophical distortions and bogus arguments of persons who promote so-called dharma as a means to cheat and mislead others. Such charlatans prey on the good nature and generosity of people who lack the discernment to see behind their cheating schemes. In a lion-hearted manner Srila BV Narayana Maharaja exposed apasiddhanta rogues like those giving siddha pranali prematurely, through his books, lectures and instructions. Following in the footsteps of his revered diksha guru Srila Bhaktiprajnana Kesava Maharaja and his siksha guru Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupdaa, he especially showed no quarter to mayavad and sunyavad teaching by translating, compiling and publishing Beyond Nirvana, an authoritative text derived from the original research and writings of his own gurudeva. Perhaps most importantly, he solidly established the practice of accepting sannyasa vesa and the renounced order as a bona fide practice coming from Sriman Mahaprabhu.
Following in the footsteps of his ‘priya bandhu’ long-time friend and siksha guru Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he completed a herculean 33 world tours, showering his mercy indiscriminately. The depth of his affection in making such sacrifices at an advanced age is but one testament to his status as a true global emissary of the Supreme Lord.
Another notable feature of his mission was the acceptance and empowerment of his female disciples, who count as some of the best, and certainly most prolific preachers among his followers. In some cases, he played the role of a mystic muse, guiding and inspiring his female disciples to create astonishing paintings, murals and bas-reliefs of the Lord’s pastimes.
He inspired the building of at least six traditional mandiras in India and mentored the development of the well-known Badger community in northern California, where he held an annual mela of hari katha attended by devotees from around the world.
He lived impeccably as a renunciate sannyasi for over 63 years during which time he tirelessly served his gurumaharaja, the guruvarga and all the Vaishnavas and thus became the darling of the Mathura-basi. He was awarded the title of Yuga Acarya by Vrajacarya Pitha and the World Religious Parliament in 2003. He is acknowledged by practitioners the world over as the Prayojana Acarya. He inspired academic initiatives like the annual Rupa Gosvami Conference and the Radhastami Conference.
For over 50 years he conducted annual parikramas of both Brajabhumi and Gauradesa, that in some years attracted upwards of 20,000 participants. He strongly requested his disciples to annually perform parikrama, teaching that it is one of the most potent injections for the spiritual health of any practitioner.
All of this is but a drop of the ocean of pure bhakti that is Srila BV Narayana Maharaja.