Maharaj Memories by H G Bhagavad Ashraya Prabhu (ACBSP)
BAP: So we want to talk about Mahavishnu Maharaj..!
KcKd: Yes Prabhu, because it inspires us very much to hear about Maharaj. Btw, I wanted to thank you for the wonderful class you gave in Leicester.
KcKd: On the day of Gaura Purnima...! That’s when we met right?
BAP: You were there?
KcKd: Yeah, I heard the lecture, most part of it. Nice point you made about we are not that far from Srila Prabhupada’s times. That reminded us very much Maharaj because Maharaj would always give us positive side of things. He never gave us a negative statement at all.
BAP: Prabhupada was always saying, Krishna always sees the bright side. We worry too much…, may be because of the influence of the Judeo-Christian philosophy also, the so-called philosophy. The concept of a punishing God, angry, jealous, punish. Whereas Krishna only loves. He only loves. We have to understand it. This Krishna consciousness movement is a gesture of love from the Lord. And as Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati reveals in his introduction to the Brahma Samhita, the transcendental autocrat is forever inviting the fallen conditioned souls to associate with Him in eternal loving mood. So, Krishna has approached us, we haven’t approached Krishna (laughs). Krishna has approached us, practically speaking, He is begging us. Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Panca tattva are begging us, “Please come back to Krishna”. And they made it very easy, very simple and very cheap. But as Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, ‘I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for You’. But still, in the aggregate of the living entities that exist in the material world, those few who have answered the call, they are very very dear to Krishna. No matter how flawed they may be, still flawed. Flawed is natural. Prabhupada gives the example of an alcoholic man. That’s a true story. In Sweden, there was an older man visiting the temple, a very cultured man. And he was very enthusiastic about Krishna consciousness. He very boldly said to Prabhupada in the darshan, “I would very much like to join your movement, but I can’t because I am an alcoholic. I can’t follow your principles.” And Prabhupada was very reassuring to him. And he told the story about it later. First of all, he said, “That’s alright. When you taste this wine, you see this taste is Krishna. And in this way, you become Krishna conscious.”
KcKd: Oh my God! Nobody can go to that level of leniency.
BAP: And Prabhupada said, “You begin from there, you begin where the person is. Everything is based upon the next step. You can’t begin from where you want. You have to begin from here.” And then he said, “If the man does this, then gradually gradually he will become a first-class Vaishnava”. So, we are very close (to Srila Prabhupada). And we should not leave, we should not be discouraged.”
So, my association with Mahavishnu Maharaj began in 1983, when I went to Soho street. He was living there then. Very austerely. You know the Soho Street temple?
KcKd: Yeah, I have been there.
BAP: So, you know, you go up to the roof, come up the stairs and turn left around the little corridor, go into the roof. As you go into the roof, a little corridor on the right there is a little storeroom, store cup board. It’s about 4 cubic feet. Maximum 4 cubic feet. He used to keep his possessions in there.
KcKd: So, you are saying just next to the Brahmachari ashram.
BAP: No, Above.
KcKd: Where the Tulasi house is…
BAP: Actually, on the roof. On the roof. As you get to the roof, you turn left, go down a little corridor and out, you see Tulsi’s house. Tulsi’s house wasn’t there then. They put Tulsi’s house only later. But as you turn left to go down that corridor, immediately on your right, in that corridor, there is a little roof, there was, I don’t know if they still have it. But then was a little cup board, storage cup board. So, he used to keep his possessions in there. And he used to sleep on a straw mat in that corridor.
KcKd: Oh my God!
BAP: He was, boy, very austere!
KcKd: Even in the winter?
BAP: Well, we made him, we forced him to do other things (use blankets etc.). He had to be forced to take care of himself. He was very austere. And he never asked for anything. Never complained about anything. Never asked for anything. And he had one-volume Bhagavatam. And he would very happily sit in the temple room all day and read Bhagavatam. When I first met him, I know his health was never good. I think he had a lifetime of bad health. He always had bronchiolitis. When I met him, he abandoned his family life and moved to the temple. He was very serious about just surrendering to Krishna.
And at that stage, he lost a lot of teeth. He only had a few teeth. It was obvious he couldn’t eat very well, that was sad. And also, he was a preacher. So, I, may be a little too boldly, I intervened and said, “Maharaj, whatever teeth you have left, you have to have them removed and get dentures. Because for your health and also for your preaching.”
KcKd: He can preach much more!
BAP: Well, he can speak easily you know, with your tongue on your teeth and also people are critical about the way you look. So, you have to (present yourself better…). So, for those three reasons, I, practically I had to force him. Practically I had to force him. For some time, he was resistant. But I convinced him. We had a wonderful relationship. So, he got his teeth fixed.
He was a very active preacher. He drove a little 3-wheeler vehicle. I don’t know what the name of it is…
BAP: Robbin, Robbin yes.
KcKd: His son told me.
BAP: Robbin, it was actually designed, it was actually the cockpit of the aircraft. They actually made the planes for world war II. It was designed as a 2-seater fuselage of an aircraft.
So, he had this Robbin, 3-wheeler, light green color. And because he had the disability sticker on his vehicle, disabled people can basically park their car wherever they like. Sometimes it will be comical like on a Sunday morning, you go out for a Japa walk, over there on the Oxford street (most busy street in London downtown), Maharaj has just parked his vehicle (laughter). He has come late from a preaching program, and just parked it on Oxford street. (laughs). That was always a comical thing.
But he was always so dedicated to Bhagavatam and had full faith in Bhagavatam. And would be able to quote something from Bhagavatam practically at any time on any subject in any discussion. He was always jolly. He was always making jokes with devotees and making fun of them, making fun of himself.
Sarvamangala M (Prabhu’s wife): See that’s Maharaj, always making fun…
I remember once he told a story that how his father is a brahmana, but he had to do something for his living, so he was a cloth merchant. At a certain age (of Maharaj) he said, well you can come to the shop with me. And he (Maharaj) was very passionate to get down there early in the morning, and his father would be doing his puja. Maharaj will be, “Come on, come on, we have to go. Everyone else will be open, we will lose business” (laughter). And his father would just say, “na, na..”. (laugh). And he finishes puja, when they get down there (to the shop), everyone else would be open, but he said there would always be a line of people wait at his father’s shop. And he said, his father would open the shop, and go and sit where he had his records and his little cash box etc., will do his puja to the shop and to the deities in the shop, and would sit there all day and just read (his father). And people would come in, look for themselves what they wanted and choose what they wanted and would come and sit and say to his father, ‘I want to buy this’. And his father would look what is the number on it, and he would show them the receipt for what he paid for it, and he would put it in front of the customer and say, “I paid this much. You give that and whatever more you want”. (laugh).
KcKd: Typical like our book distribution…
BAP: Yeah, he never had a set price. He would just say, “I paid this much for it, you pay that much whatever more you think is worth for you.” So, he had that foundation in his life from his own father. And although he had to work when he came to the west, when he raised his family here, I think that had a very deep impression. Well I know, that upbringing had a very deep impression upon him. And I know from things he used to say about his family life, struggles and mishaps that happened, funny things that happened. (laughs). One time he decided, he would do some remodeling to the living room in his house.
KcKd: In London?
BAP: Yeah, and something happened, and the whole fireplace, the metal piece, the chimney and everything collapsed, (laughter). So, he had many experiences that because of his original grounding from his father, he was able to view the life in a detached way. So, when the time for detachment came, he very simply and easily did that. And as I said, he was very austere. I understand, people told me, he was always, even after he took sannyasa and was traveling, and had access to a lot of opulence, he remained very austere, so much so that, I heard that when he was in his last days in the hospital, he was lying on the sofa in the room, not the bed. He was very austere. But he wasn’t proud of his austerity and he wasn’t hard-hearted as a result of that. His austerity in life was based on deep humility. He was a very humble man. Never thought himself to be anything. And when I suggested, first of all I suggested, “Maharaj”, I always called him Maharaj. He was like my father. So, I said, “Maharaj, you have to put on saffron. You should wear saffron, not this white, the saffron”. He resisted that. So, I practically had to force him to do that. And then after some time, I considered, he should take sannyasa. And again, he resisted that. But I spoke with Sivaram Maharaj about it, and, we agreed, yes, he is an old man, he is totally renounced, he is dedicated preacher. And he obviously had more potency. He is a sannyasi. So finally, he agreed to take sannyas. And then you see how he was preaching. He used to do, in London, he would visit families and preach. But he wasn’t ambitious. He was happy if he was speaking on Bhagavatam. It didn’t matter with whom or where. He was just happy to be a student and a preacher of Bhagavatam. And he never thought of himself as anything more. But I was always very inspired to see after he took sannyasa, what a preacher he became!! And what he did. And then I heard he was building temples!
After he took sannyasa, we didn’t cross path much after that. I stopped being president of Soho in 1990 and I think it was shortly after that he left the UK anyway and started his traveling preaching. So, you know he was traveling outside of the UK. I don’t think, I recall seeing him more than 1 or 2 times after that. I remember one time in Australia, because I moved to Australia in 1996 and I was there till 2008. I remember in one visit he came to Brisbane and I had some association with him. And I remember at that time he wasn’t well, but he was pushing himself hard. I saw that and understood from what others said, he took Prabhupada’s example very much to heart.
Hari Sauri talks about how basically Srila Prabhupada worked himself to death. He just worked that body to death. And I think you can say the same of Mahavishnu Maharaj, that he, especially when he took sannyasa, from the time he took sannyas till the time he left the world, he literally worked himself to death. He never took any easy situation. He was traveling, as I keep saying, his health was not good and deteriorating. Not good and deteriorating. And that’s a hard thing to understand as young men.
It was another story where, not about him, but, when the Manor campaign was held for the first public enquiry, we were meeting with a QC, in his chambers with his partners. And he was an old man. He was 70 at that time. That was in 1990s. 94-95. It was campaign where first time there was to be a public enquiry.
KcKd: Public enquiry on?
BAP: About the planning for the manor. And this man, he was semi-retired. He wasn’t in good health. And he was about 70 years old. And he spoke a bit like Winston Churchill. Actually, he looked a bit like Winston Churchill. After 1 week, he asked, “Do you have something about this Prabhupada? I can read something about him or listen?” So, they gave him the one-volume Prabhupada book.
BAP: Well, the one-volume Prabhupada book is actually appraised of 6 chapters. Each chapter is an appraisee of each volume of lilamrta, the main points. So, the devotees gave that for him to read. The next week they went to meet him. When the came into the office, he was sitting, and he was looking very stern. When the devotees sat down, he said, “You people, you have no appreciation of your Guru.” Everybody was stunned, why are you saying that? He said, “Because you are young, I am an old man. I know what it feels like, to be an old man. I could never imagine do what he did. the traveling, the working…, impossible. So, we need to really deeply appreciate this about Srila Prabhupada. But also, we need to appreciate this (traveling and preaching in his old age) about Mahavishnu Maharaj. Very dedicated to Srila Prabhupada and the sankirtan mission. And he was in bad health and deteriorating, for at least the last 10 years of his life. But he never stopped his traveling, never stopped his preaching, never stopped his campaign to build temples, and he continued to live very very austere. So, these are very glorious things. Very glorious. And I have to say, I knew two of his disciples – Purushottam and Madan Gopal in Brisbane. And they are very first-class people. And now I met you. And you are first class too. So, I see, you don’t attract high class people, if you are not high-class. High-class people are not interested in taking shelter of low-class people. So, he is a very high-class Vaishnava. Very distinguished Vaishnava. And I am very happy to be able to say these things to you.
KcKd: Thank you so much Prabhu. Very nice of you.
BAP: I hope that your book is successful and abundant in contributions, and that his memory lives on in at least in the minds and hearts of those who knew him and loved him. This is very important.
He reasons ill who says that the Vaishnavas die
When thou art still live in sound
Actually, everyone loved Maharaj. All the devotees in Soho loved Maharaj. And they were so impressed with his qualities. His humility, his austerity, his dedication to the Bhagavatam. He is a living example of a person who simply dedicated himself to the Bhagavatam. As soon as everything else was out of the way in his life, there was only Bhagavatam. So, like I said,
He reasons ill who says Vaishnavas die
when thou art living still in sound
Vaishnavas die to live and while living,
try to spread the holy name around!
He was very a shining example of a first-class Vaishnava. I don’t even like to talk about departed Vaishnavas in the past tense. You know, they say, ‘he was this, he was that’. He was that then, but he is more than that now.
There is a saying that, when a Vaishnava is departing this world, you should offer prayers for him, but once he departed this world, we should pray to him.
KcKd: Oh, that’s a beautiful statement.
BAP: When the Vaishnava is departing you should pray for him, and when he is departed, you should pray to him. These are masters, who are ascended souls. They have the ability to help us. And that is our process. We always take shelter of the Vaishnavas. So, when the Vaishnava ascends to the higher realm, we can talk about ‘he was like this’, but that was just in ‘our’ experience. He hasn’t ceased to exist. He has gone on to do greater things. So, I don’t like to, this thing of talking about departed, this is only in terms of this language. In past tense. It doesn’t mean that ‘he was’ is not ‘now’.
He exists, that soul, that soul, that they say, shed this mortal coil and gone back to his original self in the association of the Lord and His unalloyed devotees. But I am sure he will take the opportunity to go somewhere and preach again. He never complained about his physical condition. But I know he would have been happier, if he was fitter and healthy because he could have been more vigorous in his preaching. So even if he has gone on to take birth again somewhere, I am sure he has taken birth in a high-class Vaishnava family.
How many years since he departed?
Kckd: 6 years (in 2016)
BAP: Was it 6 only?
KcKd: 2010 Jan.
BAP: So, he could be somewhere born as a 5-year-old boy, somewhere in the sankirtan mission, taken birth in some family of brahmins. He probably knows all of Bhagavad gita by heart, by now (laughs). Either that, or he has gone directly back to Goloka Vrindavan. Either way, we can pray to him.
And pray that... (Bhagavad Ashraya Prabhu became emotional and started crying) Pray that one day we will have his association. This is a good way to live - To pray that one day all those great souls that we now live in separation (will give us the association). And actually, when you start to think about it, you realize that you miss them very much. Life is very demanding in this world, and just to get on with what’s happening day to day when we are fully absorbed. But when you take the time to reflect on the friends who have departed this world you realize, that you miss them. And we do hope and pray that some way one day we will have their association. And this is the beauty of the Krishna consciousness movement because that will happen. Time separates. Time separates. We have been picked up by this prema maha-jhale – loving network of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the result as Prabhupada said, “is sublime”. And can never be undone. So, I look forward to that, that one day meeting with him. Is that alright?
KcKd: Do you remember any specific incident when you were in Soho that you can recall?
BAP: Well I did.
KcKd: Apart from the…, of course you shared about his staying and other things. But you said that he used to read. Do you remember the day when he started to preach conduct program…?
BAP: Well you see, when I went to Soho street, he was already there. He was already living there.
KcKd: He was already preaching?
BAP: He was already preaching. He was already preaching in South London. He would go out sometimes, 2 or 3 nights a week to somebody’s house and do some preaching. I entered his life, when he was already on that course. He wasn’t just living in the temple; he was already preaching.
KcKd: But even during that time he was quite austere. As you said, he was sleeping in the straw mat…
BAP: On yeah, very austere. Very very austere. I can’t exactly remember what happened, but I think we got a little room for him in the brahmachari ashram. But you know, he just took shower in the brahmachari bathroom, he had nothing of his own. As I said, he never asked for anything. He never demanded anything. He never took advantage of the fact that he was an old man, and that he really deserved something, or should have been take care of more. He never asked for that.
I remember the day when he took sannyasa, Sivaram Maharaj gave him sannyasa. But at the sannyasa ceremony, right at the last moment, without telling me before hand, Sivaram Maharaj turned to me and said, “This is all because of you. So, you should say something (about Maharaj).” So, I remember that day, I had the opportunity to talk about these things that I am talking about with you now, to the devotees who were present (there at that ceremony). And, I thought that was a privilege to do that.
KcKd: In the sannyasa ceremony?
BAP: Yeah, at the Bhakti Vedanta Manor. He took sannyasa at Bhakti Vedanta Manor. And I spoke at his sannyasa ceremony.
KcKd: We have a few pictures of Maharaj’s sannyasa ceremony. Somebody had sent us.
BAP: That’s all I have to say.
KcKd: It’s really a pleasure to meet with devotees who have associated with Maharaj. Because we came in touch with him much later after he started going for world tour and all that. Even though it was some chunk of time that I spent with him, it’s always good to hear the times when…
BAP: Yeah, I always like to speak if I ever speak at the Vyasa puja of any of my godbrothers, I always like to be, I would say, the one thing I have that makes me distinct from all of you is that I have known him much before even you knew he existed (laughter).
KcKd: That’s really nice.
BAP: Yes, it’s a nice thing to have that family feeling as well. We are all part of one big family. Even though it sometimes it seems like there is some dysfunction in the family, still its one big family. Even if you cannot relate to the whole thing, you can still find a place. That’s the idea of a gotra. Many many families within the family. That it’s all one family. And Prabhupada says that, we are families of Krishna. So, he (Maharaj) is definitely one of my family members. And I hope I remember I am in his family (laughs).
KcKd: Very nice. It gives us so much rejuvenation. Especially (missing) the physical presence that we are not able to talk to him and all that…
BAP: Well, you are in the same boat as me. There is a few of us now. But you know Tamal Krishna Maharaj departed this world, Bhakti Tirtha Maharaj, Sridhar Maharaj, Bhakti Swarup Damodar Maharaj, Gaur Govinda Maharaj, they left this world. So, their disciples, in that sense are like Prabhupada’s disciples. We are orphaned here. And you have to live your life in that separation. That’s painful. But absence makes the heart profounder. If we follow in their footsteps, we are actually never separated, although we are separated in the physical sense.
But you know, Prabhupada explains in Bhagavatam, the only reason the disciple goes on living after the departure of his spiritual master, is to serve the mission of his spiritual master. So, he very adeptly left you a mission, within the context of ISKCON. So that’s a very great thing. And the development of the Rajkot and the Dwarka temple is something that can actually keep the focus for his disciples. This is a big problem after the acarya, after the Guru Maharaj leaves, is to keep focus and the influence of time is to destroy that focus. And it is very difficult to not bow to the influence of time. Very difficult. So, you have something to bring you back into focus, if things slip. Those projects are there. You have to finish it and you have to maintain it. But also, you have to become Guru yourself. This is a responsibility of a sadhu. You don’t have to necessarily become an initiating guru, but you have to see the role is you become Guru and deliver this land wherever you are. Reintroduce people to Krishna consciousness. Train them in Krishna consciousness, only in the name of Guru and Gauranga.
At least you should have siksha relationships, that you are actually teaching and training people, if not initiating.
KcKd: Yeah, whatever that is needed for serving Maharaj and Prabhupada!
BAP: Well, this is your profession, this is our profession. This is what you do for your livelihood. Bhaktivinod makes it clear that our occupation is chanting the holy name and our profession is to spread Krishna consciousness, be professors of Krishna consciousness. You don’t need a degree in the university to become a professor. But you have to be a professor in your own capacity (indistinct). That’s our role. And you will be very pleasing to your spiritual master if you do that. As Krishna says, there is no one dearer than the preacher. So, become a preacher.
KcKd: Your blessings. It is such a nice feeling to be associating with you and…
BAP: I am nothing. I am nothing.
KcKd: In fact, I was trying to reach you since many months actually. I had come to UK in Apr (2015) and I saw (Sarvamangala) Mataji first in Manor, so she just made that one comment about the denture’s thing…some of the devotees told that you were instrumental in Maharaj taking sannyas. Navadvip Prabhu also told me about you. I had a short meeting with him last time when I came before RY to Soho. Since then I was trying to reach you, but I think that time you had gone to Australia briefly and recently also you had been to Mayapur. So, I thought I won’t be able to see you at all. May be Krishna’s arrangement.
BAP: Yeah, here we are.
KcKd: To my surprise, when I saw the Leicester website, I was to meet Bhakti Prabhava Maharaj on that day. He asked me to help out with some Bhagavatam project. He is also inspired in reading Bhagavatam by Mahavishnu Maharaj.
BAP: Oh yes, Bhakti Prabhava Maharaj, he tells a wonderful story of how he met Mahavishnu Maharaj, and Mahavishnu Maharaj told him how to chant. And told him, “Now you chant 16 rounds of Mahamantra every day”. And he has done so ever since. So, he feels a great debt of gratitude to Mahavishnu Maharaj.
KcKd: I gave the book to him as well. He is also very inspired to take to Bhagavatam by Mahavishnu Maharaj. He was also very inspired by how Maharaj chants the various slokas in Bhagavatam in different tunes. Very few devotees in ISKCON actually do that…, chanting different verses especially in different tunes with the right pronunciations.
BAP: He (Mahavishnu Maharaj) also knew Sanskrit very well. I did an introductory Sanskrit class in Mayapur in 1991. He was teaching Sanskrit course in Mayapur. I did an introductory course with him. He knew Sanskrit very well. His reading of Bhagavatam, he was reading the Sanskrit (text), and then Prabhupada’s translation, he was reading it all. He knew it all. And he was always glorifying Srila Prabhupada in that regard, of how great Prabhupada’s Sanskrit knowledge was.
KcKd: He was always insisting that you keep traveling, enjoy Bhagavatam the way I taught you and share the same thing about Prabhupada’s books and that will help. I have seen there are a lot of devotees who are scholarly and read Prabhupada’s books seriously, but in my experience with him, I have seen, as you also said, he was not expecting anything out of it. He was doing it because he liked it.
BAP: He is a servant of the Bhagavatam. You become servants of the Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam is non-different from the Lord, the heart of the Lord. Bhagavad-gita is the mind of the Lord. Bhagavatam is the heart of the Lord. So, no matter what our qualifications are, and our shortcomings are, its an emergency situation in the world. So, somebody has to do. So, if you have some knowledge and if you have some blessings from Maha-bhagavat devotees, then you must do. Otherwise, you will really fall down very badly. Because its actually sinful, miserly, it is krpana, it is not brahmana, if you have some blessings with you, some knowledge in you and don’t share it, then you will suffer. It’s an aspect of niyamagraha actually. That’s another meaning of niyamagraha. That I have something, but I am keeping it for myself. And our business is to give. So that’s a responsibility now, no matter how qualified or unqualified you are. No matter what your capacities, big or small, you have to do. And you have to see again from examples like again Srila Prabhupada and like your Guru Maharaj. When I first met him, the thing was, he as satisfied. Krishna says, one of the austerities of the mind is to be satisfied. And whatever he had, he would go and give some class in somebody’s house, and he was happy. And the same thing was with Srila Prabhupada. It was described in the lilamrta, that before he left for America, in Vrindavan, he was giving a class for 2-3 widows in one of the colonies there. 2-3 widows, whoever. He didn’t say, I only preach to big people. I want to do this; I want to do that. Whoever. And if no one (was there), Prabhupada recorded the introduction to the BG, he just spoke it in that room.
KcKd: With nobody around?
BAP: Nobody was there. And that Introduction to Bhagavad-gita, I know people would just read that and become devotees. So, Prabhupada said, “Even if no one is there, you preach to the walls.” Never be put off by the fact that it is difficult etc.
If you want to be a professor, you have to be professional.
Prabhupada gives the example of the dancer invited to the village from somewhere to do a performance. And when she came back, they asked how did it go? She said, “I didn’t dance, there was a hill.” Prabhupada said, “You are a dancer, you dance!” (laughs). So. that’s our business. We have been hooked up into this. We have the greatest gift. We have to give it. So, I can only encourage you to do that.
KcKd: With your blessings and encouragement I will definitely do that.
BAP: We will keep in touch and you let me know what you do.
KcKd: Sure Prabhu, thank you so much.
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