Srila Gurudeva’s Auto-biographical Sketch

Tridandisvami Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja

forautoRespected Devotees,

The following is a transcription of Srila Gurudeva speaking on February 23, 2003 in Olpe, Germany, on the topic of his own life history. It was kindly translated from his Hindi talk by Radhika dasi of Russia.

Devotees around the world accept Srila Gurudeva as an eternal associate of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. We read in sastra that such devotees are tri-kala-jna and sarva-jna, meaning that nothing in the Lord's material or spiritual creation is unknown to them. We read in Srimad-Bhagavatam: "A person who is cent-percent engaged in the service of the Lord is the emblem of all knowledge. Such a devotee of the Lord in full perfection of devotional service is also perfect by the qualification of the Personality of Godhead. As such, the eightfold perfections of mystic power (asta-siddhi) constitute very little of his godly opulence."

Such pure devotees set an example for us by acting out the role of souls gradually advancing towards the perfection of devotion to Sri Krsna. By their own example, they teach us what to do, and what not to do, in order to advance. They teach by example the importance of acquiring sukrti (spiritual credits accrued by knowingly or unknowingly engaging in acts of devotion) and sanskaras (impressions on the heart attained from the sukrti of this and previous lives).

We can understand the divine nature of Srila Gurudeva's pastimes from the words his own Guru Maharaja, nitya-lila pravista Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja: "The eternal form of the acaryadeva is composed of knowledge and bliss, and remains constitutionally unchangeable – just like a dramatic performer who appears to go through various transformations during his performance, but remains the same unaltered person."

My Life History

I was born in 1921 on the amavasya (dark-moon) night in the month of Magha (January). This is what my parents had told me. My father's name was Pandita Balesvarnath Tivari and my mother's name was Srimati Laksmi-devi. They were both devotees of the Sri sampradaya, initiated according to all rules and regulations, and both were expert in devotional music. My father was also expert in wrestling, singing, and all types of social affairs. He was humble, well-bred, and most importantly, highly religious and conversant with Vaisnava principles.

At the time of my birth, our kula-guru (family guru) gave me the name Sriman Narayana Tivari according to the sign of zodiac, and since my birth I was very simple-hearted and innocent. My mother told me, "You did not cry, and you would remain seated wherever you were placed. For that reason everyone called you Bholanatha, (the name of Lord Siva meaning 'god of the innocents)."

As my parents were very religious, I was also very religious from my early childhood. To be full with bhakti is not a matter of only one birth's practice; it is a matter of many births. Throughout my childhood I always chanted, "Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama," and I do not know since when I began. Thus, my fortune must have been the result of impressions in my heart due to good association and religious inclination in my previous births (samskaras).

As a child I used to attend religious festivals with my father and hear classes on Srimad-Bhagavatam, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and other scriptures. In the evenings, having finished his family duties, my father would sometimes personally recite to me Tulasidasa's Ramayana, and sometimes Mahabharata – from the beginning to the end – and at that time many village people would also come and listen to him with faith.

I had such impressions that even in my childhood I would cry for hours whenever I read the Ramayana of Tulasidasa, and whenever I stopped crying, I would start reading again. I became especially immersed in emotions when I would read about Ramacandra's exile, His abandoning Sita, and Sita's entering Patala – so immersed that I used to see in dreams the battle between Räma and Ravana, along with Hanumanji and his variety of services. In one dream, at 4am, I saw Rama, Laksmana, Sita, and Hanuman descending from an airplane right before my eyes as their divine effulgence spread everywhere. But then, when I wanted to touch Their feet, They disappeared. I was so blissful at that time.

Throughout my school years I ranked first or second in my class in academics; and in sports, especially in high school, I would get first place awards in the one mile and five mile races, long jump, high jump, cycling races, and boating. No one dared enlist his name for a long race unless he planned to compete for second place, because everyone knew, "Narayana will be first." I also participated in musical programs and debates in Sanskrit.

Once, when I was sixteen or seventeen, our kula-guru gave a series of classes on Srimad-Bhagavatam in our Tivaripura village. A great Sanskrit scholar, he would recite every sloka in a melodious voice and then explain its meaning to the crowd of pious listeners that had gathered from the neighboring villages. I had the opportunity to render him personal services on those occasions – decorating the lecture hall, preparing his seat, placing the Bhagavatam on his lectern, and then listening to his lectures very attentively. My father also contributed greatly to these programs, by organizing the daily arati of the Bhagavatam and then distributing prasad at the end of each program.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam classes were completed after one month, at which time a grand yajna was held, followed by a grand feast of the Lord's maha-prasada. My kula-guru was extremely affectionate towards me for my services, and he left a great impression on my life. In this way I became increasingly immersed in the moods of devotion and gradually acquired taste for krsna-bhakti.

The Mahaviri Jhanda Festival (in honor of Hanumanji) once took place on the banks of Ganga near my Village, in Ahalyavali – the place where Sri Ramacandraji had liberated Ahalya from Gautama Rsi's curse, where Visvamitra's residence was situated, where Rama and Laksman killed the demoness Tadaka, and where Rama shot His arrows at Marica and Subahu in order to protect Visvamitra's yajna. It was a great festival, with many thousands of people gathered. Various games and wrestling matches were played, with the attendance of numerous good sportsmen, and my father also participated as he had versatile talent.

It was at this festival that I heard and saw, for the first time in my life, a nagara-sankirtana in which thousands of people were dancing and singing, "Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare." That nagara-kirtana had a great impact upon me.

When I was in class nine of high school, I received a book entitled "The Life-History and Precepts of Nimbarka Vaisnavacarya" as a prize for winning a Sanskrit debate. As I read about the acarya's perfect Vaisnava demeanor, his deeds, his attachment for harinama, and his rigorous sadhana, I now began to acquire real taste for krsna-nama. It was from this book that I learned that all saktis, all the Lord's potencies, are present in harinama.

I liked history very much, and I used to get the maximum grade in that subject. In one of the history books I once read a short description of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Seeing the picture of His long wavy hair and reading about His absorption in kirtana, I was very deeply impressed and influenced.

I was betrothed at the age of sixteen or seventeen, while I was still studying in high school. However, according to Indian custom a wife joins her husband only after the official marriage ceremony, when they are mature. Thus, when I became twenty-one or twenty-two years old a marriage festival was held for me, and at that time my wife came to live with me. But then, very soon after that, I left.

(As an aside) [*See endnote 1] You can write a bit regarding the time and place of the marriage, but not elaborating.

After high-school, because I was good at sports I was able to get a service in the police department without any effort. The police station was located in the Dumka district of Bihar, at a place on the banks of Ganga called Shahad Ganja. All the officers there were happy with me, including the chief superintendent, who was a Bengali and who was very religious.

Three years after I began my service at the police station, the chief superintendent was visited by a party of devotees representing Sri Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti in Navadvipa. There were about ten devotees in that party, and among them were Prapujya-carana Sri Srimad Narottamananda brahmacariji, Sri Srimad Bhakti-kusala Nrsimha Maharaja, and Sri Radhanatha, who later became Pujyapada Bhaktivedanta Trivikrama Maharaja.

The speaker, Pujyapada Narottamananda brahmacariji, narrated the life history of Sri Prahlada Maharaja in the superintendent's house for seven days. Although at that time I did not know Bengali well, I would sit for the lectures, and in response to my faith Pujyapada Sri Narottamananda brahmacariji became very affectionate towards me. After each lecture, he would leave aside all food and drink to sit with me and speak hari-katha in English throughout the night.

[Sripad Madhava Maharaja added, "Pujyapada Narottamananda brahmacari did not know Hindi and Srila Gurudeva did not know Bengali, so all the talking was in English."]

He was a very learned person, and he was especially a learned scholar in Srimad-Bhagavatam. After listening to his hari-katha for those seven days and receiving his affection, I became completely renounced in my heart. I wanted to leave my service and go with the party, but I could not get permission to leave because the chief superintendant and everyone else had too much affection for me to let me go.

The superintendant asked me, "Why do you want to go? Very soon you will be promoted." I said, "True, I can be promoted in my service," but then I gave my pretext to leave by saying, "I want to start my own business, so there will be no loss." Then, when I added that in future I want to do krsna-bhajana, he asked, "Do your parents agree to this?" Understanding Guruji and the Vaisnavas to be my parents, I answered, "Yes, they do."I then resigned and left that place, but I did not go home. I went directly from there to Sridhama Navadvipa to meet my Guruji.

I arrived at the Navadvipa-dhama railway station at twelve o'clock midnight, so I was wondering, "I don't know the address of the asrama in Navadvipa, so how will I find it? And whom can I ask at this late hour?"

I didn't know how he knew, but Guruji knew I would be coming that day, and Narottamananda brahmacariji also knew; so they had sent Pujyapada Vamana Gosvami Maharaja, with a lantern in his hand and accompanied by another brahmacari, to search for me. As I saw the two of them approaching, I became very happy. Together with them I reached the matha easily, at which time I saw Narottamananda brahmacariji and my Guruji and many other Vaisnavas. That day was the eve of the Navadvipa-dhama-parikrama.

The person in charge of the matha at that time was Sri Narahari Thakuraji, a god-brother of my Guruji and extremely dear to his Gurudeva Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada. Because he took care of everyone in the matha, especially the children, he was affectionately called "Mother of the matha." He would chant harinama throughout the day and night, and he would bind his sikha to a ceiling beam at night so that he would not fall asleep while chanting. Wherever he went during the day, he continued chanting harinama. I received so much love and affection from him.

Without anyone's instruction or awareness, I began sweeping the floors in the matha, cleaning the cooking pots, and performing a variety of other services. Shortly after Navadvipa-dhama-parikrama was completed, I received both harinama and diksa initiations at the same time. Guruji soon became satisfied with my devotional services and saw my taste for hari-katha, and thus he began to keep me with him and engage me in his personal service. I began to cook for him and wash his clothes, and I listened to his hari-katha. No longer did I remember I had previously been a police officer. Everything from the past was left behind.

In 1945, just before the Kartika parikrama of Vaidyanatha-dhama [*See Endnote 2] began, I went with my Guruji to the Chinchura Gaudiya Matha, where I continued listening to his hari-katha and doing seva. It was there that I met Prapuja-carana Srila Bhaktipramoda Puri Maharaja, in whose personal service Guruji engaged me. I began rendering him so many services, such as cooking and giving him water for drinking and bathing.

One of my daily services was to accompany him to the nearby Ganga where he would bathe, and I would bring my lota, the last remaining possession I'd kept from my previous asrama. One day, while he and I were in the Ganga, my lota floated away with the current. I considered, "This is good. Now the last material attachment has gone."

In the following year I again accompanied Guruji to the Vaidyanatha-dhama-parikrama. Later, after the parikrama was completed, Guruji continued to travel and preach. During that preaching tour, Ananga-mohana brahmacari, who was living and travelling with Guruji and who would also sing kirtana for him, fell severely ill with tuberculosis. At first it seemed mild, and I was appointed to his service. I would bring him medicines from a long distance and even clean his body after his passing stool. I took care of him in every respect. One day as he was sitting right next to Guruji, he began vomiting blood. I went with Guruji to bring him to a famous homeopathic doctor in Calcutta, and on the doctor's advice we stayed nearby at Siddhavali. When that and other treatments did not work, Guruji admitted him to a tuberculosis hospital.

Some time later I met a cousin from our village at the railway station. He was working as a guard there, and seeing me sitting in the train, he immediately entered the train and embraced me. He said to me in great happiness, "It's been so long since you left, and you haven't sent us a single message. Where are you staying these days?" I then told him my address – I was so simple-hearted that I told him.

Immediately after leaving me he sent a telegram to my family, soon after which my mother, father, brother, friends, wife, and many important people of the village – a crowd of ten or fifteen – arrived at the matha and tried hard to convince me to return to them. My mother was crying loudly. Although I was ill at that time, I told them, "Don't worry. I am immediately coming with you."

Then, after offering pranama to Guruji, I went with them to the village. When I reached home, my mother and all other relatives performed puja to Bhagavan in great jubilation, while a band of musicians played on their instruments. Prasada was distributed, and the now-happy people from all parts of the village came to see me.

On the next day, my father invited several prominent scholars, as well as the heads of our village and nearby villages, who were wealthy, highly respected, educated, and knowledgeable. He organized a large meeting, which was attended by a great number of people, and especially my school friends came to see me with curiosity.

They all tried very hard to convince me to follow religious principles while living at home. Many cited examples from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Some said that Prahlada Maharaja was a grhastha, and that the Pandavas also performed bhajana-sadhana while living as grhasthas. Everyone recommended, "Do bhajana at home, as they all did." "But there is no sadhu-sanga here," I replied. "And no siksa by which my sadhana-bhajana can help me advance on the path of bhakti. This is unacceptable for me. I cannot live without sadhu-sanga."

Others said, "Follow brahmacarya, then, while living at home. Be religious, and at the same time become powerful like your paternal grandfather. Your grandfather was so strong that he would remove bullock carts from the mud. He would untie the bulls and free the carts with his bare hands. Oh, your grandfather was so strong that when two big buffaloes would fight to take each other's lives, he would take a stick in his hand and strike one buffalo on one side and the other on the other side, causing them both to run in different directions. Become like your grandfather."

I replied, "The elephant is also strong. But what is the use of strength without bhakti? I do not want to become strong like that. I want to become strong in bhakti. Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.9.29) states that without bhakti life is useless:

labdhva sudurlabham idam bahu-sambhavante
manusyam arthadam anityam apiha dhirah
turnam yateta na pated anu mrtyu yavan
nihsreyasaya visayah khalu sarvatah syat

"The human form of life is attained only after many, many births. Although it is impermanent, it can offer the highest benefit. Therefore, before the body again lays down and dies, an intelligent man must immediately try to fulfill his mission of life and attain his greatest well-being. He should avoid sense gratification, which is available in all circumstances, even in the animal species."

My seventy-five year old paternal uncle, who was the head of one of the other villages, a very important man and a great scholar, then asked me, "All right then, tell me; since you have become a sadhu, what is visistadvaita-vada?"

I replied that in order to understand visistadvaita-vada, one must first know about kevaladvaita-vada and suddhadvaita-vada; not only that, but also one must know what is acintya-bhedabheda-tattva. Then, one by one, I began to define kevaladvaita-vada and all the other vadas, or theories. I told my uncle that kevaladvaita-vada, the teaching of Sankaracarya, is the worship of the nirakara, nirvisesa, niranjana, nirguna Brahman, the Absolute Truth devoid of form, speciality, qualities, and designations. According to Sri Ramanujacarya's theory of visistadvaita, the jiva and the material cosmos are specialities of Brhaman; although all the energies of the Lord are one, each keeps its individuality (vaisistya). Madhvacarya's conception is called suddha-dvaita-vada, and it stresses on the five eternal differences: the difference between jiva and God, between jiva and jiva, between God and matter, between matter and matter, and between matter and jiva. Then, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's acintya-bhedabheda-tattva states the one Supreme Personality of Godhead manifests Himself in many, and in this way all diversities are in Him and He is in all diversities although He is nevertheless different from all of them. Thus, by the transformation of His inconceivable potencies, everything is simultaneously one with and different from Him.

(As an aside) You can describe it fully.

I explained that all the other philosophies are vadas, theories, but acintya-bhedabheda is tattva, truth. This conception belongs to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It combines the ideas of all the other conceptions, and it is marked by predominance of pure bhakti. I told my uncle and all those present that acintya-bhedabheda-tattva is our conception, the conception of our Guruji.

Hearing my explanation, my uncle rose from his seat, embraced me, and said, "You have found a real guru. You have attained sadhu-sanga. Your renunciation is real and your knowledge of tattva, established philosophical reality, is complete. From now on I will not say a word to discourage you." The meeting ended in this way, and all the people left.

That's enough for today. Later I will tell more. No need to elaborate on any events other than those about my life in the line of bhakti. You can write about me as I have written about my Guruji. You can follow that example, describing my preaching. You can also discuss how, after coming to the matha, I went on so many pilgrimages throughout India, as I have written in my Guruji's life history. I went to Badrinatha, Dvaraka, and South India two or three times. You only need the dates, the years, the what, and the where.

The End

[*Endnote 1: Srila Gurudeva was speaking to Prema-prayojana dasa, who he had ordered at that time to write his biography. Since that time he has also ordered other disciples to write it. For example, in a video that was recently shown on Backtobhakti.com (spoken on November 25, 2003) he told Jayanta dasa (of San Diego), "What I have told; this, this, and this.

Thousands of classes are there. Everything is there. Afterward , you should do as I have done for my Guru; not like Satsvarupa Maharaja did. He only wrote: "He (Srila Prabhupada, Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja) went to this place and that place, and so many came and received him, and then there was Ratha Yatra." Bas. His biography has hardly any tattva-siddhanta or tattva-jnana."]

[*Endnote 2: A holy place famous for Lord Siva's Jyotirlinga Temple in Deogarh (The abode of the gods), in Jharkand, Bihar]

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