Giriraj Swami

Sep 172013

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura Beside BooksToday marks the 175th anniversary of the birth—the appearance—of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, “the pioneer of the program for benedicting the entire world with Krishna consciousness.” To honor the occasion, I have written a short piece about “Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Prabhupada.” We pray for their continued guidance and mercy.

“Dedicated to the sacred service of Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who initiated the teachings of Lord Chaitanya in the Western world (McGill University, Canada) in 1896, the year of my birth.” These words are Srila Prabhupada’s dedication to Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, the first book he published after coming to America. They also apply to Srila Prabhupada’s life, which was dedicated to the sacred service of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and his own spiritual master—Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s son—Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.

Srila Prabhupada furthered many of Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s projects: engaging householders in local preaching initiatives (nama-hatta); establishing the principle that Vaishnavas, even not born brahmans, are greater than brahmans (and are brahmans too); translating, explaining, and publishing important Vaishnava scriptures for the understanding of the contemporary audience; implementing the vision of a wonderful temple and spiritual city in Mayapur; and, perhaps most significant, fulfilling the desire and prediction that the holy names and teachings of Sri Krishna Chaitanya—Krishna consciousness—be propagated all over the world.

In 1885, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote,

“Lord Chaitanya did not advent Himself to liberate only a few men in India. Rather, His main objective was to emancipate all living entities of all countries throughout the entire universe and preach the eternal dharma. Lord Chaitanya states in Sri Caitanya-bhagavata, ‘In every town, country, and village My name will be sung.’ There is no doubt that this unquestionable order will come to pass. . . . Although there is still no pure society of Vaishnavas, Lord Chaitanya’s prophetic words will in a few days come true . . .

“Very soon the unparalleled path of hari-nama-sankirtana will be propagated all over the world. . . . Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German, and American people will take up banners, mridangas, and karatalas and raise kirtana through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the Western fair-skinned men, from one side, while chanting ‘Jaya Sacinandana ki jaya!’ will extend their arms and, embracing the devotees of our country coming from another side, treat us with brotherly feelings. When will that day be?” Continue reading »


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Jul 222013

Back to Godhead - Volume 01, Number 64 - 1974Today is Guru-purnima. Srila Prabhupada has explained that the system of honoring the spiritual master is current in all sections of Vedic followers. In the Mayavadi (impersonalist) sects, disciples offer respect to the spiritual master once in a year, on Guru-purnima. And in the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya, disciples also offer homage annually—on the appearance day of the spiritual master, an occasion called Vyasa-puja because the spiritual master, through disciplic succession, presents the same knowledge as Vedavyasa, the empowered incarnation of Krsna who compiled the Vedic literatures. We shall take this opportunity to discuss the principle of guru—and glorify the acarya-sampradaya.

Guru is a deep subject. We sing, vande ’ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam sri-gurun vaisnavams ca, offering respects to the individual spiritual master, to the predecessor acaryas, and to all Vaisnavas.

As Srila Prabhupada explains, “The offering of respect to the spiritual master means offering respect to all the previous acaryas. Gurun means plural number. All the acaryas, they are not different from one another, because they are coming in the disciplic succession from the original spiritual master and they have no different views.” Thus we offer respects to the predecessors.

Similarly, we offer respects to the followers. Srila Prabhupada explains further, “Spiritual master means they must have many followers, who are all Vaisnavas. They are called prabhus, and the spiritual master is called Prabhupada, because at his lotus feet there are many prabhus. Pada means ‘lotus foot.’ All these Vaisnavas are prabhus. So they are also offered respectful obeisances—not the spiritual master alone, but along with his associates. And these associates, his disciples, are all Vaisnavas. Therefore they should also be offered respectful obeisances.” (SP comment on Mangalacarana, January 8, 1969)

For us in ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada is the main guru; he is the founder-acarya. But he also has his associates—Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja, Srila Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja, Srila Sridhar Swami, Srila Bhakti Tirtha Swami, Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami—to name some prominent ones who have departed. And of course, Prabhupada is being served by so many others today, and we can serve and learn from all of them.

“One who teaches can be treated as spiritual master. . . . So if we take instruction from them, all senior godbrothers may be treated as guru. There is no harm. Actually, you have only one spiritual master, who initiates you, just as you have only one father. But every Vaisnava should be treated as prabhu, master, higher than me, and in this sense, if I learn from him, he may be regarded as guru.” (SP letter dated November 20, 1971)

The original guru is Krsna. He speaks the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita and enunciates the principles of religion. Dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam: the principles of dharma—bhagavata-dharma, prema-dharma—are enacted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Dharma means “the laws of God,” or “the orders of God.” We cannot manufacture it; dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam: the principles of religion are enacted by the Lord Himself. We cannot make religious principles any more than we can make our own laws. Srila Prabhupada gave the example that you can’t just get together with some friends and pass your own laws. Law means that it must be enacted by the government, by the parliament or legislature. Similarly, dharma is enacted by God.

dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam
na vai vidur rsayo napi devah
na siddha-mukhya asura manusyah
kuto nu vidyadhara-caranadayah

“Real religious principles are enacted by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although fully situated in the mode of goodness, even the great rsis who occupy the topmost planets cannot ascertain the real religious principles, nor can the demigods or the leaders of Siddhaloka, to say nothing of the asuras, ordinary human beings, Vidyadharas, and Caranas.” (SB 6.3.19) Continue reading »

Jun 122013

anantaDiary of a Traveling Monk, Volume 13, Chapter 12

Anatoli Fedorovich Pinyayev (Ananta-santi dasa) was the first Soviet Hare Krsna devotee. Because of his active preaching throughout the USSR and because of the spiritual influence he had on many people, he was subjected to severe persecution for five and a half years at the hands of the staff at various Soviet psychiatric hospitals. The following excerpts are from an interview with him conducted in February 1988.

I started preaching Krsna consciousness after Srila Prabhupada visited Moscow in 1971. Gradually people in the Soviet Union became more and more attracted to
Krsna consciousness and it became quite widespread. The authorities, however, became afraid because so many from the intelligentsia were interested in Krsna consciousness. Everything spiritual was considered to be criminal and thus they started repressions.

It was just like an explosion of Krsna consciousness in the Soviet Union. The authorities were terrified so they tried to discredit the movement and present it as simply a group of crazy criminals. Because I was the first one to preach and the only disciple of Srila Prabhupada, they tried to repress me and present me as a crazy criminal. The court accused my godbrothers and me of teaching vegetarianism, which they said is harmful to the body, and of teaching mantras and praying, which they said is harmful for a person’s mental condition. On this ridiculous pretext they were accusing us.

I was imprisoned, and they tried to present every person who was following Krsna consciousness in this country as crazy. They then put me in a mental prison, a mental jail. There the doctors said that they were taught that religious believers are insane, and that only insane persons can think that there is a God, that there is spirit, and that we are not these bodies but spiritual sparks. Continue reading »

Jun 082013

Ananta-santi dasaDiary of a Traveling Monk, Volume 13, Chapter 11

Dear Ananta-santi Prabhu,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

It was with great sadness that I learned of your recent departure. I rarely, if ever, express any deep emotion, but upon hearing of your demise I broke down and cried, for you have always been a true hero to me. By the Lord’s arrangement, you met our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupda, on his first visit to the former Soviet Union in June 1971. Knowing your heart, he initiated you after only a few days and instructed you to spread Lord Caitanya’s movement throughout your country. Srila Prabhupada’s confidence in you was revealed when he said of you, “Just as you can judge whether rice is properly cooked by picking out one small grain, so you can know an entire nation by observing one of its handpicked youths.”

With Srila Prabhupada’s blessings you fearlessly proceeded to spread the holy names around the Soviet Union, often at great risk. Your effort was initially single-handed, but you made devotees and soon their preaching was causing great alarm amongst the communist leaders of the time. In a 1981 issue of Kommunist, the official journal of the Communist Party, Semyon Tsvigun, the Deputy Chairman of the KGB secret police, wrote that “the three greatest threats to the Soviet way of life are Western culture, rock-and-roll music, and Hare Krishna.”

Such warnings did not deter you, however, and you continued preaching Krsna consciousness with great vigor. After 11 years, your efforts finally attracted the attention of the KGB who arrested you in 1982.

While awaiting trial, you were confined to the Butyrskaya Investigations Prison. In June 1983, you were tried and found guilty of “infringement of person and rights of citizens under appearance of performing religious ceremonies.” As punishment you were committed to the dreaded Smolensk Special Psychiatric Hospital rather than being put into prison. This enabled the authorities to keep you for an indefinite period of time. In the psychiatric hospital, you were continuously administered haloperidol, a neuroleptic drug that caused convulsions in your facial muscles and deterioration of your mental condition. In April 1986, you were transferred to the Special Psychiatric Hospital in Oryol, where you received the same severe treatment.

By that time, you and the other imprisoned devotees in the Soviet Union had attracted worldwide attention from human-rights organizations and devotees from within our movement. When numerous parcels and letters began arriving at the psychiatric hospital, the staff responded by strapping you to your bed and administering large doses of the drug sulfazine. This caused you to suffer high fevers, pain, and hallucinations. When your wife visited the hospital and asked the doctors when you would be released they replied, “One’s understanding of life and reality are not so quickly cured.”

Years later you were freed, but being acutely affected by the inhumane treatment you received in prison, you drifted away from devotional service and the association of devotees for some time. No one should hold this against you, however, for it was clearly the result of the hideous drugs administered to you during your confinement. In recent years, you re-established loving relationships with many devotees and took up the practice of Krsna consciousness again.

My dear godbrother, Ananta-santi, I have no doubt that upon leaving your body you were delivered straight to the spiritual world where Srila Prabhupada personally received you and engaged you in service. Surely the residents of that transcendental abode must have arranged a magnificent festival to honor you on that day. Certainly you deserved it. The sacrifices you made in spreading Krsna consciousness, the suffering you underwent in executing that mission, and the determination you displayed to serve the order of our spiritual master are rare even amongst Gaudiya Vaisnavas.

May all Vaisnavas know of your exploits. May they honor the pain you endured and the faith you regained despite all efforts by communist authorities to destroy it. Lest we forget, may we constantly remember your unique contribution to Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement. From your transcendental position please look down upon this humble soul and grant me the same courage that you had to spread the glories of the holy names far and wide despite the greatest opposition.

With the deepest respect and admiration,

Your servant,

Indradyumna Swami



Apr 052013

Houston Water WallI try to walk every day, hot or cold, rain or shine. Yesterday was a cold, windy, drizzly day in Houston, but I still went for a japa walk—at the water wall—and somehow relished it. And I thought of Srila Prabhupada’s words:

“In the proper discharge of duty, one has to learn to tolerate nonpermanent appearances and disappearances of happiness and distress. According to Vedic injunction, one has to take his bath early in the morning even during the month of Magha (January-February). It is very cold at that time, but in spite of that a man who abides by the religious principles does not hesitate to take his bath. Similarly, a woman does not hesitate to cook in the kitchen in the months of May and June, the hottest part of the summer season. One has to execute his duty in spite of climatic inconveniences.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.14 purport)

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Mar 012013

RSD in Hospice Garden -- 2Yesterday at 7:45 p.m. Rupa Sanatana dasa, a disciple of Romapada Swami and a former temple president of ISKCON St. Louis, left his body at Bhaktivedanta Hospice in Vrindavan, surrounded by devotees chanting Lord Krishna’s holy names. The kirtana, which was being led by Panchagauda Prabhu, had been going on for several hours.

Two weeks ago, Rupa Sanatana came to the hospice with advanced, terminal cancer. Romapada Swami phoned him soon thereafter to give him a final message, and four days ago, I spent about twenty-five minutes with him by phone, speaking to him, chanting japa, and singing prayers. He responded but was too weak to actually speak. He was such a special, fortunate soul, I saw a most auspicious future for him, in eternal service to Srila Prabhupada, our parampara, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

When Rupa Sanatana came from America to be admitted in the hospice, I informed Bhima Prabhu, who also had been a temple president in St. Louis, and Bhima wrote me about this wonderful devotee:

“Actually, Rupa Sanatana is about our age. He met devotees when he was younger, but he didn’t join then. He married and had a daughter and worked as an architect. At some point he met devotees in Kansas, where he was staying, and began to associate with them.

“Rupa Sanatana would come to St. Louis for festivals and to meet Romapada Swami. It came to be known that Rupa Sanatana was not only an architect but also a carpenter. So Jalatala, my wife, asked him to make a bed for Radha-Syamasundara. He agreed and put together a nice bed in no time. Jalatala then asked him to stay in St. Louis and take care of the temple, and soon he became the temple president.

“Over the seven or eight years he was president, he did some amazing service. I would come yearly to visit St. Louis, and it was always a joy to see him so enthusiastic in his service. Even though managing the temple was a difficult task with only a few devotees at hand, still he was positive and enlivened. One of the great things he did was to convince one member to donate thirty-five acres of land just outside St. Louis. Certainly, Krishna and Balaram and Nitai–Gaura-nataraja have recognized his service.

“It is fitting and wonderful that he will be in Vrindavan getting the care he needs till he leaves this world. Thank you for keeping this service available to the devotees.”

Hare Krishna.

—Giriraj Swami

Feb 222013

Nityananda-trayodasiTomorrow, Saturday, February 23, is Nityananda-trayodasi, the appearance day of the all-merciful Lord Nityananda. I shall attend the celebrations at New Dvaraka, Los Angeles, speaking at 5:45 p.m., before the arati at 6:30 and feast at 7:00. And I shall stay in New Dvaraka until Tuesday night.

Srila Prabhupada writes, “Srila Narottama dasa Thakura, who is famous for his poetic composition known as Prarthana, has lamented in one of his prayers, ‘When will Lord Nityananda be merciful upon me so that I will forget all material desires?’ Srila Narottama dasa Thakura confirms that unless one is freed from material desires to satisfy the needs of the body and senses, one cannot understand the transcendental abode of Lord Krsna, Vrndavana. He also confirms that one cannot understand the loving affairs of Radha and Krsna without going through the direction of the Six Gosvamis. In another verse Narottama dasa Thakura has stated that without the causeless mercy of Nityananda Prabhu, one cannot enter into the affairs of Radha and Krsna.” (Cc Adi 5.204 purport)

And, “Srila Narottama dasa Thakura has sung, nitai pada-kamala, koti-candra susitala, ye chayaya jagat judaya. He describes the shade of the lotus feet of Lord Nityananda as being so nice and cooling that all materialists, who are always in the blazing fire of material activities, may come under the shade of His lotus feet and be fully relieved and satiated.” (SB 5.1.3 purport)

Hare Krishna.

—Giriraj Swami

Feb 222013

Today is Varaha-dvadasi, the appearance day of the Lord in the form of a boar. He is glorified in Srila Jayadeva Gosvami’s Dasavatara-stotra:


vasati dasana-sikhare dharani tava lagna
sasini kalanka-kaleva nimagna
kesava dhrta-sukara-rupa jaya jagadisa hare

“O Kesava! O Lord of the universe! O Lord Hari who have assumed the form of a boar! All glories to You! The earth, which had sunk to the bottom of the Garbha Ocean, sits fixed upon the tip of Your tusk like a spot upon the moon.”

Today I also think of a most encouraging quotation from the Varaha Purana (114.64–65):

“The entire universe is My body. Neither birth nor death has any effect on me. When one gives oneself to Me with the firm belief that I am his everlasting support, I think of him at the time of his death and rush to his side even if he has no control over his senses, with his body appearing like a log or stone. I lead him to My supreme abode, where he performs eternal service to Me.”

Hare Krishna.

—Giriraj Swami

Feb 172013

Advaita Acarya AppearanceSri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 3.96–98) states, “Advaita Acarya having appeared, He found the world devoid of devotional service to Sri Krsna because people were engrossed in material affairs. Everyone was engaged in material enjoyment, whether sinfully or virtuously. No one was interested in the transcendental service of the Lord, which can give total relief from the repetition of birth and death. Seeing the activities of the world, the Acarya felt compassion and began to ponder how He could act for the people’s benefit.”

Srila Prabhupada explains, “This sort of serious interest in the welfare of the public makes one a bona fide acarya. An acarya does not exploit his followers. Since the acarya is a confidential servitor of the Lord, his heart is always full of compassion for humanity in its suffering. He knows that all suffering is due to the absence of devotional service to the Lord, and therefore he always tries to find ways to change people’s activities, making them favorable for the attainment of devotion. That is the qualification of an acarya. Although Sri Advaita Prabhu Himself was powerful enough to do the work, as a submissive servitor He thought that without the personal appearance of the Lord, no one could improve the fallen condition of society.”

Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi 3.99–102, 109–110) continues, “[Advaita Acarya thought:] ‘If Sri Krsna were to appear as an incarnation, He Himself could preach devotion by His personal example. In this Age of Kali there is no religion other than the chanting of the holy name of the Lord, but how in this age will the Lord appear as an incarnation? I shall worship Krsna in a purified state of mind. I shall constantly petition Him in humbleness. My name, “Advaita,” will be fitting if I am able to induce Krsna to inaugurate the movement of the chanting of the holy name.’ . . . He appealed to Sri Krsna with loud calls and thus made it possible for Krsna to appear. Therefore the principal reason for Sri Caitanya’s descent is this appeal by Advaita Acarya. The Lord, the protector of religion, appears by the desire of His devotee.”

If our appeal is sincere enough—if our call is loud enough—Srila Prabhupada, the Panca-tattva, and the holy name may descend and engage and deliver us all.

Hare Krishna.

—Giriraj Swami

Feb 022013
Sri Sri Niati–Gaura-nataraja Carpinteria, California

Sri Sri Nitai–Gaura-nataraja
Carpinteria, California

Last weekend’s kirtan with Sarvatma was wonderful. Although at times I struggled to focus my mind on the sound of the holy names, the holy names’ power and mercy did influence me. Now I look forward to this weekend’s kirtan, today, Saturday, from 6 p.m., in Carpinteria. Srila Prabhupada’s early, dynamic disciple Shyamasundar das said that he also wants to attend.

Hare Krishna.

—Giriraj Swami