“Vyasa was the spiritual master of Sanjaya, and Sanjaya admits that it was by Vyasa’s mercy that he could understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This means that one has to understand Krsna not directly but through the medium of the spiritual master. The spiritual master is the transparent medium, although it is true that the experience is still direct. This is the mystery of the disciplic succession.
“Actually there is no difference between hearing directly from Krsna and hearing directly from Krsna via a bona fide spiritual master like Vyasa. The spiritual master is the representative of Vyasadeva also. Therefore, according to the Vedic system, on the birthday of the spiritual master the disciples conduct the ceremony called Vyasa-puja.”
—Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 18.75 purport
In the Adi Purana Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, “Those who claim to be My devotees are not My devotees, but those who are devotees of My devotees are actually My devotees.” His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja was a most staunch devotee and disciple of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada entrusted so much of his work to Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja. Seeing a picture of Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara before coming here, I recalled how Goswami Maharaja had assisted Srila Prabhupada in his pastime of practically stealing Radha-Londonisvara from one Hindu gentleman’s home and bringing Them to be the first large marble deities of Radha-Krishna in ISKCON. And as I began to think of Srila Prabhupada’s mission and how Goswami Maharaja had assisted him, I found that most of the history of ISKCON is filled with Tamal Krishna Goswami’s service to His Divine Grace.
But just as Krishna is more pleased when a devotee serves His other devotees than when he serves Him directly, sometimes I feel that Srila Prabhupada also is more pleased when a disciple takes care of Srila Prabhupada’s other disciples and servants. And today especially I think of Goswami Maharaja’s wonderful quality of taking care of Srila Prabhupada’s devotees.
Srila Prabhupada once told Tamal Krishna Goswami, “Do not let one inch of my property deteriorate.” He has explained that every endeavor requires land, capital, organization, and manpower, and they are all Krishna’s property—or Prabhupada’s property. And Srila Prabhupada said that we shouldn’t waste or spoil any of Krishna’s property. But of all the four items, Prabhupada said that the one we absolutely cannot afford to waste or misuse is the human resource. And although Goswami Maharaja was expert in looking after all of Srila Prabhupada’s mission and property, the most important part was the devotees.
I can speak of my own experience, how Goswami Maharaja looked after me and took care of me. He once said that ISKCON is a family and that none of its members are more important than any others. And in one sense what he said is true. Still, the father’s elder sons have, in one sense, a more important position. Even the Bhagavatam explains that the eldest son can be regarded like the father.
tasmad bhavanto hrdayena jatah
sarve mahiyamsam amum sanabham
aklista-buddhya bharatam bhajadhvam
susrusanam tad bharanam prajanam
[Lord Rsabhadeva told His sons:] “My dear boys, you are all born of My heart, which is the seat of all spiritual qualities. Therefore you should not be like materialistic and envious men. You should accept your eldest brother, Bharata, who is exalted in devotional service. If you engage yourselves in Bharata’s service, your service to him will include My service, and you will rule the citizens automatically.” (SB 5.5.20)
Goswami Maharaja expertly trained the people around him. One time, he really broke through several layers of false ego in me. He had come to India as the GBC, and at a certain stage we were going out together and collecting funds for the Vrindavan project, as the Juhu project was delayed because of legal complications. The two of us used to work as a team, and I was the one to make the appointments. And he was very insistent that I make a lot of phone calls. The best time to phone was early in the morning before people went to the office, but sometimes I wanted to chant more and would go to phone later.
Goswami Maharaja would always ask how many phone calls and appointments I had made. One day I had hardly made any phone calls, and when he asked what had happened I was afraid to tell him, so I told a few little lies, that I had tried some people but couldn’t get through. Somehow, by Krishna’s arrangement—or my good or bad luck—Goswami Maharaja spoke to one of the gentlemen I had falsely said I had tried to reach, and concluded that I had lied to him. So he was very angry—transcendentally angry—and he really helped me. “You pretend to be very pure and innocent,” he said, “but you are not innocent at all,” which was and is true. He exposed the truth that I was a liar, and the experience was actually very purifying—though it took me a few days to fully appreciate the value of what he had said. But eventually I did, and it helped me in my service.
Another incident I remember that shows Goswami Maharaja’s deep love for Srila Prabhupada and his great care for us, as well as his noble character, took place after Prabhupada left. Goswami Maharaja and I were serving together in Juhu, and we had some disagreement over how best to serve Prabhupada. Then Goswami Maharaja withdrew from his involvement with Juhu. One or two years later, he returned to India, and one of his disciples in Juhu, Veda Vyasa dasa, met him in Mayapur. Only later did Veda Vyasa tell me what had happened. He had met Goswami Maharaja in Mayapur and proposed, “Now you are back in India, so why don’t you come back to Bombay?” And Goswami Maharaja had replied—and this is his greatness, because he thought if he came back to Bombay I would be disturbed—“Giriraj is very dear to Srila Prabhupada. Anyone who causes pain to Giriraj is causing pain to Prabhupada. So I don’t want to come back to Bombay now.” (Later, Goswami Maharaja became the GBC for Bombay, and I was delighted to work with him again.)
I really cannot express how much Goswami Maharaja’s caring for me, as an expression of his love for Srila Prabhupada, has meant to me. And so many other disciples of Srila Prabhupada’s, all of whom are dear to Srila Prabhupada, have experienced Goswami Maharaja’s love and affection and care and assistance.
In my relationship with Goswami Maharaja I have the added fortune of having accepted the renounced order of life from him. Although the initial instruction to take sannyasa came from Srila Prabhupada, it was actually fulfilled after Prabhupada’s departure through His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja. And I am glad Srila Prabhupada arranged for my relationship with Goswami Maharaja to be enhanced by Maharaja acting as my sannyasa-guru.
I feel very strongly that my relationship with Goswami Maharaja is eternal, that we are eternally servants of Srila Prabhupada together; he is like the older brother and I am the younger. But we are meant to serve Srila Prabhupada together, and actually Prabhupada saw us together—though I am sure it is not unique to the two of us that he saw us that way.
It was like the mystery of disciplic succession Srila Prabhupada explains at the end of the Bhagavad-gita, that one approaches Krishna through the spiritual master, although the experience is still direct. In a similar way, Goswami Maharaja would help me in my relationship with Srila Prabhupada, but at the same time my relationship with Prabhupada was direct. So my receiving first and second initiation from Srila Prabhupada indicates the direct relationship, and then my accepting sannyasa, in one sense also from Srila Prabhupada but through Tamal Krishna Goswami, indicates the other aspect—how I was approaching Srila Prabhupada through Tamal Krishna Goswami and how Srila Prabhupada was giving mercy and caring for me through Tamal Krishna Goswami. So I feel confident that our relationship is eternal and will continue.
I feel blessed because so many fortunate souls have also been connected with Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja—godbrothers and godsisters, diksa and siksa disciples—and because of my connection with Goswami Maharaja, I will also be connected with them. Although I am not very qualified, I pray to remain in his service and association through the association and service of those connected with him. I hope you will accept me.
Yours in service,
[Adapted from a talk by Giriraj Swami on Tamal Krishna Goswami’s Vyasa-puja, July 3, 1999, Houston, Texas]