Feb 242020

Appreciating Tamal Krishna Goswami—In Service and Separation

Srila Prabhupada said that when a Vaishnava departs we feel simultaneously happy and sad. We feel happy because we know the Vaishnava has gone to Krishna, but we feel sad because we will miss the Vaishnava’s association. I have no doubt that Srila Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja has gone both to the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada and to the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha-Kalachandji. By such service as he offered to Srila Prabhupada for so many years, one is naturally promoted to Their service.

The last time I spoke here, Goswami Maharaja was in his quarters, and as I recall, he sort of tricked me into giving the class. I think he said he had to do some service in his quarters, so I gave the class. And remembering that incident, it is easy for me now to imagine that I am giving class and he is in his quarters and that we are all together. Before that class, I’d had a very significant talk with Goswami Maharaja in which he gave me some important instructions.

The discussion had actually begun the night before, when I first arrived. We had both been sitting on the floor, and he had been saying how people thought that he was such a senior devotee, that he had been practicing Krishna consciousness for so many years, that he was a direct disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and that he’d had so much of Srila Prabhupada’s association. But, he had said, in spite of his hari-nama, Gayatri, and sannyasa initiations from Srila Prabhupada, and all his association with Srila Prabhupada and his practice of Krishna consciousness, he still felt he needed guidance from other devotees. He had said that he took their guidance and that he considered some of these guides to be siksa-gurus. And then he had listed the names of godbrothers whom he considered to be his siksa-gurus.

At the time, I was being prevented from returning to India, where I had served for many years—the first several with Goswami Maharaja—and I based myself first in Mauritius and then gradually divided most of my time between Mauritius and South Africa. So, I was pretty isolated from my godbrothers. At that time in the movement some of the biggest leaders had fallen down, and I was in such a state of shock that I had resolved within my heart that I would never take shelter of anyone else again—except Srila Prabhupada. So when Goswami Maharaja spoke to me as he did, I had to consider what he said. I always took what he said seriously, but at the same time I had vowed never again to place my faith in anyone except Srila Prabhupada.

The next morning while we were chanting our rounds in the temple, somehow the feeling, or realization, came in my heart that actually what Goswami Maharaja had said was true: we do need guidance; we do need a siksa-guru or siksa-gurus. And it became equally clear that the person who should be my siksa-guru, or who was meant to be my siksa-guru, was Goswami Maharaja himself. It was such a clear realization, such a strong realization, that I became very excited and approached him. In general, I wouldn’t have wanted to disturb him while he was chanting his rounds, but I couldn’t help myself. I told him that I had just had the realization that what he had said was true: despite all our association with Srila Prabhupada, we still need the guidance of other devotees. He nodded his head knowingly, in agreement and approval. Finally I had realized what he already knew.

Then I said, “And I have also been inspired with the conclusion that you should be my siksa-guru.” I don’t remember if I actually did it physically, but my mood was to throw myself at his lotus feet and beg him to be my siksa-guru. And I don’t remember exactly what he said, but in effect he agreed. So I was very happy.

Some years earlier, when I had been feeling especially wretched and miserable, Srila Prabhupada had discussed one verse on a morning walk on Juhu Beach. It comes originally from Stotra-ratna by Yamunacharya, but Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami addressed it to Lord Chaitanya when they met Him for the first time:

 bhavantam evanucaran nirantarah
kadaham aikantika-nitya-kinkarah
  praharsayisyami sa-natha-jivitam

“By serving You constantly, one is freed from all material desires and is completely pacified. When shall I engage as Your permanent eternal servant and always feel joyful to have such a perfect master?”

Srila Prabhupada had elaborated especially on the word sa-natha. Natha means “master,” and sa means “with.” He said that the goal of life is to become sa-natha, “with master,” not a-natha, “without master,” or “orphan.” Then he pointed to the dogs on Juhu Beach. The dogs with masters—he pointed to one who was really stout and strong, just like its master—were as confident as their masters. “I have my master,” Srila Prabhupada said. “I have a home, a place to go at night. I will have food. If there is any difficulty, my master will protect me and take care of me.”

And then he pointed to some stray dogs. They were skinny and scraggly, and he said that without masters they were anatha; other dogs would bark at them, and children would throw stones at them. They didn’t know where they would sleep or how they would get food. They were always in anxiety.

So, our goal of life is to become sanatha, with master, protected. And, of course, the supreme master is Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Here Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami were appealing to Lord Chaitanya to become their master and allow them to become His servants.

Sometimes, even having been initiated by Srila Prabhupada and having had so much association with him, I still felt like an anatha, an orphan, especially after some of the leaders whom I respected so much left. And then, of course, I made my resolution. But after I approached Goswami Maharaja and he accepted me, I felt I was again sanatha: I had a master. Not that he took the place of Srila Prabhupada, but he helped me in my relationship with Srila Prabhupada, in my service to Srila Prabhupada. He helped me to approach Srila Prabhupada.

As the years passed, I saw Goswami Maharaja in different situations. There was a time when he was staying in an apartment in New York City, writing one of his dramas, either Jagannatha-priya Natakam or Prabhupada Antya-lila. He had entered a new field of service. He was studying Sanskrit drama and writing plays. At the same time, he had even been reading Western dramas, and he wasn’t sure if what he was doing was correct, so he wanted to consult his godbrothers.

After that, I saw that whenever Goswami Maharaja had to make an important decision, he would always consult his godbrothers. He had special friends whom he consulted on specific points, but when he had to make a major decision, or a difficult decision, he would consult many godbrothers. He might consult them individually, but when he had the chance he would have them all come together, and he would present his thoughts and doubts to them, the different points in favor of and the different points against the idea, and basically he would accept their decision. Srila Prabhupada also said that when the Vaishnavas—the right devotees in the right atmosphere—consider and all agree, we should take their conclusion as Krishna’s conclusion.

In any case, Goswami Maharaja always consulted his godbrothers. He had faith in their association, and he loved their association. And for important decisions, he had faith in the conclusions that would arise from their association. He was a very honest person. He spoke according to his realization, and he acted as he spoke.

Goswami Maharaja himself was an extraordinary person. His insight, his intelligence, and his association with Srila Prabhupada made him uniquely qualified to answer questions and give guidance. It is extremely rare to find someone who is so spiritually attuned and at the same time so astute in worldly matters, so conscious of an individual’s mentality and psychology and mood and sincerity.

In the last few days we have received so many phone calls. Many have come from Goswami Maharaja’s godbrothers. One, Baradraj Prabhu, who lives in Los Angeles, told me how much Goswami Maharaja had helped him over the years. Baradraj Prabhu is an artist, and Srila Prabhupada had engaged him in artwork, first in painting for the books and then in learning the art of doll making in Bengal. Later, Baradraj Prabhu came to lead the FATE project, the museum in Los Angeles. He told me of an incident when he was very sick in a Calcutta hospital. He was so sick and the situation seemed so hopeless that he had almost given up the will to live. Then Tamal Krishna Goswami came to visit and spent two hours with him in the hospital. Baradraj Prabhu’s real desire was to preach in Russia. At the time, no one had gone to Russia, and Baradraj Prabhu was born in part of the USSR. Goswami Maharaja understood what was in his heart and encouraged him to go to Russia to preach—how important and how good it would be. And just by that talk with Goswami Maharaja, Baradraj Prabhu developed the will to live again. He felt that he had something to live for, and he got better.

Once, Goswami Maharaja himself needed an operation in Bombay. He had gone to Jaslok Hospital, the best in Bombay at the time. But when Srila Prabhupada heard about it, he wanted to stop the operation. So he got into our jeep, the only vehicle we owned, and rode all the way to central Bombay, to the hospital. But when he got there it was too late. Goswami Maharaja had just come out of the operation theater, and when he opened his eyes and saw Srila Prabhupada, he told him that he had just had a dream: Srila Prabhupada had been giving a report to the previous acharyas about his work on the planet earth, and Srila Prabhupada had said that people basically had no spiritual assets—no knowledge, no austerity, practically no good qualities at all. But in the dream Srila Prabhupada had said that they did have one qualification: “Their one qualification is that they have faith in me, and they do whatever I say.” Then Goswami Maharaja looked up at Srila Prabhupada to see his response. And Srila Prabhupada agreed: “Yes, it is true.”

Actually, we have no qualification except our faith in Srila Prabhupada as spiritual master. And Goswami Maharaja was the epitome of such faithful and devoted service. In fact, he acted like an extension of Srila Prabhupada. The way he took care of Srila Prabhupada at the end, the way he rendered such intimate service to him—sometimes it seemed like he could read Srila Prabhupada’s mind, which was a great asset for a personal servant. (Of course, Goswami Maharaja was so perceptive he could practically read anyone’s mind.)

After Srila Prabhupada left, Goswami Maharaja took complete charge of the ceremonies. He made the arrangements for Srila Prabhupada to visit the Deities of Vrindavan, the arrangements for Srila Prabhupada to be placed in samadhi, the arrangements for the festival, and the invitations to the Vaishnavas of Vrindavan—the senior Vaishnavas associated with the different temples and mathas. Another thing that impressed me was how Goswami Maharaja took possession of some of Srila Prabhupada’s personal effects and then gave them to individual devotees as maha-prasada, as remnants of Srila Prabhupada’s to keep Srila Prabhupada near to them, as a remembrance to sustain them in separation. He was so perceptive that he seemed empowered to give just the right item to each individual.

Recently, I was recalling the history of ISKCON, looking at pictures of its history, and there was Goswami Maharaja, everywhere. It is inconceivable how one person could have done so much to spread Krishna consciousness, to serve Lord Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada.

Of course, you know about Goswami Maharaja’s surgery. Some time later, I also had major surgery in California, and Goswami Maharaja came to visit me—November 31 and December 1, 2, and 3, 2000. He had planned to stay for five full days, but then he said, “I have come so close, I think I should visit my mother.” I said, “You must.” He said, “Then I’ll have to leave early in the morning. On the last day I won’t be able to stay with you.” I said, “No, you must visit your mother.”

Anyway, Goswami Maharaja had been presenting papers at the AAR, the American Academy of Religion. There he had noticed a lady professor, Barbara Holdrege; he had been struck by her and impressed by her, and had developed the desire to meet her. At the same time, she had been observing him and hearing him deliver papers, and she had also been impressed and had developed the desire to meet him. So on the last day of the AAR meeting, they were introduced to each other. He told her that he was going to be visiting Santa Barbara, where she is a professor at UCSB, and she said, “All right, when you come to Santa Barbara, please phone me and we’ll get together.”

So he phoned her and arranged for her to come to my place for lunch. He had meticulously planned the whole meeting. He met with her first, and then, after they had spent some time together, he brought her to the temple room, where I was waiting and chanting. She sat down right in front of our Deities Sri Sri Gandharvika-Giridhari and we discussed Gaudiya Vaishnava siddhanta.

Then we all had lunch together, and I thought, “Wow! When I was at college we never had professors like her!” And I started to see that there was a whole new field in academia. Until then, I’d had no idea of what the field was like. My memory of the academy went back to 1969, when I graduated from Brandeis and joined Srila Prabhupada. But Goswami Maharaja had told me that people of our generation who were spiritually inclined either joined religious movements—like we had—or went into Religious Studies.

Anyway, she was extraordinary, and of course Goswami Maharaja was extraordinary, and the discussion between them was wonderful. It really gave me a glimpse into the field. I had heard a lot from Goswami Maharaja, but until I met her I really didn’t have a sense of what the field was actually like. In the end, she stayed for seven hours. By the time she phoned her husband, she was well overdue, but it was okay. And afterwards I was completely enlivened.

After Barbara Holdrege left, at around ten o’clock at night, Goswami Maharaja and I stopped back in the temple room, and I recalled a letter that Srila Prabhupada had written me when I had first joined, in 1969. Srila Prabhupada’s letter revealed that my father had written to him, and so Srila Prabhupada wrote, “I have received one letter from your father. It appears that you are a good scholar and have a taste for psychology and divinity studies. Of course, Krishna consciousness is on the line of divinity. If you make a thorough study of all theological schools and explain Krishna consciousness as the post-graduate presentation of all theological theses, it will be a great accomplishment.”

As I was reading the letter with Goswami Maharaja, I was thinking of Barbara Holdrege. She had studied all religions. She had gone most deeply into Judaism and Hinduism, and her great work was called Veda and Torah. She said that after going through all the different literatures and all the different traditions, she had become particularly interested in Gaudiya Vaishnavism and planned to make Gaudiya traditions a focus of her research.

Now it has been a year and a half since Goswami Maharaja introduced me to her, and she has been working on a research project on holy places in India that features a section on Vraja. Last January, she and her student Tripurari dasa came for dinner and we discussed the project. All this time, she kept in communication with Goswami Maharaja. One of the last times I spoke to him by phone we spoke of her.

I mention her—she is like a grain from the pot—because the combination of meeting her and seeing how Goswami Maharaja dealt with her and rereading the letter from Srila Prabhupada all convinced me of the importance of the work in the academic field. And Goswami Maharaja definitely emerged as the leader in the field. He showed that one could be a devotee and at the same time be an excellent scholar and writer. He published many articles and collections and established many deep relationships with people in the academy.

On Thursday, when we received the news about Goswami Maharaja, Professor Holdrege also heard and phoned me at ten o’clock at night. She didn’t have much personal association with Goswami Maharaja—the main times they were together were at my place for lunch and then again at the last AAR conference—but she was deeply moved when she heard what had happened. She was also concerned about the project she was working on, but although she intimated that she wanted to discuss it with me, she felt reluctant because of my own state after hearing the news. Somehow, I got the idea that Goswami Maharaja would want me to discuss it with her, and knowing that I would be leaving for Dallas, I said, “No, it’s all right. We can discuss.” And when we began, I felt that Goswami Maharaja was pleased; I felt some presence in the room, a brightness, and actually a blissfulness, as we were talking.

After the conversation, around eleven at night, I went out of my room into the temple room, and I really felt Goswami Maharaja’s presence, just as if he were with me. Not only was he with me, but I felt he was—I guess among family we can speak openly—I felt he was indicating that not only was he with me now but that now he could be with me always, and intimately, without being hampered by the trappings of having a body in the world and a role in society. And that was very encouraging. So, I felt very bright and blissful and wonderful, although since then I have felt much separation.

Here I may also mention another phone call, from one of Goswami Maharaja’s disciples in Los Angeles—Balarama Prabhu, from the Philippines. Balarama phoned and began asking about what had happened, and he was very controlled. Most of the people who phoned began very controlled, and then, somewhere between three seconds and three minutes later, they would break down and start to cry. Anyway, Balarama went on for one or two minutes and then said, “I have to tell you about a dream I had the night before Srila Gurudeva left.” And he began to sob uncontrollably. He wanted to tell me, but it was almost impossible for him to get it out because he was crying so much.

He said that Srila Gurudeva had come to him the night before, flanked by two devotees in saffron, and said, “I have to leave now.” In the dream Balarama became a little angry and asked, “Why? Why do you have to leave?” Srila Gurudeva replied, “I just have to leave now.” Then Balarama said that Srila Gurudeva told him, “I will always be with you . . .” And then Balarama managed to get out the next few words: “with my godbrothers.” So I thought he meant that Srila Gurudeva would always be with him and always be with his godbrothers too. Then Balarama indicated that Gurudeva meant that he would always be with Balarama when Balarama was with Gurudeva’s godbrothers, because Gurudeva was always with his godbrothers. So Balarama said that he wanted to come and spend some time with me because I was “the closest,” and of course he also mentioned Giridhari Swami. I said, “Well, I am leaving for Dallas, but when I come back you can come and we can meet.”

When I heard Balarama’s dream, I thought there was definitely some plan. Then Professor Holdrege phoned the next morning and said she couldn’t sleep the whole night because she was thinking of Tamal Krishna Goswami and felt enlivened by his presence. So, we can imagine how much effect Goswami Maharaja has had on people, both in his manifest presence and now.

When I speak of “Srila Gurudeva,” I really feel that Goswami Maharaja is an expansion of guru-tattva. Devotees may not be able to articulate the feeling in the same terms, but whether one is a disciple, a godbrother, a spiritual niece or nephew, or a university professor who is evolved spiritually and who may have only had a few encounters with Goswami Maharaja, anyone can experience Srila Gurudeva’s presence. Feeling Srila Gurudeva’s presence may take some time, depending on the individual, but all categories have certainly been deeply influenced by Srila Gurudeva.

So this is guru-tattva. Whatever our external relationship might have been, the scriptures’ teachings about the relationship with the spiritual master still hold: “He lives forever by his divine instructions, and the follower lives with him.” Thus, whatever the official relationship may be, the follower of Srila Gurudeva’s instructions will live with him. Or, Srila Gurudeva will live with the follower.

Of course, the challenge now is to keep that memory alive, to keep that relationship alive. And the community here will be a great support. I have seen many disciples, even of Srila Prabhupada, fall away from the strict practices of devotional service as time passed. Of course, many of them had bad experiences in the movement and became discouraged. But if the community remains united and the devotees remain strong in their spiritual practices and association, and keep Srila Gurudeva’s memory alive, not in a sentimental way but in a real way, that “I had a real, tangible relationship with him, and he gave me so many instructions, which I must follow,” there is no doubt we will feel Srila Gurudeva’s presence.

Still, we should not act as fanatics or sentimentalists. Even Srila Prabhupada’s disciples sometimes quote Srila Prabhupada in a fanatical way and do things in his name that we know he would not condone. We must always beware of niyamagraha, following the rules and regulations fanatically without really understanding the purpose behind them, or disregarding the rules and regulations and acting independently or whimsically. But if we keep our association strong, if our community is strong and our practice is strong, then there is no doubt that we will feel Srila Prabhupada’s and Srila Gurudeva’s living presence, even now.

Of course, I am saying, “even now.” Twenty-four years have passed since Srila Prabhupada left. It took me time. When Srila Prabhupada left, I was just crying. It took me time before I could actually feel his presence—it was a gradual, incremental process. At first, I was just crying, feeling separation. But having gone through the experience with Srila Prabhupada and having some experience of it even now with Srila Gurudeva, I know that it is possible to have that relationship even without the physical presence. And I also know the conditions that are conducive to maintaining the relationship and developing it further—we should associate with other devotees who have similar faith and whose association will be conducive to our faith, conducive to our practice, and conducive to our service. If we can keep such association, we can blossom spiritually—individually and collectively.

Now we are thinking that Srila Gurudeva was so young, which is true. But when Prabhupada left, we were thinking that we were so young. We were thinking, “How could Krishna take Srila Prabhupada when we’re so young? How can we live without him?” [And s]{S}ome of the devotees who were cast into the role of gurus then had been devotees for only seven years. Many of you have been devotees for fourteen years, or twenty-one years. So I think your own spiritual maturity and the strength of the community will serve you well—along with Srila Gurudeva’s example. After Prabhupada left, Goswami Maharaja commented that Srila Prabhupada, as the acharya, had shown us the example of how to do everything, except for one thing: how to relate to godbrothers. Prabhupada didn’t have any godbrothers who were ready to join with him. So we had no experience of godbrothers who had disciples—how they would relate to each other, how their disciples would relate to each other—because in ISKCON there was just Srila Prabhupada. He was the guru, and we all were his disciples. Srila Prabhupada invited his godbrothers to cooperate with him; it’s not that he wanted to be the only disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura who was preaching the message of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the West. But at the time, no one came. So that was the one example we didn’t have from Srila Prabhupada.

But we do have that example from Srila Gurudeva—how he associated with his godbrothers; how he consulted with his godbrothers; how he loved them; how he opened his heart to them; how they opened their hearts to him; and how they enjoyed kirtan together, reading and discussing together, and serving Srila Prabhupada together. And that example can be a real inspiration and guide.

So, now everything is complete. We have the instructions, we have the examples, we have the community, we have the Deities—we have everything. And if we just stick to the principles and stay together, stay united, with Srila Prabhupada and his beloved and trusted servant Srila Gurudeva in the center, we can continue, and continue to make progress.

When I think back on my last talk with Goswami Maharaja before he went to India (and I feel glad in retrospect that we had the talk—it probably lasted an hour and a half or more), I can see that it came at a time when certain things in my own service to Srila Prabhupada were becoming clarified and facilitated. I went over my service with Goswami Maharaja, and he commented on it, and I feel that what he said then, in terms of my service to Srila Prabhupada, can serve to guide me for the rest of my life. I had hoped to discuss more of the details with him as the service evolved, but now I can’t speak to him like I used to, by dialing his number on the telephone. But the basic plan is there, the basic instructions are there, the important confirmations are there, and I have faith that by the process of chanting and hearing and praying and consulting other devotees—mainly godbrothers, though there are also many other qualified devotees who are competent to respond wisely to questions and problems—we can get the answers we need in order to progress in our service.

I was thinking how in 1976, when Srila Prabhupada was in New York and was already ill and aged, he wanted the benediction to go on fighting for Krishna. Thinking of the circumstances of Goswami Maharaja’s last manifest service, I thought of Srila Prabhupada’s statement. Tripurari dasa told me about Goswami Maharaja’s mood in Oxford before leaving for India. Tripurari used to visit Goswami Maharaja’s house at least five times a week to do some service, and he also spent time with him just talking and doing things together. He said that Goswami Maharaja was very focused and very disciplined, and that for five hours every day he would work on his dissertation. Immovable. His routine was fixed. But he also said that in his last two days in Oxford Goswami Maharaja was so excited about the prospect of going to India that he couldn’t work on his dissertation—he was too excited. And then in Mayapur he immersed himself in hearing and chanting about Krishna. Every evening there would be bhajanas and kirtans for hours in his quarters.

Goswami Maharaja was very happy in Mayapur. He was pleased with the association of his godbrothers, pleased with the bhajanas, the sat-sanga, the kirtans. He was completely immersed in Krishna consciousness. And, of course, just being in the dhama has its own value. Probably all of us—what to speak of Goswami Maharaja—have experienced, when we leave the dhama, being absorbed in thoughts of the dhama, with memories of our experiences there and appreciation for the personalities who gave us mercy. But at the same time, when we leave, we leave for a purpose; we leave on a mission. We feel sad to leave the dhama, and we are still relishing the association of the dhama and the mercy of the higher personalities, but at the same time we know we have our mission—we are going to serve our spiritual master. I can imagine that Goswami Maharaja would have been in the same type of mood. And, transcendental as he was, the mood would have been even more heightened, more glorious—going out to fight for his spiritual master, for Srila Prabhupada.

From the point of view of the Society, also, I thought it was so appropriate and so auspicious; I could think of no better time or place for him to leave. So many devotees and leaders were there in Mayapur, the meetings had just ended and the festival had just begun, and practically all of ISKCON and its leadership were there and could worship and glorify His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja.

I felt that it was an occasion when the Society could come closer together, become more united in appreciation of Srila Prabhupada’s right-hand man. Time will reveal more about Krishna’s plan, but I do feel that Goswami Maharaja’s departure has provided us an opportunity and an occasion to come closer together. For the sincere, openhearted, pure-hearted devotees, it is an occasion to regroup our forces and appreciate each other more, appreciate the value of each other’s presence on the planet, and at the same time recognize the tenuousness of our existence in the body and realize that any one of us can go at any time. And therefore, with whatever time we have left, we should do the best we can for each other and for Srila Prabhupada, for the mission, and give up petty thoughts, petty preoccupations, petty grudges—just let it all go and fix our vision on Krishna, Sri Sri Radha-Kalachandji; Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu; the Six Gosvamis; the previous acharyas; Srila Prabhupada; and Srila Prabhupada’s intimate associates, including Sripada Tamal Krishna Goswami—and group together under their shelter and serve them, exalt them, and glorify them. And that will make us exalted and glorified, too.

Hare Krishna.

[A talk by Giriraj Swami, March 16, 2002—two days after Tamal Krishna Goswami’s departure—in Dallas]

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