I bow my head in eternal obeisance to my Gurudev, the best of acharyas, Srila Bhakti Nirmal Acharya Maharaj. He is the ever vigilant, stalwart guardian of the current of pure devotion whose highest form flows from our most worshippable Sri Rupanuga Guru-varga in their exclusive dedication to Mahabhav, Srimati Radharani.
prerakam prachya-paschatya-sisyanam bhakti-vartmani
I offer my respectful obeisances to Swami Bhakti Nirmal Acharya, who is energetically inspiring all of Eastern and Western disciples on the path of pure devotion.
To try to describe unlimited glories of a Vaishnav is a very challenging task, and because the nature of Guru is beyond what we can grasp with our material intelligence and beyond what we can perceive with our material senses, it makes the task even harder. Anyone wishing to truly get acquaintance with His Divine Grace, is encouraged to come directly to his association—be it through his physical presence, personal correspondence, his audio, video, written lectures, or the devotees who are close and dear to him.
Presented here is an autobiographical discourse of His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Nirmal Acharya Maharaj, the current Acharya and Sevaite of Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.
...We had a large joint family of about 150 people, and we chanted the Holy Name, but only on special days—the family did not follow the Gaudiya Vaisnav tradition. My father was a political man, he did not like religion. My mother was from a religious family, but she was religious without the proper conception.
I remember when I was about ten years old, I would wake up every day very early in the morning, put on a dhoti, and go to our small family temple to read Srimad Bhagavad-gita. My father did not like it and chastised my mother for this, but I still went there, secretly.
Then, after a few years, I went to study at college and then at university. When I finished university and passed the post-graduate exams, I started teaching at college.
I stayed in the paternal house, where my uncle was staying, for a few days, and then my uncle got me a job in Kolkata. He was an income tax commissioner in Kolkata, a very prominent person, and he knew a college principle. This is how I got the job of a part-time teacher. I started giving lectures on mathematics and physics there.
My maternal uncle liked to tell to me that his father, that is my grandfather, had always wanted me to become a lawyer, or a judge, and he encouraged me to start studying law. So, I studied at night and taught at daytime, all at the same college. I studied like this for three years and received the LLB degree (Bachelor of Law), after which I took up practice under a senior advocate at Alipore Court, and sometimes at Kolkata High Court, and also continued lecturing at college.
At that time I was about twenty-seven years old. My mother always chastised and pressed me to get married. All my brothers and cousins had got married, but internally I had already decided that I would not get married. I had seen how much family people suffer, and I did not want to do that. I thought, "I can take care of myself, I can cook my own food, then why would I want to earn money with so much labour and spend it on some lady? What for?"
One day I came from the court and saw that my mother had not cooked for me. She said, "You are not getting married—who is going to cook for you?" She chastised me that day again and I ran away from the house.
I rented a house near Nabadwip, in Srirampur, Bardhaman District. It is a five-minute walk from the Nabadwip train station. I made a big centre in that house, Challenger Coaching Centre, and tutored there privately. I taught boys (from fifteen years old to graduate, postgraduate) mathematics, physics, chemistry, English grammar, Bengali grammar, geography, history. I made a sign board where I wrote I could teach all subjects, and when students saw the sign board they were impressed, "Oh, one teacher can teach all the subjects. I want to go there!"
Sometimes some college boys and girls came and asked me about my degree. I told them I had MSc in mathematics; then they challenged me to explain English grammar, and I explained it to them easily. This is how I began to teach there. Within fifteen days after opening the centre, I was already teaching 250 students. I would start early in the morning, 5 a.m. and continue until late at night, 12 a.m. I charged 50 rupees per student and earned a lot of money at that time. Because I had a law certificate, I also practised law at Krsna Nagar Court from time to time.
Then once I could not sleep the whole night. When a little bit of sleep was coming, somebody called me, "Govinda Maharaj is alone! Take care of him." I was thinking and searching, "Who is Govinda Maharaj? Who is this?" I did not know... It was like akas dhvani, a sound coming from the sky. All night that sound kept coming to me.
Next day was a Sunday. It was a holiday and I did not teach on that day (some students came to me, but I sent them away). I never brushed my teeth outside, but that day I took my toothbrush and left as I was, wearing a punjabi. I walked from Srirampur to the Gauranga Setu bridge and all the time kept thinking, "Who is that Govinda Maharaj? Who is that? What was that sound I heard?" From the bridge I saw the domes of the temple and I wondered, "What temple is this? I want to go see it." And I came to the temple.
The main gate was not always open like now because at that time all roads were mud roads, there were no bricks or anything like that, and when a car or a tractor passed by there was a lot of mud everywhere. So, I sat beside that iron steel-sheet gate where the bookshop is now. I was sitting and thinking.
An hour later, a brahmachari came out. He saw me and asked, "Who are you?" I told him I lived nearby and was from a town near Kolkata. He asked me what job I did, and I told him I was a private teacher and a lawyer. Then he left.
Next, I saw an old brahmachari—the manager of the temple at that time. There was somebody fishing in Govinda Kunda and that old brahmachari was hiding to catch the fisherman. He caught that boy and chastised him so much. Apologising and promising not to do it again, the boy begged him to return his hook...
Then, at three o'clock the first brahmachari came back. Later I learnt he had come from Hapaniya Dham. At that time I had never even heard of Hapaniya. He was surprised to see me again,
"You are still sitting here! Have you taken prasadam?"
"What is prasadam?"
"Food! It is our food."
"Oh, nobody told me I could get some food..." I did not even know what prasadam was, and I was very hungry—I came early in the morning, but it was already three o'clock and I had not eaten anything.
He took me with him. At that time the prasadam place was where the storage room is now, and there was a plate with some prasadam kept for him. He gave me a plate and put half of his prasadam for me. I said to him, "Prabhu, it is too less for you!" but he insisted, and I ate. After that he showed me around and told me about the temple. There were not so many buildings at that time: he showed me the main temple, Srila Sridhar Maharaj's samadhi mandir, and some other buildings.
After that he said to me, "You are a good, educated boy. Why do you not stay here, at the temple? You are not going to get married, then why will you return to your house and tutor people? What do you earn the money for? You can stay at the temple." He asked the manager of the temple if I could stay. The manager did not like it,
"He is a lawyer, what is going to do here?"
"Oh, he will do some service..."
Finally, he agreed, "All right, take him to Damodar Maharaj."
Damodar Maharaj was in charge of the guest house and he gave me a room (it was room number 11; now it is number 13) and a mattress. For three or four years I stayed without a bed-sheet or a pillow—I only had that coconut mattress on the floor, nothing else, and I did not ask for anything. I was also given one dhoti.
This is how I moved into the temple.
After I joined, in three-four days, one devotee chastised me,
"What have you come here for?"
"I do not know."
"Then why are you here if you do not know?!"
"I want to do some service, want to stay in the temple. That brahmachari said I could stay here. He said I could do what they were doing."
"Who is the Guru here?"
"I do not know."
"Then why are you here? You do not even know the Guru's name here!"
"OK, Prabhu, I do not know. Tell me the name of the Guru."
He told Gurudev's name, and I remembered that message from the sky. He was calling me. Somebody was sending me to him, "That is your spiritual master." So, I did whatever I was told to do and was waiting for Gurudev to come.
Soon after that, perhaps a few days later, Gurudev came back from his first world tour (it was 1992). Everyone went to pay dandavat to him, I also went behind everyone and paid my dandavat. Somebody told him, "This is a new boy," and then he saw me. He gave a class and I sat there, always behind. I just listened and did not ask any questions.
He asked me, "What service are you doing?" I told him that the Math manager sent me to the crops field. Gurudev said, "Good. Do you go there alone now?"
"Yes, I go alone."
"Do you know all our land?"
"Yes. I know all land." After the manager went with me on the first day, he did not go again—he understood that he did not have to supervise me.
"Do you know the name of the villages where our land is?"
"Yes, I do."
"Tell me the village names."
"Nrisinghajuli and Bonorpukur." He was very happy.
"Do you know the name of the servitor who lives there?" I told him the name, and he was also very happy.
He told the manager of the temple, "Take care of this boy." After a few days Gurudev gave me initiation and the name Vinod Ranjan Das. On that day I was given one more dhoti. Before that I had been wearing the same dhoti for one month—when I went to rest in the afternoon, I washed it and while it was drying I wore my trousers.
For two months I could not sleep well, I always dreamt of mathematics, physics, writing on the blackboard, solving the problems. I was thinking about my room—my big bed, my almirah, big mattress, my fan, attache case, suitcase, the money, all these things—and one day I just threw the key from my room into Govinda Kunda.
Next were my clothes. When I saw my trousers, my punjabi, I again remembered my previous house, so when I got that one more dhoti after the initiation I decided to burn my old clothes. I could not ask for a candle or matches because they would think I was smoking, so I waited. When there was no electricity somebody brought me a candle, and I burnt my clothes with that candle.
This is how, little by little, I removed the illusory environment.
Every day I listened to Hari-katha: morning class, afternoon class, and evening class—I would be sitting there. I listened to Chaitanya-bhagavata and Chaitanya-charitamrta classes happily, but when Damodar Maharaj or some old devotee read Bhagavatam in the afternoon, it was hard for me and I could not understand it.
...Sometimes Maya would also come. Once a man came to me and said, "Why did you come to the temple at this age? You can still get married, you can earn money!" I thought, "He is not a temple man, he is against the temple. He is staying at the temple but spreading bad ideas." I was always observing everything—who is doing, and who is doing what...
I remember when Gurudev just came back he asked me, "Do you want to stay at the temple?"
"Whom will you worship—Gaura or Krsna? Do you like Gaura's or Krsna's lila more?"
I did not know what to answer. I knew something about both Gaura and Krsna, so I said, "Both."
"Yes, it is the right answer."
One day in 1999, it was in Rama Didi's house—Gurudev asked me, "Vinod, will you get married?"
I was surprised, "What for? I did not come to the temple to get married. I came here to the temple because I was afraid to get married..."
"Oh, so you will not get married... Then you can take sannyas!"
"Sannyas? I will give my answer tomorrow, after twenty-four hours..."
After twenty-four hours I came, paid my dandavat, and went away immediately. I was waiting. Forty-eight hours passed, seventy-two hours passed like this. Finally, Gurudev said, "You are stretching time but not giving the answer!"
Rama Didi, Srila Sridhar Maharaj's sister, also said to Gurudev, "Now you have to make somebody who will be the acharya after you." Then Gurudev said to me at once, "You can take sannyas."
I told Gurudev at that time, "Gurudev, you can say I am like your goat. You can cut my head or tail, no problem. So, whatever you tell me to do, I agree. I am unqualified, but if you think I am qualified for sannyas, you can give it."
You know that after sannyas I went preaching. Before that I also went to many places for preaching, collection. I took so much responsibility for that. "It is service to Gurudev. If somebody is not doing it, I must do it"—that is my mood. Before me they also preached, but they would go only for some rice collection, but I thought, "Why go house to house and collect only one-two kilograms of rice? If I go preaching to other places, then more rice will also come."
When I came to the Math, only 250 people joined the parikrama at that time, so I thought, "If I go preaching, people must come. It is a good conception—Mahaprabhu's conception, Gurudev's conception. Sridhar Maharaj gave so many books, it is like fish food—when there is food in a pond, the fish must come."
...I remember my first construction service was the gosala. It was 1993. Previously, it was a small place and the cows were always too crowded there. Our field was there, but there was no boundary wall. Gurudev told me, "Do this job, it is necessary for the cows," and at the same time Gurudev also said to Damodar Maharaj, "Do not give any money to him. I want to see how he arranges it." So, I had to borrow some money from others to make the boundary wall...
Actually whatever I have done, it is Gurudev's hand, I am only an instrument...
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