California, USA — Thursday, December 23rd

Who will lock the gate?

On this first Vyasa Puja since Srila Gurudeva, His Divine Grace Srila Bhakti Sundar Govinda Dev-Goswami Maharaj's disappearance — a day on which we commemorate and affirm our connection with reality (upadeksyanti te jnanam) — I cannot help but reflect a little on just how much more tenuous that link has now become...

My old friend and mentor, Yudhamanyu Seva Vikram Prabhu often tells the story of how Srila Guru Maharaj once asked him, in 1982, how long he had been a disciple of Srila Swami Maharaj, and when Yudhamanyu Prabhu replied, "Since 1972," Srila Guru Maharaj said, "So, five years..." Yudhamanyu Prabhu was astonished that, because Srila Prabhupad disappeared in 1977, Srila Guru Maharaj, "Just like that, he cut my connection with Srila Prabhupad in half!"

Srila Guru Maharaj's emphasis on the dependence of a disciple's (particularly a Western disciple's) living connection with the guru is corroborated by Srila Gurudeva in Divine Guidance, when somebody asks why some of the senior disciples of Srila Guru Maharaj and Srila Prabhupad went astray after the departure of their gurus:

We see that although these disciples served Srila Swami Maharaj or Srila Guru Maharaj, they did not actually get a real service connection. Although they served enthusiastically, they did not actually know what devotional service is. As long as Srila Guru Maharaj and Srila Swami Maharaj were here, their influence and potency concealed their disciples' shortcomings, but when they left, their influence and protection also withdrew, and the disciples' defects and deficiencies were exposed.

Without a living connection to our guru, we are like orphans. This is why so many disturbances must come (to ourselves and to our gurus' mission) after the disappearance of the guru — because he is no longer here to "conceal our shortcomings," to make everything right: to protect us, to correct our misconceptions, and to adjust and fine-tune our enthusiastic but flawed attempts to serve.

One example that I still vividly recall, of how Srila Gurudeva used to conceal his disciples' shortcomings and tactfully (unbeknown to them) adjust and rectify their misguided attempts to serve, occurred a few years ago at our Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math in Navadwip dham.

Every year, on the four days immediately before Gaura Purnima, all the devotees of our Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math go on a parikrama of the holy dham. The parikrama begins early, after the mangala arati, from Srila Guru Maharaj's samadhi mandir, and the procession of several hundred pilgrims is always led through the streets of Navadwip by one of our most senior sannyasis.

On the first day of this annual tradition, I did not join the parikrama, but watched, along with Srila Gurudeva and his servant, as the long line of singing pilgrims filed around the back of the temple, passed below His Divine Grace's veranda, and disappeared behind the kitchen and the old prasadam room, heading towards the front of the Math.

Srila Gurudeva stood by the window of his veranda, looking down the walkway alongside the nat mandir towards the main gate, waiting for the sankirtan party to come into view again, and when it did not (and the singing faded in the distance), Srila Gurudeva asked, "What happened? Where have they gone?"

When informed that the procession had gone out into the streets of Navadwip via the side gate next to the Centenary building, Srila Gurudeva was visibly annoyed: "Why has [the senior sannyasi leading the parikrama] done that?"

Perhaps seeing my quizzical look, Srila Gurudeva explained: "Srila Guru Maharaj is standing on his veranda [which does not have a view of the side gate] waiting to bless the devotees as they go out the main entrance. Does [that sannyasi] not know that?"

"What shall I do, Maharaj?" Srila Gurudeva said resignedly, as he turned and walked slowly back to his seat. "Nobody knows anything. What will happen to Srila Guru Maharaj's mission when I am gone?" I hung my head, silent.

How did Srila Gurudeva deal with this breach of protocol?

Rather than cause the hapless sannyasi any embarrassment by perhaps publicly correcting him when he returned from the parikrama, Srila Gurudeva simply ordered that somebody lock the side gate every morning for the next three days (during the mangala arati, before the parikrama), to ensure that the pilgrims could only exit the Math from the main gate in front of the nat mandir, and thus properly honor Srila Guru Maharaj and receive his blessing.

There are so many other incidents like this that I have witnessed while living and traveling with Srila Gurudeva, where, when one of his eager servitors made a mistake or did something wrong, His Divine Grace found a simple, ingenious way to make it right without exposing their shortcomings and deficiencies.

And there's the rub. Who knows how many times Srila Gurudeva has tactfully concealed, glossed over, and covered up my own foolish, pathetic, blundering attempts to serve His Divine Grace?

O Srila Gurudeva! Now that you have departed (along with your influence and potency), who will "lock the gate" on my innumerable shortcomings, defects, and deficiencies?

Tags: Gurus & Guardians

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