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(C) 1995 by Richard S. Brown
All rights reserved.

Q&A: Tridandi Swami Bhakti Hrdaya Vana Maharaj (2)

By Richard Shaw Brown

Q&A about Tridandi Swami Bhakti Hrdaya Vana Maharaj and the bona fide Gaudiya Math of Srila Sarasvati Prabhupada from devotees with answers by Hrsikesananda das. (Part 2)

(1) QUESTION: "At some time during the early fifties (?) Vana Maharaj took Babaji vesh and sought to become Mahanta of Radha Kunda, but was not accepted by the Babajis because of his Gaudiya Math connections. After this he returned to saffron cloth. Do you know anything of this?"

REPLY: He was never initiated beyond Sannyas (he was Bhakti-siddhanta's 3rd sannyasi disciple at age 23), and a life-long sannyasi at that. His entire spiritual life is recorded by Vana Maharaj himself in a Bengali book named, Vaikunther Pathe. I went to Radha-kunda on several occasions with Srila Vana Maharaj and all the Babaji's there knew him well and showed him great love and respect.

(2) QUESTION: "According to Lalita Prasad Thakur, Vana Maharaj received the details of Bhaktivinoda's siddha pranali from him. I saw in a book published by Vana Maharaj that he indeed used Bhaktivinoda Thakura's siddha-pranali, identifying BSSP as BVT's disciple in this siddha-pranali line. Unfortunately I have since lost this little booklet which may have been intended only for his personal confidential disciples. Do you have this booklet?"

REPLY: On the surface (temple) he always followed strictly our line as is; during every kirtana the devotees would start by singing all the Guru Vandana's exactly in order. But on the absolute platform his nitya-sambandha was revealed by Srila Vana Maharaj (Kunda Latika Manjari) as being directly with Kamala-nayana Manjari (Srila Saraswati Prabhupada), Kamala Manjari (Srila Bhaktivinode) and Rupa/Rati under Srimati Lalita Shakti. Because the spiritual name of Srila Saraswati Thakura is also known to be "Nayana Manjari" I can see the connection he makes with Srila Bhaktivinode who is eternally "Kamala Manjari." Srila Vana Maharaj got his own siddha-pranali (some say from Lalita Prasad) or realized the truth of it by the grace of Srila Saraswati Thakur in a vision while performing tapasya in the Himalayas. It is all given in his Bengali book Vaikunther Pathe (Vaikuntha Path Par in Hindi translation). I don't have the book now, but the most amazing devotee (next to Krishnadas Babaji Babaji Maharaj) was Gopesh Prabhu, and he is the Acarya after Vana Maharaj. His name is Tridandi Swami Gopananda Vana Maharaj, and he is the caretaker of Vana Maharaj's books and Vrindavan ashram located at "Bhajan Kutir" a short way down Madan Mohan Ghera toward Sri Sri Madan Mohan Mandira.

(3) QUESTION: "So, when we say Bon, we should be saying VANA? but because of Bengali pronunciation, he used Bon and not Van-----is it correct?"

REPLY: Correct! According to universal Sanskrit transliteration his name is VANA Maharaj, as in Vrnda-vana. Vana (forest), one of the primary Sannyasa names established by Adi-Shankaracarya. Others are GIRI, PARVAT, ARANYA, SARASWATI, SAGAR, etc. I heard that Srila Saraswati Thakura used these primary names (there were ten) for his first Sannyasa disciples; then he added more from other sources. But the Bengali's always say "Brindabon" or "Bon" when trying to say Vrinda-vana. Even I have that habit, unless I really concentrate on the correct Sanskrit pronunciation.

(4) QUESTION: "When Saraswati Thakura left the planet, for some time, Bon Maharaj had kept his distance from the mission because of his disappointment in England."

REPLY: Not so!---IT WAS BECAUSE OF HIS DISAPPOINTMENT AT HOW THE MISSION BROKE UP. He told me the complete inside story. The fighting was so bad that some of his Godbrothers put human stool on each other and even resorted to hand-to-hand violence, murdering each other with knives and bricks. He said it was more than he could stand, so he left for the Himalayas to find his inner self.

The truth is that Srila Vana Maharaj MADE THE ATTEMPT to fulfill the order of Sri Param-Gurudeva. Exactly at the time that Srila Vana Maharaj was in England in the early 30's it was during the British Raj and the Great Depression, and getting donations from UK was impossible. And there was no counter-culture mood like in the mid-60's.

As I was taught, the material result was not important, rather it is the "attempt" which is bhakti. Can you imagine how tough it must have been in the freezing cold & wet London for Vana Maharaj, who is Bengali born. And he had to deal with puffed-up British during the Raj. And all this during the GREAT DEPRESSION. But still he tried and did open a center in London.
But Vana Maharaj felt bad with his Godbrothers tried to poison the mind of BSSP out of jealousy.

The two period's (1930's and 1960's) cannot be compared. Factually during the spread of Srila Saraswati Prabhupada's Sri Gaudiya Math Swami B.H. Vana Maharaj was the leading, most expert and most famous preachers.

(5) QUESTION: "When BSST passed away, many of Bon Mj's god-brothers told that he had made offense to BSST but since BSST was not here anymore, he could not ask for forgiveness of his offense. The story goes, that several pundits got busy looking in the Shastra for quotations dealing with the manner of being forgiven if that person has left his body. They found a passage that read, "Then you must spend one month on a raft in the middle of the Ganga." Bon Maharaj did that."

REPLY: That is most GLORIOUS pastime I have ever heard!

(6) QUESTION: "I met Vana Maharaj (I am glad to see you use this spelling, even though it will probably be impossible to correct the traditional way of doing it) in 1978, I guess. This was when he was made Acarya of the Caitanya Math. I was very impressed by his lectures, of which I heard two or three, and his effulgent appearance. Although Vana Maharaj did not have much longer to live at that time, he was definitely a cut above any other Gaudiya Math speaker that I had ever heard. Of course, Sridhar Maharaj was ailing, and he had a special charm that appealed to me, but as far as sheer professionalism and charisma were concerned, Vana Maharaj was singular.

Unfortunately, I had no opportunity for further association. He showed some favor towards me because I spoke Bengali."

REPLY: YES! He was a paramahamsa and siddha-purusha worshipped to this day by thousands of his mostly Bengali born disciples. You are indeed fortunate to have been his kripa-patra.

(7) QUESTION: "I think he (Srila Prabhupada) believed, or at least he let it be so thought, that Vana Maharaj had plagiarized his translation Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu (Nectar of Devotion), which is of course highly unlikely."

REPLY: This is absolutely NOT true! This is an unfair attempt to re-write history. When I arrived in Vraja to live with Vana Maharaj in Jan. 1968 his great translation of BRS was already published, years before our Srila Prabhupadaj's was published. In my personal opinion Srila Vana Maharaj's translation is much more clear than our Srila Prabhupada's summary study. Also, Vana Maharaj had such a bad experience of mlettchas when he was in the UK during the 1930's that he refused to translate the remainder of the book into English. He said the mlettchas were so polluted from birth and up-bringing that it would be a sin to reveal the higher portions to them in English.

(8) STATEMENT: "I think when speaking of Vana Maharaj, you might wish to mention Klaus Klostermaier whom you may well have met in Vrindavan. He has continued high respect for Vana Maharaj to this day and has done a great deal of work promoting Vaisnavism in the West, though he is not a practitioner. Iskcon keeps a close relationship with him as he gives good reviews to anything they publish and he often writes articles for their scholarly publications."

REPLY: I remember hearing about him.

(9) POINT: "Certainly we were all suspicious of Vana Maharaj at that time. As you say, Prabhupada was more negative about him than any other of his Godbrothers."

REPLY: With over 180 seemingly mundane offensive quotes by our Srila Prabhupada recorded in VedaBase where he says that Vana (Bon) Maharaj is "not a human being, is a Mayavadi, is not a liberated person, never speaks about Krsna, is black like a Gorilla," etc., it is hard for me to cope with most Iskcon devotees who take that as the truth. Especially since I am eye-witness (as is also Sri Radhanath Swami and your good self) and can say that just the complete opposite is the truth.

Our Srila Prabhupadaj said that "we could not say (or think) such things" about his Godbrothers, and I know that Srila Vana Maharaj came to visit HDG (along with Swami Vana's intimate friend Akincana Krsnadas Babaji Maharaj) shortly before HDG's disappearance and our Srila Prabhupada directly asked Vana Maharaj for his forgiveness for any offenses; and he was forgiven. So our Srila Prabhupada is clear of offensive. But the legacy he left still pervades Iskcon causing the devotees great harm by their thinking that Srila Vana Maharaj and other Gaudiya Matha acaryas's, past and present, are evil non-devotees to be banned. Actually they are the great eternal servants of Srila Sarasvati Prabhupada and Lord Sri Gaura Hari.

The fact is that HDG clearly said that (among his Godbrothers) he may say something, but we (his disciples) CANNOT say nor think such things to be factual. Therefore, even though our Srila Prabhupada begged and received forgiveness from Srila Vana Maharaj (on behalf of all his Godbrothers), still his disciples and grand-disciples, are 100% wrong to repeat those already forgiven statements or think them to be factual. Our Srila Prabhupada is free of offense by virtue of the forgiveness of his Godbrothers, but Iskcon disciples are fully guilty of Vaisnava-aparadha by continuing this blasphemy of great senior devotees, who are all our worshipful shisksa-gurus.

(10) STORY: "I wanted to share a story with you, even though quite abbreviated and paraphrased, I think the gist will come through. This story was related to me by our Godbrother B. G. Narasingha Maharaj (Jagat Guru Swami). He was visiting Srila Vana Maharaja's Math in Vrndavana seeking some archival type photos of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. Unbeknownst to him, the [Vana] Maharaja was very ill and quite close to departing this world. When Vana Maharaja heard that a disciple of Swami Maharaja was there, he immediately called for him to be brought to the room. Narasingha Maharaja went (be grudgingly, as he told me, because of the old stigmas we had learned), and Vana Maharaja began to cry profusely and begged for forgiveness for causing any difficulties for our Prabhupada."

"Narasingha Maharaja told me that he felt that Srila Prabhupada had sent him there to relieve Vana Maharaja of this anxiety."

REPLY: I don't believe that Narasimha Maharaj is in a position to offer benediction to Paramahamsa Srila Vana Maharaj; but he was blessed to see the pure Prema bhakti of Srila Vana Maharaj in person.

NOTE: Iskcon devotees try to re-write history to show that only ACBSP was a GOOD devotee of Prabhupada, and that he is the 2nd coming of Christ. The TRUTH is that ACBSP was of little consequence during the time of Prabhupada. He lived outside the Gaudiya Mission and was never strictly trained in Gaudiya Math ashram life nor activities. That is the reason why there are so many discrepencies in Iskcon. Our Srila Prabhupada always said that he "would NEVER change anything of his Gurudev" (Prabhupada), but in fact many things got changed.

Here are just a few examples:

---There was never any Narasimha puja in any Gaudiya Math. And if there was to be, then the mantra used is from SB (Om namo bhagavate Narasimhaya......Om kshrom!) That is the bona fide Narasimha Mantra for all disciples of Prabhupada. So this separate Narasimha puja is a concoction.

---In Gaudiya Math the Panca-tattva and Maha-mantras are almost always sung in half stanzas followed by refrain. The complete mantras are almost NEVER sung together like always done in Iskcon.

---There is NO separate Guru-puja in any Gaudiya Matha, except on Vyasa puja day.

---There is never any one bowing down during Prema Dhavani prayers like the impractical Iskcon concoction.

---There are NEVER women living within any Gaudiya Matha ashram like in Iskcon life.

---There are mistakes in Prema-dhavani prayers such as the correct "Radha-Krsna, GOPA, GOPI GO,... which in Iskcon is said wrongly as GOPA GOPINATH.

---There is no "My Guru is better than your Guru" mentality among the many different Gaudiya Math institutions.

---And the practice of slandering the other disciples of BSSP and even banning them from public temples is only done in Iskcon. Actually a Muslim butcher is allowed into any Iskcon temple, but our Srila Prabhupada's Godbrothers and other Gaudiya Vaisnavas are forbidden to enter or speak.

---In Gaudiya Math, women are NEVER allowed to do the Salagrama and Arca-vigraha puja; and when they have their menstrual cycle they are not even allowed into the temple compound.

---In Gaudiya Math "svarupa siddhi" is taken as self-realization. But in Iskcon, any temporarily fixed up neophyte manager, who has no idea of his spiritual identity, is taken as self-realized.

---In the bona fide Gaudiya Math spiritual words were never abbreviated like always done in Iskcon (Iskcon's name itself is an abbreviation!). When devotees greeted each other they said, "Dandavat!"...NOT "PAMHO!" or "AGTSP, "etc., etc. In Iskcon why not chant the Maha-mantra as, "HKHKKKHH, HRHRRRHH!?"

...And I could go on telling more of the endless differences where our Srila Prabhupada has inadvertently changed many systems of Prabhupada and his Gaudiya Math. The entire taste of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is completely different in Iskcon than in the bona fide Gaudiya Math of Prabhupada Srila Saraswati Thakura.

In fact, Iskcon promotes the Christian/Muslim belief that "Only we and our way are valid; there is no other Guru nor any other way except Iskcon."

(11) "We "Iskconers" had unfortunately developed a tendency to enjoy throwing about phrases like "envious black snake" and such. Even this is still going on today and recently I heard this statement quoted about B.V Tirtha Maharaja, who Srila Prabhupada said went back to Godhead."

When I first joined Srila Vana Maharaj in Jan. '68, I was taught that all the Gaudiya Math acaryas's (Prabhupada's Godbrothers) were equally great and I loved all of their disciples. It didn't matter what Matha. I went with Vana Maharaj and visited many of his Godbrothers including HDG BV Tirtha Maharaj, Sridhar Maharaj, Madhava Maharaj, etc. I saw the love and respect they shared with Vana Maharaj. And I saw the disciples of Srila Vana Maharaj mixing with those of Tirtha Maharaj, Madhava Maharaj, Ashram Maharaj, Sridhar Maharaj, etc. and all respecting and loving each other like the best of family. This is what's really missing in Iskcon.

An insignificant defender of genuine devotees,

Hrsikesananda das