Srila Bhakti Vaibhava Puri Maharaja's Cry for Help
by Sriman Aniruddha Das
When a devotee successfully preaching in Latin America introduced to him several new converted Vaisnavas and Vaisnavis from Germany, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, Puri Maharaja turned to me and with eyes moist with tears, told me in a broken but sweet voice: "You see… He's making true Lord's Caitanya's prophecy!" Then Maharaja signaled to each one of them by making facial gestures: "He is from Germany! Oh, she comes from Colombia. …And she is from Peru!" Maharaja was overwhelmed with a feeling of joy after witnessing how people from all corners of the world were embracing the chanting of the Holy Names of Krishna as predicted by mahajana Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and materialized by yuga-acarya, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Just by hearing and seeing him, my heart melted also.
Puri Maharaja always had great respect, admiration and even reverence towards Srila Prabhupada. In the nineties, at the end of a gathering of Vaisnavas representing different sangas and institutions, Maharaja said to everybody in the audience: "Now you just go all over the world and continue pushing forward Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja Prabhupada's mission. This is the only thing needed to please Guru and Gouranga…" I must say that Maharaja would always refer to him as "Srila Prabhupada," even during the time of His Divine Grace's physical presence.
On an early, chilly morning in December of 1995, I and my family paid a visit to Puri Maharaja in his beautiful asrama in Jagannath Puri Dham, just next to the famous Gundicha temple. He was basking in the morning sun rays and had his back leaned against one of the main pillars of the mandira's hall. He was wearing spectacles and translating some sacred text into Oriya. I was just getting up after offering him my dandavats when he asked me: "Any questions?" I then submitted my first question, and his answer evolved into a large, non-stop hari-katha which lasted almost five hours.
As soon as I came in front to him I noticed his eyes were watery, brimmed with tears. I superficially thought that due to the cold season, Mahajara had caught a cold. But afterwards every single time he would illustrate a philosophical point by referring either to one of Krishna's or one of Lord Caitanya's pastimes, his voice would crack and profuse tears would gush forth from the inside corners of his eyes. "Oh, this is ecstatic emotion"—I finally realized.
On the exchange related in the first paragraph (1998), Maharaja was already traveling to Europe following the footsteps of Srila Prabhupada. He had a fairly good amount of disciples, mostly in Italy and Spain. And he continued traveling thereafter every year, eventually completing worldwide tours which took him to far away places such as California and even Mexico.
In 2004 I was in Los Angeles during the welcoming ceremony to Srila Puri Maharaja. I managed to push my way ahead and somehow or other one devotee gave me the stainless steel bowl which would receive the water from Maharaja's feet. After Maharaja's attendants helped him to sit in an improvised vyasasana, I proceed very jubilantly to wash his holy feet: bhakta-pada-dhuli ara bhakta-pada-jala / bhakta-bhukta-avasesa—tina maha-bala, "The dust of the feet of a [pure] devotee, the water that has washed the feet of a devotee, and the remnants of food left by a devotee are three very powerful substances." [C.c. Antya 16.60]
When the ceremony was over, a microphone was given to Maharaja and he stated his speech with this words: "First of all I want to offer my most humble, postrated pranams at the feet of all Vaisnavas and Vaisnavis present in this function…" He stoically and dutifully delivered a short but enlivening Krishna conscious allocution. After all, Maharaja was well into his eighties and was exhausted after traveling more than 24 hours—checking at the airport, waiting at lounges, and clearing immigration and customs included.
At the beginning of the millennium Maharaja was taken for sightseeing inside the monumental San Peter Basilica in Rome. While strolling the wide aisles in between the humongous naves of the basilica, and looking up at the statues of departed Popes, he stopped to take a close look of Alexander VII (sculpted circa1678) who is prayerfully kneeling and has a representation of vanquished Death below. Suddenly, an educated Italian also touring the basilica along with his wife approached Maharaja and in spontaneous outburst of mixed of wonder and joy, exclaimed: "Che bellezza!" [What a beauty!]
Yes, Italians are very pious people. Mostly they become staunch, serious devotees.
A couple of years later Puri Maharaja again visited Rome. After welcoming him at the airport, his disciples drove him to the temple they have in the city. During this particular trip, one day Maharaja entered his room after delivering a lecture. He was alone. Devotes remained outside cheerfully talking about Maharaja's glories. An innocent young mataji took advantage of the situation and boldly ventured herself inside the room. Noticing her, Maharaja started to call aloud: "Aaaaahh, Aaaaahh, Aaaaahh". When nobody noticed his voice, Maharaja raised his voice: "AAAAAHH! AAAAAHH! AAAAHH!" Finally, to convince all that he was in imminent danger, he literally started to scream at the top of his voice: "AAAAHH!!! AAAAAHH!!! AAAAAHH!!!
This time everyone ran inside the room to see what was happening to Maharaja. With a pale face due to the effort Maharaja stared intensely at the lady who was respectfully but frightened standing in front of him with folded hands. Then all understood: Maharaja was crying for help! Although a perfect self-realized soul, Maharaja wanted to impart to his disciples a memorable lesson: a sannyasi or brahmacari should never stay alone with a woman. What to speak of talking intimately with her! What to speak of receiving massages in front of her or writing poetry to her!
He was elderly enough to be the great-grandfather of this particular lady, nevertheless he showed with his personal example that a serious practitioner of Krishna consciousness must abide the rules and sadacara of the sannyasa asrama. As our Srila Prabhupada commented of Govinda dasi after forcefully sending her to Hawaii: "She can perfectly be my grand-daughter... I have no problem at all keeping her engaged in Krishna consciousness. But I'm a sannyasi…‘A Ceasar's wife must be above any suspicion.' "
Srila Bhakti Vaibhava Puri
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