A Student’s Memories of Śrīmān Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu
By Kiśora Dāsa
virahānale no dagdhān
vande—I bow down; vinaya-bhāva—with humility; āḍhyam—to one who is endowed with; sākṣāt—to him who is personified; bhāgavata-amṛtam—nectar of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and of the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta; śāstra—of the sacred scriptures; marma—mysteries; vidām—of those who know; varyam—to the most eminent; gopī—of the gopīs; prāṇa—of the life; dhanam—to him who is the wealth; prabhum—to the master; viraha—of separation; anale—in the fire; naḥ—us; dagdhān—scorched; bhaviṣya—of the future; bhaya—with fear; pīḍitān—who are tormented; pīyūṣa—nectarean; bindubhiḥ—with drops; vāṇyāḥ—of your vāṇī; poṣaya—nourish; anātha-jīvitān—those who have lost their master.
Let me offer my obeisances to Śrīpāda Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu, the most outstanding scholar expert in understanding the mysteries of the Sanskrit scriptures. Although he personifies the nectar of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, he is decorated with feelings of humility. We, your orphans, burn in the fire of separation from you and are overcome with fear about our future. Nourish us with the drops of your nectarean, immortal vāṇī.
My dearest Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu.
Please accept my humble obeisances. Jaya Śrīla Prabhupāda!
Is it really true that my teacher and hero has left us? I am still waiting that someone would wake me up and tell me that everything is all right and that it was just a bad dream. While waiting, I try to console my greaving heart with memories.
My first contact with you was through the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. I noticed your name in them: Gopīparāṇadhana Dāsa Adhikārī. I also recall that a devotee once told me about you, a great scholar, living in a simple house in the town of Govardhana with a few cows. He was amazed, and so was I.
Then in March 2005 I remember seeing your email on the Free Forum of the PAMHO email system. It began with:
“Why become an academic scholar when you can be a natural scholar in the eternal Vaiṣṇava tradition?
Why be vague about your future when you can be serving the central aims of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s heart?
Why not consider joining the BBT’s new, dynamic school, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavata Vidyāpīṭham in Kṛṣṇa’s favorite place, Śrī Govardhana?”
This really caught my attention. At that time I was serving as a brahmacārī in ISKCON Salem, Tamil Nadu and was attracted to the idea of studying Sanskrit and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. But since I did not know any Sanskrit yet I did not even dare to think about joining the school. Nevertheless, some months later my Guru Mahārāja spoke about your school in one of his lectures and this made me think about it again. With my Guru Mahārāja’s blessings I applied for admission and you accepted me. You allowed me to come a month earlier, so I arrived at Govardhana in the beginning of September, right after the Janmāṣṭamī.
I expected to meet a scholar who would look at least something like the professors from the college I attended; distinguished and aware of their own importance. But to my great surprise you were none of that. I offered my obeisances to you and you did the same to me. I was shocked and uncomfortable. At that first meeting I gave you a small gift, a dhotī from South India, and you reacted as if you were embarrassed. That was so typical of you and I saw that so many times. Your unique facial expressions, gestures, child-like innocence, and genuine humility were winning the hearts of people who had the fortune to interact with you.
After a few days in Govardhana you asked me if there was something I would need to facilitate my studies. Instead of politely denying I thought of my somewhat dark room and said that it would be nice to have a small table lamp. You immediately arranged that I got the table lamp from your own room. Again I was uncomfortable and I rushed to your room to return the lamp. You persuaded me that you do not need it at all since your room was sunny during the day, and that you did not stay at the school over the night. I did not want to argue so I gave in, and kept your lamp throughout my stay at the school. You were so senior in every possible way but you acted as if we were fellow devotees trying to help each other.
My next remembrance during that month is of your Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam commentary class which was compulsory for everyone at the school. I was invited to attend as well. At that time I hardly read the Devanāgarī script at the speed of a first-grade kid and knew no Sanskrit whatsoever. I was terrified to sit among others who already knew something. I could not understand anything. And still as a great teacher you asked me if I could read a word from the verse under analysis. With great endeavor I did so and you thanked me with a charming smile on your face. The message I got from you was that I was welcome to study with you and that you were patient. You continued teaching this course throughout our first school year. We, the students, were just beginning to learn Sanskrit and yet you had the patience to deal with us. You had a formula how to engage us. Everyone was allotted one word from a verse and was supposed to analyze it. To help us you asked: “Is it a noun, verb, or indeclinable?” And then often, as we did not know the right answer, you joked, “No, it is not a verb, you have two guesses more.” You made our studies light and jolly. Later when I got to know a bit more about Sanskrit and the depth of your command of it I really understood how patient you were as a teacher.
When all the students arrived at the beginning of the school year, the school building was packed with devotees from top to bottom. We were more than twenty. You told us that you intended to accept less students but while reading our applications you felt that we were all so qualified and you could not reject any of us. I know at least for myself I was not qualified at all. Again you demonstrated your utmost humility and respect for others.
Since Govardhana is cold in winter you arranged for the entire school to move to South India for the month of January. The devotees in Dharvad in north Karnataka loved you so much that they accommodated us in a big newly built two-storey house. The atmosphere was cosy and homely. We were studying and feeling the pressure of the upcoming grammar exams but the local devotees were excited to have you and your students there. You and Mukunda Datta Prabhu were lecturing in the evening for the local devotees. They arranged many preaching programs for us that often interfered with our studies. But this simply showed that your school was different from other schools; you established it to satisfy Śrīla Prabhupāda whose main emphasis was preaching.
Seeing us frantically studying for the grammar exams and sometimes skipping the regular programs you would tell us that studying Sanskrit per se is not that important and that the study of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is far more valuable. You insisted that we should not lose the proper focus. This made us wonder what to do, and still does. You were never “lost” in Sanskrit and did not want us to become bewildered.
Although your school was known to many devotees as Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu’s Sanskrit school or “the Govardhan school” you named it Śrīmad-Bhāgavata Vidyāpīṭham. You firmly belived that the dissemination of the teachings of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was the primary means for the respiritualization of the world.
It is not a secret that your school was not the most organized but as you said with a smile, it is hard to organize intellectuals. They are by nature anarchists, have their own ideas how to do things and are not always the best organizers. We wrestled with this fact and its consequences here and there in the course of our studies, but having you as our teacher was so valuable that the occasional inconveniences faded into forgetfulness and lost any real meaning.
Many times you would tell us that scholarly engagement is just one of the services in the saṅkīrtana movement and that we should not consider this particular service so special. Each and every service is glorious and we should find the one most suited to our nature even if that is something different from what the school was offering.
You were extremely enthusiastic about preaching. Devotees from the Delhi temple and the Krishna Balarama Mandir in Vṛndāvana would regularly invite you to give classes. The weekly free day in your school was organized in such a way that you could go to Delhi on Friday just to give a Saturday morning Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam class there. You did not hesitate to accept inconveniences for the sake of preaching.
You did not want us to hear Bhāgavata-saptāhas and lectures from other camps in Vṛndāvana. You insisted that we remain faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda. But none of us really felt the need to listen to anyone else since the height of staying in Govardhana was listening to your bhāgavata-kathā. You could speak on any topic. Your lectures were highly learned but you rarely spoke like, “Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says like this, Jīva Gosvāmī wrote like that.” Your points were intelligible to everyone, just like your Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta. You could speak on complex topics but in a simple way. This is the ornament of a truly learned person.
I noticed that everyone who came in contact with you would be charmed by your pleasant and unassuming nature. Not only humans, your cows also loved you. There was a time when your cow Viśākhā was regularly visiting the entrance to our school. She was an independently thoughtful cow who knew how to be at the right place at the right time. On her routine parikramā around Govardhana town she would come to the front metal gate of the school and get some prasādam and vegetable peels. She then happily wandered off. But one day she coolheadedly climbed the few stairs, slipped under the metal gate and entered the school courtyard. As if she were at home there, she headed right for the temple room where your class was going on. When you saw the cow marching in through the blue temple door you innocently asked, “Viśākhā, what are you doing here?” We, your students, who so far had our backs to the door, turned around to watch this comedy. But we became frightened about all our laptop computers so we managed to close the door before Viśākhā, greedy for knowledge, could enter. The classes were cancelled and a few students were trying to convince Viśākhā to leave the school compound, something they managed to do only after much persuasion, pushing, and pulling. Your school was definitely not an ordinary school.
Although you wanted us to study seriously you also loved to see us on Govardhana parikramās. This perfect and pure devotional activity became our “recreation.” It was quite possible to meet you while on parikramā; in more recent times you circumambulated Govardhana on your scooter. We figured out that the best way to easily complete the parikramā was to do one half one day and the second half the next day. We became so familiar with the whole route that we were able to predict the time we needed to complete it, and could choose the right pace to return to the school at a given time. Living in Govardhana town was like living in the center of the universe. You once said that it was proper to have our school in Vraja, the place of the six Gosvāmīs. But, you said, we do not want to be at Rādhā-kuṇḍa, it is too exalted. So we stay at Govardhana.
Many times you would speak about Uddhava who eternally resides near the Kusuma-sarovara. He desired to be one of the bushes and creepers in Vṛndāvana so that the gopīs would walk over him and bless him with the dust of their lotus feet. That was your mood exactly, humbly serving and not demanding anything for yourself. You were the personification of the tṛṇād api sunīcena verse.
But your extreme humility was a great problem for the students. We wanted to properly honor you by arranging the Vyāsa-pūjā festival. For the first time, we organized it secretly in the year 2008. I took a photo of you humbly entering the decorated temple room when you already understood what was going on. It was evident that we were hurting your humble nature by worshiping you, but what could we do; it was more than proper for us to offer due respect to our illustrious ācārya.
You were a perfect disciple. Whatever questions we asked, you always brought us to the point, “Śrīla Prabhupāda taught us like this.” You trained us that we should not think whether what Śrīla Prabhupāda said was right or not, but only try to understand how it is right. How much you shaped the way I live and think. Many times when I discuss different matters with devotees I remember, “Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu said like this.” I am so much indebted to you. Your association, your example, and your instructions were so valuable and now that you are gone that is evident even more.
His Holiness Keśava Bhāratī Mahārāja once told us that to praise you as a great scholar is almost an offense, because although you were a brilliant scholar, that was nothing compared to your being a great devotee. Your devotion to Kṛṣṇa was winning the hearts of people, your excellent scholarship was just an icing on the cake. Vidyā dadāti vinayam. In your character it was just so obvious that the devotees of the Lord are decorated with all the good qualities.
I always felt completely unqualified to take much of your time. I knew you had so many important services and I did not want to hamper that. But whenever I did come to you, you made me feel comfortable. It was easy to associate with you because you never thought that some devotees were more important than others or that to spend time with some was unproductive.
Last year in October I came to Govardhana to attend Tattvavit Prabhu’s seminar. It turns out this was the last time we met. I was very enlivened by all of your lectures and classes. Deliberating on my good fortune to be able to stay at the feet of Govardhana and listen to your bhāgavata-kathā, I thanked you for being my link to Govardhana and to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. You humbly acknowledged.
As much as I am brokenhearted to lose your invaluable association and guidance I am also happy about the favorable circumstances of your departure. This gives me yet another assurance about the supreme auspiciousness of the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and the destination of those who faithfully follow Śrīla Prabhupāda.
In so many ways your departure resembles that of Śrīla Prabhupāda. You left us simply too soon and it is difficult to see how your great contribution to the society of devotees will be perpetuated. Please continue to shower blessings upon those who, trying to continue the legacy of your glorious service to Śrīla Prabhupāda, follow in your footsteps.
Śrīla Gopīparāṇadhana Prabhu kī jaya!
Your servant, Kiśora Dāsa
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