Vrindavan, 2014.09.24 (VT): From today, the first celebration of Haridas Shastri’s departure from the mortal world will be held at Haridas Nivas, his ashram in Purana Kaliya Daha in Vrindavan. Shastriji Maharaj passed into the nitya leela last year Oct 6, 2013, at the age of 96.
The programme will begin with adhivas kirtan at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. Starting at 7 a.m. on Thursday there will be 24-hour sri-hari-nama-kirtan. On that afternoon there will be a Smriti-sabha, i.e., an assembly of speakers who will pay homage to Sri Maharaj ji.
On Friday, September 26 at 9 a.m., a ceremony will be held to establish a murti of Sri Maharaj ji in the temple hall and this will be followed by sadhu-vaishnava-seva, the distribution of prasad to sadhus, Vaishnavas and other visitors.
The Life and Contributions of Haridas Shastriji
Sri Haridas Shastri Maharaj-ji is held by his disciples to be an eternally luminous icon of tradition, learning, respectability, repository of uttama prem, who distributed these freely to worthy recipients. He established numerous bhakti projects in Vrindavan, which currently engage hundreds of staff and devotees. The most prominent of these are the Gadai Gaurahari Press, one of the most important publishing houses for texts from the Chaitanya sampradaya, with both the Sanskrit original and Hindi translations. His dearest project in the latter part of his life was the goshala, known as Haridas Shastri Goseva Sansthan.
With nine traditional degrees in various aspects of Sanskrit learning, adorned with the footdust of Sri Gauranga and Sri Gadadhar, and occupying the chair of their disciplic lineage, Sri Maharaj ji assumed all these tasks for the uplift of the creation.
Birth and Coming to Vraja 1933
Sri Maharaj ji was born in 1918 to a pious Brahmin family of Kashyap Gotra in the Purulia district of West Bengal. One day he accompanied his mother to a discourse on Sri Krishna, after which his heart started to long for the Lord. At 15, he renounced the comforts of his affluent home and traveled with a sadhu to Vrindavan. It was 1933. At the time, there were no roads, concrete buildings or electricity. The place was inhabited by sadhus living in huts. Most of the land was covered by jungle and people walked along trails beaten by foot.
Gadadhar Pandit family
Spiritual seekers of Vraja would visit Sri Ramakrishna Das Babaji in Dauji Bagicha, who was born in the family of the chief royal priest of Jaipur, and fondly called Pandit Baba. After arriving in Vrindavan, Maharaj ji stayed under Pandit Baba’s care. Pandit Baba had never given diksha to anyone, except for vesh-diksha to one great soul, Sri Vinod Bihari Goswami Maharaj, whose family was initiated in the Gadadhar parivar.
Goswamiji had studied the traditional shastras in Nabadwip, mastering various branches of knowledge and earning the titles of Vyākaraṇa-tīrtha, Kāvya-tīrtha, Purāṇa-tīrtha, Sāṁkhya-tīrtha, Sāṁkhya-ratna, Bhāgavata-ratna and Vedānta-ratna. In 1932, he left Nabadwip for Vrindavan.
In Vrindavan Goswamiji worked hard to establish centers of scholarly excellence combined with devotion. He was famous in Vraja-mandal as “Sri Vedanta-Ratna Mahashay.” He established the Sri Giridhari Bhajanashram at the ancient site of Kaliyadaha.
After taking the young Haridas under his care, Sri Pandit Baba advised him to take diksha from Sri Vinod Bihari Goswami. Maharaj ji became totally dedicated to his Guru.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had sent Sri Roop. Sri Sanatan, and others to Vrindavan to revive the holy dham. But Sri Vinod Bihari Goswami Maharaj observed that there was a general lack of a proper knowledge of the scriptures they had established and so he took steps to revive the academic and spiritual culture in Vrindavan and Braj.
Sri Maharaj ji started working towards fulfilling this desire of his guru. He went to Varanasi to study shastras in the traditional manner. He mastered several different branches of scriptural studies. In twelve years he was conferred with nine tīrtha degrees: Vyākaraṇa-tīrtha, Kāvya-tīrtha, Sāṁkhya-tīrtha, Tarka-tīrtha (anumāna), Tarka-tīrtha (śabda), Mīmāṁsā-tīrtha, Nyāya-tīrtha, Vedānta-tīrtha, and Vaiṣṇava-darśana an acharya degree (Nyāya-ācārya).
After completing these studies, Maharaj ji came back to the ashram of his guru, to continue what he liked best, humble seva.
Nevertheless, Shastri Maharaj kept noticing that the spiritual practices of Lord Chaitanya’s traditions were being misrepresented. There were hardly even any texts from the Goswamis available for study in Vrindavan, except for those belonging to his gurudev. He felt that this knowledge should be made more widely available. But then, so few people knew Sanskrit and most of the texts were not available in modern languages. This ignorance was the cause of people’s indifference, he felt. The texts would be lost forever if nothing was done to preserve and disseminate them.
Maharaj ji took on the task of saving them. He toiled collecting old books and manuscripts that were on the verge of extinction. He edited and translated them into Hindi and then published them.
Library and Press
Maharaj ji established a library Sri Gaura-Gadadhara Granthagaram, It’s today one of the largest in Vraja Mandal.
He also set up the Sri Gadadhara-Gaurahari Press. So far, more than 100 titles have been published.
More recently, books in English, Spanish, Italian and Tamil have also been published through the press.
Vedānta-darśanam Bhāgavata-bhāṣyopetam and Vidyā-ratna degree
Traditionally, when an acharya claims to be talking about Vedanta, he writes a commentary on the Brahma Sūtras. However, neither Lord Chaitanya nor any of his followers wrote a commentary on the Brahma Sūtras. Chaitanya’s opinion was that the author of the Sūtras, Srila Vyasadeva, had himself written a vast “natural” commentary, which was Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. So the followers of Sri Chaitanya studied Śrīmad Bhāgavatam rather than the Vedānta.
Later, during the time of Sri Baladev Vidyabhushan, some scholars claimed that Lord Chaitanya’s tradition was an apasampradāya because it had no commentary on the Vedānta. Sri Baladev then wrote a sūtra-by-sūtra commentary in the same style as the acharyas, naming it Sri Govinda-bhāṣya. Ever since then, the Govinda-bhāṣya has been recognized as the commentary of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas.
Maharaj ji, however, felt that the original question needed to be clarified. How could the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam be a commentary on the Brahma Sūtras? So he wrote Vedānta-darśanam Bhāgavata-bhāṣyopetam, a commentary on the Vedanta using only verses from the Bhāgavatam. In it, he sequentially lists all the sutras of Vedanta and for each one gives the corresponding verse of Bhāgavatam. Along with it, he gave the explanation in Hindi for the common man.
Now people can understand that this great work nullifies the need to produce any further commentary on the Brahma Sutras. After its publication, Maharaj ji was awarded the title Vidyā-ratna by the Vidvan Pracharini Sabha.
Gaura Gadadhar Radha Govinda Worship at Haridas Niwas
In 1965 Shastriji established Sri Haridas Niwas at Kaliya Ghat. The main temple was dedicated to the worship of Sri Gauranga, Sri Gadadhar Pandit, Sri Radha and Sri Govindadev. It was the first major temple in Vraja in which the form of Sri Gaura with his close associate was adored, Within the premises also lies the bhajan kutir (“Sri Giridhari Bhajanashram”) as well as the samadhi of Sri Vinod Bihari Goswami Maharaj.
Another desire of Sri Maharaj ji was to establish the original culture of Vraja, which prevailed since the time of Sri Krishna. This culture revolved around service to cows. Go, in Sanskrit means the varieties of cows, bulls and calves that are native to India. The Vedas, the Puranas, the itihasas and all other scriptures eulogize the cow.
Due to modern culture, understanding of the importance of go-seva is fast diminishing. The sin of killing cows has become widespread even in India, which has become a world leader in beef exports. Sri Krishna cannot be pleased with rituals, while one neglects the creature that he loves the most. Today, the disciples of Haridas Shastri manage two goshalas, along with land for growing organic food for the cow. The goshala is a registered charity
Maharaj-ji has many disciples from various countries outside of India, like Israel, Croatia, Canada, the US, France, Italy, etc. He has hundreds of disciples all over India as well.
- Maharaj ji always followed the path of truth and dharma. Nothing could deviate him an inch from his devotion to the truth. Right to the day of his passing, he taught, wrote and directed the seva at the goshala and ashram, and guided seekers who came to him.
- “It is not necessary to learn sāhitya [Sanskrit literature] to understand Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Hearing with honor and respect is enough.”
- “Uttama-bhakti is directly experienced now, from the time of dīkṣā and not after death.”
- “One must surrender to the Lord. Training alone will not help.”
- “To become fixed, we must do seva for a long time with love. Then when we hear the name of Krishna, everything will be manifest to us.”
- “Aparādha is that which makes guru and God unhappy, nothing else.”
- “Even at the level of bhava, one can commit aparādha, so one should be constantly monitoring”
- “Today everyone is called prabhu and given a sacred thread. This happened at the time of Buddhism also. The aim was to wipe out the distinction between Brahmins and others, and to prove that non-Brahmins were even better or superior.”
The Bhagavad-gita (4.34) says:
tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattva-darśinaḥ
“Know the Truth by surrender, seva and sincere inquiry. One who has knowledge of the Truth and has seen the Truth will instruct you.”