Reviews

The Lord and his devotees are inseparable. So it is with the story of Gopal, a playful deity of Vraja, who came in the 18th century to the Orissan village of Gadei  Giri to accept the service of the saintly Gopal Giri.

In this little book, Gopal Jiu, Madhavananda Das summarizes the story of eight generations of the Giri family who lovingly served Gopal (affectionately known as Gopal Jiu). We read with wonder how the deity unfolded many pastimes among the Vaishnava residents of his village.

Most recently Braja-bandu Manik, a descendent of the Giri family and better known to us as Gour Govinda Swami, traveled worldwide in the service of Srila Prabhupada and Gopal Jiu. Wherever he went, he carried a picture of Gopal, and before departing from this world his last utterance was Gopal’s holy name.
After completing the Krishna Balarama temple in Bhubaneswar, Gour Govinda Maharaja inaugurated the construction of a temple for Gopal Jiu in Gadai Giri. He passed away in 1996, but construction continued and devotees installed the deity in his ornate new temple this January.

For those who are inspired by the lives of saintly devotees, the pastimes of deities, the history of the Vaishnava culture, and their juncture with Srila Prabhupada’s mission, don’t fail to read this book. Once you pick it up you will be unable to put it down.

Mathura Meets Vrindavan carries on in the super-excellent tradition of books put forward by Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja. His masterly insights coupled with his superlative devotion work together to produce yet another book that allows readers entrance into the esoterica of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. I highly recommend this book!

The most pleasing way to honor a great personality is to base ones life on the principles he taught. Gour Govinda Maharaja in his life not only lived those teachings in an exemplary manner but used every bit of his time and life's energy to propagate those teachings. The book "My Revered Spiritual Master" is the proof of his love for Srila Prabhupada and his dedication to his teaching. It is truly a masterpiece of pure Srila Prabhupada nectar.

The Embankment of Separation is an invaluable devotional work from which one should not remain separate. Beautifully designed and well-edited, this book is compiled from a series of lectures that gives a genuine taste for a distinct brand of Krishna-bhakti, one that harmonizes the truths of Vrindavana-dhama and Navadvipa-dhama with the mysteries of Jagannatha Puri-dhama. It is truly refreshing to read a book that could have easily fallen into one of two categories—the dry scholarly approach (for the late Gour Govinda Maharaja is indeed a scholar of the highest order), or a hackneyed, repetitive practitioner perspective (for he is also a devotee par excellence). Instead it embodies the best of both models. It is a work of lively devotional scholarship.

Its subject is deep — the deepest — but it is presented in a way that allows even the most neophyte devotee a clear understanding. This is so because it starts with a discussion of lobha, or “greed,” contrasting and highlighting various nuances of it as it is found in both material and spiritual worlds. That the book begins with lobha is significant because it is only through such lobha that one may enter into more advanced topics. After lobha, the book proceeds to discuss aisvarya-bhava (the powerful majesty of Vaikuntha), giving insights into the spiritual lobha of certain incarnations of Vishnu and His devotees. But it is when the book goes beyond discussions of matter and spirit, spiritual greed, aisvarya-bhava, and Vishnu's incarnations, that the pages really come to life. Then the book's real purpose becomes clear, taking readers, methodically from the initial adhikara for raganuga-bhakti (i.e., lobha) to gambhira-lila, Sri Chaitanya deepest, most profound pastimes (gambhira literally means “deep”).

In this sense of gradual unfoldment, the book is much like the Srimad-Bhagavatam, which mandates a reading of its first nine cantos before offering its readers the nectar of the tenth. By preparing readers for the weighty subject of Krishna's pastimes, the Bhagavatam gradually takes one to the point of being able to understand the profound nature of its contents. The Embankment of Separation also opens with basic spiritual paradigms, and in this Gour Govinda Maharaja guides his readers like an expert swimming instructor, carefully teaching them how to stay afloat in an ocean of nectar. This facilitates a clear understanding of the more advanced preternatural leanings found in the latter half of the book.

The Embankment of Separation is essentially about love for Krishna in the mood of separation, viraha-bhakti, as is evident from the title. Srila Prabhupada explains in Nectar of Devotion (p. 355) that viraha-bhakti (also known as vipralambha-bhava) manifests in three stages: purva-raga, or preliminary attraction, wherein there is a feeling that the two lovers might not meet; mana, or indignation, occurs when there is some sense of jealousy that Krishna may be with someone else; and pravasa, or separation by distance, manifests when one's beloved lives somewhere else, as when Krishna left for Mathura. Maharaja elaborates on these three stages, if not by name then at least in essence, in the book's final chapters.

This is a book that should be read by all followers of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The title is a metaphor for the two banks of a river. His Holiness Gour Govinda Swami explains how the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are like the flow of a river. On one side is the embankment of union, Vraja Lila, while the other side is the embankment of separation, Gaura Lila. We are introduced to the three different types of union, milana, and the three different types of separation, viraha, as wells as the eight increasing states of krsna-prema.

Maharaja begins our journey by illuminating how the Lord is ever eager to experience deeper levels of divine love with His devotees, rasa. This eagerness to taste rasa impels the Lord to appear in various incarnations. Maharaja first introduces the esoteric reasons for the lilas of Lord Vishnu. Because Lord Vishnu was not fulfilled by these lilas, he advented as Lord Nrsimhadeva to taste a higher rasa. But the Lord desired to experience an even higher rasa and thus the profound motivation for the advent of Lord Rama is born.

Continuing to develop his theme, Gour Govinda Maharaja next reveals the various reasons for the advent of Lord Krishna, and finally brings us to the deep understanding of Lord Chaitanya’s advent: to fully experience the last limit of madhurya rasa –  Radharani’s feelings of mādanākhya mahābhāva – Her mood of confidential prema-rasa that no one else can experience.

We learn that Lord Chaitanya is the supreme personality who embodies two opposites, union and separation, simultaneously. No other incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is a container for these two opposite moods of ecstatic feeling.

Maharaja delves into esoteric questions like: why Ramananda Raya fainted when Lord Chaitanya revealed his combined from of Radha and Krishna; why Krishna has a three-fold bending form, tribangānanda; why Krishna sent Uddhava to deliver His message to the gopis; and why Lord Chaitanya spent half of his manifest lila in Jagannath Puri.

Previously the glories of Vrindavan were unknown until Lord Chaitanya revealed the splendor of that holy dhām. The glories of Navadvipa dham were similarly unknown until Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura revealed them to the world. And now, HH Gour Govinda Swami reveals the profound significance of Sri Ksetra, Jagannatha Puri, along with the most profound understanding of why Lord Jagannath resides there, and what His relationship is with Lord Chaitanya.      

All in all, this is fascinating reading. Throughout the book, Maharaja establishes his points with numerous pastimes from Radha-Krishna lila as well as numerous references from our previous acharyas and the bhakti śāstras. It is difficult to become separated from this book, because one only wants to have constant union with it.

Srila Prabhupada once explained that a person who fully understands his subject matter can convey his understanding in a way that is accessible to almost everybody.
In this book, Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja takes the reader on a spiritual journey to reveal the most profound truths of Gaudiya Vaishnava tattva. With an engaging and easy to follow approach, he lovingly takes the reader through the various levels of unfolding realization, leaving nobody behind.

I would say that this book is a “must read” because it not only establishes the most profound esoteric truths of Gaudiya Vaishnava siddhānta, but also inspires us to come to a greater spiritual commitment in our own lives.

My Revered Spiritual Master, by Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja, is a wonderful book. It contains lectures by Gour Govinda Maharaja about Srila Prabhupada, and a section of letters exchanged between Gour Govinda Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada, especially about the securing of the land in Bhubaneswar and the beginning of construction.

Gour Govinda Maharaja had great faith in Srila Prabhupada's words, and on his order, he went to Bhubaneswar and with no support tried to secure land and build a temple there. Gour Govinda Maharaja's life sketch is contained in the book in his own words. He was born and brought up in a family where Lord Chaitanya's sankirtana was always going on, and Srimad Bhagavatam was always being read. His mother arranged for his marriage when he was a young man, and so he became a grhastha. But in 1974, he left his family and home and traveled throughout India in search of a bona fide spiritual master. After traveling from the south to the north, he went to Vrindavan. There he met Srila Prabhupada and was immediately touched in the heart at the meeting.

Prabhupada told him that he would give him sannyasa, and within a few months, on Rama-navami in 1975 (the occasion of the opening of the Krishna-Balarama Mandir), Gour Govinda Maharaja was given sannyasa. He was then given translating duties in Hindi and in Oriya and was sent to Bhubaneswar to try to establish a temple on some land that had been donated there. With these two services, he worked hard and with full faith that an almost impossible task could be accomplished. It took sixteen years for the temple to finally be completed, and Gour Govinda worked at times with no money at all and very little assistance. Prabhupada himself visited the land in January 1977 and stayed in a small hut for sixteen days.

Aside from the valuable biographical information about the relationship between Prabhupada and Gour Govinda Maharaja, the book contains wonderful instructions in general on the relationship of the guru and the disciple. Gour Govinda Maharaja is very concerned with how a spiritual institution can remain pure and keep the devotees satisfied. He says it can be done by the good example of the leaders, and when the leaders do not set a good example, then the devotees will go away. He spoke passionately on this theme and then began to travel all over the world, giving dynamic lectures, which made him world famous in ISKCON. The lectures contained in the book are completely parampara and filled with the feelings of a compassionate devotee concerned with the success of his spiritual master's movement. He says that Prabhupada's ideal society is a society without envy, and only one who is completely Krishna conscious can be like that. The book has a fascinating section in which Prabhupada's letters are reproduced in photographs, and there are copies of Gour Govinda Maharaja's handwritten replies. This gives a very intimate picture of the relationship of guru and disciple. The book is illustrated with beautiful pictures by ISKCON artist Anuradha Dasi. The pictures of Prabhupada are most beautiful.

In the life sketch of Gour Govinda Maharaja, the auspicious description of his disappearance is given. In Mayapur on February 9, 1996, the appearance day of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, Gour Govinda Maharaja was speaking to two senior devotees about intimate topics of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Jagannath Puri. Gour Govinda Maharaja was speaking enthusiastically about the esoteric meaning of Lord Chaitanya in Jagannath Puri. At one point, he was unable to speak anymore. Gazing lovingly at a picture of his worshipable Deity, he said the word "Gopal!," closed his eyes, lost external consciousness, and left this world.

I recommend this book to all serious devotees who want to understand the relationship of guru and disciple. It is an inspiring story of one of Prabhupada's leading disciples and how he did an almost impossible task on behalf of his spiritual master in building the beautiful Bhubaneswar temple and leaving behind a legacy of recorded lectures and books.

I read the booklet How To Find Guru. I liked it very much. It nicely explains the symptoms of a real sadhu.

A real sadhu is one who is completely absorbed in Krishna, day and night, twenty four hours. He has gotten Krishna. He is with Krishna. He can give you Krishna. You cannot see him. You have no vision. Only you can cry for Krishna from the core of your heart. This is not an external cry. It is internal. Then Krishna, who is in your heart, will see that you are crying and he will help you.

All sadhus speak through their books. This is the vaishnava procedure. They are very, very merciful. The sadhu is the seer. If he showers his mercy upon you, he sees you. If you receive his merciful glance than you are very fortunate.

 

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