On July 14, I received a phone call from His Holiness Sripada Bhakti Kamal Tyagi Maharaja (Pictured above in brahmachari-vesha). He introduced himself by reminding me of his visits to our Math during the summer of 2010 and wondered if I remembered him from that time. I remembered him and his companions (pictured above with Srimati Lila Sundari Devi) very well. It was “The Summer of Love”, as I think of it. The Grateful Dead band had resurrected in part as a band named Further and was touring the East Coast. Soquel’s own band, of devotees (above), took the opportunity to do some collection at the Further concerts as well as other groups playing the East Coast. Srimati Divya Shakti Devi was also here at the time doing collection for our Math at various outdoor events, so it seemed there was always either collection at an event, planning for an upcoming event or talk of an event. I could not help but be moved to appreciate the spirit of enthusiasm, determination and cooperation exhibited by all those named and pictured above.
Sripada Tyagi Maharaja called me because he read something on our website that I had written about Deity worship and had some further questions for a book he is compiling on the subject. I was happy to answer his questions and he appreciated the answers I gave.
In an email to me, Tyagi Maharaja mentioned his pleasure at having the opportunity to speak with me, which caused me to reflect further on our talk. As a result, I decided some follow up was in order and sent the email attached below.
Date: July 15, 2015
Dear Sripada Tyagi Maharaja,
Please accept my humble obeisances.
I was also pleased to be able to speak with you about the worship of Sri Govadhana Shila, our Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Gandharvika Giridharijiu. I always feel myself to be so fortunate to be asked to recall the pastimes of our Sri Guru Varga.
Sri Giriraja is both Krishna and bhakta-śreṣṭha, the topmost devotee of Krishna, because He gives the best service to Krishna.
I think Srila Gurudeva must have remembered his experience here with myself and Srimati Lila Sundari Devi during his visit in 1994. At the time he expressed surprise at how easily I reversed course, by readily accepting his apparently contradictory instructions; first that we should not worship Giriraja with Gunja Mala and then that we should.
Several years later, when the Deities were being installed in his St. Petersburg temple, the brahmachari who would become the head pujari asked Srila Gurudeva for some instruction as to how the worship should be performed. He told the pujari, “Ask Giri Maharaja, he will instruct you.” I was a little surprised, as I often was, by Srila Gurudeva’s thinking. Sripada Tirtha Maharaja, who I thought would be the natural one to give such direction, was also present. But gurudeva directed the brahmachari, who I think I had previously given the name Audalomi dasa, to me and I told him what little I knew about the subject.
One of the things I know, which we touched on yesterday, is that we cannot approach Sri Sri Radha Govinda except through Sri Guru. Without Sri Guru, we have no standing in Their world. How then, could one who is uninitiated (has no guru) be engaged in the service of Sri Sri Guru—Garuanga, Gandharva Govinda? First there must be Sri Gurudeva, then everything else will follow in a natural way. This is the standard.
In the case of Sri Giriraja or other smaller Deities, should it be necessary that the initiated devotees usually doing Their seva leave the temple for some vital service, they can take the Deities with them and continue to feed and nourish Them in accordance with the means available to them.
Whenever necessary, I took Giriraja with me, rather than leave Him unattended or with uninitiated persons. As a result, I have travelled all over the world with Him.
I also mentioned an emergency situation. I had experience with such a situation where a Deity had been abandoned and left with some uninitiated men. Srila Gurudeva asked me to intervene. He mentioned at that time “The Deity must not be left to fast.”, indicating that anyone available should offer bhoga to the Deity on a regular basis, whether initiated or not.
To invite Sri Sri Guru Gauranga Radha Govinda to come in Their Deity form to accept our service, in whatever form that might be, is not a light matter. When doing so we should anticipate providing for Their care for three generations, as Srila Govinda Maharaja told me.
Our process is not Deity worship. Our process is serving under the guidance of a higher vaishnava. In general, he will instruct us to chant the Hari Krishna Maha Mantra, while avoiding the ten offenses and try our best to persuade others to do the same. But he is free to instruct us to carry out any other function to suit his own needs and purposes or even what we might consider his whim.
Srila Guru Maharaja was asked by Sriman Ruci dasa, an old acquaintance of mine and fellow book distributor, about obtaining Gaura Nitai Deities to carry with him as he traveled and distributed books. Guru Maharaja first tried his best to discourage him from obtaining Deities, insisting he was already doing the best service by preaching and distributing books. But Ruci persisted and Guru Maharaja happily gave him permission to obtain a Govardhana Shila and carry out the simple raga marga worship that is required. Here is a personal reference of mine, of their second conversation, that may help you (emphasis added):
[Excerpted from: 82.02.21.C_82.02.22.A beginning at 36:00 and 82.02.22.B]
Srila Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Govardhana sila that was given by Mahāprabhu to Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. As salagram is considered with respect in Varnasrama amongst the brahmanas. So amongst the Vaisnavites the Govardhana sila. Salagrama is called Gandaki sila. Naturally we are known by revelation, by that Gandaki sila, the sila that is found in the river Gandaki, there natural existence of the Lord Narayana in different ways. It is revealed. And so who has got that faith in that revelation they accept the path of worshipping Narayana in Gandhaki sila or Salagram.
And so also Kṛṣṇa expressed Himself in Bhāgavatam and other places we find that ‘I am in Govardhana’. ‘Govardhana and Myself inseparably we are connected. Anyone will worship Govardhana, he will worship Me.’ And this idea Mahāprabhu He gave it to Dāsa Gosvami Prabhu. And then in Gaudia Vaiṣṇava school that worship of Govardhana sila is continuing. And his entrance into the raga marga, direct in the line of divine love towards Kṛṣṇa.
To worship Narayana sila, that is Gandhaki sila or salagram in viddhi marga. That is very hard and very stiff and very strict method of worshipping Narayana in viddhi marga. Raga marga is more liberal. It wants the heart and not much formality. So the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava who wants to attain their position in the land of divinity, the Govardhana sila worshipping, that is very advantageous, and encouraging, and fruitful for them.
This is nutshell I say about Govardhana sila to you. It helps us to enter into the domain of divine love, appointing the domain of legal devotion, lawful devotion, rules and regulations according to the order of the śāstra. And if there is any law then we become damaged, our idea, prospect, is damaged. Very strictly to observe the rules and regulations of the worship, very strict. So Mahāprabhu wanted that we may avoid that path. Our faith is somewhere else that is above this land. So Govardhana sila worshiping will be more safe and more fruitful for our purpose because we want to have service in Vrndavana area, the domain of love divine. That is the purport. And utility of having our dikṣa initiation in the line of worshiping Govardhana sila.
Devotee [Ruci dasa]: So, Mahārāja, I am asking your blessings if I can begin worship of Govardhana sila when I go to Vrndavana.
Srila Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Yes, you have got mantram from Swāmī Mahārāja, first and second initiation?
Srila Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Of course you may begin worshiping Govardhana sila.
Devotee: The devotees here, Dāsaratha Suta, he has two silas, and before you gave me sannyāsa I offered water and Tulasi to one of the silas unauthorizzedly, and I painted the eyes on Govardhana sila. Then I was very astonished when you named me Parvat [Maharaja, previously Prabhu Bhuvana Mohan of Brazil]. Because I felt that I got the blessings of these Govardhana sila.
Srila Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Might be. Stealthy He is drawing you towards him unconsciously.
Devotee: It is said that sannyāsīs should not worship silas.
Srila Śrīdhara Mahārāja: They also may do. But sannyāsa is not necessary for worshiping Govardhana. That is mainly taken for peraching purpose, the sannyāsa asrama is necessary.
Devotee: Mahārāja, can you perhaps give some specific or some detailed instruction about the worship of Govardhana sila?
Srila Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Very simple. Mahāprabhu advised that the minimum will be a little water and Tulasi. And generally whatever we take, no splendor, no grandeur, but in a simple way, generally whatever we are to take the food we must put. If possible, bedding and then offering a puspa, flower, Tulasi, and then some food in a bowl. And anything may be done as we can do in the vigraha of Kṛṣṇa. So also everything may be done. But the simple and short way of honoring Him will be He is easily self-satisfied but the minimum we have found that with the water and Tulasi He is satisfied. But as you can accomodate in that affair very easily, you can do that.
Devotee: Anything that I would institute extra, would I have to maintain that every day, anything beyond Tulasi and water?
Srila Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Yes, also you can offer. Maintain? No, as suit you with the circumstance, you may do that.
What is in bold text above, that is the main point for all our Deity worship, and that is mostly what I tried to emphasize when instructing Sriman Audalomi dasa.
In so many places I have seen too much fascination with Deity worship. And this, despite all our gurus warning us against it. Serving the devotees, preaching, book distribution, Hari Nama Sankirtan, honoring prasadam, etc., these are the things that will give us real vitality in the line of Sri Chaitanya Saraswati.
I pray this finds you well in health and spirits.
Swami B.K. Giri