Today is the auspicious appearance day of His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja. When our Srila Prabhupada first came to America, we had no idea of Vaishnava etiquette or culture; we had no idea how to honor the appearance day of the spiritual master. In 1970, soon after I had joined the Boston temple, Srila Prabhupada explained that the appearance day of the spiritual master is honored as Vyasa-puja, the worship of Vyasa. Srila Vyasadeva compiled the Vedic scriptures, and according to shastra, one cannot understand transcendental knowledge by independent study of books; one must study the Vedic literature under the guidance of a spiritual master. The Mundaka Upanishad (1.2.12) instructs, tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet: in order to understand the transcendental science, one must—it is emphatic (eva)—one must approach a spiritual master. And Lord Krishna Himself, in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34), states,
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” First is pranipat: surrender. Then pariprasna: submissive inquiry. And seva: service.
Srila Vyasadeva compiled the Vedic literature to give knowledge to the conditioned souls so they can be liberated from the miseries of material existence, and the spiritual master repeats the same message. He speaks from the Vedic scriptures; he explains them so the disciples can understand them; and he engages the disciples in service to Krishna. Just like we sing: saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastrair, the disciples worship the spiritual master on the same level as God; they honor him as much as the Supreme Lord. But the spiritual master never thinks that he is God. Rather, he considers himself to be the most humble servant of the servants of the servants of the servants of the servants of God, Krishna. So he doesn’t ask them to engage in his service, but he asks them to engage in Krishna’s service. But, out of respect for the spiritual master, out of appreciation and gratitude for what he has taught them and done for them, the disciples honor him, especially on his appearance day.
So, when I was in Boston in 1970, Srila Prabhupada explained to the devotees that his spiritual master’s appearance day was about to take place and that the disciples should write homages, or offerings, to him. I was a new devotee and didn’t know much about Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, but I considered the subject very seriously as far as I could, and my first thought was how great Srila Bhaktisiddhanta must have been be for such a great personality as His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to have surrendered to him. How great he must have been that Srila Prabhupada found him worthy of his own surrender. And then I thought of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s instruction to Srila Prabhupada to come to the West and preach the message of Krishna consciousness in English, and I thought it was really by the mercy of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja that Srila Prabhupada came to us and gave us the knowledge of the Bhagavad-gita, gave us the holy name of Krishna, gave us the beautiful life of Krishna consciousness, and engaged us in loving service to Krishna. I felt it was really due to his mercy that Srila Prabhupada came and that we were being delivered by Srila Prabhupada.
So we all wrote little offerings to Srila Prabhupada’s guru maharaja. They were collected, and then Srila Prabhupada explained how we observe Vyasa-puja. We fast in the morning and come together and glorify the spiritual master, perhaps read the homages that we have written in his honor, offer puspanjali, offer bhoga, offer arati, and then honor prasada.
Some years later, after having served in India for about three years, I became very sick with jaundice and Srila Prabhupada said that as long as I remained in Bombay I would not be able to recover. So eventually I came to Los Angeles, and I happened to be present for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s appearance day, celebrated in Srila Prabhupada’s presence. Srila Prabhupada had a very high seat made for his guru maharaja. He had his own vyasasana in the temple room, but he arranged for a bigger and higher seat for his guru maharaja, for the picture of his guru maharaja. He led the disciples through puspanjali and arati, and he had all the food preparations that his disciples had made offered to his guru maharaja’s picture on his guru’s vyasasana. He said this was the one day when we offer food directly to his guru maharaja. And so we observed his Guru Maharaja’s Vyasa-puja in his personal presence in Los Angeles.
We are indebted to His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura for sending Srila Prabhupada to us, for it is by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada that we have been elevated from the material condition and engaged in the loving service of the Lord.
Jaya om visnu-pada paramahamsa parivrajakacarya astottara-sata sri srimad bhaktisiddhanta saravati thakura prabhupada ki jaya!
Jaya om visnu-pada paramahamsa parivrajakacarya astottara-sata sri srimad bhaktivedanta swami prabhupada ki jaya!
[From a talk by Giriraj Swami by telephone to Mauritius, February 14, 2009]