My dear Gopal Krishna Maharaja,
Congratulations on your seventy-fifth appearance day!
My first vivid recollection of you is from 1973. I had heard about you how you had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and then at McGill University in Montreal and then held responsible positions with Pepsi Cola and Bristol-Myers, and how you would come to the New York temple every day and were so humble that you would go around the temple room and offer obeisances to all the spiritual paintings on the walls. So, I had heard about you before I actually met you.
For some weeks in 1973 Srila Prabhupada was staying at Seth Bhogilal Patel’s palatial home in Walkeshwar, South Bombay, and you, visiting India, came to meet with him. I was struck by the way the two of you related with each other. Srila Prabhupada dealt with you differently than he dealt with the rest of us disciples. I immediately understood that there was something special about you.
Two years later, Tamal Krishna Goswami, who had been the GBC for India, returned to America and began the Radha-Damodar Party, and Srila Prabhupada asked you to replace him. Srila Prabhupada had told me that you had worked for a major international company and had your own private office and a car. I was meeting important people in Bombay, and Srila Prabhupada wanted to impress upon me your competence and status.
Soon after you arrived in Juhu, you wanted to visit your mother, who lived nearby in Santa Cruz, and you invited me to accompany you. Again I was struck by your polite and gentle manner, and by how considerate and respectful you were with her. I was impressed. When most of us youths in Europe and America became devotees, it was hard for us to visit our parents, because most of them did not understand Krishna consciousness and were quite hostile to our becoming devotees. So it was unusual - unique, in fact for me to see such warmth and mutual respect between a nondevotee (albeit Hindu) parent and a devotee child.
Juhu was one of Srila Prabhupada’s main projects, and he faced many challenges there first in getting the land, then in getting the permission to build the temple, and then in actually building the temple and you and I, under Srila Prabhupada’s guidance, worked together to deal with them. We complemented each other and thus formed an effective team. We had our own individual approaches and strengths and weaknesses, but we were brought together and bound together by Srila Prabhupada’s love and mercy, and by our common love for and surrender to His Divine Grace. We dealt with many challenges and intrigues together. I cannot count the times we went together to legal firms, accountants’ offices, government departments, and social and political leaders’ headquarters to get information and support for our efforts on Srila Prabhupada and Sri Sri Radha-Rasabihari’s behalf. And eventually, by their grace, things turned around in our favor and we finally got the permission to build the temple and built it.
Srila Prabhupada said that ISKCON was his body, the BBT his heart, and the monies collected his blood. And he entrusted the most important business of publishing and distributing
his books in India to you. He was always asking you, “Where is book? Where is book?” and when you presented him with a new book, he felt great satisfaction in his heart. In 1977, at a most oppressive and repressive time in Soviet history, you brought Srila Prabhupada’s books behind the Iron Curtain, very intelligently and resourcefully introducing them through a book fair in Moscow. And just one day before he left this world, Srila Prabhupada asked for the certificate to be read to his godbrothers “Books in the service of peace and progress. A diploma for the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, Bombay, given by the First Moscow International Book Fair, USSR.” How proud and pleased he must have felt.
You always had a tremendous capacity for managing and doing business. Yet at a certain point a deep desire formed within your heart that you wanted to preach. In Juhu you kept talking about how you wanted to go out and give lectures. But you were so fully engaged with managerial duties, you hardly had time. Still, it was such a profound desire that eventually it was realized. Especially after Srila Prabhupada left, you became one of the most enthusiastic and dynamic speakers of krsna-katha in the movement.
After you began to initiate, you were given the honorific “Bhagavatapada.” Bhagavata has two meanings: the book Bhagavata, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and the person bhagavata, in particular, for us, Srila Prabhupada. And pada means “foot,” or “at the feet of.” You are always at the feet of Srila Prabhupada and are always engaged in the service of Srimad-Bhagavatam by publishing it and distributing it, and by preaching it and living it.
Much has been said about your many wonderful qualities and activities: your impeccable sadhana, your love for and service to your deities, your care for devotees (especially your godbrothers), your expanding book distribution and developing major projects in India and throughout the world, your cultivating and engaging important and influential people, your tireless traveling and extending yourself for the sake of others, your resilience and perseverance in the face of physical illness and challenges, and your staunch and loyal dedication and enthusiastic loving service to Srila Prabhupada.
Although you and I were both attached to Srila Prabhupada and his mission, sometimes we had differences in our understandings, or approaches. I tended to be more idealistic and rigid, and you more practical and flexible. So we had differences on the means what would be most effective or beneficial but never on the ultimate goal: to please Srila Prabhupada and spread Krishna consciousness. You commented, “Giriraj and I are like a Vedic couple. We may have differences, but there is no question of divorce.” This statement is a testament to your dedication to Srila Prabhupada and your kindness upon me, that you tolerated me with all my faults, for the sake of keeping me engaged in Srila Prabhupada’s service in Bombay.
In the last months, as I am completing my book about Srila Prabhupada and Juhu, I’ll Build You a Temple: A Good Fight and a Promise Fulfilled, we have come even closer. You were kind enough to write a foreword for the book and to offer to encourage the temples in India to distribute it. And nowadays, I often say, “Gopal Krishna Maharaja commented, ‘Giriraj and I are like a Vedic couple. We may have differences, but there is no question of divorce’ but now we are in love.”
On this glorious occasion I appeal to all present including myself to imbibe your spirit, to be prepared to make any sacrifice, go to any extreme, and expend any amount of energy for the sake of serving Srila Prabhupada and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
I am very honored and humbled to have this opportunity to express some of my appreciation and affection for you, my dear godbrother. From the beginning, I saw exceptional good qualities in you, and by your service to our spiritual master, your good qualities have multiplied and matured. You are a beacon of light in this dark world of Kali-yuga.
As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam:
kalau nasta-drsam esa
“This Bhagavata Purana is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krsna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness of ignorance in the age of Kali shall get light from this Purana.” (SB 1.3.43)
On this occasion I pray that you will have many, many more years of good health for serving Srila Prabhupada, the devotees, and the mission, that we both will continue to serve Srila Prabhupada together even after leaving our present bodies, by his and your divine grace.