The Letter He Asked Me To Write
Posted July 5, 2005
June 27, 2005
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
About a month before His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami left this world, I asked him if there was something I could do for him when he passed away. He immediately said yes. I could write a letter on his behalf and spread it widely. I was glad that he had such a positive request in mind but unfortunately he never gave me many points about what to say in this letter. I spoke to him a number of times afterward, as it was my custom to speak to him weekly. But often times he could not focus on points for the letter and toward the end of his stay it was very difficult for him to use the telephone. But I do have a few items that he did ask me to write in the letter. When he couldn't give me more than that, we mutually agreed that I would have to write the rest of the letter from my heart.
One point he particularly asked me to write is that we are all going to die and the Krishna Conscious centers in which we live have to go on. We have to anticipate the grief that will occur when the leaders depart and we have to serve each other to ensure that the legacy of these centers continues. He asked me to help in the legacy of Gita Nagari because it was an important project for the whole ISKCON movement. He expanded on this and said that in general the leaders, being older members, had to "be there" for each other in all ways.
He reminded me that personally I had a connection with Gita Nagari in the early days when it was very dear to me as my own residence. So I should wish Gita Nagari well under the leadership of Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja's disciples.
At present, I'm not fit in health to travel to Gita Nagari, but I've honestly put into this letter his wish for me to support his disciples there and I will try to fulfill his request as soon as I am able.
He wanted to remind readers of my letter how he and I were very close to each other in his early years in Krishna Consciousness when he was only a Bhakta and how we revived our friendship and came close together near the end of his life, thank God.
Perhaps this is a good place for me to say something in my own words about his prayer, "in the mood of Vasudeva Datta" and the ensuing cancer. I trust that Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja was sincere in his prayer. It was a different tactic than the way he had been acting up to that point. He had been very actively preaching sometimes in unorthodox ways, presenting himself to business men, to political leaders, and getting great effects. Since I first worked with him he was an unorthodox preacher, when we worked together on the library party. In order to sell full sets of books the BBT salesmen had to wear a wig and suit and present oneself as a book salesman and one had to do some fancy talk to convince the professor to take a full set of books. They didn't want to take them from a missionary or a Hare Krishna person so we made a presentation that we were straight book salesmen from a book company known as The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. We had to do it all in one day before we moved on to the next campus. There were about six salesmen in our party and Bhakti Tirtha (known as Ghanasyama) was the most adroit and successful member in the party. To be most successful, he had to sometimes talk in very clever and roundabout ways, far beyond a simple missionary presentation. We all knew that he was making this kind of presentation and we praised him for it. Prabhupada also knew that he was making a tricky presentation and he appreciated it. Ganashyam continued this not only through the United States but in Europe, not only in Western Europe but in Eastern Europe also. He had amazing adventures and sent the sales results to Prabhupada.
But I was surprised that he made such a sudden change in the momentum of his outward preaching to make a prayer to take away the world's sins by an act of petition to the Lord, an intercessionary prayer, or prayer that all the world's karma be put upon himself. It was a very different kind of thing than he had been doing. When I asked him about it, one answer he gave was that he thought that his present preaching had not been effective enough. He wanted to do something more dramatic because the world's corruption was so great and there was also a need for purification even in ISKCON. So he was willing to put his body on the line completely for total purification of himself (so that he could become a pure actor on behalf of Krishna) and--provided Krishna would take the karma from others in return for Bhakti Tirtha Swami's sacrifice--he would increase his work in this world.
Some have doubted his prayer. But I accept it as sincere and also as efficacious. Bhakti Tirtha Swami has shown the proof of its working in the many good things that have happened as a result of his prayer. He did not expect to get hit so fast with a terminal illness. But neither did he expect to get so many good results in terms of people reforming their ways. Many, many people wrote him letters that they were inspired by his sacrifice and that they themselves were now reforming their acts and purifying themselves. He said that in particular many ex-gurukulis wrote to him of their change for the better and also many errant ISKCON adults appreciated what he was doing and were returning to the field--many, many. So he could not help but think that his intercessionary prayer on behalf of karmic-laden souls was doing good. And he felt it was doing good for himself also. So this is one thing I am writing in my letter as my own personal faith in the spiritual warrior.
Some of his godbrothers wrote to him and asked him to stop the prayer. They did not like to see him die. But he was determined to continue the prayer. One godbrother wrote and said that this was not the method for purifying souls but that souls would be purified by higher knowledge. But I agreed with Bhakti Tirtha Swami that souls can get purified by love from God, by God's mercy, and yes, by intercessionary prayer. Souls don't just get purified just by jnani knowledge.
A point I do remember him mentioning was that the leaders are all departing one by one and this is a sign that our Krishna Conscious movement is moving on. We must help each other's disciples too in their movement and in the preservation of their faith. I think by this he means that it is important that all the leaders support the disciples of Tamal Krishna Goswami or Shridhar Swami or Bhakti Tirtha Swami or each leader as he passes away. It is one loving family and all the leaders are siksha gurus for the younger devotees. We should help them by supporting their faith in their guru and moving in to support their centers, not moving in to take them away or to take away their faith.
Bhakti Tirtha Swami set an important precedent in departing his body at Gita Nagari. He had time to go to Mayapur or Vrindavan to pass away but he did not. He wanted to set the example that his own prabhupada-datta-desha was a holy dhama and he passed away there to set the example to his disciples that this is where they should work and worship. His Holiness Radhanath Swami set a wonderful example of compassion by staying over seven and a half weeks at Gita Nagari--despite so many demands for him to be elsewhere--just to give Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja solace and association. He also took part in the final ceremonies of his passing away. The plan was to place sannyas mantras on his chest in the ceremony held in the Gita Nagari temple where Bhakti Tirtha Swami was to be taken on a palanquin and placed before the deities and garlanded with flowers. After that three devotees were to take his body to a professional crematorium where he was cremated. His ashes were then to be taken in an urn to Mayapur where they will be buried in the standard ISKCON guru fashion in a row where his godbrothers Tamal Krishna Goswami, His Holiness Shridhar Swami, and the others are to be buried. A small pushpa samadhi is being built at Gita Nagari. But if someone asks "why didn't he go and leave his body in Mayapur or Vrindavan, this is controversial," I think the answer is that Bhakti Tirtha's precedent is backed up by sastra and will be repeated by others.
In an article in Back to Godhead magazine about a year ago, this subject matter was covered. Long time Vrindavan resident Kurma Prabhu quoted the Bhagavad-Gita verse, "Whoever thinks of Me at the time of death will attain Me" and said that this verse refers to consciousness not geographical location. Whoever is thinking of Krishna at the time of death will go to him. Certainly Bhakti Tirtha Swami's room very much had a Vrindavan atmosphere with chanting going on day and night and Radhanath Swami leading him by the hand to the holy abode of Krishna. Also I have heard Bir Krishna Goswami's intention to pass away in the holy dhama in North Carolina where his beloved deities reside. I have also heard Siva Ram Swami's intention to pass away where his Radha Krishna deities reside in Hungary. So this is not something wrong that Bhakti Tirtha Swami has done to pass away at Gita Nagari, which is not within the material world.
There is so much written already about Bhakti Tirtha Swami in the notes and appreciations by his disciples who are actually there with him sacrificing and going through great austerities to take care of him in his last months and there is nothing that I can add to that except my humble praise for their love and work for their spiritual master. I look up to him and with awe and reverence, even though he calls me his "big brother." He has promised to keep in communication with me even after he has left his body and I hope that this can be true. Why not? Everything is possible in the line of transcendental communications. We have promised to keep in touch and hopefully to see each other again. It will be my good luck if I can see him because I know he will be transcendentally situated.
A final point: aside from the issue that Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja died as a self sacrifice to purify others, just consider the exemplary way he passed through a long and horribly painful disease. He had to endure a cancer which produced big tumors all over his body. At one point his foot had to be amputated. During those days, when possible, he was still active, lecturing, writing, chanting, cheerful, and in his usual down-to-earth, humble mood. As the disease progressed, his thoughts turned more inward toward his own spiritual destiny but he continued to keep up grateful communication with his caretakers and with whoever came to visit him. Then along the way, he broke the collar bone on his frail body by a slight movement. Still he persevered. In other words, he set an ideal example for what we will all have to go through in one form or another, the path leading to our death. Srila Prabhupada said, "Don't think this won't happen to you." Like Srila Prabhupada, Bhakti Tirtha Swami has again demonstrated an ideal departure from the world, and in his case, through a prolonged painful ordeal, faced cheerfully, manfully, and with full dependence on Krishna and his devotees.
Forgive me for my poor excuse of the letter he asked me to write. My intention was to give support to him and hope that all his wishes will be carried out by his associates and by the ISKCON movement and that he will be honored as he is due.
Yours in the service of Prabhupada,
Satsvarupa dasa Goswami