|A Eulogy for a Departed Sannyasi
By His Grace Kripamoya Das
Many of you reading this have been inspired and blessed with the association of Raghunath and Kaustubha. If you have, then you have some debt to the person being honored here. That will become apparent as you read on.
In a sense, Mahārāja was one of the last of the real old time saṅkīrtana generals, those who set lofty goals in the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda and moved heaven and earth to achieve them. Thirteen years ago, Mahārāja invited me to Argentina to preach. I gave classes twice a day in the ISKCON temple, a very humble place that had been their residence for over twenty years. Mahārāja had only been there a short while, but within a few years marshalled, pushed, and led the forces of the yātrā to acquire and renovate two attached petit hotels in the center of Buenos Aires in order to create arguably one of the most successful temples in South America. Shortly thereafter a struggling yātrā was flourishing.
When Raghunath became inspired to join the Hare Krishna movement, which in those days meant living in an ashram, he moved to the ISKCON Gītā-nagarī farm in Pennsylvania. Gunagrahi Mahārāja happened to be visiting there at the time. Mahārāja thought, “Why should one with so much potential to communicate Krishna consciousness be stuck on the farm?” So he brought Raghunath to Washington, DC where Mahārāja’s Krishnafest program daily performed dynamic kīrtana on the mall in front of the Smithsonian. A few months later I got a call from him:
“Mahārāja, I had Raghunath start a straight edge band again to spread Krishna consciousness through his music. It’s called “Shelter.” We soon will tour all over the USA. I can’t do this alone. Please come with me.”
Soon we were traveling all over the USA with Shelter as the headliner band and three other minor straight edge bands arranged by Raghunath, including Inside Out, which was led by the then unknown Zack de la Rocha, who would later become the leader of the seminal band Rage Against the Machine. From Shelter literally hundreds and hundreds of young people started to fill the pretty much barren ISKCON temples in North America. Shortly after that Shelter expanded the scope of its program to bring the disaffected youth throughout the world to the path of bhakti. Through Raghunath’s effort, which was the brainchild and inspiration of Gunagrahi Mahārāja, the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which suffered so much after his passing, was revitalized in America and much of the world. It’s a service that is not acknowledged nearly to the degree that it should be.
There are “preachers” and then there are preachers, those whose very life breath is dedicated to giving people the jewel of devotion. Mahārāja left no stone unturned to personally, and without judgment, reach out to anyone he thought he could inspire to serve the mission of his guru. It’s a rare quality. Dotting the globe, especially in the Americas, are countless devotees who came to the lotus feet of Śrīla Prabhupāda only by the compassion, insight, and personal effort of Gunagrahi Mahārāja to make them Krishna conscious. One of those numerous jewels is Kaustubha Prabhu, the senior educator at the Bhakti Center. Mahārāja visited him in his apartment on Havemeyer Street in South Williamsburg, arguably the most decrepit and dangerous neighborhoods in New York City at the time, where he inspired Dave (now Kaustubha) to travel with him and to soon commit himself to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission. Two days before Gunagrahi Mahārāja left this world in Vṛndāvana surrounded by the devotees chanting the holy name, including his loving god brothers, I got a call from Kaustubha asking me if I could find a way to send a letter to Gunagrahi Mahārāja expressing his gratitude. I immediately dictated his letter through WhatsApp to a friend helping to care for Mahārāja who played it for him. The following day I got a message from Gunagrahi Mahārāja. With all the strength he could muster, in the most heartfelt voice, a short message for Kaustubha came:
“Love and gratitude to you in my heart… love in my heart… so much love in my heart… so much.”
Bhurijan Prabhu, who taped the message, described that as Gunagrahi Mahārāja was losing strength and practically incapable of uttering a single word more, Mahārāja uttered almost inaudibly, “So much, so much gratitude,” while placing his hand on his heart indicating his love. Each word had almost a raspy whistling quality that seemed to slightly crescendo and get higher at the end of each phrase as the air needed to produce the words continued just a short while after finishing the phrase he wanted to produce.
True gratitude is the budding of our real self. In my mind, the depth and humility in which Mahārāja spoke was coming straight from his eternal identity with Krishna. It was the humble and loving voice of a resident of Vṛndāvana. When I heard the tape I somewhat broke up. I remembered the deep humility, gratitude, and affection Mahārāja had for Śrīla Prabhupāda, those who followed his footpath, and for almost anyone with a spark of devotion. Mostly I reflected on his affection for me.
Mahārāja’s passing was perhaps the most glorious departure of a devotee in ISKCON since the passing of Śrīla Prabhupāda and Śrīla Gaura Govinda Mahārāja. It made me reflect on the qualities he demonstrated that attracted such extraordinary mercy:
Gunagrahi Mahārāja was exceptionally humble. Although he was quite senior to me, he always treated me as his superior, although out of humility he also never hesitated to correct me if anything I did wasn’t a reflection in his mind of the highest ideals of presenting Krishna consciousness to others. For example, my sometimes raggedy Vṛndāvana dress rightly disturbed him and he would tell me. Like everyone, he also made mistakes, but there was nothing in the very depth of his heart but the mission of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and he bowed down to the feet of anyone with even a spark of desire to assist in that mission. Gunagrahi Mahārāja was endlessly attracted to the holy name and deeply loved his godbrothers, friends, and disciples. It seemed at times more than anything else he was the friend of the poor. He just had this special type of affection for the downtrodden and motley, those who seemed to be surviving in Krishna consciousness only by his compassion and inspiration.
Sometime before he left I also received a message from him. He spoke of what I meant to him. He said that Śrīla Prabhupāda was the center and acknowledged that I may not be able to come immediately because of my service, although obviously he wanted that. I had some previous commitments to two festivals that I had organized where people had already even booked tickets to fly in and participate. I had moved up my ticket to fly to India when those commitments were to be finished, but as soon as I got the message that he was now beginning to leave, I booked my flight to leave the next morning to India from Colombia to be with him. Unfortunately, he left just a few hours after I booked my ticket. I pray he will forgive me for not being there at his side.
I bow my head to the lotus feet of the illustrious Vaiṣhṇavas, such as Bhurijan Prabhu, Rtadhvaja Swami, Govinda Mahārāja, and Radhanath Swami, who dropped everything to be at his side. Thank you!
All Glories to Śrīla Prabhupāda and the pure devotees he brought on the path of devotion and then took from this world to directly serve him.
All Glories to Śrīla Gunagrahi Goswami!