Our Guru Maharaja appeared in a family of land-owners in the famous village of Banawaripara in the district of Jessore in East Bengal. When he was born, his body was very soft and beautiful, and because he had a golden complexion, his mother and all the local ladies gave him the nickname Jonah' (glow-worm). His actual name was Bhima. For approximately three or four months he didn't speak or cry at all, and his family was very worried. Then one day a Muslim mendicant who came to their home begging said to Gurudeva's mother, "Your son is not speaking?"
She replied, "How did you know that? If you can, please make him speak somehow." The mendicant replied, "Do one thing. In the village there are some 'untouchables', persons from the sudra class who work in the cremation grounds. They eat low-grade rice which is left soaking overnight. Beg some of this rice from them, feed it to your child, and then he will speak."
Guru Maharaja's mother was a very hard-working lady who mostly looked after their land. She would discipline her children very strictly, and they would never go anywhere without her permission. Everyone respected her. When she approached one of these sudra families and asked for some of this rice, they said, "How can you take this? It has been touched by us!"
She replied, "Don't worry; just give me some of it." Obtaining some of this rice, she took it back to her home and put it before the child, and at once he started crying, "Ma! Ma!" and began speaking from that point on.
In his boyhood our gurudeva was very close to his father, who was especially affectionate towards him. At that time the people of East Bengal were very religious, and there would always be readings from the Gita and Bhagavatam going on. Then the partition came, and it was as if the very heart of Bengal was torn out. From early childhood Gurudeva would grasp his father's finger and accompany him to religious programs, and if it was dark, he would sit on his father's shoulders. Thus religious philosophy became his interest. There is a Hindi proverb: "honahdra viravana ke hota cikane pata" which means that when a sapling will grow to be fruitful, its leaves are very big and beautiful. Coming events cast their shadow, and from his childhood the symptoms were there that he would become a great personality.
As he grew up, he spent most of his time in the company of a great mahatma who had an asrama in the village. There he would hear readings from the Gita Bhagavatam and Vedanta. When he was at school, at a very young age he started his own magazine, and its language was very literary. He was also an excellent speaker, and when he would speak in a large assembly, there would be no need of a loudspeaker. He didn't know as many slokas as some devotees, but he would give such beautiful explanations. There is one verse from the Bhagavatam (1.2.11) of which he would give an especially beautiful explanation:
vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvam yaj jndnam advoyam
Bhagavan iti sabdyate
The para-tattva is bhagavat-tattva. From brahma there is parabrahma, from atma there is Paramatma, and from Visnu there is Maha-Visnu. But for Svayam Bhagavan Krsna there is no necessity of the words "Param Svayam Bhagavan", because Krsna is the supreme tattva and brahma and Paramatma are His reflection and plenary portion respectively. Brahma cannot actually be called an object, because any object must necessarily have qualities. Brahma is the potency of an object, and can be said to be the shelter of an object, but brahma itself is not an object. The names brahma, Paramatma, and Bhagavan are synonymous, but Bhagavan is to be worshipped, not brahma, because brahma is formless.
Especially when I first joined the matha, I received such special mercy from Bhagavan that I had the opportunity to accompany our gurudeva to many big programs where he would speak, and he always kept me with him. He gave my senior godbrother Alla Vamana Maharaja the responsibility for printing, and being a very qualified man, he has printed many books and magazines one after the other. For helping with the magazine, cooking, and looking after many services, Gurus would keep me with him. His style of speaking and writing was wonderful, and it was my great fortune to hear so much from him. I always took notes and stayed with him like his shadow. Vamana Maharaja, just as now, was very quiet and didn't speak much, but my dear godbrother Trivikrama Maharaja and myself were very talkative. We were always engaged in debating about this and that, and when Guruji would become tired of us, he would say, "Take this book - the answer is there." These days devotees don't discuss topics of tattva much. Instead they speak about the type of clothing they wear and what kind of food they eat. When two Vaisnavas meet, they should discuss tattva, and it was our great fortune to hear talks on bhakti-tattva from very learned devotees. But these days hardly anyone takes the time to discuss the meaning of the scriptures.
Guruji was so intelligent and had so much potency in speaking that he could change yes to no and no to yes. It was amazing; without such devotees, preaching simply would not go on. If one of us wants to write and publish something, we have to look in many, many books and do so much editing, and even if five of us are working together, we still may have difficulty writing something. But what would Guru Maharaja do? At the annual Navadvipa parikrama, five to seven thousand devotees would come to offer pranama to him and he would speak with many of them. In the midst of all this he would tell Vamana Maharaja to take notes, and within a short time he would speak an essay for his magazine. There would not even be any necessity to check it; at once it was ready to go to press. It was amazing how he would never have to look in any book. When one of us is preparing to speak something, we have to first look in so many books. And when we listen to someone speak or when we read something, we have to take notes in order to retain it. But Guru Maharaja in his whole life never took any notes. He read so many books his library is here in the matha (in Mathura) - but he never took any notes. And he knew so much history; no acarya knew more history than him. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada called him a "Vedantic pandita."
Guru Maharaja went from East Bengal to study at a very old and famous college near Calcutta. Many great scholars studied there, and admission was not granted to everyone. But due to his superior intelligence he was awarded admission. In his very first year the dean and professors would call him to read the Caitanya-caritamrta to them. The Caitanya-caritamrta was composed in Bengali, but there is no Sanskrit book which can match its highly poetic and philosophical language. jivera 'svarupa' haya - krsnera 'nitya-dasa'
krsnera 'tatastha-sakti', 'bhedabheda-prakasa'
Cait.-carit. Madhya-lila 20.108
"The inherent form of the jiva is that of an eternal servant of Sri Krsna. The jiva is the marginal potency of Krsna, and is therefore simultaneously one with and different from Him."
The dean and professors were unable to explain this verse. Even in our sampradaya you will find very few devotees who can properly explain it. So our guru deva would have philosophical discussions with them, and in the end he left that college saying, "Even the professors here understand nothing, so what will they teach me?" At that time Gandhi had started his movement to oppose the British government, saying, "The English must leave India; they will not impose the salt tax." All over India the people revolted against the British. So many big names like Balagangadhara Tilaka, Gorakle, C. R. Das, P.C. Raya, and Lala Lajapatarai joined the opposition movement. It was as if the blood of India's youth was boiling, and at once all of India's industry stopped. Then the English thought, "Gandhi has so much influence?" Our gurudeva joined as well, but when Gandhi withdrew his movement due to violence, Guruji along with many others joined the revolutionary party of Subash Candra Bose. Taking a knife and a rifle, he remained hidden within the forests and jungles for some time. At that time the British government issued a warrant for his arrest. He later joined the Gaudiya Mission, and then ten years afterwards, the British government finally came to know of his whereabouts. One day some agents came to Mayapura with a warrant for Guruji's arrest and they approached Prabhupada about it. Prabhupada told them, "But look how he has completely changed. He has become a sadhu, a mahatma." After discussing the matter with Prabhupada and considering further, they withdrew the warrant.
Guruji was a champion footballer, and he was proficient in all subjects; he was an 'all-rounder'. He was proficient in sports, in studying, in fighting, in managing people, and in speaking sweetly. At the age of only sixteen he was managing all the tenants on his father's land. He first came to the Caitanya Matha in Mayapura at that age, and desired to receive Harinama and diksa from Prabhupada. Then for some time he returned to his home and went to college, but at the age of eighteen he returned to the matha with his aunt. She was a very scholarly lady, and together they would compose very beautiful poems and essays. Once when they were conversing in Mayapura, Prabhupada said, "We will go on parikrama of the entire planet and establish one matha after the other. In England, America, and all of the holy places of India such as Haridwara, Prayaga, Vrndavana, Kasi and South India, preaching will go on."
Then Guruji's aunt said, "You are seeing a very big dream! You are like the poor man who begged a torn bag from someone, placed it under his head, and fell asleep. While sleeping he dreamed, 'Oh, I am a millionaire! I am an emperor!' Who will see to all of this?" Prabhupada replied, * "Vinoda will see to it."
* Srila Kesava Maharaja's brahmacari' name was Vinoda-bihari Brahmacari.
After this Guru Maharaja began staying in the matha and did not return to his home again. He had all of the symptoms of a great personality on his body. His form was softer than butter, his arms extended down to his knees, and all auspicious signs were on his hands. He had "artist's fingers", very thin and long. In the morning he would eat just a little simple rice with some salt and then go out and work hard collecting donations for the matha all day. He would collect one paisa from each person, rather than taking a large amount from anyone. He would go to places where there were large crowds such as the train and bus stations, speak about Mahaprabhu's doctrine to people, and take just one paisa from each person. He would keep this money locked up in a box which had a slot on top for the coins, and the key was left with Prabhupada. Without even eating anything else, he would do this every day until sunset.
One time Prabhupada was being driven along in his car in Calcutta and he saw Vinoda resting under a tree with that money box placed under his head as a pillow. Tears came to his eyes and he said, "Such a beautiful young boy from a wealthy family, only eighteen years old; and for me, for the service of Bhagavan, he has left his parents and is undergoing such hardships?" When Gurudeva returned to the matha that night, Prabhupada called him and said, "Vinoda, you were sleeping on the ground at Garimata? You are undergoing so much hardship."
Guruji replied, "No, this hardship is a matter of great happiness if only you will be satisfied with me. This is my everything. What more could I desire? If the guru is pleased, then Bhagavan is pleased. There is nothing greater than this."
Prabhupada would call Guruji 'Tu' or 'Tui'. There was only one other disciple for whom Prabhupada used this affectionate name, and that was Paramananda Prabhu, who was always with Prabhupada. Guruji was very intimate with Prabhupada and would sleep only near him. Even if he went to take rest at one or two o'clock in the morning, he would knock on the door to Prabhupada's room. The other devotees would complain, but Prabhupada would always get up and open the door for him.
Once Guru Maharaja was out collecting with Siddha-svarupa Brahmacari, who later became Bhakti Sriupa Siddhanti Maharaja. They had collected one large bag completely full with vegetables, and another half-full. They got off the train at Howrah station, which was about five miles from the matha. There was no public transportation which covered the entire distance at that time, and there was no money available in the matha for taking a riksa Gurudeva lifted up the full bag and said, "Let's go!" But Siddhanti Maharaja said, "No! You are my older brother and my siksa-guru. Therefore I will take the full bag!"
Guruji replied, "No, you are a small boy, my younger brother. I will take it!" Snatching it back and forth from one another, finally Guruji convinced Siddhanti Maharaja and carried that weight all the way to the matha. This is how he did guru-seva. Whenever any necessity arose, Prabhupada would say, "Where is Vinoda?"
After Guru Maharaja's father passed away, his mother was crying for her son Vinoda day and night, even though she had three other sons in the house. One was a high school headmaster who later also became Prabhupada's disciple and the acarya of the Gaudiya Mission, Srila Audulomi Maharaja. He was fluent in English and was a very talented speaker and writer. Vinoda was the youngest of the brothers. His mother sent a letter to Prabhupada saying, "Please send Vinoda for some time to attend to some work here on our land, and when it is completed, he will return to you." There were some Muslim tenants who had refused to pay their rent for about five years, so Prabhupada sent him there. Amongst the tenants there was one gunda (hooligan) who was a very large man and the worst of them all. Guruji ordered one of his family's hired workers to apprehend this man and bring him to the house. The man was beaten three or four times, and after this all the tenants began paying their rent.
On Prabhupada's land in Mayapura also there were Muslims who were not paying their rent. Prabhupada was thinking to sell the land, but Guruji pleaded with him to allow him to try and procure the rent money from these people. Prabhupada said, "What will you do? You are only a boy of eighteen years." Eventually Prabhupada agreed, and Guruji had the ringleader apprehended, tied to a jackfruit tree, and beaten. Immediately all the tenants there became frightened and began paying their rent, and Guruji offered that money as puspanjali to the feet of Prabhupada. But Guruji would care for those people whom he respected more than he would for his own life. Everyone respected him like a father.
At the end of her life, Guru Maharaja's mother sent another letter to Prabhupada saying, "Please send my dear son Vinoda home for a little while." He called Vinoda and told him, "Your mother is dying; you must go to her immediately." Instead of going, Guruji went and hid somewhere in the matha for a whole day and night. When Prabhupada came to know of it, he sent for Guruji and told him, "Your mother is very ill. You should go to her. I instructed you to go, so why haven't you gone?"
Guru Maharaja replied, "Prabhu, after so many births I have attained the shelter of your feet. By your mercy, I have finally come to bhagavad-bhakti after so many births. Suppose I go to my mother, and while she is taking her last breath she places her hand on my head and says to me, 'I am going now. Who will look after our property? You must do it'. What will I do then? Having left your lotus feet I will again be trapped in maya." Falling at Prabhupada's feet, he began crying, and Prabhupada bestowed plentiful blessings upon him. Until one's determination is like this, he does not have the qualification to leave his home and family. One must have the understanding of a madhyama-adhikdri that the bodily relations of this material world are meaningless. Otherwise, without even being requested one will automatically return to his home and family. And if he does continue to stay in the matha, it will only be for procuring money, women, and prestige. He will have only gone in a circle and will end up back where he started. Therefore one cannot leave his home and family until he has this qualification.
There was a disciple of Prabhupada named Rama-govinda Vidyaratna who was a scholar of Vedanta, the Bhagavatam, and all the scriptures. He was a very good devotee and later became Naimi Maharaja. Once, he desired to have darsana of Prabhupada's guru, Srila Gaurakisora dasa Babaji Maharaja, and Guruji also wanted to go; so taking Prabhupada's permission, they went. At that time, to avoid the trouble that ordinary people were giving him, Babaji Maharaja had locked himself in a latrine for about a week and was just chanting, "Hare Krsna Hare Krsna..." The news reached the district magistrate and the police superintendent, and at once they all came running there. Seeing that the door was locked from inside, they approached with folded hands and said, "Babaji Maharaja, we will construct you a very nice hut for bhajana."
He replied, "No, this is very nice. Why?" "Because the stench of the lust of materialistic people does not come here. I prefer the stench of stool to that."
"Alright, Maharaja, we will supply you with one boy to keep those people away from you." Day and night they were trying to persuade him to come out, but he would only say, "For me, this is Vaikuntha." So many times they asked him to please open the door, but time and again he would reply, "I am not well; I am unable to do it." He would not open the door for those people, and he just continued chanting "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna..." Then Guruji approached the door and said, "Babaji Maharaja, we are the disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati." Hearing the name of Prabhupada, Babaji Maharaja at once stood up. Opening the door, he let them in and again locked the door. The two boys offered pranama and grasping the feet of Babaji Maharaja, Guruji said, "Please give us your blessings." Then Babaji Maharaja told him, "I will take all of your hardships and impediments away so you can always perform bhajana freely - this is my blessing." Later on Guruji would say on many occasions that although difficulties may have come to him from time to time, by the mercy of Babaji Maharaja nothing could ever disturb him.