Gloria Maité Hernández, 2016.02.09 (VT): Srinath Shastri ji was born in Mathura on September 29 of 1923. He was an Ayurveda Visharad and a revered Bhagavata scholar and teacher. He founded his Gurukul in Vrindavan in 1964, inspired by the Bhagavata Vidyalaya of Shri Shukacharya ji.
One of the most revered teachers of Vrindavan, Srinath Shastri ji taught the Bhagavata to his students until a few days before leaving his body on December 17th, 2015. Much can be said about the life and teachings of Dada Guruji, as his close disciples called him. His wisdom, grace, and love for the scriptures inspired many souls. The community of Vrindavan has paid homage to him, and many events have being held in his memory. But this is my personal testimonial about how I met and will always remember Shrinath Shastri Ji.
I visited Vrindavan for the first time in May of 2009, after spending a year studying Sanskrit and reading Rasa Lila in Pune. I came to Vrindavan looking for a teacher that could answer the many questions I had. However, I was disheartened to find that some of the pandits of Vrindavan would not take me seriously. Being young, European-looking woman, was not helping, and I began to fear that I would have to leave Vrindavan without finding an answer to my questions.
Then a friend suggested to visit Shrinath Ji at his house, which is also his Gurukul. We arrived there towards mid-morning without a previous appointment. The young boys were sitting in the floor of Guruji’s room, and he was reading and explaining Bhagavata to them. We sat in a corner of the room to wait for the end of the class. When he noticed our presence, he asked us to sit closer to him, and continued teaching.
After the class ended, he welcomed us, gave us water and sweets, and asked how he could help. I do not understand Hindi, so I attempted to ask my questions in Sanskrit. Guruji was so pleased! His face brightened up, and he began to answer my questions one by one, very slowly so that I could follow him. At the end of the each answer he would ask, avagatam? “Understood?”
We were there for over and hour, and when we were leaving he looked at me and said āgaccha, “Come back.”
I visited Dada Guruji every time I came to India, and he was always there for me and my questions. In October of 2010, I went to Vrindavan while writing my doctoral dissertation. I was particularly intrigued about the passage of Rasa Lila where the gopis ask Krishna about the nature of his love. My most urgent question was: “What is that gūḍhābhiprāya (“secret meaning”) to which Srīdhara Swami refers in the commentary to these verses?”
Srinath ji looked intensely and seriously into my eyes and answered in Sanskrit: Kṛṣṇasya tad-ātmikāḥ gopyāḥ santi tat gūḍhābhiprāyaḥ. (“The gopis are Krishna’s tad-ātmikāḥ . That is the secret meaning”). With that answer, he was doing much more than rephrasing the Srīdhara’s commentary. He was teaching me that not much can really be said about the secret of Krishna’s love. There was an intensity in his eyes that prevented me from asking any further. At the end of that visit, Shrinath Ji gave me his blessings: “May you always remember the love of Krishna.”
Shrinath Ji was the first guru in Vrindavan at whose feet I studied Rasa Lila. He was never hesitant of giving me an answer, he would never hold back any knowledge. He was like a well of wisdom pouring and pouring as much as I wanted and could learn. He was never concerned about teaching a “Western woman” who does not know very well how to follow some traditional precepts. He never asked for anything. He just wanted to teach me because I wanted to learn, and he was also like the sweetest grandfather.
I will never forget how concerned he was about my comfort. He immediately offered me water,sweets, milk, lunch, a cushion, a pillow. And he always invited me to come back. After three and a half years, I saw Dada Guruji again on December 3rd of 2015. Like the first visit, it was mid-morning, before lunch. I touched his feet, and it was as if his feet were made of love. He was tired and could not walk any more. His voice was weak, and he could not breath well.
Dada Guruji was ninety-two years old and had lost strength. All that was remaining was Krisna’s love. He was in the room with his son Krishna Kumar Sharma, his grandson and spiritual inheritor, Anurag Krishna Shastri, and two other gentlemen that were visiting. Dada Guruji spoke to them about me.
He was so happy to see me! I stayed alone with him for some minutes, and took the book of Rasa Lila from my bag. Immediately he began to read and explain the first verse, then offered me lunch. I came again in the evening of December 8th to bring him sweets. Srinath Ji liked sweets like a child does. When I was leaving the room he told me like the first time, āgaccha.
Shrinath ji passed away only a few days after I left Vrindavan. His body was cremated by the shore of Yamuna, and his ashes given to the river, to the love of Krisna. As I wrote this memorial, I asked his grandson, Anurag ji, if I should mention something in particular about Dada Guru ji. He answered: “Just say that the Bhagavatam was his life.”