Vanity thought #246. Sources nest.

I was getting ready to resume writing about Srila Vamshidasa Babaji but run into a little problem with sources and now it’s spiraling out of control. It’s not a total waste of time, there are a lot of things that I should settle at least for myself before I can continue with a peaceful mind.

HH Bhaktivikasa Swami rejected some accounts of Vamshidasa’s life because their author failed to pass authority tests. I don’t know why, there’s not explanation given, but I think I have an idea now.

Vamshidasa’s biography presented on Gaudiya Math sites borrows heavily from “Saints of Bengal” by one Dr O.B.L. Kapoor, a book that is not mentioned by BVKS at all. What about some of the stories that came from that book? Are they authoritative? Can they be cited with any confidence or should they carry a disclaimer? With this questions in mind I turned to the good old Google for answers and discovered that those are surely some muddy waters to wade into.

This Dr OBL Kapoor surely had some history. He was an initiated disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and he joined Gaudiya Math around the same time as Srila Prabhupada, meaning that both were junior members and that’s what brought them closer. Srila Prabhupada mentioned him on a couple of occasions when talking about strict sannyasa vows.

Once they approached Srila Bhaktisiddhanta together – Srila Prabhupada, Dr Kapoor, and his young wife. They were young and they were excited about this opportunity and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta was in the final years of his pastimes, Dr Kapoor’s wife was like a granddaughter to him, yet when she asked for a word in private Stila Bhaktisiddhanta refused her plea.

Srila Prabhupada and Dr Kapoor haven’t seen each other for some forty years until they accidentally bumped into each other at Radha Damodara temple in Vrindavana, they didn’t even recognize each other at first but when they did they both were very happy to be reunited and so Srila Prabhupada always had a soft spot for Dr. Kapoor.

Once Srila Prabhupada asked him how old he was, he wasn’t sure about their age difference. It turned out Dr Kapoor was nine years younger and then Srila Prabhupada asked him about his teeth, “All there”, Dr Kapoor answered, “never leave the house without them”, and he took his false teeth out to everyone’s laughter. Srila Prabhupada showed him his teeth, beaming like a little boy, he was happy he got one up on a younger man.

Dr Kapoor took part in many Prabhupada’s conversations in Vrindavan and they talked about all kinds of things, about the past, about the present. Dr Kapoor was always there to support Srila Prabhupada with his facts and arguments, he was like his consultant on all kinds of trivia and business dealings.

So, should we take his book as authoritative? I’m afraid not. The last conversation involving Dr Kapoor was a disturbing one. It was about his presentation at some scientific conference where he undermined our own Swarupa Damodara with “all matter is illusion” argument that sounds very much like mayavada. Devotees didn’t like it at all and countered him with our usual “if it’s all an illusion, let me take this illusory chair and hit you on your illusory head”. They were very happy to have defeated him and Prabhupada seemingly concurred “He has become mayavadi.” In Dr Kapoor’s defense it could be said that it was all hearsay and he wasn’t present during that conversation to defend himself. Fair enough, but he had a mayavadi history before he joined Gaudiya Math, too, and devotees remembered that.

That is just the beginning, however. Turns out that after the passing of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Adi Keshava Das, Dr Kapoor’s spiritual name, got attracted to Vrindavan’s babajis and after his retirement he took siksha and eventually sannyasa from one of them who he was told was a siddha mahatma, and the only one siddha who was currently present there and that’s how the blessings of his diksha were finally manifested. I don’t want to offend his memory but it sounds like he confused “diksha” and “ditching”. They might have the same verbal root somewhere but actually one is the opposite of the other.

I don’t know how they settle these things in the spiritual world, we are talking about major devotees here, people do not get to reside in the land of Vraja if they weren’t. By our standards, however, it is just not done, mahatmas or not. I think we have enough examples from Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to raise plenty of suspicions about self promoted siddhas of Vrindavan.

While I was looking up those stories I also came across a series of articles in defense of Bon Maharaja. As I read them it appeared he was a genuinely humble soul, one of the best and foremost disciples of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, fully engaged in bhajana and loved by all his saintly godbrothers. Then we have Srila Prabhupada addressing him by unprintable names. I say unprintable because I am not in the position to repeat them, no because of the strong language. Obviously there’s a story behind that and I think I’ve read it once or twice already but the particulars escape my mind. Suffice to say that Srila Prabhupada was not his only critic, maybe I’ll find out exactly what happened later. It’s just an example that there are all sorts of complications between all kinds of exalted personalities and it sometimes gives me a headache how to avoid contaminating my mind either by reading some unauthorized stories or offending their authors.

Back to Dr Kapoor, however. At this point I tend to think that he played for both sides there and pleased everybody by appearing as a perfect gentleman, he told people what they wanted to hear to score himself some brownies in every house.

Once I’ve heard that in one of his books he denigrated Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s preaching mission by calling it neo-Hinduism. Factually it might be correct, if you are talking to historian and sociologists, but for any genuine follower it would be highly offensive. They didn’t invent anything, they restored the principles of religion, they were empowered by Krishna Himself to carry out His mission. Dr Kapoor’s approach is understanable, however, if he really bought into “all that preaching is bogus and it’s only about money, learn the real bhakti from the babajis” propaganda.

I do not have exact quotes and even the book title but I heard that this argument is now picked on by those Russian Christians I mentioned yesterday in their bid to outlaw our Bhagavat Gita As It Is.

This is funny, because Dr Kapoor Himself had never shied from using his Prabhupada connection to promote his own books. If you read some of the introductions that are freely available on the Internet you’d think he is an officially recognized ISKCON writer.

Dr Kapoor was also telling the devotees that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had never been properly initiated by Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji and lead them away to Nitai Gaura Radhe Shyam babaji community. Not only that, but Dr Kapoor also led people to believe that because Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati wasn’t properly initiated and offensive towards Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s initiating guru, Bipina Bihari Goswami, his path back to Krishna was closed forever and all of his followers were doomed, too. I bet he never dared to say such things in front of Srila Prabhupada, it didn’t happen just recently, his first convert left ISKCON in 1973, when Dr Kapoor was all sweetness in his recorded conversations.

That’s why I don’t see any reason to trust Dr. Kapoor’s writings on anything. He might have gotten even the facts wrong as his interpretation of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s initiation shows on close examination.

As far as Vamshidasa Babaji is concerned, Dr Kapoor was also a follower of some Haridasa Goswami who, I suspect, was the same Haridas that Bhaktivikasa Swami dismissed as untrustworthy, probably on the same grounds.

Finally, people who actually read Dr Kapoor’s books, particularly “Saints of Vraja” and “Saints of Bengal”, say that he really thought that crossdressers who pretend to be gopis and engage in sex with other dudes who dress as Krishna have some genuine and spiritually valuable interactions.

Anyway, digging up these old stories is fascinating, sometimes they bring the third, human dimension to the personalities we usually judge in black and white. Sometimes these personalities forgive each other transgressions, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they fool people, sometimes, like real paramahamsas, they pick only the nectar from collective memories.

This is the world we have to live in and deal with, and we have to try our best to keep our own noses clean. Let Krishna sort them out, no one but Krishna Himself is capable of keeping them in their proper places and arrange everything for everybody’s ultimate benefit.

2 comments on “Vanity thought #246. Sources nest.

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