Vanity thought #270. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Last hurdle.

I left Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in Midnapur where he was continuing to ride the wave of his teaching career and on the spiritual side he eventually came in touch with vaishnavism, after he was called to judge a dispute about some vaishnavas there eating fish. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur realized that he had natural attraction towards bhakti from early childhood and decided to study vaishnavism in depth. He was told that the first books he should read were Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita, unfortunately they couldn’t be found anywhere and the project was put on hold for a while.

This was the last hurdle, or hurdles, before turning all his attention to the religion of Bhagavat, as he called it himself.

First he got an offer to change his field and go into tax collection instead. The pay was lousy but people didn’t go into tax service for salary alone. Kedarnath was offered a job of a translator and an intermediary between the natives and British officers. He quickly made extra 200 rupees, about half of his annual salary, in “black deals”, as he said, we know this practice as bribery, no need to delve into the exact details.

He himself was disgusted and applied for a transfer. He said tax collecting job was not suitable for human beings. Many a taxpayer would agree but he meant the illegal money, of course. After just over a year on the job he got another position in the same branch of government but he didn’t have to deal with bribery anymore.

What to make of this episode? Was it any useful to the students of his life? I think I can see an explanation – material world sucks. It literally sucks all the good qualities out of a soul. Just like it’s described in numerous places in Bhagavatam a hapless householder eventually resorts to dubious ways of earning money to support his family and bad karma drags him down. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur got the taste of corruption himself and he got away before he became addicted.

Around the same time his wife died, actually before the tax collecting episode but it’s not really important. Somehow or other Kedarnath wanted to remarry really fast. Some say it was because his mother couldn’t take care of his first child on her own due to her age, others accused him of impropriety, both Indian and European friends. I even heard that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati didn’t approve. Evil minds might also think he simply needed a woman. I don’t know how evil it is, there’s nothing wrong with taking a wife to control one’s sex life. It also shows devotees who believe only sannyasis can make solid spiritual progress that devotional path is not quite so black and white.

To avoid upsetting the larger families the ceremony was very simple, it was held away from new wife’s birthplace and there were no festivities. Whatever problems appeared on the surface, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was convinced it was the will of God that couldn’t be denied, and it was this woman who eventually gave birth to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and even to Lalita Prasad himself.

With new wife secured Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur could focus on his career again, and it was going very well. At one point he received three lucrative offers and decided to go into judiciary. The only problems were with examinations, even in those days people had to pass exams to take this or that government job, half way around the world in chaotic places like India – British surely knew how to run the government. Some of those examinations were easy, some had to be taken twice.

I should also mention that yesterday I discovered that I got some details wrong regarding mochi cobbler story, today I should add that I mixed up deaths of his grandmother and grandfather, too. I don’t think it matters much, what mattered to me at that time was that young Kedar went on a pleasure trip with his friends and missed the death of a close relative. I think it was also a lesson to him on the need to stay with one’s duties rather than follow the wind of easy life.

Moving on, at one point Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur got a high judiciary position in Chapra and he moved his family there. Things were not going smoothly at first but eventually he was able to win his enemies over and everything in Chapra was “very good”, except that he developed a strong desire to enjoy fish and meat.

He ate a lot of fish there but it wasn’t very good so he ate more goat meat.

I can see why this admission is not included in our short articles and commemorative speeches about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur but I think it deserves mentioning in books like Seventh Goswami, I think the omission there is not due to insignificance but a deliberate exclusion from history of things we don’t quite understand.

Anyway, this meat eating habit caused Kedarnath ulcer and he was very sick. None of the treatments helped him and he had to suffer for a long time. I don’t know how long the meat eating lasted, over a year later and after he moved to a new place and a new job he finally got some medicine that worked and he went on a month long diet that included fresh fish cooked in aged ghee among other things. I don’t know if he actually ate fish at that time, its inclusion on the list with detailed instruction how it should be cooked sounds suspicious.

This time of illness also gave him a chance to ask for a long vacation and he went on a pilgrimage to Mathura and Vrindavan and all the usual places on the way to and from Bengal. He was impressed by Vrindavana temples but he didn’t have much appreciation for devotees, as he said. He had even less appreciation for pandars in Prayag, all in all it wasn’t a very successful trip.

Despite the illness he still managed to pass his examinations and got a new position in Purnea, that’s where he finally collected all the ingredients for his medicine and finally cured himself.

I don’t know what is the actual significance of meat eating episode. I guess we should just accept it as it is and keep in mind that it didn’t hinder his path to acharyahood. Maybe he just had to get it out of his system. He already knew that meat eating was wrong and now he had conclusively proven it to himself. It’s one thing to know something theoretically, it’s quite another to teach one’s body and senses. Young children need to get burned to learn about dangers of fire, maybe it was this kind of lesson for Bhaktivinoda Thakur.

There’s also a possible lesson that even Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t fight his natural attractions or bad habits, he let them play out and go away by themselves. Maybe it’s a lesson in futility of false renunciation. Otoh, he was under Krishna’s direct supervision, if any of us goes off the rails like this the result might not be so relatively harmless. On yet another hand Krishna could have easily stopped him from craving for flesh but chose not to. Was it to give us a lesson? But then why do we feel we need to hide this episode from our history? I think it’s a natural desire to protect the reputation of a great devotee and an acharya, it’s not wrong per se.

Either way, after working for a year and half in Purneah he got transferred to Dinajpur where Vaishnava religion was very strong and the rest is the history, as they say.

Nothing could stop his ascendance as the most prominent vaishnava of the century anymore, there were no more setbacks or deviations.

To be continued.

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