Vanity thought #282. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Choosing a guru.

Today I had a worrying idea that I stopped writing about Bhaktivinoda Thakur because I have committed an aparadha towards him. I don’t know what it is, if I have time I might go back and look closely at my last posts about him, the possibility itself is unsettling. I’m pretty sure I’d want to edit parts of my previous posts on the second reading regardless of any offenses so it’s not a quick and easy fix, it will take time and effort.

Prior to this thought I explained my inaction over the past few days by being absorbed in flood preparations, and they are absorbing. The situation is easing off a little but I’m still effectively cut off the outside world – the nearest place I can get fresh vegetables to cook is probably one or two hours away if I get lucky, and I’m not sure they still have vegetables. Grocery stores nearby have not been stocked for weeks now, the shelves are empty.

It’s not a total isolation and our area itself is almost dry but the flood has moved on and cut off the small car traffic coming our way, there are very few taxis, not only because they are afraid to get stuck in the water but because gas stations have been left without gas for a week, too. There are still plenty of trucks running around but one must rely on hitch-hiking rather than on schedules.

Anyway, I returned to reading Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s biography by Mataji Nalini Kanta today. At first I thought I would just write about the next couple of years of his life after Puri but I don’t want to go back and refresh myself on all the details. Basically it goes like this – his daughter came out of age and he needed to find her a husband. For one reason or another he wasn’t going to look for one in Orissa and so he returned to Calcutta area. Everything was successfully arranged but the net result was that he got a job in a place called Narail which is located in present day Bangladesh.

There was only one potentially offensive thing I was going to mention in this regard – he thought that marrying off his daughter was more important than staying in Puri and taking association of great vaishnavas. Without trying to pass judgment I think we should rather learn from these priorities – duties come first and one should not shun them no matter what. If the Lord arranges for some respite and awards one with an opportunity to stay close to His temple and His devotees it’s a bonus, not an excuse to give up one’s varnashrama obligations. Of course it’s not an iron clad rule, I’m sure Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur prayed for Lord’s guidance when making this decision and he probably was assured by the Lord in his heart that no trouble would come to him and he won’t pick up any undesirable habits, in fact it was quite opposite.

In Narail his literary career as vaishnava writer finally took off. He published Krishna Samhita and Kalyana Kalpataru, books that got noticed in wider, educated circles, and he got initiated.

It’s this part – the initiation, that needs a bit more reflection. In Svalikhita Jivani he writes that he was waiting for a guru for a long time and his prayers were answered in a dream. A few days later “Gurudeva wrote to me saying, “I will come quickly and give you diksha.”

I don’t know what to make of it. It sounds as if they had previous correspondence and, perhaps, Kedarnath asked for initiation earlier but there’s nothing about it in the both books – Svalikhita Jivani and Seventh Goswami. Perhaps Prabhu (Lord Chaitanya, I understand) appeared not only in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s dream but in Vipina Vihari Goswami’s dream, too. Perhaps we could dismiss this episode for the lack of details but I think this intervention by Lord Chaitanya Himself should be remembered as the basis of their relationship and whatever came next must be viewed in this light – it was arranged by Mahaprabhu Himself.

And there was a lot of stuff that came next but first I want to mention Kalyana Kalpataru again. According to Seventh Goswami this book was describing devotee’s progress from hearing the Lord’s name for the first time until he is introduced into Lord’s personal lilas and association. One of the passages in this book is cited as a proof of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s spiritual identity, he disclosed his own relationship with Krishna.

This does not make much sense. It can be massaged to make sense but then his life would lose all exemplary power – no one can follow his footsteps, he jumped from initiation to meeting Krishna in a year tops. Maybe it is possible, but we also have our Srila Prabhupada citing his life as a standard for grihasthas, how he managed to work as an important government servant, maintain his family (he had ten children altogether), and write upto a hundred vaishnava books, too.

Of course no one can imitate him but one could always say that since he was able to approach Krishna Himself in his bhajan then whatever he had to do in his earthly incarnation was not even a piece of cake for him, it was completely non-essential, unlike our struggles with our senses, especially in household lives. If he saw Krishna face to face a couple of times per day then he must have had very different relationships with his material body and everything related to it, meaning that his motivations, logic and reasoning in making his life choices were completely unlike our own and thus of no practical importance.

I’d rather think that his description of intimate pastimes with Krishna were written by following books by Six Goswamis and other vaishnava acharyas, and, of course, quietly supervised by Krishna so they didn’t come out wrong. It doesn’t mean he had actually had Krishna’s personal association in his fully spiritual form. He could have but I think he was still a few good years away from it. He just got initiated, after all.

And if one says that his spiritual master was such a potent soul that he immediately elevated Kedarnath to maha-bhagavata paramahamsa level, I’d say wait until he meets Srila Jagannatha Dasa Babaji, because that’s what came next.

In 1881, about three-four years after leaving Puri and eventually settling in Narail, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur went on his second trip to Vrindavana. Whatever I said about his ability to communicate with Krishna must also be reconsidered in the light of the deals he made with Him in regard to this journey. On the way Bhaktivinoda Thakur got seriously ill. When he came to Vrindavana he prayed that the Lord gave him just enough health to receive all the spiritual benefits there and then he would continue with the illness, and it happened exactly like that, and it wasn’t the only case of Krishna answering his prayers, in fact resorting to deals like that had become a routine in Bhaktivinoda’s life. If there was any difficulty he would just pray to Krishna for guidance and everything was resolved.

While in Vrindavan he helped to clear the area of the band of dacoits (love the word, always wondered when I could use it in a sentence) that robbed pilgrims visiting the holy dham, it took quite a lot of time and effort but in Svalikhita Jivani he gives it only half a sentence. More important for him was meeting Srila Jagannatha Dasa Babaji who was the head of the vaishnava community at that time. Jagannatha Babaji made such a deep impression on Kedarnath (he wasn’t awarded Bhaktivinoda title yet) that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati drew our parampara line through him and not through Vipina Vihari Goswami, who I just assumed introduced Bhaktivinoda Thakura to his spiritual form.

In later years Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s relationship with his diksha guru, Vipina Vihari Goswami changed for the worse, to the point that some say he rejected him. Nalini Kanta use the word “neglected” which is not as strong but still points to some sort of a disagreement.

I’ll look into the nature and possible implications of that disagreement next time. There’s a lot of history and politics involved in interpretation of what had happened, I don’t think I can untangle that knot but I need some clarity at least for myself.

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