Vanity thought #1504. History on the side

In continuance of yesterday’s topic, it’s not only our generation that can develop an impression that saṅkīrtana movement of Lord Caitanya is not fulfilling its potential. We haven’t started it, after all, it’s been going on for half a millennium already, so let’s look at some of the examples from history.

Chanting of the holy name and glorifying the Lord in the company of devotees is the only means of deliverance of the fallen souls in Kali yuga, as we know. We love to quote kalau nāsty eva verse but it’s from Puraṇas, is’t been known for thousands of years, and so was the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. Anyone who chanted it or otherwise engaged in glorification of the Lord must have felt the effects. Reciting Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in the forest of Naimiṣāraṇya was already saṅkīrtana. What do we mean when we say Lord Caitanya started it, and if He did, why did He have to wait for so long?

On the eve of Lord’s appearance in Navadvīpa life for devotees there was very tough. They were shown no respect and were a subject of constant ridicule. Ignorance of the worship of Hari was everywhere and it gave devotees immense pain. Why was Lord Caitanya delaying their deliverance? Was it some sort of an imperfection in His plan? Of course not.

I think it’s a vestige of Christianity that sets preaching and saving everyone as the default understanding of religion. “Religion” in the history of the West means proselytizing. If you see a religious person you assume he came here to save you and give you some special gifts and blessings. Self-centered souls of Kali yuga have come to see preachers as salesmen. They figured that religious people have an obligation to preach and therefore can be exploited because as soon as you know that someone wants something you get leverage to manipulate that person.

Seeing religion in this light we come to value only the external, quantifiable effects of it on the population. When we talk about saṅkīrtana now, for example, we mean numbers – books, devotees, festival attendance, donations, temples, meals distributed etc etc. The fact that we have everything ready for these type of activities doesn’t help either. Come to the temple, get the books, sell them, done.

Historically, however, it was almost never like this. First, there was no Lord Caitanya but devotees still gathered daily to engage in saṅkīrtana. It might not have been as ecstatic but it was still their life and soul.

Then the Lord appeared but hasn’t revealed Himself. In fact, He even mocked devotees with His superior knowledge of grammar, to the point that they crossed the street when they saw Him approaching. They couldn’t prove the value of service to Hari, how frustrating it might have been?

Then the Lord manifested His true form and everything fell into place, saṅkīrtana over-flooded Navadvīpa and the universe had become perfect. It didn’t last long, however, because the Lord shortly decided to take sannyāsa and left for Purī. It’s not that the saṅkīrtana stopped but it wasn’t growing as fast as in Lord’s presence, if at all.

The Lord Himself continued preaching, of course, as He went on tours of India, but for Bengali devotees it was certainly a loss and the beginning of the “dark days” again. Every year they’d go to Purī for several months to stay with the Lord there, preaching back home clearly taking a backseat. We also come to recharge our batteries in India but not every year and not for months, we can’t allow ourselves to bathe in spiritual bliss while people back home remain without Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We see it as a deficiency in serving the mission but it wasn’t perceived like that in Lord Caitanya’s time.

Then the Lord Caitanya had to specifically order Lord Nityānanda to go and preach in Bengal and sent Six Gosvāmīs to Vṛndāvana. The mission was saṅkīrtana but if we compare it to our “dedication” it felt short.

In Vṛṇdāvana nothing big was going on. Gosvāmīs wrote books and meditated, everyone respected and appreciated their presence, everyone was infused with their Kṛṣṇa premā, merchants built temples. It was nothing like trying to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness in demoniac lands hostile to “Indian” religion.

Gosvāmīs wrote books, for example, but they made only one copy and when they wrote “to my brother Sanātana” as a dedication they really meant it as “for my brother Sanātana”. They didn’t bother to make a second copy for anyone else. It’s very different from how we write books now. Back then they didn’t even have something to perform the function of the BBT, let alone book distribution. Moreover, most of these books were not meant for general consumption at all, literally only for “my brother Sanātana”.

Do you see how by modern standards their saṅkīrtana mission wasn’t a mission at all? How could have Lord Caitanya tolerated it? Why didn’t He encourage them to really preach and save fallen souls? Did they have no mercy? Did Lord Caitanya Himself have no mercy? Our mercy is so much greater.

In a way it probably is but we shouldn’t take credit for it. This attitude was given to us by Śrīla Prabhupāda and we had an affinity for it due to our Christian roots, as I explained earlier. We haven’t contributed anything ourselves.

Of course we aren’t foolish enough to see the work of the Six Gosvāmīs as in any way deficient, nor should we see ourselves as having even a slightest clue of the true value of their service. We can simply say that without their preaching there wouldn’t be any books expounding Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavava philosophy, there wouldn’t be Caitanya Caritāmṛta, there wouldn’t be anything left by the time of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, there wouldn’t be Gauḍiyā Maṭhas, and there wouldn’t be ISKCON. Their works are at the very root of our movement, they are like seeds from which everything grows. Of course Lord Caitanya is the actual seed but He didn’t write any books, delegating this work to Six Gosvāmīs.

In absolutely no way was their work deficient even if by external measurements it wasn’t as impressive as spreading Kṛṣṇa consciousness all over the world, like we claim to do. We are too smart to fall into the trap of such thinking, thank god.

My point is that we can, theoretically, look at the slow pace of growth back in those days and easily find areas where the mission could have been improved. Lord Caitanya, however, didn’t need any improvements. It was perfect then, it is perfect now, it will be perfect forever, as long as the Lord is in charge.

One last thing, very important – I’m not arguing for seeing our own efforts as perfect but the service of all the devotees around us. The speed at which TOVP is being built, for example, or the way devotees sing Lord’s glories (there are many complaints that it’s not being done properly nowadays), or the way GBC manages our society.

And we should probably rethink our default, Christianity installed attitudes, too.


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