Vanity thought #1442. Hell’s calling

Incidentally, in support of the spurious idea that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was preaching apa-siddhānta, there’s an example of such preaching in his famous Bhāgavat speech where he says that descriptions of hell in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam are an exaggeration.

Today’s title might give an idea that accusing our ācāryas of lying about jīva’s origin, even though on purpose, might condemn one to hell but that’s not what I mean. I’m pretty sure the devotee in question is no in any danger (so far…). I think he was mislead by that no-leaves book, took the wrong side in the debate, jumping at the opportunity to accuse ISKCON of yet another perversion, and then invested so much in defending his position that now he is forced to propose truly outrageous theories to explain why three generations of our ācāryas said things inconsistent with no-fall “siddhānta”.

We should remember that he was one of the best book distributors in his time, that he received tons of mercy from Śrīla Prabhupāda, that he hasn’t fallen from his sannyāsa vows, that he continues preaching and writing about Kṛṣṇa, that he never descended in open attacks on our ācāryas, never directly accused them of ignorance, and the disagreements are still technical and speculative in nature, not a big deal in the big scheme of things.

This makes me wonder how much value we should put on following proper siddhānta vs following proper rules and regulations. Exemplary sannyāsa should be a sign of genuine advancement, but what would be its value if it comes at the cost of accusing ācāryas of “white lies”?

Or should we see it as “rules can be followed by everybody” while having firm faith in your guru’s words is a privilege afforded to select few, and they are the ones who will eventually attain bhakti?

Or should we see it as transcendental disagreements between liberated souls, or as good as liberated, so they don’t affect their position but serve as a catalyst for generating new flavors in their relationship, and our job here is to make right choices for ourselves, like “stick with your guru” and “do not offend anyone no matter what”.

But back to hell, figuratively speaking. Here’s the entire passage in question, it’s quite long but it includes some other points relevant to the discussion (pdf):

    In the common-place books of the Hindu religion in which the rājo and tamo-guṇa have been described as the ways of religion, we have descriptions of a local heaven and a local hell; the Heaven as beautiful as anything on earth and the Hell as ghastly as any picture of evil. Besides this Heaven we have many more places, where good souls are sent up in the way of promotion! There are 84 divisions of the hell itself, some more dreadful than the one which Milton has described in his “Paradise Lost” . These are certainly poetical and were originally created by the rulers of the country in order to check evil deeds of the ignorant people, who are not able to understand the conclusions of philosophy. The religion of the Bhāgavata is free from such a poetry. Indeed, in some of the chapters we meet with descriptions of these hells and heavens, and accounts of curious tales, but we have been warned somewhere in the book, not to accept them as real facts, but as inventions to overawe the wicked and to improve the simple and the ignorant. The Bhāgavata , certainly tells us a state of reward and punishment in future according to deeds in our present situation. All poetic inventions, besides this spiritual fact, have been described as statements borrowed from other works in the way of preservation of old traditions in the book which superseded them and put an end to the necessity of their storage.

First of all, I don’t think we should accept everything that was said in that speech as siddhānta because it’s not quite like Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura real devotional works. This speech was given in 1868, probably published as a book in 1869 (hence the date usually attached to this paper). In Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s autobiography he doesn’t give the exact date, it was sometimes between March 1868 and May 1869.

That was the time when he wasn’t a proper devotee yet, externally speaking. He just came off his meat eating period and associated illnesses, he described his devotion as mixed with jñāna, he described his visit to Vṛndāvana and other holy places as not very fruitful spiritually, he just read Caitanya Caritāmṛta (and possibly Śrīmad Bhāgavatam) for the first time and he admits his first reading wasn’t very convincing, only the second reading of Caitanya Caritāmṛta made his a full convert to His cult. It was before the famous episode in Jagannātha Purī and before becoming initiated, externally he didn’t think of himself as a devotee at that time.

We should also remember that this speech was given in the context of a philosophical battle between Hindus and Brahmos, who at that time publicly divorced themselves from Hinduism. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura declined to speak before Brahmos and gave this presentation to Hindus instead, but from his autobiography it appears that he really wanted to impress the British, I guess because Hindus didn’t need to be convinced of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam glories.

As it stands, the speech talks about Puraṇas exaggerating conditions in hell for the sake of preaching, and that it all started with local rulers not fully conversant with the truth, and Bhāgavatam included these description as a tribute to tradition.

He mentions a verse in Bhāgavatam itself that warns us not to take some of the descriptions literally but only as preaching tools to “overawe he wicked”. It is probably this one (SB 11.3.44):

    Childish and foolish people are attached to materialistic, fruitive activities, although the actual goal of life is to become free from such activities. Therefore, the Vedic injunctions indirectly lead one to the path of ultimate liberation by first prescribing fruitive religious activities, just as a father promises his child candy so that the child will take his medicine.

Could be, but this verse speaks of Vedas, not Bhāgavatam itself – parokṣa-vādo vedo, it’s Vedas that are “describing a situation as something else in order to disguise its real nature”.

Our Śrīla Prabhupāda once wrote about allegories, too, but as far as Bhāgavatam is concerned, he mentions only explicit allegory of the story of King Puraṇjana in that letter, we can’t use this example to doubt reality of any other information in Bhāgavatam.

Just as Śukadeva Gosvāmī starts describing the movement of the Sun, which then leads to descriptions of hellish planets in subsequent chapters, he says the following about his information (SB 5.21.1):

    My dear King, I have thus far described the diameter of the universe [fifty crores of yojanas, or four billion miles] and its general characteristics, according to the estimations of learned scholars.

It’s not meant to be allegorical, though we have some leeway regarding these “estimations”.

Once again, at this point in his life Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura valued rationality in search for the truth and he offered diligently studying Śrīmad Bhāgavatam instead (in addition?) to modern science of the day. I don’t think we should take his understanding at the time as eternal truth regarding Bhāgavatam – that it’s meant to be allegorical. Rather we could take Bhaktivinoda’s speech itself as an example of preaching and how he made the subject more palatable to his audience, even if he believed it himself for the moment.

It’s not the same as deliberately twisting the truth when writing about jīva’s falldown in books meant for devotees.

I wanted to say something else about these matters of hell and Bhāgavatam but they now escape me. Perhaps later.

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Vanity thought #1441. For good measure

There’s one more issue that, I think, needs addressing while on the subject I’ve been on for the past couple of days. It’s a new twist on jīva origin controversy, or at least it’s new to me.

Perhaps one day someone can produce a paper of academic quality that details how the controversy developed play by play, who were the actors, how they directed the discussion, how it branched out and so on. I’m certainly not in the position to offer even a brief overview of this history but I can’t ignore certain developments as they come to my attention even if I don’t know everything that was there in between.

To me it looks as if it was a non-issue for hundreds of years of Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇava history. Śrīla Prabhupāda started publishing “Back to Godhead” magazine in the forties, he moved to Vṛndāvana, took sannyāsa, lived in Rādhā-Dāmodara temple, went to America, resumed publication, established a world wide movement and became the most famous personality in Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism, and yet during this time no one would even mention that “Back to Godhead” title makes no sense as it goes against “siddhānta” as understood by no-fall-vādīs. And that is in addition to uncountable references in Prabhupāda’s books, letters, and conversations where he clearly talks about our fall from spiritual world and the necessity to go BACK to Godhead. No one said a word for almost fifty years, then whole hell broke loose, or so it seems.

That book, about leaves falling off Vaikuṇṭha, started an avalanche of opinions on the issue. The entire ex-ISKCON world seemingly united against us on this philosophical point. If you listen to them, the entire Gauḍiyā world stand behind them, unanimous in their resolve, to confront our distortion of siddhānta.

In reality, no one gives a … (insert your favorite word). Moreover, there appears to be significant disagreements between our critics and accusations are flying around in that supposedly united world, too.

Personally, I thought that the original no-fall argument was made mostly on the strength of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Jaiva Dharma. I don’t think any of the ācāryas who came before him addressed the issue straight on and so their statements are opened to interpretations if one looks for answers to this particular question. If Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura accepted them as “no-fall” then we ought to accept it, too, and then try to deal with differences between his followers in ISKCON and Gauḍiyā Maṭhas.

Personally, I had an impression that GM and their ācāryas are with no-fall on this one but, apparently, I was wrong. Well, the original book was written by a non-GM devotee, I just assumed his reasoning was accepted in GM as the same no-fall theory is pushed by the mahārāja I was talking about for the past two days, and he left ISKCON for a guru in Caitanya Sarasvatī Maṭha. Now I’m not sure his views are welcome there anymore.

This is his guru recorded answer on the question of whether jīva is forced to appear in the material world against his will:

    He is not forced. The first starting point is that of free will. We have to accept that and we have to find that out. Otherwise God will be responsible for the jiva’s misery.

This is what this disciple has to say about “free will” idea, a bit lengthy but I highlighted main points for a quick scan:

    ..some contemporary acaryas in the parivara of Thakura Bhaktivinoda have written about the implications of anadi karma in ways that contradict each other. Some have written that jivas fall from grace or a condition beyond karmic influence into a karma bound life by exercise of their free will, while some have also written that jivas do not fall into a karma bound life and by implication are literally materially conditioned from a time without beginning. As it is clear from the discussion of the relevant sutras above, the former position is not Gaudiya siddhanta. The latter position is.

Some other followers of the same guru didn’t like this turn at all but I don’t want to be drawn into their internal reactions. Maybe there’s conflict there, maybe not.

Back to Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, however. It appears that his other statements, including in the same Jaiva Dharma, which support fall from the spiritual world, have been acknowledged and accepted by this particular critic, but then dismissed as mere preaching strategy (source):

    Thakura Bhaktivinoda formulated a preaching strategy that, while appearing to differ from scriptural statements, was nonetheless efficacious in his time and for some time thereafter.

Basically, he says that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was preaching apa-siddhānta but it was a good thing. Nice excuse, normally one would stop listening on words “preaching apa-siddhānta”, the first reaction going along this line: “He says Bhaktivinoda was preaching apa-siddhanta. Bas, no more talking to this person.” Of course Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura never said he was massaging the truth for the purposes of preaching and none of his followers ever thought such an outrageous thing for a hundred years. It’s as if Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura duped not only materialists but devotees as well, as acknowledged in this quote from the same article: “The strategy under discussion, having begun with Bhaktivinoda, has been repeated both verbatim and with some variation by numerous acaryas in the lineage.”

The same thing is attributed to Śrīla Prabhupāda, too, who knew the correct siddhānta but made some statements contradictory to it according to time, place, and circumstances, like when he was commenting on Christian philosophy for the book prepared by his disciples.

All of this is preposterous, of course, and is beyond redemption, but we should see it as a natural response to the need to reconcile one’s own inventions with authority of the ācāryas. This is what is expected to happen when one tries to do his own thing but doesn’t want to abandon the tradition either. I want go as far as to say that it’s done out of fear of losing followers, I hope it’s a genuine desire to stay faithful while dealing with his own mind and intelligence.

There’s this quote mentioned in the GBC’s pdf:

    Prabhupada said things according to time and circumstance, Sridhara Maharaja saying this way according to time and circumstance and I, another way according to time and circumstance. I can draw from Prabhupada how he applied in certain circumstances and I can see how Sridhara Maharaja did and I can come up with a synthesis, a third idea, based on scripture and what they had done.

No one is preaching the truth anymore, apparently everyone just deals with contingencies, time and circumstances, but why call this another third thing a siddhānta, though? Or is siddhānta status gets attached to these mental speculations as a preaching strategy, too? This argument (they were preaching, you are preaching, so it’s all apa-siddhānta now) presented in response to pushing of no-fall-vāda would be extremely ironic, wouldn’t it?

Bottom line is this – being attached to one’s own speculations is dangerous and will eventually lead to direct confrontation with one’s guru and predecessor ācāryas. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not science in the sense we start from ignorance and “discover” things according to our own experiences and understanding. No, we accept the words of our ācāryas as the truth, that’s our starting point, and we should never allow our speculations to contradict verdicts of our guru. Don’t even step on that road, it leads to hell.

Incidentally, …(to be continued).

Vanity thought #794. Defending dressing down

A week or so ago there was a disappearance day of Ramakrishna Pandit Babaji, perhaps the most prominent Vrindavana devotee of the first half of the twentieth century (not the Ramakrishna of “Ramakrishna Mission”, a completely different person). He was perfect in his sadhana, he chanted a gazillion rounds every day and when not chanting he was deeply immersed in lila-smaranam. Unlike the rank and file, he was never accused of associating with women or smoking, his character and dedication to Sri Sri Radha Krishna was spotless, his renunciation on par with the standard set out by the Six Goswamis. AFAIK, he was the only Vrindavana babaji who was mentioned by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati by name, and that’s saying something.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati called him a kanishtha.

Everyone else considered him a siddha. How come? How did he deserve such a dressing down? Was it justified? What should we make out of this judgment?

I’m not in the position to judge anyone, let alone a long departed exemplary vaishnava. If Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati called him kanishta, it’s his business, if I say something like this I’ll got to hell. Nevertheless, as followers of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta it’s our duty to protect integrity of our acharya and try to provide an explanation for his statement.

Let’s look at a couple of episodes from Ramakrishna Babaji’s life.

Ramakrishna Babaji had zero possessions and he lived in a cave in the side of Govardhana. Everyday he would complete his rounds before going out for madhukari, alms collection, which therefore happened late in the evening. Even to get water it was a long walk from his cave to the nearest well, so one day his associate gave him a clay pot so that he had something to store water during the day. Babaji got irritated because he was free of the desire to have any possessions and so any such gift was unacceptable.

Well, once you get past oohs and aahs that this story begs to elicit, let’s remember our position on renunciation – everything belongs to Krishna and everything must be engaged in His service. People who renounce material possessions are more advanced that people attached to them but their renunciation is called phalgu varagya, “false renunciation”, because you can’t renounce that which does not belong to you in the first place.

Proper renunciation is yukta vairagya – engaging everything in Krishna’s service. One who rejects possessions is still acting on the bodily platform of I and mine, not knowing that even his body is meant for the pleasure of the Lord and therefore cannot be rejected.

Then there is a story with a local king’s visit to Vrindavana. He came to see Ramakrishna Babaji and offered his service. “Just leave and never come back”, was the reply.

We have an example of Lord Chaitanya who refused association of the King Prataparudra on the grounds that devotees should not associate with people in power and people attached to sense gratification. No one can come to Vrindavana with an army of servants and be accepted as a devotee, there’s no place there for people like that, they should not pollute the Holy Dham with their materialistic attitudes. Good answer.

Except that it happened in the days when Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati met with all kinds of rulers and politicians and enlisted their help in service of Lord Chaitanya’s mission. Without endorsement of such prominent personalities Gaudiya Math would have had a much harder time reaching millions and millions of people and establishing so many temples.

Srila Prabhupada was acting in the same vein and never rejected anyone’s offer of help.

Akama sarva-kamo va – whether on is desireless of full of desire one must worship the Supreme Lord (SB 2.3.10), and also there’s artharthi, the desirer of wealth, among four types of people who begin service to the Lord (BG 7.16). How can they be turned away from Krishna’s service?

One could say that engaging everyone in service is for goshthianandis who are dedicated to preaching but standards for bhajananandis who are engaged in confidential service are different. Well, it says more about status of bhajanandis comparing to goshthianandis then about anything else because principle of everyone being an eternal servant of Krishna is absolute.

Sure enough, Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji rejected association of many pseudo vaishnavas, too, but his typical reply, continued by our Srila Prabhupada, was to offer them a chance to serve anyway. Srila Gaurakishora would invite them to give up all their possessions and become babajis and Srila Prabhupada would invite them to abandon all their duties, don devotee robes, decorate themselves with tilakas, and go out on sankirtana just like all his disciples. There is always an off-chance that someone might accept this proposition and, as I said earlier, no one’s offer of service should be rejected out of hand.

Srimad Bhagavatam describes a madhyama adhikari as follows: “The madhyama-adhikārī … is merciful to the ignorant ..” and kanishtha adhikari “..does not know how to behave toward devotees or people in general”.

Then there’s a case about Ramakrishna Babaji dedication to lila smaranam. He knew all the books on confidential pastimes of the Divine Couple by heart and he could never had enough of discussing their pastimes.

Fine, but discussing such pastimes has certain strings attached to it in our tradition. One should engaged in it only when one is situated on the liberated platform so that his attraction to them is purely spiritual. We cannot mistake our attachment to our mental images as a genuine thing. We cannot say “I like the sight of these flowers adoring Srimati Radharani’s hair” and imply that we have actual perception of Her transcendental personality. We might imagine these flowers to be very beautiful but that is not the same as seeing the actual flowers of spiritual Vrindavana. We cannot judge spiritual beauty by the standards of our material perception. Our words and mental images do not even begin to describe the real thing.

You know what it’s called when we substitute spiritual reality with material things? Prakrita sahajiya. Of course it’s not as bad as going out with girls in the middle of the night pretending it to be the rasa dance but it’s still prakrita sahajiya, and as such it’s a domain of kanishthas (NOI 5).

Therefore in our tradition we expect devotees to discuss confidential pastimes only when they are qualified to perceive their real, spiritual nature, just as real as our preaching. You can’t imagine to be preaching and you can’t imagine to be a part of ashta kaliya lila, both kinds of service must be actual.

The distinction between goshthianandi and bhajananandi is also artificial. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was both but he took to bhajana only when his body was not suitable for preaching anymore. “Work now, samadhi later”, as Srila Prabhupada told us. To give an example – when people came to visit Bhaktivinoda Thakur in the later stage of his life he couldn’t even see them, he had to use his hands to physically lift his eyelids first. “Work now” for him had also happened AFTER his retirement from government service, that’s when he did most of his active preaching, traveling all over Bengal and personally establishing nama hatta program.

Anyway, as I said in the beginning, this is not a judgment of Ramakrishna Pandit Babaji’s level of spiritual advancement, it’s the defense of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati giving him a public dressing down. The purpose of this article is to glorify our siddhanta, not to diminish any devotees.

Vanity thought #427. What is my problem?

Inquiries into association of a prominent ISKCON guru with followers of Osho Rajneesh put me in a bit of a twist. On one hand we have a well-established personality who is otherwise beyond reproach. On the other hand we have him hanging out with Rajneesh crowd. Why am I making such a big fuss out of it? Should I? How bad can it be, afterall?

Pretty bad, according to my research.

First on Rajneesh – younger generation might not know much about him but he was one of the most successful Indian “export” gurus. Back home, however, he earned nothing but condemnation for perverting Vedic dharma. For starters he awarded himself the title Bhagavan. That should stop any sincere devotee of Krishna from ever going anywhere near him, but that not what had ticked people off, there are plenty of impostors in India, nothing new here.

What really made him (in)famous is his preaching of enlightenment through sex. Some say he got started with his own sister and then graduated to copulating with his mother, by the time he got to America he was all into orgies with fifteen year olds. That, and ninety three Rolls-Royces, because Bhagavan, obviously, needs to display his opulence.

Then he got tired of being Bhagavan and decided he was a reincarnation of Gautama Buddha.

A couple years later one German singer got interested in his “philosophy” and moved into his ashram and got hooked up with her future partner. You can’t be more screwed up to join that cult at that time, after all that Rajneesh has done in the previous thirty years, but some people just need to be cheated, I guess.

Now they are invited to present projects bearing Prabhupada’s name.

On the surface it doesn’t look so bad as they sing a lot about guru and even Krishna Himself and a lot about all kinds of divine love. Should we trust them?

Absolutely not!

Ostentatious show of devotion has been mayavadi trademark since the days of Ramakrishna and both Rajneesh and his followers continue the same line of “bhakti” – they profess love and devotion to every demigod out there as if they are being equal and they believe that there are many many ways to reach the Absolute – yata mata tata pata – as many opinions, as many ways.

They think that devotion is cheap and everyone is entitled to it, they don’t think that attaining devotional service is something truly special and they think that they obtain it simply on the strength of their practice, however crazy it appears to be, God must oblige and appear in their hearts.

They don’t follow the shastra, Ramakrishna did not follow the shastras and neither did Rajneesh. They also didn’t need gurus, they considered themselves way too advanced to need a guru, Ramakrishna alluded to him being Bhagavan and for Rajneesh it was his selling point.

So there we have it – pretentious persons imagining themselves as being equal to God, not paying any respect to Vedas, not following any gurus from any recognized paramparas, telling people that Krishna and others are simply dying to exchange loving devotion with them, and some people buy this stuff as genuine??? Or if not genuine, they still leave some space for it being possibly right so they think we should not speak bad about these rascals.

What about our acharyas? We know associating with these people and giving them any credit is betraying everything Srila Prabhupada had taught us about devotion to the Lord, but the coolest lesson on it is probably from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s time.

Once he was invited to a friend’s place at the same time as Ramakrishna. He proceeded to give a lecture on Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu while Ramakrishna had a rasagulla and started displaying his theatrics on the veranda outside. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura didn’t pay him any attention and continued exposing the truth about bhakti and citing shastric references to distinguish symptoms of real prema from the show by the clown on the veranda. Later Ramakrishna washed down that rasagulla with some liquor and that was the end of it.

This is actually very important – the outward show of devotion. I can’t say if it’s genuine or not in each and every case but there are people out there who can be outwardly humble, who know the shastra inside out, who are great story tellers, who can shed tears while talking about Krishna’s pastimes, who show great compassion towards everyone and exhibit all kinds of great qualities but they have a zilch of actual devotion, like the above mentioned Ramakrishna or modern day reciters of Bhagavatam.

Tears and faltering voice along do not prove anything, unless one puts following the instructions of his spiritual master above everything else he does in his life, one cannot be considered a devotee. Mayavadis are NOT devotees, period, no matter what they say and how many prayers they recite. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s said that their prayers offend the Lord more than curses of His avowed enemies.

We should not be fooled by mayavadis into thinking that their method might actually work, that there’s nothing wrong with it, that they are talking about Krishna, after all. They might say all those prayers but they are not pleasing the Lord, and, since they don’t have genuine gurus, they are not pleasing Lord’s devotees either. The only persons pleased with these prayers are mayavadis themselves.

We should remember that in this world there are great many bewildering things but the only way to actually attract Lord’s mercy is the service to our guru as the Lord’s dear devotee. Rajneesh is not a guru, he does/did not provide any connection to the Lord, praying to him is absolutely useless, and mayavadis “praying” to Krishna directly is even worse.

Therefore it is completely unacceptable for sincere followers of Srila Prabhupada to mix with followers of Rajneesh, let along invite them to sing kirtans. Devotees who are doing it fail the basic test of allegiance to their guru, and that’s why it is so deeply disturbing.

Should I speak about it?

Once Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s party got into trouble with locals because one of his disciples used some choicest words in relation to Vivekananda and Ramakrishna. The next day Sridhara Swami gave this speech to the angry crowd:

We are peons of Śrīla Vyāsadeva and all the ācāryas. We simply repeat their teachings. If you want to complain then complain to them. We did not come with a veil to cover our heads. If anyone can defeat our message we will accept his line of thought, but if you cannot defeat us then you should submit to the Gauḍīya line..

Telling people the truth about their idols is never a pleasant exercise and there is going to be a backlash but we must not compromise our teachings for the sake of pleasing the crowd. We are servants of guru and Krishna, not of offended egos of every conditioned soul out there. Sometimes what we say might appear disturbing to them and they will demand their peace, in which case we should probably leave them alone as they consciously made their own choice but that would also mean the end of our association with them, too.

If they choose to believe that Rajneesh wasn’t so bad and his followers are pretty cool we have nothing to gain from associating with them, otherwise some of their appreciation for pseudo bhakti will rub off on us, too, and we don’t need it, it’s poisonous to spiritual life.

This might make navigating relationships with other devotees a bit difficult but this is the difficulty we should accept unconditionally, as a tribute to guru and Krishna, it’s the right kind of sacrifice. We should not compromise our philosophical position for the sake of our own comfort, too.

Otherwise we can forget about making any further spiritual progress. The choice is simple – be nice to mayavadis and stay, or say your good-byes and move forward. Never forget that our only shelter is the lotus feet of Sri Guru, nothing else, not families, not friends, not pseudo-devotees – nobody. At some point they all have to be left behind and if that moment comes it’s actually a blessing.

There are also plenty of real devotees in this world left, there will never be a shortage of shelter for a truly sincere soul.

Vanity thought #409. Gaudiya sunrise

We all know that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati is compared to a ray of Vishnu. By that logic his father, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, was nothing less than the sun itself.

By all accounts in the 19th century the world of Gaudia vaishnavism was in the darkness, gone were the days when ordinary people would sing songs of Narottama Dasa Thakura, in were the days of worshiping Kali and devising various ways to brown nose the British. Popular imagination was captured by the likes of Ram Mohan Roy who had absolutely no qualms about producing fake scriptures in support of his outrageous ideas, manufacturing his own stuff and calling it “Veda” to fool the fools.

Such rascaldom had penetrated Gaudiya teachings, too. There was a rogue publishing house that produced numerous light reading books about Lord Chaitanya in the first half of the century that were filled with all kinds of mistakes and misconceptions and that formed the “cloud” of public knowledge on the subject.

Cloud, of course, is a modern term for storing data on the internet, but it’s also very descriptive of the public knowledge unattached to any particular source and easily available anywhere where there are people (note to myself – interesting idea to explore further).

So people had only vague and erroneous ideas about Gaudiya vaishnavism and practicing devotees themselves slipped into such degraded customs that they only exacerbated the situation. There were all kinds of perverts making public shows of their crossed dressed devotion and no respectable gentlemen would go anywhere near that crowd and anyone even remotely associated with them.

Meanwhile gurus from traditional parishads reduced themselves to milking people for money on a farm scale, divvying up the country like modern salesmen. They’ve been practically collecting taxes like the government – on time, on preset rates, avoiding double taxation but not tolerating any evasion. Once the “zonal acharya” passed away his “disciples” were inherited by his children and the extortion continued for generations.

As far as spiritual guidance – they didn’t provide any. At most they delivered short talks on their scheduled visits and things like initiations were dished out according to established tariffs.

If there were any walk-in idiots they were sold all kinds of mantras and revelations and sent on their way to explore their siddha-swarupas.

All in all, worship of Krishna, what to speak of worship of Lord Chaitanya, was completely off the map, a weird superstition for backward folk up in the uncivilized countryside.

And then came Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and Gaudiya vaishnavism was changed forever. He was like a rising sun dissipating the darkness and purifying all the slime accumulated during the night. All misconceptions were cleared up, all pretenders were put in their places, and by the time Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati took his turn to preach Gaudiya vaishnavism was restored to its rightful place and its rightful mindshare in the Bengali society.

People still propagated all kinds of home made doctrines but no matter what they preached they had to run it by vaishnavas first, everything had to appear in accordance with the Bhagavat philosophy, at least externally.

When Srila Bhaktisddhanta Saraswait took to preaching he had all the foundations in place already and he took it to he next level. One thing he could always rely upon was the legacy and the authority of his father, which was unassailable.

When Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura took to preaching, however, there was nothing, just his firm faith in the mercy of Lord Chaitanya. He didn’t have time to sit and ponder the gravity of his mission, how monumentally important it was and how it would shape the lives of millions of people for over the century and counting.

He didn’t think much about his qualifications, his initiation into a proper parishad, his varna situation, he just went out and told people about Krishna and Lord Chaitanya, that’s all. All he had was faith and everything else worked out nicely in the end.

I think this is the most important lesson we can learn from his life – simplicity and faith. On the surface we might think of him a a great vaishnava writer or an exemplary grihastha or a powerful preacher or an extraordinary scholar but all those things simply followed the fact that he had faith. He didn’t know sanskrit, he had some bad habits from his childhood, he didn’t have a guru, but he had faith, and the Lord supplied the rest.

His daily life wasn’t all meditation and reading books, he had a job and responsibilities that came with it, but he filled all the available space in his life with Krishna consciousness, little by little, bit by bit, taking every chance he had to share his realizations with people around him.

I don’t know why anyone would abandon him and his followers and run off to some babajis somewhere. Those babajis might be very advanced, might be not, but anyone giving up shelter of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura is not likely to find real bhakti anywhere else. Krishna sent him to us, we took advantage of his contributions to Gaudiya vaishnavism, and now we think we need something better? What nonsense.

Anyway, today is supposed to be about glorifying Srila Bhaktivinoda, not looking for faults in fellow devotees. On the other hand, the mere existence of such attitudes is very offensive to the memory of such a great and generous soul.

May the Lord protect me from ever slipping from the path laid out by our acharyas and Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura in particular.

Vanity thought #284. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Sacidananda Bhaktivinoda

It’s been a long break and I was kinda busy with some other things that I think were pretty important. Now I’m done and I want to get back to the biography of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

There’s one more reason – it’s New Year and if I’m still not in bed I better do something connected to devotional service rather than watch TV and do the stupid countdown.

I think I left the biography at the point where Srila Bhaktivinoda got diksha initiation. After that he just got crazy – in a good sense, he started writing and preaching as if there was no tomorrow. In two short years he wrote so much about Krishna that Mataji Nalini Kanta compared his speed and workload to Srila Prabhupada completing seventeen volumes of Chaitanya Charitamrita in one and a half year. That’s not to say one acharya was more productive than the other, it’s just Srila Prabhupada’s daily schedule left no more than one or maximum two hours for sleep. Try maintaining that and most of us will go bonkers in a couple of days.

Simply going through the list of works completed by Srila Bhaktivinoda in two years is a mouth-watering exercise but all in a good time. Bhaktivinoda Thakura still had to work and that period of his life was not the most auspicious for him, astrologically speaking. He lived through a series of moves from one Bengali town to another, in some places the job was easier, in others a tad more difficult. Sometimes people welcomed him, sometimes they schemed to made his life miserable. He just didn’t care that much anymore, he was busy writing.

I’ll leave the story of the discovery of Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace for another time and the nama-hatta program also needs its own blog entry, so I’ll just cover the rest today, from the mid eighties to his retirement in 1894. It seems like a long time but I bet it flew very fast for Bhaktivinoda as he was extremely busy with his duties, family life, writing and preaching. In fact he was so absorbed in preaching that he even took a two-year sabbatical just to concentrate on spreading the glories of Lord Chaitanya.

Towards the end of his career he managed to get a placement in Krishnanagar, close to Navadvipa, and there’s a story about it. He first contemplated retirement in 1887, he wanted to spend the rest of his days in peace, doing his personal bhajan in Vrindavana but Lord Chaitanya had other plans. He appeared to Srila Bhaktivinoda in his dream and told him the retiring to Vrindavan was a good idea but, incidentally, there was still some work left in Navadvipa, urging Bhaktivinoda to explore the possibilities. That dream led to moving to Krishnanagar and the eventual discovery of Yoga Pith.

The reason Bhaktivinoda wanted to retire was his health. His writing took a heavy toll on him and he suffered severe headaches. Devotees recommended applying ghee to his head, an old method by Srila Jiva Goswami himself. Since Bhaktivinoda just got a few of Jiva Goswami’s books to work on he thought it was not just an coincidence and the ointment worked. At another point he had to follow a strict diet, living only on milk for forty five days. That was during his move to Navadvipa, in fact he couldn’t even walk at that time due to high fever and he had to be carried around. Another time he almost lost his eyesight that wasn’t great from his childhood. Some doctors recommended eating fish heads but Bhaktivinoda decided not to listen to these quacks and follow the advice of homeopaths. These days they are also considered quacks but their medicine worked.

These couple of episodes were a lesson for me in expectations from devotional service. As we decide to take that path in our lives we all, I bet, rely on “My devotee will never perish” promise in Bhagavad Gita, hoping that we’ll solve all our material difficulties. We might not be after sex and riches but at least we think that material nature won’t bother us anymore as we place ourselves in Krishna’s care. Well, it doesn’t work quite that way.

Material nature might indeed not bother a devotee but with one big but – it won’t bother a devotee in a same way it bothers an ordinary person. Devotee doesn’t identify himself with his body and that’s why he doesn’t suffer. The body might get worn to shreds from all the service and age but devotee doesn’t feel it affects him and his consciousness. It’s not like the troubles go away, a devotee just doesn’t have time to dwell on them.

In Bhaktivinoda’s case the more he suffered the more he worked. Sufferings didn’t go away but he didn’t really care about them, he got transcendental, so to speak.

His work was cut out for him. Vaishnavism was in disarray, no one took devotees seriously anymore. Just a hundred years earlier vaishnava culture permeated all of Bengal, everybody knew devotional songs, they were like today’s pop music, but things have changed and Bhaktivinoda figured out the reason – there were no serious books. I mentioned once that he couldn’t find a copy of Chaitanya Caritamrita when he heard about it. He had to wait eight years to get his hands of a copy, and that’s in Bengal, Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace!

Last time books like Chaitanya Charitamrita, Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindu and Hari-Bhakti-Vilasa were printed was in the beginning of the 19th century, after that they were replaced by poor quality publications catered to rural folks rather than Bengali intelligentsia. Not only were they printed on low grade paper but they also used questionable manuscripts and were accompanied by all kinds of sahajiya literature that mislead Bengali folk into excusing Gaudiya vaishnavas all kinds of weird behavior. While peasants might have been pleased, Bengali upper classes weren’t and so by the end of the century Gaudiya Vaishnavism was reduced to sentimental opium of a religion to keep low classes happy, not for any serious thinkers.

Thus the first order of business was to propagate proper understanding of vaishnava siddhanta and explain the public the error of the ways of various apa-sampradayas. By Krishna’s arrangement he became friends with a famous Bengali novelist, Bankim Chandra, who wrote a book called Krishnacarita, Bhaktivinoda Thakur was sorely needed to correct a bunch of misconceptions in author’s head and he did so in four days and four nights of uninterrupted editing. Mostly it was about proving that Krishna indeed is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and not just a mythological hero of old Indian folklore.

The outcome was criticized in “learned” circles but it was just the beginning, most importantly, the novelist himself wes very impressed and with his help Bhaktivinoda Thakur published Vishavatha Chakravarti’s commentaries on Bhagavad Gita together with his own purports. Bankim Chandra wrote the introduction and the book was quickly sold out. Everybody loves a good Gita.

For the western audience Bhaktivinoda Thakur wrote an introduction to a very scholarly work by a descendant of Lord Nityananda, Pandit Mohan Gosvämé Nyäya-ratna. The book was in Sanskrit but Bhaktivinoda wrote an English introduction to elicit interest in the subject among western scholars. He got back a reply of Emerson with thanks but Sanskrit book was still unreadable outside India. Bhaktivinoda would attend to that later.

In 1885 he set up his won press in Calcutta and started publishing Sajjani Toshani. That project didn’t really take off until 1992 but that was a start, perhaps the first vaishnava periodical in those days. With the new press at his disposal Bhaktivinoda started to write at full steam. First he published Chaitanya Shikshamrita, sort of our “Teachings of Lord Chaitanya”. Then he wrote a book on Siksashtaka, Sanmodana Bhashyam I still haven’t finished writing about here. Then he wrote comments on several works by Six Goswamis and ten principal upanishads, and book on rasa based on works of various vaishnava acharyas. He wrote commentaries on parts of Mahabharata, too.

What we should remember here is that most of these books, in fact all them, come to think of it, were originally written in Sanskrit and so needed translations to Bengali. Just like our Srila Prabhupada had to write his books in English for us. If I ever lay my hands on translations of these Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s books I’ll pay attention to the format of his presentation. Recently I heard accusations regarding Srila Prabhupada’s translations. The point is whether he had the right to translate the books from our point of view or confine presentation of our philosophy to the purports only.

Take the first verse of Isopanishad, for example – om purhnah adaha purnam idam. Stila Prabhupada’s translation talks about The Supreme Personality of Godhead while there is no such word in the verse itself or in the word-for-word translation. It’s not a big deal for us as we understand that real purnam must refer to The Supreme Personality of Godhead only, no one and nothing else is purnam. This is our understanding in our sampradaya but do we have right to state this in our translation rather than in our purports and interpretations? Should the translation itself be philosophically neutral?

In books for devotees the answer should be “no”, we don’t strive for neutrality, but we also need recognition in the wider world, among wider scholars, and so we can’t dismiss their standards without thinking. One reason is the recent case of a lawsuit against our Bhagavad Gita As It Is in Russia. ISKCON won this time but who knows how the thing might have turned out if not for acceptance of our books among non-devotee scholars and politicians.

That’s why I’d like to see how Bhaktivinoda Thakura dealt with his translations, I don’t think any vaishnava before him translated our scriptures in vernacular languages for preaching purposes, he set the precedents and he set the standards.

Moving on, not satisfied with Chaitanya Siksamrita Srila Bhaktivinoda started writing commentaries on the entire Chaitanya Charitamrita. He published the first two khandas but got very sick. That’s when he had to smear ghee on his head.

Bhaktivinoda Thakur also hunted for Chaitanya Upanishad, one of the non-traditional Upanishads describing the glories of Lord Chaitanya. This episode shows us the dynamics of the official Upanishad canon. As everybody knows, there’s a body of 108 principal Upanishads that are accepted as shruti all over India. What about upanishads that didn’t make it into Muktika canon? There are so called “new Upanishads” written on the last couple of centuries to satisfy the earning for legitimacy by various aspiring sects. There’s even Allap Upanishad. Are we talking of one of those? Is Chaitanya Upanishad a recent invention to prove Lord Chaitanya’s position post-factum? Or did it exist ages ago but no one cared enough to write it down? Bhaktivinoda Thakur was told that it was part of the Atharva Veda but was it really? Or was it a later addition? People argue about that to this day. No other sampradaya but ours accepts it. No other commentators from Shankaracharya’s time ever mentioned it. It might be proof of Chaitanya’s Mahaprabhu’s divinity for us but for preaching it’s not very reliable, people might easily reject its authority.

Eventually Bhaktivinoda Thakura obtained a copy from a vaishnava pandit and wrote a commentary on it. It’s at this point in his life that senior Bengali vaishnavas took notice of his efforts and bestowed the title of Bhaktivinoda on him. Well deserved.

Some twenty years earlier, in 1868, he was given the title of Sac-cid-ananda for publishing a Bengali poem about Lord Chaitanya called Sac-cid-änanda-premälaìkara. That title meant one who embodies knowledge, eternity and bliss, and Bhaktvinoda means “pleasure of devotional service”.

And thus Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura was officialy born.

Vanity thought #283. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Vipina Vihari Goswami.

Recently Vipina Vihari Goswami, or Vipina Bihari Goswami, or any combination of the first letters, was subjected to some criticism from various quarters and this needs to be addressed, in my opinion.

His name was dragged into bigger battles for the glory of being the most faithful branch of Lord Chaitanya’s tree. Some groups of devotees wanted to see themselves as being better than others, closer to the Six Goswamis and Chaitanya Mahprabhu and so on. Some of them thought that they could prove themselves by finding faults in their “opponents”. They are all very exalted and dear to the Lord but the presence of material nature means that some contamination has crept in and names of vaishnavas like Vipina Vihari Goswami had suffered.

In general it went like this – members of traditional vaishnava gotras, family descendants of Lord Chaitanya’s associates, felt that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati usurped their position as the sole guardians of Lord Chaitanya’s mercy and they looked for excuses to declare Srila Bhaktisiddhanta a bogus guru disconnected from the parampara.

So far I have come across several arguments they use. First, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had never been initiated by Srila Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. They have some grounds for this because Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati took sannyasa in front of the picture of his guru after his disappearance. To counter this argument Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s followers talk about taking actual vows vs receiving the dress. I’m pretty sure this is not enough for their opponents but for us the proof is in the pudding – Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had been a life-long brahmachari, an example of a perfect renunciate and a very very potent preacher who must have been fully blessed by the Lord Himself.

Second argument is insistence on diksha parampara rather than shiksha or “bhagavat” parampara. In this argument they refer to other vaishnava sampradayas where devotees trace their sampradaya through diksha initiation all the way up to the founders. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s followers point out some inconsistencies here and there while Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati himself stressed the importance of transferring the knowledge and shakti, not the formalities of pancharatra system. This has brought some new arguments regarding various practices in Gaudiya Math, like the color or sannyasi cloth etc.

This is also the line of arguing that drew a split between Vipina Vihari Goswami and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. They argue that correct parampara must come through Vipina Vihari Goswami to Bhaktivinoda Thakur and then to someone like Lalita Prasad, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s younger brother who they believe is the actual recipient of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s mercy, his favorite son etc etc. Since Srila Bhaktisidhhanta Saraswati didn’t include Vipina Vihari Goswami in his version of parampara he had to be excluded himself.

Some of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati followers seized on this argument and responded that Vipina Vihari Goswami wasn’t qualified to be included in our guru parampara due to his personal failings and that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had all the valid reasons to reject his association. Basically they say that followers of Vipina Vihari Goswami were in the apa-sampradaya themselves.

This is where it could get very ugly because the accusations start to become pretty serious, down to tobacco smoking and associating with mayavadis. At this point I should say that none of these allegations have ever been committed to paper and remain only a hearsay. They first made their appearance in print in a book by one ex-ISKCON sannyasi who started his own preaching mission and heard this stuff from his Gaudiya Math guru. That happened roughly a hundred years after no one spoke of these things publicly and the guru itself has left this world so there are no sources left.

What we should remember is that Vipina Vihari Goswami was sent to initiate Bhaktivinoda Thakur by Lord Chaitanya Himself appearing in his dream. Equally, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur saw a dream where Lord Chaitanya had promised to send him a guru, too. Who wants to criticize Lord Chaitanya’s personal messenger? Why? If Lord Chaitanya thought that Vipina Vihari Goswami was good enough to become Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s guru why would anyone try and find faults with him?

Even if there are some aspects of Vipina Viharir’s behavior or personal relationships with both Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati that might raise a few eyebrows we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions here. Like the disagreement over the location of Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace. Some say Vipina Vihari Goswami rejected the site found by Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Jagannatha Dasa Babaji and that he rejected Bhaktivinoda Thakur as his disciple, too, but there’s precious little evidence of the conflict itself let alone its ghastly conclusions. That is to say there’s no evidence that Vipina Vihari Goswami had ever rejected Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur in any shape or form. Personally I would only concede the possibility of a disagreement over Yoga Pith but not the possibility of either of the vaishnavas becoming vindictive and rejecting each other.

Later Vipina Vihari Goswami was appointed as one of the directors on the committee overseeing the development of Yoga Pith in Mayapur and that should bring the dispute to conclusion.

Another alleged point is that Vipina Vihari Goswami took the side of the brahmanas in brahmana vs vaishnava debate and for that reason Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t go himself to argue against his guru but sent Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. The book from which this peace of information is gleamed also states that Vipina Vihari defeated the brahmanas and established the supremacy of vaishnavas and that, of course, destroys the whole argument.

I don’t think it’s possible to go through the rest of the arguments in this way, there might be some truth in the allegations against Vipina Vihari but given the failure of these two samples I think we can reject the conclusions with a great degree of confidence.

There are things that happen between vaishnavas that defy our common logic or appear contradictory to what we have learned but we should always be very careful with the conclusions we reach. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had been initiating people left and right, some were re-initiated and normally that would throw a red flag for us but previous gurus appeared to be supportive and probably gave their full blessings. Now, hundred years later, we can’t ascertain it one way or another, I think it’s rather wise to assume the best in the devotees even when our minds tell us to suspect the worst.

There’s also a point of living in the material world – we all make mistakes here, even more so when we pass along unconfirmed rumors and gossip, like the alleged statement that Vipina Vihari called Raghunatha Dasa Goswami a member of a lower caste. That actually may have been so, but what if Vipina Vihari’s point was that Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was Lord’s dearest devotee DESPITE being from a lower caste? One can see an offence here, another can see proof that devotees of the Lord are above all caste considerations.

I admit at first I was attracted to Vipina Vihari stories because of these controversies but now I wish I would always look only for the best in Krishna’s devotees and do not indulge myself in rumor mongering.

All glories to Srila Vipina Vihari Goswami, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and all the devotes of the Lord.

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.

Vanity thought #276. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Puri Bliss.

Testing Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s faith and devotion by pitching him against impostors with yogic powers was probably the only uncomfortable moment during his stay there. Everything else was pure bliss.

Remember how the only thing he brought with him when he was assigned to Puri were sets of Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita? He put them to good use.

He had learned Sanskrit earlier but wasn’t very good at it. In Puri he got himself a tutor to help him study Bhagavatam. There were also two friends who studied with him but soon they were left behind. Yesterday I wasn’t sure if he originally brought Sridhara Swami’s commentary with him but this was the edition he read in Puri. After Bhagavatam he devoured lots of other Gaudiya vaishnava literature like Sat Sandarbha and Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu and lots of other works by Six Goswamis and their followers. He even read Govinda Bhashya – Gaudiya commentary on Vedanta written by Baladeva Vidyabhushana.

Not only did he study those books, he learned Sanskrit well enough to start writing books of his own. His first Sanskrit book was Datta-kaustubha and while in Puri he also started work on his famous Krishna Samhita.

Simply studying and writing wasn’t enough, he had to go and practice his understanding by preaching.

Everyday he would go to Jagannath Temple and hold discussion about vaishnavism. He avoided groups of mayavadis that also gathered there, he said that their blasphemy towards the Lord was unbearable for him to hear. He started his own community, by the place where Lord Chaitanya left imprints of His feet (how appropriate!) Eventually more and more people joined in and he had become a famous preacher of the Bhagavatam. His worldly scholarship paid off again as he was able to quickly pick up on philosophy he was only vaguely familiar with only few years ago.

He also held regular discussions in the place of Ramananda Raya’s bhajan. Many vaishnava pundits came to hear him talk there.

His success was noted and some people were not very happy, initially. There was one renounced devotee, a babaji, by the name Raghunatha Dasa, who thought that Kedarnath didn’t look like a real vaishnava – he wore neither tilaka nor kanthi-mala – tulasi beads worn around the neck.

It was like a replay of the episode between Gadadhara Pundit and Pundarika Vidyanidhi from Lord Chaitanya’s lila. When Gadadhara Pundit, a member of the Panca Tattva, saw Pundarika Vidyanidhi for the first time he thought he met an ordinary self absorbed sense enjoyer but then he observed transcendental transformations in Pundarika Vidyanidhi as soon as he heard verses about Krishna from the Bhagavatam. Gadadhara Pundit realized his mistake and begged not only forgiveness from Pundarika Vidyanidhi but also asked to be accepted as his disciple.

Well, this case was very similar – Raghunatha Das was a great devotee himself but at first he didn’t recognize Kedarnath’s greatness. We commit similar mistakes all the time, in Raghunatha Das case, however, Lord Jagannath Himself appeared in his dream and told him to beg forgiveness from Bhaktivinoda Thakur. We don’t get this kind of mercy, if we criticize vaishnavas even in our minds we get doomed. Actually Raghunath Das was first afflicted with a severe illness, too, but later the Lord came through and revealed him the cause of his misfortune and told him how to rectify it.

Raghunath Das immediately went to see Bhaktivinoda Thakur and begged his forgiveness. Unlike the case with Gadadhara Pundit, though, it was Kedarnath who asked to be accepted as a disciple.

It went down like this – Bhaktivinoda Thakur accepted that he wasn’t wearing the signs of vaishnavas but he said that it was because he didn’t have a guru, Krishna hadn’t sent him one yet, and without guru’s blessings he would look like a fraud wearing tilaka and kanthi mala. He already had japa mala and that was enough for him ATM, he said. It’s in this context that he asked for Raghunath Das shelter. It wan’t formal, though, the proper initiation was still a few years away. Still, Bhaktivinoda Thakur had probably learned a lot from association with Raghunath Das.

Raghunath Babaji wasn’t the only exalted vaishnava who Bhaktivinoda Thakur respected very much. At that time in Puri lived another great devotee, Swarupa Babaji, who, btw, later became an associate of Gaurakishora Dasa Babaji. Swarupa Babaji lived near bhajan kutir of Sanatana Goswami and many devotees came there for the kirtans, bhajans, and readings from vaishnava books.

Swarupa Babaji spent whole day doing his solitary bhajan and came out only after sunset to engage in congregational chanting of the Holy Name. Devotees would bring him Jagannatha prasadam and he took very little, only what was necessary for his body maintenance. After that he would ask someone to read books about Lord Chaitanya, and then, around 10 PM, he would retire to his kutir for further bhajan. In the middle of the night he would go to the ocean for a bath. Bhaktivinoda Thakur says he went for a bath so late because he didn’t want to give people a chance to serve him, but he needed the service indeed – he was blind in both eyes! As Bhaktivinoda Thakur says: “Only Lord Chaitanya knows how he found his way to the ocean all by himself.”

This is the kind of association that anyone could only dream of and Bhaktivinoda Thakur took full advantage of the opportunity.

As I said, he became a very respectable member of the vaishnava community. His service to the government also didn’t go unnoticed and he became a magistrate. He was actually in charge of maintaining the temple itself and organizing all the festivals, as far as the government was involved.

He was very dear to the Englishmen in charge but his relations with the locals were not very smooth. Once he even put down the king of Orissa in his place when the raja unceremoniously broke into a devotee’s assembly in the temple compounds. Bhaktivinoda Thakur rightly told the king that he rules only on the outside, inside the temple there’s only one Lord – Jagannath, and raja was in no position to show any disrespect towards Jagannath’s devotees.

His relationship with the king was a complicated one. First of all, it was the king’s library that supplied many of the books Bhaktivinoda Thakur was reading. Then there was that incident in the temple. At first the raja offered his apologies and the matter would have been forgotten but next time he got caught embezzling temple’s money and was sentenced by Kedarnath to pay for Lord Jagannath services from his own pocket, Lord Jagannath eats fifty two times a day and the expenditures were very taxing even on the king himself. Eventually the raja became very upset with Kedarnath, so envious that he decided to kill him.

Kedarnath was too prominent a man in Puri society that simply hiring hitmen wasn’t a very wise idea, the king decided to turn to brahmanas instead, he hired a team of fifty and ordered a series of massive fire sacrifices lasting for thirty days with the sole intent of killing Bhaktivinoda Thakur. On the last day, when the curse was supposed to finally unleash its power, the King’s only son died instead. Talk about backfiring.

It wasn’t a big deal for Bhaktivinoda Thakur, though, he was too absorbed in the bliss of his daily sadhana to notice. King’s episode deserved only a bare mention in Svalikhita Jivani but in those days other devotees started memorizing his pastimes and so now we have far more detailed accounts.

It was also in Puri that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was born and all his samskaras – first grains, first solid food etc were performed with Jagannath’s prasadam. In fact that was the time that Bhaktivinoda Thakur and his family ate nothing but Lord Jagannatha’s prasadam. When he entered the temple for his daily service someone would always give him a bowl of dahl there, without tasting that dahl Bhaktivinoda Thakur could not be satisfied.

All in all, it was a period of pure bliss, but as with all periods it had to come to an end. Kedarnath was transferred back to the vicinity of Calcutta and that’s a story for another day.

Oh, one more thing – while dealing with Besikisen and other impostors Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur had to learn a lot about their philosophy and, by extension, he also learned about all kinds of deviations practiced by many different groups there. The fight for the purity of Lord Chaitanya’s movement was practically born there and then. But that is also a story for another day.

Vanity thought #275. Bhaktivinoda Thakur. Puri and punishment of Bisakisen.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur spent about two years in Dinajpur during which he had a daughter and a death of a new born son. By some unfortunate circumstance his father-in-law died at exactly the same time and Bhaktivioda Thakur chose to withhold this sad news from his wife for a few days to spare her even more grief. I don’t know if that would have been possible in modern age, we can tell people white lies for their benefit but we not something like this – death of a father. This is the kind of news that has to be told right away, this is our default setting – people are supposed to be mentally strong to absorb something like this, in fact we believe that telling them unpleasant news makes them stronger, though they obviously need to mobilize more energy to deal with the situation. It wasn’t an easy choice back then, too, I believe, but it worked without any serious consequences for the family, his wife survived through one big unhappiness just fine. Later in Dinajpur she gave birth to a baby girl and all was forgotten.

There were also examinations, with mixed results, long vacations and some more progress in government service. There were also a few months spent in a place called Champarn but none of that seems important now. What’s important is that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur was given a position in Jagannatha Puri.

His newly born daughter wasn’t old enough to travel yet so Bhaktivinoda Thakur didn’t take his family with him, instead he took Srimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita. Of all the things in his household he thought that those two books were most important. It’s like “what would you take with you if you were on a deserted island?” question. Bhaktivinoda Thakur, or Kedar Nath, as he was known at that time, chose books about devotion.

Puri wasn’t a deserted island either. First habit he started there was to daily visit the temple. He would see the Lord Jagannatha and remember how Lord Chaitanya visited Him, too, and that made him very happy. There were vaishnavas everywhere and he immensely enjoyed their association.

Puri, of course, is the place where he overpowered a local mystic pretending to be an incarnation of Vishnu. Every story about Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur mentions this episode and the way I remember it was that none of the mystics curses worked on Bhaktivinoda Thakur and the power of Srimad Bhagavatam. I remember how it was rendered in the Abhai Charan TV series – mystic was cursing and Bhaktivinoda Thakur was reading Bhagavatam. This is how I remember it from my first days with devotees, too.

Svalikhita Jivani gives a slightly different account, to say the least, there was no mysticism involved and no mentions of the power of Bhagavatam or bhakti at all. Mataji Nalini Kanta’s book has quite a few more details and adds a touch of spiritualism that is missing from autobiography, I believe Bhaktivinoda Thakur excluded it intentionally, out of his humility. This was also the time when Bhaktivinoda Thakur became famous in vaishnava circles and so his life had started being documented by others.

Anyway, that mystic was an Atibari, a break away sect of followers of Lord Chaitanya. Their founder gave up pure devotion and took shelter of mayavadis and was rejected by Mahaprabhu Himself. Atibaris wrote their own books about Chaitanya and had some weird ideas, one of them being people pretending to be Gods. There was Krishna, Balarama, Lord Chaitanya, and one dude who claimed to be Mahavishnu. That dude’s name was Bisakisen, with alternative spellings.

He had some yogic powers and that attracted a large number of followers, he did miracles for them – cure diseased persons, read people’s minds etc etc. What got government’s attention was a complaint from a local brahmana community that Bisakisen was spoiling their women under the pretext of rasa dance. Bhaktivinoda Thakur was sent to investigate.

He went to the yogi’s place accompanied by a few collegues, among them an Englishman, and a few soldiers for protection. They heard Bisakisen speak and they determined that he was posing a genuine threat to peace and the British government. Bisakisen was scheduled to manifest a four armed form of Vishnu, kill all the infidels and free entire India from the British rule.

In Seventh Goswami there’s a description of their dialogue, how Bisakisen tried to prove to Bhaktivinoda Thakur that he indeed was Vishnu by displaying his powers – telling Kedar Nath his entire lifestory, healing wounds and curing sick people on the spot and issuing threats. Bhaktivinoda Thakur wasn’t moved, just gravely offended that the impostor declared the Deity of Jagannath an ordinary slab of wood. Something had to be done. Next time Bhaktivinoda Thakur formed a posse and went to Bisakisen with the intention to arrest him.

This time he took a hundred policemen with him but Bisakisen wasn’t about to give up easily, he started shooting fire out of his hair and his eyes and policemen got scared. Bhaktivinoda Thakur wasn’t afraid, though, he continued trying to convince Bisakisen to give up his ambitions and accept that he was not God. Bisakisen didn’t want to go to Puri himself so they ordered a bullock cart to transport him. Bisakisen was arguing until the very end but eventually realized that he had no power to stop being arrested and led away by force, not in Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s presence.

Next was the turn of Brahma and Shiva who didn’t argue at all but blamed everything on their ringleader, Vishnu, naturally.

During the trial Bisakisen didn’t eat or drink anything and he was sending some curses Bhaktivinoda’s way. His seven year old daughter came down with a fever and it took many many doctors to cure her but it eventually happened. Bhaktivinoda Thakur believed that Lord would protect him and his family and was resolute in his determination to bring Bisakisen to justice. Even when his wife pleaded with him for the sake of their children he was unmoved.

Next day Bisakisen reminded Kedarnath about the calamity he sent to his house and promised to attack the judge directly. On the last day of trial Kedarnath came down with a severe chest pain and had to be carried to court in a palanquin but he saw the trial through, having full faith that Krishna would protect him no matter what.

Bisakisen was sentenced to a year and half in jail and immediately after the sentencing, just as constables were about to take Bisakisen away, an English medical doctor who had some knowledge of how yoga works, jumped up and cut off Bisakisen’s hair with a large pair of scissors. As soon as Bisakisen had lost his locks he lost his powers, too, and, exhausted, fell on the floor. That had made a big impression on his followers who finally realized he was a fraud all along, a typical yogi, not God by any stretch. Bisakisen eventually poisoned himself in jail and died.

This whole story looks like a big test for Kedarnath, a test of his faith and devotion in Krishna and the result showed that it wasn’t lacking in any sense. Think of it – only two-three years earlier he was eating meat and now he withstood an onslaught of mystical curses on himself and the family. We’ve been eating prasadam for decades but in many cases we would demand Krishna to spare us from any inconvenience to prove his care. Bhaktivinoda Thakur nearly died, his daughter nearly died, yet he hadn’t thought for a minute that Krishna had deserted him. His standard of proof was very different from mine, he thought that as long as he could perform his duties it was proof of Krishna’s protection already. Never mind he had to be carried to court, that was his personal inconvenience.

To a devotee personal inconvenience is not a sign of being forgotten by Krishna. A devotee doesn’t think that “I will protect you” promise from the Gita refers to his personal comfort but rather to success of his service to Krishna, because that’s what a devotee is really interested in. If one puts personal safety before the safety of his mission he is probably not a devotee and so doesn’t qualify for Krishna’s protection.

This should have great practical application next time I get in trouble and need Krishna’s help. I must not ask for help for myself, I can only believe that Krishna provides help for his mission, anything more than that is the product of my imagination and my selfishness.

How to put it better – real devotees care only about their service and in reciprocation Krishna assures them that execution of his service will never face any obstacles. Obstacles to one’s own well-being don’t count and a real devotee never counts them either. In any situation Krishna will always provide a way to serve Him and that’s what Krishna guarantees, nothing more than that. A devotee would not be interested in anything more than that anyway so there’s no contradiction. You want more – you are not a devotee, not covered by Krishna’s insurance.

After passing this test Kedarnath Dutt’s career as a vaishnava really took off, but that’s the matter for another day.