Madhvas and Gaudiyas

A few years ago I read quite a few attacks on Gaudiya Vaishnavism by some followers of Madhvacharya . If you search this blog you’ll find my reactions, it was a technical discussion about verses and translations, as I remember, but details are not important right now. There was another ex-ISKCON devotee who tried to prove to anyone who’d listen that Madhva’s dvaita is the real thing and Gaudiyas are just degenerate deviants. Questions about our parampara connection to Madhvacharya are probably a few hundred years old by now because the list given by our acharyas does not correspond to records kept by Madhvas themselves. Some explanations have been given but we can’t really know anything for sure about those times and names. I suspect Madhvas themselves were not very meticulous with keeping their records, and for ordinary devotees it was a matter of oral transmission. Our Gaudiya records begin with Kavi Karnapura, meaning after disappearance of Lord Caitanya, and so we have no accounts of the previous two centuries at all, just what Kavi Karnapura and others remembered from what they heard. It appears influential contemporaries who were godbrothers have been put into guru-disciple relationship in our parampara, for example. This doesn’t bother us at all but I mention it just to give some background.

Recently I read an interesting article on this matter in Krishna Kathamrita Bindu magazine, Issue #253. It was originally written for The Harmonist by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and it uses a novel approach to such challenges. It doesn’t answer all of them but it goes straight to the heart of the matter and addresses the main argument itself – Madhvas are traditionalists and Gaudiyas are an offshot. Madhvas are conservative but Gaudiyas are liberal inventors. Madhvas are the original and Gaudiya are an add on. No, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati paints a completely different picture where we, the Gaudiyas, are conservative preservers of the tradition and they, the Madhvas are inventors swayed by the currents of time. How about that!


Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada

There is a tendency, especially in this country, to approach the past history of a sect on the basis of the prima-facie authenticity of the guru- paramparā as preserved in the sect. We would be more scientifically employed if we turned our attention to obtaining greater information by comparative study of the different records instead of resorting to gratuitous assumptions against the validity of the preceptorial lists.

For this very cogent reason we must accept as historically valid the existing preceptorial list of the Madhva Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava sect till its authenticity in any particular is conclusively  mpugned by specific historical evidence. We have had no cause up till now to doubt the truth of any portion of this list.

This list discloses the fact that the Supreme Lord Sri Chaitanya accepted Sri Iswara Puri as his preceptor. Sri Iswara Puri was a disciple of Sri Madhavendra Puri. Sri Madhavendra  Puri is a most renowned vaiṣṇava. He is, in fact, the great founder of the society of transcendental lovers who adhere strictly to their all-absorbing passion for the amorous transcendental hero, Sri Krishna. This constitutes a great development of the original doctrine of Sri Madhvacharya. In spite of this peculiarity of the teaching of Sri Madhavendra Puri, the list of the former gurus shows that Sri Madhavendra is descended from the line of Ananda Tirtha in the ascetic order of the Madhva Vaiṣṇavas. There is really nothing against the genuineness of the list of the gurus of the line of the Madhva Vaiṣṇavas.

Some misguided critic may try to rashly propose to disconnect Sri Madhavendra from the line of the gurus of the Madhva Vaiṣṇavas by asserting that the Madhva sannyāsīs are known as “Tirthas” and that no sannyāsī of the title “Puri” can have admittance into their ecclesiastical order. But the solution of this apparent difficulty is offered by an incident in the authentic career of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna Chaitanya. He is stated to have embraced the order of the Bharati sannyāsīs. But he was also stated to be a disciple of Sri Iswara Puri. This irregularity is to be ascribed to the practice of attaching their surnames by the older associations. The different guru-paramparās show the same line. So we  cannot discredit those records by basing our arguments on assumptions and ordinary argument from current practices.

Moreover, whenever there is any congregational gathering of the different schools of vaiṣṇavas, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, as a class, introduce themselves as belonging to the line of Sri Madhvacharya. These are hard and indisputable facts and cannot be lightly explained away by inferences based solely on certain practices of either sect.

If, however, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas actually preferred to brand themselves as Madhva Gauḍīyas as a matter of history, inquirers would naturally be anxious to know whether the servants of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas subscribe in toto to the professions and practices of the Madhvas or whether they differ from the older school in some other points. In case they have a distinctive reference, an inquirer should naturally start to make a list of the differences between the two schools. This comparison should necessarily be made in regard to their practical activity, social procedure, philosophy, theology, and different performances; in other words, the examination should embrace both their exoteric and esoteric differences.

If we take up the practical activities of the Madhva and the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas for the purpose of such comparison, we find that the former are severely reserved in their propagatory methods, whereas the latter are vigorous proselytizers. The Madhvas keep up the old habits and ideas, whereas the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas have advanced towards and utilized everything for facilitating the true cause of devotion. The former are very fond of arcana according to the pañcarātrika system, whereas the latter, though not different in their adoption of arcana, additionally perform bhajana like the dāsakūṭa section of the Madhva community. The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas give more stress to bhajana whereas the vyāsakūṭa section of the Madhvas give stress to arcana. The habits and customs of the Southern Indian vaiṣṇavas are different from those of Northern Indian Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, though both of them have a common base and origin as their guiding principle.

Turning to their respective social procedures, we find that there is one great point of resemblance. According to the Madhva community, Brahmins are alone considered to be eligible for the service of God. Brahmins are thus in sole charge of the religious institutions of the sect. They alone conduct all public and private worship. This is also the practice of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. But in this matter also there is an important distinction between the two. The point has already been referred to in connection with propaganda and proselytization. The Madhvas are not prepared to go outside the pale of the caste Brahmins for imparting initiation for worship. In this they are in one sense too narrow in comparison with the method of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. Sri Chaitanya accepted all who possessed the real inclination for leading the exclusive spiritual life and bestowed on them even the position and function of the ācārya. Thakur Haridas, the great ācārya of the Gauḍīya sect, was a Mohammedan by parentage. Most of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Gosvāmīs were not caste Brahmins.

In another respect, however, the Madhva practice is more lax than the practice of the Gauḍīya society. No person is entitled in the Gauḍīya community to mantra-dīkṣā unless he or she is prepared to submit unconditionally to follow the instructions of the ācārya in every particular of actual conduct. By this test, caste Brahmins are also liable to be ineligible for the service of God in the Gauḍīya community if they are not prepared to give up their unscriptural mode of life by submitting to the autocratic rule of the ācārya.

Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas claim to follow the essence of the scriptural varṇāśrama institution in the organization of their spiritual society, whereas the Madhvas follow the hereditary principle which is seldom applicable in the present age when few persons possess either the habit or the inclination to follow the spirit of the śāstric regulation. Judged by the test of loyalty to the spirit of the scriptural regulation, the Gauḍīya community may justly claim to be far more conservative in their social practices than the Madhvas.

— From the article, “A Word to our Madhwa – Vaishnava Brethren”,
The Harmonist, Vol. XXXI, Issue No. 18, 14 May 1935.

The last two paragraphs really bring it home – caste Brahmins of Madhva sampradaya are considered ineligible by Gaudiyas because they lack unconditional surrender and other necessary qualities. Nor are they loyal to the spirit of shastric regulations.

Interesting turn, isn’t it?

Vanity thought #1715. Family matters 10

I think I’m largely done with tattvavādīs position paper on ISKCON though there are a few points that should be mentioned in general. And then there are links in the “postscript” that explain their position far better than the paper itself.

We call ourselves Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavas and everybody addresses us the same (when not talking about ISKCON in particular). As such we say that our movement has been founded five hundred years ago by Lord Caitanya and so it’s younger that tattvavāda or advaita. That’s not how Lord Caitanya Himself saw it, however, and we should remember that even when we use “Gauḍiyā” label for convenience.

In advaita and tattvavāda framework a philosophy is laid out by their founders. Before Śaṅkarācārya and Madhvācārya respectively both of these systems did not exist, especially with tattvavāda. The birth of a philosophical system or a “tradition” therefore starts with writing a commentary on Brahma Sūtras, Bhagavad Gītā, and a set of major Upaniṣads.

In support of this view they cite the conflict with Rāmānandīs who did not allow us to worship Govindajī deity in Jaipur because we were not a “real” vaiṣṇava school. Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana had to quickly compile our Govinda Bhāṣya, a commentary on Brahma Sūtras, and only after he completed it the conflict was resolved and we proved our worth. No books, no philosophy, no recognition. That’s their view.

Our view should be that we don’t need a commentary on Brahma Sūtras because we accept Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as a natural explanation of Vedānta. Therefore “Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism” did not start five hundred years ago in Bengal but it is practiced by every sincere student of Bhāgavatam. We did not start a new school or create a new philosophy, we just follow the Bhāgavatam. Our movement did not start with Govinda Bhāṣya the way advaita started with Śārīraka Bhāṣya, it started with Bhāgavatam. Anyone who accepts Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as the ultimate friuit of Vedic knowledge is a “Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇava” regardless of his origins. Of course nowadays geographical designation is a must. To be accepted as Gauḍiyā one must come in line of Lord Caitanya but for Lord Caitanya Himself that wasn’t a requirement at all. One just needed to accept Śrīmad Bhāgatam.

One could say that Bhāgavatam existed for possibly thousands of years, depending on who is counting, but there was never a school or a movement based on it until Lord Caitanya came along. It’s a fair argument, but, again, to be a Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇava one must accept Bhāgavatam. Whether he becomes a part of a movement or starts a new one is irrelevant. There might have been very few people in history who understood Śrīmad Bhāgavatam before Lord Caitanya came along and they did not form a movement or a school of thought but that does not disqualify them from being Gauḍiyās.

Another matter is that until Lord Caitanya the meaning of Bhāgavatam remained largely hidden. I mean everybody read it and was familiar with the pastimes described there but no one accepted Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Lord or love of gopīs for Him as supreme manifestation of bhakti. No one that we know of – to be correct. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t devotees who appreciated Bhāgavatam at all. Bilvanmaṇgala Ṭhākura lived a few hundred years earlier and he knew the value of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in full, for example. From Lord Caitanya’s point of view he was a true Guaḍiyā regardless of anything else. Typically we say that the science of rasa was brought to us by Mādhavednra Purī but that means it was brought into our Brahma-Madhva-Gauḍiyā sampradāya. Bilvanmaṇgala Ṭhākura wasn’t a part of it but he was still a Gauḍiyā.

Funny thing about Mādhavendra Purī and Īśvara Purī, too – they were apparently māyāvādī sannyāsīs initiated into the order of Śaṅkarācārya. That’s the only place they could have gotten their “Purī” titles. We count them as gurus in the line of Madhvācārya but sannyāsī in that order get the title “Tīrtha” and no others. The explanation, don’t know how true, is that they WERE initially advaitins but later were converted to vaiṣṇavism after meeting someone in Madvha’s line. Well, Mādhavendra Purī converted Īśvara Purī himself, but his guru is listed as one Lakṣmīpati. At this point our official paramparā talks about śīkṣā gurus rather than dīkṣā. Vyāsa Tīrtha, who is listed a couple of steps above, was practically a contemporary of Lord Caitanya. In dīkṣā chain it would have been impossible but in śikṣā he could have easily been a friend of a friend of a friend who first told us about Kṛṣṇa.

Some also say that our connection to Madhva was invented by Baladeva Vidyābhūsana himself who was originally from Madhva’s line but the same paramparā was also given by Kavi Karṇapūra who lived hundreds of years earlier and was born and offered to Lord Caitanya as a baby. Lord Caitanya gave him the Hare Kṛṣna mantra to chant, too. I don’t know what our detractors say to that, except possibly argue that someone edited his works later on.

Anyway, on to the postscripts. The first item there is a letter from a head of a Pejavara Matha to members of ISKCON. It’s short and to the point – he advises us to withdraw any statements that, in his view, appear as disgraceful to Madhvācārya. He doesn’t specify which statements but our devotees understood this to mean the story of Lord Caitanya appearing to Madhvācārya in a dream I mentioned the other day.

We think that it’s actually cements Madvhācārya’s position rather than disgraces him but for this sannyāsī any mention that Lord Caitanya was Kṛṣṇa Himself is apparently blasphemous and so is any association between Mahāprabhu and Madhvācārya. Well, maybe if Madhva appeared to Lord Caitanya in a dream and blessed Him it would be okay but who knows.

The story comes from Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s Navadvīpa Dhāma Mahātmya and, needless to say, we are not going to stop reading it and preaching from it. It’s just not going to happen. What was tattvavādī sannyāsī thinking? His letter is nicely worded, we can give him that, but did he not foresee that we have no other choice but to ignore it? He could have requested not to cite this story when talking with Madhva’s followers but no, he issued a blank demand to cease and desist. Did he write a similar letter to Śaṇkarācārya’s Maṭhas, too, so that they stopped propagating a false philosophy? Did he sent a letter to the Pope? Or was he thinking that, due to his position in Madhva’s line, he was some sort of an authority to us to order us around?

With all due respect, he didn’t think it through, made a kind of fool of himself, and we have no choice but to ignore him. Another advantage of ignoring him is that we would not talk about this faux pa and would not make unnecessary offenses. I probably just did but only for elucidation of the principle – old people cannot be blamed for anything but listening to them all the time is not very wise either. Sometimes it’s better to pretend we did not hear them at all.

Vanity thought #1609. Sophisticated rascaldom

We learned a lot about “rascals” from Śrīla Prabhupāda, from atheists to māyāvādīs, and we think we got it all covered. The world of rascaldom, however, does not stay in place and evolve with times. We need to keep up, too.

These days it’s not enough to know how to spot māyāvādīs and I think they are not the worst danger that awaits bewildered souls of the modern age. I’m not quite clear myself on the contemporary classification and I hesitate to lump all deviants together under the same label, especially when it comes to those who look like vaiṣṇavas.

Even in Prabhupāda’s time many of our devotees realized that those darned māyāvādīs are actually ourselves, that Prabhupāda was railing against tendencies prevailing in our own hearts, and that’s why it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between somewhat erroneous devotees and impersonalists.

Why do we need labels anyway? It’s like using “Hitler” brush to paint anyone we don’t like. Hitler was bad, some of our contemporaries might be similarly genocidal, too, but we can call them out for their exact crimes, not for comparisons with Nazi Germany. Trying to fit everyone under one giant label is a propaganda trick, we don’t need this unless we are trying to rally less-discerning masses to our cause. So far I’m talking about clearing our own hearts, not about leading others, which is a political process that plays by its own rules.

So, we know about māyāvādīs, we know about their new-agey followers, too. Most of us can spot them a mile away by their wishy washy attitude and love of all things “spiritual” without any discrimination. They can sing Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra right before they switch to singing for Gaṇeśa, it’s all the same to them. Sometimes our devotees invite them to our own functions and they are being called out for improper association. There’s danger in that but I think we’ve got it covered, the rest is up to our political leadership, it’s not our job to correct our seniors directly.

Another big and loud group is ex-ISKCON devotees who still claim to be Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavas and insist on judging us by their standards. Historically, it happened like this – devotees accompanied Prabhupāda to India and came across different sādhus there. Some decided to hedge their bets and take initiation from them just in case things didn’t work out with Śrīla Prabhupāda. It was a foolish decision, no doubt about that, but these devotees didn’t see it that way and still don’t see it that way. They and those who followed their path think rather the opposite – leaving ISKCON was the best thing that ever happened to them. When they meet our devotees they pity us: “Oh, you are still there? When will you finally realize and get out?”

In some places being out of ISKCON is a new normal, especially on the internet where a few people of similar persuasion can meet each other and present themselves as a solid community even if they are separated by thousands miles. With proliferation of discussion boards and then later blogs and other social media building your own community is relatively easy. If you can’t create one you can certainly find one to join, all it takes is a google search and a few clicks. I don’t think I’d be far off if I say that in Vṛndāvana there are more ex-ISKCON devotees than those who are still in our movement, but Vṛndāvana is unique in that sense. Still, it’s a place where they can feel at home and where they can be a community and support each other. They are all in the same boat, all facing the same dangers, and they have no choice but to stay united. This might shaken our resolve, too, because we are human and humans are social animals, we love to follow the crowds and we love to belong somewhere. Some might argue that spiritual monogamy is unnatural, too.

The other big group are those who left for Gauḍiyā Maṭha, they also love to tell how they represent the real Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism as opposed to immature ISKCON fanatics. Unlike Vṛndāvana bābājīs with their questionable behavior GM is a bona fide institution following bona fide philosophy. They know what’s right and what’s wrong, they know the value of preaching, too, and some of these renegades have built themselves a following and initiated their own disciples, something that has not yet happen to our fake “brijabasis”.

At this point we should be fair and accept that universal laws apply universally and that any service to Kṛṣṇa is accepted regardless of other transgressions. That’s one possible reaction to their success but we should not get confused even for a moment that there’s spiritual progress outside the shelter of our guru and Śrīla Prabhupāda. This is the most fundamental law of any spirituality – yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ‘pi – without the mercy of the guru there’s no possibility of any progress whatsoever.

The mitigating part for those who left for GM is that they accept shelter of their newly found gurus there and if they follow orders they must achieve some sort of success, the universe can’t deny them that. The part that should be clear to us, however, is that we are not looking for this kind of rewards and should not be swayed by them. Some brainless celebrity can have a thousand times more followers than all our renegades combined, that does not mean much. We need to follow our guru no matter what. Some other guru having more followers is not a reason for us to doubt ours, and ISKCON is never going to be in danger of losing anyone numerically anyway.

What we need to know is that we can’t make any progress if we deviate even a little from serving our guru. We can see how others make progress elsewhere but that’s them, not us. They can learn to chant, worship the deity, and read books but they will never ever receive the mercy of Śrīla Prabhupāda and advaya-jñāna will never blossom in their hearts. You can see it for yourself if you ever come across them – all they do is talk philosophy and scriptures, accumulation of such mundane knowledge is their substitute for bhakti. The number of disillusioned GM devotees is also relatively high and many of these self-proclaimed real Guaḍiyās have left service to Kṛṣṇa altogether, their offenses have finally caught up to them and no amount of academic knowledge could protect them.

The difficulty is this – they are ostensibly vaiṣṇavas, they chant the holy name, they know the philosophy, the know intricacies of Rādhā-Kṛṣna līlā but they preach to everyone that leaving the guru is acceptable and even desirable, and they call it “real” Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism.

What label to put on them? “Imersonalists”? “Māyāvādīs”? Some form of apa-siddhānta? Which one? Sometimes, if we don’t have the ready label, we might think it’s rather innocent but there’s nothing innocent about disobeying orders of your guru. We can pull up generic quotes from Śrīla Prabhupāda but this won’t impress them, no more than aforementioned yasyāpradādān na gatiḥ kutl ‘pi.

In a way they are like that Russian professor of Hindu studies who, when Prabhupāda asked him what happens after death, replied that there’s nothing. People like him know Bhagavad Gītā and can talk about it for hours but they don’t *know* even the most basic spiritual facts, it goes straight past them. What is the value of academic knowledge like that? What is the value of knowing all about Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa līlā if you don’t know you have to serve your guru no matter what?

This rant is not over.

Vanity thought #1608. Bane of our existence.

A few times here I mentioned how internet is not conducive to devotional progress. One could argue that it’s just a tool and when engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service it’s beneficial, just like everything else, but we live in the material world where everything is colored by the modes of nature and some corners of it are more conducive to devotional service than others. Different places attract different people and satisfy different aspirations, internet is just one of those. What, or rather who we find here are not people seeking spiritual enlightenment, we do not expect to find them in slaughterhouses, brothels, and casinos either.

On the other hand, everybody is on the internet, it doesn’t not attract malcontents exclusively, and a lot of people come here to find new information. They are open to new ideas and as perceptive to our preaching as people on the streets and so they are the ones we need to talk to, but the thing is that we are usually too late.

A couple of months ago there was an announcement of a new project designed to improve our presence on the internet, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it and so I won’t give a link to my old post about it. I’ll just say that these devotees realized that we are losing the battle for the internet and people seeking information about Hare Kṛṣṇas are very likely to come across all kinds of deviants first. They gave a couple of example to illustrate the point – searching for “Srila Prabhupada” on youtube gives a link to a video of his final moments, which at one time in our society wasn’t shown to uninitiated devotees, and it was coming from the camp convinced that Prabhupāda was poisoned.

I must say that current search produces completely different results but what they were saying was true at the time, I checked. Maybe that project is showing results already.

Anyway, the point is that we were too late and not very skillful and the stage was taken by our various critics instead. They figured our early on how to manipulate google search and get themselves to the top of the result pages. This is ABC of internet PR management but we somehow missed it, but I don’t want to talk about our mistakes, I want to talk about our opponents and how they give Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism a bad name.

Their message is very simple – Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism is a beautiful and gentle religious movement that was hijacked and misrepresented by fanatical ISKCONites. They would pounce on every negative perception of Hare Kṛṣṇas and argue that real Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism is not at all bad and that people should give it another chance – to the real Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism that is, not to ISKCON.

People would come up with some gripes – sexual abuse in Hare Kṛṣṇa schools, guru falldowns, cult like fanaticism, aggressive attitude while preaching, etc etc and our opponents would capitalize on that, give them a shoulder to cry on, pacify them, agree with everything they say, and tell them that ISKCON is Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism black sheep, a one idiot in the family, and that they are also ashamed of us.

When I say it that way it looks like they are doing public a favor and keeping people in touch with Kṛṣṇa despite their negative experiences. That might be true and if they are really doing that we must begrudgingly admit that it’s a useful service and be thankful to those who clean up after our mistakes. Most of the time, however, they plant these negative perceptions themselves. People might have heard something here and there but our opponents give their vague memories solid shapes, fan their half-doubts into flames of war and convince them that we are a spawn of Satan. That’s not public service at all.

Whatever the means, they manage to take control of the conversation and start promoting their own agenda, which is still about Kṛṣṇa’s service so it isn’t all bad but any perceptive person can see through their charade and dismiss us, and I mean the entire Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism, as a sham.

The fundamental problem is that our opponents are not promoting devotional service, they are promoting service to one’s ego and their attitudes are atheistic despite externally professing allegiance to God. Perceptive people can smell this a mile away, they can see absence of humility, they can see mental gymnastics even without understanding the details, and nothing can cover this stink completely, no matter how much they dress it up as genuine service. People sense when they are being used and abused and they sense lack of sincerity, they also see personal aspirations and it turns them off – if they were seeking genuine religion, that is.

That’s why when I was talking about saṅkīrtana last month I stressed again and again that preaching must come from a pure heart, everything else people can find elsewhere if they want to. When they sense that they are being used for one’s personal agenda they realize that they have intrinsic value and they exploit it like cheap prostitutes. With this attitude even talking about Kṛṣṇa becomes useless because it’s the opposite of surrender, everybody keeps exploiting each other and saṅkīrtana does not take place.

If this becomes people’s experience with Hare Kṛṣṇas it becomes so much harder for us to get their attention for the third time. First time was when they learned about our existence and second time is when they become victims of our critics preaching. It isn’t an insurmountable obstacle but it would take exceptional effort and purity for our saṅkīrtana devotees to reach their hearts in the limited time they have when they meet people on the streets. After all, saṅkīrtana is about seeking favorable audience, if a devotee can’t find anyone supportive he would just move along to the next place rather than try to correct misconceptions created by our critics from the comfort of their computers.

Saṅkīrtana devotees can’t afford to spend time arguing, it would only make people more defensive and they would gather all their energy and intellect to try and prove us wrong and themselves right, and by “themselves” I mean our critics who planted these devious ideas into their heads. It is very hard to overturn one’s emotional allegiance to somebody and most of the time it can’t be done by arguments alone. Time is usually too short for that kind of sober analysis and people would rather go with what feels good than what is right.

That’s for the general mass, but we should also be concerned with genuine seekers of the Absolute Truth. They won’t find what they are looking for in conversations with our critics and move on. Their numbers might not be great but they are out there, joining Islam in record numbers because there’s a lot less BS there. When I first saw these western converts myself I was very surprised but it made sense immediately – they went for honesty, you can’t substitute it with nice words and fake sincerity. People do want to surrender to God, they do want the company of similarly devoted people, they do want mutual trust, and Islam easily provides all that. I mean real Islam, not that caricature image presented in the media.

I’m not going to pull statistics but, despite universally bad publicity, Islam is probably the fastest growing religion. There might be some others with a higher rate of growth but they also have a much smaller base. For them even a hundred new adherents might be statistically significant.

Well, I wasn’t planning to end this post by talking about Islam but somehow it happened. It does attract a fair number of nutcases but it’s the loss of sincere souls that should worry us. Why do they go to them and not to us? Part of the blame lies with us, part of it lies with our critics. We should not have allowed them to hijack the conversaton but it happened. Correcting it will never be too late, though, so nothing is lost forever. We just have to oppose their misrepresentation of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavims whenever we see it and do not let sully the pristine image our sampradāya with their mental concoctions.

Vanity thought #1607. History recycled

They say that history repeats itself and Vedas agree. Of course Vedas talk about cycles lasting millions of years while they talk about modern recorded history which is only a couple of thousand years old. Their observation of historical cycles therefore has nothing to do with Vedic chronology of the universe, and they are nobodies for the Vedas to serve as a supporting argument. Our knowledge is eternal, whether they agree with it or not is immaterial, but we can easily fall into the trap of using Vedas to confirm modern scientific observations, we shouldn’t do that.

Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not about proving them right or wrong, they can go to hell if they so desire, Kṛṣṇa consciousness is about restoring our loving devotional service to the Lord. “They” matter to us only in as much as they are useful to Kṛṣṇa. If we can make them glorify Him then great but if not then Kṛṣṇa is not interested in anything they have to say. Hmm, it’s seems a catch 22 situation for them – they either serve the Lord and so agree with us, or we are not interested in their opinions. We give them no choice. In practice, however, we can tolerate a certain degree of deviations and the more advanced we are the higher the threshold of tolerance. Those who have even once sincerely tried to surrender deserve being offered obeisances, though often not for all the stuff they had done since. Kṛṣṇa won’t disown then completely and neither should we, but it might take hundreds of lifetimes to rectify certain kind of offenses – like rejecting one’s guru.

At the first glance such punishment might appear unnecessarily harsh but nothing is unjust in Kṛṣṇa’s universe – by accepting a guru the soul develops humility and patience and for such a soul time flies faster than for others, so a several hundred lifetimes delay in returning to the path is tolerable, probably just the right amount to teach the soul an important lesson. This shouldn’t be our concern, we can’t apply our human time scale to relationship with Kṛṣṇa. Time has no influence over His decisions because it exists only on the material platform, and so we can’t bind Him by some time related rules. There could be no “too long” or “too short” there.

So, history… A hundred and fifty years ago Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura lamented the state of contemporary Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism. Since then we had a revival and unprecedented spread all around the world but things might be coming back the full circle and the word “Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇava” might become a joke again. Some of it is our fault – we do a fair amount of pandering and if we allow women to initiate freely we might be dismissed as a tool of western materialism and its love of rights and freedoms.

That won’t be a big sin comparing to what was done in the name of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism in the 19th century. I once read a vivid description of it by a perceptive Britisher, it was from around the turn of the century and he wasn’t into “Indians are primitive, Christianity is great” propaganda, he really tried to discover true spirituality as much as he understood it. He looked at how Guaḍiyā vaiṣṇavism was organized, how it functioned, what kind of relationships people had with their gurus, what kind of services gurus rendered to the population and so on. What he found was appalling.

Bengal was separated into fiefdoms which were inherited and no guru could step outside his zone or there would be war. Gurus spent their time traveling from one disciple’s house to another but their visits weren’t about disseminating spiritual knowledge but collecting dakṣiṇā. They had staff hired to calculate how much everybody owes and to make sure nobody was left out of the itinerary. Gurus expected to be treated like gods and often used female members of the families to serve them sexually, sometimes even tasting brides before their marriages. It was all a sham. I wish I could remember the name of that author or the book itself, I tried to find it again but couldn’t.

Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was no less blunt in his assessment. He lived in the time of Indian revival when people were seeking their roots and tried to present a worthy opposition to Christian philosophy. Bengal led that intellectual effort but vaiṣṇavas were not only missing but any association with them was seen as a permanent disqualification. They were all seen as frauds leaching off the less intelligent section of the society. They embodied everything western intelligentsia found disgusting in religion – hypocrisy, greed, deprivation, etc.

We are nowhere near that level of bad, not even the worst of us, and I don’t mean only ISKCON but the rest of Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism, too. What is still true is that no one takes us seriously. However, who is that “no one” and why should we care about his opinions? It’s not like India or the rest of the world is brimming with religious aspirations and people are clamoring for restoration of religons’ rightful place in the society. What do we care what they think? It’s not that they are wrong but they are not even trying to be right.

Motivations of modern day opinion makers are centered around gross materialism and their patriotism is of chauvinist, not enlightened nature, too. 19th century revival brought about Brahma-samaj, an imperonalist but still a spiritual movement, now they have Bollywood and middle classes marching against corruption. 19th century produced a challenge to the western views, nowadays they embrace them wholeheartedly and the only backlash is led by Hindutva fanatics.

Still, there are plenty of people who are not satisfied with the way Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism is developing. Some think it’s too progressive, others think it’s not progressive enough. Some think we don’t preach enough, others say that these critics with their poisonous attitude are the obstacle to preaching themselves. I don’t want to judge who is right and who is wrong but I would say this – discontent is a sign of not performing our saṅkīrtana as well as we expected by the Lord.

Luckily, our internal discontent is not that serious and those who have left our movement are not going to find peace anyway so their gripes can’t be taken as a serious barometer of our health. We are nowhere near collapse, ISKCON might not be as influential in the West as we expected in the early days of our movement but in India it’s undeniably big. No one can ignore us there and no one has offered any alternatives for spiritual advancement in this age.

If we look at the internet, however, the picture is different and there’s another, rather loud group of people who give Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism a bad name. Not as bad as a hundred years ago but still. I guess I’d have to continue with concrete examples another time, sorry.

Vanity thought #1395. Forest

For the past two days I’ve been talking about ISKCON as a branch of the Gaḍīya tree, how it is the only alive one while all others seem to be drying out because they are not properly performing yuga dharma. What is the reason for that?

It’s two fold. For original Gauḍīya vaiṣṇavas it’s the influence of the material energy that corrupted them into seeking comfort of this world. They want their cake and they want to eat it, too, hoping that saṅkīrtana would allow them to progress spiritually while maintaining a decent standard of sense enjoyment. They want what works here, not what takes them to Kṛṣṇa.

In their defense, they are children of the Vedic civilization where following dharma guaranteed material success, too. In Kali Yuga, however, this is not the case. It is impossible to establish a functioning varṇāśrama anymore and without varṇāśrama one can forget about material comforts. Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana is the only way to escape the blazing fire of material existence in this age. Note that it’s saṅkīrtana, not varṇāśrama. The fruit of performing saṅkīrtana is love of God, not reversing the effects of Kali.

In a way it does reverse effects of Kali Yuga but only in a sense that it stops corruption of our consciousness. It doesn’t change the gruesome reality of this world. Kali needs his epoch, too, no one is going to take this opportunity away from him, not even Lord Caitanya. Whatever deal he has made with Mahārāja Parīkṣit has expired long time ago. It’s his kingdom now and in his kingdom living entities are meant to suffer. Saṅkīrtana movement takes us out of this world, it doesn’t fix it.

I understand how this solution is difficult to accept by the followers of the Vedic culture, they intrinsically believe that even the age of Kali can be fixed by following dharma, and so they naturally seek compromise between living a comfortable life and chanting. It doesn’t work, however, and so they fall victim to various temptations and turn Lord Caitanya’s movement into all kinds of apa-sampradāyas.

In reality, Lord Caitanya demands an ultimate sacrifice – pure chanting uncontaminated by offenses against the Holy Name, and maintaining material attachments is one of them, and that’s the reason those apa-sampradāyas don’t work.

Offenses against Śrīla Prabhupāda is the main reason why it doesn’t work for ex-ISKCON devotees. Even those who stayed faithful to Prabhupāda but refuse to recognize authority of the GBC and cooperate with ISKCON commit an offense of disobeying guru’s orders, plus they are usually highly critical of ISKCON devotees which is an offense, too.

Okay, that’s about our tree, but what about the rest of the forest of Vedic culture? There are six darśanas there and they are all considered legitimate, even impersonalism is a legitimate realization of the Absolute Truth, however incomplete. What is their fate in this age? I would say hopeless.

Kali Yuga affects us all. Yogis can’t sit still and meditate long enough to achieve any significant progress, jñānīs can’t dedicate themselves to studying vedānta and their brains are not powerful enough anymore, karmīs don’t have enough purity to perform sacrifices, nothing works, as we already know form Śrīla Prabhupāda’s purports to Bhagavad Gīta.

In previous ages they could get away with ignoring prevailing yuga dharma but not anymore. No practice is immune to the effects of Kali, everything is spoiled. Followers of those paths might have a hard time accepting this reality and desperately cling to the faith that somehow it could work, but most of the time they simply claim success where there isn’t any, not by the standards of old.

In this sense they are in a worse predicament than, say Christians or Muslims. Those religions are very new and the instructions given there have been adjusted for Kali Yuga already. In Christianity, for example, they realize that following the rules like Jews still do is useless and rely solely on the grace of their guru, which cannot be earned by one’s own efforts, too.

More importantly, however, is that their main method of worship is holding masses and preaching the gospel – they’ve been doing saṅkīrtana long before Lord Caitanya! Muslims are into communal prayers and converting everyone into their faith, too, and they also started long before us. Why? Maybe because Kali manifested himself in the West long before he took over India, and he keeps spoiling their efforts by forcing them to live sinful lives, which hinders their spiritual progress.

There are two parts to Lord Caitanya’s instructions, and to Prabhupāda’s instructions, too, for that matter – first is to chant/preach and the second is to refrain from sinful activities. It’s not our fault that outside of ISKCON no one else is able to implement both. Some preach but also sin, others don’t sin but also don’t preach. Not to mention that no other tradition, Vedic or otherwise, can raise one up to the level of serving Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana.

What about other vaiṣṇava sampradāyas? Their legitimacy in Kali Yuga is stated in Padma Puraṇa where they are listed along with their respective sampradāya ācāryas, what are their chances of success? Greater than anyone else’s, I suppose, but far short of what is available to the followers of Lord Caitanya.

This is understandable – if they fail to recognize Caitanya Mahāprabhu there’s something wrong with their devotion and they certainly won’t get benefits offered by Him. Being vaiṣṇavas devoted to their respective traditions they are relatively safe from the effects of Kali Yuga but they do not preach, and so they always hit the ceiling even if they are not outright deviants like Gauḍīya apa-sampradāyas. They try to keep their noses clean and the fact that even in best of times they are not offered material prosperity by their ācāryas helps them to stay pure in their devotion. They are not of this world, we should always remember that. However, one of the sampradāyas (Rudra) has already practically disappeared, save for a few Puṣṭimārga followers of Vallabhācārya, who didn’t get much love in Caitanya Caritāmṛta (CC Antya 7).

The main problem of them is not Kali Yuga as such but their inability to accept Lord Caitanya. Without His mercy they will be stuck forever at their present level of progress. The reason for this failure is most likely mundane envy – Lord Caitanya wasn’t the part of their sampradāya so they rather foolishly reject whatever He has offered, even Madhvas fall for that. They often call us sectarian and yet fail to accept the message that came from outside their tradition. There’s a price to pay for this foolishness and they might face the consequences rather sooner than later.

I don’t mean I wish any spiritual harm to come to them but they leave themselves unprotected entirely on their own. I still hope that even if they reject Lord Caitanya, somehow or other they will get the idea that they need to preach simply to stay alive. Everyone else gets it, I’m sure the Lord won’t leave them without guidance, too.

Vanity thought #1393. Gaudiya tree

Officially, our ISKCON is a branch on the Lord Caitanya’s tree of Gauḍīya vaṣṇavism and we are generally happy with this description. “Tree” is a nice analogy but what about the reality? What this “tree” really is at the present moment? What is its position in the universe?

I don’t know the real answers to these questions, they can only be seen by someone with the perfect vision, someone who can see the universe as described in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, for example. The rest of us can only speculate by looking at thin slices of reality through our illusion covered glasses. Since we all see the world subjectively we will never agree on any controversial subject. It’s just not how different people see it and nothing can be done about that, short of changing people’s subjective experiences.

That’s what we do when we preach, btw. We don’t tell people what they already know, we add to their knowledge or we force them to assign different priorities so that they come to new and unexpected for them conclusions. Debating, much less preaching, is not about reconciling divergent views, it’s about attaining a new, superior vision where divergence doesn’t exist in the first place.

There are no such contradictions for Kṛṣṇa Himself, we just have learn to see the world through His eyes and teach others, too. If they refuse this proposal there’s nothing more to talk about. The only thing that matters is how willing they are to accept Kṛṣṇa consciousness, everything else is not only secondary but will follow automatically.

Imagine they have heard a particular argument or a śloka that seemingly goes against our conclusions. This argument can obviously be answered by Kṛṣṇa if they are willing to hear it. If they are, Kṛṣṇa’s material energy will arrange for it. The answer could be manifested in our brains as we struggle to find it or the answer could be manifested in their own hearts and they’ll drop the matter as insignificant. If, however, they insist on rejecting Kṛṣṇa’s message and remain attached to their illusionary view of the world, the illusion will be all they see and no answer will ever register even if it hit them on the head.

It doesn’t mean our preaching efforts are useless and we can safely give them up as soon as going gets tough because everything is pre-determined already. Our preaching is our service and our duty, it should not be contingent on results and we should keep going whether people listen or not. It doesn’t mean we should keep arguing, however. Our service is performed within our hearts, what we do externally is directed by the Supersoul, if He tells us to shut up and move on that’s what we should do, perhaps our services are needed elsewhere or we need some preparation to do.

Where was I, however? It’s not what I was going to write about today.

Ah, yes, the Gauḍīya tree and it’s true position in the world. We don’t know what it is and so I’m prepared to adjust my views in light of any new information. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now and can’t shake off the thought that outside of ISKCON the tree is dead. Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī spent several chapters in Caitanya Caritāmṛta describing this tree and it looked huge, how come I think only ISKCON is still alive?

My argument is two-fold. First, the reality – we don’t know where all these other branches are anymore. Surely Bengal must still have members of the original parivāras but they have utterly discredited themselves more than a hundred years ago. They might pass down initiations but as far as spiritual potency and carrying out the mission of Lord Caitanya is concerned they are invisible and, therefore, non-existent in my view.

I’ve also heard the prophesy that Advaita Ācārya’s branch will remain potent only for the first thirteen generations. That limit has been reached and currently they are in the fourteenth.

What about Gauḍīya Maṭhas? They are still around, why discount them? I’ve even heard them saying that GM now has more temples than under Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī.

Yeah, that may be so, but they are all filled with ex-ISKCON devotees who rejected their gurus and the shelter of the person who saved them all – Śrīla Prabhupāda. That’s where GM’s new numbers and new temples come from, not from peaching by bona fide GM followers.

Somehow they all, both original GM and ex-ISKCON members think that rejecting your guru and going against his orders is a trivial thing to do, and at the same time they pretend to know Gauḍīya siddhānta better than us. Fools, all of them who think this way. I already mentioned it the other day, but a soul who rejects a guru sent by Kṛṣṇa will be cast into guruless wilderness for seven hundred lives. Maybe this number is exaggerated and it’s only ten lives – still about seven hundred years, welcome to hell.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s position is cemented in history, anyone who rejects him or openly disobeys his orders cancels out any opportunity for further spiritual progress (Kṛṣṇa doesn’t take away what has already been achieved). Those who accept association of these people contaminate their own consciousness as well, there’s no getting around this inconvenient fact. This means that whatever spiritual potency that was there in GM stemming from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī is destroyed.

At the end of the day – look at their preaching efforts, whatever momentum they carried over from their ISKCON days is all gone. I just checked activities of the biggest of GM branches and all their news and announcements are about their weekend temple programs and hardly any temple has a website. The place is dead, they can’t and they won’t preach, they’ve become spiritually impotent.

Not all ISKCON devotees leave for GM, for course, in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s days going to “traditional Gauḍīyas” was popular, too, particularly to the brother of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī who was still present then. Over the years these devotees built up significant following but the leaders there got mired in drug use and outright sahajiism, with sex orgies and all. About a decade ago a brilliant scholar rose among them with extensive knowledge of both Gauḍīya texts and Gauḍīya history but then he left for Buddhism, “knowing” siddhānta didn’t save him from losing any taste for devotional service he might acquired in his ISKCON days. In any case, these people can’t even organize and name themselves, to consider them a “branch” would be too generous, nevermind the offense of leaving Śrīla Prabhupāda.

And then there are Vṛindāvana bābājīs who take a considerable amount of ex-ISKCON devotees on a ongoing basis. I don’t know what their service to Lord Caitanya is to begin with. Of course there are several important temples to maintain there but bābājīs are not engaged in that, and beyond that there’s nothing. They are devotees of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi, they claim. Okay, but what is their service to Lord Caitanya? All I can think of is giving shelter to those who blooped in ISKCON. It’s important, of course, but not nearly as important as establishing yuga dharma for the benefit of the entire world, which is also the service to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇi as well, and they are not doing it. As branches of Gauḍīya tree they are also dead.

And then there are couple of devotees who were never formally in ISKCON and grew influential by themselves. They belong to “traditional” lineage and their personal behavior is exemplary so we cannot say that they are corrupted. The problem with them is that we don’t know how much of their knowledge is taken from their gurus and how much they speculated up themselves by studying śāstras. “Traditional” gurus have not left any records of their teachings or of their understanding of the siddhānta, so we cannot check if their claimed followers are actually following or creating their own tune.

These devotees claim to learn siddhānta straight from the Six Gosvāmīs, or rather from their books. That’s not how paramparā works and so if we come to any disagreement with living representatives of the sampradāya their conclusions should be rejected as lacking guru and sādhu confirmation.

I haven’t even gotten to my second argument, maybe tomorrow, but the conclusion is already obvious – there’s no spiritual progress outside of ISKCON, I just didn’t explain why.

Vanity thought $400. Forgetting Gadadhar

When Mayapur devotees go for the darshan before the Deities of Panca Tattva they sing “Sri Krsihna Caitanya Prabhu doya koro more” by Narottama Dasa Thakura. Seems to be a perfect and fitting choice of a song but somehow the verse about Gadadhara Pandita goes missing.

Every time I checked the lyrics the verse is there:

gaura premamaya tanu paṇḍita gadādhara

srīnivāsa haridāsa doyāra sāgara

Meaning “Lord Caitanya’s love is embodied in Gadadhara Pandita. The ocean of mercy is embodied by Srinivasa Acarya and Srila Haridasa Thakura.”

Why is no one singing it? Maybe they have changed in the past couple of months, can always check on but I’m usually busy at that time of my day.

KKSongs website sheds some light, however – the verse is present only in the older books and it wasn’t mentioned by Srila Prabhupada when he gave an explanation of the song in one of his lectures, and it isn’t there in the recording of him singing it either.

Is it enough to exclude the verse forever, though? Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable standing in front of the Deity of Gadadhara Pandita and not singing even a single line of His praise. Maybe it wasn’t in the book when Srila Prabhupada learned the song but it’s there now and the occasion warrants showing a little more respect towards the Deity.

On the other hand there’s a tradition already and even if Gadadhara Pandita is mentioned, we still don’t have the verse about Srivasa Acharya so someone is bound to be left out. This way Gadadhara Pandita at least have some company.

This isn’t the only time when Gadadhara Pandita’s position in Pancha Tattva is somewhat undermined – He is the incarnation of the Lord’s internal potency but then Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself decided to exhibit exactly the same kind of devotion, usurping Gadadhara Pandita’s role!

I’m sure that was never a problem, I was just wondering how Gadadhara Pandita looked upon Lord Chaitanya’s manifestations of His inner spirit.

One thing I know about Sri Gadadhara is that he had firm, unalloyed, unflinching, uncompromising faith in Lord Chaitanya. I wish some of it rubbed off on me when I remember him and offer him my respect and obeisances. I think it’s a very important point for us – never forget, even for a second, that we are followers of Lord Chaitanya first and foremost. Maybe He will grant us love of Krishna and a place in His pastimes, maybe not, but as we take shelter at His feet we should know that this is the perfection of our lives already, we can’t ask for anything more.

Sages of Dandakaranya forest prayed to Lord Ramachandra to enter Krishna’s pastimes. We can’t go that way – all we ever need we get from the lotus feet of Lord Chaitanya already, we will never get any closer to Krishna then we are now, assuming we fully realize our position as servants in the line of Gaudiya vaishnavas.

If we forget this fact we might explore various opportunities to approach or engage with Krishna directly. That will never work, Lord Chaitanya isn’t a stepping stone on the way to more glorious things, His feet are our ultimate goal and purpose.

This is the point where we should remember devotion of Gadadhara Pandita, we are not Six Goswamis of Vrindavana who could enter Krishna lila in their meditation, we must humbly wait for Lord Chaitanya if He ever lets us participate in them. More likely our eternal position is to be humble servants of His servants rather than direct participants in something like rasa dance.

We always say that Lord Chaitanya has shown us how to cultivate devotion to Krishna, from the position of Srimati Radharani, but Gadadhara Pandita who was an incarnation of Sri Radha Herself has shown us how to cultivate devotion to Lord Chaitanya!

Always one step ahead of Krishna, always. Krishna decided to taste the sweetness of Radha, but Radha decided to taste the sweetness of serving Krishna pretending to be Her.

And that is the essence of Gaudiya Vaishnavism – to seek the most humble position of total and absolute dependency on littlest drops of devotion of Srimati Radharani. We are not Krishna’s servants, we will never dare to serve Him directly, we are insignificant helpers of the helpers of those worshiping the Queen of Vraja.