Vanity thought #955. Price of admission

Price of admission into Kṛṣṇa’s company is high. In fact it’s priceless, we can never earn it, only hope that one day we’ll be accepted. There are promises and rules, of course, but they go only as far as taking us to Kṛṣṇa’s abode which might mean manifestation in the material world to complete our training. It’s like with horses – we can be taken to the water but no one can force us to drink. No one can guarantee Kṛṣṇa prema, it’s awarded to us only by Lord Caitanya and He is absolutely independent in His decision making.

Never mind that, in our present situation simply achieving liberation, which is a necessary stage for developing actual devotion, is an almost impossible task. It would be very very rare to attain liberation while still in our material bodies, vast majority of devotees will have to live out their present conditioning and hope liberation comes after death.

Entering Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes is probably a million times harder than that, in our entire paramparā only very few most illustrious ācāryas were able to meditate on Kṛṣṇa’s form and see Him and His abode as spiritual reality.

We are not even suppose to pray for that, Lord Caitanya has taught us to value love in separation more than pleasure of being in Kṛṣṇa’s company. The added bonus is that separation is easier to experience in our present condition, no modifications necessary, though we can’t expect the same intensity as displayed by Mahāprabhu Himself.

Those are lofty goals we better not consider seriously, just a theoretical roadmap to success. In real life I was just reminded of a price of admission into our community and it appeared steep to me.

HH Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī is writing a new book on vaiṣṇava etiquette and posting chapters of it on the internet. Latest one is called Fundamental Principles for Initiated Devotees and it sets out lots of uncompromising rules for potential candidates (link) . There could be some differences between this article and Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī’s actual requirements for initiation (pdf) but I didn’t notice any, they are identical.

It starts out with laying out our four regs. No sex except for procreation, none of that “what happens in your bedroom is not my business” nonsense. No abortion (duh!), no contraception, and no sterilization. That’s an interesting area devotees rarely talk about, I’m not going to ask anyone but I suspect there are people out there who use contraception on a regular basis.

No masturbation, of course, though “loss of vital fluid” and “contamination of consciousness” aren’t the strongest possible arguments. Fluid can be regenerated and consciousness gets contaminated all the time, why single our masturbation? Still, mahārāja calls it illicit sex and forbids it, no two opinions about that.

There’s an interesting paragraph on intoxication, too. Alcohol is out and so is coffee and tea but also caffeinated soft drinks like Coke and Mountain Dew. Chocolate also got axed. The note about chocolate refers to appendix which is at the end of the book, I guess, and so is not included in this article. Pity, I’d like to see how mahārāja argues against chocolate. Is it really that intoxicating?

Chocolate can be addictive, according to popular culture, but I’ve never personally seen any chocoholic, people just like the taste, and I’ve never seen anyone getting any high from chocolate consumption either. It’s poisonous to dogs but not to children, and if they get hyperactive it’s due to high sugar content, not intoxicants.

I wouldn’t seriously argue in favor of chocolate, it’s forbidden and that’s all there is to it, reasons don’t really matter. Interestingly, mahārāja doesn’t go into fine detail about other food – mushrooms, for example, or any processed foods, or supermarket cheese. He does stress that initiated devotees should eat only Kṛṣṇa prasāda, though. He gives Prabhupāda’s quote on this, too: “One of the restrictions is that you cannot take anything which is not offered to Kṛṣṇa.”

There’s a paragraph on gambling that includes small bets like the kind men make on just about anything mostly for fun, not for actual profit, and a reference to stock trading, I guess, because I’ve seen mahārāja use exactly the same language about it earlier, otherwise it’s a bit unclear what kind of business is considered prohibited and on what grounds exactly.

Then mahārāja gives a list of secondary principles which is no less important – one must come to maṅgala ārati, must attend both morning and evening classes and so on. He elaborates on the value of these principles and gives supporting quotes from Prabhupāda, leaving no leeway whatsoever.

His next batch of quotes warns that without following these principles there’s no possibility of spiritual life and, conversely, strictly following them guarantees success and perfection.

All in all, it’s a very strongly worded article that doesn’t mess about and offers no compromises. I’m in two minds about it, however. On one hand this is how I got initiated myself – by strictly following all the rules, yet, as time passed, I also got to realize that it’s not so easy to follow them for the rest of your life. Once certain decisions are made it becomes plainly impossible, and it’s not just me, it’s just how it goes, realpolitics, as they say.

In realpolitics concessions must be made, failures must be overlooked, respect must be given to those who do not live up to the standard. Once you do that, demanding our new members to follow the rules that our old members can’t anymore becomes hypocritical. What can I say? I totally agree with Bhakti Vikāsa Svāmī here, yet I also see that it is nearly impossible to implement these standards in one’s personal life and even more so on the level of the whole society.

I understand and applaud mahārāja’s criteria and I hope he inspires devotees to improve their sādhana to qualify for initiation, I really hope he can build a large and strong community where living by these standards becomes natural and easy for everyone, but I also see that I can’t come up with a really good advice to potential candidates here. I’m tempted to say: “Yes, follow the rules while you can, get initiated, prove yourself now, you are unlikely to maintain these standards throughout your whole life, so don’t miss the opportunity” This, of course, should never be said out loud and such possibility should not be even suggested.

I was lucky in this sense – when I was giving my vows I had no idea what was lying ahead of me and I was spared the examples of seniors going astray. Devotees who came just a few years later, however, saw it all with their own eyes. Maybe now it’s better for them to know what they sign up for but if this means I wouldn’t have been initiated if I joined later I don’t see how it would have been better for me.

These strict rules pose another problem – we can’t expect everyone to follow them, ever, yet we go out and preach and ask people to come to the temples and join. Well, maybe not so much about joining anymore but that was the initial idea, when Prabhupāda was still here. What’s the point of asking people to become devotees only to lay out impossible demands? I have two answers to this question.

First, chanting quickly purifies one’s existence and following four regs becomes easy. Sex is hard to control but the rest aren’t usually problematic. So when we present our regs they look impossible only to those who don’t chant. If one moves to a temple then all the rest mentioned in this article comes naturally, too. If one lives at home, however, it becomes so much harder.

In this regard I’m not sure about demand to attend both morning and evening classes or maṅgala ārati and some other items on that list. Maybe chanting and four regs should be the minimum but then new bhaktas are usually enthusiastic enough to do more so there’s no problem with demanding more from them, too.

Second answer is that it’s about time we did some housekeeping in our society. We can’t expect everyone to be the same, some will form the core and some will form the circles. Some will be exemplary devotees and some will be those who look up to them. Some will be renunciates and some will be enjoyers who regularly contribute fruits of their labor to be engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service.

Perhaps our initial division on guests, life members, initiated, and twice initiated needs to be improved on. Perhaps we need more ranks and set different rules and standards for them, too.

There’s also a question of what initiation actually means. GBC might lay some rules and individual devotees might set their own standards but these are not absolute and neither is the formal initiation ritual. One must surrender to his guru and the guru must accept the disciple but this does not necessarily require any other formalities. There’s also the point that it is Kṛṣṇa who sends a guru and it is Kṛṣṇa who initiates one into His service, guru is just a transparent medium, so imposing our own rules might be beyond our remit here.

As we progress on the path of devotion we must pass some tests to get to higher levels but in our present condition we might not hope for more than just chanting of the Holy Name, and one can do that without being officially initiated. Yes, it’s nice to have a new name and “dāsa” attached to it but we should never forget that the only thing that matters is chanting, nothing else.

If we learn to chant as required of us, constantly and with proper attitude, all those initiations lose their importance. Let them have their rules but let me have the Holy Name even if I don’t qualify to be a follower of Śrila Prabhupāda anymore, as the article states. I don’t mind, that is my actual fallen position, and being a follower of Śrila Prabupāda is a very very big title anyway. He told us to chant and to preach, that’s all we have to do, and results shouldn’t really matter – whether we are accepted as followers or not.

Our business is to serve, acceptance of our service and rewards are at guru and Kṛṣṇa’s discretion, they shouldn’t influence our service attitude at all, enthusiasm should always be there.

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.